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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1786

Mr KILLEN (Moreton) - I congratulate the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) on the soothing qualities of his speech but I must confess to him unblushingly that he has not completely relaxed me. I begin on a mild note of protest and that is to this effect: I understand it is the wish of the

Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) to conclude the second reading of this Bill this afternoon and to complete all the Committee stage by early tomorrow afternoon. I think it is one of the most disgraceful parliamentary performances I have ever seen. Here is the honourable gentleman, the one-time rider of the white horse. Those of us who were here in years gone by can recapture the vision of the honourable gentleman sailing forth on the charger - Clyde, the one of courage, with lance out, railing against all suggestions that there should be any truncation of parliamentary debate. But now as a Minister of the Crown, the first substantial piece of legislation that he introduces is to be treated in this fashion. I was puzzled why, so I made some inquiries and I understand that the honourable gentleman is keen to get off to Geneva to see the sights. I do not want to upset him but he labours under a massive misapprehension if he believes for one moment that the people of Geneva are enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing him.

I would have thought that when dealing with a measure of this nature we would have approached it with a spirit of leisure in terms of examining it critically and in a discriminating fashion as befits the national Parliament. But no, the honourable gentleman says: I want it put through in one day'. Putting it in homely language, we had to kid to the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) because he was minded at one time to have the whole performance over and done with today. At least he responded to some of the milk of human kindness that flows so readily from me and he has abandoned that idea.

Mr Daly - I am on water now.

Mr KILLEN - My one regret about that is that there is not enough to pour over you. This is the fifty-fourth occasion since 1904 on which this Parliament has considered in one form or another the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Bill before us can best be described as a mixture of radical sentiment and dubious propositions expressed in poor English. This is what has been brought forth by the Minister for Labour. I am bound to tell the House that I now occupy the office once occupied by the Minister for Labour simpliciter - he is no longer called the Minister for Labour and National Service - and honourable members can use the term .A--':-:.-, how they like. I find in occupying that office that he has left behind him a collection of evil spirits and it would put to the test the combined efforts of all the bishops hi Christendom to get rid of them. When I went there, admittedly some of them fled and I think the ones that did move out have fled into this Bill.

I hope that no person in this country is under the slightest misapprehension as to what this Bill is all about. This Bill is the first major step to dismantle the arbitration system in Australia, and the House should be indebted to the very thoughtful speech made by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner) this afternoon in which he adverted to the drop by drop, bit by bit eroding of the whole of the Australian arbitration system. The Minister began his speech by saying that we are to have an inquiry into the whole of the conciliation and arbitration system in Australia. I said to myself: 'What a remarkably good idea*. However, I reminded myself that that was a proposal which I had made last year and nothing, of course, delights the heart more than to see the vindication of one's views by their acceptance by one's opponents. But the honourable gentleman, instead of stopping there and saying: 'I have announced this committee of inquiry', then proceeded to enunciate some - the emphasis should be on the word 'some' - of the proposals in his Bill. If the honourable gentleman were really serious he would have set up an inquiry and stopped at that. So one would be entitled to say to him that we suspect his intentions. Why does the honourable gentleman not await the report of this committee of inquiry. Let me ask the honourable gentleman: 'What if the committee of inquiry brings in recommendations with which the honourable gentleman does not agree, or vice versa?' What he is doing, in effect, is to frustrate in advance the work of a committee.

Mr Street - Pre-empting.

Mr KILLEN - Pre-empting, as the honourable gentleman says. If submissions are made to members of the committee about a particular proposal someone would say: 'Oh, you remember the Minister for Labour; he wiped that idea in his amending Bill in May last year - or whenever it may be - so there is not much point in putting that forward.*

So one is left to draw the conclusion that the honourable gentleman's mind is made up, although some may take the view that that was not a very elaborate process. It seems to me to have all of the overtones of a farce to appoint this committee, to allow it to operate for 6 months, 12 months - nominate whatever time you like - and to squander public funds. Why does the honourable gentleman not pull this Bill out now and say: 'Look, I have had a change, of heart. It is perfectly true, Killen, that I am going off to Geneva, but / am impressed.'

Mr Viner - How does he go there?

Mr KILLEN - I assure you that he could swim there if I had my way. If the honourable gentleman were serious about the committee he would pull the Bill out now and say: 'We will await the word of this committee". I just want to say to the honourable gentleman, who has an old world charm and an elegance which is redolent of the most courtly days of the court of St James, that he. would do the cause of arbitration and conciliation and employer and employee, relations a signal service if he were to pull this Bill out and to say: 'We propose to await the report of the committee'. But as I say, one must draw the conclusion that his intentions are not well founded and he leaves to us all an entitlement to be. cynical about his motives. I would like to examine 3 heads which. I. have culled, not necessarily in" terms of importance but as 3 aspects of this Bill to examine with respect to the committee of inquiry and how genuine the honourable gentleman is. The first of those 3 heads is the observance of the law. This covers what are described frequently and contemptuously as sanctions. The second head is the role of the Arbitration Commission, although my duty in that sense has been rendered largely unnecessary by . the very able and thoughtful speech of the honourable member for Stirling. The third head is the function of conciliation in this country.

I turn very briefly to the first head which embraces the principal proposals of the Bill which seek to dismantle all the sanction provisions. The Bill provides for various laws but it withdraws all provisions for the observance of those laws. I do not want to engage in any philosophical or metaphysical discussion with the Minister for Labour because I feel that one would reach a point of no return. But I want to say to the honourable gentleman that to establish a law and not provide any means for its observance is to give respectability to anarchy. There has never been a society in existence anywhere at any time that has established a law and not provided the means whereby the law is to be observed. As the great Mr Burke wrote: 'Men cannot enjoy the rights of a civil and uncivil state together*.

That is perfectly true and those words of the 18th century have as much moment today as they had then. One cannot say: 'Well, I am going to enjoy such benefits, transient as they may be, of an uncivil state', and at the same time say: 'I want a well ordered and a civil state'. Some clever men may take the view that they can escape from that, but in the ultimate they will come back to the realisation that there is no escape to be found.

We are not dealing in this matter with some mean quibble. We are dealing with what is a basic principle of the whole of our society. The Minister himself only a few months ago recognised just that point when in what was described as the 'mini-campaign', the honourable member for Hindmarsh, as he was felicitously known in those days, made a brilliant suggestion. He suggested that trade unionists should be fined $20 if they were involved in a strike. I think that one is entitled to ask the honourable gentleman what drew him to that conclusion 6 months ago; what forces gathered together and prevailed upon his cerebral processes to say that a $20 fine a day is an excellent idea. His leader at that time - now the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) - agreed with him. But had there not been a feast day I think his colleagues in the Labor Caucus would have resorted to cannibalism, and that was the end of the idea.

Why does the honourable gentleman say: This is an excellent idea', and then abandon it? 1 have never seen anything quite so ridiculous as the occasion when I saw a bullock in a dam and a character get a rope, put the rope round the bullock's head, then round his own waist, get back on to the horse and dig his spurs into the horse. I have never seen anything quite as absurd. The honourable gentleman now wants to outdo that celebrated bullock in the dam. What if the committee comes along to him in 12 months time and says to him: 'Minister, you know you were right: your idea of establishing the $20 fine for each unionist for each day they are out on strike was a splendid idea'. What will the honourable gentleman say to the chairman of the committee as they sit over lunch discussing that proposal? I just mention this because this is precisely the position in which the Minister puts himself today.

Let me turn to the second consideration that I have invited the House to look at - that is, the role of the Arbitration Commission.

This is a role which is to be largely truncated; it is a role which compared with its previous role is a diminishing one. Who is the author of this great idea? It is the Minister for Labour. What this proposal does under clause 17, which amends section 28 (2) - or if I could put it in shorthand, amends section 28 - is to provide for a single Commissioner to approve of consent agreements. There is no means to secure a review of those agreements unless the Commissioner forms the opinion that there is to be a major detriment to the public interest. A little further on one finds that the Commissioners in many instances can be people of quite unstated qualifications. Put in another way, this amounts to the introduction of collective bargaining by the back door.

Mr Martin - No, that is not so.

Mr KILLEN - I say to my honourable friend that I am quite prepared to listen to an argument on the merits of collective bargaining, but I still maintain my attitude that there is splendid virtue in frankness. Why does not the Minister say in this instance: 'We propose to introduce substantially in one area of Australian economic activity collective bargaining'. But again I am indebted, and the House should be indebted, to the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Viner) for pointing this out to us. This is what it is all about. One Commissioner with unstated qualification can approve of a consent agreement and unless he forms the opinion that there is a major detriment to the public interest it is not to be reviewed and it cannot be reviewed by the Full Bench of the Commission. The Commission may form the conclusion upon the most objective of criteria that the public interest is plainly involved but there is absolutely nothing that the Full Bench can do to bring the matter before it. In contrast to this, in the same provision which the Minister for Labour proposes, if the commissioner is in some doubt as to whether the members of the unions are in favour of the agreement he can approach the Registrar and secure a ballot. An incredible situation arises in which there is an appeal from his doubt but there cannot be an appeal from his error. But the author of this, the Minister for Labour who wants to go off to Geneva - the tourist at large-

Mr Garland - Sweden.

Mr KILLEN - To Sweden then. I suppose he can stir up goodwill there just as well as he can here - and he has not been much of a success. Let us assume that the chairman of this committee of inquiry has lunch with the Minister for Labour and says: 'You know, Mr Minister, you were wrong. You should have provided means whereby there was an appeal to the Full Bench from a consent order given by a single Commissioner. You should have made that provision'. Nobody seriously suggests that the Minister will introduce an amendment to that end. He has, quite effectively, stultified and frustrated, in advance, all of the work of the committee of inquiry.

I turn to a further point which, of necessity, must be my last point. I refer to the function of the conciliator. The Minister has rejected the suggestion that if a conciliator operates on his own, people who are in argument with one another will be disposed to go before him and put all their cards on the table. The Minister rejects that idea. He has had precious little to do with hard negotiation if he advances to the House that if 2 people in conflict with each other know that the man with whom they are discussing the issue ultimately will abandon one hat - the hat of the conciliator - and put on the hat of the arbitrator they will never be as forthcoming as they are when they know they can deal, in complete honesty and complete frankness, with one man carrying out one function.

The late Dr Evatt recognised this in 1956 when he put down a long, compendious amendment to a Bill amending the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Act contains a provision, written in impeccable English - clear as a bell - for conciliation. Who was one of the honourable gentlemen who voted for the provision on that occasion? It was the Minister for Labour, who now comes into this House and says: 'We must abandon the good sense of experience. We must bow to the doctrinaire demand of the movement' - that is the Labor movement - 'as I see it'. The honourable gent is wrong. What would happen if the chairman of the committee of inquiry approached the Minister in 12 months time and said: 'You were wrong'. I appeal to the Minister again. I suppose it is an appeal which will be a splendid exercise in futility, but indulge in it I will. I appeal to the Minister, before he goes on his way to see the sights of Geneva and Sweden, to withdraw this Bill and give the Parliament and the people of the nation an opportunity to examine in detail the comprehensive report of a committee of inquiry.

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