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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 465

Senator ROBERT RAY(3.59) —Senator Short began his speech by saying that he did not intend it to be a union bash. If that was not his intention it was a very novel speech from an honourable senator opposite. Not once have I heard Liberal Party members say that they support any industrial dispute. They all say: Yes, unions are a necessary and integral part of today's society. If a union leader has been dead for at least 20 years they will acknowledge what a wonderful old fellow he was, but I have never heard a Liberal come out and say that just one industrial dispute was justified. Traditionally and unfortunately, the Liberal Party has an obsession with industrial disputes. That is part of scapegoat politics. The Liberal Party needs something to hate. Most of the time its members hate each other, but when they can rise above that they need some common foe against which they can vent their hatred and try to rationalise their existence. We all know that apart from some ideological considerations the Liberal Party really does not have much philosophy. Therefore, what can bind its members together? The answer is simple-pick some group in society they can hate. Especially when they fail in government, when they have no political philosophy, when they have no economic management skills and when they have to explain why their record of economic management is so poor, the answer is simple-blame the unions.

The Liberals when in government had an absolutely dreadful record in the field of industrial relations. In fact, they have never learnt to deal with unions, which is surprising to me. It was probably true to write 20 years ago that the Australian Labor Party was almost unable to deal with business and that the Liberals were unable to deal with unions. I think we have made strenuous efforts to try to understand the business community and its needs and to get on well with it. We do not always succeed, but we make the effort. On the other hand, the Liberal Party rarely makes the effort. It is very quick to condemn unions and to expose and attack them at all times. The attitude we have taken is to develop the accord and an industrial relations system which at this time is far better than anything that has preceded it. In some ways I pay Senator Short a compliment. The sorts of points he made were basically in support of the accord. He said that unions should not break ranks and break the principles of the accord. If that is what he is saying, I absolutely agree with him.

When we came to office and put the accord in place the previous Government had left this country in a fairly severe mess. Unemployment was well over 10 per cent, we had double digit inflation at 11.1 per cent and economic growth was at minus 0.8 per cent. It occurred to us that unless all groups in society-the Government, the employers and the employees-got together we would not restore economic growth and the economy of this country. Therefore, from that emerged the accord. The old gloom and doom of the Fraser Government eventually evaporated.

What is evident from the Opposition today is that the Liberals still suffer from some form of Liberal amnesia. I do not exempt Senator Short from this. Honourable senators opposite were in government from 1975 to 1983 when they had their chance to establish good industrial relations in this country, and they failed to do so. It is almost as though that era did not exist. It is almost as though Prime Minister Fraser never existed. I wonder where the Fraserites opposite are today? The two conservative people, who are so concerned about this issue that they have at least come into the chamber, were both members of the Government from 1975 to 1980. What did their Government do in that area? Did it solve all industrial disputes? The answer is no. The harder question is: Did it solve any industrial dispute? Probably the answer is no.

We have established the accord and set many targets. Most of those targets have already been reached. Our first target was for increased employment. I think we have achieved record levels of employment. In the last 27 months 410,000 new jobs have been created. We are justifiably proud of that record. Essentially, a lot of the credit for that goes towards the development of the accord and good industrial relations in this country. The second commitment we gave was to decrease unemployment. Clearly, it has decreased from about 10.4 per cent to 8.2 per cent. Again, a government that is pledged to create jobs and to reduce unemployment will get a far more co-operative trade union movement than the old Fraser-type Government in which theory dominated all and it did not matter what happened in practice.

Another improvement that came out of the accord was the improvement of the social wage by introducing Medicare, spending more on education, spending more on housing and improving the social security system, the union movement was interested in those sorts of developments. If one assists people in those ways they will not be as rapacious, as the honourable senator called them, in wage demands and industrial disputes. This Government has done so, much to the benefit of Australia. In the accord we promised to develop industry. There is no doubt that through Senator Button's Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce and other activities we have made major advances in that area.

The key thing we promised was to improve economic growth. We have certainly done that. Even the Opposition acknowledges that, although it always puts up three or four reasons why economic growth has improved, none of which ever in any way acknowledges the activities of this Government. But we have had a 5 per cent economic growth rate in the two years in office and we have a further projected economic growth rate of 5 per cent in the current financial year. They are growth rates not matched by those of comparable countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Germany. Indeed, we will have a better economic growth rate this year than that of Singapore. That is rarely acknowledged by those opposite. But once we put that in place we will find that industrial relations problems are far easier to manage.

Senator Short —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Not one word Senator Ray has said as yet bears any relationship to the motion before the Senate. It is a motion dealing with a specific dispute at a particular company and involving a particular union. I suggest that Senator Ray is not addressing his remarks to the motion at all.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The second part of the motion states:

. . . the necessity for the government to take urgent action to have the dispute resolved.

I have listened to Senator Ray's remarks. Although they are not directly related to the dispute they are generally related to the area of industrial relations and, therefore, are in order.

Senator ROBERT RAY —As Sherlock Holmes once said to Dr Watson, it is a case of the dog that did not bark. Senator Short has raised one case. By putting the generality of how well industrial relations have worked in this country in the last 27 months we will establish that he is looking at the one aberration rather than the reality. By looking at just the one aberration the honourable senator is showing that he is a political isolationist with not much relevance to the current community debate.

I will return to the general subject and be as relevant as I can. I would like to anticipate what sort of credibility those opposite would have if they were returned to government. Would we have any Dollar Sweets, Mudginberri or other disputes? Would it just be the new Camelot in which industrial relations were perfect? That is why I raised the record of the Fraser Government, and it was a pathetic record at that. We can look at how many work days were lost. Let us go back to one of the golden years of the Liberal Party-1981. Senator Short was not here at the time. Nevertheless, many Liberals would regard that as one of the golden years. In that year 4,192,000 work days were lost. Let us compare that to what happened in the last year for which there are statistics-1984-when only 1,302,500 days were lost in industrial disputes. That is the record-the number of work days lost has been reduced by something like 300 per cent in the current economic climate and the existing accord.

We have to ask ourselves what would happen if the Liberals got into power, especially now that the new ideologues control the Liberal Party. For one thing, we can look overseas at some of their idols. We can look how well things are running in Britain under Margaret Thatcher who has taken on the unions time and again. There is lousy economic growth, high unemployment, a high inflation rate and, in spite of North Sea oil the country is going down the drain under Thatcherism, or the so-called dry philosophy that we hear of from time to time. The Liberals argue that if they are put back in power they will deregulate the labour market and allow the law of the jungle to take over. The Liberals are saying that militant or strong unions can do what they like. The Liberals are prepared to let those employees covered by weak or ineffective unions go down the plug hole and to let their standard of living drop in order to support profit levels or something else.

If honourable senators opposite want to criticise a Labor government and its handling of industrial relations they have to come into the chamber and show that they can do better. There are two reasons why they will not-their quoted past record and their future proposals. Those future proposals in terms of industrial relations are an absolute disaster. I suggest that instead of sitting in this place maybe we should be generous, pair a few more liberals and send them to the Australian Council of Trade Unions congress so that they can meet some trade unionists and understand what their problems are and how they will deal with them now and into the future. But no, the Liberal Party prefers to use as scapegoats the union movement to blame for its own inadequacies.

Senator Short raised a few matters. He said that two of the unionists involved happened to be prominent members of the Left. I also notice that the main adversary, Mr Mulcahy, who runs for the employers, founded the Socialist Left in Tasmania in 1972. It may be a case of old extremists falling out. I have never supported any of the people who were mentioned, employer or employee. Senator Short alleged that there have been bomb threats, a fire and intimidation and that telephone lines have been cut. He raised all those issues. That would never be a proper industrial tactic that we on this side would support. In no way could this Government ever support those activities if indeed those on the picket line were charged. He mentioned only one set of charges and, for obvious reasons, I should not explore them. But if it can be proved that people on the picket line were guilty of those offences, we as a government will condemn them and they will go the normal legal processes. There is no way that, in the honourable senator's view, the much despised Cain Government would not proceed on that matter. We have shown, and the Cain Government has shown, a fair deal of courage when there has been law breaking in the industrial area to take on those particular groups.

Senator Short referred to his adjournment speech in which he criticised some of the officials for their overseas trips. The only thing I ever find in common with these people and the extreme conservatives who sometimes exist opposite is that they all like a trip. They just go to different spots. Some of these people may go to North Korea or Libya. I do not find that particularly offensive. Some honourable senators on Senator Short's side of the House go to South Africa and to every other right wing dictatorship in the world. The general Liberal Party on the extreme right has a lot in common with these people.

Senator Short —Do you support the Libyan Government?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Not at all. If I had to wait to be offered a trip to Libya by the Libyan Government, I would have to wait a long time. I would even have to wait longer than the time when Senator Short and his colleagues get back in government. In summing up, this dispute goes to compulsory conference next Friday in the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. One would hope that it can be settled there. It has never been the Australian Labor Party's view that just sacking employees in the middle of an industrial dispute will solve anything. I have never known that to occur, and it never will. The Government's attitude is that it will not support claims outside the normal guidelines. That has been indicated by the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. Further, it was indicated by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Mr Willis, in a telex to the Dollar Sweets company and to the union that there will be no support in those circumstances.

Senator Short —What have you done about it?

Senator ROBERT RAY —I am asked what we have done about it. Are we supposed to solve every industrial dispute in this country? What a ridiculous proposition, especially considering the Liberal Party's record. The only record the Liberals hold is in stirring up industrial disputes, never in settling them. The matter is in hand and one hopes that it will be resolved. What we have done in this country in creating the accord, reducing working days lost by 300 per cent and developing economic growth is establish a far more viable industrial relations atmosphere.

We have one more step to go in this industrial area, in my view, and that is in considering the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems to bring about more and more reforms in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. When that is done, there will be a very harmonious atmosphere in this country. One will never stop one or two unions jumping the gun, but we as a government have indicated that we will not support them. We have not supported the Food Preservers Union on every occasion. That does not mean we should set out to destroy it or anything else, but we shall not support unions on every occasion. If Senator Short and others do not see this matter of urgency as a union bash, too many people, given the Liberals' past history as a party, will consider it so. That is a most unfortunate attitude, and I await just once in my lifetime to hear one Liberal come out and support one industrial dispute. I could be proved wrong because as a 12-year old I remember thinking: `Just for once I wonder what would happen if the Herald editorial came out and suported the Labor Party'. Two things happened. We only squeaked in and Opposition members squealed like stuck pigs.