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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 1976

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - This Bill is one of the important pieces of legislation that Parliament is called upon to discuss. In the matter of conciliation and arbitration, Australia has passed through various stages in a rather short period of history. At one time we probably were far in advance of the rest of the world in relation to the concept of conciliation and arbitration. I think that to some extent we are rather lagging in that regard today. To understand the Bill one has to go back over the history, since the Industrial Revolution, of the need for legislation to control industrial affairs. In the social history of mankind it is not so very long ago that there were no legal rights in terms of employment and no legal rights to organise as a trade union. All these things were subject to chance. One has only to read of the conditions that existed in Great Britain 80 to 100 years a£0 to realise the dreadful conditions that were a manifestation of all that was low in conditions that developed out of the Industrial Revolution. In the coal mines of England there were employed pregnant women, children of 6 years of age and younger. Children who were just out of the babes-in-arms stage were given small tasks in the spinning mills of England of that day.

It is very interesting to go back 100 or 120 years only and read in the Hansards of Great Britain the speeches that were made by members of the legislature of that country when propositions were before the Parliament to relieve the dreadful industrial conditions that had developed out of the first attempts at modern-type industrial produtcion, with no recourse to the legality of controlling wages and conditions in the industrial enterprises. The early legislation was sponsored by reformers. Some had a religious background. Many who had a religious background opposed the reforms because of the poverty that would result in the families in which children of 6 and 7 years of age were holding down jobs for 10 hours a day 6 days a week. These reformers were sufficiently religious to demand that the children be allowed off on Sundays so that they could devote that day to religious devotions. They saw the awful tragedy of poverty that would be aggravated in the families if these mites, these little children, were taken out of industry. I think that quite sincere men in their day and time, with only the knowledge that they had of that period to guide them, made very sincere speeches along those lines. Today we would laugh at the possibility of similar events occurring again and we would cry over the cruelty to these children who were just out of the babesinarms stage whose lives were twisted and sacrified in the interests of manufacturing goods that were leading to the greater prosperity of the people.

So we progressed from that stage, and Australia was part of the progression because in the early days of settlement of this country some of the people who were sent here from England as criminals were people who had been audacious enough to try to form industrial organisations to protect themselves and their families from the circumstances that can so obviously emanate from a completely undisciplined and uncontrolled community with no laws to guide it in relation to manufacturing and other industries, whether they be coal mines, boot factories, spinning mills or the more modern versions that we have today. Australia's industrial history probably began with the people who were refugees from the type of oppression that developed against those who dared to organise for as industrial voice and to formulate unions. People like those who were referred to as the Tolpuddle martyrs were sent to this country as criminals because of their audacious activities in trying to form a kind of industrial protection. As trade unions exist today, we would not think that the type of organisation that they were trying to construct was of a particularly militant character. It would probably be criticised today for being an extreme right wing organisation.

In this country we moved very quickly through the stages of recognition of trade unions to the stage at which the unions were the main campaigners and the main architects of an industrial conciliation and arbitration system. I recognise, as earlier unionists did, their absolute right to organise as a trade union - that right was challenged in this country, too - and to have a legal award, a wage that was theirs by right of legality in the community. They were joined by many in the employer class. Because of the open slather - if I could use the vernacular - in industrial relations, it was easy to illustrate to many employers that ultimately the intense competition to obtain more production while paying less wages to employees reduced their industrial enterprises to a stale of profitability in which the margin very often was not sufficient for them to survive in a highly competitive type community. Certain persons were forced, perhaps by the circumstances of the industry, to pay a higher wage than other persons who could get cheap labour because they had access to female labour in large quantities and so could pay less. This situation applied particularly in the early clothing trade industries in this country. Employers began to realise that this type of competition ultimately reduced their possibilities of success. While there was resistance from employer classes to the setting up of a legal background for the payment of wages and the provision of conditions of labour that was beyond question, the resistance was not total.

From this situation there was established a system of conciliation and arbitration which, at the point of time of its introduction and for many years after, was probably superior to that which existed in any part of the world. Australia can be said to have led the world in numerical strength of trade unionists per capita and in the arbitration and conciliation structure that it had created. As industry changed as it inevitably will, and as politics throughout the world began to develop along different lines, these things that had been established by labour, by sensible employers and by good governments came under challenge. They came under challenge not necessarily from the employer class because the employer class settled down with arbitration and found that it was not a bad thing for everyone else in their competitive industry to be paying what they paid. If they had conceded specific hours and conditions to the workers in their plants they knew that those hours and conditions also were being conceded in other plants that were competing for existing markets. Therefore, to be profitable they had to resort to increasing efficiency, to regularising production and to embarking upon a programme of development. Employers found that this was much better than endeavouring to find profitability in the exploitation of labour because in the final analysis those who were their labour were also their market. The impoverishment of their labour force to improve their profits was one thing but the impoverishment of their labour force and ultimately their market could very readily create a situation in which the impoverishment was so great that there would be no market for their goods.

Employers in general settled down with a system of conciliation and arbitration which they considered to be a wise way in which to regulate the tremendous improvement in the standards which were available to everybody and which could emanate from the industrial circumstances of the day, whose beginning has been described as the industrial revolution. It was found in the beginning that challenges to the arbitration system came more from employers than from employees. If we cast our minds back - and I have always been interested in politics - we note that one challenge which was levelled at the arbitration set-up of this country, which was so valued by the workers of the day resulted in the defeat of a Prime Minister of this country. Sir Robert Bruce was defeated by the then Secretary of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, Mr Holloway. This defeat took place in a blue ribbon electorate, portion of which is represented by the present Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr Phillip Lynch.

Senator Durack - I think he was the Prime Minister of another country many years ago.

Senator Hannan - I think you mean Stanley Bruce.

Senator LITTLE - I am sorry, it was Stanley Bruce. I mixed him up with a Scot of another day. I presume that honourable senators will forgive me for that slip of the tongue. To continue the history of the trade union movement, we began to find that challenges to arbitration and conciliation started to come from another organised force in the community. This was a political force; it was the growing political force of communism throughout the community. That force saw in the stability of conciliation and arbitration which provided legally regularised wages and conditions a reasonable set-up that could not be exploited. In contrast, in some other countries which did not enjoy the system that had been developed in Australia it was an easy matter for communist organisations to batten on the poverty and the disorganised life of the communities that were living without these advantages. The conciliation and arbitration system constituted one of the principal barriers to the success of communism in Australia.

Senator Cavanagh - There were big strikes called before the advent of the Communist Party.

Senator LITTLE - There were many strikes before the advent of the Communist Party. There were many big strikes to establish the arbitration system. There were strikes during the currency of the arbitration system itself before strikes were organised by the communists. There will always be strikes. We can have a strike for an industrial reason or because of an industrial injustice which can even apply under the best regulated systems of arbitration. But it is a different matter when there is a politically inspired and organised strike which is called for no other purpose than to destroy the system which has been created to regularise industry, wages and conditions. Senator Cavanagh suggested that big strikes took place before communist activity and therefore the communists could not be blamed.

Senator Cavanagh - 1 say that this destroys your argument that they are the cause.

Senator LITTLE - I do not suggest that it does destroy my argument because I propose to produce some evidence to substantiate my argument. I do not want to quote my own experiences although as a former trade union official I could do so. I was an extreme right winger, whatever that may mean, but I remember when employers considered me to be an extreme left winger although I do not think anyone has had the temerity to suggest that I was at any time pro-communist in any way. I want to turn back to a particular period in our industrial history when the first revelations were being made which produced the evidence that the Communist Party, as an organised political force not only in this country but throughout the world, was dedicated to a programme which had as one of its ambitions in this country the destruction of the conciliation and arbitration system that had been developed here.

I want to refresh the minds of honourable senators on the legislation that was brought down in this country, not by a boss's government or a conservative government, but by a Labour government. I refer to the time when the last Labor Government under the leadership of the late Ben Chifley was in office. I wish to refer to a quotation from a speech made in this place by Senator Mckenna, who was at that time the leader of the Australian Labor Party in this chamber. The speech to which I refer was made during the debate on the National Emergency (Coal Strike) Bill that was brought down on 29th June 1949. Even that date is significant because this legislation was in answer to a strike which was called in the coal mining industry of this country by a resolution carried, I think, on 16th June to be put into effect on 27th June. After the strike had been current for only 2 days a Labor Government found it necessary to introduce legislation into this place to protect not only the people of the nation but the arbitration system of this country. After 2 days of a strike the Labor Government had sufficient evidence to justify producing before this Parliament legislation to slop the destruction of the arbitration system of this country by the Communist Party, as Labor men of the day labelled it. and to save the people from the repercussions that could develop from that strike. Senator Mckenna in presenting the measure before this chamber said:

The measure which is now before the Senate has been introduced because of the attitude and actions of the unions concerned, which I can only describe as wholly unjustified, entirely unprecedented, and calculated to strike a most serious blow at the entire economy of this country. The circumstances in which the strike was occurred must be viewed against the background of a statement made by the leader of the Miners' Federation a month ago. I have with me a newspaper report of that statement, which, incidentally, has never been contradicted, so far as I am aware, by the individual who made it. That statement was as follows:-

Senator McKennathen quoted the newspaper report of a statement made by the leader of the Miners Federation who was a member of the Communist Party. Senator McKenna then went on to state:

Only a few months ago the Central Council of Miners' Federation declared: 'This council places on record again that the federation never has and never will accept arbitration as the desirable method of settling industrial disputes. We point out that the whole history of the Arbitration Courts in Australia reveals their role is to keep down living standards as low as possible and that their decisions are always influenced directly or indirectly by industrial strength and political pressures . . . Slavish adherence to Arbitration Courts would lead to a serious weakening of unions, since they would depend upon the decisions of judges instead of their own organ.sations.'

Senator Cavanagh - I think his description of the Court applies today.

Senator LITTLE - That is a matter of opinion. In the course of this debate I heard Senator Bishop, a colleague of Senator Cavanagh's, telling us of the desirability of preserving the arbitration system as such.

Senator Bishop - From which year is the honourable senator quoting?

Senator LITTLE - I am quoting from 1949. I propose to quote further from the speech made when legislation was brought down in that instance because I think it has a very deep relationship to the Bill now before the Senate. Many of the things contained in this piece of legislation were also found necessary under the circumstances of emergency applying at that time. I refer specifically to a matter which I understand received some prominence in the debate in the other place and that is that a registered organisation is required to reveal the circumstances of its banking. This is said to be an unwarranted intrusion into the privacy of the organisation. I do not know that that is a very valid argument. Any organised business has the name of its bank on any cheque which it issues. In most cases a trade union shows the bank with which it banks on any cheque it issues.

Lel us remember that any union can avoid disclosing these facts. If it has no desire to use the advantages which flow from arbitration and conciliation, it need not register with the Court at all. It can become an organisation outside the ambit of the system of conciliation and arbitration. There is no real compulsion, is there? The Bill only states that if an organisation wants the advantages, it must make certain disclosures to show that it accepts the responsibilities that go with the advantages. I shall quote what was said by an expert who will be acceptable to honourable senators opposite, particularly Senator Cavanagh, because the expert, on this occasion, is none other than the late Rt Hon. H. V. Evatt who introduced the legislation at that time in the other place. He stresses the importance of clause 10. I quote from page 1676 of the 1949 Hansard as follows: . . the importance of clause 10 which vests in the Registrar of the Arbitration Court, or a person authorised by him, power to inspect any books, documents or other papers of an organisation or branch of an organisation for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been a breach of any of the provisions of the legislation. For the purpose of such inspection, the Registrar is authorised to enter premises of the organisation if he believes such books, documents or papers to be there. He is also given authority to require a person - that means any person - to produce or deliver to him, in accordance with his requirement, any such books, documents or papers in the possession or under the control of that person. That is all for the purpose of determining and ascertaining whether, in his opinion, there has been a breach of the provisions of the measure.

The Registrar's opinion that there has been a breach will not decide the legal responsibility, but these provisions can place the authorities in possession of the necessary evidence. Penalties are provided for a refusal to comply with the requirements of the Registrar.

Senator Webster - Is the honourable senator suggesting that the Labor Party says one thing and does another?

Senator LITTLE - I am leaving it to the ALP to say for itself. I believe that in the course of this legislation it can clearly be shown that many of the attitudes adopted today by the Labor Party are the attitudes that have been adopted by the Communist Party for 20-odd years of our industrial history in its attempts to destroy conciliation and arbitration. This is one of the barriers which exists to the complete takeover of industrial organisations which the Communist Party feels it can accomplish in our industrial movement. The Democratic Labor Party does not suggest that the legislation which is before the Senate is the type of legislation that it would produce. We are not the Government. We believe that there is ample evidence to show that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act at this time requires overhaul and that it should be more or less restructured to suit modern circumstances and to meet the attacks of those seeking to destroy the system. The Government has produced what it believes is a measure that will be effective. Time itself will prove whether it will be. Indeed, we have some reservations as to whether this Bill will be sufficient. We believe that a system of conciliation and arbitration will work only if those within the ambit of the system attempt to make it work. Regulations which are written into enactments will not make conciliation and arbitration effective if those involved set out deliberately to see that it does not work. This legislation by its very nature will attract success only if both sides set out to make it work and enter into the spirit of the Act. We are not sure whether the amendment before us at the present time will do that. In some respects we have reservations.

However, we recognise that there have been enormous changes in the industrial structure. There have been changes in the work force. The modern computer age is switching labour from what was once broadly described as the blue collar workers to the white collar workers. In industry today white collar workers exceed blue collar workers for the first time in the history of man. This must of necessity make a great deal of difference to the structure of our arbitration system. Today 40 per cent of our total work force are women. That too is a new factor that has to be given consideration. There are those who say that direct bargaining is preferable to arbitration from the unions' point of view. The communists in particular are seeking to destroy the system of conciliation and arbitration. They make very much of the success which can be attained by a method of direct bargaining by unions. They never mention that in the 1930s the unions' power of direct bargaining was practically non-existent because of the economic circumstances of the day.

Presuming that we always have conditions as we have at the moment perhaps, from a union point of view, direct bargaining could or could not be successful. But while criticising the idea that direct bargaining in its entirety must of necessity play a part in conciliation and arbitration, can it take over from a circumstance of conciliation and arbitration? 1 am reminded of the attitude expressed on 2 occasions by the Leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate, Senator Murphy. He was almost enraged. Certainly here one night he raised, with great indignation, the question of the demands which were being made by the Australian Air Pilots Association. Under modern circumstances, in an industry structured as the airline industry is, with enormous capital outlay, there is tremendous power in the hands of a few to obtain a lot by direct bargaining. Senator Murphy was tremendously incensed that the Association should have the audacity even to place the claims before the employers. He drew attention to the fact that the success of those claims materially defeated the ambitions of those in the less glamorous jobs in the airways industry of receiving industrial justice. I hope that Senator Murphy in his contribution to this debate will not tell us that direct bargaining is the answer to all the questions of trade unionism as the Communist Party does and as 1 have heard members of the Labor Party in this chamber repeat almost as a slogan.

The other occasion was only the other night when Senator Murphy again expressed tremendous indignation that the medical profession of this country had had the effrontery to use its direct bargaining power to suggest that it was entitled to an increase in fees. He failed to produce a logical argument. He did not explain to the Senate how other professions, whose members have a similar educational background to that of medical practitioners, would have acted. Perhaps I could instance Senator Murphy's own profession. What would lawyers get by way of direct bargaining if they were called upon to visit a client for an hour in the middle of the night to give legal advice? With some knowledge of legal fees, though 1 have been involved only seldom in legal matters, and as a former trade union official, 1 do not think that a Queen's Counsel-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Withers) - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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