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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 968 ..

MR BERRY (continuing):

Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, I do not think I need to say a terrible lot more in relation to this, other than to urge members to support this sensible move. This is about forcing the government to the table to finish off something they started. The government, which began with the upper hand, has attempted to crunch the nurses and force them into accepting unsavoury industrial conditions in their workplace, to force them into a contract which will give indifferent outcomes or extraordinarily bad outcomes for some people. (Further extension of time granted.)

Mr Temporary Deputy Speaker, there is no doubt that what the nurses are proposing is a way forward. It will bring good sense back into the workplace, patient management and health service delivery in our hospital system. This matter will linger on and impact on patients if it is not dealt with . It would not be in the interests of the government, this Assembly, or the community if we were to ignore our responsibility to force the government back to the table with these workers.

As I said earlier, the government came in with the upper hand and tried to exploit an offer which they presented under the headline "12 per cent pay rise". But they were very careful to keep the extremely distasteful aspects of the arrangements out of the limelight. One aspect in particular related to level 2 nurses, where 25 per cent of the nursing work force were going to be subject to temporary employment and a two-year review of their positions. No union would isolate its members like that; no sensible and decent union would dump its members like that. It is no wonder the nurses fought hard to protect that 25 per cent of their work force. No union could, in good conscience, abandon 25 per cent of its workers and sell out on them as the government wanted the nurses union to do. This was a move by the government to try to exploit greed, and happily the nurses union, through its own democratic processes, has rejected this.

We have got to get a good sense of process. This is a sensible approach which puts the workers and the bosses back into a framework where they have to negotiate in good faith and, if they do not, the commission will settle it. The government should be supporting this because they started something which they never intended to finish unless they got their own way. They did not get their own way and they walked away from it. They have now created a crisis in industrial management and health care, which has to be sorted.

Let me finish by saying that it is never going to be my practice in this place to enter the industrial arena and sort out industrial disputes. I am not going to go into the minutiae of those things. I have a strong view that, unless the circumstances are very unusual, I will not get involved. Because we are distant from the workplace, it is impossible for us to resolve individual issues. But it is not impossible for us to say, "Look, we want you back in a proper industrial framework" and then leave it to the parties to resolve the issue with the assistance of the Industrial Relations Commission.

We are not then involved in the nitty gritty of the negotiations. We are merely providing a way forward. That is our job-to provide a way forward. I think we would be abandoning our responsibilities if we did not commit ourselves to finding a way forward. Although the government does not want to find a way forward, I do and I suspect most members here want this to happen.

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