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Thursday, 7 June 1928

Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) might become a success as a member of a circus troupe, but he is a rank failure as a debater. He showed a deplorable ignorance of the elementary principles which underlie our conciliation and arbitration laws. In a sound arbitration act penalties could be dispensed with. The Government is noi justified in attempting to make criminals out of honest men whose only desire is to assist their fellows. I am sorry to say that the utterances of honorable members opposite are just what we might expect from gentlemen who keep the company that they do. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has won some fame as a member of the legal profession ; but he should remember that his constituency contains many industrialists who have a right to expect him to do something to better their conditions. Many of them voted for him because they believed that he would act. fairly by them. I regret to say that he shows no inclination to do. so. Some honorable members opposite %re seeking to impose penalties upon men whose boots they are not fit to clean. Men like myself who were associated with, the framing of the first arbitration legislation enacted in Aus. tralia never anticipated the imposition of penalties such as are proposed in this bill. The weapon of the strike can never be taken from the worker. Men cannot be forced to, follow occupations which they regard as detrimental to their health. They will not work in coal mines that are badly ventilated. I remember taking part, in a deputation that waited on. the proprietors- of a coal mine whose workings the miners dared not enter because they were so> badly ventilated.

The reply of that proprietor - that he did not care if his mine was shut down for twelve months, because the coal would still be there, although in the meantime the workers might starve- was one of those things that gave men the courage to devote their time and their scanty means to devising some method by which strikes could be prevented and disputes between employers and employees peacefully settled. To-day, however, we find men doing their utmost to enforce penalties on the unions with the idea of making the organizations suffer. We know that the members of unions would rather go to gaol than pay fines imposed on them for breaches of the industrial law, and in that attitude they have my blessing. I am proud that I belong to the same race. Have we forgotten the British labourers who were sent to prison when they sought to have their wages increased from 7s. to 8s. a week? They were transported in some cases, merely because they fought for the cause of their fellows. Those who are supporting this bill want to humiliate the workers; they want to see them crawling on their stomachs to ask favours of the employers. But the workers will not be humiliated. Do we not often find them courageous enough to get up at their gatherings and protest even against the determination of a court that has sought to lower the standards of wages that they have been endeavouring to keep up in Australia? It is evidently the purpose of the present Government to use every means at its disposal to knock the spirit out of such men as these. Each day our proceedings are opened with the Lord's Prayer. But the actions of some honorable members in this chamber do not coincide with the words they utter when they repeat that prayer. The Attorney-General no doubt regards himself as a christian, but the spirit of Christianity is not apparent in the bill he has introduced. The measure imposes a fine of £50 on a member of a union who does any one of certain things. Does the Attorney-General believe for one moment that the organization would allow that member to pay it? Loyalty to fellow mas is nowhere displayed more strongly than it is among unionists. Take, for example,the noble deeds dona by miners to save their fellows. That is the spirit whichruns throughout union ism. The penalties in this hill have been devised te punish men like Walsh and Johnson, who have caused some trouble. As I have said on previous occasions, I would subscribe from my pocket towards a fund for the public burning of the bill, . but, unfortunately, influential organizations of employers are wedded to it, and honorable members opposite are dependent upon them for support at the next election. I must content myself with expressing my total opposition to these unjust inroads upon the system of arbitration.

Amendment agreed to.

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