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Thursday, 9 December 1993
Page: 4366

Senator O'CHEE (1.30 a.m.) —Tonight is a very interesting night because we are seeing philosophies change all over the place on the other side of the chamber.

Senator MacGibbon —And a bit of double crossing too.

Senator O'CHEE —There has been a little of that too, but I do not want to talk about that because I am a charitable man.

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator McKiernan)—Order! Senator MacGibbon should not talk about it either because he is not sitting in his own chair.

Senator O'CHEE —Mr Temporary Chairman, I am sure the moment got away with him. What I am interested in is the concept of pluralism. Earlier on this evening we were encouraged to adopt all sorts of positions about the family, or what I call pseudo-families, in the interests of social pluralism. Yet what we have tonight is an opportunity, in this amendment moved by the coalition, to truly support the concept of pluralism.

  By inserting the words `majority of' before the word `employees', we can create a pluralistic workplace. It is quite interesting. I can see the faces of those opposite and their jaws have dropped. It is a new concept to them. Many concepts are new to Senator Murphy. Here is the possibility of really supporting pluralism. Let us support pluralism in the workplace by supporting this amendment.

  This amendment creates the possibility for the commission to ratify an agreement provided that the majority of employees are covered by an award. What the clause as it stands would require is that every single one of them has to be covered by an award. In other words, there is no pluralism; there is no co-existence. It all has to be tightly controlled. Yet here we are supposedly reforming the industrial relations system.

  It is a good thing the people opposite were not on the long march with Chairman Mao—because a long march starts with a very first step and those on the other side would take the first step backwards. That is what they would do. Their idea of reform is to take a step backwards.

Senator Foreman —You'd take about 15.

Senator O'CHEE —I cannot take 15 steps backwards because I would be acting contrary to standing orders because I would not be speaking from the right place. Senator Foreman has been in this chamber long enough to know that, and I do not think he ought to be advocating that. As an office-bearer of the Senate, he has some responsibility to ensure that good conduct is observed in this chamber. His estimable colleague Senator Jones recognises that and I think Senator Jones would prefer us to proceed in the manner in which we are going at the moment.

  What we on this side of the chamber do not want is to proceed down the path that those on the other side have given us. They say, `Everything has to be controlled by the award. Unless it is controlled by the award—heavens!—we can't trust people because they might make a decision that's in their own interests and that we do not agree with'. This is what it is all about; it is about control. It is about control of workers—because unions do not trust workers.

  As far as unions are concerned, the terrible thing about workers is that they do not always agree with the union. And then heaven help us. What is going to happen? If they do not all agree with the union, maybe you cannot pull them out, brothers. Maybe you cannot force them all to come out on strike. We are advocating a pluralistic system, a system that has a little bit of flexibility.

  I know a little bit of flexibility is too much flexibility for some of the people on the other side of the chamber. I will give those opposite a compliment: they have all got backbone. The only problem is that they do not have those little bits that go in between the vertebrae. So they are thoroughly rigid from top to bottom—lots of backbone, but no flexibility. That is the problem of those on the other side of the chamber.

  We are advocating a more flexible system of employees and employers working together. More importantly, we are advocating a system under which we do not have to have each and every member of the business covered by an award. Provided there is a majority, we believe that there are sufficient grounds for the commission to be able to ratify an agreement.

  We do not support a system whereby the commission has to satisfy itself that everybody is covered by an award. That is absolute nonsense. If the people on the other side, with their entrenched views, took the opportunity to look at it for just a couple of seconds, they would recognise that there is merit in the proposal that we are putting forward.

  Maybe we might even increase union membership. The funny thing about unions is that when people are compelled to join them, they do not want to join. But, when people are given freedom of choice, they can start to make a decision based on the merits. I believe that unions may have something to offer in the future, but only if they reform themselves.

Senator Chapman —They don't offer much now.

Senator O'CHEE —They do not offer much now. It is only if the unions reform themselves and start to offer people some real incentives, unlike the incentives that are usually offered, that people will join. I have told the chamber before, but I think it is apposite to mention it again—

Senator Murphy —Imagine you as a recruitment officer.

Senator O'CHEE —If I were a recruitment officer, the unions would have a hell of lot more members than they have now. I would not stand over people with a big baseball bat and say, `Brother, you're going to join the union'. I would not do what they did to my brother when he was a 16-year-old putting the colour inserts in the Sunday Sun, a paper which went defunct two months after the government's union brothers went and visited the establishment. He was a 16-year-old, earning 70 to 80 bucks a week for three or four hours work, and he was quite happy. They said to him, `Brother, you're not a member of the union'. He said, `I don't want to be a member of the union'. They said, `You don't understand; you have to join or you lose your job'. He said, `You can't sack me'. They said, `No, but we'll fix it so that you do get sacked'. That is the recruitment policy that Senator Murphy's friends use. Maybe—

Senator Chapman —That is what the taxpayers are going to be funding—the training in that in the next little while.

Senator O'CHEE —Of course. We will be funding the training so that these fellows can get to use a baseball bat a little better. What Senator Murphy and his friends should understand is that backbone is good, but flexibility is a little better. If the government offered people an incentive to join a union, instead of a disincentive if they do not, maybe union membership would go up.

Senator Chapman —A bit of carrot instead of so much stick.

Senator O'CHEE —Yes, a bit of carrot instead of so much stick. The amazing thing is that if we got more people genuinely interested in unions, we might even get a better standard of union official. Heaven help us! It cannot be that difficult. Look at the standard we get on the other side of the chamber.

Senator Boswell —We could have a better standard of Labor politician.

Senator O'CHEE —We might even get a better standard of Labor politician. There are a couple of good politicians on the other side, but the government brought the three stooges in recently and, frankly, I think the standard is dropping pretty rapidly. I advocate that those opposite should go away, look at this and say, `There is real genius in what the coalition is advocating; there is some basis for supporting this'. For the first time they might start to revitalise that morally and legally. I cannot work out what Senator Murphy, who is trying to interject, wants to rub apart from his own back. Maybe if he rubbed his head and stimulated his brain, he might recognise that there are benefits in what we are offering and that is why this amendment should be supported.