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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1132

Senator LEWIS —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and also relates to the Australian Council of Trade Unions hit list of companies which have been targeted for action by the union movement. I shall try to remove inflammatory adjectives from my question. Is the Minister concerned about the impact of this national trade union campaign against these companies, and in particular is the Minister concerned about the likely effect on employees of such companies? Does the Minister agree that the proposed action could jeopardise the jobs of thousands of people who have never had any chance to say what they think about the national union organisation's campaign?

Senator BUTTON —In respect of the final part of the question, whether such action will jeopardise the jobs of employees, the point is how far this is allowed to go. Senator Lewis in asking this question, in common with his colleague Senator Boswell, assumed a certain righteousness in his position and a certain wrongheadedness about another.

Senator Boswell —Answer the question.

Senator BUTTON —I have already made the point that the Senate has not been greatly helped by Senator Boswell's contributions. The question is how far this dispute is able, allowed and provoked to go on. Of course, if it went on for a long period it would affect the jobs of employees in Queensland; I have not doubt about that. But that is precisely why the Prime Minister made the offer to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to have discussions with him and lend the good offices of this Government towards some resolution of that dispute. I would make the point, which may provoke an interjection or two, that the Prime Minister of this country is not too bad at this sort of thing. He has an outstanding record in conciliating disputes of this kind. The only black mark I have against him is that he got the Fraser Government off the hook on numerous occasions when honourable senators opposite got themselves locked into ridiculous industrial situations.

Senator Chaney —Who was the President of the ACTU in 1974?

Senator BUTTON —Precisely. He got that Government off the hook on numerous occasions when it got itself into ridiculous positions on industrial matters, as would happen again if honourable senators opposite were in government. They have learnt nothing from that disastrous period of confrontation in Australian labour relations history. Like a collection of carpetbaggers inspired by the Margaret Thatchers of this world they think: 'At last we have got something to run with. We have got an idea. Let us get back to what we were like in the 1970s'. That is the period when the level of industrial disputation in this country was enormously high compared with what it is now.

Senator Lewis also asked me whether I was concerned about the ramifications of this dispute generally. My answer to that question is yes, of course I am concerned. Every thinking Australian is concerned. It is just a pity that there are not more thinking Australians on the Opposition benches.

Senator LEWIS —I ask a supplementary question. I have heard what the offer is to the Queensland Government. Can the Leader of the Government tell us whether his Government or his Prime Minister has done anything with regard to trying to persuade the Australian Council of Trade Unions to take a more moderate action in regard to this matter?

Senator BUTTON —The answer to that question is yes.