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Tuesday, 28 June 1949

Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister for Defence and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the bill is to repeal the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947-48, and to make provision for the replacement of the Stevedoring Industry Commission.

Honorable members will notice from a comparison of the titles of the act and of this bill that the objects of the two measures are the same. In this casual industry, it has been very difficult over the years to provide sufficient pools of labour for handling cargoes and to maintain regularity of employment and earnings among waterside workers. This is why it was agreed on both sides of this House when the act was introduced that it was necessary to have some authority to provide pools of labour for the regular and speedy turn-round of ships and to change, as far as possible and with as little dislocation as there need be, this casual and intermittent industry into one providing regular and steady employment. The Government decided in 1947 that every possible step should be taken to achieve industrial peace in what has always been one of Australia's most turbulent industries. The experience gained from the Stevedoring Industry Commission in the war years, together with Mr. Justice Foster's recommendation, led the Government to make a bold legislative experiment. It vested in the one commission, not only the administrative functions I have mentioned but also powers to prevent or settle industrial disputes. Success in handling these disputes was hoped for, not because of any departure from arbitration, but because there would be greater opportunities for co-operation of both employers and employees, while still retaining arbitration. The spirit and rules of arbitration were maintained by providing that a judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, or a conciliation commissioner, shouldbe the independent and impartial chairman of the commission. In actual fact, Mr. Justice Kirby, a judge of the court, was appointed as first chairman. The commission, continuing the work of the war-time body has performed its two-fold functions, one in the sphere of management, and the other in the sphere of conciliation and arbitration, with a measure of success which well justified both the Government's experiment and the commission's continued existence. Regular pools of labour have been available for stevedoring operations in all Australian ports, and, in various ways, assistance has been given to both ship-owners and waterside workers in the more efficient conduct of stevedoring operations. Here I might mention the very valuable assistance rendered by the commission in the removal of the major portion of the 1948 record sugar crop from Queensland sugar ports. That was an important success because, at the beginning of crushing, all sugar interests and shipowners agreed that it was wellnigh impossible. They ako predicted that sugar would be moved' so slowly that crushing would be stopped at various mills. Honorable members know that such catastrophes did not occur. The commission has maintained bureaux and pick-up centres and has allocated labour among the various ships and competing shipowners in a manner, the achievement of which in the various ports would have been impossible for shipowners themselves. In this regard, attention must be paid to the general shortage of labour in Australian industry and the responsibility of the commission not to take too much labour from the common pool and give it to the shipping industry to the detriment of industry generally and the Australian economy.

On the industrial side, by virtue of the stress that was laid on conciliation, the commission was able very substantially to reduce the time lost by strikes and other industrial stoppages. In the first phase of the commission's activities, the time lost during these stoppages, even including that lost in the long general strike in Queensland in 1948, was reduced to well under one-half of what had been lost in the previous" year. Later, and up to the suspension of the commission's activities, this lost time was reduced still further to between one-third and onequarter. The commission was able also to continue benefits which, although due to the men, would have been difficult of achievement if the industry had not been under some sort of unified control. In this regard, I mention the payment of attendance money, which not only was a benefit to the men, but also effectively ensured their regular attendance at pick-up centres for work. Also, the commission was able to grant annual leave with pay to workers in this casual industry and to organize the arrangements for the actual taking of such leave. Having devoted its primary attention to the reduction of strikes, the commission had advanced to a position where it could devote more attention to the achievement of greater efficiency in the conduct of stevedoring operations. At this stage, when the roundtable method had achieved success in the avenues indicated, and when gradual success in other avenues was to be anticipated, the representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation on the commission indicated in a clear and unmistakable manner that the round-table method could not succeed so long as they were members of the commission. Mr. Healy and Mr. Roach, the federation'srepresentatives, on two different occasions, incited waterside workers to strike against their own commission's orders. The strikes had nothing whatever to do with conditions of employment of waterside workers, but followed court proceedings against a Mr. Sharkey and a Mr. McPhillips, neither of whom had any connexion with this industry. As a result of these incitements, stoppages occurred in various ports and a state of affairs was brought about which neither the chairman of the commission nor the Government could tolerate. The Government asked for assurances from Mr. Healy and Mr. Roach, that while they remained members of the commission, they would co-operate with it and not incite members of their federation to flout the commission's authority and disobey its orders. Mr. Healy and Mr. Roach refused to give those assurances and the Government then asked the federation to nominate two other representatives in their places. When the federation refused to do that, the Government had no alternative but to dissolve the Stevedoring Industry Commission. At the same time, the Government realized that the admitted need for an administrative authority to maintain pick-up centres and bureaux and to supply labour still existed. As events had shown that the time was not yet ripe for the actual disputants to be represented on the commision the only solution was to constitute a similar authority on which neither side would be represented. This bill, therefore, provides for the establishment of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Board which will replace the Stevedoring Industry Commission. The Government considered,

Stevedoring Industry[28 June, 1949.] Bill 1949. 1579 however, that the industrial functions should be vested not in the board, but in a judicial tribunal. It considered that the most appropriate tribunal for this industry was the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The bill, therefore provides that the jurisdiction to prevent or settle by conciliation or arbitration, industrial disputes in this industry and power to regulate industrial matters, shall be vested in that court. This jurisdiction will be exercised by a single judge. The board will have power to intervene and be represented in all proceedings before the court, thus preserving a vital link between the board and the court.

Mr Holt - Who will make the determinations - a judge or a conciliation commissioner ?

Mr DEDMAN - A judge. The Australian Stevedoring Industry Board will consist of a chairman and two other members, fulfilling, broadly speaking, the functions exercised by the old commission, other than those associated with arbitration. Those functions are set out in clause 13 and include the regulation of stevedoring operations, the provision of sufficient waterside workers for such operations, the payment of attendance money, the establishment of employment bureaux, and the provision of amenities. The board is also to be charged with the function of developing port facilities, including the introduction of mechanized methods of handling cargo. The board's functions are to be performed with a view to securing the speedy, safe and efficient performance of stevedoring operations. The board will continue to deal with such matters as the actual machinery of registration of waterside workers, the allotment of gangs to employers as required, the provision of amenities and generally to ensure that such measures as are possible shall be taken for securing efficient working on the waterfront and the availability of adequate labour for the loading and unloading of ships. No provision is made for the representation of any particular interests on the board.

Parts III. and IV. of the bill provide respectively for the continuance of the systems of registration of employers and waterside workers and the establishment of waterside employment committees.

The provisions of the regulations made under the Stevedoring Industry Act about alteration of port quotas have, with slight modification, been inserted in clause 22. The financial provisions of the bill are similar, in effect, to the financial provisions of the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947-48. The Australian Stevedoring Industry Board will assume all the rights, property, assets, obligations and liabilities of the Stevedoring Industry Commission constituted under the Stevedoring Industry Act 1947-48. The continuance of proceedings and the keeping in force of orders made by the commission is also provided for. There will be no interruption in the control and regulation of the industry and the new board will be able to take over from the commission with a minimum of dislocation.

In introducing this measure, the Government is making an earnest endeavour to retain for the industry and the community the benefits that were obtained by its former legislation and to provide far further progress, greater efficiency and more harmony in the industry. There is room for considerable improvement in co-operation between employers and the workers in the industry and the Government trusts that under the measures now being introduced, employers and employees will co-operate fully with the court and the board.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Holt) adjourned.

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