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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1797

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - The action taken by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) this afternoon to stifle debate on this important measure is to be regretted. To me, it points to what we can expect in this House in the future under this Government. I was here when it first came into this Parliament as the Government. It talked about open government, democratic government, but when what has been always recognised in this Parliament as one of the most important pieces of legislation is brought before, this House in the first Parliament under this Government, the gag is applied. Last year the previous Government introduced many amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1972. On that occasion we debated that legislation for some 19 hours. That time has been cut in half by this Government. There seems to be a reluctance by the Government and the Leader of the House to debate this measure. There is also a reluctance, judging from statements made on the Government side of the House, to allow honourable members on this side to debate the measure. It is claimed by honourable members opposite that we know nothing about conciliation and arbitration or about unions. There are 2 sides to this penny and it would be as well for the Government to understand that.

This legislation directly involves millions of people in Australia while indirectly it involves all Australia. The majority of people cannot be employed if we do not have employers, men of initiative to set up employment opportunities, to put in capital - in many cases, risk capital - to set up factories and build industries. Somebody has to take the initiative. What would be the situation if we did not have employers and the billions of dollars being invested in employment opportunities for the people of this country? During the last 23 years we have seen a complete change in this country in the building of industrial works. It is as a result of the policies of the past 23 years that millions of people now employed in Australia can be employed under good conditions. Let us not lose sight of that fact. Obviously members of the Opposition understand the total scene in relation to this Bill. They understand that it is brought forward entirely for the sake of the employee, certainly not for the employer. But this job opportunity must be given by employers throughout Australia if we are to put our work force to good use.

The employment record in Australia compared with the employment record in other parts of the world - I can go back 10 or 20 years- shows that Australia stands second to none. That was the situation in the past and it will be interesting to see what the situation will be in the future. If the last 3 months have been any guide - people can see exactly what is happening to capital investment in this country - the Government might be wise to take heed of the situation. Capital available for investment from overseas has dropped $ 1,050m in the first 3 months of this calendar year - January, February and March- below the amount for January, February and March 1972. In that 3 months period in 1972 we had a net inflow of capital into this country of, from memory, $435m. In the last 3 months we have had a net outflow of capital of something like $621m, a difference of over $ 1,000m. No country can stand that sort of situation for very long without very serious consequence to its development. It is this development which has made possible the jobs that we are talking about in dealing with this legislation. The Minister for Labour, who is in charge of this Bill - I notice that unfortunately he is not in the House at the moment - should understand the situation, although often I think he does understand it a little better than he says he does sometimes when making public statements.

It was suggested by this Government when its members were in opposition that if they were to hold the reins of government they would be in a better position to understand the unions, that they would be in a better position to avoid strikes and that, therefore, there would be greater harmony in the work force in Australia. It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth Statistician is reported on 17th April 1973 as saying that in January last year §773,700 was lost in wages and in January this year the loss amounted to $1,365,700. He said that there were 153 disputes in January this year and 125 disputes in January last year. That does not speak very well for this Government and its claim that it Would understand the situation in relation to conciliation and arbitration and the work force generally in Australia, or that it would do a better job than the previous Government did. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future in relation to all those things. As I have said, in relation to our capital situation in Australia we must view all things with great care. Inflation is rearing its head in no uncertain fashion and it will have a detrimental effect on many people in the wages and salary area, including those who are involved under this legislation. Unless this Government takes note of that situation it is obvious from the figures which have been given that the position will become extremely serious.

This Bill threatens to break down conciliation and arbitration as we have known it in the past. This step, I believe, will be very detrimental to Australia. One has to go back some years to recognise what the system has meant to Australia. We know that many years ago when the work force could not get a reasonable deal it looked in many cases for some means of conciliation and arbitration so that its interests would be looked after. This system has been with us for a long time. I believe it to be a good system. But we cannot have it both ways. We cannot have collective bargaining and at the same time expect to get conciliation and arbitration because this is just not possible. There must be a recognition of this by both parties - employees and employers - if we are to have settlements of disputes in this country. But, of course, this has not always been the case. If we have collective bargaining I do not know what will happen in this country. Evidence overseas has indicated that collective bargaining has its real problems, although this depends largely on the way in which the legislation is drawn up.

The Minister indicated in his second reading speech that the Government had a clear mandate in regard to this legislation. I question that claim. From whom has it a clear mandate? The Minister has in operation at the moment a committee to look at points in relation to conciliation and arbitration. If he has all the answers and if he has a clear mandate in regard to what he intends to do, why have a committee? Since this Government has been in office it has been setting up committees and commissions at a great pace. I do not know how many have been set up, but to set them up and not to wait for their considered reports is, to my mind, a useless expenditure of public money. I ask the Minister whether he has consulted those who are affected by this legislation. No doubt he has consulted with the employees. There is no doubt about that at all because the employees or their representatives have been stating what should in fact be done. But has he consulted with the employers in relation to these things? As I have said, the employer is all important in legislation of this kind because it is the employer who has to find the wherewithal to set up the various industries throughout Australia.

Let me pause for a moment to say something about collective bargaining as against the conciliation and arbitration system. If in fact - this may have been stated earlier this afternoon - the Government wishes to introduce legislation in regard to collective bargaining, let it do so, but it should not try to bring it in through the back door. That is what is happening in regard to this legislation at the moment. We cannot have lopsided legislation in respect of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. As I see it at the moment the legislation will be lopsided. It favours the employee. It takes away from all employees sanctions and areas of responsibility, so far as I can see, and it leaves intact those provisions so far as the employers are concerned. I understand that when collective bargaining arrangements are made in some countries a contract with a company is made, probably for a period of 3 years or thereabouts, and the agreement lays down precisely what is going to happen during that time. In that instance the employee and the employer know precisely what their position will be for the next 3 years. Under this type of legislation nobody will really know what in fact will happen, except that probably there will be many problems. Therefore I suggest that if the Government wants to introduce legislation on collective bargaining it should come forward with the legislation and not try, as I have said, to do it through the back door. But no doubt it has bad its instructions and this is the way it intends to do it.

In relation to sanctions it is interesting to note in the Act - no doubt these words have been in it for a long time - the words which describe in section 2 sub-section (d) the chief objects of the Act. Sub-section (d) states:

(d)   to provide for the observance and enforcement of agreements and awards made in settlement of industrial disputes;

How can we get that sort of message into this new legislation? It is built into the present Act. That is the objective of the Act. A chief objective of the Act is the observance and enforcement of agreements. So far as I can see this Bill before the House takes out of the

Act all responsibility on employees in relation to standing by agreements that are made. The Minister for Labour was adamant for some time about the direction that he was going to take before he introduced this legislation. It is interesting to note a statement which he made in February this year. A report of his remarks stated:

The Federal Government is to launch a vigorous campaign against employers who breach industrial laws.

The Minister for Labour, Mr Cameron, yesterday outlined proposals to speed up the prosecution o£ employers who did not comply with awards and safety regulations.

I say at the outset that safety regulations should be .applied at all times. I have always been an advocate of that sort of thing. But what I do not like about that statement by the Minister is that he was directing his attack in one direction and in one direction only. As I said, if there is to be harmony and agreement in industry there must be a sense of responsibility on the part of both the employer and the employee. The Minister has been reported on a number of occasions as making statements similar to the one I have fust outlined.

In regard to sanctions - and this is appropriate to the sort of message that I have just been relating - apparently the Government intends to carry this legislation through the House. The effect will be that when an agreement is made there will be no responsibility, as far as the employee is concerned, to stand by that agreement. This is the way in which I read the Bill. If there is no responsibility on one side I fail to see how any of the agreements can in fact be observed, especially when one considers many aspects of the Bill.

Something should be said about the area of the legislation which deals with the public interest. I think that the Minister referred to this area in his second reading speech. I cannot see how the Bill is related to the public interest. Of course, consideration of the public interest is important. If it is not important, with so many people involved, to consider the public interest, then what is the Bill all about? Surely it should be to the advantage of any legislation which is to pass through this House for the public interest to be taken into consideration. It does not matter whether the legislation under consideration is concerned with economics, conciliation and arbitration or any other matters. The Bill we are considering at the moment seems to leave aside the public interest. The Minister in his second reading speech said:

The Bill provides that the Commission shall not refuse to certify an agreement made in settlement of an industrial dispute unless the certification of it would cause a major detriment to the public interest.

Who will sit in judgment and how will such a proposal work out? These are the questions that 1 ask the Minister.

I cannot see in the Bill any opportunity for the public interest to be taken into account. After all, was not this consideration the whole crux of conciliation and arbitration legislation in the Commonwealth? We did not have the power under the Constitution of the Commonwealth to do any more than we have done up to the present - that is, to establish the conciliation and arbitration machinery that will in fact settle a dispute. If the conciliation and arbitration legislation was brought into being to settle disputes, obviously the public interest must be taken into consideration. As I have said, consideration of the public interest is a very important aspect of the Bill before us. As I see it this legislation is neglecting the public interest. If this is the case then 1 believe disputes will increase rather than decrease in the future. In this type of legislation we must at all times take into consideration the interests of the people themselves.

The Government in this legislation has introduced measures concerning the amalgamation of various unions. If I remember rightly previous legislation brought down in 1972 dealt with this subject of amalgamations. The legislation now before the Parliament indicates to me that amalgamation of unions will be able to take place with very little interest being taken by the members themselves. I appreciate the point that it is up to the union members to take an interest in their own affairs. I also appreciate that any major change involving the amalgamation of unions should take place on a more democratic basis than is proposed under the Bill that we are considering. I do not believe the proposal that an amalgamation can take place with a majority of those voting - which could be very few indeed in the case of some unions - is in the best interests of the union movement. No [ doubt there are far too many unions in Australia Iia at the moment - I think that in all there are more than 300 unions - but I do not believe that this piece of legislation now before the House is the right way to achieve amalgamations in relation to those unions.

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