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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1150


Senator JACK EVANS(3.54) —Listeners to this broadcast no doubt will endorse the accusations made that Senator Chaney, in supporting the Opposition's approach to such a very serious debate, is behaving as he must have behaved in university and secondary school days. That attitude is unfortunate. The matter of public importance relating to the failure of the Government to protect the people of Australia from abuses of trade union power is a serious topic.

Trade unionism is not abhorrent in itself, as Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen has recently proclaimed. This was frequently proclaimed in my own State by Sir Charles Court. Trade unionism does serve a purpose in this country. Historically it has served a magnificent purpose of protecting the weak, particularly members of trade unions. Trade unions have behaved responsibly in economic terms on most occasions. As an illustration I mention the wages and incomes accord which I believe has enabled a leap forward for the Australian economy. Trade unions have generally improved working conditions by using the influence of their groups to protect individuals. Trade unions, however, are not paragons of virtue. They abuse their privileged position in this society and protect employed members' rights frequently at the expense of unemployed members. Just as frequently this is at the expense of the rest of the public.

To put this whole debate in context, as it seems to have evolved into a debate on the current political, trade union and economic situation in Queensland, I will quickly run through the series of events which have led to our current position. On 1 February Mr Gilbert was appointed as the new General Manager of the South East Queensland Electricity Board. It was his idea to introduce contractors into SEQEB's operations. In June of 1984 he presented a draft agreement to the Electrical Trades Union and to SEQEB. It was not until Christmas that there was a dispute on four sites regarding these contractors. On 8 January the State Industrial Commission, having been brought into the dispute, recommended the acceptance of a draft agreement. A deadlock followed.

This deadlock was followed by a strike and bans. On 17 January a major strike by the ETU was followed on 18 January by a return to work order issued by the Industrial Commission. That expired on 5 February. On 7 February the Industrial Commission called a conference and recommended a return to work. The whole situation was rapidly getting out of control. On 8 February the Queensland Government declared a state of emergency and issued its dismissal threats. Shortly after that there was an opportunity to break away from this vicious cycle. On 10 February the Industrial Commission called a conference, which in turn was deadlocked. It recommended: First, a return to work; second, the withdrawal of dismissal notices; third, for deregistration to be stopped; fourth, a discussion about what should happen in future with the four sites that were the initial cause of the dispute; and, fifth, a discussion of contractors doing SEQEB work in future. That was on 10 February. On the following day, 11 February, 1,200 men were sacked. On 5 March we saw the first of a series of Bills introduced into the Queensland Parliament.

We now have a crisis in Queensland. We have reached the stage when all parties to the dispute are demonstrably wrong and demonstrably at fault. Every action they take exacerbates the position. It has become patently obvious to most members of the Australian community that there is a massive power struggle taking place in Queensland with the contestants interested only in gaining additional power. Regrettably, this is at the expense of the people of Queensland and the people of Australia.


Senator Collard —Who should win it?


Senator JACK EVANS —A declaration of war has been made by both parties. If Senator Collard has not learnt in his life that nobody wins in these disputes and these wars, as have been declared in Queensland, I suggest that he has a long way to go in understanding industrial relations. The one thing that he and I can be sure about is that the people of Queensland will lose because of provocative acts by both parties. I put it to the Parliament that apportioning blame at this stage will serve no useful purpose. I hope that Senator Collard refrains from endeavouring to go down that path. There is a union problem. There is no doubt that the people of Queensland are sick of the disruptions caused by unions.

Meaningless and unnecessary disputes in Queensland and other States, union versus union in demarcation disputes, unions versus companies, unions versus government and State governments versus the Federal Government are the results of these union problems. The unions are suffering from the same problem as the Premier of Queensland-they are really out of contact with their communities. They are not listening to their members. They are not listening to the consumers. They are not listening to the community. They are not getting the feelings back from the community. Tragically for Queensland, and I believe for all States of Australia, there is not yet a real industrial democracy in place in which worker participation in decisions affecting their work place can be effective.

The result of all of this is that the Queensland Government has introduced what in anybody's terms is draconian legislation. The environment has been created to allow that draconian legislation to come forward and to receive what would appear to be the support of many people in Queensland. This legislation contains excessive measures; for instance, a denial of civil liberties in the civil conscription power. That is probably amongst the greatest denials that this country has ever witnessed in Federal or State legislation. This particular Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act empowers the Electricity Commissioner to direct, and I quote:

Any person whatever, who, in his opinion is capable of carrying out the necessary work to provide, to maintain or to restore a supply of electricity.

The penalty for not carrying out that instruction is imprisonment for up to one year. Apart from being a clear breach of Article 8.3 (a) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a lot of people have perceived this as a form of slavery and have perceived that in Queensland at this moment the extremists are reigning supreme. I think it is fair to suggest that breaches of civil liberty such as this not only rob the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission of its legitimacy but also prevent the resolution of disputes such as the one we have in Queensland at the moment. The Industrial Commission can no longer act in that State to resolve such a dispute.

The response by the unions has been equally horrendous. The blackouts, the bans-including secondary boycotts-have exacerbated the situation, and it is the people of Queensland who are being hurt. Unemployed people are being put further back on the waiting list for jobs, particularly young unemployed people. Businesses are at threat, the whole economy of Queensland is at threat. The people within lower income brackets are those worst hit.

If anything, this action will win support for the Premier of Queensland, not just of non-unionists but even some unionists. The blockade which has been planned is wrong. It is exacerbating the dispute. It is not only hurting Queensland; it is hurting the Federal Government and it is hurting the people of Australia. It is pressure deliberately designed to put the Federal Government on notice that section 45D-the secondary boycott provision-has to be repealed. It will hurt the average person in the street right around Australia. It will drag the economy of Queensland even further down, when it is already the worst economy in Australia. It will have a major impact on the economy of the whole of Australia.

We have to find a way of ensuring that essential services are provided continuously. The collective bargaining system that has been proposed by the Australian Democrats is one way of ensuring that contracts entered into are maintained. We cannot hold a society to ransom to win union conditions to which the unions may or may not be entitled but for which we have an industrial arbitration system to decide upon.


Senator Peter Baume —Is not that what is happening?


Senator JACK EVANS —We must solve industrial relations problems in the arbitration court and that is not what is happening. The Arbitration Court provided a solution and the Government ignored the solution, as previously did the union. I am suggesting that in industrial matters the Government should keep out. The Government departments are the parties to the dispute and they must negotiate the solution. If no solution is possible the Government should arbitrate, not bash only one of the protagonists. The Government should act as arbitrator ultimately. That government arbitration should support and uphold the arbitration court and the arbitration system. That certainly has not happened in Queensland.

We have now reached the stage where the only solution to the Queensland problem is a political solution. The Democrats have proposed that in fact we need to give the people of Queensland the sort of change to which they have been entitled for many, many years-a democratically elected parliament which will be seen as a parliament representing all of the people and not just a minority of the people, not a parliament imposing the will of a minority on others in that State. Honourable senators would be aware that today Senator Michael Macklin introduced a Bill which would provide a referendum of the people of Australia to give one vote one value right across Australia, even in the outposts of Queensland and Western Australia. In my own State of Western Australia there is a malapportionment of gross proportions, where one person's vote has a value equivalent to that of 10 other people.

I believe that with a system of one vote one value the Parliament which legislates in Queensland will be seen to be legislating sensitively in response to the people of that State because it will consist of politicians who can be removed at an election, not politicians who through gerrymander and malapportionment have entrenched themselves and do not need to take any notice whatsoever of the electorate. Whether we are talking about the Labor Government of 30 years in Queensland or the current conservative government, the result of not having one vote one value is ultimately an authoritarian and insensitive government and gross abuses of power by the government of the day. History is repeating itself in Queensland right at this moment. It is destroying Queensland. Sadly what seems to be happening is that the Premier, hell bent on leaving a footnote in history that he destroyed Australia's trade union movement, is destroying the economy of the State and the democratic and civil rights of the people in the State.

I propose that all parties should immediately back off. There is no more political mileage left in this dispute but there is tremendous future cost to the Government and to the people of Australia. I propose immediate consultation between the Queensland Government, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Federal Government, and recognition that all three parties will survive, as will Australia's economy, only through taking that path. We require statesmanship from all three leaders-from Prime Minister Hawke, Premier Bjelke-Petersen and ACTU President Dolan. That statesmanship, that leadership is required today.