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Monday, 6 September 1993
Page: 910

Senator CHAPMAN —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Does the minister agree that Mr Keating's pulling of the rug from under his Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Brereton, by endorsing the Kelty policy to form small enterprise unions to negotiate workplace deals, clearly signals the government's formal capitulation to the strong ACTU campaign to ensure that unions hold their monopoly power over enterprise bargaining?

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, that is not the case at all, as Senator Chapman would wholly expect me to say, and I say so for very good reason. The situation is that the government remains determined to further reform the industrial relations system by increasing its flexibility and by accelerating and widening the spread of enterprise bargaining. The government will do that cooperatively and constructively. We will not do it by allowing for reduced wages and conditions. We will not do it by emasculating trade unions. Our approach to industrial relations reform will continue in that respect to differentiate us from the opposition's wholly confrontational agenda. We believe that a permanent and reliable safety net, in effect, is essential to industrial relations reform and we will therefore continue to be committed to legislating for minimum standards to apply to all workers and to maintaining and updating the award system to protect those who are unable to negotiate workplace agreements.

  The Commonwealth has argued before the Industrial Relations Commission that it ought to replace the current wage fixing principles with a statement of guidance based on the accord mark 7. We are committed to establishing clear and balanced industrial rights and responsibilities and to providing for effective enforcement within the context of the industrial relations system, rather than through the common law system which is costly, slow and inaccessible to ordinary workers. They are the elements of the government's current approach to industrial relations. That is an approach which I am sure will be capable of being thoroughly and effectively implemented in a constructive and cooperative, rather than confrontational, way.

Senator CHAPMAN —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister's answer confirms the government's intention now to maintain the monopoly position of trade unions. I ask how the minister reconciles that answer with the fact that on 22 July at the National Press Club, the Prime Minister said:

We would like to see a change away from a centralised structure where those who are not members of unions have the benefit of those changes.

Why does the minister not concede that his Prime Minister has made yet another gold medal backflip and that compulsory unionism remains the name of the game?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It does not remain the name of the game. The name of the game is exactly as I described it. Might I just add this further comment on the subject of workplace bargaining: we, of course, recognise that there are lots of employees who, for one reason or another, cannot participate in workplace bargaining because they do not have a union to represent them. Our overriding concern is with the objective of spreading enterprise agreements. We have made that clear, as the Prime Minister did back in July, and we continue to do so. We formed a working party with the ACTU to discuss that issue. We will be considering a solution to the problem as a result of that exercise, and that response will be considered by cabinet in due course.