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Thursday, 21 May 1931

Senator CARROLL (Western Australia) . - If the regulations under discussion did not involve so serious a matter, they would be humorous. What could be more humorous than the following, which appears in these regulations ? : -

2.   - (1.) At- ports in the Commonwealth to which Part III. of the Transport Workers Act 1928-29 applies, priority shall be given, in the employment, engagement or picking up of transport workers (being waterside workers) for work in or in connexion with the provision of services in the transport of goods which are the subject of trade or commerce by sea with other countries or among the States, to those of such workers available for employment, engagement or picking up at those ports, who arc members of the organization known as the Waterside Workers Federation of Australia, an organization which is bound by an existing award of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration applicable to such employment.

The Government knows well that if the waterside workers had been agreeable to be bound by the awards of the Arbitration Court none of this trouble on the waterfront would have arisen. But they refused to be so bound. I do not altogether blame them, because I heard an honorable senator, who was then in opposition, saying that the Arbitration Act failed if the workers did not get all they asked for; that the act was passed to give the workers what they asked for.

Senator Hoare - Who said that?

Senator CARROLL - Ex-Senator Findley. I have great respect for him. He was thoroughly honest, although the greatest leg-puller under the Southern Cross. There would have been no trouble on the waterfront if the members of the union had been willing to abide by the decisions of the court. I can remember when there was no Arbitration Court in Australia. When the act was passed establishing the Arbitration Court, the workers in Australia, and particularly the waterside workers, believed they had reached the Mecca of their industrial pilgrimage. Nevertheless, when awards given by the court did not suit them, they refused to obey them.

Senator Kneebonespoke of the last waterside dispute as if it were an isolated incident in tlie industrial history of Australia. If it had been the Government's action might have been justified.

Senator Daly - It was an isolated dispute as far as Port Adelaide was concerned.

Senator McLachlan - No; there had been trouble for years.

Senator CARROLL - The disturbance which led up to the passing of the Transport Workers Act was the culmination of years of trouble on the waterfront. The people of Western Australia have good reason to remember the frequent disputes that occurred. For a number of years, at the height of the fruit season in Western Australia, there would be an interruption of shipping services resulting in a shortage of sugar in that State. As the enormous surplus soft fruits could not be marketed in the other States, and, because of the lack of sugar, could not be made into jam, it rotted in the orchards.

Senator Daly - And yet the licensing system does not apply at the port of Fremantle.

Senator CARROLL - I am referring to the long series of disputes which had occurred in Western Australia. In no other country would people have been so patient and long suffering as were the people of Australia during those years when the waterside workers dominated the industrial situation. The Transport Workers Act, which was introduced and passed by the Bruce-Page Government, was a last desperate effort to meet an evil that was getting beyond control. Even honorable senators supporting the Government in this chamber will admit that, since the passing of that act, there has been peace on the waterfront. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes), and Senator Kneebone, speaking this afternoon on behalf of the Waterside Workers Federation, asked how long this punishment of its members should continue. Surely, they said, these men have been sufficiently punished, and now should be allowed to return to work on the waterfront. I do not admit that the Bruce-Page Government, in passing the Transport Workers Act, was moved by a desire to punish waterside workers. Its .one object was to protect the people of Australia from the consequences of disputes in which, apparently, the interests of only the employers and employees were considered. The people were being crushed between the two opposing forces. The results have amply justified that Government's action.

I referred just now to the loss and inconvenience suffered by the people of Western Australia as a result of these all too frequent disputes on the waterfront. One instance in particular, will, I have no doubt, still be fresh in the minds of honorable senators. They will recall what happened on the waterfront in 1917, when the Empire had its back to the wall.

Senator Kneebone - Thousands of wharf-labourers went to the front.

Senator CARROLL - That is true; but unfortunately those who were left behind did not play the game. At one stage in a dispute the call was made for volunteers to maintain continuity of work on the wharf at Fremantle. A large number of men responded, and when the trouble was over, they were compensated, as Senator Kneebone now suggests the volunteer workers should be compensated - to what extent I do not know, but the amount paid was, I am sure, trifling - and they left the wharfs. Those who remained in the State were unable to secure employment elsewhere until they had changed their names. I do not ask honorable senators to accept my word for this statement. If they are sufficiently interested they will find the necessary confirmation in the Hansard reports of debates of the Western Australian Parliament. Nine years after the trouble on the Fremantle wharfs one of the volunteer workers was one day discovered working on the Subiaco sewerage scheme, a Government contract. When his fellow workmen learned that he was one of the volunteers on the Fremantle wharfs in 1917 they threw down their tools, and Mr. Alec McCallum, who was Minister for Public Works in the Collier Government, to appease the- unionists, dismissed the man in question. His punishment was extended over a far greater period of time than is suggested by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) and Senator Kneebone with regard to those waterside workers, who now seek to return to the waterfront.

Senator Daly - And yet the waterside workers at Fremantle are not licensed?

Senator CARROLL - That is because, like Belshazzar. they saw the writing on the wall, and, unlike him, were able to read it. They knew what was being done and mended their ways in time. It has been urged in support of the Government's action, that under these latest regulations preference is given to returned soldiers. I have' examined the regulations to see to what extent preference is given, and I find the following provision is made : -

Notwithstanding any tiling contained in the last preceding sub-regulation, persons who are returned soldiers or returned sailors . . . who were, at any time during the first six months of the year 1 930, the holders of licences under part III. of the Transport Workers Act 1928-29, in respect of any ports to which that act applied at any time during that year, may be employed, engaged or picked up for work . . .

From this it will be seen that the extent ro which preference is given to returned soldiers or sailors is very slight, because the regulations in question applied only to Adelaide, Melbourne, and two or three Queensland ports. It follows, therefore, that unless a returned soldier is a member of the "Waterside Workers Federation he will not, under these regulations, be eligible for employment at the majority of Australian ports. Every Government should legislate in the interests of all the people. Because all returned soldiers and sailors responded to the call of the nation in its time of need, they are entitled now to a fair share of whatever work may be available on the waterfront. No honorable senator who has spoken in opposition to the motion has suggested that any member of the Waterside Workers Federation was refused a licence under the Transport Workers Act regulations.

Senator Daly - That is so.

Senator CARROLL - All members of that organization were eligible for work if they took out a licence and registered for employment. Therefore the action of this Government, in bringing down fresh regulations, is not justified. If the volunteers were being employed for the purpose of slashing wages and reducing the standard of living, they would get no support from me; but it has been made abundantly clear that the sole purpose which the late Government had in view, when it introduced the bill, was to ensure the safety of the nation by maintaining essential services. The volunteers have been working under conditions laid down by the Arbitration Court, and I see no reason why they should be displaced.

Senator Herbert Hays - They did work which was refused by members of the Waterside Workers Federation.

Senator CARROLL - That is so. There was an urgent appeal for volunteers to come to the assistance of the country. They did so, and now they have every right to expect adequate protection from the Government. They should not be thrown to the wolves, as was suggested recently by a Minister in the New South Wales Government. Unfortunately, on the many prior occasions when volunteers took the places of strikers on our wharfs they were . left to shift for themselves when the trouble was over. But, in the dispute which led up to the passing of the Transport Workers Act, they were given a definite undertaking that they would be protected, and, in the interests of decency, if for no other reason, that promise must be honored.

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