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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2743

Mr CUNNINGHAM(7.18) —I rise on the adjournment tonight to raise an issue in relation to an editorial in the Australian newspaper headed `Ensuring exports flow'. This editorial relates to a submission which allegedly is going to be presented in the very near future to the Royal Commission into Grain Storage, Handling and Transport. The editorial refers to an article, written yesterday by Julian Cribb, a journalist with the Australian newspaper, which detailed the problems, particularly alleged union problems, that had been occurring in the export handling of wheat at Sydney and Newcastle. The terminology used in today's editorial is interesting. The first part of the editorial states:

If any further evidence were needed of the way some of this country's export industries have been and still are being crippled by strikes and restrictive work practices, it was given in the feature article on grain exports in this newspaper yesterday.

Drawing on a submission which is to be presented to the Royal Commission into Grain Storage, Handling and Transport when it sits in Canberra next week, our rural writer, Julian Cribb, listed a number of very unpleasant facts that damn unions, managements and the public alike.

Whilst not denying that there have been serious problems in relation to industrial relations at Sydney and Newcastle, I draw to the attention of the House, and perhaps to any wheat growers who may see attacks on unions through the National Farmers Federation as a panacea to their problems, some simple facts on the costs of labor in relation to the handling of wheat and what will occur if the problems are all eliminated. The first thing to turn to is the 1985-86 annual report of the Grain Handling Authority of New South Wales and an article on industrial relations within it. It states:

The Authority's policy on industrial relations is to minimise disputes and lost production by consultation and negotiation with staff and relevant unions on all matters related to conditions of employment, technological change and staff welfare.

It continues:

A stable industrial climate existed throughout the year in the country and in Head Office, there being no stoppages in either area other than a one day strike by some Head Office employees as a result of a call . . .

Regrettably, industrial action at both Newcastle and Sydney terminals was at an unacceptable level.

I do not deny that; the evidence is quite obvious. But the question I want to raise is: How much will the wheat industry save if all this is put into its proper perspective? We need to go to page 20 of the report to see just what the cost structure is in handling wheat at the Authority's plants in New South Wales. The report has a quite clear graph which shows labour costs of $7.90 a tonne or 47 per cent of total handling charges. But when we break it down and look at a country where there were no disputes we find that the costs for employing labour were $4.65 per tonne of the $7.90. At the terminals, the costs for labour are $2.10 per tonne. So if we eliminated the whole of the work force and made some magical capital investment that would cover the whole thing it would mean $2.10 per tonne to the wheat growers. Allowing for the fact that that is not feasible but that the work practices have been eliminated and that 50 per cent of the costs can be saved we bring that figure down to, say, $1.05 which would be a massive achievement. I do not think that $1.05 per tonne is the panacea for overcoming the problems of the wheat industry. Articles are already appearing in the newspapers pushing forward the submission from what I believe is the National Farmers' Federation to the royal commission making the case that if we eliminate all these things and bring in draconian legislation such as was brought in during the Mudginberri and Dollar Sweets disputes, that will save a crippled industry-$1.05 per tonne. That is an absolute absurdity. It will not help industry negotiations and it will not help industrial relations. Such emphasis should not be placed on an issue involving $1.05 per tonne. We should talk about the real issues involved; that is, the outdated and outmoded structures at Sydney and Newcastle and we should look at the real issues as far as the wheat industry is concerned. I am concerned to think that this is happening once again.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.