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Former National Farmers' Federation President, Ian McLachlan, says that voluntary trade union membership would have prevented the domestic airline pilots' current industrial dispute

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: The former President of the National Farmers' Federation, Ian McLachlan, says one way to break the airline impasse would be to introduce voluntary unionism. He says pilots are compelled to belong to the Federation of Airline Pilots and this, he says, is one reason why the strike continues. Mr McLachlan, who appears set to enter Federal Parliament at the next election via the safe, South Australian Liberal seat of Barker, is seen by many conservatives as a future Prime Minister. This morning he spoke to Peter Rapp in Adelaide.

PETER RAPP: Mr McLachlan, with the pilots' dispute now entering its fourth week, can you suggest any resolution to it?

IAN McLACHLAN: I think there's one thing that's been missed by all the commentators that I've seen - I might have missed a few - in this dispute, and that is that all these pilots that are on strike are members, one way or another, of the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots. Now, I don't believe that every one of those young men, when they were 19, went in there with the idea that they would be compelled, or forced, to be members of an association like that, and that to me is the only reason that they can run that strike.

PETER RAPP: But aren't you saying that they are gullible, that they are being led by the nose in suggesting that? I mean, the membership made up the decision of the Federation, surely, to go for this 30 per cent rise?

IAN McLACHLAN: I think that a majority of those members did, but I'll bet you - I'll bet you - that there are people in there who do not want to be members of that Federation and have been compelled or forced into it by threats or coercion, in the past, probably, and I'll bet you that there are people who don't want to go on strike right now who are, quite voluntarily, members of that organisation who are also in a position of having been coerced into it, one way or another.

Now, without that situation being there, you can't run a strike. I mean, if there were 200 of those 1,600-odd pilots who didn't want to be on strike and were quite free not to be, I think that what would happen is you'd have defectors breaking out and more and more people would leave the Federation stance, and then you would slowly but surely beat them on the grass, as you say, people say. In other words, they would be moving passengers. The most important thing is to understand that without that full membership forced to take a single line, you couldn't run the strike, and that of course would apply in the future to all strikes, and so we must have voluntary unionism. We must have what the Americans call `the right to work'.

PETER RAPP: I just wonder, as a Liberal candidate, are you concerned at the clarity of the Opposition stance? I mean, they have a free market policy and perhaps that's not seen to be working now. We have the individual negotiations between some pilots and their prospective employers, but we still have the dispute continuing with no real end in sight, and Sir Peter Abeles talking about the possibility of Ansett closing down. Are we seeing a free market policy not working?

IAN McLACHLAN: If the Government were to enact this voluntary unionism so that those pilots had no forces on them - you know, from behind, saying: You have to stay with this organisation, then you might see the free market working. At the present time, there is no free market working because all of those people are being pushed by the Pilots' Federation to stay solid. I don't know what the threats are, I don't know how bad they are, but I do know that in the past they have been quite compelling, by whatever means. So we haven't got the free market working at the present time.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Federal Liberal candidate, Ian McLachlan.