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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1053

Senator CHAPMAN (12.41 p.m.) —The comments we have just heard from the Greens (WA) senator, Senator Margetts, show how out of touch she is with the reality of the Australian waterfront.

Senator Panizza —Very much out of touch.

Senator CHAPMAN —She is indeed. The problem we have had with the Australian waterfront for decades is its lack of efficiency and the rorts that have been maintained by the union movement on behalf of their members on the waterfront. That inefficiency and those rorts have made the Australian waterfront not only much less efficient than practices adopted by our trading partners and our trading competitors, but also they are much more costly in terms of the cost imposed on exporters. Again that has a detrimental effect not only on the returns to our exporters but on our very capacity to export goods to other countries.

  The whole reform process that has been embarked upon on the Australian waterfront, sparingly and grudgingly by this federal government, which has been pushed, prodded and probed by the opposition, has been aimed at trying to improve efficiency. The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill which is now before the Senate does nothing to maintain that very necessary process.

  We need to remember that the Australian waterfront is vital to the wellbeing of all Australians. It is especially relevant to those seeking to increase the real wealth of this country by building export markets. More than 75 per cent of our international cargo moves through Australia's seaports. That is why any legislation dealing with the waterfront is critical and of crucial importance. Yet today we have before us a bill affecting the waterfront which contains yet another amendment to the maze of amendments that have been made to the Industrial Relations Act. Indeed, it is the second amendment to the Industrial Relations Act this year. Since 1989 it has taken no fewer than 108 enterprise agreements, supervised and approved by the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority, at a cost $420 million of which $255 million came from employers and $165 million from taxpayers, together with the retrenchment of some 3,000 waterside workers, to achieve the modest improvements on the waterfront that have thus far been achieved.

  From its introduction in 1989 to its alleged conclusion in October 1992, the waterfront reform process included a move to enterprise agreements and the conclusion of industry based employment arrangements at the specific request of this government. We need to remember that the Labor government never intended enterprise agreements to be part of the industrial relations system. It was forced to move in that direction and to recognise the logic of freeing up the labour market because of the effective advocacy for so long of the federal opposition, and the Liberal Party in particular.

  In possession of this newly found wisdom, this government in 1992 demanded that employers take responsibility for their own work force as a prerequisite to releasing funds to conclude the waterfront reform process. Yet now we see this turnaround by this government as represented in this legislation. It is a return to the dark ages of the waterfront. It is a regime that involves unions dictating to the government as the government pays back the unions for the help they gave the Keating Labor government to ensure its re-election a little over a year ago. It was a caving in to the Maritime Union of Australia which steadfastly refuses to accept that waterfront workers, in line with the rest of the Australian work force, should no longer have a job-for-life guarantee.

  Debate interrupted.