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Tuesday, 29 November 1927

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - As a representative of the State in which is situated the chief port of the Commonwealth, I regard the maintenance of our shipping services and the efficient handling of cargoes as a matter of great importance not only to that State but also to the whole of Australia. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we in this Senate should do nothing which would tend to extend the dispute or to inflame the passions that have already been aroused. Nor do I think that this is a time when attacks should be made on organisers or others. As an old trade unionist, I regard this dispute with concern. While I have always been an ardent believer in arbitration as a means of settling disputes, I agree with those who say that that system is to-day on its trial. Indeed, there are many who believe that already it has been tried and found wanting, and should therefore be abolished. Much of the opposition to the Government's referendum proposals to increase the industrial powers of the Commonwealth was due to a disinclination on the part of the people to extend the arbitration principle. There is a general feeling in the community that the system whereby industrial disputes are dealt with must be reviewed iri the near future-. That is a tragedy, because the bulk of trade unionists stand firmly by the principle of arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes. Comparatively few among the great number of trade unionists in Australia continue to pin their faith to direct action whenever a dispute arises.

Senator Ogden - I object to them claiming both means of settling disputes. , . ... ,

Senator DUNCAN - I 'agree that we should have either one system or the other. It is true, as Senator Ogden has said, that the people of Australia are justified in looking to the members of the Labour party to give them a lead in this matter. I go further, and say that as the limitations, constitutional and other-, wise, imposed upon Government, both Federal and- State, make it impossible for them effectively to deal with this situation, the solution of the difficulty rests with honorable senators opposite and those trade unionists who believe in arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes. The section of industrialists that stands for direct action derides the arbitration method and sneers at what it calls arbitration court trade unionists. It alleges that it would be infinitely better if the court were abolished so that the workers would be forced to depend entirely on th6 strength of their organisations. But what is the opinion of the great majority of the trade unionists of this country? One remembers that the principle of preference to unionists and the establishment of arbitration courts- and wages boards have had the effect of building up the strength of the unions.

Senator Givens - And filling many of them with " scabs."

Senator DUNCAN - I do not go so far as to say that; but the unions have a large number of men in their ranks who do not practice the ethics of trade unionism, but use their organization merely as a means of grabbing increases in wages. It seems to me that a great conflict will have to come between the section that believes in arbitration and the other section that unfortunately has been able to secure control of the unions, and seeks to hurl the arbitration method into political and industrial oblivion. There is only one way in which this great issue can be determined, and that is by the unionists who believe in arbitration taking a firm stand, and declaring that they will not permit the would-be destroyers of the Arbitration Court to continue the work in which they are now engaged. I agree with Senator Ogden that ir is a pity that honorable senators opposite do not step into the breach and declare themselves to be behind the majority of trade unionists, who favour the settlement of industrial disputes by arbitration. The Leader of the Opposition, to whose speech I listened with .close attention, said much about the merits of the dispute; but he had nothing whatever to say upon the great principle of whether arbitration should be accepted by every party to the disputes that are de'alt with by the court, or whether any organization, whether of employers or employees, should be permitted to trample on the system of arbitration whenever it suits it to do so. Not one word of condemnation was heard from Senator Needham regarding the action of the mei. who would abolish arbitration. He is not prepared to tell these men that they are in the wrong, and he is not willing to plead for a more general acceptance of the principle of arbitration. "Why do wo find honorable senators opposite, and the political Labour leaders outside, afraid to take the stand that they ought to adopt in the interests of the majority of the trade unionists f Is it because the* fear the militant members of the union who desire to smash arbitration courts and the arbitration acts, thereby causing distress from one end of the country to the other, in order to bring about the revolutionary conditions that obtain in some other countries? They are not "game" enough to condemn the action of those nien. The attitude adopted by the Leader of the Government in this chamber, is the strictly correct one. If it were proposed by the Government to interfere with the court in this matter, I could no longer support it, but I am sure that it would never suggest action of that kind. After all the Arbitration Court if not actually an ordinary court of justice, is presided over by a portion of the judiciary, and if that court is to be broken down by the Government of the day, dictating what it should do in the event of an industrial dispute a government would be equally justified in giving orders to the High Court, or any similar tribunal. Such an action would be entirely wrong. It is distressing to hear honorable senators opposite asking the Government to intervene, and tell the Arbitration Court what it should do. That is a new. .doctrine.

Senator Foll - We might as well give directions to a court dealing with a criminal case.

Senator DUNCAN - Yes, with any case. It is a pernicious doctrine, and I am exceedingly pleased to know that the Government is not prepared to accept the advice of Senator Needham. The time may come when there will be in office a government that will attempt to dictate to the courts; but, thank heaven, that day has not yet arrived.

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