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Thursday, 11 August 1904


Mr FRAZER (Kalgoorlie) - I must preface my remarks by an expression of regret that the field of this discussion is so limited. In the past, it has been usual to extend to Governments, whose right to remain upon the Treasury benches has been challenged, the privilege of defending their policy, upon a motion which enabled the whole of that policy to be debated. I cannot compliment the Opposition upon ihe way -in which they have endeavoured to " gag " honorable members-


Mr Reid - I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether a reference to the " gagging " of honorable members is relevant to a question of this sort?


Mr SPEAKER - The statement is strictly relevant, but if the right honorable member objects to it, I must ask the honorable member to withdraw it.


Mr Reid - I do object to it most earnestly.


Mr SPEAKER - Then I must ask the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to withdraw it.


Mr FRAZER - Certainly. The light honorable member .for East Sydney does not relish heavy criticism. No doubt he finds himself in such an awkward position that he realizes it would be inadvisable to allow honorable members too wide a field for discussion, lest they should be in a position to fire too many effective shots. At this stage I think I am justified in referring to the circumstances which led up to the present Government's assumption of office. It will be recollected that when this Parliament assembled, it was found that a majority of its members were in favour of extending the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill to the public servants of the States and of the Commonwealth. The Government of the day refused to give effect to the wishes of that majority.


Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honormember to confine his remarks to a discussion of clause 48.


Mr FRAZER - I was just about to connect the vote upon the proposal to bring public servants within the scope of this Bill with the position in which the Government find themselves to-day.


Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member does that, he will be in order.


Mr FRAZER - With the assistance of a number of wreckers, the present Labour Ministry came into power.

An Honorable Member. - What are " wreckers ?"


Mr FRAZER - In that term I include those honorable members who are prepared to embrace any opportunity which presents itself to get rid of a Ministry to which they are opposed. The present Government came into office upon the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, they announced that they intended to proceed with that measure, and that, if necessary, they would relinquish office upon it. Thereupon, assurances were given by the right' honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that fair play would be accorded to them.


Mr Reid - I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether this question as it affects the fate of the Ministry, is open to discussion at the present time?


Mr SPEAKER - Certainly it is not. I called the attention of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to the fact just now, and he promised to connect his remarks with the question before the Chair.


Mr FRAZER - I trust that I shall not unduly wander from the matter which is under consideration. I desire to show that the treatment which the Government are receiving is the reverse of creditable to honorable members opposite. The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, in the form in which it was introduced by the Deakin Government, provided that, other things being equal, a preference should be accorded to unionists. "Upon its advent to power, the present Ministry accepted that provision as a reasonable one. But what has occurred since? The members of the late Government have absolutely deserted their own Bill.


Mr Ronald - Some of them.


Mr FRAZER - With the exception of the honorable member for Hume, they have absolutely forsaken their own measure.


Mr Kennedy - The honorable member for Hume deserted some of its principles.


Mr FRAZER - The honorable member for Hume has always been prepared to adhere to the provisions contained in the Bill as it was introduced by the Deakin Government. There has been a remarkable change of front on the part of members of the late Administration. When we find them playing fast and loose with the electors, I hold, that it is our duty to show the public of Australia the attitude which is adopted by them. In my judgment, unionistsare certainly deserving of some consideration at the hands of the Government in a measure of this description. We must recollect that if it had not been for their strenuous and selfsacrificing efforts, compulsory arbitration would have been impossible in Australia to-day. It is very easy for honorable members to declare their belief in that principle upon the hustings, because they know that the majority of their constituents uphold it. It is very significant, however, that in Parliament these very individuals are prepared to vote for proposals which render industrial peace absolutely impossible. So far no objection has been raised to unionists as such. Even the right honorable member for East Sydney has admitted that the trades unions comprise the very cream of the working men, and that, if he were a working man himself, he would be a unionist. Honorable members opposite admit that these organizations have rendered invaluable service to their fellows, and yet what do they offer them in return? Absolutely nothing. They say in effect, " By refusing the Court the power to grant you a preference award, we shall make you the victims of unscrupulous employers." When the Bill was under consideration, ona previous occasion, the honorable member for Maranoa produced a black list, bearing the names of most of the pastoralists in thewestern districts of New South Wales and Queensland. On its title page was the following statement : -

Register of Shearers who Shore for the Members during the year 1895.

This register has been compiled at the office of this association for the information of members only, and in accordance with* counsel's opinion taken as to its legality.

This register must be kept strictly private and confidential.

N.   J. Westergaard Neilsen,

Secretary.

The object of this register may be briefly explained. If any man who shore in those districts was prepared to stand out for reasonable conditions, or dared at any time to dispute the will of the boss of the board, he was described in this register as " a good shearer, but strong unionist." In other words, such men were black-listed. On leaving a shed, a unionist shearer might receive a reference setting forth that he was an excellent shearer, and could " do a good tally," but in the private list, circulated among the different station managers the statement would appear opposite his name that he was a strong unionist, and therefore an undesirable character. It is necessary that we should provide for preference to unionists, in order to guard against such tactics. In Western Australia, certain men who brought a dispute before the Arbitration Court, and obtained a settlement by peaceful means, found, on returning to places at which they had been employed for a number of years, that it had suddenly been discovered that they were not competent, or that some other reason was forthcoming for the refusal to further employ them. They were dealt with in this way, merely because they had taken part in the effort to secure an award of the Court granting reasonable conditions to those engaged in the industry. These cases illustrate the object which we have in view in urging that the Court should have power to grant preference to unionists. Without a preference clause the Bill would be useless. If we thought that unionists would even be placed on" an -equal footing with non-unionists we should not be found fighting so strongly, for preference, but it is because we know that without a reasonable provision for preference unionists have been and will be victimised that we deem it necessary to fight so strongly against the clause as it stands. It has been asserted during the course of this debate that the policy of the unions is to starve the non-unionist. I deny that that is so. Every precaution has been taken to safeguard the interests of workers, whether they be unionists or nonunionists. The Bill already provides that a man shall not be refused the right to join a union. That provision was insisted upon, and was rightly inserted. In providing for preference to unionists, we shall assist in the building up and maintenance of those organizations which are absolutely necessary in order that the Bill may be a workable one. It is admitted on all sides of the House that without organizations it is not likely that any satisfactory means of submitting disputes to the Court will be obtained. We hope that by granting prefer- ence to unionists, and holding out an inducement to men to join organizations, and to take an. interest in this measure, we shall conserve the industrial peace of Australia. The cry which is so glibly uttered that unionists desire to deprive non-unionists of the means of obtaining a livelihood has no foundation in fact. The honorable member for Lang has referred to a poor unfortunate fellow, who alleges that he was compelled by stress of circumstances to leave the ranks of unionists, and that unionists subsequently refused to allow him to work on the wharfs, although his wife and children were starving. That is a cowardly charge to make in this House, unless the name of the man be given. If his name were disclosed it would be possible for us to trace the story to its source, and to ascertain whether it was accurate or not. I have heard many complaints made by disappointed persons against unions and unionists, but on investigating them have invariably found that they could not be substantiated. The case to which the honorable member has referred may possibly come within the same category. The clause as it 'stands would make it absolutely impossible for the Court to grant preference to unionists. The experience which I have had in gauging the number of persons engaged in a particular industry convinces me that it would be impossible for an organization to obtain evidence showing that the majority of those affected by the award desired that preference be granted. It has already been explained by several honorable members who are associated with the great bush unions that the number of persons engaged in the shearing industry varies very considerably from time to time. In addition to that, we know that when men. are scattered all over the country it is impossible to ascertain their opinions on any given question-. A union might be able to ascertain the opinion of the workers when they were congregated in large centres, but it would be almost impossible to ascertain the opinion of every man connected with an industry carried on in scattered, districts. Under the clause as it stands, it would be absolutely impossible for an organization to ascertain the views of a majority of those likely to be affected by . any award. I have no hesitation in saying that the Government proposal is not all that I should like it to be.


Mr Wilks - The Prime Minister has said that' it is substantially the same as the honorable and learned member for Corinella's amendment.







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