Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1357

Mr NIXON - I am surprised -

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - You had better talk to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr NIXON - If that is the arrangement that has been made OK.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Mr Deputy Speaker -

Mr NIXON - I withdraw the inference.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No, it is not a question of an inference. I have been misrepresented badly.

Mr NIXON - I apologise.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Government wishes to give proper consideration to this Bill in the Committee stage. The Opposition spokesman asked for that. For that reason, I was able to prevail upon many of our members - four of them are sitting here rearing to go; I assure you that that is not an exaggeration - and they have deferred to my special plea to keep out of the debate. I think that that ought to be noted.

Mr NIXON - I apologise for the inference in my remark. I was unaware of the generosity being offered to the Opposition at this time by Government backbenchers. I congratulate them on it. The purpose of industrial legislation must be to provide a background for employer and employee to settle wage levels, working conditions and disruptions as peacefully, quickly and with as little loss of time and production as possible. The Australian arbitration and conciliation system has had a long history and has achieved an international reputation for providing one of the world's best and fairest systems in the industrial sphere. Regrettably, this reputation has been somewhat tarnished in latter years because of the exploitation of some of the provisions of the legislation and the constitutional weaknesses that presently complicate industrial relations through division of responsibility in State and Federal awards.

Having regard to the long and mostly successful history of arbitration and conciliation, one would have thought that the Minister would have used his own personal industrial experience so to modify the legislation as to enhance the fair play capacity that was so much a feature of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act until recent times. Indeed, the Minister had decided to set up machinery to identify, through a deep study, the institutional framework of Labor relations. He told us so in this second reading speech on 12 April. These are extremely worthy motives. I would be the first to congratulate the Minister on this proposal. A searching inquiry conducted by a balanced committee could only add greatly to the capacity of people in this Parliament to make judgments about any necessary or desirable changes to the present system. But, to abort the inquiry by the introduction of Labor's industrial dogma, as the Minister did on 12 April, can do nothing but heap confusion upon confusion. To make such radical changes as those proposed in the previous Bill and to declare those changes as vital legislation' can only tie the hands of any committee of inquiry.

Surely if such a committee of inquiry is to give of its best the Government view should be impressed through changes to legislation after 'the findings have ' been reached. The Minister would have to be the last one to argue with this approach when one has regard for his own ambiguous support in respect of penalties and sanctions. Yet the Minister proceeded to introduce the Bill on that occasion causing those very provisions to be excluded. Doubtless it was done because of the severe setback he received to his proposal launched in Adelaide in late 1972 to maintain penalties for individual unionists who breached agreements. The Minister had the left wing communist unions, with whom he is normally fairly buddy-buddy, snapping at his heels like an un-Australian terrier, so on this issue his difficulty is understandable.

But the difficulty the Minister has when his own view has been overridden by the left wing surely demonstrates to the nation how lucky we are that the Government lacks a majority in the Senate and is the major reason why the committee of inquiry should have a broad capacity to study the use of penalties. The same can be said of many other important sections of the Bill. To talk about holding a committee of inquiry into the functioning of the conciliation and arbitration system whilst at the same time introducing legislation with fundamental changes strikes me as ludicrous. The Minister should demonstrate a real sense of patience and statesmanship, of which I think he might be capable, and await the public inquiry he himself has proposed before acting arbitrarily and unilaterally.

The whole difficulty with the legislation proposed by the Government is that it was designed to distort the balance of fair play that existed in the legislation as it affected both employer and employee. Any legislation designed to alter the balance, to slow down or distort procedures, is in the best interests of neither the employee nor the employer and is certainly not in the best interests of the nation. Putting aside the provisions of the earlier Bill relating to penalties, the protection of unions and members from civil action, which are to come forward again in a separate Bill, so we are told - I imagine that will come forward after the Senate election - there is no question that the rules are being changed in this Bill to make the lot of the militant unionist easier.

Despite the Opposition objection in the previous debate to clause 6 of the Bill, the Minister has reintroduced it. This provision gives blanket protection to shop stewards or individual union activity on the shop floor. The objections lodged by the Opposition in the last debate have been either disregarded or ignored because of the great outcry militant unionists would create should the provision be excluded from this Bill. Surely the whole potage of industrial relations would be better for a tidy-up of relations and powers between shop stewards and union representation. One of the greatest bugbears of the industrial system in Australia and one of the most telling factors in the weakening of the arbitration and conciliation powers has been the growth of shop steward power by way of comparison with the master union. If the industrial arena is to return to sanity it will be by resolution of this problem. Simply put, the shop steward system which is one of the less desirable imports from the United Kingdom, has prostituted the trade union movement, and the Minister would be better put tackling the total problem rather than giving such bludgeoning power to the shop stewards.

The right of entry provision in clause 27 gives unheard of and unreasonable powers to trade union officials in the carrying out of their functions. The right for the proper representative of unionists in a factory to do his job of protecting his own unionists is not challengeable, but what is challengeable is the terms sought by the Minister for such inspection. Surely it is hardly proper for a union official to have the right to lobby workers of another union during working hours. I would have thought that in large part many unionists would resist such a right. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will be seeking to amend the Bill to protect workers from the problems inherent in that provision.

Clause 19 of the Bill seeks to take away from a negotiating committee in any wage or condition dispute the right to conclude a settlement without returning to and obtaining from the rank and file approval to the negotiation. Doubtless the Minister would argue that this is an extension of the democratic rights of the ordinary unionist. One would have thought that the Minister would know from his own experience that this could lead to a complete incapacity to conclude a negotiation. After all, he went through the experience of arranging with a great deal of bravado the great new industrial relations policy of the Australian Labor Party in Adelaide last year. Even though he was accompanied by the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), and the show was covered by nationwide television, radio and the Press, the Caucus rolled him the next week on his policy., But we have seen even more frightening examples that should deter him from this approach with the announcement one day by the Prime Minister of a change in the bond rate, thus affecting interest rates across the board and the Caucus taking it out of his hands a few days later. Surely the Minister would recognise that such an approach can only lead to futile negotiating. I suspect that the Minister must have had some personal disagreement with his union bosses on settlements in his early days in the shearing shed.

Sure it sounds fine and democratic to return to seek rank and file support or agreement for a negotiation. But to make such an approach arbitrary is just to make life difficult. There are many unions and unionists who, having democratically elected their officials, are prepared to support them through to a conclusion on any difficult negotiation. The proposals would make the life of a negotiating committee intolerable, and success under such circumstances impossible. The committee would be going back and forth like a Bourke Street bus, trying to secure a settlement.

There are a number of other clauses that require amending, and they will be dealt with in Committee. But I want to look at another aspect of the Bill and that is the return of the Bill in this form. We all remember the great bravado the Minister showed when his first Bill went through this House and across to the Senate. He declared that it was a piece of vital legislation and that the Government was not going to have it rejected. He said that the Bill would set the stage for a double dissolution if it was rejected. Then we heard the thunderings from the playgrounds of Europe during the Minister's visit over there when the Ford strike was on. The Minister attacked both the Ford company and the Opposition parties for rejecting the Bill. Of course he was put down very nicely and politely by Mr Eric Witts, the Industrial Relations Director at Ford who explained that what was at issue was an industrial agreement so beloved by the Minister being broken by a union leader in response to a minority mob. The fact is that on that issue and the rejection by the Senate of the so called vital legislation the fat cat became a tame .cat.

So here we have a piece of industrial legislation that does not carry the great dreams of the Minister. I wonder when we will see the other part of the first Bill that carries the tort provisions and removal of the sanction penalties. I do not really expect to see it before the Senate election. This Bill, whilst an improvement on the previous Bill, will be all the better for the amendments to come.

Suggest corrections