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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 906


Senator HARRADINE(4.56) —I rise to foreshadow an amendment to the urgency motion to leave out the statement of the matter of urgency and insert the following:

The need for Governments, employers and unions to have regard to the evidence submitted to and the conclusions reached by the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation in respect of trade union membership.

Senator Siddons, who has just resumed his seat, played a prominent role in that Committee. I am very pleased that he has referred in this debate to the work of the Committee. The mover of the urgency motion, Senator Parer, was not here at the time of that Committee but I can assure him and every member of the Senate that the issues that have been canvassed very briefly here today were canvassed--


Senator Mason —His colleagues were, though.


Senator HARRADINE —Yes, indeed. The issues that have been canvassed today were canvassed at great length before that Committee. Persons with interests in the industrial relations system, or without any interest at all in it, were given the opportunity to provide submissions, and they did so. I invite honourable senators to examine the report of that Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation and, perhaps even as important, to read the transcript of evidence which I suppose covers about 1,500 pages and which is very illuminating.

Let me get to what I believe is the crux of the problem and the basis of this debate today. Much has been said about the freedom not to join a trade union. This motion is not really about that. This motion is in fact part of a systematic attack on the right of freedom of association. At this stage of high unemployment the position is that of a buyer's market. I think Senator Mason referred to the Opposition's attempts to go back to the times of unfettered market practices. Of course, it would then be a case of preference to non-unionists. The position now with manufacturing industries is that employment is declining. White collar employment will be the substantial area of employment.

The multinationals, the New Right, and now the Liberal Party of Australia, are trying to free up-they are their words-the labour market. What will be the result of that, without preference to unionists? It will mean preference to the poor non-unionist who is prepared to take a job at substandard rates. In fact this is a recent policy of the Liberals. They want to enable individual employees to enter into contracts with individual employers. When there is a queue of maybe 100 people trying to get one job at an employer's premises the result will be that the employer will say: `The person who is not a unionist, who will work under substandard conditions and for substandard pay below award wages, will get the job'. That is an utterly disgraceful and most unfair situation.

The origin of preference for unionists in this country goes back to the original Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1904. The original award provisions were placed into awards to prevent the victimisation that occurred against non-unionists. Subsequent provisions in awards were made because of the recognition by the Commission of the need for representative trade unions. The fact of life in industrial relations is that trade unionists are required by the Act to pay for the costs incurred in obtaining awards which then benefit all workers.

People have said that it is a fundamental right not to belong to a union. Are those people saying that it is a fundamental right of an individual worker to refuse to pay for the benefits that are obtained for him and which he receives? Is that what they are saying? It may be a freedom, but how it can be a basic or fundamental human right is beyond me. I am the first senator to stand up here in support of fundamental human rights, including the right of individual conscience. Section 144A of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act upholds that fundamental right. Not only does the Act give employees who have conscientious objections the right to be exempted from union membership but also it provides for such persons to be regarded as though they were members of a union for the purposes of award benefits. This motion tries to lump genuine conscientious objectors in with the freeloaders-the people who do not want to belong to a union because they do not want to pay.

I do not believe in compulsory unionism but I do believe in giving preference to persons who undertake their duties and responsibilities to society. The trouble with the type of resolution we have from the Liberal Party here is that it puts too much emphasis on excessive individualism. The Liberals are not prepared to balance excessive individualism against the essential requirements of the common good. I was amazed when Senator Parer lauded the Equal Opportunities Tribunal in Victoria because I thought he was against Bills of Rights and organisations such as the Tribunal which, through non-elected individuals, determine the rights of citizens. The previous occasion on which an equal opportunities tribunal decided a question of rights was in New South Wales when it said that Dr Tralaggan could not give preference to a bona fide married couple over a de facto couple when renting his house.

I believe that is the crux of the problem as far as the Liberals are concerned. The Liberals will not ensure that persons who do the right thing are given credit for doing so. I suggest that the Liberals study the report of the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation, together with all of the evidence.

Amendment negatived.