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Tuesday, 11 September 1928

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - I ask the leave of the House to make a statement regarding the situation that has arisen in connexion with maritime transport in Australia.

Mr Scullin - I do not object to leave being granted to the Prime Minister, but I consider that, as Leader of the Opposition, I should have been paid the ordinary courtesy of being told beforehand that a statement was to be made.

Leave granted.

Mr BRUCE - I much regret that the Leader of the Opposition considers that I have been guilty of discourtesy, but the matter is extremely urgent, and I am only at this moment in a position to make a statement on the subject. I suggest that possibly it will be more advantageous to the honorable member if I make my statement now, because that will give him an opportunity to reply to it on the motion for the adjournment of the House, if he desires to deal with any matter arising out of it. This would probably be more convenient for him than to speak immediately my present remarks are concluded.

It is within the knowledge of all honorable members that very grave difficulty has again arisen upon the waterfront of Australia. There appears to be danger that the whole of our maritime transport, both coastal and overseas, will be held up. We had a recent experience of the dislocation of our shipping transport and its disastrous results to the community. Had it continued much longer, it would have been difficult to estimate its unfavourable consequences. Although this happening is only some weeks old, we are again threatened with a similar hold-up, and it is imperative, in the in terests of Australia, that there shall be no such calamitous occurrence as a stoppage of shipping at the present time.

I would remind the House of the circumstances that have led to the present situation. The difficulties in which the shipping industry was recently placed were the subject of consideration by the Arbitration Court. There had been direct defiance of the court, and the Government had no alternative but to take every action in its power to support the court, and to see that the will of the people, as expressed by the legislation passed by this Parliament, was obeyed. An award has recently been given by the court dealing with the shipping industry. There was first an interim award. When it was announced, both parties to it made strong representations with regard to various parts of it, setting out their views, and asking for a variation. Judge Beeby heard the representations of both sides, and, after full consideration, brought down a final award, which came into operation on Monday of the present week. Already there are indications that an important union is not prepared to accept the award, and intends to throw our whole transport system into confusion.

This Parliament recently passed a measure designed to ensure obedience to the awards of the court by all concerned in industry. The present proceedings constitute a direct defiance of the court, and of an act passed by this Parliament. In the interests of the community it is essential that every possible step should be taken to ensure observance of the law. The present time is most inopportune for Australia to be threatened with the dislocation of her maritime transport industry. The season for the shipment overseas of the primary production upon which the financial stability of the Commonwealth and of the States depends, is approaching. Australia has, during recent months, passed through a difficult period, and our finances must at the present time cause serious anxiety to every citizen. It would be impossible to exaggerate the ill consequences of a hold-up of our shipping. Action along those lines must, therefore, be prevented. Our coastal trade, too, is in a difficult position, and it is affected by the award of Judge Beeby, which came into operation yesterday. At Cairns, and other northern ports of Queensland, it is impossible to get produce shipped to its destination. I have to-day received a .telegram from Cairns stating that 7,000 tons of maize lies on the wharf ready for shipment, but cannot be got away. The tenor of the telegram is that unless something is done to get over the present difficulty the growers, who are faced with ruin, will have no alternative but to take matters into their own hands to ensure the shipment of their produce. In a law-abiding country like Australia, where we have tried to regulate our industrial affairs on the basis of law, it is intolerable that the present situation should be allowed to continue. Therefore, there rests on the Government and on this Parliament, the obligation to insist that our laws are observed to save the people of Australia from the dire distress with which they are threatened. To this end, I have communicated with both the overseas and the coastal shipowners, informing them of the seriousness of the situation, and requesting that they shall take every step possible to ensure that their ships shall sail. I have also communicated with the Premiers of the States. This Government proposes to do all in its power to meet the position. The communication that I -have addressed to the Premiers of the States is as follows : -

The action taken by the Waterside Workers' Federation, because of their objection to some of the terms of an award given by Judge Beeby of the Federal Arbitration Court is already resulting in holding up much of the shipping of the Commonwealth.

As a consequence of this action by the federation, maritime transport is apparently again to be brought to a standstill, and the trade of the Commonwealth dislocated, an action which will cause serious loss and suffering to thousands of our citizens.

My Government feels that this unlawful and reckless abuse of power by the Waterside Workers' Federation constitutes a direct defiance of the community, which cannot be submitted to by any self-respecting people.

I have, on behalf of my Government, communicated with the representatives of the steamship-owners, calling upon them to make the necessary arrangements for carrying on the industry in the terms of the award made by the Arbitration Court, and assuring them that the Commonwealth Government will do its utmost to maintain law and order by prosecuting those who unlawfully interfere with the peaceful carrying on of the transport industry of the Commonwealth. lt the interference with the legitimate trade and transport of Australia continues, I propose to advise the Governor-General to issue a proclamation under the Crimes Act, declaring the existence of a serious industrial disturbance prejudicing trade and commerce with other countries and among the States. I will take this action in order to arm the Government of the Commonwealth with the fullest power possible under thu law and in order to protect the interests of the people.

Recognizing the serious results that this disastrous strike must have upon the industries of your States and the well-being of its citizens, I appeal for the full co-operation of your Government and especially ask that due protection be given to all those citizens who are prepared to carry on the work of the marine transport industry under the terms of the award made by the Arbitration Court - a court that has been established by the free-will of the people of Australia expressed through their Parliament.

I am addressing the Premiers of the other States of the Commonwealth in similar terms.

I have also communicated with the Waterside Workers' Federation, pointing out the difficulties with which Australia - is faced and the consequence of the action that it proposes to take; because we must recognize that if there is a disturbance on this great issue, the result will be most serious. It is imperative that our produce shall be loaded and despatched overseas. The award of the court which is being defied was made only after the fullest investigation of all the circumstances, and after the opinions of both sides had been stated to the court. The Government, therefore, must take definite action to ensure that the ships shall be permitted to transport our produce to the world's markets.

I trust that wiser councils may prevail, and that a conflict will not be allowed to develop. But industrial disturbances of this description cannot longer be permitted in Australia. There cannot be outside dictation which is actuated by a desire to direct the whole of the affairs of the people of this country. Power has been given to this Parliament to determine these grave issues, and Parliament has taken the necessary action. I make it clear that whatever the consequences - and I realize how serious they may be - this Government is determined to go on, because we believe that only in that way will these difficulties be prevented in the future, and that only by firmness shall we be able to conduct our commerce and industry without interruption.

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