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Friday, 21 September 1928

Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) . -Since this bill was introduced this morning we have had an opportunity of hearing the opinions of three of the " big guns " of the Opposition. While they were speaking I could not help thinking of what would happen if the Labour party got into power. The Leader of the Opposition would, I presume, be Prime Minister, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) would be Treasurer, and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) would be Attorney-General. I have omitted the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) because he is not present, but I conclude that something else would be found for him. These are three of the most important members of the Opposition, and it was interesting to notice the method in which they debated the merits and demerits of this bill. The Leader of the Opposition gave a very interesting dissertation on the psychology of men, and the degradation of unemployment. The honorable member for Batman gave his legal opinion upon many things, while the honorable member for Darling led us from Peter Bowling's leg irons to the balance-sheet of the Consultative Council of the Nationalist party of New South Wales. In fact, he seems to have said to himself when he got up - " The time has come," the Walrus said, " To talk of many things,

Of shoes and ships, and sealing wax,

Of cabbages and kings."

Indeed, it was only in reply to an interjection that the honorable member for Darling said that he was opposed to any one committing breaches of awards laid down by the Arbitration Court. For that much, at any rate, we must honour him. It was more than we could get from either of the speakers on his side who preceded him. Not one of the Opposition speeches, however, dealt with this question: Is the award laid down by Judge Beeby in the Arbitration Court to be obeyed or not ? The inference to be drawn, particularly from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, is that, in the opinion of Opposition Leaders, unionists should be free to say: "If an award given by a judge in the Arbitration Court is suitable, we shall work under it; if it is not, we shall not obey it, but seek a conference with the employers so that the spirit of sweet reasonableness may prevail." The unions want to win, no matter how the decision goes. That is not a healthy frame of mind. It is because the political leaders of Labour have condoned such breaches of awards in the past that the present situation has arisen. The Leader of the Opposition dealt with some aspects of the award given by Judge Beeby, and referred to the pitiable spectacle of men hanging about waiting for two pick-ups. How terrible it was, he said, that the men should have to wait about the wharfs on the off chance of securing employment. Yet, in the same speech he said that the two pick-ups system had prevailed in many parts of the country prior to the issue of this award. According to a report published in to-day's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald- a reputable paper which is generally considered reliable - out of fifteen ports in Australia, no less than eleven are being worked under the Beeby award on the two pick-ups system, If the practice prevails in eleven out of fifteen ports, how does the Leader of the Opposition justify his outburst about the degradation of waiting for two pick-ups ? Many of the unionists throughout Australia have accepted the award, and are working under it. Unfortunately, the four ports at which the men refused to work are four of the most important in Australia, namely, Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Fremantle. It seems to me that the effect of this bill is that if men desire to work, the Federal Government, with the co-operation of the State Governments, will see that they are allowed to do so, and that they are protected. Surely that is a reasonable thing for any parliament to approve of.

Mr Brennan - I have read the bill carefully, but I seem to have missed that point.

Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member misses a good many things. I have never denied any man the right to strike. That is his own affair ; but I have always opposed the attitude of the men who say that while they are on strike they will not allow anybody else to do the work. That is a reprehensible attitude to adopt. The Prime Minister touched on the seriousness of this interruption of the marine transport services, but he did not over-emphasize it: Judging by cablegrams published daily in the press giving comments by leading newspapers in other parts of the world, Australia is rapidly becoming known as the land of strikes, particularly in connexion with the marine transport service.

Mr Fenton - The Attorney-General has repudiated that suggestion.

Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is correct in saying that the great majority of unionists loyally abide by the awards of the Arbitration Court, but I remember him remarking, in introducing the bill for the amendment of the Arbitration Act, that the three big industrial groups responsible for the majority of the strikes in Australia were the transport group, the waterside workers, and the coal-miners. That is why the industrial hold-ups of recent years have proved so serious to Australia. In a recent leader in the London Times, attention was drawn to this fact. Those honorable members who live in the country districts, as the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner) remarked, realize how much it means to the primary producers when their exports cannot be promptly shipped away. Have honorable members opposite given any thought to the predicament in which the producers find themselves when they cannot market their produce? I have not heard one of them speak from the point of view of the man on the land, although I have often heard the Leader of the Opposition talking of the struggles of the working classes. I realize that the wageearners have their troubles, but they do not have more arduous times than the small land-holders. The wheat farmers, for instance, have difficulty in paying their way because their product has to be sold at world's parity. They do not object to the payment of a reasonable wage to the workers, but when their exports are frequently held up and strikes occur along the waterfront, it is not surprising that they insist on the protection of their rights. The wool sales in Sydney have been postponed, and even now it is not known whether sales will take place on Monday next. The producers are not paid for their work weekly, like the average wage-earner, but have to wait for a whole year for their returns. Many of the wool-growers on small holdings are very fortunate indeed if their returns average as much as those of men employed on the basic wage. Often they would not be able to exist unless they worked from daylight till dark, and availed themselves of the assistance of members of their families. They should not be penalized owing to the conduct of irresponsible men whose actions are, to a great extent, backed up by honorable members opposite. It is high time the primary producers had no more worries of this description. As the representative of a large country constituency, I say, without hesitation, that the time has come when a change must be brought about. The man on the land has always abided by the awards of the Arbitration Court.

The union with which the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) is associated is the largest and, best in Australia, and I am glad to be able to say that it always honours the court's awards. Since 1922 not the slightest dislocation has occurred in the pastoral industry because both sides have agreed to accept the decisions of the court. For the last six or seven years I have been a member of the general council of the Graziers Association of New South Wales, and I can say that the Australian Workers Union, under its present leadership, has loyally accepted the court's awards. It is a great pity that there are some unions of which this cannot be said.

The export of our primary products would not have been interfered with so much as it has been if Labour leaders had taken a definite stand in the matter. We have had an assurance from the Leader of the Opposition of what he has done in consultation with the unions concerned in the present trouble, but not until an honorable member on this side interjected did the honorable member for Darling definitely say that he opposed any breach of the awards given by judges of the Arbitration Court. I invite honorable members opposite who intend to speak on this bill to state clearly whether they approve of the transport workers' breaches of the court's Award. If the political leaders of Labour had taken a firm stand in this matter, the situation would not have been so confused and gloomy as it now is. " "

Mr Anstey - What would be the honorable member's attitude if a section of the employers deliberately refused to abide by an award?

Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If they do that, they are fined. We know, as the AttorneyGeneral said when introducing the amending Arbitration Bill, that many fines have been Inflicted upon employers, and that it is much easier to fine an employer than an employee. The Leader of the Opposition has given an interesting dissertation on the psychology of the wharf labourers, and has suggested that it is not wise to cross them. I think that I can claim to have a knowledge of the psychology of the men in the back country, and I say emphatically that there is a limit to the amount of annoyance that they will stand in the form of holdups in the transport services. No section of the community works harder than they do. I have had personal experience of hardships on the land, and I have worked for as long hours and as arduously as any honorable member opposite. The men who may register for employment under the provisions of this measure - and I have no doubt there will' be large numbers of them - should be fully protected. Many instances of victimization of men who have come to the aid of their country have occurred, and it is regrettable that after assisting in the loading of ships when produce had to be sent overseas they have been cast upon the unemployed market. In New South Wales these men have been hounded down and victimized. I am reminded of the loyalists in the railway strike in New South Wales in 1917. The ex-Premier, Mr. Lang, waited for years to take vengeance on those men, and when he obtained political power, he "put the boot into them " for having come to the assistance of their country in time of war. The Leader of the Opposition said that when industrial conditions became normal again the ship-owners would put on the regular gangs of wharf laborers because of their efficiency. The following extract from to-day's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald is a sufficient answer to that statement : -

At Newcastle the first, gang composed of inexperienced men established a record for the port by loading 120 bales of wool in an hour, the customary rate being 70 bales an hour.

I stand behind the Government in its action in bringing down this bill. I have a definite mandate from my electors to do so. I received it in 1925, and again at the referendum in the following year. This mandate was confirmed by the attitude of the people in defeating Labour at the last State election in New South Wales, and I 'venture to say that it will be renewed within the next couple of months. After all the trouble that has been experienced in trying to obtain smooth working of the transport services on the waterfront, the only thing to do nOW is to grasp the nettle firmly and pluck it out. Personally I am prepared to assist the Government to take any necessary steps to prevent the threatened catastrophe to the primary producers.

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