Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .-I move -

That the National Security (Waterside Employment) Regulations under the National

Security Act, made by Statutory Rules 1942. No. 19, be disallowed.

These regulations are a political outrage. The issue of them is a piece of administrative vindictiveness directed, at the behest of a militant majority, against its industrial competitors. This is ruthless use of political power for partisan purposes. It is a merciless repression of the rights of hundreds of Australian workmen, many of whom are returned soldiers. The Opposition is constantly raising objection to the use, by this Government, of emergency war-time powers for the fulfilment of its political policy. It would be difficult to imagine a more blatant illustration of the application of this policy than that provided by the issue of these regulations.

The principal purpose of the regulations is to establish a committee at the port of Melbourne to register employers and employees and to regulate labour on the waterfront. It is proposed that a committee consisting of a chairman, appointed by the Government, and three representatives each of employers and employees shall be appointed for the purpose of maintaining the register of employers and employees and of making recommendations for the better working of cargo at the port.

Mr Rosevear - What is wrong with that?

Mr HOLT - It is an admirable objective, and a proper purpose for the issue of regulations. The Opposition does not challenge the wisdom of setting up thi? machinery. In fact these regulations have flowed from action initiated while the previous government was in office.

Under the Transport Workers Act ;i committee of five persons, a government nominee as chairman, and two representatives each of the employers and employees supervised operations at the port of Melbourne. The chairman was an officer of the Department of Commerce. One of the employees' representatives was a member of the Waterside Workers Federation and the other was a member of the Permanent and Casual Wharf "Labourers Union.

Mr Rosevear - That is the "scab" union.

Mr HOLT - The words "Transport Workers Act" at one time had a familiar ring in this chamber. The act was most unpopular with the workers on the waterfront. It was known as the " dog-collar "' act. At the request of members of the Waterside Workers Federation it wai repealed, and its repeal involved the dissolution of the committee. It was repealed on representations to the effect that such action would lead to industrial harmony on the waterfront and to greater activity in the loading and. unloading of cargoes. The committee had done useful work, and the suggestion was put to m.e while I was Minister for Labour and National Service that similar machinery should be set up in order that the good work could be continued. Following the representations made to me. several conferences were held under the auspices of the Department of Labour and National Service. As Minister, 1 occupied the chair at the early conferences, but subsequently Mr. Pat. Sheehan, an officer of the Department of Labour and National Service, presided. Mr. Sheehan is well known to honorable members on the Government side of the House. He has done valuable work for the department, and I have pleasure in paying this tribute to him. I do noi think that any honorable member opposite, however, would go so far a3 to say that Mr. Sheehan would look on waterfront problems with a prejudiced eye. He is well known in the Labour movement and, on different occasions, has appeared as an advocate for industrial unions. He is in every way fitted to preside over conferences of this description. Subsequently Mr. Sheehan submitted a number of recommendations to me as Minister. One of these was that a committee, similar to the committee which had operated under the Transport Workers Act, should be appointed to regulate work at the port of Melbourne. This was to be regarded as experimental, and if the method was considered to be successful at that port, the principle was to be extended to other ports. The recommendation was that the committee should consist of a. chairman nominated by the Government, four representatives each of the employers and employees. Of the four representatives of the employees, three were to represent the Waterside

Workers Federation, which had a membership of 1,700, and one was to represent the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, which had a membership of 1,100. On the original committee, one of the two employees' representatives represented the Waterside Workers Federation and the other the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. It seemed to me that the membership of the respective unions being as it was, the proposed representation was not quite balanced. I raised the point with Mr. Sheehan, and he said that it was thought that in view of the objections taken by the federation to the presence of members of another union on the waterfront, the proposal represented a reasonable compromise. I discussed the matter with representatives of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, who said that the proposal had been made as a compromise and, though they lid not like it, they were prepared to accept it. They intimated that they would be satisfied so long as they could he assured of an effective voice on the committee. That was the position when the previous government went out of office. The drafting of regulations to give effect to that proposal was then in process. Since then, however, there has been a definite change of policy under r.he present Minister for Labour and National Service. Honorable members will remember that years ago we passed through what was known as the Edwardian era. The Edward of those days was known as " the Peacemaker ". lt appears that we are now passing through another "Ed-Wardian" era in our industrial relations, but the Ed- Ward of these days must be known as "the Peacebreaker ". The regulations that were in draft form when I went out of office have been amended in certain important respects. Apparently, the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union heard a whisper that this was likely to happen. Possibly it came from that illusive person known as " a Government spokesman ". Anyhow, the suggestion got abroad that the regulations were to be altered. I was approached on the subject, and I wrote letters about it to the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and to the Minister for

Labour and National Service. I emphasized the desirableness of acceptable representation on the committee for both unions. It will be seen, however, that the regulations have been amended so as to eliminate the representation proposed for the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, and to remove the provision that had been made for the recruitment to that union of wharf labourers in the future. Under these regulations, a union with 1,100 members is not being granted a representative, whilst another union with 1,700 members is being allowed three representatives. In other words, the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Onion is doomed to a slow death by the deliberate act of this Government. I repeat what I said in my opening remarks on this regulation. Here we have ruthless repression of minority rights, and the exercise of emergency powers for party political purposes; because it cannot be claimed on any fair basis, on any correct analysis, that the use of these powers is necessary for the proper prosecution of the war effort. They are being exercised in order to wreak vindictive retribution upon an industrial competitor.

I refer honorable members to the history of this union which is proving so unpopular with members of the present Government. The Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union was registered in the State court of New South Wales in 1917. It arose, honorable members will recall, in connexion with the waterside strike of 1917. Federal registration was obtained for the union in 1927. Therefore, at the time of the 1928 strike on the waterfront in Melbourne, there was in existence v. federal industrial organization known as the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. The strike on the waterfront at that time was against an award that had been made by Judge Beeby. Although representatives of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, and the executive of the Waterside Workers Federation, advised men to work under the terms of the award, they refused ,to do so, and shipping was tied up in the port of Melbourne. The Government was helpless. It appealed for volunteers to unload and load shipping in the port, and volunteers responded to that appeal. Because they felt the necessity to belong to an industrial organization, there grew up this strong branch of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union in the port of Melbourne. It is no secret that the comparatively peaceful industrial record enjoyed on the waterfront in Melbourne during the last fourteen years, by contrast with that experienced in some others of the principal ports of the Commonwealth, has been largely due to the existence side by side of these two industrial organizations. One may ask why the Government has taken this action. Why has it indulged in this piece of industrial and political discrimination against a union which is affiliated, I believe, with the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, and is registered in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration? The .first answer was given, by way of interjection, by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who said, " This is the ' scab ' union ". When the matter was first raised with the Government, its spokesman, without giving any reason, came out with the statement " This is a ' scab ' organization ". Thus we see one reason why, in the eyes of the Government, it should be blotted out of existence. That was the only justification given for this discriminatory action when the matter was originally raised. If that be the reason, we do not need any further justification for the accusation that I made earlier.

Mr Rosevear - I did not say that that is the reason; it is my opinion.

Mr HOLT - I am not attributing that reason to the honorable member. It is the description that he applied to the organization. But the Government spokesman said " Well, it is a ' scab ' organization ". What other reasons the Government may have, doubtless will be given to us in due course by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward).

I shall endeavour to deal with some of the arguments advanced elsewhere by members of the Government as to why this organization should be slowly put. to death. One argument will be that it should be allowed to die because some of its members are not the same persons as those who came forward for employment on the waterfront in 192S. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) has made that statement. I have found, upon inquiry, that 75 per cent, of the present members were members in 1928, and that the whole of the members of the present executive committee have been working on the waterfront in Melbourne since 192S. Another argument will be that the action taken will assist to maintain industrial peace on the waterfront in the port of Melbourne. I ask honorable members: Is it reasonably plain that a government act which will jeopardize the continued industrial existence of some hundreds of workmen, is likely to be conducive to industrial peace? Is that the sort of action that is likely to bring harmony to the waterfront - when 1,700 men ure turned against the remaining 1,100, and a committee is set up on which the 1,700 have three nominees and the 1,100 have no representation whatever? Mark you, under this regulation a token registration is to be issued to men who are approved by this committee ; not, I remind yon, that hated word "licence", which we had under the Transport Workers' Act. It is dignified to-day by the euphemism " token of registration ". I congratulate the draftsman upon a very much happier choice of terminology; but at least the effect is the same. It means that only those who hold this token of registration are to be allowed to work on the waterfront, and only those who are approved by this committee are to secure the token of registration. It is true that any person who is a member of the union at the time of the making of these regulations, shall not be refused registration on that account. He does not get it automatically, but he is not to be refused on that account. At the same time, however, the organization is not to be allowed to make any recruitment to its membership, although no such limitation is placed on the other organization. Indeed, if controversial matters arise in regard to regulation of the conditions of work on the waterfront, they are to be dealt with by the representatives of only one of the unions. So, on either of those two counts, any justification falls entirely to the ground. I repeat the claim that I made earlier, namely, that the port of Melbourne has enjoyed a very much happier record of industrial harmony on the waterfront than has any other of the principal ports throughout the Commonwealth. Contrasted with Sydney, in which there is no branch of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, its record shines, and is one for which the people of Victoria are very thankful.

Silting suspended from 6 to 8.15p.m.

Debate interrupted.

Suggest corrections