Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 24 June 1926


Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- In view of the legislation recently passed, and the action taken by the Government during the last few months to deal with industrialists and trade union organizations, one must coane to the conclusion that the objective of the Ministry is to hamper, restrict, and weaken the unionistic movement throughout the Commonwealth. I need only refer briefly to the attempt made a few months ago to illegally and, if I may say so, unlawfully, deport two citizens of Australia because of their association with an industrial dispute. The introduction and passing of the Crimes Bill was conclusive evidence of the attitude of the Ministry towards the trade union movement. Senator Sampson, who has just resumed his seat, spoke vigorously in support of the bill. He directed attention to the inconvenience which he and the members of his family had been subjected to owing to the dislocation of the steamship service between Tasmania and the mainland. I sympathize with the honorable senator, especially as the trouble occurred at that period of the year when the spirit of goodwill should prevail; but I remind him that the Crimes Act, passed by the Government of which he is a supporter, gives the Government power to inflict punishment for offences that may come within the ambit of that measure.


Senator McLachlan - Punishment of offenders will not get passengers across to Tasmania from the mainland.


Senator FINDLEY - That act gives the Government all the power that is necessary to deal with any one who attempts to interfere with the services.


Senator Payne - The Crimes Act has nothing to do with essential services. It only inflicts punishment for certain offences.


Senator FINDLEY - Does the honorable senator suggest that the shipping service between Tasmania and the mainland could not be dealt with under that act. The ships carry His Majesty's mails. The Leader of the Senate, in submitting another measure a few days ago, said he was optimistic enough to believe that if the proposed amendment were adopted by the people at the referendum, a better spirit would be created between employers and employees, and that industrial disputes would cease. We are now considering another bill, under which the Government seeks extended powers to deal with essential services. In his second-reading speech, the Minister was anything but convincing. He did not advance a single reason why the bill should be carried. He said -

Essential services are services upon which industries are dependent for the continuation of their operations without interruption. There can be no doubt as to the meaning of the term.

So says Senator Pearce, the layman. If there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the term, why were not essential services enumerated in the bill? Obviously they were not, because of the difficulty experienced by members of the legal fraternity in defining what are essential services. The Prime Minister was asked in another place if in the event of a definition being inserted in the bill, the High Court could subsequently give another definition. The right honorable gentleman replied in the affirmative. Then Mr. Watt who asked the question, said, " This is indeed dangerous legislation." The Minister, in support of the bill, drew largely upon his imagination. He referred to certain happenings in the different States, and at times became quite dramatic. He instanced first the police strike in Victoria, and said that if those who took part in the street disturbances had been intelligently led, they could have destroyed the telephone exchanges, raided the Victoria Barracks, and also the Treasury building, where gold reserves to the extent of several million pounds were stored. He added that in the circumstances the State Government would have been powerless to protect the community against a state of domestic violence. It is an insult to the intelligence of the citizens of Victoria to suggest that they would have had any part in such diabolical doings as were conjured up in the fevered brain of the Minister.


Senator Duncan - They were satisfied to smash shop windows and loot the shops.


Senator FINDLEY - Let us consider what led up to that situation. For many years the Police Force in Victoria, which physically and mentally was a credit to the State - a force always courteous and tactful, with ripened experience and judgment, a force that was called upon at times to do disagreeable and dangerous work - was treated worse than any other Public Service in the Commonwealth. The police, through their association, had repeatedly approached anti-labour governments, pleading to have their wrongs righted, and although they were promised redress, the reforms asked for were not carried out. Eventually the men were driven to strike. Unfortunately many members of the force were dismissed, and the recruits, who were characterized by a visitor from Western Australia as " jockey " policemen, because in stature they were not to be compared with the old members of the force, were granted those reforms which the old members of the force had been demanding for years.


Senator Guthrie - The new police are a fine body of men.


Senator FINDLEY - They are not to be compared with the old Police Force. Policemen are not made in a day. They require years of training to gain the necessary experience for the proper discharge of their duties. There were thousands of citizens in the streets of Melbourne on the night of the rioting, and it was quite incorrect for the Minister to suggest that they were all evilly disposed persons.


Senator Guthrie - Thousands were, as the honorable senator knows.


Senator FINDLEY - They were not all evildoers. Most of the damage was done by young fellows who are termed " hooligans."


Senator Guthrie - Does the honorable senator believe that they should be allowed to run riot?


Senator FINDLEY - In what way will this bill prevent a recurrence of that trouble? I challenge the Minister to prove that there is any power in this bill to prevent the breaking of shop windows, and other acts of wrong doing on the part of any section of the community.


Senator McLachlan - The honorable senator's statement is a subject for laughter. The bill does not purport to do that.


Senator FINDLEY - That was one of the reasons advanced by the Minister in support of the bill.


Senator Pearce - No.


Senator FINDLEY - The Minister definitely used the police strike and the rioting that occurred in Melbourne as one reason for the adoption of the bill. He also advanced another reason why it should be carried. He directed attention to what happened in Western Australia. In another place the Attorney-General was asked, " Do I understand that, under these powers, if domestic violence occurred that did not interfere with essential services, the Commonwealth could not intervene"? He replied, "Not under these powers."


Senator Pearce - He did not say that.


Senator FINDLEY - The AttorneyGeneral replied to the question put to him in the words I have used.


Senator Pearce - The Western Australian strike interfered with an essential service. It held up the shipping.


Senator FINDLEY - I am speaking of the police strike in Victoria.


Senator Pearce - The honorable senator said that I quoted the Western Australian strike.


Senator FINDLEY - I said the Minister quoted the police strike in Victoria, the shipping strike in Western Australia, and the strike of railway workers in Queensland. What was the strike in Western Australia about?


Senator Pearce - With which strike is the honorable senator now dealing ?


Senator FINDLEY - I have said sufficient to convince honorable senators that what the Minister said in respect to the police strike in Victoria had no bearing whatever on the bill now before the Senate. If we had a similar strike in Victoria the Government could not do more than it did when the police strike occurred.


Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator is capable of understanding plain language ho should know that I used the police strike in Victoria merely as evidence of a State authority being impotent under certain conditions.


Senator FINDLEY - The assumption of the Minister is that if this measure had been enacted the Government would have been able to deal with such a contingency.


Senator Pearce - No.


Senator FINDLEY - Even if this provision had been in force the Commonwealth Government would not have had any more power than it possessed at the time of the police strike. The Western Australian strike was a most unfortunate one for our party. The Government used that strike in every possible way to win votes for its candidates.


Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator's followers supported the strike.


Senator FINDLEY - They did, and so did I.


Senator Pearce - Then why should the honorable senator object to the people passing judgment ?


Senator FINDLEY - I do not, but I object to the inaccurate and misleading statements made for party purposes during the election campaign concerning the strikes in Western Australia, and in Queensland. Appropos of the strike in Western Australia, I think I had better quote the Premier of Western Australia (Mr. Collier) in reply to the inaccurate and misleading statements made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and others, including, I expect, Senator Pearce, during the elections. I quote the following from the Argus of 5th November, 1925, so that it may be on record in Hansard : -

Fremantle Riots. prime Minister's Comments.

Reply by Mr. Collier.

Perth, Wednesday. The Premier (Mr. Collier) replying to comments of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) respecting the riot at Fremantle, said: - "The Prime Minister enunciated an altogether new idea in the political controversy when he stated that the clash between the rioters and the police at Fremantle was due to the supineness of Labour administration. How does he square this with the fact that there have been outbreaks of lawlessness, ugly scenes, and demonstrations by howling, surging mobs and vindictive strikers, according to the daily press in Victoria, which is not ruled by a Labour Government. Mr. Bruce fulminated against the other States, which, according to his conception, are not doing their duty. Since the beginning of the strike and until to-day, 45 British oversea ships have cleared the port of Fremantle without interference. Seven have been "held up"; four of these have gone away under police protection, and the remaining three are now in port. One other has cleared without any trouble. The police have done their duty during this period, refraining from taking sides in strike promoting or strike breaking, free from political instructions to interfere or to refrain from doing so, but affording protection where necessary, and restraining lawlessness where obvious or anticipated, at all times reasonably forbearing; while political propagandists, like a lot of discontented curs, have been snapping at the heels of the Government, screaming for action where none was necessary, and now deploring the fact which, unfortunately, became essential, because of lawless elements sought to prevent a steamer putting out to sea."

From that statement it would appear that any action taken by the State Government of Western Australia would have been displeasing to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth.


Senator Guthrie - Was it a Labour Government in Western Australia that armed police with rifles and ball cartridges to shoot down strikers ?


Senator FINDLEY - The Western Australian Government took the necessary precaution to see that the law was upheld.


Senator Guthrie - After it foundit was "in the soup."


Senator FINDLEY - The States can be relied upon to satisfactorily handle any situation which might arise. There was also a strike in Queensland which received a good deal of prominence; but there is power in the Constitution under which the Government, if it so desires, can ensure that an essential service is not interfered with. The Queensland railway strike did not last any time.


Senator Thompson - Because the Government knuckled down to the strikers.


Senator FINDLEY - In what way would this Government have handled that strike if it had had this power? The Commonwealth Police Force would have been useless, and it naturally follows that the services of the naval or military forces would have been obtained. The Queensland strike was satisfactorily settled.


Senator Thompson - By the State Government " caving in."


Senator FINDLEY - The Government did what it considered best in the interests of the country and the people. Some year ago, when a railway strike occurred in Victoria, coercive legislation was introduced to bring it to an end. Public servants throughout the State were also denied the right to vote as ordinary citizens. They were given special representation in the Legislative Assembly. Very little time elapsed before the provision as to their special representation in the Legislative Assembly was repealed, and they became entitled once more to vote as ordinary members of the community, but it is still doubtful if the service is as loyal and contented as it was before that strike took place. The manner in which the Queensland Government handled the railway strike in that State was satisfactory to the State and to a majority of the people. In the event of serious industrial trouble would the Commonwealth Government take over the control of the State railways?


Senator Sir William Glasgow - Why did the Queensland Government allow the railway men to go on strike and then give them all they asked for?


Senator FINDLEY - In the event of serious industrial trouble would this Government undertake the control of railways or shipping services, or of, say, the mining industry? How could it do it? It is asking for power to control essential services, but notwithstanding what the Minister said it would be as difficult to define the phrase " essential services " as it would be to define the word " luxury."


Senator Payne - " Essential services " can be defined.


Senator FINDLEY - If they are defined in an act of Parliament the High Court may give another definition. We have proceeded satisfactorily for over 25 years without such powers. The people have never been asked to give the Commonwealth such powers as are now being sought under this bill. In the event of serious industrial trouble, the State Governments can, under the Constitution, appeal to the Federal authority for assistance, and it rests with the Government of the day to say whether assistance shall or shall not be given. The Minister said that it is necessary for the Commonwealth to be in possession of these powers to enable it if necessary to control essential services. I remind the right honorable gentleman that he was a member of a Cabinet with which I was associated in 1912, whena tramways strike occurred in Queensland.

SenatorThompson. - It developed into a general strike.


Senator FINDLEY - The Queensland Government approached the Federal Government for assistance. Was the attitude of Senator Pearce on that occasion the same as it is to-day?


Senator Pearce - Yes; but there was no necessity then for the Commonwealth to interfere.


Senator FINDLEY - In the opinion of the Queensland Government assistance was necessary; but it was declined because it was thought that there was a better and more peaceful way of settling the dispute.


Senator Pearce - I was also a member of the same Government which, in 1911, asked the people for these powers.


Senator FINDLEY - The right honorable senator was reluctant to engage the military in that industrial trouble.


Senator Pearce - That is my attitude at the present time; I have not changed one iota.


Senator FINDLEY - There is only one occasion that I can call to mind on which the military were called out to deal with an industrial disturbance in Victoria, and that was during the progress of the maritime strike in 1891. I have a very vivid recollection of the words that were said to have been uttered by the man who was in command of the mounted rifles at that time. If anything incensed the industrialists of this State, and the people generally, it was the calling out of the military to overawe peaceful industrialists, to the number of about 40,000, who were assembled within a short distance of where the mounted men were stationed. Fortunately, no action was taken by the military on that occasion. But the people were so incensed that, at the first opportunity, the Labour party asserted itself industrially and politically, and from that time it has made every effort to prevent military interference in industrial disputes. Such action is not necessary in Australia. Senator Pearce said that it is not intended that the military forces shall be called out. With whose assistance, then, will the essential services be carried on by the Commonwealth? The small number of the Commonwealth police force will not be able to help very much. I, therefore, believe that the military will be called out. Many members of the Government are prepared to advocate the adoption of that course. The bill is not necessary, because the Government will have ample power under the Constitution, as proposed to be amended by the other measure that is to be submitted to the people. I shall vote against this bill, and will advise the people to reject the Government's proposal.







Suggest corrections