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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2052

Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.49) —I wish to deal chiefly with the second of the two Bills before us this morning , namely, the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Amendment Bill. These are important Bills. Indeed, any legislation concerned with industrial relations, and particularly the circumstances on the Australian waterfront, is of great consequence to all Australians. I foreshadow my remarks on this matter by indicating that my Party will be moving an amendment to the second reading in the following terms:

At end of motion, add ', but while not opposing the provisions of the Bill the Senate deplores the failure of the Government to ensure an efficient stevedoring industry and a reliable trading relationship with other countries'.

That is exactly why the problems that relate to the stevedoring industry in the narrower field and, more extensively, in the whole area of industrial relations are of such enormous moment to the Australian people. Australia is very significantly a trading nation and if we have circumstances that tend to reduce productivity and our capacity as a trader, the whole community is the loser. That has been occurring very significantly in a number of industries and certainly in a range of primary industries. It has affected our ability to deliver a whole range of grain but in particular wheat. Very serious delays have occurred, costing the industry, even in recent weeks, in the vicinity of $100m. The great mining industries and in particular the coal industry have been very seriously set back by circumstances that relate to the capacity of industry to deliver its goods.

The Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Amendment Bill, which the Opposition supports, seeks to enable the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee to refinance a loan of $15.5m to the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour from the Australian Industry Development Corporation which was taken out in May 1983 in relation to the retrenchment of 350 waterfront workers. This matter of paying off, as it were in the business of redundancy, certain numbers from the waterfront was commenced back in 1966, I think, by the then Minister for Industrial Relations, the Hon. Tony Street. There have been very significant reductions since that year. In something like 18 years the numbers have been reduced from in excess of 21,000 to about 6,500. Now it has been found necessary to reduce that number even further. This is due to a number of reasons but quite obviously the chief reason has been the need for and the fairly rapid extension of the mechanisation of the operations of the waterfront. Of course, insofar as that sort of thing in the immediate future, certainly on the waterfront, will literally cost jobs, it is a sad situation. In the other sense, as it relates to the need for productivity and the capacity to compete, if the whole community is to survive and grow, it is a good thing.

But a way in which men could be moved from that occupation to other areas had to be found. Hence the system of redundancy payments was produced and in that period of 18 years that sort of reduction has occurred. Now the group of 350 workers, to which I referred in relation to the original $15.5m loan, is to be increased to 543. The refinancing will enable the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour to borrow to deal with that further redundancy of what is in this case of ancillary labour-the supervisors, the foremen, the clerks, the watchmen and so forth. The statutory arrangements forbid this operation at the moment. The redundancy cost of these 543 people is in the vicinity of $6m a year and I understand that if it were worked out in terms of idle time we would be looking at a figure of some $9.8m. The enormous cost of idle time and the relative immobility of labour in many situations in this field were among the reasons why this program was introduced in 1966 and has been followed throughout the course of governments of both sides of the political fence since that time. The underwriting of financing of redundancies began, as I said, in the days of Mr Street in 1966 and no real difficulties have been found in collecting the levies involved, because the borrowing is financed by levies on the industry. Those levies have been collected and the repayments have been made in due course and at no cost to government.

The proposition in this Bill is supported by the Stevedoring Industry Consultative Council, chaired by Sir Alan Westerman, and by the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee, which represents the Association of Employers of Waterside Labour, the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, the Australian National Line and the Waterside Workers Federation. So a pretty composite group of people is involved and it is that group's determination that this proposition should be pursued and that the refinancing to which I have referred should be brought about. It is consequently on those grounds that the Opposition supports this Bill.

I referred very briefly and I shall briefly refer further to the importance of creating circumstances on the Australian waterfront particularly but also in the whole of the Australian transport industry which provide for an ever-increasing productivity and efficiency and a continuing work circumstance so that we will become, as we have from time to time boasted to be, reliable suppliers on the world's markets. We have a fascinating potential in this country, a potential that can be destroyed only by our inability to exploit it as it should be exploited. In that context, I trust that the Government will look again at its present proposition, as I understand it, to alter or even to get rid of section 45D of the Trade Practices Act, which is directed against secondary boycotts, because that, it seems to me, would certainly be an unfortunate step. One of the things that that legislation has enabled to come about is the capacity to deal with secondary boycotts, which seems to be a totally unfair and, I might even say, un-Australian proposition. It seems to involve an innocent third party; it does not relate to problems that lie specifically between an employer or a group of employers and employees. The problems are not in that field. If we lose the section 45D provisions, we may well set Australian against Australian, instead of having the notion of consensus and co-operation that this Government has promoted. The idea of placing the trade union movement or any other movement, whether it be employers or whatever, over, above and outside the law is totally unacceptable to Australians.

I hope that the threat that at the moment hangs over section 45D is a threat that will drift away, because I believe it will not contribute to the security of our trading position or the security of our people across the board; rather, it will contribute significantly to disruption and to the inability of this country to play its proper role in a tough and competitive trading world. I close my remarks by referring the Senate to the amendment to the motion for the second reading which I have foreshadowed. I indicate the support of the Opposition for this piece of legislation.