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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1772


Senator BLACK(3.50) —It is no coincidence that this matter has come before the Senate today. The April unemployment figures were released yesterday and, surprise, they show that once again Queensland has the highest unemployment rate in Australia and that Queensland is still the only State or Territory in the Commonwealth with double digit unemployment figures. Some 10.4 per cent of the Queensland work force was unemployed in April. That is a slight improvement on the March figure but it is still well above the April 1984 unemployment rate for Queensland, which was then 9.9 per cent. It was almost two percentage points above the present national average of 8.6 per cent.

To divert the public's attention from the economic shambles the Queensland Premier and Treasurer have created in the once prosperous Queensland economy, he is now using his National Party of Australia colleagues and their supporters, such as they are, on the other side of this chamber to debate the consequences of this industrial dispute rather than the causes of the dispute and the ways in which we can solve it. The Australian Council of Trade Unions blockade is not the real issue. Commonwealth services are not the issue. The real issue in this debate, bubbling just below the surface, is the cover-up of the ineffective, inefficient, corrupt, divided and hopelessly out of control National Party Government of Queensland. The whole industrial dispute has been carefully constructed by the Queensland Government to throw a smokescreen around the economic decay that years of National Party maladministration have produced. It has poured money into resource developments of little value and little long term benefit to the people of Queensland. It has underspent on social services and, while it claims to balance the books, Queensland now has the biggest per capita debt of any of the mainland States. Any turmoil it can produce for the Labor movement, any concessions it can win from the unions, are of secondary importance. The main thing is to cover up for the Queensland Premier and Treasurer because the National Party knows that nothing turns the electorate off like a major economic downturn.

I do not believe its strategies are working and neither do the people of Queensland. The Morgan gallup poll published on Wednesday shows that support for the National Party in Queensland continues to decline. It is now down to 35 per cent-4 per cent less than the vote it achieved in the October 1983 election. The Premier's personal approval rating has dropped by 5 per cent since this dispute started. The National Party is declining in popularity as Queenslanders see that its performance does not match its promises. The more the National Party complains about the union unrest that it has produced, the less the people of Queensland will be fooled by its pretence at having some skills in economic management.

The Queensland Premier has come up with his next step, something to rally the troops when morale begins to lag. A new target is suddenly visible-the Hawke Government. The unions are still of secondary importance to the Queensland Premier. He now has a much more worthy adversary in his sights-the most popular Prime Minister Australia has ever had. The Premier has made his new target clear to journalists and to observers in some quite extraordinary off the cuff remarks over the last few weeks. The Brisbane representative for the Sydney Morning Herald, David Monaghan, taped an interview with the Premier on 26 April in which, amongst other things, the Premier said that he had instigated the Queensland power dispute as a means of bringing down the Hawke Federal Government. The Premier said:

It was the only thing you could do to embarrass the Commonwealth Government, to put a time bomb under them.

I find it difficult to take the substance of this matter of public importance all that seriously. The second Hawke Government is not yet six months old but already the Queensland Nationals are after another election. On behalf of the Australian people I say very clearly that the last thing they want is another general election on an issue such as this. They do not want the expense or the inconvenience of another election. What they want is for this Government, with the support of this Senate, to get on with the urgent economic reforms that are needed to prepare Australia for the future.

I find it hard to take the Opposition seriously when it talks about the availability of Commonwealth services for Queenslanders. They would be much better off, and in fact they would be doing the people of Queensland a favour, if they spoke to the Queensland Premier about the quality and availability of his Government's services. The people and the economy of Queensland are now suffering because the National Party Government in Queensland spends the least per capita on social services of any State or any Territory in Australia. Things are so bad that last Wednesday the Queensland Combined Professional Emergency Services Organisation, which represents police, fire fighters, nurses and ambulance drivers, made a public statement saying that the lives of Queenslanders were now at risk because of low staffing levels and a lack of effective equipment to handle emergencies. Even such stout supporters of the Queensland Government as the officer in charge of the bomb squad, Chief Detective Sergeant O'Gorman-not a radical leftist-took the opportunity to point out to the Government how serious matters now are. That organisation laid the blame for the situation fairly and squarely at the feet of the irresponsible State Cabinet. Irresponsible is a good word for them because they have run down Queensland's social services with absolutely no regard for the people of Queensland or their welfare. That is why in 1983-84 Queensland was the State with the lowest expenditure on health, education, welfare services and police.

While the economy and the Government of Queensland are now falling apart, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Premier is having his problems too. When excerpts of the interview David Monaghan conducted with the Premier, which I mentioned earlier, were played on Brisbane radio stations yesterday morning, the Premier, who was apparently sick in bed with a virus, immediately decided that it was the work of an impersonator. Apparently he is having difficulty telling the difference between himself and the impersonators these days, as indeed we all are. He commenced distributing dire threats about actions he was going to take against the persons concerned. The Premier denied that he had ever considered using the power dispute as a tool to bring down the Hawke Government, contrary to a number of the recent public statements he has made. He then went on to threaten legal action against the alleged impersonator and the talk-back show host who had played the tape. The Premier is reported to have said:

I will have him on a hot plate so hard his bottom will be singed. He will have a writ so big he won't be able to jump over it. I will not stop until he does not have a skerrick of skin left on him. I will relieve him of a lot of money and it won't be pennies and shillings.

Apparently, in the Premier's mind at least, we are are back to the pre-1966 days. He said further:

We are really out to skin these fellows.

The Premier then said that he hoped to return home to Kingaroy to recuperate from his present indisposition. I sincerely wish him all the best because I think Queenslanders are hoping for some recovery of his faculties. He may need a good deal of time to recover. Because his retirement is near I understand that the Queensland newspapers are now praising the leadership qualities of his son, John.

It amuses me to see Liberals such as Senator David MacGibbon jumping on the National Party bandwagon on this issue. It will not do them any good because the National Party, in Queensland anyway, as Senator MacGibbon well knows, has stolen a march on the Liberals. The Nationals, not the Liberals, now control the conservative political terrain in my home State. It is pathetic to see that the Liberals are now trying to get whatever mileage they can out of this issue. When the Liberal Party was in coalition in Queensland it did manage to restrain the excesses of the National Party, but not by the sort of rhetoric we have heard from Senator MacGibbon this afternoon. The former Industrial Relations Minister in the State conservative Government, Fred Campbell, who was a Liberal Party member, was a positive force in Queensland industrial relations. He appreciated the need for balance and debate, and I expect that he is totally disgusted by the confrontationist stance of the present Queensland Government, which goes against the principles of tolerance and reason that are allegedly the basis of liberalism.

I will now canvass some of the causes of the current industrial dispute in Queensland. As a former industrial advocate of some three years experience I point out that a lot of my time was spent fighting causes against the State Government. Whenever we became involved in a claim against the Queensland Government it immediately became a political issue rather than an industrial one. This dispute did not start over excessive wage claims or over any attempt to improve working conditions. It started over attempts by the Electrical Trades Union of Australia to secure stable employment for its members employed by the South East Queensland Electricity Board. All that the ETU wanted was guarantees that its members would not be displaced by contract labour. The dispute was originally about job security in a time of high and increasing unemployment. By going for the union's jugular over this dispute the Premier is attempting to cover up the disastrous state of the Queensland economy and the dealings of some of his Ministers and their associates.

As a result of the State Government's legislation, conciliation and arbitration is now a meaningless concept in my home State. Unionists have lost the right to strike and new working conditions with increased hours have been directly legislated for by the State Government. Not even Margaret Thatcher tried to reduce the wages and working conditions of the British miners when that dispute ended recently. Amendments to the arbitration Act impose enormous penalties for unions and workers who advocate industrial action. They enable the State Government virtually to deregister unions at will and allow for the confiscation of the private property of those found guilty of breaching certain provisions of the Act. The precedent has now been set. In the future the Government may legislate to regulate all working conditions throughout the State. Perhaps we will see legislative action to abolish the minimum wage, penalty rates and leave loadings.

This legislation contains provisions which directly remove the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and impose civil conscription of labour in Queensland. These provisions are aimed directly at the trade unions and other pressure groups that oppose the Bjelke-Petersen Government. Any person in Queensland can now be directed by the Electricity Commissioner to maintain electricity supply. If anyone in the community advocates industrial action deemed to be in conflict with the Act, he or she may be liable to severe penalties.

The rules of evidence have also been changed so that a party is presumed guilty until proven innocent. Unions can now be sued out of existence if they engage in any form of industrial pressure deemed to be in breach of the Act. If they want to engage in industrial action they are required to give seven days notice. Anyone engaged in an alleged breach of the Act is presumed guilty until proven innocent. The power of arrest without warrant is provided against anyone engaging in industrial pressure.

The Bjelke-Petersen Government introduced this legislation with the full knowledge that it would create significant industrial conflict. Without doubt this industrial conflict has hurt the international economic reputation and standing of Australia. It is frightening away capital investment, it is damaging confidence in the Australian dollar and it is producing business uncertainty. It is therefore hampering higher economic growth and higher employment growth.

In conclusion, I refer briefly to some of the comments made earlier by Senator Collard about the Australian Council of Trade Unions being the unelected government of Australia. I would simply point out to Senator Collard and to the other National Party representatives in this chamber that when a union official runs for office these days it usually involves the conduct of a ballot by the Federal Electoral Commissioner and he has to get 50 per cent of the vote in order to attain office. I just point out that Senator Collard's colleagues in the State Government attained office with 38.9 per cent of the vote. Many union officials who were allegedly elected undemocratically would not mind winning office under that sort of margin.

I also express some concern at the mental convolutions of Senator David MacGibbon, who, in his eagerness to out-National the National Party, indicated at one stage that we controlled the ACTU and that we cancelled the original strike by picking up the phone and telling the boys what they had to do next and then implied later in his speech that we were under the ACTU's thumb. I assure the Senate that neither is the case to the best of my knowledge. In the longer term this dispute will be settled, as all disputes must be, by negotiation and discussion between the parties concerned.