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
Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 896

Senator WALTERS(3.54) —At the moment the Senate is once again debating the need for the basic human right as expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Article 20 which states:

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No-one may be compelled to belong to an association.

That is the declaration of human rights and yet this Government proposed a Bill of Rights, as we all know. It attempted to have it passed by this Parliament. Of course, the people of Australia objected to it so much that the Government had to withdraw it. It claims to be interested in human rights and yet it demands compulsory unionism in Australia. For many years our policy has been to oppose compulsory unionism. Indeed, in 1982, under Mr Fraser, we tried to bring in legislation prohibiting compulsory unionism. Today Senator Robert Ray said that we have only just agreed on one thing and therefore we are debating it today. Senator Ray is only a new boy in the Senate and he would no doubt be completely unaware that that has been the policy of the Liberal Party of Australia for many years. Indeed, it has been debated in this place on many occasions.

What possible excuse could any government give for allowing people to join or not to join an association? What possible excuse could there be for forcing people to belong to an association? The excuse is self-survival; a financial one. Without compulsory unionism the Government would be down the drain financially come any election. The unions and their compulsory membership give money to the Australian Labor Party. That is the reason the Government has for making sure that people in this country are forced to join unions. Senator Button was asked a question yesterday. My colleague Senator Parer referred to this. Senator Button was very careful in his answer to that question because he said there are no legal means of ensuring compulsory unionism in Australia. What he did not mention was the prevalence of preference to unionists.

I indicated a little earlier what preference is and what preference does for unionists. As I said, in 1982 as a government we attempted to bring in legislation prohibiting compulsory unionism. At that time I sat on the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation with Senator Button, which I know he will remember well. Senator Harradine was Chairman of that Committee. I will give just a few instances with regard to some of the evidence that came before that Committee. In 1982 the Committee reported:

The present state of the case law . . . shows that a preference award may validly:

provide for preference to a unionist over a non-unionist. provide for preference of any kind . . . and awards show this to include preference in promotion--

so a union member can get promoted whereas a non-unionist does not-

leave entitlement-

so if a union member wants to leave at a certain time he gets it over a non-unionist-

retention in employment, retrenchment, etc.

So a non-unionist can be retrenched first whereas a unionist cannot. We were told in that Committee that preference implies choice, not compulsion. Is that not nice! But if a union member is employed before a non-union member there is not much choice involved. As far as I see it, it is compulsion. In 1982 we were told that there were 379 awards which contained preference clauses. We were told that 309 awards granted preference to union members at the point of engagement and termination. We were told that 10 awards prescribed that members of a particular union may be employed in particular work to the exclusion of other union members and that this avoided demarcation disputes. We were told that 14 awards prescribed that a union must be notified of any vacancy before the engagement of labour. An employer has got to tell the union that he is wanting to employ someone before he seeks other employees. The union says who will be employed and who will not be employed. Sixty-four awards prescribed that non-members of a union must join a union within a certain period after being engaged. Sixty-four awards stipulated that someone who is employed must join a union within a certain period after being engaged-and this Government says there is not compulsory unionism. It talks absolute rubbish. I suppose one can make all sorts of gobbledegook in those areas. We were also told that most States allowed for preference clauses. We were told that in Western Australia the Industrial Commission had lacked the jurisdiction to award preferences since 1980. At that time one of the unions also told us that when that was done away with in Western Australia, when the unions were no longer able to have award preferences, they lost 25 per cent of their membership; 25 per cent of their members decided that they would leave the union. So union preference amounts to compulsory unionism.

Why should we not have compulsory unionism? I will tell honourable senators what is occurring at the moment. I will give just one incident on the waterfront. We have the case of a captain of a freighter. The union members came on board and requested permission to inspect the crew quarters. That inspection proved very costly. Indeed, the ship's owners were told that they had to pay $58,000 for improvements in the crew's quarters. Much to the surprise of the captain, his own quarters had to be improved. Going down the list I have, I find that many other ships are also held up in port by demands for cosmetic improvements such as painting of bulkheads, re-upholstering of furniture or repairs to cracked tiles.

We have been told that we already have the world's worst reputation for shipping strikes. It has become a joke overseas. People are saying: `Have you heard the latest of what the Aussies are up to now on the wharves?'. We have indeed become a joke. For eight successive years Australia has topped the shipping insurers' strike club. Ships coming into our ports have been refused insurance because of these ridiculous situations in which unions create such tremendous expenses. These are the sorts of things that would be done away with if we did not have compulsory unionism on the wharves. An employer who was able to employ whoever he wanted and whose employees were not intimidated would be able to stop these dreadful work practices which we have heard so much about and which have tied up our wharves. As I have said, they have resulted in a situation where for eight successive years, for insurance purposes, Australia had the world's worst wharves. Ships that might have been coming in would not be insured and so they did not come. We would send some of our exports to Singapore so that they would be loaded in Singapore, rather than have a ship running the risk of coming into Sydney harbour or Melbourne harbour. The situation has really become ludicrous.

It costs 44 per cent more to transport Australian steel from Port Kembla to Fremantle that is does to transport iron ore from Fremantle to Japan. Why is it that Japan can import our iron ore and coal and, over 8,100 kilometres of sea, return steel to us at a cheaper price than Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, our Big Australian? Why is it that BHP has to be subsidised by bounties against the efficiency of the Japanese market? One of our leading entrepreneurs has said: `Australia is a wonderful place to live in, but you can't do business here. I have got to send all my business off-shore because if you are in the export game, with our union reputation, it is impossible to guarantee supplies to our customers and that is something no business can live with'.

While I was in Japan recently I tried to get long term orders. The Japanese will not give us long term orders. They will not allow their industries to go without because we cannot supply the goods. Indeed, a few years ago Japan used us as virtually its only supplier of wool, but because of the very destructive and long term storeman and packers dispute, Japan's wool mills ground to a halt. I was told by the Japanese that they would never again see themselves in a similar position and never again would they rely solely on Australia for wool. They now deal with 20 different countries for their wool because they are not prepared to put up with the industrial disputation, the industrial ransom, to which Australians are held. Until we allow union members to have more say in their unions-the only way they can do that is to say: `give us some say, or we will leave'-until we insist upon our union members being able either to join a union or to get out, then this country will never be able to export, will never be able to compete-

Senator Cook —That's rubbish.

Senator WALTERS —You know, Madam Acting Deputy President, at the moment the Government is saying: `Our main problem is not us, it is not the domestic economy; it is those dreadful overseas people who will not pay enough for our export goods. That is our main trouble. It is because those dreadful overseas companies will not pay the price that we need to live in the luxury to which we have become accustomed'. The situation is that until we compete with Japan, until we reduce our export prices, until we can compete with the 44 per cent difference in cost between taking our steel from Port Kembla to Fremantle and transporting iron ore from Fremantle to Japan, we will never survive. It is no use this Government trying to lay the blame elsewhere, other than at its own door.