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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3110

Senator WALTERS(12.25) — This afternoon we are debating the Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Bill (No. 2). It is an omnibus Bill with 43 amendments dealing with various sections of industrial relations. As Senator Durack has already said, the previous Government had drafted many of the amendments in this proposed legislation. The legislation was not passed prior to the election, and we had no disagreement with it. However, there are areas of the current legislation to which we are in complete opposition. Senator Foreman said, I think, that all the amendments were supported by the National Labour Consultative Committee. That statement is not accurate. Perhaps it supported the majority of the amendments, but it did not support the repeal of the offences for which people can be debarred from holding office.

Senator Georges —Well, it should have.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Georges is not a member of the NLCC and it has other views. As an Opposition, we certainly share its views.

Senator Georges —It has led to all sorts of harassment in the industry.

Senator WALTERS —We will come to that matter at a later stage and Senator Georges can interject then if he so desires. Although the Opposition is happy about handing over to the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the Public Service Arbitrator's jurisdiction, I believe that the Government has gone too far. It has handed over to the Arbitration Commission sections of administration dealing with appointments of officers, employment, reappointments and promotions. Indeed, it has taken out of the hands of management of the Public Service all those things with which management rightly deals. I do not believe that the Public of Australia feels that the government of the day or a private employer has not the right to make the promotions and appointments that it thinks fit. To take these matters out of the hands of the Public Service is quite ludicrous.

We have recently debated those sections of the Public Service and Statutory Authorities Act dealing with the provisions of no work as directed no pay and the stand-down clauses that were repealed during that debate. The Government now seeks to repeal section 70J of the Public Service Arbitration Act, which section makes it clear that Commonwealth public servants who are stood down during strike action are not entitled to salary, wages or allowances during that stand- down period and that the stand-down period was not to be counted for purposes of recreation leave, sick leave or long service leave. I repeat the comment that I made at the time of that debate, namely, that public servants are in a very special area. They are very protected employees and I believe they bear a responsibility to the taxpayer who pays their wages. I believe they should not go on strike. They create tremendous problems in the servicing of the public when they go on strike. They create great disabilities when they go on strike. I refer, for example, to the strike by staff of the Department of Social Security which put pensioners and their financial positions at risk. However, I suppose now that the Government has already repealed those sections, this proposed change is in line with its thinking. We also object to those stand-down clauses being taken out on the ground of continuity.

In regard to clause 22 (1), which seeks to amend section 132 of the principal Act, the intention of the Liberal Government's measure of 1977 was to legislate in two areas: First, to ensure that owner-drivers, who are self-employed people, where possible should not be forced to join the Transport Workers Union of Australia; secondly, to bring the legislation into line with that of the various States in regard to employee eligibility for union membership. The position in every State is different-the position in New South Wales is different from that in Queensland, South Australia or Western Australia. The position in Tasmania is quite different from that in all of the other States. The New South Wales legislation was amended in 1979 and this has created a problem for the Transport Workers Union-no one else. The New South Wales legislation enabled owner-drivers to join their own association. It allowed for the registration of associations of contract drivers, carriers and employing contractors. I believe that this was a very good thing but also owner-drivers were no longer deemed to be employees. As such, they were no longer deemed to be eligible for membership of the Transport Workers Union, but they have stayed on in that capacity.

Clause 22 perpetuates a problem that we have had ever since the 1977 legislation was passed. The owner-drivers have been coerced and, in my State, actively intimidated, to become members of a union that cannot service them. At the moment the union is having a dispute with owner-drivers who are carting oil. The owner-drivers who belong to the union are facing a situation in which their union is having a dispute with other owner-drivers. They go to their union and say: 'Come on, what can you do for us?' and are told: 'There is nothing we can do for you'. Of course it cannot do anything for them. The dispute underlines the impossibility of owner-drivers ever belonging to the Transport Workers Union . I believe that the New South Wales legislation also made it possible for the Transport Workers Union to set up an association of contract drivers. As I understand it, because of the situation that I have just described, there is a terrible mess. It cannot fail to be so when one side of the union is fighting the other. Therefore, there is no way in which the Opposition could support clause 22 (1).

Clause 22 (2) seeks to validate the union membership of those who, before the 1977 legislation, were eligible for membership of the Transport Workers Union and may have continued in a so-called voluntary capacity as members. There is no way in which anyone would be silly enough to pay union dues when he could not be serviced by a union. Membership is not undertaken voluntarily but rather as the result of intimidation on the part of the union. Indeed, in Tasmania a situation arose in which employees, owner-drivers, came to me and said 'what can we do about this? We are being coerced to join the Transport Workers Union'. I gave them a copy of the legislation and told them that they were not eligible for membership, that the union could not service them in any way and they should just go to it and say: 'There is the legislation; it is not legal for you to seek our membership'. When that occurred, the intimidation that went on was quite appalling. It is of no use for such people to go to the police and tell them what has occurred. The union will deny it. It is one man's word against another. The intimidation means that, because people are concerned for the welfare of their families, they will join the Transport Workers Union. By supporting clause 22 (2), we would be perpetuating that sort of action.

Senator Cook —What if they wanted to join? Would you deny them the right to join ?

Senator WALTERS —They have their own union or association, which they can join.

Senator Cook —What if they want to join the Transport Workers Union and not some bogus organisation?

Senator WALTERS —As I have just tried to explain to the Senate, Senator Cook, there is no point in joining a union that cannot give them any service or legally look after them. They must pay $85 in Tasmania to join a union that cannot do anything for them. When a dispute occurs, they say, 'You are my union; I am paying $85; what can you do for me?' and the union says: 'Nothing; we are in dispute with you'. Those exact words were used to the owner-drivers in Tasmania last week: 'There is nothing we can do for you; we are indeed in dispute with you'. Why on earth would anyone want to pay $85 a year for that sort of service? If Senator Cook has any questions at all about the matter he should go down to Tasmania and find out the situation; it is quite appalling.

When I discussed this in front of Senator Harradine in committee-with industrial relations officers of the Transport Workers Union present-the statement was made: 'That cannot happen in Tasmania; we would not do that'. I asked whether they would investigate and report back to me and they said that they would not. Of course they would not. They know very well what goes on.

Senator Gietzelt —Who are you?

Senator WALTERS —I am a representative of the Tasmanian constituents who are being intimidated. I asked whether they would investigate my allegations. They said that they would not. They know that it goes on but have no intention of doing anything about it.

Senator Harradine —What about those who desire to join the union?

Senator WALTERS —I have already answered that. There would be no one who would pay $85 a year for something that could not provide them with any legal service- none at all. The union cannot look after them. They have their first dispute and the union says: 'We cannot help them'.

Senator Harradine —There are more ways of representing the membership than that of getting an award.

Senator WALTERS —Fine, then why is Senator Harradine, why is every union representative saying: 'If we allow voluntary membership of unions, people who are not union members should not get the award'? They never talk about anything else-'They should not get the award increases that the union worked so hard to get'. They know that that has priority.

I come now to the question of repealing disqualification from holding office, something with which the NLCC does not agree. It is interesting to see what an array of offences is to be taken out of the legislation. I will be interested to hear from the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Button) at the Committee stage how the removal of the word 'reckless' is to be applied to behaviour in picket lines. While I acknowledge that there may be occasions on which such behaviour could occur unintentionally, I would be interested to know how, if the word 'reckless' is to be removed, we are to cope with certain behaviour in the picket lines. A number of serious, prescribed offences which debar people from holding office are to be removed. To mention a few, I refer to failure to comply with an order of the Federal Court under the prescribed offences section, an offence which carries a maximum penalty of $500, and failure to comply with the order of the Federal Court on the observance of organisation rules in respect of secret ballots. Other offences include the failure to comply with a direction of the Federal Court on the observance of rules of the organisation, failure to lodge with the Industrial Registrar details of money held by an organisation, failure to lodge with the Industrial Registrar details of loans or donations over $1,000 and so on. I believe the offences in regard to the unauthorised collection of moneys and the failure to keep audited financial accounts are very serious. Perhaps the most serious offence is that of falsely representing oneself in an application under the Act as a member of an organisation. This offence, indeed, entails a period of imprisonment. Those offences are to be taken out of the Act.

Senator Foreman said that consensus had been reached on this matter. To me the Government seems to be supporting deceit within the union movement. I believe the removal of provisions that previously debarred people from holding office will create great problems for the honest union member. I am greatly concerned that the Government is willing to allow officers who have already refused to comply with court orders, who have made false representations and so on to become executive members of unions. Senator Foreman spoke about the lowest strike record under the present Government. He failed to mention, of course, that that lowest strike record is accompanied by the highest unemployment record . I believe that in many instances these two things go hand in glove. I will speak further on this Bill during the Committee stage.