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Wednesday, 20 May 1931

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- One would imagine, from the speech of Senator Kneebone that the Transport Workers Act had been responsible for a great deal of unemployment at the various ports in Australia. Exactly the reverse is the case. There has been no diminution in the amount of work avail able through the operation of the act in question. All that the act does is to insure work for all who are prepared to accept the awards of the Arbitration

Court and take out licences. One set of individuals is now doing work which, prior to the passing of the act, was done by members of another organization. The latest regulations made by this Government will limit work at all Australian ports to members of the Waterside Workers Federation, whereas the regulations made by the previous Administration provided that work on the waterfront could be secured by any person who took out a licence and was prepared to abide by the decisions of the Arbitration Court. I agree with Senator Kneebone that members of the Waterside Workers Federation were badly advised and, probably acted against their better judgment when, some years ago, they defied the Arbitration Court. The federation, at that time, was something of a close combine. Times out of number, its members held a pistol at the head of the community. They struck work whenever they thought fit to do so. Senator Kneebone, this afternoon, made an eloquent appeal on behalf of its members, who are now unemployed at Port Adelaide. We all regret that any man should be out of work at the present time. But I remind the honorable senator that a few years ago, members of the Waterside Workers Federation paid very little consideration to the inconvenience and hardship which, by their frequent strikes, they imposed upon the people of Australia. "I well recall the bitter experience of the people in Northern Queensland just prior to the completion of the railway which links the southern and northern parts of that State. Owing to the complete interruption of sea transport services there was a grave shortage of flour and other commodities. The people were on the verge of starvation. So bad did the position become at one time that members of the Australian Workers Union, farmers, and timber workers from the northern tableland banded themselves together to provide protection for the men who were willing to work on the wharfs so as to maintain sea communication with southern Queensland ports. Since the passage of the Transport Workers Act, work has proceeded satisfactorily at practically all ports in Australia. Therefore, the volunteer workers are entitled to all the protection which this Parliament can give to them. On many occasions when the call was made for volunteers to come to the aid of the people during previous strikes by waterside workers, the men who responded to the appeal were afterwards thrown on the scrap heap and the men who were responsible for the dislocation of industry resumed work as though nothing had happened.

Senator Kneebone - Many returned soldiers, members of the Waterside Workers Federation, have been scrapped in Port Adelaide.

Senator FOLL - We all regret that any returned soldier should be unable to secure employment. I remind the honorable senator that not long ago the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes), when he was Minister for Works, brought down a regulation, the effect of which was to withdraw the preference in government employment to returned soldiers, but because of the public outcry which his action occasioned from one end of Australia to the other, the regulation was promptly withdrawn. From this it will be gathered that the present Government has nothing to be proud of in connexion with preference to returned soldiers. The previous Administration in all its legislation inserted specific provision for preference to be given to returned soldiers. Senator Kneebone advances, as one reason why the regulations should stand, that members of the Waterside Workers Federation live in Port Adelaide, and spend all their earnings in that city. That argument will not stand examination. It would be just as reasonable, if all the work were given to members of the Waterside Workers Federation, for business people and residents of other suburbs of Adelaide to protest against the monopoly of work on the waterfront being given to citizens of Port Adelaide, on the ground that all their earnings were spent in that port. Before the Transport Workers Act was passed, these men were given ample warning that they must obey the awards of the Arbitration Court. Even members of the honorable senator's own party urged them not to continue with their foolish policy. I have no doubt the honorable senator himself pleaded with them to remain at work.

Senator Kneebone - That is so.

Senator FOLL - Nevertheless, they persisted in holding up industry until finally the Government came to the rescue of the community by introducing and passing the Transport Workers Act. The frequent disputes always arose at a most unfortunate time for the farmers in Queensland. In fact it seemed that every strike was engineered just at the time when it would injure most the interests of the primary producers. For three consecutive years, the fruit-growers of Bowen had a disastrous experience. Owing to the dislocation of shipping, they were unable to market their fruit, the great bulk of which had to rot on the trees. Those honorable senators who represent Tasmania have, on many previous occasions, retailed similar experiences. For many years in succession, prior to the passage of the Transport Workers Act, the steamship services between Tasmania and the mainland were completely disorganized through a stewards' strike, a seamen's strike, or a strike of waterside workers in the height of the tourist season when Tasmania might expect to receive some benefit from that class of traffic. Finally, the general public became so " fed-up " with the attitude of waterside workers that there was a definite demand for legislation to safeguard the interests of primary producers and others whose livelihood depended on the transport services. Since the Transport Workers Act was passed, work on the waterfront has proceeded satisfactorily. Had the position been otherwise there might have been some justification for the action of this Government in making fresh regulations or introducing legislation for the repeal of the act. But, as I have stated, for some years now work on the waterfront has proceeded peacefully and continuously. Thousands of men are now in enjoyment of continuous employment. The act does not shut out any individual in the community who wishes to obtain work on the waterfront. The regulations now under discussion seek to confine the work to members of the Waterside Workers Federation, which organization, I remind the Senate, has not always been amenable to the law of the land. A few years ago, it was practically impossible for a man to become a member of it. Its books were either dosed, or the entrance fee was made so high that the average man was unable to find the money necessary to gain admittance to the organization. For many years, the federation had a wonderful run. Its members enjoyed a monopoly of all work on the waterfront, and instead of dealing fairly by the community generally, they took advantage of practically every opportunity to dislocate our transport services, to the ruin of thousands of primary producers. These volunteers came to the aid of Australia when an appeal was made to them to restore the transport services of the country, and I shall not vote to rob them of the position that they occupy in connexion with work on the waterfront. They have done their work well, and have been engaged in it so long that they are now just as efficient as were the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, who previously performed these duties. There is no reason why any member of the Waterside Workers Federation who abides by the conditions that are laid down in the Transport Workers Act should not obtain his share of employment on the waterfront. These volunteers were promised the protection of both the Commonwealth and State Governments; they were assured that if they assisted to restore the transport services their interests would be conserved by legislation and, so far as lay within the power of the Government, by administration. In the ports of Northern Queensland, pillaging has been reduced to a minimum, and the cost of handling cargo is very much lower to-day than it was when the work was carried out under the conditions that operated prior to the enactment of the Transport Workers Act.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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