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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1473


Mr RONALD EDWARDS —Can the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations inform the House whether there have been any developments in the current dispute involving the Builders Labourers Federation?


Mr WILLIS —Yes, I can give the House some information on this matter. May I first provide some brief background. The House will recall that there has been a superannuation package developed in the building industry, which package had the support of the Federal Government on the basis that accompanying superannuation was an industrial relations package which we believe provided the best possible basis for improving industrial relations in this much troubled industry. An undertaking was given by the Builders Labourers Federation to support that industrial relations package contained in the memorandum of understanding, and commitments were given to the present Government, to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, to building industry employers and to the Federal Court of Australia.

The situation at the beginning of this week was that all building unions except the BLF had signed that memorandum of understanding. The BLF was refusing to sign, and refusing basically for reasons that had little, or indeed nothing, to do with the welfare of BLF members. The BLF was conducting a wide-spread campaign to force employers to pay into the superannuation scheme without BLF commitment to the agreement. Meetings had been arranged for today, between the building unions and the ACTU this morning, and between the ACTU, the employers and the Government this afternoon. The Government's position has been that the BLF is in blatant breach of formal and serious undertakings and was forfeiting its right to represent employees in this industry. The Government was therefore prepared to take strong and effective legislative action to remove the BLF's right to represent building workers. I inform the House that such legislation would be quick and effective, in contrast to the extraordinarily lengthy and ineffective proceedings initiated by the previous Government. The Cain Government in Victoria was also prepared to take supportive legislative action.

The situation today is that while building unions were meeting the ACTU in Melbourne, the BLF Federal Secretary, Mr Gallagher, was here in Canberra meeting the Master Builders Federation of Australia. Notice of that meeting was not conveyed to the Government before it was held. We understand that at this morning's meeting the BLF agreed to sign the memorandum of understanding, which includes the industrial relations package, with the Master Builders Federation of Australia, but the terms on which that agreement or the agreement to sign the memorandum of understanding has been made are not entirely clear. I have had some conflicting reports on that matter and I do not wish to take it any further at this stage. They do not appear to be very important additional elements.

Apart from these additional aspects, there is at this stage no agreement with the construction contractors who are the other segment of the building industry. Therefore, at this stage it is not clear to what extent the BLF is committed to the agreement-firstly, because of some uncertainty about the agreement with the Master Builders Federation; secondly, because of no agreement with the Australian Federation of Construction Contractors; and, thirdly, because we are not at this stage entirely sure how committed to the memorandum of understanding and the industrial relations packages the BLF is. However, a meeting is now taking place in Melbourne at the ACTU headquarters at which these matters should become somewhat clearer.

The Government expects the BLF to fully support the memorandum of understanding . That includes the lifting of all bans on employers over superannuation, and demarcation disputes such as those at the Sydney Police Headquarters and the Melbourne Cricket Ground lights. Clearly, under the memorandum of understanding such matters should be settled in accordance with the procedures set out in the memorandum of understanding. We also expect the BLF to maintain its commitment to industrial stability that is part of the memorandum of understanding. If these commitments are not met the Government remains prepared to take the action which I have outlined today and which will be effective. Such action will mean that the BLF will not have coverage in this industry, in whole or in part. Therefore, we look to the BLF to make the full commitments that are required by us. If those commitments are not forthcoming, this Government will be taking the action I have outlined, swiftly and effectively.