Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2315

Senator MacGIBBON(1.25) —The Senate is debating the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1984 and the Trade Practices Amendment Bill 1984 in the face of great difficulties. This is important legislation that affects the whole of the industrial life of Australia and, therefore, the standards of living of everyone. The Australian Democrats, that genteel branch of the Australian Labor Party, have rebelled against the traditions of this place by supporting the moving of a gag and a guillotine. We expect the Labor Party to do that, but at least the Labor Party does not get up on the hustings of this country and promise that it will not do it. The Democrats have promised many times that they would never gag or guillotine debate. But when the Labor Party crooks its little finger, they come running and their principles disappear .

These Bills set out to remove the prohibition on secondary boycotts contained in section 45D and section 45E of the Trade Practices Act. I oppose these Bills to the limits of my resources, as does every business enterprise and every person who knows what is involved in these Bills. A boycott arises when one or more persons refuse to deal with another person or company, when they refuse to supply goods or services. A secondary boycott arises when one group of people causes another group to refuse to deal with the target of the boycott. Strikes are bad enough, but sometimes-very rarely-they can be justified. Secondary boycotts never can be justified. They are the most repugnant form of strike action by a union. The targets are always innocent parties because the targets are not involved in the dispute. It is the very worst form of mob rule and bullying that the Labor Party and the union movement can get up to. In every civilised country secondary boycotts have been banned for many years.

In Australia, because of the monopoly position of the unions, we were very late in coming to the position where we banned secondary boycotts. It was not until 1977 that the Fraser Government moved to ban secondary boycotts by introducing section 45D and section 45E to the Act. That was the greatest industrial relations achievement of the Fraser Government. The great failing of the Fraser Government was that it did not completely clean up the industrial relations mess . We desperately need to do two things. The first is to break the monopoly of unions in the supply of labour. Secondly, we need to bring unions within the ambit of the law.

The great expectation of the community in 1975 when it elected the Fraser Government was that this great mess of industrial relations would be cleaned up for the benefits of all of Australia. Probably one of the principal reasons why the Fraser Government lost office was that it failed to follow through, after having started so well by bringing in section 45D. There would be no one in this chamber who does not recall all the misinformation and scare stories put out by the Labor Party and the unions when section 45D was proposed. They said it would be chaotic; that industrial relations would be unworkable. What was the truth? Since that law has been passed, secondary boycotts have been totally banned. It has worked brilliantly.

Secondary boycotts are unjustified; they are unfair; they are a denial of natural justice. If I have a dispute with a person or company it is not reasonable or justifiable for me to be attacked by a third party, to be sent broke, to be not able to go about my normal lawful occasions-and that is what a secondary boycott does. These Bills proposing to remove secondary boycott legislation place all industry at risk-particularly overseas shipping and aviation, in which very high costs and delays to service are involved. Only a month or two ago, aircraft of Continental Airlines coming into Australia were subjected to a secondary boycott-something on which the Labor Government did not have the backbone to apply the law and to clean the matter up at the time. Continental Airlines went bankrupt about 12 months ago. It managed to reform and regroup and to re-engage some of its staff at lower salaries. Because they were engaged at lower salaries, some American unions were imposing bans and having disputes with the airline. Refuellers and other workers-I suppose it would be the Transport Workers Union-placed black bans on the airline in Australia. That is a very good example of a secondary boycott, and it illustrates the way that the party applying the ban had no interest in it at all. There was not one Australian employee of the airline involved. There were no grounds for dispute with anyone in Australia. Yet that airline and its commercial operations were subjected to this most unreasonable, most unfair and, one might say, most cowardly action.

Quite obviously, this legislation is being brought in to appease the unions, but it is causing people such as Senator Gietzelt an acute case of schizophrenia . Members of the Labor Party have a pact with the unions to remove any sort of legal control from the union movement. But, at the same time, as parliamentarians, they know very well that it is suicide to be talking about that and bringing in a Bill like this on the eve of a premature, unnecessary, half-life election. But the unions are pressing the Government. They are screwing it because they do not trust Robert James Lee Hawke any more than does the Australian community. Mr Hawke might be high on the popularity polls, but the majority of Australians believe they are being set up in some way by this Government. The union movement, pushing for the removal of the legislation, is exactly of the same mind. It wants the contract now; it wants its pound of flesh ; it wants it today. It is demanding it from the Labor Party, because the Labor Party in office is nothing more than the parliamentary wing of the union movement.

Secondary boycotts have special characteristics. Two of the chief ones are that they cannot be solved in the normal way that strikes can be resolved, and that they are not often industrial in origin-they are usually directed towards social or political goals. None of the reasons advanced by the Government carries any weight in support of the legislation. The principal reason is the need to broaden the legal area of exemption or the zone of immunity for trade unions. Why are unions above the law? Why do we not do what Margaret Thatcher did in Britain and bring the unions back within the law? Australia's union movement is very much based on the archaic craft unions of Britain, with their ethos of a dog in the manger attitude to society, operating with bully-boy standover tactics whenever they can. But the unions in Australia believe they should not be answerable for any of the damages they cause society. They believe that they should live beyond the rule of law.

I do not accept that. We all should live by a rule of law, otherwise the law of the jungle will apply in this country. If we have a rule of law, everyone is subjected to it. A basic part of that legal system is that individuals can seek redress for any injuries caused to them by someone else. If a union causes distress or injury, whether it is emotional, financial or physical, the person who has been disadvantaged by that should have the right to recover damages. In years gone by, we have tried to fine unions when they do not obey the law, but that has not worked because we end up creating martyrdoms, as we did with Clarrie O'Shea. But the principle nevertheless is correct. We have to change the approach. We need legislation to allow persons disadvantaged by strike action to recover damages from the unionists.

I give an example that would work. If we had an electricity strike and people lost all the food they had in their deep freezers and in their fridges, I believe that all the people who lost food should be able to sue the unionist of their choice. We should forget about the union secretaries. The little old pensioners who are hurt most of all should be able to go along and obtain legal aid, pick on any unionist who is on strike, take him through the courts and recover damages. If that principle were widespread, and it accords with the Australian system of justice, of course, we would find that a lot more unionists would grow up and realise that they have a responsibility to the community. It would be perfectly reasonable for the Government to do that, because the Government must protect the public interest.

In conclusion, I wish to comment on the real fear which is building in Australia about the Hawke Government. There is a real fear that this country is moving more and more under the control of the union bosses and the union organisations. The prices and incomes accord is seen as a sell-out to the unions . People know that if the union movement has sold out to the Government for the price of an accord the other part of the deal will have to be that more power passes to the unions. Two weeks ago in the Age newspaper Max Walsh closed an article about the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Button-I regret that he is not in the chamber at the moment-with two paragraphs that have great relevance to what is going on in Australia today. He said:

If the existing industrial movement gains the sort of policy input it is attempting to do, then the spectre of State corporatism really begins to take on substance.

Such corporatism where big government, big business and big unions combine to protect what they perceive as the comfort of the status quo was a feature of Mussolini's Italy and Peron's Argentina-both, incidentally charismatic regimes.

The description of these corporate states fits exactly the corporate state into which we are moving-a state of big government, big business and big unions under the charismatic leadership of Mr Hawke. This is bad legislation. It fails to protect the public interest. It gives in to and increases the power of a group of people who are not answerable in any way at all to the Australian community. I oppose it.