Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 24 September 1974
Page: 1346

Senator BISHOP (South AustraliaPostmasterGeneral) - in reply- To hear Opposition senators talk, one would think there was no provision for secret ballots in the legislation before the Senate or that the Government did not agree with secret ballots. Let me remind honourable senators of a state of affairs which existed before the present Government came to office: It was then possible for federal councils to elect union officials. The previous government never took action to change that state of affairs. It existed for years and it was not until the Labor Government came to office that anything was done about this. We inserted section 133 (1) (a) in the legislation providing that members themselves must vote in the election of union officials.

On this occasion it will not be surprising to find that the Opposition will again frustrate the Government in implementing the two amendments that we have introduced. I want to remind the Senate that this is the third occasion on which the Opposition has adopted such an approach to such legislation as this. It has been said more than once and it ought to be said again that public statements were made before the last general election by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and by the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) that we considered these measures to be necessary. The Prime Minister said that if Labor were returned to office it would facilitate the amalgamation of trade unions. He said that we would reduce government interference in industrial relations and put conciliation back into arbitration.

Senator Greenwood - He said the Government would control inflation and look what it has done.

Senator BISHOP -When the honourable senator talks about Australia controlling inflation he knows as well as I do that inflation is a symptom of the world in which we live. Our Government is doing pretty well in dealing with it and the Opposition, if in government, would not do any better. We have a great deal of industrial disputation which is no doubt related to the inflationary situation. I think that as the months go on the industrial situation will settle down. There has been some measure of settling down in the last month or so. For the first time, the industrial movement in Australia has a government which has not interfered with industrial negotiations. Because the labour market has been good, every organisation went out to improve its lot just as we, as politicians, tried to improve our lot. That was symptomatic of the society in which we live. Now the trade union movement- its officials and members- are starting to realise that they have to co-operate. Mr Hawke made a statement on this subject. The trade union movement has to co-operate with the Labor Government in order to enjoy the benefits which have been given wholesale to the whole country. Let me remind the Opposition of what the Government has done and what the Opposition tried to impede us from doing: Four weeks annual leave, an extra week's leave for shift workers, annual leave bonuses not only for Commonwealth public servants but also for Army personnel.

Senator Greenwood - The Prime Minister would say you are peddling lies.

Senator BISHOP - The Government has decided to give many benefits, senator. This Government has allowed its representatives to appear before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in support of reasonable claims. The Minister for Labor has indicated his support for a wage indexation scheme. Senator Steele Hall has said that the Government is going cap in hand to the unions and to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. What better arrangement could there be? The Opposition, in its policy statements, has said that a need exists for arrangements to be made between the unions and the employers. It has also referred to industrybased unions. How would the Opposition seek to achieve this?

The Opposition has criticised the Government for going cap in hand to the ACTU. In the policy statement of the Opposition, as point No. 5 under the heading 'Organisations' it states that the Opposition seeks to work with the ACTU in encouraging industry-based unions. How would the Opposition achieve that objective other than by agreements? The best agreements are those provided for in the Bills. The present legislation is just not working. The Opposition has been told here today by Senator Button and Senator Donald Cameron about the circumstances of the current amalgamation of the Ironworkers Union with the Federated Artificial Fertilizers and Chemical Workers Union of Australia which is bogged down and the amalgamation of the Australian Workers Union with the Wool and Basil Workers Union which is also bogged down. These are not giant left-wing orientated unions. They can be claimed to be moderate unions. Their negotiations are bogged down under the present legislation. Why? They are bogged down because that legislation is imperfect. When the Opposition left government it had not drawn up the regulations which were necessary to make this sort of situation work.

The Opposition talks about what we propose to do. Of course we want to amalgamate unions but we think that if we make the necessary laws the task is then for the unions and their members to decide whether they want amalgamation. We think it is sensible but it is not the first time that that has been stated. I remind honourable senators opposite that the ex Minister for Labor and National Service, Mr Lynch, at first wanted amalgamations when the Opposition was in power. Later he changed his mind or somebody changed it for him. In March 1972- honourable senators opposite have forgotten it of course- Mr Lynch said:

It is fair to say that provided the membership of industrial organisations does not lose effective control as a result of amalgamations, there are many advantages which can accrue from amalgamation. For instance, there are some 300 unions in Australia. Most of them are very small. It could facilitate the functioning of the arbitration system and relations generally between employers and unions if this number of unions decreases. I know of situations in which employers have sat across the table with no fewer than 15 unions in relation to one issue. Government departments have had this experience.

He went on to say:

The question of whether there should be changes in the legislation to specify more clearly the procedures under which organisations can amalgamate in the future is one to which the Government is giving detailed consideration.

Honourable senators will recall that Mr Lynch, having announced that policy, received representations from some quarters and changed his mind. Rather than make provisions which made it easier to amalgamate he put many frustrating provisions in the legislation which have not worked and are not working yet.

Senator Greenwood - Membership control.

Senator BISHOP - No, it is not membership control, senator. They are arrangements which will ensure that members of the unions will know that the amalgamation procedures are current. They will be advised by public advertisements and by advertisements in their own journals. We will go back to what ought to happen in Australiato what are, in fact, representative associations. We do not want the Government to control all activities as some people want to do. It is not only my view that the unions should amalgamate. What about the view of Mr Lynch when he first said: 'Yes, let us do it that way'? What about the comment of the National President of the Metal Trades Industry Association of Australia? On 24 February 1972, Mr F. R. Morgan said that his association had no objection to the amalgamation of the metal trades unions. Mr Morgan was speaking at the conclusion of a meeting of the Metal Trades Industry Association National Executive in Melbourne at which leaders of the metal trades industry from all States were present. Mr Morgan added that he would be conveying this decision to the Minister for Labor and National Service, Mr Lynch. Far from objecting to the amalgamation, Mr Morgan said:

MTIA sees many practical advantages for industrial relations in the metal trades industry. The reduction in the number of unions with which 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.

He then went on to say that he would be informing Mr Lynch that the Metal Trades Industry Association would be opposed to any action by the Government which sought to prevent the amalgamation which had been carried out in accordance with the law. In 1970 Mr Ian Macphee, whom we know now but who was then the Assistant Director of the Chamber of Manufactures in New South Wales, speaking at the New South Wales Employers Federation Industrial Relations Conference at Bondi, said:

One may therefore express the hope that individual executives and officers in both trade unions and employer organisations may soon realise how ephemeral empires really are and that there is far more satisfaction in subsuming individual desires for personal recognition in a cause which benefits the community generally. When this realisation eventually draws a blow may really be struck for the material welfare of Australian employees and the peaceful and rapid development of our national resources. Such an advance would be greatly aided by rational amalgamations of unions and a similar unifying of employer organisations.

That, of course, is what the Government is trying to facilitate. We are not saying that all unions have to be amalgamated but rather, as everybody has said and has recognised, that there are too many unions in Australia. There are 294, and there are some which are not registered in the courts. Of those 294 unions, there are 226 with fewer than 5,000 members.

Senator Greenwood - What is wrong with that?

Senator BISHOP -This is what we are talking about. It was surprising to hear Senator Jessop and Senator Hall getting together on the transport workers dispute.

Senator Jessop - What is surprising about that?

Senator BISHOP -Usually those 2 honourable senators are sniping at each other at the first opportunity. I want to refer to what both honourable senators said.The first thing Senator Jessop said was that the transport workers union is an industry based union. That is what the Opposition says ought to be the current form of organisation. That is the Opposition 's policy. Secondly, what is more marked, as Senator Button, Senator Cameron and others pointed out, is the fact that demarcation was the origin of the dispute. If the grades and classifications had been combined in one organisation the dispute would never have occurred. Many disputes happen and not only this demarcation position is a source of trouble. The only figures we have available at the present time relate to industrial trouble arising from what are called trade union causes. This includes demarcation disputes and other related matters. The figures show that about 12 per cent of the total number of industrial disputes is occasioned by those sorts of disputes, and they are unnecessary.

Senator Greenwood - Yes, demarcation and other matters, and the other matters are a far greater cause.

Senator BISHOP - There are combinations, as I have said. I am not trying to hide anything. The honourable senator well knows, without my trying to hammer the point, that demarcation disputes are one of the damaging things in the industrial relations field. The employers do not want them and we do not want them. Therefore, we are trying to make it possible-

Senator Cavanagh - The unions do not want them.

Senator BISHOP - The unions do not want them, as Senator Cavanagh said. There is no explanation of the 2 cases about which I told the

Senate; but I put it to honourable senators that that is one of the troubles. In addition to those sorts of things we have the circumstances referred to in the quotation I recited from what was said by Mr Lynch. I refer to what happens when one sits down to negotiate across the table in relation to an industry where there are 15 unions. In fact, there are at least 6 Federal unions which cover the same areas, cover the same classsifications and have the same eligibility. In my case in the Post Office, as an honourable senator said, I have to talk to 27 unions in order to achieve satisfactory arrangements.

I want to mention the position in other countries, particularly other Western democracies which are often spoken of in contrast with the Australian position. In Germany there are only 16 unions, in Sweden there are 52, in the Netherlands there are 53, in Belgium there are 361, in Norway there are 40, and in Australia there are nearly 300. Speaking about the Post Office, let me refer to something which is now within the knowledge of honourable senators. Some honourable senators have read the Vernon report on the Post Office. This is what is stated in paragraph 5.9 of that report:

It can readily be understood that a large number of staff organisations exercising their legitimate interests in the welfare and employment conditions of their members would pose difficulties of communication and co-ordination for both management and the staff organisations. It would seem sensible that action be taken at some stage to rationalise staff organisation representation but this seems a matter principally for organisations and their members to decide.

That has been my policy. But we want to make the climate easier for doing these things. This Bill and the other Bill are designed to facilitate agreements with employers and to facilitate amalgamation procedures which will suit the organisations. These things will be done in a voluntary way. There will not be the unnecessary cluttering up of provisions which has caused the problems that have been stated.

The advertising, both public and in the journals provided for in the Bill before us is a satisfactory arrangement. If a union member complains about his union, whether it is the host union or the other union, he can still use the relevant sections of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. He can still use section 140 or section 141 in respect of what he thinks are tyrannical or hindering rules of organisations. If he wants to he can make application to ensure that a ballot is conducted officially. In addition, for the first time ever, the Government seeks to make provisions for the payment of the cost. If an organisation decides that there should be an official ballot we have said that, if necessary and if requested, we will pay the cost of such a ballot.

What is the position in both the Liberal and Labor governed States? None of the State arbitration Acts which enable unions to amalgamate requires a ballot. In New South Wales an application may be made to the New South Wales Industrial Registrar, and he has to hear and determine any application. In Queensland, unions in related callings may amalgamate on the passing of a resolution by a majority of members present at a general meeting or by other competent authority in the union. Objections may be lodged to the amalgamation and these are heard by the Registrar. In South Australia, where there is a Labor government, unions may amalgamate on the passing of a resolution to this effect and the lodging of it with the Registrar. In Western Australia, unions in related industries may amalgamate in the passing of a resolution by a majority of members present at a general meeting of each union, and objections to the amalgamation may be heard. After hearing all the fears expressed by opposition senators, in the light of that information about the State arbitration Acts I ask whether they still contend that it is dangerous to make amalgamation proceedings easier and that this will develop left wing unions and powerful unions? Of course that is not so.

I mentioned earlier that the provisions inserted in the Act in 1972, when Mr Lynch was the responsible Minister, are creating a number of problems. I referred to the problems now occuring in respect of 2 unions. One of the problems relates to this question of a roll of members. The Act says that the Registrar, after 3 months, must ensure that a ballot of the members is taken. This is in section 1 58 of the Act. Also, the ballot has to be conducted in concert with the regulations. However, the regulations have not yet been drawn. They were not completed by this Labor Government because we had amendments to propose to the Parliament. Those amendments were rejected, and those regulations are imperfect. In addition, rolls cannot be securely established. This was pointed out by Senator Cameron. Consider one of the amalgamations being proposed at the present time. The roll available for the election was finalised in December last year. It is now nearly the end of 1974 and those concerned are no nearer perfecting a roll to provide for that election than the Registrar was when he first decided who should be on the roll. The fact is that many of the people who were on that roll have left the industry. We know that in some unions, and certainly in two of the unions concerned, there is a great turnover of labour. Some of the people who would vote in a current election would not be in the industry anyway. That is the case in respect of the present provisions. Therefore, the 1972 provisions are no good, although they might look all right on paper.

I turn now to the argument about gazettal. What we propose would make it unnecessary to gazette the proposal after 3 months because that would be done as a preliminary. There is no doubt that there is a lot of objection to this provision because of fear. Senator Scott entered the debate by saying that if he felt that this provision would improve the conciliatory processes or improve the lot of the unions, he would support it. Then he went on to say that he would vote against the legislation. As I have spoken to honourable senators I have tried to indicate that that is the very aim of the Government- to provide a more conciliatory position, to make it easier for unions to operate within their own organisations, to make for better organisation and to make it possible for employers to engage satisfactorily in arguments with those on the other side of" the table.

There is no doubt that the proposition that we are putting forward is a reasonable one. In my opinion, the amendments foreshadowed by Senator Hall are unworkable. Firstly, we oppose the compulsory side of the notion contained in his amendments because it has no relevance to the political argument that Senator Hall advances in support of his amendments. As I have said, we are trying to get more representative associations and to make unions free of all those inhibiting factors which have been placed upon them by Liberal-Country Party governments. Senator Hall's proposition cuts right across our policy aims. After all, it cannot be assumed that those who do not vote in an election concerned with an amalgamation motion oppose the amalgamation.

The Opposition's stand on this occasion would seem to me to be a stand similar to that which it has taken on every occasion that the Labor Government has brought down amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Our friends in the Opposition see the industrial situation as being one which requires a strong-fisted attitude. We on our side are the first to say that however difficult the industrial relations situation is, we have to develop the conciliatory processes. If one reads the Liberal-Country Party policy to which I have referred one will see in that policy that there is strong argument about developing conciliatory processes, but it is never put into action.

On every occasion when we debate Bills similar to the Bill which we are presently discussing, honourable senators opposite decide to vote against them. I put it to the Senate that it ought to do what the Government requests because we have a mandate to do the sort of thing that we are requesting the Senate to do.

Mr Sneddenhas referred to the need to talk with the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I agree that those sorts of negotiations should take place. The Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron) has talked with the ACTU. Yesterday and today there have been important discussions about economic policies. But there is no doubt that if one talks to the ACTU one has to take notice of what the ACTU says. The ACTU supports this Bill and the next Bill which we are to consider. On more than one occasion when I was in Opposition I came into the Senate and supported amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which had been arrived at by negotiation between the ACTU and the previous Government. On those occasions we supported the amendments to the Act. In my opinion honourable senators opposite should do the same thing and support the amendments that we are putting forward on this occasion.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Suggest corrections