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Wednesday, 7 June 1989
Page: 3557


Senator CHAPMAN(3.22) —The Minister for Transport and Communications (Mr Willis), when announcing on 1 June the Government's micro-economic reform package on the waterfront, commented that through recent reports commissioned by the Government it was common knowledge that Australia has been poorly served by its shipping and waterfront industries. What a gross disappointment that it has taken him so long to come to this rather pedestrian conclusion. Had his Government bothered to ask Australian exporters-indeed, the community at large-it would have discovered without commissioning lengthy reports that this was much more than mere common knowledge. It is sheer lunacy that Australia's industries have tolerated such a debilitating disease which has attacked its heart for so long.

In several speeches in this place over the past 18 months I have identified the inefficiencies and rorts on our waterfront which cost our exporters dearly. The Hawke Labor Government now belatedly acknowledges that such gross inefficiencies have retarded our growth, reduced the living standards of ordinary Australians and seriously damaged Australia's export capabilities. These facts have not gone unnoticed by millions of Australians involved in industries which have had to stand by and watch the tactics of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia which has unscrupulously masterminded the almost complete destruction of Australia's waterfront. Its actions have sent this nation back decades. It comes as no surprise that this Labor Government belatedly feels compelled to create the impression that it is bringing the Federation into line. Both the Inter-State Commission's report, released on 6 April, and the report of the shipping reform task force, released on 20 April, were unified in their findings that the requirement for urgent reform and restructuring on the waterfront was critical if Australia was to haul itself into the twenty-first century.

The Government boasts that current micro-economic reforms follow on from its 1984 measures in response to the Crawford Committee on Revitalisation of Australian Shipping. The Government failed to mention that the maritime industries have weathered over a dozen investigations, reports, commissions, inquiries and examinations in the last 40 years. Almost as soon as one draws to an end, another is commissioned. Yet the disgraceful situation still exists, virtually intact, crawling at a snail's pace towards the year 2000.

With regard to coastal shipping, the Government has done nothing more than endorse the report of a task force dominated by Australian unions and shipowners. But that report falls far short of the recommendations of the Industries Assistance Commission to allow competition from foreign ships in the coastal trade.


Senator Button —Would you have done that?


Senator CHAPMAN —This statement confirms the Hawke Government's complete inability to address the essentials of micro-economic reform. The Minister asked whether we would have done that. He ought to know from reading our policy that over a period that will occur under the next coalition government.

With regard to the waterfront, the Government has completely failed to address the contentious issues of bulk handling, stand-down clauses, smaller ports and container depots. Despite its intended multi-pronged restructure of the waterfront and shipping industries, the Government's proposals fail to create competitive environments in either of these industries. Especially in the area of coastal shipping, cabotage will remain quite intact. The coalition's plan for its elimination over a five-year period is well documented. The Minister ought not have needed to interject to ask that question a few moments ago. The Government chose to reject our offer of bipartisan support on this issue.

The coalition has also indicated its intention, which was reinforced a few moments ago by the remarks of our leader, Senator Chaney, to repeal all sections of the Navigation Act which impinge on industry productivity and efficiency, only retaining those which relate to environmental and safety aspects. The Government has chosen, to its peril-and sadly, also, to the nation's peril-to neglect addressing two of the key measures recommended in the Inter-State Commission's report-the provision of stand-down clauses in waterfront union awards and the removal of Waterside Workers Federation coverage of employees in smaller ports and container depots.

Some cuts in crews and increases in efficiency have already been achieved in respect of Australian ships. However, the Government's proposal that total crew requirements for a new Australian vessel be 37 men falls far short of the efficiency of similar vessels in Europe which operate with just 22 men. The Industries Assistance Commission has already presented compelling evidence that the lack of effective foreign vessel competition in our coastal trade is crippling key Australian industries. So why does the Government have to wait for yet another three years before again considering the introduction of foreign vessel competition?

Recently I asked Senator Button what the Government intended to do about the illegal union practices in the trans-Tasman trade which have cost Australia several wheat sales to New Zealand. As far as I am aware, not only has the Minister so far failed to provide an answer to that question but also the Government has failed in this statement to initiate any action on that front of the trans-Tasman trade.

Meanwhile, on the waterfront, acknowledged as the key stumbling block to more efficient shipping, the reform process has barely started. It may be that over the last 20 years since the advent of containerisation the number of waterside workers has fallen by 75 per cent to around 5,000. Despite each worker handling over 5,000 tonnes a year, Australia's position on the international competitive ladder remains unchanged. Our ports remain among the most inefficient in the world. It is about 12 years since the last set of reforms were introduced on the waterfront and these did next to nothing to effect any efficiencies in performance.

One look at the image that the waterside workers has is sufficient to realise why inefficiency has survived for so long. Thirty-three per cent of Waterside Workers Federation members are over 55 years of age. There has been no recruitment in Sydney or Melbourne since 1975. In my own State of South Australia, Port Adelaide has not recruited since 1967 and in Hobart only 10 members have been recruited in the last 33 years.

Upon the release of the Inter-State Commission's report, both Bill Kelty and Tas Bull, the Waterside Workers Federation General Secretary, claimed that the recommendations were industrial relations nonsense. Down the track somewhat, when all Australians see that the Hawke Labor Government is unable to deliver the goods on waterfront reform, it will be judged by business, industry and the community at large to be the dismal failure that it is.

The Inter-State Commission's central recommendation, that the present industry pool system of employment be replaced by a system whereby workers are employed by individual stevedoring companies, would bring efficiencies to the system, but the waterside workers claim that this is impractical. Of course, it is not impractical. The Waterside Workers Federation is about preserving the union's role in the industry even if an enterprise-based employment system is developed. Such a situation would merely serve to hold back labour efficiencies for the stevedoring companies.

The Inter-State Commission also proposes that fluctuation in labour needs should be met by a pool of supplementary labour in major ports. But, again, the Waterside Workers Federation wants to decide who will be a member of that group. It wants to appoint retired wharfies, retired seamen and, if necessary, workers from port authorities. What good would retired wharfies be? Does the union want these retired souls to return after they have received their golden handshakes to further rort the system?


Senator Stone —They have been receiving golden handshakes all their lives.


Senator CHAPMAN —Indeed, as Senator Stone says, they have been receiving hand- outs and golden handshakes all their lives. If the Government does not take the initiative, as this statement shows it is not prepared to do, that situation will continue. If the Government caves in to the union's demands, all we will see is retired employees coming back into the system to further rort it.

Another recommendation in the report of the Inter-State Commission is that 3,000 of the present wharf work force be pensioned off over the next three years with an extremely generous redundancy scheme, and that an additional 1,000 new recruits be trained. We are not throwing these waterside workers to the wolves. As Senator Stone said, they have received golden handshakes in past periods of redundancy, and an extremely generous golden handshake is envisaged in the Inter-State Commission report. Therefore, there can be no excuse for not implementing the recommendations in the report. The Government proposes to provide up to $145m, shared with the industry on a dollar for dollar basis, to fund this early retirement redundancy offer. It has also agreed to provide up to $8m for improving training facilities, the training of new recruits, and the retraining of existing employees to facilitate job restructuring. Of course, on that dollar for dollar basis, employers will be required to match the Government's financial input.

The Government, no doubt at the behest of the Waterside Workers Federation, has failed to implement the Inter-State Commission's recommendation that there should be special stand down provisions for the waterfront and that the union should not cover certain workers, including those at smaller ports with an integrated labour force and workers handling bulk cargoes.


Senator Button —Why shouldn't they be dealt with by the Commission like every other area?


Senator CHAPMAN —I am about to come to the point. The reason it should not be handled in that way is that the Inter-State Commission found that employers need quick access to stand-down provisions for the effective settling of disputes to ensure that the unions comply with agreements. The Government has left this to the Industrial Relations Commission process, as the Minister has just interjected. That is an entirely unsatisfactory approach, because it reinforces the role of the industrial relations club just when it ought to be fading away. Recent earnest posturings by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) cannot but lead one to speculate that the unions have already won on this issue. It is certain that the unions will use their continuing industrial muscle to achieve further advantage, which in the past has been characterised by the introduction of restrictive work practices.

Back on the waterfront, where the real damage filters down to other industries, it has been obvious that overmanning, outmoded work practices, political strikes and ineffective management have cost this country some $2 billion per year. Let me remind the Senate that the work practices issue is not the only issue on the waterfront; another is political strikes. We all remember the strikes that were engendered over the issue of Fiji not all that long ago. They had nothing to do with workers' conditions and benefits. Such practices have cost Australian farmers $130m a year, or about $800 per farmer, on grain exports alone. It is about time these shoddy practices were outlawed, but the Government's mealy-mouthed approach will not do the trick. Australians have learnt to their disgust that it is they themselves who end up paying all the way along the line, from the poor competitiveness of our country's exported goods and services to decreasing productivity and reduced human endeavour.

By failing to implement the key recommendations of the Inter-State Commission report on the waterfront, the Hawke Labor Government stands condemned for allowing exorbitant waterfront costs to continue. Although the coalition believes that the Inter-State Commission's recommendations themselves fall short of some of the dramatic changes required on the waterfront, it recognises that they offer hope for a major improvement. We therefore offer the Government bipartisan support in implementing those recommendations. The Minister's statement clearly demonstrates that the Government has rejected that offer. It is largely ignoring the Inter-State Commission. All we will see is another three months of procrastinating committees and reviews, and probably very little action. The Australian people deserve better than that, and they will show this Government only too plainly that they deserve better when they throw it out and elect a coalition government at the next election-a government which will fulfil its commitment to implement the changes required on our waterfront and in coastal shipping.