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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) (12:31 PM) . - I shall not detain honorable members unduly, but certain statements that have been made during the debate must be answered. In the first place, I shall deal with the topic which has overshadowed the merits of the statutory rule, namely, the coal-mining industry and disputes in it. I have before me a group of statutory rules - Nos. 34, 64, 76 and 77 of 1942. Rules 34 and 76 deal with the control of labour. The former provides that a worker in a protected undertaking - and the Government may make any industry it so desires a protected undertaking - cannot leave that employment. Statutory Rule No. 76 states that a worker in any industry may not demand more wages than are fixed by the current award for that industry. He may not absent himself from his place of employment without reasonable excuse, and he may not refuse to perform his work at his place of employment except under certain specified conditions for which regulations under the rule provide. There is ample power in those regulations to deal with any strike that arises. If the strike has relation to wages, there is a statutory rule which provides that it is an offence for a man to demand more wages than are provided for in the current award. In addition, it is an offence for an employer to pay less than existing award rates. Under regulation 5 of Statutory Rule No. 76, it is an offence for an employer to pay more than the rate set out in the award. That rule provides measures by which disputes in the coal-mining or any other industry may be effectively dealt with. Although I do not like some of the regulations, I have not the same objection to them as I have to Statutory Rule No. 76. The existing statutory rules lay down general principles and give guidance for the conduct of people, at the same time fixing certain penalties for failure to observe those principles. But that is different from Statutory Rule No. 77. I emphasize that there is in existence ample power, if the Government chooses to exercise it, to meet almost any set of conditions that may arise in industry. What the Government has done is to make an exceptional provision in an attempt to use the Citizen Forces, in breach of the Defence Act, against the waterside workers and others in order to compel them to work. The result has been disorganization of industry generallyIf the Government is anxious to set penal measures in motion against the workers, it already has available the regulations under Statutory Rule No. 76.

I shall now deal more fully with the question of whether Statutory Rule No. 77 of 1942 should, or should not, be disallowed. .Something has been said about my association in this motion with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). Although we do not agree upon all things, we agree upon some things. We certainly agree upon this, that before persons are punished their accuser should be able to point to some rule they have violated, and I agree with other honorable members on the same point. My contention is that there should be a rule of conduct applicable to every body. Again, the point has been made by. some honorable member that these powers will be needed under the pressure of actual or impending disaster ; but we have made regulations to deal with. that. A regulation made under Statutory Rule No. 64 provides -

Where the Minister is of opinion that it is necessary or desirable, for the purpose of meeting any emergency arising out of the war, that these regulations should apply to any part of Australia, he may, by notice published in the Gazette, declare that 'these Regulations shall apply to that part as on and from a date specified in the notice, and thereupon these Regulations shall apply to that part accordingly.

The emergency is then controlled by military officers. The . Prime Minister himself* in discussing this matter, admitted that if it were necessary to act under the pressure of actual or impending disaster, the regulations under Rule No. 64 would give power to control people and property. It is obvious that what is intended by the Prime Minister is that we must have these regulations, not only to deal with places where there is actual or impending danger, but also to deal with places where there is no actual or impending danger. He admits that the legislation is of an arbitrary character ; but he says, " I am doing nothing but what section 13a of the National Security Act of 1940 intended [ should do, and what Parliament authorized me to do." I submit that Parliament never contemplated anything of this kind. Section 13a provides -

Notwithstanding anything contained in this act; the Governor-General may make such regulations making provision for requiring persons to place themselves, their services and their property at the disposal of the Commonwealth, as appear to him to be necessary or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of the Commonwealth and the Territories of the Commonwealth, or the efficient prosecution of any war in which His Majesty is or may be engaged.

A.   power is given to the GovernorGeneral - that means the GovernorGeneral acting on the advice of the Ministers and through the Ministers - to make regulations. A regulation is a rule of conduct; it is a law. All that section 13a contemplates, and all that Parliament contemplated, was that the Executive Council of the day - that is to say, the Ministers of the day - in the name of the Governor-General could make rules saying how the services and property of the people as a whole, or of classes of the people, should be placed at the disposal of the community. The Government has not done that at all. Instead of passing regulations for the guidance of the community, it has said : " We will command ; we will take the power, not to guide the nation as a whole, not to guide classes of the nation, not to lay down principles for the government of the conduct of the people, but to enable us to say : 'You shall do this, that, or the other thing ' ".

That, I submit, is not what Parliament contemplated. I opposed this amendment of the law in 1940, and I made a speech pointing out what could be done under it. But I do not think any member of Parliament conceived that, under the cloak of regulations, the Government could take power to direct what should be done with the services and property of the people. It has become perfectly obvious to this House that the only thing the Government can control under Regulation No. 77 is the services and actions of individuals, and that it cannot take their property without paying compensation for it. The regulation, although it appears to be directed at the property-owner as well as the wage-earner, does not take from the property-owner anything that he has. It does not impose upon him any disability, but the wage-earner can be dealt with at the discretion - or the indiscretion - of the Government. I believe that this regulation has disorganized industry, and I agree with the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who says that if he is supposed to preserve continuity of industry and to keep the people of Australia at work, he must be freed from decrees of this kind. I believe that is a right decision, and he deserves commendation for the frankness with which he has stated it; but I believe also that his attitude has 'been misrepresented and misunderstood. That attitude is: "I cannot preserve peace in industry -and no one can say he has not made great efforts and sacrifices to maintain continuity in industry - " I cannot keep the workers at work if they are to be the recipients of directions applied t

Question put -

That the National Security (Mobilization of Services and Property) Regulations under the National Security Act. made by Statutory Rules 1942, No. 77, bc disallowed.

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