Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 31 May 1972
Page: 2332

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) (AttorneyGeneral) - The Government will oppose this amendment and is amazed at the enormity of what the Australian Labor Party is asking the Australian people to accept. This matter has been resolved. Not only is there a suggestion that in industrial disputes which lead to limitations of work or strikes should there be no penalties if the union is in breach of an award but if a union exercises its industrial power and, as a result, breaks contracts, engages in retortive conspiracy and if - I think this would be covered by the language of the amendment - an assault is occasioned to a person, that organisation and any person connected with it would not be liable to pay any damages for any loss which is caused. The enormity of that suggestion strikes one as soon as one examines the amendment because it would put union organisations and their officials above the law. All they would have to say is that if there is an industrial dispute they can in effect do what they please. They cannot break the criminal law; I must concede that. That is still an area in which the Labor Party is prepared to say that the law ought to be imposed. Apart from that area, union organisations and their officials can say that they will not be liable to any civil proceeding.

Senator Little - One would have to go as far as the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union dispute in Melbourne at the moment to come under that jurisdiction.

Senator GREENWOOD - I may have made too great a concession when I suggested that they do not say that the criminal law will not apply. It is a matter of interpretation.

Senator Murphy - It is an action. The Attorney-General knows what an action is.

Senator GREENWOOD - It is a matter of whether the interpretation has the result which I have suggested. I heard Senator Murphy interject. He said that it is not intended to apply to criminal actions. I note his interjection so that the position can be made clear. Prima facie that would be my view also, but I am not sure how far one can regard these words as exculpating persons or organisations. The criterion upon which this applies is whether the conspiracy, the breach of contract or the conduct inducing a breach of contract arises in any way in or in connection with an industrial dispute. An industrial dispute is defined in the Act, and it is defined extensively. Section 4 (2.) states:

A reference in this Act to an industrial dispute shall, unless the contrary intention appears, be read as including a reference to -

(a)   a part of an industrial dispute;

(b)   an industrial dispute so far as it relates to a matter in dispute; or

(c)   a question arising in relation to an industrial dispute.

So peripheral matters could be regarded as part of the industrial dispute and, if any action is taken by a union or an office bearer of the union involved in these matters, that action may be taken with impunity. The union or its office bearer will not be liable to any civil action. In Victoria recently a number of persons in the Trades Hall Council agreed that a supermarket which was seeking to trade, in accordance with the law, at certain hours in the late night should be boycotted. The power of the union movement was such that supplies could be stopped from reaching Safeway's. A court action was instituted and the court ordered that there should be an injunction served upon the various unionists concerned. The problem was to find these unions. The matter did not result in a hearing because it was settled before it was to be heard. But the point I make is that action of that character by an employer to protect his own business would not be allowed if the Labor Party were able to carry the day with this amendment. Believe me, we know that this is part of the policy of the Labor Party enunciated at its Executive meeting in Townsville earlier this year. It is not only expressed in the amendment, it is also a part of the Labor Party's policy, and to put union organisations and officials above the law entirely is to me an appalling prospect.

Suggest corrections