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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4822

Senator MURRAY (11:39 AM) —The Democrats oppose schedule 1, item 1, in the following terms:

(1) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 7) to page 4 (line 2), TO BE OPPOSED.

Those items on page 4 marked (2A), (2B) and (2) are left intact and I will deal with those later. This is the nub of the government's attempt to deal with bargaining periods, and I think it is the reason I lay such emphasis on the provisions of 170MW, which already exist, and the need for greater clarification to ensure that genuine bargaining is occurring. It is for that reason that later on I will be proposing some amendments to deal with that issue.

The difficulty for the government, for the Democrats and, I would suggest, for all participants in this debate is to know whether the fears of pattern bargaining and the concerns as to some of the trends apparent in the manufacturing industry and in other industries will prove real. One of the difficulties we have is that prior to Campaign 2000 we were presented with enormous concerns and, frankly, I personally was racked in trying to arrive at a decision. In the end we decided not to support the government's bill of that time and to let the bargaining process find its own feet, as it is intended to do.

There is another difficulty often faced by people in assessing the nature of what goes on in the federal industrial relations regime. I would remind those who pass remarks about industrial relations that unfortunately for this country we have six industrial relations regimes and we would do far better to have just one. There is a great deal of confusion as to what goes on out there. One of the things that people forget is that the entire purpose of the Labor regime, as established in 1993 and further developed by the coalition regime as established in 1996, is to ensure that enterprise bargaining is at the forefront of the relationships between employers and employees. Both the Labor Party in 1993 and the coalition in 1996 walked away, in both instances supported by the Democrats—those two political parties walked away from industry-wide bargaining.

Awards constitute a safety net. Industry-wide bargaining does not apply in the federal regime and enterprise bargaining is to be encouraged. If you accept that that is how it is to be, then as far as possible you want to step back from the interaction between those parties and let them get on with it. The problem we see is that the government's amendment might shift a balance which, so far, seems to us to be working. But we are not at all certain on the issue; it is far too unclear as to how things are. On balance, looking at a lack of evidence as to its need, we would recommend that this section of item 1 be opposed.