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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2381


Senator COOK(5.15) —Between 1971-72 and 1984-85 minerals and energy exports increased 12 times by value from $1.2 billion to $14.9 billion. The resource sector, including mineral processing, accounted for over 8 per cent of gross domestic product and 49 per cent of total export receipts in 1984-85. Those figures show why the annual report of the Department of Resources and Energy for 1984-85 commands some significance in terms of Australia's role in world resources trade and the importance of that trade to the Australian economy. We have heard a number of contributions to the debate, all of which, I think, offer, a government senator a smorgasboard of opportunity for reply.

Let me comment on an aspect in this report that is an important new development that can be proudly, although I think in a proper level of emphasis somewhat mutedly, reported to the Senate. The report refers to the establishment of, in the course of this Government's incumbency of the Treasury benches, in the coal industry the Australian Coal Consultative Council and in the iron ore industry the Western Iron Ore Industry Consultative Council-two consultative bodies that bring together and harmonise the interests of unions, workers, management and government, State and Federal, in the two industries. They are positive initiatives taken by this Government and supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions and Australian Labor Party prices and incomes accord. They are aimed directly at addressing what has been an issue of some public controversy in this country, namely Australia's reliability as a supplier given its volume of exports in this field.

It is fair to say that in the early stages of the establishment of those two bodies one ought not make too heroic assumptions about the successes they have so far achieved. It is, however, possible to say, modestly and honestly, that they have made a significant and important difference-I am not trying to oversell that difference-to the harmony of these two industries. The coal industry has suffered major closedowns and a need to rationalise pits, particularly deep pits, in New South Wales. The Australian Coal Consultative Council has achieved, in a highly disputatious industry, a reduction in the level of disputes which would have occurred had those consultative mechanisms not been open. A comparison of dispute statistics in the iron ore industry in Western Australia over a two-year period indicates that disputes this year are one-sixth of what they were two years ago. There are a number of reasons for that. One of the key reasons is, I believe, the contribution that the Iron Ore Industry Consultative Council has made to bringing about some degree of harmony and a common concept of the need of all groups in the industry to protect and advance the causes of that industry in the international arena. It has brought about that common recognition and a common responsibility to do so.

As I said, it is early days and one does not want to make too many heroic assertions about what can be achieved but the early returns are very promising. I think, in a modest way, they should encourage this Government to go further. I will stick with, for a moment, the iron ore industry. Last year, we achieved a significant first in completing the whole round of award contract renewals in the Pilbara without a single dispute. Hitherto, award renewal negotiations have been attended by massive disputation. For the first time ever there were no disputes. In 1984 when India, as a major competing supplier to Australia for the Japanese iron ore trade, was dropped out of the trade because of disputes in that country, because of Australia's harmonious industrial relations position Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd and other major producers in Australia were able to supply the Indian shortfall to the Japanese market and pick up huge windfall gains in exports. This occurred because of what we were able to achieve in the iron ore industry.

Those two developments-the Australian Coal Consultative Council and the Iron Ore Industry Consultative Council-show that unions, if brought into the ambit of responsibility for their industry to protect its trading position, shoulder that responsibility because, in the end, they recognise that it means jobs for their members as well as a more prosperous livelihood. The returns are, as I said, early; they are returns about which we need to be modest and not heroic-but they show that the figures are very promising. Attitudinal change to the need to increase productivity, and deal with new technology in an harmonious way, is such that the whole industry benefits, which means better profits for the companies, longer tenure of employment for the workers and better returns to the public purse.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.