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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2518

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I hope that the Opposition moves a censure motion like this every week because the Government has been far too modest about its achievements in the past. This debate has given the Government the opportunity to say what it has done and to remind the public how the Opposition parties, now seeking to become the Government again, sold out Australia to their foreign backers and how their only solution for industrial unrest and for inflation was to pursue fiscal policies that cause massive unemployment. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), whose job it was to attack the Government, spent most of his extension of time in the futility of trying to convince the Parliament that the Liberal and Country parties are not the paid creatures of agents of foreign multi-nationals willing to sell the country's birthright for a mere bagatelle.

The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) talked about morning sickness. He looked sick as he said it. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) also looked sick. He was not his usual confident self as he stood to speak in support of the Opposition motion. The Leader of the Country Party made a feeble but very unconvincing attempt to satisfy the Parliament that his Party is not the captive of foreign interests seeking to steal and to ravage Australia's mineral and energy resources and to impose excessive tariff burdens upon the man on the land who has to sell his production at prices governed by world parity while being forced by the Country Party to pay through the nose for everything he has to buy, because of the excessive tariff policies of the Country Party.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) had the gall to talk about industrial confrontation when he himself is known to be the one who did everything possible to cause confrontation between the unions and employers in the oil industry last year. It was not his fault that this country was not brought to its knees in one of the greatest industrial disasters we have ever seen. He talked about lost time due to strikes but he was as silent as the grave on the 20 million man-days lost annually through the massive unemployment which the Liberal-Country Party Government deliberately created as a means of controlling inflation and of preventing industrial unrest. He, like the 2 Opposition speakers who preceded him, showed an extraordinary degree of sensitivity to the charges that the Opposition parties are now the hirelings of foreign corporations bent on capturing control of Australia's mineral and energy reserves. He actually had the audacity to attack the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) for what he is doing to preserve the natural heritage of the Australian people. The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) also put the case for his party's multi-national masters by criticising the Minister for Minerals and Energy for safeguarding Australia's national reserves.

I think the honourable member for Wannon was wise in not referring at very great length to the question of industrial unrest and industrial relations. I am surprised that he referred to unemployment, however, because when his Government was in office it deliberately followed policies, which I have already mentioned, which led to the creation of unemployment that reached the staggering total of 130,000 men and women. He did not touch upon the Australian Parliament's limited constitutional power to intervene directly in industrial relations. He dodged the issue because he is an intelligent and widely read man who knows perfectly well that the Australian Parliament has no power to deal directly with labour relations. Unlike the Parliaments of the 6 States which have unlimited powers to deal with industrial relations and labour disputes, the Commonwealth power over industrial maters can be exercised only through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in accordance with the powers which the Australian Parliament may confer on the Commission.

Even the Parliament's power to confer powers on the Commission is severely limited by the Constitution. The Parliament cannot just confer upon the Commission whatever powers it thinks the Commission ought to have to do its job. It is severely limited in the powers it can confer upon the Commission. For example, the Parliament cannot give the Commission power to deal with intrastate disputes like the recent New South Wales power strike, the recent garbage strike in New South Wales or all these other strikes for which the Commonwealth Government gets the blame - strikes that occur in industries working under State awards. The Commonwealth Parliament has no power to intervene in these disputes, the Government has no power to intervene in them and the Arbitration Commission has no power to intervene in them. Only the State governments can do that.

Even in the case of interstate disputes the Australian Parliament is severely limited by the Constitution in the kind of powers that it may confer upon the Commission. It cannot grant power to settle disputes caused by issues like union membership, demarcation disputes and managerial policy. The High Court has held that these are not industrial matters and are therefore outside the scope of the Commonwealth Parliament's power. Almost half of all strikes are caused by non-wage issues in relation to which neither the Australian Government, the Australian Parliament nor the

Commission has any constitutional power to settle or intervene. If these disputes occur in industries covered by State awards they can be settled by the State government, the State parliament or the State industrial tribunal if they wish to do so wherever the strikes occur. But neither the Australian Parliament, the Australian Government nor the Commission can take any constitutional action to intervene in disputes covered by State awards or agreements.

It is complete dishonesty or ignorance on the part of people who try to saddle onto the Australian Government responsibility for disputes occurring in industries covered by State awards. Even in the industries covered by State awards, the State parliaments and State governments concerned, which have unlimited power to intervene if they wish to, never have moved and will not move to intervene. Sixty per cent of all employees in the work force are covered by State awards and cannot be touched by the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Only 38 per cent of strikes occur in industries covered by Federal awards. The rest occur in industries that are the responsibility of State governments. Of the 38 per cent of strikes that occur under Federal awards, more than half are due to disputes over union membership, demarcation disputes or matters concerning managerial policy. Disputes over union membership have declined rapidly since the Commission's decision to grant preference to unionists in the clerks' case, which is a feather in the cap of the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan), because employers now know that it is better to accept preference to unionists than to have compulsory unionism forced upon them by job action.

The honourable member for Wannon talked about pre-election promises as contracts that should not be broken. Yet his Party is now using its control of the Senate to prevent the Government from honouring its contract to reform the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Government has a clear mandate for the amendments its Bill seeks to section 5 of the Act to inject some common sense into labour relations by preventing victimisation of employees, which is another cause of endless disputes. It has a clear mandate to make the amendments proposed in its Bill that seek to encourage the settlement of industrial disputes by agreements in such a way as to ensure the observance of those agreements by the employees affected, that is, by ensuring that no agreement can be registered unless it has been endorsed by the persons affected by it. What could be fairer that that? The Government has a clear mandate to amend the Act to give full-time union officials easier right of entry than is now possible. The Opposition should not talk about wildcat strikes and the trouble that is caused by shop committees if at the same time it prevents full-time union officials from having ready access to jobs during any part of the day. The Government has a clear mandate to establish an efficient arbitration inspectorate.

All of these things are contained in the Bill now before the Senate, and all of them have been opposed or will be opposed by the Opposition parties. The Government cannot achieve its aims for a healthier climate in labour relations while the Senate withholds approval of the vital ingredients to the Government's program for industrial peace. No government could have acted with greater alacrity than has the Whitlam Government. I introduced a Bill containing 74 clauses within 6 sitting weeks of the new Government facing its first Parliament. That Bill was rejected by the Senate without even bothering to debate any one of its clauses. The same thing is happening with the Government's second Bill. The Senate is threatening to so emasculate the Bill as to render it useless as a means of bringing greater sanity to the labour scene. The situation will get worse. Industrial relations will get worse unless our Bill is passed. They cannot, of course, get better while the defects and shortcomings of the existing Act persist. The Government has no power to act in labour relations. The Parliament cannot act of its own accord directly in labour relations, and it is unfair to expect the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to do its job if we are to deny it the new powers which the Government's Bill proposes.

I turn now to the question of industrial agreements. The Government believes that industrial agreements must be encouraged and must be observed and honoured. 1 have said that time and time again and I will keep on saying it. The principle is enshrined in the policy of the Australian Labor Party. The Government's Bill does this. It makes an important contribution towards the observance of industrial agreements -

Mr Sinclair - By employees?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, by employees.

Mr Sinclair - As well as by employers?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, by employees and employers - by requiring the Commission to satisfy itself that such agreements are understood and have been endorsed by the employees affected by an agreement. You will never get the rank and file of any union to honour a sweetheart agreement that sells them short. The short term advantage of such an agreement to an employer is always offset and always will be offset by the long term disadvantages that follow when his employees strike in repudiation of an agreement that sold them short. It is far better to ensure that any agreement made is understood and endorsed by those employees affected.

The people who negotiate the agreements are not the ones who work under them. What they know about them and understand and accept is not the issue. The important question is whether the people who work under an agreement understand the agreement and whether they are prepared to honour it. My experience as a union official - as secretary of a union and as a court advocate - has always been that you can win if you can say to the rank and file: 'This is not my agreement I am asking you to honour until the 2 year or 3 year period, whatever the duration of the agreement might be, expires. I am asking you to honour your own agreement, an agreement which I put to you a year ago which you all voted to support. That is what I am asking you to honour'. When you can say that to a group of men you can win. You can win them always. You cannot win them when you say: 'I know you were not consulted. I know that this agreement was made behind closed doors without your being brought into it at all. I know that it sold you short but I am going to force you to carry it out'. They will tell you to go to hell and you cannot blame them for it either. You have to put agreements to the membership for their approval or you might as well not have an agreement.

The days of sweetheart agreements have gone. Why on earth the Opposition should have been so shortsighted as to have rejected these most sensible of all amendments is completely beyond me. As I say, what we have to do is satisfy the membership that the agreements made on their behalf, signed on their behalf and registered on their behalf are agreements to which they themselves are parties, and this can be done only by giving effect to the very sensible provision contained in the amendment which the Bill seeks to introduce.

Mr Cooke - What if they disagree later?

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That does not matter. I am telling the honourable member that as a union official of long experience my experience has always shown me what happens if you can go to a factory site and talk to a meeting of men and say: 'Comrades, I am not asking you to honour my agreement, something that I made behind closed doors; I am asking you to honour your own agreement'. When you talk like that and when you can truthfully say that to a group of men, that is what gives a union official his power to implement and honour an agreement. But you take the power away from him the moment you allow agreements to be registered that have not been ratified by the rank and file. The Government's Bill recognises this well-known fact of industrial life and seeks to ensure that no agreement can be given the force of an award unless and until it has been ratified by those who are expected to sell their labour at the price fixed and under the conditions agreed upon by that agreement.

Another thing that must be understood in labour relations is that a lot of wage demands relate to the fact that in 1953 the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission abolished automatic cost of living adjustments to wage rates. Compensation for rising prices now has to wait until the Commission's annual wage case, with the result that unions find it impossible to hold back the pressure of wage increases, and demands for adjustments take the form of claims for payment of over award wages as well as the annual review that is called the national wage case. Because unions have to make claims that will anticipate 12 months' price increases in advance the net result of this sitaution is that it creates much unrest that could be obviated by a return to wage indexation of some form that will take care of price increases as they occur. What is happening in industry today is that we are trying to hold the lid on a boiler of steam that gets higher and higher in pressure with each increase in prices that occurs until in the end, long before the national wage case comes around, the thing blows up and then demands are made and arc enforced upon employers in the form of over award wages when what the employees ought to be given are quarterly cost of living adjustments. The Australian Government therefore will support the Australian Council of Trade Unions in any move that it makes for the introduction of wage indexation along lines that will, in the Government's view, relieve the existing pressures for wage rises to compensate for price increases. The precise manner by which the wage indexation should be applied is a matter, of course, for the Commission to determine, but the Government will act upon its mandate to intervene in the proceedings of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to support wage indexation.

The guaranteed maintenance of real wages isolates and removes a source of grievance which otherwise may lead to damaging industrial confrontations and inflationary wage claims. Indexation facilitates long term agreements which should reduce the incidence of large' scale industrial conflict. Indexation enables periodic collective bargaining to concentrate on longer term issues of wage structure, increases in real wages and wages share of national product. The introduction of quarterly adjustment could enable a trade union to concern itself with increasing real wages and thereby creating a climate suitable to encourage productivity bargaining within industry if the parties to it want that kind of bargaining. As compensation for price increases is bound to be a factor in wage negotiations, it appears better if compensation is made regularly and moderately rather than abruptly. Wage indexation would not mean that no other steps need be taken against inflation; in fact there may still be need for further strong, possibly unpleasant, measures against inflation. Consideration would, of course, need to be given to the form and mechanism of wage adjustment. More specifically, on the question of the manner in which adjustment might take place, one approach would be adjustment corresponding to the whole of the quarterly price rise, as occurred prior to the 1952^-53 decision of the Commission. While this seeks to provide for perfect adjustment, it can be markedly influenced by seasonal factors and there may, indeed, be a case for seeking to minimise this seasonal influence.

Another approach, which has found favour in some overseas countries, is to adjust wages only by certain minimum amounts. In other words, wage adjustment would apply only when there is a rise, or an accumulated rise, or fall in the consumer price index leading to at least, say, a given or an X amount adjustment in the weekly wage. This is not unlike the approach taken in adjusting social service pensions. Personally I do not favour the method I have just mentioned, but it is one which can be thought about.

Consideration would need also to be given to the extent of the application of adjustment to wages. It is surely beyond dispute that at least the minimum wage must be protected. The reasons for this, surely, are self-evident. However, given the basic economic argument, namely, that the introduction of wage indexation should be a force against inflation because it would remove one major argument used in wage claims, the concept of indexation could hardly be restricted to the minimum wage alone. The protection against inflation that indexation offers would need to-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!The Minister's time has expired.

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