A speech in regards to the Industrial And Employee Relations Amendment Bill and personl experiences with unions.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I must confess that I was once a member of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees' Association; at the tender age of 15 I was recruited by compulsion. The $3.50 from my $35 a week did me absolutely no good at all. The $3.50 a week fee that I paid out of my $35 for working on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings at the Bridgewater Coles gave me a regular newsletter inviting me to submit to an essay competition.
I was quite thrilled by all this, of course—not—and failed to see the value of it. Similarly, my mother, who was an enrolled nurse before she retired, was a member of the Australian Nursing Federation for the same reason. She rejoined after compulsory unionism was abolished, and sought assistance at some stage because she was being bullied by a couple of registered nurses. She was told by central office to speak to her local representative. Her local representative told her to speak to central office. My father's experience, when he was a member of whichever union represents weather observers working for the Bureau of Meteorology, was that he was forced as a member of a union, under a compulsory regime, to go on strike when he had no wish to do so. So, we have had an unhappy relationship with unions in our family.
But the reason why I support this bill as a member of the opposition is that I believe in freedom of association. We have heard a lot about mutual obligation from members opposite, and I note that their federal party has reluctantly had to accept the concept of mutual obligation, so it is quite ironic to hear them using it to advance their cause in this debate. In my view, bargaining agents' fees are in fact compulsory unionism by stealth, so while I accept that the Hon. Ian Gilfillan might say that this is an ideological debate, then indeed it is. If the Democrats do not believe in compulsory unionism, then they should be supporting this bill. I would have to say that the Labor Party itself is obviously ideological. It is fundamentally based on the union movement and cannot bear any system of industrial relations that might possibly exclude the unions from being involved, which is the same reason why they are so fundamentally opposed to Australian workplace agreements, in spite of the fact that they can provide a varied number of benefits for the mutual benefit of employees and employers.
There is also the issue of funds for the Labor Party. If the regime of bargaining agents' fees gets through, then we will see large sums of money flowing into the Labor Party's coffers courtesy of workers who have no wish to be represented by unions. I just see this as a very cynical exercise. I think I have seen some figures where the Public Service Association's proposal of $750 a year plus GST would actually erode the benefit to the average worker, so that they might actually get a benefit in their pocket of $300. I would think that they would be able to negotiate something better themselves without the benefit of the union movement, thank you very much.
The government's opposition to this is a case of hanging on for dear life. It is `old Labor', and it just shows why they do not understand why membership of unions has fallen, in that people are sick of the militaristic behaviour and the lack of effective representation in times of genuine need. I would urge the unions to try to take care of the really disadvantaged people, such as the people that the Hon. Angus Redford referred to in a previous speech: non-Australian citizens who are being ripped off, and some of our new arrivals whose lack of language skills means that they are being abused by out-workers. I commend this bill to the house.