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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 831

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - It would be impossible to stay in this House for too long without strongly resenting some of the comments which have been made by members of the Opposition. In the last several sitting days constant attacks have been made on trade union organisations in Australia. Those attacks do little credit, either to the intelligence or to the standing of members of the Opposition. They show every element of suffering from invincible ignorance of the way in which industrial relations are conducted in Australia. This leads one to the inescapable conclusion that it is no wonder that industrial disputations were on the increase during the latter years of the previous Government's term in office. Honourable members opposite do not seem to understand the provisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, or its purposes, or what the trade union movement is about.

They seem to have the opinion - they have expressed the view - that to ask a person to join a union, if that person is an employee of a defence establishment is, to quote one honourable gentleman, a security risk. That is a ludicrous proposition if ever one could be heard. It is the sort of proposition one would expect from extreme right wing reactionary organisations and extremist groups found elsewhere in the world. One would hopefully express the view that such groups are not in Australia. Constantly the proposition has been advanced in the course of recent debates that to give preference to a union member somehow or other involves the disturbance of his civil liberty, and involves also an improper compulsion on citizens to join a union.

What honourable gentlemen who have suggested such things do not understand is that during the 23 years of government of the Liberal-Country Party coalition and almost since Federation and the existence of industrial legislation in Australia, one of the principal objects of that legislation, both State and Federal, has been the encouragement of the formation of representative bodies of employees and employers, and their registration pursuant to the provisions of those acts.

I put it to this House that that is public policy. It has been the policy of this Parliament and it has been the policy of respective governments irrespective of their political complexion. It ill behoves the lunatic fringe to malign in this place under parliamentary privilege the Australian trade union movement which has done more than have any honourable gentlemen opposite or their predecessors put together to lift the standard of living of the Australian community to the level at which it is today. I put to this House that it is grossly unfair, to say the least, for honourable members opposite to criticise the trade union movement in this way. It would not be putting it too highly to say that it is contrary to the Australian concept of fair play to suggestthat those who choose freely to join a union and to undertake the task of obtaining industrial regulation through the processes of conciliation and arbitration, should carry the whole of the obligations and responsibility involved under the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and receive no advantage and no benefit or preference over those who choose to be free riders.

The objection is put forward in this place and elsewhere by those who know no better, or those who have a vested interest in misquotation and misrepresentation, that it is a breach of so-called principle that there should be any form of compulsion or any form of active encouragement for non-unionists to join a registered trade union organisation. But there is no objection - none at all - raised by the same people to the compulsion of those who do join a union to carry out the obligations imposed on them by legislation adopted by this Parliament. Similarly there is no objection to the compulsion of those who either join or do not join to accept decisions made by those registered organisations by way of agreement with employers in various industries. Nor is there any complaint about the compulsion in requiring all of the employees in an industry, whether they be members of a union or not, to accept the benefits and perhaps the disadvantages associated with awards that are made by arbitration tribunals.

There is no consistency in this approach, and if honourable gentlemen opposite, or those few who have spoken in this quite irresponsible manner, are sincere in their approach let them be heard to say that they really favour industrial anarchy, because that is the course and the principle which lie behind their foolish and irresponsible advocacy of no encouragement and no preference to union members over those who choose not to join a union. What they seek to establish is the right of every person in this community to exercise licence to determine whether or not he will embrace the system of conciliation and arbitration that this community has decided shall be established. I am staggered and bewildered at times to hear some people, including honourable members of this Parliament, advocate strongly and vigorously the concept of adherence at ail costs and under all circumstances to the principles of conciliation and arbitration, and yet deny the very basic concept on which it is built. Without the existence of strong, vigorous and responsible trade unions in this country the concept of conciliation and arbitration cannot exist, industrial tribunals in Australia throughout this century and authorities on industrial regulation throughout the free world have recognised that there cannot be a system of responsible and legitimate industrial regulation unless there exist responsible, vigorous, strong and representative trade union organisations.

I could quote to this House decisions of the New South Wales Industrial Commission in 1904 and 1926 and of the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission in the earliest days of its existence, in the early 1900s through the 1920s and the 1930s until this very month, which all say the same thing - that it is one of the chief responsibilities and primary objectives of conciliation and arbitration tribunals and of industrial legislation to encourage the growth of trade unionism. I suggest to honourable gentlemen opposite who lose no opportunity to attack this concept that it would do them well and it would educate them well to read some of these decisions and rid themselves of some of the ignorance under which they are at present labouring.

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