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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 965 ..

MR BERRY (continuing):

The government, through Mr Moore, made an offer to nurses in a way which it would not have been able to pursue under a previous industrial regime-that is, under the Industrial Relations Act of yesteryear before Minister Reith and Mr Howard got stuck into the industrial relations legislation in this country. This approach gave the government the complete upper hand in relation to the negotiations. They could say to their nursing staff, "Here is our offer. These are the parts of it-the positives and the negatives. Take it or leave it." The nurses had nowhere to go. They could not go to the Industrial Relations Commission without the agreement of the government to enter a proper bargaining arrangement. The government had said, "We will not vary your certified agreement unless it is in terms that we agree to." The nurses had nowhere to go in terms of conciliation and arbitration or a good faith bargaining process.

We have this situation because of the Peter Reith Industrial Relations Act, which was passed by the federal Liberals in the federal parliament. I will explain the reason for this. Certified agreements are essentially contracts which lock both the parties into the terms of the contract. The terms of the contract cover wages and working conditions. We have ended up with a situation where Mr Moore has the upper hand, and he has exercised it quite viciously.

Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, my amendment seeks to level the playing field. You will not hear me advocating the Workplace Relations Act on too many occasions, but it does provide a way out in these circumstances. My understanding is that the nominal expiry date of the certified agreement between the government and the nurses is in November, at which point a bargaining period can commence.

Meanwhile, of course, the nurses are sitting out there without a pay rise, having had an industrial storm stirred up in their workplace by the activities of the government and Mr Moore. That situation cannot be allowed to continue because it will impact on patient care in our hospital system. Industrial turmoil created by this confrontation will not help patients. It will work against their interests. It is in the interests of this Assembly and the people of the ACT that we move towards a resolution of the situation. That can be achieved under the Workplace Relations Act-not in ideal circumstances but, nevertheless, within the legislative framework in which we have to work.

Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, once a bargaining period is initiated, the parties can serve claim and counterclaim on each other. I would expect that if the minister is keen to demonstrate his commitment to an outcome which assists nursing in the ACT, he would be offering a pay rise along similar lines to that which has already been made. That is when the bargaining begins.

The government will say, to try to frighten the horses, that this is when the industrial action will start; this is when industrial mayhem will start in the hospital and this is when patients will be affected by the strident industrial action of the nurses. That is what the government will say to try to frighten the horses.

Nothing can be further from the truth. When was the last time that nurses, policemen, firemen and those sorts of people walked off the job and disadvantaged people in the community? There is often a lot of toing-and-froing and threats flying one way or another, but to my knowledge walking off the job is not something that you hear from nurses or firefighters. They know that that can wreck their industrial campaign-their

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