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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4197

Senator HARRADINE (6.54 p.m.) —I ask the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services (Senator McMullan) whether he would indicate to the committee the clauses relating to the heads of power utilised by the government for the Industrial Relations Reform Bill. I think it would be useful to the committee to identify the clauses for which certain specific heads of power are used for their validity. I know that might be a strange request, but I think it is relevant, having regard to clauses 1 to 3 of the bill.

  Honourable senators may have noted that I have not entered this debate thus far. I have done that quite deliberately. I am somewhat concerned about the implications of the use which is being made of certain heads of power for the validity of certain clauses of this bill. Of course, it is not that I am not interested in this subject. I have been involved for almost 40 years in the industrial relations arena. As honourable senators know, next year is the 90th anniversary of the first arbitration act, which relied for its validity on the conciliation and arbitration power in the constitution. I understand the pressures that are being applied to the government to make an amendment to the Industrial Relations Act to allow greater flexibility. I am also conscious, however, of the fact that we have very high unemployment and that, whereas the bargaining boot was on the foot of employees some 20 years ago, it is now on the foot of the employers.

  I recall very well opposing strenuously those of the extreme left who, some 30 years ago, rallied to the call of `Smash the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission; destroy it'. They sought to do that because they believed in the survival of the fittest. That is not a philosophy that I subscribed to then and I do not subscribe to that philosophy now. There were innumerable battles within the trade union movement over that particular aspect. I am somewhat concerned—although I realise we have passed on—that in this bill the government is relying more extensively than heretofore on heads of power other than the conciliation and arbitration head of power.

  That is a double-edged sword, of course. It is the extent to which these powers—I will not call them precedents because I suppose the corporations power and the external affairs power have been used in other circumstances—are being used, the validity of this measure, that concerns me. I am fully aware of the need for flexibility and modernisation, as it were, of the processes of industrial relations. But the rights of all concerned—both the employer and the employee—must be upheld.

  The founders of our constitution, the drafters and the approvers, were also very well aware of that. Those principles have not changed. The need for protection of the interests of the participants in the industrial relations system has not changed. In order to have industrial progress, the parties to any system must desire to see that system work. I am a little afraid that we may be going along a path which might see that desire dwindle and we might end up with greater problems than the ones we are trying to solve.

  My purpose in rising at this stage is to ask the minister whether he can identify now, or at some stage, those heads of power that have been used for the validity of this bill. Specifically—if it is not too much trouble—could he identify the clauses and the heads of power that are utilised to establish the validity of each of those clauses?