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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1553

Mr SHACK —I ask the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations how, in light of his failure last week to condemn the disruption by the Australian Council of Trade Unions of essential services to Queensland and his failure to support the reintroduction of the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) legislation and to use the Trade Practices Act to ensure the continuation of essential services to Queensland, he proposes to back up his view, expressed as recently as last Saturday in Tasmania when he said:

No-one can question the right of the community to expect continued provision of essential services and not be subject to hardship because of interruption to those services.

Mr WILLIS —It is, of course, true that I made that statement in Tasmania last Saturday in a speech to the Tasmanian Industrial Relations Society. Of course, it has never been anything other than the position of this Government that we are concerned to ensure that persons employed in essential services maintain services as much as is possible so that the people who are dependent on those services are able to receive them. However, I think it must also be said that we are also aware of the point that in a democracy it is right that people in all walks of life have the right in the end to take industrial action to protect their industrial rights. We certainly say that people who are involved in essential services should have that right but they should exercise that right only in very exceptional circumstances.

It is not the position of this Government that we would deny the right to take industrial action to persons employed in essential services, but with that right to strike, which we believe they should have in a democracy, goes an obligation and a duty. That obligation and duty is to exercise that right in a very discriminate way and to exercise it only when there is an absolutely essential need for it. My concern is that in some areas of the economy there has been an increasing acceptance by some employees in essential services of the taking of strike action when in previous years-and certainly decades-there would not have been such an acceptance. One has only to look at the hospital industry to see that there has been a growing use of industrial action in that area, which I believe is a matter of growing concern.

I think it is a fact that employees in essential services need to be very cautious about the use of that right. We would support their having that right, but using it only in exceptional circumstances. I do not believe, as was implied in the honourable member's question, that better industrial relations in those industries will be obtained by taking the kind of draconian steps that have been taken by the Queensland Government. That will only lead to the suppression of industrial rights and we will not have good industrial relations. We may have very few stoppages, but we would have very bad industrial relations. We would have an embittered work force and bad productivity. That is not what would help this economy.

We believe that the approach taken by this Government, which has been to adopt a co-operative form of industrial relations, has been demonstrably successful. It has brought about the lowest level of industrial disputation in l7 years-far below the levels that occurred under the Fraser Government. It is clearly the most appropriate form of developing industrial relations in this country. The actions of the Queensland Government, in the other direction, only act to undermine all of the gains which have been achieved by the approach we have adopted.