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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1107

Senator CHAPMAN 5.30 p.m.—The maintenance of a register is clearly an industry based arrangement, and yet as far as operations on the waterfront and employment arrangements are concerned, the whole approach to waterfront industry reform is to get away from that industry base and to get to an enterprise or an individual employer base. The government wants to put into this legislation the maintenance of a register, which is a direct return to the industry employment arrangement.

  If the government is genuine about wanting to proceed further with enterprise arrangements and individual company employment, why are we putting this clause into the legislation? We heard no justification from the minister as to why it was needed other than what we have heard in the other place, which is a justification based on compliance with ILO convention No. 137. Let me remind the Senate that Australia ratified ILO convention No. 137 on 24 June 1974, nearly 20 years ago. We also need to remember that the particular purpose of that convention related to the conversion of the waterfront industry from discrete cargo and bulk cargo handling to container handling on the wharves.

  We cleared that form of cargo handling out of our system years and years ago. Our wharves, as are the wharves of much of the rest of the world, are now containerised in terms of dealing with freight. So ILO convention No. 137 is completely irrelevant to the Australian waterfront. To justify putting this clause into the legislation on the basis that we have to conform with ILO convention No. 137 is an absolute furphy, because that convention is outdated, it does not apply and it is completely unnecessary.

  As I said during the second reading debate, what we ought to be doing instead of introducing a clause into this legislation to comply with that convention is denouncing the convention, as we are capable of doing every decade. Given that it is about to be the 20th anniversary of our compliance with and ratification of that convention, we have the opportunity to denounce it and, in effect, withdraw from it, because it is no longer relevant. That is what we ought to be doing, not putting into this legislation a clause for the maintenance of a register which purports to be required because we are complying with that outdated convention. In reality, it reinstitutes the register to give the capacity for a return to an industry based arrangement, should the unions demand that as the masters of this government at some stage in the future.

  We ought to remember that countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil, the Argentine and Chile do not comply with convention No. 137. A lot of those countries are our trading competitors and our trading partners and we have got to be as efficient on the waterfront as they are.

  So let us not have this furphy as to what this clause is all about. We ought not to have it in the legislation. Again, I welcome Senator Bell's indication that the Australian Democrats are supporting our opposition to this so that in practice we will remove it from the bill. That is as it ought to be, because it does nothing to further the development of enterprise agreements on the waterfront. In fact, what it does is open up the opportunity for a return to the bad old days.