Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 21 June 1904

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - If I understand the arguments of the Minister of External Affairs correctly, he contends that the unionist is entitled to a monopoly of the labour market as the price of the privileges which he is asked to surrender under the Bill, those privileges being the right to refuse to work with a non-unionist, and the right to go out on strike. I am not aware; however, that the unionist has a monopoly of these privileges. The non-unionist may, if he chooses, refuse to work with a unionist, and, if he chooses, may go out on strike. He, too, is called upon to surrender both privileges under the Bill. I admit at once that, in my opinion, unionism has done a great deal for labour in Australia. Labour to-day owes to unionism a great many of the privileges which it enjoys, and, if my advice were asked by any working man as to whether he should or should not join a union, I would not hesitate to recommend him to join one if he could do so conveniently. But I regard this provision, which virtually compels all men to join unions, whether they do or do not think it wise to do so, as a serious infringement of the civil rights of the people, and unjust, oppressive, and tyrannical to the last degree. The people are asked to give up that which is dear to every free man, the right to exercise their free will in all matters affecting their individual interests exclusively. If this provision becomes law, it will shock a great many persons who still regard this Parliament as being what every Parliament should be, the guardian of the rights and privileges of the people. Parliament should be a body to which the weak, as well as the strong, may at all times look for justice. But what are we now asked to enact ? The provision virtually tells the people that if they are not prepared to join unions, even though they may have conscientious scruples against doing so, they must give up their present means of living, or leave the Commonwealth. What alternative has a man who is deprived of his means of living but to starve or leave the Commonwealth ? . If Parliament passes such a law, Australia will be a very good place to get away from, and certainly not a place for a free man to live in. Why should we compel a man in a matter of this kind to do that which he is not willing to do?

Mr Mauger - Every law in the statute- ' book does that.

Mr McLEAN - The laws to which my honorable friend refers interfere with the exercise of a man's will where that exercise prejudices the 'rights of others. The whole trend of the Bill now before us favours unionism, and I do not object to that. I do not object to inducements being held out to persons to join unions, and, in my opinion, free labourers will see that it will be to their advantage to do so; but to compel those who may have conscientious or other scruples about joining unions to do so is Parliament of a free people should attempt.

Mr Watson - It is done every day in the case of ordinary laws.

Mr McLEAN - My honorable friend will, I think, have some difficulty in instancing a parallel case.

Mr Ronald - What about the law of vaccination ?

Mr McLEAN - If a man refuses to allow his children to be vaccinated, he is compelled, in the interests of the public health, to pay a. slight fine; but his means of living is not taken from him, and he is not reduced to the necessity of leaving the country.

Mr Watson - What about the laws regulating dairies? If a man does not comply with them he is prevented from continuing in the dairying industry.

Mr McLEAN - Under the laws referred to, men are required to comply with certain conditions, compliance with "which is necessary in the interests of the public health. If my honorable friend can instance no better parallel than that, I advise him to give up the attempt to produce one.

Mr Hughes -. - What about the honorable member's own factory legislation ?

Mr McLEAN - That does not compel men to join unions.

Mr Hughes - It compels men to pay certain rates, to observe certain conditions, and to work their employes only for certain hours.

Mr McLEAN - We do not object to providing for all that in the Bill, but the honorable and learned gentleman asked whatbenefit the unionists will derive from the Bill if thev are not given a preference over non-unionists. The benefit they will derive is this : If they are under-paid, or required to work unduly long hours, or labour under disabilities of any kind with which the Court will have power to deal, they may have their grievances redressed. Surely it is not just that, in addition, they should have a monopoly of the labour market, or that we should attempt to cornpel those who choose to remain outside unions, notwithstanding the disadvantages of that position, to become unionists.

Mr Ronald - We induce them to do so ; we do not compel them.

Mr McLEAN - It is proposed ' that we should induce them by taking away their means of living if they will- not otherwise do so. If a man, urged by this compulsion, joins a union the leaders of which are unduly aggressive, so that the union is mulcted in the maximum penalty of £1,000, will it be just to compel him to pay his share of the fine ? Or will Parliament come to his rescue, and pay the penalty? Not at all. It would be a glaring injustice to force any man into such a position.

Mr Webster - We do not force men to join unions.

Mr McLEAN - What is the alternative offered ? If a man does not join a union he is deprived of his means of living. That is the meaning of this provision. It requires the non-unionist to. stand down, so that the unionist may take his place.

Mr Hughes - It does not mean anything of the kind.

Mr McLEAN - In my opinion it does mean that. It says that preference shall be given to unionists.

Mr Hughes - " May," not "shall."

Mr Glynn - The definition clause shows that preferential employment is one of the objects of the Bill.

Mr McLEAN - In the sub-clause, " shall " is certainly used. The meaning is what I have said it to be, although "may" is used in the early part of the clause. What is the object of the provision if it is not intended to do what I say ?

Mr Mauger - To give the Court power in certain cases.

Mr McLEAN - Why should we give the Court power?

Mr Mauger - There are very strong reasons whv we should.


McDonald). - I ask honorable members to cease from interjecting. I can hardly hear the honorable member for Gippsland speak. As we . are in Committee, every honorable member will have the right to speak as often as he chooses.

Mr McLEAN - It is not necessary for me to labour this matter. My objection to the provision is a very strong one, and I have already stated it. I regard the provision as an infringement of the rights of the people. Parliament should not attempt to compel any section of the community in matters affecting their individual interests solely to do that which they are unwilling to do. This is one of the most unjust and tyrannical proposals which has yet been submitted to an Australian Parliament.

Suggest corrections