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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 609

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - Last week I received a most extraordinary letter from the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron). I intend to read that letter and my reply. The letter is dated 6th March and is signed 'Clyde R. Cameron'. It reads:

Dear Mr Wentworth,

I have received advice from a source which 1 am at present unable to disclose to you, that you have been a member of the Federated Clerks Union. It is suggested that your motivation for joining the FCU was to obtain an extra$60 annually which was available only to members of registered organisations.

It appears also to be true that you were admitted to the union on the recommendation of a Communist organiser at a time when the union was in fact under Communist control.

I am sure that the Parliament would like to hear about your union activities, and I would appreciate your comment on the accuracy of the information I have obtained. As you would know, I would not wish to do you an injustice by falsely asserting your membership of a Communist controlled union merely to qualify for a miserable $60 a year.

Yours sincerely,

Clyde R. Cameron

This is a serious matter. I replied in the following terms:

My dear Minister,

It was good of you to have written to me in the terms, of your letter of the 6th March, and I appreciate your concern.

I did work briefly as a clerk on a defence project and joined the Clerks Union as a routine matter. I would have thought that this would have commended itself to you.

I have been told that, before you became a Minister, you possessed a considerable ring of informers in the Unions, particularly in relation to individual unionists against whom you had a personal grudge, and some parts of your letter seem to confirm this. May I suggest to you that it would not be consonant with your present Ministerial position to maintain for your own purposes such a ring of private informers against individual unionists.

You will, of course, share my pleasure that the Clerks Unions is no longer under Communist control. It is my understanding that Communist control in this Union was maintained very largely because of corrupt ballot practices, and perhaps you can give me some fuller information on this point, which may be similar to points you have raised in relation to the AWU. The relevant events in the Clerks Union are said to have occurred at a time when the Clerks Union machine was headed by Mr Jack Hughes.I think my memory is correct that the Hon. Les Johnson, who is at present Minister for Housing, was at that time an employee of the Clerks Union and very closely associated with its affairs, but I must make it clear that I have no information which would link him with any corrupt ballot practices.

Your letter raises one serious question of principle. Where a union has political affiliations (and particularly when it is under Communist control) should those who disapprove of these affiliations be under any compulsion or financial inducement to join it? Should we perhaps consider establishing the principle that where a union does have such political affiliations its existence should be no bar to the registration of another union to cover the same trade and calling? This would preserve the principle of freedom of association, which I presume you still support. 1 trust that you will not object to my quoting this correspondence in the House.

I will not speak of the major principle referred to in the second last paragraph because I hope at some later time to have an opportunity to speak on it at length. In regard to the Federated Clerks Union of Australia the Mr Jack Hughes was, I think, in the Labor movement at the same time. He subsequently left it and he called himself the State Labor Party. This was at a time when the communists and the Australian Labor Party were co-operating very closely in union affairs. I wish I was sure this does not occur now. Perhaps the Minister for Housing (Mr Les Johnson) can refresh my mind as to these events. I must confess that I am not terribly familiar with them. Who was it who was called 'Ape of Jacky'? I forget. In regard to the more serious matter, the Minister for Labour has for a long time had the reputation in the trade union movement of being something of a hatchet man. He has, it is said, had this ring of informers and pimps, sources which he will not disclose, who have been giving him information about individual unionists whom he dislikes. It is a very serious matter when trade union officials and people in this House who have some influence in trade unions maintain this kind of individual terror against trade unionists.

Mr Hurford - Are you terrorised?

Mr WENTWORTH - I am not terrified but it may be that other people who are not so fortunately placed as I am as a member of this House would be terrified of this kind of intimidation and the way in which the trade union leader is now setting himself up as the enemy and dictator of the trade unionists. There has to be something done against this kind of blackmail informing against individuals. It is a very serious thing when the Minister who is now in charge of trade union affairs in this House - the Minister for Labour - still associates himself with the ring of informers which I am told he has for long maintained in the Australian Workers Union and, in the case of other trade unionists, individual little men who have incurred his displeasure. Again, as I say, I am not terrified, but I, as a member of this House, am somewhat fortunately placed. Other little, smaller men, people for whom we should have consideration - we should have consideration for the little men in the community - deserve our help and our support. They should have some kind of protection against the dictatorial trade union secretary blackmailer, the bully, the man who maintains the ring of informers and pimps.

I know that there is dirt in trade union politics. The Minister in his previous capacity had often drawn attention to it. I think some of the things he said about dirt in his own union, the AWU, well, they would be very vehement comments and I do not intend to repeat them in this House, but they are things which the Minister himself has said. He himself stands as witness to the corruption and dirt in trade union politics. I regard the Minister as being a political schizo in many respects. Very often his is a both benign and fatherly approach; his hair is almost as white as mine and he has that nice, kindly air. I would not like to think that this is always a calculated insincerity on bis part; I would like to take a kinder view of his character - that he is a political schizo and a kind of Jekyll and Hyde, that sometimes he is genuinely benign and sometimes he is not.

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