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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1176

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(4.l3) —We have just listened to the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) speak for about l3.5 minutes in which time he said not one word of criticism of the Queensland Government. He spent all his time demonstrating his well-known paranoia about the trade union movement. Far be it from me to say that the trade union movement is perfect in every way. Obviously it does things which this Government does not support. As I have indicated in Question Time, taking industrial action in relation to this matter is one of those things. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting to note that the honourable member for Tangney said not one word of criticism of the Queensland Government in the whole of his time.

I want to put it on the record that it is now quite clear that the Opposition totally, unambiguously, without any qualification, supports the Queensland Government. In doing so it is supporting action which I think previous Liberal governments would not have supported and disparaging international treaties which I think previous Liberal governments have shown an inclination to support. I think it is deplorable that this Opposition has now shown that it will go as low as possible in order to support its paranoia about the trade union movement and to grasp opportunistically at any straw which it thinks will get it some kind of electoral support. That is what this pathetic display today was all about.

Let me say at the outset that the Government totally refutes the basis of this matter of public importance, the basis being that the Government is doing nothing about the planned blockade of Queensland. This Government has tried to use its best endeavours, in a situation in which it has no substantial powers to legislate to take action in that regard, to say to the Queensland Government: 'The approach that you are on is the wrong approach to good industrial relations in this country. If you will only have a meeting with the trade union movement to discuss what might be done in relation to the electricity industry, we may be able to find a basis for the amicable settlement of this whole mess'. The Queensland Government has refused to accept any such discussions, indicating thereby that it is determined to bring about a total confrontation. I do not know what its motives are in doing so. One can speculate about that but I do not wish to take up the time of the House in doing that. Whatever those motives are, it is quite clear that the Queensland Government is not interested in preventing total industrial confrontation in this country. It is interested in creating that confrontation. When the electricity dispute was before the State Industrial Commission the Queensland Government twice refused to accept recommendations from the State Industrial Commission which would have settled the dispute. The unions agreed to accept those recommendations but the Queensland Government said: 'No'. There was no basis of settlement because the Queensland Government would not accept the State Industrial Commission's recommendations. Not only did it not accept them but also it denigrated the State Industrial Commission, making quite disparaging remarks about that Commission, which led to the State Industrial Commission calling a special meeting of that Commission to reject the statements made by the Premier.

Mr Hodgman —This is all history. What are you going to do now?

Mr WILLIS —It is not history of which the honourable member seems to be aware. The President of the Commission made the point that the statements made by the Premier had been quite absurd. I think it is obvious, therefore, that the Queensland Government, from its actions, does not want to settle the dispute. If it wants to have total confrontation, it is in a position to bring that confrontation about. That is what is happening, very regrettably.

We totally repudiate the suggestions from the Opposition that we could settle this dispute by rushing in with draconian legislation of one sort or another. That kind of legislation would not settle this dispute. It would not stop the blockade. It would exacerbate and inflame the situation and we would rush to a much wider confrontation much more quickly. That is the kind of situation that would develop if we adopted the approach that the Opposition would like us to adopt. We will not adopt that approach. We have put a constructive proposal to the Queensland Government and, unfortunately, it has been rejected. If discussions had been held, I believe that the union movement would have been in a position to put some constructive proposals to the Queensland Government which would have improved the industrial relations situation in that industry, and in a way which I think the Queensland Government would not find unacceptable. Apparently that is not what it is interested in talking about. It just wants to have a situation in which there is massive confrontation.

One must ask: What are its motives? What is the Queensland Government really trying to achieve? Is it trying to get some sort of strategic breakthrough against the power of the trade union movement? Maybe that is its motive. Maybe it is wider than that. Maybe it is concerned that it should be doing something to cover the fact that the Queensland economy, relatively speaking, is by far the worst in this country. Maybe it is so concerned about that fact that it wants to distract the attention of the Queensland people from the fact that this State is being hopelessly managed. In the last l2 months it had a growth in employment of only 0.3 per cent when the nation as a whole had a growth of 2 per cent. Its rate of unemployment has risen by 7.3 per cent in the last l2 months compared with a national decline of 4.l per cent. New motor vehicle registrations in Queensland in the three months to the end of February l985 fell by 0.5 per cent compared with a l2 per cent rise nationally. Building approvals rose by only l.7 per cent in the three months to the end of January l985, whereas a year earlier there was a 9.5 per cent increase for Australia as a whole. The value of other building approvals rose by 36 per cent in Queensland in that period compared with 67.4 per cent in Australia. Private investment for the September quarter l984 fell by 20.6 per cent over the September quarter l983 in Queensland whereas in Australia as a whole it rose by 2.3 per cent. Bankruptcies increased by 26.4 per cent in Queensland in l984 against 1983--

Mr Hodgman —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. My point of order, which is a substantive one, is that the remarks by the Minister are simply not relevant to the matter of public importance.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! I have listened very carefully to the Minister. The remarks are well in context with the discussion that is before the House. I call the Minister.

Mr WILLIS —As I was saying, in Queensland in l984 there was an increase of 26.4 per cent in bankruptcies, whereas they fell by 8.2 per cent in Australia as a whole. In respect of industrial disputes, for the l2 months to January l985, there was a decline of l5.6 per cent for Australia in the days lost through industrial disputes, but in Queensland they increased by 84 per cent. It is quite obvious that the Queensland Government, at least in part, is trying very hard to distract the attention of the Queensland people from the enormous shambles that it made of the economy of that State and that, relative to the rest of Australia, it is performing abysmally. Perhaps that is the major motivation in what it is about.

Let me say that in pursuit of these objectives, whatever they are, it is quite clear that the Queensland Government is prepared to make unprecedented attacks on the democratic rights and the civil liberties of the Queensland citizens. We have heard not one word from the honourable member for Tangney about that. He does not have one iota of concern about the fact that civil liberties are being attacked in that State. We have had all sorts of disinterested people, such as churchmen and others, saying that they are greatly concerned about what is happening to civil liberties in that State, but we have not heard one word from the Opposition of any concern about that whatever. If action is taken against unions it does not matter; democratic rights and civil rights can be chucked out the window. They are only unionists after all, and, therefore, second-grade citizens in the view of members of the Opposition. They have that kind of approach. We can expect the kinds of things we have heard from the honourable member for Tangney. We can expect members of the Opposition to say, as he said, that the International Labour Organisation does not matter. He said: 'What does it matter if you breach ILO conventions? Who cares about them? They are only ILO conventions'. To quote him directly, he said: 'They are irrelevant to the Queensland industrial situation. It is pointless for the Prime Minister to invoke them. Most of Australia has never heard of the ILO and would not regard the proclamations of a far off international organisation as relevant to Australian industrial relations'. What an amazing and deplorable statement that was.

I think it is regrettable in the extreme that members of the Opposition are now expressing a total lack of concern for the ILO which, after all, is the labour arm of the United Nations. Presumably those comments go also for the international covenants which have been breached by the Queensland Government and presumably, therefore, it does not care much about the United Nations either. I think it is regrettable and deplorable that members of the Opposition have now seen fit to disparage the ILO in particular and say that that does not matter a damn because that has never been the position of the Opposition before, as I understand it. Indeed, previous Ministers and shadow Ministers have gone to the ILO and expressed their great support for it. I think that the honourable member for Tangney, in taking the stand that he has, has taken the members of the Opposition to depths to which they have never plunged.

It is a fact that there has been a breach of several ILO conventions, such as ILO Convention 29, ILO Convention l05-both of which relate to forced labour-the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ILO Convention 87 concerning freedom of association and protection of the right to organise, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the ILO Convention concerning the application of the principles of the right to organise and to bargain collectively. All of those covenants have been breached by the Queensland legislation and the Opposition does not give a damn. I think that is deplorable. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an attachment to a letter to the Premier which sets out all of the breaches by Queensland industrial legislation of international treaties to which Australia is a party. I want to give the Opposition the opportunity to have a look at it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Is leave granted?

Mr Braithwaite —Mr Deputy Speaker, it is not a written statement and we could not agree to it.

Mr WILLIS —Members of the Opposition obviously want to hide the evidence.

Mr Braithwaite —That is the rule of the House.

Mr WILLIS —There it is. Have a look at it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Leave is not granted.

Mr WILLIS —I note the fact that the Opposition seeks to hide from the Australian people the facts of the breaches of ILO conventions and international covenants. Mr Deputy Speaker, let me say also-time does not permit me to go into the details-that in the actions taken by the Queensland Government there have been many other breaches of democratic rights and civil liberties which are not breaches specifically of any international treaties but which are certainly deplorable developments. The picketing one is one obvious such development. I do not need to elaborate on that, but I do need to elaborate just slightly on the conditions for re-employment of electricity workers. Some 900 are still without a job. Those people have been told they can get their jobs back if they rat on their mates. They have to tell the authorities whether they were forced out on strike and who forced them; what evidence there is of harassment and by whom; they have to name the people who caused any harassment; name any pickets and name any workmates who have urged them to remain on strike. They also have to agree to sign a no-strike clause for a 38-hour week as against the 36 1/3-hour week they had before and agree to other various detrimental conditions of employment compared with what they previously had.

What we have seen in Queensland has been the use by the Queensland Government of its legislative powers to override the conditions of employment established by the State Industrial Commission. The criticism of the State Industrial Commission has been taken to a point where the authority of the Commission was taken away in this area and a new tribunal established. This tribunal does not have the full authority of the previous State Industrial Commission and is unable to deal with disciplinary measures taken against employees for breach of their conditions of employment.

Time does not permit me to go into more detail in that regard. But we do deplore the great array of undemocratic actions taken by the Queensland Government. Let me say that the actions taken by this Government are, quite clearly, counter-productive. The way to achieve industrial peace is not by seeking to enforce it in this manner. Many previous attempts have been made, including by the Fraser Government, quite unsuccessfully. This is not the way to resolve the difficult situation in that State. The way we are going to get better industrial relations in this country is by the methods used by this Government. It has achieved a dramatic reduction in the level of industrial disputes. In the last l2 months, l,326,000 days have been lost compared with 4.5 million in the last year of the Fraser Government. There has been an enormous reduction in the level of industrial disputes-the lowest level for l7 years. It is quite obvious that this Government knows how to achieve industrial peace. The Queensland Government is not interested in doing anything about it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Mr Braithwaite —Mr Deputy Speaker, it is obvious--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I have not called the honourable member for Dawson yet. I will not call the honourable member for Dawson until there is some order from honourable members sitting behind him on the front bench. That order was not apparent during the remarks of the Minister even though I asked for it on numerous occasions. I call the honourable member for Dawson.