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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 599

Mr RIORDAN (PHILLIP, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Minister for Labour. How many breaches of awards were reported to the Department of Labour during the past 2 years? How many of these breaches were brought to finality? Does the Minister intend to streamline the present tedious and cumbersome internal departmental procedures which have the effect of discouraging prosecutions for award breaches, with a resultant failure to recover money rightfully belonging to employees?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - During the past 2 years the total number of breaches of awards was 24,000, no less. Thirty-six of these were recommended for prosecution during that period. Only five were determined and brought to a successful conclusion. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in his capacity as Minister for Labour and National Service in 1971, explained to me that it was the normal practice for the Department to receive written representations and oral representations from employers to have award breaches disregarded by the Department and no prosecutions launched. He admitted to me that in one year - I think the year before last - there was a total of only 3 employers prosecuted for breach of awards. He admitted moreover-

Mr Lynch - Because the employers, I recall, paid the fines.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, and 1 will come to the amount of fines imposed.

Mr Whitlam - Thank him.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do thank him. The Minister admitted that it was not the cutsom of the previous Government to use that part of the Act - section 1 19 (2.) - to prosecute employers at all. Indeed, he said that there had not been a prosecution against employers under this section for more than 20 years, yet this was the section which the Government always used and supported the use of against unions. This was the section which would have imposed upon the guilty party prosecutions entailing up to $1,000 - indeed, up to as much as $1,000 a day - but never once did the previous Government use that section against the employers who commited breaches of the award. Instead, it used a section of the Act which enabled employers who were prosecuted either to escape with a caution or to be found guilty without a fine, and the average penalty imposed upon employers under the section used by the former Government for breach of an award was about $10 to $15 - some fines were as low as $2. So it meant that the cost to the union of prosecuting an employer for a breach of an award was far greater than the amount the employer had to meet in the form of a fine, and this had a deterrent effect upon unions pressing their right to prosecute employers who were in breach of awards.

My Government has decided that a very strong attempt will be made by the Department to enforce the award provisions upon employers who are in blatant disregard of the law. We are going to increase the number of arbitration inspectors and we are going to make it easier and more expeditious for them to carry out their prosecutions. We will no longer require them to go through the long rigmarole which the previous Government required arbitration inspectors to follow. So I can assure the "honourable member that strong action will be taken by the Government. More inspectors will be put on. We will prosecute employers through the Commonwealth Industrial Court instead of going to magistrates, because under the Act the Commonwealth Industrial Court is the court which has to interpret federal awards.

Mr Lynch - I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does the House have to listen to the Minister at this length? The Opposition is quite prepared to give him time to make a statement which can be debated.

Mr SPEAKER - There is no point of order involved, but I would remind the Minister that, according to my predecessor, this is the correct action to take.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But I felt that my answer was being received with great attention. Indeed, one could almost hear a pin drop until the honourable member rose. I want to conclude simply by saying that we propose to use the Commonwealth Industrial Court to prosecute breaches of awards because the Comonwealth Industrial Court is the court which under the Act interperts awards. A successful prosecution for breach of an award very often hinges upon the correct interpretation of the award, which only the Commonwealth Industrial Court can give.

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