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Monday, 19 October 1970

Mr WEBB (Stirling) - There is an old saying that when one has a weak case one spends one's time abusing one's opponents. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) did just that. He did not answer the charges levelled at him by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron). It is a fact that, in recent months, we have witnessed Ministers of the Crown, headed by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton), blatantly using their positions to influence the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the interests of the employers. The honourable member for Hindmarsh has already drawn attention to the Prime Minister's statement as guest of honour at the annual dinner of the Chamber of Manufactures when he tried to influence the decision in the oil industry case which was delivered only yesterday or the day before. A report in the 'Daily Telegraph' of 6th August 1970 read:

A packed dining room clapped Mr Gortons statement that a profitable industry should not be called on to pay more in wages than industry generally.

It was a picked audience, packed with members of the Chamber of Manufactures. No wonder it clapped. This is not something new. Incidents of this nature have been happening for some years. The former Treasurer at the annual dinner of the Metal Trades Employers Federation used the occasion to dictate to the President of the Commission, who was also a guest, what the attitude of the Commission should be in regard to the applications of the unions for increased wages in the 1967 work value judgment. So blatant were these attempts to influence the Commission that the President stated:

Outside attempts to influence it are foolish, stupid and futile. They serve only to distract the Commission from the job in hand.

However, the Ministers ignore this soft rebuke. The present Treasurer (Mr Bury) is one of the worst offenders. His prejudice against the workers is clearly apparent. When he was Minister for Labour and National Service he was guilty of making the most vicious attack on members of the Commission when it awarded increased margins to the metal trades unions in December 1967. He supported the employers in their claim that over-award payments should be absorbed into the margins. His view is that the minimum rale should be the maximum. He fired another barb later when he said it was not the job of the Commission to dream up economic theories or seek to determine the Government's economic policy. On 27th December 1967 Mr Justice Gallagher and Commissioner Winter in a joint statement from the Bench rebuked the present Treasurer for his attack upon the Commission's decision in granting pay rises in the 1967 metal trades case. They said:

We will not be influenced or intimidated by any parly, including Ministers. All extraneous utterances, whatever their source or nature, will be ignored.

On 19th October 1970 the Minister for Labour and National Service warned against too high an increase in the national wage case. He said:

I believe that the Commission cannot disregard the economic consequences of its decision.

He referred to decisions of the Commission as having a significant impact on costs and prices. All these incidents, of course, show undue influence. They all show that Ministers of the Crown are exerting undue influence upon the Commission. The Commission has stepped into the economic field because the Government has failed miserably to live up to its responsibilities regarding the economy. The Government has failed to take action to control prices. It has allowed inflation to run riot, lt has ignored the report of the Committee of Economic Enquiry, commonly known as the Vernon committee. It has failed to act on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Constitutional Review which advocated a widening of the economic powers of the Commonwealth. The Government in fact has sidestepped its responsibilities with regard to the economy and the Arbitration Commission, rightly or wrongly, has been trying to fill this gap.

How one-sided it all is. The Government believes the price of labour should be controlled and all the force of the legal machinery is used for that purpose. On the other hand employers and the Government refuse to exert any control over prices. The important point is that wage increases of themselves do not and cannot increase prices. Prices rise only when the employers and the commercial interests, including government undertakings, make firm decisions to increase prices without any restriction and without having to justify such increases. Decisions are arrived at without any evidence in the privacy of the board room. No question arises of the public interest being represented. Management does not have to justify in any way by argument or evidence before a public tribunal its decisions to increase the price of what it has to sell. Management: decisions are based on the fundamental rule that if costs increase, prices, which in the simplest terms determine employers' income, must be allowed to rise by at least as much as is required to cover increases in costs. But this right is denied the unions. Until I9S3 automatic adjustments of the basic wage protected the worker against an increase in prices. This protection was abolished by the court at the request of the employers, supported by this Government. The unions have to prove their claim for an increase but when an increase is granted the employers and management use this as a means again to raise the price of the products and increase their profits. Colossal profits continue to be made and these profits all come from the same source - the national income.

While wage and salary earners have to prove their claims other persons take huge sums by way of profits and interest charges from the national income without having to justify their actions to anyone. In its 1964 judgment the Arbitration Commission emphasised that there was no control over incomes other than those covered by awards. The Commission said there was no authoritative control of prices while there was a tight control of wages. On page 66 of his reasons for judgment, Mr Justice Moore pointed out that the previous statement of the Commission that 'increases in prices are determined by those who fix prices' is a truth that cannot be emphasised enough.

By its failure to take action to control prices this Government has allowed inflation to run riot. It has failed miserably to live up to its responsibility to control the economy. Now it wants the workers to carry the whole burden. The Prime Minister said at the annual dinner of the Chamber of Manufactures that if Australia was to achieve the destiny within its reach there was a heavy responsibility on the Government, trade union leaders and the Arbitration Court. There was no mention of any responsibility on the employers - the manufacturers whom he was addressing. No wonder they clapped, being left free to go their own sweet way to increase prices and make huge profits. On page 3 of his talk entitled 'Problems of Economic Theory and Industrial Administration' the Treasurer stated:

The Government must be regarded as nol simply a law-making and administrative authority, but also as an employer in its own right.

He went on:

Employers in the private sector have to recognise the Government, as an employer, must recognise the interests of other employers, whether private or public.

The Treasurer did not have to spell out something that was so obvious. If the Government's repeated submissions before the Commission were without prejudice no exception could be taken. If ever a government has shown its prejudice against the workers this Government has done so in its frequent intervention in wages hearings. Through its counsel it has repeatedly supported the submissions of the employers. The Australian Council of Trade Unions has registered its strong objection to the partisan submissions of this Government directed to denying workers justifiable increases in wages. Counsel for the Government asserts that he is appearing in the public interest whereas in fact he supports the claims of the employers. The Government has succeeded in shifting the responsibility for economic control and unpopular measures from itself to the Commission. Then it blames the Commission if it gives wage increases to catch up with increased prices.

I referred earlier to the Commission's setting down minimum wages and to the fact that the Treasurer wanted the minimum to become the maximum. After the minimum has been established we come to what has been referred to by the President of the Commission as the 'collective bargaining area'. He mentions this on page 18 and 19 of his Tenth Annual Report - I have not time to quote it at length - in which he said:

It has long been obvious that arbitration for minimum payments and bargaining for over-award payments must co-exist in this community.

He says more about this subject in another section. In many cases both sides accept the decision of the Commission as being a minimum payment and then proceed to bargain for some amount over and above that which the award provides. This has been accepted by the Commission as being quite legitimate. If this collective bargaining area did not exist it would sound the death knell of the arbitration system as we, know it. This does not suit .he Government; hence these attacks on the Commission and on over-award payments. Ona would think the workers were living in the lap of luxury. In order for a family to have a reasonable standard of living nowadays, the husband has to have either 2 jobs or work a considerable amount of overtime, in addition to which his wife has to work. This is the only way in which a family can get a reasonable income in these times. At one time it was regarded as wrong for a wife to work but these days she has to in order to maintain the home.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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