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Thursday, 25 October 1973

Senator DONALD CAMERON (South Australia) (Minister for Labour) - I oppose the amendment as moved by Senator Greenwood. It is a repetition of an amendment which was inserted in a previous clause and in fact is taken word for word from the existing Act. I believe that the words 'it is not in the public interest that the memorandum should be certified ' are too vague. Qualifying them by the words 'a major detriment' then establishes where a commissioner would have the responsibility for something that could be regarded as trivial- and this has happenedand for something which was really a major detriment. Last week when we were dealing with another clause Senator Cavanagh referred to what could happen in the event of the parties having an agreement signed. I think he referred to the Tramways Trust, saying that it could be argued that improved conditions, and probably higher wages, would mean that fares could go up. I can relate the circumstances of a case that did happen and where as a result of the vagueness of the provision of the existing Act a Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator refused an application for improved conditions under the Commonwealth Railways Determination. A reading of the transcript of evidence put forward by the advocates for the union and that put forward by the advocates for the Commonwealth Railways made it very obvious that the decision was not consistent with the evidence given by the witnesses who were called. However, when the union appealed to the Commonwealth Industrial Court, the Court said it was not in the public interest for the Arbitrator to give this increased benefit of working conditions which were actually enjoyed by every other comparable industry in the Commonwealth.

The Court did not explain why it was not in the public interest beyond the vague suggestion that it could have resulted in increased freight rates and passenger fares charged by the Commonwealth Railways. In my opinion it would be giving a let-out to any Arbitration Commissioner to say that it may not be in the public interest. I think that the amendment moved by Senator Cavanagh certainly improves the existing section of the Act; it has that advantage over the amendment moved by Senator Greenwood in that it would be a better guide to a commissioner who has to make a decision. I strongly support the amendment proposed by Senator Cavanagh.

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