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Friday, 18 June 1926

Senator BARNES (Victoria) .- I did not wish to take part in this debate, but, since the measure vitally concerns the interests of Australia, it is advisable that every honorable senator should express his views concerning such an important issue. It is a pity that the other two bills - the proposed constitutional amendment with regard to essential services and the bill to amend the Arbitration Act - are not also before us, because in the debate on this measure we must necessarily deal with matters that ur& more strictly governed by the other proposals. Senator Barwell last night madesome extraordinary statements about our system of industrial arbitration. In reply to an interjection from me, he said he favoured round-table conferences. I am afraid the honorable senator is not so intimately acquainted with the industrial" history of Australia as I am. I know all about round-table conferences. As. honorable senators are aware, I am an officer of a big industrial organization with a membership of over 150,000. Our policy always has been for peace. For years prior to the passing of the Arbitration Act we asked our employers to meet us around the table to talk about our troubles, and year after year we got the same contemptuous reply, "No conference." Then Australia woke up industrially and passed the Arbitration Act. That measure introduced the element of compulsion on, not only employees, but also employers. There was, then, no difficulty about arranging a round-table conference. Since then the officers of my union have had many conferences with employers, and have settled quite a number of industrial differences in that way. Some of the disputes have gone on to the Arbitration Court. It is some satisfaction to us to know that we blazed the track and made it possible for the existing system of industrial arbitration to be established. It has cost us a great deal of money, and I am glad to say that our members have been fairly loyal to the system. It has been in operation since, I think, 1907. Members of my union have been working under its awards since then, and only on one occasion - only when the court made a grievous blunder - have they been in conflict with an award. The court, unwittingly, I believe, made a serious mistake in the figures, and as the award covered a period of two years, I suppose that blunder meant anything up to £500,000 to our members. AVith great reluctance, therefore, we fought that award. It cost us about £40,000 to do so. That is the only instance on record since the arbitration system has been established in Australia of the Australian Workers Union breaking away from it, but as 1 have explained, our members felt that they were suffering a grave injustice. Senator Barwell has told' us that when he was Premier of South Australia he had a good deal to do with industrial affairs, and established a number of wages boards and other tribunals for the settlement of industrial disputes. He suggests that round-table conferences are more satisfactory than compulsory arbitration. My reply is that, but for the existence of the Arbitration Act, there would not be a " dog's chance " of getting round-table conferences for the settlement of industrial disputes. Some people complain about paying £3,000 a year to a judge of the Arbitration Court. If we had 50 judges, and paid them each £3,000 a year, it would be good business if we could ensure the prompt settlement by the court of all industrial claims that come before it. Do honorable senators realize what it means if 10,000 men cease work because they cannot get a settlement of an industrial grievance? Men do not lightly part with their means of subsistence. There must be a solid reason for such drastic action, and it should be the duty of the Government to see that the necessary machinery is available for prompt settlement of all these industrial troubles. I speak more intimately of the affairs of my own union, . because I know more about it than about the affairs of other industrial organizations, though they all follow on much the same lines. My union's rules provide that its members must not go out on strike without the authority of the central organization. If a couple of hundred men " down " tools without consultation, they are informed that they will have .to fight their own battle without assistance from central office.

Senator McLachlan - In some cases they have been ordered to return to work.

Senator BARNES - On occasions that has been done. Members of my organization are working under about 120. State and Federal awards, covering a multitude of occupations. We have spent an enormous sum of money to ensure the establishment of a common-sense method for the settlement of industrial disputes. The older men will, no doubt, recall how we had to fight for the recognition of our rights, and how contemptuously we were treated by a certain class of employers. If honorable senators have ever noticed how an ant will fight to get clear of a handful of sand that may be dropped over it, they will be able to appreciate how members of industrial organizations, in the earlier years of federation, had to fight their way out of their troubles. The representatives of Labour had to convince not only their own followers, but also employers that there was a much more satisfactory way of adjusting their grievances than then existed, and the Labour organizations spent a good deal of their hard-earned money in assisting to place a Commonwealth Arbitration Act on the statute-book. The organization of which I am president has loyally observed its provisions, as has, 1 believe, almost every other industrial organization in this country. There have been exceptions, it is true, but they could easily have been dealt with, if desired, under the present act. Towards the end of the shipping strike, the Seamen's Union was deregistered at the request of the seamen. Under the present Arbitration Act an organization, whether registered or not, may be summoned before the Court on the issue of a proclamation by the Governor-General, and if such an organization refuses to appear before the court, heavy penalties may be imposed. As we are in the main a sane and well-educated people, I should not worry if the Federal Constitution, concerning which we have heard bo much lately, was burned. It would be a very simple matter to elect our representatives in Parliament as we do at present, and allow them to carry on the affairs of the country under a simple set of rules. The other day I received a letter reprimanding me for what I said in this chamber concerning the Big Brother movement, in which the writer informed me that " Little Brothers " from fourteen to nineteen years of age are sent to Australia from England, and after arrival are taken charge of by their " Big . Brothers." It occurred to me that many of these little brothers, particularly the younger ones, should be kept at school for at least another year until they are as well educated as are boys of the same age in Australia.

Senator Sir Victor Wilson - Why does not the honorable senator join up with the movement, and set a good example to others? He would be welcome.

Senator BARNES - I might do worse than that. During the debate last night Senator Barwell referred to the fact that the trade union organizations collected a good deal of money, some of which, he alleged, was spent illegally. The Australian Workers' Union spends approximately £70,000 a year in organizing work; but its rules have always provided that auditors are to be appointed at the annual meeting, one of whom must bo a government auditor if the services of such an officer are available. As a result of experience, it has now been decided that the services of a reputable firm of auditors must be obtained to audit the balance-sheet of branch organizations in the main centres. It will, therefore, be seen that the funds of this large organization cannot be manipulated by dishonest officials.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - Does every union do that?

Senator BARNES - I do not know; but it is the practice with all big organizations. It has been the unfortunate experience of some industrial organizations to lose money owing to the dishonest actions of officials; bub that experience is not peculiar to them.

Senator Kingsmill - Does the Seamen's Union have its balance-sheets audited ?

Senator BARNES - I do not know. Our balance-sheets are always printed, and no less than 50,000 are distributed throughout the Commonwealth in such a way that they are available to any who desire to peruse them. Many great men who have been associated with the Australian Workers Union have been members of this Parliament, and some are here to-day, endeavouring to carry on the good work. The Lower Houses of the State Parliaments are elected on what is supposed to be* an adult franchise, but owing to the manner in which electorates have been gerrymandered, it has been almost impossible for the people to be truly represented. There are also State Legislative Councils.

Senator Foll - Not in Queensland.

Senator BARNES - That is so. There does not appear to be any valid reason why an Upper House should undo the good work of a lower chamber.

The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (Senator Newlands). - I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the bill.

Senator BARNES - I was endeavouring to show why a broader Constitution is necessary, and was explaining that there are Legislative Councils in five of the States which do not reject the opinions of the people since they are not based on adult suffrage.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Newlands). - The hour has now arrived when, under the sessional order, it is my duty to put the question -

That the Senate do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the negative.

Senator BARNES - In 1911, and again in 1913, the Labour Government then in office, believing that under the Jaws of the States there was no effective means of expressing public opinion, submitted certain proposals to the people for their acceptance. I regret that those proposals were defeated. I am one of those who believe that a country which has a Parliament elected on the basis of adult suffrage, and whose actions are subject to review every three years, will not go far wrong. Honorable senators opposite opposed those proposals. Evidently they did not agree that the people of Australia should have an opportunity to express their views. Now, after many years, when the opponents of Labour are governing Australia, they think differently.

Senator Guthrie - The Government and its supporters are not the opponents of Labour, but its best friends.

Senator BARNES - The honorable senator's interjection reminds me of a story in which a louse was described as the true friend of the poor swagman. I must, however, accept the fact that honorable senators opposite were elected by the votes of the people, and, as a democrat, I cannot complain of that. They are entitled to be where they are, and to do their work so long as they are there. "While honorable senators opposite opposed the referendum proposals of the Labour party in 1911 and 1913, I know that many of them are whole-heartedly in favour of an alteration of the Constitution, not in a piecemeal way, such as is now proposed, but holus bolus. Had the Government on this occasion attempted something in that direction, it would have received my whole-hearted support. As things are now, the people's minds are agitated. Trade unionists generally are suspicious of the Government, and will fight its proposals. Throughout Australia the great tory newspapers are fighting them. The Labour newspapers of New South Wales, Victoria, and

Queensland are against the Government's proposals. There is, in fact, a great "mix-up." From Darwin to Hobart the minds of the people are so unsettled that the Government would be wise to postpone the referendum. Any attempt to proceed with the proposals in the present unsettled state of the public mind is doomed to failure. The chances are ten to one against the Government.

Senator McLachlan - What is the honorable senator's attitude?

Senator BARNES - I favour, as I ' have always favoured, the granting of greater powers to this Parliament. I believe that here, as nowhere else, can a true expression of public opinion be obtained. I am not greatly concerned regarding the results of any political contest, because I believe that where a Parliament is elected on a broad franchise, there is not much danger. I should be prepared to burn the Constitution, and to let the people of Australia, on an adult suffrage basis, elect men to do their legislative business." Australia would be perfectly safe- under the arrangement. Because this is an opportunity to broaden the Constitution along the lines laid down by the Labour party - it is the first plank of the Labour platform - irrespective of the source of that opportunity, I welcome it. I shall vote for the Government's proposals. Nevertheless, the public mind is agitated if we can judge by the resolutions passed by various trade unions and other organizations and by the views expressed by leader-writers in the press.

Senator Kingsmill - It is early yet to judge public opinion.

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator's attitude will have a considerable influence with the trade unions.

Senator BARNES - I see no reason for rushing these proposals through. Among the members of the union to which I belong there is a feeling of distrust of the Government. I must admit that, in my opinion, that feeling is founded on solid ground. In the opinion of many, the Government has been guilty of improper things. That remark may be regarded by honorable senators opposite as offensive, but that does not matter so long as it is true. The fact remains that many unionists will not trust a government which has done the things of which the present Government has been guilty. They will not trust a government which gave away .their woollen mills, their national bank, and their ships. It is just as well for honorable senators opposite to face that position.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator has said that he is prepared to accept the decision of the people. Yet, notwithstanding the lies which the Labour party circulated regarding the disposal of the woollen mills, the people at the last election did not return one Labour senator to this Parliament.

Senator BARNES - The Government and its supporters spent so much money, and the press of the country exercised so great an influence, that the truths which we circulated could not catch up with the lies of our opponents. The people regard any alteration of the Constitution as a serious matter, and in considering it they are likely to be embarrassed. Many can see no good reason for a change from existing conditions. Others, as I have pointed out, are not prepared to accept anything from a government which, in their opinion, has been dishonest from the word " go." I understand that another measure affecting the Constitution will be submitted to us shortly. I regret that these various proposals are not all before lis now. There may be a nigger in the woodpile. I am prepared to advise the people to vote for the proposals outlined in this measure, because I believe that they are not only in accordance with the policy of the Labour party, but that they are also truly democratic. I do not fear that in a democratic country like Australia any great calamity will result from the granting of additional powers to Parliament. . Mistakes have been made in the past, and no doubt they will be made in the future. But in a democratic country matters right themselves in time- Because of the unsettled condition of the public mind, the Government would be wise to postpone the consideration of these proposals, if it is possible to do so- As things are now, the situation is impossible. ' We have some of the leaders of democratic thought, including officers of trade unions, sitting cheek by jowl with the tory elements in Australia. That indicates that something is wrong. I ask leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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