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Wednesday, 14 May 1930

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - After listening with attention to the speeches delivered on the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) I have come to the conclusion that regulation No. 38 under the Transport Workers Act constitutes an attempt on the part of the Government to evade an award of the Arbitration Court. I am surprised that the Government has seen fit to interfere with an industry which, during the past 20 months, has been carried on "in a manner satisfactory to both employers and employees. Although this regulation relates only to the port of Melbourne, it will, if allowed, be followed doubtless by further regulations providing similar conditions for other Australian ports. It is unfortunate that a Minister of the Crown, whose remarks were quoted by the Leader of the Opposition, should be the means of creating unrest in an industry which has been satisfactorily conducted for some time. The Government does not seem to realize that it is its duty to protect the interests of the whole community rather than those of only one section of the people. In 1926 the members of the Waterside .Workers Federation defied the Arbitration Court, and a strike ensued, causing a great deal of trouble to ship-owners, primary producers and the community generally. When ship-owners endeavoured to "work cargo with free labour, unionists, unfortunately for the good name of Australia, resorted to acts of violence. At the ports of Bowen and Gladstone the farmers of the surrounding districts were organized for the purpose of loading produce for export, and unloading cargoes for delivery at those ports. When the waterside workers realized that they were definitely defeated, they made application for work, on the understanding that there should be no victimization. Shortly afterwards the volunteer workers were dismissed and members of the Waterside Workers Federation, who had been the cause of all the trouble, were re-engaged. Senator Sir William Glasgow has already mentioned the hardships endured by the fruitgrowers and the small- farmer of the

Bowen district, through the dislocation of work on the waterfront. After working for a few months waterside workers once more went on strike and caused heavy losses to primary producers, and when this dispute was settled they were again reemployed without victimization. It seems to me that they were beginning to think that whenever they wanted a fortnight or a month's holiday, all they had to do was to hold up shipping, regardless of the hardships and losses inflicted on all concerned. The position became very acute in 1928, because of the demands made by the waterside workers, who deliberately flouted the Arbitration Court and once more went on strike. It is laid down by the Arbitration Court that, in the event of an industrial dispute, work in the industry concerned shall continue without interruption, pending the hearing of the claim. The- waterside workers disregarded this sound principle, and as a result, work at a considerable number of our seaports was seriously dislocated. These frequent interruptions were seriously jeopardizing Australian trade, and impairing our national credit. Primary producers were being involved in enormous losses and the commercial community was being seriously harassed. In 1928 the trouble occurred at the peak of the Queensland shearing season. Wool which had been sent down to the -various seaports for shipment to southern markets, was held up and wool sales in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney had to be postponed. The strike in that year not only prevented considerable sums of money, the receipts from wool sales, from coming into the States, but it also seriously embarrassed wool-growers, who had to bear the expense of carrying on the industry and pay a high rate of interest on overdrafts through their wool being held up from sale. I happened to be in Bowen in September of that year and I saw on a wharf there hundreds of cases of tomatoes which waterside workers refused to handle. This produce became unfit for human consumption, and the growers suffered heavy losses. Senator Barnes mentioned, in the course of his speech this afternoon, that, because of the difficulty in securing employment, hundreds of men, women and children were starving. All honorable senators, \. am sure, deeply deplore the present economic condition of Australia. But r remind the Minister that when the waterside workers refused to handle produce at Queensland ports in 1928, they paid no regard to the hardship which their action was imposing upon a large number of small farmers in that State. The majority of those farmers, as well as all the members of their families, had to work long hours to produce crops which rotted on the wharfs because waterside workers refused to work.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Many people were ruined in that year through the waterside workers' strike.

Senator COOPER - I know that many people in the Bowen district were ruined, and several of the farmers were obliged to take work on the wharfs in order to provide sustenance for themselves and their families.

To prevent a recurrence of the trouble the Bruce-Page Government decided to invite volunteer labour to do the work on the waterfront and legislation to that end was passed. No difficulty was experienced in getting a sufficient number of men to do the work, and although it has been stated that volunteer labour is not so efficient as that of the experienced waterside workers, the evidence is to the contrary and pillaging, which was bringing the name of Australia into bad repute, has practically ceased. To illustrate the efficiency of volunteer labour on the waterfront, I may state that at Townsville the cost of discharging general cargo in 1927 was 13s. 8d. per ton. In 1928, after the volunteer system had been in operation for only a few months, the cost per ton was 13s. - a reduction of 8d. per ton - and in 1929, when the full benefit of the Transport Workers Act was being felt, the cost per ton came down to lis. Id. At Bowen in 1927 the cost of loading sugar was Ss. 2d. per ton: In 1928 it was 5s. 2d. and in 1929 only 2s. 5-Jd. per ton. I cannot say definitely if the port of Bowen is being worked wholly by volunteer labour, but I know there is a big percentage of volunteers there. The cost of loading meat in 1928 was 18s. Id. per ton and in 1929 10s. 6d. per ton. The loading cost of general merchandise, tallow, hides, &c, in 1928 was 12s. 8d. per ton, and last year it was down to 4s. 5d. These figures are convincing evidence of the efficiency of the volunteer labour at Queensland ports. This reduction in the cost of handling produce benefits not only the shipper but also the importer and the people generally. It lowers the costs of production of both exports and imports, and proves that chat can be done without reducing wages, as those men are being paid as much if not more than the wages that obtained prior to 1928. During the whole of the interim work on the waterfront has proceeded uninterruptedly, and our products have been exported to the four corners of the world without hindrance.

Senator Rae - The disallowance of this regulation will not maintain those conditions permanently.

Senator COOPER - Those conditions have operated because of the introduction of the Transport Workers Act. I believe that this regulation is only the beginning of -many other interfering actions that will hamper an industry that is at present working peacefully, and should be allowed to continue so.

Prior to the introduction of the Transport Workers Bill in 1928, the waterside work of the Queensland ports was practically at the mercy of extremists in the unions. As was illustrated by Senator Sir William Glasgow, the militant body of waterside workers at Bowen actually dictated the policy to be followed at it and other ports in the north of Queensland. I was very pleased when the farmers came into Bowen in a body in 1928 and chased the extremist element out of the town.

Senator McLachlan - A similar thing will occur at Hogan's Elat very soon.

Senator COOPER - Since this Government came into office, steps have been taken by the Waterside Workers Federation to manipulate matters to its own advantage and to secure a monopoly of work for its members. An application was made to the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration for the recognition of and preference to members of the Waterside Workers Federation. The case was heard by Judge Beeby, and the application refused. The position in which members of the federation now find themselves was proved to be entirely of their own making. I believe that the introduction of this regulation is an endeavour by the Government to override the decision of the Arbitration Court. If it is allowed by Parliament the decisions of that court will be indirectly flouted. Senator Daly stated that that is not the intention of the Government, but an examination of the regulation, and of the attitude of the federation to the decision of the court, compels one to conclude that it is an attempt to override the court. It would be more courageous for the Government to abolish the Arbitration Court rather than to endeavour to stultify its actions by this backdoor method. The people would then know how to act. The waterside workers' industry is at present proceeding peacefully, the men are satisfied with their employment, and the shipping companies are able to obtain what labour they need and arc satisfied with the efficiency of the men and the present system. There is, therefore, no justification for the action of the Government.

An endeavour has been made by a Minister of the Crown to justify the Government's interference by claiming that the "Waterside Workers Federation is losing its members. To-day we have an admission from Senator Daly that the volunteer workers are members of a waterside workers' union of their own. Evidently a new union better suited for the purpose has sprung up. It guards the interests of the community and brings about efficient results. It was only because of its bad example and leadership that the old federation lost its predominance on the waterfront. The blame cannot be placed against the court or the shipping companies. The action of the Government in bringing down this regulation will undoubtedly injure the men who are now working ' satisfactorily under an award of the Arbitration Court. Its enforcement will strike a serious blow at the arbitration system throughout the Commonwealth. I am certain that all honorable senators of 'the Opposition desire to assist the Government in every way in its endeavour to unravel the tangled skein of which Australian industry is now representative; but they cannot support such an action as this, which appears to be a direct flouting of the arbitration laws of the Commonwealth. I believe that they will be helping the community and doing their duty if they disallow the regulation.

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