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Tuesday, 1 November 1983
Page: 2141

Mr McGAURAN(9.29) —If ever the people of Australia needed proof, other than the previous eight months, that this is not a Government for all Australians or that this is a Government that is not prepared to take strong hard decisions against the actions of militant trade unions which go on their merry way to the great disadvantage of a great many people in Australia, these Bills introduced by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) are sufficient proof. I will take the three Bills one by one. First, the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Repeal Bill 1983 is introduced by the Federal Government to repeal the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Act. It was introduced by the previous Government in 1977 in response to a number of industrial disputes in the Commonwealth public service area. Of course, everybody will recall the air traffic controller strike and the disruptive postal strike centred around the Redfern mail exchange of some years ago. Both strikes caused a great deal of suffering to a great number of people, many of whom were least able to cope with that sort of suffering.

The Act which this Government seeks to repeal enabled the Federal Government to directly suspend or dismiss Commonwealth employees who take industrial action which disrupts the provision of services to the community, as well as empowering the Commonwealth to stand down without pay Commonwealth employees who cannot be usefully employed because of industrial action by other workers in the public or private sectors. At the time of the introduction of this legislation the Liberal -National Party coalition Government said that it would be its hope that it would not be necessary to use the legislation except in the most rare and extreme cases. The criterion to be judged is the amount of inconvenience caused to society and, again, those least able to cope with that inconvenience. I believe that since the Act was not proclaimed until 1979 when it was used in the Telecom Australia dispute, it was a responsible use of those powers by the previous Government.

The previous Government believed that Commonwealth employees have considerable privileges in terms of security of tenure and superannuation and must realise that those privileges carry with them considerable responsibilities. The previous Government also believed that it had a responsibility to Australian taxpayers to protect them against unnecessary financial loss through industrial disputation. I certainly concur with those sentiments as I believe that government employees are specifically responsible for providing many of the most vital services essential to the well being of the community, including such things as postal services, communications, aviation and social security. There is a whole list of them, all of which affect the daily lives of most citizens of this country. The people involved in the provision of those services have a peculiar, distinctive responsibility and they have, on past occasions, shown an irresponsibility and disregard for the rights of the majority of Australians and have abused their privileged position.

I turn now to the Public Service and Statutory Authorities Amendment Bill 1983 which was presented by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations this evening. This Bill has been brought in by the Minister to repeal the no work as directed-no pay provisions of the Public Service Act and other Acts dealing with six Commonwealth statutory authorities, namely: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian Postal Commission, the Australian Telecommunications Commission, the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, the Commonwealth Teaching Service and Overseas Telecommunications Commission. The provisions in the Acts which the Government is seeking to remove were inserted in 1980 following a New South Wales Supreme Court decision which found that the common law rights of employers to implement the no work as directed no pay principal no longer applied in the area of Commonwealth employment. The Court, in actual fact, ruled that the common law principle was overruled by provisions of the Public Service Act and regulation.

The pertinent provisions of the Acts currently enable the Public Service Board and the various authorities to declare that staff who fail to comply with an authorised direction relating to the performance of their duties are not to be paid a salary, regardless of any award provisions to the contrary. I believe that to repeal these provisions is a retrograde step and ought not to be undertaken by this Parliament. I base that judgment on the following points: First, a right to a wage as a common law is contingent upon an employee obeying lawful directions of the employer and being willing and able to perform all duties as required. Secondly, this basic contractual principle of no work as directed no pay should apply to Commonwealth employees. I do not believe that Commonwealth employees are exempt from this common law principle. I do not believe that they can be elevated to a higher plateau and be above the common law.

In recent times the nature of industrial action within the Public Service has changed, as a great many Australians would know to their disadvantage. Employees have increasingly sought to escape the consequences of their action while imposing hardship and inconvenience on others by taking what they see as selective industrial action in the form of work bans and limitations while expecting to remain on full pay and to enjoy all the privileges of employment in the Australian Public Service. Those who know the privileges that go with such employment would deeply resent the abuse of such privileges. That is particularly so in the case of those many hundreds of thousands who have no employment and who would happily, for the sake of being employed by the Public Service, adhere to common law principles. Regrettably, many of those who already have employment within the Public Service see themselves as above those principles.

The Third Bill being debated this evening is the Commonwealth Employees ( Redeployment and Retirement) Amendment Bill 1983. The Federal Government has brought in a Bill to restore the jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator and the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission over the redeployment and termination of employment of Commonwealth employees. The jurisdiction of the Public Service Arbitrator over redeployment and retirement matters was removed in March 1981 by the previous Liberal-National Party coalition Government following the disallowance by the Parliament of a determination of the Arbitration Commission which extended existing provisions relating to length of notice and levels of pay to be provided in the event of redeployment or termination.

This Act was brought in because it was essential, in relation to matters as fundamental as the efficient and economical use of staff in the Public Service, that the Parliament should lay down and be seen to lay down the rules and regulations appertaining thereto, and not some other body. The previous Government also made the point that there was a real distinction between matters relating to the engagement and termination of staff, which are the prerogative of management, and determinations in relation to traditional areas such as wages , salaries, annual leave and hours of duty, all of which are properly matters for arbitration. With regard to that piece of legislation, I would say that the justification used for overriding industrial tribunals in the Act, namely the protection of vital services essential to the well-being of the community, is not available in this case.

In conclusion, having examined those three Bills presented by the Minister, I see a number of dangers in them. In summary, I see it as being a pay-off in some respects to the Government's stronger supporters, namely the trade union movement. It is part of the ongoing National Economic Summit Conference and the so-called wages accord pretence-a pretence of harmony. There is no harmony; rather, this Government is giving the unions what they wish for. In doing so, it is placing a great many Australians in a disadvantaged position. I would certainly echo the call of my colleagues who spoke previously for these provisions to be opposed in the Senate. It will remain for the Australian Democrats to join with the coalition Opposition in disallowing these Bills.