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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2235

Senator AULICH(4.17) —I rise to speak in a debate which I imagine could be entitled Hancock's Half Hour, judging by some of the original contributions I have heard from the other side. I commend Mr Hancock for the report of the Committee of Review of the Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems and all those people who put time and effort into it, all those people who have given the benefit of their years of experience in the industrial relations arena, who have come through what must be one of the worst periods of industrial relations history for at least 20 years and who, from those experiences, have given us something that will be a very valuable blueprint for the future. I do not agree with everything in the report; however, I believe that it is something which, for the first time in many years, has given the Government something to grapple with.

I remember being involved in a number of conferences during the late 1970s and early 1980s as a State Minister for industrial relations and going to endless working party meetings called by a harassed Malcolm Fraser as he attempted to grapple with the problems that were afflicting his Government at the time. Not since at least the late 1940s has there been such a disruptive period in industrial relations as that which prevailed during the period when Malcolm Fraser was in the cockpit. The problem basically was that the Prime Minister of the day was unable to prevent himself from intervening in issues from time to time, setting back all that had been achieved by the co-operation of unions and management.

At last we have a government that is able to say to unions and management: 'We want you to get together. We want you to ensure that you improve the industrial relations record of this country. In passing, we want you to improve the sorts of results that are achieved in terms of a real increase in wages-that is, a proper social wage-to improve the situation for the average consumer and citizen who is hurt by continual industrial disruption. In other words, we want you to ensure that, as we go into the latter part of the 1980s, we have an industrial relations system we can be proud of, not one that we are ashamed of'.

Every honourable senator opposite can recall the sorts of statements that were made by Japanese businessmen and other people overseas about the condition of the Australian industrial relations situation. Every comment we heard from overseas was a critical comment. It was critical simply because we had a government that was not prepared either to create the right relationships between unions and employers or to set about changing the structures so that those relationships could be improved.

Senator Messner, for example, objects to what he calls the corporatism of this report. He says that it is creating a situation in which the major groups in the community carve up the benefits between them. Yet what more perfect example of the corporate state could one find than Queensland, the State that Senator Messner so willingly sets out to defend? In Queensland there is excessive government influence over the media. The Queensland Government is prepared to legislate right down the line to punish unions and individuals for what would be considered minor transgressions elsewhere in Australia and to impinge upon the civil liberties of its citizens. Yet what do we hear from the other side? We hear nothing. In other words, relationships in Queensland have gone totally askew. Yet Senator Messner is prepared to come in here and say that he objects to the corporate state. What is the alternative that Senator Messner and others on the other side put up? I will tell honourable senators what it is. It is the law of the jungle; it is deregulation, as they put it. It is the situation that we had in 1981-82 when the whole industrial relations system in this country fell apart. For example, Malcolm Fraser could not even get to, I think, a royal wedding because he had to come back here and beg the cool heads in the Australian Council of Trade Unions to intervene on his behalf to stop a strike by the Transport Workers Union.

Senator Harradine —He paid out Telecom.

Senator AULICH —He paid out the strongest unions in the country at certain times but at other times he went in hard on the weaker unions. In other words, the way the former Government ran industrial relations in this country was a disgrace. Here we have a government that, for the first time in many years, has been able to halve the number of days lost through industrial disputes. What do we get? We get criticism from people over there who are not even on side with the business community, which is supposedly their traditional ally. I have sat in on conferences in this country for years and heard businessmen criticise the government of the day for doing nothing, for having the wrong attitudes. This report is a step in the right direction. I believe the Government will look very seriously at the recommendations that have been made. I support the majority of the views expressed in this report. I commend those people, including the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, for the work he has done in bringing this about. It is an example of the right approach to industrial relations and it is long overdue.