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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2023

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - We are considering the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill and what was just said by Senator Carrick is significant. He said that the legislation would work only if the hearts and minds of people were entirely behind it. The hearts and minds of the people are not behind these amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act because the people think that the amendments are not genuine, and they are not genuine. They know, for example, that the . provisions relating to amalgamations are: not genuine because the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) only a few weeks ago exploded the basis upon which these amendments are now brought in. They are brought in as a result of political pressures of which the Government ought to be ashamed. The Bill has 2 main aspects, the first of which is that it deals with the procedures of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in general. Those procedures are being juggled about in some endeavour to prevent flow-ons and to prevent real wage justice being done throughout the community. I think that the proposed new procedures will have very little general effect on the movement in wages and the improvement in conditions because those matters will be determined largely by economic pressures. They will have some effect, namely, in creating injustices in relation to small unions and groups which cannot really cope with these procedural difficulties which are being created by the Government.

The second aspect of the Bill - this is the main aspect - is that it contains provisions which worsen the situation of trade unions. That is a very important aspect of this Bill. Perhaps in its long term effect those provisions will be the most significant aspect of this Bill. What the Government has done here is to introduce by way of the Bill and the Act, as it would be amended by this Bill, a blueprint for dealing with corporations. This Act, as it would be amended, deals with the corporate structure of trade unions. It deals with the internal affairs of trade unions in a way that will produce interference which. I think, is unprecedented throughout the civilised world.

I stated earlier that the trade unions are dealt with as corporations under this legislation. My suggestion that this Bill was a blueprint for dealing with corporations was regarded as being incorrect. In fact, I was challenged by a Government senator to state in this Senate that the trade unions were corporations under the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I was somewhat astonished at that suggestion especially since it was said that Government senators - I find it difficult to believe that the Government itself would be proceeding on the basis that trade unions, although registered organisations, were not corporations - apparently had been advised that trade unions were not corporations. That is an astonishing suggestion.

Senator Greenwood - They do not have any corporate entity in the way that corporate bodies have.

Senator MURPHY - Did I hear the Attorney-General say that they do not have any corporate entity in the way that corporations have?

Senator Greenwood - That is right.

Senator MURPHY - Well, Mr Deputy President, it seems to me extraordinary that in relation to a matter of such great importance as this, which has passed through the House of Representatives, there should be a difference of opinion so profound and that the Government is proceeding on the basis of the proposition enunciated by the Attorney-General and apparently believed in by other members of the Government parties. Let me dispose of this extremely important matter. I refer honourable senators, and the AttorneyGeneral in particular, to the ordinary practice book called 'Federal Industrial Laws', which is the bible on this matter and which sets out the provisions of the Act and refers to the famous cases in industrial law which deal with this subject. Section 136 of the Act, whose marginal note is Incorporation of organisation', provides:

Every organisation registered under this Act shall for the purposes of this Act have perpetual succession and a common seal, and may purchase take on lease hold sell lease mortgage exchange and otherwise own possess and deal with any real or personal property.

That provision has been in the Act since it first came into existence and was considered in the first great case which was decided on the Conciliation and Arbitration Act back in 1908 - not just tonight, but in 1968. The great Chief Justice Griffith referred to that section, which was then section 58, and said:

This is the accepted formula for creating a corporation.

He and the other judges went on to refer to the provision in similar terms. The great case of Williams and Hursey, I think, must be familiar to many members of the Senate.

Senator Hannan - Yes, I know Hursey's case.

Senator MURPHY - I thank Senator Hannan for indicating that he has heard of it.

Senator Hannan - As a matter of fact, I have quoted it from time to time.

Senator MURPHY - I suggest that Senator Hannan have a look at that case and inform some of his colleagues of the position in relation to it. He will find that in that case the High Court - in particular, Mr Justice Fullagar, with whom the Chief Justice and Mr Justice Kitto concurred - set out in the most clear and definite terms that the trade unions which were registered organisations under this Act were, by the very section to which I have referred, made corporations under Federal law.

Senator Hannan - I am not arguing with you.

Senator MURPHY - I thank Senator Hannan. He might give the benefit of his legal knowledge to the other honourable gentlemen opposite, including the one who interjected a little earlier. This question ought to have been beyond any doubt whatever, and it is astonishing that we could be dealing with this legislation on the basis that the Attorney-General has suggested and that the thought could be in the minds of honourable senators opposite that the Federal trade unions in fact are not corporations. Let me quote several lines from the judgment of the High Court which referred to that provision. The judgment states:

This provision alone is, in my opinion, quite enough to give to a registered organisation the full character of a corporation.

Senator Greenwood - For the purposes of the Act. That is in the section.

Senator MURPHY - If the honourable senator who interjected will look again, he will find that these corporations are capable of engaging in business, of owning newspapers and of doing all sorts of things, apart altogether from engaging in the settling of industrial disputes. It ought to dawn even on Government senators that, if it is provided that this kind of interference can be engaged in in relation to corporate bodies which happen to be trade unions, then it can be engaged in in relation to corporate bodies which happen not to be trade unions. If there is provision for interference which is contrary to what was slated in the International Labour Organisation conventions and contrary to what has been set out as to what ought to be the rights of trade unions, if we are to have judicial decisions which interfere drastically with the affairs of trade unions and which allow no appeal to anybody, and if we are to have an amount of interference by administrative bodies such as we have in this Act and especially in the amendments which are being proposed by the Government, does anyone think it will stop there? I am astonished that Government senators have not been told what the position is, namely, that we are dealing with corporations and that the provisions of the Bill provide a blueprint for future governments as to legislation dealing with the rights of corporations and with corporation mergers.

What are these amalgamation provisions? Do honourable senators opposite think it would be very difficult for someone to say that these provisions should be adapted to deal with mergers of other corporations? Members of the Government and its supporters have been dealing with this legislation without even knowing its implications. It is time that some thought was given to what the Government is doing to these corporations. Leave aside the idea that it is very nice and convenient to engage in the bashing of trade unions.

Debate interrupted.

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