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Tuesday, 26 May 1987
Page: 3314

Mr ROCHER(3.33) —The present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard), to his eternal credit, is the author of sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act. I make a point at the outset, because the dissemblers on the Government benches seek to camouflage or to ignore that simple fact. It is easy to understand their reasons for not giving credit where it is due to the Leader of the Opposition. One of the reasons is that sections 45d and 45e of the Trade Practices Act have, more than any other single measure, redressed the outrageous quantum of power increasingly exercised over the past 20 or more years by Australian trade union leaders. The naked power of union leaders, sustained as they are by compulsory and coerced membership of unions and a captive political arm, which is the Australian Labor Party, has been wielded ruthlessly in the most selfish and self-serving way; in ways, I emphasise, not be be found anywhere else in the democratic countries of the world. I say that confidently now that industrial sanity largely has been returned to the United Kingdom under Mrs Thatcher. At the behest of its masters in the Australian Council of Trade Unions this Government would eliminate the most effective legislative tool at its disposal in ensuring legal protection against unacceptable abuses of trade union power and equality before the law for all Australians.

During the past couple of weeks this already tainted Government has plumbed new depths of deception and hypocrisy as some of its most senior people, such as the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis), have sought to portray the legitimate concerns being expressed throughout the business sector, and indeed throughout Australia, about the Government's well rehearsed attempts effectively to misrepresent sections 45d and 45e, by using words and terms like `nonsense', `dishonesty' and `grossly misrepresentative'. The public is now left to judge how dishonest, how misrepresentative, the reaction of the business community and the Australian community is in the light of the Government's craven act in removing this legislation from the consideration of the Parliament because the Government sees that it is in political trouble with the legislation. But despite all the Government's best efforts at evasion, distortion and misrepresentation, the facts of the matter are perfectly clear and have been so ever since the Government came to office, headed by a former President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions-who still has the same mentality of one-and with a former ACTU industrial advocate as Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.

The ACTU and ALP accord signed in 1983 had something to say about sections 45d and 45e. I add that this was after the consummation of the political assassination of the present Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). The 1983 accord states:

The Government will encourage the settlement of disputes between employers and unions by conciliation and without recourse to legislative or common law penal sanctions.

It is all very well for the Minister to come in here today and say; `We were not going to remove it'. Either he is going to remove or emasculate the provisions or he is going to break his undertaking to the ACTU. At the end of the day I know which course he will follow, and so does everyone in this chamber. The ground rules in this matter were well and truly set in 1983. In pursuing this directive from the ACTU, the Prime Minister said on 6 October 1983 that sections 45d and 45e would be repealed. On 22 November, Senator Gareth Evans, QC, the unlamented former Attorney-General, academic lawyer and apologist for industrial compulsion, said in a speech to the Victorian branch of the Common Law Association that the ALP was `firmly of the view that trade practices legislation should exempt from its operation industrial relations issues more properly resolved within the framework of the conciliation and arbitration system'. That was another cop-out by the then Attorney-General. It was more evidence of a sell-out to the ACTU.

Unable to accomplish their disgraceful aim of complete abolition of those provisions, because of the Senate's action in 1984, this craven collection of fellow travellers and agents of the irresponsible in the trade union movement would, if they could have their way, develop a structure so elaborate, so byzantine and so bureaucratic that few employers would face any chance of surviving long enough to utilise what few, if any, legal remedies will continue to exist. The union movement, having been unable to obtain abolition for the time being, is now attempting to ensure the emasculation of sections 45d and 45e, making them so difficult to use as to render them meaningless.

Dr Harry Edwards —It is neutering them.

Mr ROCHER —Yes, they have been neutered; I thank the honourable member. Having failed to gain parliamentary acceptance of its attempt to repeal sections 45d and 45e, the Government will now resort to shuffling the deck of cards which consists of all but one trick for employers in the industrial relations game. In truth, all but one card in the pack are trumps in the hands of irresponsible union leaders, including those leaders paramount in the ACTU. Having tried to tear up legislation-thankfully defeated-the one effective trick available to employers, it is the Government's stated intention now to stack the deck and permanently shuffle that card to the bottom of the pack. The section 45d and section 45e card can be played by employers only in the event that they are not parties to a dispute. The employers must be suffering loss because of a secondary boycott arising from disputes in which they are not players and therefore are unable to directly influence the outcome.

It seems that, in line with this Government's twisted logic in deciding its unique version of fairness, unions are again to be insulated from the legal processes which apply to all Australians-all Australians, that is, except irresponsible union leaders who demand of and get from this Government a privileged position not open to others to enjoy. Once, this Government boasted that it governed for all Australians equally and without favour. Then it became rightly identified as the representative of big business and big unions. At the same time, it was itself recognised as the epitome of big government. Today, it has been reduced to merely a government of, for and by big unions, to an extent that precludes any pretences to the contrary. It is a meek, mild and motley group, unable to carry out any longer its charter to govern for all Australians.

In its attitude to sections 45D and 45E, this Government turns its back on Australia's future and embraces outdated, destructive and divisive notions that will impoverish us all. That attitude prevails despite the fact that, in September 1986, 78 per cent of Australians thought that trade unions had too much power and that 68 per cent of trade union members thought the same. It prevails also despite the fact that at least 25 per cent of unionists are members against their will and despite the fact that, the Australian values study conducted in 1983 found that, while 80 per cent of Australians had confidence in companies, only 25 per cent had any confidence in unions. These polls merely reinforced years and years of public opinion research and thus cannot be dismissed as mere aberrations.

If the Prime Minister wants to call yet another early general election, I will welcome it. If he wants again to cry havoc and let loose his dogs of war, I will welcome it. If the Prime Minister insists on creating scapegoats for his Government's failing and goes to the polls, I will welcome it. If he wants to lead the lambs on his back bench, including the honourable member for Barton (Mr Punch), to electoral slaughter, I will welcome that also. The Prime Minister and his Government, confronted with the reality of equal time and space from a generally unsympathetic media hitherto, will find the Opposition parties ready to expose them as the political card sharks they really are.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.