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Monday, 25 February 1985
Page: 122

Mrs KELLY(4.15) —As an ex-school teacher, my colleagues will forgive me if I make some assessment of the speech just made by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly). It was in the terms of a lecture to a classroom. Over the last 10 minutes we have heard a lecture delivered to this House on industrial relations. I rate the presentation of the honourable member for Bradfield reasonably highly. For presentation I give him at least five out of 10, but I am afraid on content I give him nought out of 10. The honourable member for Bradfield has failed to understand the position that the Government has taken consistently during this dispute. Members of the Government have not condoned the action taken by the Public Service in this dispute, and certainly have not done so by way of a public statement. What we have done is continually urge the Public Service unions to go back to arbitration. In a moment I want to go through the steps that we have taken in this dispute to show that, indeed, our handling of this issue is not extraordinary at all; it is very ordinary. In fact, we have fitted in totally with the industrial relations principles that we have consistently espoused since we came to office.

The honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) blamed the union dispute for everything, including the devaluation of the dollar. I thought that, though this House obviously welcomes his renewed presence, he might find his time more usefully spent going to the United Kingdom to advise Mrs Thatcher on how to deal with the devaluation of the pound. I am sure that the same sorts of solutions will not be able to be put into effect in the United Kingdom. As I listened to the speeches from those two members of the Opposition I was interested to hear what solutions they would put up to solve the industrial dispute that this country has had to deal with over the last few weeks. We heard nothing new at all. Despite the fact that the honourable member for Tangney has been absent from this House during a period of opposition, he has come back with no new ideas. What solution would members of the Opposition apply to this dispute? Exactly the same as when they were in government. They would reinstate all the previous industrial relations legislation, such as the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act and put that into effect. They think that would resolve the industrial dispute. I, and this Government, do not believe that jack-boot industrial relations is a sensible approach. This Government has the achievements on the books in the field of industrial relations.

Let me remind the House of the levels of industrial disputation over the years. Honourable members will see that with the approach the previous Government had and that the now Opposition still has, it did not stop industrial disputations; in fact, it added to them. For example, in 1981, 4.2 million working days were lost; in 1982, 2.2 million working days were lost; in 1983, 1.6 million working days were lost and in 1984 1.4 million working days were lost. The number of working days lost in 1984 was one-third of the 1981 figure. What is the policy of members of the Opposition on industrial relations? As I have said today, all we have heard is a recital of the views of the previous Government, the Fraser Government, about industrial relations. A new view has been put up by members of the back bench in dealing with the doctors dispute in New South Wales. There we have a case of right wing militants-as they are called by one of their own colleagues-withdrawing their services to the public with the Government, the community and their own peers asking them to return to work so that there can be sensible negotiations. What do members of the Opposition do? They condone that sort of action. If honourable members follow that to its logical conclusion, we will have industrial anarchy in this country.

I cannot understand the position of members of the Opposition in their handling of industrial disputes at all. On the one hand they say: 'If they are Commonwealth employees, you hit them over the head and blame them for everything, including the devaluation of the dollar. However, if they belong to the private sector and if they are professionals, you handle them in a totally different way-you let them do whatever they like and you condone it'. If that is the alternative that members of the Opposition have to offer this country in terms of industrial relations, thank God that they did not get elected in the last election. They never will if they follow those sorts of policies.

Members of the Opposition have accused the Government of extraordinary or unusual conduct in its handling of the Public Service pay dispute. Let me take the Opposition step by step through the role the Government took through the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis). Firstly, a claim of an anomaly was first lodged by the public sector unions in December 1983. Secondly, at the initial hearing the Government supported the funding of an arguable case and co-operated with the unions by an agreement that the Public Service Board conduct the market survey of comparative wage rates. Thirdly, at the substantive hearing the Government supported the 2 per cent increase provided that the Commission was satisfied that the key provision of the anomalies provision, that anomaly increases be special and isolated and not give rise to general wage movements, was satisfied. The Commission was not satisfied that there would not be significant pressures for further wage increases as a result of any increased award, and, therefore, rejected the claim.

So, in all this, the role of the Government has been to assist the unions with a survey of comparative wage rates, followed by supporting the principle for a 2 per cent increase provided key provisions of the anomalies principle are satisfied. Following intense industrial action by the unions involved, the Government applied to the Commission for the insertion of stand-down clauses in the relevant awards. The Commission accepted these applications. Late last week, as a result of an offer of resolution by this Government, industrial bans were lifted following agreement by unions to allow their revised anomaly pay claim to be reheard by a full bench of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

What is so extraordinary about that simple process? At no stage has the Government condoned the unions imposing bans. In fact the Government took action through appropriate channels to ensure that stand-down clauses were inserted in the award. That is not extraordinary at all. I suspect the real motivation behind raising this matter of public importance today has been simply to ensure that the Public Service bashers, who are alive and well on the Opposition benches, are able to have a voice. The Opposition has raised this issue today not because it was so called, 'extraordinary' but just because it wanted to continue the theme that it pushed consistently when in government.

What we see today are two alternatives. On the one hand, we see from the Opposition an approach to industrial relations which says: 'Get out the jack boots. Hit them hard. Sack them all. Don't listen to the wage claims at all, just apply the old harsh tactics in industrial relations that were offered to the community by the Fraser Government'. On the other hand, we have seen presented by the Government a sane, sensible approach which has been consistent over the whole of this industrial dispute. The Government said: 'Go back to the proper channels. Ask for a hearing, but lift your bans'. It is unfortunate that we had to impose stand-down clauses, but what was the alternative? The Opposition wants the CE(EP) Act to be reinstated in legislation so that it can be sure that public servants do not have the same rights as people employed in the private sector. To top off all that, members on the Opposition benches say: 'There are two standards. It does not matter about public servants. They should go back to work but not the people in the medical profession'. The medical profession's position is endorsed by members of the Opposition. If one follows that procedure and the philosophy of the Oppositions in terms of its industrial relations policy we will see industrial anarchy in this country. I think the Government should be congratulated on its handling of this dispute. It is unfortunate-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The debate is concluded.