Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (23 September) . . Page.. 2101 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
In that process we have engaged in 14 months of negotiation with the Transport Workers Union. At the end of that period a position was reached - a position which, I might say, included wage rises for ACTION bus drivers. I have to say I was a little bit doubtful about that. In Canberra we had the highest paid bus drivers in Australia, yet we were offering a further wage rise beyond what they already enjoyed. Nonetheless, that is what we put in this package to the Transport Workers Union.
The leadership of the Transport Workers Union agreed with that package, accepted that package, and apparently were going to recommend to their members that it be accepted. They were not successful, the offer was rejected, and we are left in the position of having a considerable amount of work around new bus timetables and reforms generally to ACTION lying in tatters. The Government has had to look at other ways of maintaining services to commuters in this city within the available budget. We have therefore looked at the question of contracting out the management of ACTION bus services. Mr Speaker, nobody who looks at the present situation could deny that there is a system that needs desperately to be reformed. That is what we have tried to engage in since the beginning of this process well over a year ago.
Mr Berry and others on his side of the chamber argue that the conflict which has arisen - the warfare, if you like, which is now characterising the relationship between the Government and the Transport Workers Union - indicates clearly that we had always intended to be in conflict and that this was a typical approach designed around the need to bring unions into conflict with government to achieve some sort of hidden agenda or some kinds of nefarious goals.
Mr Speaker, I want to contrast and compare what has happened in these negotiations with the way Mr Berry, a major detractor of the Government's position, handled negotiations with Canberra's doctors when he was Minister for Health. He was in very extensive conflict with those people over wage rises. He took the view, as I recall, that they were not entitled to wage rises; that their contracts were quite generous enough and they ought not to be improved. The doctors took a different view, and Mr Berry was in severe conflict. To the Liberal Party's credit, it did not say to Mr Berry, "If negotiations have broken down, it must be your fault as the Government. You have to go back to the negotiating table and sit down in good faith and reach agreement".
We acknowledge that sometimes a point is reached when negotiations have to change. It sometimes requires government to indicate resolve to push through on issues which may not be an approach shared by the other side in that debate. I know that is the case, because Mr Berry took the same approach when he was Minister for Health and he negotiated with doctors. If that approach was justified then, it is justified in this kind of setting. The Canberra Times suggested:
Customers and the ever-suffering ratepayers are not getting value for money under the present system. Ratepayers would not mind paying a subsidy if some passenger satisfaction resulted - and indeed some form of subsidy is inevitable. At present passengers and ratepayers are getting the worst of both worlds, and have been doing so for decades.