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Tuesday, 18 September 1928

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .-! do not usually trespass upon the time of honorable members at this hour of the night, but I make no apology for doing so upon this occasion, because I intend to raise what I regard as an urgent and important matter. I have received from the Premier of Victoria, a communication stating that yesterday afternoon summonses were served upon the President and the Secretary of the Melbourne Branch of the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, for offences alleged to have been committed against the Commonwealth Arbitration Act with respect to the working of the Karoola and the Lutana. To my knowledge the Premier of Victoria worked unceasingly during the whole of last week to effect a settlement of the dispute on the waterfront, which lasted less than a week. I also was not idle; and other men whoare connected with the industrial organizations of the Australian Labour party worked tirelessly to restore peace in the shipping industry.

Mr Brennan - And successfully, apparently.

Mr SCULLIN - Their efforts proved successful, because on Saturday afternoon a resolution was carried by a large majority of the delegates who had assembled in Melbourne from all parts of Australia, affirming that the men should be instructed to resume work; and advice to that effect was sent out. Yesterday morning the president and secretary of the Melbourne branch of the Waterside Workers Federation conveyed that instruction to their members, who resumed work that afternoon.'

Mr Maxwell - What is the charge?

Mr SCULLIN - I understand that these officials are charged with having done something in the nature of inciting or encouraging men to refrain from working the Karoola and the Lutana. The summonses were received by them subsequently to their having advised the members of their branch to resume work.

That advice was acted upon, and the men are still at work. There is practically no trouble in Victoria at the present time. There is a slight hitch in the negotiations with the Port Phillip stevedores, but it is hoped that that will be overcome tomorrow.

Mr Maxwell - Who issued the summonses ?

Mr SCULLIN - They were issued on the authority of the Commonwealth Attorney-General. The Premier of Victoria has informed me that he is very greatly perturbed, because he is interested in' the preservation of industrial peace in his State. He and the industrial leaders had almost effected a settlement of the trouble when this firebrand was throw into the arena. It may upset the whole of the arrangements that have been come to. I want to know what was the motive behind this action of the Government.

I may be told in plausible language, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) or the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) that the law has been broken, and that it is the duty of the Government to uphold it. In anticipation of such a rejoinder, let me make two observations. The first is that, under the criminal code of this country, no crime has been committed, and the second is that the laws which we passed to deal with industrial matters were originally designed to prevent and settle industrial disputes, not to promote them. If peace is desired in industry, those summonses ought not to have been issued. If the instruction to issue them was sent out before the decision to resume work was arrived at, they should be withdrawn immediately. If, on the other hand, it is not peace that is wanted, I can conceive of nothing surer to create prolonged trouble than this action of the Government.

I ask, in all seriousness, what is the intention of the Government? Last Tuesday night I heard the Prime Minister emphasize the seriousness of the threatened outbreak, which, he said, by interrupting the transport services on the waterfront, would aggravate unemployment, prevent the export of our produce, and intensify the existing financial position. The trouble would be no less serious than it threatened to be a week ago, if it should break out afresh. I suggest that this Government should join with the Government of Victoria in its efforts to bring about and maintain industrial peace. If the Federal Government cannot do any better than has been done in this case, it should stand aside and leave the matter in the hands of persons who are likely to achieve more fortunate results. In the existing circumstances I cannot describe this action of the Government as other than foolish, provocative, and unjust. There is no warrant for it. Any law designed to prevent or settle industrial disputes cannot be upheld or made popular, or even win the respect of the decent members of a community, if its penal provisions are put into force as they have been in the present instance. There is only one course for the Attorney-General to take, if he earnestly desires to preserve industrial peace upon the waterfront and to promote it where it does not exist. It certainly exists to-day in Victoria and New South Wales. If he does not wish to nullify what has already been done, he should withdraw these summonses and retreat from the foolish position that has been taken up.

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