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Tuesday, 30 April 1968

Mr WEBB (Stirling) - This is the second time that the amendments contained in the Bill have been submitted to the House. An. amending Bill was originally introduced in November last and was left to be considered during this sessional period. That Bill was allowed to lapse and the present Bill, known as the Naval Defence Bill 1968, has now been introduced. It amends the Naval Defence Act 1910-1966 and relates to the employment of persons in a civil capacity. The Minister for the Navy (Mr Kelly), in his second reading speech, said that the purpose of the Bill was to correct some unsatisfactory features of section 41. of the Act, so far as it relates to the employment of civil staff in the Department of the Navy. The Minister has now said that he will during the Committee stage delete clause 7 of the Bill. As he said, he agreed to do this after representations had been made to him by members of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party's Industrial Committee. I am very pleased that he has agreed to withdraw the clause. The unions representing the civilian employees of the Naval Board had grave misgivings especially about clause 7. They thought it was designed to give the Naval Board far wider disciplinary powers over civilian employees. It was capable of being interpreted in this way by people who should know what it meant.

During his second reading speech the Minister gave certain assurances. It is a long time since he spoke and I propose to quote from bis speech. He said:

The opportunity has been taken to include provision for the preservation of accrued and accruing rights in the occasional case of an officer of the Public Service who transfers to employment under the Naval Defence Act. When a measure amending this Act was previously before the Parliament it came to notice that there was considerable misunderstanding of its purpose. With this in mind, I assure honourable members that the present Bill, firstly, will not change the Department's present employment policy and practices; secondly, will not affect employees and unions' rights under the Public Service Arbitration Act; and thirdly, will not vary or extend existing disciplinary powers under the Act.

The Minister has now confirmed this by agreeing to the withdrawal of clause 7. We were concerned about it because it appeared to extend the disciplinary powers of section 45 of the Act. We can understand why the unions were suspicious, of the intention of clause 7. As we know, ..all has not been well between the Naval Board and the civilian employees. Two. recent decisions of a conciliation commissioner have questioned the power of the Naval Board to suspend certain civilian employees. The 'Australian' newspaper on 20th March of this year, under the heading 'Arbitrator orders navy to pay strikers', stated:

A Commonwealth arbitration commissioner said yesterday there had been too little liaison between the navy and civilian workers in a dispute which crippled the Williamstown, Melbourne, dockyard for three weeks.

The commissioner, Mr J. P. Horan, ordered the navy to pay about $200 which it had withheld from 56 workers and which began the strike, involving 950 men.

He said a similar situation in private enterprise would not have been allowed to grow into any significance.

The dispute began on February 18 when the newly commissioned frigate, the Swan, was moved by staff officers while the men were at lunch.

The union alleged that the men had been without adequate facilities all morning.

Next day, the men refused to work on the Swan before the alleged breach of the award was settled.

Filing his decision yesterday, Mr Horan said: Mr Mann - for the navy - has said the navy has a common law right. I can't find anywhere at all where it permits the navy to suspend men provided they can be stood down for the day. "This was pointed out to the navy by my brother commissioner, Commissioner Matthews, in September last.

I have not been able to find any legal authority for the department to withhold payment,' he said.

We can understand why the unions were suspicious about this. I would like to raise another matter and obtain some clarification of the Minister's intention. First of all, I refer to proposed new sections 42a and 42e, in clause 6 of the Bill. Proposed new section 42a (1.) states:

The Naval Board may, by instrument in writing, determine the terms and conditions (including rates of pay and allowances) applicable to the employment of persons under the last preceding section.

Proposed new section 42e (1.) reads:

The Naval Board may, by instrument in writing, delegate to a person, either generally or otherwise as provided in the instrument of delegation, all or any of its powers or functions under this Part (except this power of delegation).

I draw the attention of the Minister to the wording of these sections. This 'instrument in writing' procedure is causing us some concern. 1 ask the Minister whether he is aware - I think he would be - that the instrument in writing' procedure has been rejected in another place on a number of occasions in relation to other Bills. This is a matter that will no doubt be looked at closely in another place. I would like the Minister to clarify what is meant so that his intentions can be considered and the Bill amended, if necessary, to make the meaning quite clear.

I ask the Minister: Under the existing Act, cannot the conditions of employment be prescribed by regulations? Is not the exercise of that power subject to control by Parliament by way of disallowance of regulations? Would not proposed new section 42a permit the terms and conditions of employment to be determined by the Naval Board itself from day to day by any piece of writing without the parliamentary supervision provided for in regard to regulations? Furthermore, could not the power be exercised by anyone at all to whom the Board delegated authority? If the Board does not wish to prescribe a period of employment, why cannot the Bill be amended so as to provide simply for the deletion of the words in the existing section 41 of the Act?

Section 41 (3) of the Act reads as follows:

Persons employed in a civil capacity in pursuance of this section shall not be subject to the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1922-1948-

Of course it has been amended since 1948 - but shall be engaged for such periods and shall be subject to such conditions as are prescribed.

We say that the position would be met if the words 'shall be engaged for such periods and shall be' were deleted from the Act. Again looking at proposed new section 42a, which is referred to in clause 6 of the Bill, why cannot the provisions for the fixing of additional rates for special jobs be incorporated in the regulations, for example to permit the continuance of existing customs and practices? My final question is this: Is not the effect of the amendment to change the method of fixing general conditions of employment from prescribing them by regulation to allowing the Naval Board, or any delegate of the Board, to fix or change these simply in writing? Will the Minister answer this point? Although we do not intend to oppose the Bill, I felt duty bound to raise these points in regard to proposed sections 42a to 42e, which are set out in clause 6 of the Bill.

If the Minister is willing to do so, 1 should like him to reply to the questions I have posed. If he does not want to do so now, he might like to give those points further consideration and supply a reply in writing. If we think then that his reply does not answer the points that we have raised, or we still have some doubt about them, the matter could be raised in another place. If there is anything in the points that I have raised, the Minister might possibly agree to amending the Bill on the lines that have been suggested.

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