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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 280

Senator McKIERNAN(3.42) —Like previous speakers, I too think that the paper on industrial democracy and employee participation is a timely release. There are people in the trade union movement who would have wished that the paper had been released earlier. However, I think its delay in publication and presentation to the public for discussion and input is but a measure of careful preparation that has gone into producing the paper. It shows that we have not fallen for the trap of automatically picking up some bright new flashing light scheme that operates overseas and seeking to impose it on the Australian population. I think Australia's industrial history has proved that those things just do not work. In the words of Senator Cooney, who spoke so eloquently in this debate, it just does not fit into the psyche of the Australian population. We all know the tremendous Irish influence that is in that psyche-we Irish have to claim credit where we can.

We do not live in a perfect world. Senator Parer knows that is the case in respect of the coalition at the moment. If there is a science of industrial relations, it is a complex and extremely difficult science to work with. This is because we are dealing with the most unpredictable medium-that is, human beings. I am reminded from time to time of what it is like in this chamber when we hear the sabre rattling that takes place from one side to another.

I think the other reason why there has been a timely release of the document is that the paper puts a very real alternative to the sabre rattling in industrial relations that is going on at the moment. We read headlines on a daily or weekly basis of how representatives of the Opposition will crush unions. We read about the particular individual who wants to lead this nation while he is destroying his own State. I refer to the Premier of Queensland. We also read about the representatives of the New Right in this country who want to crush the trade union movement and the workers. They want to turn them back into slaves and serfs. Of course, the Australian population will not sit back and let this happen. One of the reasons this will not happen is, as Senator Cooney said, because we have a strong trade union movement. I am glad to see that Senator Lewis is awake. Maybe he will contribute at a later stage and say a little more than he said earlier. However, I agree with some of the points that were made by Senator Lewis.

I want to take up and follow through the issue concerning the New Right because one of its leading representatives is actually turning working people into serfs and slaves. I am referring, of course, to Robe River in the Pilbara region of the State which I represent. The dispute at Robe River has been the scene of conflict since the middle of last year. That conflict is ongoing and will continue for quite some time to come. The minds of people in this area have been coloured. Irrespective of whether there was an immediate settlement on every matter in dispute and irrespective of which side won, the animosity, fear, bitterness and hatred will remain with us for a long time. Copeman and the people he represents will in turn be making Australia pay an awful price for what is happening there.

I particularly want to mention something which is not making the headlines in the Australian or the Sydney Morning Herald or even the West Australian. I refer to the dehumanisation of workers that is taking place in that area at the moment in the name of industrial relations and in the name of what Copeman and company would call productivity. They have what is known as a grot squad. Never before have I heard a more appropriate name for a practice that would drive working people right down to such dehumanising levels. The grot squad consists of-it changes from day to day and in some cases from hour to hour-human beings who are employed by Robe River. These individuals are picked up and told to go and clean up somewhere else. They could be skilled tradespersons; they could be semi-skilled people; they could be highly experienced drivers of very expensive equipment. They are picked out of their jobs and told what to do. For fear of being sacked they have to subject themselves to humiliation.

I ask people to read the paper on industrial democracy and employee participation, to get different views from different organisations and to compare what is proposed or what is offered as an alternative within this discussion document to the humiliation of human beings that is happening in Robe River today. What is happening there would be more likely to happen in 1887 rather than the present day. Unfortunately, though, that is the political scene in which we live today. People have the money and power which they are prepared to use and abuse to serve their own ends. I trust that this sort of thing will come to a speedy halt in the very near future.

Question resolved in the affirmative.