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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2105


Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - Like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), I shall be brief in my remarks. I shall be brief mainly because time is wanted for the discussion of the politically important Bills which have been introduced into this House at the last moment, although I do not think that this Bill is of itself unimportant. I was glad that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) spoke in general terms in the introductory part of his speech because it is the general picture rather than the details that I think should be brought to the attention of this House. I support the concept of the International Labour Organisation, but I think that the Government should be made aware of the obligations it has undertaken in respect to the ILO and realise that it may be rushing in and inadvisedly taking snap decisions the implications of which are not always apparent.

That was most evident in the debate on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in this House recently. It was pointed out during that debate that the Government had ratified conventions 87 and 98 and that they were binding on Australia. I am perfectly well aware of the constitutional position. The treaty making powers of the Government were discussed long ago in the Goya Henry case. Although there is some doubt about the ambit of those powers it is quite apparent that they extend to regulating the terms of any Act which this Parliament may validly make. I say that because I must at this stage recall to the attention of the House the debate which is reported at page 1810 of Hansard of 8th May this year. I regret to say that the Minister, in speaking of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, displayed a lamentable ignorance of constitutional and legal principles. He said something in this House which was wrong and showed that he did not understand the situation. He said: . . there is no constitutional power to write into the Conciliation and Arbitration Act any international obligations under conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

This is wrong in law and only an inexperienced and ignorant Minister could have said something along those lines. I am afraid that we have to admit now that we have a new Minister who does not always understand the implications of what he is doing. In respect of Australia he has undertaken an obligation which is binding in law insofar as it applies to any Act which this Commonwealth Parliament itself may validly make. 1 am, as I have said, well aware of the implications of the Goya Henry case and subsequent cases which have followed from it, in regard to the limitations of the Commonwealth Government's treaty-making power. But it is surely obvious that the treaty-making power extends to any matter in which the Commonwealth Government may itself validly pass a law. Therefore, the obligations which we have undertaken under Convention 87 of the ILO - obligations which may go to the very root of our whole industrial arbitration system - are obligations which, whether the Minister likes it or not by reason of the thing which he has inadvisedly and lightly done, are already binding on the Commonwealth. He has undertaken obligations on behalf of Australia which he will find very difficult to carry out. Those obligations are already legally binding. He has signed Australia's name to those obligations. I think there will follow from this consequences which he may not like and which he did not intend, but the legal commitment has already been made. I should like the Minister to rethink for a moment what the position is in international law.

There Is only one other observation I should like to make. In general, the conventions of the ILO are directed towards the wage level and the conditions of employment level which are part of the wage structure. They are quite rightly directed towards such things as freedom of association, safety, hours of work, conditions of work and things of this character because the members of that Organisation desire, one against the other, to be protected against the consequences of sweated labour. In the past it may be that these things were not of such immediate application because the countries where wages were low were also the countries where there were very few technological advances and so the low wages were counterbalanced by industrial inefficiency. This is no longer true. For example, in countries such as Communist China, there are industries which technologically are just as efficient as any industry in Australia or the United States of America, perhaps not overall, but in the smaller areas where these industries - for example, the textile industry - apply principles which they have imported from overseas.

In those industries, because of the lower wages and the sweated employees - the people who are being exploited and victimised by their totalitarian states because they have no real freedom of association - the products can be produced at minimal cost. When those products are exported and come into competition with goods made in Australia, one of two things must happen: Either the goods will be sold at low rates and therefore the product of cheap labour with efficient machinery will be at unfair competition with the goods produced in Australia or, alternatively, their prices will be raised. In that case we will be condoning the sweating and exploitation of Chinese labour by the Chinese communist state. Surely this is something which we would not want to happen. This is the kind of thing for which the ILO was founded and one would hope that Australia's representatives in the ILO, and elsewhere, would be vigilant to see that this kind of thing does not occur.

At the moment, for example, we have a delegation in Communist China looking at its industries. I put it to the Government that the first thing it should be asking that delegation to do is to look at the wage level in these competing industries where industrial efficiency occurs to see how it compares with the Australian wage level. I speak not only of money wages but also of the conditions that go with them, the way in which work is organised, the industrial limitations of work, the hours of work and the conditions that go with employment. The delegation should look at the whole of the wage structure in its total context. If it turns out that there is sweated labour, by Australian standards, in these industries where there is imported from overseas the technological efficiency of our industries, we should take steps to see that the products of such industries are not imported into Australia because either we should protect the Australian workmen or, alternatively, if we have any international obligations at all, they include the international obligation to assist in protecting the Chinese worker against exploitation by his own state machine.

In Australia and in other countries such as the United Kingdom or the United States of America, there is freedom to organise, freedom to come together and freedom of discussion. All these things are good and we want them because they are part of our society. They bring great social advantages which we want to preserve but, at the same time, we must realise that those freedoms which we enjoy impose on us economic costs. I believe that the social advantages outweigh the economic costs, and I make that clear. If we are to trade overseas we have to protect our own social advantages against those overseas who economically are cheating and black legging - call it what you like. We must have some measure of protection against them. It is not enough to say: 'Let them put their prices up'. That type of protection simply means that we are condoning the sweating of labour overseas for the benefit of the totalitarian states. The totalitarian states, which are organised in a socialistic way, are able to sweat labour. This is the great secret of the communists. The communists have taken a feature which Lenin always denounced as being so bad in capitalist society and they have applied it in reverse, because they exploit their workers for the benefit of the totalitarian, socialist state. It is Leninism but it is Leninism in reverse. This is what is happening in Russia today. This is what is happening in Communist China today. It is what will happen in every socialist state. One thing we have to do is protect the Australian worker against unfair competition, organised from socialist states, against his own freer way of life. Of course he has the social advantages of freedom. They are very real advantages, and I assert that they are greater than the economic penalties that we pay for them. But we do pay economic penalties for social advantages, and because we pay these economic penalties we have to protect our Australian workmen. This is our responsibility here. We have to protect our Australian workmen from the blacklegs overseas, whether they be willing blacklegs or whether they be, as I think they are, the unfortunate slaves of their overseas socialist systems. But whatever it is, whichever way we. look at it, it is our business to protect the Australian worker.







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