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Thursday, 1 June 2000
Page: 16820


Mrs CROSIO (NaN:00:00) —I rise in the debate today to speak against the most outrageous piece of legislation that has been put into this parliament for quite some time. It really is a most spiteful piece of legislation. The bill itself, the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000 does not just seek to define pattern bargaining; more than that, it seeks to outlaw its existence. The bill itself, if you read it, seeks termination of the relevant bargaining period so that industrial action is no longer protected by law, thus making it illegal. The bill itself also strikes at the very heart of fairness and equity in the industrial relations system. It not only outlaws the action associated with pattern bargaining; it destroys the fundamental elements of organised labour. The legislation is unbalanced as it only outlaws pattern bargaining use by unions. While claims for better wages and conditions or entitlements will only be made by unions, employers will be able to continue to apply exactly the same tactics that they have used on numerous occasions. Under this legislation before the House, employer groups will continue to use pattern bargaining by another name. They will just sit down and consult with one another—they can call it whatever they like—and set wages and conditions across an entire industry. It may even be more productive, cheaper and more efficient for them to do so, but why aren't they being outlawed by this legislation?

Just imagine where Australia would be if this legislation outlawing pattern bargaining had been enacted, say, 50 years ago. We would still have unequal pay for men and women. My first job was with the Commonwealth Bank—now all they worry about is takeovers or closing down branches—where I was told, firstly, that if I got married I no longer had a job and, secondly, even though I was doing the same work as my male colleague next to me, I would get only half the wages. So it is not 100 years ago or 50 years ago; it is within my working life. I am still working now, but I vividly remember that very first job. Look at the changes that have occurred over these last few decades and the equality that men and women have, even though women still have a fair way to go. Without pattern bargaining we would not have maternity leave, we would not have workers compensation. In fact, many of the greatest reforms this country has achieved in the industrial relations area have been achieved through pattern bargaining—which the minister wants to outlaw in this bill before the House. It is a fundamental part of the industrial relations landscape. Australia once took a leading role in industrial relations on the world stage.

The minister has not considered that many employers prefer to deal with pattern bargaining as it can be a very speedy resolution to industrial conflict rather than the employer having to negotiate every individual employee's terms and conditions. It can at times be a very effective means of resolving conflict. Members, especially on the government side, will claim that pattern bargaining hinders the individual enterprise bargaining system that currently is in place—in other words, those disgusting Australian workplace agreements, AWAs—and which leads to productivity across a wide range of industries. The minister quotes all sorts of figures to back his argument, but he does not realise that many of our Australian workplace agreements were achieved through collective bargaining or, as the minister wants to call it, pattern bargaining. It has happened. It is happening. This is what we really are debating here today.

The minister talks about the Labor Party in their objection to this bill as being stuck in the dark ages. However, it is not the Labor Party which wants to punish the union representatives. It is the minister and this government who seem hell-bent on making sure unions—that dreadful word—pay. What they forget is that unions are people; it is the people that are the unions and the unions that are the people. And yet the government want to make sure that the unions pay for engaging in collective bargaining and organised stop-work meetings. This legislation, when you read it from front to back, could be straight out of the 18th century. It is regressive. When one looks as the success of the labour movement and its achievements in the past, one can see that this legislation certainly will not be progressive over the same period of time. As I said, it is regressive. There is no other advanced country with which Australia could be compared which prohibits industry wide or multiemployer or employee bargaining, and yet the minister is running around Australia saying that we, the Labor Party, are stuck in the Dark Ages.

This government clearly has placed Australia in breach of its international obligations in the International Labour Organisation conventions to which we are a signatory. Twice before the panel of experts have concluded that this government have failed to meet their international obligations, and this bill will not be an exception to that trend. Instead of the government realising that they have a problem in relation to international industrial reform, they just criticise, attack and downgrade the ILO to the point where they now have withdrawn Australia's name from the convention. It will not be an effective cure.

The Australian Industrial Relations Commission deals with industrial dispute, but read the bill: the bill states the commission must give special consideration to the employer. This cuts deep into the principles of equality before the law, especially in industrial relations. How can we put in legislation that a particular industrial relations commission, in the case of a dispute, now has got to give attention to the employer? What about the employees? Who will stand up to defend them? I know we have all got limited time, and that is another thing I am outraged about: that, with such an important piece of legislation like this, the time for debate has been curtailed. There are other points we wish to raise, not only on behalf of the constituents we represent; some of us feel very strongly about what has happened over the period of time since this minister took over the Industrial Relations portfolio. As I said, this is the most despicable, appalling piece of legislation. It verges on the offensive. It is not a commonsense approach to the issues which currently face the industrial landscape. Many Australian workers, whether the government want to believe it or not, need representation, and they need a fair, equitable and unbiased commission to bring their concerns into legislation.

This is a divisive piece of legislation—the result, I believe, of this minister's obsession with stamping out any involvement at all with employee groups and unions in the industrial relations negotiations. We saw the attempt in the minister's second wave legislation—that dreadful Workplace Relations Legislation Amendment (More Jobs, Better Pay) Bill, which fortunately was defeated—and now we see his desperate attempt to rush through this piece of legislation, which is supposed to be the new wave, the third wave. This is an example of the bitter hate of the union movement—and really of the working labourers' rights—and of organised labour, and it dates back to the dark ages. The bill will install—if it were to go through—the master-slave relationship. Where are we heading in industrial relations?

Tucked away also in this legislation is another attempt to emasculate the Federal Court in these matters. This government has not shied away in the past from attacking the Federal Court in industrial relations. We have only to look at what happened in the Patrick's waterfront debacle to see what the government feels about the Federal Court. The whole picture of industrial relations that this government wants to paint for Australians must not be the balaclavas and the guard dogs; it must be about job security, it must be about fair industrial relations, it must be about the right of workers to collectively bargain, if that is their choice and, more importantly, it must be about the right of the unions to talk on behalf of the employees, if the employees so choose to belong to a union.

We on this side of the House believe in having a very fair and equitable independent umpire to decide industrial relations conflicts, and we on this side of the House certainly believe that we must in the industrial relations field provide a level playing field. How can there be a level playing field when the government is making a demand of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and saying to them, `You are supposed to be the independent umpire, but don't forget we are telling you in this bill if you have got a problem you listen only to the employer'?

This legislation destroys all notions of what we on this side of the House believe is fair and equitable. All parties should have as part of their platform the notion of fairness and the notion of equality, and the notion of having that brought before the law. When this government says it wants to cooperate with the unions, the employers and every other part of the industrial relations landscape, then and only then will we have a fair and equitable system in which the government, the unions and the employers can work together on a fair playing ground and where the umpire—the Australian Industrial Relations Commission—is dedicated to listen to not only one side but both sides of the argument. I condemn the government for putting this bill before the House.