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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 2089

Mr WILLIS (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations)(3.12) —We have heard the usual puerile performance from the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack). As usual, it was heavy on rhetoric and histrionics and very light on substance. The reality is that this Government, unlike the Opposition, is pursuing a course which is very likely to bring about the resolution of this dispute. But that resolution would not come about if one pursued the kinds of actions implied, but not spelt out, by the honourable member for Tangney. The Opposition implies that the way to resolve this matter is to undertake the use of penal actions which, according to its logic, would presumably bring about a resolution of this dispute. One must ask what would happen if that course were pursued. It is obvious from what has happened in the past, when the Fraser Government tried to resolve disputes by the use of penal sanctions, that that does not resolve a dispute; it does not get to the heart of the matter. What is required is an approach that goes to the heart of the matter. The use of penal legislation, such as the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act and so on which we have been called on by the Opposition to re-introduce, would simply, as it did in the past, lead to more disputation and would, therefore, be highly unlikely to be a very productive course for this Government to pursue.

As we have done with the doctors, so are we doing with Queensland-that is, addressing the basic issue. Of course this is made infinitely more difficult for us in the case of Queensland because that Government is determined to turn this issue into a major political exercise. We have heard today and yesterday-I quoted from it yesterday-at least two radio broadcasts on AM in which the Premier of Queensland has made it quite clear what he is attempting to do, that is, to bring about a situation in which he can damage severely and destroy this Government. That is his basic objective. When asked whether he would prefer to do that rather than to negotiate a settlement, he said: 'Of course'. That is his main objective-to bring down this Government. He wants to destroy this Government.

This whole issue is a great political exercise. It is an attempt by the Queensland Government to engender an industrial situation which it can use to undermine the Federal Government. The people of Queensland have to understand that that is what this matter is all about. It is not just about industrial relations. It is not just providing an essential service to the people of Queensland, which I say they have a right to expect. The intention is to do damage to the Federal Government. We have now heard that twice directly from the mouth of the Premier of Queensland. Of course, this indicates that the people of Queensland are being used by the Premier for his own political purposes. What the people of Queensland have to understand is that they are not involved in a normal industrial dispute. They are involved in a situation in which the Premier of Queensland is using them for his own political purposes. He is deliberately inflaming and bringing about a situation in which the people of Queensland are being hurt. He is doing that deliberately to bring about some political advantage for himself and for his Government and to achieve a political objective-to wit, the destruction of the Hawke Labor Government. That is what this issue is about; the honourable member for Tangney knows in his heart that that is so but would never acknowledge it. But that is the fact, directly admitted by the Premier of Queensland and therefore undeniably the case. He has stated that that is his objective and that that is what this dispute is about.

Now, of course, he has realised the full implications of what he has said and he is apparently attempting to back off. But that is what he is on the record as saying and that is what this dispute is about. Consequently, we as a government have to treat it in that light. This is not just an exercise about industrial relations, but also about politics.

Let me say that that does not dissuade us from trying to achieve an industrial relations settlement. Indeed, we are all the more motivated to achieve it because the people of Australia will see from the actions of this Government that what it is doing is addressing the issue directly-unlike the Queensland Government and unlike the Opposition in this place which is purely using the matter for political purposes-and trying to address the basic issues and resolve what is a fundamental industrial dispute.

It has been admitted by key employers, with whom the honourable member for Tangney would do well to have some discussions, that the only way to resolve this matter is by negotiation. Key employers have said that. The head of the Confederation of Australian Industry, Ken Williams, has said that the only way to resolve this matter is by negotiation. Of course, that is the reality of any industrial dispute. Employers and people involved in industrial relations know that to be the case. The honourable member for Tangney thinks he has found out something new about industrial relations. I can tell him that the basic issues of industrial relations do not change. In the end, the only way to resolve an industrial dispute is by negotiation. That is the case here, even though there has been injected this massive political element which has destabilised the situation and, of course, made it infinitely more difficult to resolve.

This Government is determined to bring an end to this dispute. We are greatly concerned about the dispute and about the disruption which is occurring to the provision of services and to commerce and industry in Queensland and elsewhere. We are also concerned about the matters which lie behind the dispute. We are concerned about the actions of the Queensland Government in refusing to negotiate. We are concerned about the actions of the Queensland Government in passing blatantly undemocratic laws and in breaching international treaties. We are concerned about all of those things. We believe that this matter will not be fully resolved until all of those matters are redressed. Nevertheless, one cannot expect to do all that in a short period. The basic issues revolve around the South East Queensland Electricity Board, the sacking of the linesmen and the need for some reconsideration of that matter.

We believe that there is a course of action open, which unfortunately cannot be pursued immediately but which I hope can be pursued in the very near future. I expect that by the middle of next week we will be in a position to pursue that course. As soon as we are in that position we will pursue that course. I believe that that action will be effective in providing a basis upon which all industrial action can be terminated and the basic issues involved in this industrial dispute considered. As I have said, that is not an easy thing for us to do, given the position of the Queensland Government. Nevertheless, I believe that it is achievable. I cannot at this stage reveal anything more about that.

Coming back to the position of the Opposition, let me say that there was a time when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock)-who now unqualifiedly supports the Premier of Queensland-spoke more rationally, when he had a view about industrial relations which I believe was very common-sense. But in his new position of Leader of the Opposition and in his desperate desire to make some political capital out of every issue which comes up, he has forsaken all the principles that he espoused when he was Minister for Industrial Relations for a short period and as a general commentator on the state of the world, which role he assumed once he left the Ministry. On 30 May 1981 he had something to say which I believe was very true. It is relevant to the present circumstances. He said:

There was sometimes a perception by the government-

of course, he was talking about the Fraser Government-

that it must be seen to be doing something. I think on occasions the over-use of legislation cannot only obscure the original dispute, but start an argument.

He was right in saying that. The honourable member for Tangney would do well to read some of the Leader of the Opposition's earlier speeches because, unlike what he probably tells him now, there was a time when he had a different view. There was a time when he spoke common sense in this place and had a view about industrial relations which I believe had a lot going for it. That quote and many others like it, I believe, show that there has been a fundamental change in the Opposition. From the days when the previous industrial relations spokesman was the Minister and the days when the Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Industrial Relations, the Opposition has changed greatly in its policies. It has changed greatly in its policies because it thinks: 'To hell with principles. To hell with all that common sense that we espoused in the past. Let us go down the path of union bashing because that is the path that seems to be the one that gets us the most votes.' Of course honourable members opposite know in their hearts, as the Leader of the Opposition knows, that that course is not really productive and that it does not resolve industrial disputes. Nevertheless, that is the kind of thing that they believe they ought to be saying now for purely political purposes.

The idiocy of a lot of the actions of the previous Government, despite the common sense spoken by both the Leader of the Opposition and the previous industrial relations spokesmen, was that the Leader of the previous Government, Mr Fraser, demanded a course on industrial relations which led that Government into disrepute of a high order in the whole area of industrial relations. That disrepute has been well documented in a recent publication called 'Control, Consensus or Chaos?' produced by Professors Niland and Turner in which they reviewed the view of business leaders of the industrial relations policies of the Fraser Government. Of course what came out clearly was the way in which they viewed the previous Government as being a pathetic performer in the area of industrial relations. For instance, one quote from this publication is:

Many managers saw the Fraser government as inept in industrial relations because of ill-timed interventions in particular industrial disputes, which smacked of grandstanding rather than genuine efforts to get matters sorted out.

That is one quote which demonstrates the way in which the previous Government, particularly in its earlier days, ran industrial relations. Later on the publication states:

Just how strongly chief executives in Australia objected to the industrial relations styles and strategies of the last Fraser government is a highlight of the survey results.

We see there again the total rejection by chief executives of this country of the industrial relations policies of the Fraser Government because they realised that it was fundamentally incapable of pursuing a good industrial relations course. Another quote is:

Yet, when it comes to preferred lines of action, the emphasis is on a consensual or co-operative approach, as is evidenced by manager interest in grievance procedures and the desire for improved communication. Initiatives of a harder line, such as the enforcement of penalties, section 45 (d) action, and tortuous liability prosecution, are not well supported.

Those and many other quotes are indeed relevant to this debate and to the whole question of what is an appropriate industrial relations policy for this country.

What comes out clearly from this survey-which I strongly recommend to the honourable member for Tangney-is that the chief executives surveyed were very strongly of the opinion that the industrial relations policies, the hard line confrontationist policies pursued by the Fraser Government over most of its period of office, were a disaster, that that course was entirely the wrong way to go, and that that action brings about adverse industrial relations situations. Of course, those chief executives recognised that the actions taken by this Government-the consensus approach-has been spectacularly successful and that that approach has brought about the lowest level of industrial disputes in 17 years.

Implied in all that is the necessary implication that the Queensland Government approach of absolute, unqualified, total war on the trade union movement is bound to be a total disaster. That I believe is the point that needs to be understood fully, because those who would now advocate that we go down the path of pursuing a more penal course against trade unions should realise that we have got to the point where we now are because of the adoption of that course by the Queensland Government. The Queensland Government has adopted a course of absolute confrontation, of no holds barred, of kick where you see a head. That has brought us to a situation of very widespread industrial disputation. The attitude of honourable members opposite to that is: 'You solve that by the Joh law, by more of this action of kicking heads and using penal powers to the full'. The necessary implication of that would be that we would get much more of the disaster which we now have on a somewhat limited scale in Queensland. Surely honourable members opposite understand that, if that is the kind of approach that brought about the present situation, more of that approach is bound to be infinitely more disastrous. That, of course, is the fundamental point that people have to realise. This Government fully realises it. We believe that the responsible thing for this Government to be doing-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Order! The Minister's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.