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Thursday, 24 May 1928


Mr GULLETT (Henty) .- It is my intention to vote for the second reading of the bill. The debate, as far as it has gone, has presented the most depressing spectacle of party politics ever staged within the life of the federation. Here we have a measure of transcendent importance. The Arbitration Court decides whether the great industries of this country shall flourish and expand or languish and diminish. More than that, it has a widespread influence of a near, personal, and vital kind. It controls the wages, the hours of labour, the housing, the clothing, the food, the education, and the pleasures of the working men and women of a whole continent. Therefore, in the discussion of this hill, one might have expected a sinking of party differences and concerted action to protect this great instrument of industrial justice. But, instead of that most desirable unity, we have had the party line drawn here with a firmness rare in the political history of this country. On the one hand the Government maintains that the bill is a dispassionate, impartial, and most painstaking effort so to amend this great ambitious instrument of industrial justice that it will serve the purpose which its original framers had in view; on the other, the Opposition declares that it is nothing but a darkly conceived piece of gross class legislation, aimed at the smashing of unionism andthe oppression of the workers generally.

Before I go further into the merits of the bill, I should like to refer to two outstanding features of the methods of debate adopted by honorable members opposite. The first is a claim that they have asserted, and the second is a charge that they have made. The claim, of which we have heard so much in this House that it is getting a little tiresome, is that honorable members opposite have an exclusive monopoly both of knowledge of industrial conditions and of sympathy with the working men and women of this country. That I absolutely deny. There is as much sympathy on this side of the House with the worker as there is on that side. I feel this claim in a personal way. It is true that for many years I have been leading a relatively soft life in the city, but my hands have done, I think, as much manual labour as, for example, those of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) or of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). Other honorable members opposite, in all probability, may have done a great deal more manual labour than I have, but I have worked for wages as low and hours as long as they have, and because of that, and of the environment in which I was bred and the life that I have led, my sympathy with the workers of this country is as wide and tender as that of any honorable member opposite.

I come now to the charge that has been made, in the first place, by the Leader of the Opposition and repeated by others right down to the speech of the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), who preceded me in this debate. The charge is that we on this side of the House, in our attitude to this bill, are impelled in the main by a desire to serve our masters outside. Moreover, it has been said again and again that on this bill we are the slaves driven by the party whip. Yet compare the slavery of members on this side of the House with that of honorable members opposite. First, take adherence to party in this House. Where is freedom displayed by votes in this chamber, and by which party is it ever displayed? I venture to say that in a month there is as much independent voting by members behind the Government as there is by honorable members of the Labour party in a year. Since I came here, I have crossed the floor of this chamber again and again, when I have felt strongly and independently on a particular subject ; but I have yet to see honorable members opposite cross this floor on any bill of the least importance, and there is no possibility of them doing so. On -that side there is the iron discipline. There is the influence of the whip, and it is in direct contrast to the freedom of honorable members of this side of the House. As for the control of honorable members by outside organizations, it is true that I was elected on the Nationalist ticket, and I hope to stand again at the forthcoming elections on the same ticket ; but if all honorable members on this side df the House went to the country in opposition to the ticket of their party, many familiar forms would still be seen on these benches after the election, whereas if all the honorable members of the Labour party went to the country in opposition to their ticket, not one of them would be returned to Parliament.


Mr Makin - The honorable member was elected to this Parliament on the second preferences of Labour.


Mr GULLETT - That is not so. I won my seat on the first count, having an absolute majority of all the votes polled. Honorable members opposite are constantly reiterating the statement that honorable members on this side are subject to outside control, but let me say that, if the Leader of the Opposition, notwithstanding the vast majority by which he was returned two years ago, stood for the

Yarra electorate again without being on the Labour ticket, he would be defeated, even if a blackfellow or a Chinaman were opposing him, so long as his opponent was on that ticket. ' The statements of honorable members opposite may be uttered without fear of contradiction on the Sydney Domain or on the Yarra bank, but they are not such as one expects to hear constantly repeated in this chamber.

I have said that this House is violently divided on this measure, and, listening to this debate, my memory is carried back to the happy atmosphere which prevailed in the old House of Representatives in Melbourne in 1903 and 1904, when the original measure, which we are now seeking to amend, was introduced and debated. It is true that the then members of the Labour party were not the authors of that measure, but it is also true that it was owing to the influence and persistency of that party that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill found its way into the Federal Parliament at so early a date.


Mr Brennan - The honorable member admits that.


Mr GULLETT - I shall endeavour to be fair. The draftsman of the bill, as the House knows, although not a member of the Labour party, wa3 a very great radical whose memory is respected by all, and revered particularly by honorable members opposite - I refer to the late Mr. Kingston. But because of a political accident, the bill was introduced by the late Mr. Deakin. It was opposed outside by the Employers' Federation, and, I think, largely by the Liberal press of Australia. But what happened in regard to it in the House itself ? Although there was then a fighting, capable, and aggressive Opposition, the bill was endorsed and blessed by the late Sir George Reid on behalf of the Opposition. There was practically no opposition to it. Mr. Kingston said of its subject, "I have never looked upon this as a party question, and I never will." The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), then representing Vest Sydney, entered the chamber booted and spurred to meet the reactionary opposition to the bill, and he remarked that it waa "embarrassing to hear not one word of adverse criticism" of it. In other words, 24 years ago all parties sank their political differences and joined hands to frame and launch this grand experiment. The Government proposed, and the House gave its benediction and assistance. To-day the Government proposes and the House pours forth a flood of malediction and execration.

I propose to explore and disclose the source and reason of this peculiar hostility, but I first ask the Leader of the Opposition if he considers that the existing act is perfect? Is he satisfied with it? Does he regard its record of achievement as gratifying? Has it, in his opinion, realized the expectations of the original framers? Those considerations have an important bearing on the bill. I propose to quote some of the speeches delivered in 1903, when the original arbitration bill was before the House. I have extracted only phrases, but they are not unfairly torn from their context. Mr. Deakin, in moving the second reading of the bill said : -

The object of this measure is to prevent strikes. We now substitute a new regime for the reign of violence by endowing the State with power to impose, within the limits of reason, justice and constitutional government, its deliberate will upon the parties to industrial disputes. . . .

This bill marks, in my opinion, the beginning of a new phase of civilization. It begins the establishment of a people's peace, under which the conduct of industrial affairs in the future may be guided. . . .

It is not a matter of to-day or to-morrow - in the sense of a single measure or device.

Mr. Deakinclearly anticipated amendment after amendment before this most complicated piece of machinery could be perfected. He went on to say : -

It is the introduction of a new principle which, when it has found its proper means of working and of exerting its influences, will prove, necessarily, as great a transformation as the creation of the King's peace brought in civil society.

Here we have the introduction of a new test: the" question will be not which side has the .might, but which side has the right? What is the fair settlement of the industrial dispute ?

The following remark implied a disciplining of this legislation in the manner that the bill proposes -

It aims at placing .employees under obligations and control that would prevent the rebellious breaking away of unruly unionists in consequence of their dislike of any award.

Mr. J.C. Watson, then the honorable member for Bland, and afterwards the first Labour Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, said: -

Whilst I believe that strikes are necessary under some circumstances, I recognize that even when, they are successful they inflict such injury on the individuals who are most affected, as well as upon the State as a whole, that we should make any experiment within reason, adopt any expedient, and go to any length rather than suffer their continuance.

Mr. Hughessaid:

I regard the measure as the coping stone of civilization.

I do not wonder that honorable members smile when they are reminded of the contrast between the high hopes and promises with which this legislation was introduced, and its subsequent performances. Would any honorable member say that the arbitration law has fulfilled the expectations of its framers? Has it established the people's peace envisioned by Mr. Deakin - a peace under industrial law akin to the King's peace we enjoy under the civil law?


Mr Brennan - I think so.


Mr GULLETT - Apparently the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) thinks so too. He appears to be satisfied with the act. At any rate, he is most strenuously opposed to any amendment of it. Therefore, we must conclude that he likes the existing law, as it is, with all its blemishes and imperfections. Following that line of thought, he made an extraordinary comparison between the industrial disturbances in this country and those in Great Britain. He appeared to he highly pleased that strike troubles in Australia, and the money lost and the suffering inflicted thereby, are relatively less than in Great Britain, and claimed that such a comparison shows that our existing legislation is working satisfactorily. What is such a comparison worth? The industrial conditions of the workers in this country are vastly different from those in Great Britain. By common consent the conditions of the Australian workers are the best in the world. Improvement has followed improvement, until to-day we should be able to say that industrial strife is no longer within the bounds of possibility. In comparison with Australia, Great Britain is industrially lawless. There the strike is the recognized and accepted weapon, and industrial warfare is open. In Australia it is forbidden by a law that is absolute, and prescribes heavy penalties; we have expensive juridical machinery for the purpose of outlawing strikes and lockouts. Therefore, no comparison between the two countries is possible. But notwithstanding our courts, judges in wig and gown, and all the organization for the prevention or punishment of indus-' trial outlawry, the almost incessant strife in recent years constitutes a severe indictment of the principles embodied in the Arbitration Act. I ask honorable members opposite whether the framers of the original bill, if they had anticipated the long train of breaches of awards, strikes, lockouts, human suffering, and material loss, which have attended the ' operation of this legislation for 24 years, would have wasted the time of Parliament in forging such an ineffective instrument. I say unhesitatingly that they would not. But apparently the act in its present form is completely satisfactory to honorable members opposite.


Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly noi.


Mr GULLETT - What then is the reason for the hostility to the bill? No honorable member on this side of the House is wedded to every feature of it. . No one will say that every amendment it proposes is perfect. Certainly I do not intend to vote for all its clauses, but I do think that the bill represents a sincere and disinterested effort to improve the industrial machinery. It is not dictated by partisan prejudice, or private material interest. It is brought forward by the Attorney-General for the one purpose of endeavouring to give to this country the blessing of industrial peace. Yet members of the Labour par: y turn their backs upon it, and to the Attorney-General's invitation to them to co-operate with him, they return a violent and emphatic negative. They will not even allow the bill to pass the second reading if they can prevent it.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) said: "I agree that we cannot have it both ways. When a union or an. employers' association enters the Arbitration Court, it should be prepared to obey its awards." " Prepared," mark you, not obliged or compelled! Apparently it is the compulsion - and without machinery for policing the decisions of the court the original act would never have been passed - to which honorable members opposite object. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that in regard to this measure honorable members opposite are not entirely their own masters. Much as I appreciate their leader's ardent love of industrial peace and abhorrence of strife, I cannot escape the conviction that in his opposition to the bill he is yielding not only to outside influences, but also to the worst elements in the Labour movement.

I deny absolutely that the amendments contained in the bill assail the principles of trade unionism, or menace in any way their funds, or question the use of them for political purposes, or raise the old controversy in regard to the inclusion of State instrumentalities. What is their aim? To ensure that the worker shall be oppressed, and the trade union officials harassed and abolished? Not at all. They aim merely to ensure that those who go voluntarily - there is no compulsion - in quest of industrial justice shall obey the awards which the court makes. The overwhelming majority of sober-minded, well-behaved and hard working unionists in this country will not be influenced or affected in any way by these amendments. All those unionists, and they are legion, who loyally obey the awards will never be aware of these new and amending clauses. These amendments which seek to discipline awards, will mean no more to the great majority of trade unionists than the policeman on his beat means to the overwhelming majority who make up the well-behaved citizens of the community. The civil police interfere with these not at all, but they do protect them against the very small law-breaking minority. Without the civil police, civilization as we know it would be impossible. Unhappily, human nature being what it is, we cannot look forward to the realization of that people's peace envisioned by Mr. Deakin until industrial justice is disciplined and policed as the civil or the King's peace is disciplined and policed.

While I see nothing objectionable at all in the tightening up of the disciplinary side of the Arbitration Act I do dissociate myself from the confident belief expressed by some honorable members that any system of penalties or secret ballots will work a miraculous change in the observance of awards. Even at the risk of being called idealistic, I maintain that we must go deeper into the matter than that. Let us probe .the source of job control and of most breaches of awards. Let us reflect on the particular unions and classes of workers who are the chief offenders, and who are the real authors of the opposition in this House to these amendments. Are the industrial lawbreakers who, all through the years, have fouled the system of compulsory arbitration, to be found among the best elements of trade unionism, or amongst those who are less fortunate? Are they to be found among the highly skilled, well educated, sober-minded men and women who, in their scores of thousands, distinguish the ranks of the workers in this country? Are these job control" men, and the others who have brought this act into disrepute, to be found among the great majority of workers in this country who, moved by an intellectual and laudable material ambition, and an admirable sense of citizenship, pursue education for themselves and their children? Are the law-breakers to be found among the tens of thousands of workers who frequent our art galleries and public libraries, who make up the rank and file of the great friendly societies and whose children are to be found in the high schools, technical schools, and universities? Those men and women do not constitute the lawless element with which, in an industrial sense, this country is so sorely troubled. The wrong-doer is the only man who is aimed at in this bill, and he is to be found elsewhere.

Those unionists who practise job control, who breed strikes and inflict loss and suffering on women and children, and on their fellow workers, and who are at the bottom of the opposition to this measure, represent neither the brains nor the best moral character of the great bulk of the Australian workers. I say that deliberately. I do not desire to speak harshly or unkindly of this section of our workers. They, in their thousands and tens of thousands, call for our sympathy and assistance, rather than our condemnation. I intend, however, to speak quite plainly about them. It is not possible to secure complete discipline under industrial law, any more than under civil law. These law-breakers represent that stratum among the workers which is lowest in education, lowest in self respect, and lowest in sense of citizenship. In this high Australian civilization of ours they are the least civilized. They are the least happy, the least to be envied, and the most to be pitied.

I did not intend to name any particular section of workers, or any particular union, but I shall make one exception. I shall give as an illustration that class of workers now happily passing away, the firemen of the mercantile marine. They are a good illustration, because, before the beginning of the transition from the coal to the oilburning furnaces - a transition at which we all rejoice - these workers held the key to the activities of the mercantile marine, and of many other industries. Will any honorable member suggest that from men who are compelled by cruel circumstance to serve in the brutalizing occupation of firing ships, there is to be expected that nice sense of respect for the awards of any tribunal that one gets from the great majority of unionists more happily placed? Such men might almost claim as a compensation for the harsh fate which was their unlucky draw in the lottery of life, to be outside the bounds of industrial law. Whether or not that is a legitimate claim I shall not say; but I have never looked to these men for the same obedience to awards as from unionists more happily placed. My attitude to them is one of pity, rather than reproof.

Unfortunately, what is true of the firemen is, in scarcely less degree, true of other classes of our workers whom. I shall not specify. I maintain that so long as we have large numbers of workers on that low social level, and so long as these workers supply the labour for many of our great key industries, so long will the highest level of industrial peace which is humanly obtainable prove impossible of attainment. The evil is not purely industrial ; it is, in the main, social. There must be more education, more effort from our social workers, more sympathetic thought followed by disinterested action. Popular education has already moved mountains, not only in the British Empire, but in all parts of the world ; but its application has so far been mainly general, and thus it has missed many of the low-lying levels, and darker corners. Before those can be reached education must become more special, and more searching. The case is one for the Commonwealth and the States; for the social reformer and the educationist, for the churches, and particularly for the employers, the great captains of industry in this and other countries, and for the leaders of organized labour. The call is for something more than for industrial law and industrial war. It is for more fraternity, more sympathy, with more and still more application of the spirit of Christianity. In other words, social uplift must precede implicit obedience to the discipline of any tribunal.

The right honorable member for North Sydney spoke of particular law breakers, and those who led them, iis a cancerous growth ou modern society, and he advised that this thing be cut out. It is true that strong action is necessary on occasions; but I believe that the only satisfactory means of achieving permanent relief is to educate this thing out; to reform it out. It is like sorrel, one of the worst agricultural weeds, which thrives on poor, sour soil. Cultivate and improve the soil, and the sorrel vanishes. We have heard something of communism during this debate, and something of Mr. "Jock" Garden. I believe that 25 years' hence people will not speak of deporting Mr. " Jock " Garden ; the educated sense of Australian democracy will ridicule men of that sort out of their pretensions. Education is the great and necesary factor in overcoming this lawlessness with which we are confronted.

But we are not dealing with the future. We must take the Australian worker and the world as we find them. Industry must not be held up. It must continue, and until we do reach that more or less ideal state to which I look forward, and which I believe we shall ultimately reach, we must have discipline in the enforcement of the awards of the Arbitration Court. We must have discipline over those who come into the court in quest of awards, and particularly over their leaders. These lower grades of workers - I use the expression in its social sense - are not bad men. The overwhelming majority of them are good men; but they are easily led, and easily misled. In their crude ignorance, they are easily induced to follow false gods, to mistake loud glib language for reason; they make ideal material for the selfadvertising labour leader to work on. The " red," puffed-up, irresponsible persons, of whom there are far too many today in Australia, and who batten on these classes, flattering them, promising them the earth, the moon, and the stars, constitute the worst element in the official trade union movement. The new disciplinary provisions in the bill are not aimed at the backward men themselves, but at those who are unscrupulously leading or misleading them. These leaders are, I frankly confess, in a minority in the Trades Hall secretariats of the country, just as the unions with which they are associated represent a minority of the workers ; but they control a powerful and insidious minority, and their influence, because of the complexity of the industrial machine, extends far beyond those industries with which they are immediately associated.

Coining to the bill before the House, I submit that this discreditable and lawless minority is really the big stick behind the present parliamentary opposition to the measure. It is the leaders of these unions who will be disciplined; the men will not suffer. The men will not be fined or imprisoned ; but the law-breakers amongst the unionists will be disciplined. Bearing that in mind, it is interesting to trace the birth and development of the opposition to this bill. It did not originate with the party opposite at all; but outside the party room. The views to be expressed by honorable members opposite were formed for them by outsiders. When the provisions of the bill were disclosed, those trade union officials at whom alone it strikes, immediately raised a loud clamour. They held hole-and-corner executive meetings, and passed resolutions condemning the bill. Then the solidarity of the Labour movement became evident; the rank and file of union secretaries in that fraternal spirit which pervades the ranks of unionism, stood behind those who protested. The penalties, provided in this measure, however, are not there on their account, but because of the bad element in trade unionism. In that way the opposition to the bill ' was born. Those trades union secretaries who have opposed the bill outside this House control the political future of honorable members opposite: in the pre-selection ballot they decide who shall represent the Labour movement in this Parliament. The representation of the workers is not a matter for the electors at all. I am surprised at the manner in which honorable members opposite have allowed themselves to become the dupes and tools of the worst element in Australia.







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