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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 2119

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(11.32) — in reply-I would like to make a few comments in reply to what has been said in the debate on the Stevedoring Industry Finance Committee Amendment Bill 1984. The Government clearly rejects the amendment moved by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), which is nothing more than a political stunt. I suppose one has to expect that sort of thing so close to an election. Clearly, rather than talk about the Bill, all he tried to do in this debate was to beat up an issue which was debated at length in this House last week, and that is the issue of secondary boycotts, and how those boycotts should be treated in industrial law. That is not a debate which I am going to reopen now and I certainly do not have the time to go back to that. The Government has, of course, thoroughly refuted the arguments that have been put forward by the Opposition in relation to that matter.

The amendment moved by the honourable member for Balaclava refers to the Government's supposed failure to ensure that we have an efficient stevedoring industry. Let me say that what this Bill is about is taking steps to improve further the efficiency of that industry by assisting in the removal of redundant workers. We have already taken steps to remove waterside workers who have been seen to be redundant. This Bill is designed to assist in the removal from the industry of ancillary labour which is likewise redundant for various reasons to which I referred in my second reading speech. So we are, therefore, taking steps to try to improve further the efficiency of this industry.

As regards the industrial relations situation in the stevedoring industry in general, there has been a dramatic improvement in the level of industrial disputation in the industry over the last few years compared with what applied previously. This has not happened only since we have been in government. It was beginning to happen under the previous Government, and we acknowledge that, but it has been continued and further improved. In fact, in the last period for which we have figures available, which was the March quarter of 1984, virtually no time was lost because of stoppages in the industry. There have been a couple of disputes since then, but essentially the level of industrial disputation on the waterfront in regard to the stevedoring industry is far, far less now than we were used to throughout most of the 1970s and, of course, the even higher levels back in the 1950s and 1960s. The industrial relations record of this industry has been greatly improved. That improvement is continuing. The measures which are contained in this Bill will further assist in improving industrial relations in the stevedoring industry.

Most of what the honourable member for Balaclava had to say related to the shipping industry. Let me acknowledge that disputation in that industry is at a higher level than that in the stevedoring industry. This has much to do with manning levels and the employment situation in that industry. I am not going to canvass those issues now because they are essentially irrelevant to this debate. But let me say that the Australian Chamber of Shipping Press release referred to by the honourable member for Balaclava indicates quite clearly a very significant fall in the proportion of payouts by the 'Strike Club' for disputes in the Australian shipping industry compared with the rest of the world. Although the honourable member says that the level is still high, and I acknowledge that it is still high, it certainly is greatly improved on the figures that he gave on the situation that applied in previous years. Compared with the situation only a year ago, it is about half. That, of course, on the face of his own figures, indicates a very considerable improvement. I acknowledge fully that we have a lot further to go. I believe that the steps we are trying to take in relation to secondary boycotts would not have been unhelpful in trying to bring about that improvement. Of course, the Opposition is doing its best to prevent that happening.

Let me note finally that the overall record of this Government on industrial disputation has been remarkable. There has been a dramatic fall in the level of industrial disputation. We now have a situation in which the working time lost because of industrial disputes is at its lowest level for 16 years. Since Japan has been raised in this debate, let me say that when I was in Japan recently I said to the Japanese Government that there had been this dramatic improvement in our industrial relations. I was saying this also to Japanese business. Everywhere I went there was recognition and acknowledgment of that dramatic improvement. Mr Nakasone, the Prime Minister of Japan, said to me that the Japanese Government had no worries about Australian industrial relations. That is a direct quote from the Prime Minister of Japan. Clearly, the Japanese are extremely pleased with what has happened under this Government in relation to industrial relations. They recognise the extraordinary extent of the improvement . They are confident that that improvement will continue to occur. They have very good reason to have that confidence. We have shown in government that the actions we are taking are not likely to lead to increased industrial disputation ; quite the reverse. What is in this Bill will assist in improving industrial relations in the stevedoring industry and I strongly recommend it to the House.

Mr Macphee —Mr Deputy Speaker, could I have your indulgence to ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) whether he would be prepared to make public the record of discussions between him and the Japanese Prime Minister. I am sure that the public would be most interested to see it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! There is no provision in the Standing Orders for that matter to be raised at this time. I suggest that the honourable member take the matter up privately with the Minister.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.