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Thursday, 25 November 1993
Page: 3787

Senator MURPHY (9.43 p.m.) —I rise to speak in support of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training on aspects of the Industrial Relations Reform Bill 1993. I would like to reiterate Senator Zakharov's thanks to the committee secretariat for the effort that they put in to ensure that this report was brought into the chamber within the time set down. The report contains a dissenting report, which I can do no other than condemn as an inaccurate and factually wrong statement. The inquiry was conducted within a limited time frame. Therefore, the report is not definitive in respect of the technical detail of the Industrial Relations Reform Bill 1993. Rather, as has been said by Senator Zakharov, the chair of the committee, the report addresses the key themes of the proposed legislation.

  The committee received 32 submissions from various parties. We had three public hearings and received evidence from all key organisations. There were three terms of reference for the committee to analyse. Those terms of reference were:

1Whether the proposals in the Industrial Relations Reform Bill would promote a more co-operative relationship between employers and employees and a more dynamic workplace culture in:

  (a)  unionised workplaces; and

  (b) non-unionised workplaces; and

2The implications for the States of the proposals in the Bill with respect to the States' rights and responsibilities; and

3  Other related implications arising from the Bill.

In summary, the report supports the general thrust of the government's proposed legislation. We heard evidence from a number of employer organisations that the bill was a negative rather than a positive approach to enhancing industrial relations, but no evidence was really presented to support these claims.

  As I said at the outset, there is also a dissenting report. It is appropriate that I redress some of the spurious claims contained within that. Firstly, I would like to go to the question of consultation. The opposition members on the committee made great play about the consultation process, specifically as it related to employers and Liberal state governments. They have promoted a view in their dissenting report that there was little or no consultation with these parties. The facts simply do not support their claim.

  With regard to the states, the process began back in December 1992. The issues likely to form the legislation were discussed at a meeting of state premiers in Perth in December of that year. The then Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator Cook, convened a special meeting of Labor ministers on 16 December 1992, where the states were provided with further information. The legislation was again discussed with the states in Brisbane in April of this year. State officials were fully briefed in September of this year.

  The new minister, Minister Brereton, wrote to state ministers in early October 1993, providing a copy of the draft legislation as it stood at that time to ensure that the states had sufficient time to examine the legislation before the next meeting which was held at the end of October. The minister also advised the states in writing of progressive changes that occurred before that date. In addition to all of these meetings, the minister had individual meetings with all state ministers, plus further exchanges of correspondence during the development of the government's legislation.

  As for consultation with other major players in the game, this also commenced in a comprehensive way from April of this year. By way of comparison—opposition members would have us believe otherwise—the minister met with the ACTU some 25 times, and at least 32 times with employer groups around the country. I do not need to name them all, but over 100 meetings took place with the various interest groups. So on the matter of consultation, the government's record speaks for itself; unlike, I must say, that of the Victorian and Western Australian governments when they were bringing in their own industrial relations legislation. To my knowledge, in Victoria there was no consultation with the federal government. As for Western Australia—it seemed to be the one that wanted to whinge most about this—it sent a copy of its legislation to Minister Brereton after it had been introduced into state parliament.

  In going to the terms of reference of the committee and looking at the issue of whether or not the government bill improves relationships between employers and employees and enhances the enterprise bargaining process, as can be seen from the evidence, there are varying views about this. If we look at the proposed bill objectively and the current legislation that is in place, we can really draw no other conclusion than that the proposed legislation can achieve both of these objectives.

  The bill does not, as is claimed, put in place more restrictions. What it does do is provide flexibility and an opportunity to enhance the enterprise bargaining process. What it also does, and what the three states under Liberal governments have not done, is provide protection for workers against unscrupulous employers. If we compare state and federal legislation as they currently stand and take note of reports that have been conducted by both the Department of Industrial Relations at a federal level and independent analysts, it is quite evident that the current federal legislation has been far more successful than that of any of the states in areas of flexibility and workplace change.

  As at 10 November this year, over 1,320 enterprise agreements were registered under the federal system, which came into effect in October 1991. Those agreements cover some 800,000 workers or about 12 per cent of the nation's work force. By comparison, in the states of New South Wales and Victoria where legislation has been in place for similar periods of time, there are only some 386 agreements registered in New South Wales and about only 155 in Victoria.

Senator Bell —They will not tell you anyway. They weren't listed.

Senator MURPHY —That is right. Again, by way of comparison, the studies found that agreements under federal legislation adopted a broader agenda concerning enterprise performance, whereas agreements in the state jurisdictions focused on a narrow range of issues such as wages and conditions.

  By way of example, I would like to refer to the Victorian approach. It is quite evident from work contracts that have been either drawn up collectively or individually, which the Victorian government would certainly deny—it certainly did in answer to questions from Senator Carr from Victoria about protections it provides—that if one was employed and working under a state award prior to March this year, one would not lose any of the conditions contained within those awards. Workers at Fancy Fingers, Alexanders, Nandos Chicken Land, Bed Bath n'Table, Australian Pacific Supermarkets, Westco Jeans, Copperart, Speeds Shoes, et cetera would certainly contradict that. The copies of the contracts of employment that I have show that those employees lost substantial conditions that they had working under awards prior to March 1993.

  The second term of reference relates to the implications for the states and how the federal legislation might impact on states rights. It should be noted that the legislation proposed will have no impact over state legislation where the states are meeting the obligations of international conventions, such as those of the ILO, to which we are a signatory. There is a claim by Western Australia that it is meeting the obligations of ILO conventions.

  I would like to point out that as far as setting minimum rates of pay and minimum conditions are concerned, it is a ministerial decision in Western Australia. Although it has a mechanism whereby the minister can make that decision arising out of a recommendation from the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission, there is no requirement for that commission to use any basis for making that recommendation—that is, they do not have to assess the wages and conditions of workers around that state. There is no obligation. So it is not meeting the requirements of a number of the conventions. Therefore, the legislation may have an impact in some of those areas but for others, such as Queensland and South Australia, the legislation will have no impact whatsoever.

  With respect to one of the other issues that was raised—(Time expired)