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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3214

Mr COWAN —I direct a question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. I refer to Tuesday's industrial disputes figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Did working days lost in the coal industry rise by 55 per cent last year, and by 181 per cent over the last two years? Are nearly 1,000 working days lost every day, despite an undertaking unions gave in June-in return for a $60 pay rise-that there would be no disputes? Do not these figures clearly demonstrate the need for essential services legislation?

Mr WILLIS —I cannot vouch for the figures given by the honourable member for Lyne, but it is certainly the case that there is a much higher level of industrial disputation in the coal industry than in any other industry group identified by the Australian Statistician in the industrial disputes figures which are published monthly. Indeed, it has been a matter of considerable concern to us that the level of that disputation, despite the fact that the average wage for a coal miner is around $800 a week, is very high. That is a matter of great concern to this Government, and a problem which we have taken steps to overcome.

In the legislation which I announced in this House this morning there is provision for considerable change in the Coal Industry Tribunal in respect of the sanctions provision which, in line with the change in sanctions in the new Industrial Relations Commission, will involve a new process of ensuring compliance with awards of the Commission and of the Coal Industry Tribunal, with appropriate penalties if compliance is not achieved. That process is particularly important in the coal industry, but may I also say, as I announced this morning, it is the view of the Government that there should be further change in the operations of the Coal Industry Tribunal. That body, however, is jointly legislated for by this Parliament and the New South Wales Parliament and, under an agreement between the two governments made in the 1940s, changing the legislation requires the agreement of the New South Wales Government as well as of this Government.

Therefore, it has not been possible for us to change at this time, in the way we would have liked, the operations of the Coal Industry Tribunal, but I hope to obtain some further agreement from the New South Wales Government in the near future to other changes in the operations of the Coal Industry Tribunal to help address the difficult industrial situation which exists in that industry. The change that is being made is indeed an important one and to resolve a problem in the coal industry we certainly do not need the kind of legislation which has been introduced in Queensland with a view, apparently, particularly to lining up the coal industry. Attempting to use that legislation would certainly, in our view, be massively counterproductive and involve a lengthy stoppage in the coal industry which would be devastating to this nation as it would lead to a loss of exports in our major export industry at a time when this nation cannot afford that kind of loss.

We are as concerned as the honourable member is-indeed, more concerned, I suggest-at the need to improve industrial relations in the coal industry. We have taken substantial steps today to bring that about and we will in the near future take further steps if we can get the agreement of the New South Wales Government to do so.