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Thursday, 1 December 1927

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - On Tuesday, when we were discussing a motion moved by Senator Ogden relating to the question now before the Senate, the opinion was fairly freely expressed by a number of honorable senators, including myself, that it would be unwise just at that stage to say or do anything that was likely to prejudice in any possible way the chances of a settlement of the trouble that was then looming. Since yesterday, however, that trouble has been precipitated, and is now right on us. Therefore, although we must at all times be guarded in what we say, particularly at a time of industrial trouble, the necessity for placing a curb, as it were, upon our tongues has been removed ; but at the same time we ought to exercise, even at this late hour, a very large measure of restraint. It is easy at such a time as this to pour petrol - employing an expression used to-day - upon flames already leaping pretty high, and thus prejudice all possibility of any efforts that may be made at conciliation being successful. Nevertheless, when a motion of this character is before us, I feel that it is incumbent upon all of us to express our opinion upon it, and declare whether we can support one side or the other in an industrial conflict like the present. Without entering into the merits or demerits of the circumstances that have led up to this strike, I want to say at once that the shipping industry, if I may so describe it - with its allied callings of coallumping and wharf labouring - and industrial trouble are synonymous terms. Reference to the Commonwealth YearBook and the Quarterly Bulletins issued by the Commonwealth Statistician show that for a number of years there has been more industrial conflict in the shipping industry and its allied callings than in all the other industries of Australia put together, with the possible exception of coal mining, in which industry there is always more or less constant friction in a small way without serious consequences to any one. When we remember that the shipping service is one of the arteries of our national life, upon which all our other industries, primary and secondary, are largely dependent for their success, advancement, and growth, I think it will be realized that any large industrial conflict covering a wide area and affecting the whole of our great national services, must be pregnant with dire consequences to the people of Australia. Why we should have this constant trouble in the shipping industry and its allied callings it is difficult to understand. With the exception of the sugar industry it is the most highly protected in Australia. We 'declare that our coastal shipping service shall suffer no competition from overseas. We absolutely prohibit such competition. We declare what conditions of labour must be observed by vessels trading on the coast of Australia, and we concede absolute prefence to the trades unions. I think the time has just about arrived when, the people of Australia will have to ask themselves whether the price they are paying is not too big. It has been said by a previous speaker in this debate that although Ave have had this prohibition of overseas shipping, and to that extent have penalized ourselves by suffering a shortage of shipping on our coast, the Australian mercantile marine which

Ave hoped to build up as a result of passing the Navigation Act and by other means has "not materialized to the extent Ave would like to have seen. Although the people- of Australia have declared emphatically time after time their fervent desire to build up a big Australian mercantile marine, with all its allied services functioning in proper order, it is undoubtedly true that there are less merchant vessels on our coast than there were quite a number of years ago, and we are not getting from the shipping industry and its allied callings the service we are entitled to expect. I am not prepared to say that it is the fault of one side or the other. Rather do I think there is fault on both sides.' I am not one of those who, at all times, see in industrial trouble a reason for kicking hard at employers or employees. We must look at the facts as they are. It is quite possible that in this industrial dispute, quite apart from the stoppage of work itself - I want to make that quite clear - it can be proved that there are undoubtedly faults on both sides. But whatever may be the merits or demerits of the subject matter leading up to the actual stoppage of work, what we are concerned with to-day is the fact that the men have ceased work, and Ave are face to face with a great industrial crisis that will not be limited in its scope to the conflicting parties. If it were so limited, it would not matter so much, but people in all the States in all industries and callings are to be heavily hit by this industrial trouble. I agree with the Minister that the people should at all times be our first consideration. They should have the right to demand it of us. Let us consider for a moment what an industrial conflict of this sort means. The injury done is not felt so much by the men or by their employers. The latter certainly lose a certain amount of income or profit, and the former lose their wages,- but they are helped by other industrial organizations, and they are quite sure that, whatever may be the effect of a strike upon any one else, they will have enough dinner and all the necessaries of life. They will be fed and clothed, and if the position should become unendurable to them, they can always say " We have had enough," and return to work. But all over the Commonwealth there are men and women working hard to make an established position for themselves, either on the land or in various callings. It is they who are affected by an industrial conflict of this sort. Many of them are ruined beyond hope of recovery. They are the people who should be our first consideration. Industrial . trouble of this sort is very much the same as a conflict between nations in which one of the combatants, instead of observing the rules of warfare and limiting itself to engaging the forces of the enemy, acts as the Germans did in the Great War, and hurls its deadly weapons at civilians and non-combatants. In the present trouble, we have the wharf labourers, although they do not see it, involving in the trouble other people who are non-combatants, and bringing ruin upon them just as surely as the Germans brought death to noncombatants in London and other big cities, when they used their Zeppelins to hurl (bombs upon them. The Government must take cognizance of this fact. No Government worthy of the name, if it has any desire to retain its reputation, could afford to remain inactive in a time like this. If it did, there would come from the people of Australia cries of shame and indignation that it should be so recreant to its trust as to act in that way. Iam pleased that the present Government is determined to take steps - I hope the proper steps - to let those industrial bushrangers - they are nothing else - know that they cannot level a pistol at the head of society in Australia and demand that their demands be met. We could not stand for that sort of thing in a democratic country like this where we have Government by the people and for the people. If we ever permit any section of the community, employers or employees, to hold up the life of the community, and say "You shall do this, or that," or " You shall not do this, or that," then, instead of our living in a democracy, we should be living in an autocracy intolerable and unendurable to Australians or any other decent people. We could not stand for that, and it becomes the duty of the Government, therefore, to take whatever steps may be necessary, not only to bring to an end the present trouble, but also to make it quite clear, as far as it is possible for us to make anything clear, that should these troubles keep on recurring as they are doing to-day, they will be met in a proper way, not on behalf of one party or the other, but on behalf ofa community determined that the services which are the life-blood of the nation shall continue irrespective of what may be the rights or wrongs of any minor section. I do not mean that we should disregard for a moment any injustice or wrong under which a section of the community may. he labouring. The parliaments of both the Commonwealth and the States have provided constitutional means for the righting of thosewrongs and theredress of any grievances. Since the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the

State Industrial Courts have been available to labour organizations many of them have experienced no serious industrial trouble. When disputes have arisen they have been adjudicated upon by the proper tribunals, and the women and children have not suffered. But in this industry, so soon as a minor dispute looms on the industrial horizon, the men rush in with threats of a strike; and if their demands are not immediately satisfied,a strike is declared. It may be confined to one ship, one wharf, or one State; or, on the other hand, it may develop into a general strike, and a definite refusal on the part of labour organizations to observe the dictates of civilization by resorting to savagery and force. We cannot stand for that sort of thing. The Government is to be commended f or having taken cognizance of the trouble, and for having placed before us a proposition which in its opinion is calculated to terminate it. I have shown clearly where I stand, Remembering what lies immediately ahead of us, and the necessity for maintaining a solid front, I shall vote for the motion; but I candidly admit that the situation has certain aspects that I do not like, and in happier circumstances I should seriously consider the advisability of moving an amendment. There is one phase which to me, as a democrat, is abhorrent. We are asked to pledge ourselves in advance to support a line of policy about which we have no knowledge. That is a most unusual procedure to adopt. We are asked not only to do all that lies within our power to bring about a settlement of the trouble, but also to affirm our support of any action that the Government may take.

Senator Payne - If the honorable senator has confidence in the Government, can he not trust it to do the right thing?

Senator DUNCAN - Although we may, as a party and as a parliament, have the utmost confidence in the Government,we are not prepared to give to it the right to enact legislation without referring it to Parliament. We insist that before any legislation is placed upon the statute-book, no matterhow unimportant it may be, we shallhave an opportunity to say what we think of it, and we reserve to ourselves the right to amendthat legislation inany direction we think fit. Thatisnot evidence of our mistrust ofthe Government; we are merely exalting our combined judgment above that of a fewmembers of parliament, whether they be Ministers or not.

Senator Pearce - Either the honorable senator trusts the Government to handle this matter, or he does not.

SenatorNeedham. - The honorable senator will vote to give the Government this power that he condemns.

Senator DUNCAN - I trust the Government; but it is asking us to do something more than that - namely, to pledge ourselves in advance and affirm our support of anything it may do.

Senator Pearce - How can the Government say what it may have to do?

Senator DUNCAN - I admit that it is impossible for the Government to tell us what action it contemplates taking; but I suggest to the Minister that it should not ask the Senate to give away its right to pronounce upon whatever line of action it may take.

Senator Verran - The honorable senator is not being asked to do that.

Senator DUNCAN - We are asked to affirm our support of the Government in any action it considers is necessary. My objection would be removed if the motion were in the following form -

That in view of the great loss, unemployment, and general distress which will inevitably result from the continuance of the serious industrial disturbance in the waterside industry, the Senate urges the Government to take the necessary steps in co-operation with the Governments of the States, as far as possible to maintain law and order, and to ensure the continuance of services that are essential to the well-being of the Commonwealth.

Senator Ogden - That is a distinction without a difference.

SenatorDUNCAN . -There is a very great difference. Under a motion framed asI have suggested, although we urge the Government to takeaction, we do not pledge ourselves in advance to support whatever action it may take.

Senator Reid - Doesthehonorable senator think that the Governmentwill take any action that will upset its supporters ?

Senator DUNCAN - I remind Senator Reid that this Governmenthas donethat very thing in the past. I do not say that it will do things which no other government would do; but I do say that no government can interpret at all times the wishes of its supporters. In viewof all the circumstances, I am prepared to vote for the motion; but I would have liked it better if it had been brought forward in another form. Senator Needham. - Why notbe honest ?

Senator DUNCAN - I shall certainly not look to honorable senators opposite for advice or enlightment upon this question. Unfortunately, they are not free to express their real opinions, but they have to obey the dictates of their organizations.

Senator Verran - The honorable senator is adopting a "Yes-No " attitude.

Senator DUNCAN - I can assure the honorable senator that I am not. I have stated that in the absence of something that is more in accordance with my wishes, I shall support the motion; but I want to make it quite clear that I desire the Government to act very cautiously, and that I am not affirming my support of everything it may do to bring about a settlement of the dispute. I reserve to myself the right to say whether I support or disapprove of any line of action the Government may determine to take.

Senator Reid - We shall all be free to criticize the Government afterwards.

Senator DUNCAN - Unfortunately, we shall not, if, by agreeing to this motion, we affirm our support of any action it may take. There are certain lines of actionthat are open but which I should not support. Precipitate action which has been taken in the past by governments in both the Commonwealth and the States, has merely aggravated the trouble and given rise to an embitterment that has taken years to break down. I shall not affirm my support of action of that sort. , This is, largely a legal matter, and will, therefore be handled by the Prime Minister (Mr; Bruce), the Attorney-General (Mr; Latham), and probably the Leader ofthe Senate (Senator Pearce) rather than by the Cabinet as awhole. I am prepared to trust those honorable gentlemen,because I am certain that any action they may take will do no injury to theCom- monwealth.

SenatorGRANT (New South Wales} [S.27]. - There can be no two opinions respecting the importance of the matter under discussion, and it is imperative that those who address themselves to it shall be exceedingly careful to see that nothing they say or do is likely to add to the trouble. I was amazed to hear Senator Ogden urge the use of. force. The moment force is used by one section, it is open to the other section to adopt similar methods, and if that should eventuate, no man could foresee the end. I remember well that prior to the maritime strike many years ago the use of force was advocated by one of the men. He was advised by a more seasoned colleague to do nothing of the kind, but to return Labour representatives to Parliament and obtain reforms in a legal way. That has been the attitude of the Labour party in the Commonwealth for many years. Senator Millen has urged the introduction of free labour. I warn him that if the Government is foolish enough to adopt that policy, the result will be to add fuel to the name. That is not the way to settle a dispute. Possibly the Government is actuated by the best of motives ; but if so, it is adopting extraordinary means to achieve its end. The motion is couched in the most objectionable language. Certainly it is not acceptable to honorable senators on this side of the chamber. We are as anxious as any other honorable senators to see a settlement of the dispute, and to that end my leader (Senator Needham) has moved the following amendment -

That in view of the great loss, unemployment and general distress which will inevitably result from the continuance of the serious industrial disturbance in the waterside industry, the Senate is of opinion tha.t 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.

Senator Ogdenwants force; Senator Millen wants free labour; we ask for conference and conciliation.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Why not stick to arbitration?

Senator Chapman - The workers will lint go to the court.

Senator GRANT - I have had a fairly long experience in trade unionism, and I take this opportunity to remind the Minister for Defence (Sir William Glasgow) that the Labour party was responsible for the adoption of the system of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - Not at all.

Senator GRANT - I can remember when the idea was scouted by the representatives of the people who support the Government and its followers; but in spite of strenuous opposition, it is now the accepted means in Australia for the settlement of industrial troubles. We admit that the system is not perfect, and that it has not always given satisfaction to all parties. What is the crux of this dispute? About 6 years ago the Waterside Workers' Federation and the shipowners decided, among other things, that employees should be picked up twice a day; but for some reason, which is carefully kept in the background by the Government and its supporters, that provision was allowed to lapse. Employees are now picked up once a day. I do not know whether, as stated by Senator Hoare a few minutes ago, the shipowners precipitated the fight to raise this issue, but they are now insisting on the former practice of picking up men twice a day notwithstanding that one pick-up has given every satisfaction for about six years.

Senator Verran - The honorable senator knows that that statement is not correct.

Senator GRANT - I understand that it is. Before I resume my seat I shall deal with some of the very ridiculous statements made by Senator Verran this afternoon. What does this practice of picking up men twice a day mean? It means that the men must present themselves for employment at 9 o'clock in the morning, when the employers will select the number which they think they will require. The rest, if they still seek employment, must present themselves at the pick-up place again in the afternoon. It is extraordinary that employers should seek to revive that obsolete system. In this age of wireless, ship-owners know to a minute when a particular vessel will tie up at the wharves, and it should be a perfectly simple matter for them- to select at the first call in the forenoon all the men required for the day, instead of expecting many of them to hang around all day doing nothing.

Senator Payne - What advantage would that be to the employers?

Senator GRANT - If Senator Payne will study the history of the British dock strike he will read a very candid statement by one of the British ship-owners, who declared that a margin of unemployed was necessary in order that the industry might be carried on. That is the kind of doctrine which some people wish to see foisted on the workers of the Commonwealth.

Senator Sir George Pearce - If what the honorable senator says is true, this dispute is playing right into the hands of the employers, because it will lead to a great deal of unemployment.

Senator GRANT - I do not agree with the honorable senator. I give the waterside workers credit for knowing what is best in their own interests. While men are unemployed their expenses go on just the same, and although it is true that a number of the waterside workers get fairly good returns for their services, it must not be forgotten that they have a great deal of broken time. They may be idle for days on end, during which time they earn nothing. I doubt if the average earnings of the whole of the members of the Waterside Workers' Federation are more than 50s. a week. I leave out of account, in this estimate, those workers who may be fortunate enough to get more than a fair average share of the labour available, and, therefore, are kept pretty fully occupied. I am considering the great bulk of the men who, from day to day and week to week, offer themselves for employment. If the Government is really anxious to bring about a settlement of this dispute, it will support the amendment moved by my leader and thus make'it possible for Parliament to present a united front in expressing the view that something of a tangible nature should be done to effect a settlement. We, on this side of the chamber, realize quite as much as Government supporters do what distress may be caused among the workers and their wives and families if this industrial trouble is not settled very quickly. Therefore, we suggest that instead of showing the mailed fist, as the Government is doing, it should immediately consult with the State Governments and the organizations concerned, so as to get a clear and definite understanding of the true position, and then, by means of conference and conciliation, make possible a termination of the dispute. If the Government adopts this course I feel sure that the trouble will vanish even more quickly that it has appeared. But I have no faith in this Government, and certainly I cannot support the motion submitted by the Leader of the Senate. Senator Payne, perhaps with the very best of intentions, but, I think, with an ill-informed mind, made a statement this afternoon which, in my judgment, was incorrect. He said, amongst other things, that the majority of the unions concerned are opposed to the arbitration system.

Senator Payne -That is the statement of the Trades Hall officials.

Senator GRANT - Senator Payne also said that the organizers are responsible for strikes. I believe that he actually believes that such is- the case.

Senator Payne - I saw the result of an organizer's work in Queensland.

Senator GRANT - But " one swallow does not make a summer." The mere fact that an organizer made such a statement -

Senator Payne - I did not refer to a statement by an organizer, but said that I had seen the result of an organiser's work.

Senator GRANT - That does not affect the position. As one who has had considerable experience in union affairs, I can assure Senator Payne that' organizers do all in their power to prevent industrial disputes, and whoever has informed SenatorPayne to the contrary has either misled him, or does not know what he is talking about. I should like Senator Payne to try to conduct a union meeting, and see how long he would be able to lead the men. He would soon find that the officers are controlled by the rank and file.

Senator Verran - Is that so ?

Senator GRANT - It is the greatest mistakein the world to imagine that union officials 'control' the men, and Icannot understand a man of the experience of Senator Verran in trade union matters ''asking such a ridiculous question. Thehonorable senator has said that 90 percent. of the unionists are, upright, honest men, and that the remaining 10 per cent. are lunatics.

Senator Verran - I repeat that 90 per cent. of unionists are all right, but the other 10 per cent. should be in a place which I shall not name.

Senator GRANT - Such a statement cannot be substantiated. The honorable senator's remarks do not apply to unionism in New South Wales.

Senator Verran - Yes, theydo.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - I ask Senator Verran to allow Senator Grant to continue his speechwithout interruption.

Senator GRANT - Senator Verran's remarks do not apply to unionism in New South Wales, where I was associated with unions at different times, and where all the decisions reached were the result of a majority vote. The honorable senator further said that unionists are degenerating, and becoming demoralized. He even . objects to paid union officials, but I remind the honorable senator that the day has gone by when men devote their time to union work without remuneration. Some of us have a very vivid recollection of the time when delegates were appointed to interview employers, and discovered later that in consequence of doing so, their services were no longer required. It is true that some organizers in Adelaide are paid £9 a week, but in New South Wales and other places the remuneration is even higher.

Senator Verran - They are also supplied with motor bicycles and typewriters. -

Senator GRANT -Yes,and sometimes with motor. cars; . The days, of which Senator Verranisspeaking-

The PRESIDENT -Iask thehonor- ablesenatortodiscussthe motion, and notSenator Verran.

Senator GRANT - It is' true, as Senator Verran said, that the men are better paid, and work shorter hours than they did some years ago, but the conditions which they now en joy have been obtained as the result of a- hard andbitter fight. Conditions- have 'altered. Is it not on record that, when the masons engaged in building the Temple, in Jerusalem created some trouble- Solomon said, " Paythe masons and let them go." In Egypt the Israelites were forced to make bricks without straw.

The PRESIDENT - I must again ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the question before the Chair.

Senator GRANT - It is a pity, sir, that you were not in . the chair when Senator Verran was speaking. He was allowed to discuss almost any topic. I deny that union officials in Australia are anti-British, or controlled by other than a majority vote of their members. It is ridiculous to say that there are Bolsheviks in the unions, as 98 per cent. of their members are good Britishers. Such statements are only made to mislead innocent honorable senators opposite. I should like to see Senator Verran endeavouring to control the members ofthe Waterside Workers Union, who sometimes hire the basement of the, Sydney Town Hall for their meetings, which are attended by three or four thousand men. If he made an attempt he would find that he . would have to be ruled by the majority. A clear, convincing and concise statement by Mr. Morris, . the general secretary of the Waterside Workers' Federation, was read this afternoon, the accuracy of which no one can deny.. Although provision is made in the award for only one " pick-up.;." honorable senators should remember that . a two " pick-up " system has been in operation for at least six years, and although the award has been amended on three occasions, that portion of the award which provides for two "pick-ups" has never been enforced. For some unknown reason. the.ship-owners now wish the sixyearold award, which, provides . for two "pick-ups" to be observed in. its entirety. Ifthe. Governmentdesires to endthe trouble speedily,it willnotdosoby the -use of force. Thousands . of the waterside workers -are as well educated to-day in everyrespect as are their employers, and they will , not . be., bulldozed or deceived by statements such as those heard to-day from Senator Payne and

Senator Verran.The men are determined to get the very small measure of justice that they are seeking. Although the working hours are shorter, and wages and other conditions of employment are better than ever before, we have not yet reached the position when no further progress is possible. The workers of this country will not stand for the free labour advocated by Senator Millen. I was astonished to hear that honorable senator make such a suggestion, and I was equally surprised when Senator Ogden advocated the application of force. Free labour and the use of force are the two worst ideas that could be promulgated, if there is a genuine desire to see the dispute settled. If the method outlined in the Opposition's amendment were given a trial, I have no doubt that the' parties could be brought to see that the difficulties are not insurmountable. The adoption of the amendment would speedily bring the dispute to a satisfactory termination.

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