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Thursday, 1 December 1927


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - The right honorable the Leader of the Senate said that it would be a good thing if Parliament were unitedly to agree to the motion submitted on behalf of the Government. This Parliament would have unitedly agreed to other action which the Government could have taken and which even more effectively would: have met the situation' . than the method proposed to be adopted by the Government. There1 is no- need for the motion which has been submitted, or of the action contemplated by the Government. The' object of the motion is to re-create that hysteria, which pervaded Australia about two years ago. I£ the Government was iri earnest in its; desire to cope with this trouble,, it could have taken action independently of Parliament to bring about a settlement of the industrial warfare that has commenced on the waterfront. Parliament is asked to give the Government power to take any action which it thinks- necessary, in co-operation with the governments of the States, so far as possible^ to maintain law and order and- to ensure the continuance of services essential to the1 well-being of the Commonwealth. If peaceful intervention by the Government was intended, there would be some reason for the motion ; but the Government intends to do more than act in co-operation with the States. It intends to issue a proclamation under the Crimes Act of 1926. The Government is trying to create an atmosphere which will lead to acts of domestic violence being committed. I remind the Leader of the Senate that should any such acts be committed there is power in the Constitution to meet such an emergency. In such circumstances any state government can requisition the assistance of the Commonwealth Government to cope with the situation. I remind honorable senators that, although we have had a number of industrial disputes in Australia, those disputes have been singularly free from acts ofdomestic violence. The Government need have no anxiety about the preservation of law and order. Speaking in another place, the Prime Minister this morning said that the Government did not intend to discuss the merits or demerits of the present trouble. Yet in almost the same breath he said that the members of the Waterside Workers Federation had been guilty of a flagrant violation of the order of the court.


Senator Sir GEORGE Pearce - He was quoting the remarks of the judge.


Senator NEEDHAM - Notwithstanding the Prime Minister's statement that he would not take sides in the matter, he laid a charge against one party to the dispute. It cannot be said truthfully that all the blame for the present upheaval attaches to the workers. I repeat what I said on Tuesday that, although we have a system of arbitration which has for its object the settlement and prevention of industrial disputes the machinery of that system has not worked properly for years. Time after time the attention of the Government has been directed to the extremely slow motion of the machinery of the Arbitration Court. The Government has been urged to put that machinery into more rapid motion by the appointment of additional judges and conciliation commissioners. It is true that one or two additional judges were appointed : nevertheless the machinery of the court still works slowly. The workers have become exasperated because of the delay. That is one of the principal causes of the dispute now raging on the waterfront. Fully two years have elapsed since the Waterside Workers Federation approached the court for a hearing of their plaint. The executive of that body has done everything in its power to get the different branches to work in conformity with the law and to abide by the award of the court. The judge himself has admitted that. The Prime Minister said that the Government could not intervene in any way other than that proposed in the motion he submitted in another place because there was in existence a system of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes. That is a lame excuse for the action taken. Tor 23 years arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes has been a law of this land. During that period both Federal and State governments have on many occasions intervened in disputes. They did so because they realized that otherwise the trouble would spread and cause further misery and distress. I remind honorable senators that when trouble occurred in the coal-mining industry some years ago the then Prime Minister did not hesitate to intervene. He went further and obtained the approval of Parliament to the creation of a special tribunal to deal with that industry in the interests of the Commonwealth generally.

It is wrong for the Government to say that because we have in operation certain machinery we should not use any other means, except that of force to bring about peace when industrial trouble threatens. That is not a reasonable stand to take. No honorable senator can in his heart believe that that is the way to seek to bring about a settlement of the present industrial trouble. On the contrary, it will merely aggravate the situation, because the men who are engaged in the industry will say that the Parliament of the nation is taking sides with one party - the employers - and showing no consideration for them.


Senator Sir George Pearce - The Government is taking the side of the people of Australia.

SenatorNEEDHAM. - The side of the people can be taken in a manner other than that which is proposed. What steps does the Government intend to take?I presume that after this motion, and that which has been moved in another place, have been carried, the machinery of the Crimes Act will be put in operation, and that a proclamation will be issued threatening with all sorts of pains and penalties those who are on one side of the dispute, and extending protection and clemency to those who are on the other side. That is not the proper method to adopt. The situation is changing from day to day. The outlook is different to-day from what it was on Tuesday afternoon. It has now been definitely decided that interstate steamers and the Australian Commonwealth Line shall not become involved in the dispute, and that the transport service between the mainland and Tasmania will be maintained.


Senator Sir William Glasgow - The Australian Commonwealth Line has become involved; it is not carrying cargo.


Senator NEEDHAM - I assert that it has not. Yesterday my honorable friends opposite displayed anxiety at the action of the Chairman of the Commonwealth Shipping Board in keeping the men working and the ships running. Senator Duncan sought to elicit information as to whether the Government would take the action necessary to prevent the award of the court from being nullified. Honorable senators opposite appear to be. entirely forgetful of the fact that under an act of this legislature the Shipping Board has full power to act independently of either the Government or Parliament. A paragraph which appeared in to-day's Sydney Morning Herald, reads -

Sir WilliamClarkson, a member of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board, said yesterday that the Australian Commonwealth Line had not refused to recognize the shipowners' ultimatum to the waterside workers. The board had never been a party to the ultimatum, hence it could not he accused of having repudiated it.

As the line never required an afternoon " pick-up " to work its vessels, it was not concerned with the vital cause of the no overtime strike. The members of the Waterside Workers' Federation had signified their willingness to work overtime on the Australian Commonwealth Line's steamers, at award rates, and the work would continue under those conditions.

Sir WilliamClarkson holds a responsible position in the shipping world and he says that the vital cause of the present industrial trouble is the pick-up question. I shall deal with that phase later. Not long after the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) returned to Australia from the last Imperial Conference, he preached the doctrine of co-operation, and said that if we had any British common sense, and used it, we could prevent a lot of industrial trouble; that if we only exhibited British common sense we would be able to overcome the small difficulties that faced Australia. The right honorable gentleman should now exhibit a little of that common sense. Instead of bringing forward a motion of this nature, and thus provoking a discussion on the floor of Parliament, he would be better engaged as a mediator between the parties outside.


Senator Ogden - One does not mediate with a burglar.


Senator NEEDHAM - After the last elections the Crimes Act was passed by this Parliament, so that the Government might keep faith - if that were possible - with the people who, whilst submerged by a wave of hysteria, had elected it to power. The Government did nothing to bring to an end the British seamen's strike, but, on the other hand, members' of the Labour party did all that lay in their power to terminate it. I assisted my leader by spending a week in Sydney in an endeavour to have the dispute settled. Yet during the elections we were accused of having encouraged it! I believe that this is a political move on the part of the Government. If it had not wished to make political capital out of the crisis, it could have adopted the role of mediator. The Prime Minister has been in communication with the Premier of Tasmania. What was the nature of the advice he gave? He suggested to Mr. Lyons that he should not only get into touch with the unions, but also initiate a prosecution under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act and the Crimes Act.


Senator Herbert Hays - What communication did Mr. Lyons first send to the Prime Minister?


Senator NEEDHAM - I have not that document with me. I am now dealing with one side of this question; the honorable senator may, if he wishes, deal with the other side. I say that in that communication to Mr. Lyons, the Prime Minister indicated the attitude that the Commonwealth Government intended to' adopt. Instead of employing peaceful methods, or methods of reason, it is attempting to apply force. The members of the Labour party are not alone in holding the opinion that a responsibility rests upon this Government to take action different from what is proposed. It ought to have been taken at an earlier stage of the dispute. I quote the followiing from the Melbourne Age-

Mr. Brucemay be convinced that the waterside workers are entirely wrong, but does that forbid him from taking some action in the hope of saving from the results of wrong-doing by waterside unionists scores of thousands of other workers who may sooner or later be affected??

That suggestion emanates from an organ which supports the Government. If the Prime Minister and his Government believed that unemployment would be intensified, that produce would not be transported, and that the community would suffer, they could have intervened. If that had been done, the present stage of the dispute might not have been reached. The right honorable gentleman cannot altogether clear himself of the charge of having displayed indifference. The case for the ship-owners has been put before another place by the Leader of the Government, and before the Senate by Senator Pearce.


Senator Sir George Pearce - We have put the case for the people.


Senator NEEDHAM - I repeat that the right honorable senator has put before this Senate the case for the shipowners. As the matter has been brought forward for discussion, I shall endeavour to put the case for the other side, so that the people may have some evidence upon it.


Senator Ogden - Surely there is also another party to the dispute?


Senator NEEDHAM - There is . another party - the people of Australia. The Government should have realized that, and have taken action on behalf of the people in a manner different from that which it now proposes.


Senator Ogden - I should like the honorable senator to show me in what way the Government could have acted.


Senator NEEDHAM - There was a time when Senator Ogden did not need to be told when and in what manner action should be taken; but since he has been poisoned by the virus of Nationalism, he has lost sight of the principles of trade unionism. The case for the Waterside Workers' Federation has been published in the Melbourne Age in the following terms : -

Tim management committee of tlie Waterside Workers' Federation, of which Mr. W. Mather is president, and Mr. J. Morris secretary, issued the following statement yesterday in regard to the- present dispute : - " The present dispute on the water front had its origin in the vexatious delays of the court in hearing our plaint, together with the studied hostility of the employers of waterside labour to every attempt that has been macle during the past two years by both the court and the federation to reach an agreement in keeping with the needs of the industry. In May, 1920. the federation met the ship-owners in conference to discuss the present log, and was in the end told to go to the court. As a matter of tactics it is good business for the employers passively to resist round the table all claims for decent conditions in an industry. Thereby they create a deadlock in the conciliatory section of the Arbitration Act, leaving no constitutional alternative but to refer the matter into a court already nearly two years behind in an attempt to keep pace with the accumulating plaints of the industries over which it exercises jurisdiction. We have no doubt that many employers, and our own in particular, take full advantage of the protracted delay of the court in effecting adjustments", and derive considerable financial satisfaction as one of the results, but tactics such as these are not conducive to peace in an industry, and o,re the source of most of the ills surrounding the act. Right from the inception of our negotiations, both with the employers and in our claims before the court, the federation has been earnestly desirous of effecting an agreement, and in order that our case could be proceeded with, we have remedied every contentious act indulged in by branches, rendered desperate by vexatious delay and the observance of an award they are wholly dissatisfied with. " The union's advocate, by consent of the court, visited the branches concerned, and was instrumental in establishing full and complete compliance with the award. In May of this year he submitted these assurances to the court as being strictly ill order. At that stage the court allowed the employers to submit argument in the matter of the pick-up dispute, despite the fact that they omitted all reference to this dispute in their list of affidavits filed before tlie court in March. The federation had then no alternative but to regard this latest move on the part of the employers as a deliberate attempt to prevent the court from functioning, and was surprised that the court's consent, in view of the fact that the pick-up dispute dated back to 1921, and that in 1922, and again in 1924, Mr. Justice Powers had made awards covering the industry, whilst the one pick-up system a day existed, and was working satisfactorily in certain ports. And as late as January this year Judge Beeby delivered an interim award, while fully aware of the pick-up disputeEarlier in the case he appealed to the employers to refrain from submitting ancient history as evidence in a case that demanded' present day reference and co-operative adjustments. " The question . of preference is an everrecurring claim in all our plaints, and a very necessary part of any award that aims at giving peace in the waterside industry. The court has, on the contrary, continually exempted from the terms of the award certain parties whom the federation has cited as. employers in the industry, ,and whose work consists of loading and discharging ships. The question of preference includes all waterside work at Risdon (Tasmania), Fremantle,. Geraldton, Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, and: all the northern rivers of New South Wales. Reasonable peace in the industry is impossible until these claims are considered a necessary addition in any agreement."

Wc have proof there that for two yearsthe members of the Waterside Workers'' Federation have been endeavouring to get the machinery of the court to work with greater expedition. We have also proof" that J udge Beeby allowed the two " pickups " to be incorporated in an award despite the fact that the one " pick-up had, by common consent of both parties, been in operation for six years. All this trouble has been occasioned because the ship-owners now insist on having two pick-ups, after having allowed that portion of the award to remain a dead letter for years. Let us see what the two pick-ups mean to these men. The waterside workers are obliged to go down to the wharves rn the morning and wait about in their hundreds and in all sorts of weather until they get a call to work a vessel. If they are not engaged in the morning they are obliged, under the two pick-ups system, to hang about the wharves all day, irrespective of th? weather, until the afternoon pick-up, and then possibly they may not get a call to work. If ever there was justification for the two pick-ups system, which I deny, the advance of science and the application of wireless telegraphy have rendered it. unnecessary. Before the installation of wireless on vessels their arrival was uncertain, and in order that they could be worked immediately on coming alongside a wharf it was customary for waterside workers to be kept hanging about. Now, however, the ship-owners can tell to a moment when a vessel will draw up alongside a wharf and there is no longer any need to keep the mei. running to and from their homes so that they may be in attendance at an afternoon pick-up. If a man knows that he does not need to go back for an afternoon pick-up he is at liberty to take up any other casual employment that may bc offering; but under a system which keeps him hanging about the wharf all day be cannot do so.


Senator Givens - That means that the wharf labourers should have a monopoly of wharf work and yet be permitted to engage in any other work they choose to lake at the expense of others who may be unemployed.


Senator NEEDHAM - I do not put that construction on the desire of these men. I know that at one time Senator Givens would have been the very first to kick against employers who sought to impose the conditions which the shipowners are seeking to impose on the waterside workers. The whole of the blame for this trouble cannot be laid at the door of the waterside workers. The

Government has constituted itself both judge and jury. It says that the men are in the wrong by disobeying an award of the Arbitration Court, but it suppresses the fact that the employers have acted contrary to the rules of the court by being party, for at least six years, to the one " pick-up " system. The Government has also deliberately suppressed the fact that the present trouble has been caused by the action of the ship-owners in delaying the machinery of the court for the pur- pose of reverting to the old system of two " pick-ups." The Labour party, as I have already said, is in favour of arbitration; but no system can be made absolutely proof against those vexatious delays which exasperate the workers. If the Government thought that the industries and the essential services of Australia were likely to be endangered by the action of the waterside workers, it was its duty to intervene at a much earlier period than this, and not permit the present dispute to reach its present stage. It had ample precedents for intervening. The Government of Great Britain and the Government of South Africa had intervened on similar occasions. As a matter of fact, in recent years in Australia there , has been government intervention in industrial disputes. If our present Ministers were honestly desirous of preventing the wheels of industry from being clogged, they could have intervened in the present dispute a week or two ago. They could have said to the parties, "If you cannot agree, let us see what we can do in the matter." And, if they failed, they might then have had an excuse for going further, as they now propose. I have stated the case for the workers, so that the public can judge between the parties in the present dispute, and now, in order that the Senate may have an opportunity to decide the best method to adopt, I move, as an amendment to the motion -

That all the words after the word " Senate " be left out, with a view to add in lieu thereof the words " is of opinion that consultations should be immediately held by the Government with the various State governments affected and organizations concerned, with a view to a clear understanding of the matters in issue and the settlement thereof by means of conference and conciliation."

That amendment will give the Government an opportunity to prove its bona fides in the role of peace-maker. Although the State governments and the various industrial organizations are concerned in this industrial trouble as much as the Commonwealth Government, the Commonwealth Ministers have failed to get into direct touch with them. It is not too late to do so now. If my amendment is adopted I venture to say it will go a long way towards the settlement of the present industrial trouble and the preservation of peace.







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