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Tuesday, 15 December 1992
Page: 5081

Senator SPINDLER (11.23 p.m.) —In addressing this matter briefly, I repeat and confirm what the Australian Democrats' industrial relations spokesperson, my colleague Senator Bell, has already stated—that is, the Democrats will be supporting the Bill and will be moving an amendment which will provide for the Commission to determine whether there is a need for a secret membership ballot of unions to be conducted when employees seek the protection of a Federal award because in a State in which they happen to reside—at this stage we are dealing with a situation in Victoria—such protection has been withdrawn.

  However, it is quite clear that the legislation will apply to other States if a State government in Australia chooses to force workers into a position where they have no choice but to accept an enterprise agreement or a one-to-one agreement with an employer without the protection of an award and without the possibility of going to a tribunal to have it adjudicated.

Senator Parer —Get your facts straight. It is not compulsory. How about being honest?

Senator SPINDLER —I know that Senator Parer has a hang-up about the word `compulsory'. Actually I think it is a misnomer. If I feel that my rights have been infringed and I want to take the person who has infringed my rights to court, is that called a compulsory court case? No, it is not. I go to seek my rights and the other person has an opportunity to defend his or her position. It simply means that if there is a dispute between two parties, they must have it arbitrated. Senator Parer may call that compulsory, and he may have a hang-up over it.

  I think it is perfectly reasonable that if there is a disagreement we do not resolve it by fighting in the streets, by industrial action, but that we do it in a civilised manner under the protection of arbitration legislation. When we say that a State government has the right to initiate whatever legislation it chooses, particularly if it claims to have had an electoral mandate—although I suspect that the voters of Victoria never suspected that they would be placed in the sort of position that the Victorian legislation is placing them in—we should not forget that a State is a part of Australia, indeed that Australia is a part of the world, and that there are certain common standards of human behaviour that apply to all.

  I turn to the issue of whether other countries have similar legislation which at the behest of one party, employer or employee, enjoins the other party to appear before a tribunal to have a difference arbitrated—the so-called compulsory arbitration. I think we should also consider that most other countries that do not bother to have such legislation have actually a legislated right to strike, which Australia does not have. I think that is a factor that in most cases explains the absence of this particular legislation.

  Basically, we have the choice between whether workers should be forced into enterprise or individual agreements without regard to arbitration or awards, and whether we should put up with the instability, the industrial jungle warfare that this will cause and the loss of profits, stability and predictability and, ultimately, the loss of jobs that this will create. Will that happen, or do we want a system that adjudicates the differences that employers and employees may have in a civilised manner and according to law? I would suggest that this is the central question that is at issue. The Australian Democrats come down firmly on the rule of law rather than the rule of the jungle.