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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1424

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill is the first stage of a radical transformation of industrial relations in Australia. Later stages of this transformation will involve an examination of all aspects of industrial relations in Australia by a special committee of inquiry to ensure that policies and procedures for handling labour relations will be suitable for our needs over the next decade or so. This will take us far beyond a mere examination of the law on conciliation and arbitration. I intend to divide this examination into 2 parts. The first will deal with the quality of work in Australia and the second - a much larger and longer inquiry - will make an in-depth study of the institutional framework of labour relations.

The committee will report on the need for constitutional reform including the delineation of Federal and State jurisdiction in labour relations and the limitations of Commonwealth power. It will examine the functioning of the conciliation and arbitration system including the workings of the Act, the desirability of experimenting with new forms of agreements like productivity agreements, whether there is any role for voluntary mediation or conciliation committees and what ground rules could be evolved for collective bargaining in Australia. It will examine the needs of .trade union and employer organisations in Australia, the need for amalgamations, for trade union education and for closer consultation between unions, employers and government.

It will examine plant level relationships, including the need for worker participation, the role of shop stewards and shop committees and the concept of works' councils. It will examine wages and working conditions for employees in Australia, including wage concepts, the changing relationship between the poorly paid and the highly paid, the role of the national wage case and other cases setting national standards on matters such as hours, leave and equal pay. In all these studies the Government's aim will be to create conditions for the achievement of social justice and industrial harmony. As honourable members know, the Australian Parliament has only limited authority to make laws to regulate labour relations. The Australian Constitution limits this Parliament's jurisdiction to interstate industrial disputes. In the courts, by resort to fiction and technicality, a fairly wide ambit has been given to this phrase. There is a limit, however, beyond which plain words cannot be stretched even by the ingenuity of lawyers.

Constitutional Limitations

Labor believes that ultimately there will have to be an expansion of Commonwealth power in the field of industrial relations because, to quote from our Party's platform, to allow the Commonwealth power to deal with industrial matters to remain in its present form is like expecting to control modern motor traffic with laws taken from the horse and buggy days'. It is the task of the national Parliament to create labour relations which meet and match the needs of the community and which will anticipate and overcome obstacles to justice and common sense in industrial relations.

However, the question of increased Commonwealth power is one we must postpone for later consideration. Our immediate aim is to give effect to those aspects of industrial policy which can be dealt with within the rather limited area of power granted by the Constitution. Therefore, this Bill will pass into law a number of proposals contained in the Prime Minister's policy speech originating in the Australian Labor Parry's Federal platform. In addition, this Bill will correct a number of defects arising from the set of amendments made by the former Government.

In 1904 the founders of compulsory arbitration in Australia embarked on a novel, and what must have then appeared to be, a rather bold social experiment. Many of the problems which have arisen in the past 70 years could not have been foreseen at the time of Federation. The next generation of Australians will look back on the experience of compulsory arbitration to this date as a necessary prelude to a more systematic solution of the problems of industrial relations and employment. On the whole, compulsory arbitration has served a useful purpose. The central position of power occupied by the tribunals, however, could never have been attained or maintained without popular approval and especially without the support of the trade union movement.

In recent years, however, many large employers as well as the great mass of union members have become impatient with the penal aspects of the federal system. As unions and employers become better organised, as their research facilities grow and as they become more aware of the advantages of negotiation and the disadvantages of remaining passive clients of an arbitration commission, so will the acceptability of the Commission's penal powers diminish and the area of its influence as a arbitral body contract. Important industries are now becoming the scene of negotiated agreements. For some years now we have been witnessing a fundamental change in the work of the Commission. Increasingly the Commission relies upon procedures of negotiation and conciliation; less and less does it invoke its authority to arbitrate.

This Government will not abolish conciliation and arbitration; it will reconstruct it and strengthen it to eliminate features repugnant to harmony and good relations in industry and thus set it on a course not requiring constant correction by legislation as we have seen since 1949. The system has been jerry-built over the years. Indeed, the Act has been affected by no fewer than 29 separate amending Acts in the last 23 years of LiberalCountry Party government. Some of these were machinery matters such as judicial salaries, but some were major amendments such as the provision of strike penalties, the separation of judicial functions from the arbitral functions and the separation of conciliation processes from those of arbitration.

A Clear Mandate

As I said earlier, the Government has a clear mandate for the changes it intends to make. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in his policy speech, said that the strength of multi-national corporations in the Australian economy requires strong unions as well as strong government. He said that Labor would facilitate the amalgamation of trade unions. It would reduce government interference in industrial relations, put conciliation back into arbitration and abolish the penal clauses. The Prime Minister was speaking on the authority of the decisions of the 29th Commonwealth Conference of the Australian Labor Party held in Launceston in 1971. The program adopted at that Conference has been given the widest possible publicity. The Party's policy statement has been circulated throughout the nation. In speeches I made as shadow Minister for Labour in the 18 months preceding the elections, in the Parliament and at seminars and conferences throughout the Commonwealth, I stated and explained our policies. Our intentions were fully discussed in the election campaign. We can, therefore, fairly claim to have a clear mandate for what is proposed in this Bill.

The Bill provides for a number of major changes. They are: The removal of existing barriers to trade union amalgamation; the protection of organisations and their members from civil actions for tort in connection with industrial disputes; the removal of the Commission's authority to ban strikes and the removal of all penal sanctions upon strikers; procedures to ensure that certain types of agreement are acceptable to members of organisations affected by them; provision for democratic control of unions and the fullest participation by union members in the affairs of their organisations; provision to enable action to be taken for the recovery of wages at law within a period of 6 years instead of the 12 months' limitation that now applies; the removal of the various defects which have been shown to exist in the 1972 legislation; elimination of the power to award costs in proceedings before the courts, the Registrar or the Commission; and provision to overcome some of the problems created by the Moore v. Doyle case.

Union Amalgamation

This Government rests upon the goodwill of the mass of ordinary working people, their wives and their families. It is determined to keep in proper check those gigantic forces of capital, privilege and power that penetrate the lives of the community at every point. Both the Government and the people need the organised strength of the working people gathered together in strong, effective and responsible trade unions. We plan, therefore, to encourage the amalgamation of trade unions. The trend to amalgamation has accelerated in the last few years. Honourable members will be interested to recall figures supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician through the then Minister for Labour and National Service regarding the size of trade unions in Australia at the end of December 1970. He reported that there were 305 separate trade unions in Australia. Of the 305 unions, 152 had less than 1,000 members; another 96 had between 1,000 and 5,000 members; 34 between 5,000 and 20,000; 19 between 20,000 and 50,000; and only 14 with a membership of over 50,000. In West Germany, with a population much larger than Australia - 61 million to be precise - there is a total of only 16 unions, one of which, the Metal Workers Union, has a total membership of 2,070,000.

Grave defects attend this dispersal of working people throughout such a large number of separate organisations. There is unnecessary duplication of work. Salaries paid to officials of great energy, dedication and talent are low and unattractive, and discourage men of quality from making the sacrifices that a career as a trade union official often involves. The population base from which the leaders are drawn is often small. Demarcation disputes concerned with protecting the revenue and membership of a union threatened with loss of coverage by encroachments of other unions are a common occurrence in this country. Too much time is lost through disputes over which unions should handle a certain job. The mobility of trade union officials from office to office is sometimes restricted by rules which require officials to be drawn from among longstanding union members only.

The cost of libraries and research staff - essential for good quality industrial leadership - is frequently beyond the resources of small unions. Even the cost of assembling the members and officials in conference is too much for some unions frequently to bear. Discussion and policy making in tune with the needs of the members always suffer when the members and their leaders cannot frequently consult each other. Employers and the organisations that represent them do not suffer these handicaps. They draw upon the whole workforce in industry, the Public Service and the universities for people to represent and uphold their industrial interests. They enjoy the rapid gathering and dissemination of information relevant to their cause.

Research staff, libraries and independent economic and legal advice are freely acquired whenever needed.

A strengthening of the resources of the working people in amalgamated trade unions which are possessed of strong, well-trained and well-equipped leaders will redress the present imbalance. Negotiation and conciliation will become more effective in resolving disputes as union leaders become better informed and better trained. We are, therefore, wholly in favour of amalgamation of unions of the working people. At the same time, we insist on democracy in the government of these larger groupings. I endorse what was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) in Melbourne on 2nd March 1972. Speaking of amalgamation, he said:

It is fair to say that provided the membership of industrial organisations does not lose effective control as a result of amalgamations, there are many advantages which can accrue from amalgamation. For instance, there are some 300 unions in Australia. Most of them are very small. It could facilitate the functioning of the arbitration system and relations generally between employers and unions if this number of unions decreased. I know of situations in which employers have sat across the table withno fewer than15 unions in relation to one issue. Government Departments have had this experience.

Mr James - Who said that?

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