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Tuesday, 31 August 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- All that the Minister in charge of this Bill (Mr. Groom) need do is to accept the proposed new clause if ' he desires that arbitration should be a thing of the past. However much we may deplore strikes it has never been held by the members of this or any other legislative chamber that I know of that it is possible to pass legislation which will prevent strikes or lockouts. We have lockouts as well as strikes, but it is very strange that the honorable member in submitting his new clause dealt only with trade unionists and ' strikes, and said nothing of employers who can lock men out at their own sweet will. Employers by locking out men may subject them and those dependent upon them to penalties and suffering, but the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) will ask no questions in such eases.

Mr Bamford - When has there been a lockout? *

Mr CHARLTON - There have been many, but the. honorable member does not propose to deal with lockouts. We all deplore both strikes and lockouts, and wish that they could be put an end to; but whilst we endeavour to pass legislation to avoid their consequences, we realize that it is absolutely impossible to prevent them altogether. They will occur, in spite of all that we can do. We can only strive to lessen their number.

The proposed new clause would take out of the hands of trade unionists the management of their own affairs.

Mr Bamford - Not at all.

Mr CHARLTON - It would. Once we say that in connexion with any industrial trouble a Judge of the Arbitration Court may appoint certain persons to take a ballot-

Mr Bamford - A secret ballot.

Mr CHARLTON - Once we provide that he may appoint -certain Federal or State officials to take a ballot in connexion with any industrial disturbance, we shall be removing the administration of trade union organizations from the hands of their members. There is no escape from that conclusion. The amendment does not require much argument to condemn it. We have only to consider what its effect will be. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides that only organizations that are. registered shall come under it, and I ask the honorable member for Herbert and the Minister in charge of the Bill to say how many organizations -would remain registered under the Act if the new clause were agreed to. I venture to say that within a fortnight of the passing of such a provision every trade union in Australia would withdraw from the Arbitration Court. If it be the desire of the Government to kill the present Act and the Arbitration Court, they will effectively carry out that desire by accepting the amendment. Honorable members opposite may say that the onus of withdrawing from the Court would be thrown upon the . trade union organizations, but I venture to say that no trade unionist would for a moment advise his organization to continue registration under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act if this clause were accepted. However much the honorable member for Herbert may detest strikes and may desire to do away with them, the clause he now proposes would, if accepted, bring about more strikes in this community than we have had for years past. Every trade union organization would be up in arms against it. They will not permit this Parliament to from them the right to manage their own affairs. We have recognised trade unions and we made them legal some years ago.

Mr Bamford - Does the honorable member not think that the people most deeply interested should have some say in the management of the affairs of an organization ?

Mr CHARLTON -I say that the people most deeply interested are the people concerned..

Mr Richard Foster - Who are the people concerned?

Mr CHARLTON - The employees, the employers, and the general public.


Mr CHARLTON - Who are those chiefly concerned in connexion with an industrial organization? Are they not the members of the organization, and should they not have the right to manage their own affairs?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They are not the persons chiefly concerned.

Mr CHARLTON - Would the honorable member contend that similar legislation should apply in connexion with any big company composed of numerous shareholders? He has not advocated that, and would not advocate it. It is intended that this provision shall apply only to working people in this country-

Mr Richard Foster - The honorable member has not quoted a parallel case.

Mr CHARLTON - It would be impossible to quote what the honorable member would regard as a parallel case, because he thinks this legislation should apply to one side only. However much the women may be interested in these matters, and I admit that they are interested, because I have gone through strikes as other honorable members have done, and I know the extent to which women are interested, I venture to say that the womenfolk of the workers of this country would not thank the honorable member for Herbert for proposing this new' clause, or this House for accepting it. ' The womenfolk of the workers of this country are amongst the best fighters we have in connexion with industrial troubles.

Mr Richard Foster - They are the biggest sufferers.

Mr CHARLTON - They suffer in silence, because they know that their bread-winners are doing the best they can to better their position, and in so doing to better the position of their wives and children. Are we to be told at this time and in this enlightened age that it is necessary to incorporate a provision of this kind in the Conciliation and Arbitra tion Act? There is not one honorable member on the other side who can justify the acceptance of the amendment. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been in existence for years, and we only recently passed a Bill through this House to deal with industrial differences, which is now under consideration in another place, but we made no provision for this sort of thing in that measure at all. I do not know what the Minister proposes to do, but I wish to know whether he intends to accept the amendment or not. If he does accept it he can say good-bye to arbitration. If he desires to effectively kill the present Act, the way to do that is to accept the amendment.

Mr Richard Foster - Would the honorable member allow a ballot of the members of an organization to be taken by an electoral officer?

Mr CHARLTON - I will never prevent a ballot being taken by their own officials. They can manage their own affairs.

Mr Richard Foster - Apparently they could not do so at Broken Hill.

Mr CHARLTON - It is suggested that these ballots are not taken fairly, and I want to say that so far as I know, they are always conducted fairly and above-board. In my own district, it is safe to say that we have one of the most militant unions in Australia. We have 8,000 members, and whenever a ballot is taken it is taken at the pit's mouth. When the men come up from their work each is given a ballot-paper. There are scrutineers to see that no man gets more than one ballot-paper, and that only members of the organization are given papers. In that way the decision of the men is recorded on the matter referred to them. I ask whether anything could be fairer? We do not want any one to interfere with the management of our affairs.

Mr Bamford - But the people concerned.

Mr CHARLTON - One would think, to listen to the arguments and inter jections of honorable members, that the whole thought of trade unionists is to create trouble and have strikes, whereas no one detests a strike more than do the members of trade union organizations and their officials.

Mr Richard Foster - Some of them.

Mr CHARLTON - Very often people are led to form a false impression by what appears in the press. They do not thoroughly understand -what the men are endeavouring to do. Statements are made with a view to bettering the condition of men, and at once people jump to the conclusion that those who make such statements are endeavouring to create trouble, and wish to stop a particular industry. That, however, is the thing farthest from their minds. They never think of it. What does a strike mean to them ? It means nothing but trouble for them. It means the most anxious time which men leading the trade union movement can have. I have had to go through it myself, and I know that the officials of trade unions detest strikes, but they have to protect the interests of the members of their organizations.

The rules of these organizations can be seen; they are registered in the different States, and are recognised under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Now, the honorable member for Herbert comes along with a proposal to take away from the members of trade union organizations their rights in regard to certain matters, because, forsooth, some members of the Committee do not approve of what they occasionally find it necessary to do. Whilst they are prepared to deal with employees in this way, they have not one word to say about treating employers in the same way. The employers may declare a lockout because of the changed conditions due to an award, but honorable members opposite have not a word to say about them. The working men are to be tied up, and I repeat that honorable members opposite can accept this proposal if they so desire, but if they do accept it there will be an end to arbitration.

Mr Gregory - Can the honorable member not see that if effect is given to the proposed new clause it will legalize an otherwise illegal act.

Mr CHARLTON - I do not know what is intended, but I do know what will be the effect of passing such a provision. We have been doing certain things in connexion with arbitration in this Chamber recently, and I confess I do not know what is behind what is being done. I did not think that there was anything behind it until I received a copy of this proposed new clause. If the Minister in charge of the Bill intends to accept the amendment I will know that it is his intention to kill the Arbitration Act. Without consulting the industrial unions, I am confident that they will not accept this proposal, and I ask the Minister whether he intends to accept it or not.

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