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Tuesday, 20 May 1969

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - Senator Murphy has moved that the Senate at its rising adjourn until tomorrow at 9 a.m. for the purpose of debating a matter of urgency, namely:

The urgent necessity to achieve industrial justice and goodwill by providing more effective conciliation machinery for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes and by repealing the labour injunction and related contempt provisions of the present Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Speaking to that motion, I stress that it is beyond question that Australia at the present time is faced with a wave of industrial stoppages and prospective industrial dissension which far exceeds anything which this country has experienced in recent years. It is undoubtedly a matter of the gravest public concern. I share the view which has been expressed by Senator Wright on behalf of the Government that the Government desires to have the utmost freedom with which to negotiate with the persons concerned to endeavour to achieve a settlement, if possible, of this dispute. It is therefore surprising that members of the Opposition have decided to make this an occasion for a public debate.

I well remember in November of last year raising in this Senate an issue upon which I felt strongly. I refer to the rights and wrongs at that time of prospective Government action in th> post office at Redfern. At that stage there were allegations that a person was acting as a scab - I think that was the expression used - and the Amalgamated Postal Workers Union of Australia was objecting to the employment of this person. I felt that there was a matter of principle involved and I spoke on the subject. 1 remember well that there were six members of the Opposition who spoke after me and every one of them castigated roe for raising a matter of the character which I had raised. They said that what I was doing was likely to inflame a dispute. They asked why I could not leave this to be resolved by the Government and the union without saying something which might prevent a settlement. I suggest that there is tremendous inconsistency between what the Opposition said then and what the Opposition is saying now.

Having said that, and recognising that by a vote of the Senate this matter is to be debated tonight, I am prepared to indicate where I stand. 1 hope that some solution is arrived at which is satisfactory from the unionists' viewpoint but which, above all, does not sacrifice certain standards, certain principles and certain values upon which I think governments should be prepared to make a stand. I share with Senator Little, who has spoken already, a belief that a great amount of the agitation which has been built up in recent months around these so-called penal clauses has been built up by what I describe as left wing extremists among which a number of active members of the Communist Party figure very prominently.

Senator Cavanagh - lt has been supported by a lot more.

Senator GREENWOOD - 1 have no doubt that what these people have done is supported by a number of people. I believe that the support which is given is often indiscriminately given by people whose responsibilities should urge them to take a different point of view. We have heard from Senator Murphy in support of his proposal that these so-called penal clauses are breaking down by reason of their manifest injustice, that a form of civil conscription is imposed. These are emotive words which ignore the reality of the situation. If we have a conciliation and arbitration system - I only say that that is the name of the Act and that is the way in which the system is described, even though Senator Murphy constantly referred to it as simply the arbitration system - those pro cesses of conciliation and arbitration must have at their base some sanctions. There is no point in making awards which are designed to resolve disputes if in the resolution of disputes there exists no power whereby a party may recognise that if it does not observe the award there may be a penalty for non-observance. This has been the pattern over the years. ft was the Australian Labor Party in 1947 which introduced the provision to give a superior court of record a power to impose fines for contempts. That was the same power, essentially, as the power which the Commonwealth Industrial Court has under the present legislation.

If the Labor Party now differs with the viewpoint of the Labor Party in 1947, that is not altogether inexplicable. After all, there is one section of the Labor Party here tonight which since 1955 has represented, as it claims, and I think with some justice, more of the principles of the Labor Party of those days than the official Opposition. In 1949 the Labor Party Government reluctantly, but of necessity, passed possibly the most drastic anti-strike legislation that this country has ever seen. It did so because it recognised that there was a danger. If since that date the Labor Party has put into its platform the total abolition of all penal powers and a disapproval of the use of troops for the settlement of any industrial dispute, that merely indicates that the Labor Party is not prepared under its present leadership to do what the Labor Party was prepared to do in 1949.

If one looks at the figures given in Economic and Scientific Affairs' of 17th January 1969 one finds that the Australian conciliation and arbitration system serves Australia far better than many other countries have been served by their system with regard to days lost per 1,000 workers through industrial disputes. In 1967 Australia lost 310 days, but ahead of it were Canada. Finland, India, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and the United States. There is a similar number of countries which, when you take the annual average from 1963 to 1967, show a similar pattern. This simply demonstrates that the allegations that because we have penal powers in our legislation we have a system which is not working are not provable. It simply shows that Australia is not faring worse than many other countries. I think it is equally maintainable that the existence of these powers indicates that Australia is being well served by these provisions. If we did not have these provisions the position could be a great deal worse.

If I may take up a point raised by Senator Little, I also feel that what has been happening has much of its background in statements made early this year by Communist Party officials. Senator Little referred to a statement by Mr Aarons which came from a tape which he had. I refer to the 'Tribune' of January this year in which Mr Aarons said:

An industrial showdown is looming this year. The employer-arbitration-government power structure is determined on pushing through its economic strategy, enforced by the penal powers.

There is clearly there a linking of the capitalist class, as viewed by the Communist Party, with the arbitration structure, and the Communist Party has been part and parcel of the one objective which has been criticism and condemnation. It is this structure which is referred to as being determined to pursue a particular policy. There are other statements in the same article. It states:

Workers are looking for a new policy now that the deadlock is broken on the ACTU Executive. If a firm stand is taken now, when a new tide of industrial action is on the flood, the government's bluff can be called.

Debate interrupted.

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