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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr WARD (East Sydney) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - Honorable members have just witnessed a peculiar performance by one of the leading spokesmen for the Opposition. At the beginning of his remarks, he mentioned that honorable members, during the dinner hour, had listened to eloquent speeches which stressed the necessity for protecting our liberty. I remind the honorable member that one of the other features of those speeches was the emphasis that was placed upon the necessity for unity in this crisis in our history. But honorable members opposite, who prate about the preservation of liberty when a Government proposed and has supported and attempted to justify the introduction into the country of the worst form of oppression, for which no parallel can be found in any other part of the world where an organized Labour movement exists. The former Minister for Labour and National Service appears still to regret that he is not a member of the Ministry. That is the whole trouble. Before the defeat of the previous administration, he had prepared, so he said, a plan for the better organization of labour on the Melbourne waterfront. The policy of the previous government fairly bristled with plans and conferences, but they came to naught. It remained for the Labour Government to take the necessary action.

I should like to know the parties for whom the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) holds a brief. Although the committee which he now opposes has operated for a very short time, I have not received one protest from any member of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, or from that organization regarding any act of injustice perpetrated against the organization or any of its members. The shipowners who ;ire represented on the committee have commended the Government for its action. They have not protested about the form of representation. It is true that certain regulations were prepared by the former Minister for Labour and National Service, and I had an opportunity, upon taking office, to peruse them. Tn those regulations he provided for the Waterside Workers Federation to be represented on the committee by three members, and I have neither added to nor reduced that number. In other words, I left the representation of the federation in the form that the exMinister desired. However, I believed that the proposed, committee was too unwieldy, and accordingly I reduced the personnel to three representatives of employers, and three of employees, and an independent chairman. To-day, members of the Opposition urged the Government to give a positive lead to the country and they demanded vigorous action. They did not mind how much action the Government took, provided its measures would impose restrictions upon the workers. But they ha ve resisted every regulation which was likely to compel the well-to-do classes to pool their wealth, although they emphasized that labour should be pooled. When honorable members opposite refer to the necessity for preserving liberty, their remarks are confined to the particular interests that they represent in this Parliament.

What will happen on the waterfront? At the port of Newcastle, for example, the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union has ceased to exist; but its members have not been victimized. They have been absorbed in the Waterside Workers Federation. In my opinion, it is advisable to have only one organization to cover any particular calling. The honorable member for Fawkner studiously avoided any reference to the port of Brisbane. In Brisbane, for a long time, the shipowners have operated a system of licensing under which they have discriminated against members of the Waterside Workers Federation. The former Minister never protested against that action. Whenever he, in his capacity as Minister for Labour and National Service, got, into difficulties regarding employment, on the waterfront, he did not consult officials of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. The general secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation. Mr. Healy, informed me that the former Minister was never away from his doorstep when he needed advice.

The Waterside Workers Federation is the organization which represents the big majority of waterside workers throughout the Commonwealth. Members of the organization are employed in 46 ports, but the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union has members in only three or four ports. It exists only because it has been fostered by anti-Labour interests and the shipowners, to the detriment of the workers themselves. We have not acted vindictively against any particular section of the workers, but we recognize that it is as much in their interests as it is in the interests of the country that there should be one organization covering this form of employment. What have they to lose? The honorable member for Fawkner stressed the fact that the Government included in these regulations a provision which protects the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union. We are not prejudicing their employment. All that we have contended is that it is unwise to have a divided committee. This committee will regulate employment on the waterfront, and we have asserted that t he employment of all the present members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union on the Melbourne waterfront will not be affected.

Mr Hughes - Can members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union join the Waterside Workers Federation ?

Mr WARD - In Newcastle, members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union have been absorbed by the Waterside Workers Federation.

Mr Hughes - What is the position in Nf el bourne?

Mr WARD - The honorable .member for Fawkner has not been able to cite one instance of the employment of a member of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union being affected as a result of the operation of the committee.

Mr Holt - Is the Minister satisfied with the waterside work that is being done in Melbourne?

Mr WARD - To-day, the Government announced that it proposed to establish an organization to regulate .and control employment, not only in the port of Melbourne, but also in all ports throughout the Commonwealth. That should have been sufficient to indicate that the position is not. yet satisfactory in the port of Melbourne or in many other places.

As I stated, the committee has only just begun its operations, and the honorable member for Fawkner is well aware of that fact. When the Government discussed the matter of establishing an organization to deal with the whole of the Commonwealth, with Sir Thomas

Gordon representing the shipowners, Sir Owen Dixon and M.r. Healy, the shipowners requested us not to interfere with the port committee which has been established in Melbourne. For whom does the honorable member for Fawkner hold a brief? The honorable member traced the history of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, and, in doing so, he disclosed the hand of the Opposition. Honorable members opposite wish two organizations to operate in the port of Melbourne so as to divide the workers. When they are able to pit worker against worker, they can impose upon them working conditions and rates of pay which would not be tolerated in many countries. For that reason, the Opposition desires to ha vo two organizations in the port of Melbourne. The shipowners fostered the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourer? Union, not because they were concerned with the welfare of the men, but because they wished to pit one section of the workers against .the other. The Opposition wishes that policy to continue. Now, the Waterside Workers Federation and many members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union are beginning to recognize that their interests, so far from being in conflict, are identical, and that only by closing their ranks and having one organization to represent them will they be able to protect their working conditions. What does the honorable member for Fawkner fear will happen to members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union? He has admitted that the regulations protect their employment. What terrible action does he suspect that the Labour Government will take against them? I remind the House that the representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation do not constitute a majority on the committee. The personnel includes three representatives of the waterside workers, three representatives of the shipowners, and a chairman appointed by the Government. The chairman, a departmental official, was appointed by the former Minister for Labour and National Service. Yet the honorable member has the audacity to contend that the Government has given to the waterside workers the right to determine conditions of employment, &c., in the port of Melbourne.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Hughes) has had considerable experience, at one time or another, of waterside organizations. In fact, he has been able to view them from both sides of the fence, because he has been for and against the workers.

Mr Hughes - That is not true.

Mr WARD - If the right honorable gentleman is not against the federation, of which he was once a prominent official, why does he oppose these regulations which give to the federation the right to represent those employed on the Melbourne waterfront in the settlement of their conditions? The honorable member for Fawkner said that the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union has no right of recruitment. Of course not! I make no apology for that. I hope that the day is not far distant when therewill be one organization for the workers on the waterfront. Is it not far preferable, if this committee is to deal with working conditions in the port of Melbourne, that the representatives of the great bulk of the employees on the waterfront should express their opinions? Recently, there was an appeal for waterside workers to go to Darwin, then a prospective theatre of war. Did the honorable member for Fawkner object when I asked the Waterside Workers Federation to supply those men? Did he say that members of the Perma- nent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union were entitled to go? No, he remained silent !

Mr Holt -How was I to know anything about that?

Mr WARD - The honorable member knew what we were doing. The matter was mentioned in this House several times. The honorable member objects only when the matter at issue is the establishment of a committee to deal with the conditions of the workers. The Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union does not go to the Arbitration. Court to fight for improved conditions on the waterfront. When did it ever present a claim to the Arbitration Court? It waits until the Waterside Workers Federation bears all the expense of making a claim, and when the federa tion has succeeded in obtaining better conditions for its members, it goes to the court, and asks that those conditionsbe extended to its members. That isthe organization which the honorable member seeks to protect.

In regard to representation on committees, this is a Labour government. 1 know that honorable members opposite disagree with it. Some of them would like to have a piebald government. A national government would be absolutely no good to Australia. In order to emphasize that, I need only cite the year.- in which the Opposition parties occupied the treasury bench. There was no progress. Our defences were left in a shocking state.

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