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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Mr CONELAN (Griffith) . - I am very surprised at the attitude adopted by the Opposition to-night, especially that of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) who has moved for the disallowance of Statutory Rule No. 19. When the honorable member was Minister for Labour and National Service he had every opportunity to give effect to any proposal which he thought desirable to apply to the waterfront.

Several months ago I appealed to him to appoint a port committee not only in Melbourne but also in other ports. He arranged that such a committee should be set up in Melbourne on trial for a. period of three months. That committee was to commence functioning nearly ten months ago. The fact that it has not yet commenced to operate is his responsibility. The new regulations are designed to produce harmony on the waterfront. They provide for the setting up of a committee consisting of three representatives of shipping interests, and three representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation, with an independent chairman. The gentleman who has been chosen as chairman of that committee is the very gentleman who was recommended for the position by the honorable member himself. Consequently, it can be said that a majority of the members of the committee are favorable to the honorable member. The Waterside Workers Federation hasbranches in every port in Australia,Is it not reasonable, therefore, that it should be recognized as the legitimate organization of the waterside workers in Melbourne? Some honorable members apposite complain that members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union in Melbourne will not be allowed to join the Waterside Workers Federation. This statutory rule provides that any man may apply to the committee successfully for work provided he satisfies the committee that he has previously gained his livelihood on the waterfront. In all reasonableness, I ask, what is wrong with that? Some of these men have been on the waterfront for a number of years. Where is the necessity for two organizations in the port, the one pulling againstthe other? Young men are exempt from military service to-day because they are members of these organizations. Why have two separate organizations, and allow young men who should be in the services to take refuge in them ?

Mr Holt - The Minister for Social Services said that there are not sufficient men to do the work.

Mr CONELAN - That is so. The honorable member must not forget that when a convoy of ships comes into a port there is need for a greater number of men to unload those vessels than there is when only periodical visits are made by regular vessels. In Queensland, the " dog collar " act still operates, and no man is allowed to enter a compound unless a disc has been given to him by the employers on the waterfront. The committee will have control over all the undesirables who are working on the wharfs in the different ports of Australia. Many aliens have discs that they havebeen given by the employers' organization, because their only purpose for being on the wharfs is to do just what the employers want them to do. The Minister for Social Services (Mr.Holloway) has told the House that the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union, throughout the years of its existence, has not spent one penny or taken one step towards assisting itself, but has been carried by the Waterside Workers Federation. It is time that its members were absorbed in the legitimate organization throughout Australia. In Newcastle, all of them have applied to be accepted as members of the Waterside Workers Federation. Why cannot the men in Victoria do that? There is no obstacle whatever. Regulation 6 makes provision for their entry into the Federation. Port committees have been in operation in many other countries for a number of years, with most beneficial results where undesirable elements congregate on the waterfront. The regulations provide that all the men who work on the waterfront shall be under the control of the committee. If they act wrongly, they will be suspended for a certain period, just as though they had been convicted in a court of law, and if they continue to do what is wrong their membership of the union will be cancelled and their livelihood on the waterfront will be taken from them. I have been fighting for twelve months to have port committees set up in Queensland. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) had every opportunity when Minister for Labour and National Service to appoint committees in all the principal ports. He made a start with the machinery, but then allowed the matter to drift month after month. When the Labour party became the Government it immediately took steps to establish port committees. The chairman of the committee in Melbourne is acknowledged by the honorable member for Fawkner to be a very competent and fair man. Holding that belief, it is remarkable that the honorable member should raise objection to the functioning of that committee. In Queensland, the men on the waterfront are working sixteen and eighteen hours a day, and are given very little time for lunch. They are expected to continue unloading operations even during torrential rain. Whenever they have appealed to the committee of employers to afford them some protection against the rain their appeal has been rejected. If the branch of the Waterside Workers Federation in Queensland desires to bring a matter before the Shipowners Federation, it has to give seven days' notice of its intention. The chairman of the committee is a member of the Shipowners Federation. Whenever the parties meet in conference, the representatives of the employers say, " We do not want to have anything to do with this or that; all that we shall do is discuss one small matter"; and the federation is " wiped off ". It is time that steps were taken to ensure that men who are prepared to work for sixteen and eighteen hours a day, with very little food and sleep, in. all kinds of weather, shall be given some protection. . I hope that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) will go ahead as quickly us possible with the establishment of committees in every port in Australia.

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