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Friday, 3 December 1976

Mr CONNOLLY (Bradfield) - This morning we have heard 2 speeches from Opposition members in support of a matter of public importance. It is regrettable that neither speaker spoke to the subject which was meant to be the substance of the debate.

Mr Willis -That is totally untrue.

Mr CONNOLLY -Let me go through this matter item by item and take the opportunity to define the terminology used. Let us analyse what the Opposition has said and compare that with the facts of the situation. We were told that the Federal Government had instituted a campaign to denigrate the trade union movement. We were also told that it denies the trade union movement the right to be involved in matters of legitimate trade union interest. Let me go through those step by step. Where is this campaign? As the constitutionally elected, government of the people of Australia it is our responsibility and ours alone to lay down the guidelines for the economic development of this nation-economic development which at this stage has faltered. One of the reasons why it has faltered is because there is a small group- I emphasise that it is a small group- of militant communist and left-wing trade union leaders who have made it quite clear, at every opportunity they get, that they do not like the arbitration system, that they do not wish to live under the social system and that they wish to destroy the system.

Let us look at the realities. If they do not like the system they can go and live in the Soviet Union. If they wish to destroy the system they can take to the streets where they will be subject to the laws of the land. But if they are prepared to work through the constitutional system, the electoral system of this Parliament, they have the right to do that too. What I fail to see is how a small group, and it is such a small group, can be encouraged by the Australian Labor Party to believe that it can use its power to destroy, to denigrate and to disrupt the daily activities of the majority of Australian people and of its own trade union rank and file members.

If it were not for the fact that one-third of all trade union members vote for non-Labor parties we could never form a government. If honourable members examine the trade union movement as a percentage of the total workforce they will see that the trade union movement represents only just over 50 per cent. What about the remainder? Is it not to be given any rights? What about the millions of people in Australia who do not belong to trade unions but who dutifully live by the democratic system which they understand and which they respect? Does the Opposition seriously suggest that the Government, for some extraordinary reason, is presenting itself as a campaigner against the rights of the trade unions? We are here because the majority of Australians put us here. We are not going to fail them because a small group of trade unionists- I again emphasise that point- decided that it does not like us, does not like our policies, does not like the system of government or anything that comes from it.

When we consider the harassment which has fallen upon the average trade unionist, in the last few months, in fact in the period from January to August this year, trade unionists and workers as a whole in Australia lost $95, 894m in wages. In case members of the Opposition do not wish to accept this fact, I stress mat when trade unionists lose their wages they suffer as much as anybody else. When the ordinary people of Australia cannot take a train, a bus or a hydrofoil, they get upset and say to the Government: 'You are the elected government. We put you in power to control these situations'. Yet a small group of people including the Opposition is denying the Government its right to administer adequately the activities of the Australian economy. May I remind those who wish to destroy our democratic system of government that a democracy must exist on a consensus. A government cannot effectively carry out what is required of it by the law and by the traditions of the parliamentary system if a small group of people are encouraged to believe that they can usurp power outside the democratic process.

Let us be quite frank about it. We have been told about the so-called democracy in the trade union movement. How could anyone believe that the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union is democratic when 1.1 per cent of the membership of approximately 180 000 can elect the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary? Honourable members opposite have the temerity to talk about union democracy. In this week's Bulletin there is an article on a book entitled Inside Australia's Top 100 Trade Unions. The article contains an interesting quotation from Mr J. D. Garland, the Secretary of the AMWU. He was asked this question:

Statistics show that the AMWU represents 3 per cent of the work force and is responsible for some 30 per cent of disputes. Why?

He gave 3 reasons. One of them was:

The union has for a long period not accepted the capitalist system as one which either in the short or long term is in the best interests of the working people.

He speaks for the union. As I pointed out, he was elected by 1.1 per cent of the union membership. Not one member of this Parliament would have the temerity to make such an allegation on behalf of his electorate. Yet certain people in the trade union movement are encouraged to believe that power once gained by various means is held at all costs. We were elected to protect the interests of all Australians- trade unionists and non-trade unionists alike. We cannot sacrifice the Australian people because a small group are prepared to use their power in an irresponsible manner. Anyone reading the newspapers will appreciate what continuous strike action, often on very minor matters, means to the Australian economy in lost wages and productivity. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition spoke about mass action by trade unions. What he meant was mass anarchy. He was referring to the export of uranium, and said that the trade union movement must stop the export of uranium. Fortunately for Australia the Labor Party and the trade union movement have since seen the error of his ways. This man who sets himself up as Deputy Leader of the Opposition finds himself totally isolated on that subject. Nevertheless he urged direct union action against government policy. What of the rights of the ordinary people? What of government rights having been elected on a platform which the people accepted? Is it right that a militant handful, representing perhaps 30 per cent of the trade union membership, which is the absolute maximum constituency for which they speak, can usurp the right to speak for the trade union movement? I question their right to speak when so many of them have not been elected by an acceptable democratic process. Upon what authority do they walk roughshod over the rights of the Australian people? In the Australian of 3 June 1976 thiseadline appeared:

Strikers walk off for the fiftieth time.

That was from a building project and we wonder why the Australian economy has gone into the doldrums. In the Australian of 22 July this headline appeared: 7000 jobs hang on bans decision.

When a small group of people has the power to decide whether 7000 other men and women have the right to work where is democracy? What became of the rights of the majority? There is another headline:

Union threat to stall Tasmanian shipping.

We know the shambles and difficulties which Tasmania faces. The Government is well aware of those problems. But where lie the interests of this small extreme group of communist-led trade union officials who sabotage the Tasmanian people who go to the polls in a few days? What thanks can they give to honourable members opposite for their efforts? I quote from an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 3 September. The headline reads:

Officer forced to pay men for not working.

The article states:

A shipping officer told a royal commission today that he had been forced to pay men who had not worked, and had also paid a port levy, payroll tax and insurance for the time they had not worked.

Another headline reads:

Air traffic controllers disrupt all airlines.

The article referred to 1000 air traffic controllers who lodged a claim with the Public Service Board. It was rejected by the Board. What did they do? They went on strike, stopped every airline and caused confusion throughout Australia. Another headline referred to a dispute stopping work on a hospital in Tasmania. It was the State's largest building project. Another headline reads:

Brewery men to strike over hours.

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