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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) -This Bill obviously is not a contentious one. The honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) stated that the Opposition supports it. I think everybody in the Parliament realises the inevitability of extending the temporary provisions until the middle of next year. The gutsy part of the debate concerns the Government's intentions as expressed in the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the possible reactions of the parties involved on the waterfront to the negotiations that will take place over the next 6 months. I wish the Minister and the Government well in these negotiations. It is almost a cliche now to say that the waterfront industry in Australia is unique in character, origin and history in that traditionally it has had to have a temporary work force because of the fluctuations in the demand for labour on the waterfront from day to day. One day three or four ships requiring just a few waterside workers might be berthed in a port like Melbourne. The next day dozens of ships might be tied up in the port with other ships waiting in the bay, and every available man and then some will be needed. It is a unique industry, with an uneven demand for labour.

I pay the Minister an enormous tribute for the outstanding success that I believe he has achieved in a short period. It is unique also to see a Liberal Minister of the Crown sitting down with the Secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia at several meetings, having fruitful, progressive and helpful discussions and coming to decisions which, by the look of it, both parties will honour. The Minister has certainly achieved other things but that to me is a remarkable achievement and shows the character of the Minister and how he is held in the utmost respect in the industries over which he has control. Notwithstanding that he will need- I am sure he will agree- a lot of luck, patience and inspiration before the end of June next year to bring off something that will give this industry some stability.

This is not the time for union bashing. I am one of the people who believes that that is against the interests of this country at the moment. In discussing the waterfront I think it is good to try to find out why it is traditionally so militant and why it is an area in which trade union activity over the years has always been one of disputation, zeal, heat and bitterness. This is not only unique to Australia. The waterfront industries all over the world are essentially like that. I have done a fair bit of study ofthe history of the Australian waterfront. It is interesting to note, when one looks at the bitterness which has existed there and which, to some extent, still exists there, why militants or communists are elected by the men to fill positions. One does not have to go back very far to recall the days when the employers on the waterfront behaved monstrously. I have read ghastly stories, when unemployment was very high- something like 25 per cent to 30 per cent- of employers, with their top hats and striped pants, standing up on the balconies when 200 men were waiting down below for a day's work so that they could feed their families. The top-hatted employers in between each sip of champagne would, just for fun, throw some silver or nickel tokens down in the dust. There would be a resultant brawl amongst these hungry, workless men. They would fight each other like animals to grab a token which would entitle them to a day's pay so that they could feed their families. This was of much amusement to the employers. That is a story which shows some of the industrial history on the waterfront. I inject that into the debate for those of us in this Parliament and for the people outside who sometimes become irritated with the behaviour of a union like that on the waterfront.

That kind of assault on human dignity and human liberties that occurred in this industry years ago is not forgotten easily. It is handed down from father to son; the stories still circulate. But the bitterness is there. I believe that sometimes if those of us in control of these sorts of things could understand why there is bitterness and why there is an unreasonable attitude on behalf of the Waterside Workers Federationit has been unreasonable on many occasions- it would put us in a better position of understanding. It is a militant union and that has brought its own problems. I cannot say anything more favourable about the employers on the waterfront. If I wanted to be mischievous I could say something much less favourable about them. They have a very sorry history. It is not confined just to the kind of incident which I have related. They seem to have adopted the attitude at times of utter irresponsibility.

Another cliche needs to be stated. In a nation like Australia which relies so heavily on imports and exports with virtually everything coming in or going out of the country by ship, we are totally reliant on the people who employ the labour to load and unload the ships and on the people who actually do the task. I have been critical of the Association of Employees of Waterside Labour and its confreres in previous times. They have been compliant even to the point of being passive in irresponsibly increasing costs on the Australian waterfront without giving any consideration at all to the people who are affected by actions taken on the waterfront, namely every citizen in Australia. No matter whether you are an importer or an exporter or just an ordinary person going to the supermarket to buy your goods your standard of living is affected by the behaviour of the waterside unions.

Let me give one example of how the Australian waterfront is as bad as, if not worse than, most of the world. I very seldom extol the case of the apple growers of Australia and particularly of the Shepparton area in this House. I leave that to more competent colleagues like my friend the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd). Let me give the facts on exporting a case of apples from Shepparton to London. Goodness knows it is hard enough to sell a case of Australian apples in London now. For every dollar spent on carting a case of apples from Shepparton to London 60c is spent on getting the apples from Shepparton to the hold in the ship at Port Melbourne. I do not think anybody can justify that as a fair deal. It is not only the apple growers who suffer over a thing like that; every person in Australia suffers. If we cannot sell our exports and if our balance of payment position deteriorates we are brought to a situation which, among other things, demands devaluation and a lowering of the standard of living of Australians. It is a very important industry.

The second reading speech of the Minister furthers his declaration of 6 May. To pinch the beautiful phrase of my friend the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly), the Government is now going to get out of back seat driving in the stevedoring industry. We have been in the back seat for a long time. We have meddled in the affairs of this industry, with the Australian Stevedoring Industry Association and with many other authorities. As the Minister said on 6 May, provided certain things happen the Government will get to hell out of the area completely and allow the industry to be administered by the labour force and by the employers. Again, that is a monumental decision. I wish the Minister luck in that undertaking because the behaviour of the 2 parties in the past, for the reasons I have given, does not give much hope for success. But I do wish him luck.

I digress for a moment to inject a little philosophy concerning the trade union movement generally. As I said, I most certainly will not engage in union bashing. As chairman of the Government members' Industrial Relations Committee I have asked the question which I will pose shortly of hundreds of people and I have never got an answer. Recently I was in the United States and, amongst other things, was studying the industrial relations framework in that country. At that point, the motor vehicle workers had concluded a deal with their bosses. As honourable members will be aware, the conciliation and arbitration system that we have does not exist in America. Every 3 years they have a drag- 'em-out-and-kick- 'em-all fight about the wages and conditions for the next 3 years. They reach agreement. When I was there, the motor vehicle workers and their employers had just reached such an agreement. I asked around and said: 'Will the union stick to its word and will the employer stick to its word?'. I was treated as though that was a stupid question. The answer to it was: 'Of course they will'. It is virtually unknown in the United States for a union or an employer to break such an agreement. I thought that in Australia this is one of the areas in which we behave quite strangely. Despite our attempt sometimes to be trendy, I would have thought that Australians of all people are a law abiding people. We are a law and order people. Australians suffer, more than anything else, from the instructions of authority. The decision of an umpire to an Australian is almost sacred- as anyone would testify at the Melbourne cricket ground any winter afternoon.

Mr Scholes -You would hear 100 000 boos.

Mr CHIPP - The spectators might disagree with the decision of the umpire but they stick to it. No one goes out onto the field and takes over the game as sometimes occurs in banana republics. Yet the Australian public allows a union or an employer but particularly unions- I think I am being fair here- to make an agreement today, have it arbitrated on and the very next day or week break it. Nobody is outraged and nobody says that it is not fair play and that the umpire's decision is not being respected. The question I am asking is: Why does this happen in Australia? Is it because of our British heritage? Is it because we are too easy going? We do not encounter that sort of behaviour anywhere else. We condemn anarchy- sometimes too quicklyfor example, if a few students march through the streets or kick up a fuss at a university. If people do not obey the law the Australian public is very quick to condemn them. Yet we have industrial law being broken with equanimity and nobody seems to object. I do not know the answer to the question I posed earlier. Why are we so easy going in relation to this matter in Australia? I think that this is an interesting philosophical study which honourable members on both sides of the House ought to look at because whether one is a member of the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, one does not want strikes. We do not want disputation because we all know that that hurts everybody. It hurts the worker and it hurts the community because productivity is lessened. I have not been able to get an answer to the simple question of why this happens in Australia. I would be very grateful if anyone could enlighten me.

I should like to have the indulgence of the House to deal with another piece of philosophy that is not directly associated to the Bill but which, I think, is relevant to it. I am sorry that the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) did not commend the Minister on this point, but I think that the Minister very wisely is not opting for a confrontation with the Waterside Workers Federation by forcing redundancy. He will do it- if I can describe it in cynical terms- by means of a golden handshake. How golden the handshake will be has yet to be determined after discussion. The fact is that 1200 men in the industry now are doing absolutely nothing and being paid for it. They are being paid in total the amount of $400,000 a week or $20m a year- not by the employers but by us. The Australian public is paying that many men to do nothing. It is not the fault of the 1200 men. It is the fault of the crazy system which applies to the waterfront. They have to be retired in a graceful and peaceful way that will not cause confrontation.

I again wish the Minister and his advisers great luck in handling those negotiations. As chairman of the Industrial Relations Committee of the Government, I commend the secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation, Mr FitzGibbon, for the patience and tolerance he has shown so far in these negotiations. I hope that he continues to display that patience and tolerance in the future because this is such a vital matter. If we, as a government, became heavy handed and said: 'Right! Out! No golden handshake- out under the existing conditions', only one sure thing would happen. The redundancy problem would not be solved. There would be a national confrontation. The Waterside Workers Federation, and probably the Seamen's Union, the Transport Workers Union and everybody else would have a national strike. The cost of such a strike to the waterfront alone would be $Sm. That would be the naked cost of holding up the ships.

Mr Street - That would be $5m a day.

Mr CHIPP -I thank the Minister. It would be $5m a day. One could imagine a strike such as that lasting for 3 weeks. A conservative estimate of the total national cost of such a strike would probably be 10 times that figure. Therefore, I am delighted that the Minister and the Government are exercising wisdom and tolerance in this area. Many people are talking about confrontation with the unions and saying that unemployment will make the Phillip's curve come into play; because of unemployment the unions will be meek and mild and this is the time to really hit them. Let me convey to the House the thoughts of the trade union movement and people who sensitively look at the industrial relations scene. I ask those honourable members particularly on this side of the House who are saying: 'Now is the time to take on the unions', to think again of the consequences of a national stoppage.

We have had wage indexation now for a couple of years or thereabouts. I do not intend to canvass the merits or demerits of wage indexation but I believe it exists as a sleeper. It does not allow a trade union leader to make a big fellow of himself with his union as much as he used to be able to do. The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission virtually is doing the job of the trade union leader. The Commission virtually is giving these automatic increases to members of unions. When the election time comes around for each trade union leader he will be able to say in respect of fewer matters to his union members:

Look what I have done for you in the last 3 years'. Therefore, I believe that any provocative act by employers or government would encourage even union leaders of moderate unions- this is human nature and I am not condoning it but I am saying that it would happen- and give them an excuse to say: 'Right, we will take you on'. I believe that any sort of move to get tough with the unions has to be thought out very carefully or we might find ourselves, for a variety of reasons, with a national stoppage which, at this stage of our economy, would virtually cripple Australia. I commend the Minister for what he is doing. I wish him good luck in his efforts. I also wish good luck to those people he appoints to the various committees and I hope that they will continue to use the tolerance and patience that they have shown up to this point of time.

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