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Monday, 11 June 1928

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) .- The Attorney-General has stated on many occasions that the penalties provided in this measure, and to which we strongly object, are to be imposed in an endeavour to secure industrial peace. This clause provides a penalty which I am sure can never be imposed. Its only effect- will be to irritate trade unionists and cause a general industrial upheaval. Even when the industrial situation is satisfactory, we are always being told by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), and other Ministers, as well as by some of their irresponsible followers, that effective measures should be provided to restore harmony in industry. An effort is now being made to provide for the taking of secret ballots; but the whole proposal is most illogical, as in one portion of the bill it is provided that a secret ballot shall be taken before a strike is declared, and in another that a strike is illegal.

The Attorney-General indicated by an obscure interjection this afternoon that the object of this clause might be to give individual members of trade unions the power to prevent tyrannical officers from misusing the funds of the organization. That is a new suggestion. Does the honorable gentleman intend us to believe that that is the purpose of the provision? He made some hazy observation about the manner in which the Labour Daily had been supported by funds from the Miners' Union. If he intends us to understand that the provision is intended mainly to protect union funds, he should say so definitely. But I point out to him that unions may be trusted to deal effectively with officers who misappropriate their funds. An instance occurred recently in the division of the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey). Trade unions may always be relied upon to take proper steps to safeguard the interests of their members. In cases where prosecutions for defalcations are merited they are instituted, and where leniency is deserved it is extended.

We heard a good deal from the Attorney-General, in the course of his second-reading speech, about trade unions being corporations. If he wishes to apply secret ballot provisions to corporations of this description, why does he not seek to apply them to all corporations? Frequently the managing directors and other executive officers of ordinary companies act entirely against the wishes of the shareholders. If members of a trade' union are to be entitled to ask for a secret ballot when they allege that improper actions have been taken by trade union officers, the shareholders of a company should be empowered to demand a secret ballot when they think that objectionable deeds have been done by the executive officers of their companies. It often happens that " honorable understandings " are arrived at by certain companies which desire to crush their competitors. Sometimes the market is cornered with the same object. Such acts injure not only individuals, but also the community, and at times even the nation. If this provision is necessary in our arbitration legislation, it should be incorporated in other legislation which deals with corporations.

I have no objection in principle to the secret ballot. As a matter of fact, it is already used by trade unions when it is deemed necessary to ascertain in that way the will of the members; but the unions themselves should have the right to decide when a secret ballot should not be taken. It would be utterly impossible to apply the secret ballot provisions of this measure to the Miners' Federation. Those who are acquainted with this organization know very well that its business is conducted by lodges. Each lodge has domestic autonomy, and deals with disputes that occur at its own pit. It is only when vital principles, affecting the whole industry, are involved that disputes come before the general federation. The method by which the federation conducts its business is to refer to the lodges in the form of a minute all matters upon which their opinion is desired. That minute is debated on the floor of the lodge room. I assure the AttorneyGeneral that the lodges are not mutual admiration societies, as he seems to think.

Mr Latham - I have never suggested that they were.

Mr LAZZARINI - The tone of some remarks the Attorney-General made this afternoon led rae to believe that that was his view, but I assure him that the members of the" lodges are not afraid to speak their convictions. They are not weak-kneed individuals who fear to open their mouths.

It must not be overlooked that the expense of taking a secret ballot would bi very heavy in a large organization. When a ballot of the Miners' Federation is required, two or three men are delegated at each pit to obtain the votes of the miners as they go to work, and the wages of those men have to be paid. Men have also to be paid for counting the votes, and the other ordinary expenses connected with the taking of ballots have to be met. If the Attorney-General persists in this proposal, he should include a provision that the co3t of the ballots shall be defrayed by the Government. A few years ago we heard a great deal about the secret ballot from a Minister of the New South Wales Government of the clay. I refer to His Honour, Judge Beeby. That gentleman sponsored a bill in the New South Wales Parliament which provided for the taking of a ballot in respect of strikes. A strike was in progress at the time the bill was passed. Mr. Beeby said, " If a secret ballot of the whole body of workers engaged in this industry is taken, it will be found that this strike is favored only by a few leather-lunged agitators." As a matter of fact, the ballot revealed that 90 per cent, of the men favored it. Consequently the secret ballot method of curing industrial ills was forgotten until the Attorney-General remembered it and introduced it into this bill. How could a secret ballot be taken expeditiously by an organization like the Australian Workers Union, \vhich has small bodies of men engaged all over the Commonwealth? A company of shearers may be shearing in a shod one day and be 50 miles away the next. It would be impossible for the organization to keep in sufficiently close touch with them to consult them by means of a secret ballot at any time it desired to do so. It is difficult enough to conduct the annual ballot for the election of officers.

Silting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr LAZZARINI - Such a clause as this will not only dislocate the machinery of organizations and compel them to reconstruct their methods, but if pressed to the extreme will mean financial ruin to many trade unions.

The Attorney-General interjected during the speech of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) that the members of the Miners' Federation requested that a ballot should be taken in connexion with the proposal to make a levy for the support of the Labour Daily, and that the officers of the union refused it. That is absolutely incorrect. The ballot was requested by a section of the northern branch of the Miners' Federation, and the members of the branch supported by an overwhelming majority the action of their officers, which was in. favour of the levy. The proposed levy was submitted to the members of the federation per medium of minutes issued to the individual lodges some considerable time before the vote was taken.

I do not know where the AttorneyGeneral obtained his information. Apparently he relied upon the daily press, and read the newspaper comments in a very casual manner. I know that the Sydney Daily Guardian, and its associate publication, Smith's Weekly, have for some little time attacked and misrepresented the Miners' Federation. If the honorable gentleman has merely recapitulated his reading of those journals he has done something that will not enhance his reputation for veracity. The only place in which he could secure a more distorted account of the doings of the Miners' Federation would be Hades itself. When the new rules of that federation were taken to the Arbitration Court for registration one of its northern lodges, representing comparatively few members, protested against the proposal, but was compelled to abide by the decision of the majority.

The Attorney-General emphasized the alleged necessity for , a secret ballot in order to protect " timid " unionists, and claimed that he obtained his information in this regard from unionists. When challenged to disclose his source of information he declined to supply any names, as he stated that that would result in the men who gave the information being victimized by their organizations. I believe that, the honorable gentleman must have obtained his information from those individuals described by the honorable member for Maribyrnong as " stool pigeons." If that is so, one can appreciate its worth. My experience of industrialism has proved to me that there is very little, if any, of this alleged brow-beating and victimization of members. If the AttorneyGeneral cleared his mind of such hallucinations and endeavoured to introduce clauses which would protect unionists from the victimization of employers he would receive the thanks of not only unionists, but the community generally. Many men are victimized by their employers merely because they are prominent industrialists. The honorable member has chosen misleading arguments to bolster up a clause which he knows cannot be justified. It has been truthfully claimed that clause 44 is futile and that its only purpose is to irritate unions and involve them in unnecessary expense.

I reiterate that, the present, attitude of honorable members on this side and of trade unionists towards the secret ballot will be maintained. From time to time the necessity will arise for the employment of the principle in union matters, and it will be adopted as in the past. But it is absurd to declare that the principle shall be put into operation at the beck and call of an interfering government, on the most trivial pretext, merely to harass unions. Such a procedure will make for irritation and procrastination, and cannot do other than act detrimentally upon the proper conduct of the trade-union movement. For that reason I oppose the clause, and hope that even the amendments proposed by the Attorney-General will be defeated.

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