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Friday, 23 October 1931

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) (Prime Minister) .- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) has moved the adjournment of the House to discuss a subject 0:1 which I made a statement on Wednesday, which he. ha3 partly reviewed. I withdraw not one word from that statement. No information that I have received has caused me to change my view a3 to the origin of this dispute. The words that I used on Wednesday stand. I have received no information from any source that would show that the origin of the dispute is other than as indicated by the representations that we then had. On Wednesday the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that it was remarkable that the Government could not get fuller information. I was not in a position to reply to that statement when it was made; I had not an opportunity; but I say now that the Government sought through every official channel to get information. The honorable member suggested that we should have got into touch with the Registrar of the Arbitration Court. We had already done so ; but that official was not at the conference. We asked if he could ascertain for us what was officially recognized at the conference as the subject in dispute; and the reply came that the conference took place in camera, and he was not free to disclose the discussion that occurred there. I think that that was a sound position to take. When an attempt is being made to settle a dispute by conciliation, the worst thing that can be done is to give publicity to the discussion. I make no complaint about that reply; I merely mention it to show why we failed to get information from that source.

The point was fairly raised by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that I should have got into touch with the union, and I replied that I had done so. The statement is published to-day that I made my statement first, and consulted the union afterwards. That is not correct. I sent an urgent telegram on Wednesday morning to the secretary of the union in Sydney, and made it a reply-paid message, to ensure that there should be no delay. I received a reply from Sydney after I had spoken in the House, informing me that the secretary was in Melbourne. I communicated with the secretary in Melbourne, and that evening I got the answer that he was on his way to Sydney, and would reply to mo from there. I have not yet received that reply from him.

I have had no intimation from the shipowners as to what they regard as the origin of the dispute. I received a telegram from the shipowners, which was published in the press, in which I was asked to do two things on behalf of the Government. The first was to urge the men to man the ships. I did that, in as definite language as I could employ. In the second place, I was urged, should they find it necessary to call for volunteers to man the ships in the event of the ordinary crews refusing to do so, to say that this Government would not interfere in that matter. I think that I made that pretty plain in my statement on Wednesday. I made it clear that on all the information we have as to the origin of this dispute, Ave could not, and indeed no government could, countenance it. That is a declaration that the Government will not be behind the wanton holding up of the shipping of this country on the score of the alleged victimization of a man of the character of Joseph Schelley, who had not been to sea for eight years, but who created trouble a few weeks after he joined a ship. We cannot throw the resources of the Government behind anybody who precipitates trouble in that way. It is recognized generally that the Government has adopted a proper attitude; but in some quarters already its action has been sneered and jeered at. Some sections of the press have charged the Government with saying things, and not being prepared to do them. There is even an implication in the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) to-day - though in mild language, I admit - that we are allowing this dispute to drag on. What dragging on have we allowed? The Government has certain powers, but these are limited. Ministers must be permitted to exercise their judgment as a government as to what action should be taken, and as to what power they have to take action.I remind the House that when the coal trouble was in progress, a question was asked by the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Long), who wanted to know what action would be taken by the Government to prosecute the coal-owners for a lockout, and the answer given by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) was - "I am not prepared to announce in advance what action the Government is prepared to take."

Mr Latham - I recognized, I think, in what I said, the position of the Government in that regard.

Mr SCULLIN - I am not going to tell the people what power the Government does not possess, or what action ii contemplates, until we know what we can do, and what authority we have for doing it. I said in answer to a question asked yesterday by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that the Government will enforce the law, but we will not run amok, and we will not be provocative. The restoration of the shipping service rests at the present time with those who control shipping, and with those who own the ships. The Government does not own or run ships, but it will protect the citizens of this community, whoever they are, who carry on the services of this country. I have been jeered at by one section of the press because I said that the Commonwealth Government would support the State authorities in enforcing the law against those who committed overt acts in breach of the law. " Skulking behind the State," was a phrase applied to this attitude in a responsible newspaper.

Mr Long - What journal was that?

Mr SCULLIN - The Sydney Daily Telegraph. One of the last things we want in this country is unnecessary intervention by the military authorities in civil matters.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!

Mr SCULLIN - The only power the Commonwealth authorities wield in regard to overt acts against the public peace is the military power. One of the dangers of federation, which was pointed out in the early days by that great statesman, the late H. B. Higgins, is the division of authority between the military and the police. The great safeguard put into the Constitution was that the Commonwealth authorities must act only at the request of, and in co-operation with, the State authorities in regard to military intervention.

I take this opportunity to say that there are mischievous people in both camps at the present time. The official report that I have from Sydney this morning is to the effect that the resolution carried at the meeting of the Seamen's Union was the action, not of the members of that union, but of a body of men who meet on land and do not go to sea. That is one of the weaknesses of the organization, that the persons "who have most to say as to who shall man the ships are not those who do man the ships.

Mr Hughes - Who was in the chair?

Mr SCULLIN - That I cannot ascertain. The previous report stated that the man who occupied the chair was Joseph Schelly, but I was not able to learn who was chairman on this occasion.

Mr Hughes - It would, be advisable to find out whether it was the president of the union.

Mr SCULLIN - I have already asked the Crown Law authorities to prosecute inquiries into all details in every seaport affected, so that the Government may be armed with full information. I do not propose to announce publicly every fact as we gather it. The information that we have received up to date is that 24 hours' notice has been given by the men, and this notice expires at 5 p.m. to-day. Until then we shall not know what action will be taken. Some ships are due to sail this afternoon, and our information is that the intention is that they shall sail. What will happen later, I do not know, and I have no desire to precipitate matters. My information is to the effect that there is a very ugly feeling among the men, due largely, my informant states, to the public attitude and public declarations of the New Guard. That organization should keep out of the trouble, and should cease from issuing declarations. Besides inquiring into the activities of communists, we are also seeking information regarding the activities of the New Guard, and any action by either organization, resulting in a breach of the Commonwealth law, will be dealt with. We must have evidence, however, in all such cases. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested, out of the fullness of his experience as Attorney-General, it is much easier for public speakers and newspaper writers to declare a man guilty than it is for the authorities to prove a case against him in a court of law. I do not know whether I ought to say more on that subject now.

As honorable members know, the Arbitration Court has authority to take action, and it has already done so. The best action that can be taken in the early stages of any industrial trouble is to put into operation the conciliation sections of the act. That has been done. If any section of an award is broken, either party to the award can take action; the Government has no authority to do so. Ithas been suggested that action might be taken under the Crimes Act, but section 30 k of that act applies only if violence, intimidation, or boycott has been, proved. There is another section which deals with the issuing of proclamations. The Government desires to see the transport services of this country carried on.

I repeat the warning I uttered on Wednesday, together with the appeal I made to the men, not to be guilty of the folly of throwing the transport services out of action for the time being, thereby putting themselves out of. employment for an indefinite time. That must be the result if they continue with the line of action they have adopted. They will injure themselves and their organization, and throw thousands of other persons out of work. I regard the action of a group of men acting in opposition to the advice of their duly-elected leaders, and without consulting with other organizations directly affected, as the antithesis of unionism. Theirs is the action of unionbreakers, and not of unionists. I feel strongly on this matter, and, as head of the Government, will take such action as may be necessary to ensure that the laws of the country are enforced, so far as we have power to enforce them; but I shall do that in a sane, not in a provocative, way.

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