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Thursday, 25 August 1960

Mr CURTIN (Kingsford) (Smith) [9.34j.Earlier to-night we heard the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) exhort all members of the Parliament to present the facts. I propose to present the facts, but in a way different from that in which the Prime Minister presented them. I make' an emphatic protest against the deliberate interference by the Government during the last ten years with the machinery of the Industrial Court. I refer to the celebrated case of the Boilermakers' Society of Australia, of which I am an honoured member. The society was ordered to show cause why it should not be prosecuted for aiding and abetting a strike of ironworkers at Mort's Dock and Engineering Company Limited in 1955. On that occasion the ironworkers and riggers were on strike. The boilermakers had no part in the strike whatever but, ever ready to help fellow unionists, they decided to take up a collection outside the gates of the dock for the wives and children of the men who were on strike. This Government, through the machinery of the court, savagely issued the necessary summons and the union was brought before the court and fined £500 - just because its members committed the humane act of assisting financially the wives and children of brother unionists who were on strike.

I remind honorable members that the ironworkers' organization was not summoned at all for participation in the strike. But the Government under-estimated the fighting qualities of the boilermakers, and the then Minister for Labour and National Service, our present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), suffered a set-back when the Boilermakers' Society appealed to the High Court and the court pointed out to the Government the weaknesses in the legislation and found in favour of the union. Infuriated, the Minister approached Cabinet and instructed the Attorney-General of the day, Senator Spicer, who is now Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court, to lodge an appeal to the Privy Council against the decision of the Government's own instrument - the High Court. It is now history how the Privy Council upheld the decision of the High Court, and awarded costs against the Government.

The facts I have presented show the extent to which this Government was prepared to go to destroy one of the finest and most skilful bodies of men in Australia. I warn the Prime Minister not to tinker too much with the Boilermakers' Society and to remember that boilermakers are vital to the development of this country. Following the Government's unsuccessful appeal to the Privy Council, the Prime Minister instructed the Attorney-General of the day to draw up new arbitration measures and a bill was subsequently brought down in Parliament and, despite strenuous opposition from this side of the chamber, it was placed tin the statute-book and is now law. If is generally known as the " pains and penalties " legislation.

Savage penalties are provided under that legislation. For example, a penalty of £500 is provided for strike action by organizations. A penalty of £100 is provided for minor offences, and a penalty of £10 a day a man while unions are on strike. Under the legislation there is no defence for a strike; court orders operate automatically. The way is open to destroy unions one by one by exhausting their financial resources by fining them for so-called breaches which are mostly provoked by employers for their own particular purposes.

I agree with my colleague, the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) that there are not many trade unionists who will not state clearly that the strike weapon is the last implement that should be employed when an industrial dispute arises. It is a weapon which is sacred to the trade unionists, and is intended for use in issues of wide application and high principle. The first sacrifice of a unionist on strike is made by his wife arid children, and a good unionist's first love is for his family. At the same time, let us never forget that the right to strike is the only thing, industrially, which distinguishes a free man from a slave.

Under this legislation it is a criminal offence to strike, and any unionist, for defending working class principles, can not only be fined and gaoled, but also have his property seized to satisfy fines and legal costs. A person who commits a crime under the criminal code has a better chance of defeating the law than has a union official or a union member who engages in a strike. Strikes have become a criminal offence.

This is not Russia. This is Australia. Recently the Seamen's Union was fined £600 plus heavy costs because its members stopped work in protest against a wage reduction of £6 a week. Recently the Waterside Workers Federation was fined £500 plus costs because it refused to carry out a court order to supply labour on Sundays. This action by the court was unprecedented in Australian industrial history. The .Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) who was responsible for this legislation, has just come into the chamber, looked around and walked out again. But he will be back.

Employers, of course, act in collusion with the Government against unionists by appealing to the court on flimsy grounds and, when the case comes on for hearing, by engaging a panel of top line barristers, knowing full well that costs will be awarded against the union when the case has been decided - quite a snide technique at which this Government connives by the insertion of penal provisions in the legislation. Top line barristers employ agents who hang around the courts like bar flies for the one purpose of securing briefs for the barristers. What a racket to be perpetrated in a country like Australia! Democratic government becomes a farce when a government can get away with such repressive legislation in this Year of Our Lord, 1960. What legislation to have in this jet age! It reminds one of the coercion acts in the early days of the twentieth century. All older honorable members must remember wage leg irons. It is unfortunate also that the act was introduced in this House while the present Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court was the Attorney-General.

Why should our Prime Minister try to embarrass His Honour? And this is Australia, the land of the free!

Another of the very many disturbing features associated with this Government's administration is the deliberate efforts which it makes from time to time to corrupt the Arbitration Commission. With Fascistlike determination it uses various methods in its attempts to corrupt. This, of course, is part of its programme of destruction.

Let me remind honorable members that as recently as February last our Prime Minister initiated a tremendous publicity campaign deliberately to influence the Arbitration Commission, which was then engaged in hearing the unions' case for an increase in the basic wage. The Minister for Labour and National Service was selected as a member of the publicity team. To try to mask his real intentions, the Prime Minister asked big business not to regard profits as sacrosanct. Other Ministers, including the Treasurer, also made weak appeals for moderation in profit-making. Of course, these appeals were voiced only for the purpose of lulling the worker into the erroneous belief that the Government was concerned with soaring profits. Why could not the Prime Minister direct these profithungry financial wolves to amend their ways, or else? That is the way to legislate. But no, he knew that it was much easier to deal with the court. The court was easier to handle and more pliable to his will. This was borne out by none other than the Treasurer himself during the Queensland State election campaign. He stated publicly that the Government had told the Arbitration Commission that at that time it did not think there should be an increase in the basic wage.

This was one attempt at corruption which apparently made an impression on the three learned gentlemen who, in their judgment, accepted the statement of Mr. Eggleston, Q.C. for the Commonwealth, that the Government was convinced that above all what were needed was a firm rejection of any new measures which could add to current inflationary pressures and time for the adjustment of the economy to the general wage increases which had been awarded during the preceding twelve months. The Government's view was that any further wage increases would add fuel to inflation - whatever that means - to home prices and to costs in industry. The honorable judges said that such a clear statement of the Government's attitude, supported by submissions and economic material, was something which the commission had to view seriously.

The Minister for Labour and National Service was also a party to the intervention before the court. It is most improper or, to say the least, most unethical, for the Minister for Labour and National Service to intervene when a court is sitting in judgment on an application for increased wages or improved conditions, particularly when the Minister is a member of a very wealthy family which is deeply involved financially in a huge steel combine, which is a satellite of Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The name of the firm is Luke Muras Limited, which operates in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria. I notice that the Minister has now returned to the chamber. I knew that my remarks would bring him back. The Minister's family owns 25,000 shares in the company.

Mr Turnbull - That is only chicken feed.

Mr CURTIN - The honorable member states that it is only chicken feed, but Luke Muras Limited is only one of the combines with which the Minister is involved. It is interesting to learn that Mr. Eggleston, Q.C., who appeared for the Government in the basic wage case had, prior to this hearing, been counsel for the unions in previous applications. With the usual aptitude of a Queen's Counsel, Mr. Eggleston stepped across smartly to the Government side and used all the knowledge at his command to the benefit of the Government. This, of course, had to be rewarded by a grateful government, a government which was not prepared to accept the unions' view. Mr. Eggleston, in company with another Liberal Party member - Mr. Percy Joske - was elevated to the status of judge. This is an example of how to load a court. This person who helped to deprive the workers of an increase in the basic wage will enjoy with his colleagues the recent increase of £900 a year - approximately £18 a week - which was awarded to the judges by a grateful government despite the warnings of the dangers of inflation and the fears of his brother judges of what would happen economically if an increase in the basic wage were granted. What an effort of will it must have been for the judges to call up sufficient strength to accept that increase of £18 a week! I hope that those honorable judges sleep soundly with clear consciences. When they gave their decision on the salaries of officers of the South Australian railways, they said that the percentage marginal increases for higher-paid employees should be tapered off. Then they themselves gathered up the £18 a week and marched off quietly.

I should like to point out at this stage that the Australian Council of Trade Unions claims that the denial of quarterly wage adjustments by these judges has robbed every worker of 25s. a week, except in the great State of New South Wales, where a Labour government restored quarterly wage adjustments. I could hardly have imagined such things happening in the free world, especially in Australia. A dangerous situation is developing as a result, and the workers generally are in a very angry mood. Much resentment is being expressed. The interstate executive of the A.C.T.U. has decided to launch a new campaign, Mr. Temporary Chairman - a campaign of mass publicity in support of demands that are very reasonable indeed. These demands are for the restoration of the real basic wage standard and of the prosperity that the Prime Minister has been telling us about to-night.

Mr Costa - He has been pulling our legs.

Mr CURTIN - Of course he has. Other demands are for the restoration of the real basic wage standard that existed in 1950. All that the workers ask for is the restoration of the purchasing power of their wages to the level of 1950. Is not that reasonable? They also want the restoration of the quarterly adjustment system, the restoration of the 1952 margins, and a higher real standard of living based on a reasonable share of this wonderful prosperity about which our Prime Minister prates so much. The workers want only their fair share of that prosperity. That is a very reasonable demand. A higher standard of living must be attained, and a shorter working week is inevitable. The normal results of the introduction of automation are a shorter working week and higher living standards for the workers and their families. But this savage, brutal Government, blinded by class hatred, stubbornly refuses to face thu facts, and it goes to the extreme lengths of using the courts to browbeat the real producers - the workers of Australia. From day to day, we hear our smug Prime Minister and the smug Minister for Labour and National Service prating about the conciliatory methods that are used in industrial disputes. This is hypocrisy at its worst, to say the least.

Let us examine the seamen's case. They appeared before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission on 8th June, seeking a variation of the award made by Judge Foster - an award which deprived them of conditions, some of which they had enjoyed for 50 years. Their earnings were savagely reduced, especially at week-ends. These are the facts. I am presenting the facts for the Prime Minister. Week-end rates were reduced from 10s. lOd. to 3s.2id. an hour on Saturdays and from LOs. lOd. to 4s. 4id. an hour on Sundays. In making this award, Judge Foster said that his experience and the data he had been able to get indicated to him that the seamen would lose substantially under his award. Yet he had just collected a rise of £18 a week. His observation was really an understatement. I hope Government supporters will remember the reduction in seamen's wages when they are tripping across the world in big liners. The loss to seamen is as high as £6 a week.

Naturally, the men protested, and demonstrations were held. At one stage, dear old Judge Foster was called on to inspect a ship. The seamen formed a guard of honour for him, and as he walked by they chanted, " We want justice ". It was as simple as that. But the old gentleman was alarmed because they wanted justice, and he said that when he made inspections in future he would call for an armed guard. That was mere propaganda by the dear old thing, of course, and it was unbecoming to a judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court.' I have still to hear of a judge going anywhere at any time in his official capacity without an armed escort to guard his precious person. I think that, in view of the savage reductions in their pay, the seamen showed admirable restraint, for which I commend them. I am sure that most honorable members will agree with me, but doubtless I shall not get the agreement of this wealthy Minister for Labour and National Service who does not know the first thing about what goes on in the industrial world. I know that the members of my party agree with me. These savage penalties and reductions in pay were imposed by the Commonwealth Industrial Court at Government direction. I emphasize the words " at Government direction ".

Let us now have a look at the other side of the picture and turn our attention to the pay of members appointed to the commission by this Government. Let us take first Mr. Percy Joske, now Mr. Justice Joske. Previously, as a Liberal member of this Parliament, he had received a salary of £2,750, together with an electorate allowance of £800 a year. That is what I get. I am worth it, of course. As a judge, this gentleman receives a salary of £5,500 a year, plus the £18 a week increase in margins recently granted. That is a higher margin for skill. In addition, he receives a parliamentary pension of £9 a week. Yet he said it would be dangerous to increase the basic wage. Furthermore, he may receive any allowance that the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Industrial Court directs is reasonable. And that gentleman is not too modest in giving directions on allowances to his fellow judges.

Mr Halbert - These payments are subject to tax.

Mr CURTIN - I pay tax, too. If Mr. Justice Joske retires in his first or second year of service on the commission, he will be entitled to a pension of £1,872 a year, and if he retires after more lengthy service, his pension will be much more. I hope the pensioners, who will be given an additional 5s. a week by this Budget - they are not getting it yet, of course - are listening to these things. The basic wage earners would do well to chew over this analysis of the situation, and I am sure that the firemen stoking the boilers of the coffin ships that sail around our coast in all weathers will give .the matter special, thought. Just imagine a fireman, happy in his work in the depths of the stokehole in a vessel in the middle of a boiling sea, singing, " Judge Foster is a jolly good fellow ", and Judge Foster at the 6ame time, in the comfort of his home, thinking that a reduction of £6 a week in the wages of ships' firemen meets the needs of the situation.

I do not think that the judiciary should be required to move and work in an atmosphere of suspicion, Mr. Temporary Chairman - an atmosphere reeking of political intrigue and malice - for, in the final analysis, the judiciary is the only defence that the people have against this completely fanatical Government, which is so bigoted and which administers affairs so chaotically, especially where the trade unions are concerned. The results achieved in the industrial field, whatever they are, hardly compensate for the damage done to the reputations of judges who have been made available for political inquisitions.

I looked up a dictionary to get the meaning of the word " corrupt ". I found that, as a verb, it means " to make rotten ", " to make evil ", " to bribe " or " to rot ", and "that, as an adjective, it means " tainted with vice ", " influenced by bribery ", " spoiled by mistakes " or " altered for the worse ". May I suggest, Sir, that recommendation for a knighthood could be termed a form of bribery, insofar as it opens up opportunities for appointment to well-paid directorships in very profitable fields at £10,000 a year.

With all due respect to the honorable judges, old and feeble as they may be, let us have a look at another side of the question. Recently a dispute which caused a strike arose at the Clyde Engineering Company Proprietary Limited. I think the Minister for Labour and National Service should remember this case, which was brought before the court by the company concerned. It appears that the court made an order enjoining the union from being concerned in strikes and work bans at the Clyde Engineering Company Pty. Ltd. It is interesting to note that recently the retired Commissioner of Railways became a member of the board of directors of this company, after having given it lucrative contracts while he was commissioner - another case of bribery and corruption!

The dispute arose over the refusal of boilermakers to weld and hot rivet prepainted metal. The boilermakers alleged a health hazard from the paint fumes. The union later agreed to the work being done under the old conditions, but not before the company had dismissed four men for refusing to do the work. One of the dismissed men had worked for the company for 34 years. What patriotism! How loyal was the company to an old employee who had worked for it for 34 years?

After fining the boilermakers' society £5 for contempt of court - for being involved in the strike - His Honour, Mr. Justice Spicer - a previous Attorney-General of this Government - then expressed himself most caustically in relation to the action of the employer, saying that the company had acted in an unreasonable and a provocative manner. His Honour said that the conduct of the company was, in his opinion, unreasonable and that he was satisfied that if it had not been for the dismissal of the four men the whole matter would have been satisfactorily settled. It is interesting to note that a doctor reported that the fumes, although not noxious, arose from the linseed oil in the paint and could cause temporary irritation to the nose, throat and eyes.

After delivering his caustic criticism of the company, the judge looked severely over his glasses at the boilermakers' representative and then fined the society £5 for contempt. This proves to me - and I am sure it does to every one, even the Minister, as dumb as he is - that the attitude of the court towards employers in all cases is partial. I have yet to hear of an employer having been penalized by the court for causing a lock-out, which is what most strikes really are. They are lock-outs of the employees by the employer for the purpose of dodging clauses in contracts that the employer has secured on certain conditions.

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