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Tuesday, 31 August 1920

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) stands upon solid ground in opposing the proposed new clause. Under the new clause an offence, which is a very serious offence, if one may judge from the penalties attached to it, is extended, and the class of persons proposed to be reached is also extended. When we refer to the original Act, to which reference has already been made, we find that it is provided that -

An organization of employers or employees which for the purpose of enforcing compliance with the demands of any employers or employees orders its members to refuse to offer or accept employment shall be deemed to be guilty of a lockout or strike, as the case may he.

In the proposed new clause, taking my first objection to it, I find that the word " orders " in the section I have quoted has been extended to include " encourages, advises, or incites." Advising one to do a thing may, I suppose, be rightly classed to be a direction to do it, and a person who directs another to do athing may well be held responsible. But when we consider the meaning of the words " encourages " and " incites," we get immediately into the realm of uncertainty, and we might easily find that persons or organizations would be held to be guilty of the offence with which the proposed new clause deals, by the use of language or of conduct which might certainly not be intended to give rise to an offence, and might be nothing more than a legitimate expression of candid opinion, upon, perhaps, a very difficult problem.I do not propose to support the extension of the offence in that way at all. These words are far too vague and general. Where such heavy penalties are attached to a so-called offence, the language used is much too indefinite.

When we come next to the class of persons to be reached, and this, perhaps, is a more important part of the proposed new clause, we find it stated that -

For the purposes of this section, an organization shall be deemed to have ordered, encouraged, advised, or incited its members to refuse to offer oraccept employment if -

(a)   the Committee of Management of the organization has ordered, encouraged, incited, or advised members of the organization to refuse to offer or accept employment; or

(b)   an officer or officers of the Committee of Management has or have ordered, encouraged, advised, or incited members of the organization to refuse to offer or accept employment - and then follows the saving clause. That is a very important departure from the principal Act, because here it is proposed to make men liable for offences committed by some other person. The whole organization is to become liable to these extremely heavy penalties by reason of the fact that the Committee of Management has incited members of it to do certain things. The Minister himself has pointed out that the whole spirit of this legislation is to deal with organized bodies. The original Act provides for the very severe and drastic punishment of an organization. What is proposed here is a penalty for what might be called a quasi-criminal offence, and to make the whole of an organisation, and therefore every member of it, liable for something which the Committee of Management does is, to my mind, most unjust. It is unjust in the light of the fact that language which is considered to be merely an incitement or encouragement renders the person who uses it subject to very severe penalties. There seems an element of clear vindictiveness in this extension of the clause to the persons to whom it is intended to apply. If we are dealing with organizations, let us convict the organizations, and if we are dealing with persons, let us convict the persons. I do not applaud the legislation at all, because we should not make men subject to penalties who are thought to have committed offences unconsciously through their agents. A Committee of Management is set up, and because of some resolutions which the Government think ill-considered or unwise, every member of the organization, and the organization itself, may become liable, and extremely heavy penalties can be inflicted.

Mr Maxwell - It would make an organization careful in selecting a Committee of Management.

Mr BRENNAN - I agree that, as far as terrorizing organizations are concerned, it may be effective, and as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) suggests, it may make them more careful. In our daily life,penalties are easily incurred, and people are careful, but if they are afraid of some transgression in carrying out their daily avocations because the law makes them so, it does not follow that the law is a good one. I think that the principle is bad, because it makes a man responsible in a quasi-criminal way for the acts of others. The language is dangerous in character, and it seems to me that the clause is intended to apply to persons in the community who are ordinarily supposed to be in opposition to the present Government. I oppose the proposed new clause.

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