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Friday, 4 March 1932


Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) (Assistant Treasurer) .- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and some of his supporters, have suggested in respect of a recent decision of the Government affecting the Public Service, that we are antagonistic to trade unionism, and that this is the first of a series of efforts to destroy unionism. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Baker) has said that the Moore Government of Queensland ha3 been trying to destroy trade unionism, and that this Government is following its example. There is not the slightest ground for that statement.


Mr SCULLIN - The repeal of a Public Service regulation is, in itself, a ground for that suggestion, and the repeal of the waterside workers regulations affords still more solid ground.


Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - That is not so. No intelligent person to-day would endeavour to destroy trade unionism. It is a movement which has conferred many benefits upon the workers, and, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr.' Holloway) has told us, has rendered great service to industry generally. I quite agree with the view that has been expressed by some honorable members opposite that in the absence of trade unionism the successful conduct of industry would be impracticable, and the honest employer would be at a great disadvantage in competition with an unscrupulous and disreputable rival. But 1 u Kerry deny that the Government is opposed to trade unionism. The members of parties in this House necessarily differ as to what is best for the country, the conduct of trade unions, and many other matters; but this disagreement does not justify the baseless suggestion that the Government intends to destroy the great and useful trade union movement.

The Leader of the Opposition said that evidence that the Government is opposed to trade unionism is supplied by the recent waterfront regulations. " Do we want any more evidence?" he asked. I would remind the right honorable gentleman that the last Government, of which he was the leader, gave absolute preference to the members of the Waterside Workers Federation and to a few returned soldiers. In doing so that Government gave preference to men who had defied an award of the Arbitration Court, and had disorganized the transport services of this country. In consequence of the trouble which was constantly occurring on the waterfront, the preceding Government, with which I was associated, was forced to take action, and to ask for assistance in maintaining essential services. We gave an undertaking to the volunteers who came to the help of the country that they would be protected in their employment, and that so long as we were in power they would not be deprived of their work on the waterfront. When Ave were defeated, and the Scullin Government succeeded us, full preference was again given to the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, regardless of the undertaking which had been given to the volunteer workers. Should we not, therefore, now honour the solemn pledges given to the volunteers with the full approval of a majority of the Australian people?


Mr SCULLIN - This Government is giving preference to non-unionists.


Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - On another occasion I shall be quite ready to argue the whole question ; I merely wish to show now that what has been done on the waterfront in no way indicates lack of sympathy on our part with trade unionism.

The point stressed by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition amounts to this: The' organizations which represent certain sections of the Public Service have done good work for their members in increasing the remuneration of public servants and improving the conditions which they enjoy, and it is unfair that persons who do not contribute to their funds should share the privileges gained by successful appeals to the Public Service Arbitrator. Undoubtedly there must be some sympathy with the view that only members of an organization should enjoy the benefits which it has secured; but a government has to examine a matter of this kind from all aspects.

Let me suggest a few of these for the consideration of honorable members opposite, and in doing so, make clear the reasons on which the Government has acted. Ministers take this view : ' We are the custodians of the people's money, out of which the public servant is paid. The Public Service is an exceptional .service, and are we to draw distinctions between the men who compose it? It is going a long way to declare that every public servant, whether he likes it or not, must, if he wishes to, enjoy certain benefits, become a member of some particular union. Because this is a country in which we boast of individual freedom of action ! If there were any chance of a man, who was not in a union, by any action he could take getting the same conditions as the men in an organization, when, for any good reason he is not prepared to join the organization, it might be different. A public servant may have conscientious objections to joining a certain union. He may consider that it is being badly run ; he may regard it as a menace to those engaged in the industry which it controls. He may think that this particular union is being dominated and controlled by unscrupulous men, and for that reason he will have nothing to do with it. Or he may regard this union as one that is merely an organization that is being run for political purposes, and that the politics which it is fostering are those to which he is totally opposed. He may wholly disbelieve in the union. For these, and other conceivable reasons, a man may decline to join a particular union. Why, I ask, should such a man be forced to join a union with which he totally dis- agrees ! And if, for such reasons as have been suggested, he does not join that union, is he therefore not to be given, as & public servant, the same conditions as are enjoyed by his fellows who are in the union? It must be remembered that there was no other way, under the regulation, which has been repealed, in which he could get these conditions, because when there is in existence an organization which meets a particular position, and covers a certain class of employment, another such organization cannot be registered. Therefore men were forced to join particular organizations or else forgo benefits which had been given to their fellows who were unionists. That was absolutely wrong in principle, and surely no one would subscribe to it. It is, indeed, contrary to all that is best in trade unionism. If men must be forced into the ranks of unions instead of joining voluntarily, the system has not much to commend it. If you cannot attract them by the soundness of your case, but compel them, you will, in the end, destroy unionism itself. Do not' honorable members stand by the common rule? "Was not that what the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) said, in favour of a common rule? That is, in effect, what is obtained by our recent action in repealing the regulation of the last Government. The Government's action is not directed against, trade unionism; it has been taken in support of a principle which we consider ought to be maintained. Honorable members opposite are not helping the country by making the suggestion that the Government wishes to destroy trade unionism. If we are to surmount the industrial trouble with which we are now confronted, we must have the cooperation of all sections of the community, and this is impossible in an atmosphere of suspicion and antagonism, such as the charges of honorable members opposite must create.







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