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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1800

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - The problem of the greatest magnitude which Australia faces today is that of inflation. There can be no doubt about that. Inflation, as was said by a management consultant yesterday, is something which people come to learn to live with. But the fact is, of course, that while they live with it for a while they soon learn that the effects of inflation upon them as individuals are very damaging indeed. Inflation has 2 major faults. One is the harm it does while it is running, and the second is the harm which is created by action taken to cure it, if that action is not taken quickly enough. While intiation is running, it causes a vicious redistribution of income in the community. Inflation does not barm the speculator but it harms the person on a low income. Inflation does harm the person who is a member of a union without great industrial power. Inflation does hurt the person on a fixed income. Inflation does hurt people who have worked all of their lives and saved and who are relying on money which they have saved to give then the added comforts in their declining years or old age - call it what you will. Also inflation redistributes in an economy where work is done.

During an inflationary period the public purchasing patterns are quite different from what they are at other times. But when they want to buy goods of a luxury kind before the price goes up - or 'buy quickly while money still has some value', as I heard someone explain the situation the other day - they are entitled to be fearful of the future. Therefore while inflation may seem to be something that people can live with for a while, it is not long before it becomes realistic to people that inflation does do them a great deal of harm. Even the trade unions will not support the Government if it stands by and not only allows the inflationary pressures to rise but also contributes to them by such actions as arguing in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission that there should be an $11.50 flat rise. Indeed, Mr Jolly, the Australian Council of Trade Unions advocate, said that he thought the rise should be about $5. In fact, the rise was $2.50 plus 2 per cent. If the Government continues with this attitude it is as inevitable, as that night follows day that it will have to take action to protect the economy. When that action is taken to protect the economy the Government will enter into a deflationary period in which people will be thrown out of work and there emphasise that I am talking about powerful groups like the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union which is a combination of what were formerly the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society, the Sheetmetal Workers Union, and the. Amalgamated Engineering Union and has about 180.000 members - have immense political and economic power. If they wish, they can call a political strike and say: 'We strike because we do not like the government of another country'. What can an employer do to rectify that situation? He cannot do a thing about it. He cannot answer their complaints. But the political strike is a method of serving a political philosophy. The fact that it disadvantages the workforce in a community - fellow workers - and that it makes life intolerable for those people who rely on electricity, transport, power or bread and children who enjoy drinks and ice cream, matters not when a political strike is called for the trade unions' purposes. This Bill builds up the strength of unions. One example - I will not spend much time on it - is that under the. Bill there will be no penalties on persons for entering any premises for the purposes of inciting a strike. What an extraordinary immunity is given. will be dislocation of economic activity. What will happen is that we will lose growth. Apart from the social harm there will be economic harm, and this harm will continue into the future.

One of the problems which the Labor Party in government faces is that while it is obliged as the Government to take responsible decisions, in fact it is not free to take decisions on its own beliefs. The Government knows that it is confronting a problem of this kind and I have no doubt that it would like to be able to do something about it. But it dare not do so because the base of the Labor Party's political support lies in the trade unions and the trade unions are totally unwilling to accept that wage increases increase costs and that costs increase prices. The unions will not permit the Labor Party to take action on this matter. Therefore we will go on for a considerable period of time with all sorts of nonsense that in some magical way the Government can stop price increases even though it permits excess wage increases, and I emphasise the word 'excess'. But the base of the Labor Party's support really explains this legislation. This Bill is a way of giving to the trade union movement - the powerful sections of the trade union movement - tangible thanks for the support that was given to the Labor Party to get it into office. In other words it is discharging a debt in paying that price. It is a pretty severe price to pay. I doubt that Government supporters really understood what they were doing. They surely could not have been prepared to have legislation introduced in the House which would put the unions in such a privileged position. The Government talks about socialist philosophy, about a classless society, but by this legislation they are creating a class society in which the dominant class comprises the officials of powerful trade unions. These officials will be given an immunity that nobody else in this community will have. I will refer to this aspect later.

The Government will provide for union domination on national events. The unions' views will be the dominant views of this Government - and by this legislation the Government will strengthen the unions. I am not talking about small unions but about the powerful agglomerations of unions that the Government wants to see become even more powerful in amalgamation. Trade unions today - when I use the term 'trade unions' I

I want to deal with the 3 major issues of the Bill. The first is the abolition of sanctions. This word 'sanctions' has dropped into our vocabulary. What is really meant is the absence of any penalties, but the absence of penalties, of course, is related entirely to the absence of penalties on unions. If this Bill is passed, a union may strike with impunity. No penalty will be attached to an order from the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or the court for men to go back to work. In future the unions will be able to do exactly as they wish. It will not please the Government when it has a rash of strikes but it will be disastrous to the Australian people for undoubtedly the strike rate is building up.

Secondly, because there is no penalty provision there is no way in which the arbitration authorities can intervene in a strike so that the public interest can be safeguarded. When a strike occurs those concerned are not just the employers and the unions. A very real public interest is involved and our arbitration system, until now, has enabled the public interest to be taken into account. No longer will there be that opportunity. The penalties are maintained for breaches of awards. By the very nature of those penalties, which have been increased to a maximum of $1,000 they are referable only to the employer. This is a totally biased piece of legislation. It is not only biased but also retrograde.

I am sure, that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) would regard himself - though perhaps he would not find many sharing his view - as a forward thinker in industrial relations. In fact, what he is doing is going back 70 years. In 1904 Mr Justice Higgins, of the then just formed Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, said of that Commission - or Court as it was then called - that it would end the law of the jungle and bring back order and reason into industrial affairs. What is now happening is that by taking out these provisions there is no way in which the public interest can be heeded. The Government is returning industrial relations to the law of the jungle. Even awards or agreements which voluntarily include any strike penalty provisions can no longer be registered with the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Yet only a matter of a year or 2 ago the Minister for Labour and the Australian Council of Trade Unions were saying that sanctions were all right provided they were agreed upon between the parties and that the agreement could then be. registered with the Commission. What has happened to that concept I do not know. Quite clearly this is a vastly biased piece of legislation which will disadvantage the Australian public.

The next matter to which I refer concerns immunity from tort which, in simple words, means that a person who can at present be sued in the civil courts for an action which damages some other person will be free to conduct that harmful action and the person who is harmed will not be able to sue him. This is an extraordinary provision. I personally doubt its constitutional validity, but 1 am not arguing that at the moment. The doubt I have about its constitutional validity is this: How can the Commonwealth pretend, under an industrial relations provision, to deprive^ one citizen of his civil right against another citizen to be enforced in the civil courts. I put that question aside and deal with the provision simply as though it were a valid enactment if it were passed. The civil actions which at present can be brought for damages against a person, will be confined and will not be available unless that person's actions cause death, physical injury, damage to property, threat of damage to property or defamation.

The Bill tries to confine the provision, which was first introduced by Senator Murphy in the Senate last year, which applied across the board and which got nowhere in that form. So the Government has attempted to confine it. But the situation still exists that if a trade union leader takes his union members and pickets a particular factory, prevents goods coming in or going out and prevents workmen going to work, the employer suffers immense damage. The employer cannot sue the people who are inciting that action. To give this sort of immunity to a trade union officer and to put him above the law as distinct from any other citizen in the Commonwealth is quite clearly a retrograde action. Because also the bans clauses are to go, as are the penalties relating to strikes, and because the possibility of public interest being involved will be ignored, we have returned to the law of the jungle where the only way of settling a dispute is by strike or lock-out. There is no penalty for strike and no penalty for lock-out. What this really amounts to is an invitation by the Government to an employer, when confronted with this sort of situation, to lock-out his employees. If that does not mean going back to the law of the jungle I cannot understand what it does mean. It would prevent also fellow-employees, intimated by a union or union officers, from suing the intimidator to obtain relief from that intimidation.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What is your authority for that?

Mr SNEDDEN - The Bill. In conjunction with the abolition of sanctions, it will grant to the unions and union officers positions of privilege not enjoyed by other sections of the community. Therefore, quite clearly, it is biased legislation. The third point about which I wish to speak concerns the amalgamations of unions. Under the present law, before unions can amalgamate there must be a ballot. That ballot must be controlled by the court. It is mandatory that the court conduct the ballot. Under the provisions of this Bill all that is taken away. There is to be no court controlled ballot for the amalgamation. It is to be just a matter of the union itself deciding how it will conduct the ballot.

There has been a removal of the penalties provisions. The fines for conduct which is an irregular use of the balloting system have all gone, although there are still some penalties under section 46, which is a very genera] section. It needs to be specific and relate the offences and penalties to irregularities in the conduct of the ballot before amalgamation. There is a removal of all requirements to gazette dates on which the ballot will commence, open and close. All those things have gone. There is no time limit now for the period during which the ballot can be conducted. What will happen is that the ballot will be decided in any way that the union chooses to have it decided. This is not really a fair go for the Australian people, who are very greatly affected by what happens in amalgamations of unions, the putting together of very powerful groups in the community.

I understand that there are just over 300 unions in Australia today. There are a number of people who say that amalgamations would be a good thing because there would be fewer unions to deal with but the amalgamations of which we are speaking are not the amalgamations of the small unions to make them more efficient and to take away the need to negotiate with several unions. It is not the small unions that are affected by the amalgamation clause. There is in fact very little impetus for small unions to amalgamate. The major force for amalgamation is in the big and powerful unions. One instance of this, as I said at the outset, is the Amalgamated Metalworkers Union, which now comprises 180,000 unionists who were formerly members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and the Sheetmetal Workers Union.

There is a great deal of talk about a proposed amalgamation of unions in the transport complex. Negotiations are taking place between the Transport Workers Union of Australia and the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemens Association of Australasia. I understand that enticement is being put out to the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia to join in this transport complex. Can the House imagine what would happen with amalgamations which would form a big transport group and a big metal workers group and the power that these groups would bring to bear upon a government? Can the House imagine the power that would be brought to bear on the public when these 2 amalgamated union groups get together or future amalgamated groups get together?

Quite clearly the public interest must be considered in this matter. If the public interest is to be considered, is it not fair to say that before there can be an amalgamation at least 50 per cent of the members should vote and that of the 50 per cent of the members who vote there must be a majority in favour of the amalgamation? Is that 50-50 proposal not fair? But not a bit of it in this Bill. In this Bill the Government says it is just a simple majority. It could be 2 members, the president and secretary, voting. No rules say when the ballot is to be open to union members or state the period of time during which ballot papers have to go out or during which any argument can be put for and against amalgamation. The union management executive alone could have a vote and that could result in amalgamation proposals. I believe that to take away any statutory provision relating to amalgamation is simply to turn over to the powerful officials at the top of the trade unions a tremendous accretion to their power. They are already powerful men. After this Bill becomes law they will be excessively powerful men. I am quite sure that the Minister for Labour will live to regret this day because he will have to deal with this power, and what we have seen in the past is that when a Labor politician is confronted-

Mr Whittorn - He will not have to deal with them for long.

Mr SNEDDEN - Three years perhaps. The Government has stopped talking about an early election. It is afraid of that. The Minister for Labour will have the problem of dealing with them, and everybody knows that when he has been confronted in the past with trade union power he has buckled. That is what will happen in the future because he will be confronted with even greater unions power. I think that this Bill ought to be rejected.

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

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