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Wednesday, 19 March 1980
Page: 793

Senator MESSNER (South Australia) -Firstly, I commend my Liberal Party colleague from New South Wales, Senator Puplick, for bringing this matter forward today in the interests of small businessmen in Australia. Too seldom do we have the opportunity in the Senate to discuss the problems of small business. I commend him for doing this, particularly as such a case is in evidence in his own State at this very moment. I will read the wording of the matter of public importance. I thought that we were supposed to be talking to the matter of public importance. No one listening to the broadcast of proceedings on the radio would have any idea of what the subject matter being debated is because Opposition senators have not on one occasion addressed themselves to the subject matter. The matter of public importance reads:

The need to secure adequate protection for the rights of small businessmen against boycotts or threats by companies or trade unions.

Of course, that matter is relevant in Australia at any time. We know that the detailed law contained in the Trade Practices Act which, in all its forms has been brought before the Senate and discussed by honourable senators on many occasions in the past, does protect smaller firms against the predatory effects of larger firms. That was one of the major reasons for its introduction and for the support that was given to it by the Opposition in this place when it was passed in 1975. In 1977 we saw the amendment to section 45d of the Trade Practices Act as a result of the Swanson Committee recommendations to ensure that secondary boycotts, which were directed against small businessmen to drive them out of business, by employee organisations, employer organisations or suppliers of any sort, acting through a third party, were outlawed. At that time we saw a lot of jumping up and down by the Opposition in regard to this matter. (Quorum formed).

The Australian Labor Party being as it is, subject to the control of the trade union movement, must carry out a routine ritual defence of the situation by opposing the trade practices legislation even though it is obviously and clearly in the interests of the small business sector. Of course, this legislation is of great support to the competitive aspect of the free enterprise system. By doing this the Opposition is admitting the fact that it would like to see the destruction of the free enterprise system and consequently it does not seek to defend it. Section 45d of the Act is clearly designed to protect competition in the economy and the small businessmen. At the moment, of course, we are talking about the most recent case that is available to us, the case of Mr Laidely. The facts of that case provide a good case study for the Opposition when it considers the small business situation in Australia today. Senator Button found that he had nothing else to discuss other than matters totally unrelated to this aspect of the law. He talked about everything but that aspect. In fact, I did not think it was possible for him to talk for so long and not to mention anything in relation to the actual subject of the matter of public importance. The fact is that the Opposition will not face up to this matter. When one considers what happened recently in New South Wales, one can see pretty clearly why it does not face up to it.

I draw the Senate's attention to an article that appeared in the Weekend Australian which described the way in which the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia is seeking to merge with the Transport Workers Union to establish a bottleneck or a stranglehold on business throughout Australia. Could anything be more uncompetitive than that? Could anything be more designed to destroy small business in Australia than that? Where is the cry from the Opposition that it seeks to protect small business in the light of that relationship? Not one word has been mentioned about that matter. In fact, honourable senators opposite have addressed themselves to every question they possibly could other than the most important ones that are affecting the very life-blood of small business and the free enterprise system in Australia. It is clearly obvious that this attitude will continue while members of the Opposition owe their livelihoods and their seats in this place to the trade union movement.

Let us look at some of the other things that the merger of the Federated Storemen and Packers Union and the Transport Workers Union perhaps may produce in Australia. The thought of that happening is quite horrific. I read that Mr Simon Crean will be the leading light in this new union which is going to control Australian affairs. Already in the last day or so on the waterfront in Sydney we have seen action taken by the Transport Workers Union of Australia in order to get themselves involved in the strike in which the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia is involved. So there is a direct relationship. In this article in today's Sydney Morning Herald we see the headline 'Storemen halt fuel supplies to shipping'. This is to restrict the bunkering of ships leaving Australia carrying Australian wool. Will that help the small businessman who is delivering goods to ships to be carried away on export?

Senator McLaren - Such as Nareen wool.

Senator MESSNER -Of course it is not. The Opposition is not at all concerned about the effects of that sort of activity.

I would draw the attention of the Senate to the very important part of the small business sector which the motor trades represent. If we refer to the Small Business and Trade Practices Act Review which was released recently by the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Garland) and which was prepared by the Trade Practices Consultative Committee, at page 27 of that report, we will see that of the small enterprises engaged in various activities in Australia, the motor trades sector accounted for 10 per cent of all employment by small enterprises. I think that that is a highly significant part of the Australian small business sector and clearly it is one part which deserves support.

Senator Chipptalked earlier about measures by which the small business sector, particularly the petrol reseller, will be protected by the legislation to bc brought down by this Government and which indeed is being circulated at the present time. Those particular matters are the earnest and the demonstration of the activity of the Fraser Government in support of small business. But do we hear any cries about that from the Opposition? No. It is left to the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Chipp, to talk about that particular matter. There has been no cry at all from the Opposition. All we hear is this half-hearted, wet behind the ears defence of the trade union movement. (Quorum formed). I would just like to make the point that the exclusion of section 45d from the Trade Practices Act, if that were to happen, would be a gross inequity to the small business sector in Australia. That would mean that the Australian business sector would be wide open to attacks from the trade union movement whenever it saw fit. Nothing could be more destructive of small business or of competition in the economy. I am not being challenged on that, but I would like honourable senators to know that in the House of Representatives yesterday this very point was acknowledged by the spokesman for the Australian Labor Party on industrial relations, Mr Mick Young, when he said:

In some instances section 45d has intimidated some trade unions: action that might have been taken by some trade unions has not been taken because of section 45d.

To take the argument a little further, the point is that the trade union movement quite often tries to use the argument that secondary boycotts are somehow contemplated by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But they are not. A boycott in the real sense, meaning a strike, is. A secondary boycott is not. Consequently this law enshrined in the Trade Practices Act properly to protect the interests of small businessmen, to preserve the elements of competition within the private enterprise economy, is clearly aimed at ensuring that the small and private business sector continues. I believe that we have now had adequate debate on this matter. We have heard absolutely no expression of opinion on this particular matter from the Opposition. I now move:

That the business of the day be called on.

Senator Georges - Mr President,surely we will be allowed to answer the points raised by Senator Messner? In fact he has challenged us so to do.

The PRESIDENT - Under Standing Orders this matter cannot be debated.

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