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Tuesday, 5 July 1904

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - I had not the privilege of listening to the debate upon this question last week, but I have endeavoured to remedy that defect by carefully studying the speeches delivered upon the amendment. As I understand the amendment, it ' is proposed that the organizations which are to be entitled to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill shall be formed solely for purposes of conciliation and arbitration. At present, the objects of the unions are varied, and their funds are applied to benefit society purposes, such as sick pay and funeral expenses, to aiding strikers by means of strike Day, and to furthering political ends. The aim of the amendment is to prevent individuals who join these organizations or unions, in consequence of the passing of this measure - as large numbers necessarily will do - from being levied upon for any purposes other than those of the Bill. Some of the unions are now largely of a political character, and the aim of the Government and of honorable members who support them seems to be to make them more political than ever. "I feel sure that, consciously or unconsciously, this has been their aim for some time past.

Mr McDonald - Hear, hear.

Mr ROBINSON - I have some information which, I think, will absolutely bear out my statements.

Mr Page - We accept the honorable and learned member's statement without any such proof.

Mr ROBINSON - The old unionism was carried on practically for two purposes, namely, to confer benefits on members and to support strikers in times of industrial warfare. For ' some time past, however, hostility has been displayed towards the old unionism, and a desire has been manifested to convert the trades unions -into political organizations. I do not wish to see the legislative and judicial powers of this Commonwealth exercised in support of the political aims of any party. Honorable members must recollect that the Court which will be created under the Bill will have to exercise some of the judicial powers of the Commonwealth - perhaps the most important. The exercise of such powers should not be tainted by any political motives or aspirations, and I shall resist any attempt that may be made to use them for the purposes I have indicated. The proposal that preference should be given to unionists arose from a desire to increase the political power of the unions by means of the legislative interference of the Commonwealth. It was recognised that such a piovision would increase the membership of the unions, and thereby augment their legislative powers. If this Bill be intended to secure industrial peace by bringing about a better state of affairs between employers and workmen, it should not be used as a means to bolster up. one political party to the disadvantage of others. Abundant evidence has been afforded that the objects of those honorable members who oppose the amendment, and who support the Bill in its extreme form, are largely political ; that they do not require industrial peaceper se, but aim at increasing the political strength of the unions. I find that an interesting Labour Conference was held in Melbourne on 16th September, 1901, and Mr. McDonald, M.H.R., who, I presume, is identical with the honorable member for Kennedy, is reported in the Melbourne Herald and the Age as having delivered an important speech. I should like honorable members to pay particular attention to his remarks, which have a significant bearing upon the point at issue. He said -

If he were running a capitalistic concern, the Wages Boards were just .what he would approve :is a means of breaking down the organizations of labour. The workers, finding they could get the same benefit from -a Wages Board as from a trades union, were inclined to give up the unions. The effect of a Conciliation and Arbitration Act was different altogether, as it forced' the trades into unions in order to secure the advantages of the Act, and thus by making the organizations more powerful they were able to insist on fair conditions for the worker. Victoria has not come along with the new school of unionism. The new school takes an active part in politics, and makes an organization so strong that it can . influence every member representing it.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Mr ROBINSON - I am glad to hear honorable members say " hear, hear."

Mr Page - That is the tiger. Mr. ROBINSON. - Yes, we have unmasked the tiger, and we have the object of honorable members opposite exposed in all its nakedness. We can see that honorable members are endeavouring to use the judicial and legislative powers of the Commonwealth for a political purpose.

Mr McDonald - What has become of the dry dog?

Mr Reid - The honorable member is -not in office, and he ought to have some consideration for those who are.

Mr ROBINSON - I find a further evidence of the desire to increase the political strength of the unions in the proposal that every member of the unions should contribute to the funds of the Labour Party. A Trades Union Conference was held' in Sydney, in November, 1902, at which a resolution was proposed - even that Conference had not the* audacity to carry such a resolution, but the , fact that it was proposed is of importance, as showing the way the wind blows - that .every member of an industrial union should contribute to the political funds of the Labour Party. It is also significant to notice that the rules of. the Melbourne Trades Hall Council have been altered to enable the Council to exercise full power in regard to political questions. On 20th February, 1904, the Melbourne Trades Hall Council adopted a rule which gave the Council power at any ordinary or special meeting to make order upon any matter, political, industrial, or otherwise, remitted to it by trade societies or others.

Mr Tudor - Was that carried?


Mr Tudor - Is the honorable and learned member sure?

Mr ROBINSON - Yes. Mr. Tom Mann was engaged to organize the trades unions for political purposes, and he has done a great deal of hard work. He has recently been re-engaged, and the terms of his re-engagement are interesting, as throwing a great deal of light upon the present position. Whilst I was incapacitated last week through illness, the proprietors of the Tocsin kindly forwarded me a copy of that journal containing an article upon " Preference to Unionists." I trust I am not doing the honorable member for Darling an injustice in saying that I was disposed to think that the article in question emanated from him.

Mr Spence - It did not.

Mr ROBINSON - Amongst other statements, the newspaper contained the following : -

A meeting of the Trades Hall and the Political Labour Councils, sitting as a combined body, was held in the Trades Hall on Friday night, Mr. Hannah, M.L.A. (President of the Trades Hall Council), presiding.

The meeting was of opinion that Mr. Mann's services should be retained. The same report also states that £40 per month will be required to continue the present political propaganda work. That amount will be absorbed in salary, travelling expenses, hire of halls, &c. It seems a very reasonable sum indeed. How is this money to be collected? The sum of £22 is to be contributed by members of the Federal and State Parliaments, and the balance is to be subscribed by the various trades unions affiliated with the Trades Hall. This fund is to be devoted towards the maintenance of a political campaign, which is designed to make a certain political party stronger than it now is. In the absence of some such provision as that submitted by the honorable and learned member for Angas, we shall place ourselves in the position of giving to trades unions - which are political bodies - the right to force men 'to join organizations to which they do not wish to belong, and with the politics of which they may utterly disagree. In my judgment, the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella does not go far enough. My desire is to prevent individuals who join trades unions from being taxed for political purposes, whereas his amendment refers only to the rules of an organization.. In this connexion, I would point out that cases have occurred in which, in defiance of their rules, unions have expended money for political purposes. In speaking in this chamber, on the 24th June last, the honorable and learned member for Corio made a statement which has an important bearing on this issue. He said -

In legal proceedings with which I was recently associated, I had occasion to examine the balance-sheet of one of the large trades unions of Victoria, and found it had -subscribed to labour candidates' election fund, the Tom Mann fund, and also to the maintenance of the labour newspaper and the Labour Party's Senate election campaign. I then took steps to ascertain whether the expenditure of money in this direction was not a violation of the rules, and found that the object of the society was to assist aged and distressed members and members out of work. When I asked the auditors why they had allowed the funds to be devoted to these purposes, they replied that the money had been voted at meetings of the union.

From that statement it will be seen that the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella does not go far enough, because though the rules of a trades union may forbid the expenditure of money in this direction, there are instances upon record in which those rules have been ignored. If the honorable and learned member for Corinella desires" to make his amendment effective, he must declare that the rules of these organizations shall provide that no expenditure shall be incurred by them for political purposes.

Mr Thomas - How shall we distinguish between political and industrial matters?

Mr ROBINSON - I take it that a contribution to the Senate election campaign would constitute a political act. I would be very much interested to hear any individual argue to the contrary. Similarly, I hold that contributions to Mr. Mann's fund, for the purpose of political propaganda, would constitute an indisputable political act.

Mr Higgins - It would be an industrial act also.

Mr ROBINSON - The industrial phase of it would represent about the proportion which a pinch of salt bears to a bucket of water.

Mr Poynton - Would the honorable and learned member apply the same rule to employers ?

Mr ROBINSON - I should apply it to every organization which attempts to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill to promote political objects. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas is preferable to that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, because it contains a straightout declaration of policy. I think that both sides are agreed that it is better for us to know exactly our position than to rely upon a number of provisions the precise meaning of which must necessarily involve much legal interpretation. We all know that strike pay is a matter which enters largely into expenditure by trades unions, and I fail to see why men should be compelled to join organizations and, by so doing, to contribute to strikes which they do not favour. I hold, therefore, " that we ought to prevent any organization, which claims to participate in the benefits to be derived under this Bill, from levying a tax upon its members for the purpose of interfering with disputes elsewhere, with which disputes they may have no sympathy whatever. The next phase of trades unionism with which I wish to deal has reference to the benefit provisions of trades unions. Upon this matter, I feel that you, Mr. Chairman, with your wide experience Of friendly societies, must perceive that there are very important considerations involved. At the present time, to some extent, trades unions are friendly societies, because they come into competition with institutions which have been established as friendly societies. I object to' a preference being given to trades unions as against friendly societies. Why should we give a legislative preference to trades unions over organizations which have be'en established purely as friendly societies ? In Victoria there are over 100,000 members of friendly societies as against only about 30,000 unionists. The great majority of the members of these friendly societies are working men, and it cannot be expected that they can afford to contribute to two organizations. The payments to any properly organized friendly society would constitute a reasonable tax upon any working man, and he should not be compelled to contribute to two societies. If the present members of friendly societies are obliged to join trades unions - as they will be if they desire to obtain the full benefits to be derived under this Bill - they may be compelled to sacrifice their interest in existing institutions - an interest which has been built up during the course of many years - and to accept, in lieu thereof, an interest in a friendly society which is financially unsound. I wish to draw special attention to the fact that the friendly society basis of the trades unions of Victoria is absolutely unsound, and would not be approved by any actuary in the Commonwealth. At the present time, all members make a uniform contribution, which represents about 66. per week, in return for which they are promised, certain benefits in the shape of sick-pay and funeral allowance. I hold that no society can be established upon a sound financial basis if a uniform scale of charges be adopted. What should we think of a life assurance society which was founded upon that basis? I repeat that a uniform charge is made for the admission of members, irrespective of their ages,and that is an unsound basis. It is .not certified bv the Government actuary; it is not passed by him as adequate.

Mr Page - I rise to order. I desire to know, sir, whether we are discussing the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill or the Australian Natives' Association scheme for life assurance?

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