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Wednesday, 7 August 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) (Postmaster-General) . - We have arrived at the battleground which the Opposition foresaw when the Re-establishment and Employment Bill was being debated last year. On that battleground, we shall test whether a man's right to work in this community shall be determined by his membership of a trade union, or the service which he rendered to his country in war-time. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) is one of the most suave and disarming members of this Government. His answers are those of a man who has learnt the art of not antagonizing the Opposition or his own supporters, because he never gives an answer which provokes another question. This evening, he has not succeeded in dealing with the important matter raised by certain honorable members on this side of the chamber. Despite what the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) may say, men who had no trade at all joined the services and were trained in the Navy, Army or Air Force in certain trades. In addition, certain men known as dilutees were trained to do certain jobs in industry. Those are" the ones who are now under discussion.

Mr Sheehy - That is not what the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) said.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I support the honorable member for Richmond, because I know from personal experience when I was Minister for the Navy in 1940, I was not able to prevent certain skilled' tradesmen from leaving Cockatoo Island and Morts Dock in Sydney, where they were urgently required to repair ships, because they desired to enlist in the forces. That could occur only under the voluntary system which was in force at that time. I have never believed in the voluntary system, because I consider that in war-time the government, in order to make the best use of the resources of man-power and materials of the country, must be able to direct where men shall work and materials shall be" used.

Mr Sheehy - What about finance?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I include finance. If we allow skilled tradesmen to join an infantry battalion, it .stands to reason that we must replace them with unskilled tradesmen, who must be trained to do the jobs which have become vacant and to fill other jobs which were created as a result of the exigencies of war. The discussion to-night relates to that classof person.

The burden of the Minister's charge is that certain members of the Opposition are attempting to evade the fulfilment of an agreement reached between certain. Ministers in May, 1940, and certain heads of trade unions. At that time, I was the second senior Minister, but I did not know until a long time after I had left the Government that the agreement existed. When the honorable member for Dalley ,(Mr. Rosevear) first referred to it, I challenged the accuracy of his remarks. But Labour Ministers knew of the existence of the agreement,, and every provision contained in it. If that agreement bears and must bear the interpretation which they desire to place upon it this evening, I ask why was it not brought forward last year when we debated the Re-establishment and Employment Bill? That is the important point. At that time, the facts should have been made clear. The right to work is a matter of great importance in this community. For some time past, and no doubt it will continue during our lifetime, the right of a nian to work has been determined more and more by his membership of a certain union. The arbitration laws prescribe the rates of pay that shall apply only to members of industrial organizations. No other persons are so protected. Although those matters are outside the scope of this bill, it is important for us sometimes to see the shape of things to come. " The vehemence with which certain honorable gentlemen opposite, have debated the merits of this case does not dispose of the fact that the honorable member for Fawkner is .doing his best to give effect to the. terms of an agreement. The fault, if any, lies with the Government because it did not disclose when the Reestablishment and Employment Bill was under consideration,. obligations which it had to certain tradesmen.

Mr Ward - Why did not the honorable member for Fawkner raise the matter last year?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The Government is' in charge of the legislation introduced in this chamber. Amendments submitted by the Opposition do not receive consideration, and are not accepted. If one of our amendments, other than one of a trivial technical nature were accepted, it. would be an occasion for us to treat the whole chamber to a champagne supper. It just cannot happen. The bills which the Government introduces into this chamber are as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. They have received the imprimatur of the Labour caucus, and cannot be altered. On this occasion, the onus was on Ministers to disclose, when the Re-establishment and Employment Bill was being considered, the existence of certain agreements with the trade unions. Apparently, the honorable member for Fawkner and others believed that those matters were covered. Now, Ministers say that they were not. They place on this agreement a different interpretation from what the Opposition and particularly those members who participated in the negotiations place upon it. Of course, that is not a new experience. In politics, business or private relations, an agreement reached in 1940 under one set of conditions may bear an entirely different interpretation to-day. However, the issue will have to be resolved, not in this Parliament, but by our masters.

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