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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3101

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Mr Anthony - I will give you leave but you could have the decency to give us a copy in future. When was the statement made available? There is a set procedure in this House covering these matters. You have a copy of the statement with you.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has repeatedly said at question time that if Ministers' answers could take a long time they should seek leave to make a statement after question time. That does not mean that a Minister is always in a position to give a printed version of what he proposes to say any more than I am now reading from a printed version of my proposed statement. Therefore, it is not possible to give a printed version of what one intends to say. I can say - this is not in the printed text - in answer to the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson) that, so far as the State Electricity Commission of Victoria is concerned, the plain facts of the matter are that until the Liberal Government of Victoria directed the State Electricity Commission not to negotiate with the unions in the Morwell Valley, the unions and the authority always settled their differences amicably by negotiation, and there were no disturbance such as the ones we have witnessed in recent years. The Liberal Government of Victoria issued a directive to the Commission saying: 'In no circumstances will you in future negotiate agreements with the unions or try to settle your differences with the unions. From now on they can be settled only by wielding the big stick.' From the moment the Liberal Government of Victoria prevented the Commission from carrying out normal negotiations with the unions which, for years, had been the order of the day we have had trouble in the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, and we will continue to have trouble. That is the real answer to the trouble in the State Electricity Commission of Victoria.

While the Liberal and Country Party senators continue their present obstruction of Government initiatives to reform our outdated labour laws, it is quite futile for anyone to talk about holding Commonwealth-State talks to improve industrial relations. That is the short answer that I give to the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) who asked me a moment ago whether I had noted the call by Mr Hamer and what I intended to do about it. I repeat that while the Liberal and Country Party senators continue to obstruct in the Senate Government legislation aimed at making the arbitration system work, as is now the case, then it will be absolutely futile for the Commonwealth to hold a conference with the State governments. The Australian Parliament has only very limited power to deal with industrial relations, and this power must be exercised through the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. But even this power has been further circumvented by the recent refusals of Liberal and Country Party senators to permit the Government to give legislative effect to its clear mandate for industrial reform. I repeat that the Government did have a clear mandate for industrial reform. Indeed the most contentious of the reforms which the Government had a mandate to introduce, that is, the repeal of the penal provisions, was specifically mentioned not only in the printed platform of the Party but also was specifically spelled out in the official policy speech by the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam).

Mr Cohen - And attacked by the Liberals.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - 'And attacked throughout the campaign by the Liberals. So we can fairly claim that the repeal of the penal provisions was an issue at the election and it was an issue upon which we had a clear mandate. The Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, I repeat, just cannot function properly until the various reforms which the Government has proposed, and which so far have been rejected by the Senate, are in fact passed by the Parliament. In view of what has happened in the Senate, I am now proposing to convene a tripartite industrial' peace conference to consider a package deal for bringing about greater stability to labour relations. I will chair the conference myself.

Mr Snedden - Oh, that is powerful.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Yes, I am prepared to chair the conference myself. I regard it as being one of the most important issues that has ever been proposed by any government since Federation. The present unsettled situation is causing considerable inconvenience as well as financial loss to unions, to employers and to the general public alike. The industrial peace conference will meet in Parliament House, Canberra, on 10 and 11 December 1973 by which time the Government will know the outcome of the referenda to control prices and incomes. I propose to invite representatives of the trade union movement, the Associated Chamber of Manufactures of Australia and the Employers Federation to be represented, together with the permanent head of my Department along with the most senior officers of the Department of Labour. These invitations will be posted to the respective bodies within the next few days.

Among other things, the industrial peace conference will be asked to study the Canadian experience in mediation and voluntary arbitration. This system has the support of the Government. It has the support of the Australian Labor Party, as will be seen by reference to the Party's platform. It is also supported by influential elements of the trade union movement and by the more advanced spokesmen of employer organisations. Ways and means of making better use of conciliation and of ensuring the observance of industrial agreements must be found. We must find a way to make conciliation work and we must find a way to ensure the observance of industrial agreements. The Government is determined to make every effort possible to ensure that this laudable objective becomes a reality.

There is an urgent need for better communication between management and labour and for the removal of the persecution complex which has descended upon the trade union movement via the whole penal provisions of the existing Act. The Act is now functioning without resort to its strike penalties. They are serving no useful purpose and should be repealed, for a trial period at least. The Government is concerned with demands for over-award payments based upon the need to compensate for the erosion of real wages due to price increases that occur between national wage cases. The Government is equally concerned over the nonsensical disputes that revolve around issues like union membership and demarcation disputes.. The Government notes with regret the recent attempts by the New South Wales Government to seek party political capital out of industrial unrest.

Mr Cohen - It is a disgrace.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -It is a disgrace. I thank the honourable gentleman for that comment. It certainly is a disgrace. This Government also deplores the fact that 60 per cent of the Australian work force is employed under awards, determinations and agreements that are governed by the sometimes conflicting laws of six separate State parliaments. Australia must be prepared to adopt the lessons that are being learnt from the experiences of western European countries in the field of worker participation. Considerable benefit will come to labour and management alike from permitting representatives of labour to share in the decision-making processes of management. I am encouraged by the remarks of the Opposition spokesman on labour matters, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who compared with his predecessor appears to be almost a paragon of radical virtue. In order that these and allied questions can be fully debated at every level of labour relations management, government and trade union levels I will ask those attending the initial Conference to report back to their constituent bodies on the feasibility of certain proposals so that a further conference can give a positive response to them. The proposals to be discussed include:

1.   The establishment of a panel of mediators and arbitrators to assist labour and management, in appropriate cases, to reach agreement by way of mediation and voluntary arbitration independently of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. I am pleased to have the nodding approval of the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) to this proposal.

2.   That provided an industrial agreement is approved by the rank and file unionists affected, it shall, when certified by the Commission, have the full force of an award but shall not operate to prevent strike action in respect of matters not covered by the agreement.

3.   The industrial agreements shall operate for a fixed period, not exceeding 3 years, but shall continue to operate after the expiry date except in cases where a party to the agreement gives the required notice to terminate the agreement.

4.   The employer organisation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations and the Labour

Councils in each State undertake to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that agreements made by their constituent bodies are honoured throughout their currency.

5.   That in the event of an agreement being repudiated, either party shall have the right to apply to the Commission for its cancellation.

6.   That in order to bridge misunderstandings and to ensure a convenient and constant means of communication between labour and management, the Government will facilitate the appointment of conciliation committees and employeremployee councils in each State, under the chairmanship of a Commissioner with wide powers to take whatever action is needed to prevent and settle industrial disputes.

7.   That for the purpose of removing the poisoned atmosphere that is now plagueing labour relations, the Government will ask Parliament to grant unions immunity from actions for torts and, at the same time, repeal all penalties for strikes and lockouts against arbitral decisions of the Commission for a trial period of one year and renewed from year to year so that Parliament can examine its operation.

8.   That as a means of obviating the need for wage increases based purely upon price fluctuations between national wage cases, the parties will be asked to request the Commission to reintroduce a system of wage indexation similar to the previous automatic adjustment of the basic wage.

9.   That as a means of eliminating demarcation disputes and disputes over union membership, the parties take such steps as are necessary to facilitate union amalgamation and to introduce preference to unionists.

10.   That in order to overcome the friction and unrest created by State industrial laws that could prejudice the success of the Government's initiatives for industrial peace, the Conciliation and Arbitration Act be amended to permit unions in States with repressive labour laws to apply for the extension of federal jurisdiction to the awards, determinations and agreements now operating under the laws of the offending State.

11.   That agreement be sought for a tripartite mission to visit the countries of Western Europe to examine and report upon the experiences of worker participation arrangements in decision-making processes of management. .

It is hoped that the follow-up conference can be held early in the new year so that legislation can be prepared for presentation to the Parliament at the beginning of the autumn session. If agreement is reached on the question of wage indexation, there would no longer be the need for a national wage case each year, except when increased productivity made it necessary or desirable to lift labour's share of the gross national product, or the Commission desired to lift the general living standards of the work force. Taken together, with effective measures for price control, this step alone would enable the Australian Government to dampen down inflation without causing massive unemployment. Any legislation needed to give effect to the decision of the Industrial Peace Conference will be accorded top priority so that a Bill can be presented to the Parliament at the earliest possible date.

The terms of reference have been carefully selected in order to ensure that the High Court will not invalidate the legislation necessary to give effect to whatever agreement is reached within the context of the 11-point program that I have proposed. I do not believe that the High Court will adopt a cast iron attitude towards questions of Commonwealth jurisdiction. I believe that the High Court will take the same realistic attitude towards Commonwealth power in the field of industrial relations as it did in the recent concrete pipes case which overturned the Huddart Parker v. Moorehead decision of some 40 years earlier. I believe that the High Court will find that the Constitution gives to the Parliament the power to do all the things upon which the Conference is likely to reach agreement. However, in the event of the High Court refusing to uphold the powers needed to implement the agreement reached by the parties, the Prime Minister will convene a conference of State Premiers to ask the States to transfer to the Australian Parliament such powers as are necessary to enable the Australian Government to give the agreement reached at the Industrial Peace Conference the necessary legislative backing. If the State Premiers reject the Prime Minister's request, the Australian Government will seek the necessary amendment to the Australian Constitution to clothe the Australian Parliament with the same powers to regulate labour relations as those which presently reside with the 6 State parliaments.

The initiative which the Government is now taking is the most significant step taken in the field of industrial relations since Federation. Given the goodwill that I believe can be generated by a conference of this kind - it cannot be generated by a conference of this kind if members of the Opposition now try to seize on some petty party political point to try to throw cold water on it - Australia is, in my view, standing at the threshold of an entirely new and more fruitful and production era in its industrial relations.

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