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Thursday, 8 October 1914
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Senator WATSON (New South Wales) . - I join with my friend in expressing gratitude at the opportunity afforded to me of seconding the adoption of the Address» - «in» - «Reply . I regard it as a compliment to the men with whom I have been associated in the great mining industry of Newcastle, New South Wales. I am conscious of the fact that no Government could have been asked to assume the reins of office under more difficult and disadvantageous circumstances than those which now present themselves, not only to the people of the Commonwealth, but also to the nations of the civilized world. At no time in the annals of history have the peoples of the earth been confronted with a similar position. Everything calls for diligence on the part of legislators of the day, whether they be in opposition or in office. We have a duty which we owe to our race, and that is that the spirit of unity and concord should manifest itself in our legislative halls. In this Parliament the Government are in a position to carry out, in a way that will admit of little dissension, and certainly little dispute, the difficult task presenting itself to them. The facts surrounding the calamitous war are such that they give us a feeling of pride in the nation to which we belong. We realize that the British Empire has not been asleep to what was imminent, and to the great overwhelming catastrophe that, has visited civilization owing to the tactics pursued by the German people. Had British people sought a quarrel in order to limit the growing power of Germany and her determined hostility, only too apparent, undoubtedly they might justifiably have brought the Germans to their senses before this; but the fact that Germany has been allowed that interrelationship that has been so freely given to her while she was manifestly engaged in preparations for war, is but a further exhibition of the spirit of tolerance that has always marked the British people. However, when the critical hour came, and Britain had to maintain her pledges to those people with whom she had covenanted, there was ho questioning her position. It is undoubtedly one to be envied, and one to be appreciated and commended by every Power allied with her in this war. But while we regret the situation created by the war, and the difficulties confronting our Government;, we have before us in the Speech of the Governor-General a programme which will appeal in a large measure even to those who may be opposed to the policy of the Labour party. It shows that the Government are prepared to grapple with the financial difficulties confronting them,, not only in the matter of making provision for the war and for playing our partin connexion with it, but also, as is recognised in the Speech, in the direction of making provision for our people at home who are inconvenienced by reason of the war, and whose relationship in the' industrial arena has been interfered with as a result of the war. The many thousand workers who will he displaced by both private employers and State Governments will naturally create a necessity to take some steps which will insure continuity of work. For there is no higher function of a Government than to make provision for the well-being of the people. There is nothing which will insure social progress more than will means of employment and avenues whereby the people may be enabled to sustain themselves and their dependants. Therefore, it is a matter for much satisfaction that the present Government purposes to meet the exceptional conditions arising out of the war and the consequent dislocation of trade and commerce and that proposals to that end will shortly be laid before us. This, I repeat, is a matter for much gratification,, but, after all, it is only what might be expected from a Government that, in' every sense of the word, is a reflex of the great industrial movement. Proposals for a pension scheme for Australians engaged on active service and their dependants will also be laid before Parliament. This announcement, I am sure, will afford much gratification, and give a sense of relief to the valiant soldiers who are prepared to leave their wives and their families and cross the seas in order to stand by the old British Flag in defence of the Empire which has given us thisbright, sunny land and afforded us such ample opportunities to develop a better social life than we could possibly have- enjoyed in the congested parts of the Homeland. Our duty to the British Empire must never be questioned - must never be forsaken in any degree. I feel quite sure that the men who have volunteered to do battle for home and for country realize that those who stay behind will not be forgetful of their obligations to those who are making a sacrifice which reflects the highest credit on their manhood. The pension scheme is one which undoubtedly has become most acceptable to the people of this country, and won the commendation of other countries. It is a scheme for which we have fought and laboured, and we have had the glorious privilege of seeing in a measure its results throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. The intimation that an increased pension will be provided for the recipients of relief from that fund will, I think, meet with the commendation of every right-thinking man and woman in the community. There can be no more pitiable sight in life than that of old, indigent persons struggling to maintain themselves in the difficult circumstances with which they are confronted. It was never assumed that the pension to old folks would meet the necessities of life, but it was regarded as a contribution to their support and as a recognition of the work which they had performed in their respective States. That was primarily the purpose of the pension scheme. So many years had to he lived in the country before it was possible for a person to receive the advantage of a pension. We have improved the scheme, but it awaits further improvement. The increased cost of living alone demands that something along these lines should be done; but there is one thing -which commends itself more to me than does, perhaps, anything else in regard to the pension scheme, and that is the determination of the present Government to provide for the widows and orphans of this country. There is undoubtedly a great deal to be said in favour of such a proposal, and very little to be said against it. There can be nothing more degrading or demoralizing to our civilization than the necessity for women who have been bereft of their breadwinners to leave their children to stray about the streets, and in some cases to become street arabs, whilst ;they, the mothers, are struggling at the wash-tub, or at some other occupation for a crust of bread for helpless children. The present Government, stands for the uplifting of the masses of the people.

Senator Bakhap - Oh, we will help them in that.

Senator WATSON - It is pleasing to hear that remark, and I feel perfectly sure that such a proposal as this only needs to be brought forward to meet, the approbation of every right-thinking man, no matter to which party he belongs. I. am convinced that the country will recognise that it is only a just and legitimate claim which these people have upon the Parliament. Now, in connexion with industrial conditions, we find this paragraph in the opening Speech -

The necessity of restoring normal conditions in Australian industries is fully recognised by my Advisers. To that end Commonwealth public works will be vigorously proceeded with, and active measures will be taken to co-operate with the State Governments, and also to supplement as far as practicable the efforts of individual employers.

This proposal to establish and maintain our industrial conditions will also, I think, meet with the commendation of both parties. The paragraph practically covers what I said in a previous remark. The strength and the stability of a country depend upon its workpeople, and unless provision is made for their employment; unless there is concerted action on the part of the Government and individual employers to open up avenues of employment, the country must necessarily remain in a state of stagnation. We go further, and say that we are prepared to promote the establishment of new Australian industries and to further develop those industries which are already established^ and therefore it is intended to amend the Tariff. This country is practically at the beginning of its career as regards building up great industrial works. We have had to depend upon Germany and other nations for a large quantity of the finished articles which we must necessarily consume. We have all the raw material for the production of everything which we require, individually or collectively. It is, to my mind, a most false position that in a young country such as ours we should be satisfied, with, all the vast opportunities before us, to remain in a state of idleness and inertness whilst other nations are diligently producing the materials of life. At the present time Australia is unable to participate in many of the blessings of civilization without transporting over many thousand miles of ocean articles required for our daily use.

Senator O'Keefe - Many of them made from our own raw material.

Senator Bakhap - It is due largely to the lack of technical education.

Senator WATSON - What I have to say in regard to Protection is evoked, not by anything that the present Government is determined upon, but by my life-long conviction that the prosperity of this young country depends on the protection of industries.

Senator O'Keefe - And on good, stiff Protection.

Senator WATSON - We do not seek to protect where we cannot produce, but manufactures which can be established here should be nourished and nurtured. I stand for that policy, and I am delighted that the Government, and particularly its leader, is most emphatic in the pronouncement of a protective policy. I gladly follow the lead thus given, as I believe that Protection will largely benefit the workers. But the old methods of Protection did not meet the needs of the workers, and a proposal is, therefore, to be brought forward to which I shall refer later. The people are to be asked at an early date to sanction certain proposals for the amendment of the Constitution; that, I think, will meet with the approval of a majority in each House. It is greatly to be regretted that the electors had not the opportunity to vote on the question at the last election. The late Government should have run the gauntlet on the question, as the Labour Government did in 1913. Although the Fisher Administration had a good programme of performances to its credit, it did not shrink from risking its reputation and its position by proposing amendments of the Constitution which it thought necessary. It did that, although it knew that advantage would be taken by its opponents of the possibility of misleading the electors in regard to what was proposed.

Senator Bakhap - Is not the possibility of that an argument in favour of submitting such questions apart from a general election?

Senator WATSON - The possibility of submitting the proposals at the time of a general election has been ended by the action of the last Government, whose members must take the responsibility of having refused to the people an opportunity to decide these matters. The present Government, in fulfilment of its pledges, must submit these proposals to the people as soon as possible. The six questions that must be submitted are inseparable. Furthermore, without the new form of Protection, which will protect the public as well as the manufacturers, it is impossible to build up industries which will benefit the whole community. We must protect the employes as well as the employers, and the community from the power of capitalism. We intend also to introduce legislation to bring about uniformity in industrial conditions. There is now no uniformity in industrial laws, and an amendment of the Constitution is necessary to secure uniformity and stability in industrial operations. The electors are also to be given the right to initiate and to veto legislation. This is one of the most democratic proposals that have ever been put forward, and will undoubtedly save the country from decay, and protect it from that autocracy which displays itself in every Legislature, British and other. Those who would deny the people the right of initiating legislation of a progressive character fail to understand and appreciate the position which the people occupy to-day. Education is spreading throughout the civilized world, and not only should the people be free to return to Parliament individuals charged with the making of laws who disappoint them at every' turn1, but they should be able to develop their own ideas concerning the government of the country. It is proposed also to establish a line of Commonwealth steam-ships. This country ,-s now in the grip of shipping combines and trusts, and the growing evil cannot be counteracted unless the Government establish a line of Commonwealth steamships in the interests of the people at. large. We know how great are the benefits which the people enjoy by reason of the State ownership of the railways. The position of Australia would be very different were its railways, as are those of other countries, controlled by great capitalists. The establishment of a line of Commonwealth steam-ships will do much to break a monopoly that is operating directly against our interests. When you come to consider that men in the Newcastle and Maitland district receive only a few shillings per ton for getting coal, which, when shipped to Melbourne, is sold for from 24s. to 25s. per ton, you will readily agree that the increased cost of living, is due, not to the primary producer, but to the fact that the commodities he produces are handled by great capitalistic interests, and the people suffer as the result of their combination. We on this side realize that this is the position. From time to time we hear a great deal about the discontent of the worker. We are told that he is everlastingly discontented with his lot, and has no sympathy for law, order, and good government. For every effect there must necessarily be a cause. We cannot ignore the fact that the working population represent the bone, sinew, and muscle of every civilized nation, and the strength of every country. To say that the working people, who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in battle for their country and their flag, have no regard for constitutional law, is to utter a paradox. The reason for their discontent is self-evident, and it is that the people are not receiving justice at the hands of their Legislatures; whilst they are within the power of certain vested interests, who use them for their own aggrandizement. It is because of this that we are confronted with outbreaks that are described as lawlessness, and due to a disregard of constitutional government. They are nothing of the kind. There are no more law-abiding citizens than are the workers of the country. The fact that men go down into the bowels of the earth and work for eight hours a day, in the conditions under which these men do work for a wage that is only sufficient to keep body and soul together, is the best evidence of their fidelity and loyalty to the country to which they belong. The fact that the country must depend to so great an extent upon their labours is further evidence that they are not disloyal, but are, in fact, the strength and support of the Empire. I am gratified by the opportunity which has been afforded me to speak on this motion. I very much regret that, owing to the industrial conditions existing in the northern district, I was not able to take so active a part during the late Federal elections as I should like to have done. The trouble which arose in the Maitland district led to 2,500 men being thrown out of employment; and, as president of the organization, I felt that it was my duty to stand loyal to the men, and do what I could to assist them out of their difficulty. The cessation of work and the struggle originated, as honorable senators may be aware, over the afternoon shift, which represents merely another instance of capitalistic greed and monopoly. The men have been seeking for years, by constitutional means, to bring about the abolition of that shift, which has been proved to be absolutely unnecessary. Its adoption only confers privileges upon certain employers beyond those enjoyed by others in the same industry. There is one employer who dominates the whole industry. Whether fortunately for himself or not I do not know, but, unfortunately for society, he is in the happy position of being a millionaire. The men fought for their rights, but, unhappily, there was no means but that of passive resistance by which they could gain them. It was only when all other means had been tried to overcome the difficulty that the men voluntarily undertook to say, " This thing shall not be." As a loyal unionist, and as one set up to safeguard the interests of the organization, and, by so doing, to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth, I had to stand by the men. Had these men in the northern district adopted the course which was followed in 1909 and 1910, when a smaller number was involved in trouble, and called upon others to make common cause with them, we might have been in a most unfortunate position today. The good sense of the organization prevailed, and, rather than see a general situation brought about, we determined that we would support those concerned and those dependent upon them, as far as we possibly could. By that means we were able to limit the trouble. In. the circumstances, I considered that it was my imperative duty to remain at the helm, and I did so. I make this explanation because I know what is expected of a candidate for election. I realized my obligations as such, and was fully prepared to fulfil them in every possible way. I recognised that it was my duty to win the suffrages of the people for the principles enunciated by the party to which I belong; but, in. performing my immediate duty to the organization, I was safeguarding the interests of the entire community, which should be regarded as paramount to the interests involved in a political contest. I found myself in practically the same position as that in which Senator Millen, as Minister of Defence, found himself during the Federal elections. Whilst I deeply regret that I was unable to take an active part in the political battle and put forward my views as to the policy of the Government, I am satisfied that the programme submitted by the present Government indicates a sincere desire to do everything that lies in their power to give effect to the principles for which they stand. What they are unable to do within the powers conferred by the Constitution, as it at present exists, will be delayed only until such time as the people are given an opportunity to amend the Constitution. I might here say that this is but one more evidence of the fidelity of the Labour party to the principles it has enunciated. We realize what it must mean to lay these proposals before the people. It means that we cannot remain in our cushioned seats, but must go before the people to rouse them to a realization of their responsibility and duty in the matter. We are prepared for the sacrifices that may be necessary. We have the courage of our convictions, and are prepared to fight for the principles we have enunciated, and which we believe to be necessary for the future development of this great country. I thank honorable senators for the interest which they have manifested in my few scattered remarks, and I trust that during the regime of the present Government we shall witness beneficent results from concerted action on the part of members, of this Parliament. I trust that the calamitous war which is now in progress may speedily be brought to an end, that the peace which we all so ardently desire, and for which we have been steadfastly working, may be consummated, and that the din of war may be heard no more throughout the countries of the world.

Debate (on motion by Senator Millen) adjourned.

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