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Friday, 22 May 1970

Mr SNEDDEN (BRUCE, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - There has been a very widespread programme of action, I would call it, by the executive of the Association of Professional Engineers, Australia to express the dissatisfaction of that Association with the decision which was made by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

Mr Stewart - That is a shocking thing to do, is it not?

Mr SNEDDEN - The honourable member for Lang has interjected and said: 'That is a shocking thing to do'. I did not make that suggestion. I do not think it is a shocking thing to do. In the period of time that I have been in the House I have seen a very great number of programmes of expressions of dissatisfaction over a wide range of things and I do not regard this particular activity as any different from them. This is an association unhappy with a decision. There are a number of members of associations who are not happy and they pursue this through their parliamentary members.

The first point I wish to make in regard to the honourable member's question is to put aside the suggestion that there was a rejection of a claim. The engineers made a claim for, if my recollection is right, about a 45% increase. The case went on for a considerable period of time, a decision being given late last year. About 2 months prior to the giving of the decision the Public Service Board announced that of its own volition, after having heard the arguments before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, it would pay an increase of between 11% and 15%. In the ultimate the Commission awarded that amount. There was not a rejection; there was an assessment by the arbitral tribunal that the amount that was proper to award was between 11% and 15%.

The next point that was made by the honourable gentleman in his question was: Would I use my good offices with the Commission? I have no role of that kind, nor can I have, nor should 1 have, nor should any Government member have it. The Commission is an independent statutory body of very high quality and of great experience which is charged with wage fixing by the arbitral process when negotiations between the parties fail. I do not have the good offices available to me which the honourable gentleman suggests. He has had enough experience in the industrial jurisdiction to know that a Minister should not have that sort of influence or power.

The next matter he raised was: If the matter is reheard would the Government refrain from pressing upon the Commission the acceptance of the Public Service Board's determination? The answer to that must be: No, the Government would not refrain in the sense that we would give no undertaking at this point as to what would be the Public Service Board's attitude before the Commission. The Public Service Board is an independent body charged with a prime wage fixation. I know very well that it is the policy of the Opposition to take unto itself as a political discharge of power the fixing of wages and conditions. That distinguishes the Australian Labor Party from this side of the House. We would not want to do it; we would not want to enter into an auction at election time with a government saying We will offer this in wages and conditions' and the opposition offering something else. The Government would not want to do that. Therefore, we would reject that point.

The final point to make is that apparently unknown to the honourable gentleman the Association of Professional Engineers has at this time lodged claims before the Public Service Board for increases in pay. As I understand it those matters will be pursued through the negotiation processes between the Board and the Association.

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