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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - We have just listened to a quite remarkable speech. No speech could be more calculated to barm a major institution which has been set up under our Constitution, Fortunately, it will not do the harm it was calculated to do because, pitched in such exaggerated and extreme terms, it is identified as being quite irresponsible and uninformed. Quite clearly it is designed to achieve a political aim and not to contribute to the welfare of the people the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) claims to support, namely the professional engineers of Australia.

The honourable member said that the Opposition would be refused more than one speaker. It is true that there will be only one speaker on each side of the House, but the honourable member did not say that there were discussions beforehand and that no arrangement could be reached. Before referring to the professional engineers case, I wish to deal with two other matters which were also raised by the honourable member. The first concerned equal pay. In the terms of his letter there were unjustdecisions and submissions, including one on equal pay. How could there have been unjust decisions or submissions when the Commonwealth, as an employer, has applied equal pay on margins over a long period of time and, subsequent to the decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which -was referred to, has been applying that decision? At this point of time equal pay is applied at a 90% rate; in 1971 it will be 95% and the full 100% will be applied in 1972. When the Commonwealth intervened in the equal pay case it intervened on the basis that it supported equal pay for work of a like kind. How can it be unjust? On the contrary, the Government was putting the proposition that it supported equal pay for work of a like kind. In putting that submission the Commonwealth made it clear that it was on the same basis as the equal pay provisions in New South Wales and Tasmania and was supported by an International Labour Organisation convention. So much for the matter of equal pay.

As for the matter of 4 weeks annual leave, which was alluded to briefly and passed over, I would like the House to be aware that it has been refused at the request of the associations. I would like the House to bear in mind that we have in Australia at the present time a tight labour market. It should be obvious logic to everybody that more annual leave will require one of two things - either the employment of additional work force to make up the time lost by recreation or the working of more overtime. If the extra leave of 1 week were granted and the additional work force were recruited to make up the time lost it is estimated that it would cost the Commonwealth $25m per annum. If that provision of 4 weeks annual leave flowed on into the community generally and if it were covered by employing extra staff, it is estimated that the cost would be $290m. But if it were covered by working overtime instead of employing more staff the cost would be greater.

There are existing pressures on the economy and on the labour market and it is the opinion of the Government that this is not the time to grant additional annual leave of 1 week. I should draw the attention of the House to comparisons with overseas countries. Our annual leave provisions are as good as those in any other country. In many countries there are no provisions for long service leave and fewer public holidays than workers in Australia enjoy.

Let me turn to the professional engineers' case. It is worth while briefly reiterating the accusation made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh. He alleged that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, composed of three men who, under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, are entitled to the right, style and privilege of judges - who are regarded as judges in their actions, their responsibilities and their independence - was submissive to political pressure. That is a calumny of which I did not think the honourable member capable. He alleged also that the Government applied that political pressure. He described the Public Service Board's action as unilateral. Well, in that sense I suppose it was because the Board made the decision and paid the rates. The honourable member alleged that this was done 4 weeks before the general election with a promise implicit that there would be much more after the election. He then said: Imagine the shock when, after the election, there was not a lot more. I think he has disclosed to the nation what would be the attitude of the Australian Labor Party to independent judicial commissions if it were in government. He would not for a moment refrain from attempting to apply political pressure to those independent bodies. I am glad to say that such is the quality and the integrity of the men who constitute those commissions that they would tell him where to go. Perhaps it might be a good thing if this were done. These men who have been so traduced by the honourable member are men whom I happen to know personally - whom I have known for a number of years and before whom I have appeared. Any man who knows them would be proud to stand here and say that he knows them - that he knows their quality. Anybody who knows them would, when an attack of this type is made upon them, feel a duty to disclose to the House and to anybody listening to the debate or anybody who wishes to report it, that they are men of character, chosen for their character. I know of no greater insult, slander or defamation - choose what term you will - than the allegation that they are subject to political influence or that they are not their own masters.

The honourable member has asked what is the answer to the case. He had only one case, and that was that these men were subjected to political pressure and that they are not independent. I was surprised that the honourable member should reiterate the allegation, for it is a practice of this House that the independence and integrity of the judiciary will always be protected. I have never heard them attacked from the front bench of the Opposition before. In the engineers' case a decision was given which the professional engineers did not like. Let us be clear about that: The Professional Engineers' Association and individual professional engineers did not like the decision.

Mr Barnard - That is an understatement.

Mr SNEDDEN - There is laughter in the ranks of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that to claim that the decision was not popular is an understatement. But this explains why the honourable member for Hindmarsh has spoken in the intemperate terms which he used: He wants to make a political issue out of this even if it means traducing the members of the Arbitration Commission.

The engineers claimed an increase of 45% in salaries. They asked the Public Service Board, which under the provisions of the statute has the primary wage fixing responsibility, to grant interim increases in salary. There was argument at the time as lo whether the Public Service Board should grant interim increases and the Board, exercising its responsibility, decided not to grant interim increases. The matter went before the Commission and the parties presented exhaustive arguments to support their claims. The honourable member for Hindmarsh has made allegations of deliberate time wasting on the part of the Board and the employers. I have never heard that allegation made by the associations. However, after the associations had finished their case the Board was called upon by the Commission to state its view in precise terms and to give its response to the case made by the associations. The Board responded that it believed that the rate of increase should be between 11% and 15% for grades 1 to 5 of engineers. It was because the Commission asked the Board to state clearly its view that the Board did so. Having stated that it believed that the engineers should get increases of between 11% and 15%, the Board paid those increases. There would have been reason for complaint if having stated that it believed increases of between 11% and 15% should be paid the Board did not pay them, but it did pay them.

The honourable member for Hindmarsh made the remarkable statement that the associations were entitled to expect that they would have a majority because two of the members of the bench - the presiding judge, Mr Justice Wright, and Commissioner Portus - had sat on an earlier engineers' case and granted big increases. This had involved a new provision for engineers which was a landmark in their view. The honourable member said that the engineers were entitled to expect big increases because they already had a majority, and they were shocked that they did not get them. It is worth while looking at the decisions of these judges, put into the perspective of the claim made. I will read from page 8 of the roneoed copy of the judgment delivered by Mr Justice Wright. He said:

The Public Service Board's new rates were announced before final addresses commenced in the present proceedings, which enabled discussions of them by advocates on both sides. As regards counsel for employers in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act cases it may be stated that none of them seriously challenged the fairness of the new Public Service rates - although Mr Robinson-

He was counsel for the employers - at one stage referred to them as 'over generous' - or the precedent established by the 1961 decision of national minimum rates in the base grade.

Another extract that ought to be brought to the attention of the House is from page 7 of the roneod copy of the joint majority decision of Mr Justice Moore and Mr Arbitrator Chambers. It reads:

The action taken by the Public Service Board has introduced a new element into these proceedings. It has not, however, relieved us-

That is the Commission - of the responsibility of making a proper assessment of the salaries of professional engineers. We have endeavoured, independently of the Board's decision, to give proper weight to the material put. That material does in our view disclose that there have been in recent years developments which warrant increased salaries for professional engineers and we must assess what the increases should be. Taking all factors into account, we consider that as an act of value judgment we would, even if the Board had taken no action, have arrived at increases substantially similar to those which the Board has awarded. When to that is added the fact that the Board, an important primary wage fixing tribunal and a significant employer of professional engineers, has fixed these rates, we are prepared to treat them as proper rates and to make determinations accordingly.

They did it in the full knowledge of their responsibility. I think it can properly be said that in the event two members of the Public Service Arbitration Act bench - Mr Justice Moore and Mr Arbitrator Chambers - decided to treat the Board's rates as proper rates and to make determinations accordingly. The presiding member of the two benches - Mr Justice Wright - and Mr Commissioner Portus were of the view that higher rates were warranted. But had they reached a majority view in the case relating to engineers outside the Service the result would have been relatively small differential rates outside the Commonwealth Public Service area.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden), in a state of feigned anger, said-

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I remind the honourable member that he shall not cast aspersions on the Minister. The honourable member is making a personal explanation. He will refer only to the way he has been misrepresented.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Thank you for your guidance, Sir. The Minister said that I said that a promise that there would be more to come was implicit in the Board's decision. Of course, I said nothing of the sort. What I said was that the association concerned felt that they had reason to expect that the Commission's award would grant further increases. So there is a vast difference between what the Minister says I said and what I actually said.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable member wilt not debate the matter.

Motion (by Mr Snedden) put:

That the business of the day be called on.

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