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Tuesday, 8 May 1973
Page: 1823

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) expressed concern for the threat to the leadership of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. I find that very touching, if a little hard to believe. In the far ranging way in which he went around the bush that time - it has to be remembered too that you, Mr Chairman, had to bring him back to the field on at least 2 occasions - he used his usual rhetoric when speaking about the rash of strikes, communist control of this and communist control of that and the sort of - I was about to say garbage' but I suppose that would be unparliamentary - that we have had to listen to since I have been in the House anyhow. Had the honourable gentleman bothered to read the whole of clause 6 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill and tried to comprehend what it was all about, I am sure he would have made a different speech from the one he did make. I speak from personal experience in this area as one who has been a shop steward and never a threat to the leadership of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, as one who has never been under the control of communists and as one who has always tried to do a good and honest job on the factory floor on behalf of the fellows who did me the honour of electing me. Had the Deputy Leader of the Opposition ever had that experience he would understand and appreciate the very great risk that a working man places himself in when he takes on the troubles of his fellows in the factory; how he runs the risk of, if not being blatantly dismissed, being placed in a position in the factory and given work to do that is completely unacceptable to him and having no redress in the matter. The proposed amendment to the Act seeks to make some protection, and I believe it is very good protection, available to those people because if that protection does not exist we have the sort of situation which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and those he repre sents - those who employ - want, that is, a situation where they have a completely subservient work force in their factories and men and women who are disinclined to take any action or to complain about any action taken against them for fear that their elected representatives and they in turn would be dismissed. The Bill does not give a carte blanche to the actions of the shop stewards, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would have us believe. Instead it spells out very clearly the sorts of situations in which the shop steward is not entitled to any protection. They are situations which anybody would regard as being reasonable. The words in the Bill are of the unlawful nature', an expression that is used more than once. Proposed sub-section 2a (a) states in paragraph (a): the act or thing done or proposed to be done by the employee was or would have been unlawful under the civil or criminal law, otherwise than by reason only of its being a breach of the contract of employment.

This is protection for the employer, if he needs it, against his employee or shop steward or whoever is performing any unlawful act. It is not a question of placing shop stewards or employees above the law as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested. Rather it works the other way. It gives to employees a degree of protection which they do not have at the moment and prevents discrimination against them because of their activities on behalf of their colleagues. As I said before, there is no colder place in this world than that occupied by a shop steward who has to take up a case on behalf of those who have done him the honour of electing him, and who finds himself at the mercy of the employer. This Bill offers protection to him.

One other point that the honourable member made that requires some answer - once again he spoke from a position of distance - is the impression he gave of shop stewards somehow or other being guided missiles, though he did not explain of whom. He seems to overlook the fact - if he had had any practical experience of this he would know - that in all industrial matters the people on the job, the union members, will express their point of view, in fact have expressed their point of view, and their elected officials, whether shop stewards or full time officials of the union are there to do the bidding of the members. The reverse is not the case. I speak from personal experience and I am sure that the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) and the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) will agree with me. So the rhetoric used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is of no avail, lt leads the debate into areas where it should not be. lt gives a false impression to those who are listening of what clause 6 of the Bill is all about. The record should be kept straight. These amendments are designed to strengthen the existing provisions for the protection of members of organisations. It is as simple as that. It means that. The words mean that it gives nobody a right to do anything that could be considered unlawful or unreasonable but that it gives a very high degree of protection to those who on occasions really need it.

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