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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1099

Senator McMULLAN (Minister for Trade) (4.42 p.m.) —I had expected one further speaker—

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator West)—I had expected two.

Senator McMULLAN —Let us not encourage them, Madam Acting Deputy President. I have not had the opportunity, of course, to hear all the second reading debate. I heard several of the contributions and I think I got the thrust of some of the others. In the main, they strayed a very long way from the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill because they sought to revisit their unsuccessful opposition to the industrial relations reform legislation of last year in which I was significantly involved. A number of other detailed references would more appropriately be dealt with by Senator Robert Ray when he deals with the bill in the committee stage, so I will not reiterate and revisit those. It might be useful, given that the debate has ranged so widely and so far away from what is actually proposed in this bill, to deal with some of the fundamental points about what is, in fact, a straightforward piece of legislation, the purposes of which are clear.

  The bill ensures the collection of a levy which partially finances the redundancy program initiated through the waterfront reform process; simplifies the levy collection legislation framework; pares the committee and removes redundant provisions; and assists in maintaining Australia's commitment to ILO convention 137 through a simple provision for a register which will impact only on those employers who do not maintain appropriate employee records.

  A number of comments have been made about the register. As I say, in the main, they are ones that might be best dealt with in the committee stage if people pursue them because they relate to relevant clauses of the bill and they are somewhat more detailed than I would expect to deal with in the summing up at the end of a second reading debate. But some honourable senators also ventured comparisons of Australia's waterfront performance with that of other countries. Sometimes statistics are thrown around quite independent of the basis of comparison—something that occurred a little here.

  Even the most churlish of critics would have to acknowledge that, whether people are satisfied with the current situation on the waterfront, major improvements have been achieved through the government's waterfront reform program. The Bureau of Industry Economics has reported that Australian container handling performance has joined the league of similar sized overseas ports. It is true that it may fall short of the performance of some of the very high volume international ports such as Singapore and Rotterdam; but when compared with like countries the result is comparable.

Senator Crane —Try New Zealand.

Senator McMULLAN —Australian container terminals were reported to have achieved a national average crane rate of around 20 units per hour in the second half of 1993. Individual terminals have achieved averages as high as 25 units per hour. So it is similar, on my advice, to the New Zealand crane rates.

  The Bureau of Industry Economics also noted that the operating efficiency of Australian coal and grain handling is at world best practice level. Of course, the Senate will pardon me for interpolating as trade minister how significant I believe that to be. It is clear, in the markets of the world, that our capacity to efficiently handle the major bulk commodity vessels through our ports is a significant export plus for us. It makes us very competitive in many markets of the world, provided they have the ports to accommodate the vessels we are sending.

  Other honourable senators spoke at length about the legislation and some of them waxed very eloquent, even when I was here. Some of the assertions they threw around as if they were facts were quite a long way from the truth. I do not have time to go through all the things that Senator Chapman got wrong. His speech seemed to be as far from reality as Senator Bolkus suggested his questions were today and on other occasions. It was almost as good as the dog at the Lodge. I thought his speech was about as significant a contribution to public policy as that question.

  But he did quite clearly get several facts wrong about whether the bill will create a labour pool or not. He seemed to assert that it would, and that is just not the case. He thought the committee would be dominated by the union. In the debate in the House of Representatives, the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Brereton), gave an assurance that that was not what the bill would lead to. And it does not seem, on the face of it, that the structure of the committee would lend itself to that outcome with one representative of employees on the committee. Other than absolute anti-union paranoia, I do not understand what criteria would judge that this would lead to that outcome.

  Those were the important general comments that I wanted to make about the efficiency of the waterfront. There are some detailed matters that I assume will come up in the committee stage. With those remarks, I commend the bill to the Senate.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time.