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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 2013

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Senator Hannan,who has just resumed his seat, made great play of his membership of a trade union. Perhaps it is not widely known that the union to which he belongs is Actors Equity Association of Australia. After watching his performance tonight all honourable senators can readily understand why he had to seek alternate employment. In the midst of his waffling speech he challenged senators on this side of the chamber to get back to the Bill. It was an odd challenge coming from him, but I propose to take him up on it. It is about time that the Senate got back to considering what is before it. The Bill is not one to improve industrial relations; it is one to improve the Government's fortunes. It is quite clear that, as far as the Government is concerned, industrial relations run a poor second to public relations.

It is interesting to observe how the high principles which are supposed to inform the legislation took such a battering between the date of the statement of intent by the Minister for Labour and National

Service (Mr Lynch) on 7th December last and the date of the introduction of the Bill. For example, a critical editorial in the Metral Trades Industry Association of Australia paper was enough to dissolve the Government's firm intention to do what the Minister stated to be its firm intention, namely to provide that 'a full bench of the Commission must review a conciliated award or order if the Commonwealth refers an award or order on the issue of public interests. The Commission will be empowered to confirm the award or order in the light of what is put to it or to make such changes as it deems necessary'. They were the firm words and the firm intention of the Government before any pressure was brought to bear on it. In his second reading speech the Minister said:

Tn my statement of 7th December, I indicated that the Goverment intended to provide that a Full Bench of the Commission must review a conciliated award if the Commonwealth referred such an award on the issue of public interest. After careful consideration-

That is the Government's euphemism for after pressure from people whom we dare not offend' - the Government has decided not to proceed with this proposal. This clearly indicates the responsible manner in which the Government has undertaken the task of reviewing the Act

What months of careful thought and consultation should have made clear to the Government became apparent only when a powerful employers organisation trained its guns on the Government.

Another great gap between principle and performance is to be found in the Government's provisions or lack of provisions as to compulsory unionism. Once more the brave words of Mr Lynch at the time of the statement of intent were a proclamation of the great menace of compulsory unionism in these words:

While the Government has always encouraged the organisation of representative bodies of employers and employees and their registration under the Act and has encouraged workers to join their appropriate unions, it believes that coercive action to force people to join unions is wrong in principle.

Let us note this recurring word 'principle' and let us see how the Government sticks to its principles. The Minister continued:

It is contrary to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is a matter to which I will be referring in my proposals for amendments to the legislation.

He also said:

We wilt amend the provisions of the Act relating to registered organisations to prevent unions from enforcing compulsory unionism.

Let us listen to what Mr Lynch had to say a little later, after his principles had had time to pass through the fire of the pressures that mean so much to the Government. In his second reading speech Mr Lynch said:

Before turning to a new subject, I want to refer to the proposals as to compulsory unionism that 1 outlined in my statement on 7th December last. Since then, the Government has given very careful consideration to this matter.

Once again the euphemism 'very careful consideration' means bowing to the pressures that mean votes. Mr Lynch came up with this conclusion:

On balance, we are now of the view that disadvantages and practical problems associated with amendments of the nature we had in mind could outweigh the advantages.

Why did he need the fulminations of the Democratic Labor Party to find out that compulsory unionism had disadvantages and difficulties? Once again we see that it is not principles that count with the Government, but the plain, shoddy, mundane consideration of votes.

Another example of what pressure can do to the Government's principles is contained in the provisions dealing with amalgamations. Let me remind honourable senators that Mr Lynch's statement of intent of 7th December 1971 was made after months of consideration and after months of consultation with the unions and employers. It was determined after a most mature consideration of the subject. In his speech of 7th December the words amalgamate' and 'amalgamation' do not occur. Then we were confronted with the furore that came from the DLP over the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union - a great aggregation of workers who joined together under one banner. The amalgamation was approved by the employers and Mr Lynch. We must remember that Mr Lynch was forced into a corner by the approval of the employers and by the approval of such authoritative spokesmen of his principles as the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and he could not get off the limb onto which he had worked himself. He had said that he could see nothing wrong with the amalgamation, but the people on whom he depended for support did not like the amalgamation. He could not retreat from it. Instead he threw, as a sop to the Democratic Labor Party, the amalgamation provisions in the Bill which can be described only as a code to prevent union amalgamation. Is this an example of high principle? In this, as in every other aspect of the Bill, we observe the Government looking over its shoulder at the employers, keeping its ear cocked to the DLP and ignoring only the unions. Of course it has decided, as ever, that votes are to be garnered by putting the boot into the unions.

Let us look at some of the provisions of the Bill. Firstly let us consider what is at the heart of the industrial problem in this country and at all the debate about the regulation of industrial matters - that is, the matter of strikes and sanctions. Let us get this matter of strikes in perspective before we decide whether the Government had any justification in doing what it has done in the BUI - that is, set the clock back in the matter of sanctions. As other speakers on this side have pointed out, serious and all as it may be, the time lost through strikes - half a day per man per year - is a drop in the ocean compared to the loss in production due to industrial accidents and due to the unnecessary time and production lost through the Governmentinduced unemployment which has plagued this country during the last year. If one thinks in terms of 60,000 men unnecessarily out of work over a period of a year and the production lost during that time one does not give a great deal of thought to the half day per man per year which is lost in strikes. Of course, if we want to put the matter into perspective I suggest that we should look to none other than the Minister for Labour and National Service himself and what he said in the statement of intent in December last. The Minister stated:

Statistics compiled from ILO sources indicate that for the 5 years 1965 to 1969 the average annual number of man-days lost per 1,000 employees in the mining, manufacturing, construction and transport industries in Australia was 456, compared wilh 1,556 for Canada, 1,232 for the United States and 1,574 for Italy. Furthermore, most countries are showing a rising trend in time lost through industrial disputes. For example, the number of man-days lost in 1970 was at least 30 per cent higher in the United States, about 60 per cent higher in the United Kingdom and 100 per cent higher in New Zealand than in the previous year.

In other words, there are 2 conclusions to be drawn from the figures from this impeccable source - the Minister for Labour and National Service - firstly, that this trend to increasing strikes is common to all advanced industrial countries. I suggest that it might be for the same reason that in all advanced industrial countries workers are confronted with the problem of wages chasing prices. They see no other way of making ends meet than to use whatever industrial muscle they have. The second conclusion to be drawn from Mr Lynch's figures is that the problem is less acute in Australia than it is in these other countries.

In the face of this situation we find in the legislation before us an attempt to put the clock back, as I have said, on the matter of machinery for the settlement of industrial disputes and in the matter of sanctions which the Government seeks to have at its disposal to enforce its will on working men seeking wage justice. We have only to cast our minds back to the traumatic experiences of the metal trades strikes stemming from the decision of the Commission in the metal trades case at the end of 1968 which led to a rash of strikes early in 1969. Under the old bad unworkable sanction clauses in the Act - the old sections 109 and 111 - an employer could automatically without any certificate from the President or anyone else rush along to the industrial court, get an order against a union and then proceed to have that union fined and loaded with heavy costs. There was a great rash of these strikes and a great rash of proceedings under section 109 until the Commission itself realised that it had made an awful mistake in the award which had caused this trouble. That was the award in which the Commission attempted to say that the minimum wage would be the maximum wage by inviting employers to absorb over-award payments they had been making up till then in the rises that had then been given. Later that practice went by the board. The Government itself acknowledged that these penalty provisions were unworkable. In 1970 it introduced the present section 32a which provides for an investigation of the facts on their merits when a strike occurs and for penalties to be imposed only at the discretion of the court when all of these merits had been investigated and nothing else appeared able to be done.

Under proposed new section 33 which will replace section 32a all discretion is taken away from the court and now the presidential member who is considering the matter is not entitled to refuse an application for a certificate to proceed for a penalty unless he believes that the strike is on the verge of settlement. That is not the way to settle disputes. I suggest that the Government must know, with the experience it has, that this is not the way to settle disputes. I suggest that the purpose of this new inflexibility in the Bill is not to settle disputes; it is purely electoral. This action has been taken in order to enable this Government to pose - it is not a pose that Senator Greenwood finds difficult to adopt if we can judge from the smirk that is now spreading across his face - as the tough law and order Government. It is a scheme which is designed to intimidate the unions in the general interests that the Government has in imposing a wage freeze.

Another similar step is the revival of the hoary unworkable strike ballots. This is based on the idea that men on the job have nothing to do with strikes. It is said that men go on strike - and I heard this echoed again last night by none other than the pundit from Tasmania, Senator Lillico - because of some wicked men up there in the union office who call them out on strike. One wonders how these men who do these things that are so contrary to the will of their members ever get to be re-elected. However, this is part of the mythology of this Government. It thinks that the cure is to have a strike ballot when men are talking about a strike because somehow or other this will get behind the backs of their wicked union officials. The Government ignores the evidence of history. It ignores the Donovan Report which investigated this matter in 1968 and which found that this sort of legislation is absolutely fruitless, especially in the case of short strikes, as are most strikes. How does one hold a ballot when men are out for a day, or a day and a half?

In the United States and Canada it was found that when strike ballots were held the ballots overwhelmingly supported the strikes. Of course, once one held such a ballot and the men voted for it, what would be the result? One would have legitimised and extended the strike and made it more difficult to settle. I believe that this matter of strike ballots alone indicates either the total unreality of the Government's thinking, as instanced by the remarks of Senator Lillico last night, or its total cynicism. I prefer to think that the second is the real explanation. I do not believe that the Government is silly enough to think that this system will work. This is just a bit of window dressing or grandstanding. I believe that the Government has no intention of trying to apply these provisions. I would remind the Government that provisions such as this have been in the Act for many years and have been available to this Government. However, those provisions have been used only 3 times since 1928. The new provisions will make almost no change in the existing provisions. Why has the Government put these provisions in the Bill? I believe it has done it so that it can say to the public: We are the law and order Government. We are going to have strike ballots'. We say to the Government that it always had these provisions but has not used them. So this action is hypocrisy; it is a fraud.

Another section of the Bill provides for the separation of conciliation and arbitration. I suggest to honourable senators that this is by far the most crass and pointless section of the Bill. Under the present system an arbitration commissioner takes over the conduct of a dispute. He gets the parties together and holds conferences. If they cannot settle, they proceed to arbitration. But it is the same man who is apprised of all the circumstances of the dispute. He has been with the parties attempting to knock their heads together. Of course all is not lost even when they go into arbitration. But under this scheme at a certain point after the conciliation commissioner - who is a completely separate individual, somebody from another planet compared to an arbitration commissioner - has failed to settle the matter he bows out and a different person altogether - the arbitration commissioner - takes over. In proposed new section 30 there is this curious and extraordinary provision which says that when a conciliation commissioner has bowed out of the proceedings he shall:

.   . not disclose anything said or done in the conciliation proceedings concerning matters in dispute thai remain unsettled.

This provision really makes me rub my eyes. What a wasted effort. This trained man who has sat down with the parties, perhaps for days, who knows all about the case and who now has to bow out of it cannot make available to the new person who takes over the matter anything of what he has learnt. The new person has to start from scratch. Is this going to expedite the settlement of industrial disputes? This is part of what is alleged to be the streamlining of the Act but which, in reality, is merely word and rhetoric. This is certainly a far cry from the aim of the Act which is set out in section 2 and which is, among other things, the settlement of disputes with a minimum of form and technicality. How can we take seriously the claim of this Government that this is a Bill for the settlement of industrial disputes when it introduces this unnecessary complication, this absurd obfuscation, into the conciliation and arbitration process.

I do not have time to deal in detail with the matter of amalgamations. I shall merely reiterate what I said earlier and that is that in reality this rs a code for the prevention of amalgamations. This flies in the face of the recommendations of employers who have stated that they prefer to deal with a large, powerful union rather than with a multiplicity of unions, because employers learn in the course of their experience that if they have to sit around with 15 unions instead of one the proceedings are going to be prolonged. Of course, as everybody also knows, it is the proliferation of many unions which is the real cause of the great number of demarcation disputes which account for some 11 per cent of the disputes which occur in this country in the course of a year. But in the face of all this, in the face of the obviously common sense tendency in the community to amalgamate, the Government has confronted unions which wish to amalgamate with what amounts to an obstacle race. I make bold to say that any unions which are prepared to embark on the perilous, difficult and complex matter of amalgamation in the light of this code are very brave indeed. We, in office, as one of our first steps in dealing with this Act will certainly remove these absurd and reactionary principles which are inserted in relation to amalgamations.

Other incidental clauses in the Bill are almost breathtaking in their implications. One to which I shall refer just in passing is proposed new section 153a which creates an all time high in the intervention of government into the affairs of a voluntary organisation. We will be dealing with this proposed new section at the Committee stage. Briefly, it deals with the obligations of unions to disclose all their banking arrangements in readiness for a pounce by the Government if and when it can impose the penalties and fines which, up to now, it has not been able to collect and which, I suggest, despite this legislation it still will not be able to collect. Also we will be proposing alterations to the Principal Act. The Minister has claimed that he has embarked on a total and detailed recasting of the Act. That invites us to look at some of the matters in the existing Act which we would like to have changed. I shall not embark on them at the moment because my time is running out but I shall sum up in the brief time which I have. There have been major amendments to this highly important Act, one of the most important that govern our affairs, in the years 1947, 1956, 1960 and 1970.

In the past there has been some attempts - even though they may have been bumbling attempts - to deal with the problem of industrial relations. But this year all that we have from the Government is pure politics, the separation of conciliation and arbitration, the requirement that the Commission which, under the Constitution is charged merely with the settlement of industrial disputes, should take upon itself a consideration of the state of the national economy in the course of its deliberations, the widening of the role of the Full Bench - let us not forget that with a Full Bench, under the Act the Commonwealth has the right to intervene - and the closer scrutiny of industrial agreements.

All this points to a concerted policy on the part of this Government to try to stem the trend to negotiate agreements, maximum intervention by the Government and to maximum pressure on the Commission in the direction of the real aim of this Government, which is to achieve a wage freeze. A wage freeze will not work in the absence of other measures, including price justification, tariff reform and amendment of the Trade Practices Act. By that I mean a real amendment and not the pale amendment that was foreshadowed by the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood) today. In the absence of these broad, fiscal and monetary measures and measures directed to interest rates it is absolutely futile and whistling in the dark for the Government to imagine that it has any chance whatsoever to impose a wage freeze. We on this side dispute the continued claim we hear from the other side of the chamber that wages are the real cause of price increases. We believe, on the other hand, that wages are continually chasing prices.

We believe that instead of making the Commission an instrument of industrial instability this Bill will merely drive outside the system the parties involved in industrial disputation or industrial discussion. In that way this Bill will not achieve what the Government claims it will achieve. It will achieve exactly the opposite. Its measures in relation to amalgamations will merely increase demarcation disputes. In that way this Bill will counter the Government's vaunted aim of minimising disputes. Its interference in voluntary organisations as expressed in proposed new section 153a, I suggest, will alarm similar voluntary organisations throughout the community. This Bill is a grandstanding attempt by the Government to show strength, but it really discloses only its weakness. It is a bad Bill. It is an insincere and irresponsible Bill. Above all, it will not work. It should be rejected by the Senate.

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