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Saturday, 9 June 1928

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .-! think that the committee will be in general agreement with this proposed section. If it does not do any good, it certainly cannot do any harm, and I am sufficiently optimistic to believe that it can do a considerable amount of good. The conciliation section of the principal act has done a considerable amount of good in preserving industrial peace.

I wish to refer to the rather urgent situation that has been referred to by the Attorney-General. The honorable gentleman informed the committee this morning that the Prime Minister had received a telegram from the Premier of Victoria which, apparently, is practically on the lines of the suggestions which I made last night. It urges that, instead of applying the Crimes Act to the existing situation, we should exhaust the possibilities of conciliation under the existing Arbitration Act. I expressed that view last night, and I reiterate it now with emphasis. I do so with all sincerity, because I am satisfied from my knowledge of human nature, and of the trade union movement, that a false step has been taken in applying the Crimes Act when other methods are at hand, the application of which, I am satisfied, would meet with success. I have been in touch this morning with the heads of the trade union organizations of Australia, and I am assured that it is their strong conviction that if a compulsory conference were called between the ship-owners and the cooks there would be an immediate settlement of the dispute. The Government has gone some way along the lines suggested by me last night and by the telegram from the Premier of Victoria, of which I knew nothing last night, and I gather that it has been transmitted to the Industrial Registrar, I presume for submission to the court. The terms of that telegram at least indicate to the court the opinion of one State Government, but surely it is more important to convey to the court, through the Registrar, the opinion of the Federal Government. I do not suggest that this Government should attempt to instruct or control the court, but surely the Government may move the court to action by conveying to it the view of this Parliament which, if unanimous, is the view of the Australian people. I believe that every honorable member in this chamber desires to have this trouble settled. If that is so, we should have it recorded that it is the unanimous decision of this Parliament that a compulsory conference should be called at once. I do not want to burk the position. I know that the court did move in the matter and that its efforts failed. I am not condoning the action that' led to its failure, and I am not withdrawing what I said last night as to the action of the cooks' union in ignoring the advice and the recommendations of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. But I repeat that it is a fundamental error to endeavour to make a crime out of something which is not criminal in character. The effect must be the very antithesis of that for which we are striving in this conciliation clause. Such an action at once does an injustice to somebody. No matter how much one may be opposed to the action of somebody else, when one tries to bring into use the sledge-hammer and to penalize that person unduly, he at once arouses general sympathy in favour of that individual, and inflames the passions of the trade union movement. That is what must follow the manifest injustice of bringing into operation the provisions of the Crimes Act to deal with actions which are, of themselves, not criminal. If an individual is guilty of any act of a criminal nature, the criminal code is in existence to deal with him, but an industrial act is not a criminal one. No parliament should declare it criminal, and no government should apply the criminal code to acts which are not criminal.

I make an urgent appeal to the Acting Leader of the Government to get into touch at once with the Prime Minister, and to transmit to the Registrar of the Arbitration Court a message from this Government, similar to that which has been forwarded from the Premier of Victoria. I am satisfied that, in the circumstances, no court would feel that its self-respect was injured, or that it is being instructed as to what it shall do. It would realize that the intimation represented all sections of political opinion, and the opinion of all shades of industry, that it is the desire that another effort shall be made, by means of a compulsory conference, to bring the parties together. I am satisfied that the result would be peace.

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