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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3308

Mr SHACK(3.03) —Two fundamental principles underpin a democracy such as we are proud to call our country, Australia. The first is that all citizens must have a right to equality before the law. All citizens, no matter who they are, must have a right to equal treatment under the law. No matter what their backgrounds, their stations in life or their vocations, all citizens must have equal access to legal processes to seek redress. All citizens must have confidence that the law, in its application, is predictable, certain and fair. That first fundamental principle underpinning a democracy such as ours in that the law must be an instrument for all, for the benefit of all.

The second fundamental principle is that, under our system, any government-irrespective of its primary support base as a political party or its status as a political party-once elected, has an overriding responsibility to act in the interests of all. It has a fundamental responsibility to be a government for all Australians. Against the background of those two fundamental principles, the Opposition has moved to bring on this matter of public importance today. It is against the measure of both those fundamental principles that the Government stands condemned.

In the area of industrial relations, the Government is seeking to have one law for one group in our society and another for another group. With regard to the Government's responsibility to govern for all Australians, in the area of industrial relations it has abandoned any pretence, given up any facade, of trying to so govern. The Government is seeking to bring about a system of industrial apartheid-with one law for one group and another for another group-in which it wishes to be the Government of one section of the community, and abandon to the ravages of that section the other groups in our society.

I refer specifically to the industrial relations package introduced into this House two weeks ago. We were scheduled to debate it in this place today and tomorrow. I do not want to transgress Standing Orders by delving into that legislation. We heard the dissembling from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) as to why the legislation has been withdrawn. Supposedly the Government is going back to the parties concerned with industrial relations in Australia, industry and commerce and the trade union movement, and seeking their further advice. Well it might. Let us hope that this time it listens, because this legislation, as it was introduced a fortnight ago by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), is overwhelmingly opposed by the Australian community. It is overwhelmingly opposed by industry and commerce and it is overwhelmingly opposed by the groups that represent both large and small business in Australia. It has been opposed by editorial comment from every media outlet around the country, and I perceive and discern that it is opposed by the vast majority of Australian men and women and by trade unionists themselves. If only they had an independent collective outlet for their views those trade unionists would be saying: `We oppose this legislation'. Hundreds of thousands of trade unionists around Australia are crying out for the Government to give them protection against trade union abuse. They are crying out for it to give them protection against the trade union power that forces them to go on strike when they do not want to; the trade union power that forces them to engage in industrial relations actions quite unrelated to the awards and conditions pertaining at their work place; and the trade union power which places their wages and salaries and their very living standards in jeopardy.

I hope the Government is going back to taws. We have heard from the Prime Minister that the Government is going to consult again. In that process, as it examines its legislation, let there be no doubt as to the Opposition's attitude on behalf of Australia in respect of this industrial relations package. We will totally oppose the Labor Government's blind determination to return to the days when there was one law for employers and another for trade unions. We will totally oppose this Government's commitment to freeing the trade union movement in Australia from the normal and accepted rules which every other individual, company, association and club is bound and expected to observe. We will totally oppose this Government's efforts to unchain the militant unions in this country from the requirement that they be held accountable to the community for damage caused by their industrial action. We will totally oppose this Government's attitude whereby it wants to say to the unions: `Co-operate with the umpire if you want to, but if you do not agree with him, he is powerless to prevent you from beating up the other side'. That is the attitude that pervades this Government's outlook on industrial relations. We will totally oppose this Government's plans to neuter the trade practices legislation, which has proved itself to be the most effective weapon in Australia today in controlling secondary boycotts by unions. We take this stance of total opposition to the Government's industrial relations package because-I repeat again-of our absolute commitment to two fundamentals which underpin the very democracy which we practise. Firstly, for all citizens there must be equality before and under the law; and secondly, it is the role of government, irrespective of its political base, to govern in the interests of all Australians.

To be specific, section 45d of the Trade Practices Act was introduced in 1977 by the honourable member for Bennelong, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), who was then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It acts to prohibit boycott situations arising from unions taking action against innocent third parties in the course of a dispute with someone else. Section 45e prohibits contracts, arrangements or understandings between a union and another person to prevent or hinder commercial dealings, whether the sale or purchase of goods or services, with a third party.

Both these sections of the Trade Practices Act were introduced by a Liberal-National Party government in response to widespread concern over the irresponsibility of elements within the trade union movement, and the lack of any real remedy or process to check outbreaks of industrial madness. Before the introduction of section 45d it was common for unions in dispute with an employer to muscle that employer's clients, to try to cut off, obstruct or hinder the lines of supply and sale. We all remember what it was like before the introduction of sections 45d and 45e. Suppliers and purchasers were told: `This union has blackbanned Joe Smith Enterprises and unless you want to go broke as well, unless you want to have trouble with us, the trade union movement, you'd better not have anything to do with him; otherwise you'll be next on our hit list'. That is how it used to operate before the introduction of those sections of the Trade Practices Act.

The secondary boycott threats remain one of the most disgraceful abuse of trade union power that we could imagine. It is a tactic which has no place in a democratic society. The former Liberal-National Party Government was absolutely correct and absolutely responsible in acting to make unions accountable and liable before the laws of this nation in regard to these destructive secondary boycott practices. These sections have been important and effective in containing secondary boycotts. It is vital to remember that, in common with many other laws, their deterrent effects is just as valuable as their effect when put into practice.

The trade union movement, the Australian Council of Trade Unions elite, has never liked this legislation. It has never accepted that industrial action should be treated the same as other forms of action in the community. It has never accepted that the overwhelming majority of Australians respect free trade union rights, which are essential in a free society, but that they demand that such rights be exercised responsibly and in a manner which is both fair and reasonable. The ACTU elite has never accepted that the laws of Australia should treat everybody equally. We should not be surprised about this, because if we look back through the records we see that the current Prime Minister at the 1977 ACTU Congress, attacked section 45d. When he was President of the ACTU he described the outlawing of secondary boycotts as a double standard. He said it was a crippling constraint and penalty. He said it was discriminatory anti-union legislation. He then let go with one of the most infamous threats with which he has been credited. I quote:

Should the Government move against any union under the new trade practices provisions, that union will be able to call upon the resources of the whole trade union movement.

There we have in a nutshell the bully boy tactics employed under the secondary boycotts provision which are directly struck down by section 45d of the Trade Practices Act.

If we are not surprised about the Prime Minister's attitude, we should not be surprised by the Minister's attitude, because in those days he was the research officer to the President of the ACTU. We should not therefore be surprised that now, in ministerial office, he is attempting to neuter sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. It is a pay-off to this Government's political base. This Government has abandoned any attempt to act genuinely in the interests of all Australians. Honourable members can imagine the late night deals with Simon Crean and Bill Kelty over the new wages system. They can see Simon Crean saying to the Minister: `Well, Ralph, I think we can get George Crawford and John Halfpenny to go along with this system, but you will have to give them something in return. What about scrapping 45d and 45e? What about it, Ralph?'. The pay-off is in this legislation. There will be a hot time in the old town on the night that this Government scraps sections 45d and 45e. The champagne corks will be popping at the offices of the ACTU elite and the trade union executive around the country.

We know that the union thugs do not like this legislation; they do not like it one bit. They do not like it because it has worked, and it has worked effectively. I refer to the Mudginberri dispute and the plumbers and gasfitters dispute. The provisions work. They hate them because they work as effectively as they do. Eighty-odd injunctions have been obtained under the Trade Practices Act since it was first introduced. In every case they have ensured a speedy restoration of industrial sanity and a return to work.

The sections of the Trade Practices Act are effective in containing the extremes of trade union power. These provisions have ended the days of union standover tactics. They have restored some sanity to the economy and they have been vital to improving our poor image as a reliable trading partner. If the Government weakens these trade union provisions any hope of securing our balance of payments situation for the better will be dashed. For example, the Government is well aware of the transport sector-international shipping and aviation in particular-which is most vulnerable to secondary boycotts. Let us look at what one individual in those industries had to say. He is one of those people who understand exactly what it is like. When the Government tried to scrap section 45d in 1984 a representative of the Australian Chamber of Shipping warned the Government and said of section 45d that it was `without question the single most important piece of legislation in Australia relating to overseas cargo shipping'.

The Government's industrial relations package is the most anti-democratic, economically bankrupt and blatant sell-out to union power that we have ever seen. It is the framework for a new regime of industrial apartheid in Australia where there will be one privileged law for the union movement and the elite and another law for everybody else in the community. This Government is committed to freeing the union movement in Australia from the normal and accepted rules which every other individual, every other company, every other association and every club is expected to observe. This Government is preparing to unchain the militant unions in this country from the requirement that they be held accountable to the community, and before the community, for the damage they cause by their industrial action. That is why we brought forward this matter of public importance. Attention to these sections is absolutely vital.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) — Order! The honourable member's time has expired.