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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2233

Senator PARER(4.26) —We are debating today the matter of urgency introduced by Senator Chaney in respect of the secondary boycott provisions of the Trade Practices Act. Senator McKiernan came in here and, with tongue in cheek, wondered why we are debating this matter. It is patently obvious why we are debating this matter. Newspaper reports and reports that are leaking out of the Hawke Labor Government would indicate that the aim of this Hawke Labor Government is to emasculate sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. By way of explanation for those who do not know, I point out that these sections relate to secondary boycotts and they enable those affected by the blatant abuse of trade union power to seek remedies through the courts. It has been reported that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, has proposed to restrict dramatically the use of the courts to settle industrial disputes, while at the same time strengthening sanctions under a new labor court and industrial relations commission. A newspaper report stated that:

The radical proposal, which would prevent the use of common law in resolving industrial disputes until all conciliation and arbitration procedures under the Labour Court and commission were exhausted . . .

Now that is blatant emasculation because it is well known in the practical sense that if so-called conciliation and arbitration can be extended on and on, it is only a matter of time before whoever is being affected by standover tactics by militant trade unionists will be brought to his knees.

In 1977 when the then Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, John Howard, introduced this piece of legislation, the then President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions was reported to have threatened Mr Howard, stating that if the secondary boycott provisions were proceeded with, there would be blood in the streets. The question must be asked: Why the threat? Why the continued opposition to it by the ACTU in general and by militant trade unions in particular? The answer is simply that they have got away with trampling on the rights of individuals for so long that they believe they are above the law. Militant union leaders-and I emphasise `militant union leaders', Senator McKiernan, and not the ordinary decent union leaders-have been able to threaten any employer and subsequently his employees with ruin unless that employer or the employees agree to their demands, however unreasonable. The vast majority of Australians, including trade unionists themselves, are fed up with the power and the abuse of that power by certain unions. As honourable senators will be aware, there have in fact been a series of surveys carried out by Newspoll last year and more recently by the Roy Morgan Research Centre which showed that something like eight out of 10 people believe that unions in Australia have too much power. Fifty-four per cent believe that they have far too much power. A poll of the Business Council of Australia showed that 83 per cent of all Australians wanted voluntary unionism. Among trade unionists the figure was a surprising 77 per cent. It is not that people do not think that reasonable trade unions are a good thing which, if they need, can get together and associate; it is simply that they have seen the abuse of that power. This section of the Trade Practices Act was brought in to curb the abuse of monopoly power. From what we hear, this Government is trying to get rid of it for the second time since it has been in office.

The Liberal Party does not oppose the right of individuals to freely join unions. I see my friend Senator Robert Ray on the other side of the House. I am sure that he will get up and have a fly at me about this. I make it quite clear that he will be wrong. We object to compulsory unionism and the resultant, inevitable monopolies which flow from this compulsion. In a recent matter or urgency debate in this chamber I quoted the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). On September 18 last year, he said:

. . . neither under the law of the country nor under the policy of the Government, is there the practice of compulsory unionism in this country.

He said it was not the policy of this Government; yet in debate Senator Robert Ray, who has just entered the chamber, put the lie to that statement when, as recorded on page 892 of Hansard of 18 March this year, he said:

The Australian Labor Party's policy in this area of union membership has always been crystal clear. Preference for unionists is our policy and we are proud of that policy. I quote from clause 19, page 169 of our national platform, which states:

The encouragement of membership of registered organisations through the provision of preference to unionists.

When there are closed shops, there is compulsory unionism-preference to unionists. Senator Robert Ray continued:

This is not something new or secret.

At least Senator Robert Ray, in all his statements on this matter, has been quite honest. But so much for the contradictory statements of the Prime Minister. Senator Robert Ray puts the lie to what the Prime Minister says. It is inevitable that with compulsory unionism monopolies develop. When people are forced to buy a product without competition the value of that product must be questioned. Inevitably monopolies lead to the power of a few over many and the abuse of that power can and does occur. Section 45d and section 45e of the Trade Practices Act are the only provisions which have been at all effective in curbing the abuse of union power. There have been a number of celebrated cases, but probably more importantly, the existence of the legislation has made those who would like to abuse power think about the consequences of their actions. That has been an invaluable part of the legislation.

I recall that in the late 1970s the Seamen's Union of Australia stopped overseas vessels from transporting Australian coal to Europe, putting at risk trade with Europe which had been built up by hard work over a decade. Honourable senators may recall that the Seamen's Union of the day produced a cassette about Lake Berry- essa which was held up at Port Stanvac simply because the Seamen's Union of Australia insisted that it wanted Australian crews on all vessels taking our raw materials overseas. I would not have objected to that one little bit if the union's members had been prepared to be as productive as and to compete with other people who were prepared to man those vessels. Section 45D was invoked, the injunction was applied and the militant union backed away before the case reached a conclusion. Let me say categorically, that if it had not been for section 45D, that dispute would never have been settled. I do not know what notes Senator McKiernan has, but if they say anything different they are wrong.

Senator McKiernan —Was that the Utah dispute?

Senator PARER —That is correct, it was the Utah dispute. More recently we have seen the celebrated Mudginberri dispute. I know that Senator McKiernan will not be disappointed that I raise this matter. Honourable senators will recall that the owners of Mudginberri abattoir had made an agreement, in accordance with an award, which meant more productivity, more take home pay and an export contract. The workers and the company were delighted with the arrangement. The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, however, was opposed to it because it put at threat one of its cherished, unproductive, restrictive work practices-the tally system. The union set up an illegal picket, not only to harass its fellow members who worked at Mudginberri but also to stop government meat inspectors from entering the premises. Without meat inspectors the meat could not be exported and the union leaders had no hesitation in telling the proprietor of Mudginberri that they would persist with their intimidation until he went broke. Neither the management, nor the employees at Mudginberri had done anything illegal. However, a militant union was illegally using naked power to achieve its ends-standover tactics that had been used over and over again on many industries throughout Australia. If it had not been for financial support, if it had not been for section 45D, the AMIEU would have been successful again. Section 45D was critical. This was a case that went to its conclusion with substantial damages awarded to Mudginberri against the AMIEU. Rather than behave within the common law and refrain from pursuing a course which could result in civil action for damages, these militant power brokers are now lobbying to neutralise and emasculate that law. That is the reason for this matter of urgency today.

There are other examples of the use of secondary boycotts. More recently we have seen the Plumbers and Gasfitters Employees Union dispute in the building industry. It is inevitable that Labor senators will again accuse the Liberal Party of union bashing. In a recent debate on voluntary unionism in this chamber, which I initiated, I made the point, and I make it again, that we support the right of every individual to join, not join or resign from a trade union. That freedom of choice is a basic human right as spelt out in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations, which states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to any association.

However, this freedom of choice is not available to the majority of working Australians who must join a union to get a job. I am sure that Senator Robert Ray will have some words to say about this, but he cannot deny that in a closed shop situation, one must be a member of a union to get a job. By denying Australians this basic human right, trade unions have been able to build powerful monopolies of labour and hold this country, in many instances, to ransom. At this stage, the only means of curbing excessive union power and ensuring that unions act responsibly is sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. If those provisions are removed or emasculated, we might as well all pack in and hand over control of the affairs of this country to the unelected power brokers-the militant trade union leaders. I make the point of saying `the militants' because the majority are not; but that does not detract from the point that the power is there and it can be abused by an irresponsible person who comes into it.

Senator Cooney has been wheeled in here, as is often the case, to defend the indefensible. He is a man with great legal experience who, over the years, has defended among other people many blackguards and scoundrels. It is only fair that he should be brought in to defend the Government on this matter. Senator Haines has proposed an amendment to the matter of urgency. The Liberal Party has no difficulty with the amendment. We are not too sure of its relevance, but we do believe in an even-handed approach.

Senator Haines —The Pendarvis-Laidley case is an example.

Senator PARER —I thank Senator Haines. As I said, we do not disagree with the amendment brought in by the Democrats. In conclusion, I repeat that if we are to keep control over the monopolies and the abuse of power that comes with monopolies-power that is available, not used by all trade union people but by sufficient of them to cause enormous problems for this country in employment, in the balance of payments, in the current account deficit and in maintaining our export markets-it is absolutely vital that these sections of the Trade Practices Act remain intact and are not transferred to some other authority which might be set up simply to neutralise and emasculate what has been an excellent piece of legislation.