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Wednesday, 16 November 1983
Page: 2807

Mr HAND(5.16) —Before I comment in detail on the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2) I would like to address a few remarks to the first page of the second reading speech of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis). In his second paragraph he said:

This legislation represents a further step by this Government towards the implementation of its industrial relations platform and is in accordance with the Statement of Accord reached between the Australian Labor Party and Australian Council of Trade Unions . . .

In view of the matter of public importance raised today and the outrageous attack by the Opposition on the Minister about his involvement in the accord, I think it is worth mentioning that the accord is an historic document agreed to by the union movement and this Government. The policies laid down in the accord aim to ensure that the living standards of wage and salary earners and the non- income earning sectors of the population are maintained over time with movements in national productivity. The accord goes into great detail. It mentions a whole range of issues as well as economic questions. It refers to the industrial relations legislation, amendments to previous government decisions, industrial development and technology changes, immigration, social security, occupational health and safety, education, health and Australian Government employment.

I point out to the House that in September of this year the Minister distributed to honourable members and organisations involved in this area a progress report on government initiatives on the prices and incomes policy. That document lists a total of 65 decisions or announcements of inquiries and investigations being undertaken by this Government in the areas governed by the accord. I place on record my congratulations to the Minister for his role in the implementation of the accord. Of course, everything in the accord has not been introduced at this point and we on this side of the House look forward to honouring, before the completion of our three-year term, the whole of the accord as agreed to with the trade union movement prior to the election. I for one will be supporting the Minister, even though he is frustrated from time to time by the Opposition, and will assist him in implementing the accord.

This Bill covers a range of industrial matters which have been discussed for some years. Some were introduced by the previous Government, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Macphee), at the time of the double dissolution, but others bring the law into line with Australian Labor Party industrial policy and represent a distinct break with the philosophy of the previous Government.

The areas I would like to talk specifically about are those concerning the term of office of union officials, the filling of casual vacancies in unions, the common rules and joint proceedings provisions and those changes to the prescribed offences section of the Act. The terms of office changes go to a problem which has worried unions and union officials for several years. As officials grow older they are often faced with the problem of running for office for a four-year term knowing they must retire in 12 months or so. Under existing legislation they are either forced to run and then force the union into a second election shortly after the first election or they are forced to retire prematurely. This causes great problems for them as people and causes the unions great expense. It is a difficult choice for people to make and the present Bill overcomes it in a practical and sensible manner. It allows for union officials in this position to stand for election and for the period of office to be extended for up to 12 months if the person is to reach the retirement age in that period. An important clause of the Bill also stipulates that in the event of a candidate retiring within 12 months and seeking an extension that fact must be included in the ballot paper. I think that overcomes any problem that the Opposition or the community may have with this proposal.

The provision relating to casual vacancies will also benefit unions and remove an anomaly which forces people to elections and unnecesary expense. At present casual vacancies are filled by an election irrespective of the time left in the relevant term of office. Under this legislation a casual vacancy will be allowed to be filled without an election for the full term of the previous officer's term if that period does not exceed 12 months. Where the period does exceed 12 months the vacancy may still be filled casually for a period not exceeding three -quarters of the original period. This will overcome a particularly cumbersome and often burdensome section of the Act, which places unnecessary costs on the union resources. It is a sensible move allowing for a far simpler and more reasonable solution to this problem.

The common rules and joint proceedings provisions also overcome problems which have plagued unions for many years. The differences between Federal and State legislation and jurisdiction in industrial matters often create confusion and delays. They can mean that workers in one or other area do not receive conditions and benefits at the same time as workers in another area who are doing similar work. Very simply, this legislation attempts to eliminate these problems. Over a period these provisions will benefit many workers, and remove many anomalies currently in existence.

The prescribed offences sections were designed by conservative governments to attack certain sections of the trade union movement and certain officials in those sections. We are rationalising these sections, ensuring that people are barred from holding union positions only if their offences relate to matters specifically involved in union elections or to serious offences of violence or robbery. The sections dealing with offences involving union elections may well remove from the right to hold office many friends of the Opposition who specialise in ballot rigging and deception.

I congratulate the Minister on ensuring that these sections are not designed to attack certain militant areas of the union movement, although I believe we should maintain a vigilance over the provisions and ascertain their effects in practice to ensure the remaining sections are not too restrictive and do not debar good, hard-working unionists from holding office. It must, at all times, be the responsibility of this Government to assist the trade union movement in its struggle against the class enemies who would destroy the effectiveness of trade unionism. Those enemies include our opponents on the Opposition benches. We heard some of those people during the debate on the matter of public importance earlier today. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) at every opportunity attacks the trade union movement and individuals in it. I deplore those sorts of attacks and comments that he and other members of the Opposition make. Although the provisions of this legislation cover a broad range of areas, each perhaps seeming minor, as a package they represent a major step forward for the union movement and will assist that movement in avoiding unnecessary costs, in efficiency and in performance.