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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2561


Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - I want to address myself very briefly to the question of what is in public interest. I think that a lot of double standards and hypocrisy have been spoken by the Government in regard to this matter. I think that if ever a section of a Bill set out to epitomise this Government's attitude on the question of restraint, this section does. What do we mean by public interest? I can well recall a test case in the South Australian jurisdiction, I think in 1930. following the Premiers' Plan to implement throughout Australia, by the respective State governments and the Commonwealth Government, a 10 per cent reduction in salary across the board in the national or public interest. The police officers took the case to the full bench in South Australia, and the full bench rejected the State Government's application on the grounds that in fact it was not in the public interest. This was a case where the lawyers on the bench acted contrary to legislative decisions.

What do we do in the position where public interest is relative? What happens in the cases where 5 or 6 States outflank the Commonwealth in certain areas? Let me take one example. The question of nurses was raised earlier. Psychiatric nurses in South Australia, from juniors to career and charge sisters were granted equal pay in 1967. In Queensland at that time it was decided that it was against public interest to grant equal pay to psychiatric nurses in Queensland; it was granted only to certificated nurses and sisters. In New South Wales in 1967 Judge Sweeney granted equal pay to psychiatric nurses across the board without any 5-year waiting period - again in the public interest, according to the judge. In Tasmania psychiatric nurses were granted equal pay on a restrictive basis - again, I assume, in the public interest. Psychiatric nurses in Western Australia were granted equal pay in a more restricted area - again, I assume, in the public interest. I ask the Minister, if unions and employers sat around the table and, on a balanced evaluation of the situation in the 6 States, found that something was in the national interest according to the States in direct opposition to the Commonwealth, an agreement could not be ratified on that basis because according to the Commonwealth Government it was against the public interest. Such an attitude in my view is totally illogical. In that case the agreement could not be ratified. It would have to go to the Full Bench.

A similar situation applies with respect to annual leave. As I understand it, in South Australia annual leave is applied in the Public Service on the basis of 4 weeks leave for day workers and 5 weeks leave for shift-workers. I understand this position applies likewise in New South Wales. Let us assume that this trickles and percolates through the other States. Is it unreasonable for unions and employers collectively to sit around the table and figure out that an industry can afford to make such provision in the State jurisdiction in which they are negotiating? We could have the ridiculous situation that despite all efforts at conciliation, a matter may be agreed by both parties but the agreement cannot be ratified. However, it can be opposed by the Commonwealth Government on appeal.

The recent Waterside Workers Federation agreement is another classic example. Do we assume that for peace on the waterfront this agreement which is applicable to waterside workers will remain in that restricted area? I doubt it very much. It is possible that other unions on the waterfront will press for conditions identically in line with those applicable to waterside workers. If there can be agreement between unions and employers why cannot that be ratified without the hammer and sickle being hung over their heads by the Commonwealth Government, on appeal? The Government makes a farce of all semblance of conciliation between organisations.

I turn to the question of double standards. The honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen) rose and made a great play about the public interest. He quoted legal decisions. I do not dispute those decisions. Wages have a decisive impact on the community but the fact which cannot be got over to the Government is that what is wrong at this point of time is that extra weight is being put on one end of the scale and nothing on the other end. If there is a public interest on an increase in wages across the board nationally or by collective bargaining, what standard will the Government fix when prices rise, hire purchase rates rise and land prices rise? All one ever hears from the Government is this double standard. The private sector, in terms of prices and profits, is to be completely uninhibited. It will have complete freedom to contract and no Government controls will be imposed. Everyone read the statement of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) last December dealing with general insurance provisions. There were 2 important factors in that statement as far as the Commonwealth Government was concerned. There are to be no restrictions on insurance companies in terms of investment - none at all. So, the private sector can have complete freedom of contract, complete freedom of negotiation, complete freedom of fixation of either prices or profits and, in fact, freedom from any restrictions, inhibitions and constrictions. But, certainly, it will not be involved in arbitration. The Government will confine this provision to the workers of Australia. In my view the Government will bind the workers by a section which is inoperative and which will cause untold damage in the field of conciliation and arbitration. In my view it will be completely inoperative.

Dr SOLOMON(Denison) 5.36)- Mr

Chairman-


Mr Foster - Mr Chairman-







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