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Wednesday, 21 October 1931

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) .- by leave- The Prime Minister has just spoken on a subject akin to those which on a number of other occasions have been discussed in this House, interference with the maritime transport trade of Australia by a few irresponsible persons whose lead has. unfortunately, been followed by others. In this instance the Prime Minister has traced the substantial responsibility for the stoppage to a single individual, a communist. Apparently, the right honorable gentleman believes that in this case the dispute is communist in origin and intention. All the evidence appears to point in that direction.

As tho Prime Minister has stated, the position is grave. It i3 a particularly serious thing to hold up tho export trade of Australia at this time of the year. Lamb export is going on, and any delay in shipping means irretrievable losses. Unfortunately, for some years past, this season of the year has generally been chosen as the time to bring about a maritime hold-up.

I understand that this action is a deliberate breach of an- agreement by which the union is bound. The Prime Minister has not said anything about that. I must confess to a certain amount of astonishment that the information which the right honorable gentleman placed before the national Parliament on this very important matter is derived from the press - I admit that reports' from newspapers on both sides have been taken - and from the statement of tho officers of certain unions interested but not directly engaged in the dispute. There has been a conference before the Registrar of the Arbitration Court. I ' am not aware of any reason why the Registrar should not have forwarded to the Prime Minister at least an outline of the facts presented to him, without disclosing anything of a confidential nature, so that the Leader of the Government would be in a position to make an authoritativo statement to this House. The statement which the right honorable gentleman has made this afternoon amounts to an effort to persuade tho members of the Seamen's Union to resume work ; and in that effort he will . probably have the support of every member of this House. I admit that while the Prime Minister was speaking, my mind went back to the times when his predecessor spoke in the same strain on r similar subject. It is right for the Prime Minister to bring influence to bear upon tho members of the Union to resume work; but should they not return, another question willarise. In that case, if the Government realizes its responsibility - and the statement of the Prime Minister indicates that it does - other action will have to be taken, and the Government will have to consider the granting of protection in their employment to men, not members of the union, who are prepared to carry on the work of the country. That is precisely the position which the last Government had to face on a number of occasions.

Mr Holloway - The honorable member is inviting trouble.

Mr LATHAM - I do not say that action of that kind should be taken immediately, nor am I prepared to say in detail what that action might be; but I assure the House that legislation introduced by the late Government, and now on the statute-book, contains provisions which will enable the Government to act effectively should the members of the Seamen's Union decline to accept the wise advice of the Prime Minister. I sincerely hope that, in their own ultimate interests as well as in the immediate and ultimate interests of the country, the members of the union will have the wisdom and prudence to accept that advice. In that case, there would be no need for anything further to bo done; but if, on the other hand, they choose to disregard that advice, another question will arise.

I do not proposeto refer to the waterside workers' strike, or the regulations under the Transport Workers Act, although the right honorable gentleman himself raised those subjects. In my opinion, it is undesirable at the present stage to discuss other contingencies. Generally, I approve of the acceptance of responsibility on the part of the Government which the statement of the Prime Minister indicates; and if the Government will see the matter through, consistently with the general principles which the Prime Minister has enunciated this afternoon, I feel that he will have the support of honorable members on this side of the House.

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