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Friday, 24 June 1904

Sir JOHN ' QUICK (Bendigo) - The honorable and learned member for Corio has objected to this preference clause on the ground that it is an interference with freedom. It seems to me that if that were a sound objection it could be aimed at the whole Bill, because it is unquestionably an interference with freedom. The only justification for the Bill is that, although it interferes with freedom, it does so with the object of securing the greatest good to the greatest number. I speak as a supporter of the principle of arbitration. I am sure that there is a large number of honorable members who believe in the principle. But it cannot be enacted without interfering with freedom. An objection to the clause founded on its interference with freedom is' hardly sufficient, because that goes to the very root of the Bill. Every law passed in the interests of liberty itself must be given effect to by an interference with the freedom of those who desire to take action to the prejudice of liberty. I supported the second reading of the Bill when it was brought down by the Barton and Deakin Ministries, and I cannot now waver in my allegiance- to it. I cannot take any action in reference to the Bill which would place me in a false position, or render me liable to the aspersion that I desire to kil] it by a side-wind. It is quite possible that in order to give effect to its main . principles and its machinery we must . have invasions of individual liberty- Undoubtedly this clause does amount to an invasion of individual liberty. Its inevitable tendency will be to drive men into statutory organizations. I cannot say that I regard that with indifference or equanimity. But, on the other hand, what is the use of placing a sham on the statute-book? If we want a scheme which will work in a satisfactory manner we must make the necessary provision, even though it may interfere with individual rights and interests. Speaking candidly and frankly, I do not like this clause; I have the utmost repugnance to it; but at the same time it seems to be what may be called a sort of necessary evil. In order to achieve the main object that we have in view- - the accomplishment of some scheme of arbitration and conciliation which will put down industrial warfare, and which will tend to secure industrial peace - we must make sacrifices, and the question is what is the least sacrifice to which we can submit. Whilst I feel constrained to support this principle, because I think that the Bill would be a sham unless we recognised industrial organization, I shall be prepared to support any proposal which will surround this concession with safeguards, in order to prevent as far as possible, its being converted into an instrument of tyranny. I am prepared to consider every reasonable proposal in that direction, and whilst conceding to the Court the power to grant a preference in certain cases, I would impose on it the duty of surrounding that grant with safeguards. I would not leave it to the mere discretion of the Court to grant the concession without imposing certain safeguards and securities to prevent its misuse. There can be no doubt that it is a great and important privilege, and its grant should be accompanied with conditions. I am prepared to surround the grant of the concession with such conditions that it shall be made applicable only to special circumstances. We must have guarantees for its operation with a certain amount of security in the interests of those who do not belong to industrial organizations. In the first place, I regard with approval the suggestion made by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, namely,that the concession shall be granted only in cases where it is found to be in accordance with the views and interests of the majority of those affected. I think that the Court should be equipped with power to inquire into the question whether the request for a preference is asked by a minority or a majority of those interested. Surely there can be no objection to that? Why should an insignificant union, which happened to be organized, be allowed to go into the Court, and demand a preference for its members over the heads it may be of a large majority of workmen who do not wish to be bound by the decision, or to be coerced into joining the organization? If we are in favour of majority rule, surely we ought to allow the Court a judicial discretion to inquire into the question I have just mentioned. Before a concession of this kind is granted the Court ought to be required to give public notice to those persons who object to the granting of a preference to come in and enter their objection. I do not say that the Court is to act without evidence. Those who wish to object should -have an opportunity to show that the great mass, or the majority, of the workers have no desire for the concession or privilege, or that it would have a prejudicial effect. Surely there can be no objection to that view. I do not know that I am prepared to go so far as to say that the concession should apply only where the common rule applies, because that might carry us even further than is desirable. But I certainly contend that before any such concession is granted, the Court should enter on an investigation and ascertain whether the mass of the workmen, unionist or non-unionist - organized or unorganized - desire that they should be bound by the preferential clause. Then, I think the clause ought to require the Court to grant this concession only in special cases ; that is, there ought to be something special in the circumstances of the case to justify or require the Court to exercise its power. In very many instances judicial authority is granted, to be exercised only in special cases. There is nothing in the Bill to say that preference is to be conceded in special cases ; it may be granted in the most trum pery case - in a case where a union consisting of the minimum number of members, apply of their own accord and endeavour to bind, perhaps, hundreds and thousands of other workmen, not parties to the dispute.

Mr Knox - That has been the case in Sydney.

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