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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2641

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock -The honourable member for Melbourne commented that the honourable member for La Trobe was speaking to the Minister. I think the House is prepared to accept what the honourable member for La Trobe has said and that he was talking to the Minister about a completely different matter. The honourable member for Melbourne should continue his remarks on the Bill.

Mr INNES - We get a little testy about these things but if honourable members opposite give it they also should take it. The substance of many of the matters can be determined only by a properly constituted government inquiry. We should not shy away from it. There are many skeletons in the closet but the Government has to front up to the situation eventually. The matter of administrative efficiency, for example, is one that we ought to consider when looking at the future of the people on the island. Whether we are speaking in terms of the immediate future or the next 20 years that the deposits will be mined, or even in the event that the people elect to stay there, these matters are still our responsibility. The matter of administrative efficiency involves the organisational structure under which the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the British Phosphate Commission run. There is a sharp difference between the two. The people on Nauru have done remarkably well. They have taken steps to organise themselves and to protect themselves and in that way their future is secure.

In regard to Christmas Island, however, there has been a sleight of hand trick played on the people and a secretive attitude has been adopted so that we cannot really get to the gist of what is going on there in respect of profits, the exploitation that is rife on the island with people duping individuals and playing Malays against Singaporeans or whatever labour is available, with others putting their fingers in the bickie barrel and with inspectors being charged with breaches of the award. These matters now are out in the open. If for the next 20 years we are to have that sort of administration it is high time we had an inquiry into it. If we are to have protection for Australian workers against exploitation by people who breach the award deliberately to the extent that they steal money from individuals, it is high time we considered our position. We have to consider what we are to do during the next 20 years. We have to consider the near future also in determining what we should do from here on.

Mr Shipton - Are you going there?

Mr INNES - I would not send the honourable member to look after the workers; he would look after the Phosphate Commission instead. The organisational structure of the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and of the other company I have referred to have remained virtually unchanged and they have been doing exactly the same things for almost 30 years. An inquiry could bring new ideas and methods to light and, depending on its terms of reference, could plot a program for the progress of Christmas Island.

There is the related matter of portability. Why has the small island of Nauru found phosphate mining a much more profitable venture than Christmas Island? Per head of population there is no comparison for Nauru is one of the world's richest communities. There is investment in that country amounting to millions of dollars. It has secured its future. But why should the Christmas Islanders be treated differently? Why should they not be able to secure their future? Of course, we really do not know whether the Christmas Island Phosphate Commission and the British Phosphate Commission have not done as well out of Christmas Island phosphate as the

Nauruan people have done out of Nauruan phosphate. The whole financial operation of those commissions is shrouded in secrecy. That is one of the problems. If an inquiry is justifiable on no other grounds it is certainly justifiable on that one. I believe that the Parliament should know just what is going on. The whole deal ought to be unfolded here. We all ought to know what is going on and who is reaping the benefit of the exploitation of which I have made mention.

Mr Giles - What about the Australian farmers?

Mr INNES -One of the Deputy Speakers made reference to what we should let the Parliament know. I do not think that he would have any doubts about this being an issue that ought to be debated here. If the people of Christmas Island, in relation to whom we are putting our name to an agreement, are being taken for a ride and exploited is it not right and proper that that should be highlighted here so that we can take whatever action is appropriate in their interests?

Mr Giles - What about the interests of the Australian farmer?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!I suggest that interjections cease. I also suggest that the honourable member for Melbourne not answer any interjections.

Mr INNES - I am sure that we would be in a better position to determine the island's future if we were to carry out that sort of general inquiry. While this mysterious veil of secrecy enfolds the island we are really in no position to do other than to make inspired guesses. I do not believe that this Parliament ought to act on inspired guesses. We know on whom honourable members opposite rely for support at election times and for whom they carry out wishes and determinations. Their policies reek of the philosophies of vested interests in this country. It is no problem for them to make decisions on that basis. But we on this side of the House believe that justice not only should be done but also should be seen to be done. For those reasons we ought to know the facts.

Thirdly, an inquiry needs to be held into management-worker relations, which is the very point that I made earlier. One of the most important periods for which we are to take responsibility in relation to the implementation of this agreement is the period during which the workers are going to be at the mercy of the individuals who run the Christmas Island phosphate operations.

Mr Street - That is nonsense, Ted, and you know it.

Mr INNES -The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations says that it is nonsense. I say that it is not nonsense. There is a lot of evidence to support my contention that it is not nonsense. If the Minister is so confident about the bona fides of the management I challenge him to answer this question: Why is action being taken against the management for fleecing the workers on the Island and for not meeting its commitments under the award? Does the Minister think that that is an appropriate act by an honest employer?

Mr Street - Why did your Government not appoint an inquiry?

Mr INNES -If that is not the case -

Mr Street - Why did you not do something about it?

Mr INNES - We were in and out of this place like a fiddler's elbow fighting elections as a result of the pressure that was applied by the Minister and his mates in another place.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Melbourne that somebody else will be in and out of this place like a fiddler's elbow in a moment.

Mr INNES - I hope you have taken note of the fact that I was provoked by the Minister.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! After my earlier comments the Minister started it all over again. If the Minister and the honourable member for Melbourne want to have a private argument they can go outside and have it after the House has finished debating this Bill.

Mr INNES -The standard of the management-worker relations there is dubious. We know little more than that about the situation. We know that the workers felt sufficiently frustrated to give the Minister a very stormy meeting when he visited the island last April. But we need to know the ins and outs of the volatile labour relations. An inquiry could ascertain why the commissions have refused even to discuss the logs of claims presented by the union, although the claims have never been denied. We need to know whether International Labour Organisation conventions are being disregarded by the British Phosphate Commission. We need to know more about the British Phosphate Commission's agency arrangements with Guthrie Bousteads and Co. of Singapore to ensure that the arrangements are equitable and that the recruitment procedures being used by Guthrie Bousteads and Co. are in conformity with ILO conventions. Is that not the Minister's responsibility? Does he think that that is something to be laughed at. An inquiry could look into the adequacy of the facilities. The air services and the banking facilities, for instance, are frequently the target of criticism.

Finally, a number of sundry issues might properly be included within such an inquiry's terms of reference. There have been reports that the British Phosphate Commission has continued to bring to Australia phosphate which contains high cadmium contamination and which the Japanese refused to accept some 5 years ago. There is agitation to have the financial details of the British Phosphate Commission's trade store on Christmas Island investigated and the results of the investigation made available to interested parties. What is there to hide? Why should we not have a look at this situation if we are going to take the terms of this agreement unto ourselves? The honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) would charge about $2.80 to haunt a house. The pulling of faces like those he is pulling now is probably his best performance so far. If he does not understand what it means to endeavour properly and adequately to protect workers when there is a dire need to do so, I will once again bow to your wishes, Mr Deputy Speaker, and discuss the matter with him later. I can explain in a moment just exactly what it is all about.

The people of Christmas Island are being exploited. Those people, who are of different nationalities, are played one against the other. There is a difference between the pay of Europeans and that of the other nationalities who do not have the organised strength and the industrial muscle to protect themselves. Does the honourable member for Denison not think that it is our responsibility to ensure that that is done? The honourable member nods his acquiescence. I am very pleased that he does. We cannot move out just by the simple negotiation and signing of an agreement. The fine words contained in the agreement may be well principled. I agree that it is a well principled agreement. That is why we support the general principle. But it is another thing to police it.

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has the same problems in relation to the general situation concerning industrial affairs in this country. The Government employs a number of arbitration agents to carry out the duty of ensuring that people are not exploited, although it cut down on the Budget provision for them and they have not been able to do their work properly. If they are not able to do it properly here, how the devil will they be able to do it in a place where individuals are open to that sort of exploitation? I ask the Minister to answer that question.

Mr Street -I will.

Mr INNES - What is the Minister going to do about it? I also ask the Government to inquire into the activities of the commissions. Is the Minister going to send arbitration inspectors there regularly to ensure that the terms of the ILO conventions are being carried out? These matters should be investigated by a wide-ranging Government inquiry. I know that the Minister likes everthing to be peaceful and that he regards those who raise these matters as ungrateful stirrers or dole bludgers- one can take one's pickbut there seems to be substance in them and they seem to merit investigation. I urge the Government to act accordingly. In the meantime, with all the misgivings to which I have made reference, the Opposition accepts the Bill and wishes it a speedy passage.

Mr Street

Mr INNES -If the Minister laughs at the plight of the people on Christmas Island and if he turns his back on a public investigation he is acting as weakly as he normally does. I put this proposition to the Minister in strong terms: Whilst the Bill will be passed with the concurrence of the Opposition, he should stand up on the basis of principle and put forward a proposition for an open investigation and thereby protect the people of Christmas Island in the immediate future and until the phosphate runs out, and after that if they want to stay there.

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