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Thursday, 4 July 1946
Page: 2222


Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) . - The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has taken up an attitude which is characteristic of the Government in its dealings with industrial disputes. He says, in effect, " I am not my brother's keeper ". He went on to say that the dispute was the concern of the Queensland Government, and that he did not propose to interfere. If a different approach had been made to the dispute, if a more conciliatory attitude had been adopted, and the men had been asked to go back on pre-strike terms, they would have done so. All that, of course,- is a matter for argument, something for' a tribunal to decide. I am not concerned with the details or even the merits of the dispute. What I am concerned with as a citizen of Australia is this : There is at present in Queensland open defiance of the law. The Prime Minister says, " What is the Government to do? " Well, I shall tell him. He should enforce the law. The right honorable gentleman said that the Premier of Queensland had exercised to the full" 'the powers which he enjoys under the ordinary laws, and that he had, in addition to this, declared that a state of emergency existed. That, says the Prime Minister, is enough. He is not called upon to interfere: he does not intend to interfere. He has a ring-side seat, and proposes to sit back, doing nothing. Shall I tell him what more he could do? He could say to this House and to the people: "I am heart and soul behind Hanlon ". The Premier of Queensland has pointed the way that the Prime Minister should go, but the Prime Minister has refused to follow it. He will do nothing: that is his policy. The workers in this instance and in others have been encouraged to strike by the refusal of the Government to enforce the law. When the Parliament was discussing the position on the coal-fields he adopted the same attitude. He said, " I am not going .to put 15,000- or 20,000 . men in jail ". Of course that cannot " be done, but if he had put out the fire when it was but a little blaze there would have been no great conflagration to-day. The Government has not enforced the law. Men have been encouraged to strike, and there is a feeling in Australia that the best way to get something " out of the -employers is to strike, rather than to go to the Arbitration Court. The Labour party's policy is arbitration. Long ago, it turned its back on strikes. At one time, the strike was the only weapon in the hands of the worker, butthat time has long since passed, and law, the most powerful agency in a civilized community, is now at the service of the workers.

Papers which come to me from the Waterside Workers Federation refer to the glorious victories won by strikes, and contrast them with the paltry results of arbitration. Yet arbitration has done more for the workers' of this country than a millennium of strikes could have achieved. No one who has 'taken part in a strike of any duration would deliberately urge upon the worker's such a hazardous and costly course when it is possible under the law to gain their end by peaceful, safe and inexpensive means. As Mr. Justice Brennan said yesterday, the action of the strikers in this instance constitutes a gross defiance of the law. Well, what are we to do? Our course is clear : we must muster up enough courage to enforce the law, and prove by our conduct that strikes do not pay. The Prime Minister asks : " What am I to do ". Let him -enforce the law. A formidable list of regulations has been drawn up to deal with strikes and absenteeism in the coal industry, but how many of them have been enforced ? How many men have been fined? Far from the law being enforced, a member of the Government goes about the country encouraging the workers to strike. In spite of this, the Prime Minister says : " What can I do ? "

I know that there is an election in the offing, but if the Prime Minister had as much courage as the Premier of Queensland has shown iri the meat workers' strike, he would insist that, once and for all, there must be a showdown, and then we would see who really governs this country. Do the public count for nothing?1 Are the interests of the people of. Queensland' to be utterly ignored? -The Labour Government in Queensland has taken a step which must result- in one of two things: Either the Government will be defeated, and anarchy will reign -supreme, or the law, for which the Labour party stands, will emerge triumphant.

The other day I listened to some talk about communism in Australia. And a little time ago the people were treated to -a stage-play put on in order to create the impression that the Labour party was in earnest in repudiating the Communists, but all this left things as they were. Communism still directs the Government and defies the law. Communism is at the back of this strike, as of. every other strike. I have in my office now a list of unions that are controlled by Communists, both in Queensland and throughout the rest of Australia. The Labour party has repudiated the Communists, and outlawed them from the Labour leagues, but that leaves the matter exactly where it was. The Communists still hold the Labour party in their toils. Communism controls all but one of the great industrial organizations of this country. And though that control is master of the political leagues the power of organized unionism in the Labour movement overshadows the political Labour party, whose members dare not act contrary to Communist, commands, and I waited the other day to hear one member get up and denounce the Communists, and wash his hands of the organization, but not one of them did so. [Extension of time granted.]

I support wholeheartedly the motion. Some of the Labour supporters who are interjecting are loud-mouthed supporters of unionism; but they have never done anything for the trade union movement except live on it. Now that unionism has become a great power in Australia, these gentlemen have climbed on to the band wagon, but when I entered the Labour movement there was no band wagon. There was a " black maria " on the one side and a hearse on the other. To be a unionist in those days was to be an Ishmaelite - with all doors to employment slammed against you. We built up the Labour movement when our only weapon was the strike. Then there came to us, like a gift from the gods, the arbitration system, which attempts to settle disputes and redress grievances on the basis of justice. We now stand for a fair deal for the workers. If they have grievances the court will redress them. If the court is unsatisfactory, Labour has a majority ' in Parliament, and can alter the law, but we must obey the law, good or bad, while it stands. The Prime Minister would do himself and his party much good if he would now stand up and say to the Premier of Queensland, " I am behind you to thu end ".







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