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Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1325

Senator SCOTT (New South Wales) - We are debating a Bill to amend the law relating to conciliation and arbitration in relation to the amalgamation of organisations. I oppose the Bill with a measure of reluctance because I believe that anything pertaining to conciliation and arbitration is of extreme importance in the Australian scene and, if there could be an addition to the efficiency of conciliation and arbitration in this country by the amalgamations that are envisaged and more particularly by the methods of amalgamation that are envisaged, it would be a happy position to support such a proposition. Today, probably more than ever before in our history, there is an urgent need to reestablish stability in the economic and industrial scene. Probably the greatest single cause of the remarkable degree of stability that we in Australia have had in those areas over many years has been the operation of the conciliation and arbitration legislation. That legislation has served this country extremely well. Over the past generation the operation of it has been the envy of many lands.

Stability and development go hand in hand. I would be the last to oppose legislation if I believed that it had within it a real contribution to re-invigorating stability and development in this land. I do not believe this Bill has that. I believe that there is an extreme danger at the moment that this country, through instability, has ceased to be attractive to developmental capital from many places around the world. Only two or three weeks ago we saw the required deposit on overseas capital invested in this country reduced from 33-1/3 per cent to 25 per cent and then quite dramatically to 5 per cent. It is the considered opinion of most people around the world that it is unlikely that Australia in its present circumstances will prove attractive, even with that relatively light imposition. There is in fact no obvious desire for investment in Australia. If this sort of legislation were likely to increase the desire for that investment, then there would be merit in the Bill.

The strength of our system surely has been that it has enabled employer and employee alike to talk things over; to consider a proposition; to reach an agreement in the proper method of conciliation, it sometimes being totally unnecessary to continue to arbitration; to talk things over and to agree mutually, with a minimum of strikes, lockouts and industrial unrest- a minimum of the things which are major contributors to the inflationary situation we have in Australia today. We must never forget that there always will be an employer-employee relationship, whether there be one employer or half a million employers, whether there be the state as the employer or any number of individual and private employers. We must never forget, as we look at this sort of legislation, that the state in fact is the super capitalist. The state is probably the greatest exploiter of man and materials throughout history. The province of government and the province of legislation envisaged, such as legislation on conciliation and arbitration, is primarily to prevent exploitation, whether it be of man or of materials. It is important that we should not become beholden to dictatorships of the Left or the Right. I am sure that this is as important in the life and operations of the Australian unionist as it is in those of every other member of our community.

Of all the causes of inflation- they range through management, wages and salariesperhaps the greatest single cause in the present context and in fact in the context of most similar situations in other countries is industrial unrest, because industrial unrest and militancy tend to produce a situation in which the production of goods and the availability of services become smaller and smaller and in which the amount of money chasing those goods and services constantly rises. This is the classic circumstance of inflation. This is the circumstances that we have today. As a corollary to it surely we have a loss of confidence in Australia both at home and abroad.

I have spoken at some length on the importance of conciliation and arbitration, something of its history and something of the employeremployee relationship. I have done this because it is against this background that we must view this Bill. It is against this background that we must ask ourselves: Does this proposed law really offer some sort of solution to the employeremployee relationship in this country? Does it really concern itself with the values, attitudes and security of the great mass of Australian unionists? Does it really place them as individuals in a better position than they were before? Are the methods of amalgamation such that they will improve the lost of the average Australian unionist? They are the questions that we must ask ourselves.

Consequent upon the answers to those questions, we must decide whether this legislation should be passed; whether it does in fact contribute to better relations between employers and employees; and most importantly, whether it does in fact contribute realistically to better conditions and better circumstances for the great mass of Australian unionists. On balance, I am forced to arrive at the conclusion that it does not. I do not believe- I say this with some reluctancethat the manners envisaged in the proposed amalgamation methods in this Bill will improve in any way the lot of the average Australian unionist. I do not believe that the Bill will contribute in any way to a better employeremployee relationship. Rather, is it likely to produce a situation in which the many are further controlled and directed by the few; rather is it likely to produce a situation that may well lead to confrontation which probably will be of little or no value to either party in the argument.

If there were in this legislation a realistic contribution to the conciliation and arbitration problem, I most certainly would support it because never before has there been an urgency such as there is today. It demands that the Australian scene find a realistic solution to the industrial problems which beset us and which, in this country, are bringing about great strains in the petroleum and mineral industries which are of such dramatic importance in a time of energy crisis. It is this sort of industrial unrest and the consequent inflationary situation which are bringing about problems, many of them in the vast primary industries. These industries which produce a large measure of Australia's overseas credits are being sorely and sadly strained today in the economic situation. Likewise, in the manufacturing field, industrial problems add to many other competitive problems. Along with them come the threat and, unfortunately, unemployment.

The over valuation of the Australian dollar is affecting not only the massive export industries of this country but is also having an effect on employment and, consequently, on industrial relations and the invisible exports of this country such as tourist activities which are quite dramatically decreasing as it costs relatively more and more to purchase Australian currency. There is a great deal of uncertainty around us. If the contribution of this amalgamation proposition were to solve in any way the uncertainty we would support it. Regretfully, we cannot convince ourselves that there is any genuine advantage to either the employer or the employee from the proposed Bill. Senator Greenwood dealt at considerable length with some of the major omissions of this Bill. For instance, a ballot of members is no longer to be a secret postal ballot. The ballot must now be conducted purely according to the rules of the organisation. These seldom provide for secret postal ballots. In relation to the roll of voters, a statutory definition of an unfinancial member is to be removed. This, in itself, will open the way to various forms of manipulation which can be of no value to the great mass of Australian unionists.

The provision of 3 months notice from the beginning of the ballot to its close is to disappear. There is to be no publication of argument for or against the proposed amalgamation. Within 2 months of the ballot the cases for and against amalgamation used to be circulated and they would accompany the ballot paper. But now the opponents of amalgamation have no right to put their views to the membership. Regulations used to provide for equal representation of argument for or against. Now there is no such power to enact regulations to provide this balanced information. Mr Deputy President, I am drawing your attention to these few things once again because their real significance is that they tend to work to the disadvantage of the Australian unionist in the matter of amalgamation. It is not the amalgamation of unions that is so important. It is the welfare and the future of unionist themselves. This appears to be the basic concern which we should apply as the yardstick to this legislation. Of course, previously in relation to an amalgamation it was necessary that half the members of the union should vote and that there should be a majority of that half. Now such a regulation is no longer to apply. This cannot in any way be considered a step forward in a democracy such as ours. It cannot be considered a step forward when, in fact, a simply majority of perhaps 10 per cent of people involved can direct the course of their union and other unions in search of amalgamation.

I believe that the legislation will contribute very much to improved industrial relations and to the control of unions by the mass of unionists if it concerns itself with the introduction of compulsory secret postal ballots. In the election of a union executive surely this must be a realistic way of contributing to the democracy of the union system in Australia and to more successful relationships between employer and employee alike. Surely the form of election which is satisfactory for the Australian people to elect their government- at this stage an Australian Labor Party Government- should be an excellent and indeed necessary form by which to elect whether a union is to amalgamate with another union. Amalgamation can be sought by only 20 per cent of the union which can request that a ballot be held of the members of the union to be absorbed. The signatures of a minority of a target union are sufficient to have that brought about. There is to be no case against such an amalgamation. Any committee of management must complete its investigations in less than 3 months. To me this seems to be extraordinary haste when one recalls that in the cast of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union it took something like 2lA years to perform. I understand that the amalgamation was sought by 3 unions and that there was general agreement that the amalgamation should be brought about. This was the circumstance in which the parties were in agreement. How silly it seems that a limit of 3 months should be imposed on amalgamation in the circumstances envisaged in this legislation.

One must tend to wonder whether the legislation towards amalgamation which is envisaged in this Bill is not more concerned with some form of body snatching or empire building within unions themselves. Perhaps this is the objective of making an amalgamation so much simpler to perform. I can imagine that this type of thing will increase the possibility of interference within the union by other unions. This is a strange approach from the Government which, quite correctly, says internationally that there should be no interference with the smaller nations and that there should be no internal interference. I understand that this is the policy of the Government in the international field. Yet here the Government is opening up the way by this proposed legislation for that very sort of interference within the union field. This interference will make it possible to cajole and to bring under the one umbrella any number of unions, large or small. I do not consider that this is a contribution to a democratic way of life. In fact, all this is contrary to the Government's foreign policy, as we read it, although I must admit that it is not really contrary to the sort of policy that we saw only last week in regard to the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The policy adopted in regard to this Bill is similar to the philosophy or logic adopted in regard to that matter. It is a philosophy or logic that we thought or had hoped was not typical of this Government.

Surely today it is the economic situation rather than the amalgamations of unions that is the problem in this country. We know that 75 per cent of industrial strife in Australia today is in regard to wages. This is occurring in an inflationary, unproductive situation. The economic problem is not solved by the passing of legislation such as this. It is legislation which can only make it simpler for the take-over by one or more unions by another union. Surely it would be much more realistic to look at the question of compulsory secret ballots and to look at the question of enforcing the law. I say this because the law applies to all of us and I can see no reason why it should not apply and be applied in this area.

Basically this legislation would tend to place a sort of monopoly control in the hands of certain unions. It would create that control by making it so much simpler and easier to establish a giant organisation where formerly there were many. It is quite an improper and wrong premise to assume that because something is big it is more efficient. I know the laws of division of labour and so forth, but efficiency is not necessarily determined by size alone. I believe that in considering the amalgamation of unions we should consider this point. Efficiency is determined by the application of capital and labour to a point and at a point at which it reaches a maximum. So it is completely wrong to assume that size alone determines efficiency. It is completely wrong to assume that by absorbing any number of unions into another union we are, in fact, helping the individual members of those unions. In all probability, we are submerging the special interests and abilities of many of the people within those unions.

Let me say in conclusion that I am not antiunion amalgamation as such. But I do not believe that this Bill does anything but make it easier for take-overs within the union field. I believe that this type of legislation can contribute virtually nothing to the general situation of the Australian unionist or of the Australian employer. I oppose the proposed legislation.

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