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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16404

Mr McARTHUR (2:18 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. Minister, are there any recent developments in the manufacturing industry, particularly in Victoria, which threaten the orderly conduct of workplace relations and the application of the rule of law in that sector? Would you inform the House of the federal government's response to those developments? What steps can policy makers take to protect the workplace relations system and the national interest in light of these developments?

Mr REITH (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. There is no question whatsoever that as at 1 July the manufacturing sector in Victoria will be under a very significant threat. That is a threat under the title of Campaign 2000, which is a campaign being run by certain left-wing unions to see the end of enterprise bargaining and the re-establishment of a system which was very expensive and costly for manufacturing back in the 1970s. In a sentence, the last thing that this country needs is a return to an old-style, confrontationist type of industrial politics run by the AMWU which will see a lot of investment leave that state.

We have a development today. This arises out of orders made last year by the Industrial Relations Commission. They were to be enforced by the Federal Court and, in breach of those Federal Court orders, two leading unionists have been fined $20,000 each. Already one of those has defied the orders of the court and made it clear that he has no intention of complying with the further orders brought down today. This is typical, unfortunately, of some trade union leaders, who believe that they are above the law and able to thumb their noses at a court order.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr REITH —This is what the judge said—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is defying the chair.

Mr REITH —Your challenge will be to stand up to these blokes because they have already paid out—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr REITH —It is a sensitive matter for the Labor Party because they have a choice to make. Either they uphold the law or they stand shoulder to shoulder with Craig Johnston. Members will remember Craig Johnston. He was at the front of the parliament knocking down the front doors and was subject to a fine for his behaviour—conduct which they have never repudiated because they would never have the ticker to stand up to these people. The judge said:

The rule of law in a democratic society does not permit any member of that society, no matter how powerful, to pick and choose the laws or court orders that are to be observed and those that are not ... The fact that the breaches are by union leaders holding important offices in a federation of national trade unions makes them more, rather than less, serious ...

He went on to say:

Those union leaders who put applications to the court for injunctions against others should also have a responsibility to comply with orders when those orders are made against them.

This is a clear signal to us all why it is important that this parliament pass further legislation to protect the manufacturing industry against the lawlessness which we can expect from people like Craig Johnson, supported by the Leader of the Opposition. The metals union is one of the biggest influences in the Socialist Left, yet the parliamentary Labor Party is clearly not prepared to stand up and block its strategy. Even though Rob Hulls, the Labor Attorney-General in Victoria, has already said that these fines were appropriate, we will not see the Labor Party in Canberra standing up to the AMWU. It is not as though they do not have $20,000. They had $1 million for the Labor Party in 1998. They can certainly afford to meet these fines, and the challenge on the Leader of the Opposition is, firstly, to support legislation in this parliament to protect the manufacturing industry; secondly, to stand up and call for compliance with a Federal Court order; and, lastly, to distance himself from those who are determined to pull down a policy which Labor in government supported but now does not have the ticker to stand up to—and, particularly, it does not have the ticker to stand up against the union.