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Thursday, 30 November 1905

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Mauger (MELBOURNE PORTS, VICTORIA) - Both honorable members must withdraw those expressions.

Mr KNOX - I withdraw what I have said about the honorable member for Darwin, but he is continually interjecting in the most inconsequential way, and considers that his day's work is done when he has made what he thinks to be an effective interjection.

Mr King O'Malley - I withdraw what I have said, but I should like to draw your attention, Mr. Mauger to the fact that this is a deliberate and definite stonewall which is now taking place. The way in which the representatives of capital are running our affairs is a disgrace to the country.

Mr KNOX - I think that it will be generally admitted that I have no capacity for " stone-walling." It is an art in which I do not excel. Reference has been made to the introduction of the union label in the cigar trade of the United States. Every well-thinking person should be in accord with honorable members opposite in endeavouring to secure the abolition of conditions of labour and ofmanufacture such as originated theunion label in America. I happened' to be in San Francisco when the subject was inflaming the public mind there. Some years later, strange to say, I happened to be in Chicago when the union label was the cause of an active agitation, and' was able to see its effects upon industry. In two or three instances which came under my personal notice, the unionists had absolutely sold themselves to employers, who had no consideration for human life, and the label was being used purely for capitalistic and monopolistic purposes.

Mr Webster - That could not be done under this Bill.

Mr KNOX - It could have been done under the union label clauses as they came from the Senate. If we were satisfied that the label would only be used for the purpose of securing humane conditions for the workers, there would be no reasonable objection to it. But that is not the object. I should say God-speed to the honorable members opposite if it were. The object is to use the label as a means of coercion.

Mr Webster - The honorable member is totally mistaken.

Mr KNOX - Honorable members can have no objection to the amendment which I have circulated, if their purpose is genuine.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member could make no more serious charge than he has made by imputing such motives to the supporters of the Bill.

Mr KNOX - I have no desire to impute motives to any one.

Mr Fisher - We are seeking justice and protection for the unions, just as the employers secure justice and protection by means of trade marks.

Mr KNOX - If that is the sole object, honorable members can have no objection to the suggestions which I shall afterwards invite them to consider. Let me point out that proper conditions with regard to sanitation, hours of labour, and wages are already secured by factories legislation. In Victoria we have wages boards, which safeguard the interests of the workers in that respect. Why should the people of Victoria have to submit to Commonwealth legislation over-riding the State legislation ?

Mr Webster - Why should not the con sumer be protected as well as the producer ?

Mr KNOX - But the consumer will have to pay more for his goods under these provisions. Each fresh restriction on manufacture must necessarily increase the cost of goods to the consumer.

Mr Webster - Not necessarily; the profits of the merchants may be reduced.

Mr KNOX - If capital cannot secure a fair profit it will leave the country; and the supporters of the Labour Party cannot exist without capital. The AttorneyGeneral has argued that this is not a question of union as against non-union labour, but merely a recognition of the rights of workers. Let me point out that the workers are to be divided into three classes. There are the unionists, and there are those who are indifferent to unionism. But there is a third class of workers who are opposed to trade unionism altogether, and object to its methods. I have always held that there is some strength in the contention of the unionists that they are struggling for. the benefit of their class, and have secured advantages for it at the cost of personal sacrifice. There is, on their part, a feeling of resentment against workers who will not join them. But while one can sympathize with that feeling, it is quite another matter to use coercive measures with the object of compelling non-unionists to join the labour organizations.

Mr Page - You have been plundering the workers long enough, you robbers !

Mr KNOX - The employers have de: voted capital, experience, and enterprise to the businesses which they have built up, and the workers have participated in their success.

Mr Page - If they had their way they would squeeze the last drop of blood out of the workers.

Mr KNOX - The honorable member makes a statement which is absolutely unworthy of him.

Mr Page - I do not mean the honorable member personally, but his class.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Maranoa must cease these interjections.

Mr KNOX - I must ask the honorable member to withdraw his statement, which is both offensive and untrue.

Mr Page - I did not for a moment intend to apply my remark to the honorable member for Kooyong, and, as far as he is concerned, I withdraw it. I was referring to the class for which he holds a brief.

Mr KNOX - The Attorney-General has said that our legislation cannot be ahead of public opinion, and that, if these proposals are ahead of public opinion, so much the worse for their supporters. Therefore,, we come back to the point that so important a question as this ought to have been dealt with by means of a separate Bill, and formed the subject of an inquiry by a Select Committee or a Royal Commission..

Mr Page - We are willing to take all the risks, and the honorable member and his party can "biff" us out at the next election if they can.

Mr KNOX - Honorable members opposite are not the persons who will suffer most from a dislocation of industrial conditions. It is the employes who willi suffer. If any part of our industrial legislation is injuriously affected, the workers must suffer proportionately. If there had been a sincere desire on the part of the Government to ascertain public opinion on these proposals, they might have allowed them to be the subject of reference to the electors on a proper occasion. The Legislatures of the United States and Great Britain do not permit; (new principles to be introduced without careful and thoughtful consideration by Committees. It has been my privilege to meet Mr. John Burns, the honorable member for Battersea, in the Imperial Parliament, and other trade union leaders in Great Britain. I honestly believe that Mr. Burns would never have countenanced the passage of such a measure as this with out inquiry by a Committee or Commission. There is no more considerate man than he is in reference to the proper investigation of great public questions. His success islargely owing to the fact that he has never forgotten that legislation must not be ahead of public opinion. The unfortunate fact is that many honorable members who will vote for this proposal are really opposed to its principle.

Mr Kennedy - There is no value in an argument of that sort. The honorable member is not dealing with the merits of the question.

Mr KNOX - I say that the vote of this Committee will be no indication of public opinion, because some of those who will support the clauses were returned on different views.

Mr Kennedy - They have their masters, to deal with.

Mr KNOX - I recognise that their present masters have given them their directions, and that the honorable members ir>- question areobeying them. I desire to read some protests which have been made by important public bodies against the trade union label clauses. The representations of the Employers' Federation justify the fullest consideration, as being the result of practical experience and careful thought. Certainly an assertion made with reference to the action, of banks upon their creditors is not warranted, but the worst construction has been put upon it. I have been an employe of a bank, and am now a bank director. I am associated with several banks in the city of Melbourne. The statement used by the AttorneyGeneral that any bank would interfere in such a question as this for the purpose of putting the screw on any customer, as one which I am sure that honorable members, on both sides of the House, will characterize as ridiculous. I am entitled to say, speaking on behalf of the banks, that such a statement is without justification.

Mr Page - It is contained in an official document from the Employers Federation.

Mr KNOX - There are several bank directors in this House, and every one, I am convinced, will support the statement I am making. I have before me the document to which the Attorney-General alluded. He urges that it contains the statement that in extreme cases pressure might be brought to bear upon a manufacturer through his creditors or his bank. I do not know what individual creditors might do, but ordinary business people look to legitimate methods of increasing their trade, rather than to methods of coercion or obstruction. It is absolutely wrong to say that any banker would use coercive methods, such as have been suggested. I intend to submit the objections to this Bill made by representative bodies in various parts of the Commonwealth. I ask the indulgence of the Committee while I read these documents, because I happen to hold a position of honour which I appreciate very highly as the representative of the Chambers of Commerce of Australia, and other important associations which have asked me to express their views.

Mr Page - Tell us who compose these bodies ?

Mr KNOX - They are bodies of employers, and very representative employers, too.

Mr Page - Then the. honorable member is simply voicing the opinions of the employers ?

Mr KNOX - I am. I am not professing to voice the opinions of labour, but of those who provide the capital, energy, and enterprise by which industries are carried on. The following letter has been sent to me by the Chamber of Commerce, Melbourne : -

Chamber of Commerce, Melbourne. 60 Market-street,

Melbourne, 25th November, 1905.


I have the honour, by direction of the council of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, to ask if you will be good enough to use your influence on behalf of the members of this Chamber, to oppose the union label clauses in the Trade Marks Bill. The Bill has recently received most careful consideration by my Council, and it thinks the measure should be thrown out, and for the following reasons- : -

1.   It is uncalled for - the allegations of piracy by Australian manufacturers of goods reputed to be made by trade union labour being absolutely without foundation.

2.   It favours the ambitions of a minority of workmen againstthe interests of the majority.

3.   The Bill, if passed, will, by the admission of the Labour leader in the House of Representatives, be made a weapon of boycott, to the serious detriment of the free workman, of the manufacturers and producers, and of the community generally. The people of the Commonwealth will inevitably have to pay higher for their necessities.

Mr Watson - I say now, as I stated last night, when a similar assertion was quoted by the honorable member for Corangamite, that that statement is absolutely untrue.

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