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Thursday, 4 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER -Is the motion supported ?

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,

Mr FADDEN - I submit this motion in an endeavour to arouse in the Government a sense of its responsibility in the grave industrial crisis that exists, not only in Queensland, but also throughout Australia generally. Industrial unrest and turmoil are seen on every hand. The crisis in Queensland has assumed such grave proportions that no self-respecting national government can continue to sit complacently by and take no action to remedy it. It is necessary to review the trend of events that have led up to the present state of affairs in Queensland. The trouble had its origin- in a strike of employees in a bacon factory at Murarrie, when four men were dismissed on the 6th March, nearly three months ago. On the 29th March the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union ordered a State-wide strike. On the 2nd May the State Arbitration Court ordered the meat-workers to resume work on the 16th May. The employees ignored this order and the union was de-registered. On the 27th May the trouble spread to waterside workers, who refused to load meat. On the 12th June, coal-miners ceased .work in support of the strikers in the meat industry. On the 13th June, the Disputes Committee of the Trades and Labour Council, most of the members of which are Communists, decided that' members of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, the Australian Railways Union, and the Waterside Workers Federation should cease work on the 19th June in support of the meat strikers. On the 19th June, the Industrial Court ordered the Federated Locomotive Enginemen and the Australian Railways Union not to strike without a secret ballot. On the 26th June, the meat-workers rejected the proposals submitted by the employers for a settlement of the dispute. On the same date, a state of emergency was declared, and restrictions of power and transport came into force. On the 27th June,- the Queensland Cabinet ordered a ballot among the meat-strikers. On the 28 th June, the Queensland Cabinet ordered a compulsory conference of the employers and unions involved in the meat strike. On the 1st July, the conference of employers and employees failed to reach a settlement. On the 2nd July, the conference broke down. Drastic railway restrictions were announced. Striking meat-workers decided they would not resume work even if there was a majority " Yes " vote in the secret ballot.

This recital of events illustrates the critical state of affairs prevailing in Queensland at the present time. That the position is certain to become *worse unless the Commonwealth Government intervenes is shown by the statement of the meat union president, Mr. H. Field, when addressing Booval miners on Monday. The .present strike, said Mr. Field, was not the last .major struggle. It would probably prove to be merely the first round. Further evidence of a determination to continue the industrial trouble was provided by the ' president of the Queensland Coal Employees Union, Mr. Millar, who told the Rosewood miners that their motion for a secret ballot would not be acceptable even if it were carried. There is also ample evidence that the Communist party is active in fomenting industrial strife in Queensland. The Communists are elated at their success so far.

The seriousness of the position is shown by the fact that more than 16,000 men are on strike. They comprise about 5,600 meat-workers, 3,000 coal-miners and 7,S00 waterside workers. As a result of the restrictions, it is estimated that about 70,000 people are out of work. Plants making agricultural implements are high in the list of those enterprises which have been compelled to put-off staff ; saw-mills, private engineering and ship-building works, and secondary industries of all kinds have been adversely affected. The unemployment roll is growing daily. Coal reserves are dwindling. There is a depressing stagnation in business. Building materials, foodstuffs and other essential commodities are being held up. There has been a serious dislocation of export and import trade. ' It was estimated yesterday that the meat strike alone has cost Queensland graziers more than £1,000,000 because of the loss of export trade. Cattle in northern, central and southern Queensland have been taken to railheads and yarded before despatch to the meat works, but because of the impossibility of their being slaughtered, they have had to be released. Beef that ought to have been available for export to Great

Britain and for local sale is consequently not available, and the cattle have lost condition.

There is every indication that, unless the strike ends very shortly, at least one in four of Queensland's working population, exclusive of rural wage-earners, employees in small businesses and' the like, will be unemployed. The effect upon Australia's export trade is also disastrous. Great Britain is urgently in need of food. The Commonwealth Government has undertaken to supply substantial quantities of meat to the United Kingdom yet, because of this strike in Queensland, which has extended over such a lengthy period, it is likely that the people of Britain will be deprived of at least 35,000 tons. Continuance of the strike will result in this figure being greatly increased. So, as a result of industrial lawlessness in Queensland, not only the Australian people but also the people of Britain will suffer.

I propose to give at least four reasons why the Commonwealth Government should intervene in the Queensland strike. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has said repeatedly in his complacent manner that the position is one for the Queensland Government to handle and that the Commonwealth Government has no intention of intervening. On the 20th March last, I asked that the Commonwealth Meat Controller, Mr. Tonkin, be sent to Queensland to effect a settlement. That his visit was greatly delayed is shown by an answer received to-day from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) to the following questions asked by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) : -

1.   Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Meat Controller, Mr. Tonkin, recently visited Brisbane and met representatives of the meatworkers and the meat employers with a view to bringing about a settlement of the meatworkers' strike in Queensland?

2.   If so, willhe say what were the results of the conference, and what suggestions Mr. Tonkin made to bring about a settlement of the dispute?

The reply, - dated to-day, was as follows : -

1.   The Controller of Meat Supplies visited Brisbane recently and met separately representatives of meat workers and of the meat employers.

2.   A conference between the parties was not held, but after discussions with the interested parties, the Controller submitted the following proposals as a basis for the settlement of the meat dispute: - (1.) The Queensland Meat Industry Board.

1.   The Brisbane Abattoir to re-open.

2.   Men to resume work in accordance with the direction of the order of the Queensland Industrial Court, of 2nd May, 1940.

3.   There will be absolute protection for the retention of jobs of employees, including transport drivers, who have remained at work or who have been engaged since the commencement of the strike. There will be no victimization of former employees, who will be reemployed according to the requirement of the Queensland Meat Industry Board.

4.   The board agrees to confer with representatives of the employees, not later than fourteen (14) days after the resumption of work on any matters outstanding, or which either party wishes to bring forward for discussion. The conferences will be presided over by a chairman acceptable to the parties to the conference, and who, if possible, will be selected from within the meat industry.

The lengthy report of Mr. Tonkin shows that although the Prime Minister has steadfastly refused to intervene in the disputes he did in fact intervene, but in a most ineffective way, by sending the Meat Controller to Queensland. The reasons which warrant the Commonwealth Governments intervention are : - First, under National Security Regulation 77 of 1942, which is still in force, the Minister for Defence may direct any person resident in Australia to perform any services or duties in relation to his trade, calling or profession, as are specified or to do or refrain from doing any specified acts. Such directions may be applied to persons generally, to persons in a particular area, or to persons of a particular class. Secondly, under the Crimes Act, a proclamation may be issued if there exists in Australia a serious industrial disturbance prejudicing or threatening trade or commerce with other countries or among the States. In what circumstances is the law to be administered ? The Government of Queensland, under war-time powers, has proclaimed the existence of a state of emergency. Surely that is sufficient justification for Commonwealth intervention ! Again, under what conditions will the Government invoke the Crimes Act, if it does not regard the present situation in Queensland as sufficiently serious? In reply to a question in the Senate, the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Holloway) stated that he would not have any hesitation in invoking the Crimes Act in order to meet the circumstances that arose. I ask: What circumstances have to arise before the Government will invoke the Crimes Act? Industrial turmoil reigns in Queensland. A state of emergency has been proclaimed. But the Commonwealth Government has neither the courage nor the determination to implement its own laws.

The third reason is that the Commonwealth is expending thousands of pounds a week to provide employment benefits for persons who, because of the. strike are out of work in Queensland. This is expenditure of public funds. Taxpayer's as a whole depend upon increased production for a reduction of taxation, but they are paying for the encouragement and continuation of a strike that is curtailing production. Government moneys are being used to provide unemployment relief for the strikers of Queensland, who have reduced the country to its present condition. It is futile for the Prime Minister to shake his head. My statement is proved by the fact that the Commonwealth Employment Service has received more than 6,000 applications for relief since the commencement of the strike. Surely this large disbursement from Commonwealth funds gives to this Government the right to intervene with a view to terminating the dispute and saving the further expenditure of public money. But instead of acting, the Prime Minister sits placidly in the centre of a cocoon of non-intervention and is quite satisfied to allow the position to drift. He shuts his eyes to, and turns his back on this industrial trouble," and declares that responsibility for settling the dispute rests with the Government of Queensland. What would be the right honorable gentleman's attitude if. similar conditions prevailed in every State? Would not they warrant Commonwealth intervention? The difference is only one of degree.

Mr Chifley - Precisely what form does the Leader of the Australian

Country party consider that Commonwealth intervention should take?

Mr.FADDEN- I expected that interjection. The political parties on this side of the chamber stand four-square for the enforcement of the law without fear or favour. We stand four-square also, without any of the pretence that the Labour party has, for arbitration and conciliation. The arbitration laws should be enforced just as firmly as should the. criminal and civil law. If the arbitration law is unjust or impracticable, it should be amended; but so long as it exists, it should be enforced. The Prime Minister must not forget that he swore to enforce the law. It is useless for him to retort, " What would honorable members opposite do in the circumstances " ? The administration of the Commonwealth is divided into three compartments - the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The function of Ministers is to give effect to the executive requirements of a country. The Prime Minister must accept hisresponsibility.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), whose wings' were' probably clipped a few evenings ago, has referred repeatedly to the defenceless position of Queensland during the war. I remind him that a state of emergency has been proclaimed in Queensland, but, although he is a member of the Executive, he has turned his back on the crisis. This industrial turmoil is occurring north of the so-called " Brisbane line ". What has any member of the Labour party south of "the Brisbane line " done to enforce the law for the purpose of terminating the dispute?. Approximately l,000,000 people in Queensland are left defenceless industrially by the enemy within the gate. What does this Government propose todo to destroy that enemy, and protect all those people? The residents of Queensland have a right to expect peace, order and good government, as promised in the Constitution. In this crisis, the Prime Minister should show all law-abiding citizens that he has the power and the determination to enforce thelaw. {Extension of time granted.]

The Government of Queensland has insisted upon a compulsory ballot to decide whether the strikers shall resume work. [ have a facsimile of the* ballot-paper. Printed on it is the following question: -

Are you in favour of- all members of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union (Queensland branch) returning to work under award conditions?

In other words, the strikers are asked whether they are prepared to obey the law. I ask honorable members opposite, and particularly the representatives of Queensland electorates : What . efforts have they made to terminate the dispute? I venture to say that they have not lifted a finger to do so. They are concerned more with obtaining from the people at the forthcoming referendum an increase of Commonwealth powers, although they am not "game" to .utilize the powers that the Government now possesses.

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