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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2106

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Unlike the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), it is my intention to speak about the Bill that is before the House. Before doing that I would like to comment on some of the remarks made by the. honourable gentleman. I am sure that he is sincere in what he has told us about Communist China, although I must remind the honourable gentleman that he is 3 years out of date. The current expression is 'the People's Republic of China'. If the things that be has told us about this terrible place are true and that the poor workers in that country are being exploited by their totalitarian bosses - the honourable member nods his head, so that must be true because the honourable gentleman is well known for his veracity - may I point out to him the position of Workers in liberated countries, countries that are free of communist domination and countries where the people determine their own destiny.

Mr Bourchier - And countries without trade unions.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - And countries without trade unions. I cite 3 countries - Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. I point out to the honourable genteman that the average wage for a worker in the textile industry in Taiwan is 25c an hour, in Hong Kong it is 29c an hour and in South Korea it is 21c an hour. But these workers are not exploited by their communist bosses because they do not have communist bosses. They live in liberated countries. They live under the fine capitalist system which the honourable member so obviously supports. Instead of being expoited by their communist bosses they are exploited by their American imperialist bosses. The machinery and the factories in those countries are owned by Americans, overseas people. For the information of the House, the threat to the Australian textile industry does not come from the People's Republic of China. In fact the threat comes from countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea which, I repeat, are fine liberated countries. So much for the honourable gentleman's argument on that score.

What we are talking about today is the International Labour Organisation Bill which deals with the ratification of a number of conventions that have been carried by thai Organisation. In his second reading speech the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) said, and I agree entirely with his sentiments:

The ILO is unique in the international community because it is the only organisation in which representatives of workers and employers participate on an equal footing with those of governments in policy formulation and decision-making. This tripartite composition ensures that the ILO is widely representative of each country and that its work is clearly established in, and focussed on, the human and social problems of the people of the world and the real improvement of their life. For this reason alone it deserves the support of us all.

Yet the honourable member seemed to think that the International Labour Organisation concerned itself purely and simply, if I have copied down what he said correctly, with wage levels, conditions of work and so on. Had the honourable gentleman bothered to read the Bill that is before the House, he would have found that in fact none of the propositions that are asked to be ratified deal with wages, working conditions or like matters. Rather do they deal with such questions as the responsibility of a nation that has dependencies, as Australia does milk Papua New Guinea, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the like. They deal also with the question of apartheid. Neither of these matters directly refers to wages and working conditions of workmen in Australia, rather do they refer to the responsibilities of this Government. Thank God that after 23 years of Liberal-Country Party rule we now have a responsible Government that will face up to its responsibilities to those around it.

It is within the memory of every member of this House that when sporting representatives from a country that is notorious for selecting its teams on a racial basis came to Australia the people of this country, including of course trade union officials and members, raised great protest at the flaunting in the face of the Australian people of the policy of such a decadent regime as that of South Africa. If one cares to read the relevant convention of the International Labour Organisation, one will find that opposition to such sporting teams was within the framework of the thinking of the ILO at the time, and still is. In fact, to the best of my knowledge South Africa has been expelled from the International Labour Organisation because of the convention that provides that any nation that is expelled from the United Nations shall be expelled from the International Labour Organisation. So those who stood in this House at that time and criticised and condemned the trade unions for their progressive thinking and their willingness to take action on a social question, must of course now stand condemned themselves, because the ILO states that the action taken by the unions is exactly what should have happened anyhow. It was the Government of the day that was at fault not the trade unions which took action.

It is very pleasing to hear both the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) and the honourable member for Mackellar laud the ILO - the formation of it, the structure of it and the decision-making process of it - because unlike those who now sit in opposition, we who sit on the Government side of the Parliament have always believed in consultation at this level and that the decisions carried by this body should be recognised by the

Government of Australia and, where constitutionally possible, should be implemented.

I must come back to the point that the ILO is not just some super trade union movement but that in fact it concerns itself with all matters that affect people and their associations with one another, such abhorrent matters as apartheid, and seeing that those nations which have dependencies make every effort to ensure that the workmen who work in those dependencies and thereby create the wealth are not denied any share of that wealth. It must be remembered that all actions of government in the long term and the short term affect the people of the country and especially the workers of the country. The previous Government of this country was notorious for the way in which it endeavoured to break the organised trade union movement in this country, the only voice with which many people in this country could speak. When a government takes action the consequences filter down to the people who rely on their labour to survive.

One matter I have in mind is political strikes. How often have we heard in this House talk about work stoppages through what were termed political strikes. We have heard such comments in relation to escalation of the bombing in Vietnam, detonation of a nuclear device in the Pacific area, a visit to this country of a sporting team representing a country that selects its sporting teams strictly on a racial basis, and many other issues. Many people who supported the previous Government termed them political strikes. Those honourable and sometimes learned gentlemen should be prepared to read through the decisions of the International Labour Organisation. I repeat that it is an organisation of workers, employers and governments. Were those gentlemen to read through the decisions of the ILO taken over the years they would find running through them a thread that they abhorred when they were in office, contrary to the principles they lauded.

It is most significant that this measure does not need to be brought forward. The Government in this instance does not need the approval of the Parliament yet it has brought forward this measure simply because, unlike the governments of the preceding 23 years, it wants the Parliament to know what it is doing. Through the Parliament it is letting the people know what it is doing. That is an important democratic principle that seems to be supported only by us on this side of the House. It is important if the true concept of democracy is to survive in this country. No longer can we tolerate the taking of decisions by governments in Cabinet rooms without bothering to tell the Parliament or the people what they are doing.

This Bill is divided into 2 parts. The first part relates to 2 technical amendments which change certain numbers and words. It would take far too long to detail them now. The second part of the Bill ratifies decisions taken by previous conventions. One provides:

(a)   Where the subject-matter of the Conventionis within the self-governing powers of any territory, the obligation of the Member responsible for the international relations of that territory shall be to bring the Convention to the notice of the government of the territory as soon as possible with a view to the enactment of legislation or other action by such government; if the government of the territory so agrees, the Member shall communicate to the DirectorGeneral of the International Labour Office a declaration accepting the obligations of the Convention on behalf of such territory.

Australia is a member nation of the International Labour Organisation; Papua New Guinea is not. We - including the people of Papua New Guinea - trust that in a short time Papua New Guinea will enjoy nationhood in its own right and that it will be able to take its place as a member nation of the ILO. In the intervening period the convention makes it incumbent upon Australia to draw to the attention of the Government of Papua New Guinea matters which are of direct concern to it. The Government of Papua New Guinea in return is to respond to the Australian Government as a member nation. Australia then has a responsibility to report back to the International Labour Organisation. Once again it is indicative of the openness of the present Government that the decisions taken are communicated directly. Decisions are not passed on by the grapevine. It is a direct responsibility of a member nation to convey to its dependent states matters which will affect them, and all these matters do affect them. A dependent state has a responsibility to consider a proposition and to express its point of view back to the member nation. The member nation in turn shall convey that point of view to the ILO. Nothing could be fairer.

That convention was passed quite some time ago but was never agreed to by the previous Government. In fact, the previous

Government agreed to very few ILO conventions and quite a number of them are outstanding. The present Labor Government of Australia strongly supports the structure of the ILO. It is a participant in ILO meetings. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) will go to Geneva in June as Australia's representative. For the first time in many years a Geneva Conference will be refurbished and invigorated by the presence of an Australian Labor Party Minister. I wish him well on the journey. I am sure he will bring to the meeting the wisdom he has brought to this Parliament in speaking on industrial relations.

Many other matters are of prime concern to our people. The honourable member for Flinders, who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, spoke on unemployment, a matter of prime concern to our people. Perhaps the matter of greatest concern to working people is unemployment. It involves the availability of employment opportunities and protection against the capricious actions of governments which can take away from a man his right to earn a living in the community. If I heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition correctly he said that there was unemployment, but he was gracious enough to acknowledge that relatively serious unemployment occurred in the period prior to the Federal election. He further indicated that the level of unemployment had been reduced. He seemed to be saying that unemployment had been reduced because the previous Government, before its defeat in 1972, had set in train a course of action which took some time to take effect. He said that it was only now taking effect and that the economic decisions and actions of the previous government had reduced unemployment to its present level.

The honourable member tor Flinders has generally been a very gracious gentleman. I am surprised that on this occasion he was not gracious enough to acknowledge that it is only the action taken by the Labor Government since last December that has caused a drop in unemployment. He forgot to mention, as I have just mentioned, that the capricious actions of the previous Government threw 120,000 people out of work in Australia. The responsible actions taken by a responsible government since last December have meant that the slack in the economy has been taken up. There is no doubt in my mind, and I am sure in the minds of my colleagues, that the trouble stemmed from the actions taken by the previous Government in its 1972-73 Budget in order to correct its previous mistakes. It may sound hackneyed, but I repeat that after 23 years in office the previous Government should have learned not to make mistakes. But it made mistakes in 1954, 1961 and 1971. Supporters of the previous Government did not know how to manage the economy. As a direct result of their attempts to rectify their previous mistakes, 120,000 people were thrown out of work and were caused great hardship. The present Government follows the conventions of the International Labour Organisation. Through wisdom, good and sound common sense :ind our expert knowledge of the economy and its impact on the working people for whom we care greatly, we on this side of the House will never be led into the trap into which the previous Government was so easily led.

All in all, although the measure before the House is of a technical nature, it does open up many questions for discussion. Honourable members opposite never miss an opportunity in speaking to bash the unions. For as long as they want to do that I will never miss an opportunity to defend the unions and the working people of this country. The measure can receive no serious opposition. The Government and the Minister for Labour, are to be commended for bringing this matter to the attention of the House so that it can be aired, rather than shuffling it around as the previous Government did for so long. It is commendable that the Minister has brought these matters, which are of interest and concern to the community, to the people through the medium of the Parliament so that they can be publicly discussed and understood and. in this way, prevent difficulties arising.

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