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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 3512

Mr VINER (Stirling) - I wish to make a few remarks on the estimates for the Department of Labour. The first matter to which I wish to refer is the role of the inspectorate within the Department of Labour. I was intrigued to receive the booklet 'Towards a New Life', being a progress report by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) on the contribution made through his portfolio. It is a magnificent little booklet that is printed in a bright red colour. To think what this new industrial life will be under the aegis of the Minister - life under Labor; life under Clyde - with this inspectorate that has been established or is proposed to be established must make many employers throughout Australia concerned at what lies ahead of them. Is there to be a great bureaucratic department of inspectors who will go out into all industry and carry out their inspectorial duties pursuant to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act?

In the past there has been provision in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the appointment of inspectors and authority has been given to them to prosecute for breaches of an award. It is an authority which is not only given to an inspector but is also given to a long list of other persons. It is as well to remind the Committee who they are. Subsection 2 of section 119 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act states that any penalty for breach of an award may be sued for and recovered by the Registrar, an inspector, any organisation which is affected or whose members or any of them are affected by the breach, any member of any organisation who is affected by the breach, any party to the award or order, or any officer of an organisation which is affected or whose members are affected and who is authorised to institute the prosecution. A wide range of persons is authorised to enforce the Act and enforce awards if there has been any breach. So why has it been necessary for the Minister to propose, as he said in his little booklet, a trebling of the number of inspectors? That is what he has said.

He said that his objectives will require a trebling of the existing number of inspectors. He said that action has already been taken to commence the first stage of the increase in size of the inspectorate and that he expects another 40 or 50 inspectors to be in their posts by the end of this year. I should like the Minister for Labour to explain to the Committee how many of these inspectors have already been appointed. If the total of 40 to 50 have not been appointed, when will they be appointed?

To take it further, I ask the Minister: When is it expected that the full size of the inspectorate^ - the trebling of its existing size - will be achieved? Not only that. Once all these inspectors have been appointed, what will be their role? How will they operate? Are they to operate on their own initiative, simply taking an industry at a time or, say, a group of industries at a time in a particular State, making a factory by factory or office by office examination of the employers to establish whether they have been observing the award? Will the inspectors act not on their own initiative but on a request of a union or of an employee who has a complaint and goes to the Department of Labour? Will they act upon an instruction or a request by the Registrar? Indeed, how are these inspectors to go about their task? With this trebling in size of the inspectorate, I should like to know, and I am sure employers throughout Australia would like to know, the answers to those questions. Will the inspectors be given carte blanche to perform their duties however they like? If they are not to act on their own initiative but are to wait until a union or an employee or someone else has brought a matter to their notice, will it be the inspectorate which will prosecute? Why will it not toe left to the unions, which already have the authority to institute proceedings?

In my experience in Western Australia, unions have been very active under both State and Federal awards in looking after the interests of their members and in bringing prosecutions where that has been thought necessary. Does the Minister for Labour consider that the unions have not been doing their job, have not been looking after the interests of their members, have been falling down on the job and that because of this he must establish a new bureaucracy in order to do what the unions have failed to do? As I have said, in my experience the unions have done their job and have done it very well. They have acted as a watchdog for their members to see that the awards have been observed. A situation in Western Australia has come to my notice where, for example, a union and an employer by agreement have conducted affairs in the employer's establishment not exactly in terms of the award. Along comes an inspector who observes this practice and says: 'Notwithstanding the agreement, I am going to apply the letter of the law. I am going to prosecute'. He has done so and the Industrial Court has been obliged to find the employer guilty, when he could have protested his innocence because of the agreement between him and the union. I ask the Minister for Labour whether that is going to be the basis upon which the inspectorate will carry out its work. Will it disregard custom and practice within an industry, agreements between employers and unions, by which the establishment has conducted itself? These are very real questions that I think the Minister must answer rather than in this grandiose way simply say that he is leading industry throughout Australia to a new life. We have yet to see what that new life will be.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I want to touch briefly on another matter. I refer to the peace conference which the Minister has called. I ask the Minister to explain to me and to the Committee the relationship between the peace conference he has called for 10 December and the special committee of inquiry which he also announced in the booklet Towards a New Life' and which previously he has mentioned in this House? Is it intended that the peace conference will subvert that committee of inquiry? Is it intended that the committee of inquiry will not be called into being at all? I notice that, of the 11 points listed for discussion at the peace conference, a good many were proposed to be items for in-depth study by the committee of inquiry.

Another question relating to the peace conference and the proposals put forward by the Minister for Labour in relation to the peace conference needs to be answered. I refer particularly to the Minister's proposal for mediation and conciliation in support of voluntary negotiations to reach agreement between employers and unions and, as the Minister quite deliberately said, independently of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. As has been described in the Press, the voluntary negotiated agreement presumably will run in tandem with the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

But where will the Minister obtain the skilled mediators and conciliators if this independent course of voluntary negotiation is pursued? The most experienced people in Australia in the field of mediation and conciliation are presently within the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Is it proposed to draw them from the Commission and to place them on these new committees to provide support for voluntary agreements? If the Minister's idea is to draw this skill from the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, how will he replace this skill? Is it intended to be part of a process whereby the conciliation and arbitration system will be weakened in order to strengthen voluntary negotiations - a polite euphemism for collective bargaining? If that is to be the case, how will these 2 systems be able to run in tandem? Once we draw the skilled operators away from one part of the system and put them into another, the 2 systems cannot run in tandem. If the Minister does not propose to draw the mediators and conciliators from the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, from where will he obtain them? Who will they be? What pool of skill does he know exists in Australia from which to draw them? In other words, before the Minister's 11 point program can make any real progress we need to have answered the 2 points that I have raised, firstly, whether the special committee of inquiry is to run in tandem with the Minister's peace conference, or whether it is to be forgotten and brushed under the carpet, and secondly, the Minister's idea of voluntary negotiated agreements and mediators and conciliators needs much better definition before it can get off the ground.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin)Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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