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Wednesday, 16 September 1987
Page: 140


Mr SNOWDON —Will the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories advise the House of the current state of industrial relations on Christmas Island? What does the Government intend to do in relation to this situation?


Mr JOHN BROWN —Of course, Christmas Island is part of the vast electorate of the honourable member for the Northern Territory. The industrial situation on Christmas Island is not good. The Government last year decided that it would expend something like $4.2m subsidising the activities of phosphate mining on Christmas Island in order that there would be an orderly wind down at the end of 1989. That included an agreement from the trade union, the Union of Christmas Island Workers, that it would continue to perform its task and continue to resile from industrial problems. I must inform the House that over the last 12 months industrial problems have increased quite incredibly there. In the past the Government has made several threats about closing the mine and these have appeared to be just threats. I can inform the honourable member for the Northern Territory-he may like to pass the message on to the trade union on Christmas Island-that the Government is firmly of the resolve that if all industrial bans and limitations are not lifted the mine will be closed forthwith.

I must say that the Union of Christmas Island Workers is entitled to a great deal of respect. After a generation of workers on the Christmas Island phosphate mines-mainly Malays and Chinese-being subject to slave wages and slave conditions, in 1975 there was a move towards Australian pay and conditions and the Union of Christmas Island Workers is entitled to great credit for the work it has done in the meantime. There have been two redundancy schemes in the last year, one voluntary and one compulsory. The present situation is that there are 300 miners in work. There is work for them until the end of 1989; that is, 2 1/2 years of work, 750 man years of work. There are 300 ex-miners presently on the Island who are out of work, who have received redundancy payments ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 and generous resettlement packages of the order of $9,000 each. These payments were particularly to encourage them to go to Western Australia where jobs are available in the mines. Most of these unemployed miners have not taken up Australian citizenship although they are permanent residents. Unfortunately, most of these people have refused to take that offer. We have the sorry spectacle of 300 miners who have achieved quite large redundancy payments now organising against 300 miners who are in work to close the mine down.

I would like the honourable member for the Northern Territory to remind the Union of Christmas Island Workers that if the mine closes because of industrial problems those 300 workers will lose not only 2 1/2 years of work, but also their redundancy payments. So it seems to me to be not very good union principle for 300 workers now unemployed who received full redundancy payments to be working against the interests of members of their own union who would face the spectre of losing their redundancy payments if the mine were to close. I assure the House that the Government is very firm in its resolve that if the Union of Christmas Island Workers does not work and continue to operate the mine as we hope `profitably' until the end of 1989 the Government is prepared to close it forthwith. This is not a threat; it is not a promise; it is a fact.