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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) (Minister for the Interior) . - I shall have little to say on this subject because I have come to the conclusion that the less encouragement that is given to the Opposition to prolong debates of this unsatisfactory nature, the better it will be for the people of Australia and the greater the credit to the Senate as a component part of the Parliament of this country. When the war broke out, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) who was then in opposition, issued a declaration to the effect that he conceived it to be the duty of all of us to show that democracy and democratic institutions, as well as the British way of parliamentary government, could prove effective in times of emergency. Since then the Labour partyhas endeavoured to show its bona fides in this connexion; it has done its utmost to make democracy workable. Now that the war has assumed more serious proportions, and Australia is being attacked, the Labour Government feels it more than ever to be its duty to show not only that our democratic parliamentary institutions can be made to function in the British way, but also that as few obstacles as possible should be allowed to stand in the way of the smooth working of our industrial organization. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) knows well that we never have had, and never will have, harmony in. industry while a small section of that industry, which has broken away from the parent body controlling it, is recognized.

Senator McBride - We have had harmony on the waterfront for many years in Melbourne.

Senator COLLINGS - It was a clever ruse, if not altogether a fair one, to suggest, as the Leader of the Opposition did, that this regulation was drafted by a particular individual. The honorable senator must know that however keen a Cabinet Minister may be on a particular reform connected with the work which, for the moment,, he controls, and irrespective of his Cabinet rank, he must make submissions to Cabinet and must get the approval of Cabinet before effect is given to his proposals.

Senator McBride - He also knows that Cabinet Ministers are supposed to abide by the decision of Cabinet, although, apparently, that is not the position at the present time.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator has a wonderful capacity for suggesting that things are not what they really are. I do not know that I should take up the time of the Senate to stress this point, but I repeat that we never have had, and never will have, harmony in industry while a refractory organization, which has broken away from the parent body and is determined to destroy the parent body if it can obtain sufficient support, is recognized.

Senator McBride - Then the Minister admits the design of the regulation?

Senator COLLINGS - The regulation is designed to increase harmony on the waterfront.

Senator McBride - By eliminating one organization.

Senator COLLINGS - Regulation 15 definitely protects one organization.

Senator McBride - Which one?

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator knows the answer to his own question. Does the Leader of the Oppo sition understand the immensity of the job confronting the Government and tintremendous responsibility which it has to carry at the present time? Does he realize that, great as was thu responsibility of the Government of which he was a member a few months ago, that responsibility has increased enormously since the present Government came into office because of the turn that this tragic war has taken in the interim? Does he know that His Majesty the King, and his Queen, are constantly visiting industrial areas in Great Britain, accepting risks in so doing, because of their desire to establish and maintain industrial harmony in that country? Is he prepared to sanction, on behalf of His Majesty's Opposition in this chamber, tactics which, to say the least, are not wise at this stage? Does he think that it will increase the dignity of this chamber to waste time in discussions of this kind ?

Senator Spicer - The present Government created the situation which ha.s arisen.

Senator COLLINGS - A govern men! would be supine, indeed, and unworthy of the support of the people of this country, particularly at a time like this, if it were afraid to move in the direction of increased production and the smooth working of the industrial machine because it might offend some members of a spineless Opposition. The present Government is not prepared to submit to any proposal which suggests that it must not move until it has consulted every member of the Opposition, or at least its Leader. The present Government will at least give its proposals a " go ". Should the Opposition defeat the Government by tactics of this kind how much credit will it gain, and where will its action lead ?

Senator McBride - Stick to the merits of the case.

Senator COLLINGS - I am. I am not objecting to the interjections of honorable senators opposite. I expect them. Those honorable gentlemen have always championed " scab " organizations, and now they expect this Government to swallow a cardinal principle of the party which it represents.

Senator McBride - Party principle!

Senator COLLINGS - Exactly, and a party to which I am pledged. We are giving to the friends of honorable senators opposite, on whose behalf they have accepted this brief, an opportunity to come within the Waterside Workers Federation; but honorable senators opposite desire the present division in the industry to continue. They want to be able to pose as the particular champions of this particular section of workers. They hope to prevent the Government from going on with its immense work of bringing about harmony and 100 per cent, production in industry. This matter relates to only one of the difficulties which we have experienced in clearing the wharfs in not only Victoria, but also the other States. All that wo ask honorable senators opposite now is that they cease this unnecessary opposition at a time like the present, because it can neither redound to their credit nor help the Government to achieve a greater war effort. That is all we ask of honorable senators opposite in this matter, and it is all that should be at stake at the present time. The retention of all that we have depends upon a more intense war effort and we believe that by this means we can produce greater harmony, or at least reduce disharmony.

Senator Spicer - We do not believe it.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator may not do so; but I ask him to accept the Government's action as evidence of its earnestness to get on with the job of doing everything it possibly can to help those who stand beside us in this struggle. If the Government's action does not happen to please honorable senators opposite, or fit in with their ideas, is it not fair for the Government to ask them at least to stop pin-pricking and putting up " Aunt Sallies " simply in order to have the pleasure of knocking them over ?

Senator McBride - Honorable senators opposite adopted those tactics when they were in opposition, but we do not propose to adopt them.

Senator COLLINGS - I have no cause to feel ashamed of anything I did when I was in opposition. If I have occasion to regret anything I did as a member of the Opposition, I am atoning for it now by appealing to the good sense and better nature of honorable senators opposite not to persist in these futile tactics.

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