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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr HOLT - At dinner to-night honorable members were privileged to listen to two great speeches, which will take their place in the history of this young country. Those speeches will be an encouragement and inspiration to all of us through the difficult times which lie ahead. This is not a time to engage in a discussion of the speeches which arc not, perhaps, relevant to the subject before the House, but some of the terms used, and some of the principles expressed by our own Prime Minister to-night are, I think, relevant to what we are now considering. He spoke of the preservation of the liberty of the citizen, and the preservation of those liberties is something for which we must not only wage war against an alien enemy, but also exercise constant vigilance, even against those in our midst, who would seek to deprive the community, or a section of the community, of the rights to which they are entitled. The principles which he enunciated should be the touch-stone by which to test any matter which comes before this assembly. Although, perhaps, the matter before the House to-night - a motion to disallow a regulation made by virtue of the executive power conferred at a time of emergency - may appear to be a small one, those principles must be applied when we, as an Opposition representing a large section of the people, believe that power is being arbitrarily, unfairly, or improperly used. That is the purpose of the Opposition in moving that this regulation be disallowed.

Before dinner, I had been covering in some detail the problem before the House.. I do not propose to go over all the ground again, but because some honorable members are present now who were not here before, I shall re-state the position as briefly as possible, so as to make clear the motive which actuates the Opposition in moving that these regulations, Statutory Rule No. 19 of 1942, made under the National Security Act, be disallowed. The regulations seek to establish at the port of Melbourne a port committee that will regulate and control conditions of labour. There is power under the regulations to extend the provision to other ports, but they are being applied experimentally to the port of Melbourne for the time being. It is proposed toset up a committee on which there shall be equal representation of employersand employees presided over by a chairman nominated by the Government.

Mr James - It is not confined to Melbourne.

Mr HOLT - It is at present, although the scope of the regulations may be extended. The principal functions of" the committee are to regulate conditions of labour on the waterfront and to register employers and employees who may properly engage in tasks there. On the face of it, that is an admirable proposal, and to it the Opposition raises no objection whatsoever. I repeat that the original conferences and discussions in connexion with this proposal originated with the Opposition when it was the Government. The establishment of the committee has followed on the initial steps taken by the previous Government. It is no new thing for the port of Melbourne to have a committee of this kind. There used to be a Transport Workers Act which was put into operation at a time when there was trouble on the waterfront. It was an unpopular piece of legislation, known among the waterside workers as the " dog-collar act ", and the last Government decided, in the interests of industrial harmony, to repeal it. Under that legislation, a committee of five was set up, consisting of a chairman appointed by the Government, who was a representative of the Department of Commerce, and two representatives each of the employers and the employees. One of the employees' representatives was a nominee of the Waterside Workers Federation, the oldest-established waterside union in the Commonwealth, and the other representative of the employees was the nominee of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. That committee functioned under the Transport Workers Act, and when that act was repealed, the committee was dissolved. However, the committee did not have attributed to it the same unpopularity as attached to the " dog-collar " provisions of the act. It ;had been doing useful work, and representations were made to me, as Minister for Labour and National Service, by both sides, that some similar body should be set up in its place. Conferences were held, and though nominally I was chairman, in effect they were presided over by a man well "known and respected in the Labour movement, Mr. Pat Sheehan, who had frequently appeared for the unions before the Arbitration Court. He brought recommendations to me which, among other things, provided that there -should be set up a committee with equal representation of employers and employees, with a government chairman. This committee was to differ from the previous one in that there were to be four representatives of the employers, and fo u,r of the employees, instead of two of each as before. The Waterside Workers Federation had always harboured resentment against the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. It was the oldest union, and the strongest numerically, and it desired that there should be no representation on the committee of the minority group. However, as a compromise, it was recommended that there should be three representatives of the major union, and one representative of the minor union. At that time, in the port of Melbourne there were 1,700 members of the Waterside Workers Federation and 1,100 members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. I pointed out that, according to the figures, the ratio of representation should be about two to one. Mr. Sheehan replied that the proposal for a three to one representation was a compromise. The federation objected to the other union being represented at all, whilst the second union desired to have a voice on the committee. I got into touch with the minority union, and asked what its members thought of the proposal. They told me that they desired to register their protest against it, but that their chief desire was to have an effective voice on. the committee, and to that end they were prepared to accept a position in which they would have one good man against three men from the other union. Draft regulations ware then prepared to give effect to 'the proposal, but about that time the Fadden Government was defeated, and the administration of the regulations became a matter for the incoming Minister for Labour. New regulations were issued which differed from the previous ones in two important respects. They provided that there should be no representation on the committee for the minority union, although it had 1,100 members as compared with 1,700 member? in the other union. It also provided that, although members of the smaller union could be registered, the- union would have no right of recruitment, so that the organization was condemned to a slow, if painless, death. We now put this proposition to the Government: Here are men who have the right to belong to an organization which they have established. The organization was established in circumstances which were, no doubt, painful to the present Government. It came into existence in 1917, during the last war, when there was a strike on the waterfront. The union received State registration at that time, and was given federal registration in 1927. At the time of the last great waterside strike in Melbourne, the Government was unable to get labour to man the ships. Although the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and the men's own executive urged them to return to their employment, they would not work. The Government appealed for volunteers to work in accordance with the award of the court. Men came forward, and they represent, in effect, the membership of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union to-day. Honorable members opposite have described it as a " scab " organization. For years they have sought its dissolution, and they are now seeking to bring it about by this regulation issued under the emergency powers given to the Government in time of war. This constitutes the exercise of power for partisan political purposes. It is, in effect, an abuse of power. That is what we, as the Opposition, are here to resist. Only yesterday, in this chamber, we debated another regulation which gave supreme power to the Executive over property and persons, and also authorized the Executive to delegate that power to unnamed persons. We sought an assurance from the Prime Minister that the power would be exercised only in accordance with procedure agreed upon. Statutory Rule No. 19 is a further exercise of the same arbitrary powers, involving unjustifiable political discrimination against a body of men who have done nothing to deserve it.

Mr James - Does the honorable member realize that there is a war on?

Mr HOLT - I do realize it, and I remind the honorable member-

Mr James - How is this going to help to keep the Japanese out?

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