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Tuesday, 22 November 1960

Mr MCMAHON (Lowe) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - Already, during the second-reading debate on this bill, I- have dealt with these two sections- which, are called, the industrial sections of the. legislation. I then gave reasons why any amendment proposed should be rejected:. The provisions, which have been read very efficiently by the Leader of the Opposition cover a most serious state of affairs. In. tha first place, under section 30j of the act- -

If at any time the Governor-General is of opinion that there- exists in Australia a serious industrial, disturbance- prejudicing or threatening trade or commerce with other countries or among the States, he may make a Proclamation . . .

Sub-section (2.) of section 30j provides -

Any person who, during the operation of such Proclamation, takes part in or continues; or incites to, urges, aids or encourages the taking part in or continuance of, a lock-out or strike . . shall be guilty of an offence . . .

Similarly, section 30k reads as follows: -

Whoever, by violence to the person or property of another person, or by spoken or written threat or intimidation of any kind . . . I do not need to go through the whole of the provision. It provides that any such person who obstructs or hinders trade or commerce shall also be guilty of an offence. As I have said, in order to come within the scope of these two sections a person has to be guilty of a very serious offence, threatening interstate trade or commerce.

The Opposition has suggested that these sections should be repealed. I can give the complete answer to that suggestion and I can demonstrate why these sections should be retained. They are in the legislation in order that the Government of this country may ensure that there will not be any serious disruption of interstate or international trade. It is up to us to maintain law and order within the community. If the government of the day, whether Liberal or Labour, feels that action is being taken of a kind that prejudices public safety and security, then it is the duty of that government to take action. Consequently, I believe that, in terms of principle and of policy, it is right that these two sections should be retained.

Let us look at the Opposition's argument. These two sections have been in existence since 1926. Unless the Opposition is prepared to admit that when it was in office it did not know what it was doing and retained these sections because it did not realize they were there, then I am prepared to argue that the case for retention is complete. The Labour Government had the power to repeal these sections if it wished to do so, but it realized that they could be used in the last resort, and it was not prepared to take repeal action. I am prepared to submit, therefore, that these provisions should be retained.

The Leader of the Opposition has said that they are provocative, and he has also said that the Labour Party would prefer special legislation to meet special circumstances. I do not agree that they are provocative. In the last three or four years, and certainly since I have been the Minister for Labour and National Service, there have been no recommendations put up by industrial organizations for the repeal of these sections. It was not until the amending bill' came before this Parliament that the suggestion was ever made that the sections be taken out.

The second argument of the Leader of the Opposition was that a special act should be passed in special circumstances. We on this side of the Parliament believe that there should be a law clearly set out before a criminal act may be alleged to have been perpetrated. We should let the individual know exactly what the law is, so that if he does commit an offence against the law he can expect to be prosecuted and punished. We do not believe that a person should be allowed to act in a certain way, believing that he is not contravening the law, and that we should then alter the law, giving the alteration retrospective effect, and punish the person concerned under the provisions of the retrospective law. I would imagine that my friend from Lalor (Mr. Pollard), who has just walked in, would be the greatest exponent in this chamber of that principle. We believe, therefore, that these provisions should remain for their deterrent effect. They constitute one of the greatest deterrents to militant communism, and for that reason they should be kept in the act.

Now let us look at the record of the Labour Party. We all know that in 1949 a Labour government passed a special act of Parliament, based upon the contempt power, which was far more punitive, and far more difficult to understand and interpret, and far more temporary in its operation, than these sections 30j and 30k could be. But a still more important point is that at the time when that law was passed, those who might have acted in a contemptuous way did not know that the law might be introduced, and I suggest that they were entitled to think that any law that was introduced would not have a retrospective effect.

We are convinced that sections 30j and 30k nave a deterrent effect. They have not been frequently used. They are meant to be used as a last resort. A Labour government had the power to repeal them had it thought fit to do so, but it did1 not. It did introduce certain penal provisions of a quite severe character, which we feel were not warranted at that time, and were of a kind that should not be a parti of general Australian law. For these reasons, and speaking purely from the industrial viewpoint, I believe these sections should be retained. I do not think that they interfere with any genuine industrial activity, provided such activity is undertaken sensibly and for a genuine industrial purpose.

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