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Tuesday, 16 November 1976


Mr BAUME (Macarthur) -The problem that concerns me tonight in the adjournment debate is the question of workers representation on boards. This is a matter that in theory I have supported in the past. I believe that employees should be given the right to be involved in and to have an understanding of what corporations, including public corporations, are doing. There is no doubt that one of the major problems we face in Australia at the moment is a lack of understanding and unity of purpose between management and worker. Apparently many union leaders who appear to be able to influence employees have a deliberate determination not to understand what corporations, including publicly owned or government owned corporations, are all about. It way well be that the only way of extending that understanding is, in fact, to encourage workers to have representatives on those boards.

We have seen in the last week or so one unfortunate consequence of this very good theoretical proposition. That unfortunate consequence occurred because a representative of the union was a member of the board of an Australian governmental commission. That union representative encouraged the commission to take action which, in fact, was not in the best interests of either the Government of the people of Australia. I refer to Mr Slater's role as a commissioner of the Australian Postal Commission. It strikes me that there is a real conflict of interest when a union acts illegally against the instructions of a court and takes on the Postal Commission. There is a representative of that union on the Postal Commission encouraging it at the time, apparently, to take a view which was, I suggest, a disgraceful one. That Commission had to be instructed by this Government to take certain action. It so happens that amendments that were made in the Senate to the Bill establishing the Commission enabled the Government to give that kind of instruction. I want to stress to the House that had the Senate not amended that Labor Government legislation, there would have been no opportunity for the disgraceful lack of action on the part of the Australian Postal Commission to have been corrected in the public interest by the Government.

I suggest that this does raise a serious matter of principle concerning conflict of interest between the pressures upon a union or worker representative actually sitting on the board of a corporation like the Australian Postal Commission. I think that it probably puts him in an unfair position. Perhaps there is another way out of the problem. Perhaps the management of the Commission could also be represented on the union executive. In a kind of tit for tat situation it too could be privy to what the union executive was all about and could endeavour to suborn them away from what the rest of the union executive might feel to be its rightful interest. But there is no doubt that the activities of Mr Slater were clearly involving him in a conflict of interest.

Of course, that raises an interesting question about Mr Marius Webb being a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I must say that Mr Webb has done a very good job as a Commissioner. Certainly my former colleagues in the ABC have a high regard for him and are pleased that there is such a commissioner. Nevertheless, I raise this general question: Is there, in fact, an impossible conflict of interest as was shown in the Slater affair involving the Australian Postal Commission? In that case, the union representative was in a conflict situation. He was a representative on the Commission when his union was in direct and in this case illegal conflict with it I believe that such a situation raises serious problems. I believe that the Government should look at the whole question of union representations on corporation boards controlled by it, particularly when they are directly in conflict.







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