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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 647

Senator JONES(10.40) —Prior to making my main remarks on the Address-in-Reply, I take this opportunity to congratulate the new senators elected to this place. I also congratulate those new senators who have made their maiden speeches. Everyone would agree that congratulation is in order because when one listens to the speeches of the new senators, whether one agrees totally with their content, one would have to say that the new senators will certainly lift the standard of debate in the chamber.

Today I pass some remarks about the industrial problem that has existed in Queensland for some time. I pass these remarks because I believe that the industrial problem in Queensland is affecting not only the workers of Queensland and the parliamentary system because of the undemocratic nature of the legislation that has been passed in the State Parliament, but also the economy in Queensland generally. It is having an adverse effect on small business and other business throughout the State.

For many weeks now Queensland has been embroiled in a destructive, divisive power dispute that at last count had cost the economy of Queensland $100,000m and had affected the jobs of 1,002 electrical workers previously employed by the South East Queensland Electricity Board.

The figure of $100,000m is only an estimate. Some estimates have gone as high as $200,000m a week for the term of the disputation. I hope in the course of this speech to prove that the situation has been provoked and extended by the actions of one man, the Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He has provoked the situation for his selfish political ends. The interests of business people, particularly small business people, some of whom I believe voted for the National Party of Australia at the last election, were jettisoned to help serve his two main ambitions: The destruction of the organised trade union movement and the destruction of the State Industrial Court and the State Industrial Commission. I hope to demonstrate that the Queensland Premier clearly violated conventions of the International Labour Organisation which have been signed by Australia. The ILO conventions, ratified by Australia, have first to be seen not to cut across laws of all States. Whatever Sir Joh may wish to think to the contrary, this includes Queensland.

Initially, the linesmen withdrew their labour in protest at the gradual infiltration of their jobs by contractors. They held, with some justification, a fear that in the long term their jobs were at risk. Before industrial action was taken, officials of the Electrical Trades Unions of Australia exhausted every avenue of negotiation and conciliation with the State Electricity Commission and the South East Queensland Electricity Board. It was all to no avail. No concessions were made to them. No long term guarantees of job security for union members in the power industry were given either by the employers or by the Government. It was clear to the officials from the outset that the hands of the employers had been tied by the State Government. I emphasise that only as a very last resort did the men vote overwhelmingly to strike.

The Premier then reacted in two ways. Through an order of the Governor-in-Council a state of emergency was proclaimed. Some of the people in this House at the moment would remember the last time he declared a state of emergency. That was during the anti-apartheid demonstrations in Brisbane.

Senator Collard —He won that one too.

Senator JONES —Yes, with the police. Effectively tying the hands of the Industrial Commission, the Premier sacked the SEQEB employees. It is as well to note Senator Collard's interjection that the Premier won that battle. It is also interesting to note that it was a former union member who made that interjection. He now supports the Government's fight against the trade unions in Queensland. The Government also regulated under a provision of its Transport Act, through which the state of emergency was brought in, that anyone wishing his job back would first have to sign a contract which not only eroded many hard-won working conditions, but also included a no strike clause.

The Premier advertised widely for contractors to do the work of the sacked linesmen. The linesmen were then supported industrially by other unions, notably the Municipal Officers Association which, quite rightly, reduced electricity generation flow from Queensland power stations. The Industrial Commission tried its best and twice during the protracted negotiations, as conference after conference was held, recommended to the Government that it reinstate the sacked workers. It would only recommend and not order the course of action to be taken because of the provisions of the state of emergency declaration. Under the state of emergency declaration, the rights of the Industrial Commission were taken away. There was no opportunity for it to make a recommendation. All it could do was recommend that that action be taken.

Needless to say, the recommendation of the commissioners appointed by Sir Joh's Government fell on deaf ears. Regardless of the damage to the economy of his State, damage that will take many years to repair, and regardless of the suffering of his former employees in the electricity industry and their families, he stubbornly stuck to his guns and dug in his heels. The resource industries, the pride and joy of the propaganda machine conducted by the Premier of Queensland when the bottom started to drop out of the boom, were badly hit. Coal exports to Japan ground to a halt, putting further strain on the long term future of that industry. Many small traders were forced to close. Many small traders suffer economic constraints because of problems caused by the strike which was being continued by the Premier of Queensland and his declaration of a state of emergency.

Under the terms of the electricity rationing order which had been proclaimed, manufacturing industries were shut down and thousands of workers were laid off. Householders suffered from ever-increasing numbers of blackouts. Electricity was supplied to houses on the basis of one hour on and one hour off. Householders were severely restricted in that they could use only two lights, two hotplates, an iron, a fridge, a television set and a radio. Nothing else, including washing machines and air conditioners, was allowed to be used, in an effort to conserve electricity.

Eventually the power stations operators restored full supply. The wheels of industry and commerce began to roll again and domestic misery was ended. But it was not over for the 1,002 SEQEB workers who, although they had offered to return to work to allow further negotiations on their original job dispute thus putting an end to the needless and indeed mindless destruction of the economy by Sir Joh and his lackeys within the Cabinet, were sacked under his orders and were ordered to stay sacked. The Premier had spoken. At this stage it is worth while noting or recalling the exact terms of the recommendation made by State Industrial Commissioner Lionel Ledlie during the height of the strike. It was made on Monday 18 February, after the dispute had dragged on for 12 days. The Commissioner said:

As to the Queensland Electricity Commission and its employees-that there be an unconditional return to work and a restoration of normal supply by QEC staff in power stations and depots. As to SEQEB and its employees-that the dismissal notices that have been issued to employees by SEQEB be withdrawn and that the employees concerned be reinstated in their pre-existing classifications without loss of benefit.

Mr Ledlie went on:

That such employees in resuming lift all bans in relation to the use of contractors and be available to resume normal work as soon as possible.

That subject to an early resumption of work, intended deregistration proceedings be not further proceeded with.

Lionel Ledlie, a commissioner in the Industrial Commission in Queensland, made that recommendation-as I have said, he could not make an order because of the state of emergency-in order to establish the ground to resolve the dispute not only for the SEQEB but also for the employees, the people involved in the dispute, the people throughout Queensland and the small businesses and other businesses that were suffering some economic problems because of the industrial dispute. The Premier had been constantly threatening the deregistration of the Electrical Trades Union, and he is still hell-bent on that course of action. Commissioner Ledlie continued:

That S.E.Q.E.B. refrain from the engagement of any further replacement staff.

That all parties genuinely accept the position of the 370 S.E.Q.E.B. employees who did not participate in the strike is in no way to be jeopardised.

That all parties accept that the position of the new employees, believed to be 100 to 120 in number, engaged by S.E.Q.E.B. since February 13 1985 be in no way jeopardised. That the E.T.U. reaffirm its commitment to the conciliation and arbitration system in operation in Queensland and supports dispute resolution within that tribunal.

He further stated:

Implicit in these proposals is the expectation that upon resumption of normal work in powerhouses all suspensions that have been made, and all bans and limitations that have been made, and all bans and limitations that have been applied in other areas of government and semi-governmental employment will be readily addressed with a view to an early resumption of normal activities.

That was a reasonable way in which the dispute could have been settled. However, I again repeat the point that I have made. Because of the state of emergency Mr Lionel Ledlie could only recommend, and not order, that those things take place. These were wise words from Commissioner Ledlie. They were words of compromise; they were words that were readily agreed to not only by the Electrical Trades Union but also by the power authorities. However, they were not agreed to by the Premier or the Government of the State.

As I have said, the Commissioner was powerless to put his words in the terms of a court order because of the existence of a state of emergency. There had to be simply a recommendation, and as such Sir Joh ignored it and the strike dragged on for days with thousands of dollars flying out the window, thus affecting the economy of Queensland. The state of emergency was lifted on Thursday, 4 March, by the Governor-in-Council but not before further legislation was rushed through the Parliament two days earlier. This was the notorious Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Bill and it has had the effect of turning back the Queensland industrial relations clock to the Victorian era. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, I believe that Sir Joh, in framing this appalling document, was clearly in breach of the spirit and letter of the international labour conventions signed by Australia. Included in the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Bill are the following clauses which I quote because I believe that they should be listed for the record:

3. Authority of Electricity Commissioner. The Electricity Commissioner is authorized-

(a) to take whatever steps he considers are necessary to have work performed to provide, to maintain or to restore a supply of electricity;

(b) to direct any person whatever who, in his opinion, is capable of carrying out the necessary work to provide, to maintain or to restore a supply of electricity.

4. Consequence of failure to comply with direction. Any employee of the Queensland Electricity Commission or of any Electricity Board who fails to comply forthwith with a direction of the Electricity Commissioner given to him or her pursuant to section 3 is liable-

(a) to summary dismissal, notwithstanding the provisions of any Award;


(b) to a penalty not exceeding $1000.

This type of legislation hits at the real basis of our democratic procedure. It hits at the basis of the fact that we believe-and people within the Federal Parliament and other State parliaments throughout the Commonwealth of Australia believe-that the trade union movement and the negotiations between the trade union movement, employers and government are part of the democratic process. But the government in Queensland, because of the legislation put forward, shows very clearly that it does not believe that the trade union movement should be part of that democratic process in which we so dearly believe. The legislation outlines the terms of contracts which must be signed by any electrician who works for the South East Queensland Electricity Board. Referring to the State electrical engineering award under which the linesmen are covered in the Industrial Commission, the legislation states:

(i) Any reference in the award to hours of duty being 36 1/4 per week or 7 1/4 per day shall be deemed to read-

it makes no reference to the Industrial Commission or to the legislation which has changed the weekly and daily hours of those people who will be employed-

38 hours and 7 3/5 hours respectively and any provision in the award based on 36 1/4 hours per week or 7 1/4 hours per day shall be varied accordingly;

. . . . . . . . .

(b) A provision that such employee shall not take part in any strike-

in other words, it is a provision to take away the right to strike-

within the meaning of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1961-63.

The Bill goes on to remove the powers of the State Industrial Commission to reinstate such power workers and to stipulate that if fines are not paid by the employees on whom they have been imposed by the legislation they can be sent bankrupt under the legislation. The Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Bill contains only four small pages but it is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever placed before any parliament in the Commonwealth of Australia. It takes away the democratic right of allowing conciliation, arbitration, debate and discussion between employers and trade unions generally.

The legislation would have done credit to Hitler or for that matter, Stalin. It is quite clear which way the Bjelke-Petersen Government is travelling; It is travelling headlong down the rocky road to fascism and it has almost reached that destination. No credit can be given to those who supported the Bill. No credit can be given to the Liberal Party of Australia, no credit can be given to the National Party of Australia or to the two independents. Only members of the Australian Labor Party in the State Parliament opposed the legislation. Clearly it is the Queensland Premier's avowed intention to use every means in his power to smash the organised trade union movement in his State. This is merely the start and I expect to see him attempt to pick off other trade unions one by one. If one reads the Press of the last few days, it is quite easy to see that he has already started that attempt. One only has to look at what he has said about the teachers union-he talks about teachers under contract and discusses the possibility of setting up a scab union.

I turn my attention to the number of International Labour Organisation conventions which, in my view, have been contravened by the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Bill. I refer to convention 29 on forced labour, which was ratified by Australia back in 1932. Article 1 states:

Each member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this convention undertakes to suppress the use of forced or compulsory labour in all its forms within the shortest possible period.

It is quite obvious that clause 3 (b) of the Bjelke-Petersen Bill, the one dealing with the authority of the Electricity Commissioner which I quoted earlier, is a clear violation of this. It talks about forced labour and about the Commissioner having the power to direct labour within the commission itself. Because of the shortness of time I will not quote again clause 3 of the Bill, but I will say that under the spirit of Sir Joh's legislation, one could envisage people closing their businesses down. If one looks at the Bill, one sees that it is open-ended. There is no provision in the Bill to attack people in business who will not take Sir Joh's direction. But there certainly is a provision in the Bill to fine trade unionists who fail to take a direction of forced labour by the Commissioner of the Electricity Commission. Surely this is nothing less than forced labour and, as such, a total contravention of the ILO convention which was signed by Australia back in 1932, with the support of Queensland at that time.

Articles 2 to 5 of the same convention are all short and to the point. I quote them in full:

Workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish, and subject only to the rules of the organisation concerned, to join organisations of their own choosing without previous authorisation.

Workers and employers organisations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom, to organise their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes.

The public authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise thereof.

Workers and employers organisations shall not be liable to be dissolved or suspended by administrative authority.

Workers and employers organisations shall have the right to establish and join federations and confederations and any such organisation, federation or confederation shall have the right to affiliate with international organisations of workers and employers.

Convention 98, which was ratified by Australia as late as 1973 after Sir Joh had been Premier of Queensland for some five years, seems to be particularly relevant to the present position. Article 1 says:

Workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment.

Such protection shall apply particularly in respect of acts calculated to make the employment of a worker subject to the condition that he shall not join a union or shall relinquish trade union membership or cause the dismissal of or otherwise prejudice a worker by reason of union membership or because of participation in union activities outside working hours or, with the consent of the employer, within working hours.

This basically seeks to restate the position adopted by the ILO in the 1930s. Article 8 states:

This convention shall be binding only upon those members of the International Labour Organisation whose ratifications have been registered with the Director-General.

Australia ratified the 1973 convention and, as a State of Australia, Queensland is also a party to that ratification. I ask honourable senators on all sides of the chamber to agree that in view of this, the Queensland Government is in total contravention of basic international agreements signed by Australia. Some of the articles that I have quoted are at the fringe of the Queensland crisis, caused entirely by the grim determination of one man, the Premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, to crush the trade union movement and have his will with industrial law in the State. He believes that it is his will that should be carried and his alone. He does not believe that any notice should be taken of or any liberty be given to a convention of the ILO signed by Australia and agreed to by the State of Queensland.

Senator Cook —He is a dictator.

Senator JONES —Quite clearly, he is a dictator. If one reads some of the comments made in the State Parliament yesterday one can believe that it is quite true that he is a dictator.

Other articles, particularly those applying to the freedom of unions and their members to make their own rules and decisions, go straight to the heart of the matter. The blatant breaches of democracy and civil liberties by the Queensland Government surely cannot be ignored. Those great guardians of democratic rights and civil liberties, the Australian Democrats, should have a look at the legislation that has been placed before the Queensland State Parliament. They should have a very serious look at it and see what that legislation does to the ratification of those ILO agreements that were signed by Australia.

I raised this matter in this place at this time because I believe it is not simply a problem for Queenslanders. I believe it is a problem which should exercise the minds of every Australian and the minds of members of the Senate, as well as members of the House of Representatives. I make this appeal on behalf of the trade union movement and the people of Queensland who have had their rights taken away by the legislation brought forward by the Queensland Premier. I appeal to members on all sides of the House to recognise the blatant erosion of democracy that has occurred and that is still occurring in Queensland. If one looks at the matter further and considers the electoral gerrymander, one must say that Queensland people have very few rights. They do not even have the opportunity to elect a government of their choice because of the electoral gerrymander promulgated by the Premier of Queensland.

The sacked State Government electricity workers and their families have suffered much. They are still unemployed, still sacked and still trying to get their jobs back. While the number of 1,002 has been reduced, those who are going back to work are going back to forced labour conditions. Only when this tyrant is ousted from office will there be a turnaround in industrial relations and civil liberties in the State of Queensland. At this stage it is worth while to mention just a few of the points raised by the union in relation to a statutory declaration that had to be signed by the members who were seeking re-employment. Some of the conditions outlined in that declaration were: The signing of a no strike clause; a 38-hour week, 10-day fortnight, increasing their working hours; no bans or limitations; no demarcation; no union membership (preferred); rostered shift work, listing the rosters, which means an increase on the hours worked previously by those working in the Electricity Commission; a provision requiring that employees must be able to start or finish in the depot in the Board area, which reduces their conditions; a provision that they must be prepared to live away from home, again reducing their conditions; industrial payments deleted, again reducing their conditions; a provision that employees be treated as new employees with no experience payments, no sick leave entitlements, no annual leave, and no superannuation. The Board was prepared to re-employ 50 men under those conditions. However, no jobs would be filled until power station operators signed a no strike agreement. Unless they signed it they would not be employed. And so it goes on. The men could fill in the application for employment by the Board and wait until the Board decided that they were required. Any local conditions previously agreed to ceased to exist. There would be no six or eight hour break following call outs, thus doing away with safety conditions. This would absolutely destroy the industrial conditions won over a period, given to the workers by the Industrial Court and Industrial Commission in Queensland and agreed to by the employers. By one stroke of the pen, by the introduction of this legislation in the State Parliament, the Premier of Queensland has completely removed the conditions that applied to the employees of the State Industrial Commission.