Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 2084

Senator KANE (New South Wales) - Since Senator Murphy has dealt at some length with what he refers to as the rights of unionists, maybe it is appropriate that in stating my part of the case of the Australian Democratic Labor Party I should outline the principles upon which we would judge this legislation. We recall that after the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) had announced, in a ministerial statement, his proposals in regard to amendments to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act the DLP fairly widely circulated a document containing those principles. It seems appropriate that 1 begin by recalling those principles. They are as follows: Firstly, the system of conciliation and arbitration cannot practically be replaced as the characteristic Australian method of industrial organisation. The system involves the existence of sanctions as a weapon of the last resort. Secondly, union organisation, as such, should not be weakened by legislation not merely because it is an expression of the basic rights of wage earners but because it is the necessary foundation of the conciliation and arbitration system. Thirdly, the legitimacy of authority within the trade union necessarily requires voting procedures which safeguard the democratic rights and proprietary interests of individual members in their unions. Fourthly, monopoly power within the unions should be resisted, as it should be in every other aspect of national life, especially when it is sought and used for subversive purposes.

As we see the position, the Bill can be divided into 4 fields: Firstly, matters related to the constitutional position of unions concerning questions which could, in the case of a number of unions, go to their very existence; secondly, the rights of rank and file unionists within the unions; thirdly, amendments to the structure and procedure of the conciliation and arbitration system; fourthly, the question of sanctions and the responsibility of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

In applying the criteria of the Democratic Labor Party to the Bill it will be seen that the DLP is not enamoured of a number of the Bill's proposals. However, to the extent that the Bill does promote measures to assist in preserving unions from the constitutional challenges of the Moore v. Doyle case, and to the extent that the Bill gives effect to a number of our views in preserving and promoting the rights of union members within their institutions, we consider that it should not be rejected. The DLP will vote for the Bill. As we see it, the measures referred to go a certain way along the road towards preserving and promoting the Australian arbitration system which for almost 7 decades has assisted the Australian wage earner and the Australian trade union movement. Indeed, the Australian arbitration system has been the envy of the Western world. The DLP shares the following view expressed by the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in his 1 97 1 report to the Parliament: 1 feel it is my duty to report my strong opinion, based on my experience as a Judge of the old Court and as President of this Commission for its first IS years, that in the long term a reduction in strikes can only be brought about by an improvement in industrial relationships, and that m is is far more likely to arise from changed altitudes of the organised employers on the one hand and the organised trade union movement on the other hand than from mere changes in Acts of Parliament.

Senator Bishop - I wish you would take his advice.

Senator KANE - We do. The President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission continued:

I can suggest no significant area where amendment is required without bringing myself within the area of party political conflict.

That statement comes from the 1 5th annual report of the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which is dated 15th December 1971.

Senator Bishop - Why do you not read what he said about stoppages?

Senator KANE - If the honourable senator will wait a minute he will be able to hear what I have to say. He will not have to wait very long. Thus the premise upon which the DLP bases its approach to the system of conciliation and arbitration is that the structure and procedures of any institution, including this institution, can and must be improved from time Vo time. But the essential ingredient for a successful conciliation and arbitration system is that the people who are involved in it are intent upon making it work. Thus, if within the system there are sizeable groups with vested interests who are out to destroy it, no amount of change will be effective unless these disruptive designs are recognised, exposed and frustrated.

In the last 2 or 3 years there has been much debate about the relevance of the conciliation and arbitration system now and in the future. This debate was not raginc some 7 years ago when a major union affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions placed on the Congress agenda paper an item which said, amongst other things:

Congress expresses the belief that the stage has been reached when all sections of the community, and particularly the Government, employers and trade unions must decide whether the long established system of conciliation and arbitration is to be allowed to be destroyed.

The item went on to state: lt points out that for decades the Communist Party has, for its own political reasons, waged a constant and increasingly intensive campaign against the arbitration system. In more recent years this campaign has been aided: By certain employers, by their increasing tendency in many industries to refuse to genuinely negotiate, thus making arbitration a first instead of a last resort; . . By some government agencies and arbitration tribunals, by allowing a situation to develop which creates an increasing belief that decisions of certain tribunals can be influenced by factors other than the public case presented ... By certain unions, in failing to objectively acknowledge the many benefits which have accrued to the vast majority of wage earners as a result of this system; And by unduly highlighting the outcome of strikes and strike action, and neglecting :he positive gains achieved by conciliation and arbitration.

The proposal went on to state:

Congress points out that the vast majority of wage earners are dependent upon the conciliation and arbitration system and the work of unions operating within the system, for the establishment, maintenance and improvement of minimum wages and conditions.

The Australian arbitration system Ls traditional to Australia. While it is full of imperfections, nobody has succeeded in suggesting any real alternative. It might bc worthwhile to look for a moment at the remarks of Lord Balogh who was, as honourable senators know, the economic adviser to the Wilson Government. This is what he said in a book entitled 'Labor and Inflation':

Free bargaining increased inequality; it resulted in a relative worsening of the position of the poorest paid and least aggressively organised classes of society . . . Trade Union action was successful in certain instances in increasing the shute of certain privileged or closely organised groups such as tally clerks, dock workers and so on. The tower paid, the defenceless and the handicapped, despite the declamation of the unions, have not been protected.

The same point was made by J. H. Portus in his book 'Australian Compulsory Arbitration 1900-1970'. Portus suggested in guarded terms that one major consequence of the Australian system has been to ensure that, compared to the United States of America, members of weak unions and workers who are not members of unions have received a fairer share of the cake than they would have otherwise. The truth is that the vast majority of wage earners and salary earners in Australia are dependent upon the decisions, or have been dependent upon the decisions, of the actuarial tribunals to establish the levels of their income and working conditions. In recent years the myth has grown up that the minority of wage earners represented in the metal trades, the building trades and the transport industry are in fact typical and representative of the position of the work force in Australia. The fact is, however, that in common with the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States the work force has undergone a considerable change. In the last 2 decades and particularly the last 10 years the Australian work force has been subject to considerable change. As my colleague Senator Little pointed out yesterday, the white collar section of the work force already exceeds workers in the blue collar field. Moreover, within 3 or 4 years. 40 per cent of the entire work force will be females and the majority of them will be married women.

Direct bargaining cannot replace the system of conciliation and arbitration. It certainly has its place as part of the system but it is not a substitute for the system. Those who set out to destroy the arbitration system are at best motivated by avarice and self-interest, be they employers who enjoy the protection of high tariff barriers or the more privileged sections of the work force who would throw overboard the principles upon which the trade union movement was founded and also the concept of the Higgins award, the basic wage and other measures designed to improve the lot of the lower paid wage earner. On the trade union side and within the labour movement generally over the last 30 years there has been a persistent campai'gn to take every opportunity to smash the system of conciliation and arbitration which we enjoy in Australia. In 1942 and again in 1959 the booklet The Trade Unions' was published by the then national secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, Mr L. L. Sharkey. He said: lt will at once be seen that Arbitration is detrimental to the development of a class struggle, and class consciousness and of that genuine and fundamental solidarity and perfected organisation necessary to the revolutionary struggle for Socialism.

He went on to say:

We fight against this Arbitration.

On 29th January 1969 when the current Communist Party Secretary, Mr L. Aarons, announced the confrontation policy he expressed the view that it was within his Party's power to challenge the whole system of conciliation and arbitration in Australia. He announced a strategy which culminated in the O'Shea incident over penal powers. He said that by pursuing this policy a new stage of industrial struggle may emerge in which the arbitration system itself is challenged. Representatives of his

Party within the trade union movement who are characterised by Mr L. Carmichael of the Amalgamated Engineering Union likewise publicly indicated that they were out to destroy the system. They want to smash the arbitration system and replace it, not with something which would be better and improve workers' wages and conditions, but with something which is more conductive to the politicalisation of the trade union movement. There can be no doubt that the objective of the Communist Parties in Australia is the destruction of the arbitration system. At this point I am reminded to make some reference to the amalgamation of unions, particularly those in the metal trades industry. Subsequently I propose to deal in a little more detail with this matter. But at the present time I want to touch on it. I think it is worth remembering, first of all, that the purpose of the amalgamation of these unions in the metal trades is not to further the interests of the workers in this field but, primarily, to extend the political power of those unions.

We have said before and I repeat now that once this power is allowed to be concentrated in the hands of those people they will seek to use it for the purpose of destroying the arbitration system. It is worth recalling that their membership will be in the vicinity of 200,000. They will have an income of about $8m a year and, I think, about 84 full time officials. The next group of unions in the amalgamation process is that in the building trades group. All the building trades unions would be joined together in one gigantic monolith. The third group is the maritime unions. In these 3 groups there would be a membership of about 367,000 and an income in excess of $8m a year. It might be worth looking at the type of leadership which we could expect from these unions.

Senator Webster (VICTORIA) - The honourable senator may have used some incorrect figures. The original income which he gave in relation to the amalgamation which has taken place was $8m.

Senator KANE - I am sorry. In referring to the metal trades federation I should have said $3m. In the case of the 3 groups which I repeat - the metal trades, the building trades and the maritime unions - they would have a membership of about 367,000 and an annual income of over $8m.

Senator Bishop - Did not the Minister say that the amalgamation of the metal trades workers was a good thing?

Senator KANE - I do not know whether the Minister said that. If he did, that is his business. If Senator Bishop feels - as no doubt he does feel - that it is in the interests of the trade union movement that these unnecessary and, in many cases, undemocratic amalgamations take place he is entitled to support that viewpoint. But it is worth looking at the type of leadership which we are likely to get from these unions. I shall make a brief reference to the building trades group to which I have referred. No doubt one of the leading lights in that group would be a gentleman named Mundey who is Secretary of the Building Workers Industrial Union. It will be recalled that in 1970 this union was involved in strike action in New South Wales. This involved the destruction of private property. Mundey not only justified the use of this means but also he boasted of its success. What he had to say is to be found in the 'Left Review'. In referring to the destruction of private property Mundey said: lt was this destruction of private property which struck fear to the very hearts of the employing class.

He went on to say:

If a relatively small union could successfully mount such an attack, what could be achieved by the more powerful unions. . . .'.

What I am trying to say is that if Senator Bishop wants to see the concentration of this power in the hands of people who, from their own speeches and statements, show that they are aiming to destroy the arbitration system then he should be honest enough to say that he wants to see the destruction of the arbitration system.

Senator Bishop - The honourable senator is distorting the facts. He knows that the Labour Council condemned Mundey's statement, but he does not say that.

Senator KANE - I can understand Senator Bishop's attitude. The Democratic Labor Party says that the Government stands condemned anyway for its failure to act as a government. Let us have no illusions about the position. Perhaps Senator

Bishop will declare his support for some of the matters that I am about to raise, ft is well known that for many years now the forces of disruption have been testing the moral courage of Austraiian governments. Australians are supposed to be a patriotic people. So what do the forces of disruption do? They burn the flag. They get away with it. Australians are supposed to have great respect for their war dead. So these forces desecrate Australian war memorials. Again no action is taken against those people. Australia is supposed to be a Christian country, at least nominally. So these forces mock the Crucifixion. They get away with that, too. Then maps of Vietnam are published showing the Australian Task Force area as enemy occupied territory. They got away with that, too. Then they attack the National Service Act. Then the attack on the arbitration system began. I notice that Senator Bishop is silent at this stage.

Senator Bishop - No, I am not. The honourable senator should tell the Senate what Mr Maynes moved at an ACSPA meeting about the arbitration system. The honourable senator should tell the Senate how he is supporting a government-

Senator KANE - .1 have a copy of that motion in my office, f will tell Senator Bishop what Mr Maynes moved. Now if the Labor Party had an alternative proposal to offer on the matter of industrial relations we could look at it.

Senator Bishop - The Labor Party has an alternative proposal.

Senator KANE - r have not seen it.

Senator Bishop - The Labor Party wanted the debate on the Bill adjourned. The honourable senator voted with the Government.

Senator KANE - There is a very good reason why the Labor Party wanted the debate adjourned. At this stage 1 would prefer not to say what the reason is. Senator Bishop knows and I think everybody will know very shortly. The Democratic Labor PaTty by no means agrees entirely with the proposals in the Bill. I referred earlier to the matter of union amalgamations. The Democratic Labor Party is not opposed in principle to amalgamation; but holds that no amalgamation should take place unless the majority of union members concerned want it. The Democratic Labor Party is not satisfied with the ballot system proposed in the Bill. The Bill provides that a ballot of more than half the members is necessary and that a majority of those voting in the ballot agree to the amalgamation before it can be effected. That means that 25 per cent of the membership plus one are required to vote for the amalgamation for it to be effective. The Democratic Labor Party believes that at least half the members plus one should have to vote positively for the amalgamation before it can be effected. But we are not the Government and the alternative is to have no laws at all governing situations. As I see it therefore the proposals in the Bill are the lesser evil. I do not for one moment believe that the best interests of the Australian trade union movement have been served by the recent amalgamation in the metal trades industry.

Senator McLaren - What is your reason for saying that?

Senator KANE - I will give Senator McLaren detailed reasons shortly.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator KANE - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the attitude of the Australian Democratic Labor Party towards the proposals contained in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill with respect to union amalgamations. 1 had said that my colleagues and I in the DLP do not fully support the Government's proposals in the Bill concerning union amalgamations. Our view is that there should be a properly supervised ballot, that all of the members of the unions concerned ought to be entitled to vote in that properly supervised ballot and that a majority of the members should be required to vote affirmatively for amalgamation procedures in order for such an amalgamation to be effected. I had said also that we felt it was undemocratic, unfair and unjust that only the case for the amalgamation should be put to the union voters and not the case against it. The Democrati'c Labor Party believes that in fairness to the members of the union concerned no one side - either those favouring amalgamation or those opposing it - should have sole access to the union records and that if union money, effort or time is spent on a proposed amalgamation it ought to be spent equally between those proposing and those opposing the amalgamation.

The Bill does provide for the supervision of ballots for amalgamations and it meets some of the requirements that the Democratic Labor Party feels should be met. However, my colleagues and I do not feel that the requirement that 50 per cent plus 1 of the total membership should vote before the ballot is valid and that in excess of half of that number should vote in favour of amalgamation procedures before the amalgamation can take place is sufficient. That means that only 25 per cent of the members would be required to vote affirmatively for an amalgamation before it could be proceeded with. But as I said earlier, the alternative is to have no laws governing amalgamation.

A great deal has been said about the matter of sanctions. I wish to stale the Democratic Labor Party's attitude in this respect. In the field of sanctions there has been a great deal of debate not only between the Labor movement and the Government but also inside the Labor movement itself. Various proposals have received the support of the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Mr Hawke, and the Australian Labor Party's shadow Minister for Labour and National Service, Mr Clyde Cameron and they have met with various fates. Despite what might be said by the Australian Labor Party on this matter, I do not believe that any responsible person could argue with any degree of logic that agreements which have been reached should not carry with them a penalty for their breaching. Likewise, where voluntary arbitration is involved and there has been failure to reach the point of agreement, unless the arbitrator's view can be enforced by sanctions the whole thing would be completely unworkable. Sanctions must be the last resort in our system of compulsory arbitration, but they certainly must be used in the public interest. As the Democratic Labor Party sees it the community has the right to insist that some penalty should be accruing for breaches of an arbitrator's decision.

In the course of the debate on Tuesday, Senator Cavanagh used as part of his argument against the proposals with respect to union amalgamations figures that had been quoted during the debate in the other place. Senator Cavanagh 's argument, as I understood it, was that it was unreasonable to expect some unions to be able to muster the 50 per cent plus one required in order to make the amalgamation ballot a valid one. I was rather surprised to hear Senator Cavanagh argue that he felt that that was unfair and unjust towards the right wing unions. In some way or other his reading of the results gave him the impression that the right wing unions would have some difficulty in attaining the required voting number. I remind him that 53.7 per cent of the members voted in the last election conducted by the Federated Clerks Union of Australia in 1970; that in 1964, 59.4 per cent of the members voted; and that in 1961, 68.6 per cent of the members voted. It is true that there would be nowhere near the interest in a ballot in which there happens to be, say, 21 candidates for 20 positions as there would be in a ballot in which there are twice as many candidates as the number of positions to be filled.

Another union which is so often referred to as a right wing union and which no doubt Senator Cavanagh will have some concern about is the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia. Let me remind honourable senators of the voting pattern in elections conducted by that union in recent years. For instance, in the 1967 ballot for the election of officials the Port Kembla branch showed a return of 55.23 per cent and the Victorian branch showed a return of 56.04 per cent. Federally the total was 51.07 per cent. The return showed by the other branches was: Newcastle, 53.17 per cent; Adelaide, 57.04 per cent; Queensland, 54.76 per cent and Port Kembla-Whyalla, 55.65 per cent.

Senator Little - And they all voted on ballot papers, too.

Senator KANE - That is true. It is also true to say that it was a properly supervised ballot. The ballot was supervised by the Commonwealth Electoral Office. I have no doubt that most honourable senators on the Opposition side of the chamber would have, at one time anyhow, supported the decision of a Labor government to introduce what have subsequently become known as court ballots. They are properly supervised ballots. They are ballots which one can be assured will be properly counted and in relation to which a fair and just result will be achieved. 1 do not propose to say any more than this: Firstly, despite all its faults and failings the conciliation and arbitration system is irreplaceable in this country; secondly, whilst collective bargaining can be a part of that system it can in no way replace it; and, thirdly, for the system to be effective it must involve the use of sanctions in the last resort. For those reasons and the others I have stated the Democratic Labor Party will be supporting the Bill.

Suggest corrections