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Thursday, 24 May 1928


Mr BRENNAN - Which are these executives ?


Dr EARLE PAGE - I shall give instances before I conclude my remarks. I have listened to the various attacks made on the bill both inside this House and outside, and I have failed to find any danger of harm being done to trade unionism.

It was said to-day, in the course of a typical speech from the other side, that one of the principal reasons why the measure should be opposed was that it brings a criminal code into the act. I point out that the code has been incorporated in the statute since 1904; but some honorable members opposite, apparently, have only just discovered the fact. Although the original act was passed during the life of the Labour party, and Labour governments have been in power since that time, nothing has been done by that party to improve it, or to remove the penal provisions of which it now complains. In common with everybody in Australia, I have listened in vain for some denunciation on the part of Labour leaders of the defiance by certain unions of the awards of the Arbitration Court, even to the extent of sacrificing the impartial awards of the court and having unions deregistered. Instead of being offered some data on which to build up constructive alterations of the bill, all we have had from the other side has been the same sort of . obstruction that came from the leaders of the workers 150 years ago when opposition was displayed to the introduction of machinery and improved methods. We are told that any change must be for the worse, and we have nothing more from the Labour party than a blind opposition to this bill ; a bemoaning of the fact that they lost the last election on an industrial issue, and evidence that they are terrified lest they should lose the next one as well.

The bill brings certain definite improvements into the domain of arbitration. First of all, it reduces to some extent, the duplication of Federal and State awards that exist at the present time. Italms at giving responsible and democratic self-government and control to the unions that are registered in the Federal Arbitration Court. It places the responsibility of disciplining the members of unions on the organizations themselves, and it provides means for the extinction of the smouldering fires of job control. All these things will help and not harm or hinder unionism at all.

The people of Australia have been waiting to hear some valid objections to the representation of Labour at the industrial peace conference that was summoned some time ago by the Prime

Minister; but they have waited in vain. A few amendments of minor importance have been suggested by the Leader of the Opposition and other honorable members opposite; but surely, if there was any place more suitable than another for the formulation of necessary amendments, it was at the conference called by the Prime Minister which was to be representative of all sides of industry, and at which the proceedings would have been free from the political atmosphere. Thi' Government's desire to remove causes of friction has been shown by its spontaneous action with respect to clause 48, which was so drawn by the draftsman as to leave possibly an impression on the lay mind that, by its legal interpretation, was not warranted. The amendment which we have circulated will alter it in such a way as to leave no doubt as to its actual meaning. It is remarkable that the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), in speaking both in this House and in Melbourne, devoted at least half his time to the particular amendment of the principal act that has now been withdrawn.


Mr Scullin - No.


Dr EARLE PAGE - I can only judge of the honorable member's speech in Melbourne by the newspaper reports, and at least half the space accorded him was filled by his remarks on that particular clause which had already been amended.


Mr Scullin - The Treasurer said that half my speech in this House was directed to that point. That is not correct. Let him refer to the Hansard report.


Dr EARLE PAGE - A considerable portion of his speech in this chamber had to do with that point. So oblique has been the outlook of the Opposition upon this bill, so obsessed has it been with the political advantage of fighting it, that it has had no time to give to wider issues, such as the effect of the bill upon industry and employment generally, and especially upon unionism as a whole. Apparently honorable members opposite have forgotten that arbitration systems, rules of conduct, and methods of organization are only instruments to secure a maximum return to the parties to industry.

There are four parties to industry - capital, labour, management, and the community. Too frequently we speak of only two parties - capital and labour - but the other two must be taken into consideration. The objective of all these parties should be the maximum material production that can be secured. Whatever increases production increases the purchasing power of the people, and, therefore, benefits all parties. The Government is trying to do everything possible to promote industrial efficiency, because only by high production are increased returns possible to all the parties to industry at the expense of none. I totally disagree with the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), who says that there is a definite limit to the productive capacity of this young country, with its population of 6,000,000, and its area of 3,000,000 square miles. He remarked that it would be disastrous if Australia over-produced meat, butter, and other commodities. I point out that we have an enormous overseas market, and there must always be a big demand for our products, since hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world are half starved and half clad. Taking the world as a whole there is no excess of production here; but full production is prevented by the obstructive tactics of certain trade union executives who object r to the unions, especially those of transport, carrying on their work with the greatest efficiency, and with the least cost to the community, thus enormously increasing production costs and making it impossible to compete with other countries.

Many years ago, Pasteur, the great French scientist, pointed out that there were two great laws operating in society - one, the destructive law, which he called the law of discord and death, and the other, the constructive law, which he described as the law of peace, work, and health. Practically everything in life is operated by one or other of those two dynamic forces. The citizens of the Commonwealth must choose between the law of discord and death, or the law of peace, work, and health. What has been done by the leaders of the unions? Mr. R. S. Ross, a prominent Labour writer, who has articles in the press almost every week, and who is, I think, a member of the Melbourne Trades Hall Council, stated, according to the official report of a meeting of that body, on 31st March of this year, that -

The industrial conference is simply an attempt to make it easy to introduce bribes to the working class in the form of piece-work and bonus systems. The weapon of industrial unrest is the only means whereby the working class can fight the forces arrayed against it.

He does not advocate industrial peace, but industrial unrest, and that is the law of discord and death. The Government believes that that is a hopeless attitude to adopt. It pleads for the operation of the constructive law of peace, work and health, and this bill is designed on those lines. It is designed to secure industrial peace.

Industrial peace must always be based on industrial justice, and industrial justice, if it is to have the quality of justice, must not be uncertain. If it is uncertain, it is not justice at all. The Government seeks to provide in the bill a method of securing industrial justice, and giving responsible self-government to industry, so that the individual will be assured of justice as well as the unions and the other parties to industry. Justice must be given to all the four parties to industry - labour, capital, management, and the community. In order to secure justice to the community, the proposed new section 25d, dealing with the economic position, has been inserted in the bill.

I have often pointed out that we can secure a satisfactory system only by determining the basic wage and the hours and conditions of employment on a physiological basis, to find the optimum number of hours that should be worked from a health point of view. During the war, it was found in Britain, Germany and other countries that the biggest output was obtained from those factories that regulated their working conditions on the basis of the physical health and well being of the employees. Rowntree's Chocolate Works, in York, have been carrying on upon that basis for years. It was discovered in those works that a certain number of working hours led to the best results, and that those results were compatible with the highest possible wages to the employees. It is generally recognized that, on the whole, high wages are really an index of efficiency. It is remarkable to note the hypocrisy of Labour in this matter. Its leaders are always declaring that the ministerial parties seek to do away with the minimum wage ; but these Labour leaders object to piece-work, the bonus system, and co-partnership between employer and employee, which would increase wages. To that system we have their strong and undying opposition.


Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They want to keep the workers on the bread line !


Dr EARLE PAGE - They want industrial unrest that would make the workers an easy prey to the agitator. We must have peace between capital and labour, just as it is essential for husbands and wives to find a peaceful basis on which to live together. That must surely be the basis of fair play and a square deal for both parties. That is the only basis on which industry, like sport, can be conducted.

To enable us to have fair play, properly defined, we need a properly designed system of regulation and rules that enables us to determine any deviation from the main principle, and fair play in industry necessitates recognition of the principles underlying the law of peace, work and health. The first of those is that the interests of all the four parties to industry are common. Occasionally they may seem to be opposite; but they are always common, and never opposed. The second principle is founded upon a recognition of the possibility of discrimination between human and material values, and the recognition that human interests must override others if they conflict. The third principle is that to secure agreement there must be a spirit of mutual consideration and constructive goodwill. This has been shown already in Australia, because it is conceded that the right to form associations and organizations of capital and labour is fundamental, and includes the right to bargain collectively through chosen representatives. Thus there has been developed a sense of equality, and a system of collective agreements between labour and capital, between the great mass of the workers, on the one hand, and the organizations of capital on the other, has grown up.

To give force to such collective agreements, we must have a legal system to record them, and to provide for the formulation and enforcement of impartial decisions fair to the community and to other parties when capital and labour cannot agree. Such decisions must be final, and must be obeyed. To secure obedience to them, we must have some satisfactory system of. governing industries. Such laws of industry, like other laws, can only be administered with the consent of the governed. Unfortunately, the regulation of law and order in industry has lagged behind industrial development. The industrial revolution of 150 years ago came so suddenly, and caused such tremendous developments within so short a period of time, that the system of control lingered well behind the actual growth of industries, and personal contact between employers and employed was, to a large extent, lost. In the early stages of the industrial revolution, this permitted the exploitation of the workers. That still rankles in the minds of the wage-earners, even though such exploitation has -been completely banished, not only by legislative effort, but also by public opinion and tradition. The hardships of other days are not experienced by the workers of to-day. As a matter of fact, we have reached the stage at which the dangers to the working class and to unionism are not the rapacity or greed of employers, but the ambition and selfishness of those in charge of the industrial machine. The various systems of industrial law, which prevail in all important industrial countries, protect the workers from exploitation. But the enormous autocratic power which is placed in the hands of irresponsible, ambitious, and frequently, it is feared, unscrupulous leaders, is the chief danger which faces trade- unionism to-day. '

The government of industry tends to follow, to a large extent, the same lines of development as other forms of government. There comes first an autocratic centralized government; secondly, a partially representative government; and, thirdly, democratic, responsible self-government. The industrial revolution brought into being a highly centralized organization, and the government of industry presents all the problems which centralization of government has always presented. Units of " industry find themselves at the mercy of officials and executive committees, and industrial war is often caused by the caprice of autocratic leaders, just as, in the old days, warsbetween nations were caused at the caprice of their autocratic kings and rulers.

In Australia to-day the leaders of trade unions have a great deal of power which they often exercise in opposition to the view of the members of their unions. That is so in the marine cooks' dispute, which is at present engaging public attention. In corroboration of that statement, I direct the attention of honorable members to the following extracts from a letter which was sent to the Industrial Registrar, Mr. A. M. Stewart, by members of the Queensland branch of the Marine Cooks, Bakers, and Butchers' Union : -

We feel that it is time that the management of the union was carried on according to the rules registered under the Arbitration Act, and not by the general secretary and executive committee, and a few members in Sydney, as at present. Matters in dispute are -

1.   No members outside Sydney have any voice in the business of the union.

2.   There are no nominations called or ballot held every year as per rules for election of executive committee and general secretary.

3.   We know nothing about the financial state of affairs, only that we get an annual report and balance-sheet every year. And we find that expenses are by far too great.

4.   We must pay our contributions and levies; obey orders from Sydney whether we like them or not. We are paying machines only. Now we want the rules carried out, nominations called throughout Australia, and ballot held, every member having his rights by the rules.

5.   Every branch and agency to receive the minutes, and cash accounts of general meetings in Sydney, together with the business and motions and the right to vote on same.

We consider that if the voice of the whole of the members carried on the business instead of a few as at present, it would save a lot of disputes, and things would run smoothly.

That letter was written within the last fortnight, and it expresses the desire of a body of trade unionists for the power to govern their own union affairs. They feel that, if they could do so, there would be more likelihood of preserving industrial peace. Honorable members opposite do not support that attitude, nor do the executive officers of the union concerned. As Mr. Tudehope, himself, has said, "It is your business to pay, and our business to run the show."


Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that an official communication or a personal letter?


Dr EARLE PAGE - The letter appeared in the Brisbane Daily Mail on 14th May. It was signed by a number of members of the union and sent to the Industrial Registrar.

But a change must be wrought in industrial methods. There must be a transition from centralized authority to decentralized self-government. It is with the object of bringing about such a change that this bill has been introduced. The evils of the centralized system of control are admitted by responsible leaders of the Labour party. "We are entitled to assume that ex-Senator Arthur Rae is still one of the responsible leaders of the Labour movement. "Writing in the Labor Daily on the 1st January of this year, Mr. Rae said -

It must be admitted " That disputes do arise between members and their officials, and that charges of corruption, ballot-faking, and other unjust practices on the part of officials are sometimes made."

The reasons for the mis-government of unions may be classified under two heads, the most important being the carelessness and. apathy of the membership, in some cases allowing a clique of officials almost unchecked powers, which are certain to lead to abuses. The other is the faulty construction of some unions, notably that of the A.W.U., which by failing to prohibit paid officials from acting in a legislative capacity has enabled them to amend the rules and constitution in their own interests and practically exclude the rank and file from the government of their own organization.

The Government is of opinion that the provision in this bill for the holding of secret ballots would give the rank and file of trade unionists the power to control their own affairs, and to avoid domination by executive officers. We do not believe for a moment that the secret ballot would be used only in connexion with strike and lockout proposals. We think it would be the means also of giving trade unionists a proper say in the internal management of their union, and in regard to the conditions under which they are prepared to work. The attitude of trade unionists generally on such questions as piece-work, bonus systems, job control, and so on, could be determined by means of the secret ballot. This would be of great value to trade unionists and industry generally.

To illustrate the difference between a well-managed and a badly-managed union, I propose to give some definite figures which are enlightening. I shall deal first with the New South Wales branch of the Gas Employees' Federation. In 1925, which is the last full year for which the returns of the Registrar of Unions has been published, the members of that union paid £3,614 in contributions, and received in benefits £1,169. The management expenses of the organization were £2,583, and its funds at the end of the year £5,890. It is significant that that well-managed union was favorable to the proposal of the Government to hold an industrial peace conference. My authority for that statement is Mr. Rawlin, the secretary of the organization, who was reported as follows in the Labour Daily : -

The industrial peace conference is a very fine move which should be endorsed by lovers of peace on both sides.

My industry has since (by round-table conferences, &c. ), been working more peaceably than for the past 40 years to my knowledge. The men in seven years of negotiated peace have received three separate wage increases - more sick pay and accident pay - and fiveday week.

If the conference is successful the workers should gain by securing more constant employment, which means a regular wage coming into the home every week, instead of a casual wage as at present.

Such statements are in marked contrast to those of honorable members opposite, and the leaders of some industrial organizations. The fact of the matter is, of course, that trade unions which obey the law, do not fear legislation of this description. Only people who do wrong fear the law. That is always the case. Honorable members opposite may take that statement to heart. On our statutebook there are scores of penal laws, but if a man means to run straight does he worry about them? It is only when people are acting wrongly that they have this terrible fear which is expressed by honorable members opposite and by so many men outside, who by their tyranny and self-seeking, are keeping out of employment men who would be glad to go to work every day in the week.


Mr Blakeley - Is the honorable member in order in making statements of that description ?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Bayley - If the honorable member for Darling desires to raise a point of order he must do so in the proper manner.


Mr Blakeley - I rise to a point of order. The Treasurer has stated that only those who are doing wrong, fear legislation of this description.







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