Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 May 1928


Mr WEST (East Sydney) . - Having been all my life connected with the industrial movement, I feel that I should not be doing my duty if I did not offer the strongest opposition to this bill. It is wrongly called an Arbitration and Conciliation Bill. Conciliation means to gain love and good-will, to make friends, to pacify. Arbitration means to refer matters, private or public, to the judgment of a selected person or persons. This measure, instead of aiming at conciliation and arbitration, is designed to create criminal offences and to prosecute those who should be encouraged and assisted, if the purpose of the bill is what its title indicates. It is the most anti-working class bill ever produced in a British Parliament. It is a barefaced attempt to smash unionism, and is full of legal deviltries. Those are harsh words, but I shall justify them.

I propose to review briefly the origin of legislation relating to industrial conciliation and arbitration. In 1882, when I was secretary of the Trades and Labour Council in Sydney, several minor disputes occurred. Sir George Dibbs and others approached me and asked if they could address the council regarding legislation for the prevention of strikes and lockouts. This first created some interest in the question. When the maritime strike occurred in 1891, Sir Henry Parkes was Premier of New South Wales. Unfortunately for him and Australia, he sustained a .broken leg, and during his incapacitation the Government was controlled by Sir William McMillan and Mr. Bruce Smith. They did everything possible to hinder the strikers and assist the ship-owners. The system of stipendiary magistrates had just been established, and representatives of the Government filled one of them with liquour, and sent him to Circular Quay, where two policemen held him up while he mumbled something about the Riot Act. Nobody could understand a syllable of what he said. Fortunately this ruse to create a disturbance failed, wisdom prevailed, and the men did nothing of a riotous character. After a time Sir Henry Parkes appointed a royal commission to report upon the best means of preventing strikes and lockouts.

Many honorable members opposite have said that they could not understand why the recent invitation of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) to attend the Industrial Peace Conference was not accepted by the Labour organizations. The reason is plain enough. The Government had already introduced this vicious bill, and while negotiations were taking place with the employers' and workers' organizations, newspapers mentioned the names of certain people who were likely to be delegates to the conference. Amongst them were a representative of the National Women's League, Sir Robert Gibson, and Mr. Baillieu, of Melbourne. Neither of the latter is in favour of arbitration; they hold that there should be no interference with private enterprise, and that employers should have liberty to do as they please, so that it is obvious that a conference with persons of their views would be futile. The workers' organizations therefore wisely refused the invitation to a conference which they realized could be exploited dangerously by capitalists who had no sincere desire to promote industrial peace. Had the Government been sincere in its proposal, it would have followed the example set by Sir Henry Parkes 37 years ago. The men' whom he appointed to the royal commission were not merely wealthy employers and chairmen of public companies; but were representative of the trades unions and industries - men who had a direct interest in helping to bring the inquiry to a successful issue. If honorable members opposite desire to understand the industrial movement, they cannot do better than read the report and evidence of that commission.

Unfortunately, the parties that have been in power in the Commonwealth for the last few years do not include one statesman. The Prime Minister is merely a politician, with an eye always fixed on the next election. During the life of this Parliament, the Government has done nothing constructive. Its policy has been to destroy or weaken institutions that, if left unhindered, would have rendered great benefit to the nation. I remind the House of the sale of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers, the undermining of the Commonwealth Bank-


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Can the honorable member connect those remarks with the bill?


Mr WEST - Yes ; this bill is designed to destroy the Arbitration Act which the Labour party had placed upon the statute-book, and I am snowing that this endeavour is in conformity with the general policy of the Government.

I am afraid that there is little prospect of defeating the bill at the second-reading stage*; therefore any improvement of it will have to be effected in committee. That any good can come of it I doubt, because Ministerial members are not taking a broad national view; they are blinded by prejudice, and are not actuated by christian and humane ideals: The Government may have a mandate from the people to improve the arbitration and conciliation law, but the electors did not expect that they would go to the extremes that are proposed in this measure.

The Attorney-General had hardly moved the second reading of the bill before the Government Printer was busily engaged in printing 28 amendments to it. I do not know that we have had in this Parliament anything to parallel that. I do not think the Attorney-General knew the baby he was to carry when he introduced a bill so utterly opposed to the wishes of the people. There is no one on the other side of the chamber who really understands the industrial position.

I notice that the press of Australia has haled the introduction of this bill with delight. The proprietors of the great journals of Australia are delighted to think that a bill may be passed which will enable them to do their utmost to combat the efforts of the Australian Journalists' Association to secure better wages and improved conditions. Some years ago when a few gentlemen connected with the Australian Worker and Truth, and a few casual contributors to the Bulletin and similar publications, formed the nucleus of the Australian Journalists' Association and opened an office in Pitt-street, the journalists on the leading newspapers did not dare to be seen entering that office. Employment at that time was not very plentiful. The proprietors used all the forms of the court to prevent the registration of the association, contending that the journalists were not engaged in an industry, but they were unsuccessful, and eventually the association was registered and submitted a claim to the court. To-day all the journalists of Australia are members of the Australian JournalistsAssociation, and the proprietors of the newspapers have to pay them decent wages. The Bank Clerks' Association had a similar struggle before it was registered under the Arbitration Act. I remember when bank clerks could hardly call their souls their own. On miserable pittances, which no workman would accept, they had to dress like dukes. If they worked at night they were given ls. 6d. for tea money, and were compelled to get their meals at a particular restaurant where the full amount they were allowed would be absorbed. They could not marry without the permission of the directors of the banks in which they were employed. When a Labour Government was in power in New South Wales some of the clerks in the Government Savings Bank formed a union, gradually clerks in other banks joined up, and the membership was sufficent to enable it to secure registration and apply to the Arbitration Court for an award. The directors of the banks who at that time did all they could to interfere with this organization are to-day delighted at the introduction of a bill which will enable them to interfere with it with more effect.

It must be apparent to the dullest-witted person that the desire of honorable members opposite, and those with whom they are closely associated, is to abolish the Conciliation and Arbitration Act so thai they may control their business affairs without interference. A few days ago, at a meeting of the Graziers' Association, it was frankly said that employers " should be permitted to pay their employees less than the rate of wage fixed by the Arbitration Court," but Sir Graham Waddell advised the meeting to be careful lest it might leak out that the aim of the Graziers' Association was to reduce wages, and this might do a lot of injury to the Government. I mention this to show that those who employ labour look upon this bill as an opportunity to reduce wages and lower the industrial standard in Australia.

Under this bill the Arbitration Court will have power to refuse the registration of any agreement that has been mutually drawn up by employers and employees, on the ground that it is not in the public interest. That this provision should be included in the bill is beyond my comprehension. In the plumbing trade the employers and the employees meet each November and fix the rate of wages and the conditions of employment for the following year. There has never been a strike in the plumbing trade. This may be due to the fact that master plumbers are practically all professional men ; they must go through a technical course before they can get a certificate that they are fit and proper persons to hold a master plumber's licence. The only people who have tried to block the plumbers are the members of the Builders and Contractors Association, for whom this bill will provide a very fine lever. Agreements between employers and employees were entered into long before I came on this planet. When the first arbitration bill was drawn up I received from Great Britain a book containing the coopers' rules which was 150 years old. Every year the coopers of Great Britain meet and fix in detail the wages that should prevail in the industry for the following year. In Leeds there has always been a system of fixing wages by mutual arrangements between employers and employees, and every arrangement so made is duly registered and stamped just as the agreements in the plumbing trade are brought into the Arbitration Court for ratification. But this bill will smash all such agreements if the court is given power to take into consideration the economic position. It is a most dangerous power to give to a court whose members are legal men with no knowledge of industry, trade or commerce.

Another feature of the bill to which one is justified in offering strenuous opposition is that which provides for the holding of secret ballots among the members of a union. How easy it will be for an employer to select ten persons out of an organization of, say, 5,000 men, and induce them to apply to have a secret ballot taken. By selecting men in necessitous circumstances, and offering each a £10 note, an unscrupulous employer will be able to achieve his nefarious ends. 1 cannot understand the attitude of the AttorneyGeneral. He is a young man with bright prospects .before him. No doubt he possesses his full share of vanity. Probably he expects to become a High Court judge on some suitable occasion - yet he is assisting the Government to use this miserable instrument to punish- those who really deserve sympathy. The honorable gentleman must remember that he is the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth, not merely the representative of the Employers' Federation or of the National party. I recollect that, a few years ago. he and the present Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Bavin) were retained for the purpose of frustrating the endeavours of our civil servants to obtain access to the Federal Arbitration Court. Surely, those people have as much right as anybody else to enjoy the privileges of the court.

The mere mention of certain names appears to give some honorable members opposite nightmare. Apropos of that, I remember that on one occasion I spoke in the Domain in Sydney on a very contentious subject, assisted by a person who occupied a prominent position in New South Wales. Classing us as undesirables, the then Attorney-General, who later became a High Court judge, caused us to be shadowed by the police in an endeavour to create trouble. He also sent a certain barrister to Broken Hill in the endeavour to cause a riot. That barrister possessed an insatiable thirst, under the influence of which he said outrageous things, and his objectionable behaviour precipitated trouble. The Tory newspapers of the time called us very nasty names. That merely illustrates how some people are obsessed by tlie " extremist " bugbear. After all, the extremist of today is the moderate of to-morrow. It must be apparent to any thinking person that all this talk about Jock Garden being " red " is mere childish babbling. Of what are the Attorney-General and honorable members opposite afraid? Of Jock Garden telling the truth? Throughout the pages of British history we read of men who have been more advanced than others in their ideas. That is necessary to the advancement of a nation. The moment we become merely a mutual admiration society we shall retrogress, and the fall of Borne will be as nothing compared with that of the British Empire.

Some people see no further than their waist-coat pockets, and I pray that our Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) may yet rise above being merely a party politician, -and become a statesman. A statesman has a broad vision, and considers the present and future, whereas the vision of a politician is restricted to the next election. The Prime Minister has considerable ability, and probably the only honorable member opposite who could take his place satisfactorily is the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). That right honorable member has been AttorneyGeneral of the Commonwealth, and in referring to ±his bill he said that if its wording is intended to convey what it legally means, it is a measure that should be opposed by every honorable member who believes in liberty and justice. How, after the action of this Government in connexion with the Crimes Act, and also the maritime strike,- can the industrialists be expected to have any confidence in the Government. Beared as I have been in the cradle of democracy, I cannot condemn the British seamen who struck just before the last election, for striving to obtain justice from the ship-owners of Great Britain, who wanted to reduce their wages from £10 to £9 per month. We need strong unions to protect our workers from the tyrannical action of these huge shipping combines, which have an aggregate capital of £85,000,000. They may be placed in a similar category to the public company in Sydney which was stated to have " Neither soul to be damned nor body to be kicked." I have always found that mining and shipping companies are most despotic employers, and their employees are justified in protecting themselves against their tyranny.

Until the claim of Labour to a share in- the control and division of the products of industry is recognized, no peace is possible. I believe that the principles of arbitration and conciliation will pave the way to a realization of that objective. I am not a revolutionist; I believe that we can gradually effect an improvement in our social system by constitutional means. Honorable members must make up their minds that the existing conditions cannot continue. We were assured that the last great war would effect wonderful changes, but what has been the result? Instead of so many millions of pounds being spent in providing powder and shot to blow out men's brains, they ought to have been utilized in more productive channels. The Government will never succeed in breaking the spirit of unionism; all that it will accomplish will be the generation of a spirit of unrest and antagonism. I believe that every worker should be a member of an industrial union. During my apprenticeship, and later when I became a journeyman, I belonged to the organization in my particular trade, and when I became an employer I joined up with, the employers' organization. The banding together of the different units in the industrial field will prove the salvation of our race. It is the duty of every man to advance the interests of his calling and raise it to the highest possible standard. I admire the medical profession, because every practitioner of any note is a member of its organization. They have no need to demand preference for unionists. Four years ago a doctor of medicine came out from England to practise in the City of Adelaide. He had passed through the London and Dublin universities, and had there secured the highest diplomas that are obtainable in any part of the world. He was called to a patient and wished to perform an operation ; but he was told that he would not be allowed to touch the sick man until he had become a member of the local organization. That attitude may incur the condemnation of many persons, but in my view it merits approbation, because I believe that it is essential for the members of the medical profession to conserve their interests, and to see that every person who practises medicine possesses the necessary qualifications. The legal profession also comprises a body of men which jealously guards the interests of its members. In earlier times I spent many evenings in the Athenaeum Club in Sydney, in the company of the Hon. B. R. "Wise, who introduced in the Legislative Council of New South Wales the original State arbitration bill. He proved to me that in the year in which he sponsored that measure, his income as a barrister amounted to £6,000; but in the two following years it did not average more than £2,000. He had a retainer from the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney to appear in all litigation in which they were interested. He visited Melbourne in connexion with a banking case, and he informed me that. he had to pay £50 before he was allowed to appear in the Victorian court. Yet honorable members opposite hold up their hands in horror when they learn that wharf labourers are asked to pay 6d. or 9d. a week towards a fighting fund to maintain their wages at a level which will ensure them reasonable comfort.

I was struck to-night by the speech of the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). It was supplied to him by the opponents of the arbitration system, and I was amazed at its stupidity. If the honorable gentleman is anxious to serve Australia well, he should devote his energies to unravelling the financial tangle that has resulted from his administration. He recently floated a loan of £10,000,000 on the American market. That excursion abroad will have cost Australia £22,945,000 by the time the loan is redeemed. I have learned from the financial columns of the Australian newspapers that the money could have been obtained in Australia, because at the time there were those who were anxious to invest in Commonwealth loans. The Treasurer must have been possessed of that information, and he should have seen to it that the interest on the amount raised was distributed in this country, thus assisting the unemployed, instead of being sent abroad.

As I have said previously, I am prepared to donate £20 to a fund to be used in burning this bill publicly in every city in Australia. It is not susceptible to alteration, and it cannot do other than cause injury. The only reasonable course for us to adopt is to cast it into oblivion. Under it the people will grow discontented, and disregard the golden rule - Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you. It is extraordinary that a measure designed ostensibly to improve our arbitration machinery should require to be so materially altered in committee to achieve the desired objective. I can easily imagine what would have been said by such men as the late Mr. Alfred Deakin, Mr. Glynn, and Sir Joseph Cook, if a Labour Government had introduced a proposal along the lines of this amending measure. Sir

Joseph. Cook, 37 years ago, declared that preference to unionists must be a cardinal principle in any arbitration bill, and he issued a warning against any provisions that would permit of the appearance of members of the legal profession in any proceedings for the settlement of industrial disputes. His proposal was that tribunals should be established, comprising one person from each .side, with an impartial chairman. How different is the position to-day. We have a number of highly paid judges appointed for life presiding over the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. These gentlemen have been drawn from the legal fraternity, and when practising their profession were engaged always by the opponents of arbitration. There was little hope of their being retained by labour organizations to watch the interests of the working classes. There is also at present a costly commission of inquiry sitting in Sydney. Some of the legal gentlemen appearing on behalf of the respective parties are drawing fees of 50 guineas a day and over. Since it is such lucrative employment f or _ the gentlemen referred to, no one can say how long it will last.


Mr SPEAKER (Hon Sir Littleton Groom - The honorable member's time has expired.







Suggest corrections