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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3044


Senator AULICH —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations been drawn to an article in Saturday's Weekend Australian entitled `How to reform the unions'? Does the Minister see merit in the various proposals for trade union reform made by the writer of that article, Mr Peter Costello, a founding member of the H. R. Nicholls Society?


Senator WALSH —My attention has been drawn to the article, and at the outset it should be noted that Mr Costello is a Melbourne lawyer. Therefore, as a member of the lawyers union, he is or has been a beneficiary of the law in Victoria which gives lawyers a monopoly of conveyancing. I note that Mr Costello did not complain about that particular abuse of union power or attempt to modify it in any way.


Senator Lewis —He is a barrister. He doesn't do that sort of legal work, you donkey.


Senator WALSH —I said, Senator Lewis, that he is or has been a beneficiary of that particular lawyers union monopoly conferred upon lawyers by statute. Whether he is currently a barrister and still a beneficiary of the conveyancing monopoly that has been granted by legislation to the lawyers union or not, it remains a valid point that as a member of that lawyers union he has offered no criticism whatever of the abuse of that piece of monopoly power and the fact that, because of that monopoly power, the lawyers union members manage to rip millions and millions off the public every year. However, on the matters that Mr Costello did raise, the arguments he put were quite well written, as I suppose one would expect from a barrister, and superficially persuasive. Indeed, one might wonder whether Mr Costello also has a club foot in common with another attribute that he shares with an historical figure. He argues that there should be a trade union reform Act which:

. . . should ensure that unions who wish to support party political causes through affiliation fees or otherwise are obliged to strike a completely separate fee for this purpose, with the payment of that fee genuinely optional.

That is an old one that at least 17 years ago was dredged up by the Right in Australia, and is vulnerable to exactly the same criticism as it was 17 years ago or whenever it was first proposed-that is, what control does the individual shareholder in any company have over whether that company makes large donations for political purposes to the Liberal Party or any other political party? The logic of Mr Costello's argument is that if a trade union member should be able to opt out of his pro rata contribution for a donation to a political party, so ought shareholders in a company to be allowed to opt out of their pro rata contribution to a political party to be used for political purposes. Mr Costello also asked:

How can any ordinary employee with a full-time job who wishes to stand for union office possibly try to match the resources of an entrenched union leadership and fight an election for office on equal terms?

He then argued that union funds should be set aside to allow full time employees to take leave from work and contest union elections.

The same sort of principle applies in the corporate sector, if Mr Costello is really interested in pushing equality of access. For example, the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd is `owned' by its policyholders, but how could an ordinary policyholder effectively run for directorship against Mr Costello's entrenched mate, John Elliott? Likewise, In Mr Elliott's own firm, how could an ordinary shareholder realistically expect to be able to run for election as a director against Mr Costello's entrenched mates, Mr Elliott and Mr McLachlan? It is notable that Mr McLachlan proposes no democratic principles in those areas. In other words, and in short, although it is a really well argued and well presented case, it is highly selective in its subject matter.