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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1093

Senator CHAPMAN (4.12 p.m.) —Before this debate was interrupted prior to lunch I was detailing that, although there had been a measure of reform achieved on the Australian waterfront over the last few years, the extent of that reform was inadequate and, in any case, the present government had only been dragged kicking and screaming towards implementing that reform because of the strong advocacy for reform on the part of the opposition and, in particular, the Liberal Party. I went on to say that under the bill we are debating today, we now see a turnaround by the government—a return to the dark ages of the waterfront; a regime where unions are now dictating policy to the government as a payback for the help the unions gave the government in its campaign to be re-elected in the March 1993 federal election. So we see the government now 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.

  The steadfast refusal by the Maritime Union of Australia to accept the loss of jobs for life was patently obvious in the recent Australian Stevedores dispute. The MUA continues to believe that stevedoring employees should be entitled to employment rights and conditions which the rest of Australian employees simply do not enjoy. They want privileges that other Australian workers do not enjoy. The newly developing integrity of the Australian waterfront and the productivity gains and benefits that have been made since that reform process began—albeit, as I said, fairly limited benefits—even to the extent that they have been obtained, are now seriously jeopardised by this legislation.

  Despite the assertions by the minister that this bill is not aimed at creating labour pools or seeing a move away from enterprise employment, it does precisely that by allowing the maintenance of surplus industry employees in port pools. Further, it destroys the representational balance of the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee by the reduction in size of the committee from seven members to four members. In clause 20 of the original bill there was to be inserted section 26A which stated:

The Committee must establish a register containing the names of stevedoring employees.

Given the widespread objection to this proposed section 26A insertion not only by the opposition but by those involved in the industry, the minister in the other place subsequently amended clause 20 by adding the following additional subsection:

If the Committee is satisfied that an employer of stevedoring employees is keeping the prescribed records in relation to those employees, the Committee is not required to include the names of those employees on the register.

This amendment implies discretion on the part of the committee. In fact, there is no discretion when the committee is dominated by union officials dedicated to the principle of jobs for life.

Senator O'Chee —It is a cover-up.

Senator CHAPMAN —Of course it is a cover-up, because when we look at the membership of that committee, it has the capacity to be dominated by the union. So why is the committee going to be satisfied unless it complies with what the union demands? Of course, that is a principle which in our Australian context directly undermines progress, performance and productivity. Large and small stevedoring employers do not want this register. Only the Maritime Union of Australia wants the register. We in the Liberal and National parties are absolutely opposed to it.

  There are irrefutable arguments why there should not be a register.  Stevedoring industry employers are already obliged to maintain employee records under the Industrial Relations Act. A register specifically for this industry simply adds to the burden of paperwork, thus decreasing productivity. The existence of a register reintroduces an industry arrangement which is out of step with the government's own legislation for enterprise bargaining and, indeed, the government's own requirement that industry based arrangements in the stevedoring industry be rescinded by the end of October 1992—18 months or so ago. The existence of a register paves the way for the establishment of a pool of stevedoring employees.

Senator O'Chee —A prerequisite for employment.

Senator CHAPMAN —That is exactly what we will face.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator West)—Senator Chapman, interjections are unparliamentary. You should address your remarks through the chair.

Senator CHAPMAN —Madam Acting Deputy President, I am finding the interjections very helpful.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —They are unruly and out of order.

Senator CHAPMAN —As I was saying, the existence of this register paves the way for the establishment of a pool of stevedoring employees. In 1991 the pools had large surpluses of employees in ports and cost the stevedoring industry in excess of $2 million a month to pay employees whether or not they worked. Whether they were actually producing anything, whether they were actually contributing to the wealth of this country, the stevedoring employees were still up for $2 million a month. It is no wonder this country has difficulty competing on overseas markets when our exporters are burdened with that sort of cost structure. It is ludicrous that this government is prepared to agree to the demands of the Maritime Union of Australia and return to the situation which the industry and the Australian taxpayer spent $420 million and three years to remove.

  The government's excuse for introducing this legislation is to ensure conformity with International Labour Organisation convention 137. Much has been said in the debate in the other place and in this chamber about this convention—of binding Australia to international conventions at the expense of national interest and domestic law. Comment has also been made about which countries are signatories and which countries have refused to sign the convention. Of course, there is absolutely no reason why Australia cannot denounce ILO convention 137 this year at the completion of its second decade.

  We need to recognise that the relevance of this particular convention has long since lapsed. So to place this legislation before the parliament on the basis of arguing that we are doing it to conform with an obsolete, irrelevant convention from which this country ought to withdraw, anyway, is merely a smokescreen for the real intention of this Labor government, dominated as it is by its union masters. Of course, the real intention of this legislation is to placate the truculence of the Maritime Union of Australia.

  The government should be pressing to increase the pace of reform on the waterfront. Instead, it is bringing in detrimental legislation which turns the clock back to the bad old days on the waterfront, just as the Industrial Relations Reform Act—which it passed last year and which came into operation a couple of months ago—did for industrial relations generally. In the last couple of days we have seen a backdown from the minister on that aspect of that Industrial Relations Reform Act relating to unfair dismissal. It was not a sufficient backdown or change but at least it was an acknowledgment that the legislation was faulty.

  In doing so, the government was in absolute agreement with what the opposition put to this chamber at the end of last year in the debate on that legislation. We pointed out very clearly the detrimental effect that the unfair dismissal aspect of that legislation would have on employment opportunities for the one million unemployed in this country. We pointed out that employers would not be prepared to take on new employees because of the consequences that would flow from the unfair dismissal part of the legislation if, for any future reason, they needed to retrench people. Of course, under this government, that is highly likely with the cycle of boom and

bust we have under its economic mismanagement.

  We have seen a slight backdown from the minister but it is insufficient and is only a smokescreen. It will not encourage employers to take on more employees.

Senator Schacht —You don't have to hammer the desk every time you make a point. We can actually listen.

Senator CHAPMAN —Senator Schacht should be listening instead of reading the paper; he might learn something. Despite the progress that has been made with regard to the waterfront, further reforms are urgent. We are better than we were but we are still not as good as many of our trading partners. They continue to improve and so must we. In particular, New Zealand continues to show us a clean pair of heels in improving waterfront efficiency. Let us not forget that New Zealand started from the same low performance level.

  It is possible to achieve performances equating to world's best practice on the Australian waterfront. The coal industry has demonstrated that with many aspects of the waterfront service chain at or near world's best practice. All it would take to translate that to other waterfront sectors is political will—something Senator Schacht and his colleagues seem to lack. They need the political will to confront their union mates with the realities of international trading life.

  On some comparative benchmarks in key Australian container ports we are approaching the performance of similar sized overseas ports. However, on many measures we are at the lower end of the performance scale. The pace of reform must not slacken, yet it will if this legislation passes. With most state governments now in Liberal hands, a key adjunct to stevedoring reform—more efficient port management—can at least proceed.

Senator Schacht —What has your mob done in South Australia—not a thing!

Senator CHAPMAN —It has done plenty as far as port efficiency is concerned. I would advise Senator Schacht to wait and watch.

Senator Campbell —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The minister at the table has flagrantly and continually ignored your ruling. Do you intend putting up with this?

Senator O'Chee —Madam Acting Deputy President, I too rise on a point of order. Earlier on you took me to task for giving Senator Chapman what he himself said was a helpful interjection. The minister has been making interjections which have been totally unhelpful, totally facetious and totally disruptive and yet he does not seem to be called to order.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator West)—Order! There is no point of order.

Senator Schacht —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I have sat here for a while listening to Senator Chapman and about every 30 seconds the chamber resounds with the thumping of his desk. One or two thumps is reasonable but I reckon he has thumped it 30 or 40 times and is continuing to do so. I do not know where that comes in the standing orders but I think he should be called to order because it adds nothing to his speech other than the thump, thump of some African tom-toms.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I thank everyone for their contribution. There has been disruptive behaviour on both sides. I ask for that to cease. I ask that Senator Chapman be allowed continue his remarks with silence on both sides.

Senator CHAPMAN —As I was saying, now that most state governments are at long last in Liberal hands, with our approach of increasing the efficiency of port management and with the possibility of privatisation, we can see significant efficiency gains being achievable at that level. It should be made very clear that port authorities are not revenue cows for state governments, as they have been far too often under state Labor governments.

Senator Crane —Under Labor.

Senator CHAPMAN —Yes, as I said, under Labor. Privatisation for ports is a must, and I look forward to that progressively occurring under state Liberal governments.

Senator Schacht —What has happened in New South Wales—not a thing!

Senator CHAPMAN —I say to Senator Schacht that, if this legislation passes, it is a sad fact that we cannot similarly look to a quickened pace of reform—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I ask for silence on both sides.

Senator Campbell —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. The minister has interjected three more times and you have failed to call him to order. Will you be even-handed and kick this bloke out?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I ask Senator Crane and the minister—

Senator O'Chee —Senator Crane did not say anything.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I would appreciate Senator Chapman being able to finish his speech with silence on both sides.

Senator Crane —Madam Acting Deputy President, could I have an indication as to why you named me? We have listened to the minister continually and flagrantly disobeying your rulings. Why have you named me in conjunction with the minister when we are being broadcast? I have been sitting here for the last few minutes and I have been very quiet.

Senator Schacht —On the point of order—

Senator Campbell —Minister Foghorn!

Senator Schacht —Well, I hope that my voice can be heard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! None of this is helping.

Senator Schacht —Madam Acting Deputy President, I took very careful instruction from you on the point that there be no further interjection. Within about a minute, Senator Crane was interjecting, saying, `Hear, hear!' and interrupting Senator Chapman's speech.

Senator Crane —I'm entitled to say, `Hear, hear!'

Senator Schacht —And I am entitled to disagree with him saying that, and that is what I did. I think we both have to accept criticism from the chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I heard speaking on both sides; it was not Senator Chapman alone. If I have named Senator Crane incorrectly, I am sorry. Someone was interjecting from my left, and the minister was interjecting. I repeat my request for those on the left and the right to curb their enthusiasm and let Senator Chapman finish in silence.

Senator CHAPMAN —In drawing my remarks to a conclusion, I was saying that, unfortunately, because of this legislation, we will not be seeing the same progress in the stevedoring aspect of port operations that we will be seeing in port management efficiencies under state Liberal governments. We need a quicker pace of reform in stevedoring than we have had in the past, yet, because of this legislation, we will see the pace of that reform slow down.

  That simply mirrors what this federal government is doing with regard to industrial relations practice in the broad. It mouths platitudes about wanting to see more enterprise agreements and a better structure for industrial relations but the legislation it brings into this place mitigates against that goal. That was most notably the case with the misnamed Industrial Relations Reform Act of 1993. It came into effect only a couple of months ago but in the last few days we have already seen some slight backing down in relation to its requirements on unfair dismissals.

  If this government is fair dinkum about getting a decent industrial relations structure in place in this country and introducing serious reform so that employers and employees can get together and establish their mutual interests and work together towards the benefit of the enterprise and for their own individual benefits it would repeal the 1993 act altogether. The government would introduce some genuine industrial relations reform that the Liberal and National parties have advocated for virtually a decade. It is because of that advocacy that we see some very minor changes to industrial relations, but nowhere near adequate for what is required.

  Not only should we not pass this legislation, but the government ought to repeal the Industrial Relations Reform Act so that we can get a genuine structure for enterprise agreements in place. In the last few days we have seen that the legislation that is in place is mitigating against a genuine structure because the government has announced a program of grants to encourage people to enter into enterprise agreements.

  The 1993 legislation was heralded by the Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Brereton, and the Prime Minister, Mr Keating, as legislation that was going to ensure that enterprise agreements would break out all over Australia. However, it is that very legislation that has mitigated against these agreements being developed. The government has to introduce a scheme of bribery to try and get some enterprise agreements in place so that it can present a perception that its legislation is working when clearly it is failing. That underlines the failure of this government in the administration of industrial relations. This failure operates to the detriment of the Australian people and the Australian economy because it prevents Australia being as productive as it otherwise would be in the areas of wealth creation, building exports, competing with our trading partners and providing a better standard of living for all Australians. This legislation should not proceed, and the Industrial Relations Reform Act ought to be repealed and torn up and the government should start again.