Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 10 May 1972
Page: 2337

Mr MCMAHON (Lowe) (Prime Minister) - Mr Deputy Speaker, in one way or another I have listened with great interest to my friend, the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron)-

Mr Armitage - Friend?

Mr MCMAHON - Well, he was a friend of mine once even though he might want to deny it now.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why would he want to deny it now?

Mr McMAHON - Your colleague is denying it. You stick with him if you wish to do so. During the time that I was Minister for Labour and National Service I had a fairly long and interesting association with the honourable member for Hindmarsh on industrial matters. But I venture to say that on this occasion I have been disappointed in what I have heard. The first point that I would like to make is that if honourable members listened to or read the speech of the honourable member for Hindmarsh - and I have done a bit of each - they would find that he completely misunderstands the causes and origins of inflation. The honourable member for Hindmarsh said that prices were the commencing point of wage increases. Can any person in Australia with a sensible knowledge of economics and of the fact that wages rose by between 11 and 13 per cent in the last financial year argue for one moment that this was a case of wages following prices or, as is the truth, that this was a clearcut illustration of prices following wages? There can be no doubt that the moment you find wage increases of between 11 and 13 per cent, whichever it might be, exceeding productivity which is going along at the rate of 2i per cent per annum, then automatically you must get an inbuilt inflationary force to the extent of the difference between the two. I think that the honourable member for Hindmarsh knows this. But equally he knows that Mr Hawke was in the precincts of Parliament House yesterday and probably today, and he knew that he had to toe the line in exactly the same way as the rest of his colleagues.

I now turn to the policy aspect because this is important to us. Honourable members will find in what I say tonight, following my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch), that we are enunciating a clear, comprehensive policy for an industrial arbitration system. To my knowledge the honourable member for Hindmarsh mentioned policy on only one occasion, and that was when he said agreements made under the auspices of the Australian Council of Trade Unions would in fact be supervised and probably all action would be taken to ensure that the agreements were made. What absolute nonsense. Why then did not Mr Hawke of the ACTU, or even the honourable member for Hindmarsh successfully intervene in the La Trobe Valley problems? Do you think for one moment

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That was not made under the auspices of the ACTU.

Mr McMAHON - I am saying: Do you think for one moment that you would be ever able to control it?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Of course.

Mr McMAHON - I do not. This is where there is a difference of opinion between you and myself, my Party and the rest of the Australian people. Let us go now to a strange conflict. In the course of 3 or 4 months there has been this unbelievable confusion and conflict of thought in the mind of the honourable member for Hindmarsh. He said that we have neglected conciliation. The very basis of this legislation is to provide conciliatory and arbitral functions. This is one the bases on which we are acting. We are giving the conciliators a wide range of activities and powers in order to operate. Little regard can be paid to what was said by the honourable gentleman. From my knowledge of his information and his deep respect for the system of trade unionism, I regret to say that I stand here tonight very disappointed that he should have forgotten so much.

As everyone should know, this is an extremely important Bill. As I said previously, I regret that the honourable member for Hindmarsh has not given us a very deep insight into what the Labor Party means. The particular deficiency in the honourable gentleman's discourse was, as I have previously said, this problem associated with inflation. I have to emphasise that I regard it as the most single important economic factor that we face today. We are slowly but surely coming to grips with the problem, but we cannot come to grips with it unless we find a different atmosphere in both the Labor Party and the trade union movement - an atmosphere that is favourable to moderation and an atmosphere that is favourable to giving a fair go to each and every worker in the community.

By contrast, I want to commend my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service because when he introduced the Bill he made clear what the overriding concern of the Government was. The Bill before the House is, I believe, valuable to us for 2 reasons. They are based on philosophical considerations, and I believe that they are philosophical considerations that should be of great importance to the Labor Party and the Government as well as to the community. Our concern is for the community and for the individual worker. This concern has been the basis of all the legislation introduced by successive Liberal-Country Party governments since 1949. Let me take honourable members a little over the history of this matter. It was a Liberal-Country Party government which really made workable the secret ballot legislation which had been introduced by our predecessors.

The legislation that we brought down in the early 1950s put into the hands of rank and file unionists the opportunity of ensuring good government in their organisation. By legislation, they have been able to ask for elections to be conducted by independent officials. They have been able to have the court inquire into irregularities in ballots. It is a Liberal-Country Party government which ensures a viable sanctions process under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Whilst over the years we have stood firm on the principle that there must be sanctions or fines to deal with industrial lawlessness, we have been realistic enough to make changes in that process as the need to do. so has arisen. We have approached the question of sanctions or fines with resolution, but we have sought to provide under the Act every opportunity for parties to resolve their differences by the traditional processes of both conciliation and arbitration. We have sought to give every opportunity to a. union to resile from strike action and to avoid a penalty being imposed on it. However, as the Minister for Labour and National Service pointed out in his second reading speech, if that opportunity is not taken a union must face the consequences under the law,

It has been said the sanction process has fallen into disrepute. At one point of time there might have been some truth in that statement. However, it is no longer the case. We are determined to ensure that if fines are imposed under the so-called penal clauses of the Act those fines will be collected. That is a firm statement of intention by this Government. One must, of course, refer to the historic amendments of 1956 to the Act. These were introduced by the Minister for Labour and National Service at that time, the late Mr Harold Holt. As honourable members know, the real thrust of those amendments was to separate the administrative and judicial functions of the old Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. This meant that the administrative function of the preservation and settlement of disputes became the responsibility of the new body, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, while the judicial functions have been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Industrial Court.

Those amendments removed a lot of the legalism of the system as it had existed. They resulted in the new Commission adopting a more flexible approach to its responsible task of prevention and settlement of disputes. I, for one, believe that over the years the Commission has carried out its very onerous role in a responsible and painstaking manner. It has, I believe, served the community well. I think too that perhaps the community does not always realise the very great value to the community of our system of conciliation and arbitration. Save for that which operates in New Zealand, there is no other system comparable to it.

One of the greatest benefits of it has been that, by and large, this country has not had infficted upon it the very long, drawn out disputes that characterise industrial relations in a number of other countries. Relatively speaking, strikes in this country are of short duration. This is largely because parties are able to take their differences to the appropriate tribunal and, indeed, that tribunal has power to step in of its own volition when disputes occur. It would be a mistake, however, to see our system of conciliation and arbitration as an institution merely existing to serve the interests of management and labour - the parties to industrial disputes.

Employers and unions simply cannot be permitted to resolve their differences without regard to the effect on those groups which are not themselves directly involved. The Government has a significant role because it has a responsibility for the management of an increasingly sophisticated economy. The Government is itself perhaps the most important party in industrial relations because it represents the community. This always has been recognised by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act in a variety of ways. It has long given the Government the right to intervene in certain proceedings: It envisages Ministers notifying disputes. It has long contained provision for the public interest to be taken into account in the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes. We are proposing in this Bill to enhance the protection of the public interest. It has been the factor uppermost in our minds whenever we have come to consider alterations to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is what the community is entitled to expect of tha Government and they will get it.

I have sketched very briefly some of the principal changes that have been made to the Act over the years, but it is not only the Conciliation and Arbitration Act itself to which we have given a great deal of attention. Honourable members will recall that when this country was faced with one of the most serious periods of disturbance on the Australian waterfront we were not slow to act. Perhaps the honourable member for Hindmarsh will remember the part I played in trying to ensure peace on the waterfront. We concluded at that time that strong legislation was needed and we introduced it in 1965. That legislation had a most salutary effect on the Waterside Workers Federation, as indeed it was intended to have.

This leads me to speak of the importance attached to this current Bill as part of our total fight against inflation in this country. We are concerned to ensure that the parties to industrial disputes settle their differences within the arbitration system where the public interest factor is an all-important one. We have included in the Bill, for example, a provision that the Commission must have full regard to the economic consequences of what it might decide. We have included in the Bill provisions widening the particular matters which are reserved for determination by a full bench of the Commission. We believe that this is particularly important because these are matters that ought not to be considered on a piecemeal basis. They demand a co-ordinated approach by the Commission. They demand that every opportunity is given to Government and to the widest possible range of interested parties to put their views to the Commission when matters of this nature are being determined by it.

As part of our total planning in our fight against inflation we are strengthening also provisions of the Act to deal with irresponsibilities of trade union power. We are convinced that certain powerful elements in the trade union movement have exercised their strength on too many occasions in a totally irresponsible fashion. Unfair and undue pressure has been placed upon employers by the use of the strike weapon. This has resulted in excessive rises in wages and salaries relative to national productivity. I must stress here and now that we have long held the view that it is important to the community that there be a strong trade union movement. We do not wish to see a weak trade union movement but, by the same token, we have to see a balance of power between employers and unions in the settlement of industrial disputes. Over the last 12 months consumer prices have risen by 7 per cent - a marked acceleration of the rate of 2i per cent to 3i per cent which Australia experienced throughout most of the 1960s.

Dr Gun - Why does the Government not control it?

Mr McMAHON - You will not help. I believe it is recognised by most economists that this increase in inflationary pressures has been due largely to excessive rises in wages and salaries to which I have already referred. Inflation is a pernicious economic and social evil. The losers in the inflationary struggle are people often least able to afford it, namely, retired people, small savers, the unemployed, and less organised groups of workers. It is for these reasons that the Government has been seriously concerned about inflation and has taken action on several points to deal with the problem. Firstly, we have recognised the importance of greater competition in the economy. So the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood) will make a statement to Parliament shortly, outlining proposals for some important changes to the trade practices legislation.

We also have indicated our intention to carry out a systematic review of the tariff structure and we have taken an active part in promoting higher productivity through the assistance we have given to inter-firm comparisons, productivity groups and productivity promotion. Lastly - and here we come closer to the crux of the problem - we are intervening actively in Arbitration Commission hearings whenever these have general economic significance. We are seeking to ensure that restraint is exercised within the areas of the Government's own responsibility - the Public Service and the various Commonwealth statutory bodies. It is within this total context that the extensive amendments proposed by this Bill must be seen. This is not the only piece of legislation that we have brought forward in this session to deal with the problem of industrial unrest that has dogged this country in recent times. Parliament has just recently passed an amendment to the Public Service Arbitration Act which is specifically designed to deal with industrial situations arising in the area of Commonwealth employment. We have strengthened that Act by making available to management and the unions the traditional means of conciliation and arbitration to resolve industrial situations as they arise. I am sure this is a provision which has been widely welcomed. There is absolutely no reason why organisations with members in Commonwealth employment should need to engage in industrial disturbance. The Public Service Arbitration Act, as it has now been amended, will ensure that constitutional and legal means are available if and when industrial situations emerge in the Commonwealth area of employment.

I spoke earlier of the extent to which this Government over the years has strengthened the Act to ensure every opportunity for democratic control in organisations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. There is a wide range of provisions included in this Act to extend further those opportunities. We firmly believe that unions and employer bodies should not be the playthings of those who sit upon executives. A heavy responsibility rests upon executives to see that the affairs of those organisations are conducted scrupulously and with respect to the views of the members. The members should have the widest possible opportunity for expressing their views and for seeing to it that their organisations are properly controlled. Surely no-one can disagree with any of this. Surely no-one can disagree with the provisions of a Bill which are designed to achieve this objective. If the Opposition is going to argue against these provisions, as the honourable member for Hindmarsh did, then all any reasonable person can say is that they are merely the spokesmen of those union bosses who must have something to fear by these provisions being brought into law.

There has been much said in recent months about the amalgamation of organisations, in particular the amalgamation of unions. We recognise that amalgamation of unions is a characteristic of industrialised societies. We recognise that there can be benefits to the members of organisations in combining their resources to undertake more effectively their responsibilities. We believe, however, that because amalgamation of organisations is such an important step it should be clearly authorised by the membership of the organisations which propose to amalgamate. We do not wish to see amalgamations take place unless the widest possible opportunity is given to members to voice their opinion about an amalgamation proposal. (Extension of time granted.)

I thank the House for its indulgence. We do not want to see organisations grow so large that members of them see themselves to be so minute in the total scheme of things that they lose all real contact with the officials whose task it is to run the affairs of the organisation.

The Bill now before the House does not simply consist of a whole range of unconnected proposals for change in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is, as I have pointed out, a cohesive document. It is designed to ensure that the interests of the community are not lost sight of when parties sit down to settle disputes. These interests must be paramount. It is designed to ensure that the organisations involved in the settlement of disputes faithfully reflect the views of their members. There is a single philosophy running through the whole of it. That philosophy may be summed up as one which aims to protect the community and the individual in the total area of industrial relations, and that is vital to our success and prosperity as a nation.

Suggest corrections