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Thursday, 26 March 1942


Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) .- Perhaps it was a good thing that our gallant and distinguished visitor, General Douglas MacArthur, should have had the opportunity to hear this remarkable debate, because, as a. man who is necessarily completely absorbed with problems of strategy in relation to the war, he must have admired the demonstration of a counter-offensive which has just been given from the table.


Mr Sheehan - The right honorable gentleman admits that there was an offensive.


Mr Harrison - It was a counteroffensive.


Mr MENZIES - That remark completely expresses my view, lt was counter, and it was offensive! I cannot but admit my technical admiration for the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who is a past master of the art. He has delivered a speech which must he regarded as a perfect example of what a learned judge once described as " a circumnavigation of the entire globe of irrelevancy ". In referring to the proposal that a national government should be formed, he avowed that this was a Labour Government and he made no apology whatever for the introduction of partisan politics into this issue. In that regard, one must admire his complete frankness. But my mind ran back to the powerful and dignified speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) only an hour and a half ago. That speech reflected great credit upon this Parliament. In it, the honorable gentleman said, with moving emphasis, that we must have not only unity of command in this theatre of war, but also unity throughout this country. I say to the Minister for Labour and National Service that unity is impossible on a basis of injustice. There can be no unity at the port of Melbourne if 1,100 men belonging to a union duly registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act and entitled to representation on a governing body are denied that right. The whole basis of unity is justice. We are fighting for justice. I hear an honorable member interject that this is a small subject to be discussed at a time like this. It is never a small matter, even in the middle of a war, that Parliament should remain in session and do its work, because it consists of representatives ' who are charged with the responsibility to give justice to the people. It is all very well for the Minister for Labour and National Service to say : " This is a Labour Government ", and to spell Labour with a capital L. I say ro him that the people of Australia would prefer to have a war government, in order that we might make all we possess available for the war effort. The people resent anything that distracts the country. They certainly do not wish that an opportunity that presents itself shall be taken to secure a small victory in a small battle between contending trade unionists.

With that preliminary, I revert to the case presented by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) - a case which, if I may say so, he presented with skill und clarity. The essence of the case can he put briefly. At the port of Melbourne, there are two trade unions, each of which is a registered organization under the -law of Australia which the Government is pledged to administer. Each organization has full legal rights in the port of Melbourne. Under the draft regulations which the honorable member for Fawkner bad intended to issue if he had remained in office, it was proposed that the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, with 1,100 members, should be represented by one member, and the older and larger body, the Waterside Workers Federation, with 1,700 members, should be represented by three members on a port committee. The representation proposed for the Waterside Workers Federation was more than generous on the basis of its membership. What the present Minister for Labour and National Service has done, for reasons that have not yet been stilted, is to provide that the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union shall have no representatives on the governing body which has been appointed, whereas the rival body, the Waterside Workers Federation, shall have three representatives. I waited patiently to hear whether any reasons would be given for such a complete denial of one of the elementary principles of democracy, namely, representation. What the Minister said was: "We do not want divided counsels. If all the men working on the waterfront are associated with one union, we shall not have divided counsels. If representation be given to the union which is in the minority, divided counsels must result". If that principle were applied to this Parliament, many honorable members would not be sitting in this House. I can recall periods in the history of this House during the last six years when the Minister for Labour and National Service has found himself at variance with other members of his party. Did he, on those occasions, say: "We must have unity in the Labour party; therefore, I propose to disappear.

I do not think that the electors of East Sydney, whose spokesman I am, would desire me to continue to represent them because to do so would introduce disunity on one side in this House"? Of course the honorable gentleman did not adopt such an absurd attitude. It is a principle of democracy that all reputable interests in the country are entitled to have their words spoken for them in Parliament. The moment any community begins to deny such a right to minorities in a democracy, disunity begins. The whole basis of the freedom that we have been talking about to-night is that justice shall be done to minorities. It is because minorities have no voice in Germany and Italy to-day that there is no liberty in those countries. That is the simple issue in this case, and it may be discussed without introducing irrelevant circumstances, without discussing past political history, and without speculating upon the general structure of government. Unless the 1,100 men at the port of Melbourne who are banded together in a legitimate organization be given a voice in the controlling body at that port, injustice will result. The Government can never obtain peace in industry in this country unless it metes out justice to those who are engaged in industry.







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