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Thursday, 8 December 1983
Page: 3524

Senator HARRADINE(3.47) —Perhaps I may interject a note of slight disharmony into this debate. Up to date, there has been a bit of back scratching going on about this legislation picking up some of the things that were proposed last year. I am glad that it does not pick up all of the things that were proposed last year by the previous Government. The Senate should be reminded that a number of issues that are now incorporated into this legislation were canvassed before the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation last year, and that had it not been for the report of that Committee to this Senate, this nation could well have faced industrial relations conflicts the like of which it had not seen in its history.

Let me remind those members of the previous Government now in opposition that their proposals, as brought forward to this Parliament and discussed last year, were a recipe of industrial anarchy and a direct attack on the principles of conciliation and arbitration and on the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission itself. That would have been the net result of their propositions last year had they been adopted, as they very nearly were, by this Senate. It was only because the Senate decided by a majority vote, against the vigorous opposition of the then Government, to establish a Senate select committee, that an opportunity was given to those in the industrial relations arena-to representatives of employers, to representatives of unions, to the departments and to other interested persons and bodies-to make submissions to this Committee and in an open and constructive way to present their submissions and support them before the Committee.

What these people had to say was very revealing. Let us never forget that what the then Government was proposing, in addition to one or two of the things that are now contained in this legislation, was to restructure the unions in Australia to impose from above a structure which would fit into the economic concepts of those who were in power last year; to impose on unions an industry- based structure; to abolish the long-standing provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act which encourage unions and the formation of unions, and I refer to the provisions relating to preference; to provide further amendments which would create various offences and penalties; and, finally, to impose automatic stand-downs at times of industrial disputes. Those provisions were prescriptions for industrial disputation.

I refer honourable senators to the report of the Select Committee presented to the Parliament on 28 October-it may have been a week before but certainly the tabling speech was on 28 October-and the debate of 11 November last year. That was only a year ago. We could have been in the midst of industrial conflict. That Committee made certain recommendations and, insofar as the imposition of structures on the trade unions is concerned, the Committee was most forthright. Of course, it recognised that there was a problem in respect of a number of unions attempting to amalgamate. In particular, we received some very worthwhile evidence from the boot trade unions and the clothing trade unions. We made certain recommendations which this Government has since picked up. I do not know whether it was the chicken and the egg situation because a particular member was on the Committee, but the Government has picked up those recommendations although without one of the safeguards that we recommended.

On that occasion we noticed that, for the first time in such a forum as was provided by the Committee, various and indeed conflicting concepts of industry unionism were aired and the desirability of encouraging by legislation the development of industry-based unions was seriously questioned. The Committee stated:

The Committee is not opposed to industry-based unions. However after consideration of the submissions and evidence the Committee does not consider that the proposed legislation is the best method of providing changes in the structure of Australian trade union organization.

The Committee at paragraph 8 stated:

There is considerable doubt among the industrial relations community that union structures predominately determine industrial relations outcomes.

So far as the abolition of preference was concerned, the Committee stated:

The Committee notes that the Government intends that its proposed legislation will weaken the power of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to deal with union membership disputes. The Committee shares the view generally expressed by witnesses that the proposed legislation would not be conducive to industrial peace and would further unsettle the industrial relations climate

We adverted to the question that was raised by Senator Evans in his speech when he talked about the fee for service proposal. I refer the Senate to paragraphs 18 and 19 in which the Committee stated as follows:

The Committee notes further that the Government intends that its legislation ensure 'the protection of the rights of the individual'.

It went on:

Some individuals are quick to recognise their perceived rights but are not also as quick to recognise their duty to associate with others for the common good. In addition there is a distinction between personal choice based on conscientious belief on the one hand and the dictates of self-centered individualism on the other.

The Committee acknowledges the need to retain the status of conscientious objection to union membership which is presently provided in section 144A. However, it believes that a less fundamental objection to union membership should also be recognised, namely that a person holds principles or belief which prevent membership of unions.

I interpolate here that there were varying views on the Committee on these and other matters, but this was a consensus approach and indeed this was what the Committee said. I read it because, as Senator Evans said, the Government may bring something up. This was the decision of the Committee on which Senator Siddons from the Australian Democrats played a very worthwhile role. He not only took a very positive approach but also worked very hard on the Committee. The Committee also stated:

The Committee considers that such persons should be entitled to be exempted from membership provided that they contribute a fee for the services provided by the appropriate union, to that union.

These are the people who are not covered by the conscientious objection provisions already in the legislation. The Committee went on to say a number of other things as to how that should be managed, et cetera. I remind the Senate and Senator Jack Evans that these people are provided for in paragraph 19 of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation.

The Committee considered that the provisions of the Bill relating to stand- downs would not contribute to industrial peace but would create industrial instability. It was concerned that a situation could not go to an independent tribunal for consideration but that automatic rights would accrue to the employer to stand down employees. The Committee considered a number of other matters, some of which are contained in this legislation. I apologise for introducing this note of asperity but I think the record must be kept straight. I am concerned, though I do not know the precise details of it, that a situation could develop in Queensland whereby some persons who may be well motivated might be attempting to introduce industrial legislation in that State which would create industrial turmoil and disadvantage some of the very people within the trade union movement who are attempting to preserve the integrity of the trade union movement and not allow it to be used for overt political purposes. As I said, I have only heard this; I do not know about the legislation. If it is similar to that which was proposed by the former Liberal-National Party Government, then let them beware of that. Let them also consider what happened to governments in South Australia and in Western Australia which tried to interfere in the industrial relations climate in that fashion. What happened to those governments, of course, is a matter of record.

I turn to the matters that were considered by the Committee, some of which have found themselves in this legislation. The Committee gave full consideration to the matter of casual vacancies. The report states:

The Committee recommends the adoption of the provisions . . . insofar as it is designed to remove doubts in relation to the filling of casual vacancies under well established collegiate systems of electing officials of organizations of employers or employees.

However, the Committee recommends that the Government redraft the relevant provisions to enable the greater flexibility sought by major employer and union organizations.

Overall, the Committee recommended that the matters outstanding be considered by the National Labour Consultative Council. I am the first to say that there is nothing magical about the National Labour Consultative Council. All wisdom in the industrial relations arena does not repose in the National Labour Consultative Council. Nor does all wisdom repose in the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems. It will be most interesting to read its report when it comes down. As has been indicated in this chamber that report will be tabled in the Parliament before the Government takes any steps in respect thereof. Hopefully, during the time of that tabling, it will be open to debate in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. I hope that that debate will be constructive.

I welcome the provisions in this Bill which create a climate and a framework to facilitate the work of organisations responsible within the industrial relations arena. Before closing, I must say that the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations in the former Government, Mr Macphee, whilst not able to pull off the pack with which we were confronted in this chamber when we had our backs against the wall last year, nevertheless took cognisance of what was contained in the Senate Select Committee's report and, in fact, he, his advisers and others were able to convince the Government that the more disastrous elements of that legislation that had been proposed should be jettisoned. I will support the Bill during its second reading stage. Again, I believe that we should never forget what occurred last year. I certainly shall not. We should, from time to time, go over the report of the Senate Select Committee on Industrial Relations Legislation to see what came out of it and what the situation now is both in the industrial relations sphere and, might I say, in the political sphere.