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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 705


Senator JONES(3.09) —In supporting the matter of public importance which I proposed in correspondence to you, Mr President, I believe it is important at this stage that I repeat the terms of the matter, namely:

The need for the Federal Government to alert the International Labour Organisation to the breaches of international conventions by the Queensland Government, and take all possible steps available to it to work towards a reversal of the dangerous industrial relations situation in that State.

It is worth while to mention at this stage that the last part of the sentence refers to working towards a reversal of the dangerous industrial relations situation in that State. With that in mind, I believe it is very important that we should look at the effects of the legislation that was brought forward by the Premier of Queensland. We should look at the effect on future employment of the sacked South East Queensland Electricity Board linesmen, the effect on the Queensland economy, the effect on small business, the effect on the export of coal and primary produce particularly and the effect on the work force generally.

It is sad to note at this time the deaths of 19 youths in the South African town of Uitenhage. The State Government of Queensland has again proclaimed a state of emergency. The last time that that Government took such an action was during the Springboks tour of Australia in 1971. The anti-union stance of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen is certainly in line with the South African Government's treatment of black South Africans. In Queensland we have a state of emergency; in South Africa we have the pass laws.

The Premier's attack on the union movement leads us to examine the proclamation of the state of emergency. This was lifted by an order of the Governor in Council on Thursday, 4 March, but not before a draconian piece of legislation, the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act, was introduced in the State Parliament and passed by the National Party, the Liberal Party and supported by the Independents within that chamber. The Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act is only a small, five-page piece of legislation, but it gives supreme power to the Electricity Commissioner and takes away the right of unionists to appeal to the Industrial Commission. It takes away the right of unionists to make any appeal whatsoever. A further amendment was passed in the Queensland Parliament, after being put forward by Mr Gibbs, which allows for the setting up of another tribunal to which appeal can be made. But in fact that takes away the right of trade unionists in Queensland-a right that they have had for many years-to appeal to the Industrial Commission within the State under the law as legislated by the Government of Queensland many years ago, and which had applied for many years before this draconian piece of legislation was brought in by the Premier.

I believe we should look at some of the provisions of the legislation which secures continuity of supply within the electricity industry. The legislation was only a very small, five-page Bill and one would expect that there would not be a great deal in it. But one sees that in clause 3 the Electricity Commissioner is authorised:

(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.

Clause 4 lists the consequences of failure to comply with that direction.

Any employee of the Queensland Electricity Commission or of any Electricity Board who fails to comply forthwith with the 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;

and there are no rights of appeal because those were taken away by the legislation-

and (b) to a penalty not exceeding $1,000.

And so it goes on. In clause 5 obstruction and harassment are prohibited. Clause 6 deals with the continued effectiveness of dismissals by the SEQEB. Clause 7 deals with contracts of service made or to be made by the SEQEB. Clause 8 deals with the limitation of the Industrial Commission's jurisdiction. It says:

Notwithstanding the provision of any other Act, the Industrial Commission has not jurisdiction to make any decision within the meaning of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1961-1983 or recommendation, or give any other indication that-

(a) is directed to the reinstatement or reemployment of-

(i) any person whose dismissal is declared by section 6 to continue to be lawful and effectual; or

(ii) any person summarily dismissed by reason of his failure to comply with a direction of the Electricity Commissioner given to him or her pursuant to section 3.

It gives total power to the Electricity Commissioner, taking away the rights which existed under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1961-1983. The Act continues:

(b) is directed to or might result in the negation or avoidance of the provisions of section 3 or 7 of the substitution, in respect of persons employed under contracts referred to in section 7, of other terms of employment-

In other words, the Premier of Queensland has put off linesmen, their numbers having been reduced from 1,002 to 820. He sacked them, did not re-employ them and then changed the Act under which they were employed in the first place. He has now started to gather people back into the Electricity Commission and is employing them under contract with a reduction in their terms of work as laid down by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and set out in the Act of 1961-83. This new Act, along with other legislation passed by the State Parliament, contravenes a number of International Labour Organisation conventions signed by Australia and agreed to by the States, including the State of Queensland. Some 43 such conventions have been ratified by Australia and, before that ratification, approved by the States of Australia, one of those States of course being the State of Queensland.

It is not my intention to go through the 43 conventions but out of sheer interest, so that people will understand what this legislation is doing to the sorts of conventions that Australia has ratified and the States have agreed to, I will run through some of them. Convention No. 2, Unemployment, was proposed in 1919 and ratified on 15 June 1972. I believe Convention No. 29 is another of the conventions that this Act of the State Parliament of Queensland contravenes. It is a convention of 1930 relating to forced labour, which was ratified by Australia on 2 January 1932-the year I was born and I would say the year a number of senators were born.


Senator Grimes —You are old.


Senator JONES —I will ignore that interjection. Convention No. 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, was proposed in 1948 and ratified on 28 February 1973-when Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen was the Premier of Queensland. Other conventions contravened by the Queensland Act include Convention No. 88, Employment Services, proposed by 1948 and ratified on 24 December 1949; Convention No. 93, Wages, Hours of Work and Manning, revised in 1949 and ratified on 3 March 1954; Convention No. 98, Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining proposed in 1949 and ratified on 28 February 1973; and Convention No. 111, Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) proposed in 1958 and ratified on 15 June 1973.

One does not have to be an industrial lawyer, or any sort of lawyer, to look through the conventions as set down by the ILO and see that there has been a contravention of them by the State Government's legislation. No doubt the Convention No. 87, dealing with the freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, will be dealt with by some of my colleagues. Convention No. 111 concerns discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. If one takes the anti-union view of the Premier of Queensland, surely the legislation he is bringing in, in itself, discriminates against the workers in that industry and against the Electrical Trades Union. The International Labor Conference Convention No. 29 concerns forced or compulsory labour-the basis of the Bill put forward by the State Government. I believe that the power given to the Electricity Commissioner by the legislation put through the State Parliament amounts to forced labour. Article 1 reads:

1. 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.

This convention was ratified in 1932. In 1985 legislation is being put through the State Parliament by the Premier of Queensland, which is supported by the National Party, the Liberal Party and Independents in that Parliament and which contravenes a convention approved by Australia and ratified in 1932. Article 1 continues:

2. With a view to this complete suppression, recourse to forced or compulsory labour may be had, during the transitional period, for public purposes only and as an exceptional measure, subject to the conditions and guarantees hereinafter provided.

It is obvious there is no condition that allows the Premier of Queensland and his Party to bring legislation into the State House to allow compulsory labour or forced labour by the Electricity Commissioner in Queensland.

I could continue to go through the conventions, but I want to raise other points. The Premier of Queensland brought down that legislation not only because it contravened the convention, not only because he opposed the unionists and not only because he has an anti-union point of view, but also because he wanted to hide the problems of the economy of Queensland. He wanted to hide the problems his Government has. He wanted to hide the fact that the Government, led by him, has neither the power nor the ability to manage the economy of Queensland.

If one looks at the figures and what is happening in Queensland, one can see, without a great deal of research, that the economy of Queensland is about to fall to pieces. The Premier has used this opportunity to vent his anti-union feelings on the unions. He has used the legislation, the argument over the electricity Act and the problems that exist within the electricity industry to hide his inability to manage the economy of Queensland. Unemployment in Queensland is 11 per cent. The national average is 8 per cent; it is 3 per cent higher in Queensland. Not only has the Premier not done anything to support or help to create jobs in Queensland, but also he has taken the step to sack 1,002 electrical workers.


Senator Messner —They sacked themselves.


Senator JONES —Honourable senators can shake their heads on the other side of the chamber and say that he has not sacked those workers, but if they saw the 820 linesmen who have not been back to work going to the Trades Hall to gather supplies, is would be obvious, even to anyone not involved in the conflict, that they had been sacked and that they are receiving supplies to keep their families and themselves going. I note that Senator Bjelke-Petersen will speak in this debate today.


Senator Maguire —She is on the phone now getting instructions.


Senator JONES —It is quite obvious that she will be on the phone getting her riding instructions from the Premier of Queensland and the Queensland Government. The Premier and Senator Bjelke-Petersen between them earn in the vicinity of $150,000 per year. That would pay 10 linesman for 12 months in Queensland. When some of the linesmen's wives, who were not involved in the dispute, made a passionate plea to the honourable senator who represents Queensland to use her good offices to intervene and talk to the Premier to try to have some of the men reinstated, she completely refused and continued with her holiday on the Gold Coast. I notice that Opposition senators are not saying much at this stage. Surely we should feel for the 820 men who have been sacked, who have lost their superannuation entitlements and who have lost their chance of employment. Some of these men are 54, 55, 56 years of age and have no opportunity to be further employed because we have 11 per cent unemployment in Queensland, no opportunity to make provision for their children and no opportunity to retire and receive the superannuation to which they are entitled. They have worked for the South East Queensland Electricity Board for 20-odd years and all their entitlements have been removed. When some of the wives of these gentlemen appealed to the honourable senator the appeal fell on deaf ears. She said she would not approach the Premier because she did not believe that the men should be on strike. I want to talk about the economy of Queensland. An editorial in the Courier-Mail-


Senator Boswell —Why don't you stick to the matter of public importance?


Senator JONES —I notice Senator Boswell is in the chamber. He would not even know what I am talking about. I note that his name is not on the list of speakers. It seems to me that Senator Messner will take the place of Senator Boswell. Why does Senator Boswell not put his name on the speakers list and try to defend the action of the State Government in Queensland? Why does he not try to defend his promoter, Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland? Why does he not try to defend Senator Bjelke-Petersen from Queensland, who would not even talk to the wives of the people who were sacked by the Premier of Queensland? I will not spend my time with Senator Boswell; let me look at what the Courier-Mail said in its editorial about the economy of Queensland. It stated:

The cost of the power strike continues to mount. Already hard-pressed by falling demand and prices, the Queensland coal industry is losing $9 million a day and the State Government is losing $2.25 million a day through royalties.

Did the Premier try to stop the strike? Did he try to have some discussions? Did he take any notice of the Commissioner from the Industrial Commission when he suggested that the men be given a chance to go back to work and that there be discussion between the Government, the South East Queensland Electricity Board and the employees to try to stop the strike? Did he take that action? No, he did not. The strike went on. He took no notice of the recommendation. Lionel Ledlie, the Commissioner in Queensland, could not make anything other than a recommendation. He could not make a direction because the state of emergency brought down by the Governor-in-Council had removed any chance for the Industrial Commission to bring down a recommendation for the Government and the employers.