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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1445

Senator FOREMAN —Is the Minister for Industry and Commerce able to comment on the recent record of industrial disputation in this country? How do current figures compare with those of previous periods? Will he comment on any influence the prices and incomes accord has had on the current level of industrial disputes in Australia?

Senator BUTTON —I have said on a number of occasions in the Senate that the industrial relations record in the past 12 months has been the best in Australia for 16 years; but Senator Foreman is more probing than that, as I would anticipate from a diligent senator from South Australia. The latest figures on industrial disputes, released last week, point out the success of this Government's industrial relations policies. The number of working days lost through industrial disputes in July 1984 was over 65 per cent lower than the average time lost for that month over the last 10 years. Days lost figures in the 12 months to July 1984 were the second lowest for any 12-month period in more than 15 years, the lowest being the 12 months to June 1984.

Senator Walters —Unemployment is so high it has got to be so.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Walters says that unemployment is so high it has to be so. She had better explain the figures for the last two years of the Fraser Government, when unemployment reached record levels, and has since declined. Industrial disputes in 1982 also reached record levels. If Senator Walters wants to interject here, she can do so; but I suggest that she go out on the stump and explain those figures to the people of Australia, as I shall be doing; and she might get some information from the answer to this question which will help her.

I was referring to the great improvements which have been made under this Government. In the 18-month period from January 1983 to June 1984, a little over two million days were lost through industrial disputes. That represents a 28.3 per cent improvement on the time loss of the comparable period--

Senator Walters —On a point of order, Mr President: Senator Button has suggested that I go out and stand on a stump. I do not need a stump; perhaps he does.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator BUTTON —What I am suggesting to Senator Walters is something that she might say. These figures represent a 28.3 per cent improvement on the time loss of the comparable period in 1982-83. They are a massive 53 per cent lower than the average for the 10 similar 18-month periods in the years 1972 to 1984. In 1979-1980, for example, nearly six million days were lost-testimony to the Fraser Government's ineptitude in industrial relations.

Senator Chaney —What about 1974?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney says: 'What about 1974?' The Fraser Government came to power with the promise of turning on the lights. Does he remember that? In seven years it did nothing about improving that situation. The plain fact is that this Government came to office--

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator BUTTON —This is obviously very painful to members of the Opposition. I am sorry about that. Sometimes one has to go through periods of pain in order to be cleansed.

This Government came to office with a workable wages policy and a determination to engender industrial harmony. Senator Foreman asked what role the prices and incomes accord had to do with all of that. That is a matter for judgment; but it is either one thing or another. It is the prices and incomes accord which has brought about this success, or it is the general policies of this Government. You can have it one way or the other. But the fact is that the success is there.

Australia is enjoying almost unprecedented industrial harmony in sharp contrast to the divisive and bitter years of the Fraser Government. This question of industrial disputation is of crucial importance to the future of this country. If one asks people why Australia was not competing on international markets 2, 3 , 4 or 5 years ago, everyone would say and the glib answer would be that it was the fault of industrial disputation, the high levels of industrial disputation. That was the alibi for years of failure by previous governments. That alibi no longer exists. This country has a much greater capacity to be competitive in international markets and in the domestic market because of the improved record of industrial disputation. I will be saying those things when I go on the stump. I hope Senator Walters will be saying them. If I want a big stump to stand on I will select a tree as thick as her.