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Tuesday, 22 February 1977
Page: 306

Mr NEIL (St George) -The Government and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (Mr Howard) are to be congratulated on introducing this legislation. In particular the Minister is to be congratulated for the way in which he proposes to deal with the legislation. The Opposition is to be castigated for the dismal and miserable contribution it has made to the debate.

There are a number of important matters to which I wish to refer before I deal with proposed new section 45D which so concerned the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) as to leave him in an almost demented state. Proposed new section 47 provides most important amendments. Australia is in an extremely important stage of its development. It is a wonderful country which faces tremendous crises. It was necessary that legislation of the type before us be introduced, and such legislation was introduced by the former Government. We have had some time to assess the effect of the legislation. We have had time to see whether we should strike a balance between the legitimate interests of the development of the nation through our free enterprise system and the legitimate interests of the individual in respect of protection from improper or unfair practices. We must not allow the pendulum to swing too far either way because in some circumstances legislation can have a regressive effect upon the economic development of our nation. On the other hand, if there is too much liberty in the hands of corporations there can be excessive impediment to fair competition and there can be development of an improper type of business activity.

Australia has many industries which need to develop, particularly the capital-intensive industries which need to be able to enter into longterm contracts. Such industries need to be able to see and plan well ahead. Proposed new section 47 bears to some extent on this position by relaxing some of the authorisation tests and providing a reversal of onus in regard to the question of competition and public benefit. So to that extent the amendments make these developments a little easier. The amendments to section 50 will also enable a number of difficult problems to be overcome. Nowadays we do not see small business developing into big business that used to be the case so many years ago. At times when business became too big it developed its own bureaucracy and the bureaucracy of big business, big unions or big government often militate against the rights of individuals. But there was a lot to be said for the small business that could develop. An incentive was given to a proprietor so that he could develop. Mergers in respect of these small business arrangements were often very productive. In many cases a small businessman who worked all his life and built up his business had a person interested in buying him out. Such a person would reach the stage where he wanted to retire because he did not want to go on forever. A sensible merger might provide economies of scale of a new enterprise as against perhaps dis-economies of scale that previously operated. But the prohibitions upon mergers that have applied in the Act to date in many respects have militated against such sensible mergers. There have been complaints by persons who have said that they have been unable to do this.

Mr Young - Give us an example.

Mr NEIL - One can easily understand the simple example that I am putting. There are two obvious extremes. By taking one extreme one could say that there should be absolutely no mergers at all. This would guard against the development of possible structural monopolies. On the other level one could say that there should be mergers without any restrictions to allow rationalisation of industry and to overcome diseconomies of scale.

It is vital that legislation strikes a sensible balance. To a great extent Opposition members tonight have not been prepared to direct their minds to the balancing features of . this legislation. I am not entirely sure that the threshold provisions relating to section 50 direct themselves to that problem. But at least there is a reasonable provision relating to the figure of $3m to differentiate between large and small business and to allow mergers which are reasonable in the circumstances. Mergers between very large companies are, of course, still subject to the usual provisions of the Act.

It is proposed that section 49 will be abolished. I would think that the Minister might give some thought to whether other sections of the Act or other aspects of the corporations power could be used in this area. The Commission itself raises a fair point when it says that it may be that some small businesses thought there would be no point in making submissions to the Swanson Committee. Whilst that possibility exists, the door should not be closed absolutely to the use of the Act or of the corporations power in some proper way to ensure that we are not acting contrary to the interests of small business. It is quite clear that section 49 has had an inflationary effect on the grand scale. That is wrong. Anything that can be done to help reduce inflation is extremely welcome. I know that the Government and the Minister have looked at this question in very great detail.

There is one aspect that needs to be looked at. I think perhaps small businesses could be invited to make further views known on this aspect because the confidence of small business is very important. It is vital in the national interest that businesses in this country be allowed to operate at the optimum size and structure. Confidence of the small businessman is important. If something can be done in the legislation to assist small business I think it should be done.

I turn to the proposed new section 45D. There are many matters in the legislation with which I could deal before coming to the proposed new section 45d. I do not wish in any way to underestimate the importance of the amendments to which I have just referred and the other amendments in the Bill. Nor do I wish to give credence to the Opposition's hysterical considerations about the new section 45d. I merely wish to answer some of the more ridiculous points that have been raised by Opposition members. Firstly, I strongly urge the Minister to look at the wording of proposed new section 45d and to add a provision that applies also to the acquisition by a corporation of goods or services. The proposed section applies only to the supply of goods and services. I would think that it ought also to apply to the acquisition of goods and services by a corporation, or at least by a corporation which is the employer of the employees who are engaging in the prohibited conduct. Otherwise one could see huge gaps that one could drive trucks through. I have no doubt that the cunning and ingenuity of many members of the extremist trade union leadership would take advantage of those possible gaps. I believe the Minister should look closely at the wording of the proposed new section 45d.

Let us now ask ourselves why the proposed new section 4SD has been introduced and why into this Act. It does not really matter what Act it goes into. It still becomes the law of the land, and the law of the land applies regardless of which Act a particular section is found in. For some reason Opposition members seem to be implying that they would welcome this provision in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I am sure they are only speaking with tongue in cheek. The fact is that it is an appropriate section to insert in this Act.

The honourable member for Gellibrand cried all sons of crocodile tears about the penalties. I am sure he has not forgotten that the Australian Labor Party sought to introduce legislation during its term of office relating to electoral matters in particular that provided massive fines for individuals. It was atrocious legislation that was properly rejected by the Senate. I am sure Opposition members have not forgotten the first draft of their race relations Bill which, before it was amended and the amendments were eventually accepted in the Senate, provided massive fines for persons who could be called into the office of the Commissioner without having any say and without being told who was their accuser and could be fined huge sums of money without any recourse to the law. If memory serves me correctly, it was the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs who did a great deal in this House to move amendments which were eventually accepted by the Opposition. I expect the Opposition to understand that the Minister has given a great deal of thought to these sections, and it should accept them also.

The honourable member also forgot to remind the listening public that the penalties of which he complained apply equally and with the same force to corporations which breach similar provisions in the Act. What is unfair about that? Nothing at all. The honourable member harped, whinged and grizzled about the fact that the trade unions are subject to the penalties but he failed to inform the listening public at large that exactly the same penalties apply to corporations which breach very similar provisions. He gave himself away when he said that the rights of the trade union movements must be preserved and any form of industrial action should be preserved as the province of the trade union movement. We see how wide the trade union movement seeks to extend its province. We have only to look at the proposition to see how stupid it is. No priest would recommend that any form of moral action, just because a person believes that he is correct, should be the subject of no legal regulation at all. This is a pluralist society in which checks and balances have to be found between the rights of various groups and the rights of individuals. What one person calls industrial action might not in fact be industrial action to another. It may be heinous action.

Following on the words of Paul Johnson, who castigated the trade union movement and described its extremist leaders as robber barons, let us ask ourselves what practical examples have arisen in recent times to warrant this equal treatment under this legislation of trade unions and employer groups. I do not wish to categorise the average trade unionist as a person to whom this is directed. The average trade unionist in this country is still a hard working person, still patriotic and still interested in his country, but he is in the grip of many trade union leadership groups which are interested only in their own power and march only to the drums of their own egos. Some of them are so extreme as to wish only to bring down this country and the free enterprise system and to replace it with their own version of society. Let us ask ourselves what has been done by the trade union movement in the past few years. It is a fact that many boycotts and bans have applied. It is also a fact that in England and in Australia civil remedies have been available in the courts and injunctions have been given to stop this activity. It is no use the honourable member for Gellibrand pooh-poohing this fact. All this legislation does is translate some of the existing legal remedies into a clearer legislative form. Has the honourable member forgotten the ban on wool traffic, from Kangaroo Island to South Australia a few years ago when Mr Dunstan was petitioned by union leaders to waive a court order under which union leaders who had been in contempt of court were put in gaol. He was asked to waive the order of the court. He was not game to do that. It was not possible for him to do that. He had to uphold the law.

The simple fact is that Australia's exports of wheat and flour to Chile, which used to represent 5.4 per cent of our exports of these commodities in 1973-74, have ceased as a result of trade union action. The growing market for Australian wheat and flour in Indonesia, which took 5.4 per cent of our exports of these commodities in 1974-75, is now under similar threat. Is it not proper that these sorts of boycotts that affect our export industries should be subject to the same type of legislation as they would be if the companies had carried out these sorts of activities?

What is happening in New South Wales today? The Transport Workers Union has banned delivery of petrol supplies to discount service stations, thereby preventing fair competition. This is why it is appropriate to put the boycott provisions in this Act. The Act deals with competition. Members of the Transport Workers Union are preventing the New South Wales public from having petrol at reasonable prices or at a reduced price as applies in Victoria.

The point to be made is this: This is not directed to strike action as such. We concede the claim of the trade unions to be able to withhold labour. The legislation is directed to trade unionists who say: We are going to work today but we will obey only so many of the boss's orders. We will deliver petrol to such and such a place. We are not on strike but we refuse to deliver petrol to discount service stations. In other words the boycott provisions are designed to deal not with unionists who are concerned with industrial conditions but with unionists who are not on strike and who are not on a go slow but who simply say: 'We will defy the boss and we will decide where to deliver the goods'.

We also have in New South Wales a ban by bread carters because of discounts. They refuse to deliver bread to supermarkets that sell at less than the price approved by the union. Who is running this country? The unions are attempting to run this country. That is a complete denial of the rights of housewives to purchase bread at reasonable prices. All we get is Mr Wran in New South Wales window dressing and bleating about the bread manufacturers when half the problem comes from the unions. The honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitiam) talked about applying the law. That gives me the opportunity to remind the House of what has happened in New South Wales under the Wran Government. That Government has no respect for the application of the strict letter of the law. It does not enforce the law in relation to casinos. It decided to grant an amnesty one week in respect of prosecutions for trading outside shopping hours and not the next. By regulation, it has declared some beach to be a nude bathing area. I do not know how the Crimes Act can be waived just by regulation. There we see a Labor Government which turns on the law one week and turns it off the next week if that suits it politically.

Also in New South Wales we had the John Fairfax and Sons Ltd dispute. Honourable members opposite do not seem to have known that these things were occurring. In sympathy with some strikers it was decided to cut off newsprint supplies. That did not work because the Fairfax company happened to have enough of its own newsprint to get by. Postal bans have been applied from time to time to companies including the Fairfax company. Those union members were not necessarily on strike. They said: 'We are not going to deliver this mail to Fairfax'. One of the difficulties that has occurred in the recent past is that the public has not been given the necessary moral boost by governments and employers to stand up to these actions. Indeed some years ago there were difficulties with the Rocks development in New South Wales. One would have hoped that the managers of the Rocks project would have taken appropriate action to bring the union leadership before the court by taking out an injunction. That was not done. I certainly hope that this Government will ensure that, to the extent to which they may be affected, its instrumentalities will be the first in the field to see that the law is applied against trade union leaderships that cany out these types of activities. The facts of life are that the union bosses have grown far too big for their boots. They believe that they are above the law and, in many respects, they are above the law.

In addition to the amendments which I have proposed to section 45D, I see no reason in principle why the trade unions should not as far as possible be subject to the same law as other corporations. I am reminded that some years ago the New South Wales Government forced registered clubs to incorporate. I think that over a period it would be possible, if it were carefully done, to have trade unions incorporated- not in the hybrid way as at present when they hide behind all sons of legal technicalities, but incorporated as fully as possible under the same legislation as corporations. We would then see how many trade union leaders were immune from the Crimes Act, the Securities Industry Act, the Companies Act, the Trade Practices Act and other Acts that would put them into the same position as company directors.

Let us see what can be done swiftly about legal proceedings to avoid having to have royal commissions every time somebody puts his finger into an area of murky corruption, as occurred with the Seamen's Union of Australia. In that case a royal commission was held and it was proven that there was massive graft and corruption. The royal commissioner had to recommend some action by the Government to deal with the return of huge sums of money. The introduction of this sensible legislation is long overdue. It will give heart to the public. The trade unions and their mouthpieces in this chamber talk about threats. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) says: 'You will be sorry.' AH I can say is that the more they protest, the more people will wonder what they have to hide and the more the Government's actions will be fully supported by the vast majority of Australian people.

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