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Wednesday, 19 March 1980
Page: 813

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -The Opposition notes this statement with a great deal of interest. For some two hours this afternoon the time of the Senate was taken up with a matter of public importance moved by Senator Puplick, a Government senator, in which his heart bled, as it were, about the plight of small businessmen in circumstances in which they could not rely on the provisions of section 45 d of the trade practices legislation to protect their rights. In the course of that debate, Opposition speakers drew attention first of all to the fact that the plight of small business under the Fraser Government has been a dire one indeed, with increases in interest rates, when 2 per cent reductions in interest rates were promised, when the Fraser Government promised in 1 975 and 1977 a number of things to promote the interests of small business, none of which promises it has carried out. These sorts of things were pointed out, and it was also pointed out that during the period of the Fraser Government the rate of bankruptcies of small businesses has increased by 103 per cent. These matters were raised in answer to the Government's alleged concern about small business.

The Opposition pointed out in the course of that debate that it shares the concern about small business, particularly about the 40 per cent of the work force that it employs, particularly in relation to the constant threats that are made against small business by the growth of large corporations -

Senator O'Byrne - Holmes aCourt and Murdoch.

Senator BUTTON -Yes; and more particularly of course the fact that the small business sector represents something like 25 per cent of economic capacity, gross domestic product, in the Australian community.

Senator Chipp - And employs nearly 50 per cent.

Senator BUTTON - As Senator Chipp points out, it employs nearly 50 per cent. That is a matter of constant concern. The situation of small business in Australia has, over many years, one suspects, been persistently eroded by the growth of large corporations and by inadequate government measures to protect small business properly. But today Government senators were concerned to go in to bat for Mr Leon Laidely, the gentleman concerned in the petroleum distribution industry in New South Wales, and to support him on the basis that his right was to rely on the provisions of section 45D of the Trade Practices Act, which is a prohibition on secondary boycotts in the area of, in this case, petroleum distribution, and in relation to the general question of trade practices. It was argued by Government senators this afternoon that the Opposition was not concerned about thai particular matter. But of course we supported the Government's matter of public importance this afternoon, Senator MacGibbon.

Senator MacGibbon - You never spoke to the motion.

Senator BUTTON -The Opposition supported the matter because it is concerned about the impact on small business of large corporations and, indeed, of trade unions when their activities are detrimental to small business. Of course, where Opposition senators disagree with Government senators, who for the last few moments have been making mindless noises like bull seals instead of listening to the contributions which are being made in this place, is that not just today but for four years we have consistently said that the trade practices legislation in Australia is not appropriate legislation to deal with the sorts of matters that confronted Leon Laidely and the people involved in that dispute. We did not get much comfort this afternoon from Government senators, but we have received it tonight from the Government because the Government has done two things in relation to this matter: It has recognised that section 45d does not work in relation to the sorts of disputes about which honourable senators were talking this afternoon and, secondly, it has invited the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Mr Justice Moore, to chair a conference to try to resolve this issue.

Tonight there has been confirmation, in the Government's statement, of the view which has been expressed by the Opposition for ages. With the greatest respect- I do not want to put it in too unkind a fashion- the poor idiotic Government senators have wasted their time this afternoon because while they have been arguing in defence of section 45d the Government has been subverting them by preparing this statement.

Senator Messner - Come off it.

Senator BUTTON -Senator Messneris making noises like a bull seal again. I will read the last paragraph of the statement made by the Attorney-General (Senator Durack) tonight. It states:

Accordingly, the Government has initiated an urgent and full review of section 45D to determine whether amendments are required to assure the effectiveness of the section.

This afternoon Senator Messner was saying that it was all right and it ought to be implemented by the Government. Tonight he sits here making groaning noises, as he ought to, because the Government and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) have let him down in the last five minutes by having this statement presented to the Senate. That is a very real difficulty for Government senators. I suggest that Senator Messner looks at the other matters in the statement. I invite him to read it, if he is not what educationalists call an A grade illiterate- that is, a highly paid person who cannot read.

Senator Sim - You are the one who cannot even talk sense.

Senator BUTTON -Senator Sim has made a great contribution to today's debate.

Senator Sim - It is better than you have made; at least I have kept quiet.

Senator BUTTON - It is very nice to have the honourable senator here. I am just worried that he will die of exertion with the interjections he is making. Let us look at the statement brought down by the Attorney-General in the context of what Government senators were saying this afternoon. It says:

.   . the Government considers it has responsibility to take action designed to redress the inability of Mr Laidely to have his rights properly considered.

That is precisely what the Opposition said this afternoon, and precisely what it has said right from the beginning. It is what it said in relation to the Gorman case in Victoria which occurred 1 8 months or so ago. That was the same sort of case. The statement goes on:

Accordingly, the Government has initiated steps to provide Mr Laidely with the opportunity to present his case before the same forum which previously dealt with this matter in his absence. The Minister for Industrial Relations has thus requested the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to reconvene the previous proceedings in this matter and to invite the following parties: The Commonwealth Government, Leon Laidely, the Australian Petroleum Agents and Distributors Association, the Transport Workers Union, oil companies, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the New South Wales Government.

They are the parties which the Commonwealth Government will be inviting to a conference chaired by the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Mr Justice Moore. Sometimes I might seem somewhat irascible with the interjections from Government senators about this issue. I want to make it quite clear that I have been saying in this place for four years that Government senators can howl like werewolves whenever industrial disputes develop in this country, but ultimately they have been settled in the way that the Government- it is to be congratulated to this extent- has now proposed, that is, by calling a conference. I have said time and time again in the Senate that honourable senators opposite make all the noises- it is the Afghanistan syndrome againbut when it comes to delivering, they have not been able to do it.

I sincerely congratulate the Government for calling this conference because if one looks at all industrial disputes since the Fraser Government has been in power one will find that the Government has never been responsible for negotiating a settlement. This Government has grandstanded, caused diversity in the community and caused confrontation with the trade union movement. It has done all those things and, in all fairness, it has been Bob Hawke who has been called in to settle those disputes.

Honourable senators interjecting;

Senator BUTTON -I have been interrupted by a babbling brook of interjections; if I might say so, it is a polluted stream that has interrupted my remarks on the settling of disputes. Honourable senators opposite might not recognise it but, my God, every journalist and cartoonist in Australia recognises it because whenever there is an industrial dispute they ask why we cannot bring the Australian Council of Trade Unions into it straight away, bring Bob Hawke into it and Malcolm Fraser is the last person they want brought into it. The level of industrial disputation in this country is always lowest when Mr Fraser is overseas.

I do not wish to dwell on matters from the past. I wish to concentrate on the present, and on the statement which has been brought down by the Government. I want to read to Senator Messner, who has taken a keen and intelligent interest in this matter, the next section of the statement. The Government, having announced that there would be a conference presided over by Mr Justice Moore, whom I might say the Government was criticising a few days ago although it has now asked him to chair a conference, states in relation to the conference: . . the Government will be submitting strongly that the parties should direct their efforts to developing a proper resolution of all issuse involved in this matter, and in particular, should take into account the position of Leon Laidely Pty Ltd.

It then goes on to deal with other matters, and finally finishes that paragraph by talking about positive ways of settling the matter to the satisfaction of all'. When one talks about the satisfaction of all, of greatest concern in any of these matters must be the public interest. That is the thing that those on the Government side particularly ignored in the silly matter of public importance which they brought on for debate this afternoon. The statement goes on in a similar vein and expresses concern about the provisions of section 45d of the Trade Practices Act. However, for the first time it tinkers with the notion that perhaps section 45d is not one of the best methods of settling industrial problems in this country but is, in fact, a provocative section. Senator MacGibbon, who is like a captain prepared to go down with his ship, must surely find himself in a difficult position when he interjects tonight because the captain, Mr Fraser, has abandoned the ship and left the honourable senator on the deck. Senator MacGibbon stands on the burning deck and will go down with the ship, but the Prime Minister has abandoned it. That is the point of this statement.

Senator MacGibbon - Senator, tellme one occasion when the Labor Party was concerned with the public interest.

Senator BUTTON - There is a time limitation. I cannot tell Senator MacGibbon everything. I want to deal tonight with his problem and not the matter he has just raised. In the course of discussion on this matter this afternoon I mentioned that yesterday the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, Mr Lionel Bowen, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, in an effort to secure a solution to the transport or oil company dispute, introduced two private members' Bills in the House of Representatives. I say quite frankly, I say quite fearlessly in the knowledge that what I say can be quoted back to me for the rest of the time I am here, I say quite confidently to Government senators that they will not solve these problems by having provisions such as section 45 d in the

Trade Practices Act; they will solve these problems by adopting a legislative approach to the sort of solution which the Government has adopted one-off in this statement which has been brought down tonight. They will solve these problems, or at least they will have a better chance of solving them, by adopting a legislative solution. They will solve these problems more effectively if they screw their courage to the sticking place, as has been said, and decide that we should have a uniform system of industrial relations in Australia.

At one stage during the Telecom dispute the Prime Minister made noises about the desirability of a uniform system of industrial relations in Australia and suggested at a Premier's Conference that such a system was desirable. Mr Wran, the Premier of New South Wales, took up the suggestion and has continued to take it up on a number of occasions. But yesterday in the House of Representatives when the Prime Minister was asked about that suggestion he backed away from it because he had had second thoughts. Sir Charles Court or Bjelke-Petersen- I am not sure whether he has been knighted- who is the Premier of Queensland, as I recall, might object if Australia were to have a uniform system of industrial relations and for that sort of reason the Prime Minister backed away from that suggestion. These problems cannot be fixed up in an ad hoc way, by adopting a case by case, strike by strike, Laidely by Laidely, Gorman by Gorman sort of approach; they can be fixed up only by providing in the legislation of this country mechanisms which will resolve conflict rather than exacerbate it.

As I said, yesterday in the House of Representatives Mr Bowen introduced two Bills. They were designed simply to achieve the effect, firstly, of removing section 45D from the trade practices legislation, a provision which, as I said this afternoon, should never have been included in the legislation. There being a very derivative government, a very derivative society, section 45D was put in the trade practices legislation because similar provisions existed in the United States of America legislation, where a totally different history and industrial system apply. But this Government, with its mindless lack of imagination, thought: 'That is good for our American cousins, let us try it here.' It has not worked here and it never will.

Yesterday Mr Bowen tried to have that section removed from the trade practices legislation. Further, Mr Bowen in the proposed legislation which he introduced yesterday and which was rejected by the Government, tried to secure a more permanent solution to some of these problems. He sought to incorporate in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act a number of provisions which would enable the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to provide a legislative mechanism for resolving disputes in Australian society rather than creating confrontation and diversity. It is a function of government to provide mechanisms for resolving differences within society.

Mr Bowensought to incorporate within the conciliation and arbitration legislation a provision which would specifically allow that body to take hold of cases like the Leon Laidely case or the Gorman case and deal with them in the sort of way which the Government finally has recognised is the appropriate way to deal with such problems. The Government recognised that tonight in the statement which it brought down. That involves including in the conciliation and arbitration legislation, under the definition of what constitutes an industrial matter in Australia provisions, for example, for the use by persons or corporations to whom or to which the legislation applies of contractors in preference to members of an organisation, an organisation being a trade union for these purposes, and which provide also for the security of employment of any employee or class of employees.

The legislation which Mr Bowen introduced and which was defeated only yesterday by Government members in the House of Representatives was designed to achieve a permanent result in terms of a dispute settling mechanism which would rid us of many of these problems. Today the Government adopted that approach in terms of a particular dispute which this afternoon in the Senate was causing so much concern to Senator Puplick and Senator Messner. They sat here in blissful ignorance of the fact that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street) behind their backs were preparing a statement providing for the reconciliation of this matter in the way in which this statement tonight announced it will reconcile it.

The Opposition does not in any sense seek to come here and say ad infinitum: 'We told you so'. I have said: 'We told you so'. We come here to say also that we congratulate the Government on taking this step. This sort of conference mechanism, mechanism for negotiation, for bringing people together and so on, creating machinery for settlement of disputes, which the Government has adopted in this statement is the right way to alleviate the problems of thousands and thousands of Australians, be they small businessmen, motorists or whatever, who are affected by this sort of disputation, this sort of confrontation and disagreement in Australian society which is so detrimental to the public interest and the interests of the community as a whole. That is why those Bills were introduced yesterday, why the statement in a sense is welcomed tonight and why we particularly welcome the Government's action in inviting the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in this totally gratuitious way to chair a conference and to try to provide a resolution to this dispute.

It is sad to relate that this is another example of the activities of an incompetent and totally spastic government- spastic in the sense that one hand has no idea of what the other hand is doing. It is said of a dinosaur that if one sticks a pin in its tail it takes two years for the sensation to reach the brain. This Government is exactly like that. For four years now we have been sticking pins into this particular portion of the Government's tail on this particular issue of section 45d.

Senator Missen - Sticking pins in?

Senator BUTTON -We have been sticking pins in the Government's tail. In this case, with the slowest dinosaur in the history of governments throughout the world, it has taken four years, not two years, for any sensation to reach the brain of this Government. But in the statement which was brought down tonight there is an indication by the Government of some recognition, some slow turning over in the mind, some vague sensation, that perhaps it ought to have a look at this matter in a slightly different way. Government members are thinking, 'Perhaps we ought not to march around the country like the group of Melbourne Club graziers that are looking for punch-ups with trade unions all the time, confronting and causing diversity. Perhaps we ought to think about the public interest for once and try to resolve a dispute of this kind.' As I say, it is very sad to have to recall that on these issues we have such an incompetent, slow and unimaginative government. The Government has allowed its own senators this afternoon- I do not want to put too fine a point on it- to make idiots of themselves in this chamber defending something which the Government is not prepared to defend.

Senator Missen - You are kidding yourself, then.

Senator BUTTON -Senator Missen was not in the chamber this afternoon, but his trendy colleague, Senator Puplick, and the unhappy Senator Messner were hung out to dry by Malcolm Fraser. Those two brave little fellows defended section 45D of the Trade Practices Act and Mr Leon Laidely and said that the President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was no good and had no business in this area. Those senators were saying all these things this afternoon and were doing their bleeding hearts bit about the plight of small businessmen when the record of this Government in relation to small business is the shonkiest in the history of the country. Those honourable senators were saying these things this afternoon and were being put down the chute by their own Prime Minister and the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Street). This has all been revealed tonight by the statement which has been made in the Senate.

The Opposition welcomes the statement. The Opposition welcomes the fact that the sensation, as I put it earlier, has at last reached the brain of the dinosaur and some constructive action is being taken in the public interest. Let us hear no more of this absurdity about section 45d. We hope that the Government will follow up this action in terms of the last paragraph of the statement, get rid of the section 45d procedure altogether and put these questions of industrial relations where they properly belong in this country as has been done in the major body of the statement.

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