Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 12 July 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - I suppose it is characteristic of some of the original provisions of measures of this sort that we should be asked to accept the proposition put before us by the Prime Minister. It has had one good effect ; it has consolidated the Opposition. I am happy to saythat we are united on this point.

Mr Watson - The legal members of the Opposition are.

Mr REID - I trust that this matter will be fought out to the bitter end, without any ingenious amendment being interposed. I, like those honorable and learned members who have preceded me, am anxious in dealing with this question to absolutely forget that I belong to the trades union which is affected. In considering it from that stand-point, it seems to me to be extraordinary that we should think it proper to construct a Court for the purpose of determining these matters, and then provide that the persons who are specially qualified to deal with them shall be specially disqualified from appearing before it. It is one of the humors of this particular proposal. The Ministry have surely not reached this point : that, there being a union in existence which deals with legal business, they are going to give a preference to non-unionists and place a ban on unionists. That is Avhat this proposition really means. There has been from time immemorial a trades union relating to matters legal, and that . union has no non-unionists in opposition to it. It has the happy privilege of containing in its ranks every legal person in this part of His Majesty's dominions.

Mr Watson - But not every would-be legal person. That would be a most improper thing.

Mr REID - The course to be followed in order to enable a man to become a member of the union requires only a moderate degree of perseverance and intelligence to insure success, as the Minister of External Affairs will tell the Committee.

Mr Hughes - That is not very flattering to me.

Mr REID - I place myself in the same position. I had to face the same difficulties that the Minister of External Affairs encountered. We have in New South Wales some members of the Bar who, in spite of comparatively limited mean's, have bv their industry and application put themselves on a level with men who had many more advantages.

Mr Hutchison - And yet they are not allowed to earn their bread by practising in other States.

Mr REID - That is a phase of the matter to which my attention is not at present directed. What does strike me as remarkable, is that the Ministry in the new path, they have chosen should have determined, as far as they can, to destroy one of the most venerable trades unions in existence - a union which embraces every member of the profession to which it relates. The condition they impose is that the "man who enters the Court shall not be a unionist.

Mr Lonsdale - He must be a nonunionist.

Mr REID - Quite so ; that is to say, he must not belong to the union of the legal profession, but to one which has nothing to do with it.

Mr Watson - Would they allow us to open their door?

Mr REID - So far as I am concerned, I think this is a proposal to push matters to an extreme. I quite believe in the latitude which is allowed, and ought to be allowed, to any member of a union to represent his organization, because he is practically a party. Although, in form, it is an association which is the plaintiff or defendant in , a case before . the Court, in fact, every member of the union concerned is a party to the dispute, and has just as much right to appear at the table to represent his union, as has any defendant or plaintiff to conduct his own case. I should like to point out also that there is a seiious unfairness in this respect. Take a union of employes. That union may comprise a large number of individuals. An employer who has a very small number of employes may be dragged before the Court quite against his own will. He may not belong to an organization of employers. He is absolutely debarred from choosing to represent him, from amongst talented men, some agent or person who knows his business. He must appear himself. He may be a very successful business man, but, as many, business men are, he may be absolutely unfit to appear as a disputant in any Court.

Mr Hughes - He can be represented by an agent outside his own organization.

Mr REID - I am not speaking of an employer who is in an organization. As I read this proposal- any party not being an organization - that is, being a single employer who is brought before the Court- may be represented by an employee of that party.

He cannot be represented by an agent according to those words. I do not know whether there is any other clause of the Bill which allows agents to appear. If this is the only clause dealing with the matter my honorable and learned friend will see that I am perfectly right. An employer's business may be only a small one, but to him it may be everything. He may ;employ only six or ten employes. He may have had nothing to do with disputes or with arguments. He may have excellent workmen, not one of whom, however, is competent to appear before a Court, having been chosen for very different purposes. The union which brings such an employer into Court may consist of hundreds or thousands of members. It can choose one of its own officers or members, whilst the employer may be absolutely debarred from obtaining competent assistance to fight his case in Court. I think that is an unnecessary invasion of the rights which people at present have. Any person who hitherto has been brought into a Court of justice has never been debarred from exercising his own discretion as to how he should be represented. Of course, there are considerations which limit a man's choice - his means. But as this clause stands, it is not a fair provision at all. I entirely drop the personal aspect of the matter; but if I may make a personal observation, I should like to say that there are some members of our profession now who have entered it from the ordinary walks of life, distinct from the usual legal training, and who would probably make far better advocates in a case of this sort than perhaps the ordinary lawyer, trained- in the Courts, and knowing nothing of the working of trade. I do not wish to mention names, but take the case of the Minister of External Affairs. He has had a vast industria'l experience. But he would be debarred just as I or any other' member of the legal profession would be from giving his services, perhaps gratuitously, to some unions with whose affairs he was perfectly conversant.

Mr Henry Willis - But what if the Minister were a' member of the union concerned ?

Mr REID - I am not supposing a case where the Minister was in that position. He is a member of our ' ' union " now. I desire to hear what his views are about this proposal. He is in a difficult position, as we all are ; because it may seem to the general public as though some consideration of self interest were affecting our views. But as far as the members of the legal pro fession who have spoken are concerned, I suppose that it is a matter of the utmost indifference to them whether or not this Court exists, or whether or not they ever enter it. But it does seem, putting aside professional ideas, as if we were unduly limiting the rights of every person who is brought before the Court by a provision of this kind.'

Suggest corrections