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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1274

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I note the encouraging recognition by the Minister for Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, that there has been a developing tendency for workers to take strike action in essential services and that that is something which is going down very badly with the public. I ask the Minister: Does this recognition herald some readiness on the part of the Government to take action in this area, a matter which is of immediate practical importance, given the disruption of transport services to Queensland which has already occurred, and given the fact that Telecom Australia and other employees are meeting later this week to consider the possibility of further industrial action which may well give rise to disruptions of essential services?

Senator BUTTON —The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has made some comments about the right to strike in public instrumentalities and essential services. I heard some of those comments this morning. I take it that they are the comments to which Senator Chaney was referring. I am now asked whether the Government intends to take action in this area, which was precisely the question I was asked last week in several forms. For example, last week I was asked whether there had been disruptions of services by Telecom and Australia Post in Queensland-it was suggested that there had been-as a result of the dispute in that State. I have been advised by the management of both bodies that no bans were placed by employees of either body directed at affecting postal or telecommunications services on Friday, 19 April. Since then, the Minister responsible has checked and that has been found to be correct.

Senator Chaney asked whether the Government, as a result of Mr Willis's remarks, is prepared to take action. I make the point again, as I did on several occasions last week, that the Government has been concerned to find a conciliation of this dispute, to have discussions with the Queensland Government and to precipitate discussions between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Queensland Government. That view was supported by an officer of the Confederation of Australian Industry on radio this morning, who simply made the point that ultimately the dispute would be resolved by negotiation.

The Opposition has a very macho view of its role in this matter. In answering questions last week, I again made the point that what one has to be concerned about in industrial relations are results, not chest-beating rhetoric. I draw the attention of honourable senators to the results in respect of one of the instrumentalities which were the subject of questioning of me last week-Australia Post. Honourable senators should listen to the figures in regard to hours lost in Australia due to industrial disputes for Australia Post. In 1978-79, 136,000 hours were lost; in 1979-80, 27,000 hours; in 1980-81, 173,000 hours; in 1981-82, 323,000 hours-all under Liberal governments. In 1982-83, 14,000 hours were lost; in 1983-84, 19,000 hours-less than one-tenth of the level of industrial disputation in Australia Post under this Government compared with what it was under the Fraser Government. Yet the Opposition is still going on with the silly, mindless, chest-beating rhetoric it went on with in its previous seven years in government at the same time as it did nothing. That is the problem it has. As I said last week, it is sad to see the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives walking out to the end of a limb on this issue when he will be cut off by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, the heir apparent. It is a question of results in an industrial relations approach, not a question of empty rhetoric.

Senator CHANEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I am grateful to the Leader of the Government for answering a question I did not ask. But I ask him again: Given that there has been disruption of transport into Queensland and that further meetings of unions are planned for tomorrow and Wednesday, is the Government prepared to take any action at all to try to prevent the disruption of essential services to Queensland?

Senator BUTTON —I answered this question about six times last week. I repeat the answer: The Government has taken a wide range of actions in trying to bring this dispute to the conference table, and it will continue to do so.