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Wednesday, 1 June 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - If it is the duty of an Opposition to find fault with the: actions of a Government, I may be allowed1 to say that in my long parliamentary experience I have not known a Government which within a limited space of time has given more opportunities for criticism thai* have been afforded by the present Administration.

Mr Fisher - That is our generosity.

Mr REID - The honorable gentleman's generosity is proverbial, and his desire to remain where lie is as long as he can is. worthy of the grand old country from which he comes. I shall begin my remarks by criticising an observation made by the honorable member who represents the NeverNever Country - that the amendment is an improvement upon the original proposal. If it is, the fact shows the marvellous enlightenment which comes from high officialstation, because the same intellects, sitting in their mysterious tabernacle, and incubating for months the egg which was to produce the chicken, drew up quite a different proposal for dealing with this great national question. The matter was then put in a thoroughly straightforward and comprehensive way, as the result of the careful consultation of the members of the party.

Mr Watson - It was nob that.

Mr REID - A meeting of the party is a sort of Star Chamber institution at the best, and therefore we can only conjecture what happens there. This is the provision to which I refer, as it is recorded in Hansard -

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.

There is some sort of principle in that. When the Ministry had nothing but principle to live on, they lived on principle as hard as they could ; but now they have something better to live on, their principle begins to decay. When some members of the Ministry assume the sort of virtue which has suddenly displayed itself, the effect is to show that all their professions of devotion to principle were the professions of a kind of political vagrant who had no means of showing that he was earning an honest living. Now that these gentlemen have to bear the heavy responsibilities of office, and the still heavier responsibility of trying to stay where they are, we find them exhibiting a degree of dexterous diplomacy, to say nothing of an absolute abandonment of principle, which stands without a parallel in the history of parliamentary government. These gentlemen have been talking for years of their absolute incorruptibility, of the fact that they have carved out some great national policy which is without flaw, and- which, above everything is a matter of principle, and yet the moment they are put under the test of responsibility, and have something to lose, they display a flexibility of political conscience which would put an old politician to utter shame.

Mr Watson - We must be bad.

Mr REID - The wise and sensible leader may resort to . navigation - and it is perfectly proper so long as it makes for the port of a defined principle and defined policy - navigation which leads the navigator in the quickest way to the realization of his principles, and of his policy, is a thing of which no man need be ashamed. But it is quite another matter when a party practically stake the whole of the political affairs of Australia upon one principle, which, after a very long period of complacency under another Ministry was regarded as of so sacred a character that they must even bring the parliamentary temple down in order to assert it, and then abandon it. Honorable gentlemen bring the temple down ; they escape from the ruins, and they find themselves in that position of ease and comfort, the possession of which must enable my honorable and learned friend, the Minister of External Affairs, to realize the full meaning of the expression - " beyond even the dreams of avarice."

Mr Watson - I do not know that he has betrayed more anxiety than others to get there.

Mr REID - I have not said that he has or has not. I only say what I have said.

Mr Watson - That is rather a new phase for the right honorable member.

Mr REID - I suppose that I may be allowed to say just a word or two. I want to point out that in regard to this great principle, upon which the Ministry have staked the fortunes of the whole Commonwealth - taking up the parable at the very point at which they left off - we suddenly find that instead of "one people, one destiny," the destiny is considerably altered, and a situation has arisen which, if it could only have been contemplated bv the author of the phrase, would have afforded him good reason for diminishing the ardour of his Federal aspirations. But the point with which the public have to do is this : Here are gentlemen who have been living on their principle - who have had nothing else to live upon, during the . course of their public career.' I am not talking of personal matters. I am probably" poorer even than the Minister of External Affairs, and I am speaking in a political sense. These gentlemen, who have been living on their principles all their lives, having had limited opportunities of doing anything else, now come into a position in which there are absolutely two things to be considered - principle and interest. These gentlemen, who have cast such an interested eye on the principles of other people, now cast their eyes only on their own interest. The amendment now before us, now that Ministers are in the same critical position that the late Government occupied on . this very point, affords proof of the abandonment of a great principle. The late Government - I do not say all of them ; do not let me violate the truth to that ex- tent - the head of the late Government, and a number of members of that Government, had the same interest as have my honorable friends now on the Treasury benches, but they had a different principle, and they acted in a different way on that principle. They acted, not to save their own interests, but in defiance of them. I want now to shatter for ever the fond delusion of the labour unions of Australia, that if they could only get their own men into office, they would inaugurate a grand new era in which the men who were in the high places would show an almost suicidal disregard for their own interests in carrying out those noble principles which were to lead to the universal happiness of mankind. But, the universal happiness of mankind has been converted into a phrase with another meaning, namely, the immediate wellbeing of the seven or eight gentlemen who used to live on their principles. Now, I say that if ever there was a point upon which a Government ought to have stuck to its principles, it is that upon which the present Ministry achieved their present high- and elevated position. The Prime Minister laughs. I remember when he sat on this side for three years with that serious, enthusiastic face we came to know so well. He never used to laugh then. He laughs now only because he has at last achieved his present position. I am not saying one word by way of personal offence, because I am applying to my honorable friends only such criticism as I should direct against any Ministry in the world that did what this Ministry has done.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear ; we are glad to hear the right honorable gentleman.

Mr REID - t am sure' that my honorable friend's do not entertain any animosity towards me.

Mr Page - The right honorable gentleman .means that they are not playing the game according to the book, like LieutenantColonel Neild and Captain Wilks. .

Mr REID - If my honorable friend will allow me to say so, the Prime Minister had one opportunity of putting a real military hero into a prominent position, and he missed it. I cannot understand under what sort of malign influence the Prime Minister acted when he missed that glorious chance. I need not quote the Minister of Trade and Customs in this matter, because it is well known that when he moved the amendment to which I have referred, he spoke, as he always does, in a perfectly clear and manlyfashion, and made no attempt to disguise the position which he took up. He mentioned no constitutional difficulties, but said - ' ' We believe that what we are doing is right ; if it is contrary to the Constitution we can be set right by an authority in another place." That position was quite intelligible. But now that the Ministry are in office they begin to play the part of the High Court themselves. They bring their own principles into a little High Court of their own, and they suddenly discover that this proposal, which they incubated 'so laboriously, is not only rotten to the core, but is unconstitutional. The voice of authority - the voice of the learned Attorney-General, and the voice of the honorable and more learned Minister of External Affairs - speaks now. These two voices speak now ; they have their due weight with the Cabinet ; and we now find that the party which looked upon mankind as one family, regards " industry " as a term which divides humanity. There are some human beings whose occupations come under the head of " industrial,"' and others whose callings cannot be so described. This is in accordance with the aristocratic proclivities of my honorable and unlearned friend the Prime Minister, who is anxious to bring farmers within the scope of this Bill, but who looks askance at the farm labourer's. This aristocratic thread is running right through this millennial policy.

Mr Watson -- What does the right honorable gentleman mean ? I have no objection to farm labourers.

Mr REID - I know. Not so long as they come out as vagrants - without a definite calling in front of them.

Mr Watson - Does the right honorable gentleman call that vagrancy ?

Mr REID - No. I was wrong in using the term "vagrant." What I meant was, men who have no definite prospects of subsistence. I have been suddenly called back to Sydney, and I do not wish to leave before expressing my views upon this very important matter. I desire to point out that, in my opinion, the distinction that is drawn between one man and another in the Public Services of the States and the Commonwealth - one man being regarded as engaged in an industry and another as not being engaged in an industry - is one of the most ineffably .snobbish things I ever heard of as being conceived by a real Labour Ministry. If that is the position that is to be assumed by the genuine article, we can begin to understand how it- was that men of privilege in the older days of the world played such an unenviable part in regard to the welfare of the people. I ask honorable members to remember that this very question was dealt with by the Prime Minister. He went into these differences, and admitted that the construction to be placed upon the word " industry " might be the subject of some disputation. He faced all these difficulties when the Bill introduced by the late Government was before- the House, and, having looked at them, said in a straightforward way, that, in his opinion, we had it within our powers to include public servants within the scope of the Bill; and that if we were wrong we could be set right by the High Court. That was the position taken up by the Prime Minister, and it was a perfectly logical one. Irrespective of whether we agree with it or not, we could at least understand it. The Labour Party, having taken up that position, and having brought about universal confusion through their absolute adherence to it, surely the principle which was strong enough to impel them to shipwreck their political friends who had been doing their- work for them for three years should also have been strong enough to induce them to stake 'the life of the Ministry upon it.

Mr Watson - The proposal which is now put forward would have shipwrecked the Deakin Government in precisely the same way. The right honorable member knows that.

Mr REID - I know nothing of the sort.

Mr Watson - Then the right honorable member must have become suddenly ignorant, because every one else knows it.

Mr REID - I have before me the proposal of the Government, and also the Bill, in its original form, so that I am in a position to compare the two. The amendment proposes to limit the application of the Bill to disputes in industries which are carried on either by the Commonwealth or a State, or which are under the control of either the Commonwealth or a State. The Government declare that they cannot include within' the provisions of the Bill public servants of the Commonwealth' or of a State who are not engaged in some industry. I hold that a distinction of that sort - a distinction which is drawn between different forms of work, which recognises some men as being possessed of human interests and others as being pariahs who require to be kept outside the pale of this humane legislation, is one that no labour member can justify before the people. When honorable members opposite talk of the High Court and the Constitution, the people will tell them what they themselves told the Deakin Government. They will say - " We believe that it is capable of being done ; and, therefore, we insist upon it."" 1 suppose that the Labour Party did not bring about the shipwreck of the late Government", upon an amendment to which they knew effect could not be given in this Bill. Surely they will not place themselves in that extraordinary position? By their action, I hold that, when they had nothing to lose, honorable members opposite exhibited a belief that this broad principle ought to be embodied in the Bill. Now, however, that they have something to lose, and the same principle 10 stand by, they wish to alter it, and instead of proposing' to include all the public servants of the Commonwealth and of the States, and all the servants of a State or Commonwealth authority, the legal members of the Government are beginning to see that, after all, there are legal difficulties in the way, and that, they must do the thing which one would suppose would be most odious to them - draw a line of ' distinction between one set of men who earn their living in a certain employment, and another set who earn their living in the same employment. These are matters upon which the Government must expect to be criticised. I must express my strong condemnation of their action in shifting their ground and proposing to limit the scope of the Bill in the way that they do.

Mr Carpenter - Will the right honorable member say what class of public servants the Government proposal will not cover ?

Mr REID - No honorable member cai. alter his own words, without assigning some reason for his action. Two months ago honorable members opposite declared that they wished the Bill to be applicable to any dispute in any employment in the Public Service. Will any one say that a clerk is not employed in the Public Service ?

Mr Carpenter - What class of public servants are excluded by the proposed amendment ?

Mr REID - Is the honorable member ignorant of the statement of the Prime Minister, that there is a difference between clerical employment and industrial employment? My friend, the Prime Minister, does not raise these refined subtleties. Whatever may be his faults and mistakes,

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we never have to dig about for his meaning. He declared straightforwardly the other evening that the Government were doubtful of their power to include the clerical branches of the Public Service. He says that it is doubtful whether disputes in these branches will come under the heading of "industrial disputes" in the sense in which that term is used in the Constitution.

Mr Hutchison - The right honorable member said the other -day that they constituted an industry.

Mr REID - The honorable member need not mind what I said. I am too old a hand to shift the venue in that way. When I occupy a seat upon the Treasury benches he may tell me what I said, but whilst I am in Opposition, I intend to tell the Government what they said.

Mr Hughes - As a critic the right honorable member is superb.

Mr REID - I do not think that this proposal, even so far as it relates to the inclusion of the railway servants, conies within the powers which are conferred upon us by the Constitution. I look upon the words " an industrial dispute extending beyond the limits of any one State " as having no sort of application to a body of men who are a complete entity within a definite geographical area. Between the railway servants of Victoria and New South Wales there is no link or industrial connexion whatever. Each is in a different State, under a separate Act of Parliament, and under the control of a separate Government.. Any attempt to bring the public servants of the Stales under the control of the Commonwealth must be in the direction of unification, and not in the direction of preserving States' rights. The moment we place the employes of a State under some outside tribunal and make the relations between themselves, the people, the Parliament, and the Government of that State, the subject for determination by an industrial Arbitration Court of the Commonwealth, we violate the first principle of the integrity of State rights. What is i lie use of talking of State rights if there be no State existence? What is the use of having a body of men under a State Act of Parliament if practically they are not under the control of that Parliament at all. or under that State? Of course 1 admit that shearers and sailors are in an absolutely different category. Their employment takes them into more than one State. For example, a sailor navigates the whole waters of the Commonwealth. His employment extends from one State to another, and a dispute affecting the class to which he belongs will reach the whole of the Commonwealth ports. But, in the case of the civil servants and railway employes their avocations limit them strictly to one State. In its industrial working, the railway service of Victoria is as foreign to the railway service of New South Wales as if the two were 10,000 miles apart. I think that reason is quite sufficient to justify mE in opposing this amendment. So far as the railway servants themselves are concerned, I take it that there is no dispute regarding their position. They are amongst the best public servants in the whole world. I have travelled over the railways for many years, and that is the impression which I entertain of every man. who is connected with the service. They are a splendid body of men - there is no better in the world. Nevertheless, I do not think that our Constitution permits us to include in this Bill either the public servants of the Commonwealth, or of a State, and therefore we cannot, in my opinion,include the railway employes. Those who believe that the Constitution is wide enough to justify the inclusion of railway employes within the scope of the measure ought to stand by their principles, and extend the same boon to every other public servant throughout the Commonwealth and the States.

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