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Wednesday, 29 June 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - It is a somewhat singular circumstance, but it is one with which men of any experience in public life are quite familiar, that, as a rule, those public men who themselves claim the right to express their honest opinions in the coarsest possible language are most sensitive when some other person seems to have fallen into a similar mistake. I think that, from time to time, in every country, there must arise occasions when individual members of the community may entertain opinions with reference to the utterances even of the best Judges that ever sat on a Bench. But there has been this distinguishing feature of our people - perhaps it distinguishes other people too, but I know more of our own people - that in spite sometimes of mistakes on the part of persons exercising high judicial func tions their conduct has always been treated in a generous and respectful way, partly because of the position they occupy, and partly because of the fact that they cannot reply to attack. Those are two verv weighty reasons why, even if some high judicial functionary seems to go a little beyond the strict line, we should view a lapse of that sort as not at all calling upon us to brand a Judge as a " Political Judge." It is a gross abuse of the right of free discussion to brand one of the noblest men who ever, lived as a citizen or a colonist in Australia, by such an infamous name, because, perhaps, he may have lapsed into the use of an expression or two from which a greater degree of prudence might have saved him. The whole of the circumstances were extraordinary. I only wish that every other man in New South Wales, who has high responsible duties to perform, would perform them with the same singularly efficient honour and rectitude as that distinguished man has shown throughout his long career in that State. The honorable member talks of wreckers of this Bill, but he has himself shown that unless he and his friends get their own way, they are prepared to wreck the Bill. They are prepared not only to wreck the Bill, but to wreck it in the worst possible way, and that is after it has become an Act of Parliament. Why should the honorable member be so bitter about other honorable members who differ from him as to the propriety of attempting legislation of this kind, when he says that if he does not get his way about this amendment he will use all the great influence he has with the labour organizations of Australia to shipwreck this measure by preventing them from tak- ing full advantage of it. The honorable member for Darling is a man for whom we always have a thorough respect as one who fearlessly expresses his honest conviction, and. I will say that, after all, a man who has that merit, which he certainly has, ought .to be a little tolerant of other men who claim the same right, although, perhaps, occasionally their language may be considered in excess of. what is necessary, or their arguments may be entirely wrong. I quite agree with the honorable member for Kennedy when he says that the trades unions were thorough political movements. But they were political movements in the most honorable sense. At the time the pioneers of trades unionism met together a system prevailed which was offensive to every honest man's idea of common justice. Whilst men who had large resources of wealth, and occupied commanding influence in the industrial world, needed no sort of combination, because of their enormous strength, the weak workers of the old country had only one resource in their endeavour to get anything like honest conditions of equality, and that was to band themselves together in these trades unions. Their movement was a poTlitical one in the noblest possible sense - the sense of fighting for right and justice for themselves and their class. That aspect of the trades union and the trades unionist is one with which, I think, no man who has even a glimmering of liberal ideas can fail to be heartily in sympathy. I am expressing but my own opinion, and I candidly admit that I have had the greatest admiration for those men. I do not care whether they be trades unionists or the men who formed political leagues, because the principle is the same - there was a great wrong to be redressed. It is, of course, a nobler movement still when the wrong for which redress is sought is one which does not affect the individual interests of those who make the endeavour to redress it. The state of things existing when the trades union laws were passed was such that, even putting it upon selfish grounds, it was the selfishness which demanded merely fair play and proper recognition of undoubted rights. I have been looking at some of these Trades Union Acts, and one cannot have a greater proof of the unfair view which was taken by the laws of the old country, and even of Australia, than is to be found in looking at these Acts. The last Trades Union Act of New South Wales was passed in 1881, in a democratic community possessing manhood suffrage, yet if any one will look at that Act, he will find that it does not give trades unions the power to recover by law the subscriptions of their own members clue under their own rules. It actually does not give them ' any power with reference to agreements for benefits amongst themselves. It is couched, even in New South Wales, in the old Tory jealous spirit, which resisted giving men the ordinary rights of political free men. We are all at one, I hope, on points of that sort, and when the honorable member for Darling speaks of wrecking the Bill, he ought to remember -that his own party wrecked the Bill to begin with. The

Bill was proceeding in charge of a Govern-' ment which, in alliance with the Labour Party, dominated this Chamber against all comers, and would have continued to do so if honorable members opposite had remained in that alliance. But, on one point - I do not say it was an unimportant point, but in view of the importance of the measure it was not one of very great importance - honorable members opposite broke this overwhelming alliance which gave them infinitely more power than they will ever have again. When I say " ever " I mean within my lifetime. I do not wish to prophesy for remote years, but, speaking for the next eight or ten years, so far as I. am concerned - and it is only a matter of opinion, on which I may be entirely wrong - my opinion as a. man who has had some experience in politics is that the position which the party that is now in office occupied whilst the late Government was in office was one of a great degree of strength and power to carry out their own views. That position has been fractured and wrecked by their own act.

Mr Hughes - Not by our act.

Mr McDonald - We do not worry about it.

Mr REID - The honorable member doesnot, and I hope that honorable members opposite generally will have no further cause to do so. What I wish to point out is that these epithets about wrecking the Bill can be exchanged.

Mr McDonald - They can be, and they have been by some honorable members opposite.

Mr REID - I am aware of that, but I am putting another view of it. I quite agree that my honorable friend is justified in using the expression as applied to some one who has acknowledged that that is what he desired to do.

Mr Hughes - =The right honorable gentleman is in favour of the principle of the Bill ?

Mr REID - When any honorable member stands up and says that he desires to wreck the Bill, another honorable member, as a friend to the measure, is entitled to reproach him with it, and to watch everything that he does. So far as I am concerned, I remind honorable members that I look upon this Bill, not as the property of the late Government or the property of the Labour Party - the present Government - but as equally the property of the Opposition. I cannot control individual opinions of my party. Some of the members of that party may wish to see this Bill under the table, but I do not make my assurances to the public in a spirit of that sort. I say that, so far as the Bill is concerned, there is no party in this House that shall be allowed to wreck it while I have any power in connexion with it.

Mr Tudor - That "is rather rough on some of the right honorable gentleman's own supporters.

Mr REID - That may be so, but that is a matter between them and me, and the honorable member might leave us to adjust our differences. Honorable members will recollect that during the elections some of my friends, in the most open and honorable way, stated that they. were opposed to this Bill, and no one can complain if an honorable member who, when before the electors, said he was opposed to the Bill, should, on coming here, deliberately try to wreck it. He has electoral warrant for his action. If he adopted any other course he would be untrue to his constituents. Honorable' members must make fair allowances, one for another, because of the different pledges that have been given by men holding opposite views. What I wish the Committee to remember is that whilst of necessity trades unionism was at the outset absolutely an attempt to redress grievances - a political movement - when we pass a measure of this sort the grievances of the workers are, to a very large extent, redressed, because, it not only enables the workers to combine, but also enables combinations of workers to enter the purest, the most impartial, and the most just tribunal which our Constitution is capable of erecting. In order that these matters may be investigated, that the authority of the whole Commonwealth shall be available for the" suppression of wrong and of injustice, we propose to set up not only the highest and purest, but also a final tribunal. When once -we have established a tribunal of that character there will not be much room left for the employment of heated phrases about "capitalists and their satellites," or " their greed," or -for references to a man having to work four days for somebody else, and only two out of six days for himself. I admire the candour of my honorable friend. He does not dissemble the tigerish nature of his party. He speaks out like a man. There is no " Ministerial " utterance from him. In the midst of these dazzling political changes, it is a grand thing' for the public that these men who are exactly the same individuals as they were three months ago in their utterances-

Mr Thomas - They are not "YesNo " men.

Mr REID - May I suggest that the men to whom that epithet can be applied may be distinguished from those who apply it by a very simple test. Those who apply it act- like animals in a bush team. They go where they are driven, and where they can find something in the manger to , eat. But the man to whom it is applied has an honest power of seeing both sides of a great and difficult question. It is a mere mechanical operation to bray " Yes " to a triumphant majority, and I think that the Australian people in the light of their experience, since the accomplishment of Federation, have begun to respect my candour in putting both sides of this great compact before them.

Mr Watson - But the right honorable member did not find us acting with a triumphant majority. We acted with the minority.

Mr REID - 1 was merely replying to a little taunt, and I wish to say that there never was a man in the world who could see both sides of any question who did not seem to men of limited intellect, Or rather limited interests, to be entitled to the epithet used by the honorable member for Barrier. The honorable member may rest assured that that epithet will never be applied to him where his interests are concerned. I wish now to come back to the position which I was stating when I was interrupted, namely, that trades unions must of necessity be political bodies. I do not object to those organizations remaining political bodies for all time. That is not the point which I raised. I wish to see the trades unions occupy as free and independent a position in regard to the reforms for which they agitate, and the methods which they employ, as does every other individual and every other body. As I would limit none of them, that means a great deal. But whilst the trades unionists - the free-traders and protectionists in their different bodies - have a perfect right to take an active part in politics, to exercise collectively their power in order to advance the views which they conceive to be for the benefit of the country, we ought to draw sharp Lines between the warring interests of individuals and societies ' and the temple of justice. Let us fight in politics as fiercely and freely as we will, but when we erect a temple of justice, which is to be unswayed by interest, passion, or politics, we ought to draw the clearest possible line between the fighting political organization and the party to an industrial dispute which is under the control of a Judge of the land. I confess that at first I did not see the full significance of the great issue which is now at stake. I admit that one is tempted to drift with the current of these great changes, and not to exercise the scrutiny that he should upon matters pf this sort. But I fully realize now that there is a great principle at stake in the amendment under consideration, and that it is one upon which the honorable and learned member for Angas is quite entitled to take the opinion of the Committee. I entertain that view for several reasons. A man may hold aloof from a political organization if he does not agree with its aims, and yet occupy precisely the same position, as regards his daily bread, irrespective of whether he is a member of a Protectionist League or of a Free-trade League. There is no industrial boycott upon him. The difference that is involved is this: That unless some such principle be affirmed in connexion with the working of this Court, this latest achievement of democracy will become a greater grinder of the poor than has existed within the British Empire for the last joo years. Before the adoption of the ballot in England it could not be said, even there, that a man had the freedom of his political convictions. If the 'poor tenant, the poor farmer, or the poor farm labourer in England exercised an honest vote, which happened to be in conflict with the views of his employer, he was practically ruined. But thanks to the ballot-box, both in England and Australia, such a state of affairs has been abolished. In Australia, however, we have now a new sort of crime. Democracy, having .redressed the political crimes of the past, has invented a new crime of its own. We could not have a more odious invention than that which condemns a man, if he exercises his own free, independent judgment, to penalties in the performance of his honest labour. What could be worse? If we interfered with a man's religion, but allowed him to work, he could still obtain bread for himself and his wife and children; if we interfered with his political convictions he might still be able to work and earn bread for his wife and family. But now if a man objects to join a union he has to consider whether he will have the privilege of working for those who are dependent upon him. . If these proposals are to triumph there will be two avenues to courts of justice for vital matters affecting a man's work. This will touch a man seriously. If he is to live, he must eat. When a man cannot obtain work he becomes a canker - a pauper in spite of himself. Is there a worse injury which a workman of the right type could sustain than that of such enforced idleness as to make him the seeker -of charity? Is there anything which could more completely undermine, not only the man, but the community, than the feeling that the very men who talk of equal opportunities, who pull down the most venerable institutions in order to give what they call equal political opportunities, are the very first -to try to make opportunities for honest work unequal - unequal, not against the capitalist, not against the man who can take care of himself, for a man who has money can usually do so - but against their own fellow workmen? Take the terrorism embodied in the expression used in this House the other day by the honorable member for Kennedy. Is there an epithet from which a decent workman more naturally shrinks than that of " scab " or "blackleg"" ? It is a name which does not designate a legal offence or lead to a gaol, but makes the man to whom it is applied an outcast in his class; an object of scorn to his fellow workmen throughout Australia. What is the new class to which this epithet is to apply? Is it a class consisting of but one or two stragglers? No. It is a brand to be applied to practically all the workers of Australia.

Mr Watson - That is not quite correct.

Mr REID - It is to be applied to practically all the workers of Australia, except trades unionists.

Mr Watson - We never speak of a man, who is simply a non-unionist, as a " scab."

Mr REID - In this matter I know of no "we."

Mr Watson - I repeat that unionists do not do so.

Mr REID - I am not addressing the honorable gentleman; but I say that the honorable member for Kennedy practically and substantially-

Mr McDonald - Use the words that I uttered. 5 d 2

Mr REID - The honorable member for Kenned)', when the difference between unionists and non-unionists was being pointed out the other day, referred to men who did not belong to unions in the terms [ have mentioned.

Mr Watson - I do not agree with that, and there are many others of the Labour Party who do not.

Mr McDonald - I rise to a point ot order. I should not object to the right honorable member quoting the words that 1 used' on the occasion in question, but although I have requested him to do so, he declines to mention exactly what I did say. He is incorrect in attributing to me the statement to which he has referred. Unless he quotes the whole statement, the meaning of the remarks made by me is not faithfully conveyed to the Committee. 1 take exception to the statement made by the right honorable member, and ask whether he is in order in repeating what I say is untrue ?

Mr REID - The honorable member must know that no one has a right to interrupt an honorable member because he feels that something attributed to him is in conflict with something that he said, and is therefore untrue.

Mr McDonald - I say that what the honorable member has said of me just now is untrue.

Mr REID - That statement adds another offence to the honorable member's list.

Mr McDonald - If the right honorable member will' not withdraw the statement complained of, I must say that it is untrue.

Mr.- REID.- That does not prove anything. I simply claim the right to speak without being interrupted in this way. The honorable member is not in order in interrupting me, in order to state that I have said something which varies with a statement made by him. Mr. Speaker laid it down the other day, when a member of the Labour Party closed my mouth, that an honorable member has no right to make an explanation until the honorable member, who has made the statement complained of, has concluded his address.

Mr McDonald - It spoils the right honorable member's little game.

Mr REID - I claim the right to proceed with my speech.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Kennedy has not really, raised a point of order. If he feels that a statement has been erroneously attributed to him he will have an opportunity to explain when the right honorable member has concluded his speech.

Mr McDonald - Let the right honorable member quote the statement made by me.

The CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member will be able to correct any misstatement when the right honorable member for East Sydney has concluded his speech.

Mr REID - I suppose I am entitled to the same indulgence that is accorded to every other honorable member. When an honorable member is referring to remarks made by others he does not carry a volume of Hansard under his arm in order to be able at once to show the correctness of his statement; but my honest recollection is that the statement I have made in regard to the honorable member for Kennedy is correct. A perusal of Hansard will enable me to show that it is.

Mr McDonald - I will tell the right honorable member in two or three words what I did say.

Mr REID - I am anxious to refrain from doing any injustice to the honorable member, and if I have erroneously attributed a statement to him, shall, if possible, make a correction before I conclude my speech. I have just obtained the Hansard report of the incident in question. It begins with a word which the honorable member for Kennedy is always applying to the utterances of others, but never to his own - " rubbish." When the honorable member for Franklin was speaking, the honorable member for Kennedy interjected " Rubbish !" The honorable member for Franklin said -

The very man whom the unionists of the west coast sent to represent them in the State Parliamen could, by this Bill, .be black-listed, as the honorable "member for Maranoa has described.

Mr McDonald - If men do not belong to a union they are " black-legs " and " scabs," and nothing else.

This' is the Hansard report of the incident. I thought the honorable member, in accordance with his usual manliness, would have stood by what he said.

Mr McDonald - I do stand by it.

Mr REID - The report continues -

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