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Wednesday, 29 June 1949

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) . - I support the bill, not because I wholeheartedly approve of its terms, and I most certainly do not approve of the way it has been introduced, but because it seems to me that this is the first time that the Government has really taken a stand in defence of arbitration. I am one of those who believe that compulsory arbitration and strikes are incompatible. Compulsory arbitration implies that industrial awards must be obeyed and that the law of the land must not be broken. As the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) pointed out, the Communist party wants to see arbitration abolished. The surest way to destroy arbitration is to allow the awards of the Arbitration Court to be disregarded. About 25 years ago, I had an opportunity to discuss the subject of industrial unrest with Mr. Samuel Gompers, a great American Labour leader. We touched upon compulsory arbitration, and the right to strike. He said that the American Labour movement was content to retain the right to strike, and to fix working conditions by collective bargaining. They feared that if compulsory arbitration became the law of the land, those who broke industrial awards would become criminals. Then, if industrial awards were defied by big and powerful unions, the result might be industrial chaos, or even civil war. Of course, the only way to prevent such an occurrence is to ensure that the law is obeyed. The first Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act passed by this Parliament in 1904, at a time when the Labour party held the balance of power, contained this provision -

No person or organization shall, on account of any industrial dispute, do anything in the nature of a lock-out or strike, or continue any lock-out or strike.

Penalty : ' One thousand pounds.

The act of 1920 still contained that provision, although between 1904 and 1920 a Labour government had been in office for three years. In fact, the provision remained unaltered until our arbitration legislationwas consolidated in 1947, when the provision to which I have referred apparently disappeared. It may be hidden away somewhere in the act, but I have not been able to find it. The point is that, during all those years, the policy of successive governments has been that industrial law shall be enforced by monetary penalties. If this Government had enforced the law of the land, we should, not be in the present mess.

I regret the need for this bill. The miners are fighting for what, I suppose, they think is a just cause, and the country is threatened with economic chaos. In the midst of that situation, the Government has brought down this bill, which must have a powerful emotional effect upon the miners, and stiffen their resolution; whereas, if the action proposed under the bill were merely being taken as a matter of course under provisions in existing legislation, the effect upon the miners wouldbe far different. The Government is now forced to bring down panic legislation because its strategy, during the last six years, has been so bad. Everybody knows that the Communist executives, which control some of the most powerful trade unions in Australia, have been determined for a considerable time to bring about a general strike in the coalmining industry. By an act of deliberate policy they have ensured that reserves of coal shall be no more than sufficient to keep industry going for a few days. The official reply to those tactics has been to ration the use of gas and electric power in the hope of increasing coal reserves, but the Communist leaders of the miners' federation have consistently reduced production so as to ensure that, even though consumption is restricted, the reserve of coal shall continue to be negligible. Now, they launch this final blow in the middle of the winter, when there are practically no coal reserves, when the resistance of people will be enfeebled by the wintry conditions, and when the national economy is in a dangerous condition be cause industry has been consistently starved of coal. If a fight was inevitable, it would surely have been better to begin: it when the physical and moral stamina of the community was at its height, and when we should have been certain of winning. The proper course would have been to call the bluff of the Communiste as early as possible and to have precipitated the clash, if the miners' federation was really intent upon one.

As I have listened to the speechesof various Ministers, who have followed one another in such rapid succession, I could not help feeling that time has brought its revenge. During the last eight years, Labour governments have had to swallow various policies for which they had fought in previous years, such as the Labour party's defence policy, its migration policy, and its central banking policy. Now, the Government ha* been forced to realize that the safeguards inserted by previous governments in our arbitration legislation were really necessary. Now, when forced to the last ditch, the Government finds that it must fight for law and order, or give up the government of the country. Its temporizing has brought about the present trouble. It has tried to sup with the devil with a long spoon, but the spoon was not long enough. This bill should contain a provision that could be evoked in any state of emergency that might arise in the future. Action of the kind contemplated in the bill should not have to be taken under the pressure of an urgent public need. It should be the result of a decision of an impartial court, which would advise the Government to enforce provisions already in our industrial legislation.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Sir EARLE PAGE - Before the suspension of the sitting, I had pointed out that the right to strike is incompatible with the compulsory arbitration system. Not only is that right incompatible with the arbitration system but strikes have also been outlawed. If anorganization of employees decides to call a strike, or if an organization of employers decide to lock out the employees of its members the law provides that those responsible for these decisions shall be subject to the imposition of certain penalties. If the system of arbitration is to be maintained the penalties imposed on those who break our industrial laws must be enforced. The necessity for the enforcement of our industrial laws has been in the minds of all governments and of all political parties until recent years because the penal provisions in our arbitration law have remained undisturbed since its first enactment. The arbitration system for the settlement of industrial disputes between employers and employees was adopted in Australia almost 50 years ago. Impartial tribunals have been established to ensure that just rewards shall be paid for labour and that every dispute between employer and employee shall be given the most careful consideration. All the circumstances surrounding a dispute are taken into account by these tribunals. One of the chief complaints of our extremist unions has been that too long a delay takes place in the meticulous consideration by the court of the factors necessary to enable it to assess a fair and just reward for the worker's labour. The decisions of the court are binding on employers and employees alike. Employers must pay award rates, and members of the unions covered by the award are not permitted to work for less than award rates. But at present the extremist unions can defy the court and the provisions of the law without hindrance. To-day, awards are being enforced against the employers but not against the employees. During the last three years, the coal-miners have been given access not only to the Arbitration Court but also to special tribunals established for the specific purpose of expediting decisions relating to their wages and conditions of employment. The services of Mr. Cameron, the chairman of the Joint Coal Board, and of Mr. Gallagher, the Coal Industry Tribunal, are at the disposal of the coal-miners at all times. No one can claim that the just demands of the coal-miners have not been recognized. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has repeatedly told us that all sorts of concessions have been made to coal-miners in an attempt to mitigate the conditions under which they work. The right honorable gentleman has complained that the decision of the miners to stage a strike at this time is evidence of their base ingratitude to the Government for what it has done for them. In deciding to flout the decision of the Joint Coal Board and to ignore the arbitration laws of this country the coal-miners" leaders have thrown out of employment not only the members of their own key union but also the members of other ke% unions, with the result that there is chaos in the community. The anarchists who control the miners' federation must be brought to heel. Trade unionism in Australia has expanded as the result of the introduction of compulsory arbitration, and a threat to the system of compulsory arbitration constitutes an equal threat to the maintenance of the growth of trade unionism. Therefore, we must take steps to ensure that the system of compulsory arbitration shall be maintained. The only method by which it can be maintained is by ensuring that awards shall be obeyed by both parties in industry. Unionists must take steps to ensure that discipline shall be preserved in their unions. Until we get goodwill in thi* matter we shall not get good work from the workers. The purpose of the industrial arbitration system is to ensure that the best conditions of employment and the highest standard of health shall be preserved for the working people of Australia. , Industrial tribunals have been established to serve the interests, not only of capital and labour but also of the other two parties interested in industry, namely, management and the community. In the strike against which the legislation now before us is to be directed, of the partners in this quartette the community is being hit most heavily. The purpose of this bill is to protect the community against those who resort to the weapon of the strike. A state of emergency is being declared so that the Government may take appropriate steps to deal with the strikers. In my view it would have been better if a measure such as this had been placed on the statutebook in permanent form so that it could be proclaimed as soon as a situation arose similar to that with which we are now confronted. If such a measure had been placed on the statute-book it would have been possible to freeze the funds of striking unions and their sympathizers without prior notice. In this instance several days' notice has been given of the Government's intention to freeze the funds of the miners' federation and before this bill becomes law those funds may well have disappeared. I do not suggest that the provisions of a measure such as this should be continuously implemented. They are designed solely to extricate us from our immediate difficulties. We must ensure that when peace again reigns in industry the maximum productive output will be obtained from our workers. Two great factors operate against the achievement of maximum production and the maintenance of our arbitration system. The first is the enormous autocratic power wielded by irresponsible and ambitious leaders of certain unions who are able to damage not only the members of their own unions and the industry with which they are concerned but also the country as a whole. Many of them are avowed Communists who make no secret of their aim to foster the tenets of communism and to bring about discontent among the workers of this country. By the use of their autocratic powers they seek by every possible means to dislocate industry in this country. The second great factor which operates against the achievement of maximum production and the maintenance of our arbitration system is the existence of a weak government which will not enforce awards made by the Arbitration Court. Our arbitration system is something of which we may well be proud, but it cannot succeed unless responsible governments enforce our arbitration laws. Governments must ensure that the unions shall discipline themselves. 'Some years ago Mr. Justice Davidson carried out a comprehensive investigation of the coal industry. In dealing with the difficulties that confronted the industry Mr. Justice Davidson listed the following causes : -

The excessive costs of production and the progressive decline in output.

The constantly reiterated demand by the unions and mine workers for the nationalization of the industry.

Se said that the demand for the nationalization of the industry had had an unsettling effect on both employers and employees. That is difficult to understand because the coal-miners have been told on many occasions that the Australian Government has no power to nationalize the coal-mining industry. Mr. Justice

Davidson's list of the causes of difficulties in the coal-mining industry continues -

Especially in the northern and southern districts of New South Wales discipline is almost non-existent among mine workers who are members of the miners' federation and are within its immediate sphere of influence.

Discipline is observed by mine workers who are not members of the miners' federation or who are remote from its influence and generally, also, by mine workers in mines that are mechanized and free from a system of payment on contract rates.

He said that lack of discipline was mainly due to -

(a)   Weak and divided leadership in the miners' federation;

(b)   Political antagonism between mine workers who are Communists and those who are opposed to the doctrines and activities of Communists;

(c)   Political intrigue directed towards the weakening and ultimate abolition of the compulsory arbitration system, so that leaders of powerful unions or of groups within them may dictate their own terms to the industry and even to Governments;

(d)   The success achieved by nearly all strikes in gaining some concessions.

The last mentioned seems to be one of the greatest causes of difficulty in the industry. If the miners think that they can do better by engaging in a wrangling argument outside of the ambit of the Arbitration Court they are inclined to follow that course. Mr. Justice Davidson's summary of the reasons for lack of discipline continues -

(e)   Inability or reluctance of the Government to enforce the law against large numbers of individual strikers or absentees ;

(f)   Appeasement on the part of the Government in yielding to improper demands under threats of disruption of the industry; for example, in removing judicial officers at the behest of unions which refuse to accept decisions that are adverse or not entirely in their own favour; and

(g)   Vigorous opposition of the federation to the dismissal of an employee by the management of the miners for any reason whatever.

He said that an absurd position had been reached in which numerous minor disputes were carried to Ministers and became major political issues and the subject of innumerable conferences. By this procedure, he said, some union leaders had succeeded in usurping some of the important functions of management of the mines. He continued -

Prosecutions and action under National Security Regulations and the Coal Production (War-time) Act, for absenteeism and other offences, achieved a considerable amount of success and might have had more force if pursued inexorably.

Not only must we pass the legislation now before us but we must also implement its provisions to the letter. I do not think that they should be directed against persons. I hate to think that little children and the womenfolk of the miners will be hungry and ill fed as the result of this legislation. This trouble has arisen because of the actions of certain union leaders. The existence of large sums of money at the disposal of the unions fortifies them in the high-handed action which they have taken. Penalties should be enforced against organizations which deliberately flout the law. Only when the Government begins to enforce such penalties shall we begin to get rid of the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. The penal code has been part and parcel of our arbitration laws from the inception of the industrial arbitration system. They have never been revoked. In order that unions which deliberately flout the law may be effectively dealt with, opportunity must be given to the members of the unions to control their executive officers. Bank and file members must be given the right to elect their leaders by secret ballots, which should be conducted by the unions under the direction of the Arbitration Court. If that were done the rank and file members would elect to executive positions in their unions only men whom they could thoroughly trust. I hope that as a result of this trouble we shall evolve a method for dealing with industrial disputes that will ensure that in future we shall have, not merely peace, but peace with goodwill. The only kind of peace that we are likely to achieve by this measure is something like that which was achieved by one of the old Roman conquerors, that is, peace in a desert. He wiped out everything. What we desire is peace with goodwill, maximum production and improved conditions for every one in Australia. The coal-mining industry is a basic industry. Without coal we can not produce iron, steel, baths, sinks, or railway lines, or generate gas and electricity. I hope that the Government will not be content with securing the support of the Opposition for this measure. I trust that, first, it will ensure that the impact of the legislation upon individuals will be cushioned as far as possible, and secondly, that it will do something of a constructive nature to end this trouble, not merely now but for all time. It is important that we should have ample reserves of coal. I hope that the Government will endeavour to accumulate those reserves and that it will not allow itself to be bluffed by the Communists.

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