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Friday, 18 May 1928


Mr FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The community.


Mr HUGHES - There is no doubt of that, but the strikers, and particularly their wives and families, suffer also. If anybody is to be singled out for special consideration it should be the wives of the workers; they suffer more than anybody else from a cessation of work. During the big coal strike in 1909-10 I saw a woman faint through lack of food, and when she was carried into an adjacent store she was found to be wearing nothing but a mackintosh. I visited her house; it was devoid of furniture and the children were crying for want of food. Our aim is to obviate suffering of that kind. A secret ballot with the goodwill of the workers would do great things ; but if the Government attempts to force it down their throats they will reject it.

I ask the Government to remember that it is dealing with a force that is very powerful, and that views with suspicion every act of the Ministry and the people who support it. That is quite natural. " The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." It is true that most employers to-day treat their employees well, but not long ago the employers had the power, and used it tyrannically. Bitter memories of the past linger; they were imbibed by the infant at the mother's breast. Now the rod is in other hands; the serf has become the- master and in gaining power, has in his turn become a tyrant. We must recognize circumstances as they are. We want to protect the community, but we cannot do it in the way that is suggested in the bill. Unionists cannot be forced to take a secret ballot or be punished for refusing to do so.

The honorable member for Yarra referred also to the provision relating to agreements. The court is now given power to refuse to register or certify a memorandum of agreement which it considers to be not in the public interest. The purpose of that is obvious. Employers and employees make an agreement to their mutual advantage upon the understanding that the increased cost of production is to be passed on to the consumer. Although the agreement has brought about peace in the industry, the court may hold that it is not in the public interest, and should not be certified. The court must consider the probable economic effect of the agreement upon the community. This repeats the provisions of clause 22 in different words. Let us consider what may happen under this clause to the Australian Workers Union, the most powerful organization of its kind in the Commonwealth. Let us suppose some small dispute to be settled by the union or a section of it by agreement with the employers, and the agreement to be brought before the court so that it may be made legally binding. The court examines the agreement to ascertain what its effect is likely to be; if it considers it not in the public interest, it refuses to certify it, and the dispute is revived. But under clause 22 the court must consider " the probable economic effect of any award it may make." The parties are thus up against the brick wall of public interest. Failing to get an agreement or an award, the only alternative is to strike. The railway workers' branch of the Australian Workers Union may have made an agreement with the employer, which is a State Government. The court may hold that it is not in the public interest that railway fares and freights should be raised to meet the costs that the agreement will involve. Being denied redress in that way, the union may apply to the court for a declaration of the existence of a lockout, or the employers may apply for a declaration of the existence of a strike. In either case, industrial war is declared. That is not what we desire. We do not want to wait till a mere spark of unrest becomes a conflagration; we want to extinguish the trouble almost at the moment of ignition. There is a stage at which when strikes can be dealt with most effectively.


Mr Seabrook - How?


Mr HUGHES - By conciliation and meting out even-handed justice, of course; there is no other means. If the honorable member asks for some panacea, some patent medicine to be taken from a bottle or in tabloid form, I cannot supply it. I am endeavouring to point out that the provisions in the bill are not calculated to achieve what the Attorney-General is seeking to do, and what we all desire to be done.

I shall vote for the second read- ' ing of this bill; but in regard to those clauses I have mentioned, and others which I have not time to deal with at this stage, my attitude does not coincide with that of some honorable members supporting the Government. The Ministerial party is composed of representatives of different sections of the community, and it would be in the last degree unfortunate if the notion were to become general that the opinions expressed by some honorable members on this side represent the policy of the whole party. Certainly some of the opinions which have been voiced during this debate do not represent my views. When the- Nationalist party was formed it was supposed to have room for men holding different views. I have expressed my opinion; I have no quarrel with honorable members who differ from it. But having had considerable experience of industrial affairs, I am convinced that some of these provisions will not work as they are intended to work by those who framed them; they are at best two-edged swords, and at the worst, they may destroy the very thing we are anxious to cultivate and develop. [Extension of time granted.']

I shall not trespass upon the indulgence of the House much longer. We should endeavour to approach this problem in a non-party spirit. No one can get any lasting good out of strikes, and in many cases the workers are in the long run the worst sufferers. I have stated that the industrial problem is, in some of its aspects, insoluble, but wise laws, properly administered, would do a great deal to minimize the effects of unrest, which is a natural corollary to an educated and progressive democracy. Men cannot be expected to journey in a rut all the days of their life. They want a share of the good things of modern civilization. To obtain perpetual industrial peace one must go to a stagnant country. But even China, after thousands of years of industrial peace, is now waking up. Industrial unrest is the price that we pay for progress.

But while the origin of some diseases is unknown and for others of which we know something there is no known cure, there are many which spring from definite and preventable causes. One of the reasons why industrial unrest is so often fanned into flame is the existence in our midst of an element whose influence and power is growing daily. There is no doubt that the great danger now confronting civilization is what is known as communism. Communism sets itself with malevolent and deliberate purpose to destroy society. The communist is openly opposed to civilization. He stands alongside the reactionary as Australia's most deadly enemy. The reactionary and the " red " are equally the enemies of industrial peace, as every one who has had personal experience of unionism knows. In every union there is at work an agent of the communist movement, animated by fanatic and sleepless . zeal. The moderates are apathetic; the extremists are persistently aggressive. Day in and day out they labour, their minds inflamed by fanatical purpose to breed unrest. They obtain more satisfaction from the precipitation of one strike than from the settlement of thousands. They do not desire industrial peace; they want industrial turmoil. It is their object to make things worse, not better. That is perfectly well known by every union official in Australia, and only recently it was publicly acknowledged by an executive of the Australian Workers Union.

If we are to cure the disease of communism we must appeal to the unionists themselves. No one else can effect a cure. The community may provide the machinery, but it can operate only through the agency and with the cooperation and goodwill of the unionists themselves.

We well know what communism stands for. The Soviet makes no pretence at all to stand for law and order. It spreads abroad the doctrine of anarchy, but itself enforces discipline with an iron hand. It does not permit strikes, and strikers are given short shrift at its hands, its treatment of them being similar to that meted out to strikers in America and South Africa. Yet the unions of Australia are permitting themselves to be dominated by the agents of these wreckers of society. I read recently, and no one appears to have protested against it, that the president of the Sydney Trades Hall, as a special mark -of recognition of his many merits, had been made a member of the executive of the Third Internationale. The sinister significance of this can hardly be exaggerated. It is a reflection upon the intelligence and commonsense of every institution, governmental and other. An organization which admittedly exists for the destruction of our civilization is permitted to appoint its agent amongst us, and he still lives in peace in our midst. We may ransack the world and not find another such case. That man has lived for many years in' Australia. He has been an avowed communist, has disavowed his connexion with communism, and has been appointed an executive of the communist movement. What are the unionists of Australia going to do about it? What is the Government of the country going to do about it? It is evident that we shall spend our labours to promote industrial peace fruitlessly if we fail to deal with such men. Half measures are useless. We must treat the disease as surgeons treat cancer; the disease of communism must be* cut out from the body politic or we shall be undone.

We all want industrial peace. Undoubtedly this measure has aroused party feeling; but we must try to forget that. We are here as the representatives of the people, and they are looking to us for effective action. It is of no use for us to say to some party or section, "It is true I failed to give peace; but I held up your end." The people want industrial peace, and we cannot get peace by shutting our eyes tofacts. After hearing the opinions expressed in regard to this measure, the Government must be prepared to ask itself whether the bill will bring peace or a sword. The unionists must take their courage in both hands, and deal with the dangerous element in their midst, otherwise it will destroy them. I repeat what has been said in every union in Australia: only the unionists themselves can bring industrial peace. If I had my way I would inaugurate councils of industry, one for each State and a grand council for the Commonwealth, with a board for each industry and trade. The machinery governing those councils would be simple. I would place on the shoulders of the unionists themselves the responsibility of maintaining law and order, and I honestly believe that we should get better results in that way than by a bill such as this. But we have to deal with the measure before the House. I welcome the bill, I shall vote for the second reading and, in committee I shall do whatever I can to assist in improving it.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.







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