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Friday, 21 September 1928

Mr FENTON - That is so. According to the Minister, Australia is the only country in the world where strikes occur. The Attorney-General, in explaining why the Government did not take legal action against the Abrahams brothers, said he was influenced by the fact that he saw no reason why honest taxpayers should not receive some benefit from the contribution to the revenue from dishonest taxpayers. If that excuse were valid, many an embezzler and many other criminals would be in the happy position of evading prosecution by making restitution. It is a well-established rule that mcn may not buy themselves out of the consequences of their crime. That rule of law rests on public morality and security, and upon the old maxim, not always respected, that there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor. . These men pleaded guilty of the offences I have enumerated, and yet they were able to evade prosecution. What is worse, this Government so polluted the fount of justice that these men were allowed to leave the country. I should like to know who issued the passports to them. It is the duty of the Government to keep taxpayers in Australia until they discharge all their liabilities. We can only suppose that officials in more than one department were to blame. This is what Mr. Justice Starke had to say about the case when it was brought before him-

The whole case seems to be based upon conspiracy. Why were they not prosecuted for conspiracy under the Crimes Act? The reasonable inference would be that they might have been committed to gaol.

Contrast the treatment meted out to the Abrahams brothers with the drastic action taken whenever a working man offends against the law. If he does not agree with the terms of an award and commits some offence in connexion with an industrial dispute, which in the eyes of the genera] public is no crime at all, and often is the outcome of considerable provocation, he is brought before the court and fined or sent to gaol. If, however, a man comes along with £500,000, he can buy the Government off, and so escape the penalties provided by law for wrong-doers. I know of nothing that has taken place in the history of Australia that is so disgraceful as the action of the Government in the Abrahams case. It is calculated to bring Australia into disrepute.

When the Leader of the Opposition was speaking to-day he was at times assailed with interjections from the Ministerial side, but I was very much struck by the fact that when he was describing the hardships involved in the two pick-ups honorable members opposite were sitting tight and listening hard.

Mr Gullett - Nonsense! We were bored.

Mr FENTON - The honorable member should remain silent. He has been remarkably dumb in regard to the financial issue because an election is approaching. Twelve months ago he was loud and loquacious in denunciation of the Treasurer, but this year when the financial position is much worse than it was then he is as silent as the tomb. Members opposite were impressed by my leader's simple relation of the methods of engaging the "wharfies "; his description appealed to their sympathy. He told of the expense to which men were put day after day through coming into the port to inquire for work and going back to their homes without having earned anything. A letter published a few weeks ago stated that one wharf labourer who lived at Caulfield spent 14s. 6d. a week on fares from his home to the wharfs, and yet received no work. If the honorable member for Henty had to submit to that sort of thing for a couple of days, his temper would be roused and he would create a stir. He loves the wee bawbee as much as any man I know. I was travelling in the train last week with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Watson) and Senator Kingsmill. When the newspapers were received, Senator Kingsmill remarked that the waterside workers had repudiated the award of the court. The honorable member for Fremantle said that the trouble must be in connexion with the pick-ups and added - "I am not surprised. One pick-up has been in operation in Fremantle for four years and it has been very successful. A neighbour of mine who worked on the wharfs inquired early each day if he would be required, and if he found that he would not, he retired to his 5-acre garden and spent the day cultivating vegetables for sale. Owing to the intermittent character of the work on the wharfs, he could not earn enough wages to keep himself, his wife and his family; there being only one pick-up he was free for the rest of the day, and could utilize his spare time to earn extra money. The one pick-up is the right system and no other should be tolerated." Senator Kingsmill who at first was antagonistic to the waterside workers soon subsided, because he realized that the honorable member for Fremantle knew what he was talking about. He has represented Fremantle for many years, and, whatever we may think of his politics, we must recognize that he knows his constituency well, and mingles not only with the upper ten, but with men and women of al! stations in life.

Mr Gullett - Where did this conversation take place?

Mr FENTON - The honorable member should cease interjecting. When his leader tells him to be dumb, he is dumb, and becomes in fact one of those dog-like followers described by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt).

Mr Gullett - The honorable member has repeated a private conversation.

Mr FENTON - It was a semi-public discussion.

Mr Gullett - Very " semi."

Mr FENTON - I am not used to keeping things under cover; it is not my practice to whisper in quiet places. This conversation occurred in a railway carriage. It was in no sense private. People were passing up and down the corridor and I believe that some were standing at the entrance to the compartment.

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