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Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr WILLIS (Robertson) - The honorable member for Darling, in advocating preference to unionists-

Mr Spence - I did not advocate anything of the kind.

Mr WILLIS - The honorable member, who says that he does not advocate preference to unionists, has followed the history of unionism in New South Wales, and. to my mind, has arrived at the conclusion which was arrived at in Great Britain by Mr. Sydney Webb. In his excellent work, Mr. Webb narrates the difficulties under which trades unions have' suffered" in Great Britain, and the troubles experienced in organizing the working men there into a political organization. Notwithstanding what may be said to the contrary, I am inclined to think, from the summing up of the speech of the honorable member for Darling, that there is some idea behind this legislation, which it is thought will be of assistance to .political organizations in working elections' in the interests of trades unionism. The honorable member for Darling referred to certain honorable members on this side smiling while he was speaking, but at that moment I saw honorable members on the Ministerial side laughing as though they had up their sleeves a weapon which they would use to some effect if they were able to get this provision passed. With a good deal of what the honorable member for Darling said I thoroughly agree. I quite indorse his remarks in favour of trades unionism, and I think every honorable member will do the same. As to the shearers, no one could possibly approve of men being blackballed or boycotted if they are deserving of employment. Does the honorable member mean to infer that, if a man is unworthy of following the calling of a shearer, he should continue, as many shearers have done in the past, to rip up the backs of the poor dumb sheep, without his incompetence being made known to those engaged in the industry?

Mr Spence - I said that the men I referred to had first-class references.

Mr WILLIS - It is admitted by the honorable member that there are no shearers outside the unions ; so that all men who can use the shears, and many who cannot use them skilfully, are taken into the service of pastoralists, with the result of the destruction pf property, and brutality to the poor animals. Very few honorable members have had the same opportunities as myself of seeing sheep after they have been mutilated in this way ; and I can say it is most brutal the manner in which some men use the shears.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - These are incompetent shearers.

Mr WILLIS - That is quite true.


Mr WILLIS - But it is admitted by the honorable member for Darling that all shearers are in the union ; and why should it not be known to the trade that certain menare incompetent ? Do we not approve of unions because in the unions there are the best of skilled workmen? Why, then, should skilled men, who are poor and non-unionists, be deprived of employment ? The handy-man - a sailor - who, according to the honorable member for Perth, came ashore from a ship and walked Victoria until footsore, vainly looking for . work, had to ultimately have his passage paid elsewhere. What opportunity had that competent man to get employment as a ship labourer, or wharf labourer, or at. some occupation which he under stood ? Why should he not have had an opportunity of making a living? Under this Bill, such a man would not be able to get employment, because he had not the means of jpining a union, lt seems to me that the honorable member for Darling, in common with the Prime Minister, has a great dislike to men who are not members of unions.

Mr Page - My word ! All the time !

Mr WILLIS - And that idea is supported by the honorable member for Maranoa.

Mr Page - And very strongly, too.

Mr WILLIS - The Prime Minister last night said that men were too mean to pay their subscriptions, and that was the reason they remained out of unions. In saying that, I think the Prime Minister maligned a class of honest working men. The true representatives of labour are those who legislate in the interests of all classes of labour. Are not the men who on this side of the Chamber advocate equal opportunity for all men, the true representatives of the people ? Honorable members on the Ministerial side and of the Labour Party are class representatives, who advocate class legislation.

Mr Page - First-class legislation.

Mr WILLIS - They do not represent the labouring classes of the community, but only a class of skilled workmen in the unions. Just as the skilled workmen in England found that they were without political power until they had organized the

Unskilled workers, so the Labour Party here will find their power limited until they have the whole body of the working community " yarded up," and coerced by such legislation as this. Unless men 'join unions, the bread will,, be taken out of the mouths of their children, and under such tyranny, they must inevitably yield. But the wills of these independent minds cannot be warped if freedom of action prevails. These men will not be twisted about by political organizations, which have for their object class legislation, which is opposed to the true interests of the community. The large body of working men are non-unionists. They are not banded together in organizations. That has been admitted by the honorable member for Darling. Those who wish to serve the people will allow the clause to be amended as proposed, so that all men may have equal opportunities of earning a livelihood. The honorable member for Darling has said that he ha'd no sympathy with the action of an organization in Sydney which closed its books to prevent men from entering its ranks, having previously fixed the excessive entrance fee at£5. Why was he opposed to that action? Because of its injustice to poor men who wanted work. Yet he supports the proposal in the Bill to force men to join unions, and to pay high entrance fees. From " him who hath not he would take away even that which he has." How can the unskilled shearers, to whom he referred, who cannot earn a living at shearing because of their want of skill, obtain employment at, other avocations, if to get work they must join other unions ? Such a man might go to Sydney, and find that before he could get anything to do he must be accepted by a union, and pay a high entrance fee. Perhaps he might be accepted, but after a little time his employment at the particular industry might cease, and he would then fin'd that to get more work he must be accepted by another union, and pay another entrance fee. How is it possible for men of small means to keep doing that? It is time that those who support legislation of this kind were placarded as class legislators.

Mr Page - Yes, first-class legislators.

Mr WILLIS - It is time that the public was made aware of the fact that they are class legislators.

Mr Batchelor - I have heard that said during the last eleven years.

Mr WILLIS - The honorable gentleman is an' excellent representative of a South

Australian constituency, and is not so rabid as those who are pushing him; but. in the State from which he comes, the party to which he belongs would not at one time allow any candidate to stand in the interests of labour, unless he followed a manual avocation, and worked at some hard, laborious calling. That shows the narrowmindedness of that party. In Victoria the party has determined that no one can truly represent labour who does not favour protection, while in New South Wales a few men of no standing whatever in the minds of the people as persons desirous of advancing the country are at the back of the labour organization. Most of these men have come to Australia within the last decade. If we read the short character sketches which have been written of the Ministers now in power, we see that they have scarcely thrown off their Australian swaddling clothes.

The CHAIRMAN - I think these remarks are irrelevant to the amendment.

Mr WILLIS - I am showing that those who oppose the amendment are in favour of class legislation, ihat they are persons who have nothing in common with the great bo'dy of the electors, and have not the interests of the country at heart. They have come into power through the agency of a political organization, and they are now endeavouring to threaten independent men that, unless they join the unions, they will be deprived of their daily bread.

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