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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 824

Mr VINER (Stirling) - Having passed the Bill which increased salaries and allowances to members of this House it would not be the place of the Opposition to oppose this Bill and it does not intend to do so. Nevertheless, it has something to say about the manner in which this Bill now comes before the House. If I can take honourable members back to the time prior to the election, the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in his policy speech promised to. give all Commonwealth employees 4 weeks annual leave in lieu of the existing 3 weeks leave. The Senate has compelled the Government to honour that promise by disallowing the Public Service Arbitrator's determination by which that promise was to have been implemented. The Government should be happy that the Opposition has allowed it to act with some semblance of integrity. In his policy speech the Prime Minister without equivocation said that all Commonwealth employees would receive 4 weeks annual leave but within those first heady days of power the Prime Minister backed away from his promise. How he thought he could get away with it is beyond comprehension. After a Cabinet meeting on 20th December1972 the Prime Minister said:

The first meeting of Labor's Cabinet decided not to oppose the claim for extra leave by Commonwealth public servants. The extra leave provisions will apply only to members of recognised unions and associations involved in work within the Service.

Here was the Government in one of its first acts after the election dishonouring an election promise made to Commonwealth employees who were not members of a recognised union or association. The fraud on these public servants was obvious to anyone and brought forth the expected public outcry against it. The hypocrisy of the Government's changed stance on its election promise and the peculiar political logic which guided its actions were revealed by an answer by the Prime Minister to a question asked in this House on 28th February. He said:

One of the first decisions the Government made . . was to implement that promise. We are resolute that it shall be honoured. The principle that we have in mind-

I repeat the words 'the principle that we have in mind'- is that this industrial benefit should go to those who, through their membership of organisations, have fought for it and secured it.

The members of this House, as well as the public of Australia, are entitled to assume that the Prime Minister had this principle in his mind when he spoke to the public during the election campaign and made his promise to all Commonwealth public servants without discrimination. In that case, the conclusion is inescapable: Either the Prime Minister knowingly and deliberately misled the people of Australia or this so called principle is of recent origin, wantonly introduced by him under union pressure.

The seriousness of the matter goes further. This Government sought to introduce 4 weeks annual leave by a determination of the Public Service Arbitrator rather than to introduce the Bill we now are debating. It is a very simple Bill which proposes to change the word 'three' to the word 'four'. But by this manoeuvre of referring the matter in the first place to the determination of the Public Service Arbitrator, the Government obviously sought to bypass the Parliament and tried to avoid debate in this House. We should be thankful that the Senate caused the Government to debate the matter in that House and caused it to bring the matter now before this House.

By this manoeuvre, the Prime Minister and the Australian Labor Party have openly contradicted their own actions in this House when, in 1966, they were proposing 4 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth public servants. In that year, the present Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, moved an amendment to a Public Service Bill to do precisely what the Bill now before the House will do, namely, alter the word 'three' to four' in section 68 (4) (a). In 1966 the Prime Minister as Leader of the Opposition recognised and declared that annual leave was a matter on which public servants could not resort to arbitration. Yet here in 1973 the actions of the Government which he leads would deny his own statement. I quote from Hansard of 18th October 1966, at page 1892. The Prime Minister said:

We are often told that employees should resort to arbitration. This is not a matter where public servants can resort to arbitration.

He continued:

Commonwealth public servant; cannot ask the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator or, on appeal from him. the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, to determine their annual leave. By statute the Commonwealth places a ceiling upon it.

Again, later in the debate at page 1895 of Hansard, the Prime Minister said-

It is not possible for Commonwealth public servants, for instance, to have their annual, long service or sick leave determined by arbitration tribunals. The conditions relating to leave are laid down in the Act. The Commonwealth does not take, in respect of its own servants, the attitude that the employees should go to arbitration. It enacts provisions dealing with the principal industrial conditions.

The Opposition agrees with what was said then by the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, in 1966. The Commonwealth does not take, in respect of its own servants, the attitude that the employees should go to arbitration, lt enacts provisions dealing with the principal industrial conditions.

We believe that that is where the provisions should stay and if they are to be altered, those basic industrial conditions should be altered by this Parliament. Again, at page 1897, the Prime Minister, as Leader of the Opposition, was recorded as saying: lt is impossible for Commonwealth employees to go to arbitration to have their annual leave determined.

Three times the Prime Minister confirmed that fact and yet, in such a short time after being elected to Government, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) and the honourable members who support him have denied his own statements. Who are we to believe - Mr Whitlam, the Leader of the Opposition, or Mr Whitlam, the Prime Minister? Perhaps we should believe the Minister for Labour.

In the Senate, this shoddy trick - this fraud upon the people of Australia and the Commonwealth public servants - to deny to all public servants the benefit of a promise openly made by the Prime Minister to the people of Australia has been exposed.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You sound like a lawyer to me.

Mr VINER - 1 happen to have been one. I happen also to have been an advocate for unions and you look like one, too. The Government, by its action, sought to favour unionists and sectionalise the Public Service. We in the Opposition do not consider it is right that entitlement to such a fundamental condition of employment as annual leave should be subject to membership of some chosen organisation - an organisation chosen by the Goverment. It should not be the vehicle for dividing the work force or any part of it between the haves and the have-nots.

Annual recreation leave, as it is called in the Public Service Act, is something which all members of the work force earn by the work they do and the time they do it in, not by the organisation to which they belong. The Government might just as well say to public servants: 'You can work, but you won't get paid unless you belong to the XYZ union', or put a premium on union membership and deprive a worker of some part of his wage if he does not belong. The action of the Government has the most insidious implications for industrial relations in this country, lt is discrimination of the worst kind by a government which in other areas preens its feathers of pride under a banner of non-discrimination.

Nothing could have been more calculated to divide the Public Service than the determination which the Senate disallowed. It would have created bitterness and resentment by sec.tionalising the Public Service which could have operated only to the detriment of the Australian people through diminished efficiency flowing from that sectionalisation. It is of no good the Minister for Labour saying, as he has on other occasions, that the determination was not back door compulsory unionism brought about by industrial coercion, industrial blackmail and ministerial interference. It is known that thousands - some have put the figure as high as 10,000 or 20,000 - of public servants joined industrial organisations in the 2 months after 20th December and before Parliament resumed, in order to qualify for 4 weeks' annual leave. These people had well and faithfully served the Commonwealth and were, without being conscripted into unions, as entitled as anyone to the extra week's leave. The provision of leisure time for which the Public Service Act provides for work done each year in the Public Service is a simple proposition finding simple expression in section 68 of the Act and, since the formation of the Commonwealth Public Service in 1901, it has been applied on an equal basis to all public servants. As I pointed out, this proposition was acknowledged and acted upon, by the Prime

Minister when he was the Leader of the Opposition in 1966, but it was denied by him and by this Government in 1972.

What was right for 71 years is not made wrong by 18 days of Labor government. The arrogance of this Government's approach to government was eloquently displayed by the open conflict which the Minister for Labour provoked with the Public Service Board over the implementation of the determination. The Board is established by statute to be, and to be seen to be, independent of the Government, applying its determinations with an even hand to all public servants. In this, the 4-week affair', the Board first had the principle of union favouritism foisted upon it and then had to face the blatant public attack upon its independence by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) when the Board ruled that the extra week's leave would be received only by those public servants who were members of a recognised union or association on 1st January this year. The Minister is reported to have said:

I would find it inconceivable that Mr Cooley (Chairman of the Public Service Board) would defy a decision of Cabinet.

Mr McLeay - Be kind.

Mr VINER - I am being kind by quoting only the one occasion. To the credit of the Chairman and the Board they refused to be intimidated by this attempted ministerial interference. For the Chairman to have yielded would have put him and the Board in an untenable position in the future when confronted by joint Government-union pressure. For the Minister to have accused the Chairman of defying a Cabinet decision was an absurd proposition. Once having put the matter in the hands of the Public Service Arbitrator and the Public Service Board, Cabinet was not in a position to dictate to them. The Arbitrator was free to make his determination and the Board was free to initiate its own action to implement the determination.

The kindest thing that can be said of the Minister's outburst is that he did not understand what he was doing when the matter was referred to the Public Service Arbitrator, nor appreciate the role of the Arbitrator or the Board in the procedures initiated by him. The whole episode shows 3 things: Firstly, that the Minister has been cut down to size; secondly, the independence and integrity of the Public

Service Board must be protected by Parliament - and it will be by a vigilant Opposition - from ministerial interference; thirdly, the public is not a plaything for the Prime Minister's electoral confidence tricks. In bis second reading speech the Prime Minister said:

The Government has now decided that the only satisfactory way to implement our longstanding undertaking is by legislation. lt is the only way to do it - not the only satisfactory way - as the Prime Minister himself said in 1966 in the passages from Hansard to which I have already referred. There is another aspect of the Prime Minister's second reading speech which is deserving of serious comment. It is another example of the inconsistency, contradictions, inaccuracies and equivocation which pervade the whole approach of this Government to this issue. I again quote from the Prime Minister's second reading speech:

In the early years after Federation, employees of the Commonwealth Public Service set a standard for the rest of Australia in conditions of employment. lt is simply not the case that the Commonwealth Public Service sets the standard of working conditions for the rest of Australia - certainly not in respect of annual leave and certainly not in respect of private industry. The most elementary knowledge and minor excursion into Australian industrial history will show that Commonwealth and State industrial tribunals have not accepted Public Service conditions as setting any standard for private industry. In 1960, when dealing with the claims by the metal trades unions for 3 weeks annual leave in a case which would have set the standard for private industry throughout Australia, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in unmistakable terms repudiated the proposition that conditions in the Public Service set a standard for industry generally. For the benefit of the Prime Minister, his speech writer and the Minister for Labour I give them the reference of that case. It is: Re metal trades award; re Annual Leave 96 CAR 206.

The Commonwealth Arbitration Commission in all its hearings on annual leave has, whilst approving the desirability of increased leisure time, nevertheless been vitally concerned with the economic impact of granting increased annual leave, particularly in 1960 by one week from 2 to 3 weeks. The Commission refused it then but granted it in 1963 as the general standard within private industry. In the view of the Opposition it is right. proper and necessary for the exercise of responsible government that this Government should have considered the economic impact of granting 4 weeks annual leave to public servants. I have no doubt that the refusal of the former governments of Sir Robert Menzies, Mr Holt and Mr Gorton to grant 4 weeks annual leave was based on the economic consequences of doing so. Nowhere, in any published statement by this Government or by any Minister to this House to the public, has the Government displayed any regard for the economic consequences of its proposal. The extra leave now to be granted can only add to inflationary cost pressures building up within the economy by inevitably leading to an increased Public Service and a higher wages bill.

The Prime Minister's second reading speech continued:

We want the national Government to continue to set the pace in improving the working conditions of Australians.

Hie implications of this are indeed serious, for what he is clearly saying is that this grant of one week's additional annual leave should De passed on to private industry. It is an open invitation to unions to follow the Commonwealth without regard to the economic consequences. This flies in the face of all the principles on which the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission has acted - principles as important, let alone valid, today as they have been for the past 40 years or so. Time and again the Commission has decided that the capacity of the economy to provide increased leisure time by extra annual leave to the private industry work force, must control its decision.

The Government apparently wants to throw all that overboard. Its whole approach to this question and the conduct of its Minister for Labour show a contempt for established arbitral authority. Australia has established a system of industrial arbitration for private industry unequalled in the world for achieving wage and industrial justice. It has that established system of arbitration also for the Public Service. The Government tried to by-pass this system by referring the matter to the Public Service Arbitrator in a way which, if allowed to succeed, would have had dangerous and farreaching consequences for this country. This concept of pace setting, now espoused by the Government, has clearly dangerous implications for it can only be an open invitation to unions to entice the Minister for Labour to join in concerted action against private industry by the irresponsible use of Commonwealth economic power and indirect industrial pressure. Whilst the Opposition does not oppose the granting of 4 weeks annual leave to public servants, which will again put them in front of employees in private industry, it has a duty to expose the repudiation of an election promise; the attempted disruption of the independence of the Public Service Board; the erroneous propositions of the Prime Minister and the dangerous consequences of pacesetting by the Commonwealth for private industry at the expense of established industrial tribunals througout Australia.

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