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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1416


Mr SHACK(4.35) —For three days the Opposition has raised the matter of the Australian Council of Trade Unions blockade of Queensland. This is a case of a union led and sponsored assault on two and a half million fellow Australians who happen to live in Queensland. During Question Time on Tuesday, Wednesday and today, in debate on Tuesday and again in the debate today, we have been patiently asking the very simple question, which I ask again now: What will the Government do to protect the constitutional rights of the Australians who live in Queensland? Once again in a speech from the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) we have seen his absolute failure to face up to and answer that simple question. For three days we have urged the Government to live up to its duty, to live up to the reasonable expectations of Queenslanders, to defend them against desperate actions of trade unions which, in league with the ACTU, from tonight will cut off the people of Queensland from fellow Australians.

The Government has had every opportunity but has done nothing. This Government has done not one thing to defend the constitutional rights and freedoms to which Queenslanders, like all other Australians, have a basic and inalienable right. On the eve of this blockade the Australian people can conclude only one thing-at the heart of this Government's inaction lies support for the ACTU organised blockade of Queensland. There can be no doubt that this Government supports the ACTU's organisation of the blockade. There can be no doubt that the Government supports the union leaders who are at the vanguard of this violation of the constitutional rights of the people of Queensland. There can be no doubt that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations support the ACTU and the unions' actions. I know it, the Prime Minister knows it, the Minister knows it, this House knows it and the public knows it. It is obvious that this Government supports the ACTU, for how else can we explain its total inaction in the face of the blockade? How else can we explain its dereliction of duty, its total failure to take action?

What was said of this Government when it was first elected? What was its great promise? We heard the Prime Minister talk about it today in Question Time. The great promise was of a glowing partnership including the Government, trade unions and business. We heard that from the Prime Minister when he talked about recovery, reconciliation and reconstruction. The true nature of this Government is becoming all too clear. This Government has dropped any pretence of working for business because it supports the ACTU's 51-company hit list. This Government has abandoned business, abandoned the thousands of shareholders and abandoned the tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of customers. It is clear now that we have a duo, not a trio, of big Government and big unions in partnership against the people. Recovery, reconciliation and reconstruction have been replaced by blackmail, belligerence and blockade. All this is directed against the people of Queensland and Australians generally, who support free and responsible trade unions but not union thuggery, violence and blackmail.

This Government has not condemned the ACTU's actions. It has not uttered a single word of criticism about the blockade or the unions' outrageous participation. This Government stands condemned in the sight of two and a half million Queenslanders, it stands condemned in the sight of 15 million Australians. The Government has refused our offer to co-operate in the speedy passage of the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill which would enable it to deal speedily and effectively with Commonwealth public servants, its own employees who from tonight will be participating in this blockade and refusing to work as directed. The Government has repeatedly refused to use the Trade Practices Act-legislation it has on the books right now; legislation it wishes to repeal. It is the only effective piece of industrial legislation that stands between union action and the vast bulk of working Australians. The Government has refused to use the Act. The Prime Minister and the Minister have refused even to get on the telephone and talk to their mates and ask them to call it off. This Government has done nothing. This Government supports the blockading of Queensland. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. Has any Commonwealth government ever before supported the blockading of one State, cutting it off from the rest of the Commonwealth of Australia? This Government has left 2,500,000 Australians at the mercy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and its militant union elements. This country no longer has a national government. This is a Government not willing to take responsibility for all States, only some of them. This is a Government not willing to take responsibility and act on behalf of the total population. As from tonight this Government is leaving 2,500,000 of them out in the cold.

This Government has dumped the people of Queensland. The Minister had the cheek and the temerity to get up in this House yesterday and actually disclaim responsibility for the blockade. He has rejected the notion that the Federal Government is as responsible for defending the rights and freedoms of Queenslanders as supposedly it is responsible for defending the rights of any other Australian. This Minister-today in Question Time he was joined by the Treasurer (Mr Keating)-had the outrageous effrontery to suggest that we are responsible for the business of government in Australia. If this Government cannot take the pace, if the Minister and the Prime Minister cannot do the job, they should move aside. We can. We are not beholden to the trade union movement. We are not shy of our constitutional duties. We are not unwilling to defend the constitutional rights of all Australians. We are ready and willing to step in to fill the void and the breach left by this Government's disgraceful inaction.

Let us just look at what this Government has said it is doing. What is the great initiative that it is supposedly taking. It is supposedly pressuring the Premier of Queensland to ring up the Prime Minister and his Minister's mates in the ACTU. How pathetic! How contemptuous! How revealing about the true hierarchy of power in Australian national politics at the moment! The Government of Australia, having refused to play any leadership role in the face of this blockade-a role it was elected to perform-is referring the matter to its true boss, its true master, the ACTU. Why should the Premier of Queensland, an elected leader of a free State in this democratic Commonwealth, get in touch with Simon Crean? He is the non-elected de facto supremo of a trade union organisation which does not represent the Queensland community or the Australian community but merely represents a clutch of union leaders without a shred of respect for the rights of people-and employees-to go about their daily tasks without obstruction, interruption or harassment.

The underlying tragedy for the trade union movement and the trade unionists themselves is this: There is a place for trade unions in a free and democratic society. The Opposition unequivocally supports the right of people to join organisations to pursue their mutual interests. Trade unions are an expression of this right. Let there be no mistake that we, on this side of the House, support trade unionism. But people joining any sectional organisation must recognise that they must act responsibly and reasonably. They must be willing to operate within the bounds of behaviour that have been laid down legally and constitutionally by successive, popularly elected governments which all other citizens observe.

This Opposition supports responsible trade unionism. The great tragedy for the ordinary trade unionists in the face of this blockade is that they will be lumped with the wilful, undemocratic destructiveness and bloody-mindedness of union bosses who are not pursuing the interests of their workers and who are busily engaged trying to undermine the power and authority of elected governments. They are trying in the case of the Queensland Government and they have succeeded in the case of this Government. This Government's inaction is outrageous. This Parliament is not some social club for retired ACTU employees to which honourable members opposite belong. They are in government and they should be governing. This is a great nation which does not deserve this Government. If it cannot do the job it should get out.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.