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Wednesday, 10 August 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - No fairer issue could be placed before honorable members, and there is no reason why a full discussion should not take place at this stage. If the majority of honorable members are in favour of the Government proposal, they can show their preference by voting for the motion for the recommittal of the Bill.

Mr Thomas - It would be better to go to the country and have it out at once.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I agree with the honorable member. The threat of a dissolution frightens 'me no more than it does my honorable friend. A full discussion at this stage, instead of in Committee, will probably result in a saving of time. We have been here for upwards of five months, and during nearly the whole of that time we have been occupied with this Bill. Therefore, it cannot be said that the measure has not received sufficient consideration, or that any attempt has been made to restrict discussion. If we went into Committee the debate would become very much more irregular than would be possible if it were conducted in the House. Surely there is no honorable member whc desires to speak three times upon the subject, or who wishes to listen to others speaking three times upon it ! It is idle to affirm that we should deal with the proposal of the Government in Committee on the ground that we may wish to amend it. The issue before us is, whether we shall deliberately reverse the vote which was previously arrived at in Committee by substituting the Government proposal for the amendment which was then carried at the instance of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. No clearer cut issue could be placed before the House. Ministers have declared that there is another object behind our action - that we wish to defeat the Government.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member does not believe that, does he?

Mr McWILLIAMS - If a straight-out division had been taken upon this matter I think that the majority of honorable members know how my vote would have been cast. If Ministers had not made it a test question I should still have voted precisely as I intend to do. I am sure that it is not for the Minister of Trade and Customs to say that we should alter our decision because the Government have chosen to make the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella vital to their existence, seeing that it was upon his initiative that the Deakin Government were defeated, under precisely similar conditions. Upon the question of procedure, therefore, no stable complaint can be made that we are taking up a position which is either unfair or untenable. If this is to be regarded as a vital question by the Ministry - if they stake their existence upon the proposal which they have framed-

Mr Watson - I should think that we ought to stake our existence upon a matter which involves taking the business of the House out of our hands.

Mr McWILLIAMS - In reality the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella is responsible for the fate of the Government being in the balance. When that amendment was carried it was generally understood that Ministers could not accept it in its present form. Nobody can blame them for that determination. I think that they have adopted a very proper and straightforward course. Nevertheless, they have no right to ask any honorable member who supported that amendment to reverse his vote for no other reason than that they have chosen to stake their Ministerial existence upon it.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member has overlooked the fact that on the previous occasion there was no time to discuss the matter.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I remarked just now, in the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs, that, with the consent of the Government, a division was taken upon that amendment because every honorable member was heartily sick of the subject which we had been so long debating. The real question which is involved is whether a preference should be granted to unionists unless it can be shown that they represent a majority of those interested in the particular trade affected by any award of the Court. In this matter I claim that honorable members upon this side of the House represent majority rule to a greater extent than do those who support the watered amendment that has been drafted by the Government. Even if that proposal had been contained in the Bill as it was originally introduced, it should not have been accepted. There are few words in the English language which have a more indefinite meaning than the word " substantial." During the course of this debate we have heard various constructions placed upon it by honorable members. What does it mean in the way in which it is proposed to apply it ?

Mr Page - What does the honorable member think that it means ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I believe that it is a ladder which has been placed against a tree for the purpose of allowing Ministers to gracefully climb down.

Mr Page - Fancy that.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am prepared to admit that Ministers believe that a very material difference exists between their proposal and the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. If the two proposals were placed side by side the difference between them would be found to consist in the substitution of the word " majority " for the words " substantially represents." Is the House prepared to grant la preference to unionists where the latter do not constitute a majority of those interested in the particular trade affected by the award' of the Court ? I gathered from the Prime Minister's speech, and from an interjection which he made, that he does not desire a preference to be extended to unionists if a majority of those engaged in the industry affected are not in favour of such a preference. If that be so, what is his objection to the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella? It has been argued that it will be impossible to prove to the Court that a union represents a majority of those interested in any industry affected by an award of the Court. To my mind, the onus of proof should rest upon those who claim this preference, and not upon those against whom it is to be used. The Prime Minister declared that the word " substantial " is used in more important measures than this. Upon the present occasion there are two issues at stake, which are of far greater importance than that to which the word " substantial " is intended to be applied. Under existing conditions, to the man who has no money, no influence, and very few friends, the 'question of whether or not every door of industry shall be open to him may be one not only of importance to himself, but may even involve the necessaries of life, in the case of his wife and his children.

Mr Webster - Nobody wishes to close the door of industry against him.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Then, why do the supporters of the Government wish to compel men to join trades unions?

Mr Webster - That is what honorable members upon the Opposition side of the House proposed.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am not in favour of compelling any man to join a trades union, or to' relinquish his connexion with one. I claim that thequestionof whether or not a man should belong to any particular church or political party should be one for himself to determine, and the same consideration should apply to trades unions. I have no sympathy whatever with the new radicalism which seeks to coerce men. The honorable member for Darling assured us this afternoon that the provisions of this Bill would prevent men from leaving their employment after an award had been made, bv the Court.

Mr Spence - I said that it would prevent them from collectively leaving their employment.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I think that the honorable member is in error, because I do not believe that a majority of this House or of any British Parliament would sanction a proposal to reduce the workers to a condition of slavery. If we say to a man, " Un less you join a trades union you may or may not be able to obtain work, but if you join one you must comply with the conditions which are laid down by the Arbitration Court, even to the extent of accepting the rate of wages awarded by it, although you may be worth more," I claim that we are reducing him to a condition of absolute slavery.

Mr McDonald - In the district which is represented by the honorable member there are no unions, and the workers there receive the lowest wages paid in any part of Austrafia. I had a letter upon the subject no later than vesterday.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I can quite understand that the right honorable member may receive a number of letters from any part of Australia. When he declares that the wages paid in the district which I have the honour to represent, are the lowest received in any part of Australia, he is making a statement" which is absolutely unwarrantable, and which lacks even the slightest foundation. It is, indeed, extraordinary that certain, honorable members are never so emphatic as when they are speaking upon a matter of which they know absolutely nothing. If the honorable member for Kennedy would visit the district which I represent, he would discover that a great number of the residents there - a majority, indeed - own their little homes, which they have purchased out of their savings.

Mr Hutchison - What wages are paid in the printing trade there?

Mr Mcwilliams -I do not know.

Mr Hutchison - What do they pay in the apple trade?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have not the slightest idea of what they would pay the honorable member, but, really good men can earn really good wages. I repeat that if the new Radicalism means that men before being at liberty to work, shall join unions, and that, having joined them, they shall absolutely accept the rate fixed by an Arbitration Court; and abstain from leaving their employ, it is really nothing but absolute slavery.

Mr McDonald - Then, why does the honorable member support anything of the kind ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have done my utmost to oppose the Bill, by voting against it on every division.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear; that is an honest position to take up.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Whatever others may have done, I have never hidden my views from the House, and i claim that the attitude which I take up in regard to the question of granting a preference to unionists represents the truest democratic principle that has ever been applied - the principle of majority rule. What is the effect of the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella? It says to unionists applying for a preference, " If you can show that the majority approve of your application, your request will be complied with." I clearly put my position before the House, and should like some of those who have been interjecting, and particularly the honorable member for Kennedy, and the honorable member for Hindmarsh, to say whether they desire that a preference shall be granted to unionists, whether they represent a majority of those engaged in an industry or not.

Mr Hutchison - We shall put our views before the House in due time.

Mr McWILLIAMS - There is a very straight issue before us. Honorable members opposite may hide it as they like ; they may flog the dissolution horse as long as they please, and Ministers make stake their existence on the proposition which they put before us, but the real issue before the House is whether a preference shall be granted, independently of whether the trades union concerned is able to show that the majority of those to be affected by the award are in favour of the granting of that preference.

Mr Fisher - Does the honorable member contend that the honorable and learned member for Corinella's amendment provides a practical scheme to ascertain whether an application is supported by a majority?

Mr McWILLIAMS - Can any one seriously say that the Government proposal is a practical scheme ?

Mr Fisher -Yes.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The Government are delegating the power of this Parliament to make certain laws to a Judge of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. What would be the definition of " substantially represents " ? Three Judges of equal intelligence might place a different interpretation upon the term.

Mr Webster - The same may be said of provisions in various Acts of Parliament.

Mr McWILLIAMS - On questions of absolute law we may get Judges to agree; but the word " substantially " is one of the vaguest to be found in the English language. I gather from the Prime Minister's speech that he considers that the term " substantially represents" means that the applicants must show that they represent a majority. The honorable member for Darling, on the other hand, said that five-sixths of the cabinet-makers of Australia are Chinese, and that as they would out-vote the remaining one-sixth it would be wrong to insist upon a majority vote. He referred to the position in regard to Chinese cabinetmakers and to Iascar seamen as showing how unwise it would be to insist upon the consent of an absolute majority being obtained.

Mr Webster - For which class of cabinet-makers is the honorable gentleman fighting ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am not fighting for either cabinet-makers or Capital site breakers. I am fighting in the interests of the whole community. The honorable member for Darling instanced the case of the Chinese furniture makers, and said it would be impossible to induce them to vote for the granting of a preference.

Mr Webster - He said that we should not be able to ascertain their number.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable member for Darling is now present, and I feel satisfied that he will bear out my statement. He also pointed out that Iascar seamen would be able to out-vote their white competitors, and that it would be not only unfair, but impossible, to take their vote on the question of preference as against that of their white competitors.

Mr McDonald - Would the honorable member take it?

Mr.Mcwilliams.- No; i should not give them the right to vote. If i had my way not one of them would be in the country. We have had as many definitions of the words "substantially represents" as there have been speakers in support . of the Government amendment. The Prime Minister claims that they mean that there shall be a majority, and says that he would not allow the provision to apply to a union which had not a majority of those employed in the industry; while other speakers, who support the Government amendment, have pointed out that it would be unfair to compel an organization to endeavour to secure a majority. i, therefore, think that nothing has been adduced that would warrant the House in deliberately altering the vote at which we arrived some days ago. i think i have fairly shown that it is very much better for us to fight the straight-out issue before us - one amendment as against another - in the House itself. There can be no suggestion of the application of the gag, because it is open to every honorable member to carefully compare the two amendments, and for the House to determine the question, after we have thoroughly discussed the subject. If we go into Committee, I shall take it that honorable members are prepared to accept the Government amendment. If honorable members are prepared to support the amendment carried on the motion of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, I take it that they will vote that the Bill be not recommitted. The issue is so clear that honorable members opposite have certainly no right to complain that we propose to vote against the motion merely because we desire to put them out of office.

Mr Fisher - We say that honorable members opposite are adopting a course that must prevent the proper discussion, of our proposal.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable member will be at liberty to discuss it in the House for two or three hours, and I shall have much pleasure in listening to him. But that is not the point. We have had the Bill under consideration for something like five months, and I think that it has been sufficiently discussed. The Government have now m'ade this question a vital one. They were beaten on a fairandsquare fight.

Mr McDonald - No.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I trust that honorable members opposite will not say that there was anything unfair associated with their defeat.

Mr Fisher - Honorable members did not understand the true purport of the amendment moved by the honorable and learned 'member for Corinella.

Mr McWILLIAMS - If the Minister of Customs thought that the Committee did not understand it, I fail to see why he should have consented to a division being taken before the matter had been thoroughly discussed. I think, however, that the House now thoroughly understands that amendment, as well as the Government proposal, and that no good purpose would be served by allowing the Bill to be once more considered in Committee, where the debate would necessarily be more protracted, and where the issue would not be so clearly defined as it would in the House itself.

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