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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1948

Mr COOKE (PETRIE, QUEENSLAND) - Did the Minister for Labour see the report in this morning's 'Australian' to the effect that major union leaders are putting heavy pressure on the Government over clause 50 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill? Was the matter raised at yesterday's Labor caucus meeting? Did the caucus refer the issue to its industrial committee for reconsideration? Has the Minister written to the Australian Council of Trade Unions for its opinion? Will the Minister assure the House that he will stand by his announced commitment to ensure a system of democratic control of all unions allowing fullest participation by members in their affairs?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is true that out of 250 unions registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act I have received telegrams from 35 of the 41 officials who intend to send telegrams to me. The telegrams are respectfully worded.

Mr Wentworth - Do they conclude with a prayer?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - One actually ends with a prayer, although on reflection I think that was one advocating support for abortion reform - I cannot remember. But all the telegrams were very respectfully worded. The protests are against clause 50 of the Bill which prohibits future registration of any union rule which would have the effect of depriving the rank and file of that union of a direct vote in the election of the members of the union's management committee. I must say that the telegrams are couched in pretty technical terms. They are fairly easy to read, however, because most of them bear the same wording, so this assists. The telegrams support the collegiate system of electing officials - a system which means that delegates elected by the rank and fi'e elect the officials or certain of the officials. The collegiate system does not allow the rank and file a direct right to vote for their paid officials. But another basis of the opposition is the cost of having a rank and file ballot of the whole of a union's Australian membership. This is put as a very strong reason why the collegiate system ought to be permitted. I think this particular opposion to the Bill will disappear when it is understood that machinery is provided in the Bill to allow the cost of Commonwealth elections to be met entirely by the Commonwealth. Elections can be asked for, which will cost the unions nothing, but I dare say that part of the opposition to the collegiate system will disappear when the position is understood.

Clause 50 does not apply to existing union rules which permit the collegiate system for the election of federal secretaries. It is nearly impossible to draft legislation that would cover all the various kinds of collegiate systems already in operation. But we can prevent and we intend in the Bill to prevent any future registration of union rules that would have the effect of depriving rank and file members of a direct vote for their officials.

There is, as I said yesterday, a slight technical defect, not so much in clause 50 as in clause 5. I have mentioned this to my committee and we are examining this question before the Bill goes into the Senate. I have not written to the Australian Council of Trade Unions but I have kept in touch with the ACTU for several weeks. This Bill was introduced into the Parliament nearly a month ago. Copies of the Bill have been widely circulated. I must congratulate the 3 union officials who took the main brunt of organising the telegrams for the response they have managed to bring about because the campaign did not seem to get off the ground until yesterday morning and already 35 of the 41 telegrams that can be expected have come in.

The honourable member for Mackellar will be disappointed to learn that Laurie Car michael and Jack Mundey have not sent me telegrams of protest. He will be disappointed to learn that the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Miners Federation also have not yet sent me telegrams of protest. The honourable member will be surprised or, perhaps, pleased to learn that none of the trade union officials who normally support the Democratic Labor Party point of view has sent me a telegram but there has been a fairly broad spectrum of points of view represented in the telegrams that I have received. Some of them are from unions that are not even affiliated with the Australian Labor Party, but that does not matter. It is their right to send me telegrams and I welcome them. The Government will always lend a sympathetic ear to any reasonable request put to it by the working peop'e of Australia. There are 4.5 million working people in this country, 2.5 million of whom are rank and file trade unionists. They are our voters and that is why- we support the point of view they put, when it is a reasonable point of view.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The previous Speaker consistently chastised Ministers in the previous Government for giving long answers and the Minister for Labour has just created another record in this- Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! He is one of Reggie Swartz's pupils.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What I have said does not mean that the Government gives an open cheque to the trade union movement. The Government cannot and will not do that. But the Government will support the trade union movement when it is right and, on the question of the amendments which it has asked to be made to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act with regard to penal clauses and other things in the Act. we believe that the unions are right. We will always support them when they are right as, equally, we will tell them when we think they are wrong.

Mr Wentworth - Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been misrepresented.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! Personal explanations may be made after question time. The honourable member for Mackellar will be given priority then.

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