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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 483

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(3.46) —One place of employment where such a situation applies is in the Queensland Public Service. It applies there presumably because the Queensland Government finds this to be a satisfactory arrangement to have with its employees. That indicates that people who are generally regarded as being very much to the right of the political spectrum are not averse to compulsory unionism in situations in which they think-for whatever reason-it might be useful to them. That is an example of compulsory unionism and closed shops applying when there is a requirement. I understand that in Queensland there is a requirement that one must sign a document agreeing to become a member of the union before one can be employed. That is apparently permissible under Queensland industrial law, and that is something which the Queensland Government clearly endorses. Clearly, the situation is that, where such arrangements apply, they apply by arrangement between the parties. They do not have the backing of the law in the sense that they can be enforced, nor should they be enforceable under the law. They do have the backing of the parties but, where conscientious objection applies, such arrangements would take account of the conscientious objection of the people involved.

In considering union membership we have the assertion from the Opposition that we should try to do as much as possible to ensure that we weaken unions by trying to limit their membership. That is quite clearly what Opposition members are on about. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act tries to strengthen union membership in the sense of ensuring that there is a body of people who are capable of representing the interests of the employees on the employer-employee relationship which is part and parcel of industrial relations. One cannot have a conciliation and arbitration system or a collective bargaining system without having parties with whom to bargain. If we are to have an organised industrial relations system, it is important that there are trade unions. It is important that those trade unions are representative of the people whom they claim to represent and that therefore they have substantial membership among those people. Therefore, it is important that we have provisions which give some encouragement to joining trade unions, such as preference. I believe that preference provisions are sensible. They apply in about one-third of Federal awards-which means that two-thirds do not have them-and mostly they are there by agreement between the parties although they can be there by a decision of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Their importance is that they give some encouragement to union membership, and rightly so, because the system depends on there being trade unions which represent their members. The same applies to a collective bargaining system. That is not something which is peculiar to a conciliation and arbitration system. One cannot have organised industrial relations without having a system of trade unions to represent the interests of their members.

It is also important that those interests are responsibly represented. That is a totally different issue from trying to ensure that we throw away preference, give no encouragement whatever to trade union membership and create a situation in which people are encouraged to get out of trade unions. That would mean that unions would become less representative. They would become more in control of people who might be perhaps unrepresentative of the work force as a whole. That would mean that we would have a worse industrial relations system. It is obviously desirable, and it is very much the Government's view, to encourage membership of trade unions. We do not make it compulsory, but we encourage it. We encourage it by providing for preference in Federal awards. That is what applies at the State level as well. Virtually every State has similar provisions encouraging preferences because the same rationale applies, and has applied across the last century, for encouraging membership of trade unions.

A tremendous amount of nonsense has developed in the whole area of supposed compulsory unionism. There is massive confusion in the minds of the Opposition-it is trying to create that confusion in the minds of the public-about what exists in this country. We do not have a system of compulsory unionism; we have a system of preference, at best, and most awards do not have preference. We have conscientious objection and some closed shop arrangements. Where those apply they apply because employers and employees find them to be the appropriate way to organise their affairs.

Mr N.A. Brown —Is it not compulsory unionism?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was heard in silence. He should listen to the Minister.

Mr WILLIS —It is appropriate that we have a system which encourages union membership. The Opposition is parading its policies and is trying to make a great thing of compulsory unionism. When I was in Japan a year or two ago leading a tripartite delegation, I visited a number of work places. In each work place I asked about the union arrangements. I was told in every one that everyone-I repeat `everyone'-was a member of a trade union. I have not noticed that those closed shop arrangements in Japan have greatly impeded the economy of Japan. It seems to me to have gone rather well despite the closed shop arrangements that apply in the various areas of employment, particularly in manufacturing industry. It is a nonsense to say that compulsory unionism, so-called, is at the heart of the issues which concern this country. It is essentially a distraction which the Opposition likes for ideological purposes.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The time for the debate has expired.