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Friday, 21 September 1928


Mr MCGRATH (Ballarat) (3:13 AM) . - I desire to place on record my opposition to this bill. I know of no other civilized country in the world where similar legislation has been brought forward. I cannot recall any Prime Minister having introduced into Parliament a bill which gives the Governor-General, through the Cabinet, power to do practically everything and anything while Parliament is in recess. It is proposed to give the Governor-General power to declare martial law, and to call out the military if that is desired. Evidently the Prime Minister is endeavouring to emulate Mussolini, who has practically abolished his Parliament, and is a law unto himself. This proposal to give one or two individuals full control of the lives and properties of their fellow citizens is something entirely foreign to Australian and British sentiment. I do not believe that the workers can have arbitration and strike as well. When an award is given they should obey it. If the award is unfair, they should seek early redress in the Arbitration Court.

I can quite understand the men feeling that they have a just grievance under this award. They have grave suspicions regarding the Arbitration Court and the action of the Government in this matter. They remember that the Government has gone out of its road to appoint particular persons to the Bench, and that Mr. Justice Drake-Brockman stood down from the Nationalist party in order to accept a judgeship.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Bayley - The honorable member is not in order in referring in that way to a member of the judiciary.


Mr McGRATH - He was president of the Employers Federation and to that extent was biased. The workers have lost faith in him.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Members of the judiciary may not be criticized in that manner. The practice, not only in this Parliament, but also in the mother of parliaments, forbids it.


Mr McGRATH - I remember much stronger language than that being employed by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), in criticizing the decisions of Mr. Justice Higgins. Then we have Mr. Justice

Lukin and Mr. Justice Dethridge, who have always associated themselves with the employers. No wonder the workers are losing confidence in the court. They think that the whole thing is a gigantic conspiracy. This award was not to be proclaimed until the end of this year, but, because the election is to be held on the 17th of November, the unionists believe that Mr. Justice Beeby was influenced to give an early award, knowing that the workers concerned would resent it. When they did so, the Prime Minister declared that he intended to issue a proclamation putting the Crimes Act into operation. The Labour leaders, realizing that awards of the court should be obeyed, ordered the men back to work, and in many of the ports they were and are still working. The Prime Minister thought that the strike would peter out, and he was afraid that work on the waterfront would be resumed before he could put the present bill into operation. The men do not believe that he desires to have the dispute settled. For political reasons, the Government desires the strike to continue. It wishes to go to the country at the coming election, as it did at the last election, under circumstances that will enable its misdeeds for the last three years to be overlooked. It wants the attention of the electors to be distracted by the present industrial trouble, so that it will be again returned to power.

I have every sympathy with the men in their fight. I know what the double pickup system means to them. They have to loaf about for four hours, and, in some cases, eight hours, with nothing to do. Every clergyman in the country should stand side by side with the unionists in their demand for the abolition of that pick-up system. The men assemble for work at 8 a.m. Perhaps 500 are offering and only 300 are selected. The other 200 are told to hang about, and this results in drinking and' gambling. Surely with the aid of wireless telegraphy the shipowners could tell within half an hour when the wharf labourers would be required. If a vessel were due at 3 p.m. it should be possible to select the men required at the 8 o'clock pick-up, so that they could return to their homes knowing for certain that at a later ' hour of the day work would be available for them. For some years the one pick-up system has been operating admirably in Melbourne, which is one of the busiest ports in Australia.

Naturally, the men strongly resent the new award. They feel that political influence has been brought to bear to cause the judge to issue the new award, in .the hope that industrial disturbance will be promoted at the time of an election. Personally, I hope that the counsels of the federated trade unions will prevail. They should treat this measure with contempt, and not give the Prime Minister an opportunity to put it into operation. No one can predict what might occur if it were put into effect. Once an attempt was made to do the work on the wharfs with free labour every union throughout Australia would be affected, and the consequences might be disastrous. The Prime Minister has available to him an easy and honorable way of settling the trouble. Why did he not try to bring about a conference between the two parties. In half a dozen cases the award makes special provision for such a conference. Realizing the full meaning of the award the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Hogan, brought the two parties together. He made the first gesture towards peace, and he was partially successful. If he had been assisted by the Prime Minister he would have been wholly successful. Contrast the attitude of the Nationalist Prime Minister with that of the Labour Premier of Victoria. One seeks to bring about peace while the other talks of using the bludgeon by arresting and fining the men. Not satisfied with proclaiming the Crimes Act, the Prime Minister now comes along with a proposal that casts aside practically every act on the statute-book so far as the transport workers are concerned.


Mr Fenton - The Attorney-General has served summonses on men who were trying to bring about peace.


Mr McGRATH - That action by the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister's introduction of this bill in the dying hours of the session will do anything but promote peace.

The Government- has had three years in which to solve the problem of industrial unrest for which it claimed to have received a mandate. On the eve of every industrial dispute it has brought down a new measure. It has told us previously that it has the fullest powers to deal with this problem. It has promised the people more than it can accomplish. No party can guarantee peace in the industrial sphere. As long as there are two parties to industry, one ever striving for better working conditions and the other always trying to increase its dividends, peace is impossible. If the Labour party were in power it could not guarantee to bring about that happy state of affairs; but it would not threaten to bring out the military forces at the first sign of unrest. It would suggest conciliation, and try to bring about an amicable settlement.

At the last election the issue was clouded because of the strike of British seamen. Labour men were accused of being communists and followers of Jock Garden. During the discussion of the present bill, however, the name of that individual has not been mentioned. He has urged the men to return to work. He has ceased to provide the Nationalists with political ammunition. At the last election the issue was so clouded that the people took no notice of the misdeeds of the Government. Now, five or six weeks prior to the coming election, this bill is sprung upon us in the hope that the issue will again be clouded. I am confident that the strike will end suddenly. The unionists having voiced their protest will probably return to work and proceed in a legitimate way to have the award amended. They should have a good chance of success, because Mr. Justice Beeby is unwell, and probaby another judge will hear the case.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member is not in order in reflecting upon a member of the judiciary.


Mr McGRATH - I have no ill will towards him, and certainly wish him no harm. We have learnt from this strike that there is one argument that the Nationalist party can never use again. We have been told previously in every similar debate that the rank and file of the unionists want to work but are prevented from doing so by the union leaders, the " red raggers," who are everlastingly fomenting trouble. We were assured that once this Government gave the unions the right of holding secret ballots, strikes would be ended. But now the Government dare not put the secret ballot to the test. It claims that the Labour leaders stand for peace, and that a large section of the rank and file resent the award because they object to waiting about the wharfs all day for work.

I shall have opportunities in committee to ascertain exactly what the bill means. I should like to have certain of its provisions explained. Perhaps the AttorneyGeneral will don the uniform of a lieutenant-commander of the British Navy so graphically described last night by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) and explain them. Since we are given to understand that the Government proposes, if necessary, to utilize the forces of the navy and the army to give effect to the law, it is fitting that the Attorney-General should wear his uniform.


Mr Makin - Was it the AttorneyGeneral who was appointed to that rank?


Mr McGRATH - Yes, and the honorable member for Bourke told us that he purchased his uniform six months after the war was over, and strutted about in it.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member is not now discussing the bill.


Mr McGRATH - I am merely saying that when he is explaining the provisions of the bill in committee it would be appropriate if the Attorney-General donned his naval uniform. The Government under this measure proposes to suspend all our ordinary laws and activities, and to do all that may be necessary to defend those persons who may offer their services to keep the ships moving. The forces of the army and the navy, so we are led to believe, will be utilized, and I suggest that in such an event the Attorney-General should be fittingly clothed for his new duties. He might then be able to claim that he has had some experience in the navy, and offer some justification for having worn the uniform, which he donned six months after peace was proclaimed.


Mr Latham - Of course the honorable member knows that that is merely untrue.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order !


Mr Latham - I will substitute the word "inaccurate."


Mr McGRATH - I will get the honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to verify what I have just said.


Mr Brennan - I notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the statement of the Attorney-General that what the honorable member for Ballarat had said was untrue, received no comment from the Chair.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - If the honorable member for Batman had been listening he would have heard the Chair call the Attorney-General to order, and the Attorney-General substitute the word " inaccurate " for the word " untrue."


Mr Brennan - Like the regulations that will be drawn up under this measure, it. was done in secret.


Mr McGRATH - -If we pass this measure Parliament will have no control, because very shortly we shall be engaged in a general election, and the new Parliament probably will not meet before March next. Until the regulations have been laid on the table of Parliament, the Government will have a free hand, and will be able to do what it likes to protect the interests of shipowners. It is lamentable that in this twentieth century it should be deemed necessary to bring down a bill like this to place the lives and destinies of the working classes absolutely in the hands of one or two men. No such measure has been introduced in any other Parliament in the civilized world in recent years. I regret very much that it has been left to this Ministry to show even Mussolini how to take' away from the people the rights which they have enjoyed for so long. If the people to-day were as alive to their interests as the electors were 20 or 30 years ago, the Government would not have dared to pass legislation of this nature, to confer upon the GovernorGeneral the extraordinary powers that will be taken under the proposed regulations. The wealthy ship-owners of this country have never shown a desire to work amicably with their employees. I believe that when the people realize that this Government is throwing its full weight behind the ship-owners, they will place in power a government and party that will take the first opportunity to repeal this measure.







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