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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1518

Senator MINCHIN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Industrial Relations. The heads of agreement document between the Minister for Industrial Relations and the ACTU's negotiating committee discusses the fait accompli of transferring sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act `in their industrial relations application' to the Industrial Relations Act. Can the Minister define the expression `in their industrial relations application'? What would be the remaining application of sections 45D and E after such a transfer? Is the agreement between the minister and the ACTU now government policy and, if not, can the minister state what the government's policy is in relation to boycott provisions in sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act?

Senator McMULLAN —The final version of the legislation will become clear when the legislation is introduced into the parliament, and that is some way away. There are important issues involved in the matter raised by Senator Minchin. It is true that the government is examining possible changes to federal industrial relations law to improve the federal system's operation. In the course of that we are certainly looking at compliance measures. It is also true that the government regards civil actions in the ordinary courts as an inappropriate way of seeking to resolve industrial disputes. It is also true that the ILO committee of experts has reinforced this point, including by criticisms of section 45D of the Trade Practices Act.

  An option is that there should not be immediate access to the courts through sections 45D and E or to the common law where industrial action occurs in an industrial dispute. Under this option, pre-litigation conciliation by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission would be required before sections 45D or E action could occur. I understand that the `hit them with a big stick brigade' opposite does not like the fact that we might comply with reasonable international obligations about which they were enthusiastic, when those same people were critical of legislation relating to trade unions; they trumpeted it with some enthusiasm. This is called selective indignation.

  It is true that we are proposing to make changes to sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act. That is not a stunning revelation. That has been clear in the whole thrust of the legislative reform package that the minister has been discussing, but the final form of it will be made clear when it is introduced into the Senate as part of the legislative package.

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why is the government, which seems to be of the unions, by the unions and for the unions, ignoring the concerns of thousands of Australian businesses about proposals to diminish substantially the protection employers presently have against unjustifiable union boycotts?

Senator McMULLAN —When the law is introduced and the scaremongers get a chance to see what the reality is, we believe that people will recognise that not only is it a package of legislation that properly discharges our international obligations, but also it is one that is fair and reasonably balanced between the reasonable requirements of the parties to the industrial relations contracts, and that that legislation will be fair and will deserve and receive the support of the parliament.