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Wednesday, 16 May 1928

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley) presents an interesting study. In the stadiums of Sydney there are held every Wednesday night what are called try-outs, at which the vigorous youth of our suburban areas gather with the object of determining who are the best men. They fight with all their might, and, display their prowess in every way within their power, so that they may win the' prizes which are offered. The honorable member for Barton is evidently a trier for a trophy that' is well worth a contest. In short, he is endeavouring to secure the portfolio of the late Minister for Trade and Customs.

Mr Parkhill - The same may be said of the honorable member for Darling in connexion with the Deputy Leadership of the Labour party.

Mr BLAKELEY - But there is this difference, that I have secured the position. I anticipate that there will be a number of aspirants for the portfolio to which I have referred. I advise subsequent triers, who may participate in this debate, to rely a little more than the honorable member for Barton has done upon argument, logic and facts and a good deal less upon veiled reference to all kinds of things not connected with this bill. It is quite evident that the honorable member has not studied this complicated measure.. I go so far as to say that although on five separate occasions he reprimanded the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) for misrepresenting certain clauses of the bill, he has in it devoted to the study of it one-tenth of the time that my honored leader has done. The bill requires a good deal of study, but perhaps the honorable member for

Barton may be excused to some extent ou the ground that he has recognized in the new measure a number of old friends in new guise.

This bill i3 one of the most farreaching pieces of industrial legislation ever submitted for the consideration of a deliberative assembly such as this is. It is an attempt to strike a fatal blow at trade unionism; but like previous attempts to do that, it will not maim, much less kill, this great movement. The bill is political rather than industrial. I decline to believe that the Attorney-General was sincere when he cried to the heavens in his second-reading speech that the desire of the Government in introducing the measure was to bring peace into industry.

Numerous attempts have been made to stem the tide of trade- unionism in Australia, but they have all failed. Many years ago, what was known as the Irvine Coercion Act was passed by the Victorian Parliament, with the object of meeting conditions brought about by the Victorian railways strike. Certain provisions of that measure were considered in those days to be extremely reactionary, and it was thought that they would impose great hardship upon the working classes. But those provisions were of a milk and water nature compared with certain provisions in this bill. Years ago the late Sir Charles Gregory Wade was instrumental iri getting the New South Wales Parliament to pass a measure known as the Wade Coercion Act, with the object of destroying the organization of the coal-miners of Nev.' South Wales. Under its provisions, Mr. Peter Bowling, one of the leaders of the coal-miners, was arrested, handcuffed, leg-ironed, and thrown into prison. But a few months after he was released he was regarded as just as good a citizen as the Premier of the Government which sponsored the act under which he was gaoled. The Irvine Act did not in any way hinder the growth of trade unionism in the Victorian railways service, nor did the- Wade Coercion Act have the slightest detrimental effect upon the development of trade unionism among the coal miners of New South Wales.

But perhaps the honorable member for Barton was chosen to speak on this measure this afternoon because he was a member of the New South Wales Parliament in 1918, when the Beeby Industrial Bill was placed before it by the Fuller Government. The honorable member was at that time, as now, an aspirant for Ministerial office. He realized his ambitions on that occasion. He had a good deal to do with the passing of the Beeby Act. There is a strange likeness between that measure and the bill now before us, which suggests to me that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) consulted it frequently during the preparation of this bill.

Mr Latham - I assure the honorable member that I have not seen the act to which he has referred, and that this bill was drawn without any reference to it.

Mr BLAKELEY - I accept the assu rance of the Attorney-General on that point; but I feel confident that the draftsmen who put the bill into its present form perused the Beeby Act: That measure is the only piece of industrial legislation in Australia which contains provisions for the holding of a secret ballot, though such provisions are contained in certain industrial legislation passed by the New Zealand Parliament. But the secret ballot provisions,of the New South Wales act are not nearly so comprehensive as those contained in this bill. There is', for instance, no power in that act for the court to appoint returning officers to take possession of the whole machinery of the union for the purpose of conducting a secret ballot. The Beeby Act contains a provision that a person who takes part in the instigation of an illegal strike or aids the holding of it, or refuses to take part in a secret ballot shall be liable to a fine of £50 and six months imprisonment. Is it only an extraordinary coincidence that exactly the same penalties are provided in this bill? The Beeby Act provides that any newspaper which shall publish any matter which advises or instigates the holding of an illegal strike shall be fined £100. A similar provision appears in this bill. The Beeby Act provides that the penalty for declaring any commodity " black " shall be £10, or three months' imprisonment. This bill provides that the penalty on any person who commits such an act shall he £20, and on an officer of any organization which does so. £100.

The Government has not gone so far as to attempt to include in this bill the provisions of the Beeby Act in respect to the use of union funds for political purposes. These provisions were incorporated in the Trades Union Act passed last year by the House of Commons, a measure which was regarded by the British Labour party and the trade unions of Great Britain as extremely reactionary. But a comparison of it with this bill convinces me that the Tory Government of the United Kingdom has a great deal to learn in regard to reactionary legislation. In an attempt to undermine trade unionism, a great deal of legislation has been directed exclusively against one section of the community. The first arbitration measure was passed by this Parliament with an honest desire to provide machinery by which employers and employees might be brought together in conference, and thus avoid constant industrial strife and turmoil. We have advanced a long way towards the stage at which such disputes may be settled by conciliation, agreement, and the determinations of arbitrators. This bill, instead of furthering that progress, is wholly and solely a punitive measure, directed against the trade unionists. Even the abundant penalties prescribed in the original Arbitration Act did not satisfy this Government; so it enacted the Crimes Act, which provides that if the GovernorGeneral is of opinion that serious industrial disturbance exists, he may issue a proclamation, after which any person who takes part in a strike or continues to strike, or incites others to strike, shall be liable to twelve months' imprisonment, and, if not born in Australia, deportation. Under the authority of that oppressive legislation, men's homes may be entered without warrant; at any hour of the day or night men may be torn from their homes, and, without being afforded an opportunity to consult their families or legal advisers, committed to prison. By it, for the first time in the history of Australia, industrial offences were brought under the criminal code. The bill now before us does a great deal more to bring industrial matters into the criminal court. One cannot but admire the extraordinary mental agility of this Government in devising methods of imposing penalties upon the workers. It even went to the length of introducing into the immigration law provisions similar to those contained in the Grimes Act. Under the amended Immigration Act, Messrs. "Walsh and Johnson were incarcerated, and convicted by a picked tribunal which, to say the least, was not partial to them. When they appealed, however, their conviction was quashed. The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Ley) spoke of the magnanimity of the Government in taking no further action against those men. As a lawyer, he knows perfectly well that the Government overstepped the bounds of decency, as well as the law, when it imprisoned Messrs. Walsh and Johnson and endeavoured to deport them. The attempt of the honorable member to give kudos to the Government for not further prosecuting them is another indication of the mental agility of the conservative element in this House.

The Government, apparently swollen with arrogance as a result of repeated victories at the polls, believing that it is the salt of the earth, and goaded by every meeting of directors, the Employers' Federation, and other organizations which represent vested interests and contribute to ministerial electioneering funds, has introduced this measure, which can be regarded only as a direct challenge to the workers. It has decided to make a last effort to stem the tide of trade unionism and undermine the power of the workers. But that power is great, and the division between the true and the false is but a hair's breadth. With only a slight tip of the political scales the present Government will become the Opposition, and the Opposition the Government. Apparently the Government believes that by passing this legislation and enforcing it at a favorable opportunity, resentment will be aroused in the workers which will create that strike and revolutionary atmosphere so beloved of honorable members opposite. The tide of democracy cannot be stemmed by these puny measures; it will ignore I he behests of the Bruces and Pages as the waves ignored the commands of Canute.

The Tories of England and other countries qf the Old World must look with amazement upon the reactionary legislation to which this young country has given birth. My most diligent search has failed to find its equivalent on the statutebooks of any country. Nothing to equal it has been proposed in England, or even in Fascist-ridden Italy. To democratic Australia is left the unenviable distinction of leading the backward march of reaction. I can imagine my colleagues of the British Labour party perusing a copy of this bill and thanking God that the Bruce-Page Government is not in office in the United Kingdom. One wonders what part the Employers' Federation took in the drafting of the bill. The familiar phrase about overlapping awards makes one suspicious. Every self-respecting director, manager, foreman, and pannikin boss for the last ten years has been deploring overlapping awards. The AttorneyGeneral makes three stabs at this evil, and it is to be hoped that his thrusts promise some benefit to those whose interests he is seeking to protect.

The bill purports to be fair, and in theory impartially consigns both the bosses and the employees to the dungeons. So we are told that any reference to an organization applies to an organization of employers or employees. Imagine the president of the. Employers' Federation languishing in gaol for a breach of this legislation ! There are in Australia 149 organizations of employees with a membership of 690,000; there are only 27 organizations of employers, and one does not delude himself into the belief that this bill will, or even can be, applied to them. It is aimed directly at the workers, and every clause has been framed, on the assumption that the workers are acting, and will continue to act, to the detriment of this country; they are prejudged, their guilt is assumed, and they are to be punished under this legislation. So far from the bill being impartial, it is directed solely against the liberties of organized labour. The principles of conciliation and arbitration are conspicuously absent. Such provisions as purport to be conciliatory are nullified by others which preclude the possibility of bodies of workers and employers meeting together and arriving at an amicable settlement of their difficulties. Always the judge will dominate them; he must make certain investigations before he will even certify a memorandum of agreement between them.

The 690,000 men and women who are organized in various' trade unions constitute a very powerful and influential body. I do not propose to speak about the origin and growth of trade unionism ; suffice it is to say that the greed and vindictiveness of a few employers, and the sweating, long hours, low-v. wages, and the degrading poverty of the workers, compelled labour to organize industrially and politically. Every year brings an increase in the membership of the trade unions, which now wield such political and industrial power that their place in society, as well as their rights and liberties, are generally recognized by all but the ultra-conservative, and even they will not gainsay the incalculable good that unionism has won for the struggling workers. It has raised wages to a fair standard, and the workers instead of living in degrading poverty, have been enabled to feed, clothe, and house their families decently, and to educate their children. It has done marvellous things in. a short period, even in less than four- decades. It has undoubtedly conferred large benefits upon at least 90 per cent, of the people of Australia. When the purchasing power of the masses of the people is limited, trade and commerce must also be restricted. To-day the limited purchasing power of over 120,000 men and women, who are out of work, is noticeably decreasing the circulation of money, and the result is a moribund and languishing state of trade and commerce. In Australia we have always conducted our organizations openly. We have not had to resort to secret associations such as were formed in days gone by in the older countries of the world; but this bill if given effect will inevitably force the workers of this country to band together in secret organization.

The bill has been drafted by a body of men who do not understand the workers and the industrial conditions of this country. They could not even understand and visualize the effect of the first draft of the bill. A few months ago the Attorney-General introduced this measure and dealt with several principles underlying it, many of which are highly offensive to members of the working class: The bill was laid on the table and was discussed only by the Attorney-General, yet to-day we have before us three pages of amendments. It is indeed a great pity that this Government has no supporters with a knowledge of the industrial movement of Australia or of the psychology of the workers. The dusty and legal terminology of the High Court of Australia and of the lower courts frequented by the Attorney-General and his lawyer friends who are behind the Employers' Federation and all organizations of employers in this country, is not suited for the wording of legislation to promote industrial peace.

The honorable member for Barton sought to critize the interpretation by the Leader of the Opposition of that portion of the bill dealing with lockouts and strikes. The honorable member and also the Attorney-General sought to bolster up their case from the bill, the former attempting unsuccessfully to make it appear as though the Leader of the Opposition had wilfully misrepresented the provision in question, but for the edification of the honorable member I shall quote from the bill itself. Subclause 6 of proposed new clause 7 reads : -

Upon an order being made under this section declaring that a lockout exists in the industry or a section or part of the industry, anything in the nature of a strike (lone hi that industry or in any section or part of that industry shall not, while the order remains in force, be a breach of the act or of any award or order of the court.

The Attorney-General, when he said that under that provision a small section of an industry could not bring about the stoppage of the whole of that industry, apparently did not fully understand the bill. The Leader of the Opposition made a complete reply, and with him the Attorney-General reluctantly agreed.

Mr Latham - That is not so.

Mr BLAKELEY - The AttorneyGeneral in his speech instanced an establishment; he did not even deal with an industry.

Mr Latham - The clause covers that case, which is quite different from saying that it is confined to that case.

Mr BLAKELEY - Take, for instance, the case of a firm in Sydney such as the Clyde Engineering Company Limited, which manufacture agricultural machinery. The section of workers manufacturing bolts may go out on strike. Under the bill it would be competent for the Clyde management to lockout all their employees after having procured a declaration from the court that a strike exists.

Mr Latham - Only after the court had so declared.

Mr BLAKELEY - If the court decides that a strike exists, then the employer may lockout all his .employees. The clause goes further, because in a case such as I have referred to the other engineering establishments in Sydney might also lockout their employees, and thus arrest the whole of the industry. The bill really legalizes lock-outs by bringing economic pressure to bear upon the workers to make them more amenable to the discipline which some employers, aided and abetted by this Government, wish to impose upon them. The honorable member for Barton spoke of the remissions that are being made under the bill. He knows perfectly well that there are quite a number of additional penalties imposed.

Let me instance some of them. Section 42 of the act provides a penalty of £10 for hindering or obstructing a judge. Proposed new section 56f provides a penalty of £50 or imprisonment for six months for obstructing the taking of a secret ballot. Proposed new section 5Sf provides a penalty of £50 for refusing to carry out the order of the court. Proposed new section 72 provides a penalty for refusing to supply certain information, of £100 in the case of an organization or branch, and in the case of a secretary or other prescribed officer, £2 for each week in default. Section 83, as proposed to be amended, provides a penalty of £100 for contempt of court. Proposed new section 83a provides a penalty of £100 or imprisonment for six months or both, for creating a disturbance near the court. Section 84 of the act provides a penalty of £100 for refusing to give evidence or 'to produce books.

Mr Latham - Some of the penalties are contained in the act of 1904.

Mr BLAKELEY - The AttorneyGeneral has given the lie direct to the honorable member for Barton by interjecting that some of these penalties are already provided iii the act. There have been no remissions in the following penalties in the original act: - Hindering a judge, £10; disobeying an order of the court; refusing to give evidence, £100; disclosing trade secrets, £500 or three months' imprisonment. There have, however, been new penalties imposed as follows : - 58f. Non-observance of order of court regarding observance of rules, £50; 72a. Refusal to forward information to Registrar, £100; 72a. Refusal to appoint qualified auditor, £50; 72a. (3) Auditor failing to report to Registrar, £50 ; 83a. Disturbance near court, £100 or six months' imprisonment; 86a. Boycott of goods, £20 for person, £100 for officer; 86b. Imposing illegal penalties on members, £500 ; S6c. Moving motion held to be abusive, £20 ; 86d. Newspaper publishing such resolution, £100. . The penalties in some instances have been increased, but in only one case lias there been any remission.

Under one provision of the bill, a member of the committee of management of an organization or branch of an organization may render the union liable if, in the opinion of the court, he is responsible for a strike. Again, I say that the drafting of this legislation shows that the persons responsible for it have no knowledge of the industrial movement. The Australian Workers' Union covers some 60 industries in Australia, a number of which are under Federal awards. If a member of a small section of that organization, say an obscure committee of management, arrives at a decision which precipitates a crisis - and he may have had complete justification for doing so - the whole organization is liable to a fine of £1,000; but if the member responsible for the crisis is dismissed or expelled from the union, the fine is to be £100 for an offence of which the Australian Workers' Union may Lave had no knowledge or evidence. This is what may happen. The Australian Workers' Union, with its ramifications extending throughout Australia, has a constitution which provides for the appointment of committees of management, and there are such committees all over Australia. They have power to take certain action in respect of settlement of disputes and the fixation of wages and conditions. That union could not prevent an expelled member from obtaining a ticket. For instance, a person expelled in Queensland could cross the border and obtain a ticket from a New South Wales branch and no questions would be asked. He may be shearing, cane cutting, or constructing railways. After being given his ticket he may be appointed as a representative to act on behalf of the union, and be given a responsible position. In such a case the union could be fined £1,000. I admit that the organization has certain responsibilities, but it should not be held responsible for the action of obscure members. Some protection should be given the union. Surely the Government, in its desire to protect the employers of this country, should give some little consideration to the protection of organizations of employees. The bill does not pretend to do this.

Then, again, the honorable member for Barton strongly criticized the Leader of the Opposition for claiming that one of the effects of the proposed amendment of section 24 of the act, and of proposed new section 25d, would be to make ir possible for the court to award less than the minimum wage. The honorable member apparently has not given sufficient study to the bill, or else he is attempting to "put over" a huge bluff. He may have been able to " get away with " that sort of talk in the New South Wales legislature; but he cannot do it in this parliament. Section 24 provides that an agreement shall have the same effect as an award, and the bill proposes that the following proviso be added : -

Provided that the court. may refuse to certify any such memorandum if it is of opinion that the agreement is not in settlement of an industrial dispute or contains clauses which the court has no power to insert in awards, or that it is not in the public interest that it should be certified.

Proposed new section 25d, dealing with the economic position, reads -

The court shall, before making any award or certifying any agreement, and in proceedings for the variation or cancellation of an award or agreement, take into consideration the probable economic effect of the agreement or award in relation to the community in general and the probable economic effect thereof upon the industry or industries concerned.

It is mandatory on the judge to make an investigation of the economic conditions of the industry or industries concerned, and he must also make au investigation of the effect of awards upon the community in general. Does that mean that the judge will investigate the history of the employers' companies? Does it mean that watered stock and fiscal influences will be taken into consideration? Will the judge constitute himself a royal commission? Are powers to be given to him under this act which he does not now enjoy under the Constitution, but which at various referendums the Commonwealth Government has endeavoured to secure? For many years there has been a constant fight between the workers and a section of the employers, who are endeavouring to break down the basic wage. In the pastoral industry, for instance, employers have told the court that they cannot pay the award claimed; but on every occasion the union has been able to prove that they can pay it. If a burden is imposed upon the people, owing to the tariff protection given to an industry, it is borne by the whole of the people and not merely by a. section of it. We have established a system of bounties to assist certain industries that cannot be protected by a tariff, and the cost of that system is met by the community as a whole. The principle is enunciated from time to time by conservatives, such as the members of the Employers' Federation and similar organizations, that, if an industry is languishing, the employees should be content to accept less than the basic wage. That principal is re-affirmed in this bill, which has received the blessing of the Attorney-General and the Government I have no doubt that the measure also has the unanimous blessing of the Employers' Federation and similar organizations. It gives power to the court to say that this or that industry cannot afford to pay the basic wage. It is no use any honorable member trying to cloud the issue so far as that provision is concerned. If the court is to make an investigation regarding the history of every company connected with the cases brought before it and the effect of awards upon the industries concerned, we shall require. 50 or 60 judges to hear the claims likely to be brought forward at the present time.

In order that the people may be led to believe that the Government has conciliatory desires, portions of the bill deal with conciliation; but in these we find provisions that positively prevent the conciliatory settlement of disputes. I have just mentioned one of them, and have shown that the bill provides machinery to bring the parties together, to arrive at an amicable settlement, but contains other provisions that completely nullify its effect. The Government cannot offer an olive branch to the workers with one hand - and a miniature olive branch at that - if in the other hand a big stick is held over them. The Government says, in effect, " Gentlemen, let us be conciliatory and arrive at .some equitable arrangement for the carrying on of industry " ; but at the same time it demands that the unions shall relinquish control of their domestic affairs and allow the court to take possession of the machinery of their offices.

If the Government is in earnest about conciliation, it can resort to the Industrial Peace Act. That is an admirable measure, designed with a knowledge of the industrial conditions of Australia, but that cannot be said of the bill under review. This proposal will bring about a system of espionage. No matter what Labour organization one may take, a certain percentage of its members will be amenable at any time to the employers' wishes. In any of the big industrial organizations, probably 10 per cent., or, may be, up to 15 per cent, of the employees are merely ticket unionists, who are prepared to sign requests to the court for secret ballots. Under proposed new section 56c, any number of members of an organization, not less than ten, may demand a secret ballot.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does that apply to the employers ?

Mr BLAKELEY - No. It is not intended to do so.

Mr Latham - It applies to every organization.

Mr Anstey - Only to those that are registered.

Mr Latham - " Organization " means any organization registered pursuant to the act.

Mr BLAKELEY - The Minister may tell that tale outside to those who do not understand industrial conditions and legislation; but I remind him that honorable members on this side are not children to be misled by such specious arguments. The honorable member for Barton said that the court must make an investigation before ordering a secret ballot. He claimed that the judge would not be compelled to take evidence, and then decide whether or not a secret ballot should be taken. I have looked carefully through the bill, and can find only one reference to any investigation to be made by the judge. Sub-section 3 of proposed new section 56c 3 of proposed new section 56o, states -

If a judge is satisfied that ten of the persons so applying are members of the organization and that the application is bona fide and relates to a matter of substantial importance the judge may give directions for a secret ballot to be taken by the organization or the branch upon the question with or without provision for absent voting, or may give directions for the conduct of a secret ballot (with or without such provision) under the control of an officer of the court.

There is nothing in the bill to compel the judge to take evidence from officers of the organization. Proposed new section 56d provides -

The court may order, at any stage of the proceedings in relation to a dispute, that any matter upon which the court thinks fit to ascertain the views of the members of an organization or of a branch of an organization which is a party to the dispute submitted to a vote of the members of the organization or of the branch thereof taken by secret ballot (with or without provisions for absent voting) in accordance with directions given by the court.

But it is not mandatory on the judge to take evidence in that regard. Again, clause 56e provides, "If upon complaints made to the court and after such investigations as the court thinks proper..... " That is the only place where an investigation is mentioned, and even there it is not mandatory upon the judge to call officers of the organization to give evidence in rebuttal of the statements of the ten secret men. In order to make sure that ample time shall be given to the employers to bring about turmoil and strife in an organization, the AttorneyGeneral has brought down an amendment which provides that if within 21 days, ten members, whether individually or collectively, lodge an application for a secret ballot, the applications shall be treated as constituting a single application. There is no intention to call evidence in support of the application for the secret ballot. The new amendment provides that the application for a secret ballot shall be enclosed within an envelope, which shall be marked, " Secret Ballot." Any person other than the registrar who dares to open that envelope shall be fined £100.

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