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Thursday, 17 August 1989
Page: 306

Senator McKIERNAN(6.13) —This evening the Senate is debating the Industrial Relations (Directions to Stop Industrial Action) Amendment Bill 1989. I suppose the opening comments by Senator Chaney who introduced the Bill-and it is his Bill-will be given some weight in the community, to give it some form of colloquial charm, because it is directed at this point, even though it has been previously introduced, at a proposed stoppage of work or industrial action, by a small group of people who are members of the Federation of Air Pilots. I suppose it could be called a high flying amendment or some other silly thing such as that, but it is not a silly action that the pilots are engaged in.

In his second reading speech, Senator Chaney referred to the innocent individuals caught in the tussle between the employer and the employees. We would all recognise the innocent individuals in this place, because from reports that I have had during my last duty period in the chamber I am given to understand that the pilots will be taking further action tomorrow and that those of us who were hoping to return to our families for the weekend and next week will probably be unable to do so. So we have a deep interest in the matter that is being debated here tonight. Despite the colloquial terms which may be used in regard to the Bill by our friends in the media or other pundits around the scene, as we all know, it is not a laughing matter.

It is probably unfortunate that this Bill is being debated at this particular time, homing in on a single dispute. Perhaps the dispute will lead honourable senators from all political parties to have a bias against what the Federation of Air Pilots is seeking to do tomorrow, if the rumours are true. We could be biased because we may be disadvantaged if they do go through with their threat of industrial action tomorrow in grounding all aircraft within Australia. But had the legislation been passed when it was previously introduced-as I recall, it has been on two separate occasions-would the Bill and the provisions contained in the amending Bill have halted the action taken by the Federation of Air Pilots?

Senator Cooney —No, it would not.

Senator McKIERNAN —Senator Cooney says it would not. I doubt very much that it would. The particular organisation we are talking about at the moment has set its sights on a course of action. Irrespective of the consequences to Australia, to our economy or, indeed, to its own members, it will follow it through. In my active participation in the industrial relations area, I have seen similar situations develop where the mind is set, a course of action is embarked upon and off they go. Irrespective of whether the Industrial Relations Act contained the provisions that are contained in this amendment Bill, I doubt very much whether it would make an iota of difference to their course of action tomorrow. Senator Chaney said that jawboning by the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Peter Morris) will not solve it either. He said a little more than that, but I think my paraphrase is a fair treatment of what the Leader of the Opposition in this place said. I suggest that Senator Chaney is completely and utterly removed from the industrial relations scene pertaining in Australia today. He shows that ignorance by making statements such as he is making at the moment.

In this country at the moment we have a controversial agreement. It is controversial because elements in the community do not agree with it because of its success; that is, the prices and incomes accord which exists between the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government. Although the accord has been on shaky ground ever since it was established, it is still in existence and it is still working; it is delivering the goods. It is not doing so by threatening a big stick, heavy fines or tossing people in gaol. It is working as a result of discussion and deliberation and an acceptance that each of the parties involved in negotiations have legitimate claims.

In his contribution earlier in the debate, Senator Aulich described what it is like to be a worker on the shop floor and the provisions and rights of workers. A very important right in the workers' armament is the right to strike. In this chamber and in other places in the past, I have agreed that the right to strike has been abused by a number of individuals and organisations in our community. I am on record in Hansard as having said that, in abusing that right to strike, they diminish the value of that right to strike because it is seen to be the first course of action. In certain sections of the community that was seen to be the only course of action. Many of the problems and difficulties that we have in the industrial relations arena can be resolved by merely talking or, as Senator Chaney put it, by jawboning. They can be resolved by that method. If they are not resolved by that method, the workers involved still have that very precious instrument-the right to strike. It is something that should not be abused.

If we had excessive punitive powers contained in the Act, it would not guarantee, as I have argued before, that both major airline companies of Australia would fly tomorrow. It would not guarantee it at all. In actual fact it might make the situation even more difficult. We have seen situations in the past in the industrial relations arena of Australia where a dispute arose and a strike occurred over, for example, the hours of work, the amount of overtime available or not available, or a wages question. By the use of the threat of punitive powers it got turned into a much larger dispute.

I will go back a few years to 1979. There are a few Western Australian senators in the chamber at the moment. I will look at a dispute that occurred in Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd in the Pilbara region. At a very simple public community meeting to explain the strike situation, that infamous section of the Western Australian Police Act, section 54b, was implemented. Union officials were arrested merely because they had not obtained police permission to address the meeting. The thing got out of hand and it cost Australia millions of dollars before it was finally resolved. It was eventually resolved, but at a very great cost to Australia. There are ways and means around industrial conflict. Unions and employers in Australia have explored them and are coming up with solutions. But because we are dealing with human beings, such as ourselves, there will be fallouts on the way through. One of the nice features about being a human being, despite what we think of ourselves, is that we are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

The full intent of this amendment Bill is reflected in the sanctions that it brings with it. If carried, it will provide the Commission with virtually the same powers as the Federal Court to fine any union or body or person in breach of an injunction if such an injunction is deemed to have been breached. If those fines are not paid, the court can order that the goods that the individuals or organisations possess can be taken away from them. That is a clever ploy. It is a smart ploy. I commend Senator Chaney and those members of the Opposition who thought up this piece of legislation. They realised from bitter experiences that sanctions do not work.

It will not be the first time that the name Clarrie O'Shea has been mentioned in this chamber. He was secretary of the Tramways Union in Melbourne. I believe it was in 1969 that his organisation was engaged in some action for which, after a trial, it was convicted. As the principal officer he was the person responsible. He was fined by the court. The fines were not paid. The officers did not go out and seize the goods; they went out and seized Clarrie. They shoved him in gaol. Of course, Australia stopped at a cost to the economy and the community of many millions of dollars.

Penal sanctions do not work. The harder they are, the less effective they will probably be. The trade union movement is a powerful force in Australia. As I have said, there have been times when that power has been used irresponsibly. We have the classic case of the responsible use of the power of trade unions through the workings of the economy of Australia today through the processes of the prices and incomes accord. No amount of heavy brutal sanctions will even the balance and ensure that industrial action does not happen.

Senator Chaney went on to say that the arbitration process that we have in Australia today is heavily laden towards the employers. He said:

At present the Commission knows that its decisions will be adhered to by employers.

In a speech earlier this week I gave minute details and particular examples of an employer in my home State which has thumbed its nose at the Western Australian Industrial Commission-not the Federal Commission in this case. There were provisions within the legislation in Western Australia for a form of sanctions. Senator Chaney will know the employer I speak about-Robe River. It thumbed its nose at this. The amount of money concerned did not mean a thing to that multi-million dollar organisation. It was out to break the trade union movement, and the cost did not matter-not only what it cost in actual dollar terms but also what it cost in human terms.

In a recent speech on industrial relations I mentioned the case of a clerk in an office situation who was ordered by the employer, Robe River, to drive a truck in an iron ore mine in the north-west of Western Australia. A female clerk was ordered to do this. She refused. She not only lost her job because she disobeyed an order; in a mining town such as that she lost her home and her community-because there is no other employment in Pannowonica, where that incident happened.

Other arguments could be put forward as to whether the Commission favours one section of the industrial relations scene or favours another section. I have heard cries from time to time from people within the trade union movement about various decisions of the Commission. One union in Western Australia was in touch with me last week following the national wage case decision, which the majority of unions accepted. This particular union did not accept it. It felt that it was very biased. I suppose that, in its own mind, the decision was biased. Any decisions at any time can be deemed to be biased one way or the other. There are employers who claim that decisions of the Commission are biased. I know of some that were not particularly happy with the decision on the national wage case of last week. I also recognise the disunity of the employer organisations in putting forward a case to the Commission, and I recognise the choices for the Commission. I do not think that anybody, not even Senator Chaney, could claim that the Commission's decision was actually the submission of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. In view of the complexity of the decision and the amount of time needed to decipher the Commission's intent, not even Senator Chaney or any employer organisation could justify such a claim.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.