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Tuesday, 23 May 1972
Page: 1924

Senator BISHOP - That was in March 1972.

Senator McManus - That was in relation to the Minister's first statement because we did not have the Bill then.

Senator BISHOP - That is the point. We did not have the Bill, but we had the declaration.

Senator McManus - It makes a difference.

Senator BISHOP - Yes, of course it does, and the honourable senator can tell us more about that than we know already. We now get to the kernel of what Senator McManus is talking about, namely, the amalgamation procedures. Up to this time the Minister for Labour and National Service said: 'Well, the procedures for amalgamation being engaged in by those unions are bona fide'. He defended them. He supported what they were doing. He said that amalgamations were beneficial to the community. As is known, employers supported them. Let me read some of the things the Minister said in a speech delivered on 2nd March 1972 at the Central Industrial Secretariat Dinner of ACEF and ACMA in Melbourne:

The legislation provides certain criteria to be fulfilied by the organisations which seek to deregister. This criteria includes the holding of ballots of members, in accordance with the rules of the organisations and that the de-registration should be approved by a majority of those voting.

Ballots were held by the Sheet Metal Workers and the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths and, indeed, although not required to do so by the legislation the AEU also held a ballot because its rules provided for this.

The results of the ballots showed that almost 86 per cent of those voting in the AEU ballot favoured amalgamation, 73 per cent in the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society and almost 70 per cent in the Sheet Metal Workers Union. The percentage of total membership of the union of those voting were 9 per cent AEU 40 per cent Boilermakers and Blacksmiths and 36 per cent Sheet Metal Workers Union.

It is, I believe, pertinent to note that there are safeguards in the legislation to prevent unions from having oppressive, unreasonable or unjust rules and to ensure that rules are properly observed by officials. If any members of these three unions considered that the rules relating to the amalgamation ballots were not satisfactory, they could have taken action before the Commonwealth Industrial Court.

As to the suggestion which has been made that there is a history of ballot rigging in these 3 unions, the Minister went on to say:

The record does not hear this out and it is supported, 1 believe, by the fact that there has not been a request from the membership of any of the 3 unions for a court controlled ballot for a considerable number of years.

That is the tenor of the statement which Mr Lynch made at a time when he was satisfied with the existing legislation. We of the Labor Party can see no need for this measure and we oppose it. it is wrong, lt places a great burden on the union movement. The situation of the Minister has since changed. He went into reverse gear and nobody knows exactly why he did so. Guesses in newspaper reports attributed the change to threats by the Democratic Labor Party about the merger of the unions. In the 2nd March edition of the Canberra Times' an article staled:

DLP renews threat on union merger. The Federal Secretary of the Democratic Labor Party, Senator Kane, said yesterday that the DLP would not support Arbitration Act amendments in the Senate if the Government failed to act against the merger.

That is probably the reason why the DLP tonight will support this reactionary legislation. I cannot understand why people with considerable experience in the trade union movement should let themselves be hoodwinked by this sort of rubbish - and it is rubbish. Anything can be so regarded which imposes strictures on the unions at a time when they are battling to achieve proper standards and when there is a great need for increased conciliation to follow the pattern in other countries. Had the Government wanted to review in a proper fashion the Australian arbitration system it could have consulted the Australian Council of Trade Unions and employer bodies. In conducting a proper review it could have looked outside of this country and not thrown the burden on the workers by saying that the real threat to the economy is wage induced inflation. We have become used to consistent attacks on the trade union movement not only by the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) but also by Ministers who have made similar attacks on the Arbitration Commission. When Mr Gorton was Prime Minister he attacked the President of the Arbitration Commission.

Most senators are aware of the way his statement was rebutted by the logic of the President of the Commission.

The Labor Opposition is satisfied that none of the prescriptions of the Bill reflect the thinking of people with experience of arbitration tribunals. About the only people who would be impressed by this legislation would be the conciliation commissioners who are to receive salary increases of about 33 per cent at a time when workers appearing before the Commission cannot get a weekly increase of more than $2.50.

Senator O'Byrne - How much does a commissioner get?

Senator BISHOP - He will receive an increase of 33 per cent on what he is now paid. It will be in the legislation and nothing can be done about it.

Senator Gair - You could easily stop that.

Senator McManus - Will you vote against it?

Senator BISHOP - We are voting against all the provisions of the Bill and I hope that the DLP will also vote against it. As I said earlier, 1 want to direct attention to the present Conciliation and Arbitration Act. There can no longer be any pretence by the Government, the Minister for Labour and National Service and the partners in the shaky coalition. Section 2 of the present Act provides:

The chief objects of this Act are -

(a)   to promote goodwill in industry;

(b)   to encourage conciliation with a view to amicable agreement, thereby preventing and settling industrial disputes;

(c)   to provide means for preventing and settling industrial disputes not resolved by amicable agreement, including threatened, impending and probably industrial disputes wilh the maximum of expedition and the minimum of legal form and technicality;

(d)   to provide for the observance a-nd enforcement of agreements and awards made in settlement of industrial disputes; and

I suggest that the concept expressed in that provision is attacked by the new legislation, the essential object of which is to separate conciliation and arbitration. No longer will the experienced conciliator and commissioner who knows all the matters affecting disputes be able to determine disputes. For example, he will not Le able to make agreements unless they meet the criteria laid down in the new measure. The new legislation will disable the person who sets out to settle disputes. I suggest that it is a negation of the experience of people who have worked in industrial relations. Everybody knows one of the main obstacles to settling disputes has always been the difficulty in dealing wilh the person who can solve the dispute. Trade union secretaries and employer representatives find they must talk to 10 people before settling a dispute. In our opinion the separation of the conciliation and arbitration functions is a bad step. The Minister defends it by saying that it makes more attractive to the parties the prospect of settling their differences within the system. It seems to me that some of these matters will have to be drawn out and dealt with at greater length. This will be done more particularly at the Committee stage. The proposed new section 31 makes it possible for only a Full Bench to deal with these matters, lt provides: (1.) The power of the Commission to make an award, or to certify, under section 28 of this Act, an agreement -

(a)   making provision for, or altering, id.- standard hours of work in an industry;

(h)   making provision for, or altering, rales of wages, or the manner m which rates of wages are to be ascertained, on grounds predominantly related to the national economy and without examination of any circumstance pertaining to the work upon which, or the industry in which, persons are employed;

That provision throws a responsibility onto the Full Bench to decide matters in respect of the national economy. Why should they not be tested in the usual way before the Commission? Agreements which might be reached between consenting bodies will be held up if they do not meet the criteria set down by this Government. The proposed new section goes on:

(c)   making provision for. or altering, a minimum wage that is to he payable *o adult males without regard to the work performed or to th' industry in which they are employed.

Many other provisions of the Bill impose onerous conditions on the workers. They will be dealt with in detail at the Committee stage. I would like now to refer briefly to the question of amalgamations. The Labor Party is strongly opposed to the amalgamation procedures. Our shadow Minister for Labour today made a statement setting out the view of the Labor

Opposition. He said that the Labor Party will revoke the present laws in relation to amalgamation and will ensure that agreement between the parties can be made more easily in future. That is the sort of system which will be operated by the Labor Party. During the course of this debate the intentions of our leader will be made clear.

In conclusion, i say that many experts have condemned the use of penal powers within the arbitration machinery. Criticism came from the much respected former Commonwealth conciliation commissioner, Mr Terry Winter. When he retired on 19th May 1971, a Press report stated:

A former Commonwealth conciliation and arbitration commissioner, Mr T. C. Winter, said yesterday he did not know of one case in which the operation of penal provisions had assisted industrial relations. He described the present compulsory arbitration systems as 'something like David confronted by not one but many Goliaths of present economic and industrial pressures." ... He said: The penal provisions, considered as a unit, have been found to be a small, ineffective pebble. Reviewing the years I spent as commissioner assigned to the metal trades industry, 1 cannot think of one case in which the operation of penal provisions assisted industrial relations.'

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