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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1818

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - I support the clause in particular and the Bill in general. We have heard today from honourable members opposite a great story which, when closely examined, can be reduced to the category of calamity howling by individuals who have had little or no experience in the field of industrial relations. Alternatively, they are determined to continue their historic role of rushing to the defence of the people they represent in this Parliament. [ refer to the employers or that section of the community which alone controls in this country the forces of production. The debate on the clause we are discussing has been taken out of perspective. A conciliator has an important role. Any honourable member who has had experience in honestly and sincerely trying to resolve an industrial dispute appreciates that in so doing one looks for people who will explore the conciliatory prospects to their logical conclusion. A number of examples in the recent past have been shown to reinforce my argument. The provisions of the Act show that we seem to be running away from this position. In the Act 2 fundamental areas are dealt with. Ons is conciliation and the other, as the last resort, is arbitration. We ran into difficulties through the 1960s when the employers' organisations were reinforced by the interference by the previous government which wanted to see the Conciliation and Arbitration Act used as a regulator of the economy rather than for the purpose for which is was set up, namely, to resolve industrial disputes. Influence was brought to bear on employers' organisations not to take to its logical conclusion the course which was available to them within the conciliatory arm of the Act. Under section 28 of the Act action can be taken at the conciliatory level.

In practice people used to give lip-service to section 28 of the Act. People would appear to negotiate under that section of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and talk out time, but no genuine effort was made to negotiate. Therefore the process lapsed at that point. What used to happen subsequently was that employers would use that procedure as a fishing expedition to amass sufficient evidence to take unions before the industrial court. No genuine attempt whatsoever was made to conciliate.

What is recognised by this clause, and what the previous Government did not realise, is that experts in resolving industrial disputes are readily available. Judge Aird and Judge Robinson were important appointments to the Bench. They were respected by the trade union movement and had tremendous capacity to resolve industrial disputes. As my friend the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) properly pointed out, they acted in a proper and responsible way to resolve disputes despite the fact that they were probably operating illegally. The amendments made by the previous Government precluded them from operating in an effective way. This clause gives the scope and the ambit for both parties to a dispute to agree to the whole concept of taking advantage of the skill of an individual who has a knowledge of the beginning of a dispute and of using that knowledge right to the end of the dispute, going through the whole ambit of the Act. In the first instance a conciliator has preliminary handling of the dispute and listens to the parties when all tempers are flared and when people tend to take fixed positions. The very fact that the conciliator has had experience in that field is acknowledged by those who have had any experience at all in industrial disputation. The parties then can see the possibility of properly sitting down, under the concept of this Act, without a bludgeon hanging over their heads, and of trying to resolve their differences in a proper and amicable fashion. After having gone through the preliminaries at the conciliation stage, if there is no possibility of a solution at that stage then under the concept of this proposition that authority cannot arbitrate if one party rejects the proposal that they should have him as arbitrator. What is fairer than that?

However, as I pointed out previously, the most important factor is that an individual who is to make the final decision should clearly understand the whole concept of the particular dispute. I have been involved in disputes of this nature. I refer to a classic example heard before Judge Aird, namely the Ericsson dispute. This case involved a very bitter argument and a wrong concept about compulsory unionism. It was taken completely out of perspective. If a conciliator who did not understand just precisely what the case was all about had handled that case in the first instance he could have made a devil of a mess of it. But Judge Aird, who did a magnificent job in the resolving of that dispute, had the flexibility to take the case from the beginning to the end. The only reason that that action could succeed was that the parties agreed that that process should be adopted. That is a practical example.

If anybody knows anything about the recent history of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission he would quickly realise that the case I mentioned involved a very difficult dispute. From that case came an area of agreement between the 2 parties which Judge Aird handled in a very fine way. He was able to do that only because he did a number of things. He took the case through the whole process of conciliation. He examined what was, in fact, the real difficulty between the 2 parties, and that was a series of about 22 complaints of all the unions against the company involved. Judge Aird then set the machinery in motion to examine the complaints. He took off the robes of a Judge and got down to the basis of talking across the table in the way in which that kind of dispute should be handled. He examined each area of the dispute in turn. He came up with a format that we said we would try, and Ky it we did. In trying that format we resolved the dispute.

Harking back to what this clause really means, we have taken away the ridiculous concept under which an individual starts to hear the original aspects of a dispute and, after reaching the point where he knows something about it, is suddenly told that he docs not have the jurisdiction to handle it, and that he has to hand the matter over to somebody else for arbitration. That process is ridiculous and shows the ineptitude and lack of experience of the people who framed the amendments which provided for this course to bc adopted. The proposal now before us is constructive, objective and practical and it can work. Therefore, I commend this clause as it is to the Committee.

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