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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 5 Hansard (15 May) . . Page.. 1313 ..

Mrs Carnell: We have agreement with 15 out of 16 unions.

MR WHITECROSS: How many of them have been paid, Mrs Carnell? Not many. She does not understand that if you want to get real reform you have to work cooperatively with your work force and take them along. You do not get it by asking them to trade off their conditions. You do not get it by saying, "You will do it this way because it is the way we have decided". That is the agenda of the Liberal Party. It is not an agenda which respects workers. It is not an agenda which is concerned about the interests of workers. It is an ideologically driven agenda, and that is why the Labor Party is so intractably opposed to the industrial relations approach of the Government.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Training) (4.36): Mr Speaker, I think "intransigent" might be a better word. Mr Whitecross, in answer to Mrs Carnell, said that the Liberals do not want arbitration; that we want to take away the workers' rights to arbitration. We have been trying to get to arbitration in the teachers dispute for about four or five weeks. At least we now have our toe in the door. What an absolutely ludicrous thing for Mr Whitecross to say!

Mr Speaker, our approach is all about flexibility. It is about fairness. What Mr De Domenico has read out is eminently fair. In the first instance, it should be the responsibility of employers and employees to resolve their own disputes if possible. For local industrial problems, what could be more sensible than that? I think that is an approach which even the previous Federal Government endorsed. Mr De Domenico said that the Federal Government is "encouraging a more flexible and less centralised industrial relations system; creating an industrial relations system based on voluntary agreements that sit side by side with a system of industrial awards; and enshrining in legislation individual freedom to associate or not to associate". What could be fairer than that? It is a free country; it is a democracy.

Mr Whitecross and Mr Berry, I do not think anyone on this side of the house would dispute the excellent work unions have done over many years and continue to do. I do not think anyone in this house would suggest that we should not have unions. They are an essential part of the industrial relations system. In the past they have done some excellent things on behalf of their members. They have a role and obviously will have a continuing role. No-one is disputing that. Nor is anyone on this side of the house disputing the rights of individuals to associate or not to associate and to run their own race should they so desire. Mr Speaker, flexibility is important. The Chief Minister indicated that a totally inflexible set of guidelines have certainly restricted the Territory and restricted workers and employers - namely, the Government - alike during the current protracted industrial disputes. That is something that should be very fresh in all our minds.

Mr Speaker, I can remember a couple of instances in recent enterprise bargaining here and elsewhere in Australia which produced actually excellent results for employees in the long term. One case that comes to mind is the desperate SPC case. I understand that SPC, which had about 500 employees, had significant difficulties. I think the union wanted a pay rise for workers, and it looked as if about 50 workers would lose their jobs.

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