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Wednesday, 14 August 1974
Page: 945

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) - I rise on that point only to say that the suave advocacy of the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy), when he knows that there is probably a majority to support him, is completely unconvincing. It is not to be denied that when a State statute is inconsistent with a Federal statute, or regulations made under it, the State statute has to yield. But that is not the case here, and it is a distortion of my argument to put it in that context. Here is the case, deliberately elicited from the AttorneyGeneral on his own statement, where a State statute is passed by a responsible Parliamentthat is the only type of legislation that is referred to in the paragraph- and specifically says that something may be done. We say in our legislation that in that case regard shall not be had to that. But the Attorney-General, by the inclusion of the words 'except as provided by regulations', takes power for an officer at his desk to put through the Executive Council and into the 'Australian Government Gazette' subordinate legislation to override a specific statute of the State. But let me not stay on that subject.

I want to refer to another part of clause 51 before one of the circulated amendments is reached. This is of far greater importance. Clause 51 (2) (a) states that in determining whether a contravention of a provision of this part, other than section 48, has been committed, regard shall not be had to certain things. The things that are referred to in this part are contracts and arrangements in restraint of trade, monopolisation, exclusive dealing, price discrimination and mergers. Honourable senators will notice that the words that I have read state that in determining whether any of those matters have been contravened, regard shall not be had to certain things. When the sub-clause states 'other than section 48' it is referring to other than resale price maintenance. That is referred to in the subclause but I deliberately omitted to mention it. But in determining whether restraint of trade, exclusive dealing, monopolisation or mergers have occurred, regard shall not be had to any act done in relation to working conditions of employees or to:

Any act done by employees or by an organisation of employees not being an act done in the course of the carrying on of a business of the employer of those employees or of a business of that organisation;

If we forget the last few words which commence not being' we have the provision that we are expected to enact. It is that in determining whether one of these contraventions has been committed regard shall not be had to any act done in relation to the working conditions of employees by employees or an organisation of employees. The words 'an organisation of employees' are the words used in relation to a trade union. Mr Chairman, you will notice that the clause discriminates between employees and employers. An act done by an organisation of employees means any strike or disruption of work. As I pointed out this morning in my second reading speech, that sort of operation was within the prohibition of the Sherman Act from which this measure has been taken. We have been told tonight that the number of man-hours lost in the first 3 months of this year exceeded the total number of man-hours lost in the whole of last year and exceeds the number of man-hours lost in any year since 1931. Honourable senators can see that I am speaking on a subject which is of enormous importance to the present Government of this country. I want to speak in terms which I have taken almost literally from an American text which I think is of high standing and which was written within the last few years. It says:

The defects of labor legislation notwithstanding, the excesses perpetrated behind the shield of union power have become at last too widely known, its grips on the total processes ofthe American economy -

I say, add the Australian economy-

.   . too painfully evident, and the incipient anarchy -

This applies to Australia also-

.   . towards which it is pushing society too grave a threat to the integrity ofthe state to suppose that nothing will be done.

The text goes on to refer to the prolonged New York city newspaper strike. Honourable senators will remember that it went on for months. It is pointed out that nobody in the United States of America can censor a newspaper. It was also pointed out that freedom of the Press was guaranteed by the Congress but the union boss could paralyse the whole industry. After making that reference he went on to say:

But there is a way of avoiding industrial war on a large scale and the heavy damage it inflicts on the nation. The status quo of union power must be changed by moving it out of the anarchic no-man's land where present legislation leaves it. Essentially, there are only two directions in which public policy can move if the status quo is to be changed: . . .

He went on to point out that one of the directions is total control, whereby the State fixes conditions and all things appertaining to the terms of employment. But that idea is to be rejected.

The other situation relates to the exemption which union monopolies have enjoyed from competitive discipline in America since the 1932 Norris-La Guardia Act. He points out that this exemption is inequitable because it requires public policy to favour the welfare of one group at the expense of the general welfare- which is precisely what this sub-clause to which I am addressing myself does- and the economic burden it imposes on the whole nation is, as has been shown, exceedingly heavy. As I quoted this morning from a statement made by Sir Arthur Bryant, it is the chief factor which leads to galloping inflation.

The authority I have already quoted went on to say:

Placing union monopolies under the general restraints of the antitrust laws will end the inequity and reduce the economic damage; . . .

That is precisely what I am advocating by drawing attention to this specific exclusion in this subsection. Instead of excluding these matters we should be placing industrial organisations precisely on the same basis as commercial organisations for the purpose of application of all these antitrust practices that we are prohibiting under this Bill. I go on to quote the authority who said: and it will transfer the adjudication of labor-management disputes which threaten substantial injury to the public from arbitrary administrative agencies to the courts.

That is a provision relative to the American situation. The quote continues:

It will do this, moreover, in a way which cannot be misconstrued ... as a punitive measure aimed uniquely at unions, for business enterprises are also submitted to these laws. The consensus of the working men and women with respect to the fundamental institutions of a free economy will be secured, for strong and vigorous unions will continue to exist. But they will function at long last within the context of a government of laws rather than of men, within a context of competition rather than monopoly. The alternatives which Tace the nation if the indicated action is not taken are grim and they are disturbingly nigh: further internal economic decay and international decline on the one hand, or government wage and price controls on the other. If competition is extinguished by default and therewith the free economy itself, no one will gain but all will suffer.

I bring that to the attention of the Committee to show that that is sound sense to which we have a responsibility to give consideration and to bring it into force at once. On the contrary, we are expected to enact here in sub-clause (2) (a) of clause 51 a provision that for the purpose of determining the abuses condemned by this Act no regard is to be paid to strike action and disruptive action by union monopolies or organisations of employees in any circumstances. Whether I can get any support, including a seconder for my motion or not I move:

That paragraph (a ) of sub-clause 2 be omitted.

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