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Friday, 20 March 1931

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia) [11.9]. - I move -

That Statutory Rules 1930, Nos. 158 and 159, and Statutory Rules 1931, No. 10, Transport Workers (Waterside) Regulations, be disallowed.

I understand that the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has announced that, if the Senate disallows these regulations, they will be immediately re-imposed. I would suggest, for the consideration of the Government, that a proper way to test this issue is to proceed by way of legislation. That would be in conformity with the Government's policy as announced by the right honorable gentleman at the last election. I am, of course, aware that this suggestion does not appeal to the Government, because members of the Ministry and their supporters do not bother about election promises. I would, however, remind the Senate that, at the last election, Labour candidates definately promised the people that, if returned to power, they would repeal the Transport Workers Act, and I repeat that the Government now has an excellent opportunity to obtain the view of Parliament concerning its policy. The Ministry, moreover, has announced on several occasions that it. intends to seek a double dissolution. 1 suggest that no question more fitting than this could be pat forward by it to challenge the Senate and to give effect to one of its election pledges by means of legislation in this regard. Knowing the temper of this chamber, and also the temper of the people, I feel sure that if, in that way, the Government sought to bring about a double dissolution, the Senate would willingly accept any such challenge. If, as we are assured, this Government stands for democracy, surely it should not object to consult the people upon this and other points of its policy.

I propose briefly to survey the history of events which led up to the passage of the Transport Workers Act, lest they should have faded from the memory of honorable senators and the people of Australia. It goes back "to December, 1927, when members of the Waterside Workers Federation went on strike. Then followed a series of strikes in the shipping industry. The Arbitration Court intervened and consented to inquire into the questions in dispute, provided the federation promised to obey the award when made. The federation gave the required promise, and an award of the court covering the points in dispute came into operation on the 10th September, 1928. Then there was a conference of 36 branches of the federation, which unanimously carried a resolution refusing to work under the award, despite the promise previously given that it would be obeyed. Consequently, there was another strike. Mr. Bruce, the then Prime Minister, in a statement made in Parliament on the 11th September, 1928, warned the waterside workers of the consequences of their action, and appealed to them to resume work. This Government also appealed to the various States to maintain sea and transport services. On the 10th September, 1928, the unions defied the Government and the law, called upon its members to strike and hold up sea transport trade all round the Australian coast, with the exception of certain ports. The position was discussed in Parliament, and the then Prime Minister declared that the Government was determined that the transport services must be carried on. On the 21st September, 1928, the Government introduced the Transport Workers Bill, which gave the executive power to make regulations for the licensing of workers in the maritime industry.

When the Bruce-Page Government had made known its intention by introducing the legislation referred to, the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) said that -

The volunteers who had como to the rescue of the community and were carrying on the industry would not bc supported by the employers when the trouble was over - that the employers would as usual desert them.

The employers in response to that challenge gave a public undertaking that they would continue to employ the volunteers, who continued to offer themselves for employment until there was sufficient to enable the transport work to be carried on at all the ports in Australia. After this position had been established, the Waterside Workers Union met and carried a resolution that as the repudiation of the award had served its purpose for the time being, its members were; advised to return to work. As a result, members of the Waterside Workers Federation presented themselves for work in a number of ports. Shortly afterwards there was a general election for the House of Representatives, and a new Parliament met on the 6th February, ' 1929. The BrucePage Government having been returned with a majority, an amending Transport Workers Bill was introduced on the 13th February, 1929. This amending legislation gave authority to make regulations under our commerce powers to supplement the Arbitration Court, and to protect it. A large number of licences were taken out under the amended law by volunteer workers, and in some cases by members of the Waterside Workers Federation, and employment proceeded. At first, members of the federation refused to apply for licences, but subsequently they did so. Then began a movement by intimidation and the use of physical force to drive the licensed volunteer workers off the wharfs. This was followed by a series of outrages, including attacks upon the police who were called upon to protect the volunteers, as well as bomb outrages in Melbourne on the homes of volunteers, and personal assaults by mobs of waterside workers on individual volunteers. The operation of the Transport Workers Act has been followed by the longest period of continuous work on the waterfronts Australia has experienced for many years. That is the history of the position up to the present time.

I have received a large number of protests against the regulations which have been re-imposed by the Government, and I propose to read the list in order to show how widespread is the feeling that has been aroused by this action on its part. I remind the Senate that the regulations previously brought in by the Government were disallowed by the Senate. This, therefore,' is a second attempt on the part of the Government to flout the power given under the Acts Interpretation Act to this chamber, as well as to the other branch of the Legislature, to disallow regulations. The protests I have received are from the following organizations : -







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