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Tuesday, 16 May 1972
Page: 2596


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I oppose this provision. This is another one of the proposals the Government has put forward that just will not work. The Government knows that it will not work. It is a good political gimmick. It sounds good at electioneering time. It is perhaps a means of obtaining donations to the campaign fund by foolish, naive employers who think that by having secret ballots on strikes we will stop strikes. What I want employers to know - and I am surprised that the Government did not tell them this - is that we have had this sort of provision in the Act now for many years. It has been in the Act for decades. The law, in section 45 of the Act, already allows this to be done. The Government has never implemented section 45. For 22 years this section has lain dormant in the Act. Not once has the Government ever resorted to it, and it had good reason not to use it. The only previous occasion on which it was ever actually implemented was during the timber workers strike of 1929, when a ballot was conducted and by an overwhelming majority the workers in the timber dispute decided to support the strike. This supports what we have always said: It is not the union officials who cause strikes; the union officials merely react to the demands that come from the people at the factory floor level for strike action when those people feel that so-called constitutional means have failed them.

Another feature of the provision - this shows the duplicity of the Government's whole attitude - is that, when a strike ballot is taken and a strike is approved in cases where the award concerned contains a provision prohibiting individual employees from going on strike, it is still an offence and the individual employees who have had their strike ballot and voted in favour of the strike are still acting in contravention of the award, even after the strike ballot is held.


Dr Klugman - It is not binding on anybody.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -It is not binding on anybody at all. It is just a cheap political gimmick that will not work. The Government knows that it will not work. In fact I happen to know - I cannot reveal to the Minister my source of information, but it certainly was not one of hig officers - that the officers of his Department prepared a paper on the operation of section 45 and the whole question of strike ballots, and they told his predecessor that section 45 would not work and that it was unenforceable or unworkable. The officers of the Department who prepared that paper were absolutely correct. They knew what they were talking about. The Minister says: 'I do not want good advice; I want political advice. I want something that will get us some votes. I want something that makes it sound as though I am fighting the unions and I am fighting against strikes. I want people to think that all of a sudden I have a secret weapon that will put an end to all strikes. We never had it before, it is something I have just discovered.' Of course, it was not a recent discovery at all; it has been in the Act for donkey's years. It has never worked and never will work.

Mr JoeRiordan, who cannot be said to be a raving, extreme left winger or a communist, says that the whole thing is preposterous. He says that once we pass this law we will pass the control of the trade union movement and policies on strikes over to the militant shop stewards and to other people who are closer to the ear of the rank and file than are the union officials. He says that it is quite calamitous to bring in such a proposal. On the employers side, Mr McPhee said that the Chamber of Manufactures had never asked for secret ballots to be introduced, although it would consider any proposals that the Government would make. He said that the Chamber would rather see legislation which confined the election of union officials to no more than 3 years. Then the rank and file could vote out union officials who made decisions with which they were dissatisfied. This is the whole crux of the matter.

If union officials, as the Minister seems to think, impose their will upon a reluctant rank and file and force them to go on strike when they do not want to go on strike the rank and file will most certainly throw them out. I have been a union official as have some other honourable members. We know that you cannot with utter and total abandon disregard the views of the rank and file. I shall quote from the leading article of the 'Canberra Times' of 8th September 1971. It dealt with the union opposition to secret ballots for strikes and the way that union officials see the position. The article also dealt with the New South Wales legislation; which is the legislation upon which the present proposal has been patterned to a large extent. The article states:

As they see it, the NSW legislation would make the unions the only pressure groups in that State compelled by law to consult their entire memberships before making decisions which they believe come within the ordinary scope of their administration. Other organisations are deemed capable of administering their affairs, and indeed of making decisions that affect the whole community, without having to take a poll of all their members - in the case of business undertakings, their shareholders, and in the case of Members of Parliament, their electors.

Let us have a look at the position which a union official holds. A union official is elected by his members to act for them for 3 years, the same as this Government was elected by the people to act for 3 years. Once elected, union officials have as much right as has the Government during that 3- year period to make judgments and decisions on behalf of the members they represent in the way they see representation to be properly applied. Does anybody suggest that every time the Government presents a Bill that it rush back and hold a referendum of the people to see whether they approve of it? Of course not. The Govern-, ment would laugh such a proposal right out of court, and rightly sp.' The article continues: , ' '

The traditional apathy of big memberships poses the question also of 'what percentage of returned ballots could be considered ' a Representative expression of opinion. And if a ballot gave a decision in favour of a strike would a second ballot be necessary to bring the strike to an end?

Obviously there would have to be. a second ballot to bring the strike to an end. Once the first ballot of the rank and file decided in favour of the strike, what right would the union officials have, according to the Government's own argument and reasoning, to order them back to work once they had decided by secret ballot that they would not go to work. The article con- ,tinues

The legislators in NSW, who ,are expected to be followed by their counterparts in Queensland and Victoria, are suspected of basing their belief in the effectiveness of the secret ballot on one or more of a number of assumptions (hat' are not proven: That compulsory ballots would lead to fewer strikes, that the union rank, and file is less militant than the leadership, and that union officials often try to lead their members up the garden path of politics or planned disruption.

Nothing could be more ridiculous. The honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr

Collard), the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Birrell), the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones), the honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis), the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) and I-


Mr Cope - Do not forget me.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) lays claim also to the same fame that we have in our time been full time union officials. We know how absurd it is to suggest that members can be led up the garden path and forced to strike against their will. Then the article goes on to say:

It is clear that a ballot held in a situation of this kindwould strengthen and not weaken the unions' stand.

Time and time again union officials find themselves compelled to advise their members to go back to work, against the wishes of the members. The article continues:

One alternative would be to make it a condition for the registration of a union that its constitution provide that certain strikes may not be undertaken without the consent of a committee of management that would include the executive of the union and representatives of defined districts or segments of the union.

Most union rules already provide that whenever the members want to have a plebiscite as to whether they will remain on strike or go on strike they may do so by following the normal, simple processes of the rules. That is the way it ought to operate. Union rules that do not contain these provisions should have them. Most of them do, but those that do not should have them.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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