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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 714

Senator COLLARD(4.06) -We are considering a matter of public importance submitted by Senator Jones, 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.

The debate has broadened into one on the Queensland power supply situation as it has unfolded over the last six to nine months up to the present, when the Queensland State Government has seen fit to move certain legislation to guarantee a continuation of power supplies. It has been spoken to by Senator Jones, who submitted it, and by Senator Reynolds, two Queenslanders who talked a lot about philosophies and principles and all the rest of it. However, it was really left to my colleague Senator Messner, a South Australian, to get to the nub of what the whole thing was all about.

It is quite obvious why, with very good reason, members of the Government, particularly those from Queensland, do not really want to talk about what the dispute is all about and how it got into the situation in which it finds itself today. The central issue of this dispute is whether management of a statutory authority in Queensland has the right to organise its work force and work programs in such a way as to be of benefit to the community. To explain it in power jargon: It wants a base load work force but the ability to use contract labour to handle the peak loads. I see nothing wrong with that. It must use its work force in a very efficient manner, which is what it would be doing. It would also be providing work for other contractors within the Queensland work force. The significant part, which was brought out by my colleague Senator Messner, is that all the workers are members of the Electrical Trades Union or would be members of the ETU. This has been going on for some time.

I shall give a few of the chronological details. On 1 June 1984 a draft agreement was sent by the generating authorities to the ETU. It said, among other things, that there would be no retrenchments, no forced redundancies, security of employment, and a guarantee as to tenure of employment. I think that should be spelt out. That was rejected out of hand by the ETU. The dispute simmered along and then in January it hotted up a little. It came to a peak over three transmission lines and one sub-station that were to be constructed. On 17 January the ETU went on strike. On 18 January a disastrous storm hit Brisbane and the workers were ordered back to work for 14 days. To their credit, they went back. Indeed, some of those in country areas, because of the disastrous situation, were back at work before they were ordered back. That was the sense of responsibility to the community held by some of the people within that work force. On 29 January there was a further stop work meeting and further bans were imposed-within the 14-day period, I might add, which did not finish until 1 February. On Thursday, 7 February, the workers were on strike again. The Commission ordered the ETU to return to work. On Friday, 8 February, they were again ordered to return to work and the general manager was given power to dismiss. On 9 February that power to dismiss was extended. It was extended again on 10 February. On 11 February it came to a halt. At a news conference at which the reporters referred to 'strikers', the Premier pulled the reporters up and said: 'I'm sorry, they are no longer strikers; they are now unemployed'.

It is essential to reiterate what this dispute was all about, or more particularly, what it was not about. No jobs, no wages, no conditions and no benefits were at risk. What then was it all about? A militant union, led by a maverick organiser, sought to usurp the powers of a legitimately elected government. That is it, pure and simple. If honourable senators will pardon the pun, it was a power struggle, one that has been going on for some time throughout this nation. It was a power struggle that could not be allowed to continue. No union should be allowed to win a struggle of that kind.

It should never have got to that stage. The Trades and Labor Council, with its accumulated wisdom-which I acknowledge-should have bought into the dispute earlier. If Dinny Madden, the organiser of the whole thing, did not have his backside kicked beforehand, he certainly should have had it kicked afterwards. The TLC, with its accumulated wisdom in handling disputes, should have bought into the dispute before it reached that stage. No less a figure than the trade union movement's Sir Jack Egerton, on 12 or 13 March on the Today Tonight program, reiterated these facts. I happened to be a branch president of a union when Sir Jack was President of the TLC. I will say this for him: He never let anybody go out through the gate unnecessarily. He did not want to see any hurt or hardship come to anybody. He kept people at work and through conciliation and talks tried to achieve what had to be achieved. On that Today Tonight program, Sir Jack Egerton re-emphasised what was pretty well his basic philosophy, one he held throughout his union career: 'You don't go into a fight that you can't win'. The ETU started the war and chose the battlefield. Let that not be forgotten. It started the war and chose the battlefield. The Queensland Government won that war on that battlefield and on those terms.

Senator Jones quite rightly pointed out the hardships that have accrued to the wives and families of strikers. Those of use who have worked in the union movement and experienced strikes probably know that better than most other people. Probably just as many senators on this side of the chamber as on the Government side fall into that category. Senator Bjelke-Petersen, who will speak for the Opposition after me, was at one time a member of a union, as indeed I was. I say it again: The ETU started the war, chose the battlefield and was beaten on its terms and conditions.

It is interesting to note that two honourable senators have talked about the gerrymander in Queensland. I point out that the electoral conditions that operate in Queensland today were brought in by a Labor government, the Hanlon Labor Government. The non-socialist forces have fought Labor forces and beaten them on their own terms and conditions. Let us not forget that. It is no use Labor senators coming in here crying. Labor made the terms and conditions. We used them and Labor has been fought, outmanoeuvred and outwon every time. We now have the rear guard action. Senator Jones, acting deputy blank file assistant Whip, or whatever he is, led the debate. Where were the front benchers?

Senator Boswell —They wouldn't get involved; they're not that stupid.

Senator COLLARD —No, they are not stupid; that is why they are on the front bench. They did not want to buy into this argument. So acting deputy blank file assistant Whip, Senator Jones, aided and abetted by Senator Reynolds, fought the battle. No front benchers wanted to get involved. The Government is just as impotent as it was in the Public Service dispute. The first thing the Government did when it came to office was get rid of our Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act and our no work as directed no pay legislation. I bet the Government wished that it had that legislation a few weeks ago. It had to go to the court for stand down provisions. Meanwhile, the economy of this country ground to a standstill. It had an effect on the value of the dollar. That incident, among others, is notable in terms of the Government's poor economic performance. The Government could do nothing about the Public Service dispute, such is its impotence.

The union movement has a great history and a great heritage. Its contribution to the welfare of the work force of this nation and of other nations can possibly never be tabulated. In 200 or 300 years people will probably look back and record that history. The union movement has done a great service to the working people of the world. Now, in the latter half of the twentieth century, what has happened to it? This great union movement has been prostituted by the tin gods who sit in glass castles and see themselves as alternative governments. They put themselves literally up a pole, as they did in Queensland. The trouble is, the Queensland Government took the pole away.

Much has been said about the Queensland economy. Let me talk briefly about the Queensland economy and the contribution the Queensland Government has made to the national economy over a long period. When other States were in stagnation, Queensland was expanding. Because of the detrimental effect on the economy this Government has had, that expansion has come to a standstill. Consequently, construction has come to a standstill. There is nowhere for workers to go, other than to stay in Queensland. There is no expansion in the other States. All those who have been involved in the great expansion in Queensland remain there. They would not want to go to the other States anyway.

Senator Messner —Oh!

Senator COLLARD —Some might want to go to South Australia. Nothing is happening in the Australian economy. Construction has come to a standstill. Even though we have been trying to sell more coal, what has happened? The coal miners are on strike. Never again will the great coal industry of Queensland and Australia be looked to as one of our key export earners because purchasers are looking elsewhere. They are looking to South Africa, Canada and America because we cannot be relied upon. Consequently, there will be suffering and a lack of jobs, as there is at this time. Thus we find ourselves in a bad economic situation. What the dickens the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) talked about when he went to Canada I am blowed if I know. If the present rate of exchange for the Australian dollar now is not an indication of our economic performance and the way in which the world community sees us, I do not know what is. Certainly, there are unemployed people in Queensland, but those people were gainfully employed in lifting our State to the level of one of the greatest coal producing areas in the world and were involved in all else that has gone on in Queensland up to now. There is nowhere else for those unemployed to go. No other State is expanding. We took the unemployed from the other States in times past.

Much has been said about the right to strike. Indeed, the churches have joined the battle. No one talks of one's duty or responsibility to the community or to one's fellow workers. No one ever talks about the right to work. One reason that Russia does not allow strikes is that the right to strike cuts across other people's right to work. I am not saying that we should not have the right to strike; I am saying we have a responsibility and a right to work. The ETU workers are now the meat in the sandwich. There is a continuing power struggle. Time and again, we hear: 'Solidarity, brother. We are here with you'. They are there with them all right; they are there with them until the last ETU worker finds finds a job somewhere else.

What a pathetic performance has been put up! If any ETU workers, their wives or families are listening today they should wake up to what is going on. They are being used in a traditional struggle between those who believe in the right to work and those who believe that the union movement should be all powerful. To the last one, the ETU workers are being led as lambs to the slaughter. And so the solidarity goes on.

I refer to the legislation that has been introduced by the Queensland Government. Similar legislation has been introduced in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Some people have the hide to talk about there being forced labour. The members of the Municipal Officers Association of Australia are on $40,000 a year plus and a 36 1/4-hour week and ETU workers are on $23,000 a year plus, a 36 1/4-hour week and a nine-day fortnight. My colleague Senator Messner gave the lie to that when he referred to Article 2 of Convention No. 29, which takes into consideration the fact that there are situations in which forced labour conditions are negated. I do not know how one could say that this situation is in any way, shape or form forced labour. The Government has been elected to govern and it has a responsibility and a right to guarantee essential services, even electricity, to the people of its State.