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Friday, 21 September 1928


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- It was quite fitting that the AttorneyGeneral should associate himself with his distinguished leader, so that that might be fulfilled, which was spoken by the Prophets, " they shall be the twin apostles of law and disorder in this country. " I must confess that they have succeeded in bringing about a great deal of disorder, and in fomenting it after it has been brought about; notwithstanding the words so aptly quoted as coming from the Attorney-General in one of his saner and more restrained moments, putting the position moderately and correctly on behalf of the working people of this community, and notwithstanding also the observations made by the Prime Minister himself as reported in the Age of the 19th September, 1927, in the course of which he also, in a burst of sanity, said -

The overwhelming majority of the workers in Australia were perfectly sane, sound, decent people, who wanted to get on with their job without interruptions. They al! recognized, of course, that while the conditions of this world were not quite all they desired, in Australia they were incomparably better than in any other part of the world.

To which it might be added that probably the working conditions of the Prime Minister and Attorney-General of this country are incomparably better than those of some members of the Wharf Lumpers Union and the Seamen's Union. This Government is always just about to do something.


Mr GULLETT (HENTY, VICTORIA) - It is now.


Mr BRENNAN - And it has frequently been about to do something. It is always standing like a hysterical female on the top of the stairs, declaring that it is about to take drastic action. The little claqueurs behind the Government applaud it to the utmost with unbounded enthusiasm, just as if, in fact, they had done some of the things which the Government was constantly undertaking to do. The Prime Minister dealt with industrial unrest in connexion with the vexed problem of deportation, and he piloted the Immigration Act, better known as the Deportation Act, through this Parliament after solemnly telling it that it was necessary to take certain powers; that something must be done, something final, desperate and drastic. True to principle, the Government nearly did something then. It nearly deported one man. It was a supreme effort. The Government invoked the aid of all the forces and the laws of Australia. It nearly deported this man, but instead of doing so it invited him to deliver an address at the Millions Club. Before it reached that stage - having been finally vested with all the powers supposed to be given to it by what I may call the Deportation Act - just as it was going forward to war, it found that its supporters in this House were all generals and that there were no privates in the army. There were no soldiers. The Government had no policemen; it was full of fight, but had no policemen. There were no fighters in the ranks. So the right honorable gentleman came down w'ith a Peace Officers Bill to give the Government power to appoint policemen. I do not know bow many policemen were really appointed, but I know that during the second-reading debate upon the bill, it was claimed to be last of the last words in vesting this Government with power to deal with all sorts of industrial trouble. The right honorable gentleman said, with the customary tear in his voice, which he pumps up on these great occasions " I do not believe that anybody could justifiably remain in the position which I occupy and give effect to the Government's great obligations and responsibilities unless he had the powers that we have already taken." That was the deportation power, which the Government discovered was not so effective as they expected it to be, and therefore further authority is now being sought. Most people thought that that power did vest this Government with al] the powers and a little over that could conceivably be required to deal with any sort of industrial trouble. But no great changes came. In due course a new Attorney-General was appointed.


Mr Parsons - And the Federal Labour party lost a few of its supporters in this House.


Mr BRENNAN - The honorable member for Darling Downs (Sir Littleton Groom) was at once raised to the speakership. The leaders of the bar were called in and it was determined to pass a Conciliation and Arbitration Act and a Crimes Act which would have the effect of ensuring that the Commonwealth laws would be obeyed and offences against them punished.


Mr Parsons - And those laws are still being broken.


Mr BRENNAN - As the honorable member for Angas has piped, the Government actually came back to this Parliament with added numbers. It was reinforced, and it very nearly did something. It went to the country. The honorable member will recollect that on that occasion the Government went to the country after having obtained these powers to do these drastic things which it said it ought to do. But instead of doing them, the Government held an election. It came back with a splendid majority. The right honorable gentleman had the numbers. God knows that his supporters are loyal enough. I do not know what complaint he had in that regard, because he could rely on them to the last man. It is true that they are now breaking up a little. The Prime Minister has recently had more reason to complain, particularly in regard to one honorable member on the Government benches, and another in the Corner. It is true that he has nothing to fear from the honorable member for Angas. The right honorable gentleman had the numbers, but he decided to hold an election. It will be remembered that the AttorneyGeneral made his reputation so far as this House is concerned - perhaps he had already made a reputation elsewhere - by specializing in Commonwealth laws and laying down the principles on which they must be applied, so as to ensure obedience to them. The consequence was that he was raised to the high and honorable office of Attorney-General of this country.


Mr Parkhill - What about telling us something now about the bill?


Mr BRENNAN - I ask this petty claqueur for his group of money-bags not to interrupt while I am discussing a serious subject.


Mr SPEAKER - The honorable gentleman must withdraw that remark.


Mr BRENNAN - I withdraw it. I now come to the bill which the AttorneyGeneral so successfully avoided, except in a few words at the conclusion of his speech. Up to the present I have been inquiring and searching for the object of this bill. I have been looking through the history of the Parliament of this Commonwealth to find out why it is that these legal experts, these arbitration specialists, and these industrial pacifists have not, up to date, got sufficient laws to enable them to bring about law and order, and peace on the waterfront, and on all the other industrial fronts of this country. But, no; we are to have something new, and this inspiration has occurred to the Prime Minister only in the closing hours of a dying Parliament. Now, I do not say that there is nothing novel in this bill, or that it is modelled on lines already covered by the laws of the Commonwealth. I suggest that it is an audacious proposal, utterly unprecedented in our Commonwealth legislation, and that it has not been adequately defended by the Attorney-General because it is indefensible from every point of view. The right honorable the Prime Minister, taking this measure in his hand and reading it as any ordinary citizen would read it, recognized that it was an outrage upon Parliamentary procedure, and that it proposed to give a blank cheque to the Executive Council to do something outside this Parliament the nature of which is not disclosed within the four walls of this chamber. The right honorable gentleman was good enough to quote what the AttorneyGeneral himself quoted, section 10 of the Acts Interpretation Act. I, too, shall quote it, because there is an element of comedy in it, in the circumstances. It reads -

Where an act confers power to make Regulations, all Regulations made accordingly shall, unless the contrary intention appears -

(b)   take effect from the date of noti fication, or from a date specified in the Regulations;

(c)   be laid before both Houses of Parliament within thirty days of the making thereof, or, if the Parliament is not then sitting, within thirty days after the next meeting of the Parliament.

The Attorney-General suggested that the regulations proposed to be passed under this bill, under which these drastic powers to cope with the present pressing situation are to operate, ought to be laid on the table of this House and reviewed by the next Parliament when it meets.


Mr Parsons - Is the honorable member not confident that he will be here then.


Mr BRENNAN - I may not be here, and the honorable member may not be here then. Does he think that the industrial trouble with which this emergency legislation proposes to deal will still be in existence?


Mr Parsons - No, it will be all over by then.


Mr BRENNAN - It will. Does the honorable member suggest that these regulations will not be operative in the meantime? Does he know anything of what will be contained in them. We are asked to respect our position as members of this House, responsible to the people of the country. I remind the Attorney-General that honorable members on this side have too much respect for our position to hand over our responsibilities to the Executive Government to enable it to operate under the authority of a blank cheque when we are not here. If the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) respects his position he will join me in protesting against such an immoral procedure. The Attorney-General takes the responsibility of saying that these regulations are to he laid upon the table of the House like any other regulations. That may be true. The important, and really the only section of the bill reads -

The Governor-General may make regulations, which, notwithstanding anything in any other act shall have the force of law with respect to ... . and a number of things are enumerated. What is the meaning of those words relating to regulations that are specially placed in the bill? I suggest that similar words will not be found in any other act that has been passed by the Commonwealth Government. As an illustration I shall quote section 9 of the Peace Officers Act, which deals with the regulations to be made under that act, and reads -

The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this act, prescribing all matters which by this act are required or permitted to be prescribed, or are necessary or convenient to be prescribed for giving effect to this act ....

The adoption of such a section is elementary in every act of Parliament. It is laid down that regulations passed must be to give effect to the purpose of the act, within the terms of and not inconsistent with the act,' and that they shall, in due time, be placed before the Parliament for consideration. Is it not obvious that clause 3 of this bill has been framed for a sinister purpose? I suggest that the Government, becoming afraid of its act, is backing out of it, apologizing for it and endeavouring to give a meaning to the section which Ministers know it cannot bear -

The Governor-General may make regulations, which, notwithstanding anything in any other act, shall have the force of law.

Does that not mean what it says? Does it not mean that these regulations, immediately they are passed, shall have the force of law and override the Acts Interpretation Act and any other acts previously passed with which they may conflict. I have never seen a bill introduced into this or any other parliament whose purposes did not appear on the face of it. But this bill imposes no disclosed obligations. It does not set out the things that are to be done or left undone. It does not prescribe any penalties. It is, in a word, a wicked surrender of parliamentary prerogative in every particular. That is why I ventured, when the Prime Minister was speaking, to ask him what the Government proposes to do under this blank cheque that it could not properly do at present. Eventually we wrung from the right honorable gentleman a declaration that it was proposed to issue licences to particular people to work upon the water-front. The irony of it!


Mr Latham - It is on all fours with granting a licence to a plumber or any other artisan.


Mr BRENNAN - It would have been far better had the Government provided people with facilities to obtain work, and endeavoured to cope with the tragic amount of unemployment that prevails in this country. Instead, it seeks, by introducing a secret penal measure of this kind, to curtail employment by issuing licences which discriminate amongst workers. The Government does not dare to declare what it intends to do. Under cover of this preposterous bill, which abrogates the rights and privileges of Parliament, both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General wandered all over the industrial field, denouncing industrial unrest, directing attention, to Its effects upon the country, the evil effects of holding up transport, the aggravating evil of unemployment, and all the other various most regrettable adjuncts of industrial trouble. It was insinuated that members of the Opposition are responsible for that condition of affairs, and that the Prime Minister and his colleague were the saviours of the country who now set themselves once and for all to cure industrial unrest. I have already pointed out how much they have done to cure industrial unrest. It is the duty of the electors to challenge the bona fides of this Government, which is always talking about taking drastic action to get our produce on the ships, forcing men to work, soothing their ruffled feelings, and of producing calm and harmony on the water-front and in industry generally. If they can do all those things, for God's sake let them do them and stop talking and passing legislation about it. Let us have that peace in industry which the Prime Minister and the Attorney-Genenl so frequently promise. I suggest that it is not such an easy thing as they imagine. I do not know whether it could be effected by the honorable gentlemen, and I am not so sure that it could be done by the Opposition, but I am quite certain that it cannot be done by passing a succession of penal codes, by abrogating the rights of Parliament, and by giving a secret concession to this Government to do what it likes when Parliament is not sitting. My strong objection to this bill is that it permits the Government, when Parliament is not sitting, to do things which it does not dare to disclose to that body when it is sitting.

Under cover of this discussion, the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral have been pleased to make charges against the Leader of the Opposition for his alleged inactivity in this matter. The Attorney-General stated that the Leader of the Opposition has made no positive declaration that the law should be obeyed. It is amazing that such an audacious misrepresentation of the facts should be made from any bench in this Parliament. I have heard the honorable member declare at least half a dozen times in recent months that he stands for obedience to the law of this country in every particular, that he stands for respect of the awards of the Arbitration Courts, and that from the beginning to the end he believes in the acceptance by democracy of the laws made by its Parliament. He has said that as clearly as I am saying it now, but in a few days we shall be represented as not having the courage to stand up and declare publicly in favour of the observance and obedience of our laws, The Attorney-General asked when will the time come to prosecute, if the present time is not opportune. My answer is that, as the Government has passed drastic penal laws which deal with industrial matters, there is such a thing as the observance of discretion in enforcing those laws. If the right honorable gentleman earnestly desires to quell this industrial trouble; if he believes, as he professes to do, that the all-important consideration is to induce the men to resume their labours and carry on the work of the nation, surely he will see the propriety of refraining from applying the criminal law or setting in operation the penal provisions of our industrial law at the very moment when conciliation and understanding were about to prevail. His knowledge of what is rightly termed the psychology of the working man ought to be sufficiently profound to enable him to realize that the working class cannot be dragooned, or reduced to the condition of serfs, and compelled to work at the behest of any person or body of persons, or even of the Government itself. In the last resort, no law can compel a man to work in circumstances and at times that do not appeal to him. The right honorable gentleman should realize that the nation is dependent upon the men who are now on strike, and that without their co-operation our industries cannot continue. I, too, stand for obedience to the law, and the awards that are made in accordance with the legislation passed by this Parliament. I accept the democratic principle that we must be bound by even those laws that are passed at the instigation of a government in whose policy we thoroughly disbelieve. But at the same time I must face the realities of the situation. We cannot secure the performance of this work by the adoption of a policy of coercion, or under a system of arbitration which not only lacks the element of conciliation, but also contains the element of intimidation.

I repeat that the bill is an unprecedented outrage upon the Parliament, whose laws the right honorable gentleman asks us to respect. We are invited to hand over to the Executive the power and authority which we possess, to be operated behind our backs, without our knowing what powers will be operated, and to say that any regulation made shall immediately have the force of law, even though it is framed upon party political lines, and is directed against the industrialists of this country. The proposal is outrageous, and no man who professes ito be a democrat, or, for that matter, a just man, will lend his support to it.







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