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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1544

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - On 25 September an editorial appeared in the 'Daily Telegraph', which stated in part:

And worse. On Sunday night, they blacked out a doctor trying to save a man dying from a heart attack.

In fairness, the editorial goes on to say:

Granted that the doctor does not blame the man's death on the blackout, the incident still highlights the dangerous situations which can arise because of the powerhouse workers' decision to limit output.

Unless the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), who is at the table, can answer the charges that I will lay against him, I say quite unequivocally mat, if a situation arises this week, next week or in the future in New South Wales of the kind described in the editorial, there is only one man in Australia responsible for it, and that is the Commonwealth Minister for Minerals and Energy. Unless this Minister can answer the charges laid against him, he has reduced the power output from the Snowy Mountains scheme to New South Wales in a secretive and despicable fashion to try to subvert the industrial authority and law in New South Wales.

We all know that this power strike arises over a claim for a 35-hour week and that the matter began in 1971. The claims of the power unions were put to the New South Wales Industrial Commission which reported some considerable time later, after an exhaustive examination, that there was no cause to reduce the period of the working week from 40 hours to 35 hours. A large number of unions were involved - over 20, including the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union, the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, the Federated Enginedrivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia, the Municipal Officers Association of Australia, the Public Service Association and a number of others. The Commission found in that first industry that there was no cause to support a 35-hour working week. This led to reduced output. It led to power restrictions. The New South Wales Government agreed to new terms of reference and this year the New South Wales Industrial Commission considered a case for a shorter working week for the employees of the New South Wales Electricity Commission alone. There was a report about that matter a day or two ago. Even though the unions concerned knew last Thursday that there was going to be a report very early this week, there were black-outs and shortages of power over the weekend. They were designed, as it was said, to speed up the Industrial Commission's report. But it was known that the report would be in the hands of the Minister and in the hands of the New South Wales Government early this week. It was a breach of an agreement.

Mr Lucock - Industrial blackmail.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - It was industrial blackmail. They knew last Thursday what the result was going to be, as 1 have already indicated. The Prime Minister said at his Press Conference yesterday that the Commonwealth would not interfere because it was in the New South Wales industrial jurisdiction. He said when asked a question about this matter yesterday that he was not going to volunteer an opinion. He said: 'These are State employees. They have a quarrel with the State Government which happens to be a Liberal Government, but it is idle for me to express an opinion on this. It is not a matter where we can do anything as the employer. We have no right to intervene.' He said yesterday afternoon at his Press conference: 'We have no right to intervene'. Either he did not know what was happening or he did not know what his Minister for Minerals and Energy was doing or he was conniving with the Minister to keep this matter secret from the people of Australia, because the Commonwealth has intervened on the side of the power unions. The Commonwealth has acted to overthrow industrial law in New South Wales.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Minister has.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Commonwealth in the name of the Minister. Whether it is the Minister's decision alone or the Government's decision I do not know. Maybe he has not even told his own colleagues what he has done in this matter. The Commonwealth has acted against the interests of every family and of every man, woman and child in the State of New South Wales and in Australia. The Minister has acted through bis power to direct the Snowy Mountains Council, which can in turn govern the amount of power flowing to New South Wales or to Victoria. There are 8 members on that Council, four from the Commonwealth and two from each of those States. I am informed that the Minister approached the operations engineer on Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening and then found that he could not direct the operations engineer. The Minister's power was a power to direct the Council itself, the governing body of the power producing plants. There was a telephone vole on Sunday afternoon among all members of the Council. I am informed that before the vote was taken the Minister spoke to Mr Reihr, the Commonwealth Director-General of the Department of Works and Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council and also to Mr Douglas, the chief operations engineer. That was before the vote was taken.

I would like to emphasise that on this Council there are four highly distinguished Commonwealth public servants whose integrity and sense of duty is without doubt of the highest possible order. They are to be commended for what they have done in this matter. Despite the intervention by the Minister, despite the discussions that the Minister held, the Snowy Mountains Council by a majority vote voted to provide the normal supply of power to New South Wales. That was the proper thing to do. The maximum power entitlement for New South Wales is between 1,600 and 1,900 megawatts depending on a particular situation. An amount of 1,400 megawatts would be regarded as normal - about equal to one-third, as I understand it, of the total New South Wales capacity. After the telephone vote on Sunday afternoon the normal procedure would have been to give Mr Douglas orders to continue operations and he would have given orders down the line. Word would have come to members of the power unions who man the Tumut power stations, if they had not obeyed those legal and lawful orders and worked in accordance with them they could have been laid off. But I am informed that before that happened this Minister for Minerals and Energy issued an instruction, using the power the Act confers upon him, to reduce the power supply to New South Wales.

I am informed also that a member of the Snowy Mountains Council rang the New South Wales authorities on Sunday afternoon and informed them that the Minister for Minerals and Energy had directed that the Council operate the Tumut stations in accordance with the dictates - in accordance with the dictates - of the New South Wales unions' 35-hour week committee. That is a disgraceful situation. Unless the Minister can disprove this information completely and categorically he has some serious charges to answer because this, I am informed, is the form of the directive given by that Minister in the name of the Government to the Snowy Mountains Council. It was making quite sure that the Council would conform to the dictates of the power unions, that it would not do anything that might cause any trouble, but that it would make quite sure that restrictions on power in New South Wales would be much more severe than would otherwise have been the case, thereby causing great inconvenience to many people. If the situation is allowed to continue it will not only cause personal hardship in those examples which I gave earlier in the debate but it will ultimately lead to tens of thousands of people going out of work.

The Minister has used the power of direction conferred upon him by the Act. So instead of the normal supply of 1,400 megawatts, New South Wales was supplied on Monday morning with 200 megawatts, and the amount of power has varied a bit either way since then. But the power supply has been less than normal. I am informed that the power unions have spoken to the Minister requiring his support for this action. I emphasise the words 'requiring his support for this action'. They want to reduce power from the Tumut stations so that the strike will hurt the New South Wales people and the citizens more severely than would otherwise have been the case. Again that is a despicable act. I am informed, as I have said already, that the instruction had the effect of ensuring that the Council conformed to the dictates of the power unions and conformed to their particular requirements. Unless the Minister can answer these charges in clear and precise terms it is plain that he has revealed in the starkest sense the power of certain unions over this Government and the power of certain unions over this Minister. We are reminded of a meeting that the Prime Minister had with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union last year before the election. From the minutes of the meeting which became available to other people it was plain that the Prime Minister had given policy commitments to the AMWU and, as a result, who but Mr Carmichael should move a motion that $25,000 should be paid into Labor Party funds before the last election.

Mr Whittorn - How much was that?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Twenty-five thousand dollars was to be paid as a result of the giving of policy commitments. That is what happened on that occasion. We know what has happened on this occasion. The Minister , has acted secretly, at the behest and command of unions which are pursuing an industrial dispute with another governmental authority. The Minister has intervened on the side of strikers. I could have respected him if he had done this publicly, openly and plainly. But if the information is correct then he has done it secretly and quietly behind closed doors. He has done it in the dark and that is something that cannot be respected. The Minister has acted to overthrow the normal industrial processes in New South Wales. He has done that secretly and quietly. He has done it in the dark. The Prime Minister, if these allegations cannot be disproved, has shown that either he himself did not know what his Minister was doing - and this is very likely - or, if he did know, he misled the House and the nation at the Press conference held yesterday when he said: 'We have no right to intervene in that particular mattter - in that particular dispute.'

There may well have been lack of communication between the Minister for Minerals and Energy and the Prime Minister. It would not be the first time that it has happened. There certainly has been a lack of communication between the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) and the Prime Minister over the last 2 or 3 days in regard to the 35-hour week and the Commonwealth Public Service. There was even the famous interchange, when the Minister for Labour said that the Prime Minister could not have it both ways and, as we now know, the Prime Minister intervened and said: 'You are referring to Mr Gorton' and the Minister lor Labour said: 'No, I am referring to you. You cannot have it both ways'. If anyone heard the Mike Willesee show last night, they would have known that the Minister for Labour has not the slightest intention of retracting from his stand and his viewpoint on this matter. If the Prime Minister wants to get off the barbed wire fence which he is now straddling, with Bob Hawke pulling him from one side and the Minister for Labour pulling him from the other, the only way he can get off is to be pulled off by the Minister for Labour. Whatever the result, the situation of having the 2 most powerful men in the union movement and the Labor movement pulling him in 2 different directions is not an entirely happy one for the Prime Minister. We in die Opposition are content to leave the Prime Minister in that situation. It is about the most suitable situation that he could be in under any circumstances.

I have indicated that there has been a lack of communication between the Minister for Minerals and Energy and the Prime Minister. If that is not the explanation, the Prime Minister has connived in misleading the Press, the Australian people and this Parliament. I put this Parliament last, not because it is last in importance but because in the Prime Minister's thoughts this Parliament is of no account. He has made that quite plain in the way he has treated important debates in the Parliament. The Minister for Minerals and Energy has shown what calibre he is made of in these matters. He has a case to answer and I do not believe he can answer it. If he cannot answer that case, he clearly should resign. There are 4 charges against the Minister. He has shown the power of the unions over the Government; he has shown that he secretly intervened and acted to overthrow the normal processes of law and it has been seen that the

Prime Minister, as a result of this, misled the Press.

Mr Duthie - You will apologise for that statement; it is false.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - These are the charges on the basis of information that I have been given and I have every reason to believe that the information I have been given is accurate and appropriate.

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