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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1378

Mr MILTON(1.14) —During the four and a half years in which I have been a member of this House, I have not found it necessary to comment on the administration of the States of our Commonwealth, except perhaps for the occasional remark about the exciting improvements in the economic and social conditions of the State of Victoria resulting from three years of the Cain Labor Government. However, the present deterioration in the democratic rights of Queenslanders is so serious that I am taking the opportunity today to call on the Federal Government to take all possible measures to prevent the Queensland State Government from continuing its headlong rush towards totalitarianism.

As is often the case when authoritarian rule is exercised, dislike of the system becomes personified in dislike of one person, in this case the Premier of the State. But the Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, cannot govern the State alone. Behind him are the ranks of National Party members who have won their seats as a result of a gerrymandered voting system which would be the envy of many Third World dictators. To be able to win government with only 39 per cent of the popular vote-bearing in mind that it is a compulsory vote-makes nonsense of the democratic concept of one vote, one value. Having achieved dictatorial government, the Queensland National Party is now spreading its totalitarian tentacles by attempting to destroy another of the cherished freedoms of the people-the rights of workers to organise to protect their wages and working conditions.

It is important to appreciate that the strategy which is being employed by the Bjelke-Petersen National totalitarian Government is the strategy which began with the hiring of private contractors to work with the South-East Queensland Electricity Board. With typical diabolical native cunning, the aim of Premier Bjelke-Petersen was to cause provocation to the unionists employed by the Electricity Board whilst at the same time privatising a public enterprise board. The destruction of public enterprise for private gain is an important aspect of the National Party philosophy, provided that rural industry continues to receive its subsidies from the public purse. The main thrust of the strategy, however, is the hiring of non-union contract labour to undercut industrial award conditions and pay rates. The unions covering their members in the public enterprise concerned, in this case the South-East Queensland Electricity Board, were then forced to call their members out on strike, to defend their wages and conditions. The Queensland Government retaliated by sacking the striking workers and replacing them with non-union and contract scab labour. The Queensland Government, with a total disregard of normal industrial arbitration practices, also ignored the decision of the Queensland Industrial Commission that the sacked workers should be reinstated as part of a negotiation process.

At this point it should be appreciated that the key to the Queensland Government's strategy is to isolate the workers it attacks. So far, apart from the State Opposition Labor parliamentarians, the power workers have been isolated. But at last, Federal parliamentarians and the Australian Council of Trade Unions have begun to act in solidarity with the sacked workers. Laws which deny basic human rights must be defied, and the Queensland Government has introduced five Acts of Parliament which represent a denial of the basic rights won by trade unionists over a 90-year period of struggle, during which unionists have suffered many brutal acts of intimidation by the authorities.

I come to those five Acts of Parliament. The first covers the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1961-1981 Amendment Act, which, amongst other things, prohibits a union or individual from inciting, advising or encouraging action to the prejudice of an employee who has refused or failed to participate in a strike, the onus of proof being on the union or individual to disprove any allegation of encouragement of action to participate in a strike, with a maximum fine of $10,000.

Secondly, there is the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Act 1985, which establishes an Electricity Commissioner exercising powers previously held by the Queensland Industrial Commission, including the additional right to direct any person to carry out necessary work to provide, maintain or restore the electricity supply, and introducing individual contracts of employment with no-strike clauses and an increased working week, from 36 1/2 hours to 38 hours.

Thirdly, the Electricity (Continuity of Supply) Amendment Act 1985 gives police the power to arrest any person found to be, or suspected to be, harassing or interfering with persons involved in supply of electricity in Queensland, and requiring personal details of any person accompanying a suspected offender.

Fourthly, there is the Electricity Authorities Industrial Causes Act 1985, which specifies inciting, counselling or abetting a strike, which is regarded as illegal by the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, as an illegal act, with penalties which include suspension of employment and summary dismissal.

Finally, there is the Industrial Commercial Practices Amendment Act 1985, which outlaws secondary boycotts and primary strike action in relation to demarcation disputes, wildcat strikes and preferences to unionists, with extremely heavy penalties of $50,000 for individuals and $250,000 for unions, with the option of actions for damages against unions, which can be even more excessive.

The combined effect of these five iniquitous pieces of legislation not only is highly provocative but indicates a savage use of naked power in a bid to crush the union movement. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen has been likened to Adolf Hitler, and there is no doubt that the statements and actions of him and his Government Ministers are very reminiscent--

Mr Hand —Gaoling priests.

Mr MILTON —That is correct. They are very reminiscent of the political situation in fascist Germany of the 1930s.

Mr Hand —Gaoling church leaders.

Mr MILTON —The honourable member has got it right. The Premier has, for example, publicly declared that he will brutally punish individual unionists and bludgeon their unions into submission. He has so implanted fear into the hearts of Queenslanders that they are afraid to speak against him. While watching a live television news program from Brisbane the other night, I was appalled when the wife of one of the sacked electricity workers declined to comment to the television reporter about the Premier 'because', said her husband, 'she was afraid of the repercussions against her if she spoke against Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen'. So much for freedom of speech in the State of Queensland.

But the five Acts of Parliament go much further than restricting freedom of speech. If a television news reporter had reported that the woman interviewed had said: 'Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen is a fascist', then the fact that the reporter had made the statement would be enough for the courts to accept that statement as conclusive proof. In fact, the onus of proof has been reversed under the new legislation and it is not the police who have to prove that the law has been broken but the accused who have to prove that their actions are not breaking the anti-strike laws. Such open-ended legislation is particularly disturbing, with the arrest of the journalists covering a picket deemed illegal under the new laws.

Another serious aspect of the legislation is the power of the new Electricity Commissioner to direct any person to provide the supply of electricity. Apart from the undesirable effect of such draconian power being held by the Commissioner, the question has to be asked: Will such direction involve workers who are not suitably qualified? I suggest that it will.

I could continue to relate the brutal effect that these laws are having on the social, political and economic climate of Queensland. With the arrest of newspaper reporters and Federal and State parliamentarians, one wonders where these police state powers will end. Let us not forget that this appalling attack on unions by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen began with electricity workers employed by the South-East Queensland Electricity Board fighting for security of employment, which was threatened by the introduction of private contractors. The Queensland Government is presently attacking the electricity power industry, but the attacks will not rest there. Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his National Party Ministers have made no secret of the fact that they are proposing to smash the whole union movement. At the same time, they have passed laws which prevent people from taking part in peaceful demonstrations. There is also the new electoral redistribution in the offing, which will further increase the gerrymander which gives country people three times the voting strength of city people.

It is time that the Federal Government intervened in these matters because the loss of civil liberties which is occurring in Queensland will not stop at the Queensland border unless decisive action is taken now. Already the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) have indicated their enthusiastic support for the totalitarian methods adopted by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's National Government. National Party members in this House have also expressed their enthusiastic support, despite the record of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen of 10.9 per cent unemployment-the highest in any Australian State. Make no mistake about it. The escalation of this vicious campaign against the union movement, highlighted by the Queensland police thuggery, which we all saw on national television last night, is only a blatant attempt by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to divert attention away from the appalling economic record of his National Party Government.

The Commonwealth Parliament has the power to make laws in respect of breaches of international conventions, as the Franklin dam decision made very clear. The anti-union laws enacted by the Queensland State Government are clearly in breach of the international covenants on civil and political rights and are also in breach of International Labor Organisation conventions to which Australia is a signatory. I call on the Government to re-examine this option. Apart from the external powers, however, there are financial measures which can be adopted against the Queensland Government.

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