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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4918


Senator CHILDS(4.14 p.m.) —I wanted to draw attention to the difference between the opposition's object, particularly that referring to effective bargaining in (f), and the original government position and the deal proposal coming from the coalition and the Democrats, where they refer to effective agreement. The simple position is that the bill says:

(e)   providing a framework of rights and responsibilities for employers and employees, and their organisations, which supports fair and effective agreement-making and ensures that they abide by awards and agreements applying to them . . .

The opposition supports a system of fair and effective bargaining and proposed subclause (e)(ii) gives effect to that support. But the very important difference which I would like to put to the Democrats—I think perhaps the government is beyond the pale, because they really are seeking to disadvantage all workers—is that I do believe they are trying to get a result that is fair. The trouble is that the Democrats have accepted the completely passive approach of the coalition, and that is that it is all by agreement. There is no sense of the real dynamic that exists in industrial relations: where people bargain, where they are empowered to argue it out, in many cases being helped by unions; of course, the employers are helped by their employer associations.

That is a fundamental tenet of the system. It is a system that gets over the imbalance of power between the employee and the employ er—with the natural power that the employer has over the employee—giving the rights to the individual, that is, the employee, through a collective process. I think this is important because the bargaining process is essential for people who are disadvantaged—people with poor English, women, and others. People of any type who are not skilled in negotiation need to be helped. The emphasis on bargaining is important. The words `effective agreement' are completely passive and are not acceptable. I do believe that it is naive for the Democrats to go along following the coalition in that area.

I would like to return to another area where the Democrats have been equally naive, and that is with regard to the other section dealing with the other objective that has been referred to, bargaining collectively, and the implications for the seafaring industry. It is not good enough to talk about the ILO alone, and my colleague has referred to the limitations of the ILO. When we talk about industrial relations on the waterfront, we are talking about very hard people. The people involved, the employers involved world wide, are some of the toughest employers in the world. Seamen and waterside workers on so many occasions over so many years have been prepared to stand up and risk all on the basis of fighting out human rights issues. They have done it time and time again. The Liberal Party, in a previous guise under the leadership of Pig Iron Bob, sold iron ore overseas. There has been case after case. There has been betrayal by the conservatives and the common law experience of workers on the waterfront is that they have always stood up for human rights.

With that background, it is very disappointing to hear the Democrats' Senator Murray wimp out. He said that the ordinary maritime safety legislation is going to be the way the horrendous cases of disadvantage to seamen who come to our shores from across the world are going to be dealt with. The experience has been that some of the very large employers in international seafaring will take that union on and set out to bankrupt the union.

Unless we face up to our responsibilities when we vote on the objectives, we will be allowing the naked power of capital, internationally and in Australia, to dominate. I do not care whether the Minister for Industrial Relations or his parliamentary secretary do not like it. The truth is clear. That is what the government is setting out to do. Unfortunately, the Democrats are acquiescing in the government's objectives.