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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1158

Mr SHACK —I listened to the Prime Minister's non-answer to the question from the Leader of the Opposition--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will come to his question.

Mr SHACK —I would like to try again by asking the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations a question. He will be aware that, through the actions of the New South Wales branch of the Transport Workers Union of Australia, the blockade of Queensland effectively starts tonight. For example, Mr Harry Quinn has said that all airports will be closed. I ask the Minister very clearly and succinctly: What will he do now, today, to protect and uphold the constitutional rights and freedoms of Queenslanders and all Australians, their rights and freedoms to interstate trade, interstate travel and interstate commerce and their rights and freedoms to Federal Government services?

Mr WILLIS —The questioner talks about rights and freedoms. Of course, rights and freedoms in this issue are not confined to the people he is discussing. They apply to all the people at the heart of this dispute. As the Prime Minister has indicated, we are, of course, concerned to avoid any such industrial action, any blockade.

Mr Peacock —What are you going to do about it? I have not heard a damn thing so far. This is history.

Mr WILLIS —We have proposed the means. The honourable member should stop talking and listen for a moment. As the Prime Minister has explained--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition has had a pretty fair go. I ask him to cease interjecting.

Mr Peacock —They have had a fair go. They have not told us anything.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr WILLIS —We proposed a means by which this blockade could be called off immediately. That is, if the Queensland Premier were prepared to have discussions involving this Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, there would be no blockade. It would be as simple as that. If he wants the blockade to be called off, he only has to agree to discussions. The unions have said that they will call off all industrial action.

Mr Howard —Do you admit you can call it off?

Mr WILLIS —Let me say to you--

Mr Howard —You admit you can call it off.

Mr WILLIS —I cannot call it off.

Mr Howard —That is just what you said.

Mr WILLIS —It requires--

Mr Howard —You just said that you could call it off.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will cease interjecting.

Mr Howard —If you call it off--

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr WILLIS —The Premier of Queensland, of course, can call this matter off.

Opposition members interjecting--

Mr WILLIS —Shut up. I suggest you listen to the answer, you idiot.

Mr Shack —What was that?

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I suggest honourable members--

Mr Shack —I ask the Minister to withdraw that reflection on me, Mr Speaker.

Mr WILLIS —I withdraw, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —The Minister has withdrawn, quite unreservedly and quite correctly. I ask honourable members on both sides to cease interjecting. I call the Minister.

Mr WILLIS —As I said, this matter could be ended immediately. The industrial action could be ended if the Premier of Queensland decided to agree to the very constructive proposal put to him by the Prime Minister, which was that there be discussions with this Government and with the unions on this whole matter. That seems to me to be an extraordinarily sensible proposal. I find it difficult to understand why the Premier of Queensland has rejected it if his concern is to prevent this kind of industrial action taking place. That constructive proposal has been put. It has been rejected. The Prime Minister has again said today that it is still on offer. The Premier of Queensland can, if he wishes, change his mind, and we will sit down in constructive discussion with him. Let me say also that it is our understanding that in those discussions the trade union movement would be prepared to make proposals to the Queensland Government about the establishment of a settlement of disputes procedure in the electricity industry and that the ACTU would be prepared to endorse the adherence to that procedure by the Queensland unions. There are constructive proposals to be put, additional to those I have just mentioned, yet the Queensland Premier has indicated a lack of interest in discussing these matters, saying that he has had discussions with unions before, and that--

Mr Tuckey —Call your thugs off.

Mr WILLIS —They have not adhered to their word.

Mr Tuckey —So you call the strike off.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for O'Connor. I remind the honourable member that this is the second time today he has been warned. I call the Minister.

Mr WILLIS —I think the difference in this situation is that the ACTU is saying that it is prepared to guarantee that there would be adherence to some settlement of disputes procedure; so this is a quite different situation from that which the Queensland Government may have experienced in the past. It is regrettable in the extreme that the Queensland Government does not seem to be prepared to look at a constructive settlement. As I said earlier, there was almost a constructive settlement in the State Industrial Commission at the time when he called on the state of emergency and then rejected two recommendations from the State Industrial Commission, which recommendations would have settled the dispute on the spot and would have led to none of the subsequent industrial action which has taken place and none of the unhappy period of extremely undemocratic legislation which has been passed through the Queensland Parliament.

It is quite clear that this Government has been thoroughly constructive. As the Prime Minister has said, there have been substantial attempts to try to find a way in which this matter can be resolved. In the end, if the Queensland Government does not want it resolved, I guess that it will not be resolved. We shall have to go through an horrendous period. We hope that it does not come to that. There is no need for it to come to that. If the Queensland Government acts constructively about it, we can avoid all the trouble that is now foreshadowed.