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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 1993

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I join with other Opposition senators in opposing this Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. I might say, in passing, that with my Queensland colleague, Senator Georges, 1 look forward to the debate on the motion moved by Senator Davidson on the statement on the Australian environment. My predecessors from the Opposition side in this debate on this Bill have argued, quite rightly, that there has been a note of panic in relation to this legislation. The Government is ignoring the cause and seeking to deal with the effect. I think I can do no better than to fortify my argument, and that of the Opposition as a whole, by quoting the text of a statement made by the President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, Sir Richard Kirby, in his report of 13th August 1971. Sir Richard Kirby said: 1 am well aware that most Australians accept as a fact that strikes and threats of strikes have been increasing over recent years but I doubt if this acceptance is well based if increased population and work force are taken into account. Nevertheless although there is cause for some concern in this regard it should be remembered that the important thing for Australia as a trading nation is how the rest of the world with which she is competing is behaving in similar fields. Most of our competitors have been plagued by strikes just as much if not more than we have. . . .

That virtually endorses the remarks that were made by Senator Cavanagh earlier today. I want to continue in a broader fashion. The second reading speech made by the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) makes comparisons with the amendments made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1947 and refers to the industrial climate in 1972. One of the problems is epitomised in the speeches made by Senator Lillico and Senator Durack. They seized on the trade union movement as a whipping boy and built their entire cases on that. 1 referred earlier to cause and effect. The point I am making is that such advances as containerisation, automation and computerisation are episodes in the industrial life of this country that are having series effects on the work force, whether it be the blue collar section or the white collar section. Honourable senators are entitled to argue about the effect that certain ideological ground swells have on disrupting the continuity of employment. The point is that when people feel that their future is a little uncertain it does not take great oratory from a trade union secretary to get them to agitate for a change. Some disputes are certainly more prolonged than others. No industrial dispute in Australia has lasted as long as the various longshoremen's stoppages in the United States of America. 1 refer to one such stoppage recently which involved Harry Bridges, who is well known to honourable senators on both sides of the chamber. This stoppage happened on the Pacific Coast of the United States. I do not condone the length of that dispute but it has become the usual practice for the Press to draw out of the air statements saying that mythical millions of dollars are involved, whatever the length of the stoppage. I remember what happened about 4 years ago at the time of the Mount lsa dispute. It was a lesson to everybody of what should not happen. Former Senator Branson asked whether the many millions mentioned were the true cost of that strike. Probably he was seeking a different answer from that which I was seeking. It is remarkable that the mining industry at Mount Isa was very buoyant again within 12 months. I deliberately inject that remark in order to get honourable senators back to a more temperate level.

Senator Lillicoreferred to the role of the trade union movement in West Germany and compared it with that in Australia. We have to consider secondary effects. The present West German Finance Minister, Herr Schiller, has been taking action about price justification. It is true that he has not had his way entirely but at least he has endeavoured to stabilise prices. The top echelon of the West German trade union movement negotiated to reach a national wage agreement but values did not erode after agreement was reached. If honourable senators asked me to crystallise my main objection to this legislation I simply say this: After a prolonged national wage inquiry and after judges have determined a percentage increase that can be met by industry - I am dealing solely with wage justice now - if there were a price freeze for 6 or 8 months we would not see the flow-throughs which occur when people realise that within 3 weeks the prices of basic commodities go up. The Government might say that it could be too allembracing. I say that if the Government had created a prices justification commission and industry could prove that the cost of a vital component which was important to this country had increased, there might be justification. But the fact is that these piddling little things happen and prices increase.

Let me give a classic illustration. There was much agitation in Sydney about the Theatrical Employees Union - a relatively small union - and its cinema operators and even the usherettes. John Gorton liked the show 'Gunsmoke'. ! am a Clint Eastwood fan. 1 have seen his last 3 films in Sydney in a couple of hours that I could spare. I was amazed that cinema prices in Sydney had increased from $1.50 to almost $2, or they use another lurk of charging $1.75 throughout the whole cinema - one price cinema. I will not name the cinema and give it a free plug. This is the imbalance of the situation. The Government says that it is wrong for a union to seek something, but nobody places a stopper on Greater Union Theatres or their other competitors Hoyts for the way in which they seem to circumvent any concept of price stabilisation. This is one of the basic situations that no doubt the Government could discuss when it meets officers of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The Government pays them the courtesy of meeting them at Budget time, but for the rest of the year various Ministers take the opportunity of engaging in what I call Hawke baiting. He cannot win.

I turn again to this West Germany syndrome. If the Government accepts the other point and says that this is a good part of the West Germany trade union structure, it should look at the other aspect. The West German officials were in Australia talking about the trade union insurance concept. Let me refer to Bourkes ACTU store. It seems to rile a lot of Government senators. It could be called a case of people's capitalism or some other term could be applied to it. The fact is that certain people who are always watching the doings of the far Left and who read left wing publications would know that the ACTU-

Senator Withers - I do not.

Senator MULVIHILL - You should, Senator Withers. I read 'News Weekly', so if that publication was read in conjunction with the 'Tribune' the honourable senator would obtain all the different views. I am trying to develop the point of why the trade union movement cannot win in the eyes of many Government members. On one hand the Government says to members of unions: 'Look, do not agitate about wage increases. We will reform the society from within'. On the other hand we hear all this talk about why the trade union movement should not enter the retail industry. The Government cannot have it both ways. If it says that the trade union movement should keep out of that field, I take the point to the next stage: If the trade union movement is involved exclusively with its own affairs, the Government will come to it and say: 'We need your assistance in the immigration field'. I do not say that it should not do this or that it has done it, such aid given is not fully justified. But all these matters place impositions on the trade union cost structure. That will be related to the question of amalgamations which I will be dealing with shortly.

I want to return to the core of this legislation and the cause of it. I have dealt with the failure to stabilise prices which, in turn when the trade union movement feels it has been gypped, leads it to come back to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission again and argue that during the term of the agreement there has been such an erosion of money value that some adjustment has to be made. It may be argued that some industries are stronger than others, but as I develop my argument I do not think I can avoid mentioning the other furphies that have been advanced. The Government says that if a major strong section of the trade union movement achieves something the gap is being widened between other grades. There always have to be pace setters. I would like Government senators to reflect on the history of weekend penalty rates. In the society in which we live now the emphasis, in television advertisements and so on, is on luxury, the good world and the quality of life. That is very good. But despite what Senator Little said about the blue collar section declining and the white collor section increasing, I hope that honourable senators realise that somebody always has to look after the furnace and to work in a brick pit. If the labour market is declining, those people are entitled to maintain the parity they fought so hard to get. The Victorian Premier was squealing about weekend penalty rates and about decisions on whether State Electricity Commission workers in Victoria should maintain parity in regard to annual leave - something which has been accepted in New South Wales for many years. It is all very well to say to the ACTU and to trade union secretaries: 'Get the members back to work and we will arbitrate'.

I was in Britain when the Wilberforce report which brought justice to the power station workers of Britain was presented.

The British Government accepted that report with good grace. This is hardly the when from time to time the Victorian Premier, and unfortunately at times even senior Ministers of this Government, try to be back seat drivers behind Sir Richard Kirby. 1 know that the judiciary in that field is very sour about the remarks of some senior Ministers. Like other people, J have been guilty of feeling that a few - not the vast majority - of conciliation commissioners have not been as mobile as they should have been. According to the Government, it was wrong for me to do this, but if the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) does it. it is statesmanship. I want to take the point a little further. I am again deliberately raising this comparison between Europe and Australia. The fascinating point is that when Herr Schiller, the West German Finance Minister, and his counterparts in other countries have endeavoured to tlo things, we have never had the situation in Australia in which the Government was exhorting what it calls wage demand responsibility. I instance the fumble that, went on with Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. We saw the mix up over who told whom whether the company should increase the price of steel. I conjured up the image in my mind of the Prime Minister at first slip and the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) at second slip. The ball was in the air and one was leaving it to the other. That was the whole situation. Nobody seemed to know just what the Treasurer said. Whatever was said, you and I know that all that happened was that BHP upgraded the price of its commodity. The company was told that it was naughty but nobody mentioned anything about penal provisions. This is an indication of double standards, yet the Government talks about how it can obtain peace in industry. 1 have dealt extensively with wage increases. I want to deal now with other causes of industrial unrest which I refer to under the headings of containerisation, automation and computers. A number of disputes have been prolonged because the issues of either safety or future promotion or even job security were involved. The containerisation situation is a classic example of a considerable scaling down of the waterfront work force covering a number of unions including the Waterside Workers Federation, the Storemen and Packers

Union, the Federated Clerks Union, the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemens Association and one or two other unions. When the major ship owners realised that with a reduced work force there would be an ultimate saving - 1 use the word 'ultimate' - an agreement was reached. Then there was the idea of settling a dispute without a stoppage. That is virtually what occurred. Mr Fitzgibbon, the federal securetary of the Waterside Workers Federation, was castigated. This has been a continuation of the Government's attitude.

I cast my mind back a few years - J look to Senator Lawrie for inspiration - to the position prevailing at the port of Mackay. There are now only 40 waterside workers operating a port where 400 worked before. I could give instances all over the Commonwealth where the work force has been reduced but where there has not been any sizable reduction in the retail cost of the product. Government members may say to me: 'That Ls not relevant to the other point'. But I ask them to tell a meeting of trade union officials which has to agree to a phasing out of sections of their industry where the person phased out is to get work. Honourable senators can study debates in the other place about retraining. I asked a question the other week about the possible closing down of the South Broken Hill mine and about retraining schemes. As I understand the answer from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch), the scheme does not meet this contingency. 1 instance another dispute, the one-man bus dispute in Sydney. Important lessons were learned from this dispute. Initially, the parties talked in terms of a money increase. I think that in the final analysis what was agreed upon contained a good formula which linked industrial fatigue with safe working as well. People talk about trade union secretaries, their ideological background and just pressing a button and people walking out on the job. I wonder what they would think if we had trade union racketeers like Jimmy Hoffa in the US and Boyle of the mine workers union. Honourable senators might criticise a man for what they call over-dedication. Senator Negus has had considerable experience in driving cars. He will agree that in our modern cities today with one-man buses the situation is nerve wracking. The bus drivers got a formula that they would not have got if there had not been a dispute originally. Honourable senators opposite could argue about the effect on the lives of people in a big city complex. Perhaps some of the people who are upset work in air conditioned offices. Other people have to drive a PostmasterGeneral's Department mail van in the early hours of the morning to pick up mail; somebody else has to sign on at midnight as a boiler attendant. All these jobs are essential jobs. The point I am getting at is that the Government seems to have the attitude that people will remain docile.

I return again to the matter of containerisation. There have usually been considerable struggles for job protection, lt is one thing to say that people will be transferred to another job. but have honourable senators opposite ever seen the secondary effects of that.? 1 instance a different situation altogether. There has been a change in retail shopping hours in both Sydney and Melbourne. I doubt whether the union involved has much Marxist influence in it. Do honourable senators opposite consider that people are resentful of the change and that, they are rightly looking at it themselves? People may be accustomed to finishing at a certain time - 5 p.m. Then the late shopping hours are introduced. I know that we have to reconcile the demands of the community as a whole to the rights of individuals in the work force. The message that I am trying to get across to the Government is this: When there is resistance in a union it is to ironclad sanctions, ls it possible to eradicate such a thing? I say that it is. I think 1 can put my arguments quite effectively by quoting Mr Terry Winter, a Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commissioner from 1963 until April of this year.

Senator McAuliffe - He saw both sides of disputes.

Senator MULVIHILL - As Senator McAuliffe prompted me, he saw industrial affairs from both sides. Referring to this legislation he said:

One may reasonably accurately forecast the approximate date of the Federal election by calculating the likely date of passage of the ensuing legislation.

To my way of thinking, the Government is hoping that there will be some reaction to the legislation and that it can again create a' law and order bogy.

I quote now a much more damaging criticism, by Mr John Sweeney. I know that among legal men he is regarded as the doyen of industrial advocates. I am quoting from the 'Review' of Sunday, 4th February. He said:

The Minister proposes to separate conciliation and arbitration processes, to establish conciliation and arbitration commissioners and to ensure that conciliation is attempted by a conciliation commissioner before Ohe dispute goes to an arbitration commissioner for arbitration.

This is a senseless proposal. It seems to be based on two views - -that a conciliator is more likely to succeed if he can play no part in subsequent arbitration and that, once arbitration has commenced, there is no place for conciliation.

He also said:

In fact, at some point in any negotiations tha question each party will ask is: 'Will we do better if we fight the case?'

The moral of that story is that the original conciliation commissioner should assess the personality of the trade union leader and that of the representative of the employers. It is a sense of timing. In some respect that may be considered old hat by Government supporters. What 1 am trying to get across to them is that unless there is supplementary wage stabilisation with more effective methods of protecting the people who are victims of containerisation there will be a source of irritation. I refer to what happened in the Golden Fleece case. That concerned the first introduction of computers into the white collar industries. The Federated Clerks Union of Australia became extremely restive. At one stage it was more or less lectured by the judge about the right of the employer to hire and fire. Do honourable senators opposite realise that once higher educational standards have been created, even for the trade union secretary, the position will be, rightly, that Jack is as good as his master. The union secretary faces that situation. He cannot sell his members a bill of goods that they are nol prepared to accept. It has to be documented.

I think I might take my argument a little further and quote Mr J. P. Ducker, a leading trade union official in Sydney. He said:

All the trade union movement is asking is that it should be placed in that position allowed to all other sellers in. the Australian market economy. For example, there is no public scrutiny of the methods of those who fix prices or sell land or houses or of those who decide to reduce the quality or decrease the quantity of goods sold while pretending to maintain a static price.

That is the philosophy of the trade union movement. We feel that effective answers have not been given to these questions. I might take my argument still further and deal with the ambit of trade union movement. I say that particularly to Country Party senators. Earlier to Senator Withers 1 said that I read the 'News Weekly' and the 'Tribune'. I also read 'Muster'. I do not think 'Muster' is backward in commenting on many matters. As a matter of fact, there have been visible demonstrations by sections of rural industry. I do not cavil at what they have done. We are living in a society in which people will not remain docile if they feel that governments are not moving effectively.

I deal now with the subject of amalgamation. Amalgamation of certain unions is inevitable. In the United States there is a multiplicity of unions. While the Americans believe in a minimum of government interference, this multiplicity of trade unions is getting more and more burdensome. There is one matter to which I take very strong objection. I am fortified by 2 cases which I will quote. I refer to the Government's absurd idea that if a union of 2,000 and another of 50,000 are to amalgamate there has to be a ballot of members of both organisations. I think that is patently absurd. I will give 2 illustrations. The first is a matter for the future. One day a small union in New South Wales known as the Canvas and Tarpaulin Workers Union will have to amalgamate with another union. Its membership is 600. It has had very dedicated officials, but history has caught up with it. It probably will carry on for a couple of years, but inevitably it will be absorbed by the Australian Railways Union, which has about 35,000 members, or a similar transport workers union. The Government expects a union which has tremendous calls on its finances to foot the bill for the ballot. The second case is that of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia with 68,000 members which is negotiating with the Chemical Technicians Guild of Australia, which has a membership of about 2,000. It is utter rubbish that the Government should impose on those unions the need to conduct a ballot.

Trade unions costs are getting a lot higher. On numerous occasions my colleague Senator Murphy has referred to the rising trade unions costs. I make a plea for the Government to short circuit a lot of these matters by avoiding a ballot among members of the absorbing union when the ratio is 2,000 to something like 30,000 or perhaps 50,000. To my way of thinking, this clause is a deliberate way of drawing upon a lot of the resources of the trade union movement. I shall give a classic illustration of rising costs. Recently I received a communication from the Minister for Immigration (Dr Forbes) dealing with Greek migrants. The Australian Railways Union has a considerable number of such people as members. It decided to circulate the various delegates with on the job information that would be of interest to some of its migrant members. The postal bill was $175. It cannot afford to have too many of those ventures. That is probably the smallest cost in a trade union operation. I have tried to put this debate on the level of fundamentals. Members of the Opposition feel that, irrespective of the faults in the present Act, all the Government is doing is creating a considerable reaction and resentment. If it can prove to us that, as in many European countries, there will be supplementary assistance, wage stabilisation and such things that go with national wage agreements, we will be a lot better off. The only other point I make is in relation to fringe benefits Senator Lillico introduced the subject of Western Europe, not I. Western Europe and, for that matter, Eastern Europe, are ahead of us in respect of fringe benefits, severance pay and social service coverage generally. The Bill is a combination of provocation and outmoded thinking.

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