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Wednesday, 10 August 1904

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I have listened very attentively to the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley, who has made what is practically an electioneering speech. It seems to me that the workers to whom he is appealing as the only man who desires to secure, a measure that will really give the benefits which we are seeking to confer upon them, may well cry, " Save us from our friends." The honorable member maintains that, because this Bill does not provide for absolute preference to unionists quite irrespective of other considerations, it should be rejected. But, having regard to the foundation upon which this legislation is built, he is asking for something that is really impracticable. He knows that in order that the clause in question may be effective, unionism must be organized. Unless we draw some line between unionists and non-unionists we cannot achieve the end which we have in view in passing a Bill of this character. The honorable member for Dalley says that without the clause as it stood before it was amended on the motion of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, the Bill will be a failure, because it will "practically offer a stone to those who are crying for bread. He said that if the Government had stood by the original clause he would have been with them, because he believes that without preference no encouragement can be given to men to become unionists. But no one knows better than he does that the Government did stand by that clause, and that the Committee would not allow it to remain as originally drafted. No Government can get its legislation through exactly as it introduces it. The Government in New South Wales which the honorable member supported for many years had to submit to the amendment of its legislation, and he did not fall out with it when a certain Bill was thrown under the table. Now, however, he takes the stand that the attempt of the Government to improve the impracticable' provision inserted by the hon orable and learned member for Corinella is merely substituting for it a provision which is substantially the same. It would be ridiculous to require preference to be given without regard to the circumstances of every case. The Court will hear the evidence of witnesses, and will adjudicate according to the testimony put before it. What the Government propose is that preference shall be given where it is clear that a substantial majority is represented by the applicants for it. But can the honorable member for Dalley tell us how the provision of the honorable and learned member for Corinella could be worked? He added to the clause the following provision -

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 who are affected by the award who have interests in common with the applicant.

None of those who are opposing the proposal to recommit the clause have shown how that absolute majority can be made known. Five hundred men enrolled in a union might apply to the Court for an award, but in addition to them there might be 1,000 others engaged in the same industry scattered all over -the two States to which the dispute had extended, or, perhaps, all over the Commonwealth. As they would not be organized, their names would not be on any roll, and there would be no source from which any information could be obtained respecting them. Honorable members opposite are trying to impose upon the intelligence of the House when they support an amendment which requires the existence of such a majority to be ascertained before the granting of a preference by the Court. The proposal is palpably absurd. But where are those who, when the matter was before the Committee, made such talented addresses on the subject, and so ably championed the cause of the non-unionists? Why are they absent from the Chamber now ? The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella is absolutely impracticable, and the Government wish to substitute for it a reasonable and practical alternative. Without organization the measure cannot be put into operation. Only organizations of roo men or more could bring a case before the Arbitration Court. Those who support the provision which requires that before granting a preference the Court shall ascertain that a majority of the persons employed in the industry concerned are in favour of it are the absolute enemies of compulsory industrial arbitration. There, are two ways of killing a Bill - by absolutely voting against it, and by rendering it impracticable and ineffective by subtly-worded amendments. Honorable members opposite are adopting the latter course. But never before in the history of the Commonwealth has the step been taken which is being taken by the Opposition to-night. Honorable members opposite will not fight on the direct issue. They cannot defeat the Government by a general criticism of their actions, so they stand behind a hedge and fire their little gun. Instead of moving a direct vote of censure, they refuse to allow the Government to recommit the Bill to make the clause effective and acceptable to the people. Where are the friends of arbitration now ? I know by the beaming face of the honorable member for Macquarie that he thinks that things are looking well for his party. Whenever the lion is away, we find his substitute here.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must confine himself to the question before the Chair.

Mr WEBSTER - I repeat what I may have to repeat a hundred times more within the. next three months, that those who are trying to bring about the defeat of the Government indirectly by voting against the recommittal of the clause, are stabbing in the back legislation which they have professed to support. Can either of the leaders of the Opposition show that they are acting in good faith on this occasion?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member tried to prevent the leader of the Opposition from making an explanation on one occasion.

Mr WEBSTER - With regard to that incident, I can say-

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will not be in order in referring to an irrelevant matter.

Mr WEBSTER - The proposal which the Government wish to substitute for the amendment carried by the honorable and learned member for Corinella reads as follows : -

The Court, before directing that preference shall be given to the members of an organization, shall be satisfied that the organization substantially represents the industry affected in point of the numbers and competence of its members.

The amendment would be a perfectly workable one. The condition which it is sought to impose is suggested by the experience gained in New South Wales, and the honorable member . for Dalley is practically refusing to extend to the workers, under the Federal

Bill, the advantages which they enjoy andrecognise as such under the State law. It is all very well for honorable members to shelter themselves behind the fact that the Bill does not entirely meet with their approval, and, on that ground, to refuse to give to their constituents the relief which they seek. I am perfectly sure that the unionists in the electorate represented by the honorable member for Dalley will not regard his conduct in a favorable light. He is prepared to throw on one side a measure which they would be glad to have even in an imperfect form. It was pointed out when the Bill was previously under discussion, that, if preference were not given to unionists, no incentive would be offered to workmen to join the. unions. If the non-unionists are to share in the benefits which have been obtained through the exertions of the unionists in the past, without being called upon to pay anything for them, the unions will gradually dwindle away for want of support. The honorable member for North Sydney proposed that the present unions should be done away with, and that organizations should be formed which would embrace all workers. In other words, the aim of that member and those associated with him is to entirely destroy the present unions, and at the same time to break down the Bill. If they had their way they would give the members of the unions the benefit of the provisions of the Bill only at the sacrifice of their political rights. The attitude assumed by honorable members opposite in connexion with this matter is most cowardly. The tactics adopted do not reflect credit upon those who have engaged in them, and I am sure that in the end they will operate to their disadvantage. I believe that some honorable members opposite have a high appreciation of justice and honour, and that they would prefer to see a straight-out fight rather than an insidious attempt such as is now being made to eject the Ministry from office. Those who are opposing the recommittal of the Bill are practically depriving the Government of the power to defend themselves. I regard the absence of the leaders of the Opposition as verv significant. If I were on the opposite side of the House I should scorn to sit behind leaders who had not the courage to come forward and openly attack the Ministry. What is to be thought of those gallant fighters for liberty who are not bold enough to face the situation openly, and declare their real object. They are practically attacking the Government from behind a hedge. They are sheltering themselves behind the proviso inserted at the instance of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and are content in this way to bring about results which they are not prepared to secure by more legitimate means. The right honorable member for Swan has always been prepared to engage in a straight-out fight, and surely he cannot approve of the questionable methods now being adopted. He would cover himself with glory if he were to put to shame the leaders of the Opposition, who are taking up so unworthy a position. The honorable member for Dalley and other honorable members, who are opposing the proposal of the Government, will find it very difficult to justify their actions to their constituents. I say, without hesitation, that the workers of Australia, who are particularly interested in this Bill, would be pleased in six months' time to have the Bill even with the condition suggested by the Government. Honorable members seem to think that the Government have no supporters in the Senate. They appear to forget that the Ministry are represented very strongly elsewhere, and that the representatives of the people in the other Chamber have a right to express their opinions, and to put their stamp upon this measure. Are not honorable members opposite rather afraid to afford honorable members of the Senate that opportunity, and is not their present action due to that fear? If so. they are adopting a cowardly attitude, and also an unpatriotic one. Those who are taking the leading part in the present attack upon the Government are pursuing a most unusual course, a course unparalleled in our political history.

An Honorable Member. - It is sandbagging.

Mr WEBSTER -Undoubtedly it is sandbagging. They are attempting to sandbag the Government from behind a hedge. When I look into this matter closely, I cannot repress a feeling bordering upon contempt for the methods which are being adopted by honorable members opposite. This is the most cowardly attack that I have ever witnessed during my political experience.

Mr Kennedy - Take it quietly.

Mr WEBSTER - Does not the honorable member know that I am here to lepresent the people, that they expect me to do my duty towards them, that I am anxious to discharge that duty, and that it is impossible for a man who is earnest in his work to witness without protest what is being perpetrated by honorable members opposite ?

Mr Kennedy - Apparently they have the numbers. That is why thev do not " yabber."

Mr WEBSTER - Judging by the laugh of the honorable member for Macquarie, 1 fancy that the numbers are up or that there is a likelihood of them going up.

Mr Batchelor - The numbers will be upon our side before it is all over.

Mr WEBSTER - Why do not honorable members opposite allow this Bill to get into Committee? Why do you object to the adoption of the ordinary Parliamentary procedure? Why do you take such a cowardly course upon the present occasion ?

Mr SPEAKER - I can assure the honorable member that I am taking no such course. The honorable member must address the Chair.

Mr WEBSTER - I did not say that you, sir, were adopting a cowardly course of action. I am satisfied that you would not do so. If I had to deal with gentlemen of your status I should have no reason to complain.

Mr SPEAKER - It is disorderly to address the House in the second person, and again and again the honorable member has said " you !" If he will address the House in the third person, or address the Chair he will be in order.

Mr WEBSTER - I shall endeavour to do so. The present, however, is an exceptional occasion, and if I do not comply with the rules of parliamentary procedure it is a fault of the head and not of the heart. I again ask honorable members opposite why they will not allow this Bill to go into Committee? The answer is that they are afraid of doing so lest the workers should obtain an Arbitration Act to remedy their wrongs. The members of the J ate Government, who supported this Bill, professed to favour the principle of compulsory arbitration, but only one interpretation can be placed upon their action tonight. They are evidently determined to prevent the workers of Australia from securing a measure of this kind. Where is the right honorable member for Swan, the father of this character of legislation in Western Australia?

Sir John Forrest - The Western Australian Act did not contain a clause granting a preference to unionists.

Mr WEBSTER - It would have worked more effectively had it contained such a provision. I am satisfied that if the supporters of the Government occupied the Opposition benches they would refuse to take refuge behind a hedge. They would fight fairly. Is it not a fact that todaycertain industrial unions are anxiouslyawaiting the passing of this measure? If it does not become law within the next twelve months, is it not probable that we shall experience a repetition of a terrible industrial struggle? The honorable member for Dalley has referred to this Bill as a " mangled" Bill. I maintain that it is nothing of the kind. It is a measure which we desire to make as workable as possible, without any sacrifice of principle. Honorable members opposite have not the courage to submit a direct no-confidence motion. They seek to attain their end by means which are neither honorable nor just. The honorable member for Wentworth has had a good deal to say upon the question of majority rule, but I would point out that the proposal to grant a preference to unionists does not involve considerations of majority rule. The individual who glibly declares that the non-unionist has an equal right to be considered with the unionist understands little about unionism. The honorable member for Dalley has announced that he will oppose the Government because of their action in allowing trades unions to be divested of their political rights. It appears to me that because he cannot obtain a Bill which he deems to be perfect - a result which is practically impossible - he is prepared to oppose this measure. He affirms that we have refused to extend a preference to unionists.' We have done nothing of the kind. The fact is that honorable members opposite seek to prevent us from granting to unionists that preference which the experience of the New South Wales Act has proved to be desirable. Those who are opposing this motion are really seeking to defeat the Bill as a whole. Honorable members of the Opposition are seeking, as the Prime Minister has said, to tear the very heart out of the Bill. If we accepted what they wish us to agree to, we should have but a mere skeleton of a Bill. In the absence of such a provision as the Government de sire to insert, this measure would be of no practical value in solving the difficulties which it is designed to remove. If we strike out a vital principle underlying the Bill, it can be of no use to those whom we are anxious to benefit. I am proud to think that the leader of the Labour Party - the Prime Minister of Australia - has sufficient backbone to say that- he will not accept that which would be a mere delusion. I am glad to think that he has the courage to stand up boldly for that which he believes to be right, and that those who support him are prepared to throw upon the opponents of this motion the responsibility ibr the loss of the Bill. I realize that the Prime Minister and those associated with him will be in a position to go before the workers for whose benefit this measure is designed, and to point out that those who voted against this motion voted really to defeat the Bill. We shall be able to appeal to the electors in New South Wales, Western Australia, and Victoria who have just been appealed to by members of the' States Parliaments, as well as to those to whom an appeal is now being made in Queensland. The people of Victoria have shown that they have confidence in a party which is prepared to take up a certain stand, and why should we be afraid to face the electors, after the experiences of the last twelve months, as long as we fight for that which must be of advantage to the people, and give security to the industrial workers of the Commonwealth? I emphatically assert that the hostility to this motion is not creditable to those who pose as leading members of the Opposition. They are certainly not taking a courageous course, or one that would have commended itself to any Premier or leader of the Opposition who figures in the history of Australian Parliaments. It is now proposed in the Parliament of Australia to create the precedent of taking advantage of the procedure of the House to achieve an object which can be honorably secured only by the manly course of proposing a direct motion of want of confidence. It seems to be a case of " win, tie, or wrangle " with the Opposition. They are determined to win by unfair means if they cannot succeed by fair, methods ; but, come what may, we should prefer to leave the Treasury benches rather than resort to such tactics. We shall meet those who have been guilty of these tactics by-and-by, and I have no doubt that when we consult those' who sent them here, they will find themselves in a far worse position than that which they occupy to-day.

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