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Tuesday, 20 May 1969

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - The speeches that we have heard from Senator Wright and the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) who moved this motion have clearly indicated the very great need for this Senate to discuss this question tonight so that the real reasons lying behind the sacrifices that have been forced upon such a large number of Australians today and those which it was threatened would be forced upon others - although the action mentioned in the concluding paragraphs of Senator Wright's speech may prevent this - may be disclosed. People have no real knowledge from the discussions that have taken place tonight why they have been faced with the situation that has been thrust upon them. I am one of those who believe, irrespective of the solution put forward by Senator Wright in this specific instance of the gaoling of one person for contempt, that the issue remains unresolved and the reasons behind the conflagration still remain. These will still be exploited by the people who have already exploited them. Even if the sitting duck who got into gaol quite deliberately to set off the explosion has been rescued as a result of the philanthropy of one person in Sydney another issue will soon be found so that the dispute can be raised on another occasion. This is not a discussion of the matter raised by Senator Murphy as to whether the penal clauses should be removed.

Senator Hendrickson - It should be.

Senator LITTLE - If I require assistance I shall look for it from someone competent and not from Senator Hendrickson. If he will be quiet he will be educated in industrial matters - something he knows little about.

Senator Hendrickson - I am talking to the butcher, not the block.

Senator LITTLE - Senator Sandfordused to say that until everyone got sick of it. This is not a question of whether penal powers should go, as suggested by Senator Murphy. This is a question that has blown up in the past few days. It is whether the present campaign to challenge the penal clauses of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is a legitimate one for the authorised trade union movement in this country or a campaign carried on for political and other reasons by people outside the trade union movement - a small segment in the trade union movement, unfinancial as they are, seeking to push their own leadership of the trade union movement and to take it over unofficially. They had to have an issue to do so. This is the issue. Only some of the reasons put by Senator Murphy indicate there is in this question an essence of a case which could be made to sound much more serious than it is and, indeed, a legitimate trade union argument. I say 'much more serious' because if we go through the number of unions that have been affected by the penal clauses we can understand the reasons why congresses of the Australian Council of Trade Unions have failed to accept specific propositions put before them that action similar to that which has occurred in this last week should be taken to get rid of these penal clauses. Why? Because the great majority of trade unions have never been affected by the penal clauses. They have never caused a situation where action has been taken against them and penal provisions applied. These provisions have affected only a minority of trade unions. It could be because of the nature of their specific industries; it might be because of the nature of the employers in those specific industries.

Indeed, some of those penal provisions, as was clearly illustrated by Senator McManus in this House about a month ago, have been exploited by certain unscrupulous employers for the purpose of creating the very kind of thing that has occurred - the unfair imposition of costs on the unions themselves. Let us look at the statements that have been made by the authorised trade union movement arid its leadership on this question and at the statements that have been made by the people who have really caused the trouble that has occurred this week. I have no hesitation in saying to this House - and I shall produce the evidence to show this - that the activity that has culminated this week in the gaoling for contempt of O'Shea was a deliberate seizing of an industrial issue that existed and using it to attain political influence of the Communist Party in this country and to create the very type of disruption we had here today, lt will not be wiped away by the fact that the present issue has been resolved, in spite of the Communist Party. Let us look at what the authorised leaders of the trade union movement have had to say on handling the anomalies that do exist in relation to the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act. None other than Albert Monk, President of the ACTU had this to say:

Penal legislation in this, or other countries, cannot be removed by the use of strike action. What is placed on the Statute Book of a punitive character, can only bc removed by legislative action.

There is need for more responsibility by a section of unionists and unions - particularly some of the more powerful organisations and their members. . . Instances have occurred recently where unions themselves have not attempted to guide workers on the job in a number of work establishments as to the irresponsible action that is taken which leads to the organisations being involved in penal applications before the Commonwealth Industrial Court.

That was the statement of the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Is that backed up by the Australian Council of Trade Unions?

Senator Hendrickson - You did not support him in 1965.

Senator LITTLE - If we follow the decisions of the ACTU we find that in 1965 it reduced the effectiveness of the stand that the Australian Council of Trade Unions had taken against penal clauses of the Act. At the 1967 congress there were two distinct proposals to put teeth into the policy of the industrial movement to get rid of the penal clauses in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but these two proposals were defeated. They were two specific propositions to take the type of action taken this week, but they were defeated by the ACTU Congress.

What are the changed circumstances today? Changes are taking place in the trade union movement. It is even accepted in the arguments placed by Senator Murphy here tonight on behalf of the twenty-seven unfinancial scab unions in the State of Victoria who will not pay their dues to their own trade union organisation. How it can be suggested that the ACTU can handle a dispute of the Victorian tramways union is beyond my comprehension as a unionist. So far as I am concerned, when a trade unionist is unfinancial' the union refuses to handle his case. This would probably be a rule in the book of almost every trade union that is represented in this chamber by a senator. The fact is that these unions are unfinancial, and the Victorian branch of the tramways union is one of them. How can the national body of the trade union movement, with which the Victorian Trades Hall Council is affiliated, act on behalf of the Victorian tramways union? lt does so, of course, out of the wisdom of the leadership of the trade union movement as it is at present constituted, knowing that the national interest, and indeed the interests of thousands of other good trade unionists whose unions do pay their recognised fees to the general' trade union movement have to be protected from the irresponsibility of the type of strike action that took place today. They go along and try to negotiate the dispute.

However, where do we get the evidence of the real reasons behind the dispute that has taken place today? Who are the people who have been able to gaze into the crystal ball, right back last January, and tell us that it had to happen and that it would happen?

Senator Hendrickson - You do nol know them.

Senator LITTLE - I do know, and you also will know in a moment, for I shall read to you and let you know who it was. 1 shall read what Mr Aarons said. We have a tape of what Mr Aarons said on this question, and f can make this offer to the honourable senator: We shall play a tape for you, if you care to hear it at some date. Mr Aarons of the Communist Party - not as a recognised trade unionist - had this to say right back in January of this year: ti is also evident in the new and most radical demands advanced, including demands for democratic control as well as radical economic claims.

A bold confrontation of the penal powers has to be made if this movement is to develop its full potential . . .

Workers are looking for a new policy now that the deadlock is broken on the ACTU executive.

This refers, of course, to the left wing gaining a majority on the ACTU executive. Mr Aarons went on:

A new stage of industrial struggle may emerge in which the arbitration system itself is challenged.

The immediate consequence of this directive, of course, was that a new tide of industrial action sprung up from that moment, and now has culminated in the action that took place this week. Therefore, we have had two distinct statements by the recognised trade union movement of this country. There have been attempts by the left wing at ACTU congresses to suggest that strong action is the way to get rid of the penal clauses in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but they have been defeated by a majority of the delegates to the conference. There have been statements by the President of the ACTU, warning against this very type of industrial action to get rid of the penal clauses in the Act. Also, I have read the statement by the leader of the Communist Party in this country on how action should be developed and carried out. Of course, we have had the resultant action of Communist trade union officials, who have not followed the directives and majority decisions of the trade union movement, to which they ought to owe responsibility as trade union officials; they are following the directive and campaign of the Communist Party, which seeks to get the sort of situation in this country that they feel is in the best interests not of trade unionists but of the Communist Party.

This action by the Communist Party in this country has been tremendously assisted by the irresponsibility of various employers who have taken wrongful action under the penal clauses of the Act. They have engaged expensive counsel and have deliberately inflated the costs that could be charged against the unions, so that they themselves could take a form of action against the unions with which they have some disagreement. That is. of course, an abuse of the penal provisions of the Act, and this is the sort of thing that could be improved. This could be done by consultation wilh the responsible trade union movement - the unions that are affiliated with the various trades and labour councils and pay their fees. The Government could confer with the ACTU with a view of improving the penal clauses in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Improvement can be effected to any Act by applying common sense.

Senator Gair - Is the tramway union a scab union?

Senator LITTLE - Of course it is in Victoria. It is unfinancial with the trade union movement in Victoria. It is the same as any ordinary, individual unionist who can pay his dues but deliberately refuses to pay the dues that are levied on him by the trade union movement. However, if responsible trade unionists are demanding a complete repeal of the penal clauses in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act they should bear in mind the tremendous dangers that exist in such an irresponsible approach when they seek to repeal all the parts of the Act that do not seem to suit them at the moment. Take, for instance, a provision that a person can be found guilty of contempt of court if he fails to produce the books of the union when he is directed to do so by the court.

Let us consider the position of a trade union official who, at some time in the future, seeks to prove a breach of award in respect of the non-payment of, say, long service leave or sick leave. Let us suppose that the only evidence that exists in favour of the employee, covering the number of years that he has served with the employer, is the written evidence in the books of the company. In order to solve a situation that is being deliberately developed - where a person almost deliberately, if not of his own volition at least at the volition of the political party to which he belongs, gets himself into gaol under the penal clauses of the Act - are you going to advocate the repeal of a clause that would make it impossible for a trade union official to prove the employer's responsibility under the Act? Do you want the employer to be able to say: 'I refuse to produce the books of my company, and I fail to recognise that this man has had 10, 12, 15 or 20 years service'? If it is impossible to force him to produce the books of the company, how can any trade union official here suggest the case can be proved in the court?

Senator Poyser - It can be done by getting the evidence of witnesses.

Senator LITTLE - Suppose a man has served for 20 years in a small establishment, with about three or four employees. You would have to dig up half the cemeteries to find the people who were employed there when he first started in employment. Members of the Opposition know that as well as I do. The only evidence to which you can resort is the written evidence in the books of the company.

Gauging from interjections from members of the Opposition, we are now going to push it all the other way, and we are going to say that one side should have all the responsibility and the other side should have none. It is reasonable to provide in the Act that where the court decides that something - whether it be the books of a company or the books of a union - can be of assistance to it in the matter being dealt with it should be available to the court. If a union is properly run and is run in the interests of its members, I cannot imagine a set of circumstances in which the unionist could fail.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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