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Thursday, 18 November 1976

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill seeks to amend the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act 1967 by extending the life of that Act to 1 July 1977. In introducing this Bill I take this opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker, to make to the House a further detailed statement on the Government's attitude to future arrangements for the stevedoring industry and to tell honourable members of the future course that the Government wishes to see taken in this connexion.

Honourable members will recall that in my second reading speech on a Bill to amend this Act on 6 May this year I made a similarly detailed statement. That statement indicated the Government's approach. It might well have been styled stage one of a total operation. The statement I am now making reports on progress and introduces what I might term stage two. On 6 May I discussed at length the reasons which prompted the Government to adopt the approach that I then outlined and so I do not propose to reiterate that thinking now. However, my statement outlined 3 years of special concern to the Government:

Measures aimed at securing cost restraint.

Measures to protect the interests of the staff of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority.

Measures to overcome the problems of the industry as had been identified in the report presented to me by Mr Justice Northrop.

Moreover, I said in May, and again I repeat it, that provided the industry can develop a suitable framework within which solutions to major problems can be found, the Government will relinquish its regulatory role through the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority provided that there are suitable arrangements to cope with the following particular problems:

Continued efforts to reduce the workforce.

Satisfactory arrangements for recruitment and redundancy of waterside workers to cope with the fluctuating requirements of the labour force, including the question of a supplementary labour scheme.

Adequate distribution of and transferability of labour.

Improved industrial relations and dispute settlement procedures.

Effective participation in the industry of 'user' interests and other bodies.

Satisfactory funding arrangements.

I shall now deal with the developments that have taken place since my statement of 6 May. I place particular emphasis on protecting the well-being of the staff of the ASIA. I can now tell the House that a total redundancy arrangement has been settled with the unions concerned. I indicated in May that costs associated with this industry were of special concern to the Government. I placed emphasis on the importance of the role of the

Prices Justification Tribunal and the Trade Practices Commission in providing scrutiny as to these matters. As honourable members will be aware, the PJT is currently conducting a public examination of prices charged in the industry. The PJT is currently examining these matters as to Patrick Operations Pty Limited and Seatainers Limited. The Trade Practices Commission is examining matters associated with wharf handling and stacking charges.

These inquiries are not yet completed and so I do not want to speculate about their outcome at this stage. However, I am pleased that they are being undertaken and, as I said to the House in May, in light of the impact costs in this industry have on all sections of the community, it is proper that such costs should come under surveillance to ensure that prices set are fair both to the supplier and the consumer. This surveillance is now taking place in this industry for the first time. The Government views the current examinations of the industry as positive means of protecting community interests. I would add that the Government is watching the current proceedings with very great interest and what emerges will be taken into account in the Government's final considerations.

Since May, I have had extensive discussions with employer and union interests. I have also talked with various special interests, including the Australian Shippers Council, the bulk handling operators, the Association of Australian Port and Marine Authorities, the Australian National Line and the Broken Hill Pty Company Limited.

All parties to the industry and the Government are agreed that the present level of the workforce in the industry isin excess of that needed for effective operational purposes. Since May I have given this matter special attention. The precise extent of the surplus is not agreed upon by all parties, but I am of the view that it is in the vicinity of at least 1200 men. However, I would not wish to be tied down to this number or any other number at this time. As I will indicate a little later on, my present concern is to ensure that positive action is taken to reduce the surplus significantly and as quickly as possible. When the process to achieve this gets under way, we will be closer to determining the final figure than we are now. The fact remains, however, that the cost impact of the surplus labour as reflected in the Authority's expenditure on idle time, is currently running at some $400,000 per week or $20m per annum.

Existing redundancy arrangements have failed to attract sufficient volunteers to leave the industry and under no circumstances can the Government condone a situation which results in such high and unwarranted expenditure. Nevertheless, I can tell honourable members that, as a result of efforts I have encouraged, the labour force in the industry has already been reduced by some 300 men this year. So, I shall want the parties to confer, immediately, to secure a further significant reduction in the workforce quickly. I am proposing to the parties that they consider arrangements which would enable immediate separation of those surplus waterside workers in the 60 to 65 age group. This could reduce the labour force by about 500 men. I shall be suggesting to them that they then turn their attention to surplus numbers in the lower age groups.

I am pleased to be able to tell honourable members that the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has agreed to make available a member of the Commission to chair the discussions between the parties. The costs involved in reducing the labour force will be borne by the industry. The precise manner in which they will be borne will depend on the overall arrangements decided upon for the industry. We have now reached the point at which stage two in developing new arrangements for the industry, in detail, can get under way. I am proposing to the parties that they enter into discussions and come up with a plan developed down to fine detail. This plan would need to cover such matters as the progressive transfer of responsibilities from the statutory body and present for the Government's consideration how the industry will manage its own affairs. Senior officers of my Department will participate in that conference and they will have broad views to put to it on my behalf as to such matters as:

Provision of genuinely effective means of adding labour to and removing it from the workforce.

Creation of circumstances to allow allocation and transfer of labour between stevedores.

Development of special arrangements such as supplementary labour units to meet the fluctuating requirements of the ports.

Improved industrial relations proceduresperhaps more importantly the continuing use of the procedures that presently exist but which appear to be used too infrequently.

Methods whereby the interests of smaller ports are protected- where the industry as a whole does not subjugate the needs of these ports to those of the major ports.

Consultative arrangements to allow all relevant interests to have an effective voice in the industry 's affairs.

One particular matter to which I shall be giving attention will be the special position of those companies involved in bulk handling operations and as to which there are particular provisions in the stevedoring legislation. The concept of those provisions will need to be preserved and I shall be considering how best that might be achieved when the Government comes to consider the detailed arrangements which I expect the parties to the industry to develop. Assuming our expectations are realised, the Government will want to give opportunities for interested parties to have a voice m the industry and so it envisages the setting up of structures which will allow for consultation at a national level between the industry and a wide range of other parties, including governments. I also envisage a national management body for the industry and a management body at the port level.

I emphasise that the precise nature and functions of these bodies need to be left flexible at this time so that final details can be worked out with the parties in the national discussions to which I have just referred. This is consistent with our aim of working with the industry and placing responsibility on it towards development of the totality of new arrangements. I intend that the national discussions should take place under an independent chairman. I am currently engaged in arranging this in consultation with the parties. I now turn to the question of future funding arrangements in the industry. Honourable members will be aware that the present arrangements rest upon a levy imposed under the provisions of the Stevedoring Industry Charge Act. If the industry is to manage its own affairs such an arrangement will no longer be necessary. However, it can be expected that the industry will need to introduce funding arrangements of its own. My present thinking is that these may require some statutory backing. I shall be taking this up with the industry in the very near future. Needless to say, the Government will need to be satisfied with the nature of the final arrangements entered into in this area. My department will be engaging a consultant to work with it on this particular matter. There will be opportunities for interested parties to talk with him.

As I indicated at the beginning of this speech, we are entering stage 2 of a very long and complicated exercise. I am pleased to say, however, that we are making progress. This is in no small measure due to the fact that this Government has taken a positive approach to the future of relationships in this industry. The discussions and developmental work that will need to be done now could not be finalised before the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act expires on 3 1 December 1976. Thus, the Bill now before the House proposes a further extension of that Act to 1 July 1977. What I have now said to the House is consistent with the attitude I expressed on 6 May and it is now for the industry, the Government and other interested parties to combine together to work out matters in detail.

Before I finish I want to say something about the impact on the staff of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority of what I have just told the House. I have already reminded honourable members that a redundancy agreement exists with the unions and the provisions of this are designed to protect the staff of the Authority in the event that the Authority may be abolished. Moreover, as provided in staff rules of the Authority, the staff of the Authority has been given 6 months initial warning of likely retrenchment. When I made my statement in May and the Parliament extended the life of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act until the end of December this year, it was envisaged that by that time new arrangements for the industry would have been worked out and that, therefore, the initial warning to the ASIA staff about likely redundancy would not have to be extended. However, as will be clear to the House, the Government has viewed the whole matter as being one of such seriousness that decisions about it are not to be rushed but approached in a measured and deliberate way. Unfortunately, this can create uncertainties for the staff of the Authority as to their future. I am very conscious of this and I propose to have early discussions with the unions whose members are employed by the Authority in an effort to allay any uncertainties and to confirm the arrangements that already exist with the unions. I commend the Bill to honourable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.

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