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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 720


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(4.37) —I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this matter of public importance before us today. As all honourable senators will know, I have been closely associated with the Government of Queensland and the Premier of that State for many years. The Government chose its Assistant Deputy Whip to lead this debate. We listened to a long harangue from him last week about the same subject in the Address-in-Reply debate. If Senator Cook thinks that this matter is so important to the whole of Australia, I wonder why some of the Ministers in the Senate did not feel compelled to enter the debate. Then again, perhaps I can offer a little suggestion, because I read in the Australian on 22 March that the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) refused to back the Australian Council of Trade Unions war on Queensland. The article said:

The Federal Government yesterday refused to support a lengthy industrial campaign planned by the ACTU to sway public opinion against Queensland's anti-strike legislation . . . Mr Willis said the Federal Government believed the issue was essentially a State matter and that it would be 'inappropriate' to introduce overriding federal legislation.

Mr Willis is sensible enough to know that this is not something that we should really be debating in the Senate. He said that he acknowledged that the Government was not confident of winning a High Court challenge. That is Mr Willis's idea, and of course we all know about the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). He has not said anything about it and I think that shows that he is sensible.

Halfway through Senator Cook's address I began to think that instead of debating industrial issues we were talking about the economy of Queensland. One thing I would like to know about the economy of Queensland is why that State is able to balance its budget whereas the Federal Government always has this tremendous deficit. Perhaps someone can tell me at some time because I would like to know. As for the unemployment figures, all I can say is that Queensland is a nice place to be unemployed. That is why so many people come to Queensland to try to get a job: When they cannot, it is very pleasant to relax there. Honourable senators should look at the figures for Cairns, for the Gold Coast and for the north coast. That is where the people are who are not employed.

Senator Boswell suggested that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. I would not class Mr Willis or Mr Hawke as angels, but most certainly I say this to Senator Jones: If the cap fits, he should wear it. We have been given the reasons for the strike by many Queensland senators, told from a different angle depending on which side of the Senate chamber they sit on. The South East Queensland Electricity Board wanted contract labour because it wanted to get the work done more cheaply. As I pay electricity bills from time to time-in fact, I just paid one on the weekend-I know how high they are. Naturally people want to get their electricity at the cheapest rate possible; nobody wants to pay any more than he has to.

The Electrical Trades Union members were told a number of times by the Industrial Commission to go back to work. They did not obey. They defied the court and so it is no wonder that the Government's patience ran out. The jobs were there; they could have gone to them if they wanted to but they said no, they would stay on strike. It seems to me that it would be better if the ETU members realised that it is the Government paying them, not their mates or the union. The ETU organisers and leaders are well paid while the men are on strike. They do not forgo their wages. Perhaps Senator Cook knows that, having been a union organiser. He would have got paid while the men he asked to go on strike did not.

The power industry provides an essential service. Many industries are essential; there are no two ways about that. Power is necessary for essential services such as Telecom Australia services, transport, health and sewerage. They all need electricity. A group of irresponsible union bosses defied the law and created a situation that caused the loss of many hundreds of millions of dollars and great suffering for many people. They wrecked hundreds of businesses. I wonder whether honourable senators from the other side who have spoken today have thought about that. Thousands of people were put permanently out of work. This is the sad part about it, as I see it.

The history of this section of the union movement is one of continual strikes, defiance of the law and disrespect for the rights of the long-suffering public. It is sad indeed and it is no wonder that the Queensland Government said 'No more, enough is enough'; it was going to try to do something about it. Certainly the strike brought about one of the saddest and most costly periods of Queenland's history. I certainly hope that the end result will be a strike or dispute settling procedure enshrined in law to give a strike-free electricity powered Queensland.


Senator Gareth Evans —It was; the State Industrial Commission, and look what you did to it.


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —The State Industrial Commission has not been able to get the men to go back and give us essential power all the time. We would be one of the few countries in which there is not strike-free electricity. It is important that we have such a strike free service. I am glad to know that everybody is so interested in what I am saying that they continue to keep on trying to interrupt me. I have some very good facts and I want to put them over. The estimated loss to industry as a result of the strike totalled $600m and the revenue cost to the Queensland Government was at least $25m. Around 6,000 jobs were lost, an unknown number of businesses were closed and 2,000 firms applied for loans under the Government's assistance package. The unions in Queensland should be sad to think that they caused so many people to lose their jobs, and many of them will be lost permanently. The strike exposed the untold hardship and suffering that the union bosses inflicted on people, including old people, sick people and pensioners. The Australian Labor Party did not ask the unions to go back to work; that is something that members on the other side ought to realise.

The State Government is acting to ensure that the people of Queensland have a stable, strike free electricity industry. It is a sad situation. We have industrial lawlessness in Australia today and, as far as I am concerned, that is the basic issue involved in this strike. If the Senate supports this matter of public importance it will be seen as supporting industrial lawlessness, not only in Queensland but right throughout Australia. We have had strikes in many industries. The Public Service strike cost the Government billions of dollars because it was not brave enough-unlike the Government of Queensland-to say to the public servants 'You go back or else'. We have also a dispute involving the coal miners in New South Wales. Just yesterday I found a quite interesting comment attributed to Neville Wran in one of Queensland's papers. The article states:

. . . NSW Premier Neville Wran . . . told his Caucus recently that the party would have to jettison some of the Shibboleths of the past in industrial relations-including their practice of not sacking strikers.

It seems to me that Premier Wran is going to do much the same thing as the Queensland Government. The article went on:

Timing is of the essence in politics-the fact that New South Wales was bedevilled by rail and teachers strikes and the Commonwealth with public service bans at the time Sir Joh struck was immensely to his benefit.

We definitely need leaders who are willing to take on the unions when the unions stand up to people and say 'We are the bosses, not the Government'. That is what it is all about. The unions are jolly well trying to run the country, but it is governments that are elected. If the people do not like the government that they have elected, they can put it out.

The strike by the ETU men caused heartache to families. Serious accidents occurred. People were killed at intersections where traffic lights were not operating. Homes were burnt down, small businesses were burnt out and some were robbed, and of course we had very many health problems as well. They are just some of the problems caused by this strike. Now we see in Queensland union members going around threatening people. They are going to burn down houses and beat up people. They are terrorising women and children. These are facts. When workers are up poles, strikers come around and try to get them down. These are the sorts of things that are happening. I would not be at all surprised if something has to be done in Queensland to prevent this. I do not wonder that the Queensland Government might bring in further legislation. As I said earlier, I belonged to a union when I worked before I was married. I paid my union fees, but what did the union ever do for me? Nothing.


Senator Cook —You could have gone on strike.


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Senator Cook says that I could have gone on strike had I wanted to. I would be ashamed to go on strike; I certainly would never have done that. The unions have been asking for higher and higher wages and that has led to a higher consumer price index. It is like a never-ending circle-you go round and round. The unions have asked for redundancy pay and they want a 17 1/2 per cent holiday loading. They have made Australia lose her international competitiveness.


Senator Cook —That is your Government.


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I am talking at present about Australia. Some 10 years ago the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, was asked by a journalist what was the biggest problem facing his Government. His response was-Senator Cook should listen to this:

. . . the trade unions. They are so greedy.

This electricity strike was about the greed of the ETU in trying to prevent other people getting jobs on contract. The ETU was greedy, wanting top wages and a 36 1/2 hour week. They brought havoc to the community by not obeying the Industrial Commission's order to return to work. They are matters that I see as being very important. I recently received a copy of a letter written to the Professional Officers Association, which contains something that is really quite good. The letter said:

It is absolute hypocrisy for the P.O.A. to object to possible loss of jobs if a Government instrumentality uses contract labour to carry out certain projects. The P.O.A.--

that is, the Professional Officers Association--

uses a modern method of technology to process its accounts etc. obviously depriving many clerks of a job. I would point out that the Brisbane City Council uses 100 per cent contract labour for its garbage collection.

So, there are many other angles to this dispute. No State of Australia is more politically aware than Queensland. I feel that the legislation the Government has brought in has been absolutely necessary. Indeed, it has been welcomed by very many people. Not only the people who vote for the Government but also many Labor people in Queensland have rung my home and said: 'Good on Joh. Tell him to keep on going because we want a strike-free electricity industry'. Many people, including the cattle men in Queensland, will back the Premier, so that they can feel that the State is run by the Government, not by the unions.