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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2790

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(3.25) — We have just heard a quarter of an hour rave from the pseudo-Opposition spokesman for employment and industrial relations. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) really fancies himself in this area. He thinks he has the alley. He thinks he knows all about it, and as distinct from the-(Quorum formed) As I was saying, we have just listened to a quarter of an hour rave from the Opposition pseudo-spokesman on employment and industrial relations.

Mr Hodgman —Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a serious point of order. Is it in order for members to immediately walk out of the chamber after a quorum has been formed?

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr WILLIS —Perhaps I will be allowed to proceed this time, Mr Acting Speaker. As I was saying, we have just listened to the Opposition pseudo-spokesman for employment and industrial relations launch a quarter of an hour attack on me personally. I think he should have had the guts to move a substantive motion judging from the way that he put the whole matter of public importance. I regard the accusations that he has made as a personal attack on me and on my integrity as a Minister, and I repudiate them totally and completely. Let me say firstly that this matter of public importance is an exercise in absurdity and cynicism by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It is basically absurd to suggest that I , amongst all honourable members on the Government side, would be seeking to undermine the accord. It is absolutely absurd and ridiculous to make any such suggestion.

In the three years prior to the Australian Labor Party coming to government I spent a lot of time putting together a prices and incomes accord, and we regard that accord as being absolutely crucial and central to the economic policies of this Government and to the ability of this Government to deliver on most fronts. That puts it in very high esteem indeed. It is an extremely important part of our policies and one which I personally regard as being absolutely crucial. The Government as a whole regards it as being crucial. Rather than undermining it, I have been spending my whole time as a Minister, as has the Government as a whole , actively pursuing the process of building that accord, cementing it and making sure that it was in good shape. That is the sheer fact of what has happened during the Government's period in office. It has been a period of our putting together the accord and providing the basis upon which this country can have a sustained economic recovery, a recovery which will give us growth in employment and a chance of getting unemployment down, a chance which would not be available to us if the previous Government were still in office pursuing its disastrous policies which, in its last year in government, added a quarter of a million to the lists of unemployed. We regard the accord as crucially central to our policy . It is absurd and ridiculous and shows how gullible the Opposition regards the people of this nation if it suspects that we would undermine our own accord or that I, as the Minister most responsible, would be seeking to do anything which would undermine it. The opposite is the case. We are using our every endeavour to build that accord. Of course, in the period that we have been in office we have achieved a tremendous amount in that regard. Only today in the Melbourne Age the Director of the Confederation of Australian Industry, Mr Bryan Noakes, was saying what a tremendous amount had been done to put together the prices and incomes accord. He is a person who has integrity in this matter, unlike the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and he appreciates what was done by this Government to put together the prices and incomes accord. I believe that the people of this nation and this Parliament should take much more notice of what he has to say about that matter than of the ravings and the personal attacks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

In putting together the prices and incomes accord we have had to develop the wages policy which, of course, is a central part of the prices and incomes accord. It is not the only part; there is a vest array of supporting policies; there are consultative mechanisms; but the central part is the wages policy. We have established that wages policy. We are very pleased that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission has adopted the policy which we said it should adopt; that is, a policy which provides half-yearly adjustment to wages in accordance with movements in the level of prices and which will eventually provide for some increase in real wages. We believe that system is thoroughly responsible economically and is conducive to the recovery of the economy, both on the employment front and in regard to reducing the level of inflation. All the present movements in the economy are helpful in that regard; they show that the prices and incomes accord is working. We do have employment recovering quite strongly; we have inflation and interest rates falling. All of these developments are a disaster for the Opposition.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is appalled by these happenings which are so good for the Australian nation. He wants to see them all reversed; he wants to see the economy crumble; he wants to see the whole thing fall down. He has no wish to see the prices and incomes accord be successful. What a hypocritical matter of public importance this is. One would think that he would have some support for the prices and incomes accord, but of course he has not any support for it whatever. (Quorum formed) Before about the fifth interruption by Opposition members who are clearly concerned not to let me reply to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition's quarter of an hour of vituperation, I was saying that in looking at the matter of public importance which they have put forward today, one would think they had some concern to see the prices and incomes accord maintained. Of course they have no concern for that at all; they would sabotage it themselves at every opportunity. They of course have no concern to see it be successful. What they want to see is a wages policy in this country which would ruin the prospects of recovery under the Labor Government and which would bring about the fall of this Government. So let us not have any hypocritical statements from members of the Opposition about any concern they might have about how the prices and incomes accord is going. We know they do not give a damn about the prices and incomes accord. It is our policy and we do not need honourable members opposite to tell us how to operate it.

Mr Howard —What about the building agreement?

Mr WILLIS —I will come to the building agreement. If honourable members had given me about another five minutes I would have had more time to talk about it. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in the course of his quarter of an hour of vituperative remarks, talked about the building industry. He seemed to think that he had struck something particularly special there to show how heinous my activity as Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has been. Let me say to him that we inherited a situation in the building industry which was extraordinarily difficult. Under the previous Government the building industry had been a total and complete disaster, a disaster area in regard to industrial relations. There had been massive amounts of industrial disputation and an extraordinary shambles on the industrial relations front. All honourable members opposite did was to rush in and attack through de-registration proceedings. They had no alternative approach to put forward which might bring about rationality in the industrial relations area. All they knew was how to kick union heads.

In the building industry we have tried to bring about a long term position where we could get rational industrial relations procedures. When we came into office the parties were already in a situation where they had to re-negotiate a two-year agreement. That was coming on anyway. We said to those parties: 'Now is the time to try to negotiate something which has an industrial relations content , not just something which is going to re-establish conditions of employment but something which goes to the whole process of industrial relations'. We have gone through various processes, which time does not permit me to go into, to try to bring about that situation. As a result there was a very prolonged period of negotiations which came up with an industrial relations package backed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to which the ACTU would be a signatory. This , therefore, brought the chance of survival of that agreement into a much higher possibilities realm than was the case otherwise. With the ACTU as a signatory to the agreement we have a much greater assurance that the industrial relations procedures established would be adhered to by the parties. In this process we had the difficulty created by the fact that the parties believed that there should be a package in regard to allowances, which included adjustment of cost related allowances, non-cost related allowances and a special allowance in regard to that agreement.

That matter has been to the Arbitration Commission, as we all know. In the anomalies conference we said to the Commission that we would support the agreement, so long as there was no flow-on beyond the building and construction industry. That was the complete condition of our support for it, because we were not going to open the door to something which would lead to the breakdown in our own prices and incomes accord. We were seeking to protect that accord. The Commission found that there was no assurance that it would not flow beyond the prices and incomes accord and the building and construction industry. So it rejected that matter. In that situation all that I have said, which apparently has sparked off this quarter of an hour of vituperation from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was that the superannuation element was part of the agreement . The parties agreed that they would, in about a year's time, begin to negotiate a superannuation package; they would bring that forward as a means of trying to reach an agreement which would satisfy all parties. That seems to me to be a sensible suggestion in the circumstances. So the months of negotiation to try to establish a long term industrial relations package which gave the real prospect of industrial peace in this industry could be maintained in a way which would not damage the prices and incomes accord, which this Government fully supports.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The Minister's time has expired.