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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr PETERS (Scullin) .- The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. "Wentworth) has stated that certain tradesmen who escaped from behind the iron curtain, after the Hungarian revolt, came to this country and were not permitted to practice as engineers because of the action of the Australian Engineering Union. He said that that proved conclusively that that union was doing the work of the Communist party.

Government Members. - Hear, heart

Mr PETERS - Honorable members opposite say " Hear, hear! ". I point out that, throughout Australia to-day, medical practitioners are being refused permission to practice because of pressure by the British Medical Association upon governments, irrespective of the fact that these medical practitioners have diplomas and are able to provide prima facie evidence of their capacity to act as medical practitioners. But 1 do not say that that proves conclusively that all the members of the British Medical Association are Communists, or that they are dominated by the Communist party. I do say, however, that the illogical and absurd attitude of the honorable member for Mackellar indicates that he will take any action that he can to enable him to cast reflections upon the members of the Australian Labour party. Why does he do so? What is his record in fighting communism in this country, either within the trade unions or outside them?

Mr Ward - He evicted a returned soldier from his land

Mr PETERS - Yes.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Mr PETERS - Honorable members on this side of the House have fought against the Communists within the trade unions.

Mr Wight - You have not since you changed your politics!

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) will cease interjecting.

Mr PETERS - The honorable member for Lilley says that I have not fought the Communists since 1 changed my politics. 1 say to him that my politics have always been the same. Let me refer to some of the members of the Anti-Communist Labour party who have been lauded by supporters of the Government. They include Mr. John Cremean, a member of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia, and Mr. Keon, also a member of that union, neither of whom was present during the four years in which the fight took place within the clerks' union to exclude members of the Communist party. Then there is Mr. Mullens, another member of the Federated Clerks Union of Australia. Did he take part in the fight within the industrial movement to exclude from office members of the Communist party?

Mr Hulme - Tell us what you did.

Mr PETERS - I did so, but they did not. They were willing, within the precincts of this Parliament, to give lip service to anti-communism, but on the battlefield where communism has to be fought they have been conspicuous by their absence, as has the honorable member for Mackellar. In days gone by, when communism was on the " up and up ", the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell) and I were fighting Communists on the street corners in the electorates, while the honorable member for Mackellar was presenting them with a cup.

The only object of these persistent attacks on the Labour party is to divert the attention of the people from the economic ills from which they are suffering under a government which is looking after its own supporters particularly well, indeed too well, but is disregarding the claims of the age pensioners who have been denied quarterly cost of living adjustments and some of whom are living in fowl houses and sheds.

In my electorate, 37 people are living in one house of eight rooms, and the landlord is raking in £40 a week. Those are the things from which the honorable member for Mackellar and the playboy deputy leader of the Liberal party, who is sitting at the table, wish to divert the attention of the people. But I assure the honorable member for Mackellar that Nemesis is catching up with him. As the honorable member wanders through the King's Hall, I frequently see him looking furtively over his shoulder. If I were he, I would be doing the same thing, because, with an uneasy conscience, I would be wondering what the people behind me and around me were thinking about me.

Mfr. HAROLD HOLT (Higgins- Minister for Labour and National Service) [10.51]. - The honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters) has produced a herring which could very fittingly be described as a red herring. I do not want the House to divert its attention from the very important and, I believe, very serious matter which has been ventilated to-night by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). Whether or not honorable gentlemen opposite agree with what is being done by the Australian Engineering Union, they have a responsibility to examine the facts and to come to a conclusion upon them. I shall try to place before them the facts as they are and as they have been authoritatively represented to me, because this is not the first occasion on which this matter has come to my notice. Long before the honorable member for Mackellar evinced to mc any interest in it, it had attracted the interest of the Department of Labour and National Service and of myself, because we could see the very serious implications which were developing from the action that was being taken by the Australian Engineering Union in relation to Hungarian refugees who had been brought to Australia by this Government to become permanent settlers.

I pay a tribute to the way in which the trade union movement generally has cooperated with this Government and the previous government in assimilating in the industrial life of this country people who have come here from other countries. There has been good sense, goodwill and co-operation in the arrangements that have been worked out and which, on the one hand, have safeguarded the trade standards of the Australian unionist and, on the other hand, have provided reasonable opportunities for those who had the appropriate trade skill in their country of origin or former employment to enter corresponding employment in Australia. I think most honorable members have some knowledge of the Tradesmen's Rights Regulation Act and of its history. It dates back to the war period, when the unions accepted a programme of dilution of labour as part of their contribution to the war effort. We, as a Government, gave them some protection so that in the years after the war those who had made it possible for people, who lacked the trade standards and the degree of apprenticeship required, to be admitted to the unions did not suffer as a result of the concession they had made. The original legislation had a limited life; but it has been renewed from time to time, just as legislation giving preference to exservicemen has been renewed. On the last occasion on which we examined it, one of the powerful arguments that were advanced by the representatives of the trades unions was that it not only gave proper protection to Australian trade standards but also facilitated the admission into Australian unions of people who come here under our immigration programme. In that respect, it has worked well.

There have been established central trades committees on which are represented the employers and employees, with a chairman drawn from my department. There is a local committee in each State, which functions under policy laid down by the relevant central trades committee. Normally, an immigrant is required to produce papers to indicate the kind of training he has had or the length of apprenticeship he has served, and where they are accepted as being satisfactory no difficulty arises. In some cases documentation is not entirely adequate, and, in suitable circumstances, provision is made for a trade test. These facts may not be interesting to the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who has just yawned, but they are of vital importance to people who have fled from the threat of death in Hungary and have come here to make their lives secure.

Mr Pollard - The Minister ought to spend a week at the Williamstown hostel. Tt would do him good.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

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