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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2893


Senator CRANE(10.38 a.m.) —I rise to support the report on the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. I understood that Senator Mackay was to speak before me but maybe she will not speak now.


Senator Mackay —I am, but after you.


Senator CRANE —The arrangements have been changed by some devious means from what they were supposed to have been, namely: the chairman, the deputy chairman, you and me, Senator Murray and Senator Margetts. Nonetheless, I want to raise a number of matters about this inquiry. I begin by reinforcing what everybody else has said about the outstanding effort by Rob Diamond and his team, Sound and Vision, Hansard and all the others involved. This was an inquiry into the workplace relations bill and dealing with conditions in the workplace. However, in Perth, we had Hansard sitting there for five hours before opposition senators called for a toilet break. I found that one of the ironies of this particular inquiry. Even though it was a long and hard process, those very important little courtesies were hard won.

What came through the inquiry was that when you deal with matters the bad is never as bad as the doomsday merchants claim it will be and nor are the boons as great as the optimists claim they will be. Although there were a number of notable submissions, because of the orchestration there was continuous misrepresentation.

In the report by government senators on the committee we have endeavoured to put the other side of the positions that were put in that orchestration. As I was probably the key author, I spent a lot of time on the report. I particularly refer people to read chapter 2 on the two sides to the story.

I also refer to the amount of repetition in the submissions. We even had three submissions where the first 40 pages were virtually the same word for word—and you can relate that to the Hansard. This aspect follows on from what my colleague said earlier.

It was important that the committee did get around Australia. Nonetheless, it should have been done through the legislation committee which could have conducted exactly the same hearings and gone to the same places. Then we would have kept the processes that were put in place in forming the legislation and references committees to do that work.

Interestingly, to the day exactly the same amount of time was given for this inquiry as was given for the 1993 inquiry—and I served on both of them. Many of the stories were the same. Of course, there were variations between the submissions. But, once again, because there was no orchestration by the ACTU at those hearings in 1993, the only part of the union movement that appeared was the ACTU itself, which I thought put in a very good submission in representing the particular views of the union movement.

With the repetition we gained very little extra in what was said. In reading each submission you get almost exactly the same story. I concede there was some variation but, once again, the same could be said about the employers' submissions, except for one aspect: this time they dealt with the situations which exist in the various states. Let me tell you that it was not all doom and gloom as some people would like us to believe.

I am sure that, if opposition members had been aware of what was going to happen last Monday, they would not have gone ahead with this inquiry in the form that it took. I do not believe that we would have seen the attempts to come into the hearings with placards and to have the mini-demonstrations within the hearing forum. I pay particular compliment and credit to Rob Diamond for the way that he handled those people who brought in the placards.

On this side of the chamber we welcome people attending those or any hearings. However, because such hearings are an extension of the Senate, the behaviour must be exactly the same as that allowed in the public gallery here. It would not have happened if there had been a few wise words from the people involved and who knew what was going on. I want to put that on the public record.

I repeat: if you people on the other side of the chamber had known how badly your rally was going to go wrong last Monday, you would not have gone ahead with it in the manner in which you did. At the end of the day, you will be judged very unkindly, as will the ACTU, for the assault that occurred on Parliament House last Monday. Make no mistake about it. That rally was intended to relate to the presentation this week of this particular bill in this chamber. I say to you people: shame on you for not keeping a little more control over what occurred; it was an assault on democracy in this country.

If I can deal with some aspects of this: I have worked on both sides—I have been an employee and an employer. As I have said in this place before, I shore around shearing sheds in Western Australia for 20 years so I have a pretty good idea, in a practical sense, of good employers and good employees. That was highlighted in these hearings in terms of the good and bad. My life experience—and I have never heard anybody dispute this—is that 99 per cent of employers are damned good employers and damned good people and 99 per cent of employees are good people and damned good workers. They organise themselves in the workplace in a very good, positive and strong manner. They get on well together and do an outstanding job. It does not matter what legislation you put in place in terms of dealing with that, you will not change that factor.

What amazed me in terms of these submissions, laid against this bill which is before us now, is that we had complaints of malpractice in the workplace going back 15 years. Can you believe it? Can I also say that one of the very disappointing aspects of it for me was the performance of some of the academics and lawyers. When you have people appear before you and you ask the question, `Have you read the bill?' and the answer is, `I glanced at it,' or, in one case that we highlight in our government senators report, `No,' you start to ask questions about the credibility of those people and the damage they do to this process. It does no good to them or the process we went through.

Similarly, when dealing with the issue of right of entry in Brisbane a witness there, who from memory was a member of one of the maritime or seafarers unions—I just want to use this as an example—made reference to the right of entry. I said, `Have you read the other sections with regard to the right of entry?' He said, `No,' and then went on to explain—which I did not pick up at the time—that less than 24 hours ago he had got back from a ship. He had not read the bill or the submission that had been prepared and put before him, in terms of the position. That does not do the process any good.

I want to say in conclusion that I certainly appreciated working with all the people on the committee in what was a very strenuous 18 days of hearings, and for most of us another six or seven days of travelling. We kept ourselves in good humour and good spirit, and we worked very well together. I say that to the Labor Party people, particularly Senator Murray in his first excursion into this type of thing and to my colleagues Senator Chapman and Senator Ferguson. That was one of the outstanding parts of this inquiry but it is unfortunate the way it went because it was flawed from the start. It is a tragedy that it ended up the way it did last Monday alongside the Great Hall of Parliament House.