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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1530

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am afraid that Senator Hannan 's obsession- it cannot be called anything less than obsession- with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union is not based on any principled or consistent objection to amalgamation as such but on his notion that the creation of this amalgamated body represents a vast strengthening of what he would regard as a communist dominated organisation.

Senator Hannan - Is it?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would like to quote on that not my opinion but the opinion of the then Minister for Labour, Mr Lynch.

Senator Greenwood - Do you prefer his opinions to your own?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think it might weigh a little more with Senator Greenwood. It might seem to be a more objective and a more disinterested opinion than those voiced on this side of the House. On 2 March 1972 Mr Lynch, in a very instructive speech which I commend to all senators opposite in case they have not read it recently, had this to say on this very point:

On the third point, that the amalgamation will provide a large communist dominated organisation, I simply say that the information at my disposal from a wide variety of sources does not confirm this. My information is that communists of one type or another would be a decided minority on the Federal council of the amalgamated unions.

Senator Hannanor Senator Greenwood may have better sources of information than those that were available to the then Minister for Labour. If so I should think that we should have been told something about these sources of information.

Senator Greenwood - We were just interested to get your opinion. That was all.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Senator, it is also interesting to look back at various other statements that were being made about the time when the amalgamation of those bodies that ultimately formed the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union was coming to fruition and in particular to a statement made on 24 February 1972 by the National President of the Metal Trades Industry Association, a Mr Morgan, speaking at the conclusion of a meeting of the Metal Trades Industry Association National Executive. He said that his association raised no objection to the amalgamation of metal trades unions and it was his intention to convey that information to Mr Lynch, the Minister for Labour. He went on to say:

Far from objecting to the amalgamation, the MTIA -

That is the employer organisation in the metal trades industry- sees many practical advantages for industrial relations in the metal trades industry. The reduction in the number of unions with which the MTIA and its members have to deal is a significant advantage. Another is that we can look forward to the elimination of costly demarcation disputes.

Senator Hannan - That was a joke.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -These were the opinions of those on the employer and Liberal Government side as to the likely effects of amalgamation. They saw nothing to object to. In fact, Mr Lynch 's speech is so detailed and so instructive, and it deals so damningly with and refutes most of the points which have been made by Senator Hannan that I really think it would be a good idea if the speech were incorporated in

Hansard, especially the section from page 7 to the end where Mr Lynch sets out in elaborate detail the steps which had been taken over a great number of years by the various bodies which finally amalgamated. Mr Lynch showed quite clearly that far from being some little conspiracy foisted on the great mass of the members of these unions by a few authoritarian union leaders there was a long and carefully drawn out series of negotiations about which the members were fully informed. Senator Hannan has made much of the fact that he considers that a small percentage of the members of each of those unions actually voted on the amalgamation proceedings. This also is analysed by Mr Lynch who pointed out the percentage of members of the 3 unions who voted in the ballots. In the Amalgamated Engineering Union 86 per cent of the voters favoured amalgamation, as did 73 per cent of the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and 70 per cent of the Sheetmetal Working Union. The percentage of the members of the unions who voted were: AEU, 9 per cent; Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society 40 per cent; and Sheetmetal Working Union 36 per cent.

I can see from the expression on Senator Greenwood's face that he thinks that there is something very damning to our case in the fact the only 9 per cent of the members of the Amalgamated Engineering Union voted. However, I point out to him- this point was made by Mr Lynch- that there was no requirement under the law for the AEU to hold a ballot on the matter at all. Under the provisions of the Act as it then was the host union which was the AEU- that is, the union which was not seeking deregistration- was under no obligation to hold a ballot at all. Mr Lynch points out in great detail that the proposition that most people who do not vote in a ballot like that can be taken to be against the proposal has no validity whatsoever. On the contrary, the more likely conclusion to be reached about those not voting is that they are acquiescent or that they do not feel strongly about the matter.

Senator Hannan - That is not a rule of law.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is not a rule of law, Senator Hannan, but it is as likely an inference as anything I have heard from you on this matter of the silence of the members. A more instructive commentary on the feelings of the rank and file of these unions is that it was always open to any member of these unions throughout the period when amalgamation was being discussed to take proceedings under section 141 of the Act to prevent the amalgamation from taking place. It was only at the very last moment that a couple of members of one of the unions- who were obviously inspired by an outside organisation- made the belated attempt to take these proceedings. When these two gentlemen sought financial assistance for their action under the then regulation 138, the Deputy Industrial Registrar refused to grant them financial assistance because he was not satisfied that the proceedings proposed to be taken were in good faith. Apparently the 2 members concerned did not even know why they were taking the action except that they had been told that communists were in the union. It is significant also that the refusal of the Deputy Registrar- an independent official unconnected with any party -to grant financial assistance to have their legal fees met aroused such anxiety in the organisation which had induced the 2 members to take the legal action that it induced the Government to change the provisions relating to financial assistance and to take them out of the hands of the independent official and put them in the hands of the Attorney-General.

Of course, as we have heard from an exAttorneyGeneral, Senator Greenwood, he thought that he would be Attorney-General forever. He assured us recently that he fervently believes that the aberration, as he sees it, which put the present Government into office will be corrected at any moment, that he will be back again as AttorneyGeneral and that he will be able to grant assistance to those odd sorts of unionists who really did not know what they were doing. I point out for Senator Hannan 's enlightenment that one of the 2 men who had taken the action had not worked at this trade for over 12 months. In fact, at the time he was working as an iron worker. I agree fully with Senator Hannan 's right to criticise the judgment of the court. I hope that when some criticisms of courts fall, as they occasionally do, from the lips of honourable senators on this side that Senator Hannan and those who did not dissent from his proposition will bear in mind our right also to criticise the decisions of courts. The honourable senator appears to be mystified as to why the court could make the comments about what had happened and about the facts of these ballots and yet reach the conclusion which it did. The conclusion was:

We are satisfied that in the case of each union the ballot was conducted in accordance with the union rules applicable to the taking of the ballot and were so found.

This is a court with which I have had some experience. It has a discretion as to whether to give relief in the light of all the facts which are proved. I have been involved in cases in which technical breaches were established beyond doubt but in which the court still declined to give relief under section 141. This is as it should be. This is a court which, if it is to have any credibility at all, must reach decisions on the substantial merits of the case brought before it and not on some pettifogging, minute detail. This court could not be considered, I suggest respectively to Senator Hannan, to consist of judges with any notorious pro-communist bias. After hearing all the evidence and looking at all the surrounding facts the court was satisfied that this was an amalgamation which should not be disturbed, just as that was the opinion of Mr Lynch and of Mr Morgan, the national president of the Metal Trades Industries Association.

In any event we cannot turn back the clock. This amalgamation is a reality. I appeal to Senator Hannan to look at the question of amalgamation of unions in a larger frame than that of his prejudice against the fait accompli of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. I think I could do no better than to commend to him and to all honourable senators on the other side a careful study of the thoughts which were expressed very temperately and sensibly by the then Minister for Labour, Mr Lynch. They will find in that statement a refutation of all their fears and very good reasons why they should support the propositions which the Government is advancing in these clauses.

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