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Wednesday, 29 June 1949

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs) .- I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

I regret that physical difficulties have prevented printed copies of the bill from arriving. They will arrive as early as possible after lunch. Honorable members have been given roneoed copies of the bill for use until the printed copies arrive. I think that it should be possible for the bill to be thoroughly understood in the time that has been allotted by the House for its disposal. The title of the bill indicates its importance and the necessity for its introduction. The title indicates that this legislation is to operate during the period of national emergency caused by the present general strike in the coal-mining industry. In relation to that period, what will bc prohibited, broadly speaking, is the contribution, receipt or use of funds by organizations registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act for the purpose of assisting or encouraging the continuanceof that strike. There are two points which I want to emphasize at the outset. First, this is a special emergency measure which is designed to deal with an emergency. It would he superfluous for me to enlarge upon what has already been stated publicly by the Prime Minister of this country in relation to the emergency. The essential facts leading to the emergency are stated in the bill itself by way of preamble. I think it may be of some help to members in considering the bill to recall them. In short we are asking the Parliament to approve of the statement in the preamble that certain demands were made by organizations of employees in the coal-mining industry, and because of noncompliance with those demands industrial disputes came into existence in New South Wales and extended throughout the Commonwealth. Although we mainly rely on New South Wales for the production of coal, the coal-mining industry extends throughout the Commonwealth. The second statement in the preamble which I wish to emphasize is that in order to enforce compliance with those demands, and in contravention of the principles of conciliation and arbitration for which provision is made, not only in the Constitution but also in the laws of the Commonwealth, a general strike in the coal-mining industry was decided upon on the 16th June - that is the day on which the stop-work meeting was heldand commenced on the 27th June. As the Prime ' Minister (Mr. Chifley) has pointed out, in this industry which is so vital to the economic life of the community and to the welfare of every man, woman and child in Australia, a general strike was declared contrary to the principles of arbitration, because, under the law provision has been made for the handling of disputes in this industry, and a coal tribunal has been established by joint. Commonwealth and State parliamentary action for the purpose of expediting and promptly handling all disputes that may arise in the coal industry. It has always been felt - and previous governments always acted on this principle as much as has the present Government - that great difficulty arose in relation to this important industry because disputes could not be dealt with by the court with SUm- *cient expedition. That difficulty was surmounted by the Coal Industry Act. A special tribunal was appointed with the approval of all concerned in the industry. The tribunal was actually engaged in the settlement of the matters in dispute when the organizations of employees engaged in the industry, at a stop-work meeting called for that purpose in defiance of the order of the tribunal, determined that unless all their demands were acceded to by a certain date, there would be a strike in the coal-mining industry in the eastern States in the middle of winter which would cause indescribable hardship to men and women, and particularly to children. That strike is now extending throughout Australia. That decision was made, as the Prime Minister has indicated, with callous disregard of ordinary humanity. In these circumstances, we submit in the preamble that the strike is prejudicing or interfering with the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community and has caused a grave national emergency. That is the real position. There is no other industry in which a stoppage of this character can have such a serious effect on the community. Because of the special character of the coal-mining industry only miners can obtain the coal which is needed for maintaining the life of the community. The Parliament has recognized its special duty to the coal-miners, but they in turn owe a duty to the community. They cannot wage economic war on the community and at the same time claim the rights of the arbitration system. They cannot have it both ways. The last portion of the preamble is in accordance with the principle of the bill. I now come to the provisions of the measure, and I turn at once to clauses 4, 5 and 6. Clause 4 reads -

Subject to this Act, a participating organization shall not make, or promise to make, any payment for the purpose of assisting or encouraging directly or indirectly the continuance of the strike.

A " participating organization " is a registered organization, some or all of whose members are actively engaged in this strike.

Mr Menzies - As, in various places, there is some confusion on the point, I should like it to be made clear whether the miners' federation is an organization registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Dr EVATT - Yes, it is. There has been considerable confusion on that point. The Australian Coal and Shale Employees Federation is registered under that act, and clause 4 of the bill will apply directly to that organization. That clause will hit at payments which, in the judgment of a proper court, are made for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike. Then we deal with participating organizations, which, of course, are not limited to the miners' federation, but include participating organizations which are registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Clause 5 deals with those organizations at the point of their receipt of payments from any person. The statute deals with participating organizations and their boards, committees and trustees both at the point of their making payments or receiving payments for the purpose of assisting or encouraging the continuance of the strike, because the prohibition in clause 5 upon the participating organizations and their members and committees is that they shall not receive a payment, or accept a benefit, from any person for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike. The bill attempts to deal with the problem not merely at the point of payment out of funds of an organization, but at all points where payments are received by the participating organization or their committees of management or any members thereof for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike.

Mr Hughes - Does it prohibit individuals from making contributions?

Dr EVATT - Certainly. Clause 6 embodies a different principle, but a principle that is equally important. That clause provides that organizations registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act shall be prohibited from making payments to, or for the benefit of, participating organizations, their officials, boards of management, committees or members, or bodies acting in the interests of a participating organization if those payments are made for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the con tinuance of the strike. The net thrown out by the bill is wide. In every instance what is aimed at by the bill is payment or receipt of benefits or promises of payments which are made for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike.

I shall now explain the further provisions of the bill because, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has pointed out, the secondreading discussion of this measure should be equivalent in many respects to a committee examination of it. Clause 7 deals with a type of situation which may conceivably arise. An organization seeking to pay, or receive, moneys may be in doubt whether the purpose of- such payment is to assist or encourage, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike. In certain instances the payment of salaries, or wages, of agents or servants may be in a position that is not clearly understood in the particular situation that may arise. I do not want to deal with every case of difficulty, or doubt. There will be borderline eases, and it is provided that in such instances a prescribed authority, the Chief Judge of the Federal Arbitration Court, or the industrial tribunal in New South Wales, may authorize the making of a payment or the receipt of a payment; hut the authority must be satisfied that the classes of payment, or receipts, are not for the purpose of encouraging the continuance of the strike.

I now turn to a matter that was raised at question time in the House this morning, and which, in practice, may create difficulties. It may be that before this bill becomes law certain payments will have been made, or at any rate commenced or not, completed. Clause 8 has been inserted to deal with that situation. That clause provides that if the Federal Arbitration Court is satisfied, upon the application of the registrar, that, at any time on or after the 16th June, the day on which the stop-work meeting was held and the decision was made to hold a general strike unless all demands were acceded to, and before the commencement of this bill, moneys have been received or paid, the receipt, or payment, of those moneys being in circumstances in which such receipt or payment would have offended against this measure, the court may, upon the application of the registrar, order the repayment of those moneys to those entitled to them.

Mr Menzies - That could cover bank drawings?

Dr EVATT - Yes; any payments made between those two dates if the payments were made for the purpose of encouraging the strike. If, as one honorable member suggested at question time this morning, such payments are being made in any part of Australia, they will be covered by this provision. It would not mean that in such instances an offence would be committed1; but this provision empowers the registrar of the court to look at the transaction, to declare such payment null and void, and to order repayment of the money. That provision should be emphasized because if trustees of some of these great organizations are endeavouring, so to speak, to get in ahead of the Parliament they will find that they will not be successful, because the bill contains a provision that will intercept such action.

Mr Abbott - 'Who is to pay the money back?

Dr EVATT - The person in possession of it. It might be a person, a bank, the destined recipient or some one who is holding the money in the course of the transaction; and, ultimately, the court will have to be convinced that the purpose of the payment was to assist or encourage the continuance of the strike, in which case the court will order the repayment of that money. Thus, the position would be the same as if no payment were made. Under clause 9 of the bill the court is given jurisdiction to make orders or injunctions for the purpose of insuring compliance with the act. The purpose of that 'provision is that if there is some course of business by which this act is being broken it should not be necessary to take the 'proceedings to the magistrate's court. The Arbitration Court, which is a federal court with judicial power, can issue injunctions against any action taken i n breach of the act which threatens to be repeated; and that court has all the powers incidental to granting an injunction. I do not want the House to under estimate the importance of clause 10, which vests in the Registrar of the Arbitration Court, or a person authorized by him, power to inspect any books, documents or other papers of an organization or branch of an organization for the purpose of ascertaining whether there has been a breach of any of the provisions of the legislation. For the purpose of such inspection, the Registrar is authorized to enter premises of the organization if he believes such books, documents or papers to be there. He is also given authority to require a person - that means any person - to produce or deliver to him, in accordance with his requirement, any such books, documents or papers in the possession or under the control of that person. That is all for the purpose of determining and ascertaining whether, in his opinion, there has been a breach of the provisions of the measure. The Registrar's opinion that there has been a breach will not decide the legal responsibility, but these provisions can place the authorities in possession of the necessary evidence. Penalties are provided for a refusal to comply with the requirements of the Registrar.

If an organization commits an offence against the act, the question of what should be the responsibility of the officers of the organization or of a branch of it will arise. Clause 11 lays down a principle that is well recognized in legislation of this character. After all, an organization cannot be prosecuted or suffer any personal loss. Under this clause, where an organization has committed an offence against the measure the officers are deemed to be guilty of the offence unless proof is given, in the case of an offence alleged against an individual, that he did not know of it, that is to say that it was committed without his knowledge, or, if he did know of it, that he used due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence. So there is a responsibility cast, not merely upon the abstract entity known as the organization in respect of its property, but also upon officers who, knowing of the situation, have not used due diligence to prevent the commission of the offence.

Provision is made in clause 12 to meet the difficult case of a payment being made. the precise purpose of the payment being within the knowledge of the person paying " it and the person receiving it but not necessarily within the knowledge of the Registrar or other authority proceeding under the measure. It is provided that in proceedings for an offence against this measure a payment shall, unless the contrary is proved, be deemed to have been made for the purpose of assisting or encouraging the continuance of the strike. If the payment has not been made for that purpose, that can easily be proved. Clause 13 provides for wide regulationmaking powers, lt may he that there are gaps in the measure that are not known to or have .not been contemplated by the law-making authorities and the draftsmen. The clause provides for power to make regulations of a wide and comprehensive character. Sub-clause 2 gives power to extend the provisions of the measure to other bodies that are participating in the strike. I shall not discuss now the constitutional basis of such action. In the Commonwealth Parliament, we are always acting under the limitations that the Constitution imposes upon the Parliament. In the event of a State authority not passing legislation applying to organizations that are not registered under the-Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, it may be that we could fill in that gap under the provisions of sub-clause 2, but we have no" reason to apprehend that there will be a gap because of the failure of any State authority to act on lines parallel to those on which the Commonwealth has acted.

Air. Abbott. - Would that apply to the Australian Communist party?

Dr EVATT -The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) has asked whether the provisions of this clause could be applied to the Communist party. That was not the situation in the mind, of the draftsman when the clause ยป-ns drafted. The provisions of clause 5 would cover the Communist party, which i.s extremely active in connexion with this general strike. Under the provisions of that clause, the receipt of moneys by participating organizations and the committees or members of such organizations is prohibited, from whatever source the moneys arc derived, if they are for the purpose of assisting the strike. The rele vant portion of the clause reads as follows : -

Subject to this Act, any of the following organizations or persons . . . shall not receive a payment, or accept a benefit, from any person for the purpose of assisting or encouraging, directly or indirectly, the continuance of the strike.

Clause 14 is an important one. This is regarded as an emergency measure and therefore, it is provided that when the strike terminates the Governor-General shall make a proclamation declaring that the strike has terminated, and thereupon the act shall be deemed to have been repealed. That will not prevent proceedings in respect of any breaches of the provisions of the legislation that have occurred before that date.

We put this bill before the House for its consideration as an emergency measure. The community, through the National Parliament, is acting in selfdefence against aggression that is completely unjustified in the circumstances of this case. When one looks back upon the history of the coal industry, one realizes that for many years the employees of the industry have worked under unsatisfactory and often degrading conditions. Those times have gone. In the legislation that was passed by this Parliament and the Parliament of New South Wales, steps were taken to provide amenities for the miners because it was realized that we had a duty to them. This bill deals with the converse position. The employees of the coal-mining industry, having been given a special tribunal and a board to provide amenities for them cannot act in this way. Modern society no longer consists of separate and independent units; all the units are interdependent. But for this strike, there would be full employment in Australia. Those who are engaged in the coal-mining industry must realize that they have n duty to the community. The Government is acting in the interests of the community as a whole. We have had to take this step in order to lay down the principle that economic warfare cannot, be waged upon the community in a situation such as that described in the bill.

Mr Menzies - May we assume that clause 4 is designed, among other things, to prohibit the payment of strike pay by (lie organization itself to its members?

Dr EVATT - The answer to the right honorable gentleman's question is

Decidedly, yes ". Payments in the nature of strike pay, deliberately socalled, are obviously made for the purpose of encouraging the continuance of the strike. There are other payments that may not fall within that category, such as payments by bodies that are not interested in the maintenance of the strike but are simply coming forward to relievesuffering or distress. The question that the right honorable gentleman has asked me can be answered in only one way. The payments to which he has referred are clearly struck at by the legislation, because one cannot imagine payments that are more clearly and obviously for the purpose of encouraging the continuance of the strike. Their very name proves that that is their purpose.

Sitting suspended from 12.^5 to 2.15 p.m.

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