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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1293

Senator CHANEY —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in that capacity and as Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. It concerns the industrial relations policy of the Business Council of Australia announced yesterday and widely publicised today. I address it to Senator Button because of his long interest in industrial relations and his previously expressed support for the concept of a more flexible wages system, and also because of the importance of the issue for industry and commerce for which he is directly responsible. I ask: Does the Minister welcome the policy put forward by this committee of leading businessmen chaired by Mr Stan Wallis of Amcor Ltd? In particular, given his previous comments on the wages system, does the Minister welcome, and will he support in government the recommendation for a move to enterprise level agreements on pay and conditions which are enforceable under law in place of the existing centralised system of awards?

Senator BUTTON —I think the first thing to say about the history of industrial relations and wage fixation in Australia is that in current economic circumstances, and in the economic circumstances of the last two or three years, the centralised wage fixation system has been immensely important. I have said on previous occasions, and I repeat it, that there is a need to develop gradually greater flexibility in the wages system in this country. Senator Chaney asked me a question about the industrial relations system and, of course, that embraces the wages system and a whole range of other issues.

The Government very much welcomes the Business Council of Australia's paper and finds much common ground with what the BCA is saying, particularly its recognition of the need to improve work and management practices which go to the very important question of productivity and also the need to minimise industrial conflict in Australia, again in the interests of reliability and productivity. Having acknowledged that fact, let me say that many of those issues can best be solved at the enterprise level. At this stage I think the Government would draw a distinction between wage fixation policy and a range of other issues addressed in the BCA paper which are probably more suitably dealt with at the enterprise level while, in the Government's view, the question of wage fixation, in order to prevent erratic behaviour, breakouts and so on, is perhaps best dealt with at the national level.

At this point in history I would argue that the needs of economic policy in Australia's institutions do not provide a basis for a wholly enterprise based approach. The Government will have the opportunity to discuss with the Business Council of Australia some of its suggestions-I think it has produced an important and valuable paper-and in the course of those discussions some further developments in industrial relations policy and practices in Australia might well emerge.