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Thursday, 24 May 1928


Mr THEODORE (Dalley) . - I listened with considerable interest to the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), but I must confess I was not greatly impressed by his arguments. Possibly he prepared his speech too carefully. What I took to be long quotations from more or less sapient remarks by various persons, proved to be the copious notes of his own speech. In the course of his address the honorable member attacked the Labour party on the ground that its members in this Parliament are shackled, that they have gyves on their wrists, and are not their own masters. In contrast, he exhibited himself, and other honorable members sitting with him, as free and independent political agents. Honorable members may remember that during the debate on the budget last year, the honorable member for Henty gave an exhibition of his complete freedom and independence when he indulged in a caustic criticism of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) and his administration. But the Prime Minister took him to task next day, and publicly admonished him. Indeed, he humiliated the honorable member. The honorable member sat in his place and made no protest. Since that public censure, he has been as meek as any party hack supporting the Government. It is true that some other honorable members, who nominally support the Government, at times cause considerable concern to the party whips. But they are careful never to declare or to commit themselves unless they are sure that the Government has an ample majority without their vote. Notwithstanding their protestations of complete independence, honorable members belonging to the Nationalist party have been very careful of their actions and speeches since the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) has been here to keep an eye on them. I do not plead, as did the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) for the complete independence of members of this Parliament from party ties. Indeed, the honorable member for Henty, when he advocated that independence, appeared foolish. Party discipline is an essential feature of the political life oi Australia to-day. A man who is elected to Parliament, pledged to support certain principles, must conform to the discipline of his party, in order the more easily to achieve those things for which the party stands. There is nothing wrong in that. Why should any man be ashamed of his party associations, or his loyalty to his political principles? The honorable member for Henty is the only member of this House who sets himself up as a free agent in these matters. And he has been publicly humiliated for so doing ! So far there is no evidence that he has recovered from his leader's rebuke.

The honorable member asks whether we are satisfied with the ArbitraAct in its present form. If we are not satisfied with it, he asks do we not propose to amend it ; and, if we require it to be amended, why do we not support the bill. I fail to see any logic in that appeal. It is true that honorable members on this side are not satisfied with the present arbitration law. We have many times advocated its amendment, and pointed to its defects. Those defects are obvious, and well known. The court is too restricted and hampered in its powers; procedure is too slow and too costly; there is too much delay in operating awards, and not enough facilities for enforcing awards when made. But the bill does not propose to remove those defects. On the contrary, it seeks to graft on the existing act a kind of criminal code which will treat all unionists and unions, peace-loving or otherwise, as quasi criminals, placing all alike under severe pains and penalties for any offence against the act, and punishing with imprisonment any repetition of an offence. The bill is opposed by honorable members on this side of the House because it does this, and I cannot perceive how the honorable member for Henty can deduce that because we are not supporting this bill we, therefore, accept the existing act in its entirety and see no faults in it.

The early history of arbitration has been spoken of in the debate. The Attorney-General mentioned it, and so did the Leader of the Opposition. Most of us are acquainted with it. The basic idea behind arbitration is to replace the old barbarous method of settling differences between employers and employees by brute force with a more rational procedure, by setting up tribunals to hear the claims of the disputants and arbitrate upon them. Our arbitration law has been built up on those principles, and the tribunal we have set up is one whose chief function. is to bring reason to bear, in the settlement of differences so as to arrive at just decisions regarding them. The bill proposes to depart from that basic principle by giving the tribunal plenary and executive power, authority of life and death over industrial unions, the right to inflict severe punishment on unionists, and to gaol workers who do not conform to its orders. It is true that it contains a series of clauses relating to conciliation committees and voluntary arbitration, but these are inserted merely to hoodwink the public and obscure the real intention, which is to graft on the act provisions that will entirely subvert the basic principles of arbitration, and set up a semigovernment authority that will become coercive of the unions. In this way terrorism and victimization will be im-. ported into the administration of industrial matters. Ultimate good can come only from conciliation and the reasonable consideration of the demands of the workers.

The Prime Minister and other honorable members who have spoken have exhorted honorable members of the Opposition to consider- this bill in an entirely non-party spirit. Indeed, the Prime Minister condemned the Leader of the Opposition for importing party considerations into the debate. .Speaking a few days ago in this chamber, the right honorable gentleman said -

This legislation, which is designed to improve the industrial conditions of Australia, should not be discussed in any party spirit. . . These issues are so fundamental in our national life that I suggest it is hopelessly wrong for a debate on a measure of this character to be made a purely party political issue.

Then in Melbourne the other night, when addressing the Women's National League, a political party organization, he criticized " the unions in their attitude on industrial matters," and said " Gradually we shall see a number of these loud-voiced raucous trade union gentlemen disappear over the horizon." If that is the right honorable gentleman's manner of discussing the bill in a purely non-party spirit, how much sincerity is there behind his appeal and that of other honorable members opposite? Or is it all sheer hypocrisy?


Mr SPEAKER (Hon Sir Littleton Groom - Order!


Mr THEODORE - I am merely making an inquiry.







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