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Thursday, 21 May 1931

Senator MCLACHLAN (South Australia) . - But for one or two observations of honorable senators opposite I should have recorded a silent vote on this motion which involves, not only an obligation, but a duty to this country. It has been suggested, not directly but adroitly, that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are acting in the interests of British ship- owners. That suggestion was effectively denied by interjection. British interests are not being conserved in this instance, in view of the fact that the men in question are working under an award of the Arbitration Court. I intend to support the motion because the volunteer labourers were promised protection; because they deserve protection, and because by doing so I shall be assisting to keep in check the reign of terror which prevailed in this country for some years. During my absence yesterday it was suggested that a high percentage of the volunteers were foreigners. When this subject was under discussion twelve months ago, I quoted some figures supplied to me on that occasion by a representative of the waterside workers. He pointed out that the Southern Europeans in the ranks of the volunteers in South Australia represented 12 per cent, of the membership, a figure far below that of the Southern Europeans among the members of the Waterside Workers Federation. I remind honorable senators opposite that the Southern Europeans in this country came here at our invitation, and are entitled to the full rights of citizenship. Some of the prominent men in the ranks of the Labour party are themselves descendants of these despised Southern Europeans. Senator Glasgow dealt with a suggestion made by the Assistant Minister with regard to certain other gentlemen who were mentioned yesterday. I am not concerned with the constitution of the body to which they belong; it is sufficient for me that they are Australians who are doing their job. Nor am I greatly concerned with the hostile demonstration that has so recently taken place at Port Melbourne. It will not influence my vote in .the least. The incident only emphasizes that we may expect such demonstrations when feeling runs high. The trouble with the members of the Waterside Workers Federation at Port Adelaide is that they have lost their prey. As to the efficiency of the men doing the work on the waterfront, the firms responsible for the loading and unloading of vessels should he the best judges. They are content to have the work done by volunteers. I do not know the period to which the figures supplied by Mr. Condon, and quoted by Senator Hoare, refer, but I mention that Mr.

Condon is also a follower of the party of which Senator Hoare is such a distinguished member. I desire to quote from Hansard of the 14th May, 1930, in reference to a letter to which I have previously referred - a letter which dealt with certain happenings at Port Adelaide which led up to the passing of the Transport Workers Act -

In other words, these men, because they disagreed with the decision of the body created by the people of Australia to decide wages, conditions of work, &c, defied the law of the land, and, in effect, said : " We do not like this law and so we refuse to obey it". The ship-owners thereupon issued a. plain warning to the waterside workers that if they persisted in their attempt to coerce Australia, volunteers would be called for, who were willing to abide by the award of the court. In spite of this warning the members of the Waterside Workers Federation continued to defy the award. The ship-owners then carried their threat into effect and called for volunteers, accompanying that call with the promise that men volunteering would be given preference of work on the wharfs, even if and when the. waterside workers desired to return to work. This promise was approved publicly by the Commonwealth and State Governments of the day, and, I venture to say, by every rightthinking and law-respecting citizen in Australia. The volunteers were also guaranteed adequate protection by the government of the day. In response to' the ship-owners' call hundreds of men volunteered - volunteered to work, it will be noted, not under conditions prescribed by the ship-owners, but under conditions laid down by the law of the land, the Arbitration Court. The waterside workers made no move to recognize their mistake or to return to work, but, on the contrary, disgraced Australia in general, and South Australia in particular, by organized violence against the men who had thus volunteered to obey the award of the court. It is unnecessary to remind you of the doings of that day when waterside workers, outnumbering the volunteers three or four to one- not even with the elemental spark of decency required to fight man to man - violently drove the volunteers from their work. Protection was soon forthcoming from the citizens of South Australia in overwhelming numbers and the volunteers returned to work. Only then did the waterside workers realize that they were beaten and asked for terms.

One cannot but sympathize with the tradespeople of Port Adelaide on whose behalf Senator Hoare made such an eloquent plea. I am disposed to think that the honorable senator's concern is not so much for the tradespeople of Port Adelaide, as for members of the Waterside Workers Federation there. Judging from the honorable senator's references to them, we would be justified in regarding those men as being as peaceful as doves ;but if they are as law-abiding as has been suggested, why do notthe volunteers live alongside their work? They choose to live elsewhere, because they dare not live in the vicinity of the wharfs. Even where they do reside they have been threatened from time to time. They have, however, taken measures to protect themselves, and judging by what I have seen of them, they will give a good account of themselves should the occasion to do so arise. A reign of terror, detrimental alike to commerce and to the morale of the nation, prevailed on the waterfront until the passing of the Transport Workers Act restored peaceful conditions. The Assistant Minister asks why we on this side seek to aggravate an already serious position. It is he who would aggravate the existing trouble, for he would set one class of unionists against another. I remind him that the volunteers are members of a union, and that they are working under an award of the Arbitration Court. The honorable senator suggests that the members of the Waterside Workers Federation should be given preference over the members of another duly recognized organization, who are complying with the law of the land and have never demonstrated their powers for destruction as the members of the Waterside Workers Federation have done. The Senate would be lacking in a sense of duty if it did not disallow these regulations. Yesterday I indicated that, in my opinion, these regulations are not worth a snap of the fingers. If the Government persists in issuing regulations' after the Senate has disallowed them, it will eventually meet its just reward.

Senator Dooley -That is an invitation to the shipowners to defy the regulations.

Senator McLACHLAN - If I were a shipowner, I would defy the regulations tomorrow, and if action were taken against me, I would take thecase to the highest tribunal in the land. It is a reflection on the powers of the Senate, and of Parliament, for the Government to defy the Senate by issuing new regulations to take the place of other regulations, the same in substance, which have been disallowed. I suggest that the Assis tant Minister should take his courage in his hands and, in defiance of the gibes which would be thrown at him, act in a constitutional manner, and withdraw these regulations altogether. If the Government continues to issue regulations which have been disallowed, Parliament will become a laughing-stock. If the Government remains obstinate, it must accept the responsibility of its action, and for any serious consequences which may result. At this stage, the duty of the Senate is to disallow these new regulations. I shall vote for their disallowance most heartily, notwithstanding that some persons may suffer thereby. We must adhere to our principles ; otherwise Parliament will become a byword in the mouths of the people.

SenatorKNEEBONE (South Australia) [5.1], - I hesitate to take any further part in this debate seeing that the subject now before the Chair was so fully discussed yesterday. Nevertheless, I do not desire to pass a silent vote on such an important matter. The statement that I made yesterday has been borne out by the letter from the Mayor of Port Adelaide which the Leader of the Opposition read this afternoon. Yesterday, we spent a good deal of time allocating the blame to one government or another, and in questioning the constitutionality of these regulations. To-day, we are dealing with the effect on industry of their disallowance. If the previous regulations, which the Senate disallowed, are no longer in force, and the Government has issued other regulations in their place, it is obvious that the Senate has the same right to disallow the new regulations as it had to disallow the earlier ones. I desire to say again that there are phases of this question which rise above even the constitutional aspect. I agree that the Senate, as perhaps the highest authority in the Commonwealth, must protect its rights, and so long as I am a member of the Senate, I shall seek to protect those rights. But having an intimate knowledge of the position at Port Adelaide, and of the effect of the disallowance of these regulations, I am forced to say that I am prepared to go to the limit allowed by the Constitution in order to deal humanely with my fellow citizens. Senator McLachlan spoke of a reign of terror, and used other phrases not uncommon with some agitators. He suggested that the waterside workers of Australia are either themselves outlaws, or have been misled by outlaws in the past.

Senator Thompson - Their actions are somewhat difficult to define.

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