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Wednesday, 14 December 1983
Page: 3743

Senator ROBERT RAY —I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Would the Minister agree that the marked decline in days lost due to industrial disputes over the last year is in part due to the reintroduction of a centralised wage system? Does the decline in the level of industrial disputes suggest that the now abolished Industrial Relations Bureau contributed nothing to industrial harmony?

Senator BUTTON —I have already noted in the Senate on several occasions the marked decline in the level of industrial disputation in Australia since the Hawke Government was elected. One of the remarkable features of that decline has been the fact that it has occurred in recent months, during a period of improvement in the employment situation. I think that is a worthwhile observation because it is unusual that such a circumstance should arise. I do not know whether I would be able, on behalf of the Minister, to pass judgment on the worth or otherwise of the Industrial Relations Bureau, or to comment on whether the level of industrial disputation had been adversely affected by the existence of such bodies. I just make the point that in the last few years there have been two basic approaches to industrial relations in this country. One was that demonstrated by the Fraser Government. It involved a virtual armoury of legislative provisions for dealing with the consequences of industrial relations , as former Prime Minister Fraser used to call it. I think in this Senate we passed more legislation dealing with industrial relations issues than we had hot breakfasts. But all that legislation never seemed to produce any result.

A different approach is adopted by the Hawke Government which has, as its elements, the accord and the attitude adopted at the National Economic Summit Conference. It is a fairly realistic and hard-headed approach by the Goverment to the unions on a variety of issues, including the restructuring of industries and so on. I think maybe the Industrial Relations Bureau did not achieve very much. I do not know whether it would have been worse or better if the Industrial Relations Bureau had not existed in the period of the Fraser Government. I think the fundamental point to be made is that there is a difference of approach which this Government recognises has difficulties associated with it in terms of the provisions of the accord. But it is a calculated approach taken by the Goverment on the assumption that a successful industrial relations climate is integral to the economic well-being of this country.