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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4383

Senator PANIZZA —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. The minister should be aware of claims published in today's issue of the Australian Financial Review that industrial relations on the Australian waterfront is heading back to the bad old days of confrontation.

Senator Collins —You would hope!

Senator PANIZZA —No. I do not say that whatsoever, as an exporter. What action does the government propose to take to keep the waterfront reform on track?

Senator COLLINS —The entire purpose of the government's reform program—and it has succeeded in doing it—is to get this industry into the same situation as every other industry in Australia, and that is where employers and employees are not having their hands held by the government every five minutes in a national labour pool with the government inextricably involved in the relationships in this industry. The whole purpose of that reform exercise was to put this industry in a situation where the employers and the employees work out their arrangements themselves.

  The article goes on to acknowledge something that Senator Panizza has not acknowledged, and that is that the federal government's waterfront reform program has brought about a fundamental structural change in the Australian stevedoring industry to make that industry subject to the same employment arrangements as other Australian industries. This has brought about, as the article acknowledges, direct productivity and efficiency benefits, but it has also brought about, as I have acknowledged here in the Senate on many occasions, the need for those parties to reassess their commercial and industrial practices and relationships. That industry has been operating for almost half a century under these outmoded arrangements.

   As I have told this Senate before, when the formal period of waterfront reform had concluded—which it did about a year ago—and when the enterprise agreements that were put into place under those formalised arrangements under a structured government program had concluded, there would be a period of time when the first enterprise agreements were negotiated party to party and these sorts of strains would be evident, and indeed they have been. For the first time ever the government has provided for this industry the basis of a strongly competitive environment.

  Since the completion of the program in October 1992, these competitive pressures have directly resulted in the merger of two stevedoring companies into Australian Stevedores in order to provide a stronger and more commercially viable competitor to Conaust, additional changes to waterfront work practices, and further changes—downwards—to waterfront employment levels. Both employers and employees are now adapting to this changed commercial and industrial environment.

  It should be noted that over the past 12 months the changes have been negotiated with relatively little disruption to stevedoring operations. I might add that these changes have brought about pressures, because the amalgamation that I have just referred to resulted in the need for significant additional redundancies. At the end of the formalised process we had removed from the Australian stevedoring work force almost six out of 10 employees. In addition to the loss of those workers to the industry, the recent merger of the companies to form Australian Stevedores resulted in a further number of redundancies that totalled almost 250 at the last count that I saw.

  These changes have brought about pressures, but the pressures are necessary for the further reform of the Australian waterfront. I am confident that the competitive arrangements that this government has put into place will continue to provide for further improvements and enhancements and further competition in the Australian waterfront industry.