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Monday, 11 June 1928


Mr MARKS (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree that the word " secret " is redundant, and that too great an emphasis is being given to it. The Engineering Union, of which I am a member, lends itself to the application of the principle; but it would be impossible to apply it to many other organizations. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Blakeley) has stated that months would be occupied in taking a ballot of the members of the Australian Workers' Union. The same thing can be said of certain maritime organizations. Those members of the Seamen's Union who are at sea when a ballot is ordered must be given an opportunity to record a vote. The proceedings will become farcical. No serious-minded person can either countenance or endorse the proposal of the Government. At the present time, before any branch or section of the Engineering Union can resort to the strike weapon, it must obtain from the Commonwealth Council, which is the chief executive body, authority to take a ballot on the question. If that is refused the branch or section can neither take a ballot nor strike. If any action taken is contrary to the ruling of the executive it is repudiated by the organization and the members responsible are not only deprived of sustenance and other benefits but also have a penalty imposed upon them. To my knowledge that chief executive body has been the means of averting trouble on . many occasions, by its refusal to permit a ballot to be taken when the feeling was so intense that it seemed likely that extreme action would be taken which would embroil the members of the organization in every part of Australia. A serious objection to the clause is that an organization will have to take its instructions from an outside body - the Arbitration Court - which can be moved by ten members, to order it to go to the trouble and expense of taking a ballot. Liberal though the* rules of some organizations are in the direction of enabling individual members to express their opinions, they fall far short of such provisions as this. I agree with the view put forward by honorable members on this side, and supported by way of interjection by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), that considerable difficulty will be experienced in proving the identity of those who seek the assistance of the court. The possession of a pence card does not necessarily prove membership of a union. The holder may have ceased to be financial, or the card may not be in order in other respects. The Attorney-General has said that it would be a farce to compel members of a union to vote if they did not desire to do so. The honorable gentleman will find that nothing is more calculated to incense trade unionists than to have the conduct of the business of their organizations taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of nonmembers. This bill is supposed to restore to members of trade unions the control of their affairs; yet an entirely opposite result will be achieved by this provision.

There is a further aspect of the matter to which I draw attention. Under this legislation a strike or a lockout will be illegal, and those who take part in either will render themselves liable to a substantial fine. Supposing a ballot is ordered by the court, and it reveals a determination on the part of the members of an organization to take the extreme action of engaging in a strike, what will be the legal position of the organization? It appears to me that an organization can be compelled to take action which may lead to the commission of an offence under the act. I do not think anything further need be said to show the absurdity of this provision-.







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