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Monday, 11 June 1928

Mr SEABROOK (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - The honorable member would call them " scabs."

Mr BRENNAN - Well, I have described them; I have pictured them to the honorable member. What does he call them? After the ten applications have been received the judge makes a provisional order for a secret ballot. What is it provisional upon? One would think it might mean provisional upon the hearing of evidence - the examination and cross-examination of the persons who were to justify themselves for acting secretly and treacherously against their fellow workers. Not at all. Whatever else is to be done these people are to be screened; their names are to be unknown, the secret of their identity is to be preserved, and their anomymity undisclosed. It is to be provisional upon the right of the secretary of the organization to make representations in writing as to the facts, and as to whether he himself is prepared to take a secret ballot. It is a beautiful picture. It is a complete proof of this Government's trust in organized labour - an earnest of its sincerity when it publicly declares that ii is satisfied that the great majority of Australian unionists are men of courage, honesty and integrity! This is the way the business of trade unionism is to be secretly carried on by this Government in the interests of itself and its supporters. I say deliberately this is being done in the interests not of the unions, but of the

Nationalist friends of the Government. Proposed new section 56a covered by this clause, reads - 56a. Any ten members of an organization may, when any vote is taken or about to be taken in any election of the committee or officers of the organization or of a branch thereof or in respect of any resolution proposed for adoption by the organization of the branch, as the case may be, demand, either verbally or in writing, that the vote be taken by secret ballot and the vote shall thereupon be so taken accordingly.

What is meant by the words " resolution proposed for adoption by the organization." A resolution cannot be proposed by an organization, nor a branch of an organization. It must be proposed by a member of an organization, or of a branch. The AttorneyGeneral seems to have mentioned almost every kind of resolution except the kind which he really had in mind, that is, a resolution relating to the continuance or discontinuance of a strike. The bill is silent on that point, although the Attorney-General knows very well that that is what is meant. He -knows that the Government really wants to get a vote of the members of an organization on the question of striking or not striking, but being faced with the absurdity that if the men vote for a strike their organization is liable to a fine of £1,000 for doing an unlawful act, it cannot openly contemplate such action, and, therefore, deals nominally with various other classes of resolutions. Touching on this matter, the AttorneyGeneral said that if the majority cannot carry out their own will they are a poor lot of men. I agree, but 'it is remarkable that he has not been able to convert his own supporters to his own view. And so we hear from all sides this wearisome cant about protecting the organizations of labour from themselves, and especially from those irresponsible men who are said to control them. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Manning) afforded us a striking example. " These parasites, these irresponsible men," he said, " operate upon the body of organized labour." He went further. He said that he resented our " arrogant attitude," which he regarded as intolerably offensive, in pretending that we stood for and voiced the opinions of organized labour. Believe rue, Mr. Bayley, when the honorable member talks about his taking part in legislation to prevent a majority of trade unionists being stampeded by a minority ; when he tries to impress upon me that he has a special mission to come into this chamber, and by legislation assist in protecting organized labour from its minorities, the attitude he is adopting is as arrogant and as intolerably offensive as anything he could possibly visualize on this side of the chamber.

Is this bill frankly intended to remove this parasitic growth of which the honorable member spoke, or is it intended, as so often stated by the Attorney-General, to assist and promote the interests of the sober and sane trade unionists of the country? The whole thing proceeds on the assumption that the management of the trade-union movement of Australia is bad to the point of corruption. Consider, then, as we may, the public declarations coming from honorable members opposite, crystallized in .this bill, and rendered significant by this clause, are an affront to the organized workers of Australia. The men who are doing the work of this country, the men who enable honorable members on that side to assemble in this Parliament directly or indirectly, not by their votes, but by their labour none the less, enabling them to be here, the men who are keeping the machine, not of politics, but of industry going, making the clothes, providing the food, sailing the ships, running the trains, digging the canals, doing all those things in their various unions, are under the stigma which this clause offers to organized unions.

If there is any secret service to spare let its activities be directed elsewhere. Let them be turned on to the employers' federations, the chambers of commerce, and so on; let inquiries be made into the Constitutional Union, and into the disposal of the various big political funds which are used for the return of honorable members opposite. Let us have a full and complete investigation and secret ballots also in connexion with those matters. If we are to have a secret service in connexion with organizations, let it not be one-sided in its activities.

The honorable member for Macquarie said that on the plaform wherever he went he told the electors that he was looking for a mandate, and that if his party was returned to power one of the things it would place in its platform would unquestionably be the secret ballot for organizations. That may be so ; it may account for the policy of the Government ; it may be that the bill does "not represent the mature judgment of an astute gentleman like the Prime Minister, or that of a leading lawyer like the AttorneyGeneral. It may be that this measure was forced upon the Ministry by the public gasconading of men like the honorable member for Macquarie. It may be that his unctious affectation of mental and moral superiority has had some effect in directing the policy of the Government in this regard. The honorable member's frenzied foolishness about parasites may have had something to do with the origination of this bill by the Government, and its presentation to the chamber. As I have previously said, let the Government apply its machinery elsewhere.

Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - Is the honorable member not aware that the honorable member for Macquarie in his reference to parasites was quoting?

Mr BRENNAN - I heard the honorable, member for Macquarie from the beginning of his speech to the end. I do not know whether that particular word was quoted with approval by the honorable member, but if quoted it was adopted and approved by him. I heard his speech, and the tone in which he. delivered it, and I repeat that he assumed, if I may use the phrase again, an unctuous affectation of mental and moral superiority. Do we apply this secret ballot in connexion with other public organizations, or with friendly societies? The latter control immense sums of money and carry out important and most onerous trusts, and they operate according to their own rules, and they have not had forced upon them by any government, so far as I know - I challenged the Attorney-General to let me know if they had - any system of secret ballots other than that which, in their own untrammelled discretion, they may apply.

Mr Latham - No one suggests it. There is no necessity for it.

Mr BRENNAN - Nor is it suggested that it is necessary in the case of industrial organizations, except by political partisans and opponents of Labour.

This morning, the Attorney-General, being hard put to it by the Leader of the Opposition, who quoted the analogy of a public company, referred to Table A, a stereotyped set of rules in connexion with registered public companies, which make provision for voting by ballot. But all that this table does is to make provision for an approved set of rules which may be adopted in whole or in part at the discretion of a company. The honorable member's argument supported rather than destroyed the contention of the Leader of the Opposition. It goes to show that the basis of all these public undertakings and social aggregations, such as companies, friendly societies, and organizations of various kinds, is the right to frame their own rules and make their own contracts one with the other. Of course there are certain legal requirements to be observed, much as every individual operates under in order to preserve the civil rights of his fellow man. But this is, as I said in connexion with another clause, a new vicious principle, a new invasion of rights, especially designed by political opponents. That probably makes it more offensive than anything else.

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