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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4440

Senator BISHOP(4.55 p.m.) —Without doubt, the Industrial Relations Commission is an integral part of Australian working life. As a result of its workings, ordinary Australians' lives are affected. This occurs in the areas of wages, conditions of employment and a range of others. This is a prudent time to discuss this report, considering the changes the government is proposing to make to the legislation.

The report outlines several major issues over the past year. I will discuss just a few of those. The period 1995-96 has seen a significant increase in the workload of the commission and the Australian Industrial Registry. There was a 35 per cent increase from last year's all-time high in the number of matters lodged with the commission—they totalled 32,972. This produced a 39 per cent increase in the number of hearings by the commission.

This fact alone highlights the important role of the commission in Australia today. It is used extensively by our community in the lodging of grievances and the bringing together of employer and employee in attempting to resolve disputes. These are points the Senate should take note of in deciding the commission's future.

The Senate should note that the increased workload of the commission continued to occur while preparing itself for the budget cuts of the Howard government. The commission should be commended for its high quality of work while overseeing an increasing workload and a decreasing budget with which to deal with its business.

Senators should be aware that the commission is not responsible only for dealing with issues lodged. It also plays an important monitoring role. In accordance with the act, the Australian Industrial Registry identifies awards that have seen no change for the last five years and writes to all parties involved to establish the current status of those awards. The responses are then referred on to the commission to deal with as appropriate.

The report highlights that there were 395 awards requiring review with the following results: 169 awards were set aside, 58 awards were identified by the parties as still current, 69 awards were referred to panel heads for further action to determine their status, and 72 awards were scheduled for hearing before the commission in August this year. I highlight these points because they illustrate the important role the commission and the registry play and the issues that would remain unresolved or unmonitored if the commission does not continue in its current form.

Perhaps this issue is no more obvious than in the area of unlawful terminations. The report states:

The conciliation of complaints of unlawful termination of employment has become a growing jurisdiction for the Commission during the reporting period.

In the reporting period, the commission had over 13,000 reports lodged for unlawful termination of employment—and I think Senator Crane made reference to that. The interesting thing to note about that growth of unlawful terminations is that almost exclusively it is growing in administrative, managerial and non-award areas. It is unclear what process people will be able to go through to resolve these issues under current proposals.

I turn now, more comprehensively, to the Australian Industrial Registry. The registry is a statutory authority established under the Industrial Relations Act. The registry essentially provides administrative support to the Industrial Relations Commission. It plays an important role in facilitating cooperation between the federal and state industrial relations systems. The registry, like the commission, has had an increasing workload over the reporting period. Lodgments have increased by approximately 8,000 in 1995-96 and the average hearings per day have increased to 105. This is up from 76 hearings per day in 1994-95.

Like the commission, the increased workload of the registry will continue. However, the government will also bring about reductions in its budget. This is most evident in the implementation of the recommendations stemming from the review into the registry in 1994-95.

The report highlights a number of recommendations that have been put on hold since the budget cuts, and I will mention just a few these cuts are affecting. They are the establishment by the president of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission advisory board; the establishment and convening of the implementation consultative forum; the implementation of an initial communications strategy; and the appointment of a financial restructuring implementation working party.

There have been many high standard facets of the commission and registry highlighted in this year's report. It has a good record on internal accounting procedures as well as opening itself up to external scrutiny. It has an excellent staff training and development program, a high level of success with its information technology resources through equal employment opportunity standards and an extensive industrial democracy program. The report highlights the important work of both the Industrial Relations Commission and the Industrial Registry. (Time expired)