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Tuesday, 22 April 1980
Page: 1655

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate the second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill proposes amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The amendments are complementary to legislation which has been introduced into the New South Wales Parliament. The two pieces of legislation are necessary to bring into effect the agreement which has been reached between the Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Government to deal with complex legal, jurisdictional and industrial relations problems at Australian Lubricating Oil Refinery Limited, Australian Oil Refining Pty Ltd and Total Refineries Australia Limited in New South Wales. Where necessary there will be provision for a joint sitting of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Industrial Commission of New South Wales to deal with certain oil industry matters.

By way of background, the Senate will recall the very serious industrial situation at Australian Lubricating Oil Refinery Limited, Australian Oil Refining Pty Ltd and Total Refineries Australia Limited in June last year when three of the four oil refineries in New South Wales were closed down, causing massive disruption in that State and hardship to many thousands of its citizens. It should not go unsaid that if in June last year the Premier of New South Wales had been willing to acknowledge that it would be in the best interests of all Australians to support a national, rather than a sectional approach to industrial relations, then this whole tortuous exercise may not have been necessary. It is unfortunate that his recognition of this enlightened approach emerged so long after he had in fact associated himself with sectional interests. In the event, however, it was agreed at that time by the two Governments that in order to restore normal operations at the refineries, a joint Commonwealth- New South Wales officials working party be established to investigate the provision of a tribunal to regulate conditions of employment in the oil industry in New South Wales.

The working party reported to both Governments and after protracted and intensive negotiations between all concerned, including the responsible New South Wales Minister, Mr Hills, and the Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Street, and the various parties in the oil industry, the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments agreed upon the approach to be taken to resolve the industrial relations problems at these refineries. The agreed arrangements have the following main features:

They will apply only to the operators and their employers at the Caltex and Total refineries in New South Wales;

Common negotiations- the established process for handling Federal claims by the Federal parties within the Federal jurisdiction will proceed as they have always done, untouched by the agreed arrangements;

A mechanism will be provided, including the right of intervention within the New South Wales jurisdiction, for determining which matters will be the subject of a joint sitting;

Appeals from decisions on joint sittings will lie in the New South Wales jurisdiction.

The very circumstances which gave rise to the need to create the special arrangements which this legislation provides reflect the intensity of the conflicting interests with which the Government has been confronted. Accordingly we have taken the view that overall community interest had to be given first priority. What has been arrived at is not being suggested as the ideal, but it is, in the Government's judgment, the very best that can be wrung out of difficult circumstances- the best means of serving the community. It can work and serve the community well. But no party touched by it can say it meets their every requirement. Without goodwill by all concerned it can founder; without vigilance it can be misused; it therefore places responsibilities and obligations squarely on unions and workers, companies and the tribunals. For our part, we are, within the arrangements, doing everything possible both to encourage such goodwill and to ensure the necessary vigilance. The stakes are so high that the Government must, and will, closely oversight all aspects of the introduction and operation of these arrangements. Let no one misunderstand our position. While we will support them and help to make them work, our fundamental commitment is to ensure that all those who rely on this vital industry can do so without the unpredictable turmoil which has all too often disrupted its operations.

I therefore give notice that we will review our position if the opportunity to make the scheme work is not genuinely taken up. Our prime responsibility to safeguard the community interest demands we reserve the right to do this. Our monitoring and review provisions have been developed precisely for this reason. Safeguards have been built into each stage of the arrangements and both Governments remain committed to preserve the national characteristics of the oil industry. The two Governments have agreed to provide the mechanism for determining which, if any, matters which are the subject of claims within the State jurisdiction should be dealt with by joint sittings and whether any of the matters within claims in the State jurisdiction are currently the subject of common negotiations federally.

An essential safeguard is the opportunity for Federal parties to have the right of intervention within the State jurisdiction in respect of matters which they consider should be dealt with by a joint sitting of the two Commissions. The New South Wales legislation has been drafted in a technical way to fit the principal Act. Consequently there is provision only for the parties respondent to the various federal oil industry awards to have a right of intervention in the New South Wales jurisdiction. The Commonwealth has accepted the assurances given to it and all other parties by the New South Wales Government that there will be no impediment to the Commonwealth's involvement in these proceedings. A further critically important feature of the arrangements-and another safeguard- is that when there are matters which are currently the subject of common negotiations federally, the Industrial Commission of New South Wales is prohibited from dealing with a claim in the State arena when the subject matter of that claim is included within common negotiations.

Mr President,I turn now to the substance of the proposed amendments. The Bill provides that oil industry industrial matters concerning the oil industry branch operators and their employers at the refineries to which I referred earlier will no longer come within the jurisdiction of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Instead these matters will be dealt with by the Industrial Commission of New South Wales. The Bill also provides for the concurrent operation of a prescribed New South Wales Act insofar as that Act makes provison for dealing with oil industry industrial matters and it provides for a Presidential Member of the Australia Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to be designated to perform functions, exercise powers and carry out duties under a prescribed New South Wales Act.

As part of the agreement between the two Governments, there is an understanding that, if either Government so wishes, there be a review after two years of the arrangements which are being established by the Commonwealth legislation and the complementary New South Wales legislation. This understanding is not embodied in the legislation but has been agreed verbally by Mr Hills and Mr Street, Minister for Industrial Relations, and is to be the subject of an exchange of letters between the two Governments. In summary, Mr President, it is as a result of a unique situation that the two Governments have agreed to the approach which is being taken. It is intended to deal with a specific problem within New South Wales and I stress that the Commonwealth Government remains committed to preserving the national approach to industrial relations in the oil industry. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Button) adjourned.

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