30th Parliament · 2nd Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 9.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 12 citizens of Australia:
To (he Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Recognise the dangers to the health of all Australians and future generations of mankind by the mining, processing and use of uranium whether for peaceful or destructive purposes.
Take steps to defer any decisions in relation to the mining of uranium for a period of five years during which time adequate community discussion can occur on all the issues involved in the arguments for or against such mining.
Ensure that no foreign country ever ‘dumps’ its radioactive waste materials in our country.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister aware that yesterday the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary circulated yet a further document dealing with the cost to revenue of various tax cuts? Does he realise that this is the third attempt by the Government to explain exactly what its tax cuts are? Do the figures contained in that document have the support of the Treasurer or are they figures which were independently prepared by the Prime Minister or his staff? Are those figures consistent with various other documents produced by Government Ministers purporting to explain the relevance of the new tax measures? Finally, does this latest document constitute the true position and represent the Prime Minister’s electoral undertaking?
-I must confess that I have not seen anything issued yesterday by the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. I was engaged on other matters. I cannot give an answer to the honourable senator on any of the matters he has raised because I have not seen the document which he said was circulated by the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary. Therefore, I am unable to help him.
– I ask a supplementary question. As the Senate knows, this matter was raised earlier this week in this chamber. The Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cotton, undertook- I believe in good faith- to give the Parliament the true position. I assume that the latest document constitutes the true position. If we are not to receive a definitive statement from the Government I seek leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard.
– I had some discussions with my colleague Senator Cotton this morning. He has put work in train. He intends on Tuesday next to make a statement to the Senate drawing together information in respect of all the questions asked by honourable senators this week.
– Do I have leave to have the document incorporated in Hansard?
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Costs to Revenue (Tax Savings) of Tax Reform and Indexation
In 1977-78 as a result of the new tax measures, the additional costs to revenue or savings to taxpayers (over and above the cost of full indexation) will be $406m.
In 1 978-79 as a result of the new tax measures, the costs to revenue will be $973m greater than they would have been with full indexation.
-My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It concerns the proposal by an entrepreneur to promote a series of cricket matches. Is it true that this Government advocates free enterprise, encourages the operation of a market and discourages monopoly operations? Since the proposals made by the entrepreneur seem to extend the free market and the choice for cricketers, can the Minister assure the Senate that adequate protection will be afforded to those Australian citizens who are professional cricketers and who wish to make their living playing cricket in a free market? Will he investigate whether any ban put on those players who move away from the traditional monopoly could be in breach of the Trade Practices Act?
-I understand that an action was commenced in the English courts under the English Monopolies Commission Act to test whether the English cricket authorities had any capacity to place bans on or to discipline English players. I would not have sufficient knowledge of the Trade Practices Act in this country to say whether our cricket authorities would have a similar capacity. I am aware that at various times players of Australian Rules football have applied to the Supreme Courts in various States for interstate clearances and have obtained a variety of orders. Occasionally clubs try to prevent the clearance of football players from one club to another, whether intrastate or interstate. There is a capacity, most likely, at law for individual cricketers to test. All I could suggest to the honourable senator is that those cricketers who would be directly involved should seek their own legal advice.
-My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. It follows the answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Withers, to my colleague Senator Wriedt in which the Leader suggested that as a result of a discussion with the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Cotton would be putting together a statement for presentation to the Senate next Tuesday on aspects raised during Question Time since the Budget was presented last Tuesday. In addition to the statements that the Minister representing the Treasurer intends drawing together and presenting to the Senate next Tuesday, will he be prepared to investigate and advise in that statement whether it is correct to say that the new taxation scales set out in the Budget were devised by the Prime Minister’s Department, despite objections from the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of the
Treasury? Will he also investigate and advise the Senate whether it is true that the Taxation Office objected to the new scales on the grounds that they were inequitable? Will he state whether these differences are the real reason why we have been getting so many conflicting statements from Ministers on this issue?
-I listened carefully to, and I hope I remember, the elements contained in the honourable senator’s question. He can be assured by me that we will peruse a copy of the question and the answer once Question Time is over to see whether we can add anything further to the informaiton that he and the Senate would require. Permit me, Mr President, to add some information which may be helpful and which is in addition to what I have already proposed through the Leader of the Government in the Senate to try to get together for next Tuesday. Firstly, Senator Wriedt, I think, and Senator Douglas McClelland drew attention to an error in a statement setting out the figures. The real error was not of great consequence. The first document referred to the year 1978. The revised document corrects that to the year 1978-79. So it is not a matter of consequence. As I am currently informed, the figuring in the statement is correct. The year under reference is 1978-79, not 1978.
I am reading the statements attached to the Budget Speech as I get the time to do so. It has become clear to me that a careful reading of pages 20 and 129 explains many matters. The Treasurer said as much in a letter that he wrote to the Press. I watched, with some fascination, the performance of the three Labor Party spokesmen on the economy- Mr Hurford, Mr Hayden and Mr E. G. Whitlam, none of whom comes from this chamber, which is perhaps a pity. I think that everyone who watched that performance and who attended the Labor Party National Conference said that the spokesmen’s performance reminded them of a performance of the three stooges- no one knew quite what they were talking about.
I think the Senate is being very sensible in seeking to obtain as much information as possible so that all of the misunderstandings, the misinterpretations, the confusions and, if I might say so, the various pieces of ballast, can be sorted out and the facts established. Accordingly, as the Leader of the Government has told the Senate, I have arranged for the whole of this matter- the questions, the answers and the various interpretationsto be put under study at the weekend with a view to giving to the Senate next Tuesday a definitive statement that brings these matters together.
I would like to refer to a couple of matters that will clear up some questions that were asked yesterday. Senator Wriedt asked whether full indexation will apply after 30 June 1979. I am informed that the Treasurer advises that full indexation will apply after 30 June 1979. Senator Georges asked a long question on tax indexation which appears on page 247 of Hansard. My information for Senator Georges at this stage is as follows: lt is suggested to Senator Georges that a careful reference to pages 131 to 135 inclusive of Statement No. 4 attached to the Budget Speech will be helpful. It will be found that information is contained in those pages to support the assumption on which the estimated receipts and revenues are based.
– I direct my question also to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to the confusion and contradiction going on in the Opposition Party over economic matters? Can the Minister verify that, as in the past, there appears to be no firm Labor economic policy? Whilst we have the Opposition spokesman on economic affairs saying that Labor is not committed to personal tax indexation, we have the Opposition shadow Treasurer assuring the public that the Labor Party at its National Conference endorsed personal tax indexation.
-Like the honourable senator, I found myself considerably confused as to what the Labor Party’s economic policy and monetary policy really were. There have been four or five different spokesmen on these matters. The number is being added to steadily all the time. Of course, when one tries to look at these things reasonably one is always surrounded by shouts from people whose only ability to communicate is by way of shouting. What good is all that to anyone? What I have said is simply thisand clearly the honourable senator’s question makes sense of this: It is time that at least in the Senate there was some attempt to understand what all of these policies are about and what all these bits of confusion really mean. Indeed, it will be terrific if during the debate on the Budget we can ascertain what the Labor Party’s economic policy is.
Sentor GRIMES-My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. I am sure she recalls her announcement of a review of the efficiency and administration of her Department, particularly the benefits field. I remind the Minister of her statement that in fact this was not a cost cutting exercise but was aimed, primarily at reviewing the efficiency of her Department. I also remind her of statements in the Press relating to whether it was in fact a cost cutting exercise. I ask the Minister: Has she seen page 60 of the statement attached to the Treasurer’s Budget Speech where he mentions this review and where he says that savings of the order of $50m are estimated to come out of this review? How much progress has been made with the review? How can the Treasurer estimate that a saving of $50m will result from this review? Does the Minister agree with the Treasurer’s estimate of this sort of saving?
-I did release a statement which announced a review of the systems and procedures in my Department. Some of the other statements that have been made with regard to that are not attributable to me. My statement with regard to the review which was to be undertaken by members of the Public Service Board and officers of my own Department was quite precise. With regard to page 60 of the Budget Papers, I am aware of that statement. The review that is to be undertaken will look at the effectiveness and efficiency of procedures and systems. If one looks at the magnitude of the spending in my Department- nearly $6,000m- I think it could be asserted that even a one per cent saving through efficiency would amount to a quite sizable figure- a figure of the order mentioned by the honourable senator. Until the review commences and we are able to see the scope for efficiency, either through further automation or other things in the Department, I am unable to give any more than an estimate of what could be expected to be achieved. I think it was in those terms that the figure that was mentioned in the Budget Papers has been used for this purpose.
-Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Do I take it from the Minister’s remarks that she does in fact agree with the Treasurer’s- estimate that there will be a $50m saving or thereabouts from this review?
-As my statement said at the time, it was expected that this could result in savings. If we do find that more effective methods, more efficiency, the keeping up to date of the requirements for eligibility and so on lead to savings, I think it is reasonable to assume that a one per cent saving on the sort of figures we have would result in a saving of about the figure that was mentioned in the Budget Papers.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. In view of the possible introduction of foot and mouth and other exotic diseases due to unscheduled landings along the Australian coastline of vessels from places such as Indonesia, is the Minister satisfied that adequate coastal surveillance is being carried out to prevent risks to primary industry from this source?
-I would have thought that Labor’s Press conference yesterday was a fair example of foot and mouth disease being rampant in Australia. Taking the matter into the primary industry area, the coastline of Australia is so immense and the possibilities of isolated landings of boats are so real that one could never be entirely satisfied in one’s mind that foot and mouth disease could be fully and sensibly excluded. I have always had an abiding concern about this matter. I know the Minister for Health and the Department of Health both have. I know it is under very careful examination. I know that airport check and control is carefully watched. I think it is a problem that Australia lives with because of its immense coastline and the difficulty of having total surveillance over all that coastline against any possible landing which one would not be sure about.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I say at the outset that I appreciate and accept the undertaking given by the Minister to attempt to clarify the confusion that exists both inside and outside this Parliament in respect of the proposed tax indexation system. I refer the Minister to a document circulated yesterday by the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary which contained an assertion that in 1978-79, $884m will be saved as a result of tax indexation. I ask the Minister to ascertain whether this figure is contained anywhere in the Budget Papers. If it is, will the Minister indicate where that figure may be found? I further ask: What are the assumptions which the Prime Minister used to guarantee the $884m? Finally, will the Minister also ascertain whether the Treasurer does in fact agree with that amount?
– In accordance with previous undertakings to try to get this whole matter clarified and put into simple, understandable and accurate terms, I shall certainly take note of what the honourable senator has asked of me.
– I ask a question of the Minister for Social Security. It follows my question earlier this week relating to overseas payments of pensions. I hasten to add that I am not against the payment of pensions but I am against them being paid outside Australia because I do not think that the expenditure can directly benefit the Australian economy. I ask: How on earth- I have chosen those words carefully- can the Department of Social Security even be sure that a recipient of a pension is still alive if he or she is overseas? If a pension were paid in error or by some direct fraud to somebody living overseas, what facilities would be available to get that money rightly returned to the Australian Government, as I believe would be the requirement if such a case were to occur in Australia?
– I think that it would not be difficult to assure ourselves whether the recipient was alive. It is probably fair to say with regard to some of the pensions paid overseas that it is difficult to determine whether the eligibility is maintained. However, the usual precautions are followed with regard to the payment of funds overseas, as would be expected of any department publicly accountable for its expenditure. I do not know whether I said at the time when I answered the question earlier this week that there is portability of pensions and benefits to people who leave Australia. There also has been a request from several countries for Australia to expedite the finality of agreement on reciprocal arrangements. Discussions are being held with Italy, Greece and other countries. It is hoped that a reciprocal agreement will be finalised some time in the future. The matter raised by the honourable senator perhaps could be further explained if I were to give him details of the procedures that are followed by the Department for recovery. I will undertake to do that. I agree that in some cases it is difficult to determine whether eligibility strictly within the terms of the Social Services Act can be determined as easily if a person is overseas as it is if that person is in Australia.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I am assuming that the Prime Minister looks after Commonwealth literary grants. I ask the Minister during his busy day to visit the Parliamentary Library and look at page 13 of the August issue of Quadrant, where he will see an article glorifying political assasination by Australia’s ‘Lee
Harvey Oswald ‘. I refer to the man who, as Senator Douglas McClelland will recall, was involved in the attempted assasination of Mr Calwell. I ask how a publication like that which glorifies a crime in which there is no contriteness for the deed can still cop a literary grant from the Australian Government.
-I thank the honourable senator for drawing this matter to my attention. If possible, I will go and see it personally. I certainly will have the attention of the Prime Minister and his advisers drawn to the matter raised by the honourable senator.
-Is the Acting AttorneyGeneral aware that in June of this year the South Australian Attorney-General, Mr Duncan, broadcast by tape to the Fretilin forces in East Timor over an illicit broadcasting station near Darwin? What is the position of a Minister of the Crown, particularly an Attorney-General, who is regarded as the first law officer in a State, who purposely flouts the law by knowingly broadcasting over an illicit radio, even though he states that he did it ‘as a private individual’?
– My attention has been drawn to a report in the Advertiser newspaper of 20 June 1977 in which the events to which Senator Young has referred are reported. I have no knowledge of this matter other than the newspaper report. I am certainly not in a position to make any comment and I certainly would not make any comment whether Mr Duncan has or has not made such a broadcast. However, I inform the Senate that it is an offence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1905 to use, except as authorised by the Minister, an appliance for the purpose of transmitting a message by means of wireless telegraphy. It certainly would be a serious offence to make broadcasts over an illicit transmitting machine. Furthermore, I am sure we all appreciate the fundamental principles of our system of justice and our democratic way of life in which Ministers of the Crown, including Attorneys-General, Commonwealth or State, are subject to the law of the land.
– The Minister representing the Prime Minister will be aware that yesterday questions were raised about a document being circulated by the Treasurer. I ask: Is the Minister aware that in the document circulated by the Treasurer and in the document circulated by the
Prime Minister the figure of $l,390m is suggested as being the revenue forgone from restructuring the personal income tax scale in 1978-79? Does the Minister agree that the inclusion of that figure in the Prime Minister’s statement is on the same basis as its inclusion in the Treasurer’s statement, that is, it is derived from the costs in 1978-79 of the restructuring as it applies to 1978-79 income plus the residual cost of restructuring for 1977-78- this financial year? Do both the Prime Minister’s statement and the Treasurer’s statement ignore the fact that by 1 February next seven-twelfths of this financial year’s indexation benefits will have been eroded by time? Should not that anomoly be corrected before any meaningful comparison between old and new tax systems can be made? Do calculations by both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer for alleged tax reductions in the balance of this financial year and in the financial year 1 978-79 incorporate that false premise with the uncorrected erosion of indexation benefits up to 1 February next? Do they therefore overstate by about $ 1 billion the alleged tax savings?
-The honourable senator comes in, throws a mass of figures at me and expects me to draw some conclusions from the assertions he makes. As I said earlier this morning, I had not seen the document issued by the Prime Minister until Senator Wriedt was good enough to show it to me over the table some 10 or 15 minutes ago. As far as I am aware the figures set out in the Prime Minister’s document are correct until they are shown to be otherwise. If the honourable senator likes to make assumptions from the figures produced, that is a matter for him. He has made a number of allegations as to the incorrectness of the figures as stated. I have no capacity on the run to say whether his allegations are true or false. I will seek the information that he requires and give him an answer on Tuesday, I hope.
– I ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce whether his attention has been drawn to a statement appearing in the newsletter of yesterday of the Master Builders Federation of Australia in the following terms:
The Government’s policies over the last 21 months have led to a significant stabilisation in cost pressures in the industry. In the 12 months to July 1977 the cost of materials used on house building rose by 9.8 per cent and on building other than house building, by 9. 1 per cent. This contrasts with rates of increase of over 20 per cent per annum in 1 974-73.
Will the Minister comment on the statement, ‘-‘ particularly in relation to future activity and prospects in the building industry?
-Although I have not actually seen the newsletter of the Master Builders Federation the figures that are quoted by the honourable senator are consistent with the information coming in to the Department, which has a great interest in home building and construction activity. It is true as he states that there has been a substantial reduction in the cost levels of the material side of the industry. It is equally important for this to continue. It is important also that the labour side settle down. In much of the construction industry a great part of the cost problem is related to interruptions, breakdowns and holdups on big construction projects. There are many examples of this. Construction and home building are important activities in the Australian economy. If costs can be brought down and people can afford to buy homes it will be most important for the Australian economy. I am sure that it would help the Plasterers Union also, Senator Cavanagh.
– My question addressed to Senator Durack, the Acting Attorney-General, has some relevance to the answer he gave to Senator Young a few minutes ago. Is the Minister aware of the resignation of Miss Janet Langridge from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in June 1977? Is the Minister aware that this person claimed in a statutory declaration that she was told by her ASIO supervisor not to show her $600 per month income in her application form to join a tertiary institution? Does the Government condone the principle that public servants can give false advice and information when filling in application forms? Following on from the answer he just gave to Senator Young, the Minister might ask the Attorney-General to discuss with the Director-General of ASIO whether an instruction can be given to the effect that all public servants be asked to comply with the law on all occasions.
– It is a well known and well established policy that the Government and the Attorney-General do not answer questions relating to ASIO. Perhaps Senator Gietzelt has raised a broader issue in referring to the application of the law of the land-that is the phrase I used a minute or so ago-in respect of public servants generally. I will take note of that limited aspect of the question and give consideration to it.
-I direct a question to Senator Carrick as the representative in this chamber of the Minister for Transport. It is about grants to local government for roads. Perhaps I should preface my remarks by saying that generally I have been opposed to section 96 grants but in my travels around rural Victoria I have heard numerous complaints from local government to the effect that it has not been getting adequate funds for roads. Has the Federal Government reduced the funds made available to State governments or to local government for this purpose? Have State governments been meeting their responsibilities to local government for roads out of their general grants or have the State governments cut back in this direction?
– Whilst I have a general understanding of this matter the question posed by Senator Lewis demands a precise answer. If he puts his question on notice I will get a precise answer for him.
– Will the Minister for Social Security assist to clear up some of the rumours which appeared in a Press report this morning about the dismissal of the DirectorGeneral of her Department and his removal to another position involving a reduction in salary of some $3,000 a year? Can the Minister give any explanation? Is the newspaper report correct in saying that the dismissal or transfer was a result of a pre-Budget dispute between the Minister and her Director-General?
– I expect that the Prime Minister will be making a statement this morning about transfers of permanent heads. I am not the person who makes such a statement and I do not want to pre-empt the Prime Minister’s statement on this matter. Perhaps the honourable senator is referring to the report in the Australian this morning. I take this opportunity to say that there is no truth in that report. The relationship between my Director-General and me has been one of warm friendship. I have found his wisdom and experience invaluable throughout my ministry. I believe it would be fair to say that any Minister in the former Government who served with him would be able to say the same thing about his expertise, experience and impartial assistance to whichever government he serves.
The conjecture that has been developing this week is to be regretted, but official announcements of this kind cannot be made without observance of the practices and procedures which are adopted- Executive Council arrangements and other things of that kind. I understand that the announcement from the Prime Minister will be made this morning.
To talk of dismissal in the terms that were used and to talk of that in a general way when referring to the Director-General of Social Services is quite inaccurate. He is a trusted servant of the Government, and he will be continuing to act in a position of great responsibility for the Government. To assert that his transfer has resulted from any arguments or disagreement in the preBudget context is quite inaccurate. In fact, in the pre-Budget context, as would be recognised with the expenditure that my Department undertakes, a great deal was required from the whole Department. Certainly I would say that the Director-General and the officers of my department served the Government magnificently in the pre-Budget context. Any assertion otherwise is totally inaccurate. Taking into account the long and distinguished Public Service career of Mr Laurie Daniels, I regret that anyone would assert that he would not serve the government of the day or that in any way he would not be able to work with a particular Minister. Such statements overlook his own personal qualities and, I would hope that I could say, the qualities of the Minister with whom he is serving at present.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. An announcement was made in the Press on 18 August that 37 000 shop assistants in New South Wales would be eligible for pay rises following a determination of the New South Wales Industrial Commission. Under the determination rises for 15-year-old casuals will be from a present rate of $ 1.74 an hour to $3.48 an hour. Can the Minister advise whether the Government has considered the decision and the likely effects of such a rise on the continued employment prospects of these people and the thousands of others who regularly look to casual employment, particularly students who used to rely on jobs over the summer vacation months?
-The first thing that strikes me about this question of course is that it refers to a determination of the New South Wales Industrial Commission, over which the Minister whom I represent, this Government and this Parliament have no jurisdiction. However, it is well appreciated by the Government and no doubt by the Senate that wage movements in State spheres in many cases have an impact throughout the Commonwealth. Therefore such a matter is one in which I am sure the Minister whom I represent will show concern and interest. Therefore I shall pass on to him the matters contained in the question and presumably he will provide some further information to the Senate at a later date.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for Health agree that despite the Government’s declaration of support for women’s refuges its withdrawal from direct funding, the reduction of 25 per cent in Commonwealth contributions to capital costs and the reduction of 1 5 per cent for operating costs mean that there is now a disincentive for the States to fund existing refuges and no hope of the funding of new refuges? Does the Government have any other plans for assisting refuges that do not attract assistance under the Budget provisions just announced?
– My colleague the Minister for Health issued a statement with regard to the funding of women’s refuges following the Budget Speech on Tuesday night. Mr Hunt released information which showed that the Government was providing continued funding to 19 women’s refuges already approved for assistance under the program and that up to a further Sim had been set aside within the vote for the funding of additional refuges. Mr Hunt said that block grants under the program included provision for 17 refuges in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. In the case of Queensland, the Minister said that urgent attention was being given to arrangements for two refuges there to be funded directly by the Commonwealth. Mr Hunt said that the Government was concerned that assistance should be available to women and children in crisis situations and that it regarded the funding of women’s refuges as a matter of the highest importance. He added that as a matter of urgency the Commonwealth would be holding discussions with the States to suggest that in the increased alio- . cation for the community health program for 1977-78 a higher priority be given to the funding of refuges with the objective of providing further refuges to the 1 9 refuges already approved under the program. I believe that statement by the Minister shows Senator Ryan that the Commonwealth wishes to discuss with the States the matter of continued funding for women’s refuges and that it shows the continuing concern which the Government has for support for crisis and emergency accommodation.
-I ask the Minister for Social Security whether her attention has been drawn to newspaper articles alleging cuts in the interpreter service. What is the truth in the allegation and what is the real situation?
-I have seen newspaper articles. It was part of the speculation before the Budget that the Commonwealth Government would reduce expenditure on the interpreter service and the translation service. It was suggested in some speculation that the services would be completely withdrawn or seriously curtailed. As will now be realised from the Budget Papers, the interpreter service has the continuing support of the Government, which has increased expenditure this year on this service. We hope to introduce the service speedily into Wollongong, where such a large percentage of the population is represented by migrants. I believe that the interpreter service is a vital service to the community and to the Government in the performance of its responsibilities. The service will continue to have the support of this Government. We hope to see further developments in it as the States also are moving into the provision of interpreter services in some of their own departments.
– I am not sure whether my question should be directed to the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources or to the Minister representing the Minister for Overseas Trade. Perhaps the appropriate Minister will answer the question. The Government is endeavouring to assure the public that it is concerned to see that Australian uranium is shipped overseas only with proper international atomic energy agency safeguards. Will the Minister tell me whether the Government has investigated whether any safeguards cover the uranium awaiting export from Brisbane at the moment? What are these safeguards?
-Neither my colleague nor I can give a definite answer on that matter. We will seek information for the honourable senator and give it to her at the earliest possible date.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. I preface the question by reminding the Minister that at a later hour this day legislation designed to restrict the freedom of public servants will be debated. Is there any significance in the fact that unusually large numbers of troops have been moved south from the Lavarack complex during the last few days? Where have the troops been moved? Has the troop deployment been carried out in anticipation of general or trade union resistance to the new legislation which will seriously restrict the democratic rights of many thousands of persons?
– Really, Senator Keeffe is stretching everybody’s understanding far too far. He says that large numbers of troops have been moved. He does not say how manyl He does not say what sort of troops they are or where they have gone. He comes in with a broad, sweeping allegation and with nothing to back it up and draws conclusions. I do not think the question deserves an answer.
-I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate a question. He will recall that on Tuesday I asked questions about the future of the Whyalla and Newcastle shipyards and the recommendation by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence that there should be a special group to inquire into the possibility of a package deal which was recommended by the Committee and which was later supported by senators of the Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party in a letter to the Prime Minister. I mentioned that Mr Dunstan had received a reply relating to that question but that honourable senators had not yet received a reply. Did it mean that no special group would be set up, or is that question still to be determined?
-I will have to obtain a definitive answer for the honourable senator. I will have to find out whether Mr Dunstan agrees that the correspondence between the Prime Minister and himself ought to be released should the Prime Minister be prepared to do so. In view of the great deal of interest which the honourable senator has always shown in this matter, along with Senator Jessop, I will take it up with the Prime Minister personally today to see whether he would be prepared to take steps to have the whole matter released.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education. On Wednesday the Minister announced a reduction of 100 in the number of post-graduate awards to be offered in 1978, to bring the number of awards to be offered in 1 978 to fewer than the number offered in 1971. Will the Minister inform the Senate what study or studies were undertaken to justify this reduction on top of a similar reduction last year?
-I draw Senator Colston’s attention to the statement which I made on this matter in the Senate two nights ago setting out the number of post-graduate awards that have been issued over the years and announcing that there would be 100 fewer. I also indicated that studies have indicated that there is a considerable increase in the number of post-graduates now available in Australia. Since the aim of postgraduate awards is to encourage people to take higher degrees and to graduate in those higher degrees, it is clear that the process has been successful.
The Government is very conscious of the need for universities to conduct post-graduate research as far as possible within their capacity. Everything must be. relative to the amount of resources available. I can only regret the necessity to take the steps we have taken. As soon as there is an economic recovery, as soon as more resources are available in this country, we will put the matter under close scrutiny again.
– I ask a supplementary question. The Minister said that studies have been undertaken. My question was: What study or studies were undertaken. Can the Minister indicate what were the study or studies?
– A purely statistical compilation is necessary to indicate the number of post-graduates in this country. Those statistics are available to the honourable senator in a variety of ways. They are available freely to him from the Parliamentary Library. If he seeks further information as to the number of postgraduates coming forward and available by comparison with previous times and he puts the question on notice I will obtain the information for him.
– I address my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. At question time each day this week the Minister has had questions put to him in his capacity as Minister representing the Treasurer. In most of his replies he stated repeatedly that he was not adequately informed about the details of the Budget and that he would have to seek further information in order to answer such questions. I ask: Is the Parliament to assume that the Budget presented on Tuesday was a document compiled by Treasury officials- which in the Treasurer’s own words the other night is somewhat rubbery- and presented to the Parliament without proper examination by the Cabinet? Finally, as each day brings forth another document endeavouring to explain the Budget, does this not mean that the Government has no control over the Australian economy?
-That is really a pretty stupid array of questions. The Budget document always is and always has been the product of a great amount of work by officials across a wide range of departments, by groups of Ministers and by Cabinet. It becomes, in the end, a government document. Everybody acknowledges that. Even people of limited understanding and intelligence have learnt to understand that. What I have sought to make clear here is the same position as applied when I was in opposition. It is this: The Treasury is represented here by a representative Minister; he is not the Treasurer. In the interests of good understanding he ought to seek from the Treasurer and the Treasury accurate answers to questions. That is what I seek to do. In the due process of the years when the honourable senator becomes something greater than he is today, hopefully he will find that a useful piece of information to digest.
– I address a question to the Minister representing the Treasurer. I refer to an item in this morning’s news broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The comment was as follows:
The Reserve Bank in its annual report backs the Federal Government’s view that reducing inflation is the key to success in cutting unemployment and the Bank, echoing the Government’s Budget line, suggests that wage indexation can tend to slow a possible decline in inflation. On unemployment the Reserve Bank says that, although economic stimulation might create more jobs in the short term, they would disappear as inflation resurged. The Bank says that major imbalances remain in the economy and the challenge is still to bring down prices and wages sufficiently for demand, production and employment to reach satisfactory levels.
Does this mean that the softly spoken Mr Hawke, as a director of the Reserve Bank of Australia, shares the Bank’s view and that perhaps his attitude and economic theories change with his change of hat?
- Mr President, I raise a point of order. I suggest that that question is completely out of order. I suggest that it is most improper that a Minister should have directed to him a question which invites him to comment on whether a member of a statutory authority which advises the Government has a particular point of view. I could not imagine a question more inappropriate than that. I ask you not to allow it.
– I will allow the question to go through and to be answered as the Minister sees he may be able to answer it.
-I will do my best to preserve the proprieties. I think that you, Mr President, tabled the report of the Reserve Bank of Australia yesterday. It is pretty well known that I have had a long interest in what the Reserve Bank has to say. That has been the case over the years. I obtained a copy of the report and was able to read part of it last night. It seems to me that what the honourable senator said about the Reserve Bank’s attitude supports what the Government is endeavouring to do. Page 39 of the report, which I read late last night, has some observations on wages and the need to watch the wage situation. On page 40 of the report mention is made of stable policies being terribly important. On page 41 the report emphasises once again, as the Budget did, the tremendous importance of intersectoral balance. It states, in effect, that if we want the economy put into really good shape it is the joint responsibility of government, the private sector, business leaders, the arbitral authorities, the union movement and the consumers. No one section can be effective on its own; but they can be effective together. That was the real message of the Budget. We are moving towards recovery. We will see recovery if we work together. That is what the Budget said. It seems to me that the Reserve Bank report, as I read it, confirmed the general wisdom of that position; it confirmed the Government’s policies. I would not wish to go beyond that in my answer to the question, I think it is traditional that members of the Reserve Bank Board do not comment upon what they decide or discuss at board meetings. Therefore, I think it is perhaps best to leave the answer there.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters. Has the Government established an interdepartmental committee to devise a contingency plan for the handling of the dispute at the Redfern Mail Exchange? Is a member of the Department of Defence on that committee? Is it proposed to use members of the armed forces to sort mail at the exchange in the event of stand-downs or dismissals? Does this not represent a dangerous escalation in the politics of confrontation that the Fraser Government has now introduced?
– I will refer the question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations whom I represent in the Senate.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Having in mind the increasing necessity for improved surveillance of our northern coast, is it the Government’s intention to give high priority to providing and /or upgrading naval facilities and equipment in northern areas? As an example I mention Darwin Harbour. Has the Government given consideration to the reforming of the Royal Australian Air Force Construction Squadron to permit existing airstrips to be maintained at a reasonable operational level, to construct new airstrips where necessary and, at the same time, to provide a pool of highly trained personnel for the construction of future defence projects in the north?
-I think the honourable senator would know from his reading of the White Paper on defence that the Government is very conscious that there ought to be proper surveillance in our northern areas. The honourable senator would know that at the moment the Government is actively pursuing the purchase of further patrol boats to take over from the present Attack class vessels. The new vessels will be bigger, faster and able to stay at sea for longer periods. I think the honourable senator would know also that the Air Force is introducing, one by one, a new variety of aircraft, the improved Orion. The honourable senator would know that the Minister assisting the Minister for Defence some time ago made a personal inspection of the northern coast of Western Austrafia looking at possible places at which to establish a base in that region. I can assure the honourable senator that the Government is very well aware of the problems to which he has alluded.
With regard to the other question concerning the Construction Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, that squadron earned on all sides a very high reputation for its skills and efforts in the work that it did in various projects. The airstrip at Cocos Island is but one example of the excellence of the work that the squadron undertook. I think anyone who knew anything about the work of the squadron always recognised that it was a real tragedy that the squadron was disbanded under the previous Labor Administration. It was tragic that the skills and enthusiasm of that squadron were dissipated. I have no direct knowledge of what my colleague the Minister for Defence may have in mind with regard to the re-formation of such a squadron. I will seek that information from Mr Killen for the honourable senator.
– My interest in the Antarctic leads me to ask the Minister for Science whether there is any scientific significance and, if so, what, in the recent quite dramatic rise in temperature in the Antarctic? I understand that at 3 degrees above freezing the reading was 30 degrees above what would be normal. It is interesting to observe that at about that time in Canberra the temperature reading reached 8 degrees below freezing. If I could be permitted a casual observation, one could expect, I think, that there would be more hot air in Canberra, especially at this time of the year, than would be expected to be found in the Antarctic.
– Having been to Macquarie Island quite recently, Senator Devitt expresses a continuing interest in the area. I made an announcement about an uncommon circumstance that was relayed to me from our Mawson Base. It was to the effect that for the first time in many years the temperature on two days in August had reached an apparent all-time high. On 1 August the temperature rose to 1.4 degrees Celsius- that is above freezing point- for the first time in 24 years of recorded meteorological information at that station. My recollection is that at 5 o’clock on the following morning the temperature rose to 6.7 degrees. The previous recorded maximum temperature had been minus 1.2 degrees back in 1966. July and August, being mid-winter, are generally considered to be the coldest months. As Senator Devitt commented, the temperature is about 30 degrees below freezing. The reason given to me for the recent higher temperatures was that warm air was circulating above Mawson at the time, apparently created by consistent low pressures in the southern Indian Ocean.
-Following on the question asked bv Senator Devitt, I now ask the Minister for Science whether, if a further Qantas flight to the Antarctic is organised, he will give consideration to affording members of Federal Parliament the opportunity to make that trip?
This would enable them to inspect the area from the air and become more familiar with Australia ‘s Antarctic involvement.
– That question is very appropriate. The honourable senator asked about a Qantas fright, but I should point out that tourist flights to the Antarctic are currently being operated. While I was in New Zealand recently on my way to the Antarctic continent there were several Air New Zealand flights which were fully booked and apparently very popular. My recollection is that Qantas also had two flights to the continent earlier this year, and it seems that that will continue. I have been alerted to the fact that on the next occasion one Qantas flight will carry fewer passengers in order to make the trip more enjoyable. Indeed, there is a growing interest in the territory. The flights are usually made interesting by films of the Antarctic, and somebody with a knowedge of the continent usually discusses what can be seen.
The suggestion that Qantas might make a flight available so that members of parliament can visit the territory is unique. I think that that matter should be put first to the Minister for Administrative Services. Part of the Antarctic is a territory which Australia claims, and perhaps the matter could start with him. As I understand it, a warrant is available to honourable senators to enable them to visit many of the territories of Australia. However, I suggest that the proposition is one which could well be put to the Prime Minister. I will do that, and ascertain whether there is any possibility of such a flight occurring.
-My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory and concerns housing for public servants in the Northern Territory. I remind the Senate that the Government, through the Department of the Northern Territory, provides single and married accommodation for public servants, both male and female. I draw to the Minister’s attention a case which has come to my notice where the breadwinner of the family is the wife, a school teacher. The family has made the decision that the husband will remain at home to care for the children and keep house while the wife works. The problem is that when the wife made application for the allocation of a government home she was refused on the ground that the male is regarded as the breadwinner, regardless of any decision made by the family. I ask the Minister whether he supports the attitude taken by his Department and whether his Government favours discrimination on the basis of sex in the allocation of government housing.
– I am advised by the Minister for the Northern Territory that the current policy determining eligibility for the allocation of departmental residences is that an officer employee must have dependants for whom he or she is legally responsible and must provide accommodation. This is not a policy of discrimination. The Department of the Northern Territory follows the well established practice of regarding the male of the family unit as the breadwinner. If he is a permanent public servant he is accepted as being eligible for departmental housing. Exceptions to that rule could result from a variety of factors, ranging from physical incapacity of the male through to a break-up of the family unit. I am advised that an interdepartmental committee is currently reviewing the Department’s housing policy in order to identify any anomalous situations and to bring to the Minister’s attention any discriminatory practices, if any should be found to exist. If the breadwinner in the particular case mentioned by the honourable senator is not a public servant he would be eligible for housing supplied by the Northern Territory Housing Commission, which is a statutory authority funded by the Commonwealth Government.
– I ask the Minister a supplementary question, Mr President. Does the Government support this policy, or is there any likelihood of change in the near future?
– In my answer to the honourable senator I indicated that an interdepartmental committee currently is looking at this situation to see whether there are any discriminatory practices. I can assure the honourable senator that this Government would not wish that there should be discriminatory practices of any sort.
Debate resumed from 18 August, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Declaration of Urgency
– I declare the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill 1977 to be an urgent Bill and move:
That the Bill be considered an urgent Bill.
Question put. The Senate divided. (The President-Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Allotment of Time
That the time allotted for the consideration of the Bill be as follows:
For the Second Reading of the Bill, until 3.30 p.m. this day;
For the Committee stage of the Bill, until 4.30 p.m. this day;
For the remaining stages of the Bill, until 4.40 p.m. this day.
-The Opposition opposes the time limit that has been put down by the
Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) on a measure of this nature which is so important. It has been said that those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. This piece of legislation and the way in which the Government has gone about presenting the legislation to the Parliament is the greatest piece of political lunacy that I have seen any government engage in in the time that I have been a member of the Australian Parliament. The heavy handedness and indeed the steamrolling tactics that are being adopted by the Government over this measure make us, the Australian community, including the trade union movement very suspicious of the Government’s motives.
It is incredible that legislation of such a serious nature as this can be sneaked into the Parliament, through the back door as it were, without there being any opportunity of discussion of it by the industrial committee of the Parliamentary Labor Party, without any consideration being given to the legislation by the trade union movement, without the parliamentary party executive of the Labor Party being given the opportunity to consider the legislation and without any opportunity being given to the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to view the legislation. That would have been normal procedure. I am given to understand that shortly before the legislation was introduced in another place yesterday a copy of the Bill was given to my colleague, Mr Willis, the Australian Labor Party’s spokesman on industrial relations on the understanding that he would not show it to anyone else, not even to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam) or any of his colleagues. It was given to him so that he could have a brief look at it shortly before it was brought into the Parliament. The record of the proceedings in the House of Representatives for Wednesday night shows that at 10.23 p.m. the person who gave notice of the intention to introduce the BUI was not a member of the Government- not a Minister- but the Clerk of the House of Representatives. This is how the Government has tried to keep the legislation from the Australian people.
All yesterday rumours were circulating in this Parliament that the Government was going to do something. When I arrived at the Parliament yesterday morning I was told that there had been a meeting of Ministers that had gone on until midnight on Wednesday night and that an urgent meeting of Government senators had been called for 9. 1 5 a.m. yesterday. Despite all these things not one member of the Opposition in the Senate was told until 3. 1 5 p.m. yesterday that the Senate would be required to sit today to consider this legislation as a matter of urgency. Incidentally, at that stage not one member of the Senate had been made aware of the provisions of the Bill.
What are some of the provisions? The legislation enables the Government or a Minister to give directions to a public authority to suspend from duty government employees or in appropriate circumstances to dismiss government employees who take industrial action which disrupts the provision of services to the Australian community. It enables the Government to stand down without pay government employees who cannot be usefully employed as a result of industrial action taken by fellow government employees or by workers in private industry and government employees who are engaged on functions the performance of which is seriously disrupted. Clause 12 of the Bill states:
An employing authority shall comply with any directions given to the authority by a Minister under this section in relation to the exercise by the authority of the authority’s powers under this Act.
In short it means that the Government is presenting this legislation in a hasty and ill-conceived way in order to give one of its Ministers the right to suspend or sack any worker the Minister considers should be suspended or sacked.
– The Minister is not defined. It could be all Ministers.
– It could be all the Ministers. I have just said ‘a Minister’. That is the power which the Government wants under this legislation. No time was given to us to discuss the Bill or to consider it. No time was given to us to debate or to conciliate with the Government in any way over the type of legislation that was to be introduced. It is a Bill that contains the most savage provisions and it will have the most serious repercussions. The way in which the Government is transacting it through the Parliament is completely against all normal procedures. It is just another instance of the breakdown that has occurred in the general line of communications in this Parliament over the past two years. We object most strongly to the time limits that have been imposed on behalf of the Government by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. On our speakers list there are the names of 19 Labor senators who have indicated that they want to speak to this legislation. The time now is almost 1 1 o’clock and the debate on the second reading is to be completed at 3.30 p.m. Honourable senators opposite must realise how few honourable senators from this side of the chamber will be able to express themselves on this matter. The Government will allow the debate at the Committee stage to take place between 3.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m., notwithstanding the fact that divisions will occur during that time. This is one of the most fascist activities that any government can impose on the Australian people. It is a dangerous use of the Parliament by an arrogant and conservative Executive. The proposition put forward by the Leader of the Government, (Senator Withers) will be fought by the Opposition at all stages.
– I support and agree with the comments made by Senator Douglas McClelland. I think that any honourable senator who has looked at the Bill and who knows anything about industrial relations, any honourable senator opposite who has had anything to do with management and labour relations and any honourable senator on this side of the chamber who has had anything to do with unions, will know that this Bill if it is carried into the law of the land will set back industrial relations about 100 years. It removes the necessity for consultation between employee and employer and takes from the arbitral authorities the chance to determine what is fair and just in regard to capital labour. That is what this legislation does. It does not do it only for the Australian Postal Commission; it does it for every Commonwealth employee.
– No, it does not.
– Of course it does. It is so embracing that it does include all Commonwealth employees. Surely the honourable senator knows that the definition of ‘Commonwealth employees’ means: a person holding office or appointment in the Commonwealth Teaching Service or an office or appointment under the Supply and Development Act . . . the Naval Defence Act . . .
Every worker, every artisan and every officer will be affected by a new and revolutionary change. It is a wrong change. It is inconsistent with every modern industrial practice. It should be discussed-
– If one is law-abiding one will have no fears.
-Senator Tehan should know, he is a lawyer. Fancy a lawyer coming into this place and defending the provisions contained in this Bill which give arbitrary powers to an employing authority and to any. Minister-it could be myself or a Minister from the other side of the chamber- the right to suspend or dismiss a man from his job and to give an employing authority the right to say arbitrarily what is in a declaration. There is nobody to say what is fair and just. If honourable senators examine the clauses of the Bill they will find that in part clause 8(3) states:
. the employing authority may . . .
An employing authority can make a declaration or a determination as it thinks appropriate. The same principle applies to notification of a declaration. The Bill also invests in the GovernorGeneral the power to make ancillary rules and regulations. The Government is endeavouring to make sure that the net is closed even tighter. The Government has put itself in a very serious situation. I want to draw the Government’s attention to the fact that only a few months ago it complained that the Australian Council of Trade Unions had withdrawn from what was previously known as the National Labour Advisory Council.
The Government talked with representatives of the ACTU and agreed to set up a new body, the National Labour Consultative Council. The Government promised the ACTU and the Public Service unions that when any important legislation such as this was proposed it would discuss it with that body. The Government has not discussed this legislation with that body. What happened to consultation with the workers? What happened to the Government’s idea of consulting with that national body? It is true that every great national dispute in this country has not been settled by the introduction of a law such as this. Strangely enough, the man criticised most often was the instrument used to settle the oil dispute and the recent air traffic controllers ‘ dispute. Bob Hawke settled those disputes; nobody else did. That is true and honourable senators opposite know that.
The ACTU officers, day by day, are being called in to settle disputes even in areas of defence and elsewhere. What happened to the idea that I instigated in the Post Office when I was Postmaster-General? It cannot be denied that there had to be a new and enlightened industrial relations procedure within the Post Office. Why did I do it? I did it because the Vernon Commission recommended it. One of the great things which the Vernon Commission did was to draw attention to the very poor industrial relations in the Post Office. That is in the report. Honourable senators opposite can read it for themselves. It has been tabled in this place and it has been discussed. As a result of that support I started a new procedure of allowing members of my own staff to interfere in industrial disputes. As a result- I reported it here- Don Hancock, a very able man, used to go to the Redfern Mail Exchange and anywhere else where there was a dispute. We solved them.
During that time, during the time of the Labor Government and, in particular, during my own time- I am not applauding myself; it is the sort of technique that should be used by a Minister- I used every device to make sure that a troubleshooter was available to solve disputes. We have the greatest record of any government in respect of the Post Office. What has this Government done? Since the Labor Government went out of office there have been more disputes in the Post Office than ever before, particularly in the Postal Commission. Despite that, the new Postal Commission, which the Labor Government handed to this Government on a plate, actually made $29m. Now the Government is so miserable that it will not allow the Arbitration Commission to decide this question. I am not defending men who take arbitrary action. I am saying- it is the truth- that in the Postal Commission today, particularly in the Redfern Mail Exchange, the idea of consulting with the workers has gone. It should be resurrected. The Government should do the same thing as I did when I was Postmaster-General.
The fact is- I have checked on this and I know that it is true- that nowhere do the local authorities talk to the union about new rosters. The Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union put up a plea for reduced hours. It did so because they had been granted to most other employees in the Telecommunications Commission and the Postal Commission. It was an agreement signed during my time and later extended by this Government. Having done that, this Government said to the men: ‘You can have 363A hours, but you will lose $40 a fortnight’. The men bucked the Government. They said: ‘We will not take a reduction of $40 a fortnight’. A mail officer has to be a skilled, trained man. He must pass an examination. He earns $ 1 50 a week. As a result of the new rosters he will lose $23 a week. How many men will put up with that sort of nonsense? Instead of that, the Government should have said: ‘We will consider what rosters might be developed in the Redfern Mail Exchange’. When it said that it was going to apply the rosters, naturally the men decided to take industrial action.
There is time for a solution. If the Government’s argument is that somebody had to solve the dispute and take action against the Redfern mail workers, why does it have to penalise every other postal officer in the country? The Government is using this type of dispute to say that there is need for a new law. There is no need for a new law. If this Bill is enacted there will be a general industrial tie-up in the country. There will be strike after strike, new agitation and dissatisfaction. Everybody, even the workers in this Parliament, will be faced with the same arbitrary powers of the boss. Does anybody here say that in 1977 we have to go back to the old days of the master and servant psychology when the boss could do anything to the worker? The worker had no rights. Surprisingly, in view of the former consultations, the Government introduced this Bill. It has been suggested that it has been on the stocks since the air traffic controllers strike and nobody knew about it. Today the Postal Commission itself will use the existing provisions. Today’s Australian Financial Review stated:
In Sydney, the State manager of Australia Post, Mr Milton Stevens, said he would use the existing provisions and apply to the Arbitration Commission today for the insertion of stand-down clauses in the postal workers award.
It has never done that. It has not discussed with the union what might be appropriate rosters. It said: ‘We will bring in the rosters’. In addition, the Postal Commission has not applied to the Conciliation Commission in the way it is applying today. Yet the Government is rushing through a Bill. I am concerned not only about the postal workers and the Postal Commission but about this law which will become far more important and far more extensive than the present law. It will turn the conservative unions in the Public Service into militant unions. It will start new grievances because in future the employing authority and the delegation of bosses will have new powers over the worker. Nobody knows the extent to which those powers will affect the worker and the extent to which he might lose his rights under existing laws and usages. It is a bad situation. I suggest that if the Government had any sense it would take days to determine what might be done with the Bill.
– in reply- Could I say something firstly in defence of the Postal Commission. Senator Bishop had a few hard words to say about its members and their lack of consultation. I know that possibly it is not strictly related to the matter before the Chair, but as I recall the position the present members of the Postal Commission were appointed by Senator Bishop and his Government. The Chairman, I understand, was once an Australian Labor Party candidate for a State seat in Queensland. I hope that information is correct. He could hardly be tagged an anti-union person. I understand that the secretary of one of the major postal unions is a member of the Commission. Therefore I think it is fair to say in defence of the Commission that it has not set out to do all the things that Senator Bishop alleged it has been doing.
– The Minister has.
-Senator Bishop is saying that there is lack of consultation, lack of consideration and all the rest of it. I am saying, in defence of the Postal Commission, that its members were Labor Party appointees. I do not think honourable senators opposite would be able to level criticism at any of those people for being what might be broadly termed anti-union or anti-workers. I think it is fair that that be said about the Commission.
I refer to some of the other matters raised. One was that honourable senators say that they have not had sufficient time to consider the Bill. As I recall the position, when I put down the motion at 8 o’clock last night that we meet today, a number of senators were able to speak at length on the actual words in the clauses of the Bill. It rather amazed me that they were complaining about sitting today because they did not know what was in the Bill, and then they went on to make a speech on the clauses of the Bill.
– That is part of our responsibility.
-Of course it is part of the responsibility of an opposition to object to a government getting its legislation through. I do not object to that. Be consistent. Do not say in one breath that you do not know what is in the Bill and then go into a detailed analysis of what is in the clauses. Honourable senators opposite cannot have it both ways.
– Would you like to move the gag now and we can all go home? Let us give it away. That is what you would like to do.
-I know that a lot of people will go home. If any members of the Press Gallery are at all interested in knowing how much the Labor Party is interested in this legislation, I suggest that they contact the Senate Transport Office to see how it has been beseiged all day by people trying to make certain that they get on the 5 o’clock plane. They are desperately anxious to get on the 5 o’clock plane.
– That is why you are guillotining it. Lift the gag and we will stay.
-Do not ask me to stay. A Labor senator complained last night that he would not get on the plane tonight. In reply to the great moral stance that Senator Douglas McClelland took, I refer him to page 356 of Mr Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice Fifth Edition. He will see some very interesting comments there. He might even see that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1973 and others, totalling 43 Bills, were put through under guillotine in hours.
– Which year?
-In 1973. We remember Senator Murphy doing it.
– What was the lapse of time between the first reading and the second reading?
-I will tell you. Thank you for asking me. For all stages of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill the time allotted was 3 hours. Compare that with the amount of time which has been allotted today. For a Superannuation Bill, 30 minutes was allotted; for an International Labour Organisation Bill, 30 minutes; for a Papua New Guinea Bill and a Papua New Guinea (Staffing Assistance) Bill, 30 minutes; for a Wool Industry Bill and for five Wool Tax Bills, 30 minutes; for a Social Services Bill and two related Bills, 15 minutes; for two insurance Bills, one hour; for a Public Service Bill, 30 minutes; for two Bills relating to evidence, 30 minutes. We were given one hour to discuss the Public Service Bill (No. 3) and the Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Bill. We were given 30 minutes to discuss the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Bill; 30 minutes to discuss the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill; and 15 minutes to discuss the Australian Electoral Office Bill, which affects everyone in this Parliament. Honourable senators opposite talk about generosity. A total of 30 minutes was given for us to discuss the Australian Capital Territory Representation (House of Representatives) Bill. In the case of the Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill, which is legislation that totally affects this chamber, one hour was allotted. We were allowed 30 minutes to debate the Representation Bill. I suppose it was fair enough to give us 30 minutes to debate the Parliamentary and Judicial Retiring Allowances Bill. We were given one hour 30 minutes to debate defence forces retirement benefits legislation which affected every serviceman.
Senators were given 30 minutes to debate the National Service Termination Bill and 30 minutes to debate the South Australia Grant (Lock to Kimba Pipeline) Bill. In the case of the King Island Harbour Agreement Bill senators, and in particular senators from Tasmania, were given 1 5 minutes to debate all stages. A total of 1 5 minutes was given for the Senate to debate Supply Bill (No. 1) and Supply Bill (No. 2). Also, three income tax Bills were allocated a period of one hour. This action was taken by Senator Murphy and the Labor Party.
That was not the only occasion on which action of this kind was taken during the term of the Labor Government. Remember what happened when the Constitution Alteration (Incomes) Bill was introduced in 1973. That Bill was declared an urgent Bill. This was also the case with the Appropriation Bill (No. 1), the Appropriation Bill (No. 2), the Wheat Industry Stabilisation Bill 1973 and the Wheat Export Charge Bill 1973. Then, of course, in April 1974-and Senator Wright would well remember this- the Companies (Foreign Takeovers) Bill 1973 and 11 other Bills were put under the guillotine in about a two-hour period. Mr President, for goodness sake -
– Not one gave Ministers the right to sack people.
-Mr President, the humbug that the Opposition is putting forward at the moment is really a piece of nonsense. I suggest we get on and debate the Bill before the Senate.
That the motion (Senator Withers’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Wood) agreed to:
That Business of the Senate, Notice of Motion No. 1, standing in my name for one sitting day hence, be postponed to three sitting days after today.
-The Senate is debating the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill 1977. Last night, in introducing this legislation, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) spoke for precisely one minute. Perhaps that was because he did not understand the legislation which was being introduced, like his colleagues who sought to explain the Budget which was introduced in this chamber on Tuesday; or perhaps that is all he thinks this legislation is worth- one minute of the Government’s time. Today, on the other hand, the Senate is sitting at the cost of thousands of dollars of the Australian taxpayers’ money to deal with this legislation which the Minister told us last night it is not the immediate intention of the Government to proclaim. It is legislation which the Opposition has not had proper time to consider. It is quite apparent from public statements made by Ministers on television and radio and in the Press that it is legislation which the Government has not had time adequately to consider. It is also apparent that many Ministers just do not understand what it is all about.
The reason for the introduction of the legists lation is, of course, quite simple. It is to distract attention from an ill-conceived and harsh Budget by a display of industrial muscle. Unfortunately the muscle is in the head of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and not in his arm. It is an example of the politics of desperation which has been displayed in this chamber on a number of occasions in the last week or so. It is also a classic example of political diversionary stunting.
Again and again we have discussed in this chamber the Government’s two-handed attitudes and its complete confusion in relation to industrial matters. There are two streams of thought in this Government’s industrial relations thinking. They are two streams of thought which we have discussed here before and which we will continue to discuss in the hope that there may be some clarification from members of the Government of what is their real position.
The first stream of thought, of course, comes from what industrial relations experts tell them and what the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission repeatedly tell them in one way or another. That simply is that one cannot solve industrial problems of this kind in the way in which this legislation purports to do.
The second stream of thought in the Government ‘s thinking is that which is widely advocated by Senator Steele Hall, for example, and which really relates to the sort of primitive instincts of members of the Government in trying to grapple with these problems. It is a view which has its origins in the nineteenth century. One can well imagine the Prime Minister of this country saying: ‘Together with all the problems with which I am confronted, such as unemployment and all those things, I also have an industrial relations problem. My grandfather, Sir Simon Fraser, never had problems quite like this’. Unfortunately for members of the Government we do not now live in the nineteenth century. We are living in the year 1977 in a complex industrial society in which these problems are not susceptible to those blunt, simple-minded and apparently easy solutions. The whole problem, as we have said in this chamber again and again, requires some degree of subtlety, some degree of compromise and some degree of consultation with all the parties concerned.
Time and time again the Prime Minister has uttered pious statements which indicate that his industrial relations advisers have been at him and writing his speeches again for him and in which he explains the point that the only way in which to deal with industrial relations satisfactorily is on a consensual basis- by discussion and negotiation. The importance of resolving these problems by negotiation has been stressed in numerous speeches which the Prime Minister has made. But every now and again he just cannot contain himself any longer. Every now and again he looks up what his grandfather would have done in a similar situation and goes back to the method of the big stick, which is brandished again and again and which leads him into a situation of ultimate frustration because it is not a way of solving these problems. We saw that never more clearly manifest than at the time of the air traffic controllers strike. The Prime Minister blustered his way around this country and in the end the resolution of the air traffic controllers strike was left to Bob Hawke.
The Prime Minister, of course, is not alone in this confusion about attitudes to industrial relations. The Leader of the National Country Party of Australia (Mr Anthony), who again has been loud-mouthing his way around the country recently, had certain things to say in a speech made in Queensland only a week or two ago when pontificating on these issues. He referred to the whole problem of industrial disputes and said to his National Country Party audience:
Some of you may ask what we are doing about it?
Well they might ask him what he is doing about it. He went on to say:
Why doesn’t the Government curb the powers of the agitators in the unions?
Mr Anthony answered his own question by saying:
Well, such direct action would be playing into the hands of these anti-democratic elements in trade unions.
He went on to say:
Our task is to inject greater responsibility into unions and industrial relations. We want to see the great majority of ordinary members of trade unions, decent working men and women, having their say.
He goes on to say:
The measures we have taken are all designed to strengthen the hand of ordinary members within the union. It remains to be seen, however, whether measures like this will significantly improve our labour relations record. But make no mistake about it, if there is going to be defiance we will act.
There we have the Jekyll and Hyde approach in the mind of the Deputy Prime Minister of this country, the Leader of the National Country Party. Last night Mr Sinclair, the Minister for Primary Industry, fresh from his excursions into the world of undertakers, went back on to a national television program to tell the living that the Government wants to put public servants in Australia into exactly the same position as employees in private industry. That is a lie. This legislation does not put public servants into the same position as employees in private industry. It puts them in a position which no employee in private industry in this country has been put in since the beginning of the 20th century. The Minister said these sorts of things to the people of Australia on television last night in an apparent explanation of this absurd legislation.
The totally ineffectual Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations boasted about the low level of industrial unrest in Australia on the one hand and at the same time introduced legislation of this kind into the Parliament as an apparent matter of emergency in circumstances which are an insult to the Parliament itself.
What does the legislation seek to do apart from distracting attention from the Government’s own ineptitude? Stated quite simply, firstly it seeks to empower an employing authority, which is a body which employs persons paid by the Commonwealth, to dismiss or suspend an employee who takes part in what is very loosely defined in the legislation as industrial action. We will deal with the definition of industrial action when we come to it at the Committee stage of this Bill. It is a bizarre definition. It is an insult to this Parliament that the draftsman has put it there. Perhaps he should be an early victim of this legislation as a person paid by the Commonwealth.
Secondly the legislation enables the employing authority to stand down any employee who cannot be usefully employed because of industrial action taken by fellow government employees or, interestingly enough, employees in private industry. Thirdly it empowers a Minister to assume all these functions to himself if, in his discretion, the circumstances warrant it.
Let us look at these three essential concepts of the legislation in some greater detail. I said that the legislation gives the right to terminate employment because of participation in industrial action, whatever that is supposed to mean. It gives a quite unfettered right which is unavailable to any employer in this country other than the Commonwealth, a right which this Government has not the constitutional power in a direct sense to give to any other employer in this country. It gives to this Government a right which is contrary to the common law and which is contrary to decisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission developed since the inception of this body in 1904. It gives a right which is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act for which this Government loudmouths its support at every opportunity. The provisions of this legislation are totally inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
At common law and in the awards of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission an employee cannot be summarily dismissed unless in circumstances of serious and wilful misconduct such as if he is drunk on the job, if he steals something or if he drops the boss. They are classic examples of serious and wilful misconduct which would justify, under common law, instant dismissal, but in no other circumstances is an employer in this country entitled to do what the Fraser Government now seeks power to do- to dismiss a person summarily, except in those circumstances of serious and wilful misconduct.
– That is an overstatement.
-We will hear from the honourable senator. I know about his bunyip expertise on these matters. He will have the opportunity to tell us about it. Not only is the right included in this legislation to dismiss a person in those circumstances but the employee so dismissed is not even given a right of appeal. He does have a right of appeal under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and he does have a right of appeal at common law. In this Bill that is denied to him. I should point out for the benefit of honourable senators on the Government side who seem ignorant of these matters that industrial action has never been defined as serious and wilful misconduct in this country. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act, by its own terminology, does not outlaw strikes as such and at common law in Australia and in Great Britain strikes are not illegal. But under this Bill industrial action in any of its forms is proscribed as being illegal for the purposes of the penalty provisions.
– What penalty provisions?
-The penalty is the sack; to lose your job. Senator Douglas McClelland reminds me of the very serious consequences which flow in the second half of this century, in terms of accrued rights for holidays, long service leave and things of that kind, for employees who are dismissed.
Secondly, the legislation gives the employing authority, or, by implication, the Minister, a right to suspend an employee. That is a right which is not and has not been available to an employer under the English common law but it is a right which this Government now seeks to take upon itself in defiance of decisions of the courts of ‘ England and of Australia over many, many years. For the first time in the history of a country3 of this kind a government in Australia seeks to take upon itself that right which the pronouncements of courts over the years have denied to employers. The right to suspend has never been conceded to an employer in Australia by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. Again it is a right which this Government seeks to abrogate to itself.
Thirdly, there is a proposal in this legislation that the employing authority or the Minister should have the right to stand down in circumstances in which the employee cannot be usefully employed. Again for the benefit of Government supporters, the law on this matter is quite clear in Australia. You can stand down an employee but the onus of establishing the reasons for standing down an employee is firmly fixed on the employer. That was the situation until the introduction of this Bill by the Fraser Government, the new employer under Malcolm Fraser ‘s new Utopia. That is nowhere better expressed than in a recent decision of Mr Justice Sharp in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. He had this to say about stand-down provisions in awards:
I do not accept the contention . . . that standing down employees without pay should be an employer’s right if that were the most convenient way of avoiding economic loss. The concept that it was management’s prerogative to use labour at will has had no place in western society for many decades.
The concept that it was management’s right to stand down labour at will has had no place for many decades in Western society other than Australian society under Mr Malcolm Fraser after this legislation is passed. Mr Justice Sharp went on to say:
It has been replaced by the concept that the use of the labour of human beings is a privilege accorded to management on defined terms.
The privilege here is not to be according to defined terms; it is to be an absolute privilege relying on the discretion of the employing authority. The decision continued:
One of those terms is that reasonable security of earnings be assured to the labourer. This is the purpose of the notice clause in awards and very substantial grounds must exist for this Commission to include any provision which would enable it to be abrogated, even temporarily, by unilateral action.
There may, however, be circumstances when both the employer and those employed would want to avoid the extreme measure of terminating employment. It is for this situation that stand down provisions should exist and should contain adequate safeguards. If that consensus-
That is a consensus reached between the employer and the employed - is not present then, as I have already indicated, this Commission must be persuaded that there are exceptional and substantial reasons based on the facts of that occasion for its intervention.
That is the law as it now stands in Australia until this legislation presumably is passed by the Senate acting in its capacity as a House of review. Looking at some of the National Country Party senators dozing off, I do not think we will get much critical review from them of this legislation.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! Senator Button, I do not want you tending to disparage other senators.
-No, certainly not. In these provisions no onus of proof is required of the Government or the employing authority. Of course this is a most extraordinary and pernicious provision. The other interesting thing about it is that the Government or the employing authority may stand down any public servant who cannot be gainfully employed as a result of industrial action by Public Service employees or by employees in private industry. Suppose that a public servant cannot be usefully employed as a result of industrial action by employees in private industry, perhaps action by the Australian Cattlemen’s Union refusing to supply meat or as a result of the Government making cuts in the Australian Broadcasting Commission budget which mean that a number of producers and other persons cannot be usefully employed any more. Is it suggested that the Government should apply to them a standard different from the standard applicable to other employees? That is a matter which really illustrates the intent of this legislation. As I said before, the intent is to divert attention from the inadequacies of the Government in other areas.
Finally, let me point out that there is no right of appeal. In all the employment circumstances to which I have referred the common law, the awards of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and so on ensure a right of appeal to the employee. Under this legislation there is no right of appeal at all irrespective of the merits of the matter. Listening to the AM program this morning I had the extraordinary experience of hearing the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) explaining why he had not voted against this legislation in the Lower House. Mr Haslem said he was very upset about there being no right of appeal in this legislation. He thought it was a very bad thing in principle, representing as he does a large number of public servants. He said: ‘I think it is a very bad thing in principle, but I have been assured by the Prime Minister and certain senior senators’- I would love to know who they were- ‘that there is of course a right of appeal in a roundabout way. If anybody is sacked or loses his job he can go to the
Commonwealth Ombudsman and get it fixed up or alternatively he can take out a prerogative writ to get his employment back ‘.
What an extraordinary suggestion. I want to let Commonwealth public servants throughout Australia, whether they be transport workers, clerical workers or workers engaged in technical grades, know that if they are dismissed under this legislation they have the assurance of the Prime Minister that they can have their solicitor take out a prerogative writ in the High Court on their average weekly earnings. Perhaps then they will get their employment back.
An assurance was given by the Prime Minister to the Public Service employees of Australia in 1975 that wage indexation would be maintained, that Medibank would be maintained, and that he would reduce unemployment by 200,000. The same man is now giving public servants assurances about their future m employment under this legislation. The suggestion is: ‘You can go off and take out a prerogative writ ‘. That is the value of that sort of assurance to employees in the Public Service. On the basis of that rather banal and extraordinarily nitwitted explanation, the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) abandoned his high principle on this issue and, as the representative of public servants in this city, retreated into the womb of the Liberal Party.
The only other point I make specifically about the legislation is that it provides in clause 14 for any matters not satisfactorily covered by the legislation to be dealt with by regulation. I would have thought that such a principle would make an honourable senator like Senator Wright turn in his bed. I only hope that that did not happen to him last night. I said at the beginning that the introduction of this legislation was a diversionary tactic by the Government, a tactic of desperation and a tactic of frustration. One thing that honourable senators on the Government side can never get into their heads is that in an industrial relations climate we cannot make people work if they do not want to. Senator Steele Hall is a great advocate of the view that somehow, by this sort of legislation, we can make people work. Since he abandoned his position of principled independence in the Senate he has hardly made a speech here. I do not know what we would need to make him work. I do not know whether he comes under this legislation. If he does, he is a classic example of the sort of person who should be the recipient of the legislation. We know that we cannot make Senator Hall work.
It is a ridiculous proposition that if, in an industrial relations climate, people do not want to work, then we can make them work by means of a big stick. I think it is very important that the basic philosophy of this legislation in this regard be attacked. The Australian Labor Party which I represent does not condone for one moment stoppages which are of concern and upsetting to the public interest in circumstances of the kind which may be envisaged by this legislation. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to solve this sort of problem by using the sorts of methods which this Government now seeks to use.
– Well, how do you solve it? You tell us how you would solve it.
- Senator Lewis provokes me. There was a dispute in the Redfern Mail Exchange in 1973. The honourable senator was not around at the time. Mr Bowen, the then Minister, went to the Redfern Mail Exchange and talked to the workers about their problems. The matter was settled. Mr Street would have neither the integrity nor the guts to go to the Redfern Mail Exchange and talk to the workers in that way. And he is a responsible Minister. We are very firmly of the view that this is not the way to go about the matter and it will not produce a satisfactory result. If we take this sort of proposal to its logical consequence- that is to say, if people in a complex industrial society concerned with the advancement of their economic interests and working conditions, for one reason or another take unilaterial action- then we have to be consistent about the matter. The Government has to say to the Cattlemen’s Union when its members refuse to bring cattle to market: ‘We have to have some legislation for you fellows. We have to make you work.’ The Government has to say the same to the doctors when they refuse their labour and to the New South Wales hospitals workers, as Senator Grimes points out. The Government must be consistent about the matter. We know pretty well that it cannot be consistent about it in the terms of this sort of legislation. So the logical consequences of this type of action are absurd.
In conclusion I say this to the Government: It has again, as it did during the air traffic controllers strike, put itself on a hook by introducing this legislation here. The only way the Government can get off that hook is as it did last time, by going to Bob Hawke and asking him to fix things up. That is what will happen. This morning, while this Government in the interests of political stunting is seeking to enact this legislation in this chamber, the General Manager of Australia Post is telephoning the union secretary suggesting a 7-day cooling period at Redfern and further discussions between the parties. That is what is happening this morning while this collection of industrial troglodytes continues the debate on this legislation in the Parliament. Again I say in the real circumstances of this debate that honourable senators opposite do not even know what is going on. A proper solution to this matter is again being sought elsewhere, outside this Parliament. I hope that in time Bob Hawke will get the Government off the hook again.
In the course of the discussion of the provisions of this Bill I raise a number of legal matters. It is important that this House of review should take the same attitude as Australia Post and seek a cooling off period in the particular dispute to which I understand the legislation is supposed to be directed. Of course, it is scatter legislation which covers the whole Public Service area of employment. The importance in this legislation for this so-called House of review is that the sorts of principles of the common law, of the arbitration system and of statutory draftsmanship to which I have referred should not be condoned by the Senate. Accordingly, I move the following amendment:
Leave out all words after ‘That’, insert ‘the Bill be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs.
That practice has been hallowed by the present Government in opposition over a number of years and adopted by it. I move the amendment because it will provide time for the hotheads on the Government side to get more sense and consult Bob Hawke, and it will give the Senate the opportunity to exercise its proper function as a House of review, to review the principles of common law and arbitration in this country which are being overturned by this legislation.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second it.
– It is regrettable that the speaker leading for the Australian Labor Party in this debate obviously exhibited a real inexperience and put forward a confusion of half understood legal principles. The Bill that the Senate is discussing this morning is a Bill to equip the Government of this country with the power, if necessary, in the case of industrial action by public servants or the employees of government authorities, to suspend those engaged in that industrial action and to stand down those who are rendered superfluous by reason of industrial action causing their services to be not required- that is to say, in the terms of the statute where the other persons, by reason of their fellows’ or private employees’ industrial action, cannot usefully be employed or where there is serious disruption to the performance of the Government to function. That seemed to startle Senator Button into confusion and he spun around like a top, referring with certain jibes to the clauses of the Bill.
The Senate has been criticised for accepting this Bill on the terms of debating it in a decisive way within a compass of time today. Although the Senate is a House of review on occasions when Government action is required, that does not command the Senate to dilly-dally and to allow disruptionists to take charge of the government of the country. Nor would it be any tribute to the Parliament of this country if it saw its Executive, to which it entrusts the administration of the law, in need of additional authority or power. It would be no tribute to this Parliament if it should waffle away in meaningless debate upon all areas of industrial relations when what is required is a decision of decisiveness and effect in the field in which a minority is disrupting the postal services of the country and, as we have seen in recent days, disrupting other essential government services to which the people are entitled. If the Parliament was not prepared to sit upon the request of the Executive when it says that it needs specific power, the Parliament would be wanting and not discharging those functions that the people elected it to perform. It is a demonstration, in my view, that the democracies and their democratic processes can be called into action with effect and promptness if the occasion is proper and if the action requires parliamentary action. Those who are preaching that democracy is on the verge of collapse and allowing the dictatorships of the industrial world and the Arab world to take over will see in this behaviour of the Senate today a demonstration that Parliament is capable of acting promptly when effective action is required.
– You did not say that in October 1975.
-I have said that all through my life and I want to say that when the Labor Government introduced 43 general policy Bills into the Senate and applied the guillotine to them, I fought that action and would fight it indefinitely all along the line. Parliament is not to be ignored. The Parliament has to take its role in the effective action in support of the government of the country where that is proper.
It is important to remember that in the nongovernment field of industrial relations in this country we have had a unique system of arbitration, supported up until recently by both sides of the political world. Under that system, any employee involved in an industrial dispute could go to an impartial commission of arbitration. That eliminated the necessity for the old jungle attitude of direct industrial action. In the private field, it must be deplored that so much abuse has been made of the monopolistic power of unions to weaken arbitration and disrupt the private field. But we are not dealing here with the private sector of industry. We are dealing with the work of government servants in the Federal field and the employees of the corporations and bodies that have been set up to administer shipping, railways, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Post Office and the airways. There is nothing in this Bill that detracts from or diminishes by one iota the rights of any government servant or any employees of a government authority to go to arbitration to have their industrial disputes settled. This country has signalled itself as one of the earliest in history to accord access to arbitration to government servants. Government servants did not automatically obtain the right to have their disputes with government arbitrated when that general system was established for the private sector in 1904. But, in 1922, 1 think it was, Public Service arbitration was established and a whole system of tribunals was set up for the proper adjustment of any dispute in the government field. It is still available.
There is not one word in this Bill that prevents an employee of any government authority and any government servant in the Federal sphere having full access to those arbitral tribunals for adjustment of a dispute, even against the Government. The Government has conceded to the government servants and employees who go to that tribunal and use its methods the right for the arbitrator to decide. On the occasion of the postal dispute currently occurring in Sydney we have it from the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) that in an endeavour to accommodate postal employees the Government and the Postal Commission both agreed to support the implementation of a 36%-hour week for members of the union who do not presently enjoy those working conditions on the condition that any arrangement that was made to accommodate them should conform to the principles that had been laid down by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. That meant that the Postal Commission had to rearrange shifts, cut out economic shifts and rearrange rosters. Any proposal by the employer authority, the Postal Commission, for those rearrangements is the subject of arbitration. Any employee can go to arbitration on any single issue.
The issue here is that the postal employees’ union chooses not to go to arbitration, not to enter into discussions with the conciliator, but to engage in a series of what they propose as rolling interruptions- the refusal to work every alternate day by a section of the people who are engaged in industrial action. This device which has been developed over the last decade or so whereby a whole enterprise can be held to ransom by a selected section of key personnel going out or refusing to do work necessitates that we consider disruption by key personnel as being of special significance. That is why the Bill proposes to give authority to the employer, on the direction of the Minister if necessary, representing the Executive government of this country. That Executive government exists only so long as this Parliament accords it responsibility. This Parliament, the elected representatives of the people, appoints Ministers to administer departments and services, and if the servants engaged to discharge the duties of transmitting the post or carrying on the airways or the railways or shipping or communication services refuse to carry out their jobs according to current awards and laws, how shameful it would be for an Executive to flinch from the duty of requiring that the services should be performed, by putting aside the people who refuse to do it- nothing else; suspending those who engage in the industrial action; and if they persist in paralysing the enterprise, standing down, so that the country will not be under the burden of paying useless salaries, the great majority whose work has been rendered impossible by the striking minority.
There is nothing in the Bill other than the right to suspend those who refuse to work, who engage in industrial action, whatever artifice they employ- working on alternate days, for example. Only those who are engaged in the industrial action bring themselves within the power to suspend. If they do not wish to engage in industrial action, under this Bill nobody can touch them. If they carry on their jobs and go to arbitration they have all the advantages, benefits and rights of existing laws and awards. But if they want to disrupt such a service as the people are entitled to receive in the Post Office, they are subject to suspension and then, according to the development of the circumstances, dismissal. What is wrong with that? If I have an enterprise where I need 2000 people to work in the various functions and if there are 100 people who will not work, in order to carry out the functions of that enterprise surely I have to get rid of that 100 and suspend them or, if they become so intransigent, dismiss them. If they render superfluous the other 1900 employees, m the name of God, the Labor Party urges that the 1900 should continue on the payroll, even though their 100 colleagues have prevented them from carrying on the work for which they are being paid.
I hope that illustrates with sufficient clarity that this Bill is confined to government service and does not detract from the benefits or rights of anybody in the goverment service so long as they carry out their duties. This Bill applies only to the person who engages in direct action to defy the Administration and to refuse to carry out a public service, for instance in the Post Office where, we are told, 1 1 million articles are already stagnant in the Mail Exchange. We have a situation m which the Australian Postal Commission is asking the public not to post more letters because the backlog of mail is becoming impossible to handle. It is thought that we are entering upon a situation that is outrageous from the point of view of industrial law. Within the laws of this country section 66 of the Public Service Act provides -
– Why not use that?
– I could go into an explanation of that, but time will not permit. The honourable senator should listen to what the law of the country has provided since, I should think, 1922. Section 66 of the Public Service Act states:
Any officer or officers . . . taking part in any strike which interferes with or prevents the carrying on of any part of the Public Services or utilities of Australia shall be deemed to have committed an illegal action against the peace and good order of Australia, and any such officer or officers adjudged by the Board, after investigation and hearing, to be guilty of such action, shall therefore be summarily dismissed -
Not given an intermediate situation of suspension- by the Board from the Service, without regard to the procedure prescribed in this Act for dealing with offences under this Act.
The great vigilant, uproarious Labor Opposition, which comes here in protest and consternation, when it was in office in 1973 introduced a Bill into this Parliament which amended that section of the Public Service Act to a trivial extent. But, after addressing its attention to this section specifically, the then Government did not propose its repeal. That is referred to in the amendment. There is in relation to public servants- the integral officers of public departments-a right of summary dismissal for taking part in a strike; not for the situation that is covered in this Bill which is before us, but merely for taking part in a strike.
In the United States, where the government had terrific trouble in the immediate post war years of 1947 and 1948, after great consideration of the Taft-Hartley Act, the government introduced the following provision:
It shall be unlawful for any individual employed by the United States or any agency thereof including wholly owned Government corporations to participate in any strike. Any individual employed by the United States or by any such agency who strikes shall be discharged immediately from his employment, and shall forfeit his civil service status, if any, and shall not be eligible for reemployment for three years by the United States or any such agency.
I am aware that, as one would expect in any democracy, there is constant discussion about a revision of both the Australian and the American provisions to which I have referred. But we have reached the stage of seeing the significance of trade union authority when misused by militant minorities and communists. It would be dangerous for this Parliament to surrender its ultimate authority to require service from government departments and instrumentalities. We have reached the stage where the Bill which we have before us is an example of a courageous government at last- this action has been too long delayed- taking up its duty and saying to the people: ‘If in government service under our Government you will not perform we will not make it an offence, we will not subject to you to any penalties or penal provisions, except that if you repudiate your contract of service you, according to ordinary principles of law, will cease to be entitled to the benefits of that contract if you are suspended or dismissed’. That is what the Government is doing with, I hope, the wholehearted support of the Senate.
One last word by way of postscript. This is not an occasion for a committee. It is an occasion for Parliament to show its capacity for decisive action and if defects can be disclosed in this legislation as those who are concerned with it study it, then there is nothing in this Parliament and no attitude on this side that would prevent consideration of any defect that deserves further consideration. But for today I am pleased that the Government is putting through this Bill to arm itself with authority to control the negotiations and the transactions in the coming period so that government service will be given by government servants according to their pay and duty and the people will not be put at ransom by a few malcontents who resort to direct action instead of arbitration for the settlement of disputes.
– It is clear to me that one of the most outstanding lawyers in the Senate does not know what the Bill provides because in developing the argument Senator Wright has put to the Senate today he has said, on the one hand, that the Government has to take decisive action against the dictators and the disrupters in the industrial movement but, on the other hand, the honourable senator has argued that there is no disturbance at all to the present arbitration in industrial relations climate in Australia. It is clearly evident to everybody who has seen the Bill that what is proposed in this Bill will in fact become a new law. If this Bill is passed it will become a new law. The provisions in the Bill will override the provisions in the Public Service Act. This new legislation will override the provisions in the Naval Defence Act, the Supply and Development Act and all the provisions in those pieces of legislation which have been laid down to regulate conditions between master and servant.
Honourable senators will know from the information that was given to the Senate this morning by Senator Button in relation to the case which came before Mr Justice Sharp that the question of standing down employees under the present Conciliation and Arbitration Commission Act is one which must be regulated by that Commission. If the Australian Postal Commission had wanted to take action against any of its workers a month ago when the dispute started to develop it had that right- a right which it is using only today- to go before the Commission. How is it that the Postal Commission only today is using the existing provisions on the same day that the Government brings into this Senate a proposed law to introduce new rules? The existing law says that if there is a conflict and the employer wants to disturb an agreement or award with a union- this applies under most awards- he has to go to an arbitrator.
There was a conflict in the Post Office. Neither the Manager of the New South Wales branch of the Postal Commission nor the General Manager of the Postal Commission is saying today: ‘We are going to rely on what is proposed in this legislation’. They are before the Arbitration Commission today asking that the bans provisions be applied in respect of the Post Office group. So clearly Senator Wright either does not understand the position or is trying to confuse us in respect of the law.
The new proposal does what he said in the first place it did. It gives a Minister, an authority or somebody declared to be an officer of an authority new dictatorial powers which get around the old relationship between the employee and the employer. In that regard the legislation does what I have said it does: It puts the industrial relations environment in Australia back 100 years. In an arbitrary way it places in the hands of people the power to sack or suspend employees who may not even be actively engaged in a dispute. In fact, their stoppage or stop-work meeting might be caused by something which occurred outside their own enterprise.
– That is absolutely untrue.
– The honourable senator obviously has not read the Bill. I direct his attention to clause 5, which I will read to him directly and which is where that provision is contained. What have honourable senators opposite to say about Senator Wright’s comments? Senator Wright confounded his argument by holding up a copy of the Public Service Act. If the Government has the power under the Public Service Act now, why does it not use that Act instead of coming here and asking for new legislation to be passed?
Why did not the Minister for Veteran ‘s Affairs (Senator Durack), as Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), recommend to the Commission that it use its powers under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act? He knows, because he was the shadow Postmaster-General, that we legislated to give the Commission employees the same rights and powers as most of the community. We placed them under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and that is the Act to which an employer has to turn. When I say that, I am not defending any arbitrary act by any employee, but the history of the postal dispute proves that the negotiation system which was strengthened while Labor was in power is not being used to the extent it should be. It is true that Lionel Bowen and I appointed most of the members of the Commission, or the Goverment did; but I am referring not to the top management but to the people on the ground floor.
Senator Durack has been to the Redfern Mail Exchange, so I ask him: What is the situation there? Anybody who has been through the place knows that it is a hazard to satisfactory industrial relations. A previous Liberal-Country Party government built it. It has no windows. It is like a prison. It is noisy and dusty and has many people working in a small space. It is most unsatisfactory and the scientific opinion developed when I was the Minister is that such places should not be built, as they were years ago, because they pro- - duce all sorts of unsatisfactory industrial rela-tions. As we read in the newspaper this morning*,” only last night the New South Wales section of the Postal and Telecommunications Union had a meeting and said that it was prepared to negotiate but certainly not while the new rosters remained. How many people would support this view? Suppose that we were working for a boss and he came along and said to us: ‘I will give you the new working hours which have been approved for 75 per cent of the employees of the Postal and Telecommunications Commissions, but when I give you the shorter working week I will reduce your pay by $40 a fortnight . Would we not then expect there to be a row about rosters, and if there is a row we do not do what Senator Wright has been talking about.
The procedure these days in any place of employment where disputes over rosters are required to be settled is to have the matter discussed between the employer and the union which represents the men. We can pass what ever laws we like; but, as Bob Hawke rightly says, all major disputes are settled only by negotiation. That is the idea behind the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Senator Wright having put forward this guff, I am trying to make it clear that either he does not understand or he is not telling the public the truth. It is clear that this legislation does conflict with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is clear also that it gives not only the Government but also the employing authority or some small-minded bloke in charge of a department the power to sack a man arbitrarily. The legislation provides for this. That is completely wrong and nobody should defend such a provision. Nobody should defend it.
If it is a fact that the points of alleged concern raised by Senator Wright are valid, this legislation should be examined by the Senate committee which has examined similar matters before. I am directly opposed to this legislation. I would not object to this Senate committee, on which Government supporters have a majority, examining this Bill in the light of what we say today and on whatever evidence is put before it.
This Bill gives a new dictatorial power to Ministers. As we are all aware, Ministers often are not well equipped to deal with disputes which occur in the Commonwealth Railways, Telecom, the Postal Commission and other authorities. How well equipped is a Minister who does not understand the problems of an industry, who has not worked in the industry or who does not know what industrial standards prevail to determine that a man should be suspended or sacked from his job? These matters should be settled by experts. The experts in arbitration are not only the people who help to settle disputes but also the members of the Conciliation and Arbitration
Commission. These are the people whom this Government, and previous governments, both Liberal and Labor, have appointed to these positions. But they are also the people whom the Government has been attacking regularly in the last 12 months.
This legislation is not only bad but also adopts a new mailed fist policy towards the industrial movement in Australia. The Government is seeking to force its will upon people who are dissatisfied with their employment conditions or the standards at their place of work. For example, employees of the Department of Construction may express concern about a lack of safety measures on a job. As a result the union informs its members that they should not work under those conditions. In that event, the person declared to represent the employing authority or the Minister can say that if the employees do not work they will be sacked. Who are the experts in this field? They are the people who have been involved in arbitration work over many years. They understand these matters. They are the experts who are well equipped to deal with problems and to settle disputes.
I said earlier today that this Bill will put the industrial relations clock back 100 years. That is true. This legislation signals a return to the conditions prevailing under the master and servant Act where the only arbitrator was the boss. In future, the boss will be the final judge. Disputes will not be settled by arbitration. We will no longer have an umpire to settle industrial disputes. As Senator Wright said, it will be a matter for a Minister or other authority. In this respect, an article in today’s Australian Financial Review reports:
Mr Street said that the criteria for dismissal would be an employee’s continual history of industrial action.
Once an employee was suspended that history would be looked at to determine the case for dismissal.
Such a determination should be a job for the umpire, the man who has helped to establish the code of industrial relations in Australia. Our system of industrial relations has matured and become fairly sophisticated. This Bill, of course, does away with all of that. It allows a mug, if I might put it in good Australian parlance, in charge of a department or responsible for a particular section but who does not know anything about a job or an industry or the climate of consultation, to decide that a man should be sacked. A declaration can be withdrawn without consequential penalty being imposed on the person who make the declaration.
I referred earlier to the definition of ‘industrial action’. In this respect, the safety aspect of a job ought to be considered by some committee and by lawyers. The definition of ‘industrial action’, as contained in clause 3 of the Bill, states:
People may decide that their conditions of work are obnoxious because, for instance, they may be too dusty. They will have no rights under their new award. The dispute will not be taken to an arbitrator or a conciliator for determination as their present award provides. No such right will exist in future. The authority, the person I have mentioned, or the Minister can say that the employees must do as they are told. If they do not they will get the sack. Those who are not involved in any industrial action can be stood down. Clause 5 states:
Where, by reason of the existence of any industrial action (including industrial action in which Commonwealth employees are not engaged)-
The employing authority can make a decision that an employee can be sacked or forced to do certain jobs.
– It is not sacking. It deals with standing down employees.
– In addition, as the honourable senator well knows, there is the question of his rights. The honourable senator did not answer that. Clause 6 states:
During any period when a Commonwealth employee is, by virtue of a declaration under section 4, suspended or, by virtue of a declaration under section S, stood down, the employee is not, except as provided in the declaration, entitled to any salary, wages or other remuneration, or allowances …
Who decides that? It is not a judge of the court or an arbitrator who is experienced in the matter. It is the authority or the person so designated. He may be a mug as I have pointed out or a Minister, even a Labor Minister, who, however well meaning, is not experienced. Even if it had happened when I was in power I should not have had that power. It would have been wrong. I am not experienced enough in those matters. The Bill goes on arbitrarily.
– Have a look at clause 8 (3) (b).
-Yes, it states:
Where an employing authority revokes the termination of employment . . .
give such other directions in relation to the terms and conditions of employment of the employee as the employing authority considers appropriate in the circumstances.
What sort of a right is that to invest in anybody? What sort of a right is that to invest in a boss? The Government is transferring the conciliation and arbitration power which exists in this country to people who are masters and employers. What sort of justice is that? Clause 9 states:
Where an employing authority makes a declaration or determination, or cancels a declaration, the employing authority shall cause such notice as the authority thinks appropriate . . .
He does not even have to post the declaration satisfactorily or make it known to the workers. He can say: That notification is sufficient and satisfactory to me. You can do what you like about it. ‘ The workers can do nothing about it. They cannot, as Senator Wright argues, go back to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
What I said earlier is correct. This new power which the Government wants is either a dictatorial power to enforce its new right wing tendencies in the industrial field or it is a gimmick which is a prelude to a general election which will be argued as being necessary to do away with the malcontents in industry. Despite the inconvenience of not delivering mail on time- this was improved when we were in power, as I said before, by the Minister himself using special people to find solutions- the Post Office registered the best record ever of. industrial disputes. Not only did the Labor Government achieve that, but also the Vernon Commission report which the Government and the Parliament considered recommended a new outlook on the part of the Commission. When I criticise the Commission as such I am not criticising people. I am saying that the system- of negotiation and consultation has not been used as it should be. It should be used today. The Minister should promote that form of consultation to solve the industrial dispute in the Post Office.
Wider than that and more important is the power the Government will have over other public servants. In future every public servant covered by the Acts I have mentioned will become subject to possible arbitrary decisions by his own employers and or a Minister.
– Why should they be any different?
-That is defended by Senator Wright and others- no doubt Senator Jessop will defend it directly- by saying that strong actions have to be taken against unionists. What unionists? When the Government takes this power it will take it not only against the group it is complaining about but also against every honest worker. Action could be taken in the same way even against the technicians working in Senator Jessop ‘s firm. This Bill sets a new climate of industrial relations in the Government’s own employment which will not, at least at present, apply m outside industry. That is a most unsatisfactory position.
I suggest that Senator Wright is not putting the case correctly. His own arguments are confounded by the Commission itself. Today the Commission is applying to the Arbitration Commission. Senator Button informed us this morning that the Commission has rung Mr Slater of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union and said that it would like to talk again. Why does the Government want to bring in this law? Does it want to give a new power to the Minister? Does the Government intend to arm new Liberal Ministers with these strong powers, keep them to itself, or will it make sure that each employing authority uses not only his judgment but its judgment? The sad facts are that while the commissions are supposed to operate independently we know the Government has a strong power over them. We know that the Minister assumes strong powers. We know that the Government has given directions to the commissions in respect of a number of matters.
If some section of the working class movement needs attention in respect of the arbitration laws, the law should be considered by the relevant parliamentary committee. I hope consideration will be given by honourable senators opposite to that suggestion. Let the Bill lapse or let consideration of it be adjourned to allow the parties concerned to solve that dispute, and then discuss the matter where it should have been discussed in the first place. As I said a little while ago, the Government brought into Parliament a Bill to provide for a national advisory labour consultative body. The Government criticised the Australian Council of Trade Unions a few years ago for pulling out of the previous body. In the discussions concerning that legislation it was stated that the intention was that all major legislation concerning industrial relations would be considered by that body. It has not been considered by that body. There have been no discussions.
Today the peak councils and the ACTU are looking at the Bill- let us hope it does not become law- to see what should be done. All the Government is doing is organising the whole of the Public Service, all the white collar workers, into a strong and militant stand against something which is a great threat to our present conciliation and arbitration machinery. It disturbs the established relationship between the boss and the worker. It creates new and arbitrary situations which could be used against the worker and which would allow the making of many mistakes which could cause tension, differences and industrial disputes. I hope the Bill is referred to the Committee.
– I support the Bill. It is important legislation which I suggest we should look at in a cool, calm and objective manner, free from prejudice and emotion. Firstly, I deal briefly with a couple of statements made by the Opposition spokesman, Senator Button, in reply to an interjection by me. As the Senate knows, he and I share a common affinity as lawyers. This is not the first time that disparaging remarks have been made in the Senate about my being an up country solicitor. That is a tag which I wear quite easily because occasionally the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) is given the same tag. I am quite happy to rest on the clear, legal exposition of this legislation given by my illustrious colleague, also a legal man, Senator Wright. We gave a clear, concise and direct explanation of the meaning of the words and of their effect in the current Australian scene. Senator Button said that no employee can be dismissed by an employer. I interjected and said that he had made an overstatement. I was kind in my interjection. I am a practising lawyer. I think he still practices. There is nothing at this moment to stop me from sacking an employee of mine. No industrial law in Australia can prevent that happening. That is the situation in small business in many areas in Australia, outside the Public Service, outside statutory corporations and outside the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. His statement simply was not true.
This legislation deals with public servants, the Public Service and. statutory corporations set up under Commonwealth legislation. When we are looking at this legislation it is important to remember that we are dealing with 20 per cent of the work force. It is an accepted fact- it has been quoted many times in the Senate since I have been a member- that 80 per cent of the people employed in Australia today are employed by private enterprise. So this Bill is dealing with 20 per cent of the work force. There is a necessity, because of industrial anarchy in certain sections of statutory corporations and government instrumentalities, to introduce legislation to deal with that 20 per cent.
Might I say in defence of public servants that I was once a public servant. I spent the first 12 years of my working life as a Victorian public servant. Therefore, I know something about how public services work. I want to pay tribute to all public servants of Australia today because my experience in that area taught me that they are a loyal, dedicated and hard-working band of people. But in any other section of the communitywhether they be British migrants or whoever they are- there is always a small percentage, 5 per cent or less, who cause trouble. Employees of the Australian Postal Commission today are no exception.
The Bill we are discussing is not confrontation legislation. The Government is dealing with a situation that is not new. It existed in the days of the Labor Government, and I shall deal later with Senator Bishop who is a former PostmasterGeneral. This matter ought to be above party politics because whether there were postal strikes in Senator Bishop’s day or whether there are postal strikes now in the day of Eric Robinson, such strikes cause great disruption to all the citizens of this community. Surely the best example of irresponsible industrial action that can cause disruption is the present dispute concerning the Postal Commission- Australia Post- because every citizen of Australia and every household of Australia is affected by this organisation.
– It has a better record than the other industries.
– I shall come to its record later, particularly its record in respect of the Redfern Mail Exchange. I have already paid a tribute to public servants. I want to repeat my tribute because a number of public servants are a little upset about this legislation. When I referred to the remarks made by Senator Button I forgot to mention something that has already been raised ably by my colleague Senator Wright, namely section 66 of the Public Service Act. Senator Wright quoted this section. Under this section there is complete power to dismiss any public servant. This power has been in the Act for many years although I have not been able to ascertain for how long. Yet honourable senators opposite have come here today and said what a terrible thing the legislation we are now debating is for the Public Service. It will be a terrible thing perhaps for the 5 per cent of irresponsible people in Australia who do not want to see this nation get back to a prosperous situation and who are intent on disrupting the community. The other 95 per cent of the people, be they in public or private enterprise, are quite happy to be law abiding and hard-working citizens. That is the nub of the matter.
I now come to the question of industrial anarchy. Figures have been quoted to show that there is not a lot of industrial strife in Australia today. But statistics can be likened to a bikiniwhat they conceal is more important than what they reveal. I suggest that it is a complete fallacy, when looking at the effect of strikes on the economy and the community, to take into account only the number of man hours lost. As was pointed out by Senator Wright, these figures do not include the effect of new industrial action such as go-slows and work bans. Employees providing mail pick-up services in Victoria went out for 24 hours. Industrial action of this kind has caused so much complete disruption to everyone in the community that the people of Australia want to see it taken in hand.
They want to see an updating of the tools of trade and the machinery which the Government can employ to rectify this situation. That is what this legislation is all about. But when we are talking about postal strikes, we must remember that they affect everyone across the board. Probably the best example we can take is their effect on the humble pensioner. There are thousands of them throughout Australia. The pension cheque arrives regularly except when there is a mail strike. In some respects, the situation regarding the public servants, if I can use that term compendiously for the 20 per cent of people employed outside private enterprise, is quite different from the situation regarding employees in private enterprise. Public servants are running services which concern the whole country.
I have already dealt with the Postal Commission and I turn now to transport strikes. I refer to the recent regular transport strikes in Melbourne where the people who were disadvantaged there were people who did not have motor cars. People who had made appointments a fortnight earlier to visit the outpatients sections at public hospitals on a Friday found that the trams and trains were not running because of the strike. It is quite wrong to say, as Bob Hawke says, that only so many man hours have been lost. What the people of Australia are concerned about is getting on with the job and having essential services running so that they will be there when the public wants to utilise them.
– They are concerned about inconvenience and all the rest of it.
– Yes. I want to say something now about the Redfern Mail Exchange. I am sure that Senator Bishop, who has already made three speeches of a second reading nature on this Bill, will pardon me if I refer back to a statement of July 1974 by Mr A. F. Spratt, managing director of the Australian Postal Commission. The statement is headed ‘Strike/3 ‘. I am not sure what significance the document has but it reads:
Twelve thousand six hundred and forty mail bags (involving about 5 million letters) made up and ready for despatch to the suburbs and some country areas lay idle in mail exchanges throughout Australia this morning as 1,200 members of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union went on a 24-hour stoppage.
Two country post offices in Victoria- Ballarat and Clunes -were closed altogether but most post offices are providing full counter services.
The Postmaster-General, Senator Reg Bishop, will be meeting union representatives in Canberra today to discuss the dispute which some unionists say may lead to further work bans and disruptions.
Now the point I make to the Senate and to the people of Australia who are listening to this debate is that strikes were going on under the previous Labor Government. There was disruption to the community.
– There was less disruption.
– Never mind about whether there was less disruption. I will argue that with you, Senator but let me refer to the figures without interrupting my train of thought too much.
– Did you say ‘train of thought ‘Senator?
– I said ‘train’. These are the figures: Since 1972 there have been 24 separate stoppages involving over 156 000 man hours. I have already dealt with the man hours involved. I do not think that Senator Bishop appreciated the point I made about the disruption to the community. That is the point about this sort of action. I say to Senator Bishop that it happened in his day as Postmaster-General and it is still happening. We should be above party politics, pass this legislation and allow it to deal with that very small minority, that less than 5 per cent, whether they be employees of the Postal Commission, whether they be air traffic controllers or whoever they are, who are causing disruption to the essential services of this nation. Since 1972, both before the establishment of the Postal Commission in 1975 and since, it has been par for the course that we have these stoppages in the mail exchanges and particularly the Redfern Mail Exchange which is at the centre of them.
Before I take a closer look at what has been happening at the Redfern Mail Exchange and dealing with the up-to-date situation there I want to deal with the situation in my own State of Victoria, which is something to which I have made brief reference. In doing so I refer to a statement on 9 August 1977 by the Chief General Secretary of Australia Post, Mr David McQuatty. Before I quote from that statement I remind the honourable senators opposite who have been spouting today about arbitration that the union in Victoria would not go to arbitration. Listen to this statement! Mr McQuatty said:
The credibility of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union has proved to be highly suspect if its General Secretary, Mr G. Slater, has been correctly reported as saying that the issue should be settled around the conference table. The APTU has in fact walked away from the conference table on the question of shorter working hours and appears intent on pursuing industrial blackmail.
It has not yet responded to three alternatives suggested by Deputy President Isaac of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission on 1 August 1977 nor has it informed Dr Isaac of its intended course of action as requested by the Deputy President on 4 August 1977.
That is a clear statement. I am not intending here to disparage Mr Slater of the union. I appreciate his position. I appreciate that the present position is that five States have lifted the ban but New South Wales will not. The union has nowhere to go. We do not mind unions having nowhere to go but with this legislation we are going to give the Government of Australia somewhere to go in the running of the country. We have a situation where the national body cannot control its members. We have industrial anarchy. Bob Hawke has become involved in this sort of situation in the trade union movement. He has told Senator Button on occasions and has said quite openly: ‘I cannot settle this so and so strike. They will not be reasonable ‘. All we are saying in this respect is that where a government instrumentality is involved- be it in the transport area, the Postal Commission area or the Telecommunications Commission area- we are going to run the country. That is what this legislation is about.
I conclude by saying, as I said in my opening remarks, that this legislation should be looked at in a cool, calm and dispassionate manner. The people of Australia are interested in seeing the country run without industrial dislocation caused by less than 5 per cent of the work force, irrespective of whether those people are in public or private employment. The Government is providing this machinery to enable it to do so. It will be available to an alternative government. I have already shown that the situation is one that is above party pOlitiCS. The same situation has arisen irrespective of whether there has been a Labor Postmaster-General or a PostmasterGeneral from this side of politics. One might get a temporary solution, but disruptions have still occurred. This legislation is being passed to cover that situation. No public servant will be disadvantaged. As I have said, I rest on Senator Wright’s explanation on that. The situation in the private sector is that an employer himself makes the stand down decision. Senator Button correctly stated the position. There is then a right in the employee under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to appeal against the stand down.
We have to remember the steps which must be taken. There has to be an engagement of industrial action within the meaning of clause 4 of the Bill. Industrial action is denned fairly clearly and concisely. Honourable senators opposite know what it means. The communist unions of Australia have been saying for years: ‘We will have a rolling strike. We won’t go right out. We will just disrupt the show and pull people out at short notice.’ In all the government instrumentalities of this country we have seen history repeating itself. Both under Labor and under ourselves and in recent times the industrial scene has been continually strewn with disruption by a small, well-organised, irresponsible and disgruntled section of the community. I hope that the people who are listening to this debate will appreciate the importance of the legislation. A fundamental principle is involved- whether the Parliament and the Government of the day are to be supreme or whether the trade unions, led by Bob Hawke, will now take over the running of the country. I commend the Bill.
- Senator Tehan, in his opening remarks, said that the Government wished to debate this Bill in a calm and rational atmosphere. I will leave it to honourable senators and to anybody who may be listening to this debate to make their own judgment. In my view some unnecessarily provocative remarks were made by Senator Tehan which do not in any way advance the cause of industrial peace in this country. It was only very late in his speech that he came back to the fundamental point- the question of no right of appeal- that was made by Senator Button who opened so ably this debate for the Opposition. I was glad to hear Senator Tehan concede that in fact there is no right of appeal. I hope that very person who comes within the ambit of this legislation realises its implications.
Before dealing with two of the specific matters I also want to draw attention to the attitude of Senator Wright. We remember, when the Labor Party was in power, Senator Wright coming into this chamber on so many occasions and saying that under no circumstances should we give the
Executive these powers, that the power resides with the Parliament and that we must protect the rights of the Parliament. He comes in here today and argues exactly the opposite case and says that the Executive needs these powers and therefore the Parliament must give the Executive these powers. Of course that suits Senator Wright. We know his feelings about trade unionism in this country. We also know that if he had any control over the destiny of industrial relations in this country we would have industrial anarchy year after year.
Essentially this is legislation of desperation. We are dealing with a government that is now desperate. Some 18 months ago when it came to office it had not the slightest idea that by August 1977 it would be in desperate trouble, and it is. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows we are in a period of economic stagnation. The Government is incapable of getting the economy going again. It believes that the Australian people are stupid enough to swallow legislation drafted in an attempt to capitalise on the so-called antiunion feeling in the Australian community. There are times when members of the Australian community are frustrated. Many of them probably are angry when they are affected by industrial disputes. But they are not blind to the fact that these are momentary periods of frustration and annoyance and they will not permit a government to introduce legislation which is the legislation of the bludgeon, where innocent people through no cause of their own can be penalised, their careers interrupted and maybe even destroyed, by the arbitrary actions of a government or government authorities. These provisions are now written into this legislation. Let us go back to the comment made by Senator Tehan ony a few minutes ago when he spoke of the definition of ‘industrial action’ in this Bill. The Bill defines ‘industrial action’ as follows: the performance of work in a manner different from that in which it is customarily performed, or the adoption of a practice in relation to work, the result of which is a restriction or limitation on, or a delay in, the performance of the work . . .
How could anyone say what that meant? A person on the Government side would say: ‘As soon as those left wing unions get into it we will call it industrial action’. On how many occasions could those circumstances arise in industry without having anything to do with any industrial dispute? These words have been put together loosely in this act of desperation, just as the Budget presented on Tuesday night was put together so loosely that we have seen members of the Government trying to explain what is meant.
I am selecting what I believe to be the critically important clauses in this Bill. In clause 5 we find that ‘industrial action’ means not only industrial action in which Commonwealth employees are engaged but also industrial action in which they are not engaged. Consider what that means. Assume that some Commonwealth statutory authority or department finds that because of some industrial action by truck drivers or printers it cannot get a supply of the materials with which it normally works. This legislation says that its employees can be stood down. In fact, under clause 8 they can be dismissed.
– No, they cannot.
-Yes, they can be dismissed under clause 8. Senator Button made that perfectly clear during his contribution to this debate. This Government is prepared to enact legislation which will give it quite arbitrary powers over its employees. Quite contrary to what Senator Wright is saying, clause 8 provides power of dismissal and that power is quite clear.
Clause 8 (3) (b) sets out what is to happen in the event of dismissal being revoked by a government statutory body. It says that the employing authority may ‘give such other directions in relation to the terms and conditions of employment of the employee as the employing authority considers appropriate in the circumstances’. What an incredible power to give to a statutory authority. The Bill gives the employing authority the power to say that it will decide whether an employee may come back to work on the same terms and conditions of employment as existed before. An employee may have been put off work through no fault of his own, but the employer still reserves the right to say to him -
– The honourable senator denied this earlier. Let us look at clause 1 1 which follows on from clause 8. Clause 11(1) says:
A declaration or determination has effect according to its tenor, and so has effect notwithstanding any law, or any award, that is inconsistent with the declaration or determination.
It is quite clear that that clause would enable a Commonwealth authority to exercise those powers. Why is it that this Government sees fit to do this? It was obvious during the air traffic controllers strike that the Government was determined to show its muscle. It was going to tell the Australian people that it would not have these trade unions running the country.
I do not believe that the trade unions, individually or collectively, want to run the country. What they want is an equal say with everybody else. They want their rights, just as the employers, the manufacturers and the parents of children who go to the high class independent schools, to which this Government sees fit to give extra money, want theirs. The trade unions are entitled to them. Therefore, they protect their rights, as do other sections of the community. As Senator Button said, we on this side of the Senate do not agree that the unions are right every time there is an industrial dispute. Of course the unions are not always right. But they are entitled to exercise their rights in an atmosphere of freedom, not under the draconian legislation that is being introduced by means of this Bill.
– Conciliation and arbitration.
-Of course Senator Walters would like to interject, but we know she has probably never done a decent day’s work even after coming into this Senate. She would have no idea of the sort of environment in which so many people in industry have to work. These people are entitled to seek protection from that environment.
I make one other quick comment concerning the principle underlying the present Redfern mail strike. Postal employees are seeking the same working hours as other members of their union engaged in the same occupation elsewhere. I am not arguing whether the manner in which the discussions have been held has been proper. I am not sufficiently conversant with the details. But I say that we in this country and the Government in particular should take note that the Government ought to work, as we in the Australian Labor Party believe we should and as we do in our policy, towards ending the discrimination in the working hours of certain people in certain occupations. Why is it that one person in a particular occupation has to work 40 hours, another 39 hours, another 38 hours and somebody else 35 or 34 hours? The whole of our industrial system is shot through with this inequitable system of working hours. Consequently I personally believe that the principle on which the postal workers are basing their demands is a correct principle. Whether their methods of negotiation and so on are correct or not, I do not know. But unless we as a Parliament are prepared to try to make the system of hours worked per week more equitable throughout the whole of the working community we invite these sorts of stoppages as we go along.
The introduction of legislation of this nature which will simply belt the people over the headthis is what is intended under this Bill- will not be a solution. If we want industrial peace in Australia firstly we have to remove the things that cause industrial unrest, and when problems still arise we have to be prepared to negotiate. If this Government believes that it can go to the Australian people on the basis of what is behind this legislation it is making a great mistake. If it wants an election let it not imagine that the Opposition will be afraid of it. But if it thinks that introducing this legislation is the way to go about winning government it is in for an awfully big surprise.
– One of the things that has distinguished this debate has been the evasion of the real issues by the Australian Labor Party within the Parliament, and by certain union spokespeople outside the Parliament. Senator Wriedt chose to pursue the theme that this legislation is necessary because of some thought of an early election on the part of the Government. I say at this stage of my speech that this is certainly not the reason I support this Bill. I was interested to read in today’s Canberra Times a statement attributed to Mr Wattie Peck, Federal Secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. He launched a rather strong attack on the legislation. He said the Government’s action was ‘a most disgusting and cynical abuse of the parliamentary process in pursuit of the most base objectives’. I think Mr Peck might be sorry that he spoke those words, because they are attributable in large measure to Mr Peck in some of the ways he acts, but I will come to that later. He went on to say:
Parliament has been prostituted in order to instigate a political confrontation with the trade union movement, in order to ‘set up’ an election late this year in the sure knowledge that the appalling state of the economy- and unemployment . . . must inevitably lead to annihilation . . .
They are not the issues in this legislation at all. The real issues are fundamental and terribly important. They state ones relating to the whole question of our industrial life in this country and particularly to those industrial situations which arise in relation to government employees and their endeavour. I was interested in Senator Bishop’s claims in one of his many speeches on this Bill. He said that the Government wanted to take action against every honest worker’. I suggest that honest workers have never been more exploited in this country than they are at the moment by dishonest union leaders who rise to a position of prominence on the claim that they will promote the welfare of the worker and who forget about that claim when they are elected to office. They use their considerable political clout and they hold their great power over the workers who are members of their unions to drag those workers into all sons of political situations in which they do not want to be involved.
I was interested to receive just recently from the ACOA, courtesy of the executive of that union, something about its view on uranium mining. I understand that ACOA members who were committed by people like Mr Peck on that issue were never consulted for their point of view on that issue. That son of action ought to be pointed out and made relevant in this son of debate.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– When I was speaking before lunch I started to say that the basic issues involved in this Bill were profound. To divert the debate on to issues relating to an election is quite irrelevant. It is signal that the Australian Labor Party has chosen to deny a debate on the basic issues. It was disappointing that Senator Wriedt, as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, could not spend more time on the Bill. I shall come back to some of the things he said.
We are really debating the rights and responsibilities of Government employees. It is worth looking at the basic rights and responsibilities of all employees in Australia as they relate to unions and industrial action. Of necessity unions have highly developed rights in Australia. They have access to courts and they preserve the right to strike as an extreme and last resort. Union rights are entrenched and assured in Australia in a way which is virtually unique in the world. From my experience in the work force and as a member of a couple of unions and involvement in those unions I suggest that those rights are necessary. I am not one who happens to believe that unions are no longer necessary. I am convinced that unions are necessary as a balancing and important factor in the welfare of individual employees in Australia. However, I am less than impressed by the way in which certain unions avail themselves of their rights. Union leaders have a particular responsibility for the welfare of their members. That is the reason for their existence. Union leaders put it this way: They are there for the obtaining of industrial justice. That is right. However these responsibilities have been increasingly abrogated through an immoral exploitation of those rights which are ensured under our system. Leaders have attempted to usurp and deny functions of other institutions such as the courts and Parliament.
– What if the thrust comes from the rank and file, Senator? How can you control it?
– If Senator Mulvihill wants to get his views into Hansard, I suggest that he put his name on the speakers’ list. At the moment it happens to be my turn. Before lunch I was referring to the words of Mr Peck, the Federal Secretary of the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association. Truly, in his words, one could point so often, in the activity of certain unions, to the cynical abuse of the industrial process and, on many occasions, to the pursuit of the most base objectives. When one pursues or follows what happens in the industrial arena it is interesting to note the sort of situation which can occur. We are all familiar with the situation in an industry where an offer is made to employees of a certain firm. At meetings of one union the members will consider that offer and accept it unanimously. At meetings of another union, members considering the same offer will reject it unanimously. The difference is not in the working conditions. The difference is in the organiser who presents the offer to the workers. This shows the cynical abuse and cynical exploitation of the workers which takes place through people who do not respect the powers and rights which they have.
Of course, this Bill relates to Public Service unions and to public service employees of the Government and their unions. Members of the Public Service are not entirely in the same position as members of private enterprise. Sometimes the Government is in full competition with other organs in our community, such as with Medibank. Sometimes it is in partial competition. For example, the Australian Broadcasting Commission is in competition with private enterprise only in urban areas, but in other areas it has a monopoly. Some organs of the Government have a complete monopoly, the Post Office being one of them and the air traffic control section being another. This brings with it particular rights and responsibilities for Public Service unions. Of course, there is the right to have a monopoly of workers in an industry since the industry meets national needs, the Government engaging in that enterprise in a monopolistic fashion. This brings with it particular responsibilities, such as the responsibility to respect the special need which gives rise to that monopoly and which justifies the special rights. In some cases anything but respect is shown for that special need, sometimes something closer to contempt.
How well we remember the air traffic controllers disputes this year and last year- the go-slow and the strike. The air traffic controllers were just a small group of people in a position of particular power. Those of us who sat in aircraft on the tarmac at Sydney Airport, in aircraft that had been standing for over an hour with their motors running because the air traffic controllers said that they must do that in Sydney, well remember that far from being some sort of exercise of justified rights, it approached something closer to sadism. At least at Brisbane the planes were allowed to sit near the terminals with their engines off even though passengers were required to board and the conditions were anything but comfortable. The activities in Sydney and Melbourne were something else.
The air traffic controllers strike early this year which was brought on at a few hours’ notice was something that showed complete contempt for the processes and the people whom they are supposed to serve as public servants. A few hours’ notice meant that most people were in no position to try to get themselves out of the way of the strike. It was a financial disaster for the airlines and it was a disaster for our country and for many citizens in other ways. Senator Wriedt says, virtually with a shrug of the shoulders: ‘Of course people are angry and frustrated when a strike is on but they realise that these sorts of things happen and they get over it. ‘ I think that probably one of the most unfortunate circumstances of that strike was the fact that the wife of the Japanese Prime Minister happened to be in Australia at the time and was delayed here for more than a week. From the trade situation with Japan it is clear that the Japanese are fed up with the irresponsibility of certain of our unions. T can just imagine what Mrs Fukuda said to her husband about Australian unions when she went home. What about all the Australian citizens who were stranded overseas for 2 weeks without any means of getting back? Many of them were penniless because they were on their way home from holidays and tourists do not usually bring their money home with them. They go overseas for the purpose of spending it.
In his speech Senator Wriedt said that of course the Labor Party and the Opposition do not agree with all these strikes. It would be more impressive if the Labor Party and the Opposition said so at the time and made the proper condemnation of actions such as this which are totally irresponsible and which are meant to inflict harm on enterprises and more than inconvenience- extreme inconvenience if not financial harm- on individual Australians. For many years the postal workers have been abusing their monopoly position in that industry.
I draw the attention of the Senate to part of the speech made by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) in the House of Representatives yesterday. The sections of the speech to which I refer appear on pages 434 and 435 of Hansard. The Minister incorporated in Hansard a list of restrictive work practices and inhibitions to economic operations at the Redfern Mail Exchange. Forty restrictive work practices were listed. The Minister said that they were not all the practices which were affecting the operation of that exchange, that it was not an exhaustive list. He went on to say:
The overall cost is in excess of $3m -
That is the cost of the bans and limitations-
The arrangement was that, because of the $3.4m which this exercise is costing, with the shorter working hours there would be new rosters to remove some of the restrictive work radices and some of the uneconomic shifts at a saving of 3m. That is what the argument is all about. It was a reasonable approach, agreed to by the Postal Commission and agreed to by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, which a significant section of the union is now prepared to ignore completely.
With the bleats we hear from the other side when we talk about arbitration and so on there is no condemnation forthcoming as there ought to be. When it suits them these workers in their privileged position completely ignore what the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission is trying to do quite legally to solve that dispute. People in Australia are justifiably angry about this dispute. Not only is the Post Office a monopoly but also the consumer pays in advance for the service it is supposed to provide. There is a saying that there are two bad types of business deals- the time when you pay in advance for something you are supposed to receive and the time when you provide something and you are paid afterwards. The consumer does not have any choice in this one. The consumer always pays in advance for a service from the Post Office. The workers are paid salaries from those payments in advance but a service is not carried out. People see millions of postal articles sitting at Redfern. It is possible for these workers to indulge in this sort of industrial blackmail only because they are in that privileged monopoly position, and they completely forgo the types of duties and responsibilities that ought to come with that privileged position. That mail is the personal property of consumers. It is a property which is held to ransom to the inconvenience and frustration of the customers- that is the members of the general public. Why did not Senator Wriedt have more to say on that subject? Why did he not condemn completely the highhanded and arrogant manner of those workers who will not discuss the matter in a reasonable way under the provisions about which the Opposition has had so much to say?
Finally, the Government has certain rights and responsibilities also. It has a right to expect that employees will carry out the work that the Government is paying them to do, whether that be through a statutory corporation protected by government legislation or directly from public funds. The Government has a right to expect that those workers will perform that function which is the responsibility of the Government. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Government to make sure that our mail is delivered. It is also the Government’s responsibility to ensure that government enterprises meet the public need from their generally privileged position of operation. The members of the public are the innocent people who again are being exploitedexploited because the Government has a necessary monopoly, exploited because, as a result of this, certain unions have a monopoly on the labour in those industries, and exploited without any concern for what the people have paid for services or that they could reasonably expect, having consented to that monopolistic arrangement. The members of the public are the innocent people who must be protected.
If the Government had not introduced legislation to try to meet this situation, it would have failed in its responsibilities. It is bad enough that the members of the Australian Labor Party Opposition fail in their responsibility to criticise where union activities are arrogant and not for the welfare of employees, much less for the welfare of the Australian people. It is bad enough that certain Public Service unions in particular have exploited their position of privilege and completely ignored their responsibility to show respect for the power that they hold. The Government at least cannot evade its responsibilities.
– The Senate is debating a piece of legislation entitled: ‘A Bill for an Act to make provision with respect to certain matters concerning Commonwealth employees’. The Opposition opposes this legislation and I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Button with respect to it. The legislation has been brought on for debate without notice. A very short time has been allowed for debate and so far Government speakers in the debate have devoted very little attention to the real purpose of the legislation. It has no proper parliamentary purpose. It has a purely political purpose. It is not justified in any way. It represents a classic response of reactionary governments to a situation of high unemployment. Instead of proceeding to take some measures to alleviate the unemployment that we face, this Government has dreamt up this legislation in order to attempt to manipulate the high rate of unemployment in such a way as to get workers to accept a reduction in conditions and wages. This is not legislation which will facilitate the settling of industrial disputes. It is not legislation which will facilitate the settlement of anything. It is legislation designed to provoke confrontation with the workers of this country.
The specific object of the legislation, as the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) outlined in his second reading speech, is to permit a Minister- any Minister of the Governmentto initiate a wholesale stand-down of Commonwealth Government employees for any purpose whatsoever. The terms and provisions of the legislation before us completely circumvent the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provisions and the Public Service Act provisions. These two instruments to which I have referred- the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the Public Service Act- are, of course, the proper and adequate instruments for pursuing industrial matters for the employees covered by the legislation before us. But this new legislation completely circumvents and overrides them in every way.
It would seem from comments made by Government speakers in the debate to this point that the Government is persisting with the myth that the legislation is aimed at the militant and, indeed, communist leadership of unions. We have been told- the previous speaker in the debate also told us this-that the legislation is not concerned with the rank and file of unions; it is concerned to protect rank and file unionists from the manipulation of communist and militant leadership. I would like to remind honourable senators and members of the public who may be listening to this debate just which employees are covered by this legislation and which unions will be affected. They are Commonwealth Public Service unions and there is no communist leadership or, indeed, any militant or radical leadership in the unions whose members will be affected by this legislation. I am particularly concerned with the legislation before us because as a senator from the Australian Capital Territory I am aware that over 60 per cent of wage earners in my electorate are covered by this legislation. Of the total Australian work force, in excess of 388 000 wage earners will be affected by this legislation. That is nearly 9 per cent of the Australian work force. These people do not include only the bureaucrats who are so often the subject of criticism and propaganda by Government supporters. They include all sorts of people who work for the Commonwealth Government in any capacity. They include school teachers in the teaching services in both Territories. They include doctors, laywers, technicians, tea ladies, cleaners and hospital workers.
This legislation is extremely wide-ranging and I am very anxious that people listening to this debate be aware that we are not talking about legislation that is aimed at a minority. We are talking about legislation that is aimed at a sizeable proportion of the Australian work force- the majority of the work force in my electorate in the Australian Capital Territory. I am staggered by the hyprocrisy of the Government in attempting to justify this legislation by expressing concern that services to the public should be maintained. We have just heard Senator Martin, speak very passionately about the rights of people who pay for postal services to have their postal services maintained. I share her concern that services to the public be maintained. There have been serious reductions in services to the public from public servants in the last year or 1 8 months.
– In the last 6 years.
– If Senator Tehan would care to listen, the cause of those reductions in public services has not been industrial disputes; it has been the imposition of staff ceilings. Public servants are working overtime under unacceptable conditions or rush and stress in order to try to maintain services to the public. They are unable to do so because of the deliberately created unemployment in the Public Service area and the deliberately created staff shortages that have been created directly by the present Government, which now has the temerity to put forward legislation in the name of protecting the public with respect to the services to which they are entitled.
In the Budget announcement that was inflicted upon us this week we heard that 3000 more jobs in the Public Service are to be abolished; that 3000 more people will be unemployed; that 3000 fewer public servants will be available to render services to the public. Yet the Government tries to pretend that it is concerned with the level of services provided to the public. If we turn our attention to the dispute at the Redfern Mail Exchange, with which this legislation is specifically designed to deal, we find again that it was the imposition of staff ceilings and the desire of the Government to reduce expenditure in the
Public Service area- to make savings at the expense of the public, at the expense of the wages and conditions of workers working at the Redfern Mail Exchange- that has led to the dispute. I will not go into this matter in detail because it has already been covered in detail during the course of this debate. The workers at the Redfern Mail Exchange had their wages reduced by the arbitrary manipulation of rosters. Their working conditions were arbitrarily worsened by the fact that the Mail Exchange is 200 workers short and workers simply have to do extra work. If a person is away sick there is no replacement. The worker who works alongside that absent person must do extra work. It is because the Government has created this situation of a shortage of workers and unrealistic working conditions that the dispute has come about.
I would like to make another point about the imposition of rosters, particularly for the information of Government senators who probably have never worked shift work in their lives. There are many women working at the Redfern Mail Exchange who support children and who have to make arrangements for the care of those children during working hours. Until the present dispute they knew in advance what rosters they would have. They were able to make satisfactory and secure child care arrangements. Under the present situation, when they do not know from week to week what roster they will be working under, it has proved absolutely impossible for some of them to make appropriate child care arrangements. That is just a small matter that may not be of great interest to Government supporters. It is of great interest to members of the Opposition and I hope it will demonstrate to those who are listening to this debate that there is more to this dispute than we have heard today from Government supporters or, for that matter, from the media. Another point which has to be made with respect to the public getting the service to which they are entitled is that, despite cuts in the Public Service caused by the staff ceilings imposed in the Australian Capital Territory and throughout Australia wherever people work for the Commonwealth Government, to my knowledge no Minister has suffered any decline in the services rendered to him or her by Commonwealth public servants. Only the public has had to suffer through the reduction of workers available in the Public Service.
The Opposition has many serious reasons for its total opposition to this legislation. One of the main reasons, and this has been adequately covered by Senator Button in leading for the Opposition, relates to the definitions clauses, which override all other laws and awards. I draw the attention of the Senate to clause 11(1), which encompasses all actions, right or wrong, justified or unjustified, that a worker may take during his or her working day. All actions are encompassed by this legislation, regardless of any awards or settlements which have been reached to date. The Government as an employer is given powers which no private employer has. Any private employer seeking to take the kind of stand-down action provided for in this legislation would have to go to conciliation and arbitration to seek the right to take such action. But under this legislation a Minister, without appealing to any established form of settlement for industrial disputation, can simply stand down workers for virtually any action they may have taken which the Minister decides is not in the interests of his Government.
Given the broad sweeping nature of this legislation, I think it makes a mockery of the so-called liberal concern for individual rights we hear so often from the other side. Where is the protection of the rights of the individual worker in this legislation? There is none. Senator Martin raised the matter of the individual rights of rank and file workers being manipulated by union leadership, but I point out to the Senate that in the case of the Redfern Mail Exchange dispute it was the rank and file workers who voted by secret ballot to continue the industrial action against the advice of their leadership, against the advice of their executive. If honourable senators cast their minds back to the famous air traffic controllers’ dispute, they will recall that the same thing happened then. It was not a question of the rank and file workers being manipulated, it was a question of the rank and file workers expressing their views through secret ballot in a democratic process.
I have been quite amazed to hear the comments made by the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) in another place with respect to possible appeal provisions in this legislation. On the radio program AM this morning the honourable member for Canberra explained that he had dropped his idea of voting against the legislation because he had been informed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and other senior members of the Government that in fact appeal provisions for the individual existed under common law and in the Ombudsman Act. I think Senator Button has dismissed the argument that there would be some appeal under common law with respect to actions taken under this legislation. There would be no such appeal. To take common law action in respect of provisions in this legislation would not be feasible and would be quite unworkable. There is no way in which the common law could protect people in any immediate sense from actions that might come about as a result of this legislation. I should like to draw to the attention of the Senate the provisions in the Ombudsman Act 1976, which was introduced into the Parliament by this Government. Section 5 (2) of the Act states:
The Ombudsman is not authorised to investigate-
a ) action taken by a Minister:
action taken by any body or person with respect to persons employed in the Australian Public Service, the Public Service of the Northern Territory or the service of a prescribed authority, being action taken in relation to that employment, including action taken with respect to the promotion, termination of appointment or discipline of a person so employed or the payment of remuneration to such a person;
I am amazed at the hypocrisy of the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) and, by his admission, the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and the other unnamed senior members of the Government who claim to believe that the ombudsman legislation would provide appeals machinery under this provision, when half of the people I mentioned are lawyers. The honourable member for Canberra is a lawyer. Surely he has read the ombudsman legislation, which provides that any action by a Minister is specifically excluded from investigation by the Ombudsman, as is any action concerning the terms and conditions of employment of public servants.
– The honourable member for Canberra has deceived the people.
– As my colleague Senator Douglas McClelland has pointed out, the honourable member for Canberra has deceived the people. But he will not deceive them for very long, because the people of Canberra can read. This legislation clearly is a fraud. It clearly is a red herring. Proper and effective power to penalise and discipline workers acting illegally exists already. Section 66 of the Public Service Act already prohibits strike action. The Industrial Relations Bureau, established earlier this year, already provides new opportunities for the Government to pursue action against unionists acting illegally. The Trade Practices Amendment Bill, which was steamrollered through the Parliament during the last session- in a way similar to the way in which this legislation is being forced through in an abbreviated time- also provided new and wide-reaching powers for governments or corporations to act against people who take industrial action.
There is no need for this legislation. It is simply a way of stirring up prejudice within the community against unionists and public servants. This has been a continual tactic of the present Government. Obviously the Government considers the tactic to be quite successful. We are having it foisted on us again now, at a time when we should be giving consideration to the effects on the Australian people of the Budget that has just been brought down. The final hypocrisy of the Government in respect of this legislation is illustrated in the last statement in the second reading speech of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack). He stated:
Finally, let me emphasise that it would be the Government’s hope that it will not be necessary to use this legislation and it is the Government’s intention that this Bill will be passed by the Parliament but will not be proclaimed to operate unless circumstances so dictate.
If the Government was serious about this legislationif it thought it really was essential legislationwhy would it be pussy-footing around on whether the legislation will be proclaimed? All this legislation will do will be to create yet another stick to be wielded against workers who might be inclined, even in the present situation of unemployment, to try to preserve the wages and conditions that they have fought so hard to achieve. We entirely reject this legislation.
– The Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill highlights the vexed question of a small minority in public services being able to disrupt the purposes and utilities of the general community by withholding power, especially in key areas. This is a problem which has gone on for a very long time. It generates a great deal of heat in public discussion. The Labor Party has a great deal of difficulty in dealing with it. However, I suppose that is understandable in that the Labor Party is the political wing of industrial labour and it is committed, whether it wants to be or not, to a position of defence, regardless of the most reasonable aspect that can be put upon legislation that comes before the Parliament. So we have seen once again a strident offence against this Bill by the Labor Party as it defends its base.
One would expect, however, that the Labor Party would be more co-operative when one understands the immense public support there is for action in regard to these small disruptive elements. I should have thought that politically, as well as morally in the sense of public responsibility, the Labor Party could have been more sympathetic, at least towards the aims of this Bill if not towards the detail of it. I respected and admired the speech made by Senator Button, in the sense of the manner in which it was delivered. I always enjoy his speeches. I enjoyed particularly his reference to the fact that nothing he could see could make me work in this chamber. I thought that remark was rather apt and humorous, especially as I had done only a little, but some, work on this Bill. I enjoyed his speech, although it was misguided in its general thrust.
The second reading speech made by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) was a short speech. Most of the speeches in the debate have been short, either by choice or because of the limitation of time which has been imposed on us all. On balance, this is a desirable Bill in that it is designed to aggregate more power into the hands of employing authorities and the responsible Minister to meet this particular and grave problem within the Australian public services. It is, however, a serious move in that it disrupts the method of consensus of management of industrial relations in the community. As a democratic country we desire to rest whenever we can on a consensus of views through arbitration and conciliation rather than by the direct use of centralised power. It is to be regretted that this Bill is necessary, although necessary it is. However, as it is an alternative method to that of consensus it is one that should not be unnecessarily used; nor should it be unnecessarily wider than is needed to accomplish the desired ends.
This Bill is brought into this House because the Government has a good deal of, in fact enormous, public backing for its move. No government of any type could successfully pursue this legislation without public backing because of the resistance that would otherwise grow against it. Having said that, I repeat that this Bill ought not to be wider in its ramifications than is necessary. It ought not to achieve the opposite end, that is, to unite extremist groups in militancy. In that regard I have some difficulty with a part of clause 5 to which a number of speakers have referred in relation to the stand-down of people employed in the Public Service or statutory bodies because there is no further useful work for them to do for a period. I believe that those people are outside the ambit of the intentions of, and the debate surrounding, this Bill. The legislation would have been better if that stand-down clause had been left out of this Bill. I say that because of the speech made by Senator Wright which I believe was a very valuable exposition of the view on this side of the House and of the view of most people in Australia. For instance, Senator Wright, other than mentioning the fact that the power exists under this Bill, hardly dealt with the matter of stand-downs of people in the Public Service because no useful employment is available to them as a result of action taken by people outside of their own organisation. Nearly every person who has supported this Bill has in no way dealt with the reason why that provision is in this Bill. I believe it ought not to be in the Bill.
If we contend that members of the Public Service ought to be stood-down because of a lack of useful work for them they should be dealt with in the Public Service in the same manner as employees are dealt with in private industry. The case for a stand-down should be heard by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and dealt with on an equal basis to members of private industry. To that end I have drawn up a small amendment to strike out a few words so as to confine clause 5 to industrial action in which Commonwealth employees are engaged. I have done this on the basis that I do not say that stand-downs should not occur as part of good sensible economic management as occurs in private industry. In the way this Bill is particularly constructed this provision does not belong. It is outside the general intentions- in fact the specific intentions- of this Bill and in fact can only bring difficulty to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street).
I contend that it is politically impossible for any Minister to stand down people in the Public Service under this clause for that particular reason without some outside arbitration concerning that stand down. It would bring a good deal of contention quite outside, as I have said, the general moves for the presentation and passage of this legislation. I do not think it is politically possible for a Minister directly to issue the order to stand down in regard to people who are innocent of the action that brought on the stand down move. In fact in my opinion that provision is extraneous to the general thread of the Bill and it should not be there. If it is to remain in the Bill a decision should rest only on outside arbitration and for that reason I will move an amendment to clause S in the Committee stage.
There is only one other clause that mystifies me a little. That is clause 11. I have had it explained to me by experts but I still do not understand it. I believe that it is capable of great misunderstanding. I would like to see that clause cleared up by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) today when he replies. If he cannot clear it up, I would like to see it amended in future so that it can be understood. Generally I support the thrust of this legislation. I do so because the need for it is very great. We cannot have this disruption. I believe that this is legislation to remedy the faults that flow from a consensus which does not continue because of the lack of co-operation from certain elements in the industrial movement. We should possess this power and should use it wisely, but we should excise from the legislation that matter which, as I have mentioned, does not belong in it.
Senator Steele Hall in the most restrained speech I have ever heard him make in this place on any legislation involving trade unions, and for that alone I congratulate him, has just given both the Opposition and the Government a very good reason to support Senator Button’s amendment. Senator Steele Hall is the first speaker from the Government side today to question any aspect of the Bill. On his own admission he has had very little time in which to look at the Bill and hardly any time in which to study it. Yet he can find one obvious difficulty in the Bill. So I urge Government senators to look at least at the point he has made and consider the Opposition’s claim that this Bill has been too hurried, has been rushed through the Parliament with no one having had time to study it, and to support the amendment, even if it is on just those grounds alone.
There are matters other than the general principle in this Bill about which we are worried. For that reason we oppose the legislation altogether and have moved an amendment so that we can consider the Bill at a proper time and for a proper period. This Bill has been introduced into this Parliament to give the Executive or a Minister of the Crown the power to sack or suspend and, as Senator Steele Hall has said, to stand down any Commonwealth public servant after making a declaration that the public servant has taken part in an industrial action and is somehow interfering with service to the public. The definition of ‘industrial action’ in the Bill is broad. It could not be broader and could not be more generalised. We have had three lawyers speak on the Bill so far from the Government side, and Senator Button and Senator Ryan from this side of the chamber ask where is the right of appeal against decisions made under this Bill. If when in Government the Australian Labor Party had introduced a Bill which gave a member of the Executive the power to sack anyone or to do anything without providing a right of appeal, Senator Wright would have been the first on his feet screaming about socialist evils and all the other nonsense he goes on with.
Mr Haslem, the honourable member for Canberra, as has been pointed out, was very wisely concerned about this aspect of the Bill but he was conned by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and people to whom he refers as senior senators. One wonders whether the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack), a lawyer himself, was one of the people who conned Mr Haslem. As Senator Button today and Senator Wright on other occasions in committees and in this Parliament have said, the thought of using a prerogative writ to appeal to the High Court in situations like this is ludicrous. Senator Ryan has pointed out that the Ombudsman Act specifically precludes the Ombudsman from considering decisions of a Minister on conditions of employment or termination of employment in the Public Service.
Here we have a Bill which enables the executive by an arbitrary action to sack a member of the Public Service so that he loses all his accrued leave, all his accrued sick pay, his superannuation and heaven knows what else, and he simply has no right of appeal. Why have people like Senator Wright and civil libertarians like Senator Baume not complained about this lack of a right to appeal in this Bill? I suggest that in both cases the answer is perfectly obvious. This Bill involves two groups of people, the public servants and trade unionists, and if there is any group in the community that gentlemen such as those I have mentioned love to get at and love to kick it is that comprising trade unionists and public servants. There is another aspect of this legislation which I would like to raise which I do not believe has been mentioned by any honourable senator. We know that this legislation was drawn up at the time of the air traffic controllers’ strike. We know that it has been sitting in a pigeon hole somewhere since then, deliberately not being shown to the Opposition, to the trade unions, to the newspapers and to the general public of this country. We know that the Government, on its own admission, considered using this legislation at the time of the air traffic controllers’ strike. We know also that it suddenly decided not to do so.
– Get on with a decent argument.
– I am getting on with a decent argument now, Senator Harradine.
– It is a very general argument.
– I am putting a specific argument. Senator Harradine may not have realised but this Bill is discriminatory in itself.
– It goes far wider than appeals.
- Senator Harradine, who has been in Hobart skylarking around and politicking, suddenly arrives in Canberra and wants to join in the debate at this late stage.
– It goes far wider than appeals. Get on with the real issues.
-It goes far wider than that because the legislation is discriminatory in itself. It was not used against the air traffic controllers because there was no one to take their place. It will be used against people who work at mail exchanges because the Government will be able to get other people in the community to substitute for the people who work at mail exchanges. This legislation cannot be used against skilled people such as the air traffic controllers because there are no substitutes for them in the community. Therefore, it is discriminatory legislation in that regard.
The Bill makes no provision for a right of appeal. The Bill gives to the Executive power to take arbitrary action. This Bill is discriminatory in its application. It affects the whole Public Service in this community. We have had no time to consider it. To my knowledge, two honourable senators opposite have questioned provisions of the Bill. The Opposition asks that it should have more time to consider the Bill although it knows that it opposes the general principles of the Bill, as does the whole trade union movement in this community. For those reasons, I support Senator Button’s amendment and I support the opposition to this Bill.
– I think it is worth emphasising again that this Bill is aimed at a small number of irresponsible unionists and not, by any means, at all Commonwealth employees. That certainly is not the intention. In his second reading speech, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) said that the Government: . . recognises that the very great majority of government employees and their unions have acted, and do act, responsibly. Indeed, the legislation would not have been necessary but for the actions of a minority.
The Government does not seek confrontation. An irresponsible union minority is causing confrontation with the Government and with the people of Australia. It is that confrontation that we, as a nation, cannot afford. Those responsible for it know that the impact of that confrontation will damage this country and, for some, that is no doubt their intention.
The Minister also pointed out that in recent years the Australian people have been subjected to great inconvenience and hardship on many occasions through industrial action by some government employees and their union leaders. I am well aware in Canberra- I was formerly a public servant myself- of criticism and very often prejudice, concerning public sector employees in Australia. Often that criticism and that prejudice are the result of actions caused by a militant and often irresponsible minority. This Bill aims to give the Government powers to prevent such action by its own employees. I have stated on other occasions that any legislation which affects in a substantive manner the terms and conditions of employment of public servants- such as the early retirement legislation that has been presented in this chamber in the past- should incorporate appeal procedures to safeguard the rights of public servants and other Commonwealth employees. I maintain that principle.
However, in relation to the Bill currently before the Senate, I want to make a number of points. The legislation obviously is of great importance in immediate circumstances- circumstances of which, I think, everybody is well aware. The legislation is important to the good government of the country. The Government has to have adequate powers to safeguard the services which it, as a government, and its employees are committed to provide to the people of Australia. It must be able to make sure that the responsibilities to which it is committed as a government are carried out. The Government has also made it clear that the hope is that it will not be necessary to use this legislation. It will be passed by the Parliament but not proclaimed to operate unless circumstances so dictate.
– Why rush it through?
– It is necessary to have it there, as the Minister made clear. There are elements in the Bill which must give rise to concern and to which I draw attention. The legislation is drawn in very broad terms. I seek clear assurances from the Government on several features of the legislation. In clause 3 the definition of industrial action is itself extremely broad. For example, sub-clause ( 1 ) (a) states:
The performance of work in a manner different from that in which it is customarily performed, or the adoption of a practice in relation to work, the result of which is a restriction or limitation on, or a delay in, the performance of the work.
Such action could surely result from a Commonwealth employee’s inability to perform work in the way it is customarily performed because of circumstances beyond that individual’s control. In other words, industrial action or other action elsewhere could compel a public servant or other Commonwealth employee to perform work in a different manner or to perform in such a way as to restrict, limit or delay his work not because it is that person’s wish but by force of circumstances beyond his control.
I have no doubt that this is not the intention But the real intention has to be clear in the legislation. Will the Government consider an amendment to make this clear and to remove any ambiguity and uncertainty as to the force of that aspect of the legislation? I ask that the Minister in responding provide some precise clarification on that aspect of the definition of industrial action. It might be said- it has been said- that such people can only be stood down. That provision is contained in clause 5. Obviously, that is not necessarily the case. How does one define, for example, the difference between those who are actively involved and those who are passively affected by industrial action? How does one distinguish between the guilty and the innocent in this situation? The distinction is important because those who are actively involved in such action can be dismissed. Those who may be passively affected can, nevertheless, be stood down. In this situation, how does one tell the difference?
Senator Hall has raised the question of standdown procedures and the necessity in many awards to appeal to the conciliation and arbitration process. That, I understand, is the case. Many awards include a provision for this sort of dismissal. In a great number of industries the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or a relevant State arbitral tribunal has inserted stand-down clauses in awards. I am told that these clauses have two basic forms. Under some the employer must apply to the arbitral tribunal before workers can be stood down but under the majority the employer has an automatic right to stand down employees. A typical stand-down clause is clause 6 of the Metal Industry Award 1971 Part 1. It states:
The employer shall have the right to deduct payment for any day the employee cannot be usefully employed because of any strike or through any breakdown in machinery or any stoppage of work by any cause for which the employer cannot reasonably be held responsible.
On 18 May 1973 Mr Commissioner Neil of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission inserted an automatic stand down clause covering certain railway employees. In this award he stated: an industry designed to provide a community service should not be asked to provide wages for those who cannot be usefully employed because that service has been disrupted by strike action either within or beyond the industry.
Beyond that there is the question, which I think has been validly raised by Senator Hall, that this legislation provides for direct Executive action in standing down without any appeal to arbitral procedures and without any provision for such appeal. It seems to me that there ought to be some reconsideration of that very arbitrary provision and some consideration of an appeal in such circumstances through conciliation and arbitration procedures. Those awards to which I have referred, with their stand-down procedures, have been provided by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or by other arbitral tribunals. Surely that is a clear distinction in itself.
I refer particularly to clause 8 of the Bill which deals with dismissals. It permits the employing authority or the Minister to re-employ, after termination of employment for a time, on any terms and conditions. This can be appealed after reinstatement. Most importantly, where dismissal has occurred, there is no right of appeal in the Bill. There is recourse to common law on the grounds of dismissal for improper reasons or contrary to the terms of the legislation. Surely appeal to common law, for all its virtues and for all the traditions that go with it, is an expensive and a lengthy process. As has been pointed out in this debate, the decision cannot be appealed through the Ombudsman legislation, as I had understood earlier. Section 5 of the Ombudsman Act states that the Commonwealth Ombudsman is not authorised to investigate ‘Action taken by any body or person with respect to persons employed in the Australian Public Service ‘.
There is in the legislation no clear means of appeal to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission or to the Public Service Arbitrator. I understand that there may be some recourse through the Administrative Decisions Judicial Review Act when it is proclaimed, but clause 8 must be looked at in the light of clause 12, which states:
An employing authority shall comply with any directions given to the authority by a Minister under this section in relation to the exercise by the authority of the authority ‘s powers under this Act.
To me, this is the most important part of the Bill because it provides for ministerial direction. There is a clear danger in a Bill of this kind, which provides for such ministerial direction, such Executive direction of the employing authority within the Commonwealth sector, of allegations being made for dismissal for political reasons. Obviously this does not occur in the private sector. Under this Act a Minister, who for better or worse is a member of a political party, has the power, quite arbitrarily in the circumstances, to dismiss employees by direction to the employing authority. There ought to be some form of appeal against such allegations. Yesterday the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) and I wrote to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) about this matter. Later in the day we received from him a reply giving some background to this question. I seek leave to incorporate those letters in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The letters read as follows- 18 August 1977
The Hon. A. A. Street, M.P. Minister for Employment and
Industrial Relations, Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600 My dear Minister,
With reference to the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill 1977, we would be grateful for clarification with respect to appeal procedures.
Our reading of the Bill suggests that after suspension and termination of employment, there is no provision for any appeal against that termination (though we understand there is appeal in the case of employees reinstated). It had been our understanding that the legislation contained provisions for appeal against termination or that this was available through other related legislation. We now understand that this is not the case.
If there is no such avenue of appeal, we seek your urgent advice as to whether the Government would consider including such provisions for appeal against termination of employment, either through amendment to the Bill or by Regulation.
JOHN W. KNIGHT JOHN HASLEM
Senator for the Member for
Australian Capital Territory Canberra
Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations 239 Bourke Street, Melbourne 18 August 1977
Dear Senator Knight
I refer to your letter of 1 8 August.
It may be useful if I set down some background and Qualify the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill on termination.
First, in approaching the question of termination, the Government has sought to distinguish between the ‘guilty’ - those engaged in industrial action- and the ‘innocent’- those affected by industrial action. The former can be suspended, the latter stood down, but in both cases the immediate practical effect is the same, in that no salary is payable during suspension or stand down. It is not until the termination stage which can apply only in respect of the ‘guilty’ that any penalty is evident.
Second, there are a number of conditions that have to be fulfilled before termination can occur employees engaged in industrial action employing authority suspends him because of that conduct he remains suspended the employing authority or Minister is of the opinion that it is in the public interest that the power of termination should be exercised. the employing authority actually terminates an employee.
In other words, the decision to terminate is not an action which will be taken lightly, but only as a final step in respect of an employee who has been engaged in industrial action. Therefore it would be contrary to the general thrust of the legislation- the need for more effective powers than can now be exercised in situations of industrial action- were a bill to be contemplated in respect of the actual suspension and termination itself. Morover in the light of what I have indicated, the Government considers that this is not unreasonable in all the circumstances.
The Government sees the circumstances relating to reinstatement as somewhat different in that there is a discretion in the hands of the employing authority as to continuing penalties which may be imposed in respect of the terms and conditions of employment of the employee. In those circumstances, the Bill makes the way clear for the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, or the Public Service Arbitrator, as the case may be, to review those conditions which may be imposed.
I have written in similar terms to Mr Haslem.
Yours sincerely A. A. STREET
Senator J. W. Knight Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T.
– I have made the point that the common law is unwieldly and expensive. The Commonwealth Ombudsman legislation does not apply. The question remains whether the Administrative Appeals Tribunal can be used in such cases. I seek the clarification of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on that point. There is the question of when the Administrative Decisions Judicial Review Act will be proclaimed and whether it is relevant anyhow. In the light of this, I ask the Government to consider the question of providing in the legislation the right of appeal against dismissal.
I suggest it is time that a Commonwealth employees ombudsman was appointed. There is no avenue of appeal through the Commonwealth Ombudsman in such cases, as I have pointed out in my reference to the Ombudsman Act. There is already a Defence Force Ombudsman. If there were a Commonwealth employees ombudsman there would be a clear course of appeal by Commonwealth employees against such Executive decisions. I believe that would be an appropriate course to take. I ask the Minister to consider that point of view and perhaps give us his views on it.
As the Bill stands I do not believe the provisions for appeal are adequate. This issue needs to be considered by the Government. But at the same time I think the Government must, in the circumstances, because of the nature of the power of the Minister concerned, give an unqualified undertaking that the legislation will not be used to dismiss employees for political purposes. I do not believe it would be so used, but it is important in these circumstances that the Government should be seen publicly to give that commitment, that it will not be used in such a way. Such an undertaking would, of course, be open constantly to public scrutiny. I believe it would give some reassurance that the executive power provided by this Bill would not be misused in that way.
I want to make it clear that if at any time there are what seem to me to be substantive allegations of politically motivated dismissals, I will move immediately to have this Bill amended. The aim of the legislation, as I said at the outset, is to counter the confrontationist activities of a very small minority. I think that point ought to be well known to everyone listening to this debate. In the Commonwealth Public Service and among Commonwealth employees there is a very small group responsible for the sort of disruption we have seen recently. But in providing legislation like this, it is important that it ought not adversely affect the hard working and dedicated majority of public servants and other Commonwealth employees and it ought not be seen as a slur upon them. Ministers have a duty to make that clear.
My fundamental objection is that the Bill is so broadly drawn. The definitions in many respects lack clarity. I recognise that section 66 of the Public Service Act already provides for the dismissal of Commonwealth employees for strike action. Senator Bishop asked earlier why this power is not used and why this new legislation has been introduced. It is perhaps worth mentioning that this legislation at least provides for appeals for employees who may be reinstated on terms and conditions less favourable than those which applied when they were dismissed. But it is the lack of appeal against dismissal that gives me greatest concern. My reservations then are the scope of the Bill, the problems with some of the definitions in it, the lack of appeal against dismissal, possible allegations of political dismissal and the question of some form of arbitral appeal with respect to stand-downs under clause S.
I ask that the Minister give attention to these points in his response to the debate. I have to say that I consider this legislation to be on trial. It is new and I believe it has to be looked at as it works. I wish to make it clear that I shall act to preserve the legitimate rights of Commonwealth employees should this legislation in any way infringe those proper democratic rights.
– I do not want to go over what has been said. However, I want to make a few points in respect of the amendment. I think the question asked last night by Bob Hawke still has to be answered- the question of whether anyone can instance any industrial dispute within living memory that has been settled by penalties or the threat of penalties.
– Yes. The storemen and packers secondary boycott.
-The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair), the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street), in the other place could not give an answer to this question last night. They knew of none. The honourable senator may have a greater knowledge of this matter. Perhaps the honourable senator is referring to the storemen and packers wool bale dispute that was settled by negotiation.
– No. It was not that one.
– We must bear in mind that the amendment does not express opposition to the Bill. The honourable senator who moved the amendment has expressed opposition to the Bill. But the amendment seeks only to refer the Bill to the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee to clear up all these legal points that are involved in the legislation.
-You are not opposed to the Bill?
-I said that the honourable senator who moved the amendment has indicated opposition to the Bill but that the amendment itself is not an amendment opposing the Bill. The amendment seeks to refer it to a committee to see how the Bill will actually operate. The justification for referring it to a committee was that we would know what the Bill meant. Senator Knight made his contribution to the debate today. His colleague from the Australian Capital Territory in the other place apparently was deceived into supporting the Bill in the belief that there were some other methods of appeal than those provided in the Bill. It has turned out that he was misinformed by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and by senior Liberal members of the Senate. Senator Knight is very concerned about whether he should support the
Bill, but he is wriggling around for some excuse for supporting it. He knows he has to support it. He says that he is going to watch the legislation and will object if it is not carried out fairly. He knows very well that he is selling down the drain those public servants in Canberra whom he represents. He was a member of a department which had a ban on economy air travel for its employees which deprived the public of services. He was a party to that. He would come under the provisions relating to dismissal in the Bill. Senator Knight knows that there is such a thing as a common law appeal. Where anyone gets this idea that there is a right of common law appeal I do not know. There is a right to common law only when that right is not taken away from a person. But when an award or a law is introduced to modify common law rights or to take away common law rights, the award or law must be applied. Therefore there will be no common law right because the common law right will be superseded by clause 8 of this Bill.
There was a legal disputation by the first two speakers, both of whom are lawyers. They seemed to get into an argument as to whether a city lawyer was a more competent lawyer than a country lawyer. I do not know the answer to that. I know that like all lawyers they disagreed. The city lawyer said that there was no right to dismiss under ordinary awards and services, while the country lawyer said that there was a right to dismiss. I think that the city lawyer has some support when we consider the case of General Motors-Holdens Pty Ltd in South Australia where an employee was dismissed for 18 months. The case went before the Full Supreme Court of South Australia. All those learned judges found that the company did not have the right to dismiss that employee and he was reinstated with a payment for the time that he had been dismissed. The case had dragged on for 18 months. So at least the city lawyer has some authority in support.
Of course we also looked to Senator Wright for his legal opinion. He believes that employment involves a contract and the enforcement of a contract. But he is quoting law that he learned at university 60 years ago. The world has moved on since then. The law has moved on. A voluntary contract implies the freedom of two parties to enter into the contract or to refuse to enter into it. But there is no freedom today in an industrial relationship. It is a one-sided contract. The employee has no freedom to say whether he will or will not work. We have introduced industrial laws to abridge the law of contract so that an employee has rights under industrial laws and under industrial tribunals.
I think that we are making a big mistake in thinking that this legislation is designed for use against the postal workers. We have dwelt on that. It is not for use against the postal workers. The Government will not gazette it. During the time that this Parliament has been rushing through this legislation the superintendent of the Redfern Mail Exchange has made application to the courts to have the matter heard through the processes of arbitration. The postal workers dispute is being used as an excuse for rushing this legislation through. It is legislation that the Government wants to hold over the head of every Commonwealth employee in the future. The Government wants to have this legislation so that, when it goes to an early election or supports the campaign being run in the South Australian election by Dr Tonkin, it can show that it has made a move against industrial anarchy.
When one looks at this legislation one finds that it seeks to control more than just Commonwealth employees- public servants. It seeks to control the employees of companies in which the Commonwealth has a controlling interest. The words ‘controlling interest’ are not defined. The Commonwealth has more than a 51 per cent shareholding in some companies. I should think that that would be a controlling interest. But it also has been put in company circles that a controlling interest is held by those who hold the bulk of the shares in a company in which the remainder of the shares are split up among a number of other shareholders and that one need not necessarily have a 5 1 per cent shareholding to have a controlling interest. Therefore this legislation spreads beyond Commonwealth employees.
No one has yet explained- I hope that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) will do so in the Committee stage or in replying to the second reading debate- where the constitutional power to control employees in relation to industrial matters is to be found. Section 5 1 of the Constitution gives the Commonwealth the power to set up conciliation machinery to prevent or settle industrial disputes which extend beyond the borders of a State. Section 52 gives the Commonwealth the power to control public servants. But, if one were to regard as a public servant a miner employed at the Mary Kathleen mine under an award of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission just because the Commonwealth has 5 1 per cent of the shares in the Mary Kathleen mine, I think one would be stretching the term ‘public servant’ sufficiently far for a court not to hold that there is power in the Commonwealth to do that.
There are two matters that worry me greatly, other than what has been said about the Bill. One concerns the power of dismissal and the fact that the direction to the authority can be given by a Minister. The authority is the authority for the industry. We are thinking that the legislation means the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, but it says only ‘a Minister’. The Minister is not defined. I can only interpret that to mean that, whatever the industry, the Minister responsible for the industry in which the authority is established is the Minister who gives the order for dismissal or gives that power to the authority. This means that some sections of the Public Service will be affected by various Ministers. Fancy Senator Webster having that authority. Just imagine! Honourable senators opposite say that this is not tyrannical. There is worse than that.
- Senator Cavanagh could have it.
-Yes, Senator Cavanagh could have it. The honourable senator would never get a job in the Public Service then. There is a power of delegation under clause 1 3 of the Bill. A Minister may give authority to whomever he wishes. The Minister could delegate authority to a foreman on the line down at Redfern who is there possibly because of bis power to push the men around. The Government is creating this situation. Anyone can have this power simply by a delegation in the form of a declaration in writing and a signature on a piece of paper which is handed over the table.
The other important aspect is that the legislation does not assist in settling a dispute. It is a threat. If a dispute occurs the Government says it can take certain action. We talk about the minority in the unions causing industrial disputes. Few industrial disputes occur that are not brought about by a decision of the men involved in it. It is not just the union. A recommendation has been made for the men to return to work at Redfern, but the men in control of the dispute, the men who have to suffer as a result of it, have decided to stay out. The men on strike could meet tomorrow and decide to go back and the dispute would be over. How can they decide to go back if they are suspended? They are not in employment. Therefore they cannot meet and decide to go back. This only continues the dispute.
If we are to give credit to Bob Hawke for anything it is the fact that he stopped scabs going into an industry which was involved in a dispute. Today no one will take the place of men on strike. The Government will be in the position of prolonging each dispute and stopping settlements being reached. This is one of the main points. If an employee is suspended he loses all his entitlements to salary, allowances, et cetera for that period. After that period a cancelling declaration can be issued at the direction of the Minister. The effect of the declaration is that the previous declaration is deemed not to have happened. Therefore while making a declaration gives the right to stop wages that declaration, when rescinded, is deemed not to have happened. This would mean that men involved in the dispute would not be paid one week because there was a declaration but the next week it could be said that there was no declaration. Surely there is an entitlement to payment under the contract of employment for that period. These aspects are so mixed up in this whole question that it is essential that someone with a legal mind have a look at the matter and report. That is what the amendment seeks to do. That is why I feel that those in doubt- Senator Hall and Senator Knight- should consider supporting the amendment so that we can get clarity on the positions I have raised.
– I am concerned that I have been called at this time to make a contribution on this vital issue when the guillotine is about to fall. This Bill will have far reaching effects which I am sure the Government has not considered.
– Order! The time allotted for the second reading debate having expired, I put the question that Senator Button’s amendment, namely, that the words proposed to be left out, be left out.
The Senate divided. (The President-Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question put:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I shall refer to a number of provisions in this Bill in some detail. I indicate that the Opposition opposes, for reasons which were indicated during the debate at the second reading stage, all provisions in the Bill. I refer to clause 1 initially which provides that this Bill shall be referred to as the Commonwealth Employees (Employment Provisions) Bill. I should say that it has nothing to do with employment provisions. The provisions of this Bill are disemployment provisions. They deal with the termination of employment and not with conditions of employment. Even the title of the legislation is inaccurate and misleading.
In relation to clause 2 the Opposition is concerned about the date of proclamation of the legislation but reminds the Senate that, as from the time it is proclaimed, it does not only refer to people employed at the Redfern Mail Exchange but, by virtue of the definitions clause, refers to every employee of the Commonwealth of Australia whether employed directly by the Public Service Board or employed by statutory corporations subject to the aegis of the Commonwealth of Australia. Let me refer particularly to the definitions clause of the legislation. The definitions of ‘Commonwealth employee’ and employing authority’ are extremely wide. The expression ‘employing authority’ in this legislation has to be seen in connection with the provisions of clause 13 of the Bill which provides that the employing authority may, either generally or otherwise, delegate to a person all its powers under this Act other than the power of delegation. What that means in theory at least is that an employing authority, whether it be the Public Service Board or the board of a statutory corporation, may delegate the functions prescribed under this legislation to some person in a position of authority down the line who is capable of making a decision about terminating employment, suspending employees or matters of stand-down. This is an extraordinary piece of legislation in the breadth of its scope in relation to that matter. It could be a person from the Minister- or for that matter any Minister, if the legislation is to be relied on- down to a relatively insignificant person down the chain of authority in Commonwealth employment to whom these powers may be delegated.
I refer again to the definitions clause and the width of the expression ‘Commonwealth employee ‘. A lot was said in the course of the second reading debate this morning about the existence of section 66 of the Public Service Act. This government of glorious halcyon days of R. G. Menzies, Harold Holt and the rest of them did not see fit to use that section although it displayed the same sorts of attitudes as have been displayed here today from time to time. In all that period it was never used. Apparently it is not to be used by this Government. Of course, there are two important stipulations in section 66 of the Public Service Act which those speakers on the Government side who referred to it today did not see fit to point out. Section 66 of the Public Service Act provides that this action can be taken in relation to dismissal of striking public servants only after investigation and hearing by the Public Service Board. That is the pernicious distinction between that legislation and this legislation. No investigation and hearing are provided for in this legislation. It is a quite arbitrary, discretionary decision of a Minister or an employing authority. The discretion is vested in him or in the employing authority. There is no question of an investigation and hearing.
– No appeal either.
-And no appeal either.
– There is no appeal under the Act.
-I ask the Minister to bear with me for a moment. Section 66 of the Public Service Act also deals only with the question of strikes. If honourable senators look at the legislation now before the Committee, they will see that it defines not strikes but industrial action. That is a much wider definition than a definition of strikes as contained in section 66 of the Public Service Act. It really is the sloppiest definition one could possibly imagine. It refers, first of all, to industrial action as meaning: the performance of work in a manner different from that in which it is customarily performed -
I wish to repeat that definition: the performance of work in a manner different from that in which it is customarily performed -
That is an extraordinarily bizarre view of what is involved in industrial reaction.
– If one does not lick an envelope from left to right, one could be charged.
-Theoretically, but I think that that is an example which would be regarded as extreme even by the present Government. The fact of the matter is that, putting it at its highest, it means that an employee who devises a perhaps more satisfactory way of doing work in the Public Service from that which was custom and practice in the year 1900 would potentially be penalised under this legislation for doing the work in that way. That is the inference that can be drawn from the drafting of the legislation itself.
The legislation refers also to the adoption of a practice in relation to work, whatever that means. It does not say ‘a bad practice’. It refers to the adoption of a practice in relation to work resulting in a restriction or limitation on or a delay in the performance of work that may result. Clause 3 (b) refers to a ban or limitation on work or on the acceptance of an offer for work. The expression ‘acceptance or offering for work’ is usually understood to relate to the terms and conditions of a contract of employment. Its usage in this definitions clause is quite extraordinary. Sub-clause (c) refers to an unauthorised failure or refusal by persons to attend for work. I ask honourable senators: What on earth is an unauthorised failure? What would be an authorised failure? The term ‘unauthorised failure’ is an extraordinary grammatical construction. I look for enlightenment from honourable senators opposite as to under what circumstances the Government would authorise failure in the contest of this definition. Again, I state that it is an extraordinarily sloppy piece of drafting which is symptomatic of the Government’s lack of understanding and apparent incapacity to convey its intentions to the draftsman.
There are a number of other matters related in the definitions clause which I do not want to deal with in great detail at this time. I will go on to deal with clauses 4, 5 and 7 of the Bill. I make these points: First of all, clause 4 deals with the question of suspension of Commonwealth employees who are engaged in industrial action. I made the point earlier that the right to suspend an employee is one which has not been accorded to employers by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in this country and since about 1 870 has not been accorded to an employer at common law by the courts. This point is made again simply to indicate the neanderthal nature of this legislation in terms of the conceptual basis upon which it is apparently drafted. It is extraordinary. The Fraser Government has quite rightly become a unique government. There are all sorts of reasons why it might be described as a unique government. But with the introduction of this legislation, it has become a unique government in that it abrogates to itself the right to suspend employees. For all sorts of reasons which are sound in arbitral principle, that right has not been accorded elsewhere.
Clause 5, which contains the stand-down provisions, places no onus of proof on the Government to state why it has stood down employees. Again the clause contains some quite extraordinary provisions. Senator Knight in his speech referred to what he described as the classic stand-down clauses in the metal trades award. Before that clause was inserted in the metal trades award or before any stand-down clause is inserted in any award, the employer has to go to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and show the Commission good cause why such a clause should be inserted in the award.
– I made that point.
-I know that Senator Knight made that point. He went on to quote the provisions of the metal trades stand-down clause. The metal trades stand-down clause offers a number of circumstances in which employers may be entitled to stand down employees. The purpose of a stand-down clause is to relieve the employer of economic loss occasioned by circumstances which are totally beyond his control. In the arbitration jurisdiction it is always a moot question whether disputes arising industrially are beyond the employer’s control if they are disputes in the employer’s establishment.
This clause is unique in that it provides that employees of the Public Service can be stood down when they cannot be usefully employed, whether the employees who created that situation are in the Public Service or not. There is no reference, as there is in the metal trades award, to breakdown of machinery. Under this Bill there can be a breakdown of machinery, with hundreds of public servants affected and unable to do their work, but they cannot be stood down. There can be a situation where hundreds of public servants are unable to do their work because of a variety of factors, including the action of outside employers, manufacturers or this Governmentquite a possibility- and they cannot be stood down. The only circumstance in which they can be stood down, relating to employment outside the Public Service, is if there has been a stoppage of work by employees outside the Public Service. The Government is trying to divide the trade union movement, as it is trying to divide society. It is trying to say to the public servants: ‘If you are stood down under this clause it is the fault of those fellows over in Western Australia who refused to load the ship’. This provision would enable the Government to stand people down in those circumstances.
There are a number of provisions in the following clauses which deal with the circumstances in which an employee may be dismissed. There are provisions relating, first of all, to cancellation and then to termination of declarations relating to stand down. There is a normal provision in the sense that people who are stood down will not be paid. In clause 8 the question of dismissal is dealt with specifically. I understand that it has been said by some Government senators that there is no right of summary dismissal under this legislation and that people must be suspended first. That is perfectly true. Legislation of an industrial kind is always designed and construed to protect the interests of the employee; that is to say, the employee normally is provided with rights by legislation. This provision enables the employer to stand an employee down after a suspension of no specified period. An employee can be suspended for 4 hours and if that does not work his employment can be terminated at the end of that 4 hours.
The next matter to which I wish to advert is that of revocation of dismissal, which is dealt with in clause 8 (3). This sub-clause provides that an employing authority can revoke the termination of employment of a Commonwealth employee and direct that the employee shall, during the period of termination, be regarded as being suspended. That, in itself -
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I rise merely to allow Senator Button to complete his submissions so that the Minister might consider them.
– I call the Minister for Veterans ‘Affairs.
– I think I should reply to some of the points raised by Senator Button. I will endeavour to do so in sufficient time to enable him to speak again if he wishes. Senator Button raised one or two very important matters. Because of the guillotine, I did not have an opportunity to answer his and other honourable senator’s points when concluding the second reading debate, as I normally would have done. I feel I should make a few comments. Firstly, in relation to the proclamation of this measure, I emphasise what I said last night in my second reading speech: it would be the Government’s hope that it will not be necessary to use this legislation and it is the Government’s intention that this Bill will be passed by the Parliament but not proclaimed to operate unless circumstances so dictate.
That is still the hope of the Government. We are faced with the immediate problem of the rolling strikes and bans which have been going on at the Redfern Mail Exchange in recent days. Nevertheless, as everyone in the chamber now fully understands, this legislation is not directed simply to the industrial action at and problems of the Redfern Mail Exchange. It applies generally to all those engaged in Commonwealth employment, whether they work under the Public Service Act or not. A number of industrial actions by public servants and Commonwealth employees in recent times have led the Government to believe that it needs to have the powers provided in this legislation and needs to have them now, without further delay. That is why the legislation is proceeding as fast as possible through the Parliament, and I am glad to say that the Senate and the House of Representatives have enabled that passage to be speedy. Hopefully, this legislation will be on the statute books this afternoon. However, as I said before, it is the Government’s hope that it will not be necessary to use this legislation and, in relation to the matter Senator Button raised, I reiterate what I said about the proclamation.
I do not know whether the Committee yet knows, but the Government was pleased to learn that the Federal Executive of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union met this morning and has directed the New South Wales postal workers to lift their bans.
– Why don’t you delay the Bill?
– It is very interesting, Senator Harradine, that that was done this morning, the day after this legislation was brought into the Parliament. The union knows that the Government means business, following the actions which have occurred at Redfern, those of the air traffic controllers, actions in Senator Guilfoyle ‘s Department, where applications for social security benefits were delayed and frustrated, and many other instances. In view of the initiative taken this morning by the Federal Executive of the APTU, the Government is hopeful that action through this legislation will not be necessary, and that in view of the direction given, the workers in the New South Wales branch at Redfern Mail Exchange will see common sense and will lift the bans and return to work in accordance with that direction and in accordance with the recommendations made by Commissioner Sweeney.
That is all I wish to say as far as general policy is concerned. Senator Button raised a number of other matters, as did other honourable senators. Before I conclude my comments in the Committee stage of the debate and give other honourable senators an opportunity to speak, I should like to answer one major point in relation to the meaning of the words ‘industrial action’. Criticism has been levelled at the definitions of industrial action’. Admittedly, they are wide definitions, and they are intended to be wide definitions. The Government needs wide powers of this kind to deal with the sorts of activities engaged in by people who are determined to disrupt public services and to inconvenience the public. I want to give some examples of the problems that the Government faces m this area. Last night my colleague the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) incorporated in the House of Representatives Hansard a list of restrictive work practices and inhibitions to economic operations at the Central Mail Exchange, Sydney. There are no fewer than 40 such restrictions. I seek leave, Mr Chairman, to table this document and to have it incorporated in Hansard.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
LIST OF RESTRICTIVE WORK PRACTICES AND INHIBITIONS TO ECONOMIC OPERATIONS AT CENTRAL MAIL EXCHANGE SYDNEY
(Note: This list is not exhaustive but these are the main restrictive practices).
Restriction on operating flat-top machines unless coding staff are on overtime.
Refusal by 4th Floor Mail Officer staff to working in Bag Room.
Refusal on Fourth Floor to sort large letters to a full break-up from Domestic Opening.
Restriction on the break-up of incoming parcel mails on No. 1 Dock.
Ban on overtime being used to advantage of Management-i.e., pre-shift overtime instead of post-shift overtime.
Insistence by APTU that bundles of Air Mail Letters be processed on the face-up table (Fourth Floor) and be not forwarded direct for manual processing in other areas.
Refusal by staff on Group L2 to assist Group LI on domestic opening between 6.00 p.m. and 8.00 p.m., as Group L2 claim that this is a ‘sit-down period for Group L2 ‘.
When 3rd Floor staff are assisting on 4th Floor, additional staff cannot be sent to No. 1 Dock if required in the latter area.
Restriction on the opening of domestic air mails on local opening glacis.
Insistence by APTU that three Mail Officers must remain on ‘City Dock’ even though MBU or coding is not operating.
Refusal to allow machinery to continue running or switched on during stoppages by technical staff.
Refusal in Ship Section to allow staff to be removed from rostered positions. (Recent Ban).
Refusal to allow overseas air mail staff to process mail in Interstate Section between 1.00 p.m.-2.00 p.m.
Refusal to allow sorting fields to be reduced to the requirements of Interstate Exchanges.
Refusal to allow staff to work in Ship Section unless previously trained in Ship Section sorting. (Current Ban ).
Refusal to allow Overseas Airmail (Day Staff Overtime) staff to work in Interstate Sub-section unless Interstate Night Staff are on overtime. (Recent Ban).
- Refusal in Ship Section to permit 1 00 per cent check on decoders when desired. (Recent Ban).
Insistence by APTU that 100 per cent check be made of Melbourne City L.C.S. at all dmes. (Since introduction of Interstate decoding).
Refusal by Interstate Night Staff to work in Overseas Air Mail Sub-section and vice versa.
Refusal to permit integration of staff at Epsom Road Rosebery Container Depot.
Insistence that Ship Section staff at Epsom Road be rostered 8.00 a.m. to S.00 p.m.
Insistence (at various times) on determining the priority of mails to be processed although traffic needs may dictate otherwise.
Insistence that all exemptions be granted for mid-week overtime- (this applies to all Sections), i.e. a voluntary overtime situation.
Refusal to permit rostered Interstate Airmail weighers’ to pick up Interstate Bulk L/C which was not processed in the normal Interstate Airmail area. (Recent action).
Refusal by APTU to accept shift rosters based on other than the present shift ratios.
Objections by APTU to supervisory officers inspecting locker rooms and welfare areas.
Instructions issued by supervisory officers being countermanded by APTU Representatives before discussion with management.
Continual questioning by APTU Representatives of decisions on staff movements.
Sealers and Loaders do not resume sorting duties until last bag is forwarded down Suburban Chute in Parcels Section.
Mail Officers on Night Staff must consist only of volunteersstaff cannot be rostered.
1 . In the pre-Christmas periods untrained Christmas Casual Staff are not permitted to perform work that is ‘a rostered position’. This means that a qualified officer cannot be removed from a rostered position which could be performed by any unqualified Christmas Casual. This practice is a costly exercise during the pre-Christmas period and is contrary to an agreement which exists between management and the union concerned.
Restrictions placed on freedom of movement of staff from Section to Section and in some instances in the same Section.
Restrictions placed on freedom of movement of mail for manual processing- i.e. codable mail to manual processing area.
Restriction on overtime being rostered for work in another Section.
Ban on movement of staff from one Section to another until all vacant positions on rosters are filled.
Mail Officers will not usually accept any direction involving a new procedure or different approach without referring the matter to APTU Representatives for approval.
Parcel Section staff refuse to remove bags which have become jammed in the opening glacis. A labourer must be in attendance to remove jammed bags. This function is performed on the Fourth Floor by the Mail Officers.
Insistence on a fixed number of overtime staff being rostered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Insistence that six Mail Officers be provided to unload departmental vehicles conveying overseas mail to No. 1 Dock.
Ban on more than 2 bags per vehicle being off-loaded on Country Dispatch Dock.
– There are some major examples of these types of work restrictions, one being that management has been restricted in its ability to move mail, including partially processed and unprocessed mail, from one office to another. There is an insistence by the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union that bundles of airmail letters be processed on the face-up table, fourth floor, and not be forwarded direct for manual processing in other areas. In addition to that we have at the Redfern Mail Exchange a situation which has been going on for some time, in which, for instance, mail sorters are on strike today and on Monday but they will be coming back on Tuesday and work on Wednesday, or some will come back one day and go off the next when others will go off, and so on.
– Do you want to suspend them so they cannot come back?
– This is a campaign of disruption. I am giving examples of the sorts of disruptions and problems that management and employing authorities face. For instance, drivers have voted to leave work 3% hours early every Friday. Others have voted to strike one day a week. That is the sort of thing that has been happening.
It is because of that situation that the wide powers and definitions of ‘industrial action’ are necessary. That is why this definition appears in clause 3 of this Bill. But I point out to the chamber that this is not some definition which has been made simply for the purposes of this
Bill. Section 3 of the Public Service Arbitration Act, which was assented to on 24 April 1972, contains a definition of ‘industrial situation’. Although the definition contained in that Act is not exactly the same as the definition contained in this Bill, it is a very wide definition. It refers to a wide variety of industrial practices and actions, which give rise to the powers which exist at the moment and which have been referred to, whereby the Public Service Board can apply to the Public Service Arbitrator for action, even leading to stand-downs. I am informed that in fact since 1972 there have been 170 applications under that Act. So industrial actions are a type of conduct familiar to industrial authorities. Applications have been made by all sides under awards and not simply by the Public Service Board.
Admittedly, that Act was introduced by the previous coalition Government in 1972. But if the definition contained in that Act is so vague, if it is so inappropriate and if the Opposition is so opposed to it, why did the Opposition in the three years during which it was in government allow that definition to remain and that type of procedure to be followed? It is quite clear that the Opposition today in its attack on the phraseology of the definition of ‘industrial action’ is simply nit picking in an attempt to throw some doubt on this legislation. It is quite clear that it is necessary for the Government to have powers of the kind contemplated in this definition contained in the Bill. The power of the employing authority or of the Minister to take any action under this legislation is founded upon the existence of industrial action. There has to be industrial action before the provisions in this Bill can be invoked.
asked me whether I would give an assurance that these powers would not be used for political purposes. I am more than happy and more than anxious to be able to assure this chamber and Senator Knight that of course the Government does not want these powers for political purposes and will not use them for political purposes. That is a solemn undertaking that I am giving on behalf of the Government to the chamber and to the people of this country. I point out that it would not be within our power to use these provisions for political purposes. The power in this Bill can be used only when there is industrial action- where there is a disruption to public services by employees of the Commonwealth Government. So the whole of the powers in this Bill can be used only when some industrial action takes place. If a Commonwealth employee considers he is not engaged in industrial action but believes action is being taken by the employing authority or by a Minister against him capriciously without any basis under the powers contained in this Bill he, of course, has a right to go to the courts of this land under his common law rights and claim the wages or salaries to which he is entitled. He has that right. Moreover he has a right in certain circumstances to take action under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act which was passed earlier this year. Certainly the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction. But any man’s common law right still applies and is not abrogated by this legislation.
– I am grateful that the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) has spoken on this issue at last. In the whole of this debate, which is described as important by the Government, not one Minister has seen fit to take part except for Senator Durack ‘s one-minute contribution last night. This is interesting comment on the degree of faith which the Government apparently has in this legislation. Earlier I was dealing with the question of dismissal under clause 8. 1 just make the point that there is an extraordinary piece of drafting or conceptual thought behind this because it provides that if a person’s employment is terminated under this legislation the employing authority can at a later stage decide that the employment was not terminated at all and that the person was only suspended. That is the effect of the legislation. That is an extraordinary provision having regard to the law of contract of employment. The simple fact of the matter is that at common law employment is terminated or not terminated. It cannot be terminated and then later, because of afterthought or hindsight, be decided that it was not really terminated but the employee was only suspended.
I am interested to know what would happen to a public servant whose employment was terminated under a declaration made under this legislation and who subsequently was told that his employment was not terminated. What are his rights after he has been told that his employment is terminated? Does he have to wait to find out whether the employing authority is going to change its mind about whether he was employed by the Public Service Board or by some other State instrumentality? Again it is an extraordinary invasion of the rights of employees in this community to provide sloppy legislation like this in relation to a fundamental question like the determination of a contract of employment.
There are just one or two other matters on which I wish to comment and with which the
Minister purported to deal. A few minutes ago the Minister artificially sought to suggest that this legislation was very much the same as provisions in the Public Service Arbitration Act. One would think that the Minister had not been in the chamber all day. He has. The analogy which he seeks to draw between the provision in the Public Service Act and the provision in this legislation is something which makes the point precisely of the entire and fundamental criticism of this legislation. Under the Public Service Act the employing authority has to go to an arbitral or quasi judicial authority to seek to have the stand-down provision included in the award or determination. That application has to be judged by somebody who is quite impartial to the employment relationship. That is the position under the Public Service Act. But it is not the position under this legislation.
In this Bill there is no requirement for the employing authority or for the Minister or for somebody to whom the authority is delegated to go anywhere to get authority to take unilateral action by way of termination of employment, suspension of employment or stand-down of employees. That is the essential and transparent difference, and the Minister in trying to explain away this legislation in a cloud of empty rhetoric pretends that it is the same sort of legislation as the Public Service Act. It is not. The difference between the two pieces of legislation makes the pricise point about the perniciousness of this legislation. Under this legislation the act of the employing authority is not subject to any sort of outside judicial assessment of the unilateral exercise of rights by the employer, and that is the distinction. The other distinction is that in proceedings under the Public Service Act, questions such as termination of employment, suspension in employment or other matters which may be dealt with under this legislation are all subject to appeal. They are not subject to appeal in the legislation before us. That is the extraordinary and fundamental omission from this legislation. For the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs to go on about the Ombudsman, for goodness sake, and about rights at common law being preserved -
– I said that the Ombudsman did not have jurisdiction.
– I am sorry. It was the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), not the Minister, who said that the Ombudsman would deal with the matters.
– He did not; it was Mr Haslem.
-Mr Fraser said that the Ombudsman would deal with the matter. Imagine 400 sacked public servants queueing up before Professor Richardson to have their standdown orders dealt with! What a lot of rubbish. Of course, the Minister rightly disowns the view of the Prime Minister on this issue. The second thing which the Minister said is that the employees have rights at common law. I would have thought that this legislation covers the field in respect of this matter, and it is absolutely ridiculous to say that the employees have rights at common law. The Prime Minister on this point is probably more correct than is the Minister when he said that the only rights they might have would be by way of prerogative writ. If he is telling the average employee in Australia, on average earnings, that he can go to the High Court and get this matter dealt with by way of prerogative writ, it illustrates the absolute farcity of this legislation and the absolute ill-conceived nature of the drafting and the concepts behind it. I do not wish to delay the Committee on other clauses of the Bill because I understand that at least one other honourable senator wishes to speak at the Committee stage. But let us not have these woolly explanations of faulty drafting and extraordinary concepts.
– I intend to support the Government in achieving its objective in gaining an instrument which wil prevent the continuation of these very difficult practices in the industrial field, but I am not content to support those parts of the Bill which might create an injustice. The debate so far does not seem to have answered, nor has the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs (Senator Durack) answered, the question arising from clause 5 which provides that Commonwealth employees who have no useful employment because of action outside their own organisation may be stood down. They may be stood down by the authority or the authority under the direction of the Minister or by someone who has delegated authority. Therefore, it is a very sweeping authority to stand down public servants or employees of the nominated authorities because of lack of useful employment which has been caused through no fault of their own. These employees will not have recourse to some arbitral authority, which is available to those in private employment. The question that arises in my mind is that the people covered by this Bill will not have a system of arbitration which will guarantee that they get fair treatment. Apparently they are at a disadvantage compared with those employees in private employment.
I remind the Minister that I do not speak on behalf of those at whom this Bill is aimed- those who are creating the discontent and the very real difficulties in this community. I speak only on behalf of those innocent people who are caught up in this clause. It would appear that those who drew up this legislation went to one side to draw in extra authority for another matter quite separate from the intention of the Bill. By doing that it has brought in other principles such as the matter of safeguarding the rights of those people handled by clause S. Their interests are not safeguarded as are the interests of people in private employment. That is the situation as I understand it. I am no authority on industrial matters but that is the outcome of this debate. Therefore, I am not content about it.
It is wrong, if, in order to overcome some totalitarian principles in industry or in the Public Service, we ourselves set up some totalitarian principles which affect innocent people. Therefore, this clause ought to be amended. It should not pass in this form. In saying that, I reiterate, so that there will be no misunderstanding, that I support the thrust of the Bill but I do not support this extraneous grab on the side at people’s rights.
Clause S, to which I propose an amendment, reads:
Where, by reason of the existence of any industrial action (including industrial action in which Commonwealth employees are not engaged)-
persons who are Commonwealth employees in relation to an employing authority cannot be usefully employed; or
there is serious disruption to the performance of a function by an employing authority, being a function in connexion with the performance of which persons who are Commonwealth employees in relation to the employing authority are employed, the employing authority may, by instrument in writing, declare that Commonwealth employees specified in the declaration, being all or some of the Commonwealth employees referred to in paragraph (a) or (b) but not being Commonwealth employees engaged in the industrial action, are stood down during the period commencing at such time as is specified in the declaration (not being a time earlier than the time at which the declaration is made) and ending at the time at which the declaration ceases, or is deemed to have ceased, to have effect.
As an amendment, I move:
My amendment, if passed, will delete the effect of industrial action other than by Commonwealth employees enabling Commonwealth employees to be stood down. It would still enable
Commonwealth employees to be stood down if their redundancy was caused by industrial action by other Commonwealth employees. It is a half way measure but at least if excludes the implementation-as I understand the effect of my amendment- of this clause as a result of industrial action outside the nominated authority or the Commonwealth Public Service. In other words, it is not for me or anyone who attempts to amend this Bill to put in safeguards that the Government ought to have put in. I am not an expert in this field. Only the Government is in this regard. It drew up the Bill and it has left out these safeguards. Therefore, the next best thing is to remove action which is punitive to innocent people- action which arises completely outside the areas with which all of us are so concerned. The support for this Bill today has related to those matters within the Public Service and the disruptive minority that lies within the Public Service. I agree with the attack on this minority but I do not agree with the widened aspects of the Bill. The passage of my amendment would restrict the stand down clauses as I have outlined.
– I wish to inform the Senate that the Government cannot accept the amendment moved by Senator Steele Hall. He does not want the Bill to have an impact on Commonwealth employees as a result of industrial action outside Commonwealth employment. His amendment would still mean that Commonwealth employees who are not engaged in industrial action would be able to be stood down. Therefore, I cannot understand this great distinction in Senator Steele Hall’s mind between Commonwealth employees who are stood down as a result of action by other Commonwealth employees and those who have been stood down for economic reasons as a result of the action by employees in private industry. The same principle applies to both, namely, that the Government cannot usefully engage employees, or its operations are seriously disrupted by industrial action. No such distinction is made in standdown provisions in private industry. If industry has the right to stand down it has the right to stand down no matter who has caused the dispute.
I inform the Senate that I have been advised that at a meeting in Redfern this afternoon of the day and afternoon shift workers they voted by 556 votes to 435 votes to lift the bans.
-What.Senator Steele Hall said is right. I give the example of Trans Australia Airways and Ansett Airlines of Australia. Under the definition of Commonwealth authority- this covers TAA- if there is a tanker drivers’ dispute the Minister can stand down TAA employees but Ansett employees have the right to have the case heard before arbitration. Therefore, the Government is putting Commonwealth employees at a serious disadvantage. In that respect Senator Steele Hall is correct.
What Senator Durack said is most interesting. Had I had the chance to speak in the second reading debate I would have suggested to the Government that in attempting to get at a tiny minority it is steamrollering this Bill through. It will cast the net so broadly that it will place at risk the rights of the vast majority of employees and Public Service departments and instrumentalities. That is where the danger lies. This Bill would not have settled the current postal dispute. In fact, it is essential for postal services to be maintained. It is essential for the unionists in this country that there be regular, reliable communications and postal services. What I was going to suggest and what I now suggest, even at this late stage, is that the Government leave this Bill aside and enable the Australian Post and Telecommunications Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to uphold their rules for the conduct and control of industrial disputes with the spotlight of Australia on them.
I can recall when I was on the ACTU Executive having special executive meetings about the Redfern Mail Exchange. Over many years a number of people there have been called by the union itself anarchists, Marxists and other such terms. The point is that they have a responsibility to ensure that democratic unionism prevails. It is heartening to see that the decision of the APTU has been accepted and that the APTU was determined to enforce its rules by the use of its disciplinary provisions registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. That is how disputes are settled. They are not settled in this way.
– You have not had much success at Redfern.
– I have had a lot of success in doing precisely that. In Tasmania we have stood for the principle of upholding the rules for the conduct and control of industrial disputes. That is why in the short term of my office we had the best industrial record of the whole of the Commonwealth. I am concerned that in this type of legislation the Government is attacking the institution of unionism. This type of legislation creates an unwarranted aura in the minds of the public that industrial disputes can be overcome only by legislation. The public will be badly served if the Government continues to give that impression to them.
– Order! The time allotted for the Committee stage having expired, I now put the question in relation to Senator Hall’s amendment to clause 5. The question is that the words proposed to be left out be left out.
Question resolved in the negative.
-The question now is that the Bill stand as printed and be reported without amendment.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator T. C. Drake-Brockman)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill reported without amendment.
Adoption of Report
Motion (by Senator Durack) put:
That the report of the Committee be adopted.
The Senate divided. ( The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– Order! The time allotted for consideration of the remaining stages having expired, I now put the question that the remaining stages be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Withers) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I want merely to say on behalf of the Opposition that this is one of the darkest weeks of so-called parliamentary democracy that we have ever witnessed. The Government has made a complete and utter farce of the parliamentary system.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circula
asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 25 May 1977:
Are there any statutory authorities responsible to the Minister; if so, (a) what are they; (b) who are the bankers for each authority; and (c) which, if any, of the authorities may be termed ‘statutory authorities of a business nature’.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Australia. Australian War Memorial, Christmas Island Phosphate Commission- Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. Australian Electoral Office- normally the Reserve Bank of Australia or the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia. Some accounts are maintained with the Bank of New South Wales, the National Bank and the State Savings Bank of Victoria for reasons of geographical convenience.
asked the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, upon notice, on 24 May 1977:
How many (a) permanent employees, (b) temporary employees and (c) other employees were there in the Minister’s Department for each month since and including November 1975.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable senator to the answer to Question No. 949.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 19 August 1977, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1977/19770819_senate_30_s74/>.