Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 6 July 1904

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - Notwithstanding the time which has been occupied in this discussion, I realize that not a moment has been wasted. This is one of the most important clauses in the Bill. The question at issue is not, as some honorable members have reported, that of preference to unionists, but as to the constitution of organizations under the Bill. In view of the multiplicity of amendments before the Committee, and the fact that notice of other amendments has been given, it is necessary for us to look closely into the position. Some honorable members have stated that they will vote under duress to some extent. We have heard the crack of the whip, and we have been told that certain honorable members feel compelled, not to vote as they would vote if they had a free hand, but that in the peculiar circumstances with which they are confronted, they feel compelled to take another course. I am here to say that, notwithstanding the threats that have been made- .

Mr Batchelor - No threats have been made.

Mr KENNEDY - The honorable member for Dalley said to-day that if this clause is not accepted in its entirety we shall have a repetition of that industrial strife that rent Australia thirteen years ago.

Mr Batchelor - I did not know that the honorable member was referring to that.

Mr KENNEDY - Was there not also a threat when the Prime Minister said that if the amendments were carried he would take the matter to the country? I came into this House pledged to support compulsory conciliation and arbitration, but I do not intend, under cover of a measure for that purpose, to give any section of this community the legal power to construct a machine for party political purposes. That is practically what it resolves itself into. It is not often that we find the honorable member for Dalley placing himself in an illogical position, but if anything was wanting to confirm me in the opinion I have formed, it was the utterance of that honorable member. He told the Committee, in his concluding remarks, that no consideration of loyalty to his party or his leader would compel him to violate his political principles, but he is supporting 'a proposal in this Bill which will compel an industrial worker before he can obtain any work to sacrifice his political principles. The honorable member proposes to give the unions that power. He also told us that some of the strongest unions in Australia have no rules in their code bearing on political issues. If that be so, what have those unions to fear? We have heard declarations from the other side of the Chamber that those who are opposing this clause are enemies to trades unionism. That is a mere assertion, without any proof whatever in support of it. The position of trades unions is not challenged in the slightest degree. All that is stipulated for in the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella - and I want to say right here, that this is a principle which the leader of the Government practically accepted last night - is that unions, when they are organizations under this Bill, must not include in their code of rules anything compelling an industrial worker who joins a union to subscribe to any . particular political creed. We were told by the leader of the Government last night that the Trades Hall Council of Victoria has completely severed its association with politics. Then where is the danger to trades unionism from' the acceptance of the amendment ? Of the three amendments which have been proposed, that of the honorable and learned member for Angas, to my mind, goes too far, because it stipulates that no organization or union in existence to-day shall be registered as an organization under this Bill. That is altogether too far-reaching in its effects. The proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella stipulates that any labour organization in existence in Australia to-day can register under the Bill, but that it must not have embodied in its rules any provision compelling its members to subscribe to any fund for political purposes. That is fair and reasonable. But what do we find underlying the whole proposal of the Government ? Under cover of conciliation and arbitration they desire to create a political machine for their own purposes.

Mr Poynton - Does the honorable member know, as a matter of fact, that this machine was created by the previous Government ?

Mr KENNEDY - I am glad that my attention has been called to that fact. We have been reminded by the leader of the Government who was the author of this Bill. It is to be regretted that the right honorable member for Adelaide is not present to give us his assistance in dealing with it. The question under discussion was first alluded to iri our debates by the honorable member for Wentworth in his speech on the second reading. I will show what was the attitude of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who was then Prime Minister, when the Bill was introduced. It has been asserted that he has shown a change of front. It has also been asserted that practically only one member of the late Government has consistently voted with the present Government in favour of the Bill. I would remind the Committee that the honorable member for Hume has shown in some of his canters a more complete reversal of form than any other member of the late Government. When the proposal was made for the exclusion of agricultural and horticultural labourers under the Bill, he was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of it. Honorable members opposite appear to have forgotten that. On the 13th April this year the honorable member for Wentworth, as reported in Hansard, on page 917, said, in speaking on the motion for the second reading of this Bill: -

An industrial union, on the other hand, is one which the State compels individuals to join at the peril of their livelihood ; consequently, an industrial union should be kept absolutely free from anything in the nature of political propaganda work, whether it be by way of levying subscriptions for a political fund or of running newspapers. If we are to have industrial unions, not only ought we to schedule the rules which they shall have, but also the rules which they shall not have. If we are to compel persons to join industrial unions, let us make perfectly sure that we do not sacrifice their political liberty, as well as their individual industrial freedom.

That is a sentiment that seemed to be appreciated all round the House. The honorable member for Wentworth said in conclusion -

I sincerely hope that some attention will be given to my suggestion regarding the constitution of industrial unions, and if I have directed the notice of abler men than myself to this very crucial point, I feel that I shall not have spoken in vain at such very short notice.

Then the honorable and learned member for Ballarat interjected -

I think I shall be able to satisfy the honorable member that the provisions which he desires are contained in the Bill.

That was a clear and distinct statement from the head of the late Government, who was in charge of the Bill. As to the evidence that the Government and their supporters want to create simply a machine for party political purposes, I refer the Committee to the statement of the honorable member for Barrier, who, in the course of his remarks, said that, representing an industrial district, and a large section of the industrial workers of Australia, who were banded together in unions for their own mutual advantage, he would throw this Bill to the winds as far as he was concerned, and as far as the workers were concerned, if trades unionists were denied their right to band together for political purposes.

Mr Thomas - Those were not my exact words.

Mr KENNEDY - The exact words .of the honorable member were -

I would rather have unions taking part in politics than have an Arbitration Act which prevented them from doing so.

So far as I am aware, there is no honorable member who wishes to interfere with trades unionists as trades unionists. But when they come into the Court seeking the protection and assistance of the Court under the provisions of this Bill, their rules should not contain anything that would debar any man from becoming a member. Why have epithets been hurled at a large number of Australian workers? Why have epithets been hurled against workers who are not members of the union presided over by the honorable member for Darling? In my time, in New South Wales, I was one of those who battled for their rights as members of a union. I was amongst those who were subscribers to and members of the union to which I have referred, when it 'was first originated. What was the cause of the secession from its ranks? Was it not on account of the very rules which the Court in New South Wales has refused to sanction? Was it not because the union wanted to deprive men of their political rights and privileges? Hundreds of men would be willing to join that union to-day except for those objectionable rules.

Mr Thomas - Which have been removed.

Mr KENNEDY - The New South Wales Court did not debar them from coming to the Court or taking advantage of the Act unless those rules were cancelled.

Mr Poynton - Thev did.

Mr KENNEDY - I beg the honorable member's pardon. If I am correctly informed, by their decision the Court refused to cancel the registration of another union. There was no refusal of the Court, so far as I am aware, to dealing with any industrial dispute submitted by the Australian Workers' Union, but simply a refusal to cancel' the registration of another union. That- is sufficient to cause the Committee to be most careful not to preclude unions from seeking the protection of this Court, but to deprive them of the right to pass rules which would be repugnant to every fair-minded individual. Last night the Prime Minister, when he took the Committee into his confidence, told us that he was prepared to accept the principle of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Darling Downs, but that he would not commit himself to the exact verbiage. What do we find to-day behind the Prime Minister?

Mr Wilson - A revolt.

Mr KENNEDY - A complete revolt. Where is the distinction between the two amendments? The verbiage is exactly the same, except that in the case of the amendment of the honorable member for Darling Downs, it is only when a union makes an application to have the preference extended to its members that the provision is to be of anv avail. But the principle of the amendment is accepted by the Prime Minister.

Mr Reid - Every word of it ; that . amendment only shifts the stage at which the provision shall, apply. .

Mr KENNEDY - Why are honorable members on this side of the House regarded as outlaws, who are desirous of ruining trades unions? I venture to say that we are as keenly appreciative of the good which may result from compulsory arbitration as are honorable members on the other ' side. Why are we held up to the whole community as objectionable beings, when we desire nothing further than that the clause shall apply to all unions who desire the protection of the Court?

Mr Isaacs - One amendment takes away rights, while the other merely denies privileges.

Mr KENNEDY - It may be my want of appreciation of the true merits of the position, but I do not see that distinction. The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella simply proposes that a trade union which makes application to the Court must have eliminated from its rules any of a compulsory character affecting the rights or liberties of individual members. What objection can there be to such a proposal? The Trades Hall Council of Victoria, which represents trades unionism in this . State, has practically eliminated all political issues from its discussions, and has constituted a body, clearly and distinctly apart, known as the Political Labour Council, to deal with political issues. Yet the Prime Minister and his supporters express no regret for the epithets that have been hurled at honorable members on this side. Notwithstanding the threat held out - notwithstanding the fact that I am committed to my constituents to support compulsory conciliation and arbitration - I am going to accept the full responsibility of supporting the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, even if the Government are prepared to go to the country. I should wel- come the opportunity which an appeal to the country would afford, because we should then have a clear-cut issue.

Mr Reid - Rubbish ! The Government might as well go to the country on the alphabet.

Mr KENNEDY - I may admit that I have no particular desire to go to the country. I do not appreciate so highly as some honorable members appear to do, the pleasures of contesting a large district, particularly in mid-winter. Nevertheless. I am not going to allow any objection of that kind to make me sacrifice any principle. I have no personal feeling in the matter. I realize- fully the difficulties with which the Government are confronted. I realize the difficulties which confronted the late Government when, in the first instance,they put the Bill, so to speak, under the table, because they could not have a general election just then. When, in compliance with the pledge given to the House, the Bill was introduced in the present Parliament, the Government made one of the proposals a vital question, and have taken the consequences. Their successors realize the difficulties of the situation. There are many pitfalls in the Bill; and many members are under the impression - even the honorable member for Dalley said to-night - that trades unions will refuse to register under the measure if the amendment be adopted. What is the opinion expressed by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, confirmed by the honorable member for Darling Downs? Trades unions, whether they like it or not, may be compelled to come into Court ; they cannot take the law into their own hands, as they have done in the past, and unsettle the industrial life of Australia. This is a Bill to prevent that sort of thing, and, that being so, it behoves us to place nothing in the way of the measure being made as effective as possible. At a previous stage of this measure, I expressed the opinion that it "is absolutely necessary to get every worker in each industry into an organization. I fail to see how the community can reap the full benefit of the Bill, or how it can be made fully operative, unless the workers are dealt with through organizations. How would it be possible otherwise to enforce the award of the Court on hundreds, or it may be thousands of workers, as units scattered throughout the length and breadth of Australia? The more I think of the matter, the more I am convinced of the soundness of that view. Are we to allow rules to be adopted in organizations which would prevent men, from conscientious motives, becoming members? Are w.e to leave such men in the position of being described as " blacklegs," " scabs," and " outcasts " ? We have been told by some honorable members that those who are not unionists are "blacklegs" and "scabs." Can such epithets be fairly applied to men who have conscientiously refused to join the Australian Workers' Union? Those men, on joining, that union, are penalized by being called upon to subscribe to a particular political faith, and to contribute to the support of candidates to whom they may have decided objections. Are honorable members knowingly going to put the industrial workers of Australia in that position? If. we are to have organizations, make the conditions such that all workers can join. Objection is raised to outside workers coming in and taking advantage of the better conditions obtained by the unions ; and when I was in the ranks of the workers there was nothing more repugnant to my mind. In my early days in New South Wales, some twenty-five years ago, before there was any union, the shearers in the back country banded together in order to secure a rate per hundred which would be fair. There were practically no "scabs" or "blacklegs," as they are termed, at that .time. What has caused the recent secession from the union ranks? In the short space of two years the ranks of the Australian Workers' Union have been reduced by one-half, the membership having decreased from about 21,000 to about 11,000.

Mr Higgins - That is owing to want of sheep, I suppose.

Mr KENNEDY - It is not likely that men of this class, whom I know so well, would risk the existence of the union for the sake of one year's subscription. Scores of men who have ceased to work with shears have, to my knowledge, continued to pay their contributions as members of the union. In my opinion, the chief cause of the secession is to be found in the rules; and numbers of men have told me that that is the reason. Unions are not omniscient ; and this union has been ruined by the causes I have indicated. Is it not worth while making an effort to get the workers of each industry into an organization, seeing that it is only by that means we can reap the full benefit of the measure? Are we going to risk the Bill because we differ on matters of detail? It is useless for the Prime Minister or his supporters to say that the principle of the amendment submitted by- the honorable and learned member for Corinella is repugnant to them, or is likely to wreck the Bill, seeing that the Prime Minister has accepted a proposal containing the same verbiage as applied to unions seeking for preference. Notwithstanding the threats that have been hurled at us, 1 am going to support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, believing that it will make for the well-being of the industrial classes and the efficient working of this measure.

Suggest corrections