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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1858

Senator CHANEY —I refer the Minister for Resources and Energy to threatened long term strike action by coal industry unions. Does the Minister agree that coal mining has a long history of industrial disputation out of all proportion to other mining activity and to the level of disputes in industry generally? Is it a fact that in 1986, in terms of days lost per 1,000 employees, the coal industry's record was more than four times worse than that of other mining activity and 45 times worse than that of Australian industry generally? What action will the Government take, beyond attacking the Queensland Government's efforts to do something about this unsatisfactory situation, to prevent this further disruption of Australia's major export industry which would seriously worsen our major and continuing balance of payments problems?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the case that the record of disputation within the coal industry has almost rivalled that within the Liberal and National parties in recent months. As such, it is a cause for national concern, certainly a cause for governmental concern-I am talking now about the coal industry-and in fact we have done a lot about it, not least in the continuing deliberations of the Australian Coal Consultative Council, which brings all bodies in the industry together periodically for constructive discussions and which has, I think, served to dampen down a lot of other controversies which would have flared up over this period. If one can stand back from it, I think the problem is largely a product of the anxieties and concerns within the coal industry about the industry's future in the context of the recent downturn in prices, the falling away of demand and the massive oversupply which is evident in many other countries now.

Against that background, it is no wonder that further anxiety within the coal industry should be generated by what I have described, and will describe again, as obnoxious, unnecessary and provocative legislation now passed through the Queensland Parliament by the Queensland Premier, who seems hell bent on creating industrial confrontation for manifestly purely political purposes. There is no conceivable rationale for that in terms of what the legislation is likely to accomplish in industrial relations. As a result, the Commonwealth Government is considering very closely what action it might be able to take in this respect to ward off some of the worst and latest lunatic manifestations of the desire of the Queensland Premier to cause national economic destruction.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Minister agree that the disruption in the coal industry last year was of the order I indicated and that it has continued into this year? Will the Government, for example, abolish the Coal Industry Tribunal as recommended by the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not have to hand the precise figures of the level of disputation, but it has been extremely high and out of all proportion to the prevailing level of industrial disputation elsewhere in the community. Whether the amalgamation of the Coal Industry Tribunal into the conciliation and arbitration machinery would do other than accelerate that level of disputation is a matter of judgment. The Government is considering this issue at the moment and its decision will be made clear when the industrial relations legislation which has been long foreshadowed is brought down within the next few days.