Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 4 November 1910


Senator MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - -When it has been made a caucus question, then the members of that party have not a free hand ?


Senator McGREGOR - That is very true, and that is what is troubling honorable senators opposite. They can hold as many conferences and form as many parties throughout Australia as they please - from the great National Defence League down to the People's party, which is the newest bom - but they can do nothing with the whole of them, because there is no cohesion, no common ground of action. They have no sympathy with each other, and, consequently, they have no moral control over the actions of each other. Of course, they are aggrieved to find themselves in that position. Every third year . the Labour party have a Conference, in which every section is represented, and formulate a policy. Every candidate who goes before the people agrees with that policy. It is part of, I might say, his religion, and, consequently, there is no secrecy about it, He goes on to the public platform and advocates the policy. When the party sit in caucus to deliberate as to the carrying out of the policy there is no dissentient voice. There is no question of a small majority on one side and a substantial minority on the other, as the newspapers and some honorable senators opposite have often declared. There is no question of that description concerning those subjects which have been agreed to first by a public conference of the whole party and then deliberated on by the caucus. But upon any question which has not become a caucus one, every member of the

Labour party is quite as free - indeed, rauch freer - than is any honorable senator .upon the opposite side of the Chamber.


Senator Vardon - They are not free when a decision is arrived at in caucus.


Senator McGREGOR - Upon a question which has been previously decided at ari Inter-State Labour Conference there can be no division in caucus.


Senator Millen - Then why do honorable senators opposite hold a caucus?


Senator McGREGOR - To discover the best method of circumventing the machinations of my honorable friends, and it is because we are successful that they exhibit so much annoyance. They are grieved that they cannot find a policy which every one of them can advocate. Before the Constitution actually came into being, the members of the Labour party believed that any central authority which had the powers of taxation to which I have referred, ought to exercise the most complete control over the commercial and industrial affairs of the Commonwealth. In this Bill we are merely seeking to give legislative effect to the promise which we have been making to the people for years past. I am very glad that the Government are supported by a solid party, whose members are prepared to do all that they can to fulfil their pledges to the electors. To this end it is necessary to make certain amendments in section 51 of the Constitution. Honorable senators will recognise that the first sub-section of that section relates to trade and commerce. But up to the present time, owing to the insertion of the words " with foreign countries and among the States," the Commonwealth Parliament has been prohibited from doing anything to prevent fraud and deception in connexion with trade and commerce.


Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. -For what do the State Parliaments exist ?


Senator McGREGOR - They have a; great work to perform, if they are prepared to perform it. But when they fail to perform it, the National Parliament ought to be empowered to undertake it. The State Parliaments, owing to the existence of obstructive Legislative Councils, have failed to discharge a very important duty in connexion with trade and commerce, and, therefore, the National Parliament should undertake it.


Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert Gould. - This Parliament is to act as an overlord of all the State Parliaments, because of its strong sense of justice and its capacity for administration.


Senator McGREGOR - Does the honorable senator wish to make the people of Australia believe that the Commonwealth Parliament should not possess at least equal powers with the State Parliaments? Does he wish to degrade the Legislature of which he is a member? Does he desire to make its powers inferior to those of the State Parliaments?


Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. -No.


Senator McGREGOR - If the honorable senator wishes to put the Commonwealth Parliament upon the same footing as the State Parliaments in the matter of its trade and commerce powers, he will heartily support the Government in the amendment of the Constitution which they seek to effect. We have already passed a Commerce Act, but although we may bar inferior goods from being imported into Australia from other countries, although we may prevent fraud being practised upon the public in that connexion, the manufac'turers or merchants who are engaged in trade or commerce in any one State may poison, kill, and enslave the people of that State, and the Commonwealth is powerless to intervene. Is it not time that power was placed in the hands of this Parliament to deal, with dishonest individuals who are preying upon the public within a State in the matter of the food which they eat, the liquor which they drink, or the clothes which they wear? Is it not time that we were empowered to take action to protect Australian citizens? In such circumstances, it is degrading to find any person who is not prepared to extend to the Commonwealth equal powers with those possessed by the States. As I have no desire to labour this question, 1 will pass on to the next amendment of the Constitution which we propose, and which has reference to corporations. We require equal powers with the State Parliaments to deal with the formation of corporations or trusts in any State of Australia, so that we may exercise some control over the businesses which are being carried on in this country. Seeing that we have the power to confer advantages upon these businesses by means of the Tariff, and by means of legislation which we may enact, surely we ought to have authority to control, to some extent, corporations formed either in this or any other country which conduct business operations here. Consequently, we ask that the Commonwealth shall be clothed with equal power with the States in connexion with! corporations which are formed either inside or outside of Australia. The next amendment which we desire to effect in the Constitution has reference to the conditions of labour and employment. Provision is made in the Constitution for the enactment of legislation for conciliation and arbitration in connexion with the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. But within the past ten years sufficient has occurred in the Commonwealth to show that die limitation which is there imposed is detrimental to the best interests of the people of Australia. We know that when difficulties have arisen in connexion with mining, or engineering, or shipping, or with any of our great industries, although the disputes may have been confined to a particular State, their very existence has affected the whole of Australia, and has threatened to bring disaster and ruin into many homes. Consequently, we claim equal power with the States in the matter of endeavouring to prevent and settle industrial disputes. To illustrate my meaning I need only refer to the strike which! recently took place at the Newcastle coal mines. We know that the men there were goaded and persecuted to such an extent that they had to strike. That strike was brought about by the great Coal Vend, and by the coal-owners, in order that they might get rid of all of their stored coal at an enormous price. The coal-owners and merchants made more profit while that strike continued, and while no coal was being taken out of the bowels of the earth, than they could have made had the miners been working all the time. They knew they would do so before the strike was brought about, and they did all that they could to prevent its settlement.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Hustings bluff.


Senator McGREGOR - I am stating absolute fact. I have not said anything about leg-irons or chain-gangs, and I do not intend to do so. They are things of the past, and as far as the industries of Australia are concerned, I hope that both the leg-irons and the chains will be placed in the museum, and exhibited there as am evidence to the rising generation of the barbarity which was practised by their forefathers. What did the Government of New South Wales do to settle the New- castle coal strike? They did nothing either of a humane or Christian character. They endeavoured to tyrannize over the men, and to deal leniently with the authors of the trouble. The Government desire to give the Commonwealth equal power with the States to legislate in respect of industrial troubles, no more and no less. Then, if the States are not prepared to discharge their duty to industries existing within their own borders, the Commonwealth will be able to step in and discharge it for them. I have not the least doubt that in such circumstances the Commonwealth will discharge it well. But the chief apprehension in the minds of some persons is that State railway servants will be included within the scope of this Bill. I have heard a lot of rubbish talked about the State railways being placed under the control of the Commonwealth, and I have also read a lot of trash in the daily newspapers on the same question. But I would like to ask every honorable senator, and every editor of a newspaper in Australia, how we can bring the railways of any State under the control of the Commonwealth? We can do nothing of the kind. We propose to do no more in connexion with State public servants than we propose to do in connexion with the servants of private employers. If all these questions are submitted to a Court of Arbitration, which will deal fairly between employer and employed, will it not be a blessing to the States ? Instead of protesting against our proposal, the States ought to be very thankful to the Commonwealth for providing them with a way out of many difficulties. When it is urged that by enacting legislation of this kind we are influencing the revenue and expenditure of any State, I ask if the same remark is not equally applicable to private employers? When the Commonwealth Court of. Conciliation and Arbitration deals with the wages and conditions of employment which obtain in any industry, is it not interfering with the revenue which is derived from that industry? Is it not, to some extent, compelling the private employer to act fairly and honestly towards his employes? If we had the same conditions in connexion with the railways or .with the industries of the States as the State Parliaments have at times permitted, we should have a right to control them.


Senator McColl - That is a slander onthe States, and a reflection on every member of the State Parliaments.


Senator McGREGOR - I never have the least hesitation in saying what I think about individual citizens, or about the representatives of States, if I think that they deserve any sort of censure. I am sure that honorable senators opposite very often blame me because they think I am too outspoken in connexion with matters of this kind. But I do not intend to put any curb on my tongue. I shall not refrain from saying what I think is true because my remarks may be offensive to some legislators in some States, or even to honorable senators opposite. I believe the statements I have made are true. We have only to turn to the history of the Victorian railway strike to see that the difficulties that then occurred would have been prevented if the Commonwealth had had power to step in. To say so much is not to utter any slander against the States. It is merely a criticism upon some supposed statesmen which they richly deserve. I contend that the Commonwealth has as much right to deal with the employes of the States as with the employes of an individual. Commonwealth servants, as well as State servants, should be under the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. We have no right to interfere "with private employment if we have not the right to interfere to exactly the same extent with the relationships between the workers and the State Governments. Consequently, we consider that we have a right to ask for this extension of power, and I am certain that we shall get it. There is also another amendment of the Constitution which we propose. We have been engaged in passing anti-trust legislation, Australian industries protection legislation, and legislation under other denominations, for the purpose of solving the difficulties that have arisen in connexion with trade and commerce. If honorable senators like to look up Hansard, they will find that honorable senators on this side of the Chamber have been continually stating that legislation of that kind was useless ; that there was nothing in it ; that it would have no good effect; and that the only way to secure the purpose in view was by amending the Constitution, and giving fuller powers to the Commonwealth. We are now asking for those powers in connexion with trusts and monopolies. We are endeavouring to have inserted in the Constitution a new paragraph amending section 51. It will be paragraph 40, and will give this Parliament greater control over trusts and monopolies than we have had in the past. When we have secured that power, we shall not have cases hung up for years in connexion with the Shipping Combine, the Coal Vend, and other trusts of that description which are in existence. We shall be able to take action straight away, and do something effective. We have been

Simply playing with the question up to the present time. If the amendment of the Constitution which we propose is carried - if the people sanction it, as I have not the least doubt that they will - we shall be able to rid Australia of abuses such as have made the United States of America the laughing stock of the rest of the world. I have now described the legislation that we are proposing in connexion with the amendment of the Constitution. I have not the least doubt that this Bill will be passed by the Senate, nor have I any doubt that when it is put before the people, they, knowing how they have been treated by trusts and combines, how they have been squeezed by corporations, how they have been scorched by labour difficulties, how the public have been brought down almost to their knees by those connected with huge commercial institutions, will by a very large majority in every State give the Commonwealth the power that is sought.







Suggest corrections