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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 711

Senator REYNOLDS(3.48) —I am extremely surprised that the Opposition would give the job of leading this debate to Senator Messner.

Senator Collard —Why? He is the shadow Minister responsible for industrial relations.

Senator REYNOLDS —I would never have guessed that he knew anything about industrial relations. He is not a Queenslander. Furthermore he has no idea about many of the facts, as evidenced in his speech this afternoon. He has absolutely no feeling for the deep hostility that is developing in our State. I would have thought that the Opposition would want to distance itself from Queensland following the embarrassment it suffered during the last Federal election when the Queensland Premier consistently ignored the National Party Leader. I find it absolutely disgusting that Senator Messner, apparently as spokesman on industrial relations, cannot see how important this debate is today.

I would like to draw his attention to a couple of things. He quoted from opinion polls but he obviously would not have seen the opinion poll taken after the power dispute when, after 15 days of the power dispute, the lights had been finally switched back on-incidentally, I add, very much on the initiative of the Opposition Leader in Queensland, Nev Warburton, who brought the relevant parties together. It was the Queensland Premier who was running along behind, determined to have ongoing confrontation and then to turn his back on the Industrial Commission. From this particular street poll, it is clear that people do not agree with the Queensland Premier's confrontationist style. I quote:

The majority interviewed were totally believing that power unions should still have the right to strike.

One woman said.

Of course they have the right to strike. They should be allowed to strike for fair conditions. I don't think our Premier should be able to rule everything, and I wouldn't like to see him wipe out unions altogether.

Those opinions are replicated throughout that street poll. Perhaps Senator Messner would care to look at it.

Despite the fact that the Opposition cannot see any principles involved in today's debate, it is of historic importance to all Australians, especially Queenslanders. It concerns some fundamental principles and rights which are the birthright of everyone and which have been taken for granted in this democratic country for many years. Of course, I would not expect the Opposition to be aware of fundamental principles, because obviously Opposition members are very unprincipled when it comes to industrial relations. Despite the precedents in Australia for conducting our industrial relations reasonably, one State government, Queensland, has seriously threatened those basic human rights and is even prepared to jeopardise economic and social stability to prove that one man can monopolise power and destroy the conventions of justice and fair play for which Australians are renowned. It is essential that all Australians recognise the significance of recent events in Queensland.

Too frequently, Queensland is the butt of media jokes about the deep north. Its regressive government policy is caricatured as belonging to another era. Everyone laughs at the idea of needing a special visa to enter the Sunshine State.

Senator Boswell —But we still win every election.

Senator REYNOLDS —With 39 per cent, Senator. Sixty-one per cent of Queenslanders are not amused by such southern jokes at their expense.

Senator Boswell —How many people vote for the ALP? Is it more than 50 per cent?

Senator REYNOLDS —We shall come to that. Those 61 per cent of Queenslanders know that only in Queensland could a Premier rule-not govern; he does not know how to govern-with a vote of 39 per cent and the support of two defectors from the Liberal Party. These Queenslanders know that there was a discrepancy of only 9,866 in votes cast for a minority government. Only in Queensland could such a minority enable any political party to form a government, which in reality has become a dictatorship.

The enormity of events in Queensland needs to be restated again and again to impress upon Australians just how ruthlessly the Queensland Premier has dismantled the rights of workers. The precedent has been established and it is not just 1,002 power workers whose livelihoods have been threatened-although, of course, that is of paramount importance. The foundations have been laid for a government to dictate and control Australian workers in a way unprecedented in modern industrial relations. It is essential that all Australians recognise the potential of the Queensland power workers situation to spread to other areas within that State and even to provide a model for other States where conservative forces may rule in the future-at a very distant stage, of course.

The media have not focused beyond the sensational confrontationist aspects of this dispute, but there needs to be a serious analysis of the potential risks to industrial democracy in this country. In the last month we have witnessed the most significant change in industrial relations in Queensland in many years, probably since the creation of the Industrial Commission in 1917. The Bjelke-Petersen Government has embarked upon a course of union attacks unprecedented in Australia this century. This minority Government's actions not only affect those in the electricity industry but also they impact upon all public servants and, in fact, all employees whose wages and conditions are determined by the Queensland Industrial Commission. In brief, this minority Government has, firstly, used a state of emergency and now the Parliament to override the provisions of an industrial award set by the Commission so that electricians can be employed under conditions worse than their award; secondly, it has made the dismissal of the 1,002 South East Queensland Electricity Board workers the law of the State. The absurdity of this is that, technically, it would now be unlawful for them not to be sacked; thirdly, it has legislated to prevent the Industrial Commission from ordering or even recommending the re-employment of the 1,002 sacked SEQEB employees or any other employees sacked by the Electricity Commission in the future; fourthly, it has given extraordinary powers akin to those of Cabinet during a state of emergency to one person-the Electricity Commissioner; fifthly, it has introduced legislation which reverses the onus of proof so that unionists charged with an offence must prove their innocence. In other words, we are to be guilty until proven innocent. If that is not an infringement of human rights, I do not know what is.

Sixthly, in one section of the Bill, statements reported in the Press, not necessarily word for word, are sufficient proof that a person is guilty of a breach of the new Bill. This will include statements attributed to a person without direct quotation. Seventhly, the Queensland Government has introduced legislation to encourage people not to join unions and to be industrial freeloaders; eighthly, it has restricted the rights of the unions to recover debts owed to them, so that normal contractual law arrangements do not apply; ninthly, it has introduced legislation to override the power of the Industrial Commission to give preference to union members. All of these actions add up to an unprecedented attack upon the Industrial Commission, all union members in Queensland, and our system of industrial relations. For the first time since the great depression of the 1930s, a large group of workers have had their conditions arbitrarily reduced.

We may well ask why the Bjelke-Petersen minority Government has embarked on such a hazardous course of conflict which is bringing it into dispute with so many respected groups in the community. It is well known that in National Party circles-

Senator Collard —Who are you quoting?

Senator REYNOLDS —Much of this comes from National Party circles. I have some strange friends. It is well known in National Party circles that a number of more rational strategists-there are a few more rational strategists on the fringes of the National Party-have serious reservations about the current directions of their leader. The Queensland Premier has long held trade unionism in contempt, and he now openly boasts that he will crush any opposition to his plans to control and emasculate the trade unions. He is ruthless in his emulation of Thatcherism, which he believes he can influence to spread throughout Australia. But the Federal Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions will not allow the jackboot mentality of the Queensland Premier to cross the border. Already moves are under way to transfer electricity workers to Federal awards, and, on present performance, the Queensland Government may force all State workers to seek refuge in Federal industrial awards. Australia has a tradition of developing a fair system of industrial democracy, which will not be allowed to be challenged by the fanaticism of Bjelke-Petersen. This man has progressively trampled on fundamental human rights and traditions over many years. It is no wonder-

Senator Boswell —Why do so many people vote for him all the time?

Senator REYNOLDS —Thirty-nine per cent vote for him, as I have to keep reminding Senator Boswell.

Senator MacGibbon —I raise two points of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. First, the honourable senator is reading her speech, and under standing order 406 I ask that you make her desist. Secondly, when a senator rises to take a point of order, the senator speaking should sit.

Senator Grimes —On the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —I do not think that I need any help.

Senator Grimes —I think that I have the right to speak on the point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, particularly the point of order about reading speeches. This matter has been raised frequently in this place. I merely comment that although Senator Reynolds may be using her copious notes, at least she wrote them herself-unlike Senator Boswell and others in this place who have theirs written by mining company representatives.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I shall rule on this point of order without any more advice from the floor. I perceive that Senator Reynolds is using copious notes. However, I ask that, when a point of order is taken in future, she defer to the Chair.

Senator Grimes —At least she is a loyal Australian-unlike the person who took a point of order.

Senator Boswell —I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. Senator Grimes said that I used speeches that were prepared by mining companies. That has never been so. I have never used a speech prepared by anyone else. I call upon Senator Grimes to withdraw and to apologise to me for that statement.

Senator Grimes —If I should apologise to anyone, it should be to the representatives of the mining companies for the way in which you read your speeches.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Grimes, you have been asked to withdraw that statement. I ask you to do that.

Senator Grimes —I cannot understand what I am asked to withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —You implied that the honourable senator was-

Senator Grimes —If that is an implication, I withdraw it. I did not mean it to be an implication. Everyone here knows that it is a fact.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Thank you, Senator Grimes. I call Senator Reynolds.

Senator REYNOLDS —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. It is no wonder that many Queenslanders question whether the Premier's state of paranoia owes as much to his reputed associations with the Hitler youth movement as to his advancing years. He has long demonstrated disloyalty to his adopted country and an arrogance in pursuing un-Australian goals which are marked by his dealings with foreign land sharks whose extensive land grab makes a mockery of the Queensland Government's opposition to Aboriginal land rights.

Apart from the Premier's own ideological paranoia, why has he chosen 1985 to launch this bitter attack on Queensland workers? The answer lies very close to any analysis of the Queensland economy, as Senator Jones has already pointed out. Last Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald announced: 'Joh's economic smile begins to wear thin'. Two significant reports in the last three weeks have shown the Queensland economy to be crumbling as other States are climbing out of recession. The king-hit was made last week with the release of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which show that Queensland has the highest number of unemployed in its history: 128,000 Queenslanders, that is, 11.3 per cent of the work force, had no job. That figure is one-third higher than the national average of 8.3 per cent. The implications obviously stirred even the dismissive Premier to plant a dorothy dixer in Parliament last week so that he could try to reassure Queenslanders that this significant slump was temporary. Even the Queensland Minister for Industry, Small Business and Technology, Mr Mike Ahern, admitted to tough times when he addressed a Rotary meeting last week. Life obviously is not so great in the sunshine State. A recent University of Queensland report cited the State as having a faltering economy, an insecure future and a low level of Government spending on essential social services. I will not have the time to continue because of the repeated interjections from members of the Opposition who obviously get very upset when I cite that figure of 39 per cent. In concluding, I remind all Australians that Queensland is governed by a minority government-it gained 39 per cent of the vote at the last election-which means that 61 per cent are dissatisfied.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Senator MacGibbon —I ask that the honourable senator's copious notes be tabled.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —She may table them if she likes. There is no provision for that in the Standing Orders. You will have to move a motion to that effect if you wish to. The only way that this can be accomplished is for you to move a motion to that effect. Do you wish to do so?

Motion (by Senator MacGibbon) proposed:

That the document quoted from by Senator Reynolds be tabled.