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Wednesday, 10 August 1904

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) - Although I listened to the Prime Minister's explanation with that attention which I always give to his utterances, I fail to understand what is meant by the term " substantially represents." The Prime Minister of a democratic country should surely be prepared to regard a majority as the one substantial representation in such a community. If "substantially represents " means practically the same as that which the honorable and learned member for Corinella desires, why should not that honorable and learned member have the credit - if any credit be due - of having put before the House such an acceptable amendment as was carried by a very fair majority about a month ago? If on the other hand, " substantally represents " does not mean representation by majority, it is about time that the Prime Minister of Democratic Australia told Parliament and the country that he desires, in delegating the powers of the Legislature - because we are proposing to delegate our legislative power in regard to industrial matters to an outside tribunal - to take care that the industrial affairs of Australia shall be controlled by a minority of those engaged in each industry. The Government are either seeking, to avoid the very awkward fix in which they find themselves, as the result of the statement which they made that they would resign office rather than accept what is already in the Bill - they did not think the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella would be carried, and therefore considered that they would be safe in making a bold declaration of that kind - or else they are endeavouring to secure the government of the industrial affairs of Australia by minorities. I do not think that the people of Australia are quite prepared for anything of the kind. I trust that the House will bear with me while I briefly deal with the reasons underlying the 'principle of one adult one vote. It is held that the liberty of every person in the community is equally precious to him ; and for the reason that a minority might otherwise interfere with the individual liberty of the people, it is considered that every adult should have a vote, or, in other words, a voice in the selection of men to make the laws which are to govern him. In industrial matters we are delegating our authority to the Con ciliation and Arbitration Court. We are proposing to place the industrial forces of Australia under the control of a new tribunal; we are proposing to place powers which this House has not attempted, and could not attempt, to exercise, in the hands of an omniscient Court. We are engaged at the same time in framing certain regulations for the guidance of that Court ; and in dealing with them we should, as democrats, be very careful to safeguard the individual liberty of persons engaged in all the industrial enterprises of Australia. What is the exact position ? We find that the Court will have power to interfere with the liberty of a man employed in a trade by compelling him to join a union of which he has no inclination to become a member. The Court will be able to compel that man, at the peril of his livelihood, under the preference clause, to contribute to the benefit funds of that union, to the upkeep of its secretary and other officers, and to the maintenance of all its machinery. In so far as the Court will have power to interfere with the individual liberty of every worker in Australia, we should for that reason be very careful to see that it shall not be able to impose such a condition, except where those applying for a preference are prepared to show that they represent an absolute majority of the persons who will be affected by the award. That is the position. Either, then, the Government, seeking to avoid an awkward position are asking the House on this slight pretext of an immaterially altered phraseology to, so to speak, " let them off," or they are seeking to impose minority rule in the regulation of all the industrial affairs of the Commonwealth.

Mr Spence - How can the honorable member say that ? In what way will minority rule come in ?

Mr KELLY - I think that it is fairly clear. The proviso to the clause, as it now stands, reads -

And provided further that no such preference shall be directed to be given unless the application for such preference is in the opinion of the Court approved by a majority of those affected by the award who have interests in common with the applicants.

In other words, in framing rules for the guidance of the Court, we have provided that it shall take care, before acceding an application by an organization for a preference, to ascertain that it represents a majority of those who will be " affected by the award." Let me cite as an illustration the union of domestic servants, which is yet in prospect, and in which the honorable member for Darling will most likely be interested. The honorable member has told us of the power which he holds over that section of society. He has told us that if a union of domestic servants were formed he would be able to work up such an alarming domestic squabble in Melbourne that it would soon become a most serious matter for all Australia, and even develop into an Inter-State dispute. If the honorable member had his choice, that union would be very soon in process of formation. It would commence, I presume, with a membership consisting of the honorable member, and perhaps four or five others.

Mr Lonsdale - Is the honorable member a domestic servant?

Mr KELLY - No; but his philanthropic spirit would naturally lead him to see that they secured the great benefits of this measure. I hope that I am not hurting the honorable member's feelings.

Mr Spence - I have none.

Mr KELLY - I had often suspected that the honorable member had none, but was not certain about the matter until I received his assurance The union of domestic servants, consisting, perhaps, of ten or twelve persons, might apply to the Court for a preference.

Mr Spence - It could not be registered unless it had at least 100 members.

Mr KELLY - Then, say that it had a membership of 100. I am sure that the honorable member's personal charms would quickly induce 100 domestic servants to join the union.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member does not say much for the intelligence of the Court, when he suggests that an application for a preference by a union of domestics, consisting of only 100 members, would be granted.

Mr KELLY - I am arguing the question simply ad absurdum. The honorable member will have an opportunity later on to deal with it, and will perhaps argue in the same. way.

Mr Spence - I wish to know on what ground the honorable member urges that the Government are attempting to secure minority control.

Mr KELLY - I am endeavouring to put before the honorable member my reasons for that belief. I am pointing out that if he were at the head of a union of domestic servants, consisting of 100 members, he would probably go to the Court, and urge that it substantially represented those engaged in the industry, because there was no one else to represent them. Who better could represent the industry than the honorable member himself? Who could say that the union did not substantially represent it, when there was no one else to speak on its behalf, but those with whom the honorable member was associated? He would be able to apply on behalf of the union for a preference.

Mr Spence - But the Judge would not be bound to grant the application, merely because of what the applicant said.

Mr KELLY - I should be very sorry to hear of a Judge doing so; but I am merely putting a supposititious case before the Committee. If under this Bill a union might go before the Court, and urge that it substantially represented the industry affected, because it was the only representative of it, that would be a very dangerous step towards minority rule.

Mr Spence - But a Judge would not be compelled to grant the application.

Mr KELLY - When we come to other unions, having greater power than that which the domestic servants' union, which the honorable member is going to form, would have, we find that we are trading on very dangerous ground. A union, consisting of 4,000 out of 10,000 persons employed in a particular industry, might apply to the Court, and say, through its representatives, "We are the only union in this industry, and desire a preference." In that case, the Court might grant the request, with the result that 6,000 persons - a majority of the persons employed in the industry - who had no wish to become members of that union, or thev would long since have done so, would be compelled to join its ranks, to subscribe to its funds, to keep its benevolent account out of the Bankruptcy Court, and to keep its machinery well greased, and in good working order.

Mr Spence - In what way would they be compelled to join the union?

Mr KELLY - I think that I. have put my view clearly before the Committee, and although I have no desire to be discourteous, I do not wish to answer the honorable member again and again.

Mr Spence - There would be no power to compel them to join the union.

Mr KELLY - The honorable member says that we should trust the Court. If he desires to trust the Court, let him do so. But let him first enact that the Court, when it finds that there is a majority of those connected with an industry in favour of the granting of a preference, shall then, but not until then, grant preference. Honorable members opposite seem to think that it would be almost impossible to carry into effect that proposal.

Mr Poynton - There is no doubt that it would. I have had over twenty years' experience in organizing, so 'I ought to know something about the matter.

Mr KELLY - In my opinion, the proposal is not unworkable. All that the honorable and learned member for Corinella requires is that no preference shall be directed to be given unless its application is approved by a majority of those " affected by the award." It is not a majority of those engaged in the industry that is required. That, I concede, would be a very different matter.

Mr Spence - Is not the whole community affected by any award ?

Mr KELLY - Surely the honorable member can " trust the Court " to exercise a certain degree of common sense in a matter of this kind?

Mr Poynton - Cannot the honorable member for Wentworth trust the Court?

Mr KELLY - I believe in trusting the Court throughout, after we have framed rules for its guidance, but my honorable friends opposite will not back me up. I come now to the main objection to the granting of an indiscriminate preference to unionists. In my opinion, trades unions will best achieve the noble objects which they have in view as purely voluntary associations. A trades union which is formed to maintain and increase the standard of efficiency in the trade to which its members belong, to give sick pay and other benefits to its members, and to secure the best exercise of its powers for good, must be purely voluntary. At the present time they are voluntary. No one joins them unless he wishes to do so; and they have grown in strength and usefulness on the voluntary basis. But the moment that that basis is taken from them, they will cease to have as much power for good as they have now, because a union can maintain its standard of efficiency only so long as its members are desirous of assisting in the maintenance of that standard, and can carry out its beneficial projects to advantage only so long as its members desire to make use of them. If men are compelled to join unions, however, they will not have at heart their standards of efficiency, nor will they care about their beneficial projects. In short, if unionism - I speak of trades unionism as opposed to militant unionism - is to remain efficient, and of benefit to the community, as it has been in the past, it should not seek to use the Legislature as a recruiting agency. It seems to me that when it does that, it strikes at the root of its usefulness. It may gain temporary strength thereby, but in the end it must, suffer. Quite apart from the question of minority legislation in industrial matters, I hold that compulsory preference to trades unions will strike at the very root of their usefulness.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member has asserted that unions are voluntary concerns ; but the decision in the Taff Vale case brought them under the law.

Mr KELLY - If the honorable member asks me to express an opinion on that case, I would remind him that I cannot do so without breaking the Standing Order requiring relevance in debate. I hope that some honorable member will follow me who will inform us what " substantially represents " really means. We have yet had no clue to the purpose of the Government in asking us to recommit this particular clause. We have been told that what the Government propose to substitute for it is practically of the same effect. Mr. Wilks. - If so, I am opposed to it.

Mr KELLY - On the other hand, we are told that what the Government propose is something quite different, and that the effect of it would be to initiate minority rule in industrial legislation. I should like to know which contention is right.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member and others will not allow the matter to be discussed.

Mr KELLY - We are discussing it now. Honorable members opposite would have allowed the recommittal of the clause to go by default.

Mr Higgins - In supporting the amendment, honorable members are trying to prevent any change being made in the phraseology of the provision.

Mr KELLY - We are trying to compel the Government to show cause for the recommittal of 'the clause. I do not think that they should be allowed to recommit it, if they propose to substitute for it vague expressions which might mean anything. What does the phrase " substantially represents " mean ?

Mr Wilks - The Government say that their proposal is " substantially " the same as that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella.

Mr KELLY - Yes. Therefore, we wish to know why they are so desirous of recommitting the clause. I hold that it is our duty to prevent them from wasting time by a recommittal, unless they can show good reason for asking us to reconsider the clause. There must be some motive underlying their proposal to recommit beyond the desire to substitute for the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella one that is substantially the same. Indeed, I cannot conceive that all they wish to do is to filch from him the credit of it. Until the Government tell us conclusively what they intend to propose, and put before us phraseology which is clear and distinct, we should prevent them from wasting time by the reconsideration of this clause in Committee.

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