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Tuesday, 22 June 1926

Senator BARNES (Victoria) .- Few questions have agitated the public mind so much as those dealt with in the bill now before the Senate. Proposals such as are contained in this bill have been before the people of Australia on other occasions. It would appear that the public mind is usually conservative.

The party to which I belong has asked somewhat similar powers of the people, believing that this Parliament could not properly function and do the great service which the nation's Parliament should do for the people unless it were given more extensive powers than it at present possesses. On the proposals being submitted to them on two or three occasions, the people were stampeded into refusing to give this Parliament the powers asked for. Strange as it may seem, we now have what, from my point of view, is a conservative Government proposing to ask the people for the powers, or some of them, for which the Labour party first asked over sixteen years ago. Whilst the proposals contained in the bill are not so far-reaching as those which we considered necessary, they go quite a long way on the road to giving effect to the platform to which I am pledged as a member of the Labour party. The agitation in the minds of the people on this subject would appear to be due, more or less, to misunderstanding. The VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Pearce), in his second-reading speech, in explaining to the Senate and the public the powers which would be wielded by the Parliament in the event of the Constitution alteration proposals being accepted, said that any authority that would bo appointed by this Parliament would be subject to any restrictions which might be imposed upon it by the Parliament. That is to say, this Parliament would bo in a position to circumscribe the activities of any authority created by it to regulate the industrial affairs of Australia. Although it could not directly declare that 48 hours should constitute a week's work, it could say to the authority, "You shall not gobeyond a 44-hours' week in any award you make." The Attorney-General emphasized this in a later statement. As Minister controlling this legislation he should know the intention of the Government when the bill was drafted. At any rate, he said -

It would be possible for the Parliament to provide that no award, regulation or determination of an authority should prescribe more than a certain number of hours or legs than a certain number. That would be within the power of the Parliament.

It has been claimed in the press and on the platforms of this country that the court to which the Government proposes to delegate its power will be an oligarchy with a life tenure and supreme over this Parliament in the exercise of its authority.

Senator Ogden - Does the honorable senator think that it is the function of Parliament to decidewithout proper inquiry questions relating to hours of. work ?

Senator BARNES - I am not speaking on that phase of the question for the moment. I am trying to remove from the public mind and from the minds of many Labour supporters the wrong impression that has been formed - that if this bill meets with the approval of the people, and an authority is appointed to regulate industrial affairs, it will be beyond the reach and control of this Parliament, and can do whatever it likes. My reading of the bill is that Parliament will have power to appoint an authority to regulate industrial affairs, and that the authority so appointed will not be beyond its reach. Parliament can clip the wings of an authority that does something which does not meet with its approval, and make it subservient to the will of the people. Therefore, it is not proposed to create something which will be superior to this Parliament.

Public opinion may simmer down presently, but at present it is very disturbed. Opposition to the proposed amendments has already been expressed, not only by half the Labour press and half the Labour leaders, but also by every Tory newspaper, and almost every Tory organization. In those circumstances, I. do not think the amendments will have a million-to-one chance of being carried. But if the Government persist in submitting them to the people, I think the people should have a clear understanding of the questions on which they are asked to give a vote. For my own part, as I said the other day, I would clothe the Commonwealth Parliament with every power possible, because after each election it represents . the expressed opinion of the people of Australia. Every adult in the Commonwealth is entitled to go freely to the poll and exercise a vote; indeed, every citizen is compelled to realize his responsibility in this regard, being forced under certain pains and penalties to record a vote. If any institution in Australia reflects the public will it is this Senate. When every person has the opportunity to express his political opinions by marking a ballot-paper, can there be any ground for complaint as to what is done by this Parliament? Therefore, as in the Commonwealth Parliament, all Australians can speak with an equal voice, I would clothe that body with every possible power. It is true that the representatives of the people in this chamber express divergent views on some of the matters which come up for consideration. As a life-long member of the Labour party, and an old trade unionist, I know something of the history of the trade union movement in Australia, and something of the means employed to relieve the workers of the disabilities they have suffered. The Labour party whole-heartedly advocated the adoption of compulsory arbitration. Throughout my life I have endeavoured to give people an opportunity to meet and discuss in a reasonable way those industrial problems which come before the country from time to time. When it comes to a real " show down " most men are amenable to reason. A shining proof of that is the success achieved by the Industrial Disputes Committee of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. That body has been in existence for about fifteen years. When trouble arises in any industry it is immediately reported to the Trades Hall Council, and the Disputes Committee gets busy. It asks the employers in the industry affected to meet if in conference and discuss the trouble with a view to arriving at a settlement so that work may continue. In the first year of its activities the committee settled 109 disputes out of 111 which occurred in Melbourne. That is a record which is not proclaimed in the press, or talked about where it should be made known. How can there be any truth in the assertion of those who do not know, that there is a desire on the part of industrialists to disturb the industries of Australia, when we go to so much trouble to appoint these committees, and place our ablest and wisest members on them to talk over matters with employers? Those employers will meet us in conference now, because they know that if they do not face a conference the law will compel them to face an industrial tribunal. It is no trouble now to get what Senator Barwell calls a round-table conference; but it would not be obtainable were it not for the fact that behind the request for a conference is the compelling hand of the law. The employers know that, if they prove recalcitrant, they can be haled before the Arbitration Court, by whose awards they will be bound. My party is constantly striving to promote conciliatory methods; no sane unionist would advocate any other method of dealing with industrial disputes. What advantage do the unionists get from the holding up of, say, the coal-mines? Thousands of men who are not directly concerned in the dispute are thrown out of employment. If the men employed in the coal-mining, shipping, or transport services leave their work, nearly all other employments are affected. It is surely worth the while of this Parliament to evolve means by which such dislocations of industry can bo avoided. People must rid their minds of the idea that men go out on strike lightly - because they want a rest, or a few days' holiday, or for any other frivolous reason. They resort to the extreme measure of striking only when no other means of redress is open to them. That fact must be realized, so that laws for the proper regulation of industry may be put on the statute-book.

Senator Lynch - What of the strikes caused by job control?

Senator BARNES - I am not prepared to say that all strikes are justifiable, but most of them are.

Senator Lynch - Some of them are not.

Senator BARNES - The workers may make mistakes. I do not suggest that all their leaders are Solomons, but, broadly speaking, organized labour never resorts to extreme steps without warrant. I am not afraid of what the present Government may do if it is granted the increased powers that it seeks. If it abuses them, it can do so only until the next election, when the people will speak their mind very plainly. I do not fear the judgment of the Australian people. There is nothing the present Government would not do that it could do with impunity, but the great safeguard in a democracy is the power of the people at the ballot-box. That is the bulwark of our liberties.

Senator Ogden - That argument applied to the deportation issue.

Senator BARNES - Does the honorable senator wish to throw that apple of discord into this arena?

Senator Kingsmill - The honorable senator is throwing basketsful.

Senator BARNES - I regret that any Australian Parliament should have thought it necessary to punish any person by deportation.We should settle our troubles in our own country. If any man, no matter who he is or what his standing in the country, breaks the laws, he should be punished in Australia, and not passed on to some other country. Labour is able to do that in its own ranks. If members of Labour organizations get out of order, they can be brought to book, or pressure can be brought to bear upon them, to convince them that they are doing wrong. [Extension of time granted.] In the 40 years I have been in the Labour movement, I have been endeavouring to evolve an organization by which the will of the Labour movement might bo expressed through some recognized authority, so that when, in a crisis, it had delivered its dictum, every man in the Labour army would act like a welldisciplined soldier, fighting for the cause, regardless of whether he agreed or disagreed with the tactics -of the generals. I might differ from a policy laid down by the constituted authority, but I hold that if the Labour army is to achieve anything, if it is to make Australia fit for white men to live in, it must act unitedly, and individual opinions must be set aside.

Senator Lynch - Why is the Labour party not united in regard to this bill?

Senator KINGSMILL (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Does the honorable senator desire to see created one big union ?

Senator BARNES - I am general secretary of the One Big Union, although when I attempted to register its constitution, I was opposed by 21 Labour organizations and eight employers' organizations, Since then nothing further has been done. The principle I am laying down is that, when the Labour party speaks authoritatively, I and every other unit in the organization must be loyal to its decisions, even at the sacrifice of his personal opinions. The movement is greater than the individual. It is not for me to pretend to be a Messiah, the one person qualified to direct the workers to salvation. As a Labour candidate I signed this pledge -

I hereby pledge myself not to oppose the candidate selected by the recognized political Labour organization, and, if elected, to do my utmost to carry out the principle embodied in the Australian Labour party's platform, and, on all questions affecting the platform, to vote as a majority of the parliamentary Labour party may decide at a fully constituted caucus meeting.

Is there anything wrong with that?

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator has said that this referendum proposal is not in conflict with the Labour party's platform.

Senator BARNES - -That is so; because one plank of the platform demands full legislative power for this Parliament. The Government does not propose to ask for anything like that power; but the proposed referendum will, if agreed to by the people, give to this Parliament greater power than it now possesses. I and other members of my party have fought two or three referendums to confer greater powers on this Parliament. We risked our political scalps in our effort to establish the authority of this Parliament to legislate on the lines of the Labour platform. The press, in declaring that I am supporting these referendums, is totally misrepresenting my position. I am doing nothing of the kind. I am supporting this measure, which seeks to give increased powers to the Commonwealth Parliament in relation to industry and commerce, and I will state my position on the second measure, dealing with essential services, when that bill comes before this chamber.

An Honorable Senator. - The honorable senator had better take care, or his party will have his head.

Senator BARNES - Suppose that does happen? I shall not squeal, because I realize that the Labour movement is greater than the individual.

Senator Drake-Brockman - But I can imagine the honorable senator roaring a bit about it.

Senator BARNES - I am always prepared to fight, if that be necessary. If, however, the progress of the Labour movement required that I should stand aside, what sort of a man would I be to object? I am but a unit in the party, and I recognize that the sacrifice of a unit is not a matter of consequence if it profits the movement. The Government is unwise in submitting these proposals now, because there is no chance of securing an affirmative vote. Probably, from £80,000 to £100,000 will be spent on the referendum, notwithstanding that ministers must know that the dice is loaded against them. These proposals ore strongly opposed by the great bulk of the Labour organizations, by the Labour press, and also by the tory press. Sir Arthur Robinson called a meeting of all the tories in Melbourne at Scott's Hotel last week. They have declared their determination to conduct a wellorganized campaign in Victoria in opposition to an extension of these powers. Probably the movement will spread to the other States. Labour, also, is organizing to defeat the referendums.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In New South Wales Sir Arthur Robinson and Mr. Lang, the Labour Premier, may speak from the same platform in opposition to the proposals.

Senator BARNES - Yes. They will be comrades in arms on these issues, at all events, if one may judge from their publicly-expressed opinions.

Senator Drake-Brockman - But the reasons for their opposition would be divergent.

Senator BARNES - The Government, in spite of all that is happening, appears to be determined to go ahead.

Senator Ogden - When would the time be opportune to submit these questions to the people?

Senator BARNES - I cannot tell; but if the Government wishes to succeed it should submit the questions in the form adopted by a Labour government sixteen years ago. At that time about one-half of those honorable senators who are now supporting the Government were in the ranks of Labour, and supported them wholeheartedly. Indeed, they helped to draft the proposals. No one should be afraid to trust the democratic vote of the people. The electors are entitled to choose either a National Parliament or a Labour Parliament, and it should have sufficient power properly to govern Australia. If these questions are to be carried at the referendum they should be submitted in the form adopted by Labour. There will then be behind them the whole of the organized Labour movement, and we shall be able to clothe this Parliament with adequate power to legislate for the welfare of the Commonwealth. Much of the opposition to this proposed extension of power is due to the fact that some of the Upper Houses of State legislatures are not elected on a democratic vote. Do honorable senators realize that whilst I am one of the representatives of Victoria in the national Parliament, I am not qualified for a seat in the Legislative Council of that State?

Senator Lynch - How then is Labour represented in the Legislative Council of Victoria ?

Senator BARNES - That is because some of our friends have the necessary property qualification. I have never been in that happy position.

Senator Lynch - Then there are some capitalists in the ranks of Labour ?

Senator BARNES - I understand that the property qualification for membership of the Victorian Legislative Council is the possession of £1,000 worth of freehold.I have not that amount of property, and, therefore, I am not qualified for membership of that exalted chamber. It appears, therefore, that Australia's destiny is really in the hands of people who are not elected by the democratic vote of the community. The States have sovereign rights within their own domain. This Parliament should at least have as much power. I said on Friday last that I would not hesitate to destroy the Constitution if necessary to obtain wider powers for this Parliament. It would then be able to enact whatever laws it considered necessary in the interests of the people, and I, in common with every one else, would be willing to live under its laws. They would be laws enacted by our fellow-citizens, who would have to appear before the electors within three years, and if they had acted contrary to the wishes of a majority they would have to answer for it to the people. The supreme power always rests with the people, and no one else. For the reasons I have outlined, I urge the Government to withdraw the bill at this stage, and to submit more comprehensive proposals which would be likely to receive the endorsement of a majority of the electors. There are some, of course, who rightly believe that under the present Government the Commonwealth is being mismanaged. The suggestion so frequently referred to that further consideration of these proposals should be delayed until a constitutional session of the Parliament is held is one which should receive the closest consideration of the Government. Legislation which is "broad based upon the people's will " must always command their respect and support, and in proposing such legislation we shall be acting in the interests of the whole Commonwealth.

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