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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2054

Senator JACK EVANS(11.02) —This legislation is quite obviously non-controversial because neither of the previous speakers has used more than 10 words to refer to it. It is equally obvious that it is an opportunity for political parties to promote their industrial relations policies and to contest the industrial relations policies of their opponents. I will indulge briefly in the latter exercise, because the Australian Democrats are not afraid to indicate to the Parliament that we have an industrial relations policy which varies from the policies implemented by the Liberal-National Party coalition when in government and from the policies implemented by the Australian Labor Party when in government.

It was fascinating to sit in this cross bench situation and listen to the two previous speakers, one from the Liberal Party and one from the National Party, about all that needs to be done to improve our industrial relations system. One wonders where this new-found wisdom emanated from. One recognises-it is obvious in this Parliament-that the desire of a party to do things springs to its greatest height when a party is in opposition. The unwillingness to do things seems to stultify that party when it becomes the government of the day. It is patently obvious that that is true in regard to the experience that I have witnessed over the last 18 months. Suddenly, new-found solutions are put forward by the Opposition and the solutions which were being promulgated by the Labor Party when in opposition are now found to be too difficult to cope with.

I will illustrate those facts by referring to a few brief items that the Democrats have been talking about in this Parliament and have proposed to the Government. Incredibly, we find that we suddenly have the support of the Opposition on the very issues that we put forward and which the Opposition rejected when it was in government. A good illustration is what was originally the John Siddons industrial democracy plan, a plan which had the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party when in opposition, but which has been consistently put to the back of the back burner by the Labor Party now that it is in government. The Siddons industrial democracy plan which, interestingly, has the support of employers and employees across the nation, cannot get the support of the political party which is in government when the Democrats bring forward the proposal. I have introduced a Bill which is identical to the Bill which was introduced by John Siddons. It has been held in abeyance to the point when the Parliament is about to be prorogued. It will, of course, fall to the ground, as it did when the Liberal-National Party coalition was in government.

It is a very sound piece of legislation because it follows the fundamental belief of the Australian Democrats that the participation of employees in making decisions which affect their work place is a basic democratic right, a right which is as important as the right to vote. It humanises the work place. It creates an organisational structure that frees people to use their qualities of imagination, initiative, technical expertise, sociability and leadership during the working day. Nothing, certainly not money, can compensate for eight hours of monotonous, mind-killing work. If people are not free to use their human qualities during the working day, one can expect continuing industrial strife. It is a psychological inevitability. The humanisation of the work place is one of the greatest challenges facing Australia and the Western world today. It is likely to face us for the rest of this century and, looking at the way in which this Government and its predecessor have behaved, it will be well into the next century, because the Government keeps putting it on to the back burner to which I referred earlier. I appeal to the Government to look very seriously at the Australian Democrats' Industrial Democracy Bill-the John Siddons Bill. I refer to it as the John Siddons Bill because within his own enterprise it is functioning now. It is not just a theory. It is a practical policy which can be applied to enterprises today. It needs only the support of a government to make it more feasible and more attractive.

The Australian Democrats have also gone down the path that the Liberal Party has been espousing recently. I am delighted that it has picked up the suggestion and the concept proposed by the Australian Democrats for a collective bargaining system. I expect some opposition from certain members of the Government to a collective bargaining system because there are some difficulties in their basic philosophy in accepting collecting bargaining. But we believe that the Bill that I have put before the Parliament-the Collective Agreements (Corporations) Bill- would make it possible to introduce a collective bargaining system to Australia which would provide the safety valve for which there is a very real need in Australia's industrial relations system.

We will face a problem in the next year or so, and I suspect that it will blossom vigorously in 1985. The problem is this: How do we cope with the regrowth in Australia's economy? Once people recognise that we are back into a growth regime, everybody will have their hands in the till. Employees, understandably, having had their claims for an increasing share of the cake held in abeyance for the last two years-the first year as a result of the wage freeze and the second year as a result of the prices and incomes accord-will be far more vigorous in their attempts to get an increased slice of the cake in 1985. We can expect that vigour to move into the conciliation and arbitration courts with claims for substantial increases, be they in cash or in kind. There will be claims for a much larger slice of the cake.

On the other hand, employers will be saying: 'Our profits have been down for the last four or five years. Now is the time for us to make investment in enterprises in Australia more attractive by having increased profits. We want a larger slice of the cake. We want to prove to investors that it is worthwhile investing in this kind of enterprise or industry. Therefore, we need to demonstrate the viability of this enterprise by making it more profitable. We do not want all of the increased benefits to flow on to employees. We want a lot of it to flow on to shareholders'. That is where the conflict is going to arise. There will be a slightly bigger cake but it will not be big enough to cope with the demands for the much bigger slices that we will hear about in 1985.

That is why the Australian Democrats have proposed that safety valve machinery be in place by 1985 to give enterprises, particularly small businesses, the opportunity to sit around the table and reach unanimous agreement. I stress that all employees and employers, together with the unions, which must have an input into discussions, must reach agreement on an alternative to the award conditions and provisions which are set down. Given that that agreement is reached unanimously, we believe that employers and employees should legally be able to break away from the award system which is laid down for an enterprise. We believe that if that opportunity is given many enterprises will survive. We also believe that employees will have improved working conditions as a result of the application of such a proposal.

We believe it could be possible for groups of people within the community working in the same enterprise to set their own rules, guidelines standards and conditions rather than their being subject to some conciliation and arbitration system or court which is remote from them and unaware of their particular conditions. As a result, this small group would be able to put the emphasis where it believes it should be put. It may be that members of the group would prefer a different kind of working week or holiday structure. Maybe they would prefer different working conditions. They might want greater ability for and flexibility in shared working conditions and shared work opportunities. Under a collective agreement system a great number of avenues could be pursued which one can understand could not be pursued in a universal context in which everybody had to comply and conform with a particular agreement. The agreement I am talking about would be unique to that particular community. That is the principle behind this collective agreements proposal.

I believe that in amending the Conciliation and Arbitration Act we should be looking at this type of proposal rather than simply putting another couple of band-aids on a system which is starting to cause very real problems across the nation. One of the reasons for that, of course, is that under our Constitution we suffer from having both a Federal and a State system of conciliation and arbitration. These two systems need to be brought together. In fact, very worthwhile suggestions were made recently to give each State arbitration court power to adjudicate at the same time on matters being considered within both the Federal and the State arbitration systems. I think the Government is probably already looking at that possibility. The whole system is in danger of collapsing if something is not done.

One of the reasons I fear that the Government has lost the courage of the convictions it held while it was in opposition is the response to a fervent plea that I made on behalf of the owner-drivers of this country-a small group of individualists and typically Australian small entrepreneurs who invest their life savings in road transport vehicles. These people live in limbo-they are non -employees and non-employers. I suppose if one preferred to be positive, one could say that they are both employer and employee, but I stress the negative because they are not accepted in the arbitration system as employers or employees. They are left out of the whole system. They are left in a position where they are vulnerable to massive pressures from prime contractors and others who use their services. As a result, we have in this country a very real problem not just in terms of the economic viability of these people but in terms of their very potential to stay alive. Some of these people are compelled to be out on the road for 15 hours a day, seven days a seek, 365 days a year just to meet the payments on their vehicles and pay their other overheads, let alone make a basic living out of their business.

The Australian Democrats asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) to consider the plight of these people and to do what was done in New South Wales and legislate to give them access to an arbitration system. The Minister said: 'No, look, it is a little bit difficult at the moment , besides which we have a committee looking at the whole heavy road transport system and we will wait until it comes down with its recommendations'. We waited and waited. We then discovered that not only did the committee not have any recommendations on this matter; it had not been given a reference on the subject . The whole thing was a sham by the Minister to enable him to avoid his responsibility to the owner-drivers of Australia until this Parliament is prorogued. Therefore, there is still no way in which owner-drivers can go before an arbitration court to get justice. That is tragic, not only for them but also for many other people-people who may suffer death or injury on the roads as a result of actions by owner-drivers who, because of the hours they work, find it impossible to cope and become hazards on the roads.

I mention this matter in the context of the debate today because the Government has presented to the Parliament a little bit of patchwork quilting to cover a couple of areas that it considers are critical at the moment, but the Government is not facing the major issues which need to be faced in the conciliation and arbitration system. Later today we will be talking about section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. I will refrain from indulging in discussion on that matter at the moment.

Senator Cook —Why?

Senator JACK EVANS —Because we will be debating that matter later. That part of the conciliation and arbitration system is under the microscope, but that is only because of massive pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government to do something. As I said, that matter will come forward for debate later today or early next week. I conclude by indicating that, as does the Opposition, we will be supporting the Bills before us. They are quite sensible amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and to the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Act. In giving that support to the Government I stress that we believe that the Government is not looking adequately at the total system in Australia. But for a few days, we have sat here through a complete Parliament and not had the matter addressed in the macro sense. We are constantly being served up these micro-amendments, and it becomes more and more evident that the big issue is proving to be just as impossible a task for this Government as it was for its predecessor. I guess that Australia will suffer because this Government will do nothing in this Parliament or in the next Parliament in which it will inevitably be returned to government. Then if the Liberals and Nationals take on the following government, we will have a reversal of roles but we will have a continuation of the do nothing policy in industrial relations.

Senator Hill —That is not right.

Senator JACK EVANS —We have heard the 'that is not right' story from so many people in so many areas that I am sure the people of Australia are starting to recognise that the Liberal Party in the current campaign is promising the world for the next Parliament in the certain knowledge that it will not have to meet any of its promises. That is becoming evident as each of its policies comes to the fore in this second last week of this Parliament when a whole lot of new proposals are coming forward which are obviously aimed at only one objective, that is, embarrassing the Government. We want commitments from parties in this Parliament-not just promises to electors-that they will implement the policies that they espouse on the hustings. One thing I can assure them is that, if they do not, there will be Australian Democrats here holding the balance of power after this election who will again embarrass at the very least, if not lead, the next Government into the legislative program that it should be adopting.