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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) - I have not a word to say against honorable members who have openly declared themselves as opposed to compulsory arbitration, but I am bound to say that some honorable members, who have from time to time in this Chamber told us that they favoured trade unionism and compulsory arbitration, are now taking a course which is not honorable to themselves as politicians, and which is not fair to trades unionism in Australia.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - They are coming out in their true colours now.

Mr WATKINS - As the honorable member says, certain honorable members are coming out now in their true colours, and they will find that they have failed to convince the workmen of Australia that they any longer believe in the principle of compulsory arbitration.

Mr Watson - It is just as well to have them placed.

Mr WATKINS - About two years ago declared protectionists in this Chamber claimed that a preference, in many cases of forty per. cent., should be given to Australian industries. They believed in preference for the Australian producer as against the foreign producer. They then contended that that preference should be given without any qualification whatever. It did not occur to them to ask that those who did not believe in their protectionist policy should be consulted before that preference was given. When the same honorable members are now asked to accord a preference to those whose duty it is to toil in the industries which they have protected, we find that they are prepared to cross the bridge and to follow the arch enemy of their whole political faith in an endeavour to destroy the very Bill which grants the preference. What does the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella mean? It entirely destroys the Arbitration Bill as a compulsory measure. It has been admitted by every honorable member that this legislation, to be successful, must be based upon compulsion and trade unionism. Of what use can we expect this measure to be when we render it impossible for the Arbitration Court to enforce its awards? The amendment will operate over the whole of the Commonwealth, and if an award is asked for involving a preference to unionists, it will be impossible for the Court to discover the opinions of all the people throughout Australia who may be concerned in the matter until the Question raised will have been forgotten. That is not merely my opinion, but it is the opinion which has been expressed by the present leader of the Opposition, the right honorable member for East Sydney. When the preference clause was last before the Committee, and the Government accepted the first part of the amendment submitted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, the right honorable member for East Sydney said that he was glad the Government had accepted the amendment, because it was something definite.- Yet he doubted whether it would not destroy the clause as it stood. I shall do thei right honorable gentleman no injustice, because I propose to quote exactly the words he used. At page 2689 of Hansard, I find that the right honorable gentleman said :

I am thoroughly in favour of the amendment, and am glad that the Government have accepted it. But I wish to point out that it would practically have the effect of hampering the operation of the whole of the clause.

Sir William Lyne - Who said that ?

Mr WATKINS - The leader of the Opposition.

Mr Watson - Which one?

Mr WATKINS - The right honorable, member for East Sydney.

Mr Watson - I am not surprised at an v thing he says.

Mr WATKINS - The right honorable gentleman further said :

It will involve a harvest for our literary friends that I do not grudge, but the time which the Court would have to allow, in order to permit any one living at the Gulf of Carpentaria, or in the pearl fishery settlements, or other remote parts, to come in, would lead to so much delay that when it expired the whole matter would probably have been forgotten.

Yet to-day the right honorable gentleman leads a party who are prepared to prevent the Government from having a reconsideration of this amendment, which he admits will nullify the whole effect of the clause. Honorable members are prepared to refuse to the present Government the right to have the amendment reconsidered in order that it may be put into some practical shape. The right honorable member for East Sydney and his party are evidently determined to wreck the Bill. Has not the right honorable gentleman on many occasions, as Premier of New South Wales, found it necessary to recommit clauses which, in his opinion, required further consideration and remodelling; and was he ever refused an opportunity to reconsider a clause which he believed required amendment? To prevent a reconsideration of this amendment in the way proposed, is to prevent a discussion upon its merits or demerits. Apart from the honorable and learned member who moved the amendment, not one honorable member has attempted in any way to justify the position taken up in this regard. I repeat that if the preference clause, as amended, is adhered to it will render the Bill inoperative. Honorable members who have had any experience of the working of arbitration laws will know well that if a preference is not given to trades unionists, it will be possible, on the one hand, for any employer to supplant every man in his employ who has stood up for what he believes to- be his rights in connexion with a particular dispute, by engaging other labour to take his place; and, on the other hand, it will permit of equal injustice being done to an employer. Let me say, in reply to those who have stated that the trade unionists; of Australia do not represent the majority of the workers, that that is only because in many parts of the Commonwealth workmen have had no opportunity to organize. Although a great many are not absolutely within, the ranks of trade unions, the very great majority of working people believe in the essence and principle of trade unionism. I am satisfied that not 10 per cent, of the working people of Australia would openly declare themselves against trades union principles. Honorable members who, from time to time, have admitted freely that trades unionism has done much, not only for those within its ranks, but for workmen generally over the civilized globe, are now prepared to deny to trades unionists a fair meed of justice under this Bill, though the workers are prepared to give up every weapon that they have hitherto exercised to secure their due. Where it is popular to do so, they say that they believe in trades unionism, but they are nevertheless prepared by legislation to do everything they can to prevent its success in ameliorating the conditions of the workers. We know what struggling there has * been in the past for the rights of trades unionists. Men have had to secure those rights by the only weapon in their power. They have, by strikes from time to time, been successful in improving the condition of the masses ; but because of the turmoil and distress necessarily occasioned by the use of the methods which they were forced to adopt to secure their just rights they have been told time and" again that they should go to Parliament to obtain a legitimate means of ameliorating their condition through the laws of (heir country. Now, when they are following the advice given them, and are endeavouring to secure necessary reforms by legislation, they are blocked in. every direction. They are blocked here, not in connexion with a measure which provides direct reform for the benefit of the working people in Australia, but a measure which goes only so far as to set up a Court of Justice to hear their claims, and to which they can appeal for just conditions. The Court, it is admitted, will be absolutely unbiased, and it is expected to put an end to industrial struggles. With regard, again, | to the question of preference, honorable members are aware that it can only be given where organization has taken place, and men have registered their unions. How can we give preference to those who will not take the trouble to organize and combine? The object of the amendment against which I protest is simply to provide, when trades unionists, who have taxed themselves to defray the expenses connected with their organization, have secured an award, that, before any pre- ference in employment can be given to them, every man throughout Australia who has not taken the trouble to organize, in order to secure an amelioration of his conditions, is to be allowed to say whether or not only unionists shall be employed. If honorable members insist upon carrying the Bill without any modification of the amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, we may as well throw it under the table at once. The present position has,' in my opinion, been reached because the Government, in order to meet the views of the so-called friends of compulsory arbitration, have yielded too much. On three important principles in connexion with this legislation they have accepted two amendments. They have yielded to these so-called friends of compulsory arbitration only to be stabbed in the back when the moment has arrived at which it is thought that that can be done effectively. We have had honorable members saying that, they believe in trades unionism so long as trades unionism can be carried on on the voluntary basis. In my experience of trades unionism, whilst it is a voluntary matter for a man to join a trades union, once he has become a member of it his voluntary action ceases absolutely, and he yields up his individuality for the benefit of his union. There is no voluntary principle in trades unionism in the full sense of the term. Let us consider the history of voluntary arbitration in these States. It has been tried time and again, and has succeeded so long as the awards given have suited the employer, but it has failed when the award has been given in favour of the workers. Reviewing the legislative history of the subject we find that the right honorable leader of the Opposition introduced legislation providing for voluntary arbitration in New South Wales, and that after three years' experience of that legislation, such was the ineffectiveness of the Arbitration Court provided, that the State Parliament absolutely refused to vote the money necessary to carry it on. Iri view of the results of past experience, we have come now to ask the Federal Parliament to give us a measure providing for compulsory arbitration. As. men of common sense, we have come to the conclusion that this legislation can only be successful with the- enforcement of awards and preference to trades unionists. Just as no effect can be obtained from other legislation unless it applies compulsion, or gives preference, to some section or to the whole community, so it is with this legislation. To give preference to a- trades unionist without hampering him in any way is to do only that which is fair and reasonable. The present Ministry attempted to carry into law a measure which was fathered by the last Government, and I ask whether honorable members opposite would have attempted to defeat that Government by tactics such as they are now adopting. The Bill, as introduced by the late Government, did not confain the proviso which was inserted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella; but if that proviso had been inserted while the measure was under the control of that Government, would honorable members opposite have tried to prevent them from securing the recommittal of the measure in order that the clause might be reconsidered? I say that they would not. In my opinion, it would be far better for honorable members to come out into the open, and to meet the Government with a clear, vote of censure. Why do they not challenge the Government upon their politics, or upon their administration? They know that they are not able to do so. The only fault which . can be found with the present Administration is that they have yielded too much to their opponents, and in order to secure the passage of this particular measure, have accepted amendment after amendment in the endeavour to meet those whom they thought were prepared to proceed some distance along the road of reform with them. Honorable members opposite cannot challenge any act of administration by this Government, nor can they be taunted with having gained possession of the Treasury benches by unfair means. The late Government announced that they would accept defeat upon a straight out vote in regard to the Bill, and they made no attempt to get honorable members to reconsider the position. I do not think that the vote would have been reversed if they had done so, but I feel certain that no attempt would have been made to prevent a reconsideration. The Labour Party would' not have met the last Government with an amendment such as that now before the House. The intention of honorable members opposite is clear! They wish to destroy the Bill, and to defeat the application of the principle of compulsory arbitration. Those who vote for the amendment range themselves as men who are opposed to the peace ful solution of industrial troubles by a judicial tribunal.

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