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Tuesday, 7 December 1976
Page: 3398

Mr FALCONER (Casey) -The Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson), who is at the table, will be relieved to know that I rise to support the Government and oppose the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Robertson (Mr

Cohen). I think the concepts which were put forward by the honourable member in respect of worker participation are rather inadequate. I suggest to the Committee that, to write into the legislation at this stage a provision which requires a representative of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Staffs Association to be appointed as a Commissioner, is, at the very least, premature and probably runs counter to a proper concept of the role of the Commissioners. Let me discuss very briefly concepts of worker participation. That phrase has been bandied about a lot. It refers to a number of things, according to the ideas which people have. The first idea which is often meant by worker participation is some sort of financial participation in the enterprise such as a staff shareholding in a company or a profit sharing arrangement. The best known example of staff shareholding in Australia, I suppose, is Fletcher Jones and Staff Pty Ltd where staff shareholding is part of the structure of the company. Of course, financial participation does not apply to public corporations or commissions such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The second idea which is often meant by worker participation is representation on boards of directors or commissions. There are a number of disadvantages to be considered in this form of representation, as well as a number of advantages. But let me point to some of the problems. One problem is that representation on a commission or a board of directors by, say, an elected representative of the staff or employees of an organisation can mean mere tokenism. The commission or company can ensure that it has one representative of the staff as a director. It appoints 8 other people in a manner which 6 ensures that the one representative of the staff is outvoted eight to one every time. This does not necessarily mean a great deal in terms of real participation by the staff of an organisation in the decision making process of that organisation.

Another problem which sometimes arises is one of conflict of interests between the role which a person has to play as a member of the commission and his role as a representative of the staff. Let me point to a commission which is within the Minister's portfolio and which I think provides a very good example of this situation. I refer to the Postal Commission. A member of that Commission is Mr George Slater. I know he is an appointed member and was not elected by the staff. But in a sense he is a representative of the union concerned because he is the general secretary-treasurer of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union. Mr Slater was in the interesting position of being a member of the Commission at the time of the Medibank strike. As a member of the Commission I presume that he, with his fellow commissioners, expected employees of the Commission to turn up for work on the day of the declared Medibank strike. Post Offices were kept open in order to receive anyone who cared to turn up for work. But as an official of the union he had some responsibility for the action which the union subsequently took in disciplining members of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union who in fact turned up for work in breach of the decision of the Federal Executive of that union that there should be a strike on that day. So Mr Slater had this rather impossible conflict of interests. I suggest that this is one of the problems that has to be resolved about formal staff representation on commissions of this nature.

The other point I make about representation on boards and commissions concerns the role commissioners are expected to play. By and large, ABC commissioners do not represent outside bodies. It seems to me that the present staff elected commissioner is the only person who is, in some sense, responsible to an outside constituency to whom he reports. The General Manager of the ABC, Mr Talbot Duckmanton, is not a member of the Commission. He has to walk out of Commission meetings, which he is usually allowed to attend, when the Commission decides that there is something too confidential for the General Manager to hear. But the representative of the staff is able to sit in the Commission. So, that is one problem, I ask: If we have commissioners who are in some sense representative of outside bodies, do we have an elected representative of the consumers- Auntie 's Nieces and Nephews or whatever organisation we might have? Do we have a representative of the management, such as the General Manager? Do we have a representative of government in a formal sense who formally reports to government?

We have seen how the present incumbent, the elected staff representative, in fact reports to his constituency. The honourable member for Bowman (Mr Jull) and the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) earlier read out excerpts of a public report which that representative made lining up the 'goodies' and the 'baddies' on the Commission, as far as he was concerned. So I believe an important matter of principle has to be determined here. Are members of the Commission to be appointed to represent some outside body or are they to be people appointed in their own right because of the expertise they have developed in various areas and perhaps representative of a broad range of interests, not necessarily of a specific group.

My objection to the legislation in its initial form was that it seemed that it required some people to be removed from the present Commission. I believe that people ought to be allowed to serve out their existing terms. That was something on which I had a strong view. Nonetheless I think it would be a mistake to write into the legislation a provision requiring a staff elected representative on the Commission. This Government very clearly is not against union representation on various boards and commissions.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Sir JohnEgerton.

Mr FALCONER - Sir JohnEgerton is in such a position. Mr Hawke is on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia. No one suggests that he goes out of the Reserve Bank board meetings and reports to the executive or the congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on what has transpired at those Board meetings. I think that honourable members on both sides of the Committee would be horrified if confidential matters, discussed on the Reserve Bank board, were reported outside in that way. There is a great deal of merit in ensuring that there are suitable trade union representatives on various government boards and commissions. I suggest that writing into the legislation the provision in the form which has been suggested in the amendment is not the best way to go about it.

The third thing that is meant by many people when they talk of worker participation is the idea of job enrichment, job enlargement and consultation throughout the whole of an organisation. I suggest to the Committee that the Government's legislation makes provision for a very substantial move in the direction of worker participation. The legislation provides for the setting up of a joint consultative committee which would bring together representatives of the Commission and of officers and full time employees of the Commission. If ABC staff members are genuinely concerned about having a real say in the affairs of the Commission it would be to their advantage to ensure that they make the most vigorous representations possible on the structure of this consultative committee and the way in which information from all sections of the ABC staff will be fed into it. In that way every section of the staff- the administrative, technical, creative and artistic staff- can make sure that at the appropriate level of the organisation they are able to have their say and to inject some element into the decision making processes of the ABC.

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