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Thursday, 25 September 1941

Senator LARGE (New South Wales) . - I did not intend to participate in this debate, but the matters which have been ventilated during the last two days are of such vital importance to the community that I feel impelled to deal with them. I listened with interest to the Minister for Information (Senator .Foll), who attempted to justify the attitude of the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) when he made his apologia in the House of Representatives, and endeavoured to fasten the tag of communism upon honorable senators on this side of the chamber. The Minister said that the Labour party was divided by Communist activities. I happen to belong to that section of the Labour party which did not accuse others of being engaged in Communist activities. If, in the heat of debate, and in the tense situation which was created about that time, certain charges were made, it does not necessarily follow that those charges rested on a solid foundation. The Minister also said that a secret fund had been in existence for years, and that these activities had. been going on over a long period. That is merely an attempt to cloud the issue, and to confuse the minds of the people who are likely to read the explanations that are being made. The fund which the Minister for Information attempted to ally with this secret fund established early last year was brought into being as a result of the activities of one or two hens which became famous without knowing it, and by means of their product, were able to make history at a plate named Warwick many years ago, on the occasion when the then Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) visited that district in the course of a conscription campaign, and attempted to justify the introduction of conscription. I well remember the occasion and, although I did not actually smell the eggs, I felt the reaction as far south as Sydney. The organization that was set Tip then was generally referred to as the Commonwealth Secret Police- I think that the correct name was the Commonwealth Investigation Branch- and its purpose was to unearth persons who were carrying on subversive activities, and to locate men who were willing to do a bit of spying. I mention that merely to indicate that the AttorneyGeneral, like the Minister for Information, has attempted to cloud the issue. Apparently nothing would have suited these gentlemen better than, with the aid of the press, to fasten the Communist bogy upon us. Now I understand that a royal commission is to be set up. I believe that it will do some good if it is appointed expeditiously, because until an exhaustive inquiry is made the officers of the miners' organizations are suspect. I hope that the royal commission will act without delay, and that its operations will be extended to inquire into these matters which have been responsible for that industrial unrest, which the organization referred to was set up to curb. Perhaps I may be able to offer a little advice in regard to the methods by which the unrest could be curbed. Quite recently a prominent parliamentarian returned to Australia from England and said that he was sorry to be coming back to take part in the "diabolical game of politics ". I ask honorable senators could there be anything more diabolical than attacking, slandering and accusing people by means of innuendo? I hope that the royal commission will inquire into the causes of industrial unrest, and that the history of events during the last war will be brought before it. During the war of 1914-1S, I happened to be on the executive of a powerful organization, the Amalgamated Engineers Union. That organization received a communication from the then Minister for Defence requesting it - I assume other organizations were also notified - to call off all industrial disputes, and to bend all energies towards a successful prosecution of the war. At that time my organization was engaged in a nonunionist campaign, which had almost reached finality. At the moment when the request was made, we were in the middle of a struggle with one of those octopus groups in this country, the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited. and for the first time in the history of our organization, we felt that we had it where we wanted it. However, we acceded to the Minister's request, and called off all industrial disputes. We did so on the promise that in return there would be no pin-pricking restrictions, no changes of policy, and no changes in the relationship between employer and employee, without a conference with, and the acquiescence of, our organization. I do not wish to go into the many ramifications of the matter, but early in 1917, in common with other executive officials, we realized that the employers intended to force a strike. We knew that ultimately we should have to take up the challenges that were being thrown down to us. What happened in 1917 when an attempt was made to introduce the American Taylor card system. We thought that we might as well fight on that issue as on any other. We took up that challenge and everyone knows the result of the fight. I mention that to show that conditions have not changed. In the early days of this war, the Commonwealth Government was anxious to have a 100 per cent, war effort throughout the munitions industries, and particularly in the metal trades. The metal workers' organization was approached with a view to obtaining a guarantee of continuity of work. A conference was called and a dilution agreement was entered into whereby the unionists who had built up certain industrial conditions after many years of struggle were prepared to abrogate some of their vital principles in a spirit of patriotism, in order that the output of munitions might be expedited. One clause in the agreement permitted a skilled labourer to be elevated to the position of a fitter. In many cases, in connexion with repetition work, a labourer, having been employed for a number of years in the company of a fitter, becomes fairly proficient at fitting, and, with a little tuition, can no doubt do the work almost as well as the fitter. It was agreed to allow skilled labourers to act as fitters, but only in the factories in which they had worked as skilled "labourers. It was not permissible under the agreement to bring a man from a distant factory and elevate him to the position of a fitter if his status in that factory had been that of a skilled labourer. We found afterwards that Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited was violating that clause at Port Kembla. When the matter was .brought before the Arbitration Court, Judge O'Mara said that, under the National Security Regulations, the agreement did not cover Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, which continued to dilute its labour until the regulations were tightened up. That action displays that the same tendency exists in this war as prevailed in the last war. Those of us who remember what happened in the last war are naturally chary about accepting any conditions unless they are backed by adequate assurances. In the present war, the employees of engineering firms in the Old Country declared at the outset that before they would give a guarantee of a 100 per cent, output, they wanted an adequate guarantee that they would not be subjected to " double-crossing " similar to that experienced during the last war.

If a genuine effort were made to discover and remedy the causes of industrial unrest, it would be unnecessary to set up the so-called Australian Democratic Front. Many statements have been made about, the coming of a new social order, and there are many conceptions of what that new order will be. The Opposition claims that a definite guarantee in the form, of an instalment of the new order might lead to an increased war effort in the metal and other trades. The employees realize that one of the results of the last war, which was said to have been waged in order to make the world safe for democracy and fit for heroes to live in, resulted merely in a man-made depression. That depression, however, may yet prove to have been a blessing in disguise. My observations show me that, prior to that depression, it would have been difficult to find half a dozen State or Commonwealth parliamentarians capable of carrying on half an hour's intelligent discussion on public finance, but to-day, all men employed on relief work take a lively interest in the financial affairs of Australia. Almost every other man one meets in the street knows more about public finance than did the average member of Parliament some years ago.

Finance was once regarded by the work ing man as scientific wizardry which was beyondhis powers of conception, hut his former ignorance has been, replaced by considerable understanding of financial matters. I hope that,when the royal commission is appointed, it will meet immediately and carry out its work expeditiously. There will be no necessity for a long-drawn-out inquiry. I hope that the commission will delve into the ca uses of industrial unrest and thus make secret organizations unnecessary. I hope that the Government will regard every hour between now and the time when the commission presents its report as a period of agony for those who, by innuendo, have become suspect with their fellow workers.

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