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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2808


Mr BURR(5.25) —The Opposition in large part supports the amendments that have been brought forward in the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) . These amendments have been discussed by the National Labour Consultative Council and agreed to by that body. However, there are one of two notable exceptions to that general statement. I will mention those later. Quite a number of the provisions were agreed to or proposed by the previous Government. Certainly on that basis we would have no dispute with the Minister, and we give our support to those provisions.

Having made those general comments and given my approval to the main thrust of the amendments that the Minister is bringing forward, I would like to make one or two comments about them. I note, firstly, that the Minister is trying to make better provisions for the joint sitting of State and Federal tribunals. I certainly give the Minister my full support in that objective. One of the matters that has bedevilled industrial relations in this country over many years is the duplication of awards and tribunals at State and Federal levels. That is not something for which the present Minister can be blamed; it dates back to Federation.

I believe the Minister's objective is to work progressively towards greater understanding and greater co-operation between State and Federal tribunals. Certainly he would have my support in trying to achieve that objective. We on this side of the chamber understand the difficulties in trying to secure that co -operation because of the federalist system that we work under in this country. We understand the difficulty of trying to get agreements on these matters between all the States, but anything that the Minister can do to help bring about better co-operation in the areas of industrial tribunals and the commonality of award provisions will certainly have my support and the support of members of this side of the chamber.

In the same vein, the Minister is seeking to rationalise the Public Service award fixing provisions and to repeal the Public Service Arbitration Act. That again is the same as trying to have joint sittings between State and Federal tribunals to bring about a rationalisation of these award fixing bodies. In the main, I agree with the Minister. Certainly it was the thrust of the previous Government to have the Public Service tribunal brought within the ambit of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. We support the thrust of the Ministers' amendments in seeking to achieve that objective. However, one matter that comes to my attention in giving broad acquiescence to what the Minister is doing, is that he appears to be repealing the provisions of Bills that were passed in 1978 that prevented the Public Service tribunal from involving itself in the selection and the promotion of people within the ranks of the Public Service. In reapplying those provisions and giving that authority to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission-I do not know what the Government has in mind-it allows the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, through these amendments, to involve itself in the selection of people for appointment to the Public Service and people for promotion within the Public Service.

I would have thought that with the moves that the Government is making within the Public Service Board, particularly with the appointment of Dr Wilenski to head that body, it would have fixed its own arrangement within the Public Service Board. I am not sure whether this move is an admission by the Government that in fact it has little confidence in Dr Wilenski. The Government has given power to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to involve itself in appointments to the Public Service. I would have thought that Dr Wilenski, in taking up that new position, would be somewhat concerned that his authority is being undermined before he has started in the job. It may have been an oversight by the Minister. Perhaps he will address himself to the matter.

The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee) has already addressed himself to the appointment of public servants. Proposed new section 70J relates to the conditions of stand-down for public servants. The honourable member for Balaclava in his contribution said that we on this side of the House support the concept that the same provisions should apply to private employees as apply to government employees. But the removal of certain provisions of proposed new section 70J does not give the Commission the capacity to treat Public Service employees in the same way that it treats private employees. It is not able, within the stand-down provisions, to take into account the same matters that would be taken into account if a stand-down order for private employees were being considered. I understand that the honourable member for Balaclava will move amendments at the Committee stage to seek to tidy up that matter but I urge the Minister, if he is seeking to have unanimity between government employees and private employees in the eyes of the Commission, to give very serious consideration to the amendments that will be put forward by the honourable member for Balaclava.

I remind the Minister that in looking at the conditions of employment for government employees we can never lose sight of the fact that-I reminded him of this only last week in an earlier debate-government employees do not have the same conditions of employment as private employees. In fact, their conditions of employment are far better, particularly in relation to permanency of employment, superannuation and the other benefits that public servants have. We on this side of the House would be quite happy for conditions of employment, as well as the conditions that are applied by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, to be exactly the same. If the Minister feels that government employees should be treated in the eyes of the Commission in the same way as it treats private employees, government employees should share the conditions of employment of private employees. My short and simple proposition is that government employees should, firstly, be prepared to give away permanency if they want to be treated as equals with private employees and, secondly, be prepared to accept the same superannuation provisions as are accepted by private employees. If I see any evidence that government employees are prepared to accept those conditions I will be very happy to see the same conditions of concilitation and arbitration applied to them as are applied to private employees but I must admit that at this stage I see no evidence coming forward.

Another matter I address myself briefly to is the provisions that have been mentioned by the honourable member for Balaclava relating to the registration of organisations, particularly as they apply to private contractors and independently employed people. As I understand it, the amendments moved by the Minister seek to give validation to people who may be members of a union that is registered both at the Federal level and at the State level. I understand that he is trying to justify or validate a position that has come about over a number of years, perhaps through oversight at the Federal level within our own legislation. As the Minister is well aware, legislation has been passed which, within certain award provisions, prevents non-wage employees, in other words private contractors, from being members of unions. Historically some people, while being non-wage employees and working as contractors within their own businesses have, perhaps, maintained membership of their unions. But, as the Minister is well aware, under earlier legislation that is outside the conditions of their award and, in fact, it is illegal. I understand that the Minister is trying to legitimise a practice that has grown up over the years. I can only say that if that is the objective of the Minister, without repealing the earlier legislation if people are ineligible to be members of a union under the law they must remain ineligible.

I strongly caution against any action that may give rise to particular unions being given the impression that they may go back to the old practice of coercion of private contractors into joining unions. I assure the Minister that some contractors, particularly electrical contractors, owner-drivers and other contractors who work on building and industrial sites, have grave fears that they will be the targets of unions which will use blackmail tactics and threaten them that they either join a union or they will not be permitted to work. Those contractors have great fears and I hope that this legislation, or any other action that the Minister might take, will not encourage unions to make non-wage contractors the victims of union coercion.

Another matter to which I give my attention has already been mentioned by the honourable member for Balaclava. The Minister is removing from the legislation offences that would debar a person from holding office within a registered organisation. The honourable member for Balaclava has already highlighted some of the offences that are being removed from the legislation. I will go over some of those again because I think this is terribly important and probably the most serious aspect of the Bill. I do not think it can be repeated too often how serious this matter is. Offences which I would consider to be absolutely central to a person's suitability to hold office within a registered organisation are purposely and deliberately being removed from the Act. Obviously, this will open the way for people whom the community at large would consider to be unsuitable to hold office. They will now be permitted to hold office.

I remind the House that section 132G of the Conciliation and Arbitration Regulations provides for people to be ineligible because of their failure to comply with an order of the Federal Court under the prescribed offences section. Section 141 relates to failure to comply with an order of the Federal Court on the observance of organisation rules in respect of secret ballots. That is terribly important. What effectively the Minister is saying is that a person can rig a ballot and be proven to have rigged it within the Federal Court but still be eligible to hold office within a registered organisation. I would have thought that community standards would immediately render a person who has been found guilty in the Federal Court of rigging ballots totally ineligible to hold office within a registered organisation.

Section 143 relates to failure to comply with directions of the Federal Court on observance of the rules of an organisation. I can only repeat the comments I have just made. If an office bearer within a union or employer organisation fails to comply with the rules of the organisation surely that person is ineligible to hold office? Section 153A refers to the failure to lodge with the Industrial Registrar details of money held by an organisation. Perhaps the Minister had in mind the O'Shea case of 1968 when seeking to remove that provision from the legislation. Section 153B relates to the failure to lodge with the Registrar details of loans or donations over $1,000.

I should have thought that in view of some of the disclosures by the Winneke Royal Commission into the Activities of the Australian Building Construction Employees and Builders Labourers Federation the Minister would be keen to retain that provision because it gives rise to all sorts of suspicions as to what might happen within particular unions and between the Government and particular unions . The honourable member for Balaclava mentioned section 158 which relates to offences concerning the unauthorised collection of money and failures in relation to financial accounts and auditors. Section 185 concerns falsely purporting, in an application under the Act, to be a member of an organisation.

These are extremely serious offences. I think any standards of decency within the community would surely dictate that people who have been convicted in the Federal Court of those offences are ineligible to hold office within organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I do not wish to throw suspicion on the Minister, but, looking at those offences that are being removed from the Act, I cannot take my mind from the motions passed by the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party in Adelaide in July 1979. Perhaps I should remind the Minister, although I am sure I do not have to, of one resolution passed by that Conference. It was in these terms:

An ALP Government would recognise 'the rights of unions to regulate their own affairs in a democratic way free from Government and judicial interference . . . '

Those last few words are crucial-

. . . free from government and judicial interference.

The Minister is complying with the resolution passed by his Party's Adelaide conference in 1979. He said that it does not matter that people have been convicted of serious offences relating to balloting and the conduct of accounts and financial matters within unions and that those matters can be subject to conviction, but those persons still remain eligible to be office bearers within an organisation. This measure effectively goes part of the way to placing the unions above the law of the land. I again remind the Minister of the resolution at that 1979 conference. If a person is found guilty of those offences, surely under the companies Acts of the various States that person would be ineligible to remain a director of a company. If that applies at the company director level , the same rules should apply within organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I hope that the Government is not opening the way for unions to be elevated above the law of the land, but certainly I have suspicions and I hope the Minister can allay them for me.