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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 264


Senator MESSNER(10.12) —The Opposition will support the Building Industry Bill, and indeed will aid its expedition. It is not without some obvious reluctance in the Government that this Bill has come to fruition today. Certainly even in this last week we have seen considerable confusion in Government factions and in the Caucus of the Australian Labor Party in determining the attitude to the legislation to outlaw the Builders Labourers Federation. I understand that the Caucus passed by only the slimmest margin the motion supporting this Government legislation.


Senator Ryan —How would you know what goes on?


Senator MESSNER —One has only to look at Victoria to understand the pressures that exist in that State between factions, obviously demonstrating a lack of support and will in the ALP to address itself to this legislation. But more of that later. There is no doubt that the BLF in its activities over the last 10 to 15 years has shown the unacceptable side of unionism for all Australians to see. All the worst aspects of unionism have been clearly shown to Australians. I refer to flagrant disregard for arrangements, contempt of courts, industrial blackmail and coercion, thuggery, victimisation of individual union members. It has given unionism the worst name that it could possibly have earned under any other circumstances.

These points do not have to be made by the Opposition in debate. They have been made quite clearly by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) in his second reading speech when he dealt with the kinds of actions that have occurred in the last few years as perpetrated by the leadership and the members of the BLF. It is not as if those objectives have been clothed with some kind of legitimacy aimed at attempting to bring about some kind of industrial reform. Many of the activities carried out by the union have been of a political nature, obviously with political objectives in mind. I was pleased to see that the Minister in his second reading speech drew attention to that particular matter. He said:

The record shows that from this time the union has had scant regard to these undertakings. It has, on a multitude of occasions, engaged in the kind of conduct it repudiated before the Court, and its industrial record contains numerous examples of harmful demarcation disputes, broken concrete pours, violent conflicts with police and fellow unionists and disruptive campaigns over non-industrial issues.

We all know the political colour of the leadership of the BLF, its pro-communist leadership and its obvious attempt to get involved in political activity outside the industrial regime. Clearly, that is at the heart of the activities of this union over the last few years. I refer to the Winneke Royal Commission into the Activities of the Australian Building Construction Employees and Builders Labourers Federation, which reported to the Government on 27 May 1982. I quote from page 280 of that report, which again demonstrates the problems in dealing with the BLF in the last few years:

Not only has it ridden roughshod over the obligations imposed upon it by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act but it has paid scant respect to the duties imposed upon it by the general law of the land, civil and criminal alike. Under the pretext of `promoting the interests of its members, this organisation has, with frequency, resorted to tactics of violence, intimidation and victimisation.

Further in this report it is demonstrated quite clearly how the unions set about achieving those ends through deliberate actions. Let me quote from a chapter on page 333 dealing with industrial techniques adopted in the field by the Federation. These remarks were attributed to a Mr Steve Black, the New South Wales Branch Secretary, in his bulletin to members of September 1979. Under the heading of `Guerrilla Tactics' Black wrote:

The tactics used to get the overaward payments and better conditions are `guerrilla tactics'-the use of bans and lightning stoppages to disrupt the boss on the job. These tactics include: lightning strikes, work to rule, banning of parts or sections of jobs, one day and one week bans on concrete, stopping of concrete before a pour begins, breaking of concrete pours, bans on mobile cranes, bans on the lifting of certain materials by cranes or hoist, bans on truck deliveries, bans on unloading trucks, sending trucks away, overtime bans, safety bans, bans on the removal of scaffolding.

These tactics and others are designed to hit the boss in the pocket. Rather than costing B.L.'s wages in lengthy strikes, the boss loses the money when the bans are used. This is a policy of `the most harm to the boss the least harm to ourselves'.

That is the kind of tactic employed by the BLF to obtain objectives which this Government, through its Minister, has now admitted are not merely industrial actions designed to improve the standards of living of the workers of the union but obviously have other objectives-political obviously being among them.

I will briefly run through the history of the BLF in the last 10 to 12 years. It should be remembered that the BLF was first deregistered as a union in 1974. However, it was reinstated in 1976 and became a registered union once again on the specific undertaking given by the then Secretary-and perhaps he is still the present Secretary-Mr Norman Gallagher, that in fact the union would abide by orders of the court and abide with the law. Those undertakings were broken time after time as the union continued on its merry way of employing the industrial tactics that I have outlined. It was at the Fraser Government's initiative in February 1981 that deregistration proceedings were again instituted in the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. That being a long-winded procedure, it proceeded up until the time of the election of the Hawke Labor Government, which immediately upon coming to office in March 1983 stopped those proceedings. The reasons given at that time were that the problems of the building industry had to be cured by discussion and by other kinds of debates and initiatives, presumably by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations getting together with the unions and the employers and bringing about some kind of resolution. Two and a half years after those talks the Government has finally realised that it has to put its shoulder to the wheel and face up to its responsibilities.

We are not going to say that we told it so, but it is clearly part of this Government's failure to come to grips with the real problems in this country that it has not recognised that it should have continued that action 2 1/2 years ago rather than letting the water flow under the bridge as it has, bringing about more economic difficulty, more economic cost to the country and, of course, disruption to the lives of individuals in the meantime. That is the failure of this Government and it can be traced right back to 1981 when Mr Hawke, who was then the official spokesman for the Labor Opposition on industrial relations-he had not yet ascended to his great position of power as Leader of the Party-debated this issue on television on 18 February 1981 with the then Industrial Affairs Minister, Mr Andrew Peacock, the now Leader of the Opposition. I shall quote from that Nationwide transcript. When Mr Peacock was challenged in that debate about how the dispute should be handled, he replied as follows:

Now on the point of talk, there has been a great deal of talk and there's been a great deal of talk by Mr Gallagher producing hit-lists or his spokesmen as well against Government projects, against State and Federal Government projects and if there was an opportunity to talk and bear in mind that Bob-

that is, Mr Hawke-

tonight in his introduction was not prepared to hold a brief for the builders labourers and I don't blame him, he can't condone their action. But if there was a question of solving their behaviour by discussion he had every opportunity when he was President of the ACTU to try and draw them into line. I do not see that he has succeeded.

There is the point: From 1969 to 1980, when he became the honourable member for Wills, the present Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and all the talking in the world with the Builders Labourers Federation came to nought. Surely that was lesson enough for the Prime Minister and for this Government to take action, and to resume the action initiated by the Fraser Government in 1981 to deregister the BLF. But no; upon coming to government in 1983 he returned to the talkfest, seeking some kind of consensus with a bunch of ratbag criminals who run the BLF. So it is that he again has let the country down by not taking action at the time he should have.

The Prime Minister can retrieve the situation. Let us look at the dispute now at Mudginberri, a most important dispute that goes to the core of industrial affairs in this country. An arrangement between employees and an employer in the interests of economy, in the interests of jobs and in the interests of exports and efficiency in this country in the production of new meat products for which there is a demonstrable market overseas is being stopped by the action of a trade union. That trade union's membership, of course, comprises people employed by the Commonwealth Government. The meat inspectors picketing on Commonwealth land at Kakadu are Commonwealth employees who are stopping an efficient industry from proceeding and creating more wealth for all Australians to enjoy. That dispute, more than any other, demonstrates the weakness of this Government and is really a sidelight to the dispute going on with the BLF. But now what can we expect from the Prime Minister on this? Is he going to talk about Mudginberri for another 2 1/2 years before he takes action? There will be another industry down the drain and more economic cost to the country, just as we have witnessed over the action that has not been taken in timely fashion by this Government in respect of the BLF.

Let us just turn very briefly to this legislation. The legislation provides the Minister with enormous and various powers to take action to deal with the Builders Labourers Federation. We do not deny that those powers should be vested in the Minister. But I think we should realise that they are very powerful indeed. They provide almost draconian and certainly dictatorial powers to the Minister to choose whatever line he seeks to take to deal with the BLF. We do not say, in the circumstances of this dispute, this problem with the BLF, that that should not be done.

As we have said, we support the legislation. But I must say that I am somewhat bemused that the Government sees fit to obtain the passage of legislation such as this which has at its core the solution of the economic problems of this nation. Presumably the Government is acting in what it perceives to be the best interests of the public, yet a matter of weeks ago the Government introduced into this House legislation to override legislation passed by the State Government of Queensland which sought exactly the same kind of conclusion by ensuring that electricity supplies were guaranteed to the people of Queensland. There is an exact parallel here. This Government saw fit to challenge, for political purposes, the Premier of Queensland and the action of the Queensland Government. Yet it does exactly the same thing in respect of the Builders Labourers Federation and claims it to its credit. How can the Government reconcile those viewpoints? It cannot, because the action taken against Queensland was for purely political purposes. We know that and we have had those debates in the Senate over the last several weeks. We have demonstrated clearly from this side of the House how pusillanimous the Government's action was at that time when it tried to bring about some kind of political change in Queensland that was not in the interests of either the electricity workers or the people of Queensland generally.


Senator Georges —Come on! You don't know much about it at all, do you?


Senator MESSNER —I am just pointing out the hypocrisy of Senator Georges's Party. He understands those points; I know he does, because he is one of the few on that side who are honest. The last point I want to make in this respect is in regard to the BLF itself. We can recall that not long ago, during this period of talk that the Prime Minister is supposed to have been undertaking with the union, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations being seen publicly to be advocating to the building unions, of which the BLF is one, the seeking of wage settlements outside the accord, not in the form of ordinary wage increases but in the form of some kind of superannuation. He advocated that they should obtain contributions from employers, to which employees would not contribute, to the establishment of funds, which really amounted to deferred wages and not superannuation.

The object was clear: It was the circumvention of the award to try to buy off the unions from future action, to establish what is now known as the BUSS, or the builders unions superannuation scheme. The whole thing is a fraud, but that is another argument again. The point is that until very recent times-at least within the last 12 months-the Minister has been advocating that kind of action by unions in circumvention of the wages accord with the ACTU. That is how much respect this Government has for its own arrangements with the ACTU. That is how much respect this Government has for the affairs of the people. That is how much respect it has for the economy of the country. Of course, it has no respect at all, as demonstrated in the half-Budget introduced this week.

We see before us then a government confused and divided by its own factions, struggling to hold on to some kind of credibility in the area of industrial affairs. Everybody knows that in the end it is the ACTU which calls the tune. Here we see some token effort by this Government to introduce legislation to attack that union which represents the most unacceptable side of trade unionism. We support the legislation, but we fear what else this Government can do, will do or will fail to do in the future, because when the crunch comes it will be its union masters who will decide how it will behave.