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Thursday, 19 November 1914

Senator WATSON (New South Wales) . - There is nothing which has. raised the ire of the working men of the northern district of New South Wales towards our compulsory training system more than the thought that, in time of industrial peril, the very Forces which have been organized for the defence of the Commonwealth may be called upon to render service which may be inimical to the highest and best interests of the community. When the framers of the Defence Bill submitted that measure to Parliament, I am quite sure that their object was to protect Australia against invasion by a foreign foe. They never intended to give a semblance of assent to the idea that the measure was brought forward for the purpose of keeping in subjection men who were contending for their rights - nien who found that the industrial conditions under which they were living were insufficient to- meet the needs of the situation, and who felt that passive resistance was the only way in which they could direct attention to the necessity for an alteration of the law.

Senator Bakhap - Passive resistance is not likely to be interfered with in any circumstances.

Senator WATSON - Passive resistance is the method of a strike, and the employment of that method may lead to a state of violence.

Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator knows that that cannot be.

Senator WATSON - I am endeavouring to show that it is quite within the range of possibility. In 1909-10 the Newcastle miners had a list of grievances in respect of which they could obtain no redress, and they determined that they would not continue at work until an open conference was granted for the purpose of affording some means of redress. That request was refused by the proprietors, and a strike lasting eighteen weeks ensued. When the proprietors had used every endeavour to bring in the arm of the law to force the men into subjection an arrest was made of the leaders on a certain night at Newcastle. A posse of police, Seventy in number, came from Sydney for the purpose of making arrests, and the leaders of the strikers actually came in the same train from Sydney. The police allowed the leaders to go to Newcastle, knowing that there was a mass meeting to be held to protest against certain acts which had taken place on the part of the Government to force the strikers into obedience. Had it not been for the action of the leaders in controlling the men on that memorable occasion a riot might have ensued in which the lives of many persons might have been lost. In the vicinity where the arrests took place there were thousands of bricks, which, if used, would have led to one of the greatest scenes of bloodshed which Newcastle had ever seen. An act of violence of this kind may arise accidentally, and the fear that is ever before the worker is that the gat- ling guns and the military will be called into action the moment that there is the slightest sign or hint that an, uprising is likely to take place; that is to say, that a mass meeting is to be held in which the people are going to give vent to their feelings with regard to the position with which they are confronted. If the terror of a Citizen Army arrayed against them is ever before the workers it will lead to a result which will undoubtedly detract from the value of our military system. We want to reserve our military system for what it was primarly intended for, and that was the protection of our shores. We ought to have sufficient confidence in the people of this country to believe that they are quite qualified to control themselves as a community and to be controlled by the civil powers. I am quite satisfied that this amendment, if carried, will remove the objection which has been raised so often, that an attempt is being made to coerce and to hold over us a power which we ourselves acknowledge to be necessary for the safeguarding, of our own shores and civilization. We are not unmindful of the fact that in our country discipline must be maintained, and that there ought to be a recognition of law and authority even in times of industrial difficulty and strife. But when you accelerate the trouble by a standing Army threatening that should the workers not implicitly obey they will be coerced and will have the guns of the military turned on them, you reduce our civilization to a standard which is not worthy of us. I sincerely hope that the amendment will be carried, as it will honour the industrialists in a way to which I think they have a rightful claim. They have a right to be considered as being capable of controlling themselves without the threat of a Citizen Army compelling them into obedience. The very existence of such a possibility naturally creates a spirit of indignation and revolt which does not make for the building up of an efficient compulsory Defence Force. To my mind, that is one of the strongest reasons why the amendment should be carried. Our system of defence is compulsory, and, being compulsory, we ought only to be compelled to drive out the enemy from our shores, leaving to the State Governments the duty of controlling the civilian interests within their territories. I am perfectly sure that if this is done it will remove the one objection which is alleged by the rank and file of the community against the present compulsory military system.

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