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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2588


Photo of McMahon, William

McMahon, William

Period of Service: 10/03/1971 to 05/12/1972

More information about McMahon, William on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 10/05/1972

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 2588

Mr Speaker, as my colleague the Minister for Labour and
National Service said when introducing this Bill, it contains the
most significant amendments to the Act since 1947. I think it is
timely to remind the House and indeed the community of the long
history of significant legislation that Liberal-Country Party
Governments have passed over the years since coalition came to
power in 1949. Just as the Rill now before the House has two broad
reasons concern for the community and concern for the individual
worker so has all of the legislation introduced by successive
Liberal-Country Party Governments since 1949. It was Liberal-Country
Governments which really made workable the secret ballot legislation
which had been introduced by our predecessors.
The legislation that we brought down in the early fifties put
into the hands of rank and file unionists the opportunity of ensuring
good Government in their organisations. By legislation, they have
been able to ask for elections to be conducted by independent
officials. They have been able to have the Court enquire into
irregularities in ballots. It is a Liberal-Country Party Government
which ensures a viable sanctions process under the Conciliation
and Arbitration Act.
Whilst over the years we have stood firm on the principle that
there must be sanctions or fines to deal with industrial lawlessness,
we have been realistic enough to make changes in that process as
the need to do so has arisen. We have approached the question of
sanctions or fines with resolution but we have sought to provide under
the Act every opportunity for parties to resolve their differences
by the traditional processes of conciliation and arbitration. We
have sought to give every opportunity to a union to resile from
strike action and so avoid a penalty being imposed on it. However,
as the Minister pointed out in his second reading speecn, if that
opportunity is not taken then a union must face the conscu. vnces
under the Law. It has been said that the sanctions process . Las fallen
into disrepute. At one point of time there might have been some
truth in that statement. However, that is no longer the We
are determined to ensure that if fines are imposed under the socalled
penal clauses of the Act those fines will be collected. That
is a firm statement of intention by this Government. / 2

Mr. Speaker one must, of course, refer to the historic
amendments to the Act of 1956. These were introduced by the
Minister for Labour and National Service of that time, the late
Harold Holt. As Honourable Members know, the real thrust of those
amendments was to separate the administrative and judicial functions
of the old Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. This meant that
the administrative function of the prevention and settlement of
disputes became the responsibility of the new body, the Commonwealth
Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, whilst the judicial functions
have been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Industrial Court.
Those amendments removed a lot of the legalisms of the system as it
had existed. They resulted in the new commission adopting a more
flexible approach to its responsible task of prevention and settlement
of disputes. I, for one, believe that over the years, the
Commission has carried out its very onerous role in a responsible
and painstaking manner. It has served the community well. I think
perhaps the community does not always realise the very great value
to the community of our system of conciliation and arbitration.
Save for that which operates in New Zealand, there is no other system
comparable with it.
One of the great benefits of it has been that, by and large,
this country has not had inflicted upon it the very long drawn out
disputes that characterise industrial relations in a number of other
countries in the world. Relatively speaking, strikes in this country
are of short duration. This is largely because parties are able to
take their differences to the appropriate tribunal and indeed that
tribunal has power to step in of its own volition when disputes occur.
It would be a mistake, however, to see our system of conciliation
and arbitration as an institution merely existing to serve the
interests of management and labour the parties to industrial
disputes. Employers and unions simply cannot be permitted to resolve
their differences without regard to the effect on those groups who
are not themselves directly involved. The Government has a
significant role because it has a responsibility for the management
of an increasingly sophisticated economy. Government is itself
perhaps the most important party in industrial relations. It
represents the community. This has always been recognized by the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act in a variety of ways. It has long
given government the right to intervene in certain prodeedings:
It envisages Ministers notifying disputes. It has long contained
provision for the " public interest" to be taken into account in the
prevention and settlement of industrial disputes.
We are proposing in the Bill now before the House to enhance
the protection of the public interest. It is the factor uppermost
in our minds whenever we have come to consider alterations to the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is what the community is
entitled to expect of government.
I have sketched very briefly some of the principal changes that
have been made to the Act over the years, but it is not only the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act itself that we have given a great
deal of attention to over the years. Honourable Members will recall
that when this country was faced with perhaps one of the most serious
periods of disturbance on the Australian waterfront we were not
slow to act. / 3
/ 3

conclued at that time that strong leqislation
,-as needed and we introduced it in .1^ 65. That legislation had a
most salutary effect on the Taterside ' r; Ter'-F' Federation as indeed
it was intended to have.
Nlow, Speaer, that leads me to sneak of the
importance attached to this current bill as part of our total
fight against inflation in this country.
7e are concerned to ensure that the parties to industrial
disputes settle their differences within the arbitraton system where
the public interest factor is an all important one. Ve have
included in the bill, for example, a provision that the Commission
must have full regard to the economic consequences of what it might
decided. We have included in the bill provisions widening the
particular matters which are reserved for determination by a Full
Bench of the Commission
! e believe this is particularly imoortant because these
are matters that ought not to be considered on a piecemeal basis.
They demand a co-ordinated approach by the Commission. They demand
that every opportunity is given to government and to the widest
possible range of interested parties to put their views to the
Commission when matters of this nature are being determined by
the Commission. As part of our total planning in our fight against
inflation, we are also strengthening provisions of the Act to deal
with irresponsibilities of trade union power. we are convinced that
certain powerful elements in the trade union movement have exercised
their strength on too many occasions in a totally irresrpnsible
fashion. Unfair and undue pressure has been placed upon employers
by the use of the strike weapon. This has resulted in excessive
rises in wages and salaries relative to national productivity.
We have long held that it is important to the community
that there be a strong trade union movement. We do not wish to see
a weak trade union movement but, by the same token, we have to see a
balance of power between employers and unions in the settlement of
industrial disputes. Over the last twelve months, consumer prices have risen
by 7 per cent a marked acceleration on the rate of 2 per cent
to 3k per cent which Australia experienced throughout most of the
1960' s. I believe it is recognised by most economists that this
increase in inflationary pressures has been largely due to excessive
rises in wages and salaries to which I have already referred.
Inflation is a pernicious economic and social evil.
The losers in the inflationary struggle are people often least able
to afford it retired people, small savers, the unemoloyed, and
less organised groups of workers. / 4

It is for these reasons that the Government has " een
seriously concerned about ' inflation, and has taken action on
several fronts. to deal with the problem.
First, we have recognised the importance of greater
competition in the economy. The Attorney-General w'ill be making
a statement to Parliament shortly outlining proposals for some
important changes to trade piactices legislation.
We have also indicated our intention to carry out a
systematic review of the tariff structure.
Second, we have taken an active part in promoting higher
productivity in Australia through the assistance we have given
to inter-firm comparisons, productivity groups, and productivity
promotion. Third and here we come closer to the crux of the
problem we are intervening actively in Arbitration Commission
hearings whenever these have general economic significance. And
we are seeking to ensure that restraint is exercised within the areas
of the Government's own responsibility the Public Service and the
various Conmonwealth statutory bodies. It is ,'' ithin this total
context that the extensive amendments proposed by this bill must be
seen. And this is not the only piece of legislation that we
have brought forward in this Session to deal with the problem of
industrial unrest that has dogged this country in recent times.
Parliament has just recently passed an amendment to the
Public Service Arbitration Act which is specifically designed to deal
with industrial situations arising in the area of Commonwealth
employment. We have strengthened that Act bv making available to
management and the unions the traditional means of conciliation
and arbitration to resolve industrial situations as they arise. I am
sure this is a provisions which has been widely welcomed.
There is absolutely no reason why organisations with
members in Commonwealth employment should need to engage in
industrial disturbance. The Public Service Arbi. tration Act as it has
now been amended, will ensure that Constitutional means are
available if and when industrial situations emerge in the Commonwealth
area of employment. I spoke earlier of the extent to which this Government
over the years has strengthened the Act to ensure every opportunity
for democratic control in organisations registered under the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act. There is a wide range of provisions
included in this Act to extend further those opportunities.
Tie firmly believe th. t unions and employer bodies should
not be the playthings of those who sit upon executives. A heavy
responsibility rests upon executives to see that the affairs of those
organisations are conducted scrupulously and with respect to the
views of the members.

The members should have the widest possible opportunity
for expressing their views and for seeing to it that their
organisations are properly controlled. Surely no-one can disagree
with any of this. Surely no-one can disagree ' ith the provisns
of the hill which are designed to achieve this.
If the Opposition is going to argue against these
provisions, then all any reasonable person can say is that they
are merely the sookesmen of those union bosses who must have
something to fear by these provisions being brought into law.
There has been much said in recent months about the
amalgamation of organisations in particular the amalgamation
of unions. je recognise that amalgamation of unions is a
characteristic of industrialised societies.
We recognise that there can be benefits to the members
of organisations in combining their resources to undertake more
effectively their responsibilities. We believe, however, that
because amalgamation of organisations is such an important step
that it should be clearly authorised by the membership of the
organisations which pronose to amalgamate. " e do not wish to see
amalgamations take place unless the widest possible opportunity is
given to members to voice their opinion about an amalgamation
proposal. We do not want to see organisations grow so large that
the members of them see themselves to be so minute in the total scheme
of things that they lose all real contact with the officials whose
taks it is to run the affairs of the organi-stion.
The bill now before the House does not simply consist of
a whole range of unconnected proposals for change in the
Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is, as I have poiated out, a
cohesive document. It is designed to ensure that the interests
of the community are not lost sight of when parties sit down to
settle disputes. It is designed to ensure that the organisations
involved in the settlement of disputes faithfully reflect the views
of their members. There is a single nhilosophy running through the whole of
it. That philosophy may be summed up as one which aims to protect
the commlunity and the individual in the total area of industrial
relations. And that is vital to our success and prosperity as a

Transcript 2588