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Wednesday, 3 November 1976


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I doubt that the Committee has ever been treated to a more ill-informed dissertation on what trade unions and this amendment are all about than we have just heard from the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil). I take issue with the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), who proclaimed across the table to the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) that this matter was known to the community before today. To my knowledge- I keep a very close ear to the ground- I heard a whisper of this yesterday from an honourable senator. Today it was only when the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) was being debated that this amendment was distributed to me. If honourable members care to read my speech in Hansard tomorrow they will see that I made mention of an amendment which was laid on the table while I was speaking. I said that I did not have time to consider it or understand it. That is the sort of notice that was given.

The honourable member for St George made great play about the collegiate system being very democratic. The honourable gentleman has been quite active in the Parliament since he has been here. Whether he has been successful is another matter. I read from page 1657 of Hansard of Wednesday, 28 April 1976 where a petition was presented to the Parliament by the honourable member for St George. It states:

Trade Union Movement: Compulsory Voting

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That whereas the Democratic control of organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is essential to a sound system of industrial relations; and whereas Democratic control can only be guaranteed by the opportunity for all rank and file members of organisations to vote in elections for all officials and all Committees of Management and whereas some forces within the Trade Union movement are attempting to deny rank and file members the right to vote in all Union elections;-

I hope the honourable member is listening. The petition continues:

Your petitioners humbly pray -

The words are repeated- that the members in Parliament assembled -

The honourable member is one of those members- will take steps to:

1.   Preserve Democracy in Trade Unions by guaranteeing the right of all members to participate in rank and file ballots for officials and Committees of Management.

2.   Resist the pressures from those elements in the Trade Union Movement seeking to deny members the right to vote.

He is speaking of the National Civic Council, I guess. The petition further states:

3.   Ensure the widest participation in Union ballots by making voting compulsory in union elections.

4.   Resist the re-introduction of the undemocratic collegiate system of union elections, which enables control and manipulation by minority and extremist elements.

This is a petition which the honourable member supported in the Parliament. It concludes:

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.

Mr Chairman,have you ever seen such an exhibition of hypocrisy, such a turnaround by any honourable member in the Parliament who has presented a petition like that and then addresses the Parliament for 10 minutes in a complete denial of the petition? The honourable member said that the Australian Labor Party created the difficulty because it brought about rank and file elections. He said that a member must first be elected to the college. The honourable member overlooks the amendment. The Bill states that people elected to office shall be elected by and from the college. That is stated in clause 3. The amendment does not state that at all. It moves away from that position. It talks about people being elected by the college, 1 5 per cent of whom are eligible to stand but they are not elected by the rank and file who are eligible to vote. If that means that 100 per cent of the college is elected by the rank and file then I am surprised that the honourable member, who I understand is a practitioner in law, does not understand the words and the language. Clearly he does not understand.

He said that there are too many trade -unions. I could not agree more. That was probably the only sensible thing he said in 10 minutes. There are too many trade unions in Australia, and there are any number of trade unionists who will agree with that. But when the Labor Party, during its term of office, endeavoured to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, who was it who frustrated that attempt to make it easier for unions to amalgamate? I will tell the Committee who it was. It was the then Opposition- the Liberal Party and National Country Party senators, who threw it out. They said that they did not want unions to amalgamate. Now we have a new breed of Liberal member in the House who tells us that unions should amalgamate. I wish he had been here before. The honourable member also used the hoary old argument about 1.8 per cent of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union membership electing Mr Scott as the Federal president of the union. Does the honourable member realise that with the introduction of the collegiate system it will be not 1.8 per cent of the membership which will elect the officers of the union but something like .0008 per cent of the membership?

I opposed the initial wording of this clause of the Bill and the amendment does nothing to improve it. In fact, it makes it worse. The Bill reinforces an already undemocratic position, because it moves away from rank and file elections and moves to a collegiate system. An argument has been put that the collegiate system gives a fair go to the smaller States. It was said that if somebody from a smaller State wanted to run for office he would face an enormous postal bill because he would have to contact every union member. Does anybody in this chamber seriously believe that to become the Federal secretary of a union in Australia a man simply picks himself up off the floor and nominates ibr the position? Of course nobody believes that. Government members say it because it sounds good. They know in their hearts that it is not true. They know in their hearts that if somebody is going to stand for a senior position in any organisation in Australia, quite apart from the trade unions, he does not pick himself up off the floor and nominate. He is already known within the organisation; he has already done the background work which brings him to a position where he will be recognised. Unless he has done that, he can spend as much money as he likes on postal bills but he will have little hope of success, because the human mind just does not work in that way.

So away with all of this nonsense. The collegiate system does not preserve the rights of the smaller States. All that it does is take away from the rank and file members their right to cast thenvotes directly. They have to do that second hand. They have to vote to elect somebody whom they may or may not be able to trust when he casts his vote. It seems to me that that will not work. It is wrong, and it has been wrong in the past. It did not work very well then. As the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) said in the petition that he presented to the House, it is open to manipulation. Of course it is, and in this area when one is dealing with the members of the National Civic Council one is dealing with the greatest manipulators in the world. We always come back to John Peter Maynes. We always come back to the NCC. Without the influence of this small, unrepresentative, undemocratic, and I might say un-Australian group, there would be no need for this amendment to come forward. It was thrust upon the Government.

I know that the Minister is embarrassed. One can see, by looking at him, that he is embarrassed. His face was scarlet when he was challenged with this by the honourable member for Gellibrand, and now he is trying to laugh it off to cover up his embarrassment. He knows that this position was thrust upon him by people for whom he does not have very much time; but he also knows that without their support he might not remain the member for Corangamite. He wants to remain the member for Corangamite because he likes being a Minister; but that will pertain only until the next election. It is a great pity that the Government has decided to use its brutal weight of numbers in this place and in another place to thrust this provision upon trade unions without any consultation at all between the Minister and the trade unions. Consultation went on for months with John Peter Maynes, but with nobody else. Not even the Federal Council of the Federated Clerks Union was consulted, and neither was the ACTU nor any of the other peak union councils. This provision is being thrust upon the rank and file members of unions. If they decline to accept it, then this Government has only itself to blame.







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