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Thursday, 12 September 1985
Page: 499

Senator KILGARIFF —I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind Senator Button that on Tuesday he said that he would seek information about the effect of the agreement between Mudginberri abattoir workers and management on production costs, wage levels and productivity. Can he now confirm that the Mudginberri agreement has resulted in higher wages, lower costs and an improved competitive position? If so, is he now prepared to give more whole-hearted support to the suggestion that other Australian enterprises should be encouraged to enter similar constructive employer-employee agreements?

Senator BUTTON —I regret that I am not yet in a position to confirm or deny the facts alleged in the question, but of course that is not the real point of the question. The point of the question is what one would want to do in a broader context. I simply make the point the Government has made on a number of occasions-that in pursuit of an appropriate industrial relations policy for this country the Government has reached an historic agreement--

Senator Lewis —Hysteric agreement!

Senator BUTTON —With the trade union movement about the wage levels which should appropriately apply in Australia in the current economic circumstances. That agreement-in wage terms, in economic terms and in industrial relations terms-has produced very good results. That does not mean, of course, that one would reject the notion that it is desirable, as far as possible, that the sorts of conditions to which Senator Kilgariff referred-that is, the capacity to reach amicable agreements about particular issues-are not important in the overall industrial relations context. That is as far as I am prepared to go.

Senator Lewis interjected in the course of my giving this answer. If I might say so, in a reflective moment this morning I happened to be listening to the Canberra radio and I heard Senator Lewis talking about the transport workers strike in the Australian Capital Territory. It was very interesting because Senator Lewis talked about sanctions and consequences and what should be done. He was then asked this question: `Senator Lewis, if that course of action was embarked on, would not a series of other unions come out in support of the Transport Workers Union and would not the industrial unrest spread?' Senator Lewis's answer was: `Yes, that may happen'. He thought for a moment and he said: `But I don't think it would'. That answer carries the implications of the industrial relations policy of the Opposition and how well thought out it is. Senator Lewis gave a classic example of that this morning in that particular answer.