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Wednesday, 14 May 1930

Senator CRAWFORD - I rise to a point of order. I do not think that any honorable senator has a right to say that the returned soldier, in my eyes or in the eyes of any other honorable senator, is a criminal. I refute the insinuation, and ask that it be withdrawn.

Senator O'HALLORAN - I have no desire to hurt the feeling of any honorable senator, and I am prepared to withdraw the remark. I shall substitute for it the remark that in the eyes of honorable senators opposite, returned soldiers who are members of the Waterside Workers Federation, are not entitled to preference while they remain on the waterfront, desirous of earning a living in their home town, desirous of keeping their homes together, of supporting their wives and families in the locality where they have always lived, and of following the occupation which their early training has fitted them to follow. But the moment that they leave their occupation and search for employment on Commonwealth public work in the highways and by-ways of Australia, they become entitled to preference. That is an inconsistent attitude, and proves that the desire of honorable senators opposite is not so much to protect the interests of returned soldiers as to protect the interests of employers of waterside labour. "We are told that the men who volunteered at a time when the employer was in trouble, are entitled to preference over returned soldiers.

Senator Colebatchexpressed the view that this statutory regulation was, to put it in my own language, constitutionally wrong. If that is so the fault lies a(T the door of the Bruce-Page Government, which was responsible for placing on the statute-book the legislation under which the regulation was made. When, under section 24 of the act, it gave the Governor-General in Council power to make regulations to carry out the intention' of the act, it must have 'visualized the type of regulation that might be passed from time to time.

Having dealt briefly with the historical side of the subject, let me examine some of the arguments that have been advanced against the regulation. We have been told that it is contrary to the spirit of the award of the Arbitration Court. It was also stated that the Waterside Workers Federation applied to the court to have the picking-up places fixed. That federation made no such application. The picking-up places were fixed in the original award, and those fixed in this regulation are identical with those fixed by Judge Beeby. So that in that respect the Government has not departed from the award one iota. The waterside workers applied for one pick-up per day, which is an entirely different thing. It was that application that the court rejected.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The honorable .senator is wrong. They did apply for one picking-up place, but their application was refused.

Senator O'HALLORAN - This regulation provides for the picking-up place originally incorporated in the Beeby award. Even admitting, for the sake of argument, that the ship-owners have the right to give preference to those who came to their assistance, surely those who are licensed to work on the waterfront should have equal rights with others to seek employment. Why should there be one centre at which volunteer labour may be picked up, and another centre some distance away for' the picking up of union labour? The provision of two picking-up places enables employers who desire to do so to treat the members of the Waterside Workers Federation unfairly. That has been done repeatedly at Port Adelaide. Even Mr. Butler, the late Premier of South Australia, was so convinced of the injustice of the practice that he instituted negotiations between the Waterside Federation and the employers with the object of securing a fairer distribution of work. He was convinced that unfair preference was given to the volunteer workers. He knew that there were occasions on which employers, having taken all the volunteers available, deferred further calls for labour until some of the volunteers were again available, rather than go to the pick-up place for the waterside workers and offer work to some of the men there who were anxious and willing to work at award rates, but unable to obtain it. No doubt that practice still continues. That is a sound reason why there should be only one picking-up place. There should be no preference in the right to offer for work, whatever preference might be given by employers in actually engaging labour.

Senator Herbert Hays - Will the regulation alter the position in South Australia ?

Senator O'HALLORAN - Bad as is the position in South Australia, it is better than it is in Victoria. The Government now seeks to remedy conditions in Victoria. Later it will seek to improve the position elsewhere.

We hear a great deal about the unreasonableness of unorganized labour. Honorable senators on this side could, if they desired, speak just as fluently, and more truthfully. of the unreasonableness of organized employers. Bad employers of the past created that psychology which resulted in the establishment of arbitration courts and other means of settling industrial disputes. The same spirit is manifested by the employers on the waterfront to-day. By voting for the motion 10 disallow this regulation, honorable senators will be associating themselves with that spirit. Even supposing that the waterside workers did make a mistake, should they for ever he denied the right to pursue that avocation which, according to Sir David Gordon, they have followed honorably and peacefully for many years? Are they and their families to be driven out- of their home towns? Is the whole nature of those waterside towns to be changed? Are the business people who have invested their all in business there in the reasonable expectation that work on the waterfront would be distributed among those who live on the waterfront to be sacrificed, because the waterside workers made a mistake?

Senator Thompson - The Government would sacrifice -the men who came to the rescue of the country.

Senator O'HALLORAN - Most of them were single, and many were unnaturalized aliens. According to Senator McLachlan, the proportion of unnaturalized aliens among the volunteers in South Australia is 12-J per cent. - one in every eight. These men do not live in the waterfront towns. They live most frugally elsewhere, and send most of their earnings to the countries from which they came. We do not blame them for doing so; but we do blame the Government for giving them preference over Australians, who would spend their money in Australia. Large numbers of single, unemployed men rushed to the waterfront at the prospect of earning good money. The money they receive is not spent in the waterside towns, the result being that business people there suffer. We should also consider those other persons who have invested money in establishing homes for waterside workers. The action of the Government will deny to them any return for their investment. They, too, are to be ruined because the waterside workers made one mistake. That is not the spirit that makes for industrial peace, or for a better understanding between employer and employee. Nor is it the spirit which should characterize honorable senators.. Instead of moving to disallow this regulation, honorable senators of the Opposition should welcome the Government's attempt to bring about a more fraternal spirit between these twowarring sections of industrialists, and to create a better understanding between, employer and employee. They are, however, pursuing a policy of retaliation, and continuing the punishment long after thesin has been atoned for. The worst criminals in the land, having served the sentence imposed on them, are allowed to taketheir place in society again; but thewaterside workers, because of one industrial offence, are to be ostracized for ever.. Upon them and their wives and children is to be visited the worst punishment possible - starvation, misery and degradation. Even if they have done wrong, there should be some forgiveness. Instead of hampering the Government in its desire to improve conditions on the waterfront, honorable senators should assist it in its attempt to bring about industrial' peace.

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