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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1035

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his own capacity and as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, who said in an interview at the weekend that if the union movement throughout Australia really decides that it feels it has to take other industrial action in Queensland, that would be a very regressive thing and in fact will not solve the problems of this nation? In light of the extraordinary reply given to the Senate a short time ago by Senator Gareth Evans about the Trade Practices Act, I ask the Leader of the Government: If he agrees with the Deputy Prime Minister, what is the Government doing to counter union action, particularly now that the Transport Workers Union in New South Wales plans to cut off Queensland tonight, 48 hours ahead of the organised blockade by the Australian Council of Trade Unions?

Senator BUTTON —I agree with the Deputy Prime Minister and will follow that up by dealing with the somewhat spurious connection which Senator Chaney seeks to make in his question between the answer reportedly given by the Deputy Prime Minister and the answer given by my colleague Senator Gareth Evans a few minutes ago. Senator Evans was simply making the point that this Government is not minded to take any action under the provisions of section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. It is not the function of the Government so to do, I believe. The Trade Practices Commission has not of its own initiative, as Senator Evans pointed out, taken any such action in industrial disputes under the provisions of section 45D since the section was included in the legislation. The Government will not take any action under that section because, apart from anything else, it believes it would only lead to an exacerbation of an already very difficult problem which was started by the attitude of the Queensland Premier to an unfortunate situation which has been developing for some weeks.

I am also asked by Senator Chaney what action the Government has taken in this matter. On two occasions the Government has supported the move of the unions concerned to obtain Federal award coverage for its members in Queensland so that in future these disputes, which are likely to arise as long as the present Queensland Government remains in office, can be dealt with by a responsible Commonwealth tribunal rather than by a tribunal which is susceptible to government pressure in Queensland.

Senator CHANEY —I ask the Minister again what action has been taken to counter union action to give rise to a blockade of Queensland. Is there any action other than the attempt to change the registration of the unions? I ask him to consider the words he has used about the Queensland tribunal a little more carefully and tell us whether it is his considered view that it is susceptible to pressure.

Senator BUTTON —Any tribunal is susceptible to pressure if at the moment it gives a decision the Premier does not like he changes the legislation relating to it. It is no good any honourable senator carrying on like a boofhead here. Any tribunal which has its legislation changed the moment it gives a decision which is not liked by the government of the day is susceptible to political pressure. It is time the Opposition acknowledged that, as the Government does.

Secondly, Senator Chaney invited me to say what action the Government proposes to take in a dispute which has been flagged-if that is the appropriate expression-by the New South Wales Transport Workers Union in relation to Queensland. The answer, frankly, is none. I would not get too excited about that. Honourable senators might contemplate what action may be taken by the Government and what action the former Government took in a series of industrial disputes throughout 1981 and 1982 which brought the level of industrial disputation in this country to the highest it had been for many years. This Government, by contrast, has brought the level of industrial disputation to the lowest level for many years. There is a contrast and a difference of approach. If the Opposition wants us to call out the troops in order to stop the Transport Workers Union ban on Queensland, we will not do so.