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Friday, 21 September 1928

Mr GREGORY - What does the honorable member suggest should be done in this case?

Mr J FRANCIS (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - Let' the trouble drift on?_

Mr WATKINS - If there had not been interference by the introduction, of this bill the present trouble would have been nearer settlement than it is. The time has gone by a century ago since men could be dealt with in this manner by the application of Crimes Acts, by incarceration and other savage penalties. There was a time when a man stood a good chance of losing an ear if he took part in a movement to form a trade union. Industrial peace cannot be secured by these methods. The application of an arbitration system may remedy and does nip in the- bud many industrial disputes that occur from time to time; but it is impossible to coerce either one side or the other by legislation of this sort. The bill is an attempt to frighten the men into subjection. It is foredoomed to failure. The Government will never prevent men from fighting for what they regard as their rights. Under our present commercial system we may always expect trouble to occur over the adjustment of wages and conditions of employment, so, as reasonable men, we should adopt the system that promises to give the best results. We have been told that it is only the unionists who break awards. Those who say this are totally ignorant of the subject. We all know what certain employers do when the award goes against them. I have in mind an occasion when, after the umpire had given his decision a section of the works was closed down, and one-third of the workers would have been thrown out of employment if I had not. intervened. The unions are not always wrong; the employers have means of evading awards that are not available to the workers. Throughout the history of industrial arbitration, stoppages of work have occurred, and they will occur again; neither the Crimes Act nor legislation of this character will prevent them. The only effect of coercive measures is lo engender more hatred of the arbitration system, and give greater opportunities to the so-called extremists to resort to direct action. Hearing the speeches of honorable members opposite, one would think that the life of a wharf labourer was one long picnic. I know of no men who work harder when they are on the job; but the hardest work of all is looking each day for a job and not being able to get one.

Mr Gregory - The present strike will throw large numbers of men out of work.

Mr WATKINS - Why not admit that the arbitration machinery has broken down? The Government will not settle this trouble or prevent similar happenings by siding with one party. I have watched with interest honorable members opposite chafing under the criticism which is being directed against the Government in connexion with this bill. As practical men they know that it will not facilitate a solution of the trouble. Et has been introduced at the dictates of overseas shipping magnates who have declared that this fight is to be fought to a finish. The action proposed by the Government follows other significant happenings, including the sale of the Commonwealth fleet. It is time that the Australian Government refused to listen to dictation by people overseas.

Mr Parsons - Especially people in Moscow.

Mr WATKINS - The honorable member would not be accepted even in Moscow. We have been told that this bill is harmless, and that it merely empowers the Governor-General to make regulations, but actually it is handing over the power of this Parliament to the Executive. No previous legislation has been so designed to render nugatory the authority of this Parliament. If we are content to hand over our legislative powers to Ministers, we might as well close the doors of this building. The main clause 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 the employment of transport workers, and in particular for regulating the engagement, service, and discharge of transport workers, and the licensing of persons as transport workers, and for regulating or prohibiting the employment of unlicensed persons as transport workers, and for the protection' of transport workers.

The Government, which professes to be anti-Bolshevik, is becoming a dictator.

Mr Maxwell - But Bolshevism is the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Mr WATKINS - At any rate, the Bolsheviks take care that everybody works. Why should this Government prohibit any person from accepting work on the wharfs? The whole purpose of this legislation is to destroy the Waterside Workers Federation, and instead of settling the trouble it will intensify it.

The unions will not lie down under an attack of this kind. The Government is to issue licences to those who are to be permitted to work. Labour Governments have often been charged with undue interference with the liberty of the subject, but when it suits my individualistic friends opposite they assume autocratic control of the political machine, not for the benefit of the people generally, but in order to deny work to unionists and protect " scab " labour. The most efficient men on the water-front will be refused employment if this measure passes, and inexperienced and incompetent free labourers will be given preference.

Mr Parsons - No man will be refused employment if he is prepared to work under the award.

Mr WATKINS - How does the honorable ' member know that ? In the selection of the men large numbers will be jockeyed aside to make room for the favorites of the bosses. Waterside workers should be engaged and discharged like men in any other employment. How would the honorable member for Angas like to have to apply day after day for work in one of the wineries and be told that no work was available, but to continue calling? In this crisis the Prime Minister should have acted as other Prime Ministers have acted in similar circumstances. To the credit of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) be it said that, when dislocation of industry occurred, he compelled employers and employees to meet at the conference table, threatening drastic action if they refused. He did not join forces with one side to belt and boot the other. He brought them together, under his presidency, to adjust their differences, like reasonable men. The Prime Minister thinks that it would he beneath his dignity to do things in that way. When an award of the court is regarded as obnoxious by one side or the other, trouble is likely to occur; but in such an event the Prime Minister makes no attempt to bring the parties together. Instead, he rushes in with panic legislation to frighten and goad the workers into submission. This legislation will not settle the present trouble on the waterfront. It has been intro duced at the behest of those behind the Government who, in reality, have controlled this country for some years. During recent years Australia has been visited by a number of " big " men from overseas who are desirous of seeing our standard of living reduced. This bill is an attempt to bring about that reduction. The Government has the numbers, and no doubt will see that this legislation is placed on the statute-book; but it should not forget the fate which has befallen other governments when the people realized the true nature of the legislation they had introduced. On one occasion an Australian Premier took unionists to gaol in leg-irons.

Mr ABBOTT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That has never been done, and the honorable member knows it.

Mr WATKINS - I know too much about it. I deplore as much as any man does the trouble which has arisen on the waterfront, but legislation of this nature will not put things right. On the contrary, it will inflame the minds of the unionists and probably lead to an extension of the trouble. I have seen too much of the result of industrial strife not to wish this trouble to end speedily. I have always been an advocate of arbitration as a means of settling industrial disputes, but the way our arbitration laws have been administered during recent years shows that they can be a delusion and a snare. Once men in any walk of life lose faith in the administration, difficulties arise. An imperfect act faithfully administered is better than good legislation badly administered. It is impossible to over emphasize the importance of the proper administration of our laws. They should be administered impartially in the interests of the people as a whole. The Prime Minister, instead of taking sides in this dispute, should endeavour to get the contending parties to settle their differences. The present agitation is to determine whether the waterside workers shall be treated as human beings or as chattels. Why should men be required to attend at a certain place twice daily in the search for work when there may be no employment for them for days or weeks? Any award requiring them to do so is unjust. It should be sufficient for them to attend at the appointed place each morning. They could then be told whether there was a likelihood of work being available that day. If not required they could return to their homes and do something useful, instead of having to wait about until the time of the second pick-up. That men from the suburbs should be required to remain in the vicinity of the wharfs all day merely because of a remote possibility of their services being required is scandalous and unworthy of Australia.

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