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Wednesday, 6 July 1904

Mr HIGGINS (Northern MelbourneAttorneyGeneral) (Attorney-General) - This debate has been considerably extended, and many able and exhaustive speeches have been made. T. do not hope to add much to the arguments- which have been used against the amendment. In fact, I have been struck with the fact that honorable members, who have had a practical experience of trades unions, possess a great advantage over those of us who are simply trying to learn all about them from hearsay or from books. As one who is responsible, to some extent, for the construction of the Bill, I wish to address myself to the proposed amendments in their bearing upon the clause. It has almost been forgotten that the clause provides' merely for. the registration of organizations, and that it proposes ' that, on compliance with specific conditions, certain organizations may be registered. The honorable and learned member for Angas appropriately moved an amendment which would forbid the registration of organizations that have any political aims within the purview of their constitutions. Since then, however, we have gone much further afield. The amendment proposed by the honorable and learned member will probably not be carried; but my honorable friend, the member for Corinella, has suggested that words should be inserted to the effect that no organization shall be entitled to submit any industrial dispute to the Court so long as its rules permit of the application of its funds . to political purposes. The clause provides that associations may be registered under certain conditions. Now it is proposed that, even though they may be registered, they, shall not be allowed to submit a dispute to a Court so long as their constitution or rules contain certain provisions. The two proposals are entirely distinct.

Mr.Glynn. - I raised that point, but my objection was overruled.

Mr HIGGINS - Whatever we may think of its merits as a whole, the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas is quite logical and orderly. I submit, however, that, whatever view may be taken of the merits of the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, it is not expedient to jumble up matters in the' way he suggests, and to insert words which have no relevance to the subject of the clause. The object of the honorable and learned member might be achieved by amending clause 47 or some other clause.

Mr Glynn - Or clause 72.

Mr HIGGINS - Yes, that would meet the case. I want honorable members to bear in mind the orderly arrangement of the Bill, and to remember that they will have an opportunity to insert a provision such as that proposed at another stage, if they think fit. The Government certainly have no intention to shirk a division on the subject. Thev desire to know exactly the feeling of the Committee. The offer made by the Prime Minister last night appears to me to go as far as any Ministry could go and still retain its self-respect. The Prime Minister expressed his willingness to insert a provision in the clause with regard to preference to the effect that no organization shall apply for preference if it has anything of -a political character in its constitution. That proposal is placed before honorable members to accept or reject, and it is for them to say whether or not the Prime Minister has reasonably met the objections to this clause. It will be observed - I do not say it unkindly - that those who have honestly and avowedly declared themselves as having no faith in legislation of this kind have expressed their intention to vote for the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. To our minds this fact affords conclusive proof that the amendment would have the effect of injuring the Bill. We have come here for the purpose of cutting the claws of the oppressor, but now an attempt is being made to sharpen the claws of the oppressor by inserting the amendment of the honorable' and learned member for Corinella.

Mr Lonsdale - Who is the oppressor?

Mr HIGGINS - That side from which oppression comes. We want to do away with oppression from either side. There is no doubt, however, that the oppression comes from the stronger, and not from the weaker, and that all' the talk we hear about freedom of contract simply means that we should leave to the stronger the power to oppress the weaker. It seems to me that a great deal of ignorance has been shown in some quarters as to the history and trend of the trades union movement. I cannot conceive of any men who know what trades unions have been, what they are, and what their tendency is _ in England, America, and Australia, struggling to prevent trades unions from taking an in terest in politics. Even in England, where politicians have a number of matters other than social affairs to attend to, the trades unions have to keep their eyes open to the movements in Parliament. How much greater must be the necessity for watchfulness on the part of the trades unions here, where all our politics are industrial, where not a single movement in politics that interests the people as a whole, does not directly bear upon the industries and the livelihood of the workers. In Webb's Industrial Democracy, volume II., page 839, the writer refers to this aspect of trades unionism. He says -

In the democratic State of the future, the trades unionists may be expected to be conscious of their own special function in the political world, and to busy themselves primarily with its fulfilment. First in importance to every section, we put the establishment of a national minimum of education, sanitation, leisure, and wages.

With us, all these matters are political, sanitation, education, leisure, which means holidays, and wages. How could we expect a union, formed for the purpose of bettering the conditions of its members in the trade in which they are engaged, to close its eyes to the political movements in our Parliaments? Our legislation is industrial or nothing. Mr. Webb goes on to say -

But the systematic re-handling of the Factories and Workshops, Mines, Railways, Shops, and Merchant Shipping Acts, which is involved in this conception of a national minimum, will, as we have explained, only secure the base of the pyramid.

Then on page 840, he says -

The Federal Executive of the trade union world would find itself defending complete freedom of association, and carefully watching every development of legislation or judicial interpretation to see that nothing was made criminal or actionable when done by a trade union 01 its officials, which would not be criminal or actionable if done by a partnership of traders in pursuit of their own gain.

Mr Johnson - From what work is the Attorney-General quoting ?

Mr HIGGINS - From Webb, upon Industrial Democracy. I may add that I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. arid Mrs. Webb during their visit to these States, and consequently I appreciate more keenly the excellence of their work. The writer continues -

And the Federal Executive would be on its guard, not only against a direct attack- on the workmen's organizations, but also against any insidious weakening of their influence. It would insist on the legal prohibition of all forms of truck, or deductions from wages, including fines, loom rent, and payments to national insurance funds, or employers' benefit societies. Above all, it would resist any attempt on the part of the employer to transform the workman's home into a workshop, and thus escape the responsibility for the carrying out of the conditions of employment embodied in the law of the land.

I feel that honorable members might just as well talk of having a sun without light as a trades union without politics.

Mr Kennedy - Then, how is it that the Ministry have agreed to accept an amendment providing for the elimination of politics from the rules of the trades unions?

Mr HIGGINS - Evidently the honorable member has not heard what I was saying. The anxiety which some honorable members have displayed to prevent trades unions from having anything whatever to do with politics is perfectly futile and stupid. The Prime Minister has consented - and in doing so, I think, has gone .to the uttermost verge of his duty in the matter - to accept an amendment which provides that no application shall be made by a union for the granting of a preference^ if there be anything in its constitution relating to political aims. The New Zealand Act contained no preference provision.

Mr McCay - It is contained in the interpretation section of that Act. .

Mr HIGGINS - No. There is nothing in the interpretation provision relating to the question of preference. The interpretation section, however, contains a very similar provision to that which is embodied in this Bill. Though it does not contain the word " preference," it is so very wide as to allow the Court to deal with any matter relating to trades.

Mr McCay - May I read the words of the section to the Attorney-General ?

Mr HIGGINS - The honorable and learned member may do. so afterwards. Perhaps it will serve his purpose if he will hand a copy of the Act to me.

Mr McCay - Certainly.

Mr HIGGINS - I find that the Act to which the honorable and learned member has referred me is. the more recent Statute which was passed in 1900, whereas my remarks applied to the Act of 1894. In that year, 1900, though the Act contained no provision relating to the granting of a preference to unionists, the Supreme Court held that it was within its power to grant such a preference. In the Act of 1900, that position was recognised by the Legislature, and an express provision was inserted dealing with the question. The Court came to the conclusion that for the efficient administration of the Act it must be allowed tq grant a preference in certain cases. The further this debate proceeds, the more I am impelled to the conclusion which was put by an able writer in the Age to-day, who is evidently not favorable to the Ministerial view of- this clause. ' At the same time, an admission from an opponent is more valuable than is a statement from a friend. He says -

The question of preference to unionists is still the stumbling block to progress with the Arbitration Bill.

That puts the whole position in a nutshell. The amendment which is under consideration constitutes- an attempt to spoil the granting of a preference to unionists. The. clause does not necessarily bestow any such preference; it merely gives the Court power to grant it, 'if it think fit. It ill becomes those honorable members who are continually taunting the Ministry with a desire to insist upon their own will as against the law, to exhibit a want of confidence in the proposed Court, and in the integrity of its President, by refusing to vest him with discretionary power to grant a preference to unionists in cases where it may be found expedient to do so.

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