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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr RONALD (SOUTHERN MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - They are to have the privilege of striking, and of endeavouring to stand up for their rights just as any other disorganized section of the community might do.

Mr Hutchison - And the privilege of being half-starved.

Mr RONALD - The privilege of being half-starved in the process. The condition of affairs which the Opposition seek to bring about would be confusion worse confounded. Why should we be a party to such hypocrisy ? If we are opposed to conciliation and arbitration, let us say so in a straightforward way ; let us have no hypocrisy in such matters. Let us rather have that honesty, sincerity, and earnestness, which is acknowledged to be an ornament to men in any sphere of activity. If honorable members opposite are opposed to the principle of conciliation and arbitration, let them have the decency and honesty to frankly fight against it. As a matter of fact, however, they voted for the second reading of the Bill, and by so doing committed themselves to an affirmation of the general principle. That being so, what must the world think of these honorable members who, giving with the one hand, wish to take back with the other? I was the first to use the .scriptural quotation in this debate, " If a son ask bread of any of you that is a father will he give him a stone ? Or if he ask a fish will he for a fish give him a serpent " ? I said that the workers asked for bread, and it was proposed to give them a stone ; that they asked for a fish and the Opposition would give them a serpent. That has been repeated again and again.- The workers ask for bread, and the Opposition are offering them a stone, but, instead of giving it to them, are throwing it at their heads.

Mr Henry Willis - What are the nonunionists receiving?

Mr Hutchison - All that the unionists have gained for them.

Mr RONALD - The honorable member for Hindmarsh has anticipated my reply. The non-unionists would have participated in the good results that we hoped to secure from the passing of this measure. They have toiled not, neither have they spun for these things. They hope to reap where they have not sown, and to gather where they have not strawed. It is permissible that they should share with others the fruits of what has been the work of centuries ; but it is not reasonable that they alone should reap and enjoy those fruits. It is right that at this stage, in speaking of trades unions, . we should consider what they have done. Those . who know anything of sociology, and especially those who have a knowledge of the causes responsible for that amelioration of the lot of man which has taken place during the last century, must admire the splendid work that has been done by trades unions. When one recalls the position of the workers in the earlier years of the nineteenth century, and remembers that the average working day was then one of fourteen hours, while to-day it is only one of nine or ten hours - when one remembers that something like 90 per cent, of the workers were toiling seven days in the week, and had no time to attend to the sacred duties of domestic life, no time to devote to culture, education, or recreation - what must he say of trades unionism? The workers of those days were as much galley slaves as if they had been chained to their oars or their work. I have lived in the great shipbuilding centres of the old world, and have witnessed the effect of piece-work and other abominations in cities where there was no limitation of working hours. I worked among these men on Saturday afternoons, and know that when Sunday came round they were prostrated by their labours, and unfit for anything but the mere animal repose that their systems demanded.

Mr Conroy - Clause 48.

Mr RONALD - This state of affairs has ceased because of unionism. The connexion between it and clause 48 is that those who wish to prevent the reconsideration of that clause are seeking to shut out unions from the benefits of the Bill,- and would deny that they have been one of the biggest factors for the amelioration of the lot of man that the world has ever known. Greater than our churches, our Parliaments, our press, or any other institution, has been the combination on the part of men to lighten the load of life, to brighten its conditions, and to make it worth living. Under the conditions which the Opposition would impose life would not be worth living.

Mr Henry Willis - Unionists now wish to spoil their career, by seeking to stand on velvet.

Mr Page - The honorable member for Robertson would spoil their career by feeding them on stones.

Mr RONALD - That is so. A great naturalist has said that the very essence of existence is the struggle and the fight. That is true. If we could bring about such a state of affairs that there would be nothing for which to fight, the world would be a poor, monotonous place. The struggle and the fight are the very essence of life. But there are higher aspirations than even the betterment of the working classes for which we may fight, and we should endeavour to rise higher and higher ; " Excelsior ! " being our motto. If the Opposition have their way, however, unionists will be shut out from the benefits of this Bill. The cry on which we shall go to the country, and which will cause us to come back with an increase in our numbers, is that, if the Opposition have their way, those who have wrought, fought, and struggled for such a condition of affairs that there will be no strife, no war, and no animosity, are not to participate in the realization of the great industrial ideal which has been kept before them for at least a century. We can be no party to anything of that kind. I sincerely trust that honorable members of the Opposition will throw aside their rags of hypocrisy, and say straightforwardly that they do not like this measure, that they do not believe in Conciliation and Arbitration, and that they will adopt the direct and open course of voting against the principle rather than the subtle devious methods to which they are now resorting - giving with .one hand and taking back with the other.

Mr Henry Willis - T'"e are seeking to amend the Bill.

Mr Poynton - On the contrary, the Opposition refuse to permit it to be amended.

Mr RONALD - We are told that the Opposition wish to preserve the amendment which has been made. We have to remember; however, that a Bill is only a means to an end. The Bill is not in itself the end. It may be possible to improve the measure, but will it be the better for the amendment which has been carried on the motion of the honorable and learned member for Corinella ? Will it be followed by better fruits? Will it, in fact, be of any service whatever ?

Mr Henry Willis - It will give bread instead of a stone to the non-unionists.

Mr RONALD - The honorable member will surely allow that the working-men know what is bread, and what is a stone. Surely he would not dictate to them the difference between the two. What might be a stone from the honorable member's point of view, would be bread from the point of view of the workers, and vice versa. The workers are the best judges of that which is for their good.

Mr Frazer - They ought to be proud to have as their champion the honorable member for Robertson.

Mr RONALD - Quite so. The people know what is best for themselves. In all matters of life and death, we appeal to the common sense of men. The late William Ewart Gladstone, who was one of the greatest students of mankind the world has ever seen and a better judge of human nature than any other man of whom I have read, or with whom I have come in contact, laid down the rule that a true verdict on any question of fact or policy is more likely to be obtained from among the masses than from among the classes. He pointed out that as we ascend in the social scale, we generally find a greater percentage of faddists, and that that fact is recognised in our jury system. We do not choose men - specialists - from the classes to deal with a matter of life or death ; we select our juries from the masses. In such cases ordinary common-sense men are availed of, because it is from such men rather than from those among the classes that it is possible to obtain a verdict on matters involving the exercise of common sense. That great principle applies to the matter now under consideration. The workers know what they require. They desire Conciliation and Arbitration, and know that union is absolutely indispensable, not only to secure the passing of this measure, but to enable it to work satisfactorily. Those who are averse to granting preference to unionists also know very well what object they have in view in opposing the Government proposal. They know that this Bill will be rendered nugatory if the clause be passed as it stands. Preference to unionists is to be denied in order that men may despair of the purpose of union. If the object of the amendment now before the House were to secure a reasonable amendment of the Bill we should gladly entertain it. We are exceedingly anxious to conserve the rights of non-unionists, but to conserve those rights at the cost of the destruction of unionism would surely be a new method of reform. If non-unionists have rights, and we do not deny that they have, have not unionists also rights? The right of the nonunionist is to join a union. That is the one right which every man possesses. He cannot remain isolated ; no man can live to himself in this world. Unionism is in ievery matter the very essence of progress. If one desires to obtain any ideal, even if it be a conservative ideal, he has to form a union, and we are aware that even the conservative party have unions. We know what the result will be if we discourage the formation of unions. So long as we encourage unions, and encourage those unions to put their trust in the law, so long as we show men that they may organize and agitate, and reason one with another for the betterment of their conditions, so long shall we take away the motive that has bred anarchists and others who have despaired of gaining any reform by law. The day will come when Governments will thank God that men thought of entering into union, and will recognise that unions have more or less a high purpose in view. What we have to do is not to set ourselves against unions, but to endeavour to guide them. But honorable members opposite wish to destroy trades unions. They seek by stealth and subtlety to compel the working men of Australia to lose all faith in unions, to embrace anarchy, and to appeal to the exercise of brute force. They do not believe in government by ordinary progression. These are some of my objections to the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. I think that the alternative proposal of the Government is all that is needed to preserve the admitted and undoubted rights of non-unionists.

Mr Watkins - But it goes too far.

Mr RONALD - My only objection to it is that it goes too far. No one will deny that we have exhausted the resources of compromise in our endeavours to meet our friends opposite. Now, I desire them to answer this question - " Are they in favour of the application of the principle of conciliation and arbitration to industrial disputes?" As I have said again and again, the general principle, the cosmothetic ideal of arbitration, is to substitute a rational legal and sane way of settling disputes for the old time-dishonoured method of deciding them by force and strife. We desire to bring about that better time depicted by the late poet laureate, when he sang -

That God, which ever lives and loves,

One God, one law, one element,

And one far-off divine event,

To which the whole creation moves.

That divine event is represented by the peace which will exist between man and man, class and class, and nation and nation, when strikes are spoken of as amongst the things of the past, and when in the archives of an ancient people, future generations will read of industrial animosity and strife, of which the world knows naught. This Bill marks the beginning of that era. Our gospel is one of peace, progress, and rational development. Those' who believe in the old time-dishonored method of settling industrial disputes by brute force are endeavouring to nullify our efforts to give to the people a machine which shall render strikes and industrial strife for ever impossible.

Mr Henry Willis - The principle of compulsory arbitration will continue to be upon its trial in New South Wales until 1906.

Mr RONALD - I am often assured that legislation of this character is yet upon its trial. Let me remind the House that it has been tried and not found wanting. My indictment against the alternative policy, is that it has been tried in all ages, and amongst all people, and has been found utterly wanting. The alternative must lie between the old laissez faire method of allowing things to right themselves, and the new method of interference by the Government for the good of the whole community. It is true that no good can be conferred upon the community without cost. Incidental evils accompany every reform. But we ought not to be discouraged upon that account. Undoubted hardships were imposed upon fhe aged workers of Victoria in connexion with the Factories Act in which the Legislature made provision for the payment of a minimum wage. No sane man would ever dream of looking for a perfect instrument which was framed by human hands. There is nothing perfect in this world. I freely admit that there are incidental evils connected with the adoption of legislation of this character. But T hold that the general trend of such legislation is for good. That fact has been established by experience. I trust that honorable members will discard the sham and hypocrisy of pretending to give this Bill a fair trial, whilst inserting in it a provision which will destroy its whole intention and purpose. Not long ago, I read a very fascinating story, ir c! c one which was quite worthy of the imagination of a French sensationalist. It related how a courtesan in Paris had sent to heir rival a beautiful bouquet, in which a miasmatic poison was so concealed that, when the string of the bouquet was broken, the fumes escaped and killed the recipient. That is what the opponents of this measure seek to do. They pretend that they are giving to the workers of Australia a beautiful bouquet, in the shape of this Bill, knowing full well that the means of its own destruction are contained within it. The Government propose to induce nonmembers of unions - not to compel them - to join organizations where there will be a rational development of their aims and ideals. The very essence of unionism is progress, order, and good government. Honorable members are the living representatives of unionism in one phase or another. Without unionism, we should have no State. Without unionism, those engaged in industry would be merely a mob. The final intention and purpose of the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella is to destroy that in which the workman glories.

Mr Kennedy - Organization of the workers is the basic principle of the Bill.

Mr RONALD - The basic principle of the- Bill is the organization of the workers.

Mr Kennedy - But not necessarily trades unions.

Mr Mauger - Yes it is, necessarily.

Mr RONALD - That brings me to a point which otherwise I might have forgotten. No difficulty would be experienced in circumventing the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, if it were inserted in the Bill. Every Victorian representative knows that in connexion with the Trades Hall there is a political labour league and the trades unions proper. There is a distinction between the two organizations.

Mr Kennedy - A distinction without a difference.

Mr RONALD - Exactly. Honorable members opposite wish us to perpetuate that hypocrisy by compelling men to draw a technical distinction between the political labour league and the trades union. If men were organized for the purposes of this Bill only-

Mr Kennedy - The party to which the honorable member belongs refused to insert such a provision in the Bill.

Mr RONALD - We did not. We say that, however reasonable the provision may appear from some points of view, it would constitute a piece of hypocrisy. We have no desire to perpetuate shams of that sort. Nevertheless, such a distinction could be drawn without seriously inconveniencing us. We wish the world to know that we are inspired by high, noble, and patriotic motives - that we wish to benefit all mankind. Whilst men declare in their programme the rules and objects of their organizations, and the methods by which they seek to attain their ends, those who disagree with them have nothing to fear. But when we drive them into secret political combinations there is danger. We do not wish to be obliged to carry on a dual organization merely for the satisfaction of those who believe that there ought to be a technical distinction between trades unions and .organizations which are constituted solely, for the purposes of this Bill. I sincerely hope that the proposal of the Government will appeal to the rational and moderate members of this House, to those who are prepared to confirm their consistency, who after professing to be favorable to the principle of compulsory arbitration, and wishing the ship bon voyage, are not prepared to send her away with a dangerous explosive concealed on board for the purpose of wrecking her. Away with such contemptible, sinister methods in politics. Let the opponents of this Bill declare themselves. They had an opportunity of voting against it upon the motion for the second reading of the measure. Immediately after its general principle has been affirmed, honorable members opposite seek by a hypocritical arid sinister amendment to destroy the benefits which would accrue from its operation. I trust that we, shall never again descend to such base tactics in politics. I hope that in the future we shall be called upon to face men who are prepared to nail their colours to the mast - that we shall know them by their second-reading speeches. I trust that if they are opposed to the principle which is contained in any measure, they will honestly declare themselves, but that they will not, by indirect methods, seek to insert within its four corners a provision which is calculated to destroy its efficacy, and to render it of less value than the paper upon which it is printed. The fate of the Ministry hangs upon the decision of the House in this matter. I takeit that in discussing the act of any man or body of men we are at liberty to take motives into consideration. I cannot see how otherwise we can logically discuss any action. I am perfectly satisfied that the action of honorable members opposite is directed not against the Ministry particularly, but rather against the Bill itself. If conciliation and arbitration legislation is inevitable, honorable members opposite are determined to delay it as long as possible ; and such a motive for their present action is base and contemptible, lacking, as it does, honesty and" courage. I can admire that heroic toryism which declares boldly against all innovation ; but I find no response in my heart for a toryism which seeks to retard legislation of this kind by hypocritical professions of friendship. I have no sympathy with those whose only object is to render this Bill absolutely useless. Their sole idea is to ridicule legislative methods of dealing with industrial strife. They profess to make concessions, but take precious good care to load the measure with amendments which can lead to only circumlocution and legal technicalities. The amendment shows the mark of the cloven foot.

Mr Henry Willis - Does the honorable member refer to the Government proposal ?

Mr RONALD - I am not condemning the Government proposal.

Mr Henry Willis - I thought all the honorable member's remarks applied to the Government proposal, and I regarded them as very apt.

Mr RONALD - I cannot supply the honorable member with ordinary intelligence if nature has failed to do so. For the last twenty minutes- 1 have been speaking in condemnation of -the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and yet the honorable member for Robertson does not seem to be aware of the fact. If the cumbersome amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella has any final purpose in the mover's mind, it is to make work for lawyers; but I hope that simplicity and directness will always characterize our measures. Sir George Grey once said that an Act of Parliament should be so drafted that he who Tuns might read; our whole aim should be simplicity and perspicuity. We ought to say on the face of a Bill what we mean, .and nothing but what we do mean ; there should be no provision which an ordinary artisan juryman is not as well able as the most skilled and learned lawyer, to construe and apply. This amendment, which emanates from the legal profession, is evidently intended to give work to the lawyers by causing endless disputes and delays. If that should be the result of this legislation, workmen will despair of the law, and fall back on the old direct method of strikes. If we wish to make the measure useless - if we wish to disgust workingmen with legislative remedies for their grievances - there is no better way than by raising intricate, complex questions, such as are foreshadowed by the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. The Government, in their proposal, have hit upon the proper phrase when they provide that an organization shall " substantially represent the industry affected in point of number and competency of its members." I am perfectly well aware that lawyers will argue and make trouble - and exact fees - no matter how clear and plain a law may be. I can quite see that even the proposal of ,the Government may lead to days of expensive argument as to the meaning of "substantially represent." That, however, is part of the price we must pay for the evil of having lawyers, rather than the result of endeavouring to say exactly what we mean. The proposal of the Government satisfies all that is openly demanded by honorable members opposite, and, in every respect, is infinitely superior to that of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. At the same time, whether intentionally or not, the clause drafted by the Government places certain obligations oh trades unions, by the use of the words " competency of its members." My great belief in trades unions in the past has been based on an idea that there should be some such obligation - that a trades union, properly organized and properly worked, ought to take care that those who become members have properly served their apprenticeship and learnt their trade. This is a highly important matter to which great prominence ought to be given. An onus is thrown upon trades unions of seeing that all the members are first-class tradesmen- competency as well as numerical strength ought to enter into consideration. The Government proposal is an amendment in the literal sense of the word, while the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Corinella does not amend, but seeks to end - to make null and void the whole measure. Under the circumstances one would have been glad to see a little political heroism. We should have liked to see honorable members opposite come boldly to the front and declare themselves against conciliation and arbitration root and branch.

Give me th' avowed, th' erect, the manly foe,

Bold I can meet, perhaps may turn his blow ;

But, of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send,

Save, save, oh, save me from the candid friend !

Those who are now relaying the candid friend seek to insert an amendment which will sap the very vitals of the measure; and my voice shall always be raised in protest against the hypocrisy of those who in public life have not the courage oi" their convictions. But the tide of public opinion is against honorable members opposite, while it is flowing with those who advocate this legislation. When the day comes, there will be heard a rising murmur like that of distant wind, gathering in volume and strength; and the oftener the people are appealed to. the greater, and the more sure and certain will be the sound, until it bursts upon us with a roar like that of the ocean on the beach. The people desire a rational method of settling industrial disputes ; they are tired of the animosity and strife of social war. The people believe that the reign of peace is at hand ; that this measure is an augury of a better age, when we shall regard industrial strife as a quaint relic of barbarism and fossilized toryism. I trust that the well-worded proposal of the Government will receive the unbiased consideration of this House. I confidently leave the decision in the hands of all fair and unprejudiced members, whatever opinions they may entertain in regard to the- existing Government. In taking my present attitude, I have no personal end to serve. I neither have, nor expect, pension, post, or pay, from one party or the other. My only desire is to pass a Bill that will redound to the credit of the Commonwealth Parliament. I hope that in ages yet to come, measures such as these will be a worthy monument of our patriotism, and that, on their being read by our descendants, it will be admitted that . we did what we' could to avoid unnatural and disastrous struggles between the classes and the masses. I trust that it may then be said that we brought into existence a moral political force which tended to the settlement of disputes for all time, so that Australia may justify its appellation of Australia Felix, the land where there is no industrial war and, God grant, no national war.

Mr Henry Willis - Is the honorable member opposed to war?

Mr RONALD - The honorable member ought to know my feelings on that subject. I am a servant of the Prince of Peace, and wear His garb ; and, therefore, I am against all strife and war. I ask honorable members to bring their best powers to bear upon the. consideration of. the relative merits of the two proposals. I leave the question to be settled by men. who are not tied body and soul to party - I leave it to those men to decide which proposal will commend itself to posterity as being in harmony with the tenor of the Bill. My only object is to have a measure which, characterized bypolitical consistency and moral intent, will promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number of the citizens of the Commonweal th .

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