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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2321

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) (12:46 PM) - During the course of question time yesterday afternoon I directed a question to the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch). In his answer - and I am not having a shot at Hansard tonight - he said: . . it is the proper function of a Minister for Labour and National Service to be critical of trade unions where he and his Government believe that criticism is justifiable. Equally, he should be critical of the employers where he believes that that criticism is justifiable.

He went on to say:

.   . we as a Government recognise the need to establish a satisfactory legislative environment in which industrial relations can be effectively ordered. . . . and so forth. I want to say this to the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is now at the table. If this is the intention and policy of the Government, is it not time that the Government started thinking about putting that into effect? Is it not time that the Government started thinking that those in trade unions represent a very large percentage of the wage and salary earners within the community, both white collar and blue collar workers? Is is not time that the Department of Labour and National Service started to regard them as citizens of the Commonwealth? Is it not time that the Department started to regard them as, in fact, human beings?

If the Government's record is so good, why is it that legislation which is known as the subsidised medical health scheme has been introduced into this House on behalf of another Government Department? The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy) has exploded the myths of that scheme in the last few days in this House. The fact is that the whole intent of that legislation is to afford some form of protection, health-wise, to low salary and wage earners. If the Government was so concerned about the legislative environment, there would be no need in this country to introduce such shocking legislation as the subsidised medical health scheme.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is completely out of order in referring to the legislation that the House has voted upon tonight.

Mr FOSTER - I will say no more about that, Mr Speaker, other than to refer to it in making my point, which is this: Had this Government measured up to its responsibilities, there would be no need to place legislation on the statute book to afford such protection in so-called fringe areas, because one of the concerns of the Government ought to be that an adequate and proper wage is paid to these people

What good is this Government doing in coming into this chamber and relying on Dorothy Dix questions aimed at Ministers from back bench members? Notes are practically being passed around the chamber to give certain Ministers an opportunity to air their knowledge in regard to industrial relations when they do not know the first thing about it. If they do know anything about the subject, it is time they started to put their knowledge into real and proper practice. It is just not good enough for so-called responsible members of this Government, from the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) down, to speak in this chamber week after week in the manner in which they have in their criticism of the trade unions, when throughout the length and breadth of this country we have industrial organisations whose members have been going on strike in order to increase their weekly salaries from $46 to $47. Some of the lowest paid people within the community are employed in service industries at the governmental level. The Postmaster-General's Department still employs some of the lowest paid salary earners. Forget for the moment the average wage or lor that matter the average weekly male wage and bear in mind that the Government is a direct employer of some of the lowest paid workers in Australia today. Honourable members opposite stand up in this chamber and say that they will create a legislative environment.

Let me say this to the Minister: The only industrial legislation of any note that this Government has introduced has been legislation against organisations within the industrial field. Just have a look at the Commonwealth's role so far as the Public Service is concerned relative to the additional week's leave. What has the Government or its predecessors done about this? Look at the shocking manner in which the Commonwealth has treated the professional engineer through the Commonwealth Public Service Board. This Government is not prepared to lift a finger to overcome industrial disputation in that calling.

In the last 3 years, industrial and professional organisations in this country which have taken up the strike weapon as their only means of defending their rights and putting forward their just demands have never previously gone on strike. They were never known to go on strike before but they have gone on strike under this Government in the last few years. This is indeed an indictment of the Government. It is not good enough for the Minister - as his predecessors have done - to make statements in this House week after week or to make announcements during recess periods on how well off the Australian worker is. Let me tell the Minister that measured in actual money values the take home pay of the Australian worker is much less than that of a comparable West German worker. Let me also say to the Miniser that some Australian workers are much worse off in money values and in the quality of life which they can obtain for the wage they take home each week than workers in some comparable industries in Japan. I refer to those industries in Japan which pay some regard to the quality of life of their employees. I do not refer to all industries in Japan.

Mark my words, Mr Speaker, neither the Minister nor the Government will fool the workers and the salary earners of this country by their continual clap-trap and subversive legislation against trade unions.

It is not good enough for this Government to come into this chamber from time to time, sneaking in through the back door as it were, after it has denied the right of some industrial organisations to approach employers in the correct manner in regard to some form of industrial agreement. Recently, a strike took place in South Australia and it was one of the most shocking strikes as far as government was concerned. But this Government did not lift a finger to ensure that there was any real requirement in any Act which would force the parties to even speak to one another. Many agreements have voluntary provisions in them to enable talks to take place but they collapse around one's ears.

As one with some wide experience in the stevedoring industry which the Minister regards as having been extremely turbulent for many years, I can say to the Minister that he will never cure the problems of this industry by imposing pains and penalties. Honourable members should remember that this Government was responsible for one of the most vicious hostage systems. It was a real system of industrial hostages as far as the Stevedoring Industry Act was concerned. Did it lessen stoppages in any shape or form? It certainly did not. Peace has been brought about in the stevedoring industry - an industry which has had its rough passages even in the last few years - by the most vicious industrial legislation ever put on the statute books. This legislation was put on in 1965 when the present Prime Minister was the leader of the department concerned. The intent of that legislation was to deregister the union involved but it went one vicious step further than that. The union was a Commonwealth wide federation and the legislation made provision for one of the State branches of that union to opt out of the federation and shelter itself under the wing of the Department of Labour and National Service. But no-one fell for that. It was at a time when the industry was turbulent. In fact, the actions of the Government completely united a number of quarrelling factions at that time. From it, of course, arose a proper concept of a proper industrial agreement and it did away with many of the conciliation and arbitration measures that were designed - so-called - to bring about the end of industrial disputes.

The old provision for boards of reference caused more disputes and still continues to cause more disputes and more lost man hours than any other aspect of industry. I would never ever use them because their use would simply mean that no one would create further bother. I ask the Minister to have a look at this type of agreement that is coming up for more than review so far as this industry is concerned. I would prevail upon him, having regard to the particular state of that industry at the moment, measured in terms of the number of men required on the waterfront today and the number which may be required in the future, to ensure that his Government does not interfere with the rights of the trade union and the employer to negotiate in a right and proper manner for the interests of the people and the humans in the industry and the interests, of course, of the whole community. Would the Government put legislation on the books for compulsory retirement because of a redundant situation? Would it retire men at 60 years of age-

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

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