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Wednesday, 10 May 1961

Mr E, JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because a winch-driver, for instance, becomes accustomed to his work on the waterfront and is better at it than any young man who comes into the industry. He is not prepared to give away his work-value to the nation and go out on the age pension. That is the fact of the matter. This bill is intended to put the old men into the irregular group. The Minister did not quite tell the truth this afternoon, but that has been corrected by the honorable member for Bruce. When referring to elderly workers the Minister said that they not only will be eligible to receive the monetary value of the leave but also will be entitled to go on working whenever they please. That is completely false. Under the legislation, the only time they could work would be when no registered waterside workers were available. The honorable member for Bruce said that in his speech. It is the complete reverse of what the Minister said this afternoon.

The Government cannot use the method of fines, as recommended in the Tait report, so it proposes to use the system of depriving a man of four days' attendance money for every day of stoppage. That penalty will operate on days when waterside workers are not required, and in that way funds will be accumulated. In addition, the Government proposes to provide a great force of old men from which the stevedoring authority will be able to pick and choose men as plums are picked and chosen. This is the worst form of casual employment I have ever seen. The authority will want these old men only when nobody else is available.

The figures show that there are 792 men classed as old men on the irregular roster. They are working on an average about halftime. The latest reports show that, on an average, 300 out of the 792 are working. What the Government proposes to do is to prevent these men from coming in any more in that fashion. They are, instead, to stand by all the time. By that provision and the provision for the cancellation of appearance money, the Government will be able to provide for the employers, the stevedores, an ever-standing casual staff for nothing. Is that the type of thing that supporters of the Government want to vote for? I have fought against this kind of thing down through the years. The Minister must surely know what will happen as a result of the legislation. On the one hand, the Government will oppose three penalties for one offence. There has never been such a provision before. That is something else that I thought went out in this country many years ago. It will also provide a casual staff to stand by, ready to be pulled in when nobody else is available.

The Minister has told us about how he believes that this measure will correct the difficulties on the waterfront. Surely the Minister does not believe that men will throw away rights they have had for twenty years. Under this provision, if the authorities want to get rid of the old men they will bring somebody else in. I am wondering whether this legislation is not an attempt on the part of the Government to take up the slack in employment to-day and, by putting more men on a pension, provide employment for some of those who are unemployed. That is what the legislation will do. It will put out men who are prepared to work. They will draw a pension, but they will be standing by, ready to be picked for work as required. I did not think I would ever see such a provision in a bill.

The honorable member for Bruce said that he did not think there should be a compulsory retiring age. If there is to be a compulsory retiring age on the waterfront, the same thing should also be good enough for this place, and one could go right down the line. Does the Minister think for one moment that trade unionists, no matter who leads them, can be driven into a position where, for the sake of gathering a mere three months' long service leave for every 20 years of service, they will give away what has been understood as their standard right - the right to strike when they feel that a hardship is being imposed on them? You cannot handle waterside workers that way, although you may handle people in some other industries that way.

The Minister himself refers to the turbulence of this industry. All this bill will do is to create the prospect of increased turbulence in it. I agree with the Minister when he makes the point that what happens in this industry affects our economy. If that is so, then it is a standing disgrace to him as a Minister, and to the Government, to attempt to pass legislation that affects a group of workers, that has an impact on every section of the economy, without first discussing the legislation with the trade union movement, which has these things very close to heart. We hear honorable members, including the honorable member for Bruce, get up in their places here and pay tributes to the leadership of Mr. Albert Monk. But there was not even a telephone call about this legislation to Mr. Monk, suggesting that he bring some representatives along. Is that the way to keep peace in industry? Has the Minister forgotten forever the principles that industrial legislation that affects a turbulent industry will not succeed unless the Government first gets the support of the A.C.T.U.? Does the Minister not understand that all this legislation is doing is to fly in the face of what Mr. Monk wants to do to bring peace to industry? I say seriously to the Minister finally, that this legislation is a blot on Australia's approach to the human problem of long service leave for workers.

Mr Snedden - I claim to have been misrepresented, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) said at the outset of his speech that I had attacked the interstate executive of the A.C.T.U. and the unions, and had reflected very badly on them. I am sure that on reflection the honorable member for Blaxland will realize that I did not do that. In fact, I have great respect for trade unions and the A.C.T.U., and what I said to-night was that the A.C.T.U. interstate executive had acted in spite of the fact that there were Communist members on that executive, including Mr. Healy, the general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation.

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