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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 35

Senator McKIERNAN(4.37) —The Senate this afternoon is debating a matter of public importance submitted by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Chaney:

The need for the Government to adopt a new approach to industrial relations which is enterprise-based, to encourage Australians to work together more productively to reduce our foreign debt and to stop the slide in living standards.

These are commendable objectives but there is a fatal flaw in the matter put forward by Senator Chaney, as was pointed out by the Leader of the Government in this place, Senator Button, when he asked, `Why direct it to us? Why direct it to the Government?'. The Government is acutely aware of the sentiments contained in the matter of public importance and is now actively working to achieve those objectives.

Senator Walters —When did you start?

Senator McKIERNAN —We started on achieving office in 1983. We have continued our effort under the banner of the prices and incomes accord and agreement between the Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and its affiliated bodies.

Senator Walters —That's why it has not occurred.

Senator McKIERNAN —It has continued to this day. It is continuing apace, as any of us who get out and talk with people, be they small businessmen, large enterprises or the workers in those enterprises, know. The change is with us. It is happening apace. In some establishments it is happening very fast but in other establishments it is happening not quite so fast. But have no fear; change is happening in Australia today. It is most certainly and most decidedly happening in the industrial relations area. We need to give this matter of public importance some attention and to examine the ramifications not only for the workers in industry, those that are producing the wealth of the nation, but also for Australians as a whole, those that depend on the welfare benefits that come from the taxation paid by workers.

Senator Chaney gave an estimate of 800,000 work places in Australia today, an estimate which I hold him to. He initially said that there were between 800,000 and one million work places. It is quite conceivable that in a completely deregulated labour market a single union could emerge in each of those enterprises. One of the great cries in Australia today is that there are far too many unions, a sentiment that is agreed with by Labor senators and one that is supported by the Government. Its actions in bringing in the new industrial relations legislation last year is proof of that. How could we move from a position of having 300-odd unions to one of having nearly one million single unions? It is absolutely crazy! However there may be some merit in it for those who hold great influence within the Liberal Party of Australia today. Senator Button alluded to that. He talked about the New Right influences. In recent months we have seen a spate of preselection results from a number of individuals who were pre-eminent in the industrial relations sphere if not on a hands-on basis, as some of them would have liked, then certainly as speakers and writers on the subject of industrial relations. I refer to people like David Kemp, Peter Costello, Rod Kemp, Ian McLachlan and our own Senator Stone, the previous speaker, who has aspirations to move to the other place. We have also heard about Charles Copeman. Charles Copeman came to prominence in the area of industrial relations because of his involvement in an enterprise in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. What was then Cliffs Robe River Iron Associates was taken over and became Robe River Iron Associates, an iron ore mining operation operating out of Pannawonica and Cape Lambert. We saw industrial relations turned on its head. We are seeing it and witnessing it today in Western Australia. It demonstrates the ramifications of a single `union enterprise' thinking.

That happened some years ago, but let us see what has happened in recent months. I just happened to have in my drawer in the chamber on the first day back after the recess an article that was printed in the West Australian of Tuesday, 23 May 1989. The headline states, `Paymistress quits after refusing to drive truck'. A paymistress is presumably a person with secretarial skills, perhaps one who operates a computer in an office, and such a person was told to drive a truck. Those honourable senators who have visited iron ore mines would appreciate the size of those trucks. This lady, Miss Sainsbury, was instructed to drive a truck. She was an employee of the enterprise and as such was subject to the directives of her master, Robe River-one of the leading New Right companies in this country. Such a company, along with Mudginberri and so forth, can be held up as an example of what would happen if the Opposition were in government.

A few days later, on 26 May, another article appeared in the West Australian. I notice my colleague, Senator Foreman, has fairly rapidly left the chamber. He must have known what headline I would next refer to. The article was headed, `Foreman told to get out of town'. In part, the article states:

A mine foreman has been given a week to get out of town after protesting against the forced resignation of Pannawonica paymistress Andrea Sainsbury.

So Robe River Iron Associates hits not only the hands-on workers, but also the supervisors-an enormous change. The individual who is credited with taking most of the action and with being the driving force behind the happenings at Robe River is one Charles Copeman.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Soon to be a member of this Parliament, too.

Senator McKIERNAN —I would doubt that very much. I note for Senator Crichton-Browne's benefit that Senator Stone in his contribution was not at all confident that tonight would be the last Labor Budget. Perhaps, like the rest of us, he watched with interest the mock campaign of a couple of weeks ago when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) went out and met those battling workers who could not, despite the fact that they had a regulated loan, save up enough money to go to the snowfields on a regular basis. But the honourable senator diverts me. A few months ago Charles Copeman was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald-I may have to check the source-as saying:

A couple of days after the leadership change I had to stand in for Fred Chaney at a Killara Liberal Party lunch. He came in very late, knowing I was standing in for him, and immediately endorsed all the things I had been saying. His industrial relations policy is excellent. It is merely a matter of implementing it.

I rest my case on where his words, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, leave us.

Senator Chaney had a few words to say about demarcation disputes. Anybody who has had any real contact with the trade union movement in Australia would know that most unions despise demarcation disputes and go out of their way to avoid them. In a demarcation dispute, we end up with no winners. Many thousands of disputes are resolved between unions; they never reach the formal dispute stage. Senator Chaney apparently has statistics to prove his assertion that only the large unions cause demarcation disputes. My brief involvement with the Australian union movement-Senator Crichton-Browne would appreciate that I am only very young-has given me the experience of seeing that not only large unions but also small unions-indeed, a preponderance of small unions-engage in demarcation disputes or are involved in matters that reach a real dispute stage.

Senator Lewis —It would solve that if you had just one union in each enterprise. Let's look at the next century, not the last century.

Senator McKIERNAN —I ask Senator Lewis not to interfere because if he does I will start using words like 5 per cent, which we probably would use in the next century. But that is another argument. I hope that Senator Lewis too will refer to that. To give Senator Chaney credit, he mentioned the current conflict with the airline pilots and the grab that they are making for what is recognised by the vast majority of Australians of all political persuasions as a grab for excessive wages. It is a pity he did not also take the opportunity to attack what I consider to be the most powerful trade union in Australia, one which is not affiliated with the ACTU. I refer to the Australian Medical Association, which virtually gets whatever demands it makes.

Senator Stone made great play about the size of our foreign debt. That is a worry to all, including the Government. It is something that has been addressed previously in a number of forums. He made the point that there is a fear in the community about the growth in foreign debt. But if we relate what Senator Stone had to say to the wording of the matter of public importance, we find a great conflict. The majority of the money that has been brought into Australia, which it now costs the Australian community to service, has been brought in to finance takeovers, mostly unproductive takeovers. We have had debates in this place about that matter.

Senator Stone also made the point that the level of foreign debt has grown over a period of years. He spoke about the decline in the standard of living of Australians, that we have gone from being at the top of the tree 89 years ago to being now at position No. 17, 18 or 19, depending on which graph one looks at.

In reply to that comment, I make the point that for the majority of the 89 years that he referred to, this nation was governed by conservative governments. For 30 of the last 40 years we were governed by conservative governments, the last of which left us in an awful mess that has taken us many years to try to overcome.

Senator McLean made a point about `divide and conquer' or `divide and rule'. That is something that pervades the industrial relations system in Australia. The industrial relations system is and has been structured as an adversarial system, but that is slowly being overcome. Despite the fact that the adversarial system is in place at the moment, there are many fine examples in Australian industry of employers and employees working together hand in glove-at different degrees and with different results, but it is happening. Change is occurring. It will occur with cooperation and with a will to achieve a real Australia for Australians.