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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6697

Senator BUCKLAND (11:24 AM) —I rise to make a few comments on the Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Bill 2002. This bill has come back before the Senate. Labor are supporting the bill in its amended form and I have no difficulty with that. I guess I, like many others, have difficulty with the term `genuine bargaining'. It could equally be `industrial bargaining' in this case because it does not appear that the Liberal government is really genuine about how industrial relations matters are bargained between the parties. My interpretation of genuine bargaining is that all parties are equally committed and all parties are equally involved in developing the industrial relations regime that will apply in various industries, factories or places of work. So I do not think that term is the most appropriate for this bill, but it is there and Labor have already indicated that we are supporting it in its current form.

In its previous form, the bill sought to prevent unions from organising and bargaining for decent wages and conditions within industry. That is one of the reasons that the Labor Party originally could not support this bill. I think it needs to be pointed out, too, that not all industry bodies are supporting the approach of this government when it comes to bargaining and dealing with industrial relations; many organisations of employers do not fully support the government line on this. It is an issue which does need to be addressed. The unions are always genuine when they go in to bargain with industry on behalf of their members and it would be nice, on occasions, not to have a bunch of lawyers, solicitors or barristers fronting up to represent a company. When you get that sort of involvement, you find that there is no real knowledge of the industry held by the lawyers. They are not involved in the integral part of daily activities. They go there with a very legalistic approach and take away the genuineness of trying to negotiate a settlement agreed to by all.

I have to say that, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, under Labor governments, bargaining and genuine bargaining were practised. That is the reason that we brought about the great reforms in industry, where both parties sat down and worked together. This involved all of the work force and all of the employer and employee associations that could be involved in any enterprise. That brought about genuine change within industry that is ongoing today. The principles brought in by Labor to bring about reform are still practised by many large organisations in Australia today. Forget about the hopes and aspirations of the current and the former ministers. Labor's reforms were not confrontationist; it was by consent and by agreement that things were changed—and changed for the better.

All that can be brought down by this government and its confrontationist approach to industrial relations. The government adopts this approach for reasons I have never really understood. It cannot be just a matter of ideology; it is driven by some hidden agenda which it has tucked away in its back pocket. For some reason the government just wants to hate the workers and work against them. Senator Campbell made some comments about better earnings and conditions for workers under the Liberal government. The statement about performance and better wages may be correct, but where are those better wages actually being paid? They are being paid in areas where the unions have had a great involvement in bringing about changes in conditions, changes in performance and changes in wage rates.

Senator Ian Campbell —Where is your evidence for that?

Senator BUCKLAND —The evidence comes from the industry itself, Senator Campbell. You go and have a look for that yourself and get your facts correct. There is now greater involvement in the work force by casual workers and by part-time employees, so the full-time wages are not as good as you are putting to this Senate today.

Union-negotiated wages and conditions in industry today are far better than what was created by the Reith and Abbott program for change and reform. As I have said before, their program is about confrontation rather than consultation. Indeed the Button car plan, which was referred to by my colleague Senator Cook, brought about change in that industry which this government is currently trying to undermine by its lawyers and its confrontation. The steel plan brought about massive change in the steel industry. I was proud to be part of that change and the reform that took place. I was proud because it involved all parties on an equal footing, and that is what brought about the change.

I well remember being at Whyalla with the then general manager of the Whyalla steelworks when Minister Reith made a visit. He was told very clearly by the industry on that day, `It is no good coming here and telling us about your plans; we have done it. The machine is not broken; we don't need to fix it and we don't need the changes that you are suggesting.' That is on the record. The government can say all it wants about what it is doing for industrial relations but it is only creating an environment that engenders unrest and confrontation.

The government's long-term plans for industrial relations are not in the best interests of this country. The bill that we are supporting today has come about because the government has seen that change can take place. It would be very good if we could see the government involved in things like fair dismissal, secret ballots and fair termination. If those things were negotiated and worked out in advance, we would not be going through such a great debate on this single issue. There has to be more for this government to look at—health, people with special needs, and aged care. These are things that we should be putting our—

Senator Marshall —It's too hard.

Senator BUCKLAND —It is too hard, Senator. It is too hard for this government because they do not want to face the hard work that is ahead for government in this country. They look at something else—not the workers or the underprivileged—and tell us that lower-paid people are better off under this government. That is an absolute sham and it is not believed. We believe that the bill in its current form is now worthy of support. It would be nice if the government could bring other bills before us in this way.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Watson)—The question is that the committee not insist on its amendments (4) and (5) to which the House has disagreed.

Question agreed to.

Resolution reported; report adopted.