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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2811

Mr O'NEIL(5.44) —I was quite amazed for a moment; I thought the remarks of the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) would be quite different from those of his colleagues on that side of the House and would be rather positive. However, being part of the National-Liberal conglomeration he had to conclude his remarks with the usual diatribe attacking unions. Of course, his remarks were only rubbish, and I am sure the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) will answer them later.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a contribution to the debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) which is designed to streamline the efficiency of the operations of trade unions. I particularly want to devote most of my time to the complementary industrial relations system. I am sure both the workers and employers of the industrial cities of Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla within the huge electorate of Grey which I represent, will welcome this constructive legislation.

As the Minister pointed out in his second reading speech, this legislation represents a further step by this Government towards the implementation of its industrial relations platform and is in accordance with the accord reached between the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. As a person who has had a long involvement in the trade union movement I am well aware of the problems that have occurred over the years with the difference between Federal and State awards and hence between Commonwealth and State industrial systems. Therefore, the proposals in this Bill for greater co- ordination between the Commonwealth and State industrial systems are very welcome.

As I mentioned earlier, this legislation will benefit the iron triangle cities within my electorate, as the workers in these cities are covered by Federal or State awards. Over the years these awards have caused many problems and headaches for both the employer and the employee. I must commend trade union officials such as Mr Douglas Elkins, organiser of the Amalgamated Metals, Foundry and Shipwrights Union and also Secretary of the Whyalla Trades and Labor Council, who has diligently kept his members informed of their correct entitlements and kept industrial disputation to a minimum, although working in very trying conditions and, at times, against very hostile employers.

As the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations pointed out, this Bill provides for improved co-ordination in the work of the Commonwealth and State industrial tribunals through the reintroduction in identical terms of the Conciliation and Arbitration (Complementary Industrial Relations System) Bill 1983. The new legislation provides for joint sittings of single members of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and State tribunals; expansion of the powers of local industrial boards, when constituted by a State industrial authority, to permit them to exercise Federal conciliation and arbitration jurisdiction; and the exercise, by agreement, of State jurisdiction by members of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

These are very positive steps and will be extremely beneficial in the resolution of disputes which in the past have been most difficult to settle because they have involved Commonwealth and State jurisdictions. In the past, particularly during the term of the Fraser Government, industrial harmony was non-existent as the Liberal-National Party Federal Government attempted to take the proverbial big stick to the unions. I think the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the former shadow Minister for employment and industrial relations, was most appropriate. On 22 April 1982, referring to the then Liberal -National Party Government, he said:

In summary, looking at this track record of the legislation which has been introduced and the approach which has been adopted, we find that the Fraser Government, in its approach to industrial relations, has been nothing short of disastrous for this country. The preoccupation with confrontationist policies has led to a deterioration in industrial relations and has meant that opportunities to improve our industrial relations system through constructive reforms have been forgone.

Mrs Darling —He did a lot of damage.

Mr O'NEIL —As my colleague the honourable member for Lilley said, he did a lot of damage. The present Prime Minister went on to state:

In those circumstances it is no wonder that there is disillusionment in the business community with the Government's performance. The loss of confidence reflects a growing awareness in that area that not merely are the policies of this Government not working but, worse than that, they are making the industrial relations scene in this country worse than it would otherwise be.

That is the record of the Fraser Government.

I shall point out the difference between the Fraser Government and this Government by reading to the House some headlines from leading papers published at the time when the Fraser Government was in office. They are: 'Fraser wants to fight claims Dolan'; 'Thousands in stand-downs'; 'Commission approves airline stand-downs'; 'Fraser supports Qantas for use of staff labour'; 'Cabinet's toughest weapon is drawn on Telecom'; 'Senior Telecom staff ordered to break union bans'; 'Telecom: all set for battle'; 'Canberra roads blockaded in TWU attack'; 'Qantas enrages the ACTU'; 'Telecom members shatter restrictive wage guidelines'; 'Telecom threatens to use rare penal clauses'; 'Government backs off in Telecom clash'; and, finally, 'Labor favoured to curb strikes'. The difference between the former Liberal Federal Government and our Government is that we believe in consultation, not confrontation, as was pointed out by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations in his dialogue with the unions in which he informed the unions of the steel industry package. After consultation and dialogue the unions come away more than happy.

In the Pilbara we have had serious strikes over the years but now the Federal Government is having dialogue with the unions in that area and industrial disputation is non-existent. The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) is continually having discussions with the maritime unions, as he is with the railway unions. I commend the Minister for Transport particularly in this area. The railway unions have had a long history of disputation through no fault of their own, simply because they could not get to see the former Minister for Industrial Relations to have dialogue. The present Minister has certainly changed that.

Mrs Darling —He is a good Minister.

Mr O'NEIL —That is certainly so. I should just like to speak briefly on the rationalisation of industry tribunals. This Bill repeals the Public Service Arbitration Act 1920, and, most importantly, vests the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission with jurisdiction over employment by the Commonwealth and Northern Territory or authorities of either by the insertion of a new Division 1A. The Commission will have a positive role to play in heading off disputes or bringing disputes to an end. The Commission, apart from intervening in disputes, can in certain circumstances affect awards and conditions of employment. The whole Bill is very effective in simplifying procedures. It spells out the roles of officers and organisations clearly and, most importantly , it expands the powers of the Deputy Industrial Registrar. We on this side of the House believe that this legislation is long overdue. It is certainly very progressive and I have much pleasure in commending it to the House.