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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3164

Mr HEWSON (McMillan) - I want to place on record my very grave concern at what this Government is allowing to happen in Victoria and the consequential hardships being experienced by the population because of the Government's inability to bring about a settlement of the strike by the electrical trades workers employed by the State Electricity Commission in Victoria. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) has failed to reassure me that he has any real concern for the people he so proudly boasts that he and his Government represent. This strike - one of many being allowed to drift on; or perhaps it is inspired by Labor Party supporters - illustrates the insincerity of the Government which refuses leave to honourable members to talk about such problems in this House. I have yet to hear the Minister for Labour accept my invitation to come to the Latrobe Valley to talk to the electrical trades workers or to listen to their side of the case. Industrial turmoil is tearing at the heart of the nation's industrial, commercial and community life. Mr Bob Hawke, the man who wears or attempts to wear 2 hats, one as President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the other as President of the Australian Labor Party, recognises the dispute as being one of national importance. But he has failed absolutely to help the situation. The men rejected his terms. He did not go along himself to hear their case; he sent someone else to do it, so he got the information second hand.

I ask the Government: Is it insensitive to the loss of $9m in wages over the last 2 weeks as a result of power rationing in factories? This is almost the figure for the whole of last year. What will the total figure be for the whole of this year when we achieve that figure in only 2 weeks? I believe there is a very fundamental reason why the electrical trades workers cannot accept the present offer. It could well be that a previous award introduced to cover the creation of a new classification has upset relativity payments and created a chain reaction of entitlement.

There are many points in favour of a round table discussion to which I have invited the Minister for Labour. His lack of interest causes me concern because I am now faced with the grim reality of seeing hundreds of people affected by this strike of over 5 weeks duration. I see the looks of despair on honest men's faces as they stand by the principles they hold dear. I hope these desperate men are not being misled by their union leaders. It seems incredible if they are, so I am assuming until I am satisfied further that the State Electricity Commission and its employees are deadlocked. No one from the Minister's Department or the Minister himself has bothered to stir himself to try to solve this serious matter.

I was amazed to hear the Minister for Labour say that the Victorian Liberal Government was standing over the State Electricity Commission administration to create the impression to the public that the Federal Government was incapable of handling such a situation. What a ridiculous statement. It does not take any action by the Victorian Government to highlight the fact that this Federal Government is an incompetent, irresponsible and" incapable Government. It is all very well to blame the Victorian Government when this Government gives great credence to the role of the great arbitrator, Mr Bob Hawke. He waited until he thought the men would surrender and then he stepped in and delivered his ultimatum, hoping that he would join the ranks of 'I am the greatest'. But he was rebuffed. So, with complete abandonment, he trips overseas and lets this situation deteriorate.

Well, Mr Speaker, I am not prepared to let the matter rest there. I hope to enthuse enough responsibility into the Minister for Labour to see him accept my invitation. But I personally have grave doubts because of his performance to date. In fact, his nation-wide broadcast, stating that he is preparing for a national conference as soon as the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions leaves the country, indicates to me that he is prepared to prance around and make great clarion calls for industrial peace. He is another who wants to be 'the greatest'. But he is not prepared to take individual strike issues of an unusual nature and get down to a face to face, nitty gritty decision. It may upset his national image to descend to more material and realistic practicalities of industrial problems. Is the Minister sincere when he talks about this great national conference on industrial matters and in his great praise of the conciliation and arbitration system which he says should operate similarly and which would do so if he were prepared to make it do so.

As I have said, it is all very well to put over to the strikers the story that their plight can be blamed on the Victorian Government. But that is purely a smokescreen for this Government's failure to ensure that the conciliation and arbitration system works. If union leaders are irresponsible enough to flout genuine decisions, then I would sack them. I would sack them if they perpetuated a strike to the detriment of the workers whom they are highly paid to protect. I also would stop the union leaders' pay for the duration of the strike. I am sure that if union leaders' pockets were as empty as the workers' pockets are whenever a strike occurs there would be fewer strikes. So let me assume that the union leaders in this strike do not fall into that category. As I have stated, people are concerned. I am concerned. I must assume, because of what I see around me, that this Government and the Minister have no sympathy for the children, the wives and the workers. I share with all the families affected by the strike all the desires for a settlement as quickly as possible. I am appalled by the shallow political motives which point by innuendo to the State Government as the arch villain. This Australian Labor Party Government, for the basest of reasons, stands idly by while mothers are forced to give cold meals to their childen and to put them to bed in the dark with no warmth on cold nights because of power restrictions.

Where is the age of industrial reasonableness which the Minister promised? Where is his sense of compassion? The answer is that there is no reasonableness or compassion in this Minister for Labour. His sense of responsibility lies in the gutter in-fights of Labor policy making, where he performs so well to the detriment of the nation as a whole. His false and mocking television image stands naked. It is an image fuelled on egotism but never on responsibility. The strike to which I refer is now in its sixth week. It has gone beyond the normal avenues for settlement. In all conscience, I appeal to the Minister to reject his Utopia of national conferences and to be a man and come among men.

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