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Thursday, 21 April 1904

Mr WILLIS (Robertson) - I did not have an opportunity to discuss the. second reading of the Bill, and on this occasion I shall not weary honorable membersby giving my opinions on its general provisions - although I may say (hat I shouldnot be doing much more than has been doneby other honorable members if I were to take that undesirable course. The principles of. the Bill were affirmed by the House when it agreed to its second reading, and if any honorable member feels that it is his duty to try to amend certain clauses, he is within his rights in submitting a proposal to make the Bill, as he thinks, more perfect than it is. In the interpretation clause it is stated that - " Industrial dispute " means a dispute in relation to industrial matters . . . and extending beyond the limits of any one State,

Now comes the proviso which has caused all the trouble - but does not include a dispute relating to. employment in the public service of the Commonwealth or of a State, or to employment by any public authority constituted under the Commonwealth or a State.

Inferentially the Government admit that it is constitutional to exclude civil servants from the operation of the Bill. If that is constitutional, then the proposal that certain words should be struck out is equally constitutional. I take it that the proviso of the Government is so much surplusage, and consequently it cannot alter the scope of the Bill or the rights of citizens under the Constitution whether the words are retained or omitted. On the other hand, it seems to me that it will be of very little effect to the Labour Party whether their amendment is carried or not, because it is merely putting the thing the other way about, and saying that States servants shall be included within the operation of the measure. If.' under the Constitution, Stales servants have certain rights, cannot they appeal to be registered under clause 6z ? If that course be taken the whole case will be at once opened up, and the High Court will have to decide whether States servants have such a right under the Constitution or not. It seems to me that the Bill in itself would give the Labour Party all that they want. By their action they are running the risk of losing a Bill that will confer on the people many benefits which they profess a desire to bestow. Their proper course, I should say, is to withdraw their amendment, and to allow the Bill to pass as .it is, leaving the High Court to settle the matter, and everything to go on swimmingly as hitherto.

Mr Mauger - How does the honorable member make that out when the public servants are excluded?

Mr WILLIS - I have been arguing to show that a mere declaration in this Bill that State servants shall or shall not be included within its operation will not make it legal or take away any right they may have under the Constitution. If under the Constitution they have a right to apply to be registered, this Bill cannot withhold from them any citizen's right.

Mr Brown - The legal authorities do not agree with that view.

Mr WILLIS - If the legal members would wait until an application is made by States servants for registration - if they would appear before the High Court and there plead on behalf of the organizations seeking registration, then I think that their forensic utterances would have some effect. It has been a mere waste of time to listen to their utterances, one vieing with the other as to his legal lore. The Government, however, appear to have something further in view, for the Prime Minister stated that it is an un-Federal provision which is sought to be inserted in the Bill, and that the Government will not be a party to the insertion of any provision that would be so regarded by the States. So that the whole issue hinges on the one question - repeated by the honorable and learned gentleman in this Chamber this afternoon - whether we shall have a Federation or a Unification. I am very sorry that he has had to leave the Chamber, for, in following' his career as an advocate of Federation, and his most recent utterances on this question. I have gathered that he is in favour of taking over from the States one service after another, until we arrive at that period of evolution when we shall have a Unification rather than a Federation. If he is desirous of going to that goal, he achieves much by the course which he is taking. We have to remember that this is not a new Bill. In the last Parliament it was thrashed out pretty fully, and a similar amendment was carried. The Government were acquainted with the views of most honorable members who spoke on that occasion. They were well able, therefore, to gauge the decision of this House on a similar proposal. We find, as the Minister for Home Affairs said yesterday, that the first Bills introduced are two which might run the Government to their ruin. Why have the Government brought forward these Bills at this juncture, if it is not for the purpose of courting the Labour Party, or whipping them into submission ? Perhaps they have writhed under the dictation of that party for so long, that they have now laid a net for them. They have induced the Labour Party to dig the pit into which they themselves will fall. The honorable member for Gwydir said that the Government ' are desirous of dropping the measure, and that the easiest method by. which that can be achieved is by securing its defeat. If the Bill be lost, another session must be held before it could be re-introduced. Honorable members might have an opportunity of seeing their constituents before the Bill could be brought forward again, and who is to say that even the members of the Labour Party would come through the fierce struggle unscathed? I am inclined to think that they are sincere to their pledges. If they believe that they represent only the working community, let them accept the Bill; but if they are merely craving for power, let them persist in their amendment, and defeat the Government, if it be only for a day - for that is the period of office which I would give to the Labour Party, if my vote could decide the . matter.

Mr Fisher - I think that the honorable member will admit that we are not officeseekers.

Me. WILLIS. - I have been arguing that the members of the Labour Party are nothing but office-seekers. If they are not, if they do not wish to come into power,- why do they not accept the Bill, and then claim the rights which they possess under the Constitution by obtaining a decision from the High Court as to the correct interpretation of that instrument? They cannot make anything constitutional by merely providing for it in an Act of Parliament.

Mr Hutchison - We cannot get a decision from the High Court unless we put this provision into the Bill.

Mr WILLIS - Any organization of State servants may apply to be registered under clause 62 of this Bill, and a decision of the High Court would then decide the vexed question.

Mr Mauger - If it were possible to leave the question open, there would be no trouble.

Mr WILLIS - The Minister for Home Affairs said last night that the present Administration took over, as a legacy, the responsibilities of its predecessor. What were those responsibilities? Was it not openly stated in both Houses of this Parliament that the policy of the Labour Party was that of support for concessions? The Government took the position that they should make their move first, and what happened ? It would have been impossible for them to carry their protectionist policy into effect without the assistance of a large section of the Labour Party, as the Minister for Home Affairs admitted. Certain members supported the Government against the no-confidence motion moved by the leader of the Opposition.

Mr Page - The caucus did nothing of the sort.

Mr WILLIS - The protectionist members of the Labour Party decided to support the Government against the onslaught of the Opposition. That was the first concession to the Government in their compact with the Labour Party. The Government were allowed to carry out their policy of protection.

Mr Page - Not at all. Not another vote will the free-trade party get from me, after this misrepresentation.

Mr WILLIS - Then came a time when the Labour Party wished to get special legislation passed. The Immigration Restriction Bill and the Pacific. Island 'Labourers Bill were brought in. The members of the Labour Party claim that they are responsible for those measures; but in the main there was no division of opinion upon them. Although they give themselves the credit of having passed those measures, the Government would have got them through the House with the assistance of the members of the direct Opposition. The Government were independent of the Labour Party at that juncture. But after the Bills I have named were passed into law, the members of the party squeezed the Government into carrying out a line of administration which was repugnant to the ideas of freedom possessed by the great body of the' community. The provisions of the measure to which I refer are not so objectionable in themselves, but they have been improperly strained by the Government as the result of domination by the Labour Party.

Mr Mauger - That is a reflection upon the Government.

Mr WILLIS - Undoubtedly it is; but. I am not here to plead their cause. 2 r 2

They have used the Labour Party to get all they could, and now that they are unable to get more, they have declined to fulfil their part of the compact. They have declined to give the Labour Party the Navigation Bill, and the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which they want, and they are opposing the amendment now, before the Committee because they know that if it is carried both Bills will be lost. I claim to be here as a representative of the people. We all represent labour; it has no special representation by one section of the House. What excuse have those who claim to specially represent working people for having burdened the people of New South Wales with duties which they have never before had to bear, and which wring from the masses nearly ^1,000,000 more per annum than the Treasurer previously obtained ? What excuse had they for taking the fodder duties out of the .pockets of the settlers of Australia? The members of the Labour Party, although they claim to represent labour, do not represent the true interests of the community. We have been told by the Minister for Home Affairs that the Government was divided in regard to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill and the Navigation Bill. We know that one Minister left the Cabinet because of this disagreement. The facts are public property. In the daily newspapers they were having a tilt one against another on the subject. Therefore there was no course open to the Prime Minister but to make the statement that the triangular method of government in Australia must be brought to an end. The Ministry obtained from the Labour Party all that they expected, and, being no longer willing to submit to the dictation of that party, have allowed them to bring forward an amendment, which, if carried, they say will bring about their resignation and, of course, the defeat of the Bill. The Labour Party may then come into power, and if they can live against the coalition of the other parties, well and good ; but it strikes me that the common sense of Australia will prevent a handful of men who misrepresent the people from remaining on the Treasury benches for any length of time. It is not to be expected that the members of the Opposition will come forward to help the Government now that they are being deserted by their old supporters, men elected upon their ticket. I have a contempt for the man who leaves the sinking ship without a good reason for doing so.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Surely the fact that the ship is sinking is a sufficient reason?

Mr WILLIS - Honorable members may make plausible speeches in the endeavour to excuse their action, but they cannot convince me that they have not a duty to their party, just as I have a duty to mine - and I am prepared to do it. Had not the debate upon the second reading of the Bill collapsed because many honorable members declined to make public their views in regard to the measure, I should then have dealt very fully with its principles. It is sufficient for me now to say what I have said. My. intention -is to amend the Bill in every way possible in the interests of the people. If those engaged in industrial callings outside the Public Service are brought under the provisions of the Bill, surely the States servants engaged in similar callings should enjoy the advantages of it.

Mr Mauger - There are no private railways, or very few.

Mr WILLIS - The honorable member says in a loud voice that there are no private railways, and adds in an undertone that there are very few. Where is the sense of such an utterance?

Mr Page - The honorable member has all the sense.

Mr WILLIS - The honorable member has a big voice. It would crack a world. The Government wish to be released from the political thraldom of labour, and I will assist them to be released- I shall be willing to see a coalition of the two large parties to prevent a continuance of domination by the Labour Party, such as we have so long witnessed.

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