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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2235


Senator ROBERT RAY(4.41) —I assume that today's matter of urgency motion is Senator Chaney's contribution to May Day celebrations over the last two or three days. Typically, of course, it is not a matter of urgency. The matter will be debated later in this session when the Government introduces its massive reconstruction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In essence, most of these reforms are based on the recommendations of the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems. It is appropriate to note that there has not been a massive overhaul of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act for some 30 years. Liberal governments tended to ignore an overhaul and just tacked on items from time to time to deal with what they regarded as immediate problems. The Government is to be congratulated on undertaking a very wide-ranging inquiry, which has produced a magnificent report, the Hancock report, and then translating it into legislation which should appear in this chamber in the next three or four weeks.

If there were to be a real urgency motion today, I would have thought that it would have been more appropriately directed at the anti-trade union legislation recently carried in Queensland-a massive attack on the trade union movement. Using Senator Parer's criteria today of what is good and bad about unions, I would expect him to support us on this question. If the Liberals are concerned about abuse of power, they might like to raise a matter of urgency on John Elliott's statements of recent days, which border on the edge of economic treachery. They may be worried about abuses, but I have never heard them talk about the abuses of the Bjelke-Petersen Foundation in Queensland-that unless one donates to the fund, one does not get tenders and contracts. I will not take that any further, Madam Acting Deputy President.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —I should hope not, Senator.


Senator ROBERT RAY —Today's motion is intended to give the fledgling shadow Minister for industrial affairs a chance to show his wares on industrial matters. Much of it, of course, is a smoke-screen for the fact that the Liberals do not have an industrial relations policy. They normally bleat about deregulation of the labour market, oblivious to the consequences of such policies. As soon as they talk about a massive deregulation of the labour market, most employers drop off them. Most businesses do not want a total deregulation of the labour market. Because the Liberals have this conflict, they have to pick peripheral issues, such as the matter of public importance raised some weeks ago on compulsory unionism, and this issue today. They will never go to the central thrust of what industrial relations should be about in this country.

I wonder whether the mover of the motion still subscribes to the Liberal secretariat's theory, as espoused in the secret document that came out recently, that the Liberal policy would eventually lead to a general strike. They themselves are saying: `We will be so confrontationist, and as a policy of confrontation we will provoke a general strike'. This urgency motion really only provides another vehicle for the well-established Liberal sport of union bashing. Menzies over the years perfected the art of kicking the communist can and reaped many votes as a consequence. Lamentably, for those opposite, these tactics no longer work. If one were trying to whip up support these days by attacking the extreme Left, the communist party and the revolutionary parties-it is hard enough to keep track of how many there are and how few members they have-no one would realise that no one takes them seriously. They are regarded as a joke by everyone-including themselves, I suspect. So the Liberals can no longer merely get through by kicking the communist can. So all that is left for the Liberal Party is, `All right, pull out from the bottom drawer the old tactic; let's get into some union bashing'.

From listening to the Liberals over the years, one would believe that not one industrial dispute has ever been justified. They come into this chamber on this policy and try to be Mr or Mrs Reasonable on these things. But looking back through the history of the Liberal Party and their older brother, the National Party, I have not on one occasion heard any of them ever support a strike. Maybe I am wrong on that. They do occasionally support a doctors' strike. After all, doctors are earning only a mere $40,000 to $100,000 a year, and for them that seems to be justifiable action.

While the Labor Party has made a major effort to understand the problems of business, it has not been reciprocated opposite with regard to trade unions. I admit that at various stages of the history of the Labor Party we did not take the concerns and the interests of business seriously enough, so we had to go out, meet with them, learn from them, and try to accommodate them within the political system. But when it comes to the trade union movement does anybody think that the Liberals or the Nationals go out and try to understand the day to day problems of trade unions or of the unionists? Of course not. It is much easier to do a bit of snide union bashing on the side than to try to understand them.

It has been suggested that the mover of this motion is trying to establish his credentials in this area. Obviously, Mr Howard has decided that on this subject it is better to put in a boxer than a brawler so the Liberals can cover up their lack of policy. Even today I saw Senator Chaney described as a dry with a wet smile. I have always regarded him as a wet with a dry smile. Nevertheless, he has been put in their apparently as someone who is not terribly overtly publicly aggressive to try to wave over the deregulationists in the Party. I was very pleased to see that at least he made a stand today on the question of a wage pause. I think that was very commendable.

Looking at the history of industrial relations in this country, we see that the amount of working days lost under the Fraser Government averaged three million a year. Under the Hawke Government the average is 1.4 million days a year. Put another way, the average number of working days lost per thousand employees per annum under Fraser was 590.6 and under the Hawke Government it has been 239. We have shown that we are far better at handling industrial relations problems than the Liberal Party has been. It is also interesting to note that a comparative study of strikes by Dr Beggs and Dr Chapman has found that Canada, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom and even the United States of America have higher strike levels than does Australia. They concluded that, especially in comparison with Canada, Australia has benefited from having a Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Australian Labor Party makes no secret of the fact that it has consistently opposed sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. We opposed that legislation when it was originally introduced by Mr Howard. We have had opposition to it in our national platform for the past 10 years. It also formed an integral part of our policy speeches in 1983 and 1984. In 1984 the Labor Government introduced legislation to take these matters out of the Trade Practices Act. The result, as many people in this chamber will recall, was a tied vote, at 23 votes all.

The Government recognises that any attempt to remove these sections from the Trade Practices Act would again fail in the Senate. I think we can count well enough to know that there is no way we could get a majority for that particular proposal. The Hancock Committee itself indicated that it would like to offer some recommendation on this matter, but it was divided over this question. Whilst we can point in the Hancock report to probably 99 per cent commonality of view, on this particular contentious matter, on sections 45D and 45E, because of a divided viewpoint, the Hancock committee could not bring down a recommendation. It specifically said that it would like to bring down a recommendation to influence the Senate.

It is the Government's current intention to include sections 45D and 45E within the industrial relations process and under the control of a labour court, for we say this: If we cannot remove these particular sections from the Trade Practices Act, by relocating them in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, we are far more likely to get a settlement of a dispute. For instance, we have heard much from Senator Parer today about the great Utah dispute. He told us how, in 1977, an injunction was granted. In actual fact, that dispute was eventually resolved in 1981-four years later. So much for using the Trade Practices Act, so much for the injunction-it rarely works. He also went on to discuss Mudginberri, that great highlight of the Liberals' life. I am glad he did not go into it in too much detail, otherwise he would have had to explain how the Northern Territory Government bought all that meat from Mudginberri and did nothing with it. It spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. He would have had to explain the terribly shoddy deal that it did with the Westpac Banking Corporation, which funded Mudginberri, and the owners of Mudginberri on the condition that the Northern Territory Government shifted all its bank accounts across to Westpac. Honourable senators opposite do not go into those slimy abuses of power that the Northern Territory Government was involved in. They just pick on unions. Honourable senators opposite are union bashers and nothing more. I agree with the statement put out by 70 academics on 20 April when they warned that `the future of a workable industrial relations system is now in serious doubt'. They went on to say that the provisions were being used as a first resort union busting technique. That is the situation that we have reached.

Senator Parer, probably Senator Chaney and others would have us believe that using sections 45d and 45e is a last resort, and that was probably true until 1985. However, it is now becoming a first resort, and that was never intended. If honourable senators read John Howard's speech on the intention of introducing those two sections, they will find that it was not intended as a first resort but as a last resort. The factor that is most likely to poison industrial relations in the future is if there is the return of a Liberal Government, a National Government, a Liberal-National coalition or a coalition between the Liberals, the Nationals and the new Nationals or whatever else there might be at that time. What would such a government's approach be to the labour market? Would it deregulate to such an extent that only the strong unions would be able to protect their members and the members of weak unions would not survive? Would such a government continue with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act or would it have direct bargaining? We do not hear any answers from honourable senators opposite. It is almost as though all they are thinking about is the magic phrase `deregulate the market and everything else will follow'. That will not happen.

As Senator McKiernan indicated today, it is true that much of the problem with the Liberal Party comes from the theoreticians outside the Liberal Party such as Peter Costello, Henderson and others who are apparently called the New Right. I will not go into New Right bashing which can be almost equivalent to kicking the communist can. However, to some extent I am distressed at the degree to which the Liberal Party people pay lip service to these ideas. I do not think that they think them through, and I do not think that they read the articles to the end. Instead, they just say `That seems all right, we might adopt that particular policy', without thinking through the consequences.

I have reminded honourable senators opposite that on three major occasions the Liberal Party has attacked the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The first occasion was 1903-04, the first time the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was dealt with. The conservatives lost power to the Labor Party because they refused to support that Act and the first Labor Prime Minister, Mr Watson, came into power. Again, in 1929 there was a massive attack on the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act, so much so that not only did the conservatives lose government but their Prime Minister also lost his seat. Between 1978 and 1983 we saw whole series of legislation designed with only one intent-the crippling of the trade union movement. Again, the conservatives were thrown out of office. If honourable senators opposite persist with these ultra right wing approaches of deregulating the labour market, they will not only lose the support of the Australian electorate but also will lose the support of many of their traditional friends in business who have often looked to the Liberal Party as their representatives in this Parliament. They do not want to go into a war which they have to fight while the Liberal Party sits on the sideline having passed the legislation because it is they who will suffer, not the Liberal Party directly until the next election.

In conclusion, this urgency motion will be debated at length again, as I think the mover knows. As soon as the amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission come back into this chamber, we will probably have many weeks of debate surrounding this and other matters. As I have said, this is not a matter of urgency; it was produced just to give the new shadow Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations a bit of a run. However, I do not think it has gone particularly well. The Australian Labor Party's attitude on secondary boycotts, on sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act, is if we are not in a position to abolish them because we do not have the numbers in this chamber, we will at least relocate them in an area where industrial disputes can be more effectively settled in the future. At the moment, there is no way that the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission can deal with a dispute if suddenly someone takes an action under sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. More often than not, that action becomes a key industrial dispute rather than the original dispute, which makes solving the original dispute so much harder. Relocation in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act will be a major contributor to settling industrial disputes. I know that employers, believing that they will lose a major weapon, have opposed that relocation. I think they have not given it enough thought. But, when they do, they will eventually support it.