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Wednesday, 3 November 1976

Mr YOUNG (Port Adelaide) -Firstly let me say what a delight it is eventually to break through the gag and be able to speak. This is the most abortive debate we have had this year. We are debating amendments which were introduced into this House at half past five this afternoon and which even members of the Government parties have not seen, as was expressed by the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr) who in his honesty was prepared to tell the Parliament that he had not seen the previous amendment which was moved by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). In addition we find that the Government is very anxious to gag this debate. Why is it so anxious to gag the debate? Why was the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations dragged away by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) halfway through the debate? Why do we need to provide for the period of 2 years? What has happened between the promises being made at the election in 1975 and again in early 1976 and now when we have reached the debate of this matter in the House? What has occurred to change the Government's mind from wanting no collegiate system but a straight rank and file ballot, a one-tier system, to this latest amendment introduced in the House at half past five which provides for more tiers in the system than were in the Godfather's wedding cake?

The unbelievable system the Government is introducing means that 1 5 per cent of the collegiate need no longer be elected by the rank and file after they have been elected once. Any political party in this country operating under that system could have ruled Australia for ever if it had 15 per cent at the start. Why is it? Why has the Government changed its mind on no fewer than 2 occasions on this important Bill? The unions have been preparing to change their registered rules to provide for a direct rank and file ballot where that was not in force prior to the Bill which was introduced by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) 3 years ago. Now the Government has changed its mind and we have the audacity of the Minister coming in here and telling us that the reason he is doing this, the reason he has found it so important to introduce an amendment at half past five which no one else in the world had seen, was that the provision as it stands in the Bill might affect the efficiency of the unions. Which unions? Who asked for it? No names are given. No unions were told of what was to occur. Members of the largest organisation in Australia, the trade union movement, unless they are listening to the radio, do not know what is going on in this Parliament in relation to the laws that are to affect their wellbeing.

It is no fluke that these laws are being changed because the reason for it goes beyond the unfortunate Minister who has been caught with the responsibility of presenting this legislation to Parliament. It goes back to a very old relationship in Australia of which honourable members opposite ought to be made aware. It goes back to a long-standing friendly relationship between the present Prime Minister and the Chairman of the National Civic Council, Mr B. A. Santamaria. There can be no doubt of the visits which Mr Fraser has made to Mr Santamaria 's home. On all the occasions they have met these matters have been discussed, and the trade union movement is now asked to change its rules over the next 2 years to fit in with the wishes of that ilk. It is no fluke. Just look at the honourable members opposite who have spoken. They are not the senior politicians on the Government side; all the junior canaries have been put up. The honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) put forward his views on this Bill. He is a solicitor, a member of the second strongest union in Australia after the doctors. The patron saint of conscription told us about justice and the trade unions. The honourable member for Swan (Mr Martyr) has been anxious to speak in this debate. He left the Democratic Labor Party 6 months before the last election.

It is no fluke that these people are associating themselves with this move to try to strangle rank and file control of the trade union movement. It is not those of us who have had experience in trade unions who are asking for a collegiate system. It is not those of us who have spent our lives working in trade unions who are saying: 'Let a small group at the top run the unions'. It is the Government. I would not be surprised if the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) became associated with this amendment because it is such a ratbag scheme. Look at some of the arguments put forward for changing the system.

The Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs told us that the experienced management of a union might be affected if the general secretary of that union had to spend time mixing with the rank and file instead of going about his union business. Was not the promise made by this Government that it would give the rank and file greater control? Are we not seeking legislation which will give the rank and file control of the unions? What is the Government doing by this amendment? In his one minute speech, the Minister said: 'Let us not interfere with the bureaucratic handling of a union by making its general secretary answerable to the rank and file'. The Government is seeking to manipulate the trade union movement. This amendment, as I said, was introduced at 5.30 this afternoon without any consideration at all. The Government is acting according to the whims of one or two trade union secretaries who have told it that their positions could be in danger. The political position of those 2 trade union secretaries is closer to the Liberal and National Country Parties and the Australian Democratic Labor Party than it is to the Australian Labor Party.

I issue this warning to the Liberal Party: For 20 years, we defied the cancerous effect of the DLP in the Australian Labor Party. For 20 years, we defied the DLP attempt to take over the Australian Labor Party. We have now seen the demise of the DLP as a political force. I am telling the Liberal Party now that what the DLP and the National Civic Council have decided to do is to take over the Liberal Party. That is in effect what will occur. We can see that in some of those who have been elected to this Parliament. We can see it in the legislation introduced by this Government. We can see it expressed in the speeches delivered by Ministers of this Government. We can see that, having seen that they cannot take over the Australian Labor Party, the DLP and the National Civic Council have now set their sights on increasing their influence in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party will suffer as a result of this action. It will find that it will receive less support because it is bending backwards to assist the DLP and the NCC.

Let me reiterate what I said about the 15 per cent provision in this amendment. The Minister has passed over this aspect as not being terribly important. Under this system, a union will be able to determine what size college it will have. Any union can decide that it will have 2 delegates to its college from New South Wales, with a union membership of 20 000, and 4 delegates from its Tasmanian branch, with only 2000 members. This is the result of the decision of the Government to introduce this legislation. In the example I have given, the members from the smaller States will determine who is to be the general secretary of the union. What the Government is doing by this legislation- it is a wonder that the National Country Party did not think of it- is jerrymandering trade union ballots by allowing unions themselves to determine how a college is made up. What will be the position if a union decides that it will have a college of 100 members throughout Australia? Of that number, 15 members will not need to be elected. I ask honourable members to imagine the faction that might have control of those 15 votes. It would rule the union.

In spite of all the rhetoric from the Government and all the nonsense that we have heard, the Government will find that what it proposes to do now will turn the clock back so that a trade union, no matter who is in charge of it, will be able to devise a system by which those in control will never be out of power. The Government should not point the finger of accusation at the Labor Party, at the trade unions or at anybody outside this Parliament when that situation occurs. The finger should be pointed at the 91 Government members in this chamber, and especially the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and the Prime Minister. Those two thought up the idea. The other 89 Government members in this chamber do not know anything about what is proposed, and I feel sorry for them.

What the Government is doing through this proposal is saying to the trade unions: 'Do whatever you like. Manipulate the system. Go as far as you want to go'. The Government now has provided to those controlling trade unions a system under which they cannot be put out of power. They are not answerable to the rank and file member. The system under which I, as a member of my union, voted to elect a general secretary of that union, irrespective of the part of the country in which I worked, is now gone. The Australian Workers Union can set up its collegiate system at its annual convention; it can elect Frank Mitchell, its general secretary, under its collegiate system and all the shearers, rural workers and other members of that union throughout this country no longer will have a vote as to who will be the general secretary of that union. Government members do not even know what they are doing. How stupid can they be? They should look again at the amendment. The controlled vote of one faction of a trade union will now be 15 per cent of the total college. I ask the Government to withdraw this amendment, to refer it to the Government members employment and industrial relations committee for consideration and to come back to this chamber with something sensible so that the unions may know what will happen as a result of this Government's actions.

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