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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2557

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service) - The subjects raised by honourable members who have spoken on the proposed new sections contained in clause 13 are covered by 3 main headings - certification of agreements, matters reserved for full bench hearings, and the public interest. Dealing first with the certification of agreements, this was raised by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) and I would like to point out that there is no difference between the certification of agreements proposed under this Bill and provided for under the Act because the certification has to be undertaken by a presidential bench. This is laid down in the Act in section 33, so there is no difference in that respect. On the question that it is wrong not to be able to include matters in an agreement which cannot be included in an award, there is no change from the existing section 31 of the Act. I should point out that there is not much point in giving the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the power to certify an agreement which contains matters that could not be included in an award because this is beyond its constitutional power. The aim of certifying an agreement is to give it the power of an award and if the agreement contains things which could not be included in an award constitutionally, the award obviously could not stand up to challenge. As to the matters to be referred to the full bench, there is not a great deal new in what is proposed here. The national wage cases are added to the list of matters that must be dealt with by the full bench. In recent years these cases have been heard by the full bench on reference and quite often by agreement.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, but it is not bound by public interest.

Mr STREET - Public interest is the third heading I referred to and I will take it last. The national wage cases in the past have been dealt with by the full bench on reference, usually by agreement, and the new provisions in the Bill really formalise what is currently the de facto situation. The only equal pay case which has been heard by the full bench was heard on reference. On the question of annual leave, I think the honourable member for Hindmarsh and every honourable member would agree that annual leave is a major cost item in the economy. As long service leave has always been dealt with by a full bench it seems quite reasonable that annual leave should be in the same category.

The minimum wage, the last item added to the list, has always been dealt with by a full bench and I would draw the attention of the Committee to the definition of 'basic wage* which is contained in section 33. (1.) (b). I ask the Committee to compare that definition with what is contained in proposed new section 31. (1.) (c). lt will be found that the definition of minimum wage", which is now to be dealt with by a full bench, is very similar to the old definition of 'basic wage' which was always dealt with by a full bench when that principle applied. The Commonwealth has always had the right of intervention in Full Bench matters and this will not be changed under the new legislation.

I come to the final point which relates to the public interest. The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) pointed out very cogently that this question doss extend beyond the parties to the immediate consultation or dispute which is in progress. I cannot put it better than the extract from Shonefield in his 'Note of Reservation to the Donovan Report' which I quoted in my speech last week during the debate on the second reading of this Bill. I think that this is so relevant that I should include it in the record of this debate. Shonefield said:

It is no longer possible to accept the traditional notion of the individual work place as a separate and largely automonous estate where employers and employees are able to conduct their quarrels with little or no regard to the effects of what they do on other work places.

I cannot put the concept of public interest in clearer words than that. The honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) accused the Government of putting the system into an economic strait-jacket. I think that if we got down to trying to define 'public interest' in strict and specific terms, we might be doing exactly what the honourable member said because the public interest will change according to circumstances. There will be different degrees of importance depending on such factors as the nature of the matter at issue and the political climate of the day. This inevitably must affect public interest. Of course, a particular case may have the effect of influencing or affecting the whole of industry, quite apart from the industry which is under discussion or negotiation. Because of the implication? of a particular industry, it may not be in the best interests of the public to extend this effect into fields other than those which originally had been part of the discussion.

Another point which the honourable member for Moreton made and which is exemplified in the quotation I gave a moment ago is that, in certain circumstances, parties may reach an agreement which is highly satisfactory to them because the industry employer concerned may be in a position where he is able to pass on his costs without too must trouble. This clearly could be against the best interests of the economy as a whole. So, while I agree that it is impossible specifically to define the public interest, I think it is wise to leave it to the discretion of the commissioner and not end up, by defining it too strictly, with the sit..... '"n about which the honourable member for Cunningham expressed concern. The original concept of the public interest i" our conciliation and arbitration system was expounded by Mr Justice Isaacs in 1917. He made the point that the whole raison d'etre of the arbitration powers was not the mere decision between 2 contesting parties, although that of course was undoubtedly of importance because 'h purpose of the legislation was to resolve industrial disputes; the object of the Commission must always be that the community be served uninterruptedly and not be compelled, when threatened with deprivation or perhaps the essentials of existence, to look on helplessly while those whose function it is to supply them stop their work to quarrel. I think that the words of Mr Justice Isaacs are just as true today as when they were originally said. So, in relation to those 3 matters which are the principal causes of debate on proposed new sections 28 to 31 - certification of agreements, matters reserved for the full bench and public interest - 1 maintain that the proposals of the Government are designed to improve the system and maintain the public interest of the community of Australia.

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