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Thursday, 17 September 1942

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) said that the real opposition to compulsory unionism arose from the objection of the United Australia party and the United Country party to a policy which in their view compels men to contribute to the maintenance of a political party in whose principles they might not believe. Honorable members opposite do not object to compelling men to belong to a union. A very effective method of compulsion has for a long time been exerted by the unions themselves. After more than a century of activity, the unions have induced the public to admit that members of unions arc economically freer than non-unionists, and that economic freedom may be secured by compulsory means. Just as the law enforcing the early closing of shops has improved the conditions of those shopkeepers who could not enforce a voluntary agreement to close, so trade unionism has improved' the conditions of the workers. Those who have been compelled to join unions have found that, as the result of their membership, their conditions have improved. I agree with thu policy of compulsory unionism, provided there are reasonable safeguards, but 1 should like to see those safeguards embodied in an act or in regulations. I do not, like the manner in which compulsory unionism has been introduced in this instance, as outlined by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies). If compulsory unionism is to be enforced, the method which the Government adopts should be such as will allow Parliament an opportunity to discuss it.

Mr Rankin - The honorable member believes in compelling men to belong to unions, but he does not believe in compelling men to fight for their country.

Mr BLACKBURN - I have never objected to the principle of compelling ment to fight for the defence of Australia; but I object to the despatch of our troops overseas and to the territories. If it were not for the support of trade unionists, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), for example, would be defeated at the election. That statement applies with equal force to many other honorable members opposite, including the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey). The late Sir Henry Gullett informed me repeatedly that if every unionist and his family were to vote against him, he had no chance of being elected to this House. The Osborne judgment in England in 1910 declared that it was illegal for trade unions to impose political levies upon their members. In 1913 the act was amended, and a system of " contractingout " made every member liable to contribute to a separate political fund if he did not object to doing so. In 1927 the Tory Government in Great Britain had that altered by introducing the system of " contracting-i n ", so that a member of a union could not be compelled to pay political contributions unless he agreed to do so. The ground of the complaint of the trade unions against the Government in Great Britain to-day is that it will not revert to the position which existed before 1927. In most of the States, the rule laid down in the Osborne judgment has not been changed. The exception in New South Wales is laid down in the Industrial Arbitration Act, which makes it clear that a union cannot compel a member to contribute to a political party. In New South Wales, in order to approach the Industrial Commission the union must first become registered. Section 107 of the Industrial Act, 1940, reads -

A Trade Union . . . may -

(c)   provide for the application of its moneyand property to the furtheranceof political objects so long as rules of the union are in force providing . . .

(i)   that any payments in the furtherance of such objects are to be made outof a separate fund;

(ii)   that contribution to such separate fund shall not be a condition of admission to or membership of the said union;

(iii)   that a member who does not contribute to such separate fund shall not be excluded from any benefits of the union or placed under any disability or at any disadvantage as compared with other members of the union by reason of his failure to so contribute.

Paragraph b of the same section makes the right to recover subscriptions from members subject to the provisions of paragraph c. Honorable members will say, " Yes, but where is the protection of the man who refuses to contribute?" The Industrial Commission exists for his protection. If the union refuses to admit him, the Commission may fine the union up to £100. The Commission has a general power to enforce the rules of the union and these rules must conform with the provision I have read. Apart from that general power, there is in section 109 a specific provision for the enforcement of the rule relating to the recovery of subscriptions. I think that in New South Wales only one case of objection to use of union funds for political purposes has gone to the higher courts. In the cases of Allen and Gordon, representatives of a substantial minority in the Bookbinders Union objected in the Supreme Court to the subscription by the union of £100 to the anti-conscriptionmovement. The court held that the union had no right to spend money on the conscription campaign and that the £100 must be repaid by the trustees, but the judge showed that he was not very impressed by the motives of the plaintiffs when he refused to allow them costs. The case was decided in 1918. The position in New South Wales, which I have mentioned first because it is the most highly industrialized Australian State, is perfectly clear. I do not know the position in the other States, but I do know the position in Victoria, having learnt it from experience and from inquiry of members of unions. In Victoria no union member can be compelled to pay a political contribution. I do not know of any union rule which compels a member to pay a political contribution, and, if there were one, I think that, as the result of the Osborne judgment, it would be illegal. In Victoria, however, the unions which are affiliated with the Australian Labour party, do make contributions to that party in the same way as pastoral companies, trustee companies, banking companies, insurance companies and practically every big financial employing agency in Australia contributes to the United Australia party and, sometimes, the Country party.

Mr Rankin - No.

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