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Wednesday, 1 November 1967

Mr BURY (Wentworth) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Birrell) and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) referred to the lack of time in which to consider the Bills. I am sure that both of them are broadly familiar with the scheme. Fundamentally, this is a bill to enable the results of the Woodward Inquiry and the agreement between the two parties to be put into' practical effect. The Opposition has referred to legislation by exhaustion. The basic reason for this and for the jam in the parliamentary time table is the amount of parliamentary time that the Opposition uses On trivia. Hour after hour, we listen to a great deal of nonsense and generalities. Eventually this cuts back the time and opportunity available to discuss the serious business of the nation.

The honourable member for Stirling referred to the regulation making power. Of course, the reason why we have had to do so many things by regulation - it is cer tainly not the Government's desire to do things in this way - is that this kind of human activity cannot usually be closely enshrined in a statute regulating every detail. This is the institutional pattern that has developed in Australia. What we are doing is introducing a new scheme which will be experimental and which will be discussed continually by the two parties to the original agreement, probably even from month to month, in order to allow us to adjust when we see how it works out in practice.

If this meant that every time something trivial had to be done we would need to bring in a Bill, the new developments that we hope to see on the waterfront would be held up. What we are doing would not be satisfactory if it were possible and feasible to draft legislation that was tailor made and highly flexible. But this is not possible, so we have had to adopt the present method. The regulation making power will be fairly closely confined in respect of the matters that may be dealt with, even though the whole range of activity in this industry inevitably is quite broad. Apart from this, the legislation will expire in the middle of 1970. As I have already explained, the reason for this is that it will probably be about 6 months before the last of the first batch of ports becomes permanent, and 2 years after that time some new legislation will have to be prepared. The new legislation would no doubt be based largely on the regulations that would be made to give effect to the scheme initially.

The honourable member for Stirling, whose remarks oh this, I thought, were somewhat wide of the Bill, referred to the modernisation of ports and to a number of other aspects in which we all are very interested. These are not, however, subjects with which this measure deals directly. Mr Woodward has a wider function than the particular exercise with which his report is concerned. In fact, he has done a great deal already by inquiring into modernisation and other aspects of waterfront problems. But these are matters for another occasion. I realise, of course, that it is Labor's policy to nationalise the waterfront, though this is not the only undertaking that Labor would want to nationalise. It wants to nationalise a great many other things, including the banking system, though in modern times this is old hat. Nationalisation is Labor's solution to many problems. Some of the ports that were mentioned by the honourable member for Stirling might well be modernised and he suggested this as a step to nationalisation. Whether that would be of any benefit to the industry, I do not know. In any event, it is outside the matters with which this Bill is concerned. I think it is fair, without taking too much time on the point, to say that the Government attaches great importance to the modernisation of ports. Though this is not one of its direct functions, my Department has a close interest in the subject. Primarily it concerns the Department of Trade and Industry. The Government expects and hopes for a good deal of port modernisation. Indeed, we must have it if we are to cope with the revolution brought about by new methods of cargo handling.

The honourable member for Stirling spoke at some length about the staff of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority. As I have pointed out in answer to questions in this House over a considerable period, this matter has been of concern to us. Those who belong to the staff of the Authority are our employees. Over the years, members of the staff have performed very fine work in loyal fashion, sometimes in conditions of considerable difficulty. Certainly, the last thing that the Government wants to do is to ignore their needs or to fail to look after their interests. We have been at great pains to consider the interests of the staff and we have done a great deal of work on this matter. The amendments which the honourable member foreshadowed and which he discussed in general terms are not acceptable to the Government in the form proposed. We shall go into that at a later stage. They relate to a number of matters with which this measure of necessity cannot deal.

Throughout all the discussions and consideration that have preceded the presentation of this measure, and particularly the discussions of the last few months, we have had the staff of ASIA closely in mind. It has not been possible to foresee precisely how we would deal with each problem that came along, but, as a result of the consideration of the arrangements that are now very close to finality, a fairly clear picture emerges. It is of no use to consider the staff of ASIA in the same way as one might consider arrangements to deal with redundancy among waterside workers or to suppose that those arrangements would have any relevance to the situation of the Authority's staff. Mr Woodward's general report on the National Stevedoring industry Conference, at paragraph 110, referring to the attitude of the parties, stated:

There was also a recognition on all sides of the peculiar circumstances of this industry, and the ACTU has agreed, on behalf of the trade union movement, that the settlement of the problem in this industry will not be used as a bargaining point or a lever in other fields where redundancy may occur

The background to this statement is to be found in the introductory paragraph of Appendix G of the report. The position of Crown employees is quite different from that of waterside workers. The waterside industry was acknowledged on all sides to be sui generis - something quite separate from any other industry or occupation. The members of the staff of ASIA are Crown employees, and Crown employees have a code of conditions of many years standing that is applied in all cases. Among other things, it provide!: for retrenchment. The Bill before the Parliament dealing with the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act, to which the honourable member for Stirling referred, provides for long service leave entitlement on retrenchment, after service for 8 years but less than 10 years, of 3 months, but after service for 10 years but less than 15 years, at the rate of threetenths of a month for each completed year of service. The Commonwealth Superannuation Act also provides for retrenchment. A person who has contributed to the Superannuation Fund for more than 10 years receives better treatment than one who has contributed for a lesser period. Members of the staff of ASIA have been told that those who are eligible, if they leave the Authority's service to join the holding company or operational employers, will be entitled to these long standing benefits.

Retrenchment of Crown employees is no new thing. For instance, Commonwealth employees were retrenched in the early 1950s and Commonwealth agencies have reduced staffs on a number of occasions. At such times, the benefits that 1 have just mentioned have been generally applied. The

Opposition's proposal in this instance is that long service leave should be granted after 5 years service and that special benefits under the Superannuation Act should be paid after 5 years service. New South Wales legislation is freely stated as providing the justification for the leave proposal. It is true that the legislation of that State gives greater benefits than are given by the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act, but when one looks over the whole range of State legislation and Commonwealth Acts and awards, one sees that our Act compares quite favourably with State Acts.

Mr Webb - That is not so, compared with State legislation.

Mr BURY - The New South Wales Act may be more favourable in some respects.

Mr Webb - The legislation of other States also is more generous, in some instances providing for pro rata long service leave after 5 years service on retrenchment.

Mr BURY - The proposals put forward by the Opposition raise quite serious issues. The assumption seems to be that everyone in Crown employment has a right to be kept in that employment. Not even the Public Service Act squares with this. It allows for the retirement of surplus permanent officers. As an alternative, it allows for their employment elsewhere in the Public Service, even at a lower rate of pay, and this is the normal course. Temporary employees subject to the Public Service Act have none of the protection that the Opposition seeks in this instance. Members of the staff of the Stevedoring Industry Authority are not employed under the Public Service Act. The staff rules of the Authority provide for the possibility of retrenchment and allow for no more than the normal benefits.

Pursuant to the agreement reached at the Woodward Conference, which is set out in paragraph 70 of the report, the holding company and operational employers have offered jobs to many of the surplus Authority staff and in most cases the offers have been accepted. The holding company has said that for long service leave purposes it will count service with the

Authority as service with the company. Discussions we have had point to the likelihood that staff going to the operational employers will be treated in the same way. Discussions with the holding company point to its preparedness to consider, on an individual case basis, arrangements for applying refunds of Commonwealth superannuation contributions to the company's pension scheme. All told, considering males for present purposes, 32 men will be surplus in Sydney and 31 in Melbourne. The Authority will place in its own organisation 8 men in Sydney and 6 in Melbourne. So far, 20 men in Sydney and 10 in Melbourne have accepted jobs with the employers. On present indications, it seems likely that the employers will offer jobs to the balance of 4 men in Sydney and 15 in Melbourne.

To give the Authority's staff the further opportunity of preserving their furlough and superannuation rights, the Authority's letter to its staff invited them to say whether they wished to be considered for employment in areas of Crown employment other than with the Authority. The replies received suggest that of those who have not accepted offers of employment from the employers, and excluding those who will be staying on with the Authority, only four men in Sydney show an interest in taking other Crown employment. In the case of Melbourne, at the moment the figure is nine. Judging by the replies, if these thirteen men received an offer from private employers, most would accept it.

In summary, the position is this: No-one is likely to be without a job; no-one will lose a day's pay; we have no reason for thinking that anyone will be any worse off as far as salary is concerned; for those who stay with the Authority there are, of course, no problems; for those who are placed elsewhere in Crown employment without loss of present substantive salary there would be no problems; for those who go to the employers it appears that there will be no problems regarding long service leave; for those who go to the employers it seems that the only problem raised so far by the Opposition relates to those who have been contributing to the Commonwealth superannuation scheme for less than 10 years.

All of this does not suggest that the interests of the Authority's staff have not been very properly taken into account. At most, what we are left with is the question whether any alteration should be made to the Superannuation Act. This is something that has wider implications and we cannot decide it here and now. I do say, however, that wherever benefits turn on periods of service and the like, someone inevitably misses out. The man with 9 years and 11 months service misses out now on the Commonwealth conditions and the man with 4 years and 11 months service would miss out if 5 years were substituted for 10. There is also the question whether, as a matter of policy, 5 years should be substituted for 8 years in the Furlough Act in the retrenchment situation. For reasons that have already been given, this does not appear to have any immediacy in relation to the ASIA staff. This is not to say that the question should not be looked at for the future.

These questions as to what should be done with the Superannuation Act and the Furlough Act to meet redundancy situations will be examined. The honourable member for Stirling referred to the fact that he had mentioned this matter before. We have been considering this problem for quite a little while, although we have not yet finished our deliberation. In the course of the examination the question of applying to the ASIA staff any decision that is reached will certainly not be overlooked. I would not like any impression to remain that we have not done everything possible and reasonable to protect our staff. I do thank the honourable member for Stirling for the interest he has shown in this matter and for his support for the generality of the Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative. Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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