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Tuesday, 12 June 1984
Page: 2805

Senator ZAKHAROV —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations seen a report of statements by the Victorian Treasurer, Rob Jolly, seeking the support of State and Federal parliamentarians in informing overseas businessmen of Australia's improved industrial relations record? Will the Minister inform the Senate about this improvement in industrial relations and the factors which have contributed to it? What steps has the Government taken to give publicity overseas to this improvement?

Senator BUTTON —I have not seen Mr Jolly's statement, though I am pleased to see that he has undoubtedly benefited from observations made on his recent trip overseas. It is certainly true that for a number of years the industrial relations record in Australia was a source of considerable criticism from countries to which Australia exported a variety of products. I think it is most important that the attention of those countries, which still constitute substantial markets for Australian products, should be constantly drawn to the fact that there have been significant changes in the industrial relations performance in this country. If one looks back even two or three years, perhaps the greatest cause of trade malaise and industrial malaise was the fact that we had such a high level of industrial disputes. I think it is very important that the record be rectified at every opportunity. I just make the point, in answer to the honourable senator's question, that industrial-

Senator Watson —What about all the unofficial strikes?

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator knows about unofficial strikes; he is on one half the time while sitting there. The fact of the matter is that the industrial relations performance of this country has improved dramatically-

Senator Watson —Only by official statistics, not by the unofficial figures.

Senator BUTTON —We compare like with like-official statistics with official statistics of years gone by when the parties opposite were in government. That is what I am about to do. If it makes the honourable senator uncomfortable, I am sorry. The time lost through industrial disputation in Australia in 1983 was at its lowest level for 16 years. In the 12 months to March 1984-

Senator Chaney —Where was unemployment?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney says: 'Where was unemployment?' It is considerably better than it was in 1982. Let me go on. In the 12 months to March 1984 only 236 working days were lost per thousand employees compared with 313 in the previous 12 months, and that represented a fall of 25 per cent. In the 12 months to March 1982, 818 days were lost, and the latest result represents a fall of 71 per cent. A number of reasons for that have been suggested by way of interjection-reasons associated with levels of employment and so on.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Levels of wages.

Senator BUTTON —Reasons associated with levels of wages is a new view thrown in from the West, if I may so describe Senator Crichton-Browne. Perhaps this is unkind to other senators. The fact of the matter is that this Government in its 15 months in office had directed its attention towards stability in Australian industry. The unemployment situation has been steadily improved. Two hundred and twenty thousand-odd jobs have been created in the period of this Government. There is general wage stability and less industrial unrest as I mentioned in earlier figures, a marked improvement in industrial unrest in Australia as compared with the last few years of the Fraser Government and, as I said earlier , the best record for 16 years in 1983. Figures for industrial disputes in 1984 show a continuing improvement on the 1983 figures. That is something which Australians as a whole should be proud of.

In answer to the honourable senator's question the point should frequently and persistently be made-in spite of Senator Watson trying to interject to stir up industrial trouble-to countries with which Australia does business. Not only is it important in terms of the general level of competitiveness of Australian industry and improved performance in that area but also it is very important because of changes which are rapidly taking place in industrial systems, particularly the ways in which inventories of stocks are now handled, compared with only a few years ago. As Australian industry modernises in respect of these matters the question of an improved industrial relations climate will also be vitally relevant in that process. So I commend the figures to the Senate for close attention. Many honourable senators, like Mr Jolly, will be travelling overseas in the forthcoming recess. It is important that they have the figures right.