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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - These regulations propose something that is very desirable at the present time.

They provide for a departure from the principle of " divide and conquer ", a principle on which the legislation known as the Transport Workers Act was based. In 1928, prices began to fall, and the supply of labour on the waterfront greatly exceeded the demand. To the degree that the supply of labour exceeds the demand, advantage is always taken by employers of the opportunity to reduce the price of labour power known as wages. Action of that kind invariably leads to industrial disputes. I have worked on the waterfront and am still a member of the Fremantle Lumpers Union. Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the principle adopted by the employers is to discriminate, divide and conquer. There is no continuity of work at all. The award may provide for the payment of 10s. an hour, but, if there is no work, the 10s. means nothing. That happens in this age of civilization, among people who talk about equality and justice and the desire to do by their fellows what they desire to be done by. On the waterfront there is no right of access to the means by which the workers live. They stand before the representatives of the ship-owners who select the men they need. Day after day, they are submitted to this treatment, and they are reduced finally to living under conditions of semi-starvation. That is the background of what led up to the industrial dispute of 1928, and the Beeby award which provided for a deterioration of the conditions. The men who were prepared to accept a. reduction at the expense of their fellow workers received preference, were registered in the arbitration court and still have to be registered. That sort of thing can go on almost indefinitely while labour power is considerably in excess of the demand. We see the contemptible, cowardly and vicious practice of advantage being taken of the workers in the name of arbitration and British justice, by pitting one group against another for the purpose of reducing the price of their labour to the lowest level and increasing profits to the maximum. Then, when the war comes and man-power becomes more and more indispensable, the men who were denied employment prior to the war are wail ted to help in the defence of their country. Even while those men are defending us, honorable senators opposite us still say that we should give effect to the vicious and cowardly principle to which I have directed attention.

I say dispassionately, and I trust convincingly, that this will not be done to the degree which honorable senators anticipate, because, as pointed out by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), the relations between the men on the waterfront have much improved, and they will not allow themselves to be used in the same way as in the past. The relations between the 'two organizations have improved because there is more workto be done and their labour power is essential. The members of the organizations do what honorable senators opposite would do if they were in their places. When a worker is indispensable he insists on what he has a right to ask for. He demands the consideration, remuneration and treatment generally to which he is entitled. If the great desire of most of us were given effect overnight, and peace were declared, and if all the waterside workers came back, causing labour power to be greatly in excess of the demand, the employers would attempt to do precisely as they did before the war, that is, reduce as many as possible down to the level of working in return for the dole. That cannot be done now, because the present situation makes it necessary to extend a measure of justice to men to whom it was previously denied ; but, unfortunately, the facts are never brought as frequently and as prominently to the notice of the public as they should be. The object of the amended regulations is -to establish a better state of affairs on the waterfront than obtained previously. It is an attempt to prevent the ship-owners from using the Permanent and Casual "Wharf Labourers Union against the members of the other union, and to remove the things which lead to industrial disputes and bacl feeling, and possibly to something even more serious after the war. "We want the best relations possible between man and man in this country. I should not be averse from discussing the pros and cons of this subject if the nation were not at war: but the fact is that honorable senators opposite are attempting to take advantage of the Government's effort to establish better relations on the waterfront.

Senator Spicer - The Government is taking advantage of the present situation.

Senator CAMERON - It is all very well for Senator Spicer, who poses as a legal luminary, to speak of even-handed justice, but he is losing sight of what is happening in the background and is ignoring entirely the causes which led to the industrial dispute of 1928 and to other disputes that have occurred since then. If -the honorable senator were to tell men on the waterfront that they must go back to the old conditions they would tell him to take off his coat and do the work himself.

Senator Crawford - Are not the wharf labourers working under Arbitration Court awards?

Senator CAMERON - I have already pointed out that where there are more men than jobs the Arbitration Court awards makes no provision for the men without jobs. Its awards provide only for the men who are privileged to be employed. As the number of men either unemployed or without sufficient employment increases, a dispute becomes inevitable. All the arbitration systems that have ever been established will noi prevent industrial disputes so long as no provision is made to deal effectively with the cause of such disputes. Denial of freedom of access to the means by -which men live is the cause of disputes. If honorable senators who do not know what it is to feel want were to try t.f> understand the position from the other fellow's point of view, their approach to these questions would be vastly different. I am convinced that, if, by a turn of the wheel of fortune, Senator Spicer and other honorable senators opposite were forced to work on the wharfs, they would be no more prepared to put, up with the conditions that were protested against than were the men then employed on th" wharfs. The Minister for Trade and Customs has pointed out that whereever possible honorable senators opposite use returned soldiers to bolster up a weak case; but they have not referred to the returned soldiers, numbering more 'than 900, who were reduced to the breadline and below it as a result of the passing' of the Transport Workers Act. Is that fair reasoning? Representatives of the people in this Parliament should try to take all of the circumstances into consideration, and when they condemn men for going on strike they should try to see what lies behind their action. If they did that, I believe that industrial disputes would be less frequent. In submitting his case the Leader of the Opposition did not say that the ship-owners or the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union had objected to these regulations.

Senator McLeay - Some months ago members of that union asked me to approach the Prime Minister on their behalf with a view to their being given representation on the committee.

Senator CAMERON - I thought that if the Leader of the Opposition were submitting a case on behalf of a section of workers or on behalf of employers, as he now claims, he would have said so. In the absence of any such statement, I was justified in assuming that he had no brief for them. So far as I know, the shipowners have never objected to these regulations. It must be remembered that the Government found it necessary to take action against a section of shipowners who refused to guarantee to the seamen anything in the nature of compensation to either themselves or their dependants for injury or death due to enemy action. Honorable senators opposite who complained of waterside workers holding up ships, made no mention of the fact that supplies for troops at Darwin were held up by certain shipowners, that Sir Owen Dixon and others had to intervene, and that the Government had to take steps to remedy the situation in the interests of the troops.

Senator McLeay - What has that to do with these regulations?

Senator CAMERON - In stating his case, the Leader of the Opposition threw all of the blame for what has happened on to the members of the Transport Workers Federation.

Senator McLeay - The blame is attributable to the dirty tactics adopted by one member of the Cabinet.

Senator CAMERON - That is the honorable senator's way of expressing his view. My view is that all industrial disputes have their origin in action taken by the employers, who are accessories both before and after the fact. Had it not been for employers, through the medium of- the Arbitration Court and otherwise, attempting to reduce wages and conditions, there would have been no industrial dispute. When the Leader of the Opposition attributes to a Minister dirty tactics, I say, as one with some knowledge of psychology, that he is attributing to another person the despicable traits which he himself possesses. I have no desire to indulge in personalities-

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - But the honorable senator is doing so.

SenatorCAMERON.- When I am provoked and put on my defence by an offensive remark, I think that I am justified in defending myself, but no honorable senator has ever known me to take the initiative and attribute to another honorable senator ulterior motives or to call him by an offensive name. In a deliberative assembly like this, we should try to rise above personalities.

Senator Crawford - The Minister should set us an example.

Senator CAMERON - One of the most offensive speeches that I have ever heard was that in which Senator Crawford attacked Senator Foll in this chamber.

Senator Crawford - I had complete documentary justification.

Senator CAMERON - I do not deny that the honorable senator had a good case, but he spoiled it by indulging in personalities. I do not call the members of the Permanent and Casual Wharf Labourers Union " scabs ", nor do I wish to. do anything which would make their position worse. In all the years that I have been privileged to organize on behalf of the trade union movement my appeal has been to the finer instincts of my hearers. I have appealed to their reason, but, of course, such an appeal does not, succeed where people have never culti-. vated the habit of reasoning, and are more or less controlled by prejudice. Ostensibly, the Opposition wants to assist the Government to win the war and officially it makes that claim; but in reality it takes every opportunity to embarrass the Go- vernment, not in respect of major principles or things which mean a great deal to the people, hut in relation to minor and petty matters. There is no serious trouble in either the coal-mining industry or on the waterfront at the present time. On the contrary, conditions there are immeasurably better than they were. The Government is certain that it can do a great deal to remove the antagonism that has existed between two competing groups of men for jobs and for the favour of employers - a system under which one group gets more than it needs and the other group gets insufficient for its needs. Where we can prevent effect being given to the policy of " divide and conquer ", we shall do so, knowing that to the degree that we are successful we are assisting the nation's war effort. To the degree that we can do that, we shall build up unity in the widest and broadest sense for the time being among all sections of the community. The trade unions are sacrificing privileges which they should not be called upon to sacrifice; but they are prepared to do so. Only a couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting of the Trades Hall Council when it proposed to hold the Labour Day procession as usual. I then made the same appeal to the delegates as I make to honorable senators opposite to-night. I appealed to them to forget everything in a united effort to win the war. I told them that their processions could go on after the war. They agreed, and abandoned the procession. The trade unions have also agreed to the reduction of wages all along the line through the medium of the dilution of labour, which means a reduction of the average rate of pay. I appeal to honorable senators not to raise petty issues which only irritate people who are trying to do a better job than they did in the past. Do not try to open up old wounds with the intention of rubbing salt into them. If you do that you will not help to win the war.

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