Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1683

Mr LUSHER(9.06) —The legislation before the House-the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) and the Trade Practices Amendment Bill-is particularly critical legislation. It is principally concerned with the removal of Section 45D of the Trade Practices Act. It is legislation which was introduced by the previous Government and which has been proved to be very effective legislation over a long period. What is particularly saddening about this debate is that the legislation before us is based totally on ideological considerations. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) and the Government have clearly honoured a deal with the trade union movement which was forged in the period when they were in opposition. They have now brought before the Parliament legislation which will remove sections 45D and 45E from the Trade Practices Act, sections which properly belong in the Trade Practices Act and which have been effective in controlling irresponsible trade union activity and the exercising, on an irresponsible basis, of industrial muscle.

Mr Blunt —A pay-off for union donations.

Mr LUSHER —It is suggested by the honourable member for Richmond that it is a payoff for donations to the Australian Labor Party from the trade union movement .

Mr Hollis —He would know as he is such a great authority on the union movement!

Mr LUSHER —Maybe when the legislation of the Special Minister of State (Mr Young ) about publicising donations is effective we will see far more than we have in the past the nature of the donations that flow from the trade union movement to the Labor Party. We already know of the $750,000 that was donated to the ALP by the Teachers Federation but no doubt there are bigger and more significant amounts than that which the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis) would know about, may have been party to and would obviously support and which have gone to fight the campaigns in his electorate. This legislation is a payoff for union donations. I do not think anybody ought to be in any doubt about that.

Mr Reeves —The tax avoiders are giving donations to you.

Mr LUSHER —Of course the honourable member for the Northern Territory would understand the importance of the funds that flow from the trade union movement to the fighting of campaigns such as his. We heard him ask his last question in the Parliament this morning. It will be a very great pleasure for all of us when he does not come back after the election, whenever that might be. The election promise which is being honoured here tonight is one of a few election commitments that have been honoured by this Government. It is interesting to note that the Government cannot honour any of its other election commitments but it is able to carry through the undertakings which have been given on a totally ideological basis to the trade union government, the trade union movement of Australia.

Mr Carlton —The same thing.

Mr LUSHER —That was a Freudian slip which, as the honourable member for Mackellar points out, really amounts to the same thing. The Opposition is determined to show up this legislation for what it is. The people of this country need to understand that this Government has given a commitment to the trade union movement, based on an ideological opposition to this legislation, and that is why it is in the Parliament at the moment.

It is interesting to note that this matter is being debated in the chamber where, in April of last year, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) invited the captains of industry of Australia to debate, to consider, and to try to arrive at some sort of consensus on the problems that were facing this nation and to try to achieve some solutions as to what ought to be done about those problems. Yet most of the responsible people who were in this chamber on that occasion have opposed the legislation that the Minister has brought before the Parliament. It is interesting to note that the responsible and concerned sections of the business community and employer groups in this country have expressed their opposition to the withdrawal of sections 45D and 45E from the Trade Practices Act.

The Government is moving to withdraw these provisions in the face of serious concern and the eloquent and compelling arguments that have been put forward by responsible sections of the business community. Yet, despite that, the Government proceeds to move down the track of eliminating the effective sections 45D and 45E from the Trade Practices Act is simply because of the ideological opposition which has been put forward by the trade union movement and which is now being translated into legislative effect by the Labor Government.

It is not only in the face of opposition from the business community that this legislation is before the House. It is also in the face of opposition from this side of the House and in the face of opposition from the Australian Democrats in the Senate. I venture to ask whether the Government is putting this forward in the knowledge that it will be defeated when it reaches the Senate, because it has been made clear by the Democrats that they will join with the Opposition in defeating the proposals to withdraw sections 45D and 45E from the Trade Practices Act, because even the Democrats can see, and have been prepared to argue publicly in the forums available to them, that this legislation has been effective and that they are not prepared to see it withdrawn from the Australian legislative framework without there being beforehand some effective and appropriate replacement for it which the Government has not yet been prepared to produce.

It is interesting to note that the Government is bringing forward this legislation as a pay-off to the trade union movement, to honour a promise to the trade union movement. One of the very few election promises that it has been prepared to honour. It has been introduced in the very clear knowledge that it will run into a stormy opposition in the Senate and that it has no prospect of being accepted in the Senate. There is no reason for it other than the intransigent opposition from the trade union movement, which wants the right to ride roughshod over anybody and for any reason, free of any legal redress. That is why this legislation is in the Parliament. It needs to be understood by all who are interested in these matters that it is a clear pay-off to the trade union movement, which did so much to deliver government to the Labor Party and did so much to bring down the former Leader of the Opposition and to install the present Prime Minister as the head of the Labor Party just prior to the last Federal election. This is the pay-off. The trade union movement insists upon its right to be above the law.

Mr Gear —Yes.

Mr LUSHER —Ah! The honourable member for Tangney acknowledges it. The people of Australia ought to understand that the honourable member for Tangney sits in this Parliament and says: 'Yes, of course it does; it is appropriate that the trade union movement insists upon this privilege of being above the law'. He concurs with the view that the trade union movement ought to have that right and privilege of being above the law. Opposition members do not accept that the trade union movement has any particular privilege or any particular right to be above the law. We believe that it ought to be subject to the law of the land in the same way as anyone else is. If the trade union movement had to live under the sort of constraints that exist under the Companies Act and the corporations and securities provisions that apply in this country, there would hardly be anyone in this country holding office as a trade union official today. That is the sort of equality that ought to apply. It is the sort of redress that is available under sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act, which this government, in concert with the trade union movement, is seeking to withdraw.

This legislation has clearly been effective. It has been effective more as a deterrent than as an actual weapon against industrial chaos and industrial disruption. The fact that the trade union movement has known that this remedy has existed has meant that, in more circumstances than not, it has not been necessary for action to be taken under section 45D or section 45E. When one starts to look at the instances in which sections 45D and 45E have been invoked, one finds that there have been very few. But from an awareness of current affairs in this country, one knows the number of times that corporations and employer groups have been forced to threaten the use of these sections. On those occasions the trade union disruption, the arrogance and the above-the-law attitudes that have been expressed by the trade union movement have evaporated.

My colleague the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) referred to the survey that had been taken in which corporations were asked to express their view. The honourable member for Sydney (Mr Baldwin) and the honourable member for Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) say: 'You cannot take any notice of that'. This is a survey that was taken of the same people who sat in this chamber in April 1983 at the invitation of the Prime Minister and who were praised by the Prime Minister for their co-operation in trying to achieve economic recovery. When they are asked about their attitude to sections 45D and 45E of the Trade Practices Act and they express an honest view, honourable members opposite say: 'Of course, they are lying. How would you expect them to express an objective point of view?'

I ask honourable members to listen to some of their responses. They are interesting. One of the corporations said:

Yes, in that we believe the action hastened the decision that eventually led parties back to the negotiating table.

Another said:

Trade Practices proceedings did help settle the dispute because it brought pressure to bear on unions, highlighted their determination to fight no matter what other individuals were involved. Showed strikers that they not only had to take the company 'on' but also other parts of society, such as the legal system, and the rest of the community.

Another said:

Definitely yes.

Another said:

It was the only thing that resolved the problem.

Yet another said:

Section 45D action was the one and only way to have the boycotts lifted.

Another said:

The interim injunction was the only instrument that materially assisted in a resumption of normal operations.

And another said:

We believe that institution of the section 45D proceedings was a significant factor in the cessation of the BLF's actions. We do not believe the other steps referred to would have brought about the same resolution as the Trade Practices application.

Another said:

Section 45D resulted in the boycott being lifted.

Another said:

The only reason the boycott ceased was the perceived imminence of an injunction being granted.

Yet another said:

Again, the only reason the boycott ceased was the institution of Trade Practices action.

Yet the mugs on the Government side of the Parliament want to say: 'This sort of stuff has been written under duress. People are answering phoney questions'.

Mr Carlton —Under duress from one side.

Mr LUSHER —Yes. Let that be clearly understood.

Mr Hollis —Have you any names to them?

Mr LUSHER —Let it be clearly understood, even by people such as the honourable member for Macarthur, who ought to understand better than most the realities of industrial relations, coming from where he comes that these corporations are not being phoney in their attitude. They are expressing legitimate concern about the inevitable chaos that will follow in the industrial relations in this country once these provisions have been withdrawn from the Trade Practices Act. Let it be clearly understood that that is the situation.

I want to comment on the shipping industry. My shadow portfolio responsibility is transport. The shipping industry has benefited perhaps more than most industries from the application and the threatened applications of sections 45D and 45E. The shipping industry, perhaps more than most industries can be subject to intransigent and unfair trade union activity, whether it be port activity through the use of tugs, pilots or stevedores, or some actions from the maritime -related industries; whether it is under the campaigns that have been going on against flag of convenience shipping or campaigns to try to have Australian crews put on the ships of traditional maritime nations; or whether it is in relation to campaigns to have more ship building or more ship repair work carried out in this country. It is the shipping industry, with its enormously high daily costs, that can be held to ransom by the trade union movement in an effort to obtain sweetheart deals or pay-offs; to do anything that may be required to get a ship out of port because it is costing tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars per day to have the ship tied up.

Government members interjecting-

Mr LUSHER —The honourable member for Northern Territory, in his totally unsophisticated way, says: 'Why don't they settle it?' One of the reasons for our incredibly inefficient and uncompetitive shipping industry is the deals forced upon the industry by the trade union movement over the years. Why the devil does the honourable member think that we have a shipping industry that no companies in this country or around the world will use unless they are forced to use it? It is simply because the trade union movement has priced it out of the market. It is so totally uncompetitive. It costs between $1m and $2m per year more to operate a ship under Australian crewing conditions and Australian maintenance and repair conditions than it does to operate the same ship under any sensible European or other maritime flag.

That is the sort of thing that the trade union movement has done. It has nearly destroyed that industry. It is seeking to destroy it even further by making Australia a totally unreliable supplier to the world. If ships coming to Australia's ports are subjected to the sort of activity that will take place if these provisions of the Trade Practices Act are removed, nobody will come to Australia with their ships because shipowners are not prepared to take those risks. We have already seen that the international strike club is paying out more than half the claims it has to meet on disputes relative to Australian ports, Australian union activity. That is the kind of stupidity Labor members want to promote and that is what will happen if these provisions are removed.

The trade union dominance of the maritime industry is so complete that the vulnerability of the shipping industry is greater than in other industries. The cost of holding up shipping is monstrous. What are shipowners supposed to do in seeking to obtain some legitimate legal redress if no section 45D remedy is available to them? They are left with no effective redress. It is essential that there be some effective protection for the shipping industry against the political use of trade union power or industrial action, which in most cases is totally unrelated to working conditions and the legitimate concerns of the unions in those industries. These are things that people need to understand. There must be some appropriate and effective remedy. The criminal provisions contained in the Crimes Act and civil actions which could possibly be instituted are not effective because they do not provide speedy remedies. It has been proved over the years that those provisions are not effective. It has become almost impossible to prove the circumstances that need to be proved if such provisions are to be effective. Because of that, the record shows that they have been infrequently used and have rarely if ever been successful.

In dealing with the shipping industry, the time factor is critical and delays unacceptable, costs are prohibitive, and there must be effective and speedy remedies. If these provisions are to be moved into the Conciliation and Arbitration Act or some other civil remedy and are taken away from the Federal Court where they are at present, the procedure will not be effective. It was acknowledged by Mr Justice Sweeney in his report of the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions back in 1976 that this is not effective and that there are no ways in which the situation can be handled.

The suggestions that we should move secondary boycotts into industrial relations are not satisfactory. They are not enforceable and will simply not be effective. I wish to read to the Parliament, for the information of honourable members, a couple of things that have been said on this subject by the Australian Chamber of Shipping on this legislation. If Labor members had any concern about Australia's reputation in the international arena and were concerned to do something to promote Australia's interests, they would be concerned about these things. The Australian Chamber of Shipping said:

Legal redress of the kind afforded by section 45D is without question the single most important piece of legislation in Australia relating to overseas cargo shipping.

. . . .

Ships are singularly vulnerable to industrial action. The simple withdrawal of labour of a tug crew can be effective to delay a ship indefinitely. It is unfortunately a fact that the ship cannot move until the trade union concerned is prepared to allow it to do so. The cost of delay to a ship accrues at a heavy and inescapable daily rate. In the absence of legal right of the kind provided by section 45D, there is virtually no, or no effective, legal redress. The maritime trade unions as a group are able to exercise power to an extent matched by few other trade union groups.

. . . .

Industrial action of a political kind has been taken, for example, in relation to the prior Government of Greece and the Government of Chile. Action has also been taken in respect of the carriage of Australian resources and, in particular , energy resources such as coal.

. . . .

In the absence of legal redress of the kind provided by section 45D, shipping companies are at the mercy of the maritime trade unions.

What does the honourable member for the Northern Territory propose to do about that? Nothing. He can sit there, lie back and be massacred by the Chief Minister . We have seen the last of him in this Parliament. His contributions have been meaningless. When the House is dealing with a matter that affects the Northern Territory and that is concerned with providing effective and reliable shipping, he sits back and treats the removal of these provisions as some sort of joke. We do not treat this matter as a joke; we take it most seriously. The view of the Australian Chamber of Shipping is:

There is no viable alternative legal redress. The cost of delay and the damage to Australia's international reputation as a trading nation, caused by industrial action rendered unlawful by section 45D, are costs which inevitably substantially fall upon the whole Australian community.

I would have thought that anybody, even members on the Government benches, would be prepared to stop to take a responsible minute to think about these matters. Surely they would agree that these provisions be left in the Trade Practices Act . That is the submission of the Opposition. It is supported by the Australian Democrats. We believe that this legislation is headed for failure. It deserves to head for failure because these provisions should remain on the statute book if this country is to have a meaningful and effective system of trying to keep intransigent trade union muscle under control and to maintain Australia's reputation as a viable exporting nation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.