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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1892


Senator CHRIS EVANS (4.00 p.m.) —It is with some sadness that I rise to respond to Senator Abetz's outrageous slur on a range of people connected with the Australian trade union movement. Unfortunately, he has confirmed that the current leadership of the Liberal Party is committed to this sort of campaign.


Senator Carr —Amoral. Absolutely amoral.


Senator Abetz —I think you mean immoral, you goose.


Senator Carr —No, you are amoral. You have no morals.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —Instead of appealing to the middle ground and proper public policy direction in Australia, we are going to have more of this sort of thing. Apparently, it is the situation that if one is a young, ambitious senator on the Liberal side of politics, one needs to appeal to—


Senator Abetz —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I am sure you would have heard that interjection by Senator Carr and I ask that he withdraw that interjection.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs)—I did not hear the interjection.


Senator Abetz —To remind you, the interjection was that I was a person who was amoral, that I had no morals. That is a clear reflection on me and I ask that it be withdrawn.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, the request is that you withdraw the interjection, if you did say that.


Senator Carr —No, I did not say that. I said that the Liberal Party was amoral. But if it is your wish, I will withdraw whatever reflection he thinks has been made.


Senator Schacht —Mr Acting Deputy President, I understand that the honourable senator is concerned that if he was called amoral, that should be withdrawn. But I do not think, in the nature of robust debate in this place, that to call a political party or its policies `amoral' is contrary to the standing orders. Every day in this place both sides give as good as they get on the description of the policies and of the political party they belong to, without in any way reflecting on individual members or senators. I think, therefore, as Senator Carr has said, he did not refer to Senator Abetz in that way; it was to the political—


Senator Abetz —He clearly did.


Senator Schacht —He said he did not. I accept his word on that. If that is the case, I do not believe he has to withdraw it.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Under the circumstances it would not be a breach to refer to a party as `amoral'. Senator Carr has said that is what he said.


Senator Abetz —He shouted across the chamber, `You are amoral.'


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I did not hear it. It is not unparliamentary as it has been explained, so I think Senator Evans might continue.


Senator Short —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I was in the chamber, too. Certainly, the clear implication of Senator Carr's remark was related to Senator Abetz. In the interests of trying to have some sort of sensible approach to one another in this chamber, I would hope that Senator Carr, who started off by intimating that he was going to withdraw, would go ahead and do so.


Senator Schacht —On the point of order: Senator Carr has said the interjection was about the Liberal Party. That is what he has told the Senate; that is his word on his honour as a senator.


Senator Abetz —That is not right.


Senator Schacht —That is what he has said. We should say that is how it is to be described in the Hansard—that the description `amoral' is a description of the Liberal Party, not of Senator Abetz or any other senator. I think his explanation ought to be accepted—that he was in no way reflecting on Senator Abetz's position at a personal level; he was attacking the Liberal Party. On that basis, I do not think he should withdraw.


Senator O'Chee —Mr Acting Deputy President, on the point of order: I understand what Senator Schacht is saying, but it has never been the practice that it is a matter for explanation in the interpretation of senators' comments. Where a senator requests that a comment be withdrawn because he has taken offence to the matter, it is appropriate, and it has always been held to be appropriate, that the good grace which one would expect from both sides of the chamber means that that comment should be withdrawn. Irrespective of the intention, it is the effect and the offence which the Senate takes exception to. Accordingly, I suggest you might recommend that Senator Carr withdraw.


Senator Carr —It is a waste of my colleague's time; I withdraw.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —I was about to refer to the paranoia of the Liberal Party, but I am getting a little paranoid myself after the waste of my speaking time during that superfluous discussion of points of order. What is of concern to me is the fact that young, ambitious and sensitive senators from the Liberal side now feel that the way to succeed in the Liberal Party is to attack homosexuals, unionists and foreigners. That is their sort of creed—appeal to the prejudice, appeal to the paranoia of the Liberal Party and its closest supporters. We have heard Senator Abetz, in his short time in this place, defending attacks on homosexuals, the United Nations and foreigners generally. Now it is the unionists' turn. The old whipping boy for the conservatives is to attack trade unionists.

  The central point to all of this is that Senator Abetz has used his great forensic skills in the estimates committee process, and he has found us out. The Australian Labor Party federal government is funding trade union training in Australia. We have been found out; we are guilty. We have been guilty since 1975. Malcolm Fraser was guilty. But we admit it; we are guilty. We are funding, with public funds, trade union training in Australia. We are proud of it, and we are going to continue to do it. If the Liberal Party had not shifted so much to the right, it would continue the tripartite support for that initiative—the support that was shown by the Fraser government, and the support that has been shown by employer bodies around Australia. I have served with employer representatives on the WA state council of the Trade Union Training Authority. They have made a constructive contribution, as I believe I did during my term there.

  Senator Abetz thinks he has caught us out. Good for you, senator! It is a great discovery. As I pointed out to him last night, in 1903 the parliament of Australia recognised the role of trade unions and gave them a significant role in our compulsory conciliation and arbitration system. So we have had a recognition by the federal parliament of the importance of trade unions since 1903. But Senator Abetz has just found that out. He has just caught on to the fact that governments actually encourage trade unions—governments of all persuasions.

  For the last nearly 20 years, governments of all persuasions have supported trade union training. Why? Because it is in the national interest. There has been tripartite support for trade union training, because it is in the national interest. Better prepared shop stewards, better informed shop stewards and better trained shop stewards are better able to deal with industrial relations in the workplace. Since the inception of TUTA, we have had a declining level of industrial disputation. A lot of that credit must go to the accord. But part of the reason for that has been the role of TUTA, which has been acknowledged by employers and by Liberal Party members over many years. It has assisted in bringing about better relations in the workplace by properly training trade union shop stewards. It has had the support of industry.

  We have also provided support for industry. We helped train managers in industrial relations both in our tech colleges and universities, and in providing training funds to employer groups. So there is nothing new about this. Senator Abetz may be new to it. He may not know anything about industrial relations, but there has been 20 years of public funding of trade union training in this country.

  There have been two changes recently. The first change is in TUTA. It has moved to devolve its training to the trade unions, and just provide a central core function. That is a decision that has been taken to provide better training. Part of the outcome of this decision was to set up a joint venture with the ACTU to provide library and information services so that information was accessible to the clients. The important thing about the Trade Union Training Authority is that its clients are the trade unions of Australia. It does have a close relationship with them. It works with them because they are its client base. They are the people it was established to serve under the charter given to it by this parliament. So to suddenly discover this fact and alleged conspiracy is a complete nonsense.

  The second change has been in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party has moved to the right. It adopted Fightback and, despite the bipartisan support for trade union training that existed for nearly 20 years, the Liberal Party has taken on a policy of closing TUTA. That is its right. I think it is a sad thing, and I think a lot of people in business suggest that it is a sad thing.

  Nevertheless, those are the important changes, and that is why we hear Senator Abetz using words like `incestuous cesspit'. Where does this bloke get off? This is just an outrageous slur. He can get headlines in Tasmania by slurring homosexuals. He can get headlines in Tasmania by slurring unionists. It may get him headlines, but it does nothing for public policy in Australia.

  The reason there is a close relationship between the ACTU, the trade union movement and TUTA is that TUTA is there to serve that client base. The important thing to be said about the joint venture agreement is that it is in the public interest. It is cost efficient. It will actually save the taxpayers of Australia $1.2 million annually, and it will provide better training. (Time expired)