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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman, who has just resumed his seat, has referred to the charge which has been levelled against the Opposition that its members have been "gagged" because they do not choose to enter, into a more or less useless discussion upon this much debated question. So far from there having been a caucus meeting held to bring about any such result, no caucus has been held during the past two months. Moreover, no opinion has been expressed by the leader of the Opposition to the effect that honorable members upon this side of the House should abstain from addressing themselves to this question.

Mr Hutchison - I saw four honorable members opposite holding another honorable member down.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Our silence has been prompted simply by a desire to return to our homes at the end of the week, instead of being engaged in discussing a motion, the result of which is a foregone conclusion. Personally, I should have preferred that the Government had been subjected to a direct challenge, or that this issue had been fought out in Committee. In any case, the result would have been the same. It is well known that the Ministry have not a majority in this House. I say, further, that many honorable members upon this side of the chamber are twice as anxious as are half the members upon the other side to secure a workable measure of arbitration. They wish to see some of the provisions of this Bill amended in order that it may be made operative. They do not desire it to break down by reason of its own rigidity. The Ministry have chosen to make this question vital to their existence. I claim that the amendment to clause 48, which they have circulated, has been framed with a desire to escape from an awkward position. Their object was to make use of Pontifex Maximus and his deputy to amend the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella in some way which would enable them to again climb down, and thus secure the retention of office. Such tactics show that there is no more desire on the part of honorable members opposite to obtain a compulsory Conciliation and Arbitration Act than there is on the part of many honorable members upon this side of the House. It is perfectly true that seven or eight members of the Opposition are absolutely opposed to this class of legislation, but it is equally true that seven or eight Ministerial supporters would proceed to such extremes as would render the Bill quite inoperative. It is idle for them to accuse us of insincerity. We have repeatedly shown that we are honestly determined to obtain a measure of conciliation and arbitration irrespective of what Government may be in office. We shall see that some such legislation is enacted. The Minister of External Affairs has attacked several honorable members of the Opposition who are just as honest in their advocacy of a Bill of this character as he is. The honorable and learned member chose to accuse me of an utter abnegation of principle in voting for the motion now before the House - to accuse me of breaking my promises to the electors, and of so far disgracing myself politically that it will be utterly impossible for me to be again returned by the electors of South Sydney. The Minister may be excused to the extent that he was like a rat caught in a trap, where all he could do was to squeak, and, as it were, howl for mercy. But nothing in the Minister's position justifies him in turning on honorable members who, on this side of the House, have worked' most in accord with him - there is nothing to justify his selecting those honorable members as objects of his vituperation. I have here the - first speech I made when the second reading of this measure was proposed. Though I do not wish to occupy the time of the House by reading any lengthy extracts, I may be allowed to show that, on the 25th August, 1903, I expressed myself very strongly in favour of compulsory conciliation, and arbitration.

Mr Frazer - Men cannot be judged by their speeches so well as by their votes.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall also refer to the votes which I gave. On that occasion, I said -

The principle of determining industrial warfare by industrial arbitration is one to which I have long ago committed myself. I have fur ther committed myself to vote for the adoption of some such principle in relation to Federal legislation, and I find that I am compelled to vote for the second reading of this Bill. After a careful perusal of its provisions, however, I am forced to the conclusion that there is a great deal in it, which, when we go into Committee, I shall have to oppose very strongly in order that this measure may be brought within what, T think, are the only justifiable limits for us to adopt under the Constitution.

Mr Hutchison - The honorable member desired to make the Bill unworkable.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall show by my votes that the honorable member is quite wrong in his assumption. What I desired was a workable Federal measure, and to that end I voted for the inclusion of the railway operatives. I expressed myself strongly in favour of that course; but I told the House plainly that there were many proposals which, in Committee, I should have to oppose. That was before the last election, during which I dealt with this question more fully in detail. While I agreed to support the measure, I did not agree in any way to give preference to unionists. Where is the abnegation of principle? The Minister of External Affairs, flourishing a paper as though it contained my signature, exclaimed. The honorable member has broken his pledges in supporting this amendment." That paper did not bear my signature ; and such is the contemptible political trickery adopted by the Minister of External Affairs ! These are the facts ; and I never wish to hide any of my political promises or actions : Mr. Robert Hollis, who .is the organizing secretary of the Railway Servants' Association in Sydney, sent to me a circular during the election, with a request that I would say whether I- would support the Bill or not. By some accident, however, that circular went to the wrong address, and did not reach me until after the election. Another gentleman, who, I think, is the organizing secretary of the Railway Servants' Association in Victoria, wrote to me after, the election, asking whether I would be in my place in the House to support the inclusion of railway servants within the operation of this Bill ; and the reply I sent was that I had supported that policy before, and would continue to support it. I never gave a pledge to any individual, or any body or organization, that I \.ould support preference to unionists; because I believe that by adopting that preference to its fullest extent, we would make this measure anything but a boon to the whole working-class population of the Commonwealth. This is a measure for settling disputes between workmen and their employers, but there has been a systematic attempt all through to make it. a measure in the interests of unionism; and that is what I object to. We ought to adopt any principle we can to get all disputes between the great body of the working classes, and the powerful body of employers, settled by peaceable means; and I have gone as far as any honorable member, and a good deal further than some, in endeavouring to make this Bill more operative on its conciliation side. Yet, because I. choose to think that the Bill can be made all the more operative by limiting the preference given to unionists, I am subjected to those charges of breaking my political promises and pledges - charges made by a man whose political ideal has more in. common with my own than it has, perhaps, with the ideal of any other honorable member. What the honorable and learned member for Ballarat said this afternoon - and it has been said before - is very true, namely, that these caucus-bound, league-tied bodies, are more bitterly opposed to any one who is somewhat in sympathy with them, and yet remains outside their iron ring, than they are to the most bigoted conservative in the country. I have the greatest respect for most of the members of the Labour Party. I do -not know that there is any man in the public life of the Commonwealth for whom I have greater respect than I have for the Prime Minister; and I did hope that when he took office, he would break down this caucus rule, and open the doors of the Labour Party more widely and freely for the admission of other democrats, so as to make a workable party, which might survive and govern. But the party takes up a clause like this, without reference to their own individual opinions; simply because the strings are pulled in the leagues and unions. They say, "We must have this clause, or otherwise we cannot control the political machinery and organizations behind us, and must be bound to lose." The members on this side of the House, who are supporting this measure from a clear conviction of its usefulness, have nothing to gain. What does 'it matter to most of us whether we sit on the green seats on the Ministerial side, or the green seats on the Opposition side? We are doing what we think is best in the interests, not of unionism, but of labour and industrial peace. Legislation of this kind ought to have been the death-knell of the old unionism. We hear talk about the men having given up the power to strike, but the employers are giving up freedom of contract, so that there are concessions on both sides. But if it is sought to preserve the unions, with all their political organizations and ramifications, and give them complete preference, then the measure, instead of being one to assist the working classes, will prove the most powerful engine for oppression and tyranny that could be conceived. It is in the interests of the great body of the working classes that I am striving, by my vote to-night, to retain the clause already inserted in the Bill.

Mr Webster - So as to kill the Bill ?


Mr Webster - Undoubtedly.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The charge may be hurled back that those who desire to go to extremes are the very men who will kill the Bill and prevent its being operative - who will prevent the attainment of that industrial peace which is the aim' of this legislation.

Mr Webster - Can the honorable member get what he desires from the deadly enemies of the Bill on the Opposition side ?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot answer the honorable member ; his interjections are too much for me, and, generally speaking, have nothing in them to answer. I believe in my heart that some such legislation as this is necessary. I am not much interested in it personally. I have never been a member of any employers' organization. But I am an employer myself, and I desire to see that commercial prosperity which I believe springs from peace. But I maintain that we cannot secure industrial peace so long as the members of unions have a preference to which they are not entitled by any principle of justice or by any honest action of the Legislature of this country. . My belief is that if this legislation is passed* unions of the old kind can pass away, and the new organizations which this Bill contemplates - simple organizations of those employed in any industry - take their place. Why does any employer at the present time employ nonunionists? Because in some instances he finds it cheaper to do so. In other instances employers find it more remunerative to employ union workmen. But under this Bill an employer must pay the same wages to one class of men in the same trade and for the same services as to another class.

Consequently the desire to employ nonunionists will disappear, and the distinction between unionists and non-unionists will disappear also. I am pleading for freedom for all the workers of this country, and I am prepared to fight this battle in South Sydney, if need be. I have no doubt that I shall come back victorious.

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