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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1776

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member will resume his seat. There is nothing in the Standing Orders which requires a Minister to be in charge of the House. I call the honourable member for Burke.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - 1 will disregard the unwarranted intrusion by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) who on a previous occasion occupied the office of Minister for Labour and National Service, as it then was. The honourable gentleman had the pleasure of addressing this House this morning and, if I may say so, his speech was as fatuous as his interruption. Today the House also had the pleasure of listening to the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) and the Deputy Leader of the Country Party, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). I must now point out, in view of the recent interruption by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who is the honourable member for Flinders, that the

House has been addressed by one ex-Minister for Labour and National Service, one Country Party lawyer and also by the right honourable member for Lowe, who is an exMinister for Labour and National Service, an ex-Treasurer and an ex-Prime Minister. It was only by the grace of God that he is not an ex-member of this House.

Having said that I must now make some comment upon the remarks that were made by those honourable gentlemen, each of whom claimed to be an expert in his field at a particular time in history. Running right through all the comments that they made to this House was one theme only, a theme which they had used over the years, namely to bash the unions in order to attain what they call industrial stability in this country. The right honourable member for Lowe did say that this legislation was one of the worst pieces of legislation to come before this House. The right honourable member had the good grace to add that there were 2 points of view on the matter and that it was quite right that there should be 2 points of view on every matter that comes before this House. But to refute the argument that this is the worst piece of legislation to come before this House I quote words which were used by a most respected ex-commissioner of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Mr T. C. Winter, who on his retirement in 1971 made an address to the industrial relations seminar at the Monash University. He was reported in the Melbourne 'Age' of 19th May as saying:

It would be 'ultimate in idiocy' for employers and the Government to 'go to war' with the trade unions......

Mr Winterwas quoted on the same date in another newspaper, the 'Australian', as saying that penal action was ineffective. So there are 2 points of view on this matter. The Opposition's point of view is that in order to maintain what Opposition supporters have called industrial stability and industrial peace it is necessary to have penal sanctions against the trade unions. The Opposition believes that when the trade unions step out of line they should be penalised. In other words, the only bad boys in the whole matter are the trade unions. The Opposition's view is confirmed and supported by the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia which in a circular dated 21st May 1972 said, among other things:

In particular, the use of the strike weapon over issues unrelated to industrial matters cannot be condoned. The extension of this practice will only lead to the breakdown of law and order. Means must be found to deal wilh this type of situation which falls outside the ambit of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

So we have an expression of opinion by many members of the community - I must say unrepresentative members of the community - that the unions must be wrong on all occasions. (Quorum formed.)

Mr Deputy Speaker,may I from the floor of this House inform the nation that that was the second time that this debate has been interrupted by the Opposition, which has claimed that it does not have enough time to debate the matter anyhow? A considerable amount of the time of the House has been wasted by these negative and puerile activities. The Bill that is before the House is a very important piece of legislation. Perhaps the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Bury), who drew the attention of the Chair to the state of the House and who, incidentally, is a former Minister for Labour and Industry, does not want the truth to come out. Perhaps he wants to disrupt the debate by continually interjecting, lt is a shame that so many members of the Opposition have not been present in the House to hear this debate. If they had been here H would not have been necessary to call for a quorum. The fact of the matter is that they are still not here and an important issue on which they make so much noise - the issue of industrial law and order - is being debated in their absence. I have also noticed that no member of the Opposition is sitting at the table. That is indicative of the sort of interest the Opposition is taking in this debate.

The whole debate has taken place around the subject of arbitration. 1 did not hear any of the 3 members of the Opposition who have spoken so far in the debate speak of negotiation or conciliation. In fact, the last member of the Opposition who spoke in the debate - a former Prime Minister of this country - boasted about a reduction in the rate of inflation whilst he was in charge of the affairs of this country. The right honourable member for Lowe said that it had been reduced from 7 per cent to 4t per cent. I am not in a position to challenge him as to whether that is right or wrong, but I would point out to the right honourable gentleman that whatever was achieved was achieved at very great cost to the 130,000 Australian families which at that time found that a member of the family was unemployed.

The purposes of this Bill, as I understand them, are numerous. That is because a number of corrections have to be made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which was amended by the Opposition when it was in government. There can be no question about the need for trade unions in the community. We live in an organised community and society and unless every section of the community, including the working class, is organised there will be a breakdown in our whole system. So there can be no question about the need for organisations of working men. These generally come under the heading of trade unions.

The attitude of the Opposition has been one of the destruction of the trade union movement. When the Parties opposite were in a position to wield power they worked very hard to bring in legislation which was designed entirely to destroy the powers of the trade union movement and the effective organisation of working men into bodies that could take a role in the whole field of the betterment of society. Speaking in broad terms there are 4 proposed amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Although this is not the total number of proposed amendments, the 4 amendments I have mentioned are, broadly speaking, the important ones. The first and most important amendment was outlined by my colleagues the honourable members for Phillip (Mr Riordan) and Gellibrand (Mr Willis). I refer to the removal of the onerous, useless and provocative penal provisions from the existing Act. These provisions have done nothing to promote industrial peace in all of the time that they have been included in the Act. I could give the example of the waterfront where there has been industrial peace in regard to all of the stevedoring agreements around Australia since the trade unions in that area have entered into agreements with employers rather than being thrust into the position where a third party would inflict its will upon them.

The Metal Trades Union, which comes under most attack from members of the Opposition, has had far less warfare since there has been agreement in the trade unions than was the case when the situation was thrust upon them by arbitration. The provocation by those who now sit in Opposition - those of them who are left - when they sat in government is very manifest when one looks once again at the waterfront, provocation as evidenced by their insistence that there be penal provisions against men who withheld their labour. As was explained to this House only last week in the debate on the Stevedoring Industry Charge Bill, the previous Government refused to allow a proper payment Of the levy provided for under that legislation even though the shipowners and the employees agreed that it should be paid. The reason for the refusal was that with the fund being rather short of money and because there was a surplus of waterside workers around the ports of Australia, the then Government endeavoured to persuade the shipowners and the employers of waterside labour to enforce compulsory retirement upon waterside workers who were redundant knowing full well that there was not sufficient money in the fund to pay them their entitlement. The then Government knew that if such a situation occurred there would be conflict on the waterfront between employees and employers. It knew that its action was provocative. The then Government proceeded with its proposal until the shipowners - and 1 do not speak in praise of employers - told the Government to do its own dirty work and refused to carry out this proposal.

The then Government's second provocative act on the waterfront occurred at a time when there was complete agreement between employees and employers on the question of a 35-hour week on the waterfront. The then Government intervened on the specious ground of public interest. The Commonwealth Government at that time took the matter to arbitration and to its eternal credit the Arbitration Commission refused to deal with it, saying that it refused to start a dispute that could not be resolved. That is evidence of the provocation of the working people that was practised by the previous Government Many other instances could be given. The whole question of trying to fine, to prosecute and to gaol trade union people when such penalties do not apply against other sections of the community does not stand the test of logic. In the minds of reasonable Australians, how can it possibly be said that either a working man who refuses to provide his labour - the only bargaining power that he has is his ability to labour and his skills - or his organisation should be prosecuted and fined and he in the long run, under the present provisions of the Act, gaoled?

But when did the previous Government at any time say to an employer who had surplus money: 'You shall invest your money in a particular area, whether it is a profitable area or not, and if you do not we will prosecute, fine and gaol you'? The previous Government never did. It drew a distinction between those who offered their labour for sale and those who offered their money for investment. When workers refused to work the previous Government wanted to drive them to work with a whip. When investors refused to invest the previous Government said:- 'That must be your decision. That must ' be a commercial decision. If you are not guaranteed a profit on your investment why should you be made to invest?' But the previous Government drove men to work to earn $50 a week when it required $60 a week to keep them.

Mr Lynch - That is disgraceful.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Of course it is disgraceful.

Mr Lynch - Your statement is disgraceful.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - It . was the attitude of the Government of which: you were a Minister. I can hardly say that you were a responsible Minister, but I can: say that you were a Minister. That was the -attitude of the previous Government. It has always been the attitude of the previous Government and of those honourable members opposite who have spoken in the- debate and who have never belonged to a union organisation but who have appeared in positions' in which they opposed industrial organisations and trade unions.

Mr Innes - And made a fortune out of them.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - And made a fortune out of them, as my colleague interjected. Tell me how people of this sort can be in a position, in all conscience, to tell the working people of this country what is good for them?

I support the Bill. I have some doubts as to how far it will go in the other place. It will undoubtedly be passed in this place. I have some doubts about its future in the other place because one of the members there is a union member and an ex-trade union secretary who now sails under false colours. I wonder whether he will strike his true colours and raise the Jolly Roger when the Bill comes before the Senate. The matters which the Bill calls into question are important. There is the question of the law of torts, as it applies. Is it to be said by those in Opposition that an employer should have 2 barrels on his shotgun? Is it in their minds to say to the House that not only should industrial law be applied but also civil law should be called into question to charge people with conspiracy if an employer is not successful? I think one law applies in this country. We accept the industrial law. In that case there is no need to call into question the civil law, unless something of a civil nature is done. There is no provision in the present Act to protect trade union officials from the iniquitous charge of conspiracy in a civil court. The Act places them at the mercy of those who indict them. I say to the people of Australia that it is not a fair situation and that the officials and members of unions should be protected from the second barrel of the employer's gun.

A good deal of time in this debate has been wasted by the Opposition. In the time that is available to me I am not able to cover all the points that were raised. Suffice to say that one very important feature of the Bill is the provision which will encourage amalgamations. The previous Government made it very difficult for trade unions to amalgamate. It did that for a very good reason. They were afraid of the trade unions becoming large enough to challenge the interests of the employing class. The whole attitude of the Australian Labor Party, especially in government but also out of government, is that the trade unions should be encouraged to amalgamate so that many questions that can arise on a job - questions of disputation over who does which job - will not arise because the people concerned are members of the same union. We encourage amalgamation. We abhor the penal sanctions that have existed. I trust that this Bill will receive the approval of the House.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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