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Friday, 2 May 1930

Senator BARNES - And among them was the right honorable senator.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - No ; I was not of fighting age. At that time, when a recruiting campaign was being conducted throughout Australia to induce men to enlist, and so to relieve their fellow- Australians at the front, the Labour organizations convened a conference in Perth. It was attended by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), and also by either Mr. Theodore or Mr. Ryan, as the representative of the party in Queensland. Mr. Hogan, the present Labour Premier of Victoria, and many other men now prominent in the Labour movement, were also at that conference, at which a resolution advocating peace by negotiation and the cessation of recruiting was agreed to. That it was agreed to stands to their eternal shame. Remembering the attitude of the Labour party towards the Empire in its time of stress, when our men were fighting for their lives and the casualties were at their highest, when the allied cause looked blackest, I am not surprised that to-day it ignores the claims of the returned soldiers. Undoubtedly, promises were made to the men who enlisted by the various governments of the day, both Commonwealth and State, as well as by those individuals who urged men to volunteer for active service.

Senator Lynch - We cannot forget the speech of the present Minister for Defence (Mr. A. Green), at Kalgoorlie.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That speech stands to his lasting discredit. I have many recollections of the attitude taken up by members of the Labour party at that time. I have given one incident which is indicative of their attitude generally. The reason for the Government's reversal of policy is given in the Melbourne Herald of the 1st May, from which I shall read an extract -

The origin of the ministerial move dates back some weeks.

At the All-Australian Trade Union Congress a resolution was adopted urging the Government to give preference to unionists in place of returned soldiers.

Following this, a deputation of trade union leaders saw the Assistant Minister for Works (Senator Barnes), who is president of the Australian Workers Union, and urged him to make the change.

The president of the State branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers League (Mr. G. W. Holland) said tb-day that an immediate definition was required of the attitude of the Commonwealth Government towards preference for returned mcn.

Senator Barnes - I did not receive a deputation from those people.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.The newspaper from which I have quoted states that a deputation of trade union leaders saw the Assistant Minister for Works (Senator Barnes), and urged him to make the change.

Senator Barnes - That is not correct.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.This change was made without any announcement in Parliament. I asked a question on the matter in the Senate and I was informed that the final instructions issued were as follow : -

In carrying out the work under this contract preference shall be given - other things being equal - firstly, to returned soldiers and sailors with satisfactory service, who are members of trades unions, and, secondly, to% members of trades unions.

When we called on the returned soldiers to enlist, risk their lives and give up their prospects of careers in Australia, Ave did not ask them whether they were trade unionists or not. Nor on their return was a promise made by the people of Australia qualified by any question of their being trade unionists or otherwise. There is hypocrisy in the reply to my question which I shall expose. There is a recognition of the danger that the Government sees in giving full effect to its policy, and so it camouflages that policy. It tries to make it appear that it is still going to give some sort of preference to returned soldiers.

Senator Ogden - Its policy is straightout preference to unionists.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Of course. Before the late war, I was a member of a Labour Government that administered preference to unionists, and, therefore, I know the way in which that principle is applied. I venture to say that the present Government will apply it probably in a more rigid manner than the Labour Government did before the war. Let us see how it had to be administered in those days, according to the interpretation given by the caucus to that plank of the Labour platform. A contractor was expected to notify the secretary of the trade union of the labour that he required. The contractor did not make the choice of the trade unionists who were to be employed; it was made by the secretary of the trade union. The contractor did not know what men were available for employment. Similarly, a Government department had to apply to the union. It never saw the books of the union, and it did not know what men were unemployed, but it had to accept the men sent to it by the union. Under the Government's decision, will a contractor have any choice as between a returned soldier who is a unionist and a unionist who is not a returned soldier? He will never know who of the members of the union are available for employment. The autocrat who will decide that matter is the secretary of the trade union. That is where one of the most vicious principles of the policy of preference to unionists becomes manifest; it makes the union secretary, who ought to be the servant of the union, its absolute master. The members are dependent on him for their livelihood. If he wishes he can leave their names off the list all the time, so that they will never receive employment. Therefore, it will be the prerogative of the union secretary to decide who shall be sent to employment, and the returned soldiers will be dependent, not on the contractors, but on the secretaries of trade unions for preference in employment in Commonwealth contracts.

My object in rising is to let the returned soldiers of this country know that the mention of them in the answer given to me in reply to my question is no guarantee that any returned man will receive employment on Government contracts. What is the logical outcome of this policy? The next stop will be to amend the Public Service Act, if the Government feels that it has power to do so. In defiance of Parliament, and despite the section of the act which Senator Glasgow read, the Government has issued altered instructions regarding the preference to be given to returned soldiers employed on Common wealth contract?. Before taking that action the Government should have asked Parliament for endorsement of such a policy by an amendment of the Public Service Act. While that measure remains on the statute book it represents an expression of the will of the Parliament, but the Government has acted in flagrant defiance of it.I am not surprised, but I am sorry that we have a Government in power that will do such things. Those who elected it probably had no idea that it would use its power in this direction, or otherwise they would never have sent it to the treasury bench. This is another instance of what can be done under the "mandate" which the Government claims has been given to it.

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