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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4428

Senator PARER (5.53 p.m.) —I would like to initially comment on the remarks made by Senator Harradine. I have a great respect for Senator Harradine, but I think he is not reading the clause correctly. This clause enables unions to become involved in an enterprise agreement where they have no involvement. In other words, where employees and employers get together and wish to apply for an enterprise agreement, the Industrial Relations Reform Bill states:

This section does not affect any other right of an organisation of employees, or of any other person or body, to intervene or be heard, or to apply to intervene or be heard, on an application to the Commission . . .

This is to get a certified enterprise based agreement. Senator Bell said that we do not have to have a secret ballot of employees because there is already a provision in the Industrial Arbitration Act that provides for the commission to order a secret ballot. That is arrant nonsense, and Senator Bell knows it. I will tell honourable senators why. Individuals have no role to play at all in the Industrial Relations Act. It is only unions and employers, through their organisations, that have a say. Individuals do not count. They have no role to play.

Senator Chapman —No rights.

Senator PARER —They have no rights at all under the Industrial Relations Act.

Senator Bell —They will have. That's why we are amending it—to give them rights.

Senator PARER —I think Senator Bell knows—unless something is wrong with his mental processes—that it is only when a group comes before the commission that it can request the commission to call for a secret ballot. This amendment is suggesting that the majority of employees—and we have to remember that 70 per cent of the private sector work force is at the moment non-unionised and they do not want to be unionised—can come to an agreement and have a secret ballot and say that they do not want any third party involvement. Senator Bell will not allow them to do this.

  The Democrats said many years ago that they represent small business. Senator Bell also said in his address that he is reflecting the views of small business. I would like Senator Bell to give me just one example of a small business group that goes along with this idea. Small business groups are opposed to it. They are opposed to the removal of sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act. They are opposed to this bill because it is an attempt, by coercion and intimidation, to force people to become members of an organisation to which they do not wish to belong.

  A remark was made about intimidation. Intimidation occurs when these union people come in uninvited and when they are not wanted by the employees or employers.

Senator Bell —I agree with that.

Senator PARER —Senator Bell says that he agrees with that. If he agrees with that why does he not support this amendment which supports workers' rights? I can recall those bad old days that Senator Harradine spoke about. He made a remark about the shop committees. What Senator Harradine did not say was that those very people from what he called the communist left wing unions—

Senator Harradine —No, the pro-communist Left.

Senator PARER —Those union organisers were the people that the groups Senator Harradine represented in those days were trying to do something about because they were destroying the Australian economy. We are talking about a position which has changed fairly dramatically. Some 70 per cent of people in the private sector are non-unionised. I think this is what is called the post-industrial phase. The Labor Party, which is traditionally the political arm of the trade union movement, is concerned about that and it is wanting to unionise people against their will. The Labor Party no longer represents the blue collar workers in this country because they mean nothing to it any more. It is unionised white collar workers who are affiliated with the Labor Party who are calling the shots. We have seen the government go into a whole range—

Senator Sherry —Mr Temporary Chairman, I raise a point of order. We have sat here for an hour and a half. You have on a number of occasions drawn the attention of speakers to the provision we are supposed to be discussing. This is Senator Parer's third contribution on this clause. He is not dealing with the amendment. I would ask you to make him speak to the amendment.

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Teague)—I have been listening to Senator Parer. I believe he is speaking very directly to Senator Crane's amendment No. 7 and responding to the quite careful commentary in opposition to that clause that Senator Harradine has put. I take Senator Sherry's point that an honourable senator might have contributed three times. I ask honourable senators to keep relevant to the amendment. There is no point of order.

Senator PARER —As I was saying—

  Senator Harradine interjecting—

Senator PARER —I am now being invited by Senator Harradine to stray from the amendment that has been proposed. I would love to debate that sometime, but I will desist. Let us take the opportunity at some time down the track to debate that very topic.

  The remark I was making was that this amendment by the opposition will protect those people who do not want to be intruded upon by third parties in the normal day-to-day relationships they have. Senator Bell must be well aware of this. He is opposing it on phoney grounds. As I mentioned before the point of order, he claims that the Industrial Relations Commission, through the act—

Senator Bell —May order.

Senator PARER —May order a secret ballot. He has got the cart before the horse, and he knows it. What we are saying is that, when an enterprise agreement is formed willingly between employers and employees and they agree that they want this to be their agreement and not someone else's agreement, a third party should not be able to intervene in the process. It is as simple as that.

Senator Bell —In the hearing, not the process. Get it right.

Senator PARER —Senator Bell has interjected that it is in the hearing, not the process. If he likes to use some sort of technical language to split hairs, that is up to him, but it is the process. These groups have got together just to formalise something that they probably already do on a day-to-day basis anyway. What they do not want is a third party getting into the act. The tenacity of the unions in attempting to entrench their power was pointed out recently in an article by Judith Sloan in the Australian Financial Review. For those who read Judith Sloan, it read:

. . . the attachments of the unions to compulsory arbitration and the award system—

not the freedom of individuals and employers to get into enterprise bargaining, which is what we are talking about here—

probably has less to do with protection for low-paid workers than with underpinning the unions' representation rights.

That is what this is all about. The government knows this. It is not arguing against us on this.

Senator Harradine —Who was that?

Senator PARER —Judith Sloan. The government is committed to the agreement made between its minister and Bill Kelty. That is what this is all about. He kicked off by saying, `Let's have enterprise based agreements for the non-unionised sector'. But the trade union movement would not wear it. So we have ended up with this. As I mentioned earlier, the initial legislation in the House of Representatives allowed union involvement only when a union had its own workers in the particular work force of the organisation.

  The clause, which we wish to amend, enables any union to get involved in the enterprise agreement regardless of whether it has any members in that work force. I remind those listening to this debate that, when we lose this amendment, they can point the finger at the Australian Democrats—not the government. The government is part of the trade union movement; that is its job. It is the Australian Democrats who have let down the small business sector in Australia, not just by refusing to agree to this amendment, but by refusing to agree to a whole series of other amendments to this particular bill.