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Thursday, 25 May 1972
Page: 2104

Senator POYSER (Victoria) - I join with other Opposition senators in congratulating Senator Bishop upon the excellent, manner in which he put the case of the Opposition against this legislation. I want to refer to 3 factors that are rather disturbing and unusual in relation to this Bill and its presentation. The first factor is that at present the Liberal Party supporters have succumbed to the arguments of the Labor Party and have withdrawn from the battle. Not only have they withdrawn from the battle, but they have also taken their bat home and I understand that they do not intend to take any further part in the discussion. This is a credit to the case we have been able to put against this legislation. The second factor is that we again have a major Bill presented before the Senate in the dying hours of a session. I recall that the Government used exactly the same tactic on the last occasion that the Senate debated amendments to the

Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The Senate sat right through until about 7.30 ou the morning of the last day of the session in order to enable Labor Party speakers adequately and properly to debate the measure.

Senator Young (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Whose fault was that?

Senator POYSER - It was the fault of the Government because it is afraid to bring in major legislation of this nature in the early part of a session when it can be fully debated and scrutinised. The Government has used these tactics ever since it took office. Important issues are left to the end of the session in the belief that senators and members of the House of Representatives will want to get home to their electorates and will cut back the debating time to suit the convenience of the Government. I assure the Gobernment that we on this side of the chamber are prepared to sit this week, next week and the following week adequately and properly lo debate not only the second reading of this Bill but also the clauses at the Committee stage. Many more sound arguments will be placed by the Opposition before the Senate at the Committee stage.

The third factor is the most intriguing of all. Instead of the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) who represents the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch), handling this Bill in the Senate, it is being handled by the Attorney-General (Senator Greenwood), a procedure I have not seen before. I have not previously seen a Bill taken out of the hands of the appropriate Minister in the Senate.

Senator McAuliffe - Have you been here long?

Senator POYSER - Quite long enough to know that it is a precedent in my time. It seems to me that either Senator Wright did not have the interest and the will to guide this legislation through or Senator Greenwood is to be used as the hatchet man to force it through at all costs. Despite the fact that this legislation has come very late to the Senate with some degree of urgency, it has not been brought in as an urgent matter, judging from the reasons given for its submission to the Parliament. This has been a deliberate act by the Government in seeking an election issue or to build up its lost prestige.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson) - Order! Perhaps the honourable senator could now lead into the substance of the Bill.

Senator POYSER - I am giving the reasons why the Government has introduced it, Mr Deputy President. If that is unsatisfactory I am afraid that I must continue to refer to this in another way. The Bill has been presented in order to confront the trade union movement with the pernicious clauses it contains for the purpose of fighting an election on the issue of law and order. The Government thought at one stage that the big election issue would be apartheid. At one stage it thought it would be the Vietnam war. Because Labor's ideas on those issues found public support, the Government has gone back to the stage of believing that a head-on collision between the trade union movement and the Government could lead to a oig victory for it. But it has made one major mistake on this occasion because its actions have caused a binding together of the forces of the working class movement in this country. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, the major white collar organisations and the Public Service bodies have combined to the extent that the 3 groups have expressed their total opposition to this legislation, as Labor members have said both here and in another place.

This has never before happened in the history of the trade union movement. If one good thing has come out of this terrible legislation it is the welding together of the working class more closely than it has ever been welded together before. The Government has made a fighting machine out of the workers of this country against the legislation that the Government is intending to impose upon them. Honourable senators opposite are interjecting because they are hurt. The Government has believed in the past that the working class movement has been completely divided on this issue. Members of the working class are as one and the Government will hear more about the unity of the working class in this country.

The Government claims to have submitted this legislation because of an outbreak of strikes. This claim has been completely refuted by Opposition speakers on many occasions in this debate. We have to refer only to the statements of Mr Justice Kirby to establish quite clearly that the trade union movement in this country has acted responsibly and has not put on strikes willy nilly. The trade unions have moved to industrial action only when most sorely pressed to do so. It is a matter of historical knowledge that the trade union movement has been able to control disputes in this country far better than they have in any other Western country. The result is that the strike periods in Australia on average have been far shorter than in any other country because of the method of negotiation that the trade union movement has been able to develop between employer and employee. The method has been developed through discussions and decisions instigated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

One of the reasons given for the introduction of this legislation was the strike by State Electricity Commission workers in Victoria. This has been mentioned by many honourable senators opposite as one of the reasons why this legislation must be introduced. The SEC strike in Victoria was deliberately and positively prolonged by the direct action of the Premier of Victoria who wanted a law and order issue there. He refused to allow proper negotiations to take place between the trade union movement and the Arbitration Commission at that time. It is a matter of record that the direct interference of the Premier of Viatoria not only prolonged the strike but also caused its escalation. Yet that strike is given as the reason why this measure has been introduced, a measure that is detrimental to the working class movement in this country. The Government has no other reason for its introduction than the reasons I outlined in the opening stages of my speech.

It is an election issue. At one election Petrov was used as the big issue. The Government has kicked the communist can as often as possible in recent election periods until the people have become sick and tired of it and it can no longer be used as an issue. In one election the Government used the Vietnam war as an issue and on that occasion it was successful. However, it cannot be successful any more because Australians have been educated into the truth of that conflict. On the pretext of bringing together the trade union movement and employers in conciliation, the Government has deliberately introduced an amendment that will make it so much more difficult for the unions and employers to meet and to solve their problems.

It is interesting to read the long title of the principal Act. It is: 'An Act relating to the prevention and settlement of certain industrial disputes, and for other purposes.' From that one could be excused for believing that the prime objective of this legislation is conciliation, yet over the years ever>' amendment introduced by this Government has represented a move towards less conciliation and more arbitration. To that extent the trade union movement is now rightly moving into the field of direct negotiation, which is the only avenue left to it. Not only is the Government legislating at this level; it is also intervening in all major cases before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to ensure that workers get nothing by way of improved labour conditions and bigger pay packets.

The entire role of the Government has been to create a situation in which only one section of the community pays for the Government's sins over 23 years that have produced inflation. Working class people on low wages are the ones who have to pay. The Government has deliberately looked after the tall poppies. The trade union movement will not tolerate this kind of action, irrespective of the pernicious legislation that the Government is now attempting to have passed in this Parliament. The Government is becoming more stupid. Its stupidity was evidenced by the penalties in relation to stoppages. The Government has carried the water to the well too often. Now the trade union movement has said: Thus far and no further'. Over the past 2 years or so the Government has not been able to collect the fines imposed on unions, and employers are not game now to go into the courts on that issue due to the courageous action of Clarrie O'Shea, who made the decision to go to gaol rather than pay fines imposed on members of his union. This was the turning point in the fight against penal provisions that are already in the Act.

If the Government were sincere in its desire to improve industrial relations in this country, it would foster discussions with the trade union movement and employer organisations in an attempt to evolve formulas whereby employer-employee relations, and the Government's approach to industrial relations, would be improved immensely. Instead of doing that, the Government has done exactly the opposite. When meaningful discussions were being held between Mr Bob Hawke on behalf of the trade union movement, and Mr Polites on behalf of the employers, the discussions were sabotaged by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) because they were getting too close to a formula which would bring peace in industry.

This is the situation we are facing today. Now legislation has been brought forward in this form to ensure that the gap in industrial relationships is widened rather than narrowed. Mr Polites and Mr Hawke, after long discussions, were brushed aside. The Minister said that irrespective of what decisions had been made by them, and how meaningful the discussions had been, he intended to adopt a certain course. There was no question of the Government's considering the matters that had been agreed upon by the representatives of those 2 great organisations. It was merely a matter of the Government bulldozing the people and imposing its own views on them. Now the Government has entered the field of amalgamations - following pressure by the Democratic Labor Party in the Senate. It endeavoured to stop the amalgamation of the 3 metal trades unions, which must be to the betterment of every member associated with them. The Government has now reached the stage of introducing legislation to make subsequent amalgamations extremely difficult. The Government failed in its first attempt to stop the amalgamation of the metal trades unions, but it is sure that it will not fail in its second attempt.

The provisions relating to amalgamations are ridiculous in the extreme. If a small union with 2,000 or 3,000 members wants to amalgamate with a union which has 50,000 or 60,000 members, the Government will compel both unions to hold a ballot and to get a 50 per cent return of ballot papers. It is remarkable that the Liberal Party and the conservatives are so concerned about getting a 50 per cent return in a trade union ballot. Their policy, at least in Victoria for many years, has been one of freedom to vote, particularly in municipal elections. It is true that some municipalities in Victoria by their own decision have made voting compulsory, but the vast majority of local government elections in Victoria are held on the basis that a person eligible to vote may do so or may decline to do so. I venture to say that only 25 per cent to 30 per cent of eligible ratepayers have voted in the majority of local government elections in Victoria, at least in cities, towns and shires outside the metropolitan area of Melbourne. If the Government is so concerned about this great democratic method of election it should move quickly to that end, with the co-operation of State parliaments, to ensure that this system of so-called democracy is available to all. If it did so, and this method became the criterion, more than half the city, town and shire councillors in Victoria would be ineligible to take their places on the councils.

There is an example of the Government's double standards in relation to the trade union movement and the citadels of capital, as has been indicated by Senator Mulvihill. The Government's actions in other fields have proved this conclusively. We will not support the legislation in any shape or form. We support the efforts, actions and decisions of the trade union movement and the white collar movement in relation to these matters. We believe that this Bill is a deliberate attempt to widen the gap in relationships between the Government and unionists, and between employers and unionists. It is not an attempt to improve industrial relations. It has been done deliberately so that at the end of the year Government supporters can make political capital out of it on the hustings. I will have more to say at the Committee stage, when some clauses of this pernicious legislation will be discussed in more detail. I hope the Senate will throw the Bill out before it reaches the Committee stage.

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