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This week in Federal Parliament: the oil dispute; the Government and Opposition approaches to industrial relations; tackling the bogong moth problem; the environment

JENNY HUTCHISON: Dr Hewson's honeymoon is over; differences between Opposition and Government policy highlighted in the areas of industrial relations and the environment; and Australian Democrat leader Janet Powell reviews the week in the Senate and is quite positive about the consideration of legislation by standing committees. This is Ring the Bells with Jenny Hutchison.

The Opposition began the week targeting industrial relations and querying Government inaction on the petrol strike. National Party leader, Tim Fischer, asked the Prime Minister on Tuesday ..

TIM FISCHER: Following your consultations with the ACTU over the weekend and the emergency industrial hearing, will you state the exact Federal Government position in relation to the fuel strike. Indeed, Mr Speaker, I ask the Prime Minister: will you apply the same attitude to the fuel workers, who have been ordered back to work, as you did at certain stages last year to the pilots?

BOB HAWKE: I believe that the oil industry workers should adhere to the Commission's order to return to work. I have taken the opportunity, Mr Speaker, over the last couple of days, to stay in touch with the leadership of the ACTU and to urge them, Mr Speaker - not that they needed any urging, let me say - but I have urged them to do everything that they could to get this matter properly and honourably resolved and, on the basis of the conversation which I had as recently as last night, with the Secretary of the ACTU, I have reason for confidence, Mr Speaker, that there is a good chance that that will be achieved. We certainly hope so, because it is our view, Mr Speaker, that we have, in this country, evidence that it is much better to try and operate co-operatively, constructively, in the field of industrial relations, than by the process of confrontation. And, of course, the record that's been achieved under this Government in the last seven and a half years shows just how tremendously improved the situation has been. Because the parties - and particularly the trade union movement - have accepted that advice. I just remind the House, Mr Speaker, of a few comparisons.

Under the Government which preceded us, in the 12 months to June 1982, there were 3.83 million working days lost - 3.83 million working days lost. That compares with 1.17 million days lost in the last 12 months to June of this year. And, Mr Acting Speaker, in terms of monthly average working days lost, for a thousand employees, my Government's average of 19.5 days is over two times less than the previous government's average of 48.6. So we don't want, Mr Speaker, these people from the other side getting up and lecturing us about industrial disputes. You were there, you made a monstrous mess of it. The situation under this Government has been a very significant improvement.

JENNY HUTCHISON: A similar question in the Senate from Liberal, Shirley Walters, prompted this reply from the Minister for Industrial Relations, Peter Cook.

PETER COOK: This is a historic question. We've passed 26 hours of Question Time since the election and this is the first hostile question on industrial relations from the Opposition in all of that time. And, I think that must reflect the innate recognition by the Opposition that we handle industrial relations best and that they have got nothing to contribute on the subject.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! Senator Cook answer the question.

JENNY HUTCHISON: And now to debate on Budget proposals for expenditure by the Department of Industrial Relations. First, Shadow spokesman, John Howard.

JOHN HOWARD: It is one of the myths of Australian politics that for most of the period after World War II, the Industrial Relations policies of the Coalition and the Labor Party were fundamentally different. In fact they were not fundamentally different until 1986 because until 1986 the Coalition essentially embraced support for centralised wage fixation. But in 1986, we released a policy which proclaimed for the first time in Australian politics, at a political level, a belief that the best industrial relations was to be obtained by switching the focus to the individual enterprise; that the way in which to encourage maximum enterprise productivity, and through it, national productivity, was to encourage individual employers and their employees to address the problems and the challenges of each individual enterprise. And that policy has remained essentially unaltered since 1986; it was refined in 1988 and it remains now the expression of the most fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition parties.

We believe that the way of the future is to encourage individual owners and their workers to go outside the constraints of the award system, to make their own bargains, and the way in which the Power Brewing Company in Queensland started in business three and a half years ago. And in that three and a half years, captured 20 per cent of the beer market of Queensland, enjoyed an 85 per cent lift in productivity and, because it increased its productivity, it was able to pay its work force $8,000 to $10,000 a year per head more than workers paid by other breweries in the same industry in Queensland. And that's the rub that the other side doesn't like. They don't like the fact that when you sweep away the centralised system, when you encourage people to get together at an enterprise level, they actually - hey presto - end up making more money as individual workers, and that is the industrial relations future that we see, and that is the thing that marks us out as so different from those who sit opposite and those in the ACTU who decry our commitment to free enterprise bargaining.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Former president of the ACTU, Simon Crean, responded to Mr Howard.

SIMON CREAN: What this Government has done over the past seven and a half years is to change industrial relations from a reactive discipline in which the focus of attention was on how you solved messes, disputes, once they'd happened, to a proactive role in which what we've tried to do is to develop a positive approach by which Labor market policies can be used to actually drive the economy in the direction of competitiveness. Now I might add, that in the processes of succeeding in that, we have witnessed the most dramatic and sustained drop in the level of industrial disputes this country has ever seen. And I make the point that where we took our attention to a proactive role rather than the traditional reactive one - as the other side of the House would have - we have succeeded far more than they ever did in getting the level of industrial disputes down. But what we've done is to focus on getting Labor market reform, ensuring that wages policy works in the overall interests of the policy settings of the Government - its fiscal and monetary policy settings - but at the same time driving reform at the micro or enterprise level of the economy. As for the macro settings, the record stands.

The Budget forecast on every occasion in the past seven years - and I predict that it will be delivered again in this current setting - has been delivered. In other words, for the first time, and in a period other than recession where the discipline of the market has meant that wages outcomes have been kept down, we have been able to deliver non-inflationary wages growth on every occasion in the context of a very buoyant domestic economy. That was never capable of being achieved on the other side because they had a fundamentally different approach on how you approach industrial relations. And it's the reason why you still have to have that framework, national, central perspective; not as the be all and end all of the totality of the industrial relations system in this country, but a recognition that unless you control wages policy in a growth economy you can't control much else.

JENNY HUTCHISON: That was former ACTU president, now Minister, Simon Crean. Also on the agenda on many occasions during the week was the environment. In spite of last week's Cabinet commitment to decreasing emission of greenhouse gases, there's been no sign, so far, of politicians giving up their gas-guzzling white cars. But Parliament House is no longer the `light on the hill' - not because of any move to economising but because of the latest invasion of bogong moths. The following comments are from Acting Speaker, Ron Edwards, then the Member for Corio, Gordon Scholes, and finally Democrat Senator, John Coulter.

RON EDWARDS: For the information of members, I received questions from members concerning bogong moths. I advised the Joint House Department is undertaking the following action in an effort to control the presence of bogong moths in the building and to reduce the attraction of the building itself to moths.

Pelmet lighting in offices both in the Senate and the House of Representatives will be turned off as from this evening. Secondly, two of the four flagpole lights have been turned off. Thirdly, attendants have been asked to turn off all unnecessary office and suite lighting. Fourthly, a great number of external lights have been turned off, including ramp lights, lighting around the tennis courts and in the formal gardens. Courtyard lighting will also be reduced. The engineering services section has discussed with the ACT authorities, road safety authorities and the Parliament House security controller, the feasibility of turning off all or some of the street lights located on Parliament Drive. A fine mesh has been installed over external air intake and exhaust vents and windows have been sealed to deny moths entry. Finally, an information circular is being issued today requesting occupants of the building to turn off lights in their offices and suites as they leave and to not leave doors to courtyard areas open during the day and evening, as this has been a major avenue for entry of the bogong moths. Housekeeping cleaning staff maintain a continual program of cleaning out rooms, suites, corridors, et cetera, which have been infested with the moths. I assure the House that every action is being taken to contain bogong moth infestation.

SPEAKER: The member for Corio.

GORDON SCHOLES: Will you ask the ACT authorities to investigate the suggestion which was made by the former Minister for Science, that a search light be placed on the hill at the back of Canberra to attract the moths away from the lit up areas. I understand that scientifically it would work.

JOHN COULTER: You will be aware, Mr President, that on two previous occasions - December 1988 and 1989 - I asked a question of you in relation to the amount of electricity used in this building, and the figure came to three and a quarter million dollars. I would like to make a request that during this time when the lights are turned off in the evening, that a measure of the savings of electricity, as a consequence of turning off the lights be made, and that that be reported back to the Senate because I believe the lights should be turned off at night time at all times.

JENNY HUTCHISON: On Monday the Democrats moved an urgency motion criticising the Government's credentials on sustainable development. On Tuesday Senator Coulter introduced a Private Member's Bill setting a limit on the CO2 emissions from each fleet of motor vehicles sold by a manufacturer or importer. And on Thursday he called on the Federal Government to direct the Resource Assessment Commission to inquire into the mineral sands industry. National party Senators O'Chee and Boswell concentrated on the plight of residents of the timber milling town of Ravenshoe.

But back to the lower House, and excerpts from discussion of the budget appropriations for the Department of the Environment. First, Shadow Minister Fred Chaney.

FRED CHANEY: The simple point that I wish to put in the committee this evening is that it really is vital - if this process of arriving at an agreed position on sustainable development is to succeed - it really is vital that the Government lay down clearly what the parameters are within which this discussion is to operate. And, in my view, that means that on the environmental front it's vital that the Government lay down its minimum requirement, so that industry can see quite clearly if the Government is in deadly earnest on environmental matters. And environmentalists, in turn, can be relaxed enough to then come to grips with the economic issues that have to come to grips with. The Government should set its environmental parameters very much more clearly than it has, so that it can be seen that it will proceed in good faith and with purpose in these areas. But it then needs to say that on the economic front, this process is one which is aiming to ensure continued economic growth in this country, continued development of Australian resources and, indeed, the further development of value adding material to the .. value adding activities to those resources. In other words, I am suggesting that some of the more difficult propositions being put forward by the environmentalists are clearly outside the parameters envisaged by either the present Government or the present Opposition; that we do need a basis for decision making during this current period, during this current decade. And debates about whether we're going to have a spiritual revolution and a movement away from seeking increased material standards is something that I think should be conducted, but not be at the heart of defining sustainable development as a working proposition for Australia in this immediate term period.

JENNY HUTCHISON: From Fred Chaney to another Opposition member, Don Dobie.

DON DOBIE: Since this Government has been in power, it has on only seven occasions - seven occasions in both Houses in seven years - brought forward environmental issues for discussion. The disgrace is that not only meaningful subjects had to be raised in matters of public importance and the urgency of them had to be proved to Mr Speaker, with no, repeat, no assistance from the Government at all. We have grown tired, on this side of the House, of the decision of this Government to make all its announcements relating to the environment via the press, or to be kindly, on site. We still await news of the greenhouse effect decision of the Government. Not a word of this in the Parliament today, not a word.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Queensland Labor backbencher, Garry Johns, defended his party.

GARY JOHNS: For all the talk around the place about how the Commonwealth apparently hasn't debated the environment sufficiently here - as was mentioned by the Member for Cook previously - or doesn't make sufficient statements in the House, we all need to realise that the Commonwealth, in the last seven years particularly, has bent over backwards to stretch the extent of its powers to use them to save the environment. I mean, most often we don't have direct powers in conservation of the environment areas, so we have to use the questions of our ability to write international conventions. We have to rely on using the Foreign Investment Review Board to deny foreign investment, or we deny export licences, or we only use our direct controls over things like Commonwealth land and Commonwealth expenditure. Time and time again, we've been able to use the very indirect powers of the Commonwealth to do conservation, good conservation work, and it's asking too much of a Commonwealth Government with limited powers to run the entire conservation debate for the nation.