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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 884

Senator REYNOLDS —Is the Minister representing the Attorney-General aware that the Bjelke-Petersen minority Government last night forced further draconian legislation on Queenslanders, giving the police power of arrest without warrant? How many infringements of United Nations and International Labour Organisation conventions have now been breached by this regime in Queensland? What course of action is available to the Federal Government to halt this march towards totalitarianism?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Queensland Government has behaved outrageously in its conduct of the electricity dispute and in the legislative course on which it has subsequently embarked. It has behaved with a complete disregard for the norms of civilised governmental behaviour, not least in its rejection of the independent industrial commission, thus making a mockery of the principle of independent arbitration in that State. It has behaved with complete disregard for individual civil liberties, as would appear to be further reinforced by the terms of the legislation passed yesterday. It has behaved with complete disregard for the principles of rational industrial relations and it has behaved with complete disregard for the interests of the ordinary people of Queensland. I am sure they will react in the appropriate way at the appropriate time.

It is clear that there have been in the legislation already passed a number of evident breaches of international conventions, in particular ILO conventions, as was stated in the House of Representatives, in reliance on the Attorney-General's advice, by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, on 21 March. He referred in particular to breaches of ISO Convention No. 98, which is concerned with the right to organise, ILO Convention No. 29, which is to do with forced labour, and ILO Convention No. 105, also on that subject. It is possibly also the case, although I do not have any detailed analysis before me of the legislation in these terms, that there have been breaches of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular of Article 22 concerning the right to freedom of association.

As to what might be done within Australia in the context of breaches of international conventions to which Australia is a party, it is clear that views will differ in principle as to the desirability of implementing these standards in national legislation. It is also the case that lawyers may well disagree among themselves, and do, about the technical possibility of achieving the status of at least some of these conventions and rules in national law. However, I think the basic problem, quite apart from the problems I have just mentioned, in going down the legal route nationally is the problem that was identified by Mr Willis in a Press conference on 21 March when he said that any legislation endeavouring to apply those principles of ILO conventions to which I have specifically referred, and where there do appear to be quite explicit breaches, would simply not get to the issues of basic concern in this matter, which are the reinstatement of people who have lost their jobs and the no-strike contracts which are being imposed on workers seeking re-employment with the South East Queensland Electricity Board.

Accordingly, the Commonwealth Government has been inclined to take the view that the most productive route in dealing with this matter apart from encouraging in the longer term a political challenge to the overweening arrogance of the undemocratically elected Queensland Government, is likely to be the encouragement of the unions in question and, indeed, of all Queensland unions where appropriate, to become parties to Federal industrial awards so that ultimately a situation can be created where there is a very small State industrial jurisdiction in which the Premier can go around behaving like a vandal and a much larger jurisdiction subject to the much more rational and civilised constraints of Federal industrial law.