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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 903

Senator CHILDS(4.39) —The Opposition has moved an urgency motion today with some audacity, I think. It is clear that it is in disarray and that it has stopped tearing each other apart on this occasion for a few hours so that Opposition members may gang up and attack trade unionists and, in particular, engage in their favourite sport, which is union bashing. The debate itself has shown that that is just what it has set out to do regardless of the nominal topic it has chosen. As far as I am concerned, it is an attack on ordinary wage and salary earners. I hope to show that that is what it is all about. This comes from the coalition parties. One half wants to give us a flat tax and have 80 per cent of wage and salary earners paying additional taxes, and the other half wants a consumption tax, which would be inflationary. They cannot agree on anything. The only thing that is certain is that wage and salary earners would lose under a coalition government. That is the matter we have to look at. Despite what Senator Alston has just said, there is just a thin veneer in what has been put to us that hides the fact that we are discussing the industrial relations policy of the Opposition and of course some economic matters-I cannot say economic policy as the Opposition does not have one. There is a hidden agenda and that is to make sure that those who are wealthy are advantaged and that those who are on wages and salaries are disadvantaged. I propose to prove that. The policies are designed for wealthy people. I am shocked that Senator Alston should talk about trade unions and refer to matters such as power and money because that is what the New Right offensive on the National Party and the Liberal Party is all about at the moment-power and money. If we consider the primitive, cruel millionaires who are dominating the New Right and who are trying to alter the agenda of the conservative parties, we have a complete example of a bid for power-indeed, a takeover bid by the Premier of Queensland. When we look at some of the people in that army which would give the wealthy in society far more money, we see Mr Copeman, Katharine West, John Stone, Hugh Morgan and Andrew Hay. I know that Senator Peter Baume would be interested in the description by one of his colleagues of this New Right group. Ian Macphee in the other place said that this New Right:

. . . elevates selfishness to commanding heights and ignores the plight of less fortunate and less able members of the community.

That is what Ian Macphee, representing those fine traditions of small `l' liberalism, has said about this move.

Senator Peter Baume —Let's get back to civil liberties.

Senator CHILDS —We have to be concerned not only with civil liberties when debating this urgency motion but also with the industrial relations policy of the coalition parties. The problem for Opposition senators--

Senator Parer —There is no problem.

Senator CHILDS —Yes, there is a problem because the Opposition changed leaders. As soon as it changed leaders and as soon as the confrontation was over-Senator Alston has just agreed with the same proposal-Mr Howard, in his first statement as Leader of the Opposition, said:

Deregulation of the labour market remains probably the greatest economic challenge that we have over the next five or ten years.

So that is what this is all about. The reason the coalition parties want deregulation is to take from wage and salary earners in particular the money that they are entitled to. They want to advantage business people, particularly those at the wealthy end of the economic spectrum.

I want to analyse some of the economic proposals that are behind this, because the Liberal Party platform is that the employees of companies with 50 or less employees would be forced into individual contracts. This is the sort of civil libertarian approach of the coalition parties. They are trying to force people--

Senator Parer —No, not force.

Senator CHILDS —Well, they will certainly be forced in practice because employees are going to be negotiating with their employers for their salaries, other than the basic rudiments which will be set at a very low level. We know that there are legal difficulties. We know it will be very difficult to have any system that will in any way be enforceable between individual workers and employers. We know that there are practical problems because of the industrial relations chaos this will cause. Of course, this urgency motion can be understood only in the context of the pressure to smash the bargaining power of employees. This applies particularly to small business, but the same principle will apply as the size of the corporation we are dealing with increases. The small business sector is particularly significant because one-third of the work force-2.1 million people-is employed in it.

The Opposition's proposal is to destroy the orderly arbitration system and to allow for the law of the jungle to take over. I suggest that this is in complete conformity with the confrontationist style of the New Right. I believe that individual small business people will actually reject this proposal because they want to make money, not war. Yet the ideologues in the coalition and outside it are out to cause confrontation because of their preconceived views. Business people need stability, and that is what this Government has given them. Australia cannot afford to follow the Opposition's ideological beliefs to deunionise this country.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that the second bow of the Liberal Party policy is its belief that there should be enterprise unions. An enterprise union is an old company union; a tame cat union, or perhaps no union at all, is what the coalition parties are really after. Of course this idea is fantasy fulfilment stuff. Nevertheless, the coalition parties want to experiment with it and the real problem is that this will be to the disadvantage of all people employed either in industry or in commerce.

Let us take the situation of a person employed in a small enterprise of about 100 employees. According to Liberal Party philosophy, a person in a factory or an office employing 100 people will have his civil liberties affected. Under the Liberal program, nationwide or State-wide unions will be kept out, because the coalition's aim is a union of 100 people. The point at issue is that the 100 people in that factory will be denied the negotiating skills of full time union officials, with their knowledge of what happens in similar situations in other enterprises. The 100 workers in that particular place will also lose the advantage of the legal, economic and other skills that the trade union gives to them. What ordinary person in an enterprise of, say, 100 people can stand up under those circumstances and argue effectively? But a trade union at this stage offers the people in such organisations all of that.

Of course one of the most difficult things of all is the question of victimisation because it is not, as has been stated by some of the Opposition senators, a theoretical situation. We are talking about real industry where people are victimised daily because of their views. Civil liberties on the factory floor, I can assure honourable senators, are something that have to be fought for and the strength of the union prevents those people from being trampled on.

I have not got time to read from a publication of the Trades and Labour Council of Western Australia headed `Robe River Report'. It details the experiences of individual workers who were victimised by Mr Charles Copeman as a result of the industrial dispute that he has waged. Of course, that is the sort of thing that unionism is all about; that is the reason the Labor Party believes in the principle of preference for unionists and it is why over 50 per cent of people employed in Australia are members of unions. They know that they need that support. Of course, we could well ask whether the coalition, according to its industrial relations policy, will say to employers that they should leave their unions. Will employers be denied the advantages that they currently enjoy, as is being proposed to the trade union side or to the wage and salary earner? Of course the employers will not be denied anything. As far as the coalition is concerned, employers will be given a free kick because under the Liberal Party's industrial relations policy, they will still maintain their industrial officers. The industrial officers, the legal experts and the economists will advise particular companies. There is no suggestion that the individual employer who employs, say, 100 employees will be cut off from the group manager, the State manager or all the resources of the company. He will have the benefit of the full time staff employed by that company-all those people who at present compete against the union representative in an enterprise of 100 people. Of course, it goes further because in many organisations that would be involved, whether big or small, national employer organisations, State employer organisations and even international advice would be available to the people in a particular enterprise. That is the reality of what the coalition is setting out to achieve. It has cheap statements about the question of the ability to opt out of the system when for years the arbitration system has allowed people genuinely to be able to opt out through the conscientious objector's provision included in the Hancock report of the Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems and which will be repeated because it is accepted as a realisable and sensible proposal. This is the sort of background that we have and which creates industrial harmony.

That is the reason why the Government will oppose the Opposition's motion. I believe we will be able to support Senator Harradine's proposal, which is in line with the existing procedures that have stood the test of time. It is certainly in line with common sense. What we have to be concerned about is that the coalition, in its industrial relations policy, is setting out to take away the genuine freedom-we are talking about genuine freedoms-of wage and salary earners to be protected and to use their resources as they wish to get the best possible result. The coalition's policy is to stack the deck against wage and salary earners. The way that it does it is to attack trade unions.

It is the trade unionists who can ask that they be given the opportunity of being represented with the best possible results. Indeed, I say to Senator Parer, who criticised collectivism, that, if the collective good or the common good were applied to the whole of Australia, it would be a very good place. The greed, the wealth and the privilege of the New Right and the people behind it are things that we will not allow to be foisted on this country as being the way in which we shall work. The vast majority of Australians wish to make sure that we have a compassionate and caring society. The extremists in the New Right and the coalition parties are opposed to every sense of decency and every question of equity, including civil liberties.