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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1535

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I want to say one or two things in order to clear up what has been said and in order to defend the trade union movement from those who attack it- those who have in view political ends that are not in the interests of this country. We have experienced this sort of thing every time a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill has been brought into this Chamber. I think we can accept the words of Senator McManus and say that we should defend the trade union movement against those who seek to destroy it.

Coming back to the question before us. Senator Hannan has one obsession- the amalgamation of the metal trade unions. Senator McManus also has one obsession- the communists. Senator McManus would support amalgamation if we exterminated all communists. However, they are part of our society. We know that they are there. We have to work out regulations for trade unions which are for the benefit of the unionists, whoever they might be. There is a worse element. Even members of the Democratic Labor Party have been known to be members of trade unions. We have not protested about such people being members of the trade union movement.

Senator Hannan - Liberal Party senators have been members of unions.

Senator CAVANAGH -I do not know that Liberal Party supporters ever worked so as to qualify. I deal now with the point which Senator Hannan raised. The court found that while it could point to some imperfections because possibly there was not strict adherence to the rules there was insufficient departure from the rules of the unions amalgamating in the metal trades area to justify any interference with the ballot. In its judgment the court said:

We are satisfied that in the case of each union the ballot was conducted in accordance with the union rules applicable to the taking of the ballot, and we so find.

That was the decision of the court. Now we are asked: 'If you are interested in settling disputes, why do you seek to abolish Part 10 of the Act?' It relates to procedural agreements. Only six have been registered in 10 years. We have been seeking workers ' participation in agreements. There is no logic in the statement that we are not sincerely trying to settle industrial disputes, when we seek to delete one section which has never operated. I do not know whether it would be desirable if the section operated in relation to agreements.

I refer to that period when Ernie Thornton was Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association and when, we are told, the unionists combined for the purpose of defeating the amalgamation. Of course, they did not. Ernie Thornton became Secretary of the Union after amalgamation of right wing unions- the ammunition workers union and the ironworkers union. Ernie Thornton was elected General Secretary of the Ironworkers Association. He was displaced as General Secretary because it was found that there were sufficient irregularities in the ballot for him to be displaced. He was not displaced because of the amalgamation of the unions; he was displaced by the court. Laurie Short was put in his place. That provision is still in the Act, and it could be even more powerful. Honourable senators opposite said that the present Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) had agitated against the Australian Workers Union and crookedness in the AWU. The AWU is not an amalgamated body.

Senator McManus - It was originally.

Senator CAVANAGH - It was originally a shearers union. I think there may have been some earlier amalgamation, but the AWU had a coverage which could take in all workers in Australia. It did not exploit its potential membership. It let other unions form. Rather than be the force which its constitution permitted it to be, it went only part of the way. The condemnation by the present Minister of this organisation and his court action against the organisation arose from rules which were against the common rights or the human rights of its members and took the control of the organisation out of the membership of the organisation and put it in the hands of some hierarchy. That was the reason for the Minister 's condemnation. One can see this thought running through the amendments which we are seeking to the Act, Everything must be in the hands of the membership of the organisation. Everything which the Minister claimed that he suffered as a member of the AWU-his inability to put his views as a rank and file member- is cleared up in this Bill. Senator McManus said that the Minister made out a wonderful case. Surprisingly, we are being denied the right to insert into the Act many of the amendments which will rectify the grievances which the Minister had. If the Minister made out a wonderful case and if Senator McManus thought so at the time, it is obvious that the honourable senator has changed his mind because when the Minister seeks to rectify the position and put everything in the hands of rank and file members Senator McManus does not support him.

I deal now with this suggestion of a union getting too big to get to its rank and file members. The union's rules contain a provision that it have contact with its rank and file members. Under the amending legislation the union had to assure the court that it had a majority in favour of amalgamation. It had to assure the court that a majority of those who participated in the vote agreed that the amalgamation should be entered into. That was defeated by the Opposition. Therefore, the efforts to get rank and file agreement did not succeed. There was a hatred of the metal trades employees amalgamating. I do not know why the amalgamation in that area denies us the right, in Senator Hannan 's mind, to allow other unions to amalgamate. Because there might be a communist and at one time there was a communist Secretary of the Ironworkers Association, the DLP will not support the principle of amalgamation even of unions which do not have communists in control of them. So we do not seem to be deciding the question on the basis of justice, fairness or working for the benefit of settling disputes; we are deciding it on prejudice and on the party numbers system. The Committee will defeat the proposal and the progress which we could have made against such prejudices.

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