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Wednesday, 3 November 1976


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -I listened with great interest to the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr). If my memory serves me correctly this is not the first time that the honourable member has stood up in this House and done a little bit of union bashing. He had better make the most of it because he has a rather limited time in this place to do that sort of thing. It seemed to me that his whole speech was a contradiction of what the Bill is all about. The Bill has been introduced to take away from the rank and file member his right to have a direct say in the election of his officials. It does nothing to dispel the hoary argument, the red herring, that the collegiate system looks after the interests of smaller States. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the honourable member cared to sit down and think about what he was saying instead of just mouthing rhetoric he would understand that what he was saying was a lot of clap-trap. Whichever system is used to elect federal officials of a union, whether it be by the direct system or by the collegiate system, each State in effect stands on its own feet. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) mentioned the Federated Clerks' Union. That union -certainly in Victoria and I believe also federally- is not the most democratic organisation in Australia. But I believe that even in the case of that union the larger States have more delegates to the federal electoral college than do the smaller States. The larger States have a greater voice. Even so the representation of the larger States is restricted and pegged back on the federal college and the small States have an advantage.

The whole point at issue is that a vote for a national officer is a vote across the nation and not a vote in one State. It is a vote across the nation of all the union members in the nation, whether it be a vote for representatives who make up the college or whether it be a direct vote. Of course the larger States will have an advantage in this respect. There is no way in which we can stop such a situation, and nobody would want to stop it. But there is nothing to stop a person from Tasmania from putting himself up as a candidate for the federal secretaryship of a union. If he is competent and receives the support of people across the nation he will get the job. He will be elected not because he comes from Tasmania but because he is competent. The honourable member for Wilmot has not thought this matter through. I think that he has simply tried to equate the collegiate system with the system under which senators are elected. Of course, the Bill before us does not do that. To my knowledge, there are no rules of unions that do that either.

The honourable member spoke at length about rank and file participation or membership participation; but what he did not say was that even in this Bill it is left to those in office to decide which sort of system will be used in the future. There is no question of the matter going back to the members and of the officials saying to them: What son of a system do you want? Do you want a rank and file ballot or do you want the collegiate system?' The Bill states that there is a choice; but the choice is there only for those who are entrenched in office. The whole Bill is designed to keep those who are in office in office. It is a little curious for the honourable member to talk about unions not doing things for people. He seems to forget that a union is simply a collection of people. Anything that a union does must be in the interests of people. Certainly, any action that a union takes on any question is in the interests of its members. The members live 24 hours a day, not just the 8 hours they are at work.

As my knowledgeable friend the honourable member for Gellibrand said, it is true that the National Civic Council had a great influence on the Government in the taking of this decision. The Federated Clerks Union- under the Federal presidency of Mr John Maynes, a noted member of the NCC- certainly has been instrumental in influencing this decision. The honourable member for Wilmot spoke about extremist groups within the community using the trade union movement. He probably was sniping at the communists. If I read from a cutting I took from a local newspaper that is circulated in the general area, of my electorate-it is dated 4 September 1975-1 think that honourable members may obtain a fair indication of how even the Liberal Party is involved with extremist groups, this one being the National Civic Council which is of the extreme right. The heading states in bold type: National Civic Council Meeting at Gisborne'. The article states:

Mr GeraldMercer, national secretary of the National Civic Council, is to address a suppOrt function at Gisborne Golf Club on Tuesday, 9 September.

The National Civic Council, an organisation which for the past 30 years has been involved in events and developments in the industrial and political areas, is currently consolidating and widening its base of support in Gisborne, Sunbury, Woodend and surrounding areas.

Mr DudleyErwin, MHR as he then was-

Mr JohnBourchier, MHR as he now is-

Mr FredGrimwade, MLC, and Mr Athol Guy, MLA, have lent their names as patrons for the function.

It seems to me that that is an example of an organisation with a charter to destroy the trade union movement in Australia being supported by members of the Liberal Party. Each of the gentlemen I have mentioned is a member of the Liberal Party. Some of them are still members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party. So this danger exists. The Bill before the House will perpetuate the present position. This is because it denies a right which was given to people in the 1 973 legislation and which they are to take up before 13 November 1976. The measure introduced in 1973 ensures that the rank and file members of the union have a say in who shall manage the affairs of their union. I believe that the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) must take the cake as an exercise in prolixity and hypocrisy. For example, he says in the very first sentence:

All members of the Parliament are, I am sure, committed to democratic control of trade unions and employer organisations. The cornerstone of democratic control is membership participation.

Having said that, he then goes on to introduce into the House a Bill that denies trade union members the right directly to select their officials. The Bill allows them to elect colleges. I do not know whether the Government suddenly has been imbued with the American presidential system because it is that time of the year; but we in the Australian Labor Party- we spell this out very loudly in our policy- firmly believe that there should be full rank and file participation in the affairs of unions. We have never walked away from it. We believe in it. The Minister goes on to say:

The fact is, however, that direct election is not, in all situations, a guarantee of proper democratic control.

I would be most grateful if somebody would explain to me what those words mean. The Minister tried to explain them by saying:

For example, direct voting may result, in an organisation which has a substantial proportion of its total membership in one branch, in the smaller branches having no representation on the management committee.

What does the Minister expect? Does he think that people are elected as officials of unions simply because they stand for election? He should know that people are elected as officials of trade unions because of their known capacity, a capacity that is known by the members of the union. Does he think that members of the union are so stupid that they cannot recognise a job being done by somebody? Does he think that a contender for office is so stupid as to think that all he has to do is put in a nomination for the job? If the Minister lived in the real world he would know that at all times people are very vigorous in this area. They do campaign. They do become known. Their abilities or otherwise become known also. For these reasons, it is sheer hogwash to say for example, because a general secretary of a union is elected from New South Wales that he is elected from that State simply because there are more people in that State. I have pointed out to the House already that the colleges of all unions, without exception, are not equally representative of the States. There is a greater number of members of the colleges from the larger States. I repeat that that is as it should be.

The Minister also stated in his second reading speech:

The amendments proposed will now give organisations a choice in the manner by which they elect their officers, whether full time or part time.

He states that the Bill will give organisations a choice. Why did not the Minister say that it will give members of organisations a choice? He did not come to deal with that point. He spoke about organisations. Clearly, he must be speaking about those who have themselves firmly entrenched in office and who will go to any lengths to ensure that they are not removed from their positions. The Minister, if he has as much concern for the affairs of trade unions as the honourable member for Wilmot would have us believe he has, ought to be talking about members and not about organisations or officers of unions. It is well known to the Minister, for example, that Mr Ted Bull, the secretary of the

Waterside Workers Federation in Victoria is a communist. That union has a 99 per cent turnout on election day. The members stop work to vote. Voting is compulsory. The members are fined if they do not vote. So, if the Minister and his Government are aiming their shafts at those people who prefer to belong to a political party different from the Government Parties- frankly, I do not blame people for doing that- they certainly are aiming in the wrong direction. History shows that he is wrong and future examples will show him to be wrong also.

The contents of this Bill revolve purely and simply around the whole question of whether there is to be democratic election of people in trade unions. As the Act stands at the moment, there certainly is. The interferences proposed to the Act by this Bill will take away from the members their right to that. They must elect people. Those people in turn have the right to cast votes. There is no guarantee that they will cast the votes they now have in the way that those who voted for them want them cast. Therefore, a situation could arise in which the brutal force of numbers was used. We have heard about that. The brutal force of numbers or all sorts of persuasive means could be used to influence members of a college to change their vote so that it would not reflect the vote of those who elected them- their constituents. For those reasons, I oppose the Bill. My Party opposes the Bill. We see absolutely no reason to allow it to go through the House unhindered. It should have every impediment placed in its way.

In fact, I notice that, even though the Bill has just come out of the gestation period and has just seen the light of day, the Government already proposes to make 2 amendments to it. It is hastily prepared legislation. It was prepared without consultation with anybody. My colleague, the honourable member for Gellibrand, pointed out that the peak councils were not consulted. He also read a letter that was written by a Federal councillor of the Federated Clerks Union who is a member of the Liberal Party. The other day I was reading a copy of Hansard in which an honourable member was recorded as saying by way of interjection that there were no Liberal Party members acting as officials of trade unions. There is a fellow who is a Federal councillor of a union and a member of the Liberal Party. He has written to the Federal President of the Liberal Party complaining about the lack of consultation with even the Federated Clerks Union of Australia. I presume he was speaking of it as a body rather than speaking about its Federal President, the infamous and notorious John

Maynes, who has strutted the roost of the industrial movement in Australia in an avowed attempt to destroy it. This Government piously says that it does not mind having unions. It should add that it would rather have unions such as there are in Malaysia and Singapore, unions which have had their teeth drawn. The only unions in the Government's view with which it would agree are those which in turn agree with the attitude of the Government and of employers.

The organised work force in Australia is entitled to something better than that. It is entitled to have representatives to put its point of view and those representatives are entitled to speak freely. They should not be muzzled by this Government in connivance with the National Civil Council so that all that is heard is the voice of those who are elected, those that they have elected. Those who then come to power in the unions are second hand and come not through the honest straightforward ballot as we know union ballots are now but through a system which can be manipulated. It is because it can be manipulated that people like John Maynes support it. If it was honest and straightforward he would not support it. He is a person who has manipulated all his life and that is the reason he would support this situation. Frankly, when he is speaking to this Government he is speaking to a bunch of top manipulators anyhow.







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