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Monday, 11 June 1928

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) .- I think that the impression which the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) has tried to create as to the meaning of the interjection of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Blakeley) should be removed at once. The honorable member for Kennedy adopted a wellknown practice in police court proceedings. He endeavoured to so twist words used by the honorable member for Darling as to lead honorable members to believe that he implied something altogether different from what, I have no doubt, was in his mind. What he meant was that ten Nationalists, acting as members of a trade union, could make an application to the court.

Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - How could they do that unless they were bona fide members of a union?

Mr WATKINS - There is nothing to prevent them from becoming members of a union. I believe that was in .the mind of the honorable member for Darling when he made the interjection. As to the clause itself, it can only operate in one way. I have the same objection to it that I have to the bill. It is a most obnoxious provision and will not, as the Attorney-General suggests, ensure peace in industry. If it provided . for the taking of a poll before an industrial trouble had commenced, and ended there, one might see some reasonableness in it; but, as it stands, a request by ten members of an organization to hold a secret ballot when both sides are embittered will be futile. It is nonsense to suggest that the proposed new sections will operate with equal force upon employers; they can only apply to one side. If an industrial organization takes a ballot it will do so with its hands tied, because if the decision of members is in favour of drastic action, the organization will be subject to the penal provisions of the act. This is the plain reading of the bill, and that is the whole point of our objection to it. Any ten men of an industrial organization may make application to the court for the holding of a secret ballot, but, as I have shown, a secret ballot taken in the circumstances mentioned could not be regarded as a fair expression of opinion. I am not arguing in favour of encouragi i ig strikes. I believe that the whole of our arbitration machinery should be amended in the direction of providing for the immediate hearing of industrial disputes, so as to prevent them from developing. I have nothing whatever to say against members of the legal profession, but I suggest that our arbitration legislation should be so drafted as to be readily understood by trade unionists and employers alike. As I have urged on former occasions, the stronger trade organizations which can afford to fight their battles independently of the trade union movement generally, will not register under the act if these amending provisions are inserted, so the act will apply only to the smaller trade unions' throughout the Commonwealth. There is every probability that our arbitration system will break down. If this is the object, the Ministry, in introducing this bill, has found an effective means to achieve its purpose. We hear nothing of proposals to inquire into the funds of employers' federations or the watering of shares in public companies. All inquiries under the Arbitration Act are directed to the conduct of trade-union affairs, even to the disposition of trade-union funds, wages received, and such matters. The clause will do more harm than any other provision in the bill. It will prolong disputes and cause trouble, perhaps at a time when negotiations are likely to lead to the settlement of an industrial dispute. The Minister will be well advised to withdraw the clause and allow differences between employers and employees to be adjusted by some other means.

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