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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Bendigo is a recognized authority on the subject of conciliation and arbitration. When we hear such interjections as that just made by the honorable member for Hume, we realize that that honorable gentleman knows nothing whatever of the subject, and would not know much about it if he lived to be 1,000 years old. This Government, in the short period of seven years since it took office, has found it necessary to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act no fewer than seven times. I invite the honorable member for Bruce to study the impact of some of the suggestions he made in his speech, on the industries to which he referred. The honorable member for Bendigo pointed out. last night, the impact of clause 14 of this legislation, which proposed to insert new sections 88A, 88B and 88C in the act. Surely, it is not to be suggested that the honorable member for Bruce believes in control by the executive government. If he does, he is getting right away from democratic principles. In the first place, proposed new section 88B provides for nothing other than control by the executive. It provides that the Minister may do this, the Minister may do that, the Minister mav do something else. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) made the clear-cut statement in his speech on the bill that he believed that all these matters relating to the Snowy Mountains scheme and the projects at Woomera, Maralinga and St. Mary's should be brought under Commonwealth industrial control.

Let me take the Snowy Mountains scheme as an example. The Minister tried to get away from the point that the honorable member for Bendigo made, which was that when the Labour government introduced the necessary legislation in respect of the Snowy Mountains scheme it did not provide that the scheme should come under the control of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. But this Government, by its legislation in 1951, did so provide. Let us have a look at the result. This is an example of what we shall get out of bureaucratic Commonwealth control in these matters. At the moment I am looking at the bottom of page 6 of the fifth annual report of the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The relevant passage reads -

Mr. JusticeWright, whom I requested to undertake the exercise of the jurisdiction of the Court conferred by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act 1952, will shortly- and I emphasize that word " shortly " - be in a position to devote all the requisite time to completing the hearing and determination of such claims as have been, or may from time to time be, brought to the Court thereunder. Indeed, His Honour has been already occupied upon inspections of the area of the operations of the Authority and of the work and conditions appertaining thereto.

That report is dated 3rd October, 1952. What are the facts? The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric power scheme is a selfcentered scheme which is not related to industry generally in Australia and was already operating as the result of agreements drawn up between employers and employees. This Government decided, as a result of a statement made by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, that the court would take over the industrial affairs of the Snowy Mountains Authority, as indicated in 1 952. I think that the judge visited the area on at least four occasions. He had before him the proper claim on the very things that the honorable member for Bruce has talked about but, as a result of the inability of the court to apply to a compact organization the principles which the court had enunciated, terrific disputation arose. Finally, the court decided to barge in, and the Australian Workers Union began an action to prevent the court from so doing. The result was, as the honorable member for Bendigo stated last night, that the court did not proceed and the Government dilly-dallied, until quite recently it was agreed between the parties that the action initiated by the Australian Workers Union should be withdrawn, and that the Commonwealth should pay all the expenses incurred by the Australian Workers Union in connexion with the case. That is what happens as a result of actions of that kind.

Despite that experience, the Minister has produced this bill. Nobody in this chamber would be game to say that Mr. Justice Wright would not know his job. He was possibly one of the most skilled persons on the legal side of arbitration presentation that this country has ever had. He represented the employers. As a matter of fact, he cross-examined me in the 40-hours case. We in the trade union movement know his great capacity. He was given the job of arbitrating in that one industry, and if there was one man on the bench of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court who should have succeeded in that task it was Mr. Justice Wright. But, as the result of the impossibility of cramming into the general framework of arbitration procedure, dealing with interstate control of industry generally, a compact, centralized organization such as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority, he failed, and the Commonwealth is out of pocket to the tune of the Australian Workers Union's expenses in the litigation that I have mentioned. Yet the Minister, with that knowledge in his possession, comes before this House and tells us that he will do the same thing in respect of the St. Mary's project as was done in the Snowy Mountains case. What will be the position in respect of St. Mary's? The Government will be in exactly the same position in relation to that project as it was in 1952 in respect of the Snowy Mountains scheme. If the court attempts to barge into St. Mary's, the same action will be taken by the Australian Workers Union as was taken in the Snowy Mountains case, with the result that in two years' time, when it is hoped the St. Mary's project will be completed, the Government will again have to pay the Australian

W orkers Union legal expenses. We need harmonious relations in the organizations if we are to have a normal flow of production. That is why the Commonwealth is foolish to attempt to bring into the framework of the Arbitration Court such things as the Minister has proposed. I know that the honorable member for Bruce could relate every word I am saying to the Snowy Mountains Authority.

Let us take two other projects, Woomera and Maralinga. We heard a moment ago that we should not let advocates other than legal people appear before the Industrial Commission. But what did we do with respect to Maralinga? Is it suggested that this Commonwealth organization, which is of tremendous importance to the nation, should not be subject to the jurisdiction of the authority that is concerned with the determination of wages and conditions of Commonwealth employees? If there is one place that should be dealt with by the Public Service Arbitrator, it is this one.

Why was the Public Service Arbitrator originally appointed? I should have thought that before the honorable member for Bruce criticized the honorable member for Bendigo, he would have looked at the reason for the appointment of the Public Service Arbitrator. I refer him to the words of the late W. M. Hughes, leader of the government which appointed the Arbitrator, on page 420 of the " Hansard " volume covering debates from the 9th August to the 7th September, 1920. He said - 1 repeat that all the bill proposes to do is to create a Public Service Arbitration Court. Presiding over it would be one who could be either a lawyer or a layman, but who would be concerned in no other interests. Honorable members must admit that this will be a far better method of dealing with Public Service affairs than that which exists to-day, where a Judge of the Commonwealth Court . of Conciliation and Arbitration is required to give so much of his attention to a Public Service matter arising as he may be able to spare in the course of dealing with industrial problems emanating from any and every industry throughout the land.

Those are the words of the late W. M. Hughes, who introduced the bill to provide for the appointment of the Public Service Arbitrator in order to get away from just the sort of silly set-up that has occurred under this Government's legislation in respect of the Snowy Mountains Authority.

I have told the House what will happen at St. Mary's if the Government barges in there. Let us take the Australian

Aluminium Production Commission's Organization in Tasmania. The workers in this project which, since it has been re-organized, is tremendously successful, have never been to the Arbitration Court. They work under an agreement that has been made between the employe! and the employees. If any section of thai agreement .is contrary to the general run of conciliation and arbitration principles, the court will not register it. Yet every satisfaction has been given. Because this project is a Commonwealth concern, the right and proper jurisdiction for its employee." is the Public Service Arbitrator. Yet. as pointed out by the honorable member for Bendigo, they have not an order, but a determination. The difference between a determination and a court decision i> that the determination runs on. The parties can agree to a variation of any section of it at any time. The agreement does noi expire at the end of three or five years, as required by the act. This obviates the need for new logs of claims, and forestalls legal fights that often occur in connexion with such cases. Does the honorable member for Bruce want a first-class arbitration fight every three years in respect of Maralinga? That, in effect, is what he advocated to-day.

Let us take the Woomera project. Under the arbitration law, an award can only be made for three years, or for five years ai the most. Does the Government want n continual legal fight in this show or does it want the industry to operate smoothly as the Commonwealth Railways do? The Commonwealth Railways organization has not had a log of claims filed since 1937- almost twenty years. From time to time, upon agreement between the parties - and this is real conciliation - variations of determinations have taken place.

My friend, the honorable member foi Bruce, did not have the true story in respect of Trans-Australia Airlines. He had half of it, but he did not have the lol It was the commission, not the employees, that wanted to get away from the Arbitrator. The commission had two tries, and succeeded only because of the confusion thai arose from the 1951 legislation of this Government. There had been no decision on this point since the legislation of the Hughes Government in 1920, until this sort of thing started. The point has been taken that other employees work to a similar set of conditions. That has happened in the Commonwealth Railways ever since 1934. The employees are working to an award of the Public Service Arbitrator. They join in with South Australian railway men under a federal award and there is no trouble or argument about it. This continuity of agreement is more marked in the Commonwealth Railways than in any other section of employees in Australia, and shows the great value of the Public Service Arbitration system.

In the case concerning the Australian National Airlines Commission, the Public Service Arbitrator said -

It seems to me that it would not be in the public interest for me to, in effect, deprive organizations now entitled to have their claims dealt with by this tribunal of any means of settlement of those claims by determination or award of an industrial tribunal properly constituted by Commonwealth legislation.

That was forced upon the Public Service Arbitrator by the 1951 legislation introduced by this Government. Because of that legislation, the Government is now facing all the difficulties in the world inside the Public Service. The postal workers provide an illustration of this fact. That trouble will spread right through the Public Service as a result of this legislation. The postal workers went before the Public Service Arbitrator, and I believe that this legislation is being considered in this, the second last day of this sessional period, so as to make it possible to push the postal workers' case into the court and apply the court's dictum in respect of margins. The result will be that the employees will not receive an increase. I honestly believe that. This trouble will run right through the Commonwealth Public Service. The Government has a contented body of employees ever ready to do their job while they are in the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator, but this legislation will divide them into sections and fragments from one end of the country to the other and destroy completely that unity of effort that existed in the Public Service.

Mr Snedden - Does the honorable member suggest that there should be, under the Public Se-vice Arbitrator, a complementary body to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That interjection underlines the complete ignorance of the honorable member with respect to the functions of the two authorities. The Public Service Arbitration Act provides that the Public Service Arbitrator shall deal only with Public Service employees. It provides, further, that Commonwealth employees within the framework of that act cannot go to any other arbitration tribunal. As a result of that provision, there is a uniformity of working conditions and wages throughout the Commonwealth Public Service irrespective of where staff are employed or on what work they are engaged. But I do not intend to be dragged away from the truth by the honorable member for Bruce, who does not understand what he is talking about.

Let us see what this legislation will do with respect to the Commonwealth Public Service. If the honorable member agrees with those features, I am surprised that he ever got into Parliament. Section 14a is to be repealed, and section 22 is to be amended. The principal act states that the Public Service Arbitrator shall deal with matters affecting the Commonwealth Public Service. Proposed new section 14a reads - 14a. The Arbitrator may refrain from hearing, or from further hearing, or from determining a claim or application made to him under this Act, or a matter forming part of or arising out of such a claim or application, if it appears to the Arbitrator that, on any ground, including any of the. following grounds, it is unnecessary or undesirable in the public interest to deal with the claim, application or matter: -

This Government, in 1951, for the first time since the office of the Public Service Arbitrator had been established, permitted a right of appeal against his decision. The section which I have read contains an implication that the Public Service Arbitrator must have regard for conditions that are operating in industry outside in determining a matter that might affect the public interest. That is the rock on which Government supporters will perish.

Honorable members heard the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) pointing out the difference between the long-service leave granted by the Public Service Arbitrator and that granted elsewhere. The honorable member could have spoken for three-quarters of an hour on the difference between Public Service conditions and those outside. The Public Service Arbitrator, knowing that his determination will operate for years and years, is able to make an award that will satisfy employees in one direction, and will give the Commonwealth a benefit in another. This cannot be done when one uses the rule of thumb method which must be applied to common industry outside, involving as it does all kinds of employees and employers. This legislation pushes back the industrial arbitration of Commonwealth employees to the level from which Billy Hughes raised it in 1920. The Government is doing the very thing that he attempted to correct, lt is throwing these matters back to the courts, which must try to determine common principles, though these cannot really be applied to employees engaged on the Snowy River project or at St. Mary's. For instance, the employees at St. Mary's are receiving the State basic wage, plus a special 6s. loading, their fares and other concessions agreed to by the employer in writing. The matter should come within the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator because in another twelve months the agreement will expire. Where this Government's legislation has fallen down the New South Wales courts have taken up the slack. They have done the very thing that the Public Service Arbitrator should be able to do in these matters. St Mary's offers no continuity of employment. It is a two-year job, and calls for special conditions. The ordinary run of conditions found in private industry have not been prescribed, but rather special conditions to meet the needs of a packet job such as this.

The aluminium undertaking is in a similar category. I could give many similar illustrations. If honorable members will consider the aspect of permanency in relation to both the aluminium undertaking and the St. Mary's job, and then study what was done in 1920, they will see the wisdom of the Hughes approach to the needs of Commonwealth employees. I do not, in common with the Minister, feel that benefit can be gained by jumping from one authority to the other, but when the Minister says that the honorable member for Bendigo is running away from Labour's policy he is only indicating how very little he knows about our policy. The honorable member for Bendigo was merely emphasizing the need for the complete adoption of Labour's policy in respect of Commonwealth matters, which should come under one control, thus ensuring continuity of employment and peace in industry. That was what the honorable member was advocating when he said that undertakings such as that at Woomera should come under the Public Service Arbitrator. Ordinary industrial arbitration cannot cope with a situation such as we find at Maralinga. How can union members state their conditions of employment in open court as they would have to do before the ordinary conciliation and arbitration tribunal? Does any honorable member suggest that secret work ought to be revealed to the world?

The honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) was pathetic - not because he did not try, but because he had not the capacity to understand the functions of the Public Service Arbitrator, whose determination has the element of continuity. The Commonwealth railwaymen have given us the best rail transport in Australia because they have continuity of employment and award conditions that have been granted by the Public Service Arbitrator. A bitter disagreement has not taken place since 1937, but this measure gives the Minister the right, after Parliament rises to-morrow if he so desires, to transfer the control of conditions in the Commonwealth Railways to the arbitration commission. No honorable member will be able to do anything about it. Without consulting the Parliament the Minister can transfer the control of conditions in the railways, or in munitions production, to the arbitration commission. We are not fighting for the opportunity to jump from one tribunal to the other. Some of our conditions under federal awards have been better than those that we have been granted under the Public Service Arbitrator, but over the whole range the Commonwealth railwaymen are happy. Why does the Government seek to disturb that happiness?

Mr Snedden - There has never been any suggestion that the Commonwealth Railways will be declared in the manner suggested by the honorable member.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Having heard the honorable member speak to-day, I would not be willing to leave such a decision in his hands. He is not a Minister now, but. by pushing forward, he may get there some day. He would then have power to act in that way. That is why we oppose this legislation with all the vehemence that we possess. The Government is making a stab in the dark. We know how it has poured public money down the drain in connexion with the Snowy Mountains project. I doubt whether two honorable members knew before I rose this afternoon, that the Government paid the expenses of the Australian Workers Union in respect of the writ that was taken out over industrial arbitration in connexion with the Snowy Mountains project.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What conditions did the Government impose upon the Australian Workers Union? Was it to agree not to prosecute?

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Australian Workers Union agreed to withdraw on condition that the Commonwealth paid, and the Commonwealth did pay. So what the Australian Workers Union did in respect of the Snowy Mountains project, it will do in respect of the St. Mary's, Maralinga, and other projects. I finish on this note: Where there is continuity of agreement such as now exists in the instance of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission's establishment in Tasmania and where provision exists for settling industrial disputes, the test of the need for this bill is whether the Government believes in conciliation. Where an organization has been built up between employer and employee to the extent that it is a profitable concern, the arbitration arrangements under which it operates should not for any consideration be disturbed.

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