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Monday, 19 October 1970

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The way in which the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) finished his speech is indicative of the attitude of the Opposition to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, lt does not escape anybody's notice that the oil industry decision was given last Friday and that the national wage case is to commence tomorrow. One might wonder about the timing of this discussion of a matter of public importance. What was it that led it to be brought on today rather than last week or 2, 3 or 4 weeks ago? The answer to that is to be found in a curious attitude which the Opposition has to the Arbitration Commission. But it is not its own attitude, born out of its own examination. It is an attitude which has been forced upon it by the trade union movement and particularly by the powerful trade union muscle men who want to see the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission destroyed.

All that can really be said for the terms of this proposal to discuss a matter of public importance is that the language is colourful. Coming from the source it has, one would expect colourful language calculated to embarrass, compromise and prejudice the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. What could be more calculated to do one of those 3 things than to elevate this matter into the political arena on the eve of the most important wage case of the year, the national wage case? Coming from the Australian Labor Party, it is quite laughable that it should pretend to be supporting the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and the maintenance of that independent body acting judicially. The ALP has as its policy not the preservation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Quite the contrary. The policy of the ALP is to achieve wages and conditions by legislative or executive action.

One will find in its policy a claim that there should be a 35-hour week, then a 30 hour week. One will find members of the Australian Labor Party, in debates in this House, asking the Government to force the Public Service Arbitrator or the Public Service Board to award specific conditions or specific wage rates. The Opposition uses this forum of politics to insist upon it. Then it comes here with what it says is a matter of public importance, to argue for the protection of the independent statutory body that has the same character as is possessed by the Public Service Board and by the Public Service Arbitrator. The Australian Labor Party wants to adjust wages and conditions by legislative and executive action and not by the independent tribunal. The Opposition does not have as its policy to protect it or preserve that tribunal. The Australian Labor Party policy is destructive of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and of the whole system. its policy is conducive to industrial anarchy, it is harmful to the majority of workers, and it is reckless of the inflationary effects of its policies on the community and the workers. It is conducive to industrial anarchy because it recognises the strength of union leaders in positions of power and authority in those areas where the withdrawal of goods and services from the community or industry would be extreme for those persons. That is what I mean by industrial power. What I mean by industrial muscle men are the union leadern possessed of that power. When they use it it creates industrial anarchy. The ALP policy is harmful to the majority of workers because 85 per cent of the workers in this country depend for the maintenance of their minimum wages and conditions on arbitrated awards. That is why it is harmful to the majority of workers. It is reckless of inflationary impact because it is inflationary of the wage drift that has been encouraged by the making of demands, accompanied by threats, rather than going to the Commission to attempt to better the position. It is inflationary, and inflation is destructive to the community and to the workers who do not have that industrial power. It is harmful to workers because the major vice of inflation is its redistribution of assets and real wages without the persons who formerly possessed assets or real wages being able to fight against the movement of the inflation which that brings.

The ALP is both opportunistic and submissive to the power of union officers of whatever Party. It is opportunistic because it wants to attract the support of people with voting power in the ALP organisation and in the unions. That is why it is opportunistic and that is the major reason why this matter of public importance was raised in this House today, opportunistically. The ALP is submissive because it allows itself to be dominated by trade unions on whom it relies for support.

The unpredictability of this matter of public importance can be judged by the actions and words of the man quoted so often by the honourable member for Hindmarsh in his speech, that is Mr Hawke, the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The unpredictability of it all is shown by the fact that Mr Hawke has described the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission as a rubber stamp. Yet, it was he who took the oil industry to the Commission. It is he who is taking the national wage case to the Commission tomorrow. Yet, he calls it a rubber stamp; he describes it in these terms. After the decision in the last national wage case, Mr Hawke said:

This Executive -

That is the Interstate Executive of the ACTU: . . utterly condemns the inconsistent and dishonest reasoning of this decision.

This is the appellation that Mr Hawke gave to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. What sort of crocodile tears are cried when on one occasion the Commission is described in that way and then the Labor Opposition says in this House today that the Commission must be protected? Let us not forget that: the honourable member for Hindmarsh has been just as unrestrained in his condemnation of the Commission.

The Opposition attacks the Commission, lt attacks it in those terras. But then it must pretend to support the Commission because it knows that 85 per cent of the workers depend for their minimum wages and conditions and the protection of them on the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. It knows full well that the wage drift goes to the powerful unions and that 85 per cent of the community - the clerks, the carpet layers, the architrave builders and these sorts of people - do not have industrial power. In our egalitarian society, where we judge that a man's skill ought to be rewarded by the possession of skill, his willingness to work and the way in which he works, we believe that wages should be determined by relative wage justice and not by the possession of industrial power. Without the Commission the worker would not have that benefit. The major capacity in a money sense as distinct from a real sense would be distributed among the powerful unions. So we would have new strata - the strata of those with high wages and therefore higher living standards would be those working in the industrial power area. These would be the people responsible for the provision of electricity, transport or services on the waterfront. The other people - the remaining 85 per cent of the work force - would not enjoy the benefit of the living standard of those people working in the industrial power area. That is the importance of the Commission. Honourable gentlemen sitting on the Opposition side of the House know it well and would never dare say that the Commission should be struck down or that the system should be abandoned because they would not be able to face those on whom they rely to be returned here. But, periodically, we will find that the powerful trade union leader wants to strike the Commission down. People on the other side of the House, influenced by the power of trade union leaders, must support them. Periodically, Opposition members run for cover and put up for discussion a matter of public importance of this kind at this time with this timing.It does not impress anybody; least of all would it impress those people who know the poli'ical reasoning which lies behind this procedure.

The Opposition is bound by dominant union leaders. They have the industrial muscle. They want to rob the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission of its standing. They want increases outside the system by the means of a demand with a threat which, these days, is called direct negotiation. But do not look for the term direct negotiation' in the dictionary and apply its meaning there to the industrial situation. The dominant union leaders want to go outside that. The method that they adopt is first to rob the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission of its probity. If it is robbed of its probity, it is reasonable for the union leaders to say: 'We will go direct'. While the Commission has probity, people are able to say: 'Do not pursue your wage claims by threat accompanying a demand. Go to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to have it arbitrated'.

An old saying is: Those whom the Gods want to destroy they first send mad'. What has been happening in this industrial field is that that which the powerful union leaders want to destroy - that is, the Commission - they first rob of its probity. That is why they use terms like 'rubber stamp', dishonesty' and that is why they attack individual members of the Commission. In office, the Australian Labor Party would erode the Commission to the benefit of the musclemen and the powerful unions and to the disadvantage of 85 per cent of the workers. The inflation which this action would unleash would redistribute assets of people no longer working and whose assets depend on their past work. Tt would disadvantage the wage earner who does not possess the power. In a wage drift, there can be no real wage increase beyond the underlying growth in productivity capacity. That is what I believe and have constantly said and reiterate now, and that I believe is something that I have a responsibility and duty to the public to say continually for if this is accepted, we can have in this countrv the sort of development that we so ardently want and that it is the policy of this Government to achieve and that it is its duty to achieve.

The honourablegentleman quoted at length from an address that T gave to the Committee for Economic Development in Australia. He quoted quite a number of points but never in context. I therefore ask for leave, Mr Speaker, to incorporate the address in Hansard.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why do you want it incorporated?

Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted?


Mr SNEDDEN - No! Leave would not be granted because then people could read the context of what I said. The honourable gentleman does not want that to happen at all.

National wage cases have far reaching effects over a broad range of subjects - the economy, rural and export industries, inflationary pressures, costs and prices - and the public interest must be represented in these cases. All Ministers in their own responsibilities have a duty to tell the public their attitudes to these things. It is their responsibility to comment publicly and that is what they do. This sort of attack will not frighten any Minister. It will not frighten him into silence and it will not frighten him into denying his responsibility. He must talk. He must comment. It is unavoidable that a comment must bear some relationship to some case pending or in prospect. The alternative is silence. No Minister will accept that, especially when honourable gentlemen on the other side of the House, trade union leaders and employer's representatives can say what they want to say from their own points of view. Government Ministers must present the public interest and must make their comments relevant to the public interest. They must do so.

The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is an independent body. Ministers confirm it explicitly. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in the speech referred to by the honourable gentleman explicitly confirmed - that confirmation is unnecessary - the statutory independence of that body. Very frequently, whenever it is appropriate, I confirm it. Implicitly, we all confirm it by knowing that we can speak to the public as a comment without our comments influencing the Commission, for the Commission has frequently said that it will take notice of what the Government says only when the Government puts a submission while intervening in the public interest in open court for its examination. Then, it will have the same degree of influence that all other arguments tested and examined will have when presented to the Commission.

This matter of public importance is calculated to bring an independent body - a judicial acting independent body - into the political forum. I think that it is a miscalculated attempt on the part of the Opposition. That independence will be maintained. I am quite sure that the members of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission will assure it.

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