Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023


May Day Celebrations

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector. Will the minister advise the Legislative Council about this year's May Day celebrations?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:43): I thank the honourable member for her question, her interest in this area and, as I have mentioned, for her life-long commitment to supporting workers as part of the labour movement, both in this chamber and for decades preceding that as a member of the legal profession supporting workers.

The Hon. I. Pnevmatikos interjecting:

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: For the two or three years or so that the honourable member practised in this area.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Pnevmatikos, you are not allowed to badger the minister.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: Thank you for your protection from my own side. May Day, otherwise known as International Workers' Day, is celebrated around the world on 1 May each year. It is an important day to look at and reflect upon workers' rights and social justice where workers from all walks of life come together to look at ways for better treatment and fairer wages, and to celebrate the successes of the labour movement in building a better world for working people.

May Day has a rich history of over 100 years. While the tradition of an annual May Day demonstration is thought to originate with the strikes in Chicago in May 1886 in support of an eight-hour working day, it is often forgotten and unacknowledged that Australian stonemasons had been staging a similar annual event in support of the eight-hour working day at least 20 years prior. This shows once again how often the Australian labour movement has led the way.

While it's important to mark the successes of the labour movement that formed part of our modern lives—the eight-hour day, minimum wages, leave entitlements, superannuation and more—it's also an important opportunity on May Day to reflect upon the challenges that workers still face, drawing on issues that are facing workers today, such as insecure work, preventable deaths and injuries at work.

This year's May Day was marked by a march on the Saturday morning preceding May Day, where a family fun day was held, including many activities for families. While I wasn't able to attend the march on Saturday due to other commitments, I am reliably informed by the hundreds and hundreds of people who attended that the rain held off just long enough for the many marchers to finish, which maybe was a sign that they were being smiled down upon.

This year's celebrations were also joyfully marked by the return of the May Day dinner, after several years of interruption and hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was a very large crowd that attended, including quite a number of people from this chamber, at the Waterside Workers Hall in Port Adelaide on a dark Monday night, including the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos and representatives from the Greens, the Hon. Robert Simms and the Hon. Tammy Franks.

It was a significant event and the theme for this year's May Day celebrations on the weekend prior to and certainly on the night before was 'Unions for Yes'—the labour movement and trade unions supporting the campaign for a constitutionally enshrined recognition of a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As has been mentioned and was mentioned on that night and at other events that I have been at and other events that I have spoken at, there is a long and proud history of solidarity between the Australian trade union movement and First Nations people. The support of the union movement, for example, was instrumental in supporting the walk-off of the Gurindji people during the Wave Hill strikes that led to the iconic moment of the handover symbolically and then in law of land to Vincent Lingiari and his people way back in the 1970s.

This year's May Day dinner was addressed by keynote speaker, Thomas Mayo, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander man, wharf labourer, union official with the Maritime Union of Australia and signatory to the Uluru Statement from the Heart and one of the leading national voices for constitutional change. I think that only this week Thomas released a book with former ABC journalist Kerry O'Brien that is a very succinct and simple explanation of the case for constitutional change for recognition and a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

I am very pleased to once again be associated with May Day activities with the trade union movement, particularly this year when we will see a referendum in months ahead.