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Tuesday, 29 August 1989
Page: 490

Senator FAULKNER(5.30) —I begin by giving credit to Senator MacGibbon who has managed to speak in this debate for a quarter of an hour about the Hawke Government's industrial relations policy and the airline pilots dispute and has mentioned either matter on only one or two occasions. Senator MacGibbon correctly identified the fact that he and the Opposition are on a real loser in this debate. Senator Lewis deserves congratulations for having the courage to debate this matter this afternoon. Throughout the airline pilots dispute it has been the Opposition's industrial relations policy that has been under the microscope, not the Government's. We find ourselves in a position where on the one hand the Industrial Relations Commission, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), the Government, the airlines, the travelling public in Australia and ordinary Australian workers are united in their opposition to the demands of the airline pilots and, on the other hand, the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots is demanding a 29.47 per cent wage increase which we all know our nation cannot afford. Somewhere in between these two we find the Opposition, the Liberal Party and the National Party, floundering as usual because its industrial relations policy is exposed. In the unlikely event of the Opposition ever being elected to government we would have hundreds of these sorts of disputes. There would be unmitigated industrial chaos. This matter of public importance proposed by Senator Lewis claims two things: firstly, that the Hawke Government's industrial relations policy has failed and, secondly, that the Government's industrial relations policy has led to the disruption caused by the pilots dispute. I hope that in the time I have available to me I can address both those issues. The key assumption of Senator Lewis is that the Hawke Government's industrial policies over the past 6 1/2 years have failed. Of course, it is a false assumption and one which can be easily debunked by an examination of the Government's record.

Senator Lewis —It is disastrous.

Senator FAULKNER —The honourable senator says it is disastrous but, in fact, the industrial relations record of this Government is one of its greatest achievements. The cornerstone of its success has been the prices and incomes accord which established an effective mechanism of consultation and cooperation between government, employers and trade unions in the wage fixing process. I know that Senator Stone and others have an obsession with the accord. They have to realise that the accord emerged out of the economic shambles and the industrial disputation of the Fraser years. I accept that it has resulted in the Government and the trade union movement working for common objectives. It is worth looking at the effectiveness of the Government's industrial relations policy and comparing it to the disastrous reality of the Fraser Government-the Liberal Party in government during the Fraser years.

Let us take inflation. The consumer price index to the June quarter 1989 was 7.6 per cent. It was 11.5 per cent in the Fraser Government's last year. The average weekly earnings to May 1989 delivered under this Government's industrial relations policy rose by 7.5 per cent. In the last year of the Fraser Government it was 11.6 per cent. The real unit labour cost index is down 13.9 per cent under Labor with productivity up 1.2 per cent per annum since 1982-83. Under the Hawke Government 1.5 million new jobs have been created, which is a 23.9 per cent increase during its term of office. Conversely, unemployment is down from 10.1 per cent under the Fraser Government in early 1983 to 6.1 per cent now. Again, it is all under Labor's industrial relations policy. Real gross domestic product is up 3.3 per cent in 1988-89. During the period of the Fraser Government the average increase was 2.1 per cent. I suppose the trump statistic, when talking about the Hawke Government's industrial relations policy, shows that industrial disputes are down by a massive 59 per cent under this Labor Government. It appears to me that it is this record of achievement that Senator Lewis is so keen to condemn. The Opposition wants to ignore the pathetic efforts made during the Fraser years but condemns Labor's outstanding record. The facts speak for themselves.

I referred earlier to the Opposition's nervousness in this whole issue. I think this nervousness is fully justified because the Opposition has a real dilemma. It wants to make political capital but it knows that the issue is likely to turn back on it and on its bankrupt industrial relations policy. I have to say that the Opposition is very brave in bringing on this debate and exposing the weakness of its position. In fact, it is pretty obvious that it is the Opposition's industrial relations policy that we are looking at and which is on trial in this dispute, not the Government's. Senator Macklin mentioned the excellent article written by Pamela Williams in the Australian Financial Review yesterday. She said:

The dispute between the airlines and the pilots has been a microcosm of the central planks of the Liberal Party's industrial relations policy--

She went on to say:

Observers waited in vain for the plaudits to fall from the Opposition's lips as the companies acted swiftly on the industrial action, pulled the pilots out of the wage system, sought direct bargaining with individuals and then pressed the pilots towards the courts with lightning speed--

How embarrassing it is for the Opposition to be exposed like this! So-called enterprise bargaining with the right to opt out of the centralised wage fixing system is the central theme of the Liberal and National parties industrial relations policy. What about enterprise bargaining? Is not that just what the pilots have done? The result of it is there for all to see.

It has also been interesting to note Senator Chaney's response to this matter. Far from praising the pilots for following his Party's industrial relations policy, he has criticised them severely for opting out of the system and seems intent on getting them back in. He said in one of his press releases:

The pilots have access to arbitration and yet they thumb their noses at the Industrial Relations Commission when it orders them not to engage in stoppages.

This sounds to me very much like an endorsement of the Industrial Relations Commission and a repudiation of his own policy. It is an admission right from the start that the Liberal Party's industrial relations policy is unworkable.

In the short amount of time that is available to me I would like briefly to look at the merits or otherwise of the pilots claim. I say at the outset that their claim is totally unjustified. The increases that they are asking for equal the annual income of the average Australian worker, and pilots already enjoy very high salaries. As the much quoted Captain Fitzsimons, the former President of the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, said in a bulletin to Ansett pilots:

There is no other group of pilots in the world that enjoy your overall standard of pay protection.

It seems to me that the pilots do not seem to have a real understanding of what they could have achieved under the centralised system. They should look at what other aviation industry workers have achieved-that is, up to 12 per cent increases with productivity and work practice concessions. The pilots are being absolutely unreasonable because they want their 29.47 per cent claim granted before any trade-offs are discussed, and, of course, that would then mean there was no longer any need for them to concede anything at all.

In conclusion, what I would like to stress is that this dispute with the airline pilots has demonstrated the bankruptcy of the Opposition's industrial relations policy. I say that the nation cannot afford the wage demands of the airlines pilots and more importantly the nation cannot afford the chaos that would result from the implementation of the Liberal and National parties' industrial relations policies.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —Order! The time allotted for debate has expired.