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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1382


Mr LINDSAY(1.34) —Father Morgan Howe, Parish Priest of Indooroopilly, wrote in the Catholic Leader of 14 April 1985 of the origin of legal trade unionism by recalling that on 24 February 1834 six farm employee-labourers in Tolpuddle, a small village in Dorset, England, were arrested on a charge of conspiring to withhold their labour unless they received a rise in wages from the local landlords. They were sentenced to seven years penal servitude as convicts in Australia. They have come to be known as 'the Tolpuddle Martyrs'. Through the actions of these six labourers emerged the right of trade unionists to withhold their labour or strike.

The Catholic Church for decades has always asserted the right to form and join trade unions. The Church has defended the right to strike. It is said that the Catholic Church describes these rights as natural rights; that is to say, that these rights are inherently and intrinsically among the rights of man. In support of his defence of the right to strike, Father Howe relied on the authoritative Catholic Church statement contained in a Second Vatican Council document. I quote:

Among the basic rights of the human person is to be numbered the right of freely founding unions for working people . . . included is the right of freely taking part in the activity of these unions without risk of reprisal . . . When, however, socio-economic disputes arise, efforts must be made to come to a peaceful settlement.

Although recourse must always be had first to a sincere dialogue between the parties, a strike, nevertheless, can remain even in present day circumstances a necessary, though ultimate, aid of the defence of the workers' own rights and the fulfilment of their just desires. As soon as possible, however, ways should be sought to resume negotiation and the discussion of reconciliation. The statement simply reasserts the teachings of the Catholic Church that people have the right to form and join trade unions and such like and the right to withhold labour or strike.

The anti-worker legislation passed by the Bjelke-Petersen Government is the antithesis of the teaching of the Catholic Church on the right to strike, and to that extent the Queensland legislation must be denounced as bad law. The legislation ominously highlights the fears of many thousands of serious thinking Queenslanders as to the conduct of the Bjelke-Petersen Government and its long history of confrontation, division and destructive assaults on civil liberties.

The Rev. Doug McKenzie of the Uniting Church, in an article reprinted in the Townsville Bulletin of 13 April 1985, claimed that in his opinion Queensland cannot be politically run by the Bjelke-Petersen Government without an enemy being identified. He stated that over the years a succession of enemies have been designated by the Bjelke-Petersen Government. Attacks have been made by the Bjelke-Petersen Government on the Roman Catholic and Anglican archbishops in Queensland, who were described as communists when they criticised Queensland's street march laws. The Premier branded a former Miss Australia as a 'crow' when she questioned him on the same issue. In 1978 leading medical practitioners in Queensland were abused by the Bjelke-Petersen Government for refusing to endorse the fake cures for cancer of Milan Brych. The arbitration and conciliation courts are regular targets of criticism. It is not that long ago that the Bjelke-Petersen Government attempted to interfere in the Queensland Supreme Court by politicising the appointment of the new Chief Justice.

Teachers have been attacked; railwaymen, public servants, journalists-some of whom are now being arrested-have been abused and denounced by the Bjelke-Petersen Government. A police commissioner was dismissed for ordering an inquiry into the bashing of a young girl by a burly police officer wielding a baton. Premier Bjelke-Petersen not only sacked this commissioner but halted the commissioner's inquiry into the affair, even though the assault was screened on national television. In 1977 a group of clergymen protesting against the street march legislation were arrested and thrown into a police vehicle for singing Christian hymns of peace in an empty park on a Sunday afternoon. Not long before that, the Bjelke-Petersen Government had found no objection to an organisation staging a yodelling contest in the same park.

The Rev. McKenzie also observed that the Bjelke-Petersen Government has a high verbal profile without any kind of matching reality. For example, almost every principal economic indicator of the economic performance of Queensland clearly shows that the Queensland economy is in tatters. Employment opportunities are down. Queensland dole queues grow longer. Registration numbers of new motor vehicles have dived. The value of building approvals and dwelling commencements is almost half that of other States in Australia.

Whilst there has been a decline in industrial disputes throughout the rest of Australia, Queensland's industrial disputations are raging. The economic horrors of the Fraser Government are revisited in Queensland. Whilst there has been a decline of bankruptcies throughout the rest of Australia, the number of bankruptcies in Queensland has plunged hundreds of Queensland families into economic ruin and heartbreak. Even more alarming to serious thinking Australians is the obvious lack of respect by the Bjelke-Petersen Government for reconciliation. The Rev. McKenzie claims that in the power strike, for example, apart from the question of who was right or wrong, the promulgation of the state of emergency had the effect of nullifying the conciliation process.

The Queensland Government has a winner-loser syndrome. It tends to brutalise our culture. The message from the Bjelke-Petersen Government seems to be: 'It is okay to fight, but only if you let me win'. The precepts of love, care and reconciliation which Christian churches not only exemplify but whose message they evangelise, find no response in a government hell-bent on establishing an industrial system based on a 'Knock 'em down, drag 'em out' model. There is no room for compassion in such a society.

Father Morgan Howe eloquently testifies further in the same article. He says:

There are some industries and services so important to the wellbeing of the overall society-so-called 'essential services'-that obviously there should be required a graver than ordinary reason to justify strike action.

For any strike at all to be justifiable it must always be a last resort, (all available peaceful means of arbitration/conciliation having been exhausted); there must be due proportion between the issue at stake and the disruption and social cost caused by the strike; there must be a reasonable hope of success . . .

Where, because of the essential nature of the industry or service, the right to strike is limited, the members concerned must be compensated in direct proportion to such limitation. The compensation may take the form of higher wages, better working conditions, shorter hours, longer holidays, and the like. Notwithstanding what has been said about the limitation of the use of the right to strike, one thing must remain clear: the right itself cannot be denied or taken away; nor can it be surrendered . . .

A piece of legislation, then, that contains an essential condition for employment in an industry, a 'provision that such employee shall not take part in any strike', is an unjust piece of legislation. It is bad law. Bad laws carry no moral obligation. They bring good laws into contempt; they are destructive of a common good; and they are divisive of the community.

The right to withhold one's labour under certain conditions is a fundamental natural right of every worker in any free society.

Australia is a member of the family of nations conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. The events in Queensland are now testing whether this nation, so conceived and dedicated, can long defend and uphold the great principles of a Christian democracy. Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was, 'I am a Roman citizen'. Today let all Australians claim, as their proudest boast, 'We are Australian citizens'.