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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2896

Mr WRIGHT —I ask the Minister for Trade whether he can advise the House of the extent of the implications, for coal exports from Queensland, for the number of people who rely on the industry for their livelihood, and the devastating effect on the Australian economy, if such coal exports were to be terminated by capricious actions, particularly by the Queensland National Party State Government.

Mr DAWKINS —I thank the honourable member for his question and preface my answer by saying that last week the Leader of the National Party of Australia-I see that he is not here today-introduced a matter of public importance in the Parliament, expressing his concern about the domestic policy issues which were impacting on export industries. I was able to point out to him on that occasion, and do so again today, that the biggest threat to our greatest export industry is a domestic policy issue-that is, the policy of the National Party in Queensland. The Queensland coal industry is very important. There were $3.2 billion worth of exports last year. It employs directly 10,000 people and another 32,000 indirectly. That industry is confronting difficult times. Competition throughout the world is up and prices consequently are down. The challenge for the industry is to maintain its competitive edge. We have been working, through the Australian Coal Consultative Council, to get the parties together to ensure that they do lift their game. Employers and employees do have to lift their game and reduce the extent of disruption which already exists within that industry.

Into this environment is tipped the Queensland Government's industrial legislation. It is a quite blatant ploy by Premier Bjelke-Petersen, this rather bumbling and bellicose demagogue, quite deliberately to disrupt this industry. This law is designed to create strikes, not to prevent them. Indeed, we had the absurd spectacle last week of the appropriate Queensland Minister saying that he would not invoke the legislation in respect of a 24-hour strike; he wanted a seven-day strike before he would invoke that legislation. Twenty-four hours is not enough for him; he wants a seven-day strike. We have told the unions, of course, that it would be quite inappropriate for them to engage in industrial action in relation to this matter. Indeed, precipitate strike action would be quite wrong. Reliability of this industry in relation to our export markets is of paramount importance, and any markets lost may not be regained.

The unions are expressing their opposition to this law. It is high time that the coal companies themselves came out of hiding and said what they actually believe about this law and express their opposition to it. We know that these companies are subject to intimidation by the Queensland Government. They have the threat of higher coal levies and higher freight rates being held over their heads if they dare to step out of line. However, it is about time the coal companies realised that they can no longer enjoy the luxury of silence. They must express their opposition to the law. It is easy for the Queensland Government to pass stupid laws through its Parliament. It is much more difficult to engage in the hard work, the hard work in which this Government has engaged, to try to improve the circumstances of that industry. We will continue our hard work, but it would be far easier without the caprice which is involved in this legislation. This legislation and its effects, quite simply, must be stopped.