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Wednesday, 17 July 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - The motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply affords a convenient opportunity to review the principal administrative acts of the Government. We have been informed in the Governor-General's Speech that we were called together to consider matters of great importance to the country, and the thirty-ninth paragraph of the Speech expresses the hope that, under Divine guidance, our deliberations will be for the welfare of the people. I wish to say that, in connexion with the principal administrative act of the Government, there does not appear to have been very much of Divine guidance, but, on the contrary, evil spirits appear to have taken complete possession of their councils. I allude to the Brisbane strike. I am aware that the details of the Brisbane strike have been presented and debated inside and outside of Parliament until the subject may be said to have become threadbare. However, I believe that very grave issues arose out of the strike, and the attitude the Government took towards it, and I make bold to say that those issues cannot be decided finally by this Parliament. They must go for consideration and final decision to the electors of Australia. Tt is to this aspect of the question I intend to address myself. Before we can thoroughly understand what those issues are, it is necessary to refer to two or three instances connected with the strike. I think that the incidents which I shall mention will be admitted by honorable senators opposite to be indisputable facts. The first is that the city of Brisbane was for at least a week in possession of, or under the tyrannism of, a strike committee, which - if I may be permitted to borrow a phrase from a Labour Minister in New South Wales - may aptly be described as ' a gang of industrial bushrangers. ' '

Senator Millen - " Industrious " more than " industrial."

Senator ST LEDGER - I thank Mr. Griffith for that expression, which seemed to me to exactly fit the position. My second fact which is indisputable is that this gang proceeded after the manner of an invading enemy to cut communication with Brisbane by sea and land in order that they might starve that city into submission to their rule.

Senator Guthrie - Nothing of the kind.

Senator ST LEDGER - If honorable senators opposite have the audacity to contradict, or even to qualify that statement, I will remain in the chamber with some expectancy and pleasure to hear what they have to say.

Senator Givens - That is a great deal more than the honorable senator's colleagues have done. They have not even paid him the compliment of remaining to listen to him.

Senator ST LEDGER - It does not matter to me whether I am paid that compliment or not. I know that honorable senators opposite often flinch a good deal under our criticism. My third indisputable fact-

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator has not given us numbers one and two yet.

Senator ST LEDGER - My third indisputable fact is that the Prime Minister, who is the official mouthpiece of the Gotvernment. indorsed the actions of the strike committee, and used all his great political influence to secure the return to power of those who strongly supported them. A good deal has , been said in justification of the strike from the stand-point of the unfair treatment which it is alleged had been meted out to the men by the Tramway Company. But I venture to say that no defence will be urged by honorable senators opposite of the action of the strikers in holding up communication with the city of Brisbane by means of the State railways.

Senator Millen - Why does the honorable senator say that seeing that Mr. Fisher indorsed their action?

Senator ST LEDGER - I am making this comment in the hope that there may be some justification for Mr. Fisher's attitude. But I think it will be difficult for the Government to justify their attitude before the electors of this country. In order that honorable . senators may understand how serious was the attack which was made upon railway communication with Brisbane, I intend to quote from certain newspaper reports. I find that a Mr. T. E. Brown, who was the leader of that portion of the strikers who attacked the Railway Workshops at Ipswich, informed a meeting which he addresed at the Central Gardens there, that he had called out the shunters in the local railway yards, and that they had responded to a man. He said that out of 1,400 men who had struck only thirty-two had reported themselves back on the railway works, and they would have to come out. He added that their names would be placed upon the black-list so that everybody in Ipswich would know who were the men who had the courage to remain loyal to the service of the State. At that time the situation was so critical that the Railway Commissioner, Mr. Evans, convened a meeting of various representatives of the railway service in order that measures might be taken to put an end to the interruption of the city's railway communication.

Senator Millen - Had these railway men had any grievance in connexion with their employment?

Senator ST LEDGER - They had not a single grievance. Mr. Evans proceeded at once to the Ipswich works for the purpose of addressing the few men who had remained loyal to the Department, and of appealing to the others to return to their duties. .1 propose to lead an extract from the speech which he made on that occasion, when over 1,400 men were on strike, and when "railway communication with Brisbane, which had been seriously interfered with for over a fortnight, had been temporarily cut off.

Senator Rae - If it had been entirely cut off, would that have stopped the strike?

Senator ST LEDGER - Does not a school boy know the object which the strikers had in view? When an invader cuts railway communication with any city, does he not aim at starving that city into submission to his rule? The Commissioner of Railways, I may inform honorable senators, is a man who rose from the rank of a guard, who is familiar with almost every phase of railway work, and who has made himself the principal railway authority in Queensland. He said -

I have come amongst you to-day, to point out that I am still Commissioner for Railways, and this (holding up a document), is my commission issued by the Governor-in-Council of the State. I am the custodian of ^25,000,000 worth of properties, and what is of far more value, the lives and the welfare of about 10,000 -employes, as well as the safe transit of passengers and goods, and I am here to assure you that while one shred of that commission exists, and while God spares me to be above ground, I shall do my duty. (Hear, hear.) Now, I have had no quarrel or dispute whatever with those whom I am proud to be associated within the service.

Senator Gardiner - I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in reading his speech?

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