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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 39

Senator CHILDS(5.06) —The matter of public importance introduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney) states:

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.

This is typical of the Opposition's new-found industrial relations policy. It is conveyed with a new spirit, yet it is exactly the same industrial relations policy that the Opposition effectively has had for some time.

Senator Chaney —Oh!

Senator CHILDS —It is a desire to follow the wishes of the New Right ideologues who are pushing the Liberal Party at the present moment. Senator Chaney groans, but he is just the pretty face for the New Right people who originally developed this policy, and the expression is `enterprise unions'.

Senator Stone —But Senator Button was telling us that it is your policy now.

Senator CHILDS —Senator Stone, on the other side of the coalition-the more extreme Right-has a policy that is very clear, even in what is not said. That is, it is really the crushing of trade unions about which the Opposition is concerned. Senator Stone, of course, is more overt in what he says in this debate. The Opposition wants to give all power to the employers. That is what the Opposition is talking about. It is saying something that is absolutely unfair and unjust. Taking a small business enterprise of 100 people, according to the classic Opposition policy the 100 people employed in that enterprise will be encouraged to have their own union. It is said they should have their own union of 100 people, but the employer may have access to an employer's organisation-to the legal brains and the economic and management skills that are necessary to conduct a campaign against the 100 employees of that enterprise. The Opposition cannot see that there is no equity or fairness in a system which will allow the employer all the rights in the system of a myriad of unions that it wants to create. At the same time 100 people are expected to elect and finance their officials and to have the skills needed to negotiate in a modern system. It is just impossible. The Opposition bases its policy on the premise of destroying the ability of wage and salary earners to be fairly represented in the contest with capital. That is what it is about.

Senator Stone —A contest? What are you talking about?

Senator CHILDS —It is a contest because economists such as Senator Stone and his ilk and barristers such as Senator Chaney-he was a barrister in his former life-would be advising the employers. No group of workers has the ability to compete with those skills. The basic approach behind this policy is to move away from the equity that exists through unions providing for people in industry and to try to give employers pretty much an open slather. This is the sort of thing that the National Party in Queensland has sought to achieve for employers in that State.

In contrast, this Government is presiding over one of the greatest changes in existing practices that Australia has ever seen. At every level covered by this matter of public importance the Government is seeking to change people's attitudes-and it wants genuine change. We want change so that there will be progress. We are not following an ideological path, as the Opposition is. For example, there are 300 unions in Australia. For the first time the Australian Council of Trade Unions at its national congress has sought to persuade all sorts of unions to look at amalgamation so that we might have a smaller and more rational union arrangement in Australia, so that we might have efficiency, and so that we might reduce the number of unions represented in each enterprise. That process is taking place, but it must take place in a secure environment. People know that in struggles over many years the unions they have been associated with have preserved their interests and before they give anything away they want to feel comfortable with the people representing them. Hence they need to see their role in newer and larger enterprises.

The process is also about democracy. We have to make sure that the rank and file in an enterprise are able to have their say in the new unions. That process is taking place, and it is taking place at a far greater pace than changes have previously occurred in the trade union movement. At the same time this Government, through the accord and with the cooperation of the union movement, is seeking to change enterprise work practices more than they have ever been changed in the history of this country.

The Opposition is congenitally incapable of understanding that to get change people really have to be free to change their attitude, free to take the first tentative step towards doing something differently, towards doing something that is qualitatively different from the life experience of the oldest employee and the newest employee in any enterprise. If people want the sorts of benefits that have been referred to, then they could well look to the quite sensible and scientific approach of using the union management as a catalyst to convince people in the arguments that take place and to encourage them to change their attitudes.

This Government has provided a secure, sensible and comfortable relationship. People know that they will be given wage increases because of the guarantees of the tax and wage trade-offs that have occurred over a period. In other words, there is a complete package. People know that they can prepare for change, that they can change their work practices in a supportive environment. That is our way of doing things, and it has been successful. The only danger is that, were the coalition with its ideological blinkers to come to power, through some catastrophe, it would set us back. People would not have confidence. They would know, from what is inherently behind this matter of public importance, that the Liberal and National parties do not understand. One cannot wish for things to occur. This is an Opposition that wishes things would happen. The process is much harder.

The process I have just described is difficult. People are uncertain. They look to their leaders. They trust the middle management union official, the organiser who has been calling at the work place for a number of years and who reassures them and works with them as they go through the process of change. It is that very positive approach that will allow people finally to say, `Yes, we will forgo something that has existed for 10 years or 30 years. We will change our practices. We will try to become more efficient'. If there is a way of doing this in Australia, with its long tradition of arrogant management and British shop stewards, as some people have epitomised it-I pay due deference to my Whip--

Senator McKiernan —I am not British.

Senator CHILDS —I know; that is why I said it in that way. If we are to change that situation-the inherited class-ridden system that has had such an influence in Australia-as we are gradually trying to do in industry, we must look to the successful manufacturing countries, which have shown that a cooperative type of management will achieve change. The back-of-the-axe style of leadership will not work. Even if it is hidden in a velvet glove, as it might be by the Opposition, it is still innately a New Right policy of unfairly altering the balance of forces in industry. We cannot achieve change in that way. Countries such as Sweden, West Germany and Japan have been successful once they have got people to cooperate. Opposition senators know from their party meetings that when they fight and argue with each other, as they so often do, they will not get the cooperation necessary to enable them to move forward. I am saying that they should apply the same principles when they talk about changes we want in enterprises, in factories or in offices.

The future of Australia lies not in talking in an almost neo-racist way about the Japanese buying our property and matters of that nature but in looking at what Japan has done. It is a country where the emphasis is on persuading people to contribute to arrangements for change in an enterprise because they know they will benefit. This Government believes that people who participate in change have to be guaranteed benefits. Those benefits have been demonstrated by this Government. Through the accord process we have persuaded wage and salary earners to look past their pay packets to see other goals that have to be achieved. As a result of wage and salary earners sacrificing the increased pay packets they might have obtained, more than one million jobs have been created. They have done this so that we will not have the chronic lists of people whose lives are destroyed through unemployment. That has been a conscious decision of this terrible trade union movement that Opposition senators traduce when they speak in this debate!

Superannuation ensures that people have longer term security in their employment. Part of the process in an enterprise is to persuade people to do things that they have not done before, all of which have the effect of increasing productivity in that enterprise. This Government believes that it cannot just grab ideological positions and back them with statements about what should be done at an enterprise level. People will always take what a government says they should. There has been a long history in the trade union movement in Australia of people trying to use unequal power on others to make them comply, but they have fought back. That is not the way to go. It is the Opposition's way, and I acknowledge that, but it is not the way that this Government intends to go. We believe that productivity should be increased in a cooperative way. It can only occur in a modern industry where people are actually making suggestions. People who are sullen or unhappy will not make suggestions for improvements in productivity. This Government believes that it is carefully putting together a policy that will increase Australian productivity and solve foreign debt. Tonight we will take just another step in following the process through. The Budget which will be brought down tonight will take us further in the process of increasing productivity in this country.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Peter Baume) —Order! The debate on the matter of public importance is concluded.