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Wednesday, 11 September 1985
Page: 476

Senator SHORT(5.12) —in reply-In closing the debate and exercising my right of reply in this urgency debate, I do not want to take up the Senate's time unduly but there are a couple of issues which I think should be raised. Firstly, I think the contribution to the debate this afternoon by honourable senators on the Government side has been very disappointing indeed. The reason those honourable senators' contributions have been disappointing is that they have walked around the issue which is the subject of this motion. This motion does not concern industrial relations generally; nor does it concern economic policies or the like, as Senator Robert Ray, in particular, tried to suggest. He really did not address his remarks to this dispute. Senator Cooney and Senator Elstob did address the matter a little more directly but they were still a long way away from debating the issues of this urgency motion.

I remind the Senate that the urgency motion refers to two issues. The first issue concerns the action by militant unionists involved in the dispute concerning Dollar Sweets Co. Pty Ltd. The rights or wrongs of the dispute itself are really not at issue in this debate, although I would take great exception to the proposition by Government speakers, particularly Senator Elstob, that the dispute arose as a result of something that the employers had done. Nothing could be further from the truth. The dispute has arisen because a rogue union is trying to crush a small company acting in accordance with the rulings of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the wage fixation guidelines of that Commission. Indeed, the company is acting under the principles of the prices and incomes accord. Therefore, we have had a situation today in which Government speakers tried to diffuse an issue concerning a union acting in complete defiance of the Government's own accord, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the Australian Council of Trade Unions itself. Those are the facts which ought to have been debated this afternoon.

Senator Elstob talked about democracy and said that we have to preserve our democratic institutions. I agree with him completely. That, too, is largely what this debate is about. The actions of the unions in relation to the Dollar Sweets company could not be more undemocratic and alien to the democratic standards and principles by which the overwhelming majority of Australians live and which, perhaps, represent the most important part of being Australian. Those values are under threat in this dispute.

Secondly, the Government's action in trying to resolve this dispute was hedged about by Government speakers. I can only repeat what I said during the debate: Senator Button, when asked by me about this issue on 22 August, by which stage the dispute had been running for two months, knew nothing about it. He is the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. The Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) was advised the same day, or the day after, the telephone and telex connections were sabotaged at the Dollar Sweets company. That was on 17 August. The Minister did not even bother to reply to the request for assistance by the company. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) have said-I accept this-that they support the company management. However, they have done nothing at all to further that support, which really is just paper support. So the story goes on.

A few other things were said during the debate, particularly by Senator Elstob, which need some correction on the public record. I am advised that Mr Mulcahy, the Chief Executive Officer of the Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Australia, has never agreed to the 36-hour a week claim.

Senator Elstob —He is in that Association.

Senator SHORT —I know he is in that Association. However, the confectionery manufacturers were hopelessly crushed by the union movement. This is so, even of the bigger companies. I am not sure whether Senator Elstob is aware that there were 93 strikes at the Cadbury company's plant alone before an agreement on a 36-hour week was reached. The agreement on a 36-hour week came only because of crushing union pressure on a company which was employing many people and which, if it had not bowed to that union pressure after 93 strikes, would have had to close its doors. Exactly the same principle applies in the Dollar Sweets case. Exactly the same principle applies to all those other companies which have been involved in the 36-hour a week exercise.

The companies which granted the 36-hour week claim did so also before the prices and income accord was arrived at. That is the point I make to Senator Elstob. What the union involved in the Dollar Sweets case is now going for is contrary to the accord which his government praises so highly. The point Senator Elstob made was quite irrelevant. For the Dollar Sweets company to accede to the union demand in this case would be to put it in contravention of the wage fixing principles of this nation, principles from which Senator Elstob, his Government and his Party derive such satisfaction. These are principles about which one could have very grave doubts in regard to their virtue and value. Nevertheless they are principles. What Senator Elstob has done in his contribution this afternoon has been to place doubt on whether he believes that the wage fixation guidelines of this nation and of his Government are good guidelines. If he did think they were good guidelines he would have no alternative but to support the first part of our motion.

Senator Elstob —That Association was at fault.

Senator SHORT —The Association was not at fault. The Association is supporting a small member company because that small member company-namely, the Dollar Sweets company-is being crushed by one of the most militant left wing unions. That left wing union is being supported, assisted and advised by another, perhaps the most, militant left wing union, in Australia, namely, the Food Preservers Union of Australia. That is a very lethal combination for a small company like Dollar Sweets. No wonder it called on the resources of the employer body of which it is a member, along with 128 other companies, most of which are small and medium size businesses. The Confectionery Manufacturers Association is its industry association. I can see nothing at all other than common sense in such an approach by a company. Why would a company not accept the resources of its own association in facing the threats and the problems that exist now? Those are some of the points that really need to be brought out.

I regret Senator Cooney's comment that my remarks on the police action were inflammatory. I did not think they were. I do not want the police forces of this country to move into the industrial relations area. Rather, the point I was making was that there was a legitimate request from a company, which is being very heavily victimised and terrorised in a terror campaign-that is what makes this dispute so different-for police protection, and that protection was refused by the Victorian Minister for Police and Emergency Services before the investigation into the allegations of victimisation was even completed. A report was to go to him. That is the point I was making. I still find it extraordinary behaviour on the part of Mr Mathews that he should make that decision before he received a report on the matter.

Probably there are many other things that one could say, but I will not. The debate has brought to light what is going on in this dispute. As I said, it is a very serious issue in this country. It is not just another industrial dispute. It goes far wider than that. That is why the Opposition has raised this matter of urgency today. I and the Opposition welcome the support of the motion by the Australian Democrats. We hope that we will have the support of the Government side of the Senate. If the Government does not support the motion it will be saying that it does not agree with its own wage fixation principles and that it agrees with activities of unions which are intolerable in a free society such as ours.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senator Lewis —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I want to know whether it is possible in some way to record the fact that all the Government senators refused to divide on this motion even though they said `No' when the question was put. We on this side of the chamber are happy to call a division because the Prime Minister has sent a telegram of support to this company. Yet the Australian Labor Party is not prepared to support the Prime Minister. I would like to have it in the Hansard record.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. There is no procedure by which that can be done. Senator Lewis, perhaps your remarks have done what you sought to achieve. The question has been resolved in the affirmative. (Quorum formed)