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Tuesday, 30 May 1972
Page: 2236

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) (Minister for Works) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I inform the Senate that the speech I propose to make is simply a repetition of the speech made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) in another place. With the concurrence of honourable senators I incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.

The purpose of the Bill is simple. It proposes to extend the operation of the Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act 1967-71 for a further period of 12 months. The life of the present Act expires on 30th June 1972 and the arrangements under which the present permanent employment scheme in the stevedoring industry operates will not be able to continue beyond that date unless the life of the Act is extended for a further period. It is proposed therefore, that its operation be extended to 30th June 1973. The Stevedoring Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act was enacted in 1967 to give legislative effect to an agreement entered into in the National Stevedoring Industry Conference, under the chairmanship of Mr A. E. Woodward, Q.C., on which the stevedoring employers, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Waterside Workers Federation, the Department of Labour and National Service and the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority were represented. This conference was established by the Government in 1965 with the aim of achieving a long term improvement in the conditions of employment and in the operation of the labour force in the industry.

The main element of the agreement was the change from the then existing system of casual employment in the industry to a system of permanent employment. At that time the Government was not prepared to introduce permanent legislation until it was satisfied that the new scheme would be of benefit to the industry, both in terms of improved productivity and better industrial relations. It provided, therefore, for the changes to be given legislative backing by temporary legislation which was to expire in June 1970. When the position was reviewed in 1970 the Government was still not satisfied that the time was opportune to introduce permanent legislation. This was primarily because the structure of the industry was still being affected to a major extent by technological change through the introduction of container, roll-on roll-off and other modern types of shipping. Further, the level of industrial disputation was still excessive and it had not been possible to determine what employment arrangements should be introduced in the smaller ports where about one-fifth of the industry's workforce was still employed on a casual basis. In the circumstances, it was decided to extend the life of the temporary legislation for a further 2 years. This period of 2 years expires on 30th June this year.

The factors which motivated the Government not to proceed with permanent legislation in 1970 still prevail. The level of industrial unrest in the industry has continued to be most unsatisfactory. In addition, the full implications of the changes from conventional shipping to the modern methods of containerisation, rollon roll-off and bulk shipping are not yet clear. In particular, the full extent of the likely reduction in the work force as a result of these technological changes cannot yet be seen with certainty. More important, however, is the fact that an agreement entered into between the Federation and the employers in 1970 in relation to the terms and conditions of employment expired on 5th May this year, and these parties have recently completed negotations for a new agreement. There are many aspects of this proposed agreement which are of concern to the Government. The Minister for Labour and National Service has already indicated publicly the inflationary impetus which could derive from the increase in wages and reduction in working hours which the parties contemplate. Furthermore, the negotiations between the employers and the Federation have gone beyond matters included in the Waterside Workers Award, and taken in subjects which impinge on the Government's legislation. It has been made clear that the Government will not be committed to any legislative changes simply because of an agreement which has been negotiated without its endorsement.

Thus ' the Government will examine closely all the implications which the proposed agreement will have for the operation of the stevedoring industry and for the legislation, before it will be prepared to embark on any consideration of permanent legislation. It must also' be understood that the enactment of permanent legislation will be an extremely complicated process. There are. many practical ' problems to be overcome, and there will need to be discussions with the parties in the industry to ascertain' their views as to the ' permanent legislative arrangements which should operate in the industry. They have undertaken to put their views to, the Government on this in the near future. Another important aspect is the future role of the Australian Stevedoring Industry, Authority about which its staff has a natural concern. A committee has been established to consider proposals in respect ,of the staff of the Authority who might; become redundant if there were to be a further reduction in its role in the industry. The staff rules of . the Authority include a proviso that staff will be given at. least 6 months warning of any likely retrenchments. In the circumstances, the Government believes that the proper course, to follow at this stage is to extend the present legislation for a reasonably short period and has decided that it should continue, to operate until 30th June next year. This will, of course, not preclude the Government from introducing permanent legislation to operate from an earlier date. . I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Byrne) adjourned.

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