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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 479

Mr N.A. Brown(3.21) —The decision yesterday by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board in the case concerning Mr Franz Hein against Jaques Ltd must surely be one of the most important decisions ever handed down by a tribunal in this country in the field of industrial relations. Not only is that decision important in its own right, but it is doubly important because it forms the third part of a trilogy of extremely important decisions in industrial relations that have been handed down by courts and tribunals in this country in the lifetime of this Parliament. Not only is the decision important in double sense, because it forms the third leg of that trilogy; it is equally important because it vindicates the very substantial industrial relations policy promoted by the Federal coalition Opposition.

Let me return to the second point for a moment. It should not go without notice that, as I said, not only does the decision yesterday stand by itself but also it forms one of three very significant decisions made in the course of this Parliament in the field of industrial relations. That trilogy commenced with the decision in the Mudginberri case, which held that there was a right for employees to get together with their own employers to determine the terms and conditions of employment that should apply to them rather than having every term and condition and their material well-being determined solely by arbitration commissions and arbitration tribunals and solely by the terms and conditions of an industrial award.

As is now well known, as a result of employers and their employees getting together in that case, the employees were much better off. We have said it before and we will say it time and again: It should not be forgotten that three very important things emerged as a result of the Mudginberri decision. The first was that the workers were paid more than they would have been under the award. Secondly, productivity at the establishment increased as a result of the arrangement that was entered into. Thirdly, instead of the abattoir closing down and putting people out of employment, it was able to remain open and develop and expand an export trade. The decision, therefore, was extremely important and was the first of three important industrial relations decisions handed down in the lifetime of this Parliament.

What is also significant about the decision in the Mudginberri case is that, from the very beginning, the Government set its face against the interests of the workers at Mudginberri. Not only did it continually set its face against the interests of the workers at Mudginberri, but also it enabled and encouraged-indeed it changed the law so that it could come about-a situation whereby meat inspectors, employees of the Commonwealth, of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth, could be pushed around and directed as to what they would do at the behest of a trade union. We say that that decision was particularly important and a major step towards introducing much needed flexibility into our industrial relations system.

The second of these three important decisions was the Dollar Sweets Co. Pty Ltd case which was determined in the Supreme Court of Victoria. That decision was extremely important because it established that trade unions are and must remain subject to the same law as everyone else, and that if there is to be a law for the rest of the community, that law must apply to trade unions as well. It established further, to anyone who gave even the most passing attention to the case, that if pickets are imposed around a factory, a small family business, to drive it into bankruptcy, the people who work for the firm and the people who own the firm would get no relief or comfort from the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The point that emerges from that case was that those people, both the employees and the employer, got some relief and respite only when they proceeded under the ordinary law of this land and had that law applied in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Thirdly, we have had the decision that was handed down yesterday by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Board in the case of Mr Franz Hein. Mr Hein claimed that he was dismissed by his employer because he refused to join the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. We all know what happens in these sorts of cases. It happened in this case, too. The union, which is an extreme left wing union, put pressure on the employer and said to the employer: `You dismiss that man who will not join our organisation. If you do not dismiss him, you will have one heap of industrial trouble after the other'. The man was dismissed.

Mr Downer —Disgraceful.

Mr N.A. Brown —The man was dismissed in what the honourable member who has just interjected calls a disgraceful situation. He eventually got relief because the Tribunal found, after considering the matter, that firstly, he had been dismissed; secondly, he had been dismissed because he refused to join the Metal Workers Union; and thirdly, the reason why he had been discriminated against under the Victorian legislation was that he refused to engage in the political activity the union wanted him to engage in.

Mr Downer —A great decision.

Mr N.A. Brown —The decision in that case was a great decision, as the honourable member for Mayo has said. I would go further and say that it was a landmark decision. Quite apart from that decision being important, in the course of its decision the Equal Opportunity Board said two things of very great interest. I ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), in view of some of the answers he has given in the House on this matter, to pay particular attention to the first point, because the Minister, like his inglorious leader, has stood up in this House before and said: `There is no compulsory unionism in Australia'. He is still presumably saying it today. He should listen to what the Equal Opportunity Board said about Mr Hein's position as an employee in that firm: `It was a condition of Mr Hein retaining his employment that he should join the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union'. In other words, it was made perfectly plain in the decision on that case that if Mr Hein refused to join the union, as he did, he had no job. It is perfectly plain that he was dismissed from his employment at the behest of a left wing trade union for one reason and one reason only: He refused to join that left wing union.

The second thing the Equal Opportunity Board decided in that case was equally interesting, and it bears close examination. The Equal Opportunity Board drew attention to the fact that what the union was on about was to get its numbers up, to increase its enrolment, to increase the number of its members. It wanted to increase the number of its members for two reasons. One reason was that the size of its membership would determine the number of votes the union had at the State conferences of the union, and the second was that the union would then be paying affiliation fees to the Australian Labor Party. So no wonder the Government has a vested interest in supporting compulsory unionism. The reason is perfectly clear. The Government is not concerned with the lofty industrial principles it parades in this place. It actively supports and maintains compulsory unionism because it is in the pay of the trade unions. The Australian Labor Party, therefore, must stand condemned because purely and simply in return for money it is maintaining a situation where trade unions have a guaranteed source of income and a guaranteed flow of members. They are the two particularly interesting things that the Equal Opportunity Board said in Victoria yesterday.

I have said before and I will say it again that this is a landmark decision. It is a landmark decision because, in the first place, it was a victory for freedom. Here is a decision which can be held out as a light on the hill because people are now able to say that at least in Victoria, and one hopes elsewhere, there is law which will be enforced which will prevent people from being discriminated against simply because they want to exercise their freedom and do not want to be dragooned or forced into joining a trade union that they would not otherwise join or want to join. It was a landmark decision because it was a victory for freedom.

It is important because secondly-this is what the Opposition draws attention to time and time again-at the root of our rigid industrial relations system stands as one of its foundations the power of trade unions, a power which has grown too great and a power which restricts those flexible arrangements which both employers and employees want to introduce. It is important, therefore, for that reason. But the decision is also important because it highlights the reaction of both sides of this Parliament and both sides of the political debate in this country. Both the Opposition and the Government responded to the decision yesterday.

Let us look for a moment at how both sides responded to this landmark decision for freedom yesterday. We on the Opposition side welcomed the decision; we supported it. We continue to support it and welcome it, and we always will. Not only do we support it and welcome it but we say further that it is an endorsement of our industrial relations policy because we have said that we will legislate-the Labor Party will oppose it-for voluntary unionism. We will legislate to ban the closed shop and we will legislate to prevent the power of preference to unions being put into Federal awards. As further evidence of the Opposition's commitment to this cause, the honourable member for Curtin (Mr Rocher) has given notice that he will introduce-in fact, he has prepared-a Bill which will guarantee voluntary unionism in this country. He deserves every credit and recognition for that. That is the reaction of the Opposition.

But how has this Government responded? The Minister could not even raise himself from his somnambulant state to make a response. He had one of his offsiders issue a statement which the Daily Telegraph newspaper in Sydney paid him the decency of reporting today. The earth shattering statement made by the spokesman for the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations was that no one was forced to join a union anyway, despite the fact that we all know that there is compulsory unionism in this country and despite the fact that in the very case he was asked to comment on the tribunal had found that the man did not have a job for one reason and one reason only, and that was that he refused to join the union. That is the first thing the spokesman said. The second thing he said was that there was provision under the Act for people to make a case of conscientious objection. The Daily Telegraph put in more eloquent language than I could what it thinks about that pathetic response. It said:

While the spokesman may be factually correct, he is totally overlooking the fact that it takes bravery of an unusual calibre for a worker to use that law.

Indeed, anybody threatening to do so is likely to feel the full weight of harassment and vilification-for merely seeking to use a right under the law.

One can say `hear, hear' to the Daily Telegraph for that eloquent remark which we endorse.

That is a pathetic response of the Government. It is a pathetic response that is no more than a reflection of what it always maintained. I remind honourable members of the debate we had in this Parliament on the Bill of Rights, which the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) handled on behalf of the Opposition. Honourable members will recall that on that occasion the Government put forward a Bill of Rights in which it said that one cherished right was the right to join a trade union. The honourable member for North Sydney moved an amendment to the effect that another cherished right was the right not to join a trade union. The Labor Party voted against that amendment. We can say to the Labor Party that whether it has the election in March, April, May, December, on Fathers Day or at any other time, between now and then we will remind it that within the division lists of this Hansard are recorded the names of the Labor Party members-all of them-who said no to voluntary unionism. We have proposed a charter for freedom which the Government has rejected.

Let me end on this point. In this debate we have the people on our side. The results of a gallup poll show that 83 per cent of the people are opposed to compulsory unionism and want voluntary unionism and that, indeed, 77 per cent of trade unionists want voluntary trade unionism. The people are against the Government on this issue. We are against it on this issue. We stand for freedom and voluntary unionism. The Government stands for the compulsory nature of everything it does and if it persists with this attitude it will do so at its loss.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.