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Friday, 11 December 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - The statements of these men were brought under my notice by Senator Mullan, and it is true that I said that an inquiry would be made. I did not mean the honorable senator to understand by that that there would be a Court of inquiry, to which both parties would be summoned to give evidence. What I meant was that an inquiry would be made into the statements of the men against this officer. The statements of the men were there to speak for themselves. They had set out separately their version of what took place. I take it that that was their case. That was sent on to the Commandant, Queensland, to make inquiries. Speaking from memory, the purport of the statements made by the men was that the officer in charge of the Remount Depot had gone out of- his way to attack the men for being unionists. He was called upon for an explanation, and a replY to the charges made against him. Senator Mullan is wrong in thinking that a reply was sent to him without my having seen the papers. I did see the papers. The reply of the officer in charge of the Remount Depot to the charges made against him is that a dispute arose at the depot between certain of the men relative to the merits of unionism and non-unionism. He interfered and said that he would not have any quarrelling about unionism in the quarters. That seems to me to be right. Organizers of trade unions are permitted to visit all Commonwealth works to interview men employed in regard to union matters. I issued a minute some time since that union organizers should have the right to visit all Commonwealth, works, other than works, for military or naval purposes, to which the general public are not admitted, during meal hours, and to interview the men employed during those hours. But it is obviously unwise that quarrels about unionism and nonunionism should be allowed to take place in the quarters, and especially during hours when the men are on duty. Tt appears that the offence of this officer was that he interfered during a quarrel at this time, and said that he would not allow any of these discussions on unionism to take place. I do not see that anything can be done by pursuing the matter further. The men say that what the officer said was that he would not have any unionists there. -He denies that, and says that he merely interfered to prevent a discussion upon unionism and nonunionism.

Senator Mckissock - He did not say that he would not have any non-unionists there.

Senator PEARCE - I am speaking from memory, because Senator Mullan did not tell me that he intended to refer to this matter to-day. I am under the impression that the officer lias been informed that the men have a perfect right to join unions, and he must not interfere with that right in any way; and, further, that it is a matter for the men themselves whether they shall discuss unionism when they are not on duty. It does not seem to me that any good purpose can be served by carrying the matter further. Assuming that the officer did offend, if he does so again it will be against instructions. He says that he did not offend, that there was a discussion, and that he would not have such a discussion.

Senator Lynch - We have only his word against that of a number of men.

Senator PEARCE - That is so, but how can we carry the matter further ? He is warned now as to what his duty is. Assuming that he said what has been charged against him, he has been warned that he must not take up that attitude towards the men, that trade union organizers are to be allowed to visit them during meal hours, and that they are themselves to be allowed to interview their fellow workmen during meal hours on questions of unionism.

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