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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1498

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(9.35) —There has been a lot of-

Senator Lewis —I thought you were going to say that the Government accepts the Opposition objection to this regulation and that you will allow it to be disallowed. Is that what you are going to say?

Senator BUTTON —No, that is not what I am about to say. I was going to say that the windy rhetoric that we have heard from Opposition speakers tonight would blow a tall ship from Europe to Australia and back again. Nothing much has been said about the facts of the matter, however. I was interested in what Senator Hamer had to say but, really, these bleats from Senator Lewis and Senator Michael Baume about their concern about exports were pretty feeble efforts.

Let me begin by talking about the International Labour Organisation Convention. Those countries which implement the ILO Convention are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Senator Lewis —And Australia, I would hope.

Senator BUTTON —Yes. In addition there is another arrangement among European countries which embraces several countries other than those referred to on the list which I have just read. It is very easy to come in here tonight and make a lot of fuss about flyscreens. I do not want to enter into the flyscreen debate, it does not seem to me to be particularly important; in fact it seems to be a piece of mindless trivia, both in the regulations and in this debate in the Senate. It does not seem to me to be very important to be able to swat a flyscreen, but that is what Senator Lewis spent most of his speech doing. It does not seem to me to be very important to make the trivial points that have been made about paint lockers. The substance of Senator Hamer's objection to all this is that somehow in Australia the ILO Convention has been adopted and it has been adopted by a number of other countries which are far more prominent shipping countries than we are and that in addition there are other matters in the list appended to Senator Hamer's document which he says are objectionable

Senator Hamer —We can impose them on our own, if we choose, but these are being imposed on foreign ships.

Senator BUTTON —I understand that, but I understand that the point is that they always have been under maritime orders. These matters, which were just picked up, were there throughout the period of the Fraser Government, the Gorton Government, the McMahon Government and so on. They have been there for many years and they have been picked up as things which existed in relation to ships in Australian ports. They may have existed in some form or another in other countries, but I am unable to inform the Senate on that matter.

Senator Michael Baume —With the force of regulation.

Senator BUTTON —Yes.

Senator Lewis —Don't you go misleading us.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order!

Senator BUTTON —I can stand it, Mr Acting Deputy President. If it upsets you, please intervene.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I like to be able to hear the speaker.

Senator BUTTON —Thank you. A number of points were made by Senator Michael Baume who claimed that this was a conspiracy by this Government. Senator Hamer suggested that it was a government-union conspiracy and all that sort of stuff. Let us be accurate about this. Senator Hamer illustrates his point about trouble with the unions on this issue by a Press cutting dated April 1985. That is an important date because these sorts of standover tactics by unions-the Federal Ship Painters and Dockers Union in particular-were rife at the time.

Senator Michael Baume —The one I referred to was dated July 1986.

Senator BUTTON —Well, you are probably 10 years younger than Senator Hamer, but less than one year more astute, I would say.

Senator Michael Baume —But there was evidence in mid-1986, Senator.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Baume is the quintessence of modernity, if I may say so. The point is that the Government had to respond to a situation which was complained about by all shippers and which was a serious industrial relations problem. We do not shrink from that at all. We tried to get rid of the rackets which were going on-Senator Baume seems to think that they still exist-by getting the inspection issue out of the hands of the trade unions and into the hands of Department of Transport surveyors. Admittedly a union official can still complain but whether the ship is detained or not is now determined by a Transport Department surveyor. Senator Baume made a lot of points about health. Arrangements have been made between the Federal and State governments and the shippers to ensure that health matters are dealt with by the appropriate authorities in each State. Senator Lewis talked about garbage all night-in fact, he talked garbage all night. The point is that any garbage issue is dealt with by the State health department and those arrangements have been made. I do not regard the scheme as entirely satisfactory. Senator Lewis should not go away deluded about that. The aim of the scheme is to reduce the industrial relations problem, get rid of the criminal problem which existed at the time of Senator Hamer's Press cutting and ensure that the inspections are properly conducted by officers of the Department of Transport.

Senator Lewis —Why did you have such a wide definition of `interested person'? You had better look at this because it could be any union official, it does not even have to be a member of a maritime union. In fact, it does not even have to be a union official, it can be any unionist.

Senator BUTTON —I think you will find that it is a union official. I do not want to argue about it: Senator Lewis can look that up while I am talking. I do not want to totally interrupt what I am saying. I have news for Senator Lewis: Throughout this country under numerous State Acts passed by Liberal governments, supported by employers and employees alike, supported by all the national employer organisations, there are provisions in awards and legislation relating to safety and health matters which are to be policed by union officials in conjunction with management.

Senator Cook —Quite right.

Senator BUTTON —That is correct. That is true, and it is true throughout the Western world. What is the answer, Senator Lewis?

Senator Lewis —It is an official of a trade union.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, a union official. The honourable senator just said to me: `Don't you mislead the Parliament'. He spent 10 minutes talking about any unionist being able to complain. It is a union official who can complain. So let us work out who is misleading whom before we have too much noise about this matter.

I was making the point that the aim of this package of proposals is to try to get rid of a very difficult industrial relations situation, which we cannot do, although Senator Lewis would like to think we could, by sending a gun boat or sending in the troops. This will not get rid of a difficult industrial relations situation. It has to be done by a process of attitudinal change if it is going to be at all permanent.

Senator Michael Baume —Adopt the ILO Convention.

Senator BUTTON —That is the view of this Government. It is the view which has been very successful in bringing about change in industrial relations patterns and results in Australia. That is the way we will proceed. That is the way which has brought results.

I say to Senator Michael Baume that it is not just a question of adopting the ILO Convention. If the honourable senator wants to make the point that some of these things that have been in the maritime regulations for ages seem silly to him, I am not going to have a debate with him about that. I do not think that is terribly important. The important issue is that health and safety issues in relation to ships are being dealt with now by officials of the Department of Transport; that the industrial relations issue has been settled down; that there are appropriate arrangements for State government involvement in respect of particular health issues, sanitary issues and so on; and that we now have a system which I think is not entirely satisfactory but which is considerably better than what existed before. I believe progress has been made and will continue to be made in respect of this matter. This progress is essential for the purpose of improving the general services offered by ships trading out of Australia and, consequently, the facilitation of exports about which the two honourable senators from the other side who spoke naturally and properly seemed so concerned.

In the last month or so two ships have been held up in this country by, as I understand it, transport inspectors because of serious breaches of safety and health provisions. These ships have been described as floating hulks. It is not in the interests of any civilised community to have those sorts of ships trading into and out of Australia. I think it is probably appropriate that they were held up because there are always dangers associated with the crews of such ships which can impact on the Australian community in terms of costs and in other ways. I think it is probably appropriate that this sort of thing does happen.

Senator Michael Baume —But that is under the ILO Convention. We are not objecting to that.

Senator BUTTON —It was very unclear what the honourable senator was objecting to.

Senator Michael Baume —I made no objection to the ILO Convention. I said it was going beyond that.

1502 SENATE 30 March 1987 ...Australia Card Bill Through to p. 1505

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator seems to be objecting to everything tonight. At one stage I thought he was even objecting to me. That is something that I cannot understand. There are two bodies of law. One is the ILO Convention and the other is the maritime regulations which are mentioned in the motion before the Senate. I appreciate the difficulty in understanding some of the matters in the second list.

The other point I want to make is that the proposal that was implemented late last year also includes provision for a review of how this arrangement is working, because it did not work for a long time. A few very grave difficulties were occasioned for Australia, and particularly for some of our trading partners in respect of this matter. This process which has been put in place in the last six months or so has the agreement of the shippers and, of course, of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. This is a point which I do not need to make; it was made fulsomely by Senator Lewis and others in the course of the debate. The arrangement has the agreement of those parties and it will be reviewed periodically to see whether the appropriate improvements are being made. It is for those reasons-although I do not allege that it is a perfect arrangement-that the Government says that the regulations should not be disallowed, and I accordingly oppose the motion moved by Senator Hamer.