Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3497

Senator ELSTOB —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, refers to the schisms which have recently developed in the Australian Federation of Employers. Do the withdrawal from the AFE of the Housing Industry Association and the refusal of the Confederation of Australian Industry to partake in the AFE's politics of the New Right indicate that there is widespread support amongst employers for the considerable progress being made in the economy and in industrial relations under this Government? Do these developments reveal that the base of support for the extremist policies of the New Right is very narrow?

Senator BUTTON —I am not sure that it reveals all of that. I think the withdrawal of the Housing Industry Association from the Australian Federation of Employers is significant because it is couched in terms of recognising that the Australian Federation of Employers, apart from purporting to be a representative body of employers, is a highly political organisation. It has been widely recognised in business for some time that Mr Andrew Hay of the Australian Federation of Employers has used that organisation as a sort of personal launching pad into politics and has manipulated the organisation very vigorously for that purpose. I say that that is quite widely recognised, and it is. When one puts that fact together with Mr Hay's wit and charm-one has only to see him on television to see what a natural wit he is and how good he is at communicating views which he would hope would appeal to the community at large-one realises that bodies such as the Housing Industry Association have put those two things together and have determined that the organisation is not for them.

Of course, it is unusual for any body which purports to represent a wide range of organisations to be so political as to target particular seats in any forthcoming election and to announce that it will campaign in particular seats for particular results. That is unusual in the history of Australian politics, and it is desirable that it is unusual. The Australian Federation of Employers has departed, not only from the norm in regard to public announcements, but also from a number of norms regarding what we as a government accept as civilised political and industrial behaviour. For example, one of the extraordinary events of 1986, when people look back on it, will be the fact that Peko-Wallsend Ltd, through its subsidiary Besco Batteries, sacked 350 workers with one hour's notice.

Senator Gietzelt —Disgraceful.

Senator BUTTON —That is disgraceful in any normal, industrially civilised society. It is those sorts of standards which have been espoused to some degree by the Australian Federation of Employers and which we believe a civilised community should not be prepared to accept. I fully understand the point of Senator Elstob's question when he asked whether these recent developments revealed that the base of support for extremist policies of that kind is very narrow: It is, and it ought to be.