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Thursday, 24 June 1926

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) . -In view of the utterances of some honorable senators opposite, particularly during the last election campaign, I am at a loss to understand why they should display such vigorous opposition to this bill. When the electors throughout the Commonwealth were appealed to, they were told by the representatives of the Labour party that if they were returned to power the interests of the whole community would be conserved. Notwithstanding this, they have denounced the proposal to submit to a referendum of the people the question of the Government controlling essential services in the event of a crisis. It is very difficult to reconcile the attitude taken by honorable senators opposite 'during the election campaign with that adopted to-day, particularly as they are members of a party whose slogan has always been, " Trust the people." They are not prepared to trust even those upon whom they rely for support. I have not heard one honorable senator opposite suggest that he does not believe in submitting questions of vital importance to the people. Their " Trust the people " slogan appears, however, to be limited to occasions when their party is in office. Surely in this democratic age, when every man and woman has a vote, it is reasonable to suggest that even Labour senators should bow to the will of the people as expressed at the poll. The people having decided that a Nationalist Government shall rule, they should abide by the decision of the people. Their much-vaunted confidence in the people is all moonshine. If it were not they would whole-heartedly support this bill. The measure deals with matters of vital importance to Australia; in fact, there is nothing more important to the development of our resources and to the welfare of the whole community than the maintenance of essential services, which are the lifeblood of the Commonwealth. In an endeavour to obtain a reliable definition of the word " essential " I have perused the best authorities available. I find that "essential" means something which is absolutely necessary and important in the highest degree. In drafting the proposed amendments of the Constitution, I believe the Government had that definition in mind. Recognizing as the Government does, the jeopardy that Australia may be in, should our essential services be dislocated, it has considered it imperative to bring forward a proposal of this nature. If the Government had not taken this direction, it would have broken the promise it made to the people. The Nationalist candidates told the people that ifthe Government they were supporting was returned, it would, with the consent of Parliament and the people, amend the Constitution in such a way that the control of essential services in times of crises would be assured. A great deal of quite irrelevant talk has been indulged in to-day. One honorable senator had the audacity to endeavour to explain the cause of the police strike in Melbourne some time ago. That strike has nothing whatever to do with the bill, but what followed has an important bearing on what the Government has in view. I shall never forget what occurred in this great city when, for a short period the assistance of the police was not available, and a certain section of the people were guilty of terrible destruction of property. Senator Findley referred to those people who were responsible as being unworthy of consideration; he said they were members of the hooligan class. Were they ? I was an eye witness of all the rioting that occurred in Melbourne that afternoon, and I can say that it was not only the hooligan class that took advantage of the police strike. There were many whom Senator Gardiner, Senator Findley, and Senator Barnes would class as respectable members of society, and who, while not having the pluck to actually break the windows and begin the looting, followed the rioters and reaped the spoils. I was standing at the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets, opposite the Leviathan, before the first window in that establishment was broken. A shop window just round the corner had been broken and looted, and a crowd came along in the direction of the Leviathan building. I saw half . a dozen welldressed men standing on the opposite corner, and I began to approach them, with the determination of getting a few recruits, because I felt that twenty determined men would be able to prevent further destruction. Before I could utter a word, however, the first window was smashed and one of these well-dressed and so-called respectable men said, " That is the way to treat the- . They ought to go round to Flinders-lane now."

Senator Gardiner - Did the honorable senator assist them?

Senator PAYNE - No. For the information of the Leader of the Opposition, I may repeat thatthe damage was done, not by hooligans, as Senator Findley said, but by well-dressed men whom we would ordinarily regard as decent members of society. The action taken on that occasion shows the danger which any community is in when authority is absent. If any definite attempt to restore order had been made that evening, much of the destruction would have been prevented. As the Minister pointed out, the State authorities could not do anything. The State authorities did not prevent disturbances and a dislocation of services in Queensland and Western Australia. It therefore appears that, if the best interests of the people are to be served', irrespective of class, the Federal Parliament should have power to legislate in the direction proposed. Some objection has been taken to the wording of the bill, which not only provides for the protection of the interests of the public in case of actual interruption, but also in the case of any probable interruption of an essential service. During the debate in another placea good deal was . said concerning the use of the word "probable"; but no government would be worth its salt if it did not provide against probable disturbances. I am wholeheartedly supporting this measure, be cause the Government is pursuing a proper course. I am sure honorable senators opposite really believe that action should be taken in the direction proposed, as I think they have every desire to protect the interests of Australia and its people, and there must be some power behind them to cause them to oppose a bill, the definite object of which is the protection of essential services. Senator Ogden referred to the difficulties experienced in Tasmania when the shipping service between that State and the mainland are interrupted, and upon that I do not wish to enlarge; but there are also railway, postal, telegraphic and other important services to be protected. The Minister did not overstate the position when he pictured what might have followed the police strike in Melbourne. Squatters and land-owners, many of them wealthy men, who were holidaying in Melbourne, threw themselves into the fray so that law and order should rule instead of chaos and anarchy. Men who had come down from their stations for a week's rest, allowed all their pleasures to go so that they could act as special constables ; and they worked night and day to restore order. Eventually they and the men in the force who had remained loyal to the Government succeeded in their efforts. Had they not got the upper hand the crowd would not have been satisfied with damaging the buildings in the block bounded by Collins, Swanston, Bourke, and Elizabeth streets. What was to prevent them from wreaking vengeance on the Federal Government by destroying Commonwealth utilities? Nothing but a force of civilians which was prepared to stand up against them. When it arrived, the mob fled. They hunted in packs, like wolves, until they met a determined front, when they disappeared up the alleys and by-ways. I hope that the Senate, by a very large majority, will endorsethis proposal; and I trust that no honorable senator, during the campaign, will suggest that the desire of the Nationalist Government and its supporters is bloodshed. Such tactics should not be tolerated for a moment. Any honorable senator who would make that suggestion cannot be in his right mind.I have sufficient faith in the workers of Australia, especially in view of the attitude which they adopted when the' position was put plainly before them at the last election, to believe that they will stand behind the Government in this proposal. They realize what is in the best interests of Australia. I warmly support the measure, believing that it 13 absolutely essential that this power should be given to the Commonwealth Parliament.

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