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Friday, 23 August 1985
Page: 276

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(11.39) —I thank honourable senators for their support of the Building Industry Bill. In replying on behalf of the Government I certainly do not want to get into that world of sociological schmaltz about which Senator Georges has just been speaking, which sees builders labourers as unique victims of a system who have to respond in a particular way. Of course, that sort of argument does not stand up. He says that the builders labourers in Queensland, whom I suppose he would see as similar victims of the system, do not behave in the same way as builders labourers in New South Wales or Victoria, which has been the subject of discussion in the course of debate in the Senate. Of course, as Senator Georges said, there are all sorts of pressures in a society like this for people to improve their conditions. But the vast majority of members of the trade union movement in Australia do not see it necessary to improve conditions by the same methods as the builders labourers have taken.

Much has been said in this debate about the Building Industry Bill as well as publicly about the Builders Labourers Federation. I do not want in any sense to get into the rat race of moral outrage against the BLF-outrage which has been expressed for all sorts of different reasons and motivations in pursuing deregistration of the union. The Government's motivations and reasons for bringing this legislation into the Parliament are quite simple. They are that in an industrial sense the BLF has behaved quite irresponsibly. It has resorted to tactics which are not acceptable to Australian society as a whole or to the work force and the trade union movement as a whole. It has failed to honour agreements and undertakings it has made. For those reasons the Government takes the view that this legislation should be introduced so that the question of deregistration of the BLF can be dealt with by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

I do not want to go into the history of this matter. Some of the things which have been said are correct. Senator Walters embarked on a description of what she would call a model course in how to deregister an organisation like the BLF. I remind honourable senators of the model course that was adopted by the Fraser Government. In February 1981 it announced and made a decision to deregister the BLF. In November 1982, nearly two years later, that Government commenced proceedings to deregister the Federation. Throughout those proceedings there was not much consultation with the industry. Indeed, throughout those proceedings, which went on and on, there was little community support for the process which was being engaged in. First, there was no trade union support, and, secondly, it is clear that there was not by any means unanimous employer support. Certainly there were no means of ensuring that employers would not cave into the builders labourers at the slightest whiff of pressure. There was a mass of evidence to the contrary. There was a bad history in terms of deregistration proceedings taken against the BLF by the Fraser Government. It was a mess-up from beginning to end.

As has been said, it is true that the present Government tried over a period of 18 months to two years to bring the BLF within the framework of the industrial arbitration system and the norms of union and industrial behaviour. Numerous attempts were made to do that and failed. There was a dishonouring of agreements and undertakings given by the BLF to both the Government and the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In that context ultimately the Government determined the present course of action. It arose from that history of a previously failed attempt to deregister the BLF and, secondly, a course of conduct in relation to the present Government and the current conciliation and arbitration system. Senator Walters asked the rhetorical question: Why take it to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission?

Senator Walters —You can't think of a reason?

Senator BUTTON —I am sorry, I have trouble with my eyes sometimes. The honourable senator should not persecute the half blind. I am just trying to read my notes of what she said.

Senator MacGibbon —Have you seen Max Gillies lately?

Senator BUTTON —Mr Deputy President, I seek the protection of the Chair from the vulgarians opposite. After all, there are young people present in the gallery. Whatever the habits of Opposition senators might be, there is no need to try to inflict them on me. What Senator Walters said was that the Government had backed off and given responsibility to the Arbitration Commission. Of course, that is absolutely correct. Senator Walters was not in the chamber when I was describing what a mess her Government, the Fraser Government, had made of trying to deregister the BLF in the past. This Government does not intend to get into the same mess. This Government is seeking from the Commission a declaration which would be the basis of deregistration. That is an appropriate procedure to follow.

Senator MacGibbon —Are you going to clean up the ETU in Queensland as well?

Senator BUTTON —I would not think we need worry about that, with a zealot like Senator MacGibbon there. One would think that would happen anyway.

Senator Walters —Could you give us an estimate of how much it has cost the industry in the last five years since you withdrew proceedings-just an estimate of how much it has cost?

Senator BUTTON —I cannot give that estimate. I can give figures of what it cost companies like the Grollo Brothers and Hersfield's and such companies. It cost them a packet, and it also cost Norm Gallagher a bit. In terms of the cost to industry, I do not know the answer. As Senator Walters herself said, this has been going on for years and years. The point is not so much the cost to industry, but the best method of tackling the problem. The Government supported by Senator Walters totally failed. One can talk about the cost to the community of doctors, politicians and builders labourers and everyone can make a little speech on those issues. The question is how to deal with the problem. That was something Senator Walters did not address her attention to. It is all very well to beat one's chest here and talk about cost and things of that sort, but the question is to find a solution to these problems. That is what this legislation is basically about. There has been a bad history of the matter in terms of the BLF's conduct over a period as well as in respect of governments and arbitration commission attempts to deal with the problem. The solution proposed by the present Government is to seek the deregistration of the BLF after appropriate hearings before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

Senator Walters brought a lot of other issues into the debate. She said that it is the Governments responsibility to protect the population against BLF tactics. In fact, it is not the Government's responsibility. It is largely the responsibility of state governments. All those matters can be discussed in this context of emotional angst but are not particularly relevant to the legislation before the Senate.

I do not think that in the course of the debate any particular points of substance were made by the Opposition. For that reason I do not propose to go into detailed comments made by particular honourable senators. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, we are grateful that, for whatever reasons or bizarre motivations, honourable senators support this legislation. I wish the legislation a speedy passage and commend it to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.