Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 12 August 1904


Mr MAUGER (Melbourne Ports) - It would be well for honorable members, before voting on the amendment before the House, to consider what is involved, and to recall to mind the policy underlying the measure as it was enunciated at Ballarat by the late Prime Minister. The principle which the proviso inserted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella would undermine was undoubtedly championed by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. In the minds of some honorable members there is an impression that what is desired is to invariably give preference to unionists. That is a wrong impression^ which I hope will not be conveyed to the people of the country. What we wish to secure is, not the' giving of preference to unionists in all cases, but the giving of power to the Court to grant preference to unionists when it considers it desirable to do so. That is an important difference, and one which should be clearly defined. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat gave particular emphasis to the clause which is being discussed. He urged that in New Zealand the power to grant preference had been used by the Court with great advantage, and was part of the necessary machinery of the Bill. He urged that in New South Wales no evil results had followed, and that in New Zealand the Court had exercised its powers so wisely that the number of trades unionists had decreased instead of having increased under its regime. In view of these facts is it not remarkable that the honorable and learned member and some of his prominent supporters should, at this juncture, not only seek to undermine the principle of the clause, but endeavour to prevent honorable members from arriving at some means of framing a provision which would meet with the wishes of the majority. If honorable members opposite sincerely desire that this measure should be effective they should allow it to be recommitted.


Mr Henry Willis - Is not the honorable member satisfied with the amendment proposed by the Government?


Mr MAUGER - I am satisfied that it will be made clear to the country that honorable members opposite- wish to render it impossible to properly consider the matter. The honorable member for Robertson complains that the provision for preference is too exacting, too far-reaching, and too dangerous.


Mr Henry Willis - Hear, hear; so it is.


Mr MAUGER - And yet we find associated with him the honorable member for Dalley, who says he feels compelled to vote against the recommittal of the Bill, because it is so emasculated as to be .rendered useless.


Mr Wilks - I said so three weeks ago.


Mr MAUGER - There is a very wide divergence between the views taken by the two honorable members, and yet we find them voting on the same side in this matter.


Mr Wilks - Not a single union will register under the Bill.


Mr MAUGER - I quite agree with the honorable member.


Mr Wilks - Then why vote for it?


Mr MAUGER - Because I do not wish to eject the present Government from office or to associate myself with those with whom I have no sympathy. The honorable member will be judged by the company which he keeps, and his position will be regarded as a remarkably illogical one. There is something more than the recommittal of the Bill involved in the present attitude of the Opposition.


Mr Henry Willis - There is bread for the workers.


Mr MAUGER - May I ask who made honorable members* on the Government benches the champions of the workers?


Mr Henry Willis - The people.


Mr MAUGER - Did the people give the same charge to honorable members opposite ?


Mr Henry Willis - We are in the majority.


Mr MAUGER - The honorable member is now indulging in silly interjections, and I cannot afford to take any further notice of him.


Mr Wilks - This is a fight for preference on the Treasury benches.


Mr MAUGER - I am afraid it is. The action of honorable members opposite is prompted by a desire to unseat the Government. The honorable member for Southern Melbourne said that he owed nothing to the Government, that they had given, him nothing, and that he expected nothing from them. I can say the same thing. In some respects, particularly in connexion with the fiscal question, the Government have disappointed me, but I do not intend to assist to eject them from office, and put in their places a free-trade Government. So far as the policy with which I am particularlyassociated is concerned, I can gain nothing bv voting for the proposal to recommit the Bill.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable member alter his views if he could gain anything?


Mr MAUGER - No, certainly not; but I have nothing in common with those honorable members who are now anxious to occupy the Treasury benches. Not only would' they not give me the natural corollary of legislation of this kind, namely, effective protection at the Custom House, but it is patent to every one that they are anxious to destroy the principle underlying the Bill, which is protection to the workers. It is the clear duty of honorable members, who are anxious to see a workable measure passed, to afford every opportunity for the framing of a clause which would prove effective. I rejoice to think that, whatever may be the result of the vote on this occasion, the Treasury benches have been occupied for three months by men who have risen from the ranks, and who have erected a milestone alongside the path of social evolution. Their administration has been as pure, their capacity as great, and their behaviour as gentlemanly as that of any other body of men occupying similar positions, and I have no hesitation in saying that the methods which are now being employed to displace them are unfair and unwarranted.


Mr Henry Willis - If he wishes the clause to be made effective, why does not the honorable member induce the Government to accept the proviso of the honorable and learned member for Corinella?


Mr MAUGER - Why does not the honorable member consent to allow the Bill to go into Committee, so that a proposal may be framed which would be acceptable to both sides? Honorable members opposite evidently fear to allow the clause to be reconsidered. I am not an apologist for the mistakes of trades unions. I have been closely associated with them all my life, and I am now a member of a union. I know the aspirations of their members, and the great good that the unions have accomplished. While I am acquainted with their limitations, and the mistakes which they have made, I know, at the same time, that the highest principles ever enunciated have been associated with the greatest of those mistakes. Even with the dissemination of the principles of Christianity there may have been associated mistakes, as well as shams and humbugs, but that is no reason why 'we should disregard such principles. I recognise that the underlying principle of trades unions is industrial peace and progress, and therefore I do my best to encourage such organizations. I believe that the honorable and learned member for Corinella is perfectly sincere in this matter, but I am convinced that his proposal is impracticable, and that it will make the Bill a dead letter. I believe, further, that he is misrepresenting and misunderstanding the very men whom he is supposed to he championing. I have been associated with non-unionists, as well as with unionists, and I am sure that the honorable member for Dalley will agree with me that, whilst the unionists may, in some instances, be in the minority, the vast majority of the industrial workers are in sympathy with the trade unions, and support their aims. The attempt which is being made to champion the cause of the non-unionists is unwarranted and uncalled for. No demonstration has been made in support of the attitude now assumed by the Opposition. Have honorable members been called upon by any section of workers to oppose the preference clause? Do they know of any organization outside of the Employers' Union that has opposed it? I should like to know in what way they have received any mandate or instruction to oppose the principle.


Mr Conroy - The sacred principle of justice alone demands that no man should receive a preference over his fellows at the hands of Parliament.


Mr Henry Willis - We had a mandate from the electors at the general election.


Mr MAUGER - That is not the case.


Mr McLean - I was returned as an opponent of the principle of preference to unionists.


Mr MAUGER - The honorable member was not called upon to contest his seat.


Mr McLean - But I explained my views on this very principle.


Mr MAUGER - I grant that the honorable member has been consistent throughout, and that he is thoroughly sincere.


Mr McCay - The honorable member knows that, although I was not opposed at the last election, I spoke a number of times in connexion with this Bill, and fully explained my views.


Mr Tudor - When the honorable and learned member went to Bendigo to support the honorable and learned member for that constituency, he did not say that he would smash the unions.


Mr McCay - I have not said it yet.


Mr Tudor - The honorable and learned member is doing his best in that direction.


Mr MAUGER - A number of honorable members are posing as champions of the non-unionists, and it is remarkable that in many cases they should also be champions of the employers' unions, which are opposed to the principles of the Bill, lock, stock, and barrel. Associated with those who are now so anxious to preserve the rights of non-unionists, are the very men who are opposed to the Bill outright. It was just the same in connexion with the discussion which took place upon the shops and factories legislation in Victoria. The honorable member for Gippsland knows very well that the poor widow was trotted out, and that great concern was professed for the poorest of the working classes. I should like to know what honorable members who now assume the role of champions of the non-unionists have ever done to assist the working classes? "By their fruits shall ye know them."


Mr Conroy - Is it the policy of Christ to decree inequality by law?


Mr MAUGER - Have their voices ever been raised in the interests of the downtrodden trades unionists? No. Underlying the main features of this measure is the principle of collective bargaining, which can be applied only under a system of effective trades unionism. Unless this is recognised by giving the Court power, apart from any such trammels as are proposed by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, to grant preference, the Bill will be destroyed, root and branch.


Mr Conroy - The honorable member claims that preference should be granted to unionists, and we say " No."


Mr MAUGER - I contend that power should be given to the Court to grant preference.


Mr Henry Willis - Is not this a higher Court than that which it is proposed to create?


Mr MAUGER - It may be ; but it may not prove to be a wiser one. In connexion with the working of the Shops and Factories Act in Victoria, it has come to my knowledge that, in many instances, men who have been foremost in agitating for the establishment of the Wages Boards - who have in some cases been members of such boards - have been discharged, because they dared to organize their fellow-workers.


Mr Henry Willis - A very cruel thing.


Mr MAUGER - Can the honorable member suggest any remedy for such a state of affairs, beyond giving the Court power to grant preference to unionists? That is really the position. Three men who represented the employes on a Wages Board, relating to a certain industry, were discharged and were eventually compelled to beg for bread for themselves and their families, as the result of the action they had taken to secure the creation of that board. Had there been a law in force in this State, to say to the employers, " Preference must be given to unionists," their position would have been different; they would have been rewarded instead of punished for their praiseworthy action. That is only one of many illustrations that might be given. Unless we give the Court power to protect the men who may be, and are' the victims of unscrupulous employers, the result will be disastrous. I do not suggest that the practice to which I have referred is universal. The majority of the employers in Victoria are excellent men; but the mere fact that a man is liable to be discharged for assisting in the formation of an organization to uplift his fellows should be sufficient to induce us to erect a Court which will have power to direct that fair play shall be conceded to all. I am convinced that the Government have given way to a very material extent. I invite the Opposition to compare the measure, as originally introduced by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, with the Bill of to-day.


Mr Henry Willis - The Bill, as it stands, is better than it was.


Mr MAUGER - It may be, from, the honorable member's point of view, and the very fact that he holds that opinion impels me to consider that it is worse. My honorable friend champions the cause of what he describes as " liberty " - liberty to sweat and' to die and licence to be discharged by employers. Under the guise of championing the cause of non-unionists - the cause of the widow, the old, and the slow worker - we have often heard such cries.


Mr Henry Willis - The poor and needy are represented in this House.


Mr MAUGER - The very fact that the honorable member considers that the Bill has been improved convinces me that it has been, mutilated. If honorable members turn to the Bill as originally introduced - if they glance at the clauses relating to trades unions, to the granting of preference to unionists, and to the powers of the Court - they will see at once that its beneficent provisions have been whittled away, line by line, so that even its author would scarcely know it.


Mr Wilks - Comparatively speaking, there is nothing left that is worth mentioning.


Mr MAUGER - Exactly. Notwithstanding the fact that various provisions to which objection was taken have been removed from the Bill - that unions will be compelled to throw open their doors to practically every one who can with the slightest reason claim admission ; that their books will be open to inspection by the Court ; that the Court will have an opportunity to ascertain for itself the kind of men who form them, and to take care before granting an application for preference that the majority of those engaged in the industry are in the organization concerned, or in touch with it - the Opposition still refuse to allow clause 48 to be recommitted even for the purpose of removing a difficulty.


Mr Henry Willis - There is no difficulty. We had a majority on the last occasion, and have it still.


Mr MAUGER - The Opposition have a majority to secure the defeat of the Government. They are -availing themselves of the present crisis to secure the advancement of their own particular theories. _ I am convinced that underlying this motion there is not only the defeat of the Government, but the parting of the ways, so far as many honorable members are concerned. I am sorry that it should be so. I regret very much that I shall have to part politically from men beside whom I have worked and fought for many years. But the division to be taken on this amendment undoubtedly means the parting of the ways. On the one side will be the men who are fighting for evolutionary, not revolutionary, progress, and who are determined that there shall be industrial as well as political emancipation. Political emancipation' was only the commencement of a great movement of which industrial emancipation is the apex. Until absolute industrial emancipation has been secured, our political evolution and all our political privileges will be of no avail. On the one side we shall have the men who will fight in the interests of conservatism, and in the interests of laissez faire, under the guise of desiring to protect the widow and the old and slow worker, while, on the other side, will be those who are determined to conserve those interests which make for the social health and progress of the community, and to do their best for those who have sent them here to represent them.







Suggest corrections