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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2791

Senator MURPHY (5.32 p.m.) —I do not intend to take up much of the Senate's time with respect to this motion because it is not worthy of taking up much time; nor are the statements that have been made by Senator Crane in support of his motion, backed up by Senator Chapman. However, I cannot really let it go unaddressed. Let us look at the motion which purports to represent state ministers. It is funny; it seems to have left out two states—Queensland and South Australia. It mentions only those states with Liberal governments. Those particular states have a really good record in the area of consultation. We only have to look at the state industrial relations legislation introduced in New South Wales, followed by Victoria, to demonstrate just how democratic those Liberal governments really are in the area of consultation with workers and, in fact, with anybody else.

  I will go straight to the question of consultation, which is the crux of the issues raised by Senator Crane, who says that both the government and the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Brereton) never consulted with the states or, indeed, with any of the employer representatives or organisations around this country. The Prime Minister announced on 2 December 1992 that the government would legislate to guarantee workers' rights to fair minimum wages, equal pay for work of equal value, and protection against unfair dismissal. This legislation was to be based on relevant International Labour Organisation conventions using the external affairs powers of the constitution. These issues were discussed at a meeting of state premiers in Perth later in December.

  The then Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Cook, convened a special Ministers of Labour meeting on 16 December 1992 to provide state ministers with more detail of the proposed legislation. The legislation was again discussed at the Ministers of Labour Advisory Council—MOLAC—meeting in Brisbane on 30 April 1993. State ministers were given an assurance that they would have an opportunity to comment on the legislation before it was introduced into the parliament. State department of labour officials were given a detailed briefing on the legislation by officials of the minister's department on 8 September 1993.

  Minister Brereton wrote to all state ministers on 14 October providing a copy of the latest draft of the minimum entitlements legislation. This was to ensure that the states had sufficient time to examine the legislation before the MOLAC meeting on 22 October. Minister Brereton again wrote to state ministers on 19 October advising of the latest changes to the legislation. In addition to that, he has had individual meetings with all state ministers and there have been exchanges of correspondence with state ministers during the development of the government's legislation.

  The Minister for Industrial Relations has had extensive consultations with the state ministers on the development of the industrial relations legislation since the process began, essentially, in April 1993. By way of example, the minister has had nine meetings with the ACTU's negotiating committee over this period. This compares with 16 separate meetings with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Manufactures, and the Metal Trades Industry Association. More than 100 separate meetings have been held with employers, the states, unions and interest groups. I would like honourable senators to compare that with what happened in the Liberal states when they introduced their industrial relations legislation—zilch to 100.

  The government's reforms essentially provide for a framework for the further spread of enterprise bargaining throughout the Australian economy. I pick up on what Senator Chapman said about the small business people. The small business people I have spoken to essentially believe that there ought to be the maintenance of an award system, simply because that is the easiest way for them to operate. They may never seek an enterprise agreement.

  The one fundamental difference between our position and that of the coalition at the last election was that those opposite were going to do away with the award system, as has happened in Victoria. They want to pay young people under the age of 21 three bucks an hour; that is really good for the economy, really good for jobs. Many people whose children were attending tertiary education and working part-time came to me and told me just how their children would manage to get by on three bucks an hour—they would not have been able to do it. They would have had to have discontinued their education.

  The Government's proposals build on the reforms of the last decade. They allow Australian workplaces to implement cooperatively and constructively the changes needed to compete with the best companies in the world. The legislation provides employers with the flexibility they need to improve productivity and compete internationally while recognising—a very fundamental point—that employee protection is crucial to the success of enterprise bargaining. Nothing that Senator Crane or Senator Chapman said reflected that. They said that we have to free up the labour market and make real change. What does real change mean to those on the other side of the fence? It means cutting wages and making sure the boss has the upper hand and has the whip over his workers.

  The legislation clearly distinguishes between the bargaining stream, where an increasing number of workplaces will determine their actual wages and conditions and the arbitrated award safety net. Again, there is a substantial difference here between what the government proposes and what was, and is, proposed by the coalition where we would have no award safety net—none.

Senator Parer —That's not true.

Senator MURPHY —It is very true. The statements of Senator Chapman and Senator Crane make it correct, otherwise the opposition's position must have changed. The legislation revises the current regulation of industrial action to ensure that there is a fair and effective regime, recognising the particular requirements of enterprise bargaining.

  At the same time, the legislation provides strong safeguards to ensure that the increasing emphasis on the workplace is not at the expense of wages and conditions of ordinary Australian workers. In particular, it strengthens the award safety net for employees and ensures that all workers in Australia have access to key minimum entitlements required by international conventions which apply to Australia, and it maintains a `no disadvantage' test for employees moving to enterprise agreements.

  Senator Crane raised the issue of requiring 50 per cent plus one before there can be an enterprise agreement. I find it interesting that he condemned that particular aspect of the legislation when he seeks to champion the New South Wales state government and its legislation. Perhaps if he had done a bit of checking he would have found out that the New South Wales legislation requires 65 per cent of people at the workplace to agree with any proposal for an enterprise agreement before it can be put in place.

  That is not the situation in Victoria where we have no award system and public holidays are taken away; we know exactly what the process is there. It gives us a clear indication of what the coalition's real position is on industrial relations. The workers did not vote for it last time and they will not vote for it in the future. Some time ago the employers made very substantial statements about commencing a campaign of advertising, et cetera, against this legislation. I noticed in the newspapers either yesterday or today that they will have a further meeting to consider their position with respect to any advertising campaign.

  We must reiterate the types of proposals that the coalition took to the last election and put before the Australian working people. It proposed that people under the age of 21 be paid $3 an hour. Quite frankly, that would have been a disaster for the economy and for employment. Had the coalition won government, we would have had a system that would have seen workers competing for jobs. People would have had to tender for a job. The boss would be sitting behind a big desk saying, `What am I bid for this particular job?'.

Senator Parer —What rubbish.

Senator MURPHY —That is exactly what would have happened. It was clearly rejected by the workers and the people of Australia generally, and that is why we are still sitting over here.

  I turn to the issue of sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act. I find this rather intriguing because in question time yesterday Senator Chapman asked a question about unions receiving federal government money with regard to amalgamations with other unions.

Senator Parer —Deregistered unions.

Senator MURPHY —I am glad Senator Parer raised the point about deregistered unions because they are not deregistered unions; they are state registered unions which are fully entitled. If members of the opposition took some time to check the facts about industrial relations legislation, they would know that these unions are entitled to receive money under the act. They are not deregistered; they are still state registered organisations. It is a pity that Senator Parer did not check the facts. Sometimes it would greatly assist the Senate and honourable senators on the other side of the chamber.

  The issue of sections 45D and 45E has been going on for a long time. It was clearly the majority view of the committee that inquired into it that it has been used as a big stick and as a punitive measure against workers pursuing their legitimate rights. It is now going to be put in its right place—that is, in the Industrial Relations Act. That is where it should be dealt with because it is clearly a much fairer way of dealing with the legitimate rights of workers to pursue the issues that are important to them, such as their working conditions. It also provides protection for workers who may well be in a situation where the Industrial Relations Commission is not able to settle the issue. The 72-hour issue is, quite frankly, a very fair proposal. If we looked at all of the disputes that have happened over the time of the Industrial Relations Act, we would find that in many instances, even in the case of actions under sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act, they have been resolved outside 72 hours.

  I do not intend to take up much of the time of the Senate dealing with this motion because it really is misinformative in its content and, quite frankly, we will have the opportunity to debate the legislation in this chamber. Senator Crane's claims were quite unfounded because he has not seen the legislation. He made a lot of assumptions. Quite clearly, it is pointless for us to continue with a worthless debate about a worthless motion.