Senate debates

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Trade Practices Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2005

Consideration of House of Representatives Message

12:01 pm

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I do not know what Senator Fielding’s motives are. It has been commented on that we seldom find out in this chamber why he has decided to do what he has done. If we go and stand out the front of the Senate in the mornings between 7.30 and, say, quarter to nine, we can probably find out more there when he does his doorstops for the press. But we do not have the opportunity to hear exactly why there has been this backflip on this piece of legislation.

I am reminded of a novel by an American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sinclair Lewis. He wrote a number of famous books; one called Elmer Gantry, which is about the hypocritical religious revivalism that was occurring in America. The one that I recall reading years ago was called Babbitt, and the central theme of Babbitt is that Babbitt, in a little town in Middle America called Zenith, is surrounded by conformity. At some point Babbitt tries to escape from this conformity and is crushed by the forces that are in control of the town. The book says about Babbitt:

But Babbitt was virtuous. He advocated, though he did not practise, the prohibition of alcohol; he praised, though he did not obey, the laws against motor-speeding; he paid his debts; he contributed to the church, the Red Cross, and the Y. M. C. A.; he followed the custom of his clan and cheated only as it was sanctified by precedent; and he never descended to trickery--though, as he explained to Paul Riesling—

his friend—

“Course I don’t mean to say that every ad I write is literally true or that I always believe everything I say when I give some buyer a good strong selling-spiel. You see--you see it’s like this: In the first place, maybe the owner of the property exaggerated when he put it into my hands, and it certainly isn’t my place to go proving my principal a liar!...”

I quote Babbitt because one of the themes in the book is a growing industrial unrest in the 1920s in America, and the local chamber of commerce—which all businesses in the town had to be members of—sought to crush the rise of the trade unions because they saw it as against their interests. So on the one hand he had to be a member of the chamber of commerce to progress through and get that conformity, but on the other hand they sought out and viciously crushed any collective actions by the men and women in that town.

This is only fictional, of course, but it reminds me of exactly the position we are in now, and that is that this dedicated antiunion stance by the government is going to unravel them because people will seek the opportunity to be represented by the people they think are in their best interests. And, if that is a trade union, well, they should be allowed to do it.


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