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Tuesday, 5 July 1904


Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) - It is my intention to vote against the amendment proposed by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and also to vote against the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas. We hare to look at the amendments from the point of view of the evil which this Bill is intended to remedy. When the Federal Constitution gave us power to deal with industrial disputes, what was the existent evil which necessitated such a section in the Constitution? It was the existence of unions of large numbers of persons, who, by striking in the case of industrial disputes, inflicted serious loss and trouble upon the community. The object of the Bill was to promote industrial peace - fo take away from the unions their power to throw the country into industrial confusion by strikes, and to compel unions on both sides to submit their disputes for peaceful solution to a properly constituted tribunal. What was the evil we had to contend with when this Bill was introduced last year? It was the fact that we had still in existence these important unions, and the Bill was framed with the express intention to provide machinery to take away from them their power to strike, and to compel them to submit their disputes to a peaceful solution. This Bill has been twice before the House of Representatives on a second reading, and it is only now, when it is before us at the Committee stage, that we are told that the existing unions should not be allowed to come before the Court to seek a peaceful solution of disputes, because they are political organizations. We are asked to exclude them from the advantages of the Bill, on the ground that they are political organizations. ' I ask honorable members whether it is only recently that many of these unions have been connected with politics? Have they not been connected in one way or another with politics ever since they have been formed? Has not their desire been to promote the well-being of their individual members, and in furtherance of that object to secure in Parliament representation that will assist them to have industrial legislation of a certain description agreed to? The active part which unions have taken in politics, is not a matter of yesterday. We know that for a very long time past those concerned in the organization of unions have taken part in politics, and have demanded legislation to remedy what they considered evils. The object of the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas is that all existing unions must stand out of this Bill altogether. Thev must not be allowed to come under this Bill and register unless they are re-formed into separate organizations.


Mr Wilks - If this clause is struck out, not a single union will register under the Bill.


Mr GROOM - I believe that is so. My desire is to grapple with the evil that exists at the present time, and that is the presence in the community of large unions, who, by strikes, bring confusion and loss, I believe, in many instances, upon their own members, as well as upon the public. I look on this Bill, not from the point of view of either unionists or non-unionists, employers or employes, but from the point of view of the general public, whose trade, business, and commerce may be thrown into confusion because unions on either side will engage in industrial warfare. The -Bill, as first framed, was exceedingly elastic, and was intended to be so. It was intended to include all existing unions; it was intended that under it federations of existing unions might be registered, and that fresh organizations might be brought under it from time to time, as occasion might require. We were told that its provisions would enable existing grievances to be peacefully remedied by being brought before the Court. The honorable and learned member for Corinella, in his amendment, desires to go a step further, though he does not propose to go quite so far as does the honorable and learned member for Angas. Under the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, existing unions might be registered under the Bill. The honorable and learned member does not propose to destroy existing organizations; but his idea is that if they are to come under the Bill they must not be political bodies in any sense at all. It is just on that point that I find myself at variance with the honorable and learned member. I cannot, for the life of me, see why persons, simply because they hold certain political opinions, or any political opinions, should not be allowed to have their disputes heard before a court of justice.


Mr McCay - That is not the issue. That is an evasion of the issue.


Mr GROOM - I have no desire to evade the issue. I can assure honorable members that my -desire is to have a reasonable and workable measure that will enable existing unions to register, that will deal with industrial troubles arising from disputes, and that will not give undue preference tq any individual in the community. The desire of the honorable and- learned member for Corinella is that if unions have political objects in view, they shall not come before the Court to submit a dispute for decision until their rules with respect to political matters have been altered. I think that a fair statement of the proposal.


Mr McCay - Yes, that is fair.


Mr GROOM - Their rules must be so altered as to strike out references to political objects before they can come before the Court.


Mr McCay - If there are any such rules. We are told that there is only one union that has any such rules.


Mr GROOM - Under the honorable and learned member's amendment, if a union has any such rules it is not to be allowed to come to the Court for the settlement of any dispute. For my part, I should prefer that unions should not have political rules. At- the same time, I say that if there is a large organization, composing nearly all the employes engaged in a specific trade, and if they have political objects in view, I do not believe that when they come before the Court for a decision in an industrial dispute, the Court will be actuated in any way by a consideration of the politics of the union.


Mr Wilks - Take the Employers' Federation, for instance.


Mr Lonsdale - It is a question of forcing non-unionists into unions.


Mr GROOM - I shall deal with that point presently. We must gauge the evil which is supposed to exist by the nature of the award. Suppose, for instance, that any political association, such as the Employers' Federation, a shipping federation, . or a seamen's union, submit a dispute to the Court for decision, what does it matter to the Court that on one side the shippers' federation happens to be composed of men who hold very strong political views, in favour of fighting socialism, or that, on the other hand, the members of the seamen's organization are all socialists ?


Mr McCay - My amendment does not stop that.


Mr Lonsdale - It is to give all men freedom.


Mr GROOM - If there is a bond fide. industrial dispute between such bodies as those to which I have referred, all that the Court can take cognisance of in the settle-, ment of the dispute are the matters com prised under the powers conferred upon it under this Bill. There can be nothing that will facilitate the political objects of the parties on either side in the dispute. What will be . before the Court is merely the industrial dispute submitted to it for settlement. The honorable member for Gippsland does not think it is right that men should be compelled to join a union when they do not desire to join it. I thoroughly agree, that men should not be compelled to join a union if that union has political objects of which they do not approve, and to the furtherance of which they do not feel disposed to contribute funds. I entirely agree with the honorable member for Gippsland in that respect. But I would ask honorable members to recollect the only matter in connexion with which any such compulsion could arise. The only way in which, under this Bill, a person can be compelled to join a union is by the Court giving preference to a union. In other .cases, where preference is not given, it does not matter whether the persons concerned belong to political organizations or otherwise. For instance, a seaman's union comes before the Court on a question of wages, and asks for a decision upon that matter. The Court gives a decision. By the powers vested in it under this Bill, the Court can extend its award in that case to all persons engaged in the same employment, whether they be unionists or nonunionists. In such a case no one would be compelled to join the seamen's union in order to secure the benefits of the award. Persons are only compelled to join unions when the Court gives preference to unionists.


Mr McLean - That is the whole question.


Mr GROOM - I agree with the honorable member, but I again point out that the difficulty can arise only in connexion with the giving of a preference to unionists. I should like to ask the Minister of External Affairs, who is at present in charge of the Bill, if he will consider the advisability of dealing with this difficulty. Could we not provide that, where unions are political bodies, no preferences shall be given them until the objectionable political features are removed from their rules?


Mr Robinson - How are. we to deal with cases where a union applies money for political purposes despite the rules? Cases have been cited by the score where that is done.


Mr Batchelor - That cannot be followed up in any way, do what we will.


Mr GROOM - I think that even that might be dealt with. The honorable and learned member for Indi and I have given this matter considerable consideration. We have tried to see whether we could not meet what is the substantial objection against the clause. Some honorable members are opposed to the Bill root and branch. There are members of the Committee who do not disguise the fact that they are opposed to the principle of the Bill, and from their- point of view they are no doubt justified in doing all they can to whittle away its provisions. I do not find fault with them on that account. If they conceive it to be their duty to oppose the principle of the Bill, they are justified in doing what they can to destroy it. But there are many honorable members who believe that this Bill is the expression of an honest desire to remedy great evils existing in the community. There are honorable members who have been honestly striving, by the amendments they have suggested, to assist the Government in securing a workable measure. My honorable and learned friend can speak for himself ; but I make this public acknowledgment of the assistance which he has given me in endeavouring to arrive at a workable amendment. As regards this particular proposal, I feel that the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella is really - I will not say out of order, since it has been ruled in order - but is not proposed in its appropriate place. That, of course, is only a question of detail. When we come again to deal with the question of preference to unionists, what I desire to see carried is an amendment which will provide that no preference of any description whatever shall be given to a union if by rule its funds may be appropriated in whole or in part for political objects.


Mr Lonsdale - They could be political up to the last moment, and then be dropped.


Mr GROOM - So long as. they do not ask for preference as a political organization, no harm will be done. We do not compel any one to join a union until the Court gives unionists preference. If preference is not given to unionists, then a man need not join the union.


Mr Lonsdale - The union might be run on political lines up to the last moment, and the political 'objects would be dropped when they went for an award.


Mr GROOM - I should also like to emphasize the fact that it does not follow that because there is no express provision in the Bill, or even a suggestion to that effect, that the Court will not pay attention to union rules, which may be supposed to be objectionable. If we can make such a provision I think it is wiser ' to do so ; but the experience of New South Wales clearly indicates that wherever the Court has found that any union by its rules is doing anything oppressive or unfair to people outside its ranks, it very properly refuses to allow the rule to continue in existence.


Mr Wilks - There was a case of the kind only last week, in connexion with the Wharf Labourers' Union.


Mr GROOM - That was a case in which a union refused to admit certain persons to its ranks. I believe that in that case the union came before the Court and said it was prepared to amend its rules to get over the difficulty. Wherever a union takes up the attitude of refusing to allow persons to join it on fair terms, its conduct is reprehensible in the extreme, and, judging by the calibre of the men who constitute our judiciary, I have no doubt such a case would be' dealt with promptly. An undue amount of prominence has been given to the suggestion that if political unions are allowed to be registered, even though they- may not be given preference, in some extraordinary way they will be able to extend the political influence of one party or the other in the country. I do not believe that any such effect will follow. The hours of labour. and the conditions under which men work, and a hundred and one other such questions, no. doubt may become political. The whole question may be regarded as political, because at the present moment we are dealing with- it as a political matter. It is very difficult to define what is a political matter. But the matters upon which the Court will exercise jurisdiction, the matters of which it will take cognisance in giving its decision in any dispute submitted to it, will not be political matters. I feel that honorable members are apt to loose sight of the fact that the Bill was framed to deal with the evil resulting from strikes by existing unions, to bring about the settlement of industrial disputes. The object of the Bill is to remedy that evil. I think that the right honorable member for East Sydney, although he supported the Bill when it was introduced, expressed a certain amount of surprise in connexion with the attitude of unionists towards it. He pointed out that, although he supported the Bill, he was to a certain extent surprised that the unionists were prepared to come under it.


Mr Reid - I was referring to the debates in the New South Wales Parliament when the first State Bill was introduced.


Mr GROOM - Yes. The right honorable member delivered a speech in this House on the second reading of the Bill in which he supported the principles of the measure generally, and drew attention to the large powers which unionists were surrendering in coming under the provisions of the measure. The unions are surrendering their power to enforce their claims by strikes, a power by which they have gained so much of their present position. That is the point which I wish to enforce. Under this Bill the unions will give up a power which it must be admitted they have used to their own benefit, but the use of which is nevertheless detrimental to the community, and, therefore, so long as other persons are not compelled to join them whether they wish to do so or not, they should be allowed to register freely.


Mr Lonsdale - I would agree to that if unionists were to get no preference of any kind.


Mr GROOM - Unions whose rules are political should not have a preference.


Mr Lonsdale - If no preference is given, the unions may adopt what rules thev please, political or otherwise.


Mr GROOM - What I suggest would have the effect which the honorable member for New England wishes to bring about.


Mr Lonsdale - I think not.


Mr GROOM - The honorable member has contended that it is not right that men should be compelled to contribute to the funds of unions whose objects may be political. I agree with him there, and I ask the Government to accept an amendment providing that no such union should have a preference.


Mr Lonsdale - Such unions should not be registered under the Bill.


Mr GROOM - When a union comes before the Court and asks for an award, if it does not seek some special privilege, it is asking only for a benefit which may be conferred upon unionists and nonunionists alike. It is not necessary for a person to join a union to obtain the benefits of an award of the Court.


Mr Robinson - The honorable and learned member says that the unions will not ask for anything unjust if they obtain the privilege of doing something unjust. A preference to unionists in any shape or form would be unjust.


Mr GROOM - I disagree with the honorable and learned member. Under certain circumstances a preference to unionists may be necessary. I do not now wish to go into that argument. I have this further objection to the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas. It practically means that a very small number of persons - 100 is sufficient for the pur- ' poses of the measure - could put in motion the elaborate machinery of the Court, but, having no adequate funds, could not have an award enforced against them. On the other hand, in the existing unions, with their accumulated funds, we have responsible, substantial bodies, against whom awards may be enforced. For this and other reasons .1 shall vote against both the amendment and the amendment moved upon it.







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