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Thursday, 17 September 1942


Dr EVATT (Barton) (AttorneyGeneral) . - I listened very carefully to the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mir. Menzies). Knowing what he has done in connexion with preference to unionists and the whole subject of unionism under the Arbitration Court, I do not think that his heart was in his job this afternoon. He cited a circular of the Department of Munitions, the circumstances of which we have been told nothing, a circular suggesting similar action in the Department of the Navy, and a reference to action which had been taken by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). He also mentioned a request by the Allied Works Council that persons having union tickets should produce them. He must know perfectly well that the relevant awards, so far as they apply to employment under the Allied Works Council, fix rates of wages according to whether or not a person is a member of a union. Therefore, it is essential that the department shall know whether or not an employee is a member of a union.

The whole of our federal arbitration system, with certain exceptions that have been engrafted on it within recent years, is based on the principle of collective bargaining with the trade union as the selected unit. Those persons who receive direct benefits from an award must be members of the trade union affected by it. The clothing industry is a perfect example of that. By direct operation, the benefits of the federal award governing the clothing industry go to the members of the union. I do not know the circumstances of the particular case, but it seems certain that the production of evidence of membership of a union is necessary for the administration of the Allied Works Council. The Minister for Labour and National Service will be able to give reasons for the action that he took in his own department.

Let me deal with the matter in a slightly broader way. During the last two months there have been agitation and propaganda in the press, designed to convey the impression that the Government has introduced compulsory unionism in this country, taking advantage of the war for that purpose. That is absolutely untrue. 4s the right honorable member for Kooyong himself admits, no regulation has been directed to that end. There are two special regulations to which 1 shall refer honorable members immediately, but both of them relate to the power of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to grant preference to unionists. The first was brought into effect last November, in connexion with the clothing trade, I believe at the suggestion of Judge Drake-Brockman, enabling the court to grant unrestricted preference to unionists in that trade. Later, that was extended by the Governmnent, not with a view to compelling the granting of preference to unionists or of instituting compulsory unionism, but merely in order to give power to the Arbitration Court in respect not only of the clothing trade but also of any other trade whose raw came before the court, for consideration. By way of enactment, the Government has done nothing.


Mr Spender - For a very good reason - that the Parliament would not approve of it. It has been done behind the back nf Parliament.


Dr EVATT - The right honorable member for Kooyong, when Prime Minister, was seen in connexion with this very matter by deputations introduced to him by my colleague, the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) and others. My recollection is that the right honorable gentleman then favoured the application of the principle of preference to unionists to the clothing trade.


Mr Menzies - I always made it clear that I favoured the granting of the widest power to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.


Dr EVATT - I go further than that. L believe that the right honorable gentleman was in favour of actually extending the principle of preference to unionists in the clothing trade.


Mr Menzies - Extending the power to award preference.


Dr EVATT - Judge Drake-Brockman was always in favour of the widest preference being given in that industry; and for a very good reason. The difficulty in the clothing industry is that many employers do not manufacture the clothing or the garments in their own factories. They buy from contractors and outdoor workers. At times garments are made in backyard sweat shops in Carlton and Fitzroy, under conditions which, according to the evidence that appeared in reports, was little short of disgraceful.


Mr Hughes - Where there is no chance of supervision.


Dr EVATT - As the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) says, there is no chance of supervision in those conditions. In every country in the world - ever since Thomas Hood wrote The Song of the Shirt - this problem of out-workers in the garment trade has engaged the attention of public men. In Australia, the position has been aggravated during the last few years by the entry of immigrants into the trade. Advantage has been taken of cheap labour, especially the labour of little children. Judge Drake-Brockman has tried to stamp out the evil by extending the standards of unionism operating in the factories where there is no sweating, to these wretched sweat shops that exist in some industrial districts. Both of the statutory rules which. I have already described were made at his suggestion. I conferred with him on the subject, and it was his opinion that the court, should have the widest possible power. I have learned that, while the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) was in office and since the outbreak of war, several bills were prepared for submission to Parliament giving the Court power to award unrestricted preference.


Mr Harrison - Surely there is a distinction between preference to unionists and compulsory unionism.


Dr EVATT - The distinction is a very fine one. Preference to unionists means that, when ah employer proceeds to engage labour, he must give preference to members of a unIon, and that means, in substance, compulsory unionism.


Mr Harrison - Nothing of the kind.


Dr EVATT - The whole purpose of preference to unionists is to give preference at all relevant points, including the point of engagement. The effect of preference to unionists must be to favour those who are members of unions, and this must result inevitably in workers becoming unionists. Statements have been made on this subject by a Mr. Withall, and there has been a good deal of press comment to the effect that the Government has decreed compulsory unionism. As a matter of fact, it has not. No law has been passed dealing with the matter. All the instances referred to by the right honorable member for Kooyong are explicable. As regards the Department of Supply, the only instance cited is in connexion with out-workers in the clothing trade, and that is the acute problem which Judge DrakeBrockman has helped to solve. In Victoria, no fewer than 200 employers out of a total of 209 agreed to accept the condition proposed by the Department of Supply. In New South Wales. 413 out of a total of 431 similarly agreed. Thus, the bulk of the employers have no objection to the provision. I submit, therefore, that, the complaint of the right honorable member for Kooyong has no substance. Instances that have been collected over a long period do not prove the case. The Government has been asked on more than one occasion to deal directly with this problem by legislation, and these requests have not been granted. The Government looks at all these matters in the light of its concentration on the one thing that matters, namely, the winning of the war. The right honorable member for Kooyong does not seem to believe in his own case. He has always been one of the strongest advocates of unionism, and, as I have pointed out, he had bills prepared for the purpose of giving to the court power to do the very thing of which he now complains.


Mr Spender - The Attorney-General lias not explained why the instruction was issued in respect of the Department of Munitions, the Department of the Navy and the Allied Works Council.


Dr EVATT - The honorable member now chooses to cite certain instances, but they were never previously mentioned in this House. Probably he has collected instances which occurred over a long period, and for all I know all those may be capable of explanation. The Government believes in the principle of preference to unionists. We are pledged to support that principle, and there has been no attempt to enforce it in an indirect way.


Mr McEwen - Does the AttorneyGeneral believe in compulsory unionism?


Dr EVATT - I believe in preference to unionists. I believe that, when favorable conditions have been established in an industry by the exercise of the right of association, it is only fair to expect those who benefit from those conditions to join the union which was responsible for obtaining them. I repeat that there has been no direct enactment by the Government in regard to this matter.


Sir Frederick Stewart - That is our complaint.


Dr EVATT - Does the honorable member want a direct enactment? All that the Government has done is to give the court the power which the right honorable member for Kooyong himself wished to give it.







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