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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - With the honorable member for Moira, I regret the conditions under which this important question is being discussed. The importance which the Government attach to the matter is quite evident from the fact that, with the object of limiting discussion, they have introduced some of the most drastic rules to be found in any Parliament in the world, and that on the very day the proposal is introduced recourse is had to an all-night sitting.

Mr Watson - The first day it is introduced ! There have been months of discussion on the question already.

Mr McLEAN - I know that on a former occasion I attempted to discuss this question, but was ruled out of order. This is the first time an opportunity has been presented to discuss the proposal on its merits.

Mr Watson - That is not correct.

Mr McLEAN - Of most of the legislation introduced by the Government I can approve ; but the question before us is one which divides the whole community, and excites a deep and absorbing interest. Under the circumstances, the Committee ought to be allowed time for discussion, and I do not think that a couple of sittings, or even three, would be an unreasonable period to occupy. I do not go as far as the honorable member for Moira in the assumption that there is any serious misunderstanding in the country as to the intention and meaning of this clause ; I believe the object and effect are very generally known. I do not attach the slightest importance to the alterations that have been made in the verbiage or form of the proposal. The AttorneyGeneral himself, in the paper he has issued to honorable members, draws special attention to the fact that the intention of the original clause is not in any way affected by the recent alterations. To call this a workers' label is, in my opinion, simply ridiculous. Can any one conceive a commodity produced without work? Of course we know that the intention and effect will be to limit this label strictly to the organized unions. I am sorry the AttorneyGeneral is not present, because it is impossible to avoid direct references to the arguments he used in that powerful speech to which we listened yesterday. However, I may say at once that I listened with great pleasure to that speech, which was one of the cleverest of the many clever speeches I have heard the honorable and learned member deliver. And yet, with all my long knowledge of the Attorney-General's' great ability, and of his manner of dealing with cases, I must say that, if I had no previous knowledge of the question, I should not require anything further than that speech to utterly condemn the proposal in my mind. When the Attorney-General has a good case, he throws aside trivialities, and all that is not thoroughly pertinent to the issue. Yesterday, however, he contrived to avoid all the salient issues, and to labour the minor issues almost to straining point. The honorable and learned member even succeeded in using the same set of facts to prove two absolutely contrary contentions. He did not attempt to urge any necessity for this legislation in Australia, but referred us to some distant State in America, where the labour conditions were so bad that, in the absence of any effective industrial laws, it was absolutely necessary to devise some measure of protection, which took the form of a union label. It has been pointed out over and over again by public bodies, and at public meetings, that there is no necessity for legislation of this kind in Australia, seeing that we already have effective industrial legislation.

Mr Poynton - Only in some parts of Australia.

Mr McLEAN - There is a Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Mr Spence - That applies only to InterState disputes.

Mr McLEAN - It applies to the whole of Australia.

Mr Poynton - Only to State internal affairs.

Mr McLEAN - The Attorney-General, although he had previously pointed out that .the utter absence of any effective industrial laws in the American States had rendered a union label necessary, quoted every Statute that had the remotest bearing upon the question to prove that in America there are such industrial laws. To prove this point the honorable and learned member used the same set of facts that he had used to show that there was no effective industrial law in operation. The Statutes quoted by the Attorney-General referred to sanitation and everything under the sun, except to the vital principles of the Bill before us. As an example of the cleverness of the speech, I mention the fact that the heartiest cheers from the labour comer were elicited by the Attorney-General's contention that the late Government were not unfriendly to this proposal. But, as a matter of fact, all that 'the Attorney-General succeeded inshowing was that only one member of :thelate Government, namely, the late AttorneyGeneral, had referred to the proposal, and that he had expressed his intention to oppose it, either as part of the Trade Marks Bill or as separate legislation.

Mr Poynton - The late AttorneyGeneral never attempted to recommit the Bill in order to strike out the clause.

Mr McLEAN - That was because the late Government decided not to introduce the Bill. The honorable member for Grey need not be under any misapprehension as to the attitude of the late Government. The Trade Marks Bill and the Fraudulent Trade Marks Bill were both intrusted to me as a member of that Government, and the latter measure was carried to the Committee stage before Parliament prorogued. But, knowing the interminable discussion that would ensue on the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill, I did not introduce the. latter, and therefore it was not necessary for any member of- the late Government to refer to it. Moreover, it was my intention to embody the most essential clauses of the Trade Marks Bill in another measure which is now known as the Commerce Bill, so as to enable us to dispense with a Trade Marks Bill until the matter could be referred to the country. The Attorney-General strained every trivial argument to strengthen his case. If he had bad a good case he would have put the most salient and important features in the forefront, and would have represented them with all the clearness and -force of which he is capable. Yesterday, however, he dwelt altogether upon minor matters, and used the same set of facts to support two absolutely contrary conclusions. He asserted, among other things, that the late Government were not unfriendly to the union label, but in support of his statement could quote the utterances of only one member of that Administration who had announced his intention to oppose it. In combating the contention that the trade union label would be used for the purpose of boycotting nonunionists, he denied that it would have any effect of that kind, but he admitted - and thus gave away his whole case - that in America the unions appealed to the public to support them, and that the same results would ensue in Australia. The only thing he denied was that compulsion would be used. He claimed that any influence brought to bear to induce the public to refrain from buying certain goods would not amount to a boycott, unless force was used. If the Attorney-General were a non-unionist worker, he would regard any attempt to rob him of his employment as a boycott. He would certainly look upon the matter in that light, if 150,000 men constituted themselves canvassers with the object of inducing the public not to purchase the produce of his labour. The boycott would be equally effective, whether coercion or persuasion were used. TheAttorneyGeneral stated that no serious objection had been raised to these proposals. If his experience has been anything like my own, he must have received a large number of protests. I have received some very strong ones.

Mr Tudor - From the employers' associations.

Mr McLEAN - Yes; and from shirecouncils, and public meetings. The last protest which' reached me took the form of a resolution passed at a public meeting called by advertisement by the president of the shire of Maffra, to consider the question of the proposed union label. I forwarded the resolution to the Prime Minister, and presumably the AttorneyGeneral was aware of it. That meeting, which was free of access to every one, was held at Maffra, where there is a large number of non-union workmen. Throughout the country districts nearly all the workers are non-unionists. The resolution strongly condemned the proposed legislation, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, not a single voice was raised in favour of the trade union label. That took place at one of a number of similar meetings throughout the country.

Mr Maloney - Maffra is the honorable member's stronghold.

Mr McLEAN - But I knew nothing about the meeting. I can tell the honorable member that I have no stronger supporters than the workers. They have given me their confidence from the beginning, and I should be false to them if I did anything which I thought would prove pre.judical to them. The Attorney-General also urged, as a proof that non-unionists were in favour of the proposed legislation, that their representatives in this House were the strongest advocates of it. Surely my honorable friends in the Labour corner do not profess to represent non-union labour.

Mr Watson - I do.

Mr McLEAN - I know that my honorable friends have succeeded hitherto in obtaining their votes.

Mr Watson - It is most unfair to insinuate that we get their votes and do not represent them.

Mr McLEAN - I can only judge by my honorable friend's action.

Mr Watson - We shall challenge the honorable member's action in respect of those who vote for him.

Mr McLEAN - Will the honorable member deny that his party were the most bitter opponents of the non-unionists, in connexion with the consideration of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill?

Mr Watson - I say that that is absolutely incorrect.

Mr McLEAN - Did not the honorable member propose to deprive non-unionists of their means of livelihood ?

Mr Watson - No : that is a foul libel.

Mr McLEAN - What would preference to unionists mean? If unionists were to have the first choice of work, where would the non-unionists come in ?

Mr Watson - Did we not open the unions to any one who wanted to join them?

Mr McLEAN - That is at the bottom of the whole thing,. It is proposed to constitute the Parliament a recruiting agent for the unions. That is my honorable friend's object. He desires to make it impossible for non-unionists to earn a living.

Mr Watson - That is incorrect.

Mr McLEAN - That is the only conclusion I can draw from the action of the members of the Labour Party. I was one of those who voted against the Government led by the honorable member for Bland, upon the occasion that they decided to quit the Treasury bench. Why did they adopt that course? I voted for the same principle that I shall support in this case. I was always opposed to creating distinctions between unionists and non-unionists. The honorable member for Bland left office because we insisted that where nonunionists were not in a majority in any particular industry They should be placed upon the same footing as non-unionists. The Watson Government objected to that condition. Was that an act of friendliness to the non-unionists? They discarded the principle of majority rule, and insisted that whether unionists were in the majority or in the minority they should have the preference in all cases.

Mr Spence - They desired that the question should be left to the Court to decide.

Mr McLEAN - If this were a proposal to benefit The workers generally I should, on this occasion, as on every other, be found supporting it. If it were a proposal to benefit unionists alone, without inflicting any material injury on other sections of the community I should still support it, because, although I have beer compelled on this and one or two points in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to oppose unionists, I am very strongly in favour of unionism. I believe that the unions have done a great deal to improve the conditions of labour, both for unionists and non-unionists, and to that extent they deserve every reasonable recognition.

Mr Watkins - Are not wages general Iv regulated bv unionists?

Mr McLEAN - I think so. I would be the last to deny that' great benefits have been conferred upon labour by unionists, but when they go so far as to ask Parliament to constitute itself a partisan body, and to enter with them upon an industrial war against their fellow-workers, who have no fault beyond that they have elected to remain outside the unions, I cannot go with them.

Mr Frazer - Do they ask that?

Mr McLEAN - Yes.

Mr Frazer - They merely ask to be placed upon a fair basis as compared with other people in the country.

Mr McLEAN - I do not know what the honorable member regards as a fair basis. If our industrial laws are not sufficient to insure fair conditions of labour, they should be amended ; but what I object to is the attempt to sneak in clauses which are altogether foreign to the purpose of the Bill. I contend that the union label proposals are not only unnecessary,, but would be most mischievous in their operation. They are not intended to effect the legitimate purpose of a trade mark. It is not proposed to guarantee the quality or ownership of the goods, but merely to indicate that union labour has been employed in their production. At the . outset of his speech yesterday, the Attorney-General laid it down very clearly that it was the duty of Parliament to legislate in the interests, not of any particular class or section, but of the whole of the people. That is a sound doctrine, but I should be prepared to go a little further. I should be willing to legislate in the interests of a class if it could be shown that no material injury would be inflicted on other sections of the community. My objection to the trade union label proposals is that their obvious intention is to benefit the union worker at the expense of the non-unionists. They can only benefit the union workers to the extent to which they deprive non.unionists of employment or reasonable wages.

Mr Watson - If every non-unionist becomes a unionist, no harm can be done.

Mr McLEAN - No doubt that is the object of these provisions. The trade union, labels will not indicate the ownership of the goods, but merely the particular class of labour that has been employed in their production. The object of the union.ists is, by persuasion or coercion, or both, to boycott the products of non-union labour. I do not regard it as any part of the duty of Parliament to take sides in a matter of this kind, or to assist unionists to prevent non-unionists from earning an honest living. According to Coghlan, the total number of bread-winners in the Commonwealth is 1,642,000. There are only about 100,000 registered unionists, but I understand that Coghlan estimates that the total number of unionists, registered and unregistered, is about 150,000.

Mr Conroy - -Many of them are registered in two unions.

Mr McLEAN - Even giving the unionists credit for the full number, they represent less than one-tenth of the workers of Australia.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Then what is the honorable member afraid of?

Mr McLEAN - I am anxious about the welfare of my honorable friends. It might be a matter of wonder that the members of the Labour Party - seeing the comparatively small number of workers in the unions - should venture to advocate the cause of the unionists against the nonunionist's to the extent of preventing the latter from earning a living unless they join the unions.

Mr Watson - That is not correct - that is a continuous misrepresentation.

Mr McLEAN - That would be the undoubted effect of the legislation for which my honorable friend has been contending in the past, and of the provisions now before us. If you prevent people from buying the products of non-union labour, surely you will reduce the earnings of the men who are outside the unions.

Mr Watson - We do not propose to prevent the public from buying goods made by non-unionists.

Mr McLEAN - But the intention is to use all possible influence in. that direction. If that object cannot be achieved, no benefit whatever will be conferred upon unionists under these proposals. There is only one way of making the union label effective, and that is by using the boycott against the product of non-union labour.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member seems to forget that nine-tenths of the bread-winners who are non-unionists could buy the products of the labour of their own class, as against the goods produced by unionists.

Mr McLEAN - The members of the Labour Party are heartland soul with the unionists, owing to the influence which they, through their perfect organization, can exercise on the legislation of the

Commonwealth. We know perfectly well that the unionists, by means of 150,000 canvassers throughout the Commonwealth, can exercise an influence on legislation altogether out of proportion to their numbers.

Mr Page - Whose fault isthat?

Mr McLEAN - I am not sayang that it is any one's fault; but I am pointing out the fact. That is the. reason why my honorable friends are now assisting the unions to take the further step contemplated. They have already induced usto go so far as to give preference to unionists wherever they are in "a majority . in any trade or industry, and to provide that, where they are in a minority, they shall occupy the same footing as others. That is of material advantage' to unionists ; "but . honorable members want to go further. They want Parliament to assist them to reduce the value of the earnings of non-unionists in the limited fields of employment they now have open to them.

Mr Maloney - The honorable member talked differently when he was advocating the cause of the unionists in the Victorian Parliament.

Mr McLEAN - I have always held the same views. I have supported legislation in the interests of the whole of the workers and of the masses ; but I have always opposed legislation, in favour of one class, which I thought would have the effect of injuring other sections of the community. The propertied classes who were asking for undue political power never went so far as to propose measures that would inflict direct injury upon other classes. I have been consistent in opposing class legislation that would be inimical to the interests of the community. There is another phase of this matter "which, so far, has not been referred to. Hitherto we have agreed to limit the operation of out industrial legislation to those areas in which strikes and locks-out have occurred in the past. We have excluded from the scope of such measures rural industries which have never been marked by industrial strife. It is now proposed to do away with all such distinctions. I believe that the operation ot the proposals now before us would be extended to the rural industries as well as to others. To my mind it is conceivable, and I think even probable, that the warehouse employes, the members of the Carriers' Union, and of the water-side unions, would refuse to handle a bale of wool, a bag of wheat, or a box of butter, unless the union label were attached to it.

Mr Spence - What nonsense !

Mr McLEAN - I believe that if they did so, the honorable member would be found assisting them.

Mr Spence - I am not quite a lunatic yet.

Mr McLEAN - If they had recourse to such extreme measures the honorable member would help them, and I very much fear that the Government which is placing this weapon in their hands would also be ranged on their side. It is difficult to foresee what would happen under these proposals ; they might lead to the creation of antiunion leagues. But whether they did or not, they must create strife and dissension between unionists and nonunionists which would extend to the whole community. I think we have already done quite enough harm in that direction, without' conferring benefits upon any class. We have passed some very useful legislation, but a few of the provisions embodied init. will prove most mischievous.

Mr Thomas - Why did not the honorable member repeal them when he was in office?

Mr McLEAN - I had intended to submit the whole question to the country - that was part of my programme. When I first denounced the provisions to which I refer, my remarks were received with jeers, but no one will deny that they have done more mischief to Australia than all the beneficial legislation we may pass will ever atone for.

Mr Watson - Nonsense.

Mr McLEAN - Friends and relatives of mine who have been living in England for some years told me that when the Federal Parliament first met, Australia stood high in the estimation of the old world, and if a man announced that he was an Australian he was assured of a hearty welcome. I am now told that the name of Australia is scarcely ever mentioned except with a sneer. I believe that the proposed legislation will do a great deal of injury, and that our reputation will suffer more than ever it has done. If, with a full knowledge of the intention underlying them, and of their probable effects, I supported these proposals, I should betray the interests of those who sent me here. I should be abusing the power which they had conferred upon me if, when I knew that it was our undoubted duty to' do the best we could to promote peace, harmony, and good feeling, I assisted in placing upon the statute-book provisions which I believed would have the effect of creating strife, discord, and dissension amongst the people, of Australia.

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