Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 18 February 1971

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I think , it would be helpful if I reminded the Senate of the terms of the motion moved by Senator Milliner approximately 1 hour ago. The motion is:

That the Senate considers that the Government has shown a contemptuous disregard for Parlia ment in regard to its lifting the partial ban on the export of merino rams.

Having regard to the limited time which each supporter of the motion has taken, it is surpising that no-one has been able to supply evidence as to why the Senate should be of that opinion. 1 suppose that is because they have difficulty in producing such evidence. I propose to confine my remarks to the issues involved in the motion. The Parliament does not consist of the Senate alone, notwithstanding that from time to time members of the Democratic Labor Party are inclined to adopt that erroneous view. The Parliament consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. No action taken by the Parliament is effective until it has been accepted by the House of Representatives and the Senate, and approved by the GovernorGeneral as the representative of the Queen. There is not a senator here tonight who does not accept that statement. Therefore, when it is suggested that there has been a contemptuous disregard of the Parliament and when reliance is placed upon a resolution of the Senate which has not been supported by the other House, that is a misuse of words. That, shows a total ignorance of what is involved in the concept of parliament.

Where is this contemptuous disregard? Honourable senators should remember that the Customs Act, under which this action was taken, was enacted in 1903. In 1910 the relevant section was amended by a Labor Government. Section 112 of the Customs Act ' provides the basis upon which the Government acted, lt states:

The Governor-General may, by proclamation, prohibit the exportation of any goods- and included in the goods which may be so proclaimed are these - the exportation of .which would, in his opinion, be harmful Lo the Commonwealth.

By and large each individual in this country has a right to live the life that he desires to live. If he chooses to export goods, whether they be rams or manufactured products, generally speaking there is no prohibition upon his ability to export.That was the position which existed in Australia prior to 1929. In 1929, under a Labor Government, Mp Parker Moloney, the Minister for Markets and Transport, introduced a proclamation made by the

Governor-General which prohibited the exportation of all stud sheep, lt was done by proclamation and without reference to Parliament, except that at that time there Was a provision that all proclamations made" should be notified to the Parliament. As the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) stated earlier, the Parliament was notified. The proclamation was made without the concurrence of either the House of Representatives or the- Senate. I think I can lump the Australian Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party together for this purpose, because' in those days they were of the same mind.

Senator Little - What about the Country Party in those days?

Senator GREENWOOD - All I am saying is that there was a Labor Government in office and that members of the DLP would owe allegiance to that government just as members of the Labor Party itself would. The Labor Government of the day did not think it necessary to have a vote of the Senate or the House of Representatives. I do not say that the Labor Government of the day was wrong in taking that view, lt was acting according to law. An Act of the Parliament stated that for an executive act of this description to be taken it was sufficient for the GovernorGeneral to make a proclamation. The Governor-General made the proclamation that the Labor Government wanted- and its wishes were achieved. In 1970 we have virtually the same Act with virtually the same provisions - the difference in these circumstances is inconsequential - and a Liberal-Country Party Government, by proclamation and acting in accordance with the law, relaxed the prohibition to return to individuals that essential right to sell their produce for whatever price they can get and to whatever buyer agrees to pay that price. Where is the contemptuous disregard of the Parliament in that?

I refer to what was said when Mr Parker Moloney referred the GovernorGeneral's proclamation to the House of Representatives after action had been taken in 1929. I refer particularly to the words of Mr Latham who subsequently became a very distinguished Chief Justice of the High Court for about 17 years. He said:

That section, as I read it, requires a proclamation to be made by the Governor-General, and apparently every shipment would have to be con sidered on its merits. . . .. We must recognise that it is within the power' of the Government to do this thine by executive ' action. It is unnecessary for the Government to invite the approval of the House.

That is the legal position. 'I can appreciate that there. is weight in. the arguments which can be advanced in favour of and against any government prudently, .putting these matters before the. Parliament for consideration, .but it does not -have. to.. When there is a variety of executive: acts which the Parliament yields to . a::government, 1 think Government has an .obligation to use its power.

Senator Littlesaid there' was a great deal of dispute in the' ' wool industry as to whether there was merit in the relaxation of this embargo. Undoubtedly there was a difference of opinion'. What did the Government do? It pondered long before it relaxed this embargo. It sought the advice of the most representative- 'body which the wool industry has established - the Australian Wool Industry Conference. By an approximately 2 to' 1 'vote of ils members the Conference indicated that it wanted this embargo relaxed; and' the Government indicated that it was giving consideration to the relaxation of the- embargo. What happened? We had a debate in the Senate. What did the Senate resolve? It expressed the opinion that the embargo should not be relaxed until the opinion of the persons affected had been obtained by referendum or other fair means. What did the Government do? It took no action. It said it would refer the matter back to the Wool Industry Conference .for.. further consideration. lt did so. After a. period of 9 months it received from, the Australian Wool Industry Conference an. indication that that body saw no reason for further considering the matter. It. had expressed its opinion by an overwhelming majority and it adhered to it. This Government relaxed the ban. And in what, way did it relax the ban? lt said that for a period of 12 months it would be permissible to export up to 300 rams out of the many million merino sheep in this country. What has caused this great furore on 3 occasions in the Senate is the question of whether the Government has shown a contemptuous disregard for Parliament. . The Government has not shown a contemptuous' disregard for Parliament because it has acted as it is entitled to act under an Act of Parliament, passed by both Houses of the Parliament, in which it was given power to -make decisions.

Senator Cavanagh - Legally.

Senator GREENWOOD - Of course, legally. 1 am coming lo this further point. There is a tendency on the part of honourable senators opposite to prefer illegality of action rather than legality of action. Government has a paramount obligation to ensure that the actions it takes are consistent with the laws of the land which it is bound to uphold. It is a pity that cannot be said for more people in this country. When one considers the pros and cons of the Government's decision as to whether this embargo should or should not have been relaxed one appreciates there would be a wide canvassing of ' many arguments. 1 for my part do not seek to claim any particular knowledge but- it does seem to me that in favour of the Government's decision - this is just one argument out of many which have been raised - is the fact that there is a feeling in other wool producing countries that they should not contribute to the funds of the International Wool Secretariat and they should not contribute finance to the promotion of wool and the development -of all these activities which are designed to popularise wool on the world market. In supporting this view they say: 'While we have poor wools why should we finance bodies which are simply designed to popularise the liner wools of which Australia has the greatest quantity?'

It seems to me that Australia would be served if we could instil into other countries the belief that the problems of the wool industry being world wide at the moment can be helped if there is a greater contribution from all the wool producing countries. That is one consideration which has not been advanced in the course of this debate and which appears to me to add some weight to the Government's attitude. What have been the arguments advanced here tonight? Senator O'Byrne suggested that the embargo on the export of the merino rams should remain until there has been a referendum. He was not precise as to the persons who should participate in the referendum. But he talked about a referendum. The first problem is: Who are the people who are to participate in the referendum? There is a great difficulty in fixing the voting basis. Is it to be every merino breeder or is it to be a vote in respect of every merino which a breeder happens to possess? Is one to draw any distinction between the rams and the ewes for the purpose of determining how many votes a person is to have? And what of the prospective owners of merinos? Are they entitled to have a vote?

I suggest they are practical problems. They are not altogether problems of no consequence as every referendum which has been held amongst wool growers for any purpose has clearly demonstrated. As Senator O'Byrne suggested the referendum would enable the viewpoint of all persons concerned and affected to be ascertained. But the Australian Council of Trade Unions is suggesting that the people vitally concerned in this matter are the people in the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, the Transport Worker's Union, and the Storemen and Packers Union. I dare say the view would be held by members of the Australian Labor Party that until they, too, had a vote in the referendum it would not be a fair referendum. I only make that statement because the point of view has been put that these people are affected and that is the justification which is offered as to why they have imposed a black ban on the export of these merinos. I suggest that there are really practical problems in determining whether there should be a referendum. Indeed, one can say that the Labor Party is not being consistent. At the time that the ban was imposed in 1929 when there was a dispute it was not thought necessary to have a referendum. Apparently the position changes when political capital is to be made and a different government is in office. Far from there being a contemptuous disregard for Parliament shown by the Government a contemptuous disregard has been shown for Parliament, Government and law and order by persons outside the Parliament who have sought to impose their will on the Parliament and to pose in this area as an alternative Government.

The real issue on this question of the merino rams is whether a Government elected by and responsible to the nation is to govern this country or whether it is to be a group of unionists with no greater responsibility than that which they assume in their own judgment they owe to their union members. Is it to be the rule of law or is it to be the rule of the lawless? I appreciate that Senator Little has a few difficulties in connection with this resolution. In his heart be would agree that it is the rule of law which should govern this country and not the rule of the lawless. But he goes along with this contemptuous disregard of Parliament which he supposes the Government is showing because it does not listen to the viewpoint of the Senate in which the Australian Democratic Labor Party alone, he would have us believe, representative of the people.

Senator Little - Those senators are elected by the people and any responsible government listens to the voice of the people.

Senator GREENWOOD - I agree that the Senate is elected by the people and that is one of the virtues of the Senate. But equally the House of Representatives is elected by the people and Parliament consists of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. No matter how much the Democratic Labor Party would like to do so it cannot claim that the Senate alone constitutes Parliament. To support a resolution which claims that the Government is in contemptuous disregard of Parliament just because it does not follow the viewpoint of the Senate in which the Democratic Labor Party can determine - because it must always win a vote - which will be the point of view, is not in my opinion to the merit of the Democratic Labor Party nor does it aid any concept of responsible administration. By what warrant and with what justification in terms of law and democracy are Mr Hawke, the ACTU and the Australian Workers Union entitled to say whether 300 sheep should be exported? Since the Government decided to relax the embargo upon the export of merino rams we have observed actions of persons who are nothing more than petty dictators. Their actions involve the denial of individual rights; that is the rights of the persons who in an open market have purchased these rams and the rights of the persons who in open market have sold these rams to enjoy the fruits of their transactions. We have seen actions involving a complete contempt for law and a purported arrogant ability to determine what this Parliament shall and shall not do. Associated with that is the blackguardly intimidation which is imposed upon people who try to overcome the union's black ban. Honourable senators may recall reading In the Press of the wife of the gentleman who was able to fly out approximately a fortnight ago some 200 rams which overseas purchasers had bought. She was compelled to leave her home because people were threatening her over the telephone and she' was frightened.

Senator Cavanagh - Hear, hear! So they should!

Senator GREENWOOD - From what Senator Cavanagh says I appreciate that to him this is nothing reprehensible at all. But to me it represents, as I' said earlier, the intimidatory tactics which ought to be no part of the Australian scene and no part of what an honourable senator is prepared to countenance. What we have seen is the imposition of a black ban by a variety of unions. This black ban has been imposed for what reason? Is . it ' because the wool industry is in jeopardy? They have not said so but it would be surprising if these various unions were capable of expressing a more valid opinion than the Australian Wool Industry Conference or the Australian Government as to whether or not the wool industry was in' jeopardy. Let me mention the names of the unions who consulted with the Australian : Council of Trade Unions to impose" this black ban. They were the Australian Railways Union, the Waterside Workers' Federation, the Storemen and Packers Union, the Transport Workers' Unions the Federated Clerks Union, the Wool and Basil Workers' Federation and the" Australian Federated Union of- Locomotive Enginemen. I suppose they know a fair bit about rams but I doubt whether they know very much at all about the intricacies of the wool industry or whether they are entitled to assert their judgment, as to whether or not Australia is in jeopardy, in preference to that of the Austraiian Government.

Senator Cavanagh - It .would be better than the judgment we have, heard tonight.

Senator GREENWOOD -- lt may be a question of whose judgment we prefer. But on this issue I believe the people of Australia prefer the judgment of the Australian Government to the judgment of that group of unions. They have not said that the ban is because the wool industry is in jeopardy. They have virtually given no reason at all for imposing this black ban, except one to which I will refer later. Are they imposing the ban on the export of these merinos because the economy of the country is in some way jeopardised? lt may be the sort of situation that could require drastic action, but it is up to these unions to indicate the type of danger the economy is facing. I do not think that they are the reasons which have been advanced at all. The reasons why the ACTU and these unions have decided to impose a black ban is because they have been asked to do so by leading graziers. What has the Australian trade union movement come to when it will act at the bidding of leading graziers? lt would make the stalwarts of the union movement of 60 or 70 years ago turn in their graves. 1 am not suggesting anything which cannot be verified. I refer to the Melbourne 'Age' of 3rd February 1970, just before the ban was imposed. That newspaper reported:

The Transport Workers' Union has put a black ban on the export of Australian Merino rams. The Federal Secretary (Mr Ted Harris) announced ihi, last night after a plea by leading Victorian and New South Wales graziers to unions to help slop the export. lt would appear that that was the motivation for the unions to act. Indeed, if one looks at the Melbourne 'Age' of 4th February, one finds a report that the ACTU had called a meeting which was to be held on Friday, 6lh February, to discuss the Australian Government's decision to lift a 40-year old embargo on the export of Australian merino rams. The ACTU President, Mr Hawke, said that the meeting would decide what action to take to stop the lifting of the ban. Mr Hawke said it was ACTU policy to retain the embargo. The meeting was called following an' appeal to the unions by the Victorian and New South Wales graziers.

Senator Bishop - What' was the final statement issued at the meeting?

Senator GREENWOOD - Subsequently the ACTU mel on 6th February 1970 and imposed a ban. Because Senator Bishop is interested to know what statement was issued at that meeting I. will read him a report from the 'Australian' of 7th February. It reads simply:

The Australian- Council of Trade Unions yesterday imposed a Rational black ban on the export of merino rams from Australia.

The ACTU President, Mr r. j. Hawke, said the ban would take effect immediately.

Senator Prowse - Did the ACTU take a referendum on the imposition of the black ban?

Senator GREENWOOD - I appreciate the point made by Senator Prowse but I do feel that he cannot seriously expect the trade union movement to have a referendum on any issue, because this is one area in which referendums are absolutely abhorrent to what trade unions are prepared to adhere. In this report in the 'Australian* the ACTU President is quoted as saying:

We will not wait and allow merinos to be sent out of the country.

The final part of the report is in these words:

The meeting condemned the Federal Government for having failed to consult properly and listen to the wide cross-section of the community opposed to the lifting of the embargo on the export of merinos.

What basis is that for a union or a group of unions of this country to say that they will take industrial action which could bring this country to a standstill in particular circumstances just because that union or that group of unions suggests that it believes the Government has not consulted or listened to a wide cross section of the community? What criterion of action is that? Once an outside body uses that as a criterion to take action and is able to enforce this action then we can say goodbye to any concept of democratic parliamentary procedure, which is the very basis of the liberties and freedoms and the national development of this country.

We have not heard a word from the Australian Labor Party as to what it thinks of that action of the ACTU. Indeed, if one accepts the newspaper reports, the initiating body in all these matters was the Executive of the Australian Labor Party iti New South Wales. The newspaper reports have said it was that body which called upon the Labor Council in New South Wales to take action and it was from that that individual unions imposed their bans and obtained the ACTU support. But it may be that some member of the Labor Party opposite will be able to confirm or deny that, if Labor has the courage to indicate where it stands on this issue of whether unions outside the Parliament should be in a position to dictate to the Government- and to the people of this country;

Mr Deputy President,we are debating a motion that there has been a contemptuous disregard by the "Government of the Parliament, and I have shown that it has no basis in law or in fact. There has been a contemptuous disregard of the Parliament but it is a contemptuous disregard by persons outside the Parliament who believe that they can impose their law, which is a field of no law, upon people in Australia. It is not only in the area of seeking to prevent merino rams being taken out of Australia; it is in the area of preventing supplies being sent to our troops in Vietnam; it is in the area of intimidating persons to go about their lawful vocation; it is in the area, irrespective of what the Government says, of imposing bans upon people who want to drill in waters off the coast of Queensland. If this Government ever allows the country to get to a stage where unions determine what policies are to take effect then it is a stage at which the Government is abnegating the task which it has been elected to perform. 1 hope that in the coming year we will see firm Government action to indicate that where laws are passed by the Parliament and where actions are taken pursuant to laws passed by the Parliament the Government will enforce those laws. It was highly encouraging to hear what was said by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) on 4th February when the union ban on the export of the merinos was defeated. The ban was defeated notwithstanding the boasting of Mr Hawke and others that if the union said that sheep were not to go out they would not -go out. The Prime Minister said in his statement:

The Government cannot permit a situation in which Australian exporters are prevented from honouring their commitments in international trade.

To do so would be to allow industrial action, undertaken for political purposes, to interfere with overseas trade and damage Australia's good name in the eyes of the world.

This we will not permit.

I can only say in conclusion that it would redound to the Senate's greater prestige and to its sense of responsibility if, instead of supporting this motion which is so erroneously founded, it was to indicate that it stood behind the Prime Minister and that it will not accept the contemptuous disregard for Parliament which is involved in the industrial brigandage which Mr Hawke and members of the ACTU have shown on this issue.

Suggest corrections