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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1147


Mr N.A. Brown(2.59) —As leave is not granted, I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent notice No. 1, general business, for the presentation of the Plumbers Union (Cancellation of Registration) Bill being called on forthwith and, after the adjournment of the debate on the motion for the second reading of that Bill, notice No. 2, general business, for the presentation of the Plumbers Union (Cancellation of Registration-Consequential Provisions) Bill being called on.

It is, the Opposition submits, a matter of great urgency that Standing Orders be set aside today to enable debate on the Plumbers Union (Cancellation of Registration) Bill and the Plumbers Union (Cancellation of Registration-Consequential Provisions) Bill-Bills to deregister the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union of Australia. It is a matter of urgency that this be done because it has now been shown that the Government as a whole, and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in particular, will not stand up to the Plumbers and Gasfitters Union. It will not take strong action when it is needed and, indeed, it is clear that it will not take any action at all against this renegade union, the Plumbers Union.

Standing Orders should be set aside, therefore, to allow these two Bills to be brought on for debate. The two Bills, of course, are modelled on the Government's own legislation to deregister the Builders Labourers Federation. The first of these two Bills will do that-it will deregister the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union of Australia. The second Bill will prevent any award of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission from applying to the Union or to its members, and will prevent it from taking part in any proceedings of the Arbitration Commission. That second Bill will, in effect, rub out the Plumbers Union for 10 years.

It is urgent that Standing Orders be set aside so that the House can debate these two Bills. It is urgent for several reasons. In the first place, the Plumbers Union is now an industrial leper. It is the new Builders Labourers Federation and it should be treated in exactly the same way. Until it is treated in the same way as the BLF was treated it will continue to behave like the renegade that it is and it will continue to wreak industrial havoc in the building industry. So it is urgent to set aside Standing Orders because it is urgent that the Plumbers Union be brought to heel.

Secondly, it is urgent that these Bills be brought on today because the Government, frankly, will do nothing to bring the Plumbers Union into line. It is therefore up to the Opposition to take over that responsibility which the Government should be recognising. In support of this, let me remind the House that yesterday, when the campaign of terror of the Plumbers Union was brought to the notice of the Minister, all that he could do was to give the Plumbers Union the weakest and most pathetic wrap over the knuckles imaginable. What did he say? He called on the Union to behave itself. He said: `Please behave yourselves and go back to work through the system'. We say that much stronger action than that is needed and the Government should have told the Union that it will simply not stand by and do nothing while a union such as the Plumbers Union blatantly ignores the wage fixing principles, continues to make extravagant demands for wage increases, continues to engage in industrial thuggery and, most importantly, continues to show contempt for the laws and courts of this country.

There are many courses open to the Government. It could have started proceedings for deregistration itself. It could have got itself involved in the section 45d proceedings. It could have supported the legislation that we are putting forward today. But no, it does none of those things. It simply weakly and pathetically says that it calls on the Union to behave itself. We say that that is not good enough, and it is not surprising in the slightest that when that message was sent out to the Union it treated that weak call with the contempt that it deserves.

The third reason why Standing Orders should be set aside is that it is now urgent to debate these Bills simply because the Plumbers Union is showing absolute and complete contempt for the law and for the courts. It shows no respect whatsoever for court orders or decrees. The plain facts are that the Union is now in contempt of court, because it has failed to comply with an order by the Federal Court of Australia that it should lift its work bans on 14 building sites by midday on Tuesday. That was the plain order of the Court. The Union has refused to comply with that order and it is therefore thumbing its nose at one of the highest courts of this land. That sort of conduct simply cannot be allowed to continue without some sort of strong protest and without a strong response from the Government. While the Government refuses to take that firm action it is clearly up to the Opposition to take that action on its behalf.

Furthermore, we say that the Plumbers Union has engaged, clearly-and this is the sort of conduct we must stop by such Bills as these-in a concerted campaign of industrial thuggery spread over some nine months. It has put bans on 40 building sites in Victoria, on 25 building sites in New South Wales, and on nine in South Australia. Those bans have existed now for about nine months. They are in support of a pay rise of no less than-wait for it-$70 a week and, if that were not enough, another $52 a week being pursued by building unions in general. Not only does the union want that but, of course, it wants more than everyone else in superannuation payments-an additional $12.50.


Mr Cobb —Where will it end?


Mr N.A. Brown —The honourable member may well ask where it will end. To pursue those claims, of course, the union does not go through the normal processes. It imposes industrial bans on building sites to force by means of industrial thuggery what it could not get properly through the system. We in the Opposition say that when a union ignores the law in that way, when it shows it has absolute contempt for the courts, when it ignores blatantly court orders and decrees, and when it is concerned not in the slightest degree about following procedures that everyone else has to follow and goes off on its own rogue case, we say that in response to that the strongest, firmest and most prompt action possible must be taken against that organisation. The ultimate sanction to those trade unions that live in a world of monopoly power and protection is to deregister them from the Arbitration Commission and deny them the benefits that that exclusive registration confers on them.

What is the Plumbers Union doing now? Because of its industrial action it is costing jobs; it is holding up the completion of millions of dollars worth of building projects; it is stopping construction work in Victoria, New South Wales and throughout the country. This industrial action-and there are many examples of it-is nothing more than blackmail to bludgeon from employers extravagant wage increases which the industry and the economy cannot afford and to which the Union is quite clearly not entitled under the wage fixing principles.

At Question Time this afternoon, in response to a question from the honourable member for Lyons (Mr Burr), we heard the last piece of evidence that needs to be shown to demonstrate why Standing Orders should be set aside so that these Bills can be debated. The honourable member for Lyons asked the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations-the Minister who is supposed to be in charge of keeping trade unions in line and within the system-whether he would deregister the Plumbers Union and if he would not, why he would not. The Minister had three excuses for why there was no comparison between the Plumbers Union and the Builders Labourers Federation. We reject all of the three excuses he gave. The first excuse he made was that the Builders Labourers Federation had been engaging in industrial thuggery for a long time. We say that the Plumbers Union has engaged in industrial thuggery for a long time. Not only has it had these particular bans imposed for nine months, but it has years and years of industrial irresponsibility and thuggery behind it. It is time we stood up as a Parliament and as a nation to this union and said: `We have had enough; you should be deregistered'.

The second excuse that was given by the Minister-they were all, of course, nothing more than excuses-was that the Builders Labourers Federation broke court orders and decrees; he said that it did not comply with court orders. As I have already said, the Plumbers Union is in contempt of court and should be deregistered for that reason alone. Thirdly, the Minister said that the Plumbers Union is not like the BLF because the BLF alienated itself from the trade union movement. This union also has alienated itself from the trade union movement. But not only has it alienated itself from the trade union movement; it has alienated itself from its own members, the employees and workers in the industry, from employers and from any right thinking person who cares to think about the issues. It is for those reasons that the case is analagous with that of the Builders Labourers Federation. It is for those reasons that it is urgent that we set aside Standing Orders. We should deregister the Plumbers Union. We should introduce, debate and pass these Bills today.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the motion seconded?