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Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1363

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - The Cameron legislation now lies in tatters. The Bill before the House represents a major reversal for the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) and his Government. It is in fact a public admission of the untenable and unwarranted nature of the provisions which this Government sought to introduce last session. Those provisions were the removal of sanctions against unionists and the exemption of unionists from the provisions of the civil law. Those provisions were sought in the original Bill as a specific pay-off to the trade union movement in this country. The Opposition parties provided the Government with every opportunity to reintroduce those provisions and then to move, if that is the wish of the Government, towards a double dissolution. The Minister has rejected that challenge because he and his colleagues know full well that the Australian people would not be prepared to return his Party to government on the basis of the legislation which he initially introduced into this House. The policies of the Minister for Labour are inconsistent with the progress of sound, industrial relations in Australia. He proclaims concern for the standards and conditions of the Australian work force and yet he is the prime mover of the wage and salary pressures which are now pushing the rate of inflation in Australia to unprecedented levels. The Budget papers estimate that average weekly earnings will rise by 13 per cent this financial year. Inflation is now running at a notional rate of more than 13 per cent. As a direct consequence of inflation the work force throughout Australia will achieve no real gains during this financial year as a result of the economic and industrial relations policies of the present Labor administration.

The Minister's endorsement of the pace setter principle for the Public Service, the concept of Hat wage increases, the introduction of a 35-hour working week and the total endorsement of the claims by the Australian Council of Trade Unions before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wage case, have not only been irresponsible but in fact also have been counterproductive against the context of the inflationary spiral which is so rampant throughout Australia. Equally, the Minister's abrasive and inflammatory approach to the industrial environment has had the effect of doubling the amount of wages lost through industrial disputes for the first 9 months of this year as compared with the same period last year. During the early days of this Labor administration there has been a massive increase in the level of industrial unrest. That increase cannot be blamed on the processes of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or, indeed, upon the operation of the Act. It can, however, be attributed directly to the behaviour of the parties in the industrial jurisdiction and, we believe, to the absence of effective national leadership.

I do not want to try to score any political points in a debate of this type. I do not need to take that opportunity because what can be said is so self-evident to the Australian people to warrant no repetition in the course of this debate. However it is a useful exercise to refer to many of the pre-election industrial promises which this Government made in 1972. What do we think of those promises?

The Opposition parties support the concept of effective and responsible trade unionism and we support Australia's statutory process of conciliation and arbitration. Accordingly, as the Opposition's spokesman for industrial relations, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), has stated, the Opposition's attitude to this Bill is determined by its analysis of what best serve the legitimate interests of the principal parties in the industrial environment and the public at large. The Opposition believes that the Government has a basic responsibility to safeguard the public interest when proposing alterations to our existing industrial legislation. This responsibility must derive from a number of basic considerations. -Firstly, a government has responsibility for the general management of the economy, which can be adversely affected by events in the industrial relations field,. It would be recreant to its duty if it did not do everything in its power to ensure that industrial disputes and their resolution did not create economic problems which affected the public interest. Secondly, a government must necessarily be concerned with the wellbeing of people in all sections of the community, of which employers and members of the trade union movement form but a part. In particular, a government has responsibility for protecting the interests of under-privileged people in the community - those on fixed incomes and others who are not in a position to protect their own interests.

Thirdly, some industrial relations developments are not the direct concern of one or other of the parties, although they can cause a marked upset in the life of the general community and can have adverse economic repercussions. I refer to such matters as stoppages over political issues and inter-union rivalry in relation to the demarcation of work. No self-respecting government can stand idly by in the face of such threats 'to the community's wellbeing. Fourthly, in genuine industrial disputes between unions and employers there comes a time when the parties, in the public interest, cannot be left to fight out to the bitter end a war of industrial attrition which could easily seriously undermine the workings of the economy and national stability. Indeed, it was the result of a disastrous confrontation between unions and employers in the 1890s that led to the eventual establishment of statutory conciliation and arbitration systems in this country.

In 1949 the economic disruption caused by coal miners forced the then Labor Government to protect the Australian community by the passage of an Act which had the effect of putting the irresponsible union leaders involved in gaol. Fifthly, every government is itself an employer - in Australia the largest employer in the Country. Thus government must be concerned with industrial relations in respect of its own employees. This, the Opposition recognises must at times create problems. On the one hand, a government must ensure that employees are awarded just and fair conditions but, on the other hand, it cannot act regardless of the interests of other employers, whether private or public.

The responsibilities of the principal parties in the industrial environment are equally important. The Opposition believes there is a real need for employers and trade unions to face up to the responsibilities demanded of them in a full employment society. The use of direct action by unions to coerce employers to accede to unreasonable union demand is, of course, not a measure of responsibility. By the same token, employers who make a practice of automatically rejecting union demands, irrespective of their intrinsic merits, or grant unreasonable claims in the expectation that the costs involved can be passed on to the general community in the form of price rises, cannot be said to be acting responsibly.

Responsible action on the part of unions calls for submitting only those claims which they feel can be reasonably justified and accompanying those claims with supporting information. To act responsibly, employers need to give careful consideration to such claims and to accede to those claims that they consider are justified. Negotiations can then proceed on matters in dispute, and only when agreement cannot be reached should recourse be had to conciliation and arbitration processes. During negotiations, the parties must have regard to the public interest. If we are to retain our present system of annual national wage cases as a method for distributing to workers generally the benefits of economic growth, employers and unions need to be careful lest a consequence of their negotiations they exhaust economic capacity to support general wage increases which would normally be awarded as a result of national wage cases. Industrial tribunals can award wage increases and other benefits for which there is no economic capacity to pay, but such increases are illusory since they are inevitably followed by price increases of the type that we have been experiencing recently. The Minister seems either incapable or unwilling to examine the effects of his industrial proposals in respect of the level of industrial unrest. Industrial unrest causes hardship and inconvenience to individuals; it disrupts industrial efficiency and retards output; it rebounds on the workers involved, causing them needless losses in income and prejudicing the employment of the men concerned; and it has adverse consequences on the economy. It is not, of course, a phenomenon which is unique in this country.

Our distinctive industrial relations system was born in a period of industrial turmoil at the close of the last century. Since then the system has had to contend with recurring periods of heightened industrial unrest. The marked upturn in the level of industrial turmoil during the first 9 months of the new Government must be a matter of national concern. Statistics published by the Commonwealth Statistician on the amount of time and wages lost as a result of the level of industrial disputes, although useful in analysing our industrial dispute experience, only reveal the tip of the iceberg in that they relate solely to employees directly and indirectly involved in establishments in which stoppages of work take place. Clearly this is a gross understatement of the full impact of industrial action because it does not account for workers elsewhere who are stood down on account of strikes and other forms of industrial action. Nor do the statistics reveal the loss of business opportunities caused by direct industrial action. The royal commission chaired by Lord Donovan in the United Kingdom pointed out in relation to statistics:

That tally gives a very imperfect measure of the economic consequences of a strike.

Within industry, direct action has many other insidious effects. It causes disruption to operational efficiency, training programs and investment plans.

In an economy subject to unpredictable strikes, businesses will try to protect themselves by carrying large stocks both of materials needed in production and of finished goods. The cost of warehousing, servicing and insurance, and the capital involved, are added financial burdens. A less obvious but no less serious effect of direct industrial action is that it damages business confidence - always a sensitive element, even in the most virile economy. Mr Deputy Speaker, you would be aware of the serious degree to which business confidence and the confidence of the community generally have been so greatly eroded during the first 9 months in which you have held this position as Deputy Speaker of this House. If a loss in production or increases in labour costs resulting from direct industrial action squeeze profits, even if only temporarily, this may inhibit business investment decisions and thereby inhibit industrial growth and reduce employment opportunities.

It is true, of course, that this Bill, because it no longer contains the highly partisan and obviously political provisions of the former legislation, can be more easily represented as a proposal in the public interest. But as the honourable member for Wannon has so clearly pointed out, there remain a number of important provisions which we would hope the Minister will re-consider when the Bill is in its Committee stage.

Contrary to the Minister's public posture, 3 provisions of the Bill are designed to remove sanctions now operative in the principal Act. One is in part 10 of the Act which makes provision for industrial agreements for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes by conciliation and arbitration. Another relates to section 158p of the Act which enables the court to impose penalties in respect of amalgamation ballots, and the final one relates to the provisions of the Act in respect of organisations' bank accounts. No doubt the Minister will agree with the Opposition parties that the Bill, insofar as it seeks to remove these 3 provisions of the Act, does not reflect his public representation of it. No doubt the Minister would not wish to jeopardise his wellknown reputation for public honesty and will agree to the necessary amendments which the Opposition parties will be proposing in these 3 significant areas.

There are, of course, a number of other significant provisions in this Bill which we believe require further consideration by the Minister. They have already been outlined by the honourable member for Wannon and will be put to the Minister in some detail during the Committee stage. This is a Bill which, even in its mutilated and emasculated form - I said before that it is a Bill in tatters - deserves further examination by the Government. We do not propose to make political capital from the Bill, as the Minister did in his second reading speech. The Minister will recognise that on this occasion I have taken a most muted position in responding to the propositions which the Government has put down. I refer to his facile, even absurd, observation that the failure of the Parliament to pass his first Bill had the effect of exacerbating the Ford dispute. Nothing could be further from the truth. If there was one factor in this country that did not help the Ford dispute it was the Minister's inflammatory statements made from London - an easy position from which to make an in-depth observation, but they bore no reality to the implications of that tragic dispute in Melbourne.

Mr Kelly - It was safer, too.

Mr LYNCH - And safer, too. The Minister would be aware that there was a classic case at the Ford factory of union democracy being debased and dishonoured by union officials. The Opposition parties believe it is time that the Minister and his Government recognised that industrial relations call for national leadership and a sense of national responsibility. It is not an area in which a government should pursue a policy of sectionalism. It is not an area for the disbursement of concessions for political support. A factor that would tend to lend greater credibility to the Minister's claims that this Bill has the fundamental objective of improving the nature of industrial relations in Australia would be some mention by him of the committee of inquiry.

This is a committee of inquiry - a noble concept - set up by the Minister and which apparently has been in limbo since its inception. In this House we have heard very little of the operations of that Committee since the first grand design was laid down. The state of the committee is symptomatic of the Government's general approach to industrial legislation. This is, unfortunately, an approach characterised by a lack of consultation despite what the Government said in its pre-election speeches. This Bill does not derive from a process of thorough consultation.

There was in fact no direct consultation in a formal sense with the principal parties in the industrial jurisdiction throughout Australia. The Bill is simply a transposition of the Australian Labor Party's platform in this country. What can be said of industrial relations under Labor is that they are a myth, because the promises made not just in this House but on the hustings throughout Australia have been dishonoured. It is not irrelevant to point out that during the period of the present administration the number of strikes has shown a marked increase, the number of workers involved has shown a marked increase, the number of man-days lost has shown a marked increase, and there has been a massive loss in the value of wages by Australian employees.

I remind the House of this fundamental truth, that in the industrial jurisdiction there is an overwhelming need to pay far more attention to the positive initiatives which can be taken to improve the nature of the working environment. This is no less than the workforce of this country deserves or demands, because the quality of life of the workers is, in no small measure, the quality of the work environment in which they spend the greater part of their lives. Therefore, what we need is a better community of work, a community in which employers and employees work effectively together, with increasing benefit to the worker, the employer, the products they produce and the country at large. I hope that this will not be lost on the Minister for Labour because what we have seen in this House in the first 9 months of this Administration has been a totally inadequate response to Australia's industrial relations problems. We have seen turmoil upon turmoil, and that of course is very bad for Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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