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Thursday, 7 December 1905

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - Honorable members scarcely seem to recognise the enormous sacrifice that the Opposition are making in giving up the opportunity to raise the cry of the "six hatters" at the next general election. When one of our workers is thrown out of employment, what satisfaction he will derive from the knowledge that a fellow-Britisher has taken his place ! His wife and family will certainly enjoy the sentiment arising out of the situation. The honorable member for North Sydney has appealed to our patriotism, and we should not profess to be patriots unless we are prepared to sacrifice something. Why should not an Australian worker show his patriotism by handing over his billet to a Britisher? But, after all, I do not think that there is much in this proposal to occasion alarm. All that trade unionism has ever demanded from an employer is that he shall observe reasonable hours and conditions of labour. We object to a man discharging an- employ6 because he is a unionist, but we have never denied the right of an employer to engage whomsoever he pleases.

Mr Hutchison - I have taken part in a strike, because an employer declined to give a reason for discharging one of his hands.

Mr SPENCE - I have taken part in a dispute arising out of the dismissal of a man because he was a unionist. But having regard to the other provisions of the Bill, I do not see that there is much reason to be alarmed at this proposal. I believe that the possibility of employers expending large sums of money in importing labour from abroad will be reduced.

Mr Frazer - Have not the workers to make good that expenditure?

Mr SPENCE - Certainly. I am opposed to the introduction of contract labour under any conditions, and have never known of a case where men entering into a contract abroad to serve in Australia have not been -misled. One large firm in New South Wales has imported men supposed to have a special knowledge of certain machinery, and after learning all that they could teach them, has thrown them on the labour market. In the circumstances, however, if the Government are- prepared to accept this amendment, I shall not strongly oppose it.

Mr. HUTCHISON(Hindmarsh).When I spoke to this question a few minutes ago, I said that an interpretation could be placed upon the amendment different from that given by the honorable member for North Sydney, and since discussing the matter with him, I have found that my statement is absolutely correct. I said that I should be prepared to give a preference to Britishers, as against other workers from abroad, but this amendment will go much further than that. I do not intend to forsake the principles of the Labour Party, for which I fought long before this Parliament was established, nor shall I break the pledges which I gave when on the hustings. T am opposed to the introduction of contract labour, and should have been pleased to see clause 3 in this Bill negatived ; but as that has not been done, I do not wish its provisions to be weakened.

Mr. FRAZER(Kalgoorlie).- I should like to hear some expression of opinion from the leader of the Government on this amendment. I hope the honorable and learned gentleman will not be opposed to a modification of the proposal in the event of its being shown that it is likely to have the effect of directly supplanting Australian labour. The argument advanced from the other side, that an employer is not likely to go to the expense of importing labourers from distant countries when men are to be had at his own door, is met by the fact that it is invariably a condition of these contracts that the workman shall, out of his first wages, refund the expense to which the employer has been put in importing him. I am credibly informed that shortly after the six hatters were introduced, the services of a number of tradesmen in the employment of the same manufacturer. were mysteriously dispensed with.

Mr Lonsdale - He wants more now.

Mr FRAZER - I am g,lad to hear that the Sydney industries are in a flourishing condition, as the result of the operation of the Federal Tariff. They would boom with another 10 per cent. The amendment is enticing, and has no doubt a patriotic flavour about it, but I am sorry that the Prime Minister should be willing, by accepting it, to prevent the realization of the ambition of the Australian workers.

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