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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 2460

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - To my mind this debate has degenerated because, from the Government side, we have been faced with a completely demoralised political Party - a government that knows that the time is drawing nigh when it will no longer hold office. I do not divorce the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) from this statement.

The matter before the House is of great importance. It affects a large section of the community. The comments of Government speakers have led us to believe, and have endeavoured to lead the community to believe, that this matter is of importance to the whole community. About 4.5 million people make up the worker section of the Australian community - those who make things and provide goods and services. If the families of these people are taken into account it can be seen that a major section of the community is involved. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch), who should be sitting at the table but is not there - he seems to be absent from the House at the moment-

Dr Mackay - If the honourable member will look around he will see that the Minister is not absent from the House.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - If the Minister is not absent from the House he is certainly absent from that part of the chamber where honourable members are effective. As I understand the situation, a member standing or sitting where the honourable the Minister now is sitting is not recognised by the Chair. So the Minister is not in the House. The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill is alleged to deal with industrial matters. It is alleged to endeavour in some way or another to solve the problems that the members on the Government side claim confront the community. We have heard Government supporter after Government supporter speak about the difficulties that are brought into the community by trade union members taking all sorts of actions.

The title of this Bill, the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, seems to me to be somewhat of a paradox. I have checked with the Oxford English Dictionary and have found that 'conciliation' and 'conciliator', are words that mean that all endeavours should be made to bring parties to a dispute together to achieve some sort of satisfactory situation. I also have looked up the words 'arbitration' and 'arbiter'. The Oxford Dictionary defines 'arbiter' as somebody who is all-powerful. Therefore, it seems paradoxical to have a Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The legislation provides for a conciliatory situation where members of a trade union sit down with somebody who allegedly is independent to resolve a dispute. The parties know very well that at the back of their heads is a loaded gun and that if they do not resolve the matter in this way they will have to go to arbitration and be told what to do and how to do it. I do not think that that is the way to resolve industrial problems in Australia.

If this Bill and the principal Act are to be regarded as a medium for resolving industrial situations and problems that arise, they fail badly. There is no way in the world by which this proposed legislation, which is bad, and the principal legislation which it seeks to amend and which also is bad, will be able to solve industrial difficulties that might confront the community from time to time. The reason is clear. Decisions that are made as a result of this legislation will do nothing to bring parties together to solve problems. The community seems to be divided into 2 fairly clear areas. There are those in the community who make and provide the goods and services - the comforts for all of us - and also a very small section of the community which enjoys those comforts without doing anything to make or provide them.

Members on the Government side frequently come into this House acting as the marionettes of Australian employers. They bring down legislation to take to one side that very large section of the community that makes and provides the goods and services and put it in a different position to the very small portion of the community which enjoys the comforts that are provided by the majority.

This Bill sets out, ostensibly, in the Minister's own words, 'to resolve industrial difficulties that exist'. It does not do that. Rather it would militate against a resolution of these problems. I believe that it would aggravate situations that exist. The big problem is that the people who prepare this sort of legislation have had very little, if any, actual participation at this sort of level. 1 know that the Minister for Labour and National Service was for a long time engaged in a private capacity before and after he entered this Parliament in the area of finding work for people. I think it generally goes under the heading of 'Job Placement'. I understand that in a private capacity the Minister has been very good at this sort of thing. I understand further from a question I asked earlier in this session that his Department has had very little success in finding work for people. The Minister has had a great deal of success in obtaining job opportunities but he has had very little success in placing people in those jobs. I am speaking now about his official functions as the Minister in charge of this portfolio of Labour and National Service.

We have heard the comments by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), who I understand at some earlier stage preceded the Minister for Labour and National Service as the Minister in charge of this portfolio but who now occupies the most honourable position of Prime Minister. I recall that when he was Minister for Labour and National Service - I do not think my memory is all that bad - he did not really get down to the nub of this question. It seems lo me that his opinions at that time were no more popular than they are now amongst the Australian community. This matter will continue to be a problem so long as we have conservative governments and conservative Ministers who are all too anxious to say that men must be driven to make them work.

I do not know whether the Minister for Labour and National Service or those who sit on the benches behind him - they are not in the House now but generally they are present - would be prepared to come forward and support a proposition whereby a manufacturer or seller of goods or services was forced into the position of providing the goods that he manufactured or the services that the provided, even if it were not profitable for him to do so. In other wodds, if an employer or the maker or seller were to say that it was no longer a profitable proposition for him to manufacture a commodity or to provide a service, I am not sure that the Government of this country would come down with all its might and say to that person: 'You must provide this service, you must manufacture that commodity'. I do not think it would do that, but it is prepared to come out when the working people of this country are dissatisfied with what they are receiving as a reward for the sale of their services and say to them: 'If you are not prepared to go to work we will make you go to work or we will make you provide this service; we will make you make these things'. This is the double standard that applies.

Recently we saw the fiasco which took place in this House and also in Victoria. I refer to the proposed takeover by Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd of another industry known as Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. This was really a Gilbert and Sullivan opera-type situation. But I do not recall this Government's supporters standing up and saying that certain rules would prevail, that certain circumstances would exist or that people would conduct themselves in a certain way. However, I do recall Sir Henry Bolte, the omnipotent Premier of Victoria, doing something about it. I am not convinced that what he did was correct, but he did do something. This Government, through its spokesman on industrial matters, the Minister for Labour and National Service, is quite prepared to bring down rules and regulations in order to negate the obvious and honourable rights of working people, but it is not prepared to take a stand so far as other amalgamations are concerned.

This brings me to the question of amalgamations which are referred to in this Bill. This is an important and a very crucial part of the Bill. The Minister, ignoring his advisers but being pressured by his own Cabinet, by Mr Polites and all sorts of other employer representatives whom I have seen skulking around the corridors of this Parliament, has brought down legislation which in the future will make it impossible for unions to amalgamate. The Minister is shaking his head. Obviously he has not read the terms of his own legislation, or the draftsman has gone astray. What the Minister is saying in this legislation as a first tenet is that there must be a 50 per cent poll, that is, half of the people must vote in an election before it is a valid election. I do not notice the Minister nodding or shaking his head to that statement. Of the 50 per cent who vote, at least half, which in effect is 25 per cent of the membership, must vote in favour of the proposition if it is to be successful. If there is a 49 per cent poll and 100 per cent of those who vote choose to vote in favour of the proposition it will be lost because less than 50 per cent of the people who were eligible to vote in fact voted.

Being a numbers man from way backand the Minister is smiling so I presume he is some sort of a numbers man too - the name of the game will be to persuade people not to vote. It will not be to persuade people to vote, but to persuade them not to vote. The people who are known to be active members of the National Civic Council, the Democratic Labor Party of Australia and the industrial group movement are known to be well versed in this sort of tactic. There will be a very great campaign to induce people not to vote and thereby negate a proposition because the required percentage does not vote. That is what the Minister is proposing.

I have heard the Minister say - and I commend him for saying it although it is seldom I commend him for something - that there are too many trade unions in Australia. That is not denied by anybody. It is agreed that the trade union movement would be so much stronger if there were more amalgamations and unions came together in this way. But the Minister does not believe that and he has proved his disbelief by drafting the Bill in the way in which he has. The trade union movement in Australia is a matter of some concern to the Minister. I believe that the reason for this concern is that the trade union movement is the only organised body of people in this country prepared to challenge situations that are bad. Instead of the Minister trying to destroy the trade union movement he ought to be trying to foster it.

Having worked at the factory level I know that a shop steward is the logica] person to resolve disputes. The Minister speaks about the number of work-days lost through industrial disputes, and I have heard his colleagues say the same thing in this House. Something like 2i million or 3 million man-days are lost in a year through industrial disputes. I understand that his Department does not even keep statistics on man-days that are lost through industrial incidents. Unemployment has cost this country 12 million man-days a year. I am referring there to induced unemployment and ignoring the recognised level of some 60,000 people who are unemployed all the time. But the extra 60,000 unemployed that the Minister and his Government have brought into the community have meant the loss of 12 million mandays a year, and there is no word about that from the Government. The time lost through industrial disputes in Australia is estimated generally at 2i million or 3 million man-days a year. No endeavour has ben made to give the reasons why these stoppages occur. The Prime Minister commented that generally there are fewer stoppages in Australia than there are in any other part of the world. That appears in the Hansard report of his speech in this debate. The majority of industrial disputes are caused by men refusing to go into unsafe places. They refuse to work in buildings, in mines or in areas where their lives are at risk. I invite the Minister or any member on the Government side of the House to stand up and tell me that men ought to go into areas where they believe their lives are at risk. I do not think they will do that.

There is talk about political strikes. Nobody has ever defined a political strike. Working men have an obligation and a right to take industrial action to rectify any of the things that concern them, but the Minister through this legislation is seeking to deny them that right. He would deny workers the right to take industrial action, which is the only way they can deal with situations, the only way they know how to deal with them and to correct them. I do not know whether the

Minister and his Government are the repository of all wisdom; 1 doubt that they are.

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