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Wednesday, 29 June 1949


Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- It was rightly remarked at the outset of the debate that this is one of the most dramatic developments in the history of the Commonwealth. It is doubtful whether any previous industrial dislocation caused such wide-spread hardship as is being caused by the present dispute, which is particularly grave because it has occurred in the middle of winter, and every State in Australia is directly feeling the impact. Millions of people are suffering inconveniences and loss. That being so, we look to the programme submitted by the Australian Government for solving the problem. The entire programme so far presented by the Government is contained in the piece of legislation now before the Parliament. It is the only legislation we are asked to examine, and it contains the only proposals which the Government has indicated it intends to put into effect. This measure, as far as it goes, has the support of the Opposition parties, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) have both made clear. We were told by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) that he is glad to find that we are behind the Government in this matter. Let me say to him that, far from being behind the Government, we are many years ahead of it. We have had to wait for three years for the Government to catch up with the stand taken by the Opposition parties on this matter. In the policy speech delivered by my leader at the last election, one of the aspects featured in the programme which he put before the electors was the methods by which he proposed to deal with industrial issues. At the cost of detaining the House for a few minutes longer, and so that this matter may be put in its proper perspective, it is appropriate that I should repeat for the benefit of honorable members what was said by the Leader of the Opposition when he enunciated the policy of his party to the electors at the last general election'. The right honorable gentleman then said -

The Liberal party stands for good wages and conditions; for the prompt re-examination of the basic wage by the Arbitration Court, the wage-pegging regulations being relaxed to include any new basic wage so determined; for the provision of adequate tribunals for the timely rectification of grievances; for incentive payments beyond the minimum; for profit sharing wherever it is practicable; for ample security against unemployment and old age and sickness; for a close, generous and friendly contact between employer and employee; for a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. It believes in trade unionism and in the protection by law of the rights secured by wage-earners. And, because it believes in all these tilings, it stands for a fair industrial law which will be enforced without fear, favour or affection, against employer and employee alike.

He then went on to discuss the specific measures which he would take in order to carry out this balanced programme. " We reject ", he said, " the idea that industrial arbitration and direct action can live side by side ". The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has just told us, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) did earlier in this discussion, that the issue in this strike is whether the coal-miners should resort to industrial arbitration or to direct action, to a lawful act or to unlawful acts. We could see this issue looming up prior to the last general election, so we said, " We stand for the notion that industrial arbitration shall prevail. We reject the idea that industrial arbitration and direct action can live side by side ". The policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition continued -

The time has come, in this country where the rule of law is so frequently attacked, for law-abiding people to defend the law.

He there fore proposed that all strikes and lockouts occurring in the course of industrial disputes for the settlement of which some competent tribunal exists, or against the decisions of the competent tribunal, should be declared illegal, and that there should be prosecutions and a resolute enforcement of penalties against those who organized, encouraged or took part in illegal strikes or lockouts. I pause here because the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has said that some doubt exists as to what courses may have been available to the Government under its constitutional powers other than those which it has adopted. There can be no doubt that there is available to the Government under its constitutional powers the right to prosecute those who break the industrial law. The Government itself has placed a provision giving it such a power in its own legislation dealing with the coal industry. In his policy speech the Leader of the Opposition stated that he proposed -

That the funds of any organization of employees or employers guilty of an illegal strike or lockout shall be controlled by the Arbitration Court.

Three years ago, to deal with industrial disputes in that way was a part of our programme. We have been told by the Minister in a patronizing way that he is glad to see that we are 'behind the Government. If our programme had been adopted by the Government three years ago, and if provisions of the kind we suggested had been placed on the statutebook, we would not need legislation of the kind now before the House and have to " guillotine " it as a matter of urgency after a crisis had come upon us. We would have been able to act before the enemy in the community had struck against us. There would have been less prospect of subversive action being taken by the coal-miners if they knew that legislation to deal with illegal strikes was on the statute-book and would be fearlessly implemented. A further proposal outlined by the Leader of the Opposition was -

That it shall be a condition of registration of any organization that its rules shall provide for the election of office-bearers and the making of decisions involving stoppages of work by a secret ballot of all members under the supervision of an officer of the Arbitration Court.

I emphasize that point because it has a very direct bearing on the matter which we are now discussing. We pressed for the holding of a secret ballot of all members because we considered that rankandfile members of a union should have the right to indicate in a secret vote where they stood in regard to a strike before they became involved in it. Let us see how they are to be treated under this legislation. The only action which this Government has so far indicated it proposes to take is action which will directly hit the rank-and-file unionist in the coalmining industry. No action is proposed against the leaders of the mining unions. They are not to be punished under this legislation unless in some way they are directly implicated in a breach of its provisions. If the funds of the unions are frozen, and if contributions are withheld, who will suffer most? The Government intends that rank-and-file members of the unions shall be the sufferers. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction has said that they will be shut off from financial aid and will suffer in that way. We accept that as one of the measures that should be taken against those who defy the law of this community. The rankandfile members of the unions are to suffer because of the remissness, the neglect and the utter disregard of the interests of rank-and-file members of this Government in denying them the right to say in a secret ballot where they stand in relation to this dispute. In summing up, the Leader of the Opposition expressed the whole spirit of his approach towards this problem, when he said -

Thi* policy against direct action is not a restriction of freedom ; it is a restraint upon anarchy. One coal-miner's freedom to strike means that ten other men in factories are denied their freedom to work, because the factory is without coal.

In the light of what has subsequently happened his words were prophetic. The right to strike, which the coal-miners have exercised, is a right which has been preached to them by almost every honorable member who sits behind the Government. Standing in his place in this chamber, the Prime Minister himself has spoken of the right to strike. That i3 the background of this matter. The coal-miners have been led to believe that this issue is not between lawlessness and arbitration, and that they have the right to strike if they care to exercise it. They are now exercising that right. They will be astonished to find that those who urged them on in the past, those who encouraged them and condoned their lawless actions, have now turned against them and have adopted the policy which we have so consistently advocated both inside and outside of this House for many years. The policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition continued -

It is time that we realized that the only guarantee of all-round freedom is to be found in good and fair democratic laws, fearlessly and impartially enforced. We believe that the good sense of the Australian people will he behind on this vital matter.

I am certain that if the Australian people to-day had a programme of that kind put before them, understanding in the light of what has happened in recent weeks how necessary such a programme had become, they would overwhelmingly endorse it. I mention those facts because we have been told that this has always been the attitude of the Labour party and that honorable gentlemen opposite are glad to know that we are with them on this important issue. This is the only measure that the Government has brought down in connexion with this dispute. It is quite obvious from the speeches that have been made on behalf of the Government that Ministers see the solution of this crisis in a war of attrition between the community generally and the coalminers. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction said yesterday that the Government is doing now what we did in 1940. All that 1 can say is that the people must be appalled if that is the attitude of the Government. The fact that the members of the Government are unable to distinguish between the conditions that obtained in 1940 and those that obtain at the .present time shows how utterly unfitted they are to be in charge of the affairs of this country in a period of crisis.


Mr Beazley Mr. Beazley interjecting,


Mr HOLT - I do not know whether the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) is to be allowed to continue to interject. It is most disturbing to me. In 1940, very substantial reserves of coal at grass were available to the government of the day. Those who suffered from the long drawn-out struggle that occurred then were the miners and the mining unions and not the community. The funds of the mining unions were depleted and the miners and their families suffered hardships. It cannot justly be said that the circumstances of the struggle of 1940 are similar to those of the present dispute. The miners now have ample coal for their own domestic needs, but the community is being starved of coal. Fuel for electricity, gas and transport is being denied to the community, while the miners and their families have adequate supplies of fuel for their own domestic needs. There is no parellel between the stoppage that occurred in 1940 and the present strike. The miners and the mining unions are in a very much better position to engage in a long drawn-out struggle now than they were in 1940. Neither the Parliament nor the people can accept as complete the programme that has been put forward by the Government. This is only one measure. It may be useful, but it will be completely ineffective as a means of achieving a speedy settlement of this dispute and of securing the quantities of coal that could be made available to the community by resolute governmental action. We have yet to hear that the Government has any proposals for securing, whether by its own action or in cooperation with the State governments, the coal that is already at grass, whether it has any constructive suggestions to make regarding the possibility of securing coal from open-cut mines, whether it proposes to bring down any measures complementary to this bill, or whether the Prime Minister has been in touch with other countries with a view to ascertaining how speedily coal can be brought to Australia from those countries. Those are steps that would have been taken by any government that was conscious of its responsibilities to the people.

What of the leaders of the, miners in this unlawful struggle? This bill is designed to punish the rank and file of the miners, but what of the leaders of the conspiracy? The Government has the power to prosecute them.


Mr Falstein - So have the mineowners.


Mr HOLT - There is no provision in the statute that confines action of that kind to the mine-owners. If there is, I should like to hear it expressed by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) and to listen to the right honorable gentleman inviting this Parliament to pass amending legislation to give the Government authority to deal with the miners' leaders who are defying the law. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke) has told us that this is a Communist-directed strike. If the miners' leaders are Communists or Communist-inspired, what action does the Government propose to take to deal with them ? What measures are to be taken to crush this conspiracy, which was planned months ago and put into operation at a time when the conspirators knew that it would cause the greatest hardship? The honorable member for Perth has told us that the Communists desire to destroy the Labour party, and a number of honorable gentlemen opposite seem to be more concerned with the political implications of this struggle than with the hardships that the people are suffering. I cannot help asking what the attitude of the supporters of the Government would have been if the Liberal party had been in office and had introduced a measure of this kind. I wonder whether we should have received from honorable gentlemen opposite the same strong support as honorable members on this side of the House have given to the Government on this occasion. Unless the Government goes a good deal further than it has indicated that it is prepared to go, we shall not be satisfied of its bona fides in regard to this matter.

I have already referred to the emphasis that has been placed by members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, on the right to strike. Until honorable gentlemen opposite point out to the wage-earners and trade unionists of Australia, whom they claim to represent, that a right to strike is irreconcilable with arbitration under the law, we cannot expect a peaceful industrial future for this country. I could understand members of the Labour party if they talked about the right to strike in the sense that a man has the right to thieve or to commit some other offence against our laws knowing that, if he does so, he is liable to have used against him the sanctions provided by the law. If there are no sanctions for the enforcement of a law, the law is futile and meaningless. If the Government secures the enactment of a law but refuses to make provision for sanctions to enforce its application and at the same time preaches the right to strike, is it surprising that we should suffer from periodical hold-ups ? I shall quote a passage from a book written by the late Mr. Justice Higgins - a man who has often been quoted approvingly by members of the Labour party. In his book, A New Province for Law and Order, he left no doubt about the policy that the community should follow. He wrote -

There should be no more necessity for strike* and stoppages in order to obtain just working conditions than there was need for the Chinaman of Charles Lamb to burn the house down whenever he wanted roast pork. The arbitration system is devised to provide a substitute for strikes and stoppages, to secure the reign of justice as against violence, of right as against might - to subdue Prussianism in industrial matters.

I hope that the views of that man, who has so often been quoted approvingly and who has spoken so truly on this issue, will be adopted by those who claim to speak for the Government.

We support this measure and will assist its speedy passage through the Parliament, but we warn the Government that neither the Opposition parties nor the people of Australia are prepared to accept it as the full extent of the action that the Government should take to bring this disastrous industrial dispute to a speedy end.







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