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Wednesday, 29 June 1904

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - I should like, at. the outset, to refer to one or two observations which fell from the lips of the honorable member for Kennedy, and to strongly dissent from the suggestion made by him, that I supported what was really a' subterfuge to undermine the existing trades unions. My record in connexion with industrial work in the 'various States in which I have different interests, will, in itself, afford a complete contradiction of that assertion. A man who would have the audacity to say that he would take steps to interfere by legislation with the existence of trades unions, or to prevent their progress, might well be said not to know what he was talking about. Every honorable member must admit that trades unionism, for the protection of the various industries to which it relates, has not only come to stay, but will progress and expand, and the only hope of those associated with enterprises giving employment to large numbers of men is that the representatives of these industrial unions will not, in their desire to advance their interests, take steps that would be really against the best interests of the community, and against that which must ultimately be to their own best interests'. I wish to make it clear that, in my opposition to one or two clauses of this Bill, I have had no desire, by means of any subterfuge, to give the great principleof trades unionism a back hit ; I resent any such suggestion. My desire is that this measure shall be made effective and workable. Whilst conciliation and arbitration is ostensibly the purpose of this great measure, we are forced to realize that underlying many of the aspirations of those who support it is one dominant object, that through this measure, which has pacific, humane, and high aims in view, they will secure another end - the strengthening of these industrial organizations as a great fighting force for political purposes. I have consistently set my face, and' will continue to do so, against the attainment of this last object by means of the Bill. I believe that the measure is a necessary addition to existing State Arbitration Acts, and is required to carry into effect the provisions of the Constitution. But my desire is to make it a workable measure, and I shall oppose and resist every effort to secure by it other advantages than those which are legitimately sought for, because, in my opinion, to do so would seriously undermine the great pacific effect which is desired. The honorable member for Darling has had direct association with trades unionism, and is in a position to speak with knowledge and authority as to the practical result of any amendments which may be proposed. Other honorable members are in a similar position. I can speak only from the knowledge which I possess through my association with big companies, employing large bodies of men, or which I have gained through having been unfortunately connected with one or two large industrial struggles. I desire to give to the views expressed by the honorable member for Darling the fullest respect and consideration. It is unwise for any of us to regard as belligerent and hostile suggestions which come from the other side, and are directed to show how an amendment may prove ineffective. But nothing has been said, either by the honorable member for Darling, or any other honorable member, to remove from my mind the feeling that the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Angas is a pacific one. It is true that many of the existing trades unions are not governed by political considerations. The. Minister of Home Affairs told us that the members of one union voted against him during the recent elections.

Mr Batchelor - I said that some of the branches of my union are opposed to the Labour Party.

Mr KNOX - That is a very singular circumstance.

Mr Batchelor - It is not at all singular.

Mr KNOX - I have always regarded it as a most exceptional thing that the members of a union should oppose one associated with' them and belonging to their own side. But I unhesitatingly accept the assurance of a gentleman for whom I have always had the greatest respect. The point I wish to make is this: The aspirations of honorable members opposite have been unfolded step by step. At the beginning of our consideration of the Bill we were told that it was unlikely that it would give much business to the Court; that probably only three great organizations - the Seamen's Union, the Shearers' Union, and the Waterside Workers' Union - would be affected by it. Since then, however, every detailed provision has been suggested that would be necessary for a State Act. Honorable members opposite have been urging that the provisions of the measure should apply as completely and as fully in limited cases as would the provisions of a State Act. It is a matter of regret that it has been suggested that the Chief Justice of New South Wales was biased in a statement which he recently made. But a similar thing has happened in New Zealand. There the award of the Court was challenged by the Painters' Union,' and, subsequently, by the Waihi gold-miners, one of the leaders urging his fellow unionists to resist the award of the Court, on the ground that there were not sufficient gaols in New Zealand to hold them if the Court tried to imprison them for doing so. In Western Australia, too, the timber labourers have shown themselves unwilling to comply with the awards of the State Court. So that, while honorable gentlemen opposite cry with one voice, "Trust the Court" - which we may thoroughly do in a British community - we find some of them accusing a Chief Justice who has a long and honorable record, and is known throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth, of bias, while we hear of unionists in New Zealand and in Western Australia opposing the findings of the local Courts. Is it reasonable, therefore, to expect that the awards of the Commonwealth Court will not be disputed when they do not accord with the views of my honorable friends ? To my mind, the purer we can keep the references that are made to the Court - I use the word without the slightest invidious suggestion so far as trades unions are concerned - the better it will be for all. If the organizations of employers and . employes are politically antagonistic, it will be impossible to prevent the engendering of ill-feeling. The instances to which I have just referred should be a guide to us. I, for one, believe that there is great merit in the amendment, and after the protestations which they have made, it is difficult to understand why my honorable friends opposite do not support the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Angas, to keep the system which we are creating' pure and free from .political feeling.

Mr Bamford - What does the amendment really mean?

Mr KNOX - I will give a concrete example, which may be more valuable than an explanation in so many words. The other day I quoted statistics supplied to me by the chief officers of the various mining companies at Broken Hill, which showed, speaking from memory, that about 2,000 of the miners there belong to various unions, while the remaining 3,000 are nonunionists. If a question affecting conditions of contract; wages, hours of labour, or some other matter in which all the miners were interested arose, and was properly referred to the Court, the honorable ' and learned member for Angas proposes that the 2.000 men who are in a minority should not be able to say to the other 3,000, " We intend to apply to the Court for an award which, if you will not join our unions) will give us preference of employment against you as non-unionists."

Mr Isaacs - Does the honorable member think that the Court would make such an award merely for the asking?

Mr KNOX - The Court has given that preference in a large proportion of cases. It has been shown beyond the possibility of contradiction that an overwhelming majority of the workers of Australia are not members of unions. The. whole of the 5.000 men employed on the Broken Hill mines have a common right to go before the Court and represent their views, irrespective of any trades union. They are entitled to ask the Court to treat them as one body of men, and to lay down reasonable terms and conditions of employment.

Mr Carpenter - How could they do that if they -were not organized?

Mr KNOX - We propose that they shall be organized.

Mr Thomas - Are we to understand that the honorable member is burning with a desire to organize the workers?

Mr KNOX - The honorable member cannot say that I have ever done anything to oppose the organization of the workers. I have stated more than once that the unions have accomplished immeasurable good for the workers, and I believe that they will confer further benefits upon them. Any one who attempts, by legislative enactment, to stay the advance of the great trades union movement is a fool.

Mr Thomas - Is the honorable member anxious to help it along?

Mr KNOX - Yes, I am. I am anxious; so far as this Bill is concerned, to act fairly to both sides, and to make such provision that the 3,000 non-unionists to whom I have referred shall be free to go to the Court, without having to submit to the coercion of a trades union. No union has any right to say to men who are outside its pale, " Before you go to the' Court you will have to come into our union and comply with all our rules, whether you like it or not."

MJr. Thomas. - If 3,000 men were to join a union which had only 2,000 members previously, the new members could mould the others to their will.

Mr KNOX - I acknowledge that the honorable member has a close acquaintance with trades unions. When there was trouble at Broken Hill, the honorable member took an active, but a moderate and just part, on behalf of the men.

Mr Thomas - That was the reason I was boycotted.

Mr KNOX - I had nothing to do with that; and I have no personal know-1 ledge of it in any shape or form. I think that the amendment proposed by the honorable and learned member for Angas would guard against interference with the liberties of individuals, and preclude the unions from exercising coercion.

Mr Isaacs - How far does the proposed amendment go beyond that adopted at the instance of the honorable and learned member for Corinella?

Mr KNOX - The amendment referred to provided that a majority of those engaged in any industry must approve of the reference of a dispute to the Arbitration Court. The amendment now before us goes a long step further. It makes provision against the application of coercion on the part of a union, and leaves a man absolutely free to exercise his discretion as to whether or not he ' shall subscribe to the political aims of the union. If he allies himself with the majority of those engaged in any particular industry he can obtain the benefit of the decision of the Court with regard to the conditions under which he shall sell his labour to his employer.

Mr Isaacs - Under the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, a workman need not become a member of an organization, whereas under the present proposal he would be forced into an organization of some sort.

Mr KNOX - When we come to analyze the principles which underlie this Bill, we can see that the measure is not intended for the benefit of individuals, but is designed to deal with men who are gathered together in large organizations.

Mr Isaacs - On the one side only, because one 'employer alone can become a party to a dispute.

Mr KNOX - If he employs 100 men. That distinction has not been overlooked. One honorable member stated that I was the employer of a large number of men engaged in mining at Broken Hill. I am only a member of a large company, and as an employer I represent on the one side shareholders more numerous than are the employes engaged on the mine at Broken Hill. These shareholders would, of course, appear under the measure in their collective capacity. 1 quite recognise that in some cases a somewhat anomalous position might arise, because one employer might be the party to a dispute in which hundreds of men were engaged on the other side. This matter deserves the serious consideration of the Committee. I wish to remove from the minds of honorable members the idea that I shall allow myself to be led into supporting any amendment which may be proposed, for the sole purpose of defeating the objects of the Bill, or of hampering the trades unions. If any honorable members adopt such an attitude, I say that they are wrong. We should deal with this measure as one which is intended to effect a peaceful settlement of disputes which might otherwise result in much loss and suffering to workmen and their families. Our object should be to devise methods of peacefully adjusting all the differences which may arise between employers and employes on the lines of justice and equity. The honorable member for Kennedy uttered one or two threats, but I trust that the views expressed by him are not shared by any more than an insignificant minority of honorable members opposite. If we desire to make this a good workable measure, we must secure the co-operation of the trades unions. If these great organizations stand aside, it will be useless for us to provide this machinery. The Bill should be so framed as to insure justice to both sides.

Mr Bamford - Does not that represent the whole scope of the measure?

Mr KNOX - Yes, that is the great purpose underlying it ; but behind that pure and high motive there appears to be a desire, on the part of some honorable members, to enlarge the scope and powers of the trades unions, and to make them stronger, as political fighting forces, than they are at present. I shall do my best to prevent the use of this Bill for that purpose.

Mr Bamford - Surely there is no warrant for the honorable member's statement in the speeches which have been delivered from this side of the Chamber.

Mr KNOX - The resistance which has been offered by some honorable members to this and other amendments is sufficient to justify my statement. It is quite clear that they expect to be able to use the measure as an instrument for forcing men to join the trades unions.

Mr Bamford - I do not think so.

Mr KNOX - I hope that the honorable member is right, but I must confess that that impression is forced upon me.

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