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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1428

Mr FERGUSON —Has the Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations seen the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics dealing with industrial disputation in the 1993 calendar year? Can the minister advise the House as to whether these figures show an impressive decline in industrial disputation?

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Speaker, on a point of order, I submit that the second part of that question is clearly asking for an opinion and you should rule accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER —No, there is no call for an opinion.

Mr JOHNS —The honourable member is quite right. Some recently released statistics indicate a very low level of industrial disputation in Australia. There are three different sets of statistics, all of which prove pretty much the same. In 1993 Australia recorded its lowest number of industrial disputes since 1942, according to the ABS figures last year. The number of working days lost due to disputes in 1993 was 32 per cent below the level for 1992 and the lowest number for a calendar year since 1963. On another measure, the figure of 108 working days lost per 1,000 employees is the lowest calendar year figure since this measure was introduced in the ABS in 1967. But my own department records in unpublished figures that this is the lowest figure since 1933—

  Opposition members—The depression!

Mr JOHNS —You are the group, the honourable member for Bennelong included, who like to make a connection between the level of unemployment and the level of dispute. But the fact is that the level of disputes in Australia has continuously fallen for the last decade and is now at its lowest point for 60 years. Of course, that figure would be even better except for Victoria's performance. Victoria accounted for 40 per cent of all working days lost in 1993 and recorded 170 working days lost—

  Mr Richard Evans interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Cowan!

Mr JOHNS —per thousand employees, compared to the figure of 108 for Australia as a whole. So Victoria's performance has made the national statistics slightly worse than they might have been. I would have thought that the Victorians would have hidden from the issue altogether—in fact, hidden their heads in shame. But not Mr Kennett from Victoria. Mr Kennett has suggested in fact that it is our industrial legislation, the Commonwealth's industrial legislation, that is somehow interfering with an individual's right to make a contract or agreement with their employee.

Mr McGauran —What about Kirner and Cain?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Gippsland is forgetting his place.

Mr JOHNS —What the Premier suggests—and I will quote his advertisement taken out nationally today to criticise the Commonwealth's Industrial Relations Reform Act—is:

You should be free to negotiate with your employer, job conditions that best suit the both of you. . .

The fact is that, under Commonwealth law, you are, but you are not entitled to be taken for a ride by the state legislation in Victoria. You are not entitled to be left alone without the protection of certain laws which ensure that you are not left at the behest and the power of the employer.

  So, in Victoria at the moment, there are 20,000 or more individual contracts forced upon individuals on pain of getting the sack. There are no agreements per se but, under the federal system, 48 per cent of those eligible to be covered under a federal award are covered by an agreement. So Mr Kennett, who dislikes our act, dislikes it for good reason: he cannot force his work force into the position in which he would like to force it, a position that would force productivity out of workers by dint of contracts which are unpublished, unknown and cannot be revealed to the public because—again by law—you are unable to reveal the private contract that you write between an individual and the Victorian government.

  The fact is that the level of industrial dispute in Australia is low for good reason. It is because we have good, negotiated arrangements between employers and individual workers in the Australian work force. That patently is not true in Victoria, where they have chosen another situation.

Mr Downer —We have the fourth highest level of disputes in the world.

Mr JOHNS —I will tell you what has happened in New Zealand, which is your favourite case. Disputes in New Zealand are on the rise, in contrast with the Commonwealth, because New Zealand chooses not to use a negotiated and sensible proposition.