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Tuesday, 22 October 1974
Page: 1837

Senator GREENWOOD (VICTORIA) -My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister that it was in the national interest that unions should not make unreasonable or excessive wage demands. Will the Leader of the Government assure the Senate that the Prime Minister's statement is the policy of the Government? Will he give an indication to unions and union members of what are in present economic circumstances unreasonable or excessive wage demands?

Senator MURPHY - I suppose it follows as a matter of sheer logic and language that nobody, unions or anyone else, should be making unreasonable or excessive demands. The nature of the question is such that it must receive that reply. Unfortunately, as the honourable senator would know, unions are compelled by the peculiarities of our Constitution to make excessive demands. One of the most extraordinary features of our Constitution as it has been interpreted by the courts is the arbitral power. The power of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to make an award is limited by some very technical interpretations which mean that it can make an award only within the ambit of the dispute between the parties. When there is a changing situation especially an inflationary one, a federal union making a demand for, say $10 a week must serve a log and is put to enormous expense to claim that $10, yet after the passage of time with protracted hearings the union should perhaps more appropriately be claiming more than $10 a week. But the Arbitration Commission cannot move outside that claim for $10 because that is what the original dispute was about.

So over the years, as everybody knows, the unions have adopted the device of claiming more than they are really seeking. The result is that what appear to be extravagant demands are made for the sake of what is referred to as the ambit so that they will not have to rush along after a few months or a year and serve another log of claims, again at great expense. This is a stupid situation. That element should be taken out of the arbitral system. Some day there may be a different interpretation of that aspect of the Constitution, but it would be better if we were to amend the Constitution to remove that absurd operation of it from our industrial affairs. In answer to the honourable senator I say that nobody wants unreasonable demands made, but some way should be found to enable industrial differences to be resolved without the technicality which results in what might be called excessive demands being made. The present situation is not the fault of the trade unions, which are subjected to the system.

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