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Thursday, 7 June 1928


Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- This clause, although perhaps not quite so vicious as clause 8 is, nevertheless obnoxious. One wonders at the vengeful manner in which the Government is pursuing the unions. The bill has evidently been deliberately drafted to strike a blow at trade unions and with less anxiety to get at the guilty people, than to make the unions guilty in every case.


Sir Elliot Johnson - That is unworthy of the honorable member.


Mr SCULLIN - It is a fact. Rather is the bill unworthy of the honorable member who voted for it; rather is it true that those who voted for clause 8 are unworthy to represent free men in a free country. There is not a scintilla of justice in these clauses. Both embody vicious principles. I can imagine no circumstances in which, if an officer of a union or a member of a committee of management were found guilty of an offence committed in a responsible capacity for and with the approval of the union, the organization would not pay his fine; but this clause is designed to meet circumstances in which the union will not voluntarily pay the fine of the individual officer. That could happen only when the officer or individual member of a committee was acting in defiance of his union.


Mr Charlton - He may be creating trouble and disrupting the union.


Mr SCULLIN - There may be a man on the committee of management of a branch hundreds of miles from the head office, who, by virtue of his official position, has taken upon himself authority to advise or encourage men to go on strike. The organization may repudiate his action, and may even have him removed from the committee. Yet, if he is proceeded against under this law, the court may order the union to pay his fine up to £10. That could be done in respect of the members of the committee of management of every branch of a wide-spread organization. The object of the conciliation and arbitration legislation is to encourage the formation of organizations and their registration under the act. Unless there be organizations duly registered, there can be no arbitration. The Government has directed public attention to what is called the recalcitrant unions that are holding up the transport services of Australia. The body which is most held up to public opprobrium is the Seamen's Union; yet it is immune from all the penalties under this bill.


Sir Elliot Johnson - Then what is the honorable member grumbling about?


Mr SCULLIN - It is immune because it is not registered under the Arbitration Act. This law aims at the organizations that are registered. The Attorney-General suggested, and other honorable members have stated outright, that we who are opposing the bill desire that labour organizations shall be permitted to register under the act, break the law, and escape the penalties. That is not true. We say that bodies of employers or workers who register under the law, and yet commit breaches of it, should be subject to the penalties which the law provides. But we say also that an innocent union should not be penalized for the offence of an individual acting irresponsibly and without authority. It is necessary to refer back to clause8 to show how the vicious principle contained in it is being extended. Can honorable members justify the fining of a union for the action of a member of a committee of management of a branch - an action taken without the authority of the union, and even in defiance of instructions? The union's advice may have been heeded and peace maintained in the industry, but although it has defeated the object of the individual member who strove to create a strike, it is still liable to be fined under clause 8. Having gone that far, do honorable members think it fair that the union should then be called upon to pay the fine of the individual who caused the trouble in defiance of its instruction?


Mr Seabrook - Is he not an official of the union?


Mr SCULLIN - There may be twenty members on the committee of management of a distant branch of a union, and one of them may advise the men to go on strike. The other nineteen may advise against that course, and their advice may prevail ; the individual who tried to cause the trouble may even be removed from the committee because of his action, but even in those circumstances the union may be fined and also compelled to pay the fine imposed on the individual.


Mr Maxwell - It is unthinkable that in those circumstances the union would be ordered to pay the fine.


Mr SCULLIN - Can the honorable member imagine any circumstances in which an organization would refuse to pay the fine of an individual member or officer who had been punished for carrying out the instructions of his union ?


Mr Maxwell - No.


Mr Latham - I can, and I have learned of such instances.


Mr SCULLIN - I shall be glad to hear from the Attorney-General of any such case. If the organization is not willing to pay the fine of the individual member, why should it be compelled to do so? It has already paid the fine imposed upon it for the action of the individual, and surely the court should not then be empowered to say that the union should pay the fine of the individual also, although it was proved that his action was contrary to its decision and instruction.


Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - The court has discretionary power.


Mr SCULLIN - We have heard that repeated over and over again.


Mr Ley - The honorable member will hear it again.


Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It is true.


Mr SCULLIN - The only defence which honorable members opposite can offer for this vicious proposal is that the court can be relied upon not to carry out the statute ; or, if it does carry it out to impose only a nominal penalty. When the viciousness of this proposal is pointed out, the supporters of it say, "But the court may not do anything as bad as we have told it to do." The Government is legislating in a biased way to penalize innocent people, and then they gloss over their vindictiveness by saying, " Oh, but the court may impose only a nominal penalty."


Mr Ley - That is the honorable member's interpretation.


Mr SCULLIN - It is the plain meaning of the bill, and the Attorney-General stated definitely this afternoon that if a member of a committee commits an offence against this law, the union should be punished, regardless of whether or not he acted with its authority. . The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) endeavoured to modify that vicious principle, but it was upheld by the supporters of the Government, and it is being emphasized in this clause. I ask honorable members to consider what can happen under clauses 7, 8, and 10. A committee of management of 24 members may meet to discuss a suggestion that a section of the workers in an industry should strike. Eighteen members of the committee may vote against a strike; six may vote for it. But the minority kick over the traces and refuse to abide by the decision of the eighteen. The views of the majority prevail, and peace in the industry is restored, but not before the advice of the minority has caused 50 men in one section to down tools. Each of those six men may be fined, and the union may be compelled to pay each of the fines up to £10. And the union itself may be fined up to £1,000 unless it expels the offenders, although it may already have removed them from the committee. After all that has happened, the employers may get from the court a declaration of the existence of a strike, and bring about a lockout throughout the industry. - There is nothing much left to do for that union but to boil its members in oil. As the old play has it, " The villian still pursues them." The villian, in the shape of this legislation, still pursues the unions from clause to clause, rendering them liable to penalties for offences of which they are not guilty, and penalising them at every stage, right along the line.


Mr Maxwell - This is melodrama, pure and simple.


Mr SCULLIN - It is not. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) who sits with his tongue in his cheek and sneers, will later realize that it is tragedy.


Mr Parkhill - It is serio-comic.


Mr SCULLIN - The honorable member could not be taken seriously in any deliberative assembly, so I ignore him.


Mr Brennan - Is it hurting over there?


Mr SCULLIN - It is, otherwise there would not be so much squealing. Honorable members opposite, who complacently support this drastic legislation, must realize that they will probably succeed in driving the organized unions out of the Arbitration Court. They may be successful in carrying this measure, and bringing about the abolition of arbitration in Australia. . But there is one thing that honorable members opposite cannot do: they cannot destroy the force of organized labour in this country. Organized labour will be compelled to carry on its fight to attain better conditions by the use of methods which will not be as good for the community as those which it has previously adopted. It should be realized that 95 percent. of organized labour in Australia has been carrying on under our arbitration law for 24 years without ever having stopped the wheels of industry ; without ever having gone on strike, or disobeyed an award of the court - although many times those- awards were distasteful to it. The Government is now driving those unionists into such a position that they will be forced to recognize that this class of legislation is unfair, and, if it is enforced, they will seize the earliest opportunity to break away from it. That is the responsibility that honorable members opposite have to face, and for which this Government will be remembered as the years roll on. I remind honorable members opposite that other governments which passed coercive legislation have gone out of existence, and that their coercive laws have also ceased to exist.


Mr Foster - Name one.


Mr SCULLIN - The Irvine Government of Victoria, and the Wade Government of New South Wales. I am not like the Attorney-General, who makes a statement and is unable to support it with facts. Honorable members opposite can trace the history of the industrial struggle as far back as they like and they will find that always the Governments responsible for the introduction of coercive legislation have fallen from power, and their coercive legislation has vanished with them.


Mr Foster - The cream of labour is asking for this legislation.


Mr SCULLIN - I challenge the honorable member to influence his Government to adopt the suggestion of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and apply his first test of a secret ballot of the organized unions of Australia to any clause in this bill.


Mr Foster - The right honorable member for North Sydney took up the challenge of the honorable member and smashed it to smithereens last night.


Mr SCULLIN - If I could understand the honorable member I should endeavour to reply to his interjection. I remind the Government that it will not weaken the trade union movement by this blow. Rather will it strengthen it.


Mr Parkhill - It will strengthen the legitimate unions.


Mr SCULLIN - It will strengthen the unions which are resenting the introduction of this legislation. The AttorneyGeneral cannot deny that there is a body of men at the head of our great trade union movement, the Australian Council of Trades Unions, which is doing more to try to bring, about peace on the waterfront than all the honorable members opposite have ever done in their lives. The honorable gentleman knows the names of those men ; he has received them in deputation and conferred with them. That organization is protesting against this legislation. It is the people who are termed the " reds " who are gloating tonight over the fact that this legislation is being passed.


Mr Maxwell - Does not the honorable member also call them " reds " ?


Mr SCULLIN - I do. They are as delighted with this measure as the " reds " amongst the employers. There is joy to-night in the camps of the extremists who sit behind honorable members opposite, and in those of the extremists among the trade unionists who are known as " reds." They do not want arbitration, or legal methods of settling disputes. They do not want the political labour platform. Their members never make a speech without condemning the political Labour party. They are delighted that the Government is doing this thing; that it will make arbitration objectionable by the passage of legislation of this description. The Government if it enforces this legislation will drive the genuine workers of Australia, representing about 95 per cent, of the unionists, and who are at present working peacefully under the arbitration law, out of the court and compel them to resort to the only weapon left to them, the weapon of direct action.







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