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Tuesday, 30 May 1972
Page: 2248

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I further support the views put forward so lucidly by the previous 2 speakers. I think that every honourable senator on the Opposition side, from the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) down, was inundated over the weekend with representations from the trade union movement about this clause. They referred to the way in which this was being rushed through. The AttorneyGeneral implies that he is leading the trade union movement to the promised land but he is completely off the track. I do not want to recapitulate the situations that confront some of the unions that were mentioned by the Attorney-General and other speakers; I simply want to give another illustration of why, in my opinion, the Government would be fully justified in spending the entire recess in conference with affected unions and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

I refer firstly to the New South Wales branch of the Australian Railways Union which has a membership of over 30,000. Because of the wage scale of the members of this union it would not be regarded as a very wealthy union. They are concerned about something which probably is inevit able. There is a small organisation in the New South Wales railway system which is known as the New South Wales Government Railway Canvas Workers Union. Its membership would be 600. In effect, under the Minister's proposal, the ratio would be even worse than that between the 2,000 chemical workers and the 68,000 members of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia. In this case the ratio would be 600 to over 30,000. I am trying to be charitable to the Attorney-General in what he has said. In his second reading speech he stated:

There is provision in proposed new section 158t for the Minister to direct that expenses incurred in running an amalgamation ballot be borne by the Commonwealth to the extent that those expenses amount to more than the expenses that would have been incurred by an organisation if it had conducted the ballot itself.

I return to the operations of the Australian Railways Union. It has a triennial ballot. It had one last year and the cost of postage and stationery was about $1,100. The union employed a rank and file member as returning officer for a further 6 to 8 weeks. The expenses incurred would depend on that member's classified wage rate but the ballot would have cost not less than $1,500. As I interpret the legislation in relation to overtures for amalgamation between the canvas workers and the Australian Railways Union, the Government will be prepared to assist and subsidise the unions only if they synchronise the amalgamation ballot with their triennial elections. In these matters we have the problem of the time factor.

I shall take the matter a little further. If I were to go out among the rank and file members of the Australian Railways Union and ask them what they thought of the cost of having a ballot to decide on 600 workers coming in, they would say that it was obvious that the 600 members should decide their destiny and that their coming into a big union would not make much difference. They would not think it worthwhile to find, in their next balance sheet, expenditure of another $1,700 or $1,800. These are the basic problems of trade unionism. If honourable senators look at the balance sheet of the average trade union today they will find that if the unions are forced to conduct an additional ballot in this situation they will be in a really difficult financial position. That is why I support to the hilt all the reservations expressed by Senator Murphy.

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