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Wednesday, 1 May 1957


Mr ASTON (Phillip) .- I am indebted to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) for a reply, which appeared in " Hansard " yesterday, given to me in relation to secret ballots. That reply contains some extremely valuable information. One must be impressed by the number of applications for an officially conducted ballot that have been received by the Registrar. Since the amending legislation was passed in 1951, 131 applications have been received. A large number, and a wide variety, of unions are involved. As we know, this amendment to the Arbitration Act, which was made in 1951, enables unions to apply to the court to officially conduct ballots in respect of their union offices. One hundred and thirty-one unions have applied, and 129 applications have been granted. Those unions cover many thousands of workers in New South Wales, who are now able to vote quite freely without fear of intimidation or coercion. They can now cast their vote in secret, and this gives the rank and file unionist the right of free expression of opinion and some say in who shall conduct his union's affairs.

It is interesting to note that legislation for clean ballots was first initiated in this Parliament by the Chifley Labour Government, in 1949, after the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), then Leader of the Opposition, had been prevented by the forms of the House from bringing in legislation of this kind. There was such an outcry from the public at the time that subsequently the Labour Government brought in amendments to the arbitration act. I refer particularly to the amendments embodying sections 96a and 96m. Although those amendments did not go sufficiently far to cure the evil, they did show that the Labour Government admitted that there was an evil to be cured in the conducting of union affairs. This fact was undoubtedly recognized. The evil consisted of the irregularities, forgeries and malpractices which characterized the election to office of union officials. Naturally, the amending legislation which this Government subsequently brought in in 1951 raised the ire of the Communists. Their attitude, of course, had been one of opposition to that legislation right from the very beginning. By lying propaganda they have endeavoured to bring the secret ballot legislation into disrepute, and to put it in such a light that the trade union movement will have nothing to do with it. I would like to point out what the Australian Labour party's central industrial executive said in July, 1953, in its paper, " The Union Democrat ", in answer to this smear campaign by the Communist party. The central executive said -

The Communist party must smash clean union elections and the legislation that makes them possible or be smashed itself.

Together with the activities of members of the industrial group of the Labour party, this legislation has helped considerably to quell the advance of communism in many powerful unions. Communist control has been lifted from the Federated Ironworkers Association, the New South Wales Branch of the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, and the Commonwealth Council of the Amalgamated Engineering Union. This has contributed greatly to the industrial peace that has been the lot of this country over the last few years. However, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) stated on 5th October, 1954, that a small minority group of Labour members, located particularly in Victoria, whom he accused of disloyal and disruptive tactics, had changed the pattern for the time being. But if being disloyal and disruptive is fighting the Communists in the unions of this country, 1 am all for those tactics. Since then, however, the position has greatly changed. The Australian Labour party industrial groups have been outlawed by the party and their members unmercifully expelled. Unity tickets between Communists and Labour party members have become commonplace and have enabled the Communists to regain a considerable proportion of their industrial strength. For example, the Communist J. J. Brown has been elected in the Australian Railways Union in Victoria on a Labour unity ticket. Communists are coming back into prominence in the Amalgamated Engineering Union on unity tickets. If this progress is maintained it will be not only detrimental, but disastrous to the trade union movement.

Our past experience has shown that the Communist aim in controlling the unions is to weaken the economy of this country and to sow discontent, distrust, and unrest amongst rank and file unionists. There is no doubt that this unrest and discontent serves to undermine the welfare of the rank and file members of the union.

The unions generally have accepted the principle of the secret ballot legislation. The Australian Council of Trades Unions has virtually remained neutral on this matter and left the decision to individual unions. 1 believe that the unions do not want this chaotic, crooked, Communist control. The federal Labour conference at Brisbane, however, decided that when Labour was again elected to office, it would abolish all forms of court controlled ballots. This decision is difficult to understand when Labour members supported the Chifley legislation in 1949. This decision was of course hailed with delight by the Communist party, whose policy runs parallel with that of the Labour party on this important matter.

To give an example of the Communist attitude to this matter 1 quote from the "Tribune" of 20th March, 1957-

It is pleasing indeed to witness the highest body of the Australian Labour party joining the fight against ouch attacks on working class democracy.

If working class democracy means depriving the unionist of the right to choose union officials through secret ballots, then the greater proportion of unionists in this, country will themselves give the Labour party their answer at election time. The " Tribune " again made reference to this, on 27th March, 1957-

The Brisbane A.L.P. conference decision opposing court ballots means all sections of the Labour movement are now united on this issue.

In other words, the " Tribune " has made it quite clear that the Communists are united' with the Australian Labour party and that the policies of the two parties are as one. We can readily understand the Communists" desire to wreck this legislation, but is this the same fear that is haunting the Labour party to-day? The Labour party is sharply divided on this matter and I believe that several members opposite do not believethat this legislation should be abolished.

There are no secret ballots in the trade unions of Russia. Why then should this once great party seek to destroy this legislation? Apparently it wants a return to the days prior to 1949, and it may be just aswell at this stage to quote the words of Mr. Justice Dunphy.







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