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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) .- The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) has just informed the committee that this discussion is regrettable. I agree with him; but it is regrettable from the point of view of the Government, not that of the Opposition. It is all the more regrettable in that the honorable member has indulged in personalities that were uncalled for. A very simple question was put to the committee by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). It had been put previously, and two different opinions had been given in respect of it, one by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the other by no less a person than the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). In such circumstances, quite apart from the importance of the subject, one can well understand why honorable members on this side of the chamber were anxious to have a clear and definite statement of policy from the Government. May I state a simple case? Smith, shall we say, is a member of a builders' association or a grocers' association in Melbourne. He may be one of thousands of small shopkeepers whose businesses have been closed during the last few months on account of war conditions. Because his services are required by the Allied "Works Council, he is conscripted and is entrained for Brisbane to work for the council in Queensland.

Mr Rosevear - Is the honorable member in favour of that?

Mr HUTCHINSON - Of course. In a time of war, the Government must have all the power that it needs to organize and control the community. Members of the Government party, not of the Opposition, have objected to that. As a conscripted person, this gentleman is compelled to join a trade union when he gets to Queensland. The honorable member for Indi has asked whether it is the policy of the Government to compel such a conscript to join a union, even though his political beliefs may be entirely at variance with those of the union. We have had a series of speeches by Government members, but have not yet had a clear statement as to what rule the Government adopts. It is all very well for the Prime Minister to use the words " quite frankly " on at least two or three occasions while completely sidestepping the issue. The right honorable gentleman prevaricated, equivocated, and talked all round the subject; but we could not obtain from him on behalf of the Government a simple statement of policy. We do not want the grand poseur; we are becoming a bit tired of that, because we have had a little too much of it from the right honorable gentleman during the last few months. We want a dignified and straightforward statement of policy from the Leader of the Government; and that is what we have not been able to get. Surely it is possible for the right honorable gentleman to say whether it is the policy of the Government to compel a builder or other small business man, from Victoria or any other State, who goes to Queensland, to join a trade union ! The question i? a simple one; surely a simple answer can be given to it, one that may be understood not only by us, but. also by the great Australian public. Thousands of persons beyond the boundaries of the State of Queensland are wondering what is the policy of the Government. The Prime Minister ,said that from past experience of unionism he could say that in many instances in which conscience was involved men had not been required to join a union. In answer to an inquiry from this side of the chamber while the honorable member for Warringah was speaking, as to who would be the judge, the right honorable gentleman implied, by way of interjection, that he would be a union steward or another person holding office in the union. We are not. concerned with the attitude of any union officer, but we are concerned with the policy of the Government. Australia is engaged in a war. We heard to-night from the Minister for

Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini) how seriously he regards the position of this country at the moment. Because of the existence of a state of war, the Allied Works Council has been constituted. That body is subject to the control of this National Parliament and the Commonwealth Labour Government. Therefore, any policy enunciated by the Government necessarily becomes the rule that guides the actions of the council. Even though there may be a particular law in a State, it is transcended by the law of the Commonwealth. Therefore, we are justified in asking the Government to give a clear answer to our question. The Labour party is responsible for the continuance of party politics, not the parties that occupy the opposition benches. That has been the position almost since the outbreak of the war, and we have had no option but to accept it. On different occasions, we have attempted to obtain a national government. On the last occasion, we actually offered the prime ministership, if necessary, to the then Leader of the Opposition - who to-day is the Prime Minister - or any other member who was suitable and acceptable to the majority of members. That offer was turned down. We say to-night that we would have a national government to-morrow.

The members on this side of the House are nominally from two parties, but for all practical purposes we are one party. So far as is possible, we are completely united, because we are convinced that the interests of this country far transcend the interests of any political party. During the last day or two, we have been assured by honorable members of the Government that oil and water do not mix. L say that oil and water have mixed very well in the Services, and what can be done there can be done here. I agree with Churchill when he said, "Let us into the storm, and through the storm"; but we shall go through the storm much better if we go through it together.

Mr. ROSEVEAR(Dalley) [9.47 j.This is the most remarkable debate to which I have listened for a long time. Nearly 90 minutes has been wasted in discussing a subject that is of no importance to any one except members of the

Opposition, who wish to hold up the business of the House. Since the war began, many men have been forced out of business, in some cases- because of a shortage of supplies, and in others so that plant may be converted to war purposes; but honorable members opposite do not object to a man being forced out of business and losing his life's savings. Now the Allied Works Council has power under regulations, to which honorable members have not objected, to take men out of their civil occupations and force them to do certain work. The council is compelling men to leave their homes and travel to distant parts of the Commonwealth. In some instances, that means the breaking up of homes; always it means a grave upsetting of domestic arrangements. To this, however, honorable members opposite do not object. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) has no objection to it. When I asked him, he said that he did not object to conscripting men, taking them from their homes, and sending them to another part of the country. Up to that stage, he and other members of the Opposition are ardent advocates of compulsion. We force men to join the Army, and to risk their lives, even though they may not be willing to take that risk. Honorable members opposite are in favour of that. As a matter of fact, the Opposition proposed to attack the Government this session for not compelling men, who are conscripted under the Defence Act, to fight beyond the limits of Australia and its territories. Honorable members opposite are in favour of compelling people to invest in loans ; but, when it comes to compelling them to join a trade union, so that they may make a contribution towards the maintenance of the industrial conditions which they enjoy, honorable members opposite boil with indignation. We have been told a heart-rending story about Mr. Smith, who kept a store, and went " broke ". He was called up by the Allied Works Council and sent to northern Queensland to undertake work he had never done before. Has it occurred to the honorable member who told this pitiful tale that Mr. Smith is going into an industry in which the workers, by their organization and contributions over a period of three-quarters of a century, have established favorable conditions which Mr. Smith is going to enjoy? Let us have a thought for the great number of Mr. Smiths who, by their struggles and financial sacrifices, have established present-day conditions in industry. Now, when it is proposed to ask Mr. Smith, of the bankrupt store, to make a contribution of about 30s. a year towards the maintenance of those conditions, honorable members say it is an outrage on the conscience of the country, and that the great public will want to know why it is done. The people, who are eminently fair-minded, would want to know, if the matter were put to them, why Mr. Smith should be allowed to enjoy the conditions which other workers have won for him unless he is prepared to contribute something towards the cost. I have been a unionist ever since I was capable of joining a union. I know the conditions that prevailed in the industry when I first entered it, and I know of the improvements that have been effected regarding hours of labour, wages, and general conditions. I also know that, but for the efforts of trade unionists, but for their sacrifices and' contributions, conditions would have remained very much as they were. Which is the more important to Mr. Smith, or to any one else - that he should be compelled to join a trade union, or that he should be compelled to leave his home and go to the other end of the Commonwealth? If the choice were given to -any honorable member of this House, can any one doubt which he would choose. There has been no industrial friction on these jobs over nien joining unions. The only people who have exercised their minds on the subject are honorable members opposite, and I believe that they are doing so to-night merely for the purpose of obstructing the business of Parliament, according to the decision which the Opposition executive made when it met in pre-sessional caucus and asked its members to bring forward complaints with the object of embarrassing the Government. The public will have a very poor opinion of honorable members opposite as the result of the fight they are making to-night, because their cause is not worth while. They want a question to be answered " Yes " or " No ". In my view, the answer should be " Yes ". I agree with the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. If that body has asked the Government to introduce compulsory unionism it should do so. The man who is not prepared to contribute £1 or £1 10s. a year in order to enjoy the conditions that have been established through the personal and financial sacrifices of others is not worth worrying about.

Sir CHARLESMARR (Parkes) [10.1 J. - I should not have risen to speak if honorable members on the Government side of the chamber had not made all sorts of allegations against members of the Opposition. They have accused us of being antagonistic to unionism and all the things for which it stands. No honorable member on the Government side of the chamber has a union ticket as old as mine.

Mr Drakeford - I challenge that.

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