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Wednesday, 29 June 1904

Mr HUGHES - I am not arguing the general point. I am simply referring to what is done in New South Wales.

Mr. REID(East Sydney). - We can settle this controversy afterwards ; but I can assure the Minister of External Affairs that if he is in sympathy with the idea that I have expressed I shall be prepared to give him every assistance in carrying it out. I am simply taking the amendment as it stands. My view of the position of an honorable member who votes for the second reading of a Bill is that, in doing so, he commits himself to an attempt to pass that Bill into law subject to amendments which he may think necessary. If I had felt that I was strongly opposed to such an attempt being made in the present case, I should not have voted for the motion for the second reading of the Bill. I wish the Government to understand that whenever we reach a proposal in regard to which they are able to meet my objections, instead of persisting in, or aggravating them, I shall do my best to assist in passing it in a form in which it would be most desirable. If the Ministry could suggest anything else that would better meet the object I have in view, I should be only too happy to vote for it. I must say that paragraph c of the amendment gives me some anxiety. I think it requires some explanation.

Mr Glynn - It is not essential to the first two paragraphs.

Mr REID - I do not quite follow the proposal contained in paragraph c.

Mr Glynn - It is for the purpose of a subsequent amendment of which I have given notice.

Mr REID - There is some ambiguity about it. It seems to me at present that it would restrict the generality which I am advocating. I believe that it would be in the interests of trades unionists to give effect to the proposal I have in view, just as the principle of trades unionism is. in itself, a good one - a combination giving single trades unionists the fulcrum of the powers which they have since exercised - so by the association of trades unions would their fulcrum become an infinitely stronger one. The very principle of trades unionism is to make a trades union as comprehensive and as strong as possible. I suppose that my honorable friends opposite will agree with me that the ideal of all trades unions is reached when no worker in the industry, with which it is associated, and carrying on operations in the locality to which it applies, remains outside it, unless he happens to be some undesirable person. The ideal of a trades union is that every competent worker in the industry, to which it belongs, shall be a member of it, and this proposal would, in that respect, have a tremendous effect in helping trades unionism. It would not sacrifice its individual power. These organizations might introduce a large number of persons not in trades unions; but the unions would have absolutely no power over the organizations. We should have in each case an organization limited to one matter, and even if the union were swamped bv the organization, its rules and duties could not be altered by it.

Mr Hughes - Under a subsequent clause it is provided that the GovernorGeneral may by proclamation declare any union to be an organization within the meaning of the Act. That might enable these persons to swamp a union, and do what they pleased with it.

Mr Glynn - That provision could not stand if the amendment were carried.

Mr Hughes - The amendment would permit that to be done.

Mr Glynn - The provision would have to be altered.

Mr Hughes - The amendment goes so far that it is only fair that some explanation should be given as to what other proposition is subsequently to be made.

Mr REID - I should absolutely oppose any proposal which, under cover of doing a union no harm, would seriously interfere with it. It would be absolute treachery on the part of any honorable member to try, under cover of some. generality, to injure some principle which he declared would really be benefited by it. I am speaking now not of the Bill but of the amendment. If the amendment or some other proposal that would embody in the Bill what I have in mind were carried, I should join with the Government in seeing that proper amendments' were 'made to avoid the defeat of the object in view by some side wind. My point is that no trades union could be expected to give up one shred of its individuality, its membership, or its rules, or its funds, in coming under one of these organizations. I cannot talk so confidently upon these subjects as can some other honorable members. It is a most serious matter for those who know nothing about trades unions to suggest something that would alter their internal composition. We are not competent to do anything of the kind; but the reason why I press this matter so strongly is that the organization I have in mind is in the direction of an ideal trades unionism. Just as it is well for all trades unions relating to the same industry in New South Wales to be united, so for the purposes of a Commonwealth Court it should be equally good for all unions relating to the same industry in Australia to be one. Why should it be a good thing for Commonwealth purposes that all the waterside workers of New South Wales should belong to one central union, with local branches, while the waterside workers of Victoria belong to a separate union ? This measure will apply only to Inter-State disputes, and if we had a chain of unionism extending all round the Commonwealth, instead of five different chains stopping at the borders of each State, the unions would stand before the Court on a much stronger footing. The Court will be very jealous about one matter. It will be very jealous about two unions which are not connected getting up a dispute in order to take advantage of the law. No Court will allow itself to be humbugged in that way. Whereas if the unions were all one, a dispute affecting unionists in Fremantle would touch all the members of the union, and become an Inter-State dispute.

Mr Watson - The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas does not regard a union as an organization under the Bill.

Mr REID - I think that that provision is framed in the interests of the unions, and my reason for thinking so is this : A Commonwealth Court ought, if possible, to control Commonwealth unions, or, at any rate, unions extending over more. than one State.

Mr Watson - There are a number of such unions now in existence.

Mr REID - That is a good thing for the purposes of trades unionism. The more the trades unions have of a Commonwealth basis, the more sure will be their position in the Commonwealth Court.

Mr Watson - But the amendment does not regard unions as organizations under the Bill. The only organizations for which it provides are organizations created and formed solely for the purposes of the Bill.

Mr REID - Yes; and that is a convenience to- the unions. I am assuming a case in which the unions of an industry in different States are not united, in which there is no federation extending all round the Continent. The work of a union qua its district is local, and there would be no sense in having a central Australian administration to deal with the cases of William Smith or John Jones, who were applying for sick pay. The cost of such an administration would be ruinous. For all the main purposes of unionism, whether militant or benevolent, you must preserve your internal organization, because you may have local as well as Commonwealth battles to fight. For the very purposes of trades unions you must keep their integrity free from any complication of any kind. Your unions lose nothing by becoming organizations under the Bill, because in that way they keep out of the Commonwealth Court altogether. A Court cannot touch them qua trades unions. But if they are allowed to register under the Bill as organizations, they will be subject to the Court.

Mr Watson - I thought that what was aimed at was the obtaining of stability and responsibility.

Mr REID - I have no such idea in this particular matter. I wish to fight fair in this matter.

Mr Watson - I do not see that any organization short of a trades union is likely to be a responsible body for the purposes of this Bill ; that is, a body which can enforce the Court's decisions.

Mr REID - I will give an illustration of what I mean, which may remove the honorable gentleman's difficulty to some extent. We have now in all the States ' a peculiar provision of law which enables an individual to sue the Government. He does not sue the Government in that title; he sues what, is called a nominal defendant. Various Acts provide that the Governments of the States or of the Commonwealth may name a person to be the nominal defendant in any action. The late Principal UnderSecretary in New South Wales was Mr. Critchett Walker, and he was named as nominal defendant in many actions. In this case the trades unions will be in the position of a Government which is being sued. They will preserve their integrity, and all their executive and other powers, and will come into Court only as organizations specially registered under the Bill. The same men would be affected., but they would come into Court merely as an industrial organization, without bringing the union with them. The unions would be free from the Court altogether. The Court's decisions would affect only the organizations, and then only so far as they were concerned in any dispute. If there was no trouble, the organizations would not come within the Court at all. There would be no need for them to do so. It is only when trouble begins that there will be need for the members Of the present unions to come before the Court. Then, under the amendment,, they would register as industrial organizations. Not a single rule or regulation of the present unions could be altered by the Court. The unions would keep out of the Court, and that would not be a bad thing for them. They would keep themselves free from the legal meshes altogether, and make the registered organizations their fighting force for mere technical Court purposes. The organizations would represent nominal defendants or plaintiffs.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And men could join them without joining political bodies.

Mr REID - I intend to come to that point. The position to which I refer would be a grand thing for those whom my honorable friends opposite represent. What I have said to-night will, I think, carry some' weight; but every objection which I have enunciated with the desire to be thoroughly impressive would' be answered if what I suggest were done. The trades unions would preserve their militant force and their internal organization, and the grievance of those who are not in the unions would be removed. In all fights the best men come to the top, whether unionists or any other classes of men are concerned. The trades unionists know their leaders. There are half-a-dozen leaders who could carry all the unions in Australia with them. Why? Because the members of those unions know them, and would follow them. So would it be with the organizations. The non-unionists who come into the organizations will be deprived of a grievance, and they will not be able to affect the trades unions concerned. Their grievance would be absolutely gone, while the trades unions would remain as strong to fight as ever. What I suggest would, I think, be a grand thing for trades unionism. It would lessen the gap between the unionists and the non-unionists. If I were the most rabid unionist in Australia, my supreme object would be to build a golden bridge, to enable all the men who are not in the unions to associate with me in fighting my battle against the employers. In the battle against the employers the interests of all the workers are common. Why, therefore, should they be separated on some internal point of politics, when they can be joined in an organization under the Bill, the trades unions still preserving their identity, and remaining as strong to fight their battles as they are now ? The trades unionists will, under this arrangement, obtain a grand new ally in their battle against the capitalists. They will gain the support of the non-unionists, and by getting them into the industrial organizations, will have made the first step towards getting them into the unions.

Mr Hughes - The amendment does not suggest that the unions are to escape responsibility under the Bill.

Mr REID - I am sure that that is what is meant.

Mr Glynn - Under the Bill they must escape responsibility.

Mr Hughes - Will the right honorable member say that they would escape responsibility ?

Mr REID - I should like to point out where I think my honorable friend is wrong in thinking that they would not escape responsibility. In the -first place, an organization cannot be registered unless it has been formed and exists solely for the purposes of the Bill. Therefore, the measure cannot interfere with trades unions, which have' not been formed for those purposes. At the worst, the Commonwealth Court could not touch the unions.

Mr Hughes - If a union has a beneficial interest in any fund, it will be liable under the Bill, just as a legal interest would be liable.

Mr REID - An organization registered under the Bill will have nothing to do with any trades union ; but if there is any doubt on the point it can be set at rest. We will all co-operate with the Government in setting it at rest.

Mr Glynn - I distinctly stated that, if the amendment were carried, other provisions of the Bill would have to be amended.

Mr Hughes - We. must have no doubt upon the matter.

Mr REID - I will co-operate with the Ministry in protecting the trades unions of Australia from the Court. I always objected to the provision in the New South Wales Act, and warned the trades unions in that State against it.

Mr Hughes - What is the attitude of the right honorable gentleman in regard to clause 69?

Mr REID - I will come to that. The Minister of External Affairs seems inclined to consider this matter, if the Bill can be so amended as to make the position of the unionists perfectly fair.

Mr Hughes - I do not know that I am willing to consider it; but I wish to know exactly how far the amendment goes. If it goes as far as I think it does, it takes away with one hand, but gives nothing with the "other.

Mr REID - I and a number of other honorable members intend to vote for the amendment ; but we do not wish to say that it will not injure the unions, and then allow the Bill to pass in such a form that it may do so. Therefore, we shall be with the Government, instead of opposing them, in trying to secure that what is my view of the effect of the amendment shall be the correct view. My opinion is that the trades unions should be left absolutely independent of the Court, as they are now. That would remove a serious difficulty, and a great grievance, from the minds of non-unionists. Without imperilling their property, or the integrity of a single rule of their trades unions, those who are now members of the unions could form industrial organizations, and thus remove the grievances of nonunionists. The industrial organizations registered under the Bill will, of course, begin with members of the unions, but they will be open to every man in the industry which they affect, and the men who are not unionists, and who join these organizations, will have no power in regard to the unions. They will be merely members of the organizations, which must be formed solely for the purposes of the Bill.

Mr Watson - I do not see how it is possible for the Government to accept that proposal.

Mr REID - If there is a chance of the acceptance of any reasonable proposal, I shall be happy to help the Ministry in the matter, instead of being antagonistic to them. I think it is worth considering.

Mr Watson - I do not see that the SUEgestion of the right honorable member differs from the proposition contained in the first paragraph of the amendment.

Mr REID - It does not. But the Minister of External Affairs seems to think that if the Bill were so drawn that the integrity of the unions, in regard to the management of their funds, and in other respects, was preserved, and they were kept outside the Court altogether, the Government might consider the amendment.

Mr Watson - If the right honorable member's suggestion differed from that of the honorable and learned member for Angas, we might consider it ; but I do not think it takes us a bit further than does the amendment.

Mr REID - The first paragraph of the amendment raises the question with which I am dealing. The words "unless it has been formed, and exists solely for the purposes of this Act," involve what I have said about the independence of the unions in respect to the Court.

Mr Watson - That is the amendment which we are now debating. The Chairman is. putting the paragraphs of the proviso separately.

Mr REID - My view is that if industrial organizations are formed under the Bill, the trades unions are bound to be the back-bone of them, because of the metal they carry, and the men they have, and because they are organized. They will be the predominating factor at the start. But the unions will not be imperilled even if they are at fault. In any case, they are in the hands of the Court, which would do justice, no matter who the members of an. organization might be. Therefore, I earnestly suggest to the Government that this proposal should be considered. I do not mind giving them the benefit of my opinon, that if the Bill is passed as it stands, their opponents will have a tremendous weapon to use against them. I would rather see matters put right than be given any such political advantage.

Mr Poynton - Does the right honorable member think that if a union passed a resolution declaring it to be an organization for the purposes of the Bill it would comply with the amendment?

Mr REID - I do not think that that would be legally efficient.

Mr Spence - Of course, it would not.

Mr REID - I do not see how it could be. But this is the point. If a trades union met and carried such a resolution, the secretary could send a cheap circular to every member of the union conveying to him a copy of the resolution arrived it, and stating that it was the intention to register the members as members of an organization for the purposes of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act, and asking them to intimate whether or not they were in favour of being registered. By this means all members favorable to registration could be registered as members of that organization, and all the unionists not favorable to it would not be registered. The identity and integrity of the union would be preserved. It would not be split up, but the liberty of the members of the union to join the organization, or not, as they pleased, would be preserved. Those in favour of registration would join the organization, and the grievances of the people outside of the union would be removed. If such an industrial organization were formed the unionists would be brought into touch, from time to time, with all the men who worked in a particular industry. If all the men were gathered together in an organization, and were interested in fighting a common opponent in the Arbitration Court, they would gradually come into the trades union - far more rapidly than under any other circumstances. I do not know much about unions, but I think that the best way of persuading men to join is by fraternizing with them. No men could stand aloof from the unionists if, as members of the organization formed for the purposes of the Bill, they had to make common cause with them. They would have no excuse for doing so. I think that the more this amendment is looked at - whatever may be its intention - the clearer it must be that it would work better for the unions than would the clause as it stands.

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