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
Thursday, 31 August 1989
Page: 716

Senator McLEAN(5.08) —I am surprised that the Opposition is once again bringing on the Industrial Relations (Directions to Stop Industrial Action) Amendment Bill 1989 [No. 2] in precisely the same terms in which it was debated and defeated in this chamber just over a week ago. Frankly, the shadow Minister for industrial relations is somewhat sterile in what he can produce and suggest in relation to this dispute if he has not changed one word-and he has not-of a Bill, the logic of which was debated and torn to shreds in this chamber last week and which has subsequently been torn to shreds in the media and the press. The shadow Minister ignores realities and brings before this chamber a Bill which is irrelevant to the current dispute that is going on out there in the community. The shadow Minister for industrial relations is simply unable to address in any positive way the current air pilots dispute.

When I spoke to this same Bill exactly one week ago I said that the Australian Democrats agreed that the compliance provisions in the Industrial Relations Act 1988 were inadequate. Quite obviously, they are inadequate. This strike is testimony that the compliance provisions of the current Act are inadequate. I also said that the reason there are no compliance provisions in this Act is as a result of the position taken by the Opposition in relation to the Willis Bill in 1987 and as a result of the tactical strategy of the Government. The Government pulled the Bill off and removed the compliance provisions. It then brought a Bill which did not have compliance provisions before the Parliament, and it was passed. That outcome was fundamentally a product of the attitude of those in the Opposition, and then they walk back here with some magical solution, which is to shove into the Bill a set of compliance provisions which do not even address the question of penalties and which today in fact address an industrial situation that is totally divorced from the provisions of this Bill because all of those pilots in fact have resigned. So it is obvious-and we all know it-that what is being played out here is purely an empty exercise in politics. It is a waste of the time of this chamber, because this Bill can do nothing about the industrial dispute that is before the community.

Senator Vanstone —Why are you contributing if you think it is a waste of time? Sit down.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Senator Vanstone, you are on the speakers list, I notice. Would you let Senator McLean finish his speech in silence, please.

Senator McLEAN —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Presumably we will get some new shattering insight from Senator Vanstone when she gets the call. It is not an insight that is new in this Bill because those opposite have not changed a word of it since last week, so I do not know what wisdom Senator Vanstone is shouting across the chamber that is new. If there is some new wisdom, why is it not in this Bill? Why did the Opposition not rewrite it? In fact, we said to it last week that we would welcome discussions with the Opposition and the Labor Party with a view to reintroducing industrial relations legislation in some form with a balanced range of compliance and penalty provisions, which were dropped from the 1987 Industrial Relations Bill because of the position that the Opposition took. We made that offer last week and we have not been approached; nor has one word been changed in this Bill since then-despite the escalation of the strike, despite the resignation of the pilots, and despite the fact that this Bill is utterly irrelevant to the present industrial situation. We have already cited the fact that the Bill in its present form-and this is why we do not support it-is simply not tenable. We look for logic. There is no logic in this. We look for relevance. There is no relevance in this Bill.

Senator Walters —What would you do?

Senator McLEAN —We would certainly not agree to any industrial relations legislation which provides--

Senator Walters —Not what you wouldn't do.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Walters, I notice you are on the speakers list, too. I ask you to allow Senator McLean to be heard in silence, and I will expect the same when you are speaking.

Senator McLEAN —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Certainly this Bill in its present form, the same form in which it was last week, does not exclude the possibility of penal provisions. We would not and will not accept a Bill-just hear this message-that in its present form, in the form in which it is now, still provides the option for penal provisions downline. That is a fact about this Bill. If the Opposition is going to improve it, if it wants it accepted by us, let it change it in that sense at least.

I turn to the appropriateness of this Bill. It is obviously designed to make politics in relation to the pilots strike. That is all that it is designed to do. That is why it was raised last sitting week, and that is why the same Bill-unimproved, just as illogical, just as flawed-is before the chamber today. It does not acknowledge the fact that the circumstances of the strike have changed since then. There is no acknowledgment of the fact that things have in fact moved in the last week. Pilots have now resigned. They are therefore outside the system. They are not taking industrial action in the strict sense of the terms as defined in either the Industrial Relations Act or this Bill.

Senator Vanstone —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order.

Senator McLEAN —They are not employees and they are not in breach of any award.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There has been a point of order taken by Senator Vanstone.

Senator Vanstone —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The Democrats are obviously on the cusp of telling us what they would do in response to this matter--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator Vanstone —Well, I think everybody should be here to listen, so I draw your attention to the state of the House. (Quorum formed).

Senator McLEAN —I am pleased that Senator Vanstone in fact has called some honourable senators to the chamber to hear the points that I am about to make. I notice that most of them in fact are Government senators, who I think are quite happy to hear the argument that is being advanced. Very few of them are Opposition senators, who must frankly be absolutely embarrassed by the fact that their shadow Minister for industrial relations has been unable to amend a single word of a Bill that was defeated in this House last week and is flippant, superficial and wasteful enough of our time to bring it forward after probably one of the most serious industrial disputes in recent decades has advanced by one week. His sterility is such that he has to bring forward a Bill in precisely the same terms as it was defeated in this chamber last week.

I am sorry that this is going to be embarrassing to some members of the Opposition, but only two days ago the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee)-I know that they are embarrassed by some of the things that the honourable member for Goldstein says-addressed the Victorian Employers Federation at the Industrial Relations Conference in Melbourne and made a few salient points about the Opposition's industrial relations policy in relation to the present pilots dispute. He said in relation to the pilots dispute:

It is hard to see room for collective bargaining in Australia. The pilots' dispute shows the consequences of the right to strike and the right to lock out which inevitably go with a collective bargaining system.

This is a former Opposition industrial relations spokesperson. Mr Macphee also defended the Industrial Relations Commission, when he said:

I believe very strongly that the Commission has given employers their best chance for years to rearrange the package of minimum award measures in conjunction with their employees, and to determine any over-award arrangements on productivity considerations, rather than union muscle or regional market rates.

Once again, it was the honourable member for Goldstein, the former industrial relations spokesperson for the Opposition, who said that. The pilots have been engaging in free collective bargaining. They are doing what the Opposition theoretically wants every employee to do, that is, to reach agreement with his employer outside the guidelines of the centralised industrial relations system.

We are watching in operation the Opposition's alternative industrial relations model. The whole country is watching it play itself out, yet the Opposition brings it back time and time again to be embarrassed by the industrial scene playing out the alternative formula. I am surprised that the Opposition has not gone back to the drawing board and not only amended the Bill before us but also done some serious thinking about its industrial relations model.

Senator Walters —This is under Labor not us!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —Order! Senator Walters, I indicated earlier that you are on the speakers list. Please let Senator McLean make his speech in silence.

Senator McLEAN —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. It can be reasonably argued that the pilots dispute brings into focus the effects of the system that Opposition senators advocate should be in place. As I said before, we are experiencing industrial relations chaos of the type that the Opposition industrial relations model would inflict on Australia. We are facing massive inconveniences which the Opposition's model would continue to inflict on Australia. We are facing an industrial decline in one of our key industries.

Senator Vanstone —I don't know how you sleep at night.

Senator McLEAN —I sleep very well at night. All of this is likely to get worse rather than better if we have in place an industrial relations model of the type that the Opposition is advocating.

The irony of the introduction of this Bill by the Opposition at this time is that the compliance provisions that were in the 1987 version of the Industrial Relations Bill would have been in place and could have been used had the Opposition not adopted at that time a purely political stance in relation to the legislation that was before the House. The 1987 Bill spelt out what penalties would apply for non-compliance with the directives of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. As has been said before, the Bill before us today leaves the magnitude of such penalties open ended, only one of the inadequacies in this Bill which the Democrats cannot accept.

Senator Vanstone —We wish you would tell us what you would do.

Senator McLEAN —We pointed it out to the Opposition last week. We said we would sit at the table with Opposition senators.

Senator Vanstone —How would you solve the problem?

Senator McLEAN —For starters, we would address the fact that penalties are not provided or described in the Bill. We pointed that out to the Opposition last week. We invited Opposition senators to sit at the table and come to grips with that, but they have not done so. Even the Australian Council of Trade Unions was reluctantly prepared to support the compliance provisions in the 1987 Bill in return for legislation to bring sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act into the Industrial Relations Act. The Democrats indicated to the government of the day that we were willing to support such provisions, but the New Right at that stage-purely and simply making political mileage of it then as now-carried on, threatened to spend $9m to blow the Bill out of the water, induced the Government to pull the Bill off, and induced the Government to bring on a Bill which is inadequate in terms of compliance provisions and penalties and which does not address the vexed question of sections 45d and 45e and secondary boycotts.

In fact, it was the action of the Opposition which left us with flawed industrial relations legislation, thus giving the pilots the opportunity to bring us into this situation. Nonetheless, Senator Knowles had the gall to stand up and in a totally illogical, uninformed manner point across the chamber, in a typical gesture, saying that all the blame lay with the Government when the blame for the non-compliance provisions of the present Act lies on her side of the chamber. Last week, we simply pointed that out to the Opposition and told it to go away and do its homework and then bring back compliance provisions that make sense and are responsible. We would then consider them. The Opposition has asked what we would do. We would sit and rationally discuss with it and with the Government how to rectify the inadequacies of the present industrial relations legislation.

There are a number of quite specific problems with this Bill. (Quorum formed) Senator Knowles and Opposition senators collectively were presumably quite embarrassed and offended by the article Pamela Williams wrote in the Australian Financial Review on 28 August.

Senator Chapman —An apologist for the ACTU.

Senator McLEAN —You can shout that out; it is just an empty sort of statement. I am prepared to take that article on its merits. I am prepared to be convinced by its logic. I am prepared to quote back to you some of the very valid points that were made in that article. You can attempt to push logic aside with empty words, as you constantly do, but Ms Williams made five telling points. Let me make the same points.

Senator Vanstone —Why don't you tell us how you would fix this dispute?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator McLean to direct his remarks through the Chair. I have already indicated to Senator Vanstone that she is on the speakers list and will have the opportunity later this afternoon to make her speech.

Senator McLEAN —The telling points are simply these: five stages of the alternative industrial relations model of the Opposition have played themselves out in relation to this strike. It is a classic play-out of the alternative model. First, a secret ballot was held. There was a consensus among pilots that they would walk this course. It was arrived at by secret ballot. We do not identify with the course they have walked, but at least there was a secret ballot, at least that is democracy and we live with the consequences of it. Secondly, the Opposition's policy is that people should be able to opt out of the industrial relations system, as the pilots have done. They have opted out; they have opted out collectively and the system has pushed them to the point where they have opted out not only collectively but also individually. The system has failed; we agree that the system has failed. But it is the system the Opposition is advocating that has failed.

Senator Vanstone —Rubbish; nonsense!

Senator McLEAN —I am sorry this is embarrassing to the honourable senators but this is in fact the logic and the realities of it.

Senator Chapman —I raise a point of order. Senator McLean is grossly misrepresenting the Opposition's policies--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Morris) —There is no point of order.

Senator Chapman —There is a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator McLEAN —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The third observation that Pamela Williams made was that the Opposition's policy seeks direct negotiations between employers and employees. Now that is what we have had; that is what has collapsed; that is what has led to the subsequent outcomes. I am afraid that Senator Vanstone cannot deny that.

The fourth point she makes is that the Opposition's policy urges the use of common law, and we are not opposed to that. It is the process which is currently under way in relation to the pilots dispute and is not resolving it. The fifth observation she makes is that the Opposition's policy talks about wage gains being achieved for productivity. That really, to my way of thinking, is only marginally relevant to this situation. I believe that the observations that were made in that article are perfectly valid. They are in fact weaknesses of the alternative model. They do legitimately cite weaknesses of the present model. We are in our present difficult position because we do not have an adequate Industrial Relations Act in place. We do need to improve it, and we have offered to sit at the table and work towards that improvement. We have cited the fact that the present inadequacies reflect a political game between the Opposition and the government of the day which occurred in relation to the Willis Bill of 1987 and left us with a flawed, inadequate Industrial Relations Act. We acknowledge those limitations and we would be more than willing to cooperate in the remedying of them.

In conclusion, Mr Acting Deputy President, I summarise the Democrats' position. It has not changed in the four discussions we have had on this issue. We have debated it four times in the last six days of sitting and we have not changed our position. We see the Opposition as simply making politics at this stage. When the Opposition stops doing that and starts seriously talking about making legislation, that is when we will cooperate.

The second point I will make about the Opposition's proposal today is that we are simply citing the fact that the pilots' union is a powerful union. They will get what they want because in the model that they are playing out, which is essentially the Opposition's model, they have clout and they will win. Big will win, small will lose. The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer under the alternative model that the Opposition is proposing and the one which is playing itself out.

The use of international flights and Air Force planes has been totally inadequate, as we are painfully aware, and we agree that nothing to resolve this dispute has been done. It is certainly not going to be resolved by the passage of a flawed, inadequate, politicking Bill such as the one that is before the chamber today. This has been one of the most destructive industrial disputes that we have seen in Australia in many years. Its long term effect, of course, will be very widespread and we all acknowledge that. The Government is not able to resolve the situation and nor will the proposition that is being proposed by the Opposition here today.

Probably one of the most significant things to be revealed in the four debates we have had, certainly to my mind and to the minds of the Australian Democrat members, is the inadequacies of the alternative model. They have been revealed to the same extent or more so than the inadequacies of the present Industrial Relations Act, inadequacies which we say essentially result from the political strategies of the Opposition two years ago. It is important that the Australian public realises what we are seeing. The Pamela Williams article, the Michelle Grattan article, and this debate-four times over-have revealed to us that even though we have a flawed Industrial Relations Act in place, certainly we do not have an Opposition that is able to propose an industrial relations model that is significantly better.