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Wednesday, 19 April 1972
Page: 1259

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) - The Bill before the Senate relates to the settlement of matters arising out of employment in the Commonwealth Public Service. The Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) in his second reading speech said that the purpose of the Bill is to make provisions in a similar manner to the provisions contained in section 28 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the Public Service arbitration tribunal to deal with what are termed 'industrial situations'. An industrial situation has a very wide definition. It is quite obvious that the basic effect of this Bill is to incorporate in the Public Service Arbitration Act a provision which is essentially similar to section 28 of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act; that is, it introduces into the system Public Service arbitration conferences and compulsory conferences as provided for in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It gives the Public Service Arbitrator far-reaching powers to order a return to work, the lifting of bans, the cessation of regulation strikes, and so on. So the term 'industrial situation' is exceedingly wide.

Senator Bishoppointed out that this legislation can only lead to further discontent. He said that it will not settle those disputes or, as they are termed in the Bill, 'industrial situations'; it will enlarge the areas and measure of discontent to encompass wider section of the Commonwealth Public Service. Senator Bishop said also:

I believe that the Government's actions in seeking to strengthen this legislation is in accordance with its policy of imposing further restrictions on the ability of trade unions in Australia to bargain with employers for an improvement in working conditions.

The position is that fines of $1,000 can be imposed on organisations and individuals, and this Bill is but a first step in the introduction of heavier penalties against Public Service unions, organisations and individuals. It is considered by members of the Public Service that these penalties are intimidatory. The Government, of course, is alarmed at the level of militancy in the Public Service. This measure is designed as a club to be 'used' in the hands of the Government. With this legislation it hopes to smash down the just struggles of public servants who are behind in their economic and job demands. I assure the Senate and the Government that public servants are not in the mood to be intimidated. This type of legislation cannot alter the fundamental fact that public servants are falling behind economically. This is a simple reality that has led to widespread industrial action in the Public Service over recent years.

In these actions public servants have learnt one lesson, namely, that united they are a very powerful force and divided they fall. Their industrial actions have demonstrated that if they are united they have power. If they stop working the business of the country comes to a halt. It is this fact that terrifies the Government and, so it hopes to prevent the public servants from demonstrating their strength. It has only one method of doing this, by putting force onto the statute books. Fines and terms of imprisonment are examples of the type of force which is directed against the working people by the State. In whose interests is this force used? As everybody knows, the Government represents big business and the Public Service is run to suit the interests of big business. Of course, the thing is that when these situations arise the big business representatives say to the Government: 'Something must be done to stop this'. On the other hand, the tycoons of business can sell out or plunder the country; they can raise prices and swindle the people; but the ordinary working man who seeks the best price for the only thing he has to sell - his capacity to work, his labour - is treated as a criminal if he does anything about it.

But the Government will find that these people are not criminals and it will find also that these proposed amendments to the Act are an insult to public servants. They are one-sided penalties. What sort of justice is this? The one-sided nature of the penalties can be illustrated by pointing out that the common form of bans clause inserted into awards under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act contains coercive measures. The provisions of sections 109 and 111 of the Act enforce bans clauses. At least in theory the system of coercion is visited equally on organisations of employers - in some cases individual employers - on the one hand and, on the other hand, organisations of employees and, in some cases, individuals. But in reality the system operates basically to penalise trade unions. The amendment projected by the Bill really can only operate one way, and that is against the unions and their members and public servants generally. The penalty imposed under proposed new section 12 for failure to attend a compulsory conference - $1,000 - cannot be imposed on the Commonwealth or any branch of the Public Service. There is thus ft distinction between the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and this measure in that this Bill provides for a totally one sided penalty.

The Government should be thoroughly alarmed at the disarray of the economy. We have inflation and increasing costs. We heard today about a 7.8 per cent increase in the cost of living. People on superannuation are being robbed of their equity in their superannuation benefits. Price fixing and restrictive trade practices continue and the Government is dilly-dallying about introducing legislation to protect the ordinary people against these things. Foreign investors, who toil not neither do they spin, are skimming the cream of profits. In turn all these things are creating disillusionment and militancy among public servants and other sections of the industrial work force of Australia.

As 1 said before, this Bill is the thin edge of the wedge. It will be a club in the hands of the Government and with it the Government will try to smash down the just struggles of public servants who seek economic justice and improvements in their working conditions. This measure has been condemned by every public service and post office union throughout the Western world as being contrary to the United Nations charter on human rights and as being a blatant contravention of the International Labour Organisation conventions dealing with trade union rights. It was condemned unanimously by a special conference of federal unions convened by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in Sydney on 12th April this year. That was a meeting of unions of various political persuasions, including the Democratic Labor Party. Even the DLP union representatives supported the motion at the conference, which was carried unanimously, and called on every senator to oppose the Bill.

Senator Mulvihill - That was Mr Mayne, was it not?

13071/72- S.- {481

Senator O'BYRNE - That is correct. Senators Gair and Little are very conspicuous by their absence at the moment, after having criticised other honourable senators. During the debate on this measure they said that they were in favour of the Government's action in introducing it. My colleague Senator Bishop and other honourable senators have pointed out that this Bill is totally one sided. The Government cannot fine itself; nor can it penalise any branch of the public service. At least under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, in theory, employers in private industry can be fined. But that is not the case in this Bill. This measure has been condemned by even the Spanish trade unions as being fascist. It can only alienate the goodwill of over 250,000 public servants in this country. It has been described in the daily Press as 'get tough' legislation against the unions but we have not heard anything about the introduction of legislation aimed at getting tough against Broken Hill Pty Company Ltd and other big combines in this country which can freely fix their rates of profit without fear of similar legislation being directed against them.

This measure contains the seeds of widespread discontent. The Government should be alarmed at the reason for this militancy in the public service. It is due to its lack of control over the inflationary trends in Australia. Despite all the makeshift measures introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden), the pie crust promises made by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and Government members generally, inflation still continues. This disunity and discontent is being created in the public service because of the discrepancy between salary rates and the growing cost of living. This Government should realise the work done for it by the loyal band of public servants in this country. This Bill is the thin edge of the wedge and its aim is to get revenge against the postal workers but it can be expanded to cover the whole length and breadth of the public service.

For those reasons, Mr Acting Deputy President, we of the Opposition believe that this legislation is unnecessary. The way to deal with these situations has been proved in the past. Conciliation and other methods that are available within the public service have served the nation well.

Only discontent can arise from the passage of this measure. We oppose this type of legislation and we believe that the Government will have cause to regret putting it on the statute book. Rather than bring peace to industry it will tend to stir up unnecessary trouble.

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