Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2835

Senator MISSEN(9.39) —I wish to speak in this debate on a matter which likewise is not connected with subject matter of the legislation but concerns a matter which happened today, namely, the tabling of a report on a code of conduct for Australian companies operating in South Africa. This is a matter which has quite a long history in this Parliament. I think it is time that we realised what is being done in relation to it. Honourable senators will recall that on 18 April 1985 the Foreign Minister, the Hon. Bill Hayden, put down an Australian Code of Conduct for Companies with Commercial Interests in South Africa which was understood by all to be near enough to a final document, but subject to some discussion with companies. In the course of the Foreign Minister's speech in setting down that document Mr Hayden said, among other things:

The code incorporates, in its reporting format, a requirement for companies adhering to it to report annually to the Australian Government on their compliance, which will be monitored. The codes requirements related to all non-white employees of Australian companies with operations in South Africa reflecting the Government's concern about discrimination against all non-white people, of whatever racial or ethnic background. Its provisions are based on widely accepted international and domestic principles and are consistent with the basic human conventions of the International Labour Organisation and Australia's Racial Discrimination Act.

It may be said that generally the Code as then put down did comply in that way. Further, Mr Hayden pointed out:

The Code does not require companies to take action outside what can reasonably be considered normal commercial activities or industrial relations practices, nor are companies expected to breach South African Laws. For these reasons the Government expects and hopes that the maximum number of companies would agree to adhere to the Code.

That being a reasonable document, one would have expected it to remain substantially in place. There was no suggestion that it was to be substantially bowdlerised by further discussions with Australian companies. In detail the Minister set out the provisions of the Code. He said:

As the Code will be a voluntary undertaking it is desirable that there be consultations with relevant Australian interest groups, prior to the Code's finalisation, in order to obtain maximum domestic support for it.

He then said:

Following the consultative process the Code will be widely publicised and I shall issue both general and individual invitations to Australian companies to adhere to it.

What has happened is that it has not been widely publicised. It was sneaked into the House of Representatives at the end of last week, and has now been put in among a group of documents this morning which have not even been debated. One sees that it has been substantially changed in the meanwhile, substantially vitiating the importance of that document.

Some little time after putting down this Code, an article appeared in the Australian by Alan Fewster headed `Government bows on Code for South Africa'. This was mentioned in my speech on the adjournment on 9 October 1985 at page 943, and I do not propose to repeat what is said there, save to say that practically all that was said in that article has come to pass and has now been excluded from or changed in the Code of Conduct. Yet when I put this document down and expressed concern the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), who I am pleased to see in the chamber, offered me the embargoed use of the Code and alterations and said I would then be able to see what was in it. I was unwilling to do that because a term of the engagement was that I was not to use it. A little later when Senator Vanstone sought also a concession on the same terms, she was refused by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) any possession of the amended Code. So at that stage we did not know what alterations had been made to the Code. I wish to draw attention to other things Senator Gareth Evans said in reply to my speech on the adjournment. He said:

It is regrettable that Senator Missen should have chosen to foist his indignation on us tonight, following the story in the Australian this morning because there is no foundation for either; that is to say, there is no justification for Senator Missen's indignation because there is no justification for the terms of the Australian story, with its heading `Government bows on code for South Africa'.

That has turned out to be entirely untrue. One must read what appears in the Code of Conduct to see those things that were thought to have been deletions from the Code--

Senator Gareth Evans —Read the rest of my very long reply on 9 October explaining why it was that it was not a watering down.

Senator MISSEN —I read the rest of the Minister's reply. The only thing that I can see different in the new Code is the provision that there is to be a person who is to be the commissioner or the person to investigate. Apart from that, all the things that were put in the article are correct. Senator Evans goes on to say:

I am advised that the Code, which is still in draft form and is the subject of discussions with business and trade union representatives, most certainly has not been watered down in the manner suggested in the article.

I will give chapter and verse to show that it has indeed been watered down, as the article said. If one compares the article with what is in the Code, one sees that this is so. In addition, the new Code, the altered Code, has come forward. A statement dated 29 November 1985 by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Bill Hayden, sets out in glowing tems what the Code is doing. The statement does not refer to the alterations that are made to it but it does say, at page 2:

Speculation that the Code has been watered down is without foundation and is quite wrong. Indeed, the most significant change has been the introduction of an impartial and independent Administrator to monitor the Code.

I might say that that is the only alteration I can find whatsoever, not just the most significant. In fact, there were provisions in the Code before that it be monitored. Companies were required to answer questionnaires, to give details, and now that is all to be eliminated from the Code. Let me go quickly through what appears in the present Code and what is to be deleted. I will not refer to the article, which also sets that out. Under the heading of `Desegregation at places of work', we see the following expression in the new Code:

Except where the law of South Africa otherwise requires, companies should integrate the workplace, canteen, recreational, educational, training and other company-provided facilities.

That is what the present Code says. I do not know what it means. In the draft document first tabled, we find:

Except where the law of South Africa otherwise requires, companies should abolish the practice of segregation, which is a particularly offensive form of racial discrimination . . .

That has been cut out altogether by this new superficial provision. In regard to what companies will do in training and management there has been a considerable deletion from the draft Code. For instance we find in that draft Code the provision that companies should deal equally with all employees:

. . . companies should appoint and promote personnel solely on the basis of their qualifications and ability. To implement this provision fully the educational disadvantages of non-white employees may need to be compensated for.

That has gone from the new Code. Then it is stated:

To this end company training and development programs should be implemented to facilitate the employment of non-whites at all levels of the company.

That has gone from the Code; it is no longer to be found anywhere in it. So there has been a considerable displacement of requirements in that respect. A great many deletions from the draft Code will be effected in relation to labour restrictions. In particular, companies will be required to assist non-white employees to achieve and safeguard their basic rights. It was stated originally in the draft Code:

. . . employers should provide advice and or aid relating to legal matters . . . .

That has gone. Aid is not necessarily to be provided. It said also:

Because it denies non-whites freedom of movement and freedom of choice in employment, the system of migrant labour creates inequitable hardships for non-whites and their families.

Surely that is a truism, at the very least. That has gone from the Code. We find a real deletion when we come to the expression of quality of life. A substantial amount has gone from that. We see a cutting down of the provisions which were designed to help the people who work for Australian companies gain a greater living environment than they had. Companies had social as well as commercial responsibilities in these circumstances, but they have gone. The draft Code goes on:

Australian companies therefore should concern themselves with the quality of life of their employees and their families.

That also has gone. The draft Code then sets out a series of matters which should be considered. The provision that companies should be able to provide fringe benefits equally to all workers and, if not already available to non-white employees, should seek to introduce them has gone. Then there is a whole clause (b) which runs into something like three-quarters of a page. I summarise the points raised: Companies might assist in the housing of employees, the promotion of the welfare of the employees' families, the transport of employees, the provision of leisure and health service facilities, the provision of library and educational facilities, and the provision of subsidised nutritious meals to lowly paid employees. That has all been absolutely deleted from the Code as it now stands. There is also a difference in the question of monitoring. There is to be a provision now for a person who will investigate these matters. That person is to be an independent and impartial administrator and the idea of a questionnaire has gone altogether.

Overall, the Code of Conduct that we now have bears no resemblance to the previous one. The Minister, in his statement, gave no idea why these vast changes were made, why people had not had the opportunity to discuss them, why it had been left entirely to business and why the Parliament did not have some foreknowledge of the changes before they were declared to be the code in existence. There are many people who say that a code of conduct is not very effective but surely this will be said even more so when it is seen that this Government has resiled entirely from the provisions of the original Code and now seeks to foist a new code on us. I think it is time that the people knew this, even though this change comes at the end of the parliamentary session. We need to draw the attention of the people to this change because it shows once again the false nature of the Government's promises.