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Tuesday, 15 May 1973
Page: 2132

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - I have no doubt that the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) was quite sincere in the submission he has made. It seems to me that he has made the speech a little later than he might have made it. While admitting that it was the previous government that introduced the scheme he then suggested that this Government should attempt immediately to cure the ills as he sees them. However, in making those comments he treated the employees of the stevedoring industry with less respect than he ought to have done. He made such references as 'comfortable featherbedding operating', 'paying people for nothing', and 'the tragedy of idle time in the industry'. No honourable member on this side of the House suggests that employees should be paid for doing nothing. Equally, no member on this side of the House believes that it is within the competence of management fully and completely to utilise the services of employees for every minute of every hour of the standard working week throughout the year. I simply remind the honourable gentleman that it would not be possible even for a person like himself fully to utilise the services and resources of horses on a farm for the full time that he may wish them to work.

In other words, there is needed in every situation a degree of organisational and management skill which is frequently lacking in the stevedoring industry. Successive reports of inquiries into the stevedoring industry have had some rather sad things to say about its management efficiency. It is important also to realise that there has been a significant and consistent decrease in the number of stevedoring companies in this industry. As each year goes by the number of stevedoring companies becomes smaller. There may be some merit in the suggestion by the honourable member for Wakefield that the Stevedoring Industry Authority should employ all of the labour. That suggestion has been made before and received little or scant consideration by the previous government. No doubt the suggestion will be considered by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron). The Minister for Labour probably also will consider what is the most desirable scheme, and that is to have the one stevedoring authority in Australia - to nationalise the stevedoring industry because-

Mr Lynch - Nationalisation of the stevedoring industry?

Mr RIORDAN - Yes, 1 would advocate the nationalisation of the stevedoring industry as being one possible means of resolving a very complex problem which, 1 remind the hon ourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch), it was completely and utterly beyond lis capacity to rectify

Mr Lynch - Is nationalisation the view of the Government or your personal view?

Mr RIORDAN - Without any question it is my personal view. 1 believe that nationalisation of this industry would have much more vocal support amongst the people who would normally be foolish enough to support the Liberal Party than those people, who would be sensible enough to support this Government. If you check around you will see that what I am saying is correct. I have no doubt you know it to be correct, because I believe that representations were made to you a year ago to achieve this.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!I ask the honourable member to address his remarks through the Chair.

Mr RIORDAN - This Bill seeks to extend the temporary provisions which were first introduced in 1967 for a further period of 12 months. The temporary situation that has prevailed for the last 6 years will continue for at least another year. The last 6 years has been a period of indecision and uncertainty, lt was a period when the government of the day was uncertain what it should do or how it should go about it. The original provisions of the Bill flowed from the deliberations and the report of the National Stevedoring Industry Conference which was presided over by Mr Woodward, Q.C., as he then was. This, incidentally, is the conference which flowed from the legislation about which the honourable member for Lowe, (Mr McMahon) was speaking in this House last week. The honourable member made an error about whom he was speaking when he referred to the person who introduced legislation which was unworkable and indeed impracticable.

The report recommended permanent employment of waterside workers. In doing so a very desirable result was achieved. It gave security to a group of employees who had never previously experienced it - security of employment which, in spite of the sad story told by the honourable member for Wakefield, has indeed brought about a considerable era of industrial peace which had not existed previously. In the process, we saw the previous government's attitude towards industrial relations. We saw the result of She legislation which threw 100 clerical employees out of employment. Those employees were on the permanent staff of the Stevedoring Industry Authority. Many of them received the handsome notice, of 7 days - the very minimum notice required. The then Minister for Labour assured this Parliament that nobody would suffer any loss. The fact of the matter was that serious disadvantage was suffered because of the provisions of the Furlough Act and the Superannuation Act. Employees with 9 years and 10 months service were to receive no benefit from the Superannuation Act at all. Employees with 4 years service would receive no benefit from the Furlough Act. Employees with H years service similarly would receive no benefit. It was the opposition of the Australian Labor Party both in this chamber and in the Senate which eventually brought about an amendment to both those statutes. The then Opposition delayed the passage of an amendment to the Furlough Act in the Senate and the Act was subsequently amended to provide that employees who were retrenched after 4 years service instead of after 8 years service, would receive the benefit of the Act. Similarly, with the Superannuation Fund employees receive the benefit after 1 year's service instead of being required to complete 10 years of service. One Minister for Labour and National Service told this Parliament that waterside workers received no severance pay. In answer to a question he said that waterside workers would not receive severance payment under the scheme. Of course he was correct in the term but incorrect in the statement. What waterside workers were to receive was redundancy payment. I am now speaking of a former Minister who several years *go made that statement in this Parliament. It was a distinction in terms but had no difference in effect. It was a statement which was correct in terms of actual words but certainly incorrect in terms of intent.

Some of the men who were retrenched were transferred to stevedoring companies, the socalled operational companies, under the new scheme, but with the mergers, amalgamations and takeovers that have taken place some of them had to find work with other companies because they found that the new employment was less secure than the one they had left. In other words, they were out of a job. They were promised alternative Crown employment. This was denied. Subsequently in 1970 the then Minister for Labour and National Service, the gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), established a committee to advise him on the problems of the staff which may become redundant as a result of changes to the functions of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, and on the problems which would arise as the functions of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority contracted. There were many meetings. Little result was achieved. Indeed, on one occasion, on 10th July last year, a meeting was called for Melbourne. All members of the committee attended except one, the chairman, who was an officer of the Department of Labour and National Service. He had come to Canberra on the previous night and did not bother to tell any other member of the committee. He said that he had been called at midnight by the then Minister for Labour and National Service to come to Canberra and could not advise any other member. In fact, he had made the booking to travel to Canberra on the previous Thursday. This incident was indicative of the attitude of the previous Government to employees who suffered a retrenchment for no other purpose than to give effect to then Government policy.

This Bill will continue the provisions applying to the stevedoring industry. There is still some uncertainty about what will occur in the future. I merely cite the facts that I have to show the way in which the previous Government had attacked the problem of industrial relations. I refer to them because the honourable member for Wakefield has been critical of the actions taken and now says that this Government should attack this problem with more vigour. The reward for loyalty by some employees of the government was to be denied reasonable standards and to be rejected in a time of need. Their future is still uncertain. Those who remain in this industry, those who remain employees of the Stevedoring Industry Authority, still face an uncertain future. Nobody has told them for how long they will have a job. The committee established by the former Minister for Labour and National Service, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, is about to finalise its report and will shortly make a report to the present Minister for Labour. I am sure he will give it sympathetic consideration.

What we have to look at in respect of this Bill are the advantages. There are certainly still considerable problems - problems of organisation, problems of management, problems of utilisation of the available labour. I do not believe that there are highly excessive -numbers still in the industry. After ail, this needs some balancing. What one has to do is to determine the cost of having men idle for certain periods of the year compared with the cost of having ships idle for other periods of the year when there are insufficient men to man and work them. I agree that this is a question of delicate balancing, lt is a question of balancing out costs to see which is the greater, and in many instances it will be shown that it is far better to have some men idle for some of the time than to have ships idle and unable to be worked. This particularly applies in respect of export markets, particularly in respect of the export of rural products.

There have been considerable changes in the industry apart from the question of permanent employment. The advent of containerisation and the advent of unitisation in various forms have been significant changes which have occurred since 1967. Another fact worth mentioning is that in respect to the industrial relations in the industry the 1972 agreement, which was made for a period of 2 years, was achieved without a strike. This is the first time in living memory that an award or agreement was made in this industry without a single strike occurring. Indeed, the prospect of an agreement without such a stoppage would not have been credible just a few years ago. It is very difficult to imagine a tough, vibrant industry such as the stevedoring industry being completely free of strike and industrial disputation, but a great deal has been achieved. The success of the negotiations in 1972 was due, to a very large degree, to the efforts of the Acting President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I remind honourable members opposite that he was acting as a conciliator, with his arbitral function in the background during the whole period. There is at the present time no provision for him to act in this way. There is of course provision in the Bill which has now passed this House and awaits the pleasure of the consideration of another chamber.

It is my wish, and I am sure that honourable members on this side join in this, that during the next 12 months of temporary provisions permanent arrangements can be worked out, can be agreed and final legislation can be introduced. This is a most important industry. Its stability is necessary for Aus tralia's continuing development. 1 sincerely hope that when the stage is reached when it is necessary to bring in the final legislation honourable members opposite will consider the employees in the industry and not simply adopt the attitude: 'If we do not want them, if we do not need them, we can get rid of them'. I hope they will be concerned about all the employees in this industry, whether they be waterside workers, clerks, foremen or anybody else and treat them with the dignity they deserve and in the way in which we would wish to be treated ourselves.

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