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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2689

Mr SINCLAIR —I ask a question of the Prime Minister which, in its way, is supplementary to the question just asked of the Minister for Trade by the honourable member for Herbert. It relates to the Government's responsibilities in the area. Is the Prime Minister aware that, in the first four months of the current shipping year, 23 per cent of available work time at the Glebe Island and Newcastle grain terminals was lost due to industrial stoppages? Is he aware that the average throughput of grain per employee at the Sydney terminal is just 17,000 tonnes a year compared with between 80,000 to 120,000 tonnes a man in comparable American ports? In view of the Prime Minister's statement last year admitting the damaging economic effects of restrictive work practices, and recent reports of a new Government survey of foreign trade barriers to Australian industry, can the Prime Minister tell the House what action the Government has taken against restrictive work practices and, in particular, against frivolous industrial stoppages that are obviously doing so much damage to Australia's international credibility and, of course, destroying our international competitiveness?

Mr HAWKE —I thank the right honourable gentleman for his question. Let me say at the outset that the Government does not condone the practices that have applied at the points to which he referred and, through the relevant Ministers, we are doing all that we can in regard to particular circumstances as well as trying to improve the general environment. Let me make the point to the right honourable gentleman-and I hope he will accept the validity of what I am saying-that since we have been in office we have tried to bring in a new approach to industrial relations in this country, and I think he would have to accept that the aggregate statistics show that that approach has been outstandingly successful. There has been, in fact, during the period of this Government, more than a halving of industrial disputes in this country. That has not occurred by accident.

I think honourable members would have noticed in one of this morning's newspapers-I forget which one-a report of a more detailed study which has been undertaken by two academics at the Australian National University which, in a more detailed form, confirmed the veracity of that picture shown by the aggregate statistics. Having said that-and, on behalf of the Government, taking considerable pride in that more than halving of industrial disputation under this Government as against the confrontationist tactics of honourable members opposite-I accept that obviously there are still areas which are considerably less than satisfactory. Of course, I do take the point of the right honourable gentleman that when those disputes occur at points which can disrupt and disadvantage this country's exports in general-particularly, as I understand the situation, our primary exports-we ought to be concerned and we are.

The Government has a general structure of committees which are concerned with examining barriers to our export competitiveness. One of those committees is particularly concerned with examining and discussing with those involved how we can improve the situation on the waterfront. That is the way in which we need to go about this matter. We will not solve this problem by draconian legislation. I believe that we will gradually get to a situation at those points in which we can get a significant improvement in throughput. I am not at odds in any way with the right honourable gentleman in saying that the requirements of this country are that there should be an absolute minimum of disruption at our ports so that neither the country as a whole nor our primary producers in particular are disadvantaged by what are so often quite unnecessary and unjustifiable disputes.