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Wednesday, 6 July 1949

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Labour and National Service) . - We all are impressed by the case that has been made by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), but I think that the honorable gentleman has forgotten an important act. We must not assume that the trade union movement is one that requires spoon-feeding. In Australia to-day there are 2,300,000 persons over the age of twenty years who are engaged in industry, of whom 1,400,000, or 65 per cent., are trade unionists. There are 161 unions registered with the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Only three or four of those unions have ever had complaints made against them. The great majority of the 1,400,000 Australian trade unionists would resent any suggestion that an outside body should be empowered to interfere in the domestic affairs of their industrial organizations. It is only because of recent occurrences in one or two unions that they have agreed to this measure.

Mr Spender - They have agreed to it?

Mr HOLLOWAY - They have agreed to it. Although I appreciate the honest and fair way in which the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) usually presents his arguments, I must point out that he was incorrect in suggesting that this measure was brought down at the last moment because the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) had given notice of his intention to move for leave to introduce a .private member's bill. We negotiated with the leaders of the trade unions for at least three months to get their permission to introduce this measure. I do not use the word "permission" in the sense that the Government has not the courage to take action of its own accord. I mean that we negotiated with them in order to get them to agree voluntarily that some amendment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act should be made in order to safeguard the members of one or two unions against malpractices. The honorable member for Warringah has asked why the Industrial Registrar should not be authorized to initiate proceedings if he receives information of irregularities through subterranean channels. Why should it be necessary to act in such a round-about and secret way? I think that we should always be getting into trouble if we allowed a person outside the trade union movement to* receive information through secret channels and to initiate action against the wishes of the movement. The honest way in which to approach this matter is to say to the trade unions that we propose to amend the law so that if a number of unionists consider that something wrong has occurred they may approach the Industrial Registrar, who, if a prima facie case is made out, may initiate proceedings. It is not proposed that the unionist should initiate them.

Mr Spender - The Minister is wrong in saying that.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The bill provides that if a trade unionist considers that the officers of a union have permitted irregularities in the conduct of an election that have affected the result of the election, he may approach the Industrial Registrar and inform him of what has occurred, and that if the Industrial Registrar is satisfied that there is some force in the complaint, he may inform the judge that he is satisfied that sufficient evidence has been produced to warrant an inquiry being held.

Mr Spender - That is true, but the Industrial Registrar is not the applicant. It is the unionist who must complain.

Dr Evatt - The Registrar must satisfy himself that there is reasonable ground for an inquiry before he allows the application to proceed.

Mr HOLLOWAY - The inquiry must be conducted by the judge. There is a guarantee that after the judge has agreed that the complaint is sufficiently substantial to warrant an inquiry, the Attorney-General will meet the costs of the complainant even if he loses the case.

As a trade unionist, I should feel that an indignity was being done to my organization if an outside body were given the right to interfere in its domestic affairs. As I have said, 161 trade unions are registered with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I know that the members of those organizations would resent any such interference by outside bodies. They have always resented it. It has taken us three months to reach the present position. The central body of the trade union movement had to ascertain the view of the majority of the 1,400,000 trade unionists in this country before it could agree with the Government that something should be done when action wa3 sought by union members. It was the wish of the unions that this measure should be introduced, but they would resent the idea of any government, court or outside authority being empowered to interfere in their domestic affairs. We say that that should not be allowed. I should vote against such a proposal and stir up propaganda against it, because I think it would be unjust and an indignity to the trade union movement, but I agree that the Industrial Registrar and the judges of the court should have power to conduct an inquiry when a complaint has been made to them by a member of a registered organization.

We must not overlook the fact that the 161 unions which are registered in the court have had their rules approved by the court and registered with it. They cannot amend the rules unless the court approves of the amendment. In the debate on this bill honorable members opposite have, to some degree, side-tracked the real issue. The reason for that is the present industrial atmosphere. Honorable members opposite have been carried away by the magnitude of the present strike. They have linked the coal strike with this measure, but it has nothing to do with it. There is already power under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the court to order a compulsory ballot in the case of a dispute. I do not know whether the Joint Coal Board is empowered to do that. If it is, it has not exercised the power. Neither has the court done so, although the power is there for it to exercise if it so desires.

Mr Holt - Has the Joint Coal Board power of that kind?

Mr HOLLOWAY - I do not know whether it has or not. An organization would have to be working under an award of the court and be registered with_ the court before that power could be exercised. Apart from the coal industry-

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