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Thursday, 24 June 1926


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Nothing of the sort.


Senator NEEDHAM - The measure has been introduced to save the face of the Government and to counteract the influence against the Ministry, due to the adverse decision of the High Court in connexion with the deportation proceedings' last year. The Government stampeded the people to the ballot-box by persuading them that there was grave danger owing to the existence of unlawful associations and the attitude of communists. As a result of the election, the Government came back with an alleged mandate to take certain action. It passed the Crimes Bill, which is now a dead letter. Even if, in the opinion of the Government, the necessity arose for the exercise of the drastic power conferred on the Government by that act, the Government would not dare to use it, because in all probability the High Court would declare it to be unconstitutional. One of the leading newspapers in Victoria declared that no one took any pride in the Crimes Act, and that doubtless members of the Government secretly hoped that no more would be heard of it. The Melbourne Age, which cannot be regarded as a supporter of Labour's policy, said that " the foolishness and futility of the Crimes Act should be a warning to the Government against practising such precipitancy." Just as the Government was precipitate in connexion with its deportation legislation, with the amendment of the Navigation Act and the passing of the Crimes Bill, so is it precipitate now in asking Parliament to pass this bill to give it extended constitutional powers to deal with essential services in certain circumstances. . ti al services in. certain circumstances. No one can contend that the Government has a mandate to ask for this extraordinary power. The measure contains only one clause. Let us analyse it and see just what powers are being sought by the Government. Let us see what it means.


Senator Ogden - It means what it says.


Senator NEEDHAM - I am not so much concerned with what the bill says as with what it means, and with, its probable effect if administered by the present Government. I invite honorable senators to recall what happened under the War Precautions Act. I admit that I voted for that measure. I should not do so again because it placed extraordinary powers in the hands of the government of the day.


Senator Foll - At that time the Government required extraordinary powers.


Senator NEEDHAM - I agree that when the State is in danger, extraordinary powers should be granted to the Ministry, but even Senator Foll will admit that the War Precautions Act was employed for purposes other than the original intention, and that the powers given under it to the Government were used for many years after the war. This bill is really a repetition of war precautions legislation. It seeks to clothe the Government of the day with extraordinary power to deal with certain situations that may .arise. I listened carefully to the speech of the Minister (Senator Pearce) when moving the second reading, and I heard no sound argument in favour of the bill. The Minister drew heavily upon his imagination. He instanced the police strike in Melbourne and advanced that episode as one reason why the Senate should pass the bill. The police strike was in every sense most regrettable, but even if the Government had had the extended powers which are now sought it could not have done more than was possible at that time with its then existing powers. The Minister did not tell us that. The Government of which he was a member could have taken steps to prevent an extension of that trouble. He spoke about mob rule and said that, for a time, Melbourne was in a state of subjugation by a rabble which might have raided the Victoria Barracks, where there were arms and ammunition, and might have raided the Treasury. But that did not happen. The Minister knows that the State Government could have called upon the Federal authorities to deal with any untoward situation that might have arisen at that time. Why did not the Federal Government direct a section of the Military Forces to protect the Treasury or the Victoria Barracks?


Senator Pearce - We did.


Senator NEEDHAM - The Minister referred at length to the possibility of danger on that occasion, but he did not say that the services of an armed guard were requisitioned.


Senator Reid - He did.


Senator Pearce - Yes, the bluejackets were protecting Federal buildings, but nothing else.


Senator NEEDHAM - They could be protected now, by the same means, in the event of serious industrial disturbances. As the Crimes Act is inoperative, the Government desires to have the power to act in the event of the workers of Australia asserting themselves.


Senator Reid - Does not the honorable senator think that some authority should have the power to intervene on behalf of the people in the event of a crisis?


Senator NEEDHAM - We are in a different position from Great Britain, where the people are under one government. In Australia we have six sovereign States and a Federal Government, each acting within its own sphere; and on all occasions the States have exercised their powers to protect the people.


Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The Western Australian Government in a recent case, did not.


Senator NEEDHAM - The Western Australian Government has never failed to protect the people. The Minister, in moving the second reading of the bill, referred to the trouble on the Fremantle wharf during the shipping dispute; but the Collier Government took all the necessary action to protect the people of that State. When Mr. Collier declined to call upon the police he was blamed by this Government, and when their assistance was obtained his action was condemned.


Senator Pearce - That is not so.


Senator NEEDHAM - Mr. Collier, the responsible head of the Western Australian Government, showed much discretion in acting as he did. As the Government has now found that it cannot take the action it desires under the Crimes Act, it has introduced this bill in a vain endeavour to keep its promise with the people to intervene in the event of a serious industrial upheaval. It has been made abundantly clear that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are strongly opposed to strikes. In speaking yesterday on the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, I stated that we believe in industrial disputes being settled by reason and not by force. Although our efforts are sometimes fruitless. Australia is not, as Senator Barwell depicted it, the home of strikes. Even if an industrial crisis should occur, the governing authorities would have all the power necessary under the Constitution as it stands.


Senator Sir Henry Barwell - What would be the position if we had a general strike in Australia?


Senator NEEDHAM - The States affected could exercise the powers they possess.


Senator Sir Henry Barwell - There could be no concerted action.


Senator NEEDHAM - If the action taken by the States was ineffective, the Commonwealth could intervene. If the Government is given the power it is now seeking, I am afraid it will be ruthlessly exercised. The Age newspaper, which criticizes the Government at times, but always solidly supports the Nationalist party when an election is approaching, says of this measure -

The proposal is an amazing instance of ministerial arrogance. There is not the slightest suggestion that the States have in this connexion proved too timid or too feeble to function. Many times they have been confronted with such crises as the Essential Services Bill anticipates, and their powers have, for the most part, proved adequate.

In the opinion of the Age the States have not been too timid or too feeble to act. The article continues -

The prediction is that at some vague future date some dread thing may happen. It may, but it has not happened in the past 25 years of federation. The States have been able to cope with every situation. It has not been the power of the States that has kept the social order intact; far more really has it been the self-respect and common sense of the citizens. Even in the direst industrial trouble the Australian people have always kept their heads level.

Nothing has occurred to warrant the Government being clothed with such comprehensive and extraordinary powers. Australians are law-abiding citizens, and lovers of fair play and liberty; and they will show their objections to the Government proposals when the referendum is taken. Yesterday the Government passed an amending Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, under which the powers of the Arbitration Court are to be extended, and which we hope will be the means of helping to preserve industrial peace inAustralia. Simultaneously with the pronouncement that we have the ability not only to settle, but also to prevent, industrial disputes, the Government brings forward another proposal, under which it intends to use force against force. We on thi! side advocate the settlement of industrial disputes by methods of reason ; but honorable senators opposite evidently wish to apply force. That is not right. If the bill is accepted by the people, and becomes a part of the Constitution, the use of the powers which it confers will aggravate, rather than minimize, industrial trouble. The Imperial Parliament passed emergency legislation to deal with an existing disturbance. That is the only justification which can be advanced for the passage of such a measure. Ours is not a parallel position. This legislation is introduced in anticipation of something occurring that has not yet occurred.


Senator Pearce - The Commonwealth Parliament has not the power to pass emergency legislation. It is asking the people to give it that power.


Senator NEEDHAM - I know that the Commonwealth has not the power. But the States have; and, in addition, the Commonwealth has sufficient power under the Constitution to go to the assistance of the States if their machinery fails. The Minister (Senator Pearce) admitted that the Government could bring down legislation similar to that which was passed recently in Great Britain. The position in that country is not comparable with ours, because the States of the Commonwealth have sovereign powers, and at their invitation the Commonwealth can intervene in case of domestic violence. We have not seen the Imperial act, but some of its regulations have been printed in the newspapers. Under it a policeman could be authorized to arrest without a warrant, and the authorities could search any building in which they had reason to believe that documents calculated to cause mutiny or disaffection among the Crown forces or civilians were being printed or issued. Even persons who were writing letters in their own homes were arrested, because a letter was considered to be a document. Meetings and processions which the authorities apprehended were likely to provoke disorder could be prohibited. If such legislation as that were passed in Australia, where would be our rights and liberties, or our freedom of speech ? I shall quote one or two utterances by a very eminent gentleman, who took a considerable part in the framing, of our Constitution, and afterwards became Prime Minister of Australia. I refer to the late Mr. Alfred Deakin. Speaking on the 19th October, 1910, he said-

Are we not prepared to trust the people of Australia after next year with some competence for dealing with any situation when it arises ?

Those words are pregnant with meaning, and they were uttered by a true Australian, who helped to shape the destinies of Australia. Are the people of Australia less intelligent or reliable to-day than they were in 1910 ? I do not think that they are. During the sixteen years that have elapsed, their intelligence and reliability have become greater, and they have always shown themselves able to handle any situation, that has arisen. Every man and woman in Australia has the right to vote for their representatives in the State and Commonwealth parliaments, and they can be relied upon to choose parliaments that will look after their interests. Mr. Deakin went on to say-

Are we not prepared to trust them (the people) to meet any . . . emergencies and difficulties ... if they arise and when they arise? ... Is all wisdom to die with us, and all power to meet emergencies and contingencies to be strapped down by a statute-book? . . . Let us trust them as we trust ourselves. ... It is our children that are to follow us. Let us trust to them as probably more competent, more Australian in spirit, and less hampered by provincial considerations or day dreams of redemption by mere law-making methods. . . . Let us face the situation manfully to-day, leaving our country better provided than we found it, with the means of progress and without loss of liberty, still free to meet fresh difficulties and fresh trials as they arise, strong in the faith that our, race has so long justified. It is quite evident that this Government is not prepared to trust the people to handle an emergency when it arises, but> that, on the contrary, it wants them to be strapped down by statute. I shall now quote the remarks of another honorable gentleman, who to-day occupies the position of Prime Minister. I hope that he will long retain his health and strength, but I am not anxious that he shall continue for a lengthy period in the position of Prime Minister. Speaking on the 27th June, 1925, Mr. Bruce is reported as having said -

He would appeal to all those engaged in industry to recognize that success could only be achieved by the co-operation of employer and. employee.

Why does he not, as the head of the Government, practice what he preaches? Why does he propose to threaten the employees that, unless they obey the orders of their employers in all things, the military and naval units will be called out, in the event of an industrial disturbance, to terrorize them into submission? He has discarded co-operation," and proposes to resort to force. The Minister (Senator Pearce), in his second-reading speech, complained that the Government of the State of Western Australia did not take action to protect a Customs official; and, later, he condemned that Government for sending police, armed with rifles and ball cartridge, to the wharfs during the progress of the British seamen's strike.


Senator Pearce - I did not condemn it for doing that; I said it had done the right thing..


Senator NEEDHAM - The right honorable gentleman said that that action was not taken soon enough. He found fault with Mr. Collier for not immediately obeying the behest of the Commonwealth. Mr. Collier used his own discretion as the head of a responsible Government. I can imagine the reply which the right honorable gentleman would make if he .'were the Premier of a State and a Federal Minister told him to take certain action. When he was a Minister in the Fisher Government, the Queensland Government asked for Commonwealth assistance, and I remember the answer which he gave. Time passes and opinions change. Mr. Collier did the right thing. I believe that the Premier and the Government of every State would do what they considered was the right thing at the right time. Even if this alteration is not made in the Constitution, the Commonwealth has sufficient power to deal with domestic violence. I have dealt with the most important features of the bill, and, since I realize that the measure must be passed by to-morrow to enable the people to be given an early opportunity to express their opinion upon it, I shall conclude by remarking that honorable senators on this side of the chamber will oppose it at every stage, and advise the people to vote against it. There is no necessity for the measure, because, if the contingencies contemplated arise, the Commonwealth and the States already have ample powers to deal with" them.

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL (South Australia) [4.37]. - In supporting this bill I shall confine my remarks within a very narrow compass. Speaking on the bill providing for an amendment of the Constitution, regarding the powers of the Commonwealth over commerce and industry, I expressed the opinion that, because of the complicated nature of the proposal,the Government was guilty of undue haste in forcing the matter forward in the short time allowed. To a cer-. tain extent I think that the same charge might be urged against the Government in regard to the present bill, not because it is complicated, but because it is not a measure of extreme urgency. The bill might well have been delayed until the revision of the Constitution next year, at the- proposed constitutional session, or at a convention, if one is to be held. I agree, however, that an amendment of the Constitution, such as is contemplated by this bill is necessary, and since the previous measure will no doubt . be passed, and a referendum will be taken shortly, I intend to vote for the present bill, because the question raised in it might as well be put to the people at the same time as the other matter. Every national government should have power to protect the community against not only external aggression, but also internal violence, particularly if the latter threatened to dislocate the essential services of the country. Of course a measure of this kind will give power to legislate in regard to not only internal violence, but also, for instance, the holding up of transport. One has only to imagine the possible results of an upheaval, such as occurred in Great Britain recently. Senator Needham seems to think that such a thing is impossible.


Senator Needham - I did not say so.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - Then I shall take it that he admits the possibility of such an occurrence. In that case ample power should be vested in the Commonwealth authorities to deal with it. The honorable senator contends that the power lies in the States at the present time, and I am prepared to consider the matter from that point of view. He said that he could not see why we should place upon the statute-books, legislation to deal with something that may or may not occur. That is a most extraordinary statement. Surely there should be legislation to deal with such a condition of affairs as was outlined by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce). The bill seeks power to pass emergency legislation to deal with upheavals of an extraordinary character. It is true that the State Parliaments have power to take action in case of domestic violence occurring within their respective limits; but when an upheaval affects the whole of the Commonwealth, action needs to be concerted, and the power required to deal with such a situation effectively, should rest with the national government. Senator Needham remarked that this bill was merely a piece of strike-breaking machinery, intended to be used in the event of strikes. It is useless to attempt to hide the fact that that is probably in the mind of the Government. So far as strikes attended with violence, or strikes that threaten essential services are concerned. It is certainly in my mind, and I have not much doubt that the power may be required principally for that purpose.


Senator Needham - A very frank confession !


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - But should not the Government have power to deal with a condition of domestic violence occurring as the result of a strike ? Does Senator Needham think that organized labour has the right to hold the nation to ransom merely because some employees have a dispute with their employers? Does he contend that organized labour has the right to hold up transport and food supplies, starving the populace to enable it to enforce its claims against employers ? That is the argument he has submitted.


Senator Needham - No. I say that if such a condition arose the State Government could deal with it, and, if they failed to do so, power already exists under the Constitution for the Commonwealth authorities to take the necessary action.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I point out that the States might not deal with such a situation. The honorable senator quoted with approval a statement by the Melbourne Age that there is no suggestion that the State Governments have ever been too feeble to function adequately. I contend that there is more than a suggestion of that, and I remind honorable senators of what occurred in connexion with the shipping strike in

Western Australia and the railway strike in Queensland. There the State Governments did not do what was necessary to safeguard the interests of the States and of the Commonwealth generally.


Senator Pearce - In any case, how can any State Government maintain coal supplies ?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - Exactly. I propose to deal with that point.


Senator Needham - In the event of the coal miners going on strike, and transport being held up, would the Government, under this bill, take over the coal mines and work them?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - I do not know. But if there was a railway strike that prevented South Australia from obtaining coal from New South Wales, my State would be completely cut off and would have no remedy. The New South Wales Government might be prepared to transport the coal through its State; but Victoria might refuse, in which case South Australia would be helpless unless the central authority had power under the Constitution to deal with the position.


Senator Needham - I contend that the necessary power is already contained in the Constitution.


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - In a case of domestic violence the Commonwealth has no right to intervene except at the request of the State.


Senator Needham - Then in such circumstances as the honorable senator has described, why should not one of the States referred to ask for the assistance of the Federal authority ?

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.But the States might refuse to ask the Commonwealth to intervene.


Senator Pearce - And in such a case there might be no domesticviolence.

Senator Sir HENRYBARWELL.Exactly. It might be simply a matter of food supplies. It might be necessary to protect the lives and properties of the community; simply because of the holding up of transport. If Tasmania is cut off from the mainland on account of a shipping strike, the Commonwealth has no power to take action.


Senator Needham - Then why did this Parliament amend the Navagation Act recently?


Senator Sir HENRY BARWELL - That measure does not deal with the domestic situation, hut only with foreign or overseas shipping. It will be admitted that any national government would be national in name only if, at a time when essential public services were held up, it had not power to act in the interests of the community. Every other national government has that power at the present time. The fact that it does now now rest in the hands of the Commonwealth authorities 'is due to a mere oversight, and the sooner it is conferred upon them the better. If a big national crisis is to be dealt with effectively, it will be useless to have six State Governments adopting independent lines of action. There must be prompt and concerted action by one central authority. I feel sure that the measure will appeal to every honorable senator who brings his common sense to bear upon it.







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