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Thursday, 20 September 1973
Page: 1360

Mr VINER (Stirling) - The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has outlined at some length the constructive proposals which the Opposition has towards the Bill presented by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) and these will be dealt with at length in Committee. Indeed in the honourable member's speech on the second reading he has shown the reasons why, in broad outline, the Opposition is opposing various measures where it is felt that these will inhibit the role of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in its conciliation and arbitration functions and inhibit the welfare of individual unionists and the employer. It is important to say that, because the Opposition is fully aware of the fact that industrial relations require a spirit of co-operation and understanding between employees and employers. The Opposition also understands that in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act there is provided a machinery for preventing and settling industrial disputes when they arise. The fundamental intention behind the legislation ought to be to bring about industrial peace. This is why the Opposition so strongly opposed the Bill introduced by the Minister in the autumn session. It was brought forward with a fanfare, which is clearly indicated by the opening words of his second reading speech when he said:

This Bill is the first stage of a radical transformation of industrial relations in Australia.

Of course, it was quite apparent that that radical transformation was sought to be brought about by the deletion of the bans clauses and any provisions dealing with sanctions and penalties. As the Opposition pointed out, that would have brought about a radical transformation of the arbitration system as it is known in Australia and as it has developed over the last 70 years. It is quite clear that, in the face of opposition to the Bill both in this House and in another place and the public reaction to this so called radical transformation to be introduced, the Minister was compelled to withdraw those objectionable parts of his first Bill. The Opposition is glad to> see that with the Bill now before it, it can approach in a constructive way what the Minister has sought to achieve in those parts which are not affected by the- bans clauses . and the sanctions and penalties provisions. When a government embarks upon reform, what it ought to do is seek to strengthen and update the existing machinery provided by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That was not seen to be the objective behind the first Bill.

As the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon) foreshadowed, the Opposition is intrigued to know whether the Government has abandoned what it proposed in the first Bill or whether it is simply afraid to bring it forward at this stage, hoping for a double dissolution on some basis so that it can then bring it forward again. I do not think the public will be deluded by what the Government is doing, by the tactic that is being adopted by the Minister. The public will realise that the Minister realises that what he proposed was unacceptable. So we will be watching the courage of the Minister to see whether at some later stage he reintroduces those parts of his Bill. The Liberal Party policy on this Bill is quite clear. We aim to retain, continue and modernise the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act so as to fulfil a purpose in the modern industrial society in Australia today. Why should we do that? It is for a very plain and simple reason, one in respect of which I can adapt and adopt words used by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in a speech which he made with a fanfare of introduction as the policy of the then Opposition towards industrial relations. The Prime Minister pointed out that 90 per cent of the Australian workforce depends upon arbitrated decisions and industrial agreements for their incomes. If that is so, there is every good reason why the conciliation and arbitration system of Australia should be retained, maintained, strengthened and updated. This makes good sense and I am sure the public realises it.

Under this system those in the Australian workforce and their families have had a protection for their wages, incomes and conditions of work unparalleled throughout the world. Having said that, we have to realise that Australia is a changing place and that when we look at the arbitration system we must look at it in an economy which is in a state of flux, which is fluid and changing under the impact of international stress and domestic economic pressures. In the debates which have recently been held in this House dealing with the Budget, inflation and the prices referendum Bill, it has been quite apparent that honourable members on both sides of the House appreciate that the economic structure of Australia is being changed under the impact of these stresses and pressures which I have mentioned. It is quite clear that under the impact of the inflation which is running throughout the community at the present time the arbitration system will come under increasing strain. It may well be a strain that it cannot withstand. When average weekly earnings are running at a rate of increase of 13 per cent, as has been acknowledged in the Budget, we can properly ask ourselves whether the unions, both blue and white collar, are going to look to the arbitration system to provide their members with an increase in wages sufficient to match that increase in average weekly earnings.

In this regard I noted a statement put out by the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association when it was complaining about the possibility of Caucus action to prevent its members from receiving a 16 per cent or 12 p'er cent rise in wages. It said that that increase was necessary in order to keep pace with current inflationary trends. That fact is something that unions will be fully aware of in the months ahead. The history of arbitration indicates that when inflationary trends are at such an accelerating rate the arbitration system cannot cope with them. Because of the inbuilt concepts of wage fixation it cannot cope with that rate of inflation. I think we will see within the short months ahead a much more significant degree of union activity outside the arbitration system in order to ensure that the wages of union members match the inflationary trends operating within the community. We are likely also to see leadership in this field taken over by white collar unions rather than blue collar unions. We have seen this indicated already by the rate of wage increase allowed by this Government within the Australian Public Service, and once that increase in wages run j through the Australian and State Public Services we can be sure that it will flow over into private industry.

We will see also a movement in the workforce of emphasis away from the blue collar worker to the white collar worker so that blue collar unions will become less dominant than the white collar unions in their role within the industrial movement in Australia. This is merely to indicate some of the trends in this fluid state of the Australian economy. Those trends must be felt and reflected within the arbitration system of Australia and through industrial relations within Australia. Within a space of 2 to 5 years the arbitration system will be faced with a different national economy, one without all the economic convulsions going on at the present time but which will have worked their way through the system and through the economy. What the Government has to ensure in relation to the arbitration system is that the system is ready to operate smoothly and efficiently within this changed national economy. It must be ready to operate in a way which will satisfy the workforce in respect of both the wages policy that it espouses and the conditions of employment which it grants to the Australian workforce.

To me this means that the Government should be looking towards a restructuring of the conciliation and arbitration system in Australia. I think it should be restructured along some of the following guidelines. Firstly, the Commission must be so structured as to be able to fulfil the purposes of providing a wages policy for the nation and satisfying conditions of employment for the work force. Secondly, the Commission must itself develop itself and be given the opportunity to develop new concepts of wage fixation and wages policy. It is of no use waiting until the economy has finally settled down. It must begin to develop those concepts now. Members on the Government side of the House would be well aware, as the Minister obviously is, of the concepts of wages policy that have been developed over the last 70 years. They ought to be equally well aware of the fact that those policies are no longer adequate to satisfy the union movement. Thirdly, in its restructured state the arbitration system must find the proper place for negotiated or bargained agreements as part of a whole coherent system.

I have outlined those guidelines only very broadly. The Cameron proposals in this Bill are quite inadequate. All that we have is a scissors and paste job which means that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act is now overburdened by piecemeal post-war amendments. These Cameron proposals can only exacerbate the serious need for an overhaul of this Act. So far as I can see this Act needs to be completely rewritten. I would like to see it rewritten in 2 ways. It may be that there would have to be 2 Acts to achieve this purpose. Firstly, there would be one Act clearly setting out the machinery for conciliation and arbitration. The Act should be simply stated, it would contain concepts which are clear and precise, devoid of legalism and great technicalities, which both sides in industrial relations can plainly see would work and would be prepared to give the Act an opportunity to work.

Secondly, and of equal importance, there must be a labour relations code. The machinery that I envisage in this legislation would maintain the role of unions and would render conciliation even more significant than it is today. It would seek to do that by enhancing the role of conciliators, by providing them with better tools with which to do their job, and lifting the status of conciliators to that of people who can enter into effective mediation or conciliation between the two negotiating parties. I think the conciliator has to be removed from the idea of being merely a person who identifies a dispute and finds that the parties cannot agree. He must enter into the negotiation in a realistic way. The machinery must define the circumstances and the occasion for arbitration. In contrast the position under the present legislation is that the circumstances and the occasions for arbitration are haphazard and ill-defined. Finally, this machinery must clearly express the role of the public interest. In this regard the honourable member for Wannon has clearly expressed the importance that the Opposition places upon the role of the public interest in this field. We need machinery to identify the circumstances and the occasion when the public interest must be protected and when the Government or some statutory authority may intervene in its name.

The Labour relations code that I referred to should be regarded as a charter of employees' rights in 2 respects - the rights of unionists vis-a-vis their own unions and the rights of employees vis-a-vis their employers. I believe this is an urgent task and it is not enough for the Minister, who has had many years within the union movement, merely to embark upon a scissors and paste job on the existing Act. It may be that what needs to be done cannot be achieved within the concepts of conciliation and arbitration as they appear in the Constitution. In this regard I note the comments of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Murphy, which he made at the Aus. tralian Constitutional Convention held ii: Sydney a few weeks ago. I will read from page 165 of the official record of debates on the third day of that Convention. The Leader of the Government in the Senate said:

The Government believes that all the limitations should be removed-

That is, from the Constitution in respect of conciliation and arbitration as stated in section 51- and the national Parliament should have ample plenary power over the whole question of terms and conditions of work. All those limitations, on using conciliation and arbitration - the narrowness of the concept of an industry, the concept of a dispute or the extension beyond one State - should be swept away and the plenary power that is necessary in a single national economy should be vested in the national Parliament.

I agreed at the Constitutional Convention with the Leader of the Government in the Senate that that is necessary. But having read again what was said by the honourable senator it seems to me remarkable that what he said then in the name of the Government is now being denied by his own Caucus through its refusal to allow the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to agree to a proposal for a referendum which would give the Commonwealth power over incomes.

For the life of me I cannot understand how the honourable senator can say on behalf of the Government that the Constitution should clothe the Commonwealth with plenary power over industrial relations, which power must include incomes, and then for his own Caucus to deny the holding of a referendum to give effect to that proposal. These are the long term matters to be considered by the Government and by this Parliament. There are a number of matters in this Bill that the Opposition will be dealing with and I will be speaking on some of them during the Committee stage. I conclude my second reading speech by reiterating that these amendments do not go far enough and I am sure that when the Opposition is in government it will be seeking to achieve what I have stated.

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