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Wednesday, 31 May 1972
Page: 3335

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I rise to support my colleague the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb). I join him in opposing as strongly as I possibly can amendments Nos 1 and 7 sent back to us from the Senate. To refresh the mind of honourable members I point out that amendment No. 1 - and it is not explained why this is the case - seeks to vary the date of operation of the Bill. I refer to clause 2 (2.) to which this amendment applies. This clause deals with proposed new sections 41, 49, 51, 53 and 68. The Bill states that the legislation will come into operation on the day on which this Bill receives Royal Assent. In fact, the amendment which was moved and carried in the Senate makes the date of operation, as I understand it, Friday of last week. Surely this action poses the question why it was necessary to back-date the legislation and why the original provisions of the Bill were not agreed to. The Government must have thought when the Bill was drafted that it would come into operation from the date of Royal Assent. In the short time in which I have been in this House this seems to have been in line with the common terminology of Bills. Yet, in this legislation an amendment has been moved by the

Government In the Senate and agreed to after opposition from the Australian Labor Party in that place. This amendment would make the date of operation a day before the Bill even received Royal Assent or the concurrence of members of this Parliament.

When one reads the clauses that axe to be affected by the date being set back I think the position starts to become a bit clearer. Clause 51, which is the clause on which I placed some emphasis before, is one of the clauses which will be affected by the back-dating of this Bill. We should bear in mind the fact that only on Tuesday of this week, I believe, Dr Sharp, the Industrial Registrar, finally came to execute all of the instruments necessary for the amalgamation of the metal trades unions. There were still some arguments going on in the metal trades unions, particularly in regard to the Boilermakers and Blacksmiths Society, on Friday of last week in regard to several pipelines which are to be laid in Port Phillip Bay. Does the Government or the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) intend that this new provision in the Bill should now be used to upset that amalgamation that has taken something in excess of 12 months - very nearly 2 years - to go through the procedures? Is the Government with one stroke of its pen going to place all of these negotiations and agreements and everything that has been done in jeopardy and require the union to go right back to square one and start again? I well remember the honourable member for Stirling, when this Bill was last in this place, asking the Minister at a very early hour in the morning whether this Bill in any way would affect the amalgamation of the 3 metal trades unions. The Minister could not answer because his adviser was not present. Only when finally pressed by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) did the Minister say that there was no guarantee that the effects of this Bill would not be made applicable to these unions that had come within one inch, after having run a distance of many miles, of consummating their amalgamation.

It is very obvious that the amendments are aimed at the amalgamation or nonamalgamations of unions and nothing else.

Amendment No. 1 and amendment No. 7 are the critical amendments that deal with amalgamation. I think that members of my own Party in this place canvassed the question of amalgamtion very well when the Bill was originally in this chamber. We made it quite clear that in our view this Bill ought to be retitled as a Bill for an Act to prevent amalgamations. Just before he resumed his seat, the honourable member for Stirling mentioned that the Minister for Labour and National Service had spoken about the need for amalgamation and, in fact, had lauded employer organisations which, for a variety of reasons, had chosen to amalgamate. The Minister has made it clear publicly that he believes there are too many unions and that there should be an amalgamation of unions, yet he has been instrumental in introducing this type of legislation which makes the amalgamation of unions virtually impossible.

I wonder whether this Government, which is placing all these impediments upon the amalgamation of trade unions, which it seems to regard as different from every other organisation in the country, would be prepared to introduce into this House as an amendment to the Companies Act, the Trade Practices Act or any other Act, guidelines, rules and regulations to resolve the amalgamation of organisations such as Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd and Ansett Transport Industries Ltd, in respect of which we recently experienced a fiasco. Is there any need for organisations of this ilk to be bound by the very restrictive processes that will be established by this Bill in respect of organisations of working class people who come together to further their aims? Perhaps in the Government's view - once again, my friend the honourable member for Stirling mentioned this - trade unions' standing in the community is different from that of other organisations. Is this Government really an anti-union government? Does it oppose the amalgamation and establishment of organisations that are formed primarily to support the interests of that section of the community which is not in the best position to protect itself? Or does this Government come down on the side of the very wealthy and powerful organisations and leave them to their own devices when it comes to a question of amalgamation?

It is well known that the provisions contained in the amendment were asked for by the Federal Secretary of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, Mr Laurie Short, who, of course, was ably assisted by the Federated Clerks Union of Australia, whose general president Mr Maynes was seen skulking around the corridors of Parliament House only last week. He was conferring with his mouthpieces in the Senate. The amendment which has been produced is a direct result of the pressure which was applied by a minority political party in this Parliament, supported by a minority group in the community. As I see it, this leads to a cynical arithmetical exercise by any union which wishes to amalgamate with another union. The amendment provides that if the membership of the host union is not increased by more than 5 per cent in an amalgamation, the union can make an application to be exempted from a ballot. This amendment does not set out conditions that would preclude an unscrupulous act by somebody or any act which would be legitimate within the wide application of the amendment. A large union could say to a smaller organisation: 'We will dispense with enough of your membership to leave you with only the required 5 per cent and then we will not need a ballot'. Dangers of that sort are inherent in this situation.

This amendment initially, is bad. We said that it was bad when it was proposed in this place and it has not been improved by the Democratic Labor Party, whose masters in the community insisted that certain amendments be carried. The provision has been worsened and, like my colleagues in the Labor Party, I intend to vote against it. Divisions will be called on these matters and we will vote solidly against them. We trust that enough wisdom will prevail on the Government side of the House for Government supporters to listen to the reason of the arguments that have been put forward and that they will join with us and have this iniquitous legislation thrown out.

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

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