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Wednesday, 7 September 1932

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - From the remarks of the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) it is apparent that the Government's desire to come to a decision upon the suggested amendment is only in order that the supporters of the Government may compose their differences. We, on this side, desire that full consideration be given to the amendments which we have suggested. We appear to be getting into somewhat of a tangle, inasmuch as the Minister in charge of the bill wishes to amend it, while we, on this side, seek to amend it still further, either before or after his amendments have been dealt with. If honorable senators supporting the Government desire the spirit of sweet reasonableness to prevail during these debates, I suggest that it is unwise for them to adopt the attitude which some of them have adopted to-day. Because we on this side are trying to prevent an assault from being made on what we understand is meant by the principles of British justice, the Minister points a reproving finger at us and demands to know whom we are trying to protect. I regret that the Minister in charge of the bill is not now present, so that I could assure him that we, the members of the Opposition, are as mindful of any oath or affirmation, or other pledges, that we have given in our public life, as are honorable senators on the other side of the chamber. Only a few days ago, I affirmed my allegiance in this chamber, and by that affirmation I stand. Throughout my public life I have declared my allegiance to the Australian Labour Party. I stand by that also. Notwithstanding what may be said to the contrary, neither I nor the movement which sent me here has or desires to have any affiliation other than with the industrial and political organizations of the Australian Labour Party. The Labour party is not seeking to protect any one who is not entitled to protection. Perhaps a homely illustration will explain my meaning. I am a pledged total abstainer from alcoholic beverages; but I have never urged that every other person in the community who indulges in alcoholic beverages is an unmitigated scoundrel who should be exterminated or deprived of his industrial and political liberty; yet, this Senate is asked to pass an amendment which means that a person shall be adjudged guilty of an offence, notwithstanding that his action took place at a time when it did not constitute an offence. That is a serious matter. The Minister in charge of the bill could just as reasonably propose that we should make drunkenness a crime punishable by imprisonment for twelve months, and then seek to provide that because Jones was drunk nine months ago he has com- mitted an offence and should be incarcerated for the period provided under an amendment of the law yet to be adopted. Those of us who are pledged to the policy of the Australian Labour Party do not desire to save any one from the consequences of his acts once he knows the penalty associated with them. We have only one object in view; we desire to protect those organizations which in the past have done thethings set out in this amendment - things which at the time did not constitute a breach of any law - but will not repeat them when they know that they are unlawful. Should there be any persons in the community so perverse as to continue in wrong-doing, we can rely on the law as it stands to deal with them. We cannot escape the fact that these clauses deal with two entirely different things. In the case of an organization seeking registration we have a perfect right to say to it that if it is now guilty of this offence, it should not obtainregistration. But I contend that we have no right, and there will be no justice behind our action, if wo enact that because at some earlier period in its history it was guilty of an act which is now,but was not then, an offence against, the law it is not eligible for registration. After all, the court will decide whether or not an organization is entitled to be deregistered, and I fail to see how honorable senators supporting the Government can justify their attitude. The amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition would, I believe, meet the wishes of honorable senators on both sides. It provides that an organization which is or purports to be affiliated with an association declared to be illegal shall not be entitled to registration. It seems to me to be a subversion of all that we have hitherto understood to represent Britishjustice, to enact that a certain course taken at a time when it was not an offence against the law should, under this provision, now be an offence. I feel sure that we shall get out of our difficulties if we adopt the suggestion made by Senator O'Halloran, for the withdrawal of the Minister's amendment so that the clause may be amended along the lines indicated by the Leader of the Opposition. We can deal with the other matters as they arise.

Supporters of the Government should not prejudice their case or tempt honorable senators on this side to reprisals by saying things which they must know do not apply to us, or to the organizations to which we belong or represent. It is, I suggest, unworthy, and certainly exceptionally bad taste, to hint at an underworld of trade unionism, because it will naturally tempt some honorable senators on this side - and I am probably as prone to do it as any one else - to elaborate, at some length, and with some dramatic effect on the facts regarding the underworld of capitalism, and all that it stands for. We do not get anywhere by deliberately taunting one another. We were told this afternoon that some trade unionists are desperate men, who do desperate things. I suggest that we are not qualified to understand the conduct of desperate men, but I can imagine no more desperate man than' he who finds himself unable to obtain a livelihood, even though he be willing to go to any lengths, desperate or otherwise, to get it. I repeat that we are not competent judges in this elegantly appointed chamber, to say just what constitute desperate deeds by desperate men.

Senator Hardy - Would the honorablesenator include Mr. Chapman in that category ?

Senator COLLINGS - To whom is the honorable senator referring?

Senator Hardy - The general secretary of the Australian Railways Union.

Senator COLLINGS - Nobody has yet charged Mr. Chapman with being a desperate man ready to do desperate things. The interjection by the honorable senator illustrates one of the things to which I object. Why does not he say something about honorable senators who are here - myself for example? I am always ready to protect myself against a charge of being a desperate man prepared to do desperate deeds. In this case, I stand for a fair deal for the organizations, and I say that they will not get it if the Minister's proposal is adopted. I do not wish to get into an argument about the things which Senator Hardy would like me to mention. There will be other opportunities to do that. Although all of us say we believe in what is generally understood to be British justice, this chamber apparently is ready to accept an amendment, the effect of which will be to make a crime of something which was not a crime at the time it was committed. Why make this legislation retrospective for twelve months? We might just as well make the period for all eternity.

Senator O'Halloran - Twelve months was the first period thought of.

Senator COLLINGS - Probably the honorable senator is right. The desire of the Opposition is that when this bill is passed, it shall be impossible for any organization to secure registration unless it has purged itself of the alleged crime specified in the act or that being a registered organization, it shall be de-registered if it persists in its offence against the law. Can anything be fairer than that? If supporters of the Government consider this calmly and judicially, they will, I feel sure, acknowledge that we on this side have shown them the only right way out of the difficulty.

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