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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2193

Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(5.24) —I was amused to hear Senator Walters describe the Postal Services Amendment (Continuance of Postal Services) Bill as a simple amendment. To describe the taking away of the monopolistic privilege of the postal service, to replace striking unionists with scab labour, as simple beggars the imagination.

The Australian Democrats cannot support this Bill. I know that we have time constraints. One could talk for a long time about this sort of thing. I suppose that the Democrats, like everybody in this chamber, are opposed to political decisions being taken by bodies other than members of parliament. To the extent that Senator Walters has said that a decision has been taken by an outside body, namely, a trade union, I agree with her. I do not go to the extent of saying that it has been taken over by international communists. She might be right in that regard; I do not know. But the fact is that a decision affecting a crucial part of our existence, namely, the fact that mail is not being delivered to South Africa, has not been taken by the Parliament. That is basically wrong. It is against the whole thrust of democratic institutions. We agree with the Liberal Party and, I am sure, the Australian Labor Party in saying that this dispute is wrong and that there should be ways of settling it.

We do not agree that confrontation is the way to settle an industrial dispute. That was proven in the Queensland electricity dispute. That dispute was settled by tolerance and compromise. If the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Hawke Federal Government had not intervened as they did in that dispute, in a very sensible and sensitive way, this country would have been plunged into absolute chaos. But that was a classic example of an industrial relations situation, which had been precipitated by a very silly Premier of Queensland, that could have led to a national paralysis. It was not solved by confrontation. The confrontation was taken out of it and it was solved by compromise and consensus.

I cannot understand, with great respect to Senator Walters and the other gung-ho boys and girls in the Liberal Party, why they have not learned their lesson from history. The Hawke Government has many faults but one of its classic achievements is that the time lost through industrial disputes in each year of its administration has been less than that lost under each year of the Fraser Government. Even Malcolm Fraser's friends say that his reign, if I can use that word, was characterised--

Senator Watson —It was because Bob Hawke was head of the ACTU.

Senator CHIPP —It was characterised by confrontation in industrial relations. Malcolm Fraser would not be upset if he heard me say that because he admits it himself. `Take the bastards on' was the Fraser technique, amply supported by people such as Senator Walters and Senator Watson. That is a respectable philosophy to have but I disagree with it. Surely, if members of the national Parliament are going to keep on saying that, they must ask themselves, if they are sincere or fair dinkum: Does it work? Does confrontation in industrial relations work? I would have thought that the classic example that I have just given shows that it does not work. The consensus style of settling industrial disputes does work, whereas confrontation does not.

I do not know what Senator Watson's interjection was. I promised Senator Lewis I would finish my remarks at 5.35 p.m. But I would like to answer the interjection. As I understand it, he said that the reason that the time lost in industrial disputes is less under the Hawke Government than under the Fraser Government is Mr Hawke was President of the ACTU at that time. Some of the explanations of these right wingers in the Liberal Party are absolutely absurd. No doubt such people had a hand in the ascension to power of their beloved leader, John Howard. Just look at what kind of a week he has had. Look at the popularity polls. Those people must wear the responsibility and share in the downward turn in the popularity and public acceptance of John Howard. They must lift their game and stop coming into this Parliament and making these absolutely absurd propositions about confrontation solving industrial disputes.

I understand that this is a serious matter and to that extent I compliment Mr Macphee and Senator Lewis for bringing in a novel solution because this problem has to be solved. I understand that at the moment ten innocent black African countries-innocent in the sense that they do not practise apartheid-are suffering because of this mail ban. The situation is going to get worse. So clearly this dispute has to be solved.

Senator Peter Baume —When elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

Senator CHIPP —I do not understand that. I am sure it is a brilliant analogy but the meaning escapes me for the moment. The honourable senator always makes brilliant interjections for which I am always grateful. The Bill has some technical weaknesses which I will mention briefly. It provides that the Minister may revoke Australia Post's monopoly on the delivery of mail where Australia Post is unable to provide an adequate service, firstly, throughout Australia and, secondly, in a particular part of Australia. The revocation itself can be subsequently revoked. In the case of the South African bans, Australia Post is not able to provide a satisfactory service in relation to a particular geographical area-that is, Australia or part of Australia-but in relation to a particular type of mail, that is, mail to or from South Africa.

I would like Senator Lewis, if he has time when he responds, to acknowledge whether I am right or wrong in pointing out this weakness. This part of the legislation would apply to the South African bans only if the Minister was to form the opinion that refusal to deliver South African mail was in itself sufficient to constitute a failure `to meet the social, industrial and commercial needs of the Australian people for postal services'. If that very unlikely interpretation was made by the Minister, the effect of the amendment would be to remove the Australia Post monopoly for all mail until the South African bans were lifted. The Minister cannot, under the amendment, lift the monopoly only in relation to South African mail. That is my understanding of the legislation on the legal advice that I have received. I should have given Senator Lewis notice that I was going to raise this matter; I am not trying to embarrass him. However, I just put on record that that is one of the objections to the Bill that the Democrats have received on legal advice.

The Bill would be more effective in the case of strikes such as the recent New South Wales mail sorters' strike, but even here there are difficulties. As some mail from overseas to parts of Australia, other than Sydney, goes through Sydney, and as mail from country New South Wales to other parts of Australia may pass through Sydney, would the Sydney strike of mail sorters provide a basis for removing the Australia Post monopoly from any part of the country which may be affected in any way by the strike? That seems to me to be another massive question mark raised by this Bill. They are technical difficulties which would preclude us voting for the Bill.

In the two or three minutes that I have left to speak, I would like to come to the main reasons for our objection to the Bill. I would like to give a possible scenario if this Bill were passed. I am not saying that it is a proper scenario. I am not saying that it is one that I would approve of. However, to quote the phrase of a famous Australian, the result of the scenario I am about to outline is as plain as night follows day. Let us suppose that the mail sorters at Redfern went out on strike. The Minister, using the power under this Act, could then revoke Australia Post's monopoly in New South Wales. As a result of that, the Australia Post union workers would go out on a national strike. This is not a technical point. It is one on which Senator Lewis, with his not inconsiderable experience in these matters, would be able to comment. What does Senator Lewis think would happen as soon as the Minister invoked the legislation and revoked Australia Post's monopoly in New South Wales? He must concede that every worker in Australia Post would go out on strike Australia-wide within 24 hours. As a result, there would be a total paralysis of all postal services in New South Wales. Senator Lewis might then respond: `Okay, call the bastards bluff. Remove the monopoly totally from Australia Post right throughout Australia and have private enterprise deliver every letter and parcel'.

What would be the position then? I do not know as much as some people do about the union movement. However, I know a fair bit. I was chairman of the Liberal Party's industrial relations committee for many years. My father was a trade unionist. I do not know whether it is right or wrong but I know that the one thing governments can do to unions that is certain to inflame passions more than anything else is to introduce scab labour. That is a terrible and horrible term. I do not like it. However, a lot of trade unionists learnt what it meant throughout their long-suffering careers. Whether one likes it or not, this legislation is simply a means of allowing a government to introduce scab labour to break a strike. As soon as one does that, one has chaos throughout the whole country. Again, I emphasise that I am not saying it is right or proper. I am saying it is inevitable that this will happen.

The next thing that happens after banning Australia Post union members is the entry of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. It would call a national strike. This is the inevitable way in which the cards would fall. I would say that, within 48 hours of the provisions of this Bill being invoked, not only would postal services cease to operate but one would have a national strike. There would be no trams, trains or phone services and food would not be delivered. The whole nation would close down. At that point the Government would have to compromise and, inevitably, that compromise would involve the repeal of this legislation. I would have liked to speak longer on this matter. However, I honour my commitment to Senator Lewis and I will conclude my remarks. I ask him to be good enough to respond to the points I have raised.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —I am fighting a losing battle, but I think it might be appropriate if we could limit the use in this chamber of a certain word that has been used a couple of times. I call Senator Lewis.