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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1764


Senator COLLARD(3.07) — Today, for the second time in less than a month, there is a blockade of a sovereign State of this Commonwealth. There is probably no instance since Federation of a sovereign State of this Commonwealth being blockaded by anybody. Why has this occurred? It has occurred for the very simple reason that a State government has been prepared to stand up and guarantee that its citizens have a continuous power supply. It is quite noticeable that, once again, the Government will not put up a front bench member to speak in the debate. During a previous debate on this subject the Government was represented by Senator Jones and no front bencher from the Government took part. During the debate that took place after that there was one front bencher-the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button-and no senator from Queensland took part. It is quite obvious that the Labor Government is embarrassed not only by what is happening but also by its lack of action in the matter.

On 19 April there was a blockade by airline and transport workers. Today, 10 May, there is another blockade by the airline workers. It is running concurrently with one that started yesterday of all transport and postal services. Telecom Australia workers have talked about going into it also. The significant thing about this is that Australia Post is a wholly owned statutory authority of the Commonwealth Government. The Department of Aviation, which controls flights, is a department of this Government. Trans Australia Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd are both wholly owned by this Government. Similarly, Telecom is wholly owned by this Government.

We have a unique situation with this blockade of Queensland and all that it could ultimately do, if it continues, to that State and to the rest of this country because of the supreme importance of Queensland to the Commonwealth with its balance of trade figures and what they do for the whole of Australia. If the blockade goes any further tourism could be affected. Tourism is one of the major growth industries and one of the industries that we are trying to encourage. There is also talk of the miners going out on strike as part of this blockade. If ever there was a senseless action, a death wish, by a group of people, it would have to be by workers in the mining industry of Australia in going out on strike over something so senseless, particularly over something that guarantees an electricity supply so that they can continue to mine.

If the message of the parlous has not got home to the mining unions it certainly has got home to the mining industry. This parlous state is a result of all the things that have gone on before-our high cost structure and the many industrial disputes. The message should be loud and clear now that the people to whom we export not only want good quality coal, but they want it at a reasonable price and they want regularity of supply. At this point we are not guaranteeing that. It is no wonder they are looking to countries such as South Africa, Canada and the United States of America.

We are in a rather unique situation. I mentioned this in a previous debate. We have a Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) who has been elected twice to govern this country, who has had an all time high popularity rating-with which we are constantly bombarded by this Government-who is an ex-President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and who, when he was running for election, claimed he would make a great Prime Minister because he had 'a special relationship with the union movement'. What have we got? We have a complete lack of direction, complete lack of authority and complete impotence on the part of this Prime Minister who claims this special relationship, and who has been elected twice to govern this nation.

Of course, the ACTU is concentrating its efforts on the State of Queensland. It is completely overlooking what has happened in the past. I remind the Senate of what happened when Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone was out here. There was a rail strike, and all the rest of it, which blocked the supply of coal to our ports and its export to Japan. We have seen the selective state of emergency in Victoria-the state of emergency that is all right. We cannot have a state of emergency in Queensland but we can have one in Victoria. Certainly industrial unrest is not unique to Queensland. Since this Government came to power it has quoted us figures on the number of days lost as a result of strikes. However, the Government certainly has not told us of the effect of those lost days on Australia in general.

Every day this Government is proving that it is trade union dominated. This is a government which came to power saying that it had a special relationship with the trade union movement. This Government said that it would be doing the governing and nobody else. Of course, we now know that the people with the real power, those behind this Government, are not answerable to the people of Australia; in other words, the trade union movement, the ACTU. They are the puppeteers behind the screen. Nobody can see them but they are there pulling the strings. When they pull the strings this lame duck Prime Minister jumps and all his Cabinet jumps with him.

We have the situation of a trade union movement not being answerable to the people of Australia but being the real power behind the throne. In one of today's papers there was a headline: 'Without the ACTU there can be no indirect tax'. Already we know that the tax summit will be a charade. It will prove more and more of a charade because unless the trade union movement agrees with what is decided those decisions will not take effect. I think we have 27 members of the trade union movement invited to this charade of a tax summit. Only one or two people from the business community have been invited.

We have a Constitution that is supposed to guarantee the free movement of people and commerce between States. What is happening? This lame duck, impotent Government is standing by and watching a sovereign State blockaded.


Senator Reynolds —Are you talking about the Bjelke-Petersen Government? It is the lame duck Government at the moment. He doesn't know where he is going.


Senator COLLARD —I am sure that if someone had had time to write Senator Reynolds a speech she would be taking part in this debate. Obviously there has not been that time so she will not be speaking. As I said, we have a Constitution which guarantees free movement of people and commerce between States. That is not happening in Queensland. We now have a hit list of companies because some firms support a certain political party. Those firms are being alienated and singled out for special treatment by the trade union movement. We are now beginning to see why some sections of the electoral legislation were amended. They were amended so that all could see who was supporting what political party. Those who are supporting the National Party of Australia will be singled out for this special treatment by the ACTU-that non-elected government of this country.

It all starts to add up. It is no wonder the unions are worried about who supports the National Party of Australia at this time. The unions want these firms in their sights so that they, as the non-elected government of this country, can take out their revenge. For too long in this country the union movement has been immune from the consequences of its actions. It beats me that this nation has tolerated for so long the union movement taking action which puts people out of work and breaks companies and small businesses and yet being completely immune from any penalty for its actions. If anybody else did so, by way of breaking and entering or stealing, or something like that, they would immediately have the full weight of the law on them.

What has happened to this once great union movement? It is quite interesting to note that in the Canberra Times this morning there was a report on the unveiling of a memorial to the Tolpuddle martyrs. In that article we see that the Minister who unveiled the memorial had the temerity to compare the Electrical Trades Union in Queensland with the Tolpuddle martyrs. Everybody sees the trade union movement as beginning with the Tolpuddle martyrs. Quite significantly, the Tolpuddle martyrs were farm labourers and five of them were Methodist lay preachers and one a lay reader of the Anglican church. How is it possible to compare those people and what they had to put up with in those days in industrial England with the electrical trades workers who earn $23,000 plus a year and who work a 36 1/4 hour week and a nine-day fortnight? What temerity to compare those Tolpuddle martyrs with the people who wanted to take Queensland to the cleaners and hold it to ransom.

Unfortunately the end result of this action-the end result of most union action-is more unemployment. If we look further down the track we will see that if these blockades between the States, such as the blockade of air services, continue taking into account what happens to tourism and mining and other industries as a result, quite obviously we will end up with more and more people unemployed. Indeed, it has been acknowledged by Cabinet members of previous Labor governments that the union actions in this country are responsible pretty generally for the high unemployment in this country today. When I was a member of a union it was the done thing to try to keep as many people as we could in jobs. No matter what we did, all the action we took was centred on keeping as many people as possible in jobs. I paid a tribute to Sir Jack Egerton before, and I will do it again today. He never put anybody out through the gates unless it was absolutely necessary. He did not go into a fight that he could never win. His main concern was to keep people in jobs. This once great union movement now wants to get what it can for those who are fortunate enough still to have jobs and let the rest go on the dole. Of course, that is precisely what is happening now in Queensland where, as I indicated at the start, we have a group of mavericks who tried to hold the State to ransom and who did not get away with it. The ultimate result of all that they have done will be that this State will be able to employ fewer people in tourism, mining and all the other areas. 'Get what you can for those who have a job and let the rest go on the dole'- that seems to be the banner of the non-elected government that we have in Australia.

Originally, 1,550 people employed by the South East Queensland Electricity Board were involved in the dispute. It is quite interesting to note that 650 people went straight back to work. Two hundred people went back under the new conditions. In other words, 850 out of 1,550 people-I suppose in any sort of democracy that would be construed as a majority-were quite content with what they had or with the new conditions. Since then, almost 300 people have obtained jobs with private contractors. They are doing the jobs that they would have done previously with SEQEB but they are now employed by private contractors, and 100 people have other jobs. So that leaves a rather small minority-probably, I dare say, the hard core of that section-who are now out of work.

The lesson for the Labor Party and for the union movement is that the people of Australia are completely fed up with what has been happening. If it were not for the Press reports, this would be a non-event in Queensland. I will end where I began, by saying that if it were not for the impotence, the lack of direction and lack of authority of this Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and this Government, Queensland would not be blockaded today. But the puppeteers, the non-elected government behind the throne, are the people who are pulling the strings, and not the rightfully elected government of this country.