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Friday, 2 May 1930

Senator DALY (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I regret exceedingly that the honorable senator has seen fit to voice a protest on a matter to which he has, apparently, given very little, if any, serious thought. He said that he wished the supporters of the Government to appreciate his feelings in the matter; but I ask him, and those responsible for his submitting this motion, to appreciate the feelings of the Government. Ministers entertain as high a regard for the returned soldiers as honorable senators opposite do. Loyalty to the Crown, and sympathy with the ex-soldiers, are subjects over which neither political party has a monopoly.

Senator Ogden - Actions speak louder than words.

Senator DALY - The honorable senator who interjects was a member of the Labour party during the troublous times of the war, but he has since joined the other side in politics. Of course, if he is judging the Labour party on his own actions now, he is entitled to do so. The Labour Government, which I have the honour to represent in this chamber, is as loyal and as keen as the Opposition in its regard for the returned soldiers. It is most unfair for any member of this chamber to refer to the Government's action as akin to a scandal, without a full investigation of the actual facts. We are told, for example, that the previous Government, recognizing that it owed such a deep debt to the returned soldiers, intended, in connexion with every activity that it controlled, to secure absolute preference in employment for them. I invite the mover of this motion to examine the conscience of the late Government with which he was associated. Did he ask for such a preference in connexion with the sugar bounty, or the bounty on galvanized iron for which the Government provided? Did he demand that such a provision be inserted in the mail contracts ? Men who are not returned soldiers are now engaged under contract in clearing the mail steamers, while returned soldier members of the Waterside Workers Federation are idly walking the streets of Port Adelaide. It is no use fencing by simply saying that absolute preference should be confined to unskilled work. A government or a minister who alleges that he stands for the principle of preference to returned soldiers should support it in its entirety. I ask the honorable senator to test the sincerity of purpose behind the motion by referring to the action of the Government, of which he was a member, and of the party to which he belongs. I do not mind what test he applies. Take, for example, the selection of members of the late Ministry. Did the Nationalist party give preference to Senator H. E. Elliott, who is a returned soldier, over Senator McLachlan, when changes were being made in the Bruce-Page Government? Did the Nationalist party, when making appointments to the late Ministry, prefer General Cox to Senator Sir George Pearce? Did it prefer Senator Sampson, yet another returned soldier, to Senator Ogden ?

Senator Sampson - The Minister would not call them unskilled workers surely?

Senator DALY - Of course not, but if the principle of preference to returned soldiers is sound in the case of unskilled workers, it must be sound where skilled workers are concerned, and it should be observed when considering appointments, even to the highest positions in the land. Will any member of this chamber deny that Senator Sampson would have been as successful in administration as was Senator Ogden, or that Senator H. E. Elliott would have been a credit to the Nationalist Government? The attitude adopted by honorable senators opposite exposes the fallacy of their contention that in its administrative acts this Government is disloyal to our returned soldiers. Without wishing to cast any reflection upon you, Mr. President, or the Chairman of Committees, I remind the Senate that this principle of preference to returned soldiers was not observed when appointments were made to the highest official places in this chamber. I may add, also, that the honorable senator who was responsible for the inclusion in our legislation of the principle of preference to returned soldiers was actually driven out of the Nationalist party. Will any honorable senator say that Senator Duncan, a returned soldier, was given a fair trial?

Senator Carroll - He was not unemployed.

Senator DALY - Honorable senators opposite should remember also what happened, not so long ago, in the working of their own party machine, in connexion with pre-selection ballots. Is it not a fact that Senator Cooper, with his fine war record, caused the resignation of a Nationalist who opposed him in the preselection ballot in Queensland?

Senator Cooper - I never heard of that.

Senator DALY - Is it not a fact also that Senator H. E. Elliott, in Victoria, opposed Mr. Slater, a returned soldier with a splendid war record? Again, is it not true that during the election campaign he spoke on behalf of a man who, although eligible for war service, did not enlist? Senator Lynch, too, came over to South Australia to advocate the claims of a man who was eligible during the war, but did not enlist, against two returned soldiers with war records. Other Nationalist supporters went to the Murray district to speak on behalf of a candidate who, during the war, lost his position on account of his nationality, and spoke against Mr. Clem Collins, a returned soldier candidate. if we are to examine each other's consciences in relation to the observance of this preference to returned soldiers, what will be the result? Senator Sir William Glasgow attempted to limit the principle to the employment of unskilled workers. If it is to apply it should be applied to every class of employment. We should not allow all the plums of office to be secured by nonreturned soldiers, and expect returned soldiers to be content with preference only in those occupations which call for unskilled labour. The Bruce-Page Administration did not always observe this principle, particularly in appointments to higher positions. How many members of the Development and Migration Commission and the Federal Capital Commission were returned soldiers? Does any honorable senator suggest that there were not available many returned soldiers competent to occupy those positions ? We are entitled to assume that there were a number of returned soldiers eligible for such appointments, but so far from giving preference to them the previous Government induced a non-returned soldier member of the South Australian Parliament to give up his position to accept appointment as a member of the Development and Migration Commission.

The motion has been submitted mainly for the purpose of harassing the Government and influencing the various returned soldiers' organizations. What is the position ?

Senator Ogden - Yes; tell us something about it.

Senator DALY - I am well aware that the honorable senator does not like what I am saying. He does not like returned soldiers to know that when the Bruce-Page Government considered appointments to the position which he occupied in the Ministry, preference was given not to a returned soldier, but to a unionist who could be bought over, and settled in the Nationalist camp. Senator Sir William Glasgow has suggested that-in the Rogers case we were bound by a statute law to continue the preference in employment to a returned soldier. But in both cases mentioned by the honorable senator, the persons concerned were temporary employees. They were not appointed under any specific statute, and therefore the particular section mentioned by the honorable senator did not apply to them. The legislation embodying the principle of preference to returned soldiers definitely limits it to certain circumstances. When the Government came into office, there were 150,000 men out of employment in Australia, including a considerable number of returned soldiers. The Ministry could not take the view that it represented only one particular section of the community.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - It would appear that it did.

Senator DALY - We have to hold the balance evenly between all sections of the community. The legislation, as I have stated, definitely limited the principle of preference. The Government could not go outside that section. Its duty was to consider the interests of all.

Senator Ogden - Including the interests of non-unionists.

Senator DALY - Yes. I shall deal with that point presently.

Senator Ogden - If it had its way this Ministry would slay non-unionists.

Senator DALY - I deny that. This Government pays regard to the interests of non-unionists as well as of unionists. Its declared policy is the maintenance of the principle of arbitration. It secured election on this policy, and it intends to stand to it. Senator Sir William Glasgow reminded us that when the call came for volunteers for the war, we who asked men to enlist did not then suggest that preference should be given to unionists. That would have been impossible, because no arbitration award has been made in connexion with war services. Arbitration implies collective bargaining, which, in its turn, connotes the existence of trade union organizations. It follows, therefore, that if our arbitration system is to be maintained, we must have industrial organizations amenable to the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. Awards of the court are, in effect, contracts entered into between the respective parties. Obviously the duty of the Government, if it wishes the arbitration system to be effective, is to see that competition between the contractors is fair, and the only way to achieve this object is to ensure that all contractors pay a uniform rate of wage, to be determined by the Arbitration Court. An employer employing members of a trade union at award rates of pay should not be required to compete with another employer employing non-unionists and not called upon to pay the fixed rate of wages or observe the same industrial conditions.

This principle of preference to unionists is not new. It has been a regulation in the Public Service for many years and has never been objected to by honorable senators opposite, some of whom, were in the previous Ministry. This Government is prepared to honour every promise it made to our returned soldiers.

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