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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1152


Senator COLLARD(4.08) —We are dealing with a matter of public importance brought before the Senate today by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney), namely:

The failure of the Government to protect the people of Australia from abuses of trade union power.

It is no surprise that this has been brought on by the current situation and particularly the threatened blockade of Queensland by the Australian Council of Trade Unions. This is probably a unique situation in Australia's history. Certainly I do not recall having heard of a blockade of a State. What makes the uniqueness of this situation more pronounced is that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) is in a unique situation of being able to do something about it if he wanted to. We have a Prime Minister who strutted around this country for years as the President of the ACTU and indeed who won an election because of the 'unique relationship' that the Australian Labor Party has had for many years with the trade union movement. We have a blockade, which to my knowledge has never happened before. The former President of the ACTU, now Prime Minister, with more power and authority than any person in this country has ever had and with a unique relationship with the unions, should do something about the situation. Yet what have we heard from him? We have heard nothing. On Friday those who want to fly in or out of Queensland will not be able to do so. That will affect members of this chamber and members of the other place. Without going into it again, because we have previously discussed this in a matter of public importance brought forward by Senator Jones, let us look at a little of the history. It is quite significant that no Labor senator from Queensland is taking part in this debate. Obviously they are running for cover.


Senator Cook —We gave you a blast last time. You still haven't woken up to yourself.


Senator COLLARD —I think we won the last one. It was almost a lay down misere, as indeed this one will be. Senator Jack Evans, when going through the history of the complaint, talked about the recommendations of the State Industrial Commission to the participants in this dispute. He conveniently overlooked the directions-as against the recommendations-to the Electrical Trades Union before it got to this stage.


Senator Jack Evans —No, I didn't. That was part of what I said.


Senator COLLARD —I am afraid that I did not hear it. That happened before the dates the honourable senator gave. As Senator Chaney pointed out, the dispute basically is about the generating authority having a base load work force with a contract work force to enable it to operate efficiently for the peak load, to put it in good power station terms. I reiterate, as I did in the previous debate, that no jobs were at risk, no wages were at risk, no benefits were at risk and no conditions were at risk.


Senator Cook —That is not true.


Senator COLLARD —That is completely true, and the honourable senator will get his opportunity. I repeat: No jobs were at risk, no wages were at risk, no conditions were at risk and no benefits were at risk. I go further down the track. As I said previously, the ETU started the war and chose the battlefield. The fact that it has had its nose bloodied is its own fault. Not only during this debate but also while the whole sorry story has been going on there have been many allegations about the economy in Queensland, trying to blame the Government and saying that things are bad. Mark Twain once said: 'Get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you please'. Let us get the facts first on the Queensland economy.


Senator Jack Evans —And then you are going to distort them.


Senator Childs —Is that the Queensland way?


Senator COLLARD —Honourable senators can do with them what they like. I will give them the facts as they are. For many years Queensland had the fastest growth in employment in Australia. We had more big capital projects, such as coal mines, railways, the aluminium smelter and so forth, than the rest of Australia. Because of that we had a large construction work force. Since the Labor Government has been in power the economy has been on a downturn, and honourable senators do not need me or anyone else on this side to point that out. We need only look at how the world economic community looks at the value of the Australian dollar. Because the economy is down, no new projects are taking place in Queensland. Who would commit the vast amounts of money necessary when our costs are so high and when our reliability for delivery is so abysmal?


Senator Bjelke-Petersen —And now a Queensland blockade.


Senator COLLARD —And now Queensland has a blockade. Now that the economy is down, large capital works are not taking place in Queensland. They are also not taking place in any other State. Where would the work force go? It came to Queensland originally to help us build those large construction projects. Nothing is happening in any other State. Where can it go? Another factor is that sugar prices are low, as everybody knows. What is this Government doing about that? We have low metal prices. We also have a drought in inland Queensland, a fact which is overlooked by most people. The most important fact at this time is the power strike. Yet let us look at Queensland's performance in times past, before the dismal economic performance of this Government. Queensland has 16 per cent of the population. It had 22 per cent of our mining output, 23 per cent of our agricultural output and 22 per cent of Australia's total exports. The last figures available are for 1983. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table showing export statistics.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

DOLLAR VALUES OF EXPORTS ON A STATE BY STATE BASIS FOR 1983-84

$ billion NSW 5.228 Vic. 4.708 Qld 5.431 SA 1.636 WA 5.060 Tas. 0.767 NT 0.567 Australian Total 23.511

AUSTRALIAN EXPORTS ON A PER CAPITA BASIS STATE BY STATE

$ NSW 970 Vic. 1,160 Qld 2,170 SA 1,120 WA 3,660 Tas. 1,750 NT 4,080 Australian National Average 1,510


Senator COLLARD —That table points out the value of exports in 1983-84 on a State by State basis. Queensland was top with $5.431 billion. On a per capita basis, Queensland was third with $2,170 per head. It is quite significant that the Northern Territory is top, even though its uranium exports had been held back by this Government, at $4,080 per head throughout that time. Queensland's contribution to this economy, even though we are suffering because of the economic downturn brought about by this Government, is still quite significant. The point I make is that if the Queensland economy hurts, all Australia is going to hurt, whether we like it or not. It has been brought into jeopardy by the action of the ETU and now, of course, by the ACTU in this rearguard action of seeking to blockade a State.

Much has been said about the legislation. This legislation only guarantees power supply. It does not affect other unions. A friend of mine in Rockhampton was recently rung by the wife of a meat worker who said that if the meat workers went on strike all the workers would end up in gaol. Such is the rot being propagated around the State to try to whip up support from other unions. Much has also been said about the right to strike by many people in the community, including the churches. I have heard very little about the responsibility attached to that right or the conditions under which people should strike. As a unionist who has been on strike and led strikes, I know what it is all about. But there attaches to those people a certain responsibility to look at why they are going on strike and whether it is necessary to strike.

We never hear about any of the other rights. What about the rights of the family who have bought a deep freeze, so that they can buy meat in bulk and so save money, when the food rots and the motor of the freezer burns out when the power comes on in a surge? What about the family who has had a loved one killed or injured at an intersection because the lights have gone out just before he got there? What about the rights of a retired couple who have bought a unit to retire to on the third or fourth floor of block and cannot use the lift? What about the rights of those people who have had their houses burnt down because a candle overturned when the lights went out? What about the rights of the farmer who keeps vaccine in his fridge to control diseases, which vaccine goes bad on him? What about the right to work? We hear very little of that in this argument. What about the right to hire and fire? What about the right to have a continuous power supply? As I mentioned in the last debate, these tin gods in glass castles who have prostituted the union movement want one-sided rights.


Senator Peter Baume —That is a kind of mixed metaphor.


Senator COLLARD —Maybe, but I think it suits the case. They want one-sided rights, as apparently do their supporters. Of course, this is not happening only in Queensland. Senator Chaney quite rightly pointed to all the other industrial disputation which is currently going on and which went on previously in different States. The Government, with its own public servants, could not handle the situation. As soon as it got into power it got rid of our Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act and our no work as directed, no pay provision. I refer to the Wran Government and the disastrous strike in New South Wales when it was visited by the Prime Minister of another country to which we wished to sell our products. It must have been a most embarrassing moment.

Many people, including Senator Jack Evans, referred to draconian legislation. If this legislation were as draconian as it has been made out to be by its detractors, no government could sustain it because public support would dissipate. I think that is something that is worth repeating. I think most people in their saner moments would recognise it. I repeat: If this legislation were as draconian as it has been made out to be by its detractors, no government could sustain it because public support would dissipate. Yet what is happening?


Senator Jack Evans —You don't even believe that yourself.


Senator COLLARD —The opposite is true.


Senator Jack Evans —Every piece of legislation has the full support of the public, are you saying? What nonsense.


Senator COLLARD —I remind Senator Evans that I will not get barbed wire in my backside through sitting on the fence like he will over this whole thing. On the subject of the right to a power supply being more important than the right to strike, a poll was conducted just recently by the Courier-Mail and Channel O. It showed that 60 per cent of people were in favour of the right to a power supply being predominant; 50 per cent of Labor supporters interviewed held that view; and 60.7 per cent of all those interviewed were in favour of the Premier's stand. The message in this whole sorry situation is not directed to us; it is directed more to the Australian Labor Party and the union movement. The message is that the average Australian has had enough.

As I said at the outset, it was the ETU which started this fight and chose the battlefield. The Queensland Government was brought into it later. As has been indicated, we have had enough. George Bernard Shaw once said that trade unionism is not socialism but rather the capitalism of the proletariat. One thing on which I agree with Senator Evans, and I said it in my contribution to the previous debate on this matter, is that the union movement has a great record for helping the underdog in our society. Nobody acknowledges that more than I do, and history will record it. When things get out of hand, when we see the capitalism of the proletariat, which is what we are seeing in the union movement at this time, we are in all sorts of trouble.

I remind Senator Evans that this is a fight for power. It is a fight over power and a fight for power. The Queensland Government will not give up and neither should it. If this fight is lost, heaven help this country and its future, particularly our ability to trade with other nations. That has been recognised by everybody who has taken part in this debate. It is important that the Queensland Government wins this fight. It just has to, for the future of this country. As I see the pronouncements by the union leaders and by the people opposite I am very much reminded of the words of Banjo Patterson in the Man from Ironbark: 'Their heads were flat, their eyes were dull, they had no brains at all'.