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Thursday, 17 September 1942


Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) (Minister for Supply and Development) . - I am not familiar with the details of the case that the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. McDonald) has outlined, but I warn him that if we were to apply his contentions - even accepting the merits of his case - to the field of " big business " and " high finance "-


Mr Spender - That is an old game.


Mr BEASLEY - It is not an old game. If we were to expose the activities of some of those who have worked under the cost-plus system, the story would be so staggering that the people would not tolerate that position.


Mr Spender - Why does not the Minister answer the charge?


Mr BEASLEY - If the Opposition wants me to survey the field of profiteering, exploitation and downright robbery, I shall be pleased to order an investigation.


Mr Harrison - What action has the Government taken to prevent exploitation and downright robbery?


Mr BEASLEY - -The Government has taken strong action to suppress it. The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) directed his remarks principally to .the clothing trade. It is interesting to note that the criticism of the Department of Supply and Development emanates from a small section of employers in this business. The employers, as a whole, have readily accepted the proviso, for the very good reason that the decent employer recognizes that employees who enjoy the benefits of award rates and conditions should belong to the organization that gained for them those advantages. When making this award, Judge Drake-Brockman inserted a proviso to enable certain members of the Employers Federation to apply to the court for exemption, from its provisions. In other words, certain employers were granted preferential treatment as against their competitors, when performing work for the Government. Honorable members may not be aware that the prices in a government contract for clothing are based on the cost of manufacture, and the observance of award rates and conditions. Why should one set of employers be permitted to evade the award, while their competitors are compelled to observe it? I emphasize that point. By ensuring that all employers in the clothing trade observe the award, we shall abolish " sweat shops " and undercutting.


Mr Anthony - In view of thu shortage of labour, how do the "sweat shops " succeed in getting employees ?


Mr BEASLEY - During the last few years, many immigrants have come to this country, and they do not understand conditions of employment, and the rates of pay to which they are entitled. They hare been the victims of downright exploitation, particularly in the clothing trade.


Mr Bernard Corser - Why does not the Government suppress the exploitation?


Mr BEASLEY - I am using every endeavour to suppress it, and all manufacturers of clothing who execute orders for the Commonwealth Government will be compelled to observe award rates and conditions. The point of interest in this matter is the fact that the right honorable member for Kooyong was briefed by those employers when the case was argued before the High Court. The right honorable gentleman paid me the compliment of saying that I had been consistent in this matter. I return the compliment. He has been equally consistent. He has carried the case from the courts into this Parliament.


Mr Menzies - How many years ago was that?


Mr BEASLEY - How long ago it was does not matter a scrap. I am only complimenting the right honorable gentleman on his consistency. It is more to the credit of the right honorable gentleman that his consistency should last over a long period of years.


Mr Menzies - That is not true..


Mr BEASLEY - Well, the right honorable gentleman has been inconsistent. As a Minister he had one policy; he has another in Opposition, and yet another when he is briefed to go into the court. L do not -want to reflect upon the fraternity with which the right honorable gentleman is associated, but I suppose that he will argue the case of whoever hands him ti brief, whether it is consistent or inconsistent with his own views.


Dr Evatt - That is quite sound.


Mr BEASLEY - My colleague the Attorney-General tells me that that is quite a sound legal practice. I shall leave it at that. The interesting point that I was trying to make when I was interrupted by the right honorable member for Kooyong is that in New South Wales all but 4 per cent, of the employers engaged in the clothing trade have readily signed agreements with the Amalgamated Clothing and Allied Trades Union of Australia under the award of Judge Drake-Brockman. Honorable members and the workers of this country should know the firms that refused to do so. They were: Anthony Hordern & Sons ; Marcus Clark Limited ; Murdochs Manufactories Limited; Lowes Limited; David Jones Limited; and Gowing Brothers Limited. They resisted the preference clause.


Mr Anthony - Do they employ allen labour?


Mr BEASLEY - They employ whatever labour they can get cheaply. Proof of that is the fact that certain manufacturers a few years ago compelled their employees to join the New South Wales branch of the union because the basic wage in New South Wales was higher than the wages prescribed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. This direction had the effect of forcing their employees into the union because the union had a federal award, the base rate of which was lower than the State base rate. In that case compulsory unionism was imposed by the employers themselves. It was a good thing when the result meant lower wages, and in consequence higher profits. It will be observed that as members of the union the workers would be bound to accept the lower rate; otherwise these firms would have to pay the State rate, which was higher.







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