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Thursday, 8 December 1983
Page: 3522

Senator JACK EVANS(3.33) —The Australian Democrats support the general thrust of the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2). We see the need for ongoing improvement and updating of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act as, obviously, does the Opposition. Much of the Bill's contents come from the previous legislation either planned or even introduced by the Opposition during its term of office. It is also good to see that the main thrust of the Bill is supported by the National Labour Consultative Council and that it takes on board some of the suggestions that came out of the Economic Planning Advisory Council discussions in this approach to removal or reduction of conflict in the industrial area. The fact that many of the previous Government's legislative proposals lapsed because of the calling of the election ahead of time was rather unfortunate for the people involved with industrial relations in Australia. We are pleased to see that the Government has very quickly got hold of the bulk of those legislative changes and is now introducing them. We hope that there will be further and even more dramatic changes to the arbitration system in the next sitting of Parliament.

I suggest two or three of those immediately. One obviously, is the passage of the industrial democracy legislation which has been lying around for far too long in this Parliament. It is an Australian Democrat's Bill, originally introduced by former Senator John Siddons and picked up by me as the first Bill that I introduced in this Parliament. I was rather hopeful that the Government would run with that and include it as part of the proposals in this package. But we will have to wait a little bit longer for that obviously. It is also sad to see that there are still no provisions for the introduction of fee for service, another area of great conflict within the industrial relations scene in Australia. But we live in hope and we keep getting promises from the Government that such legislation is just around the corner. Once more, the Australian Democrats will introduce private members Bills for that particular provision if the Government delays its introduction much longer.

The other good thing to hear from the Government is that there is an ongoing review not just by the National Labour Consultative Council, but also by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), who has the responsibility for continuing the review and, in part, is doing that through the Hancock inquiry. That is to be applauded and the Australian Democrats hope that the Government moves rapidly to implement the changes that are seen as necessary and does not just let them lie on the back burner. One of the specific provisions which is causing a little difficulty is the removal of penalties for officers in unions. We have recognised that this is a contentious provision. Clause 23, which amends section 132F of the Act, reduces the range of offences which leads to disqualification. The offences would now be confined to elections or ballots and only crimes associated with damage or violence, intentionally committed, and resulting in a prison sentence will be offences which will be prescribed under the Act from here on. I think that is a fairly reasonable approach. Again, we do not see the other minor offences as requiring a double penalty, which was the situation under the Act.

I indicate to the Government our extreme disappointment at its inability or unwillingness-perhaps I should be fair at this stage and allow that it could be inability-to resolve the problems of owner-drivers in this country. These people have been for some time, and are now, under tremendous pressures. They do not seem to fit anywhere-either under the conciliation and arbitration system or under the trade practices system. They fall between these two stools. They suffer economic pressures as a result of increasing costs which in turn result in repossessions, bankruptcies, and too many vehicles on the road. Consequently, they are played off against each other causing damage not only in economic terms but also to life and limb, not just to the drivers themselves but, as we have seen, to other road users. At this moment the major transport companies have these owner-drivers by the short and curlies. They really have them at a distinct disadvantage and within their power. The fear that was expressed by the Opposition of the power of the unions to coerce these owner-drivers into joining a union is balanced by the fear that I express that these people are being squeezed by the major transport companies in this country. I will read into Hansard the specific approach which was made to the Australian Democrats and which, I understand, has been circulated to other honourable senators. It is contained in a telex which reads:

That section 22 of the Bill be amended by inserting after sub-clause (2) the following additional sub-section: (1A) Section 132 of the principal Act as amended by sub-section (1) is amended:

(a) by adding after sub-paragraph (1) (B) (ii) the following sub-paragraph:-

(iii) persons other than employees or employers who follow an occupation in or in connection with that industry of driving a motor vehicle required to be registered and/or approved under the laws of any State or Territory for use or intended use on any public street, road or highway including a motor vehicle for use or intended use beyond the limits of any one State or Territory.

(b) By adding after sub-paragraph (1) (C) (ii) the following sub-paragraph:-

(iii) persons other than employees or employers who are engaged in that industrial pursuit or one of those industrial pursuits in driving a motor vehicle required to be registered and/or approved under the laws of any State or Territory for use or intended use on any public street, road or highway, including a motor vehicle for use or intended use beyond the limits of any one State or Territory.

(c) By inserting in each paragraph (1) (B) and (1) (C) after the words 'sub- paragraph (ii)', the words 'or (iii)'.

I hope that you will forgive me for taking up the time of the Senate by reading that, Madam Acting Deputy President, but it was important to have it incorporated, because this has been a genuine attempt by the Transport Workers Union to resolve the problem of owner drivers. I regret that the Australian Democrats do not go along with this proposed resolution of the problem, because we see it as only a partial solution of the major problem of owner drivers. It would not be sufficient for them simply to be thrown into a union pool and to be part of that union. They must have their own association, with its own rights, its own rules and its own arbitration provisions, because they are unique in this country. They are different from the normal employee who would come under the normal conciliation and arbitration system.

Regrettably, therefore, we shall not be putting forward that proposal. I say ' regrettably' in the sense that there has been a genuine attempt to solve the problem by the TWU, but we do not see that as any more than a short term solution and we want to keep the pressure on the Government for the long term solution. I ask the Minister at the table, Senator Button, to agree and to indicate that the Government will agree to introduce legislation early next year which will give rights to owner-drivers to have an arbitration system which will resolve the massive problems with which they are faced these days. It needs a new approach. I understand that, according to the Minister, it is being investigated by the Government right now. All that I need is the nod from the Minister that we shall have that new and enlightened resolution of the owner- drivers' problems early in 1984.

I speak briefly about two other aspects of the Bill which deal with matters of concern, and for which I again applaud the Government on its action as they have created major disruptions and anxieties around Australia. The first is the provisions for more co-ordination between Commonwealth and State industrial systems. To those I am sure that most people around Australia will cry ' Hallelujah', because this will help to remove some anomalies but, much more importantly, it will reduce the potential for conflict. It is pretty much identical with the 1982 Bill, the Conciliation and Arbitration (Complementary Industrial Relations System) Amendment Bill of 1982, introduced by the previous Government, and it is based on the recommendations of a Commonwealth-State working party. So one would hope that that would have the support of all parties in the Senate.

The other slighly less supported item in the legislation is the Public Service arbitration system, which is now incorporated under the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. There can be arguments pro and con on this matter; I have listened to them. But there is an overwhelming argument in favour of this movement of the powers towards Australia's national, universal conciliation and arbitration system. That is, that it will have the effect of removing some of the powers of government to get directly and immediately involved in industrial conflicts. Regrettably, that was the perception of many people when it was introduced, because it seemed to give the government of the day the opportunity to declare the Public Service as the enemy and to declare war on that enemy whenever there was an industrial dispute involving the Public Service.

The Government must be more remote from industrial activity at that early stage of conflict. The way to achieve that is to leave the Government out of it and to let the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and its system get on with the job of resolving conflict, until, ultimately, there is perceived to be no resolution in sight, at which stage it may be necessary for the Government to become involved in it. We have suffered in this country for several years from a government becoming one of the protagonists in the industrial relations system with the Public Service. That is not acceptable in the opinion of not only the Australian Democrats but the great majority of Australians, not just trade unionists and not just public servants.

This measure puts into effect the recommendations of the 1976 report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. It has taken a long while to have that report's recommendations implemented. It is a natural progression and is similar in many respects to provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration (Government Service) Amendment Bill, which was introduced by the previous Government. As I understand it, it has the support of the National Labour Consultative Committee. The Bill will be supported by the Australian Democrats. I gather that that will ensure its passage through the Senate and through this Parliament.