2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
DUTIES ON SHIPS’ STORES.
Mr. WATKINS. - Referring to the reply made by the Minister of Trade and Customs yesterday to the honorable and learned member for Werriwa with regard to the collection of duties on ships’ stores, I desire to know whether his statement related to oversea ships that touch at only one port in the Commonwealth, as well as to those which trade from port to port along our seaboard ? I desire, further, to know whether he does not think some distinction should be drawn between the two classes of vessels ?
Mr. FISHER. - So far as I am aware, at present, no exception is made- in favour of ships which call at only one port in the Commonwealth, but the question of making a distinction may be considered later on.
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS.
Sir JOHN FORREST. - I desire to ask,
Mr. Speaker, what is the rule with regard to the answers given by Ministers to questions asked by honorable members ? The present procedure seems to me to be somewhat inconvenient. Ministers . sometimes merely give a promise that they will obtain certain information, but afterwards forget all about the matter. In such cases, it would be preferable to postpone the questions until the information desired can be furnished.
Mr. SPEAKER. - If honorable members do not obtain the desired information in the first instance, and intimate that they wish their questions’ to remain on the noticepaper, their request will be complied with. In cases, however, whereno such intimation is made, the questions will not retain their place.
PUBLIC SERVANTS’ LONG SERVICE LEAVE.
Sir LANGDON BONYTHON.- I wish to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to an article headed “ South Australian Federal Officers’ Long Service Leave “ contained in the latest issue of tha Transmitter, a journal published in connexion with the Post and Telegraph service. The article quotes section 3 of an Act passed in South Australia in 1881, entitled “An Act to amend the Civil Service Act of 1874,” which reads -
The Governor may grant to any officer in the civil service, of at least ten years’ continuous service, not exceeding eight months’ leave of absence on half salary, or, at.his option, four months’ leave of absence on full salary, ‘or if of twenty years’ continuous service, eight months’ leave of absence on full salary.
The article goes on to say -
When the Department was transferred to Federal control, a very large number of its members had already completed len, and, in many . cases, twenty years of service, but had not taken their long leave. It was the unanimous conviction of all concerned thai they would receive the same terms of leave from the Federal Government for this service rendered to the State as- . they would undoubtedly have enjoyed had . they remained under the State. This conviction was deeply and firmly rooted in various good and manifest reasons, prominent amongst which are -
(a) Although both the before-mentioned clausesare governed by “ may grant,” not by- “ shall grant “ (for the obvious reason that it was necessary to give the Governor power to withhold the- leave in the event . of the record of any officer being unsatisfactory), the absence of any mention of a portion only to be granted, and also the fact that the Parliament considered, it necessary specifically to curtail the leave by substituting four and eight months in. the Amending Act of 1881 for the twelve months in the original Act, seem to indicate that the granting of this leave in. its entirety was, in the opinion of South Australian legislators, quite a binding obligagation upon the State. ‘
(b) The contention that this “ may grant “ has. been invariably interpreted as” shall grant” is justified by the history of the State service, which, to the best of our’ knowledge, shows that the full term of four or eight months, as the cose may be, has never been refused, but that, on the contrary, the State Government, whatever its policy, has always, in good and bad times alike, scrupulously discharged its debts in this respect to its officers.
(c) Both the Commonwealth Constitution and the Commonwealth Public Service Act of 1902 contain clauses preserving the rights of transferred officers under State Acts.
The conviction that the full measures of leave would be granted to those officers who had already earned them before passing over to the Federal regime was strengthened by the very equitable, not to say liberal, treatment which we have received from the Commonwealth administrators in other matters. It was, therefore, a rude shock to our confidence to learn that it is the intention of the Public Service Commissioner to grant only three and six months, instead of four and eight months, respectively.
I would ask the Minister whether this statement as to the intention of the Public Service Commissioner is correct ?
Mr. MAHON. - I have no knowledge of the matter to which the honorable member has directed attention. As several important questions are involved., I can only promise that I shall have the matter inquired into at the earliest opportunity.
– I notice that the daily newspapers contain reports of a speech which is attributed to me. I wish to say that’ I made no speech yesterday in this Chamber upon the Arbitration Bill, and that I do not hold the views attributed to me in the press.
– I wish as a matter of urgency to move the adjournment of the House to enable me to bring under notice certain matters in connexion with the subletting of mail contracts.
– Will the honorable member hand in his motion ?
– I was not aware that I should require to give notice.
– The honorable member has no need to give notice; but it is necessary, when rising to move any such motion as he has indicated, that he should hand in a statement conveying the terms of the motion, so that it may be read and the concurrence of other honorable members in his object may be obtained.
– What I wish to move is, that the House at its rising adjourn until 2.30 o’clock to-morrow.
– If the honorable member looks at the Standing Orders, he will realize that it is necessary for him to state the purpose for which he moves the adjournment, in order that the debate may be confined to the specific object set forth. If the honorable member, will now write out a few words indicating the subject with which he desires to deal, it will be possible for him to achieve his object.
– I shall do so.
– I have received anintimation from the honorable member that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ the question of the subletting of mail contracts.”
Five honorable members having risen in their -places,
– About twelve months ago, I brought under the notice of the House the question of the subletting of mail contracts. I referred to a specific case in which Mr. Vines, commonly known as Cobb and Co. had sublet the contract for the carriage of mails between Ballarat and Rokewood to a man named Leviston. I pointed out that the sub-contractor, who did the. whole of the work and found the whole of the plant, received only£72, whilst the Department paid £160 to Cobb and Co. for carrying out the service. I was then informed by the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Denison, that there was no sub-contract. I obtained further evidence, however, and further inquiries were made with the result’ that it was found that a sub-contract had been let in contravention of rule 14 of the Post and Telegraph regulations. I subsequently received the following letter from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department -
With reference to your recent interview with the Postmaster-General respecting the statement that Messrs. Cobb and Co. had sublet to a Mr. Leviston, at£72 per annum, their contract for the conveyance of mails between Ballarat and Rokewood, for which they receive a subsidy of £160 per annum ; and to the letter onthe subject addressed to you on the 8th inst. by Mr. Leviston, which you left at this office, I have the honour, by direction, to inform you that when inquiry was first made regarding this statement, ithe Deputy Postmaster-General, Melbourne, submitted a report of which a copy is attached, marked “ A,” but on representations ‘being made by Sir Philip Fysh that you were in possession of the fact til : i t the contract in question was sublet as stated, the matter was again refer red to the Deputy Postmaster-General, and a copy of further reports is also attached, marked “ B.” The Postmaster-General approved that action be taken as recommended by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, and instructions were issued accordingly. I am to add, it is regretted, that the full facts were not elicited when inquiry was first made in this case.
The report referred to reads as follows: -
I had an interview with Mi. Joshua Vines (Cobb and Co.), in regard to this contract. He stated that he employed Mr. Leviston for a stated fixed sum per annum to carry out for him the Rokewood mail service, he (Mr. Vines) being responsible to this Department as the contractor. I said to Mr. Vines : “ It is alleged that you have sublet the contract; is that so?” He replied, “ No. Mr. Leviston (I think that was the name he mentioned) is my employe.”
From the additional information obtained, it seems to me that the arrangement made by the contractors is to all intents and purposes “ subletting “ the contract. This is the first case of the kind that has come under my notice. I would suggest that Cobb and Co. be requested to show cause why the contract should not be declared void under clause 14 of the general conditions of contract.
Clause 14 of the regulations reads -
The contractor shall not assign or part with his contract, or sublet the same or any part thereof, nor assign all or any part of the moneys payable or to become payable under the contract, or all or any part of any other benefit whatsoever arising, or which may arise, under the contract, e.vcept with the special licence and consent in writing of the Postmaster-General for that purpose first had and obtained ; and no such assignment without such licence and consent as aforesaid, or any agreement, contract, or covenant for the same, or any irrevocable power of attorney, or any power of attorney, coupled with an interest to receive any contract moneys, or uny part thereof respectively, shall have any effect or be recognised by the Postmaster-General, and the same respectively shall be void to all intents and purposes.
I brought this specific case under the notice of the Department, and after a considerable amount of trouble, the true facts were brought to light. Now I have evidence before me that not only one, but fifty-one, contracts have been sublet.
– But complaint is made in regard to only one.
– It is not a question of complaint being made, but a matter of principle. The point is whether we should allow any firm to enter into contracts for the conveyance of mails, and then, by subletting to other persons, secure the performance of the whole of the work for less than half the sum paid by the Department. The case to which I have referred, affords evidence on the face of it that either the man who is really doing the work is not receiving the remuneration to which he is entitled, or that the Commonwealth is paying too much for the service.
The papers indicate that it has not been thought necessary to ascertain what amount is being received by the remaining fifty subcontractors. The inquiry seems to have been for the most part conducted in the interests of the contractor rather than of the general public. It is now contended that because a large number of persons are’ affected nothing should be done; that to cancel these contracts at the present juncture would be to cause considerable public inconvenience. A plain statement of the facts was submitted to the Crown Solicitor, who declared that to all intents and purposes the case was one of sub-contracting.
– What do Cobb and Co.’s legal advisers say?
– I shall deal with that matter presently. The Crown Solicitor unhesitatingly declared that the agreements were equivalent to subletting, and contrary to clause 14. On learning of this opinion, Cobb and Co. suggested to the Crown Solicitor that he should take into consideration two sections of the Act, which, in their opinion, had some bearing on the matter. I submit, however, that those sections have absolutely nothing to do with the case which I have brought forward, and that view is supported by the opinion of the Crown Solicitor. The first opinion given by the Crown Solicitor reads as follows: -
I am of opinion on the facts submitted that the agreements made amounted to a subletting of contracts, or part of the contracts, within the meaning of the clause in Cobb and Co.’s contracts.
The sub-contractors had to carry on the contract, or part of the contract, provide plant, employ drivers, &c, and do all that sub-contractors are usually required to do. Calling the subcontractor 0. servant does not, in my opinion, alter the fact that the contract is sublet.
The contractor, Vines, had in this case entered into what was described as an agreement to hire, and it was therefore contended that he coulcl not be charged with having sublet any part of his contract. The Crown Solicitor was emphatically of opinion that the position was not altered by that fact. I do not blame the present Postmaster-General, but the papers show that the heads of the Department have been very eager to secure information to prevent the cancellation of the contracts. In every case in which the opinion has been expressed by the Crown Solicitor that the contract should be declared void, a further effort has been made to rake up evidence to support the contention that it should be allowed to continue; but the only result has been to prove additional cases of subletting. It was clearly shown that subletting had been resorted to, but the point was raised whether the position of the contractor was affected by clause 29. The matter was once more referred to the Crown Solicitor, who advised as follows : -
I am of opinion that under section 14 the subcontract is declared void, but under section 29 any breach is punishable by a deduction of a sum not exceeding £10.
Also, by clause 28, it is provided that upon any breach of the conditions (in addition to the penalties, &c), it shall be lawful for the PostmasterGeneral to determine the contract, &c.
The Department was not satisfied with that answer. The matter was referred back to Vines, who took up a very humble position, claiming that he had carried out the contract for forty years without complaint, and that that fact should be taken into consideration. The Department made a precis of the most favorable portions of Mr. Vines’ statement, and submitted it for the further opinion of the Crown Solicitor, who, with a full knowledge of everything that could be said in favour of the contractor, expressed a further opinion -
The contractors claim that the arrangement made it not a subletting, and they evidently did not look upon it as a breach of their contract. I still regard it as a subletting . with strict supervision of the work of the contractor, and my opinion is strengthened by the admission on page 3 -“ Our employes, in addition to the wages agreed upon, having in some cases the rights of traffic and other -privileges, which in most cases, are of considerable value.”
There has been no attempt on the part of the Department to ascertain whether these men receive other considerations. A statement to that effect appeared in the press ; but the person first mentioned by me immediately sent a reply that he had not received any consideration. It was at fiist alleged that Cobb and Co.’s plant was being used : then it was said that he had been given the goodwill of the road ; and, finally, that he was an employe of the company. The man, however, emphatically denied that any- one of these statements was correct, and that denial was accepted by the Department.
– But does he deny that Cobb and Co. withdrew their coaches from an opposition route and left him without competition ?
– As a matter of fact, he was on this road long before he accepted the contract in question. When the Department ascertained that there were fiftyone cases they should have endeavoured to obtain the facts in relation to the other side. The Department, however, sent letters to two or three persons,, and learned that the contractor was undoubtedly subletting. The Crown Solicitor further advised -
The employes (?) arrange to do the work the contractors agreed to do for a fixed sum ; they have, in addition, the rights of traffic and other privileges that contractors had. Surely a subcontractor could not have more?
A remarkable position was taken up by the Department. They endeavoured to obtain the support of the Crown Solicitor to their proposal that the contract should be allowed to remain in force until it expired, next year, by effluxion of time. The Crown Solicitor was asked to give an opinion as to whether the contractor might be allowed to continue, but refused to do so on the ground that a question of policy was involved. He said -
The request to allow the employes or subcontractors to continue until existing contracts are determined is outside my province, but it does not appear that the contractors thought that they were legally qualified in entering into the arrangements they did.
The Department asked that a clause should be placed in the conditions of contract to prevent the recurrence of subletting, and, in reply, the Crown Solicitor wrote - -
If a form of contract is submitted for revision, I could insert a clause that would in future prevent contractors unknowingly subletting in a way it appears to me to have been done here.
The suggestion that Cobb and Co. were not aware that the agreements made by them were equivalent to subletting, was a mere subterfuge. If they entered into them in ignorance of the fact that they were committing a breach of the law, why did they deny, in the first place, that any subletting had occurred ? Why did they leave it to be shown, beyond doubt, that sub-contracts were being let before they pleaded that they did not know that they were committing a breach of the- law? This matter is of sufficient importance to demand a thorough investigation, for where it is possible to trace fifty-one cases of subletting, it should bt possible to trace more. The Commonwealth is not possessed of such ample funds that it can afford to waste money on a powerful company. It is most difficult to secure any extension of telephone or telegraphic facilities ; and surely we should consider the public, who require more conveniences than they at present enjoy, and refuse to give special consideration to any powerful firm. I am not in a position to say how much these gentlemen have pocketed out of the transaction, but I know that the amount paid in respect of the first mail contract mentioned by me is£160 per annum. The sub-contractor, who finds the plant and does the whole of the work relating to the contract, receives only£72 per. annum. The highest contract in the list is , £235 per annum; but the Department have not made any effort to ascertain what the subcontractors receive. The only case in which they have received any information with regard to that matter is the one which I brought forward.
– If the other fifty are satisfied, would the honorable member disturb them ?
– Undoubtedly. Surely the Minister would not countenance subcontracting to this extent ? Surely he would not allow a mail contractor to secure a group of contracts and farm them out to small men at one-half the contract price?
– It is not going on for ever.
– Certainly not. I hold that the contract could be determined without inconvenience to the public. Why do not the Government make an effort to see whether they cannot secure a good service bv letting another contract? The fact is that, from these letters, it can be seen that Vines has some powerful influence at work in the Department, and when this precis has been submitted to the PostmasterGeneral, he will see that it does not clearly represent the case. Are honorable members prepared to allow a large contractor to take up forty or fifty mail contracts, and farm them out? Is that the manner in which we propose to deal with the Commonwealth services? It was admitted that this was the first instance of any such practice brought under the notice of the Department, but so glaring and unfair was the position disclosed - and the late Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Denison, will bear me out - that it was deemed sufficient ground for cancelling the contract. But the circumlocution went on. Directly there was a decision by the Crown Solicitor advising that a certain course should be taken, a letter was sent to Vines and Co. asking if that firm had any further statement to make, and the Crown Solicitor was practically begged to find some way to allow them to carry on the contract to the end of the term. This matter ought not to be allowed to rest. I am powerless to act beyond bringing the facts under the notice of the House, but I believe that honorable members will not al low this parcelling out and sweating in connexion with our mail services. If the subcontractors are receiving sufficient remuneration for the work done, why, in the name of common sense, should we be so liberal with Commonwealth funds as to put these large amounts into the pockets of the original contractors ?
– Sub-contracting is bad under any conditions.
– In the Department of Home Affairs quite recently, a contract was cancelled . for some violation of rules. No honorable member will argue that the hired agreement spoken of complies with clause 14 of the Regulations. The other two clauses referred to have quite a different bearing, dealing, as they do, with contractors who, while doing the work themselves, incur a penalty for riot carrying it out in its entirety. Clause 14 is most emphatic both as regards hired agreements and other methods of the kind which may be adopted. Time will not permit of my laying all the correspondence before the House. When I referred to the matter on the last occasion, the then Prime Minister, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, replied on behalf of the Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Denison, who was then in Tasmania. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat, having, as Prime Minister, had the matter brought under his notice, was as surprised as myself that it had not been attended to, and he said on that occasion -
The honorable member was good enough to inform me last evening that he proposed to ask this question, and I have, therefore, communicated with the Post Office officials upon the subject. I was surprised, as he must have been, to learn that the matter had not been finally dealt with. The information supplied to me is that the Department had satisfied itself of certain facts in the case, and had proceeded to take some action, when it was met by a legal difficulty
I submit that the Department has never met with any legal difficulty. If it can be shown to me from the documents here that, according to the Crown Solicitor, any legal difficulty has arisen, I will admit that there is some cause for the delay. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat went on to say - a legal difficulty, which was referred to the Crown Solicitorfor advice. That advice has been given, and action upon it will probably be taken upon the return of the PostmasterGeneral.
What was the “ legal difficulty “ referred to? It was the question as to whether this contract could be continued until the end of the term. The Crown Solicitor had stated emphatically in two previous opinions that this was subletting, and when he was asked as to the effect of clauses 28 and 36, he replied that there was a penalty of ,£10, or the contract could be determined.
– For how long are the contracts ?
– This particular contract terminates some time in 1905. I expect that wherever Cobb and Co. have their coaches running the same practice will be found in connexion with contracts. It is twelve months since I brought this matter under the notice of the House, and it is about nine months since the Crown Solicitor, for the second time, stated that under clause 14 the contract was voided. This firm, however, has continued to carry on the work under the conditions I have described. I now leave the matter in the hands of the House. I am quite positive that if inquiry were made, it would be found that these practices are not confined to the fifty-one contracts which have been mentioned. Do we, as representatives of the people, believe in sub-contracting? The group system naturally plays into the hands of the large contractors, shutting out, as it does, all competition at the hands of small contractors. There is evidence in the documents before us that Messrs. “Vines and Co. asked a man to name a price to them, and when he did so, they tendered at that price; but the man who really did the work had to sign an agreement to take so much less than the amount he had suggested in the first instance. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will see the necessity for immediate action. If such practices were carried on by a small contractor, there would be no hesitation in cancelling the contract; but simply because this happens to be a big, powerful firm-
– Nothing of the kind !
– We are now told that these practices are carried on, not in connexion with one contract, but in connexion with fifty-one contracts, and it is urged that, considering the present conditions have prevailed for so long, they ought to prevail till the end of the term. My support will never be given to the continuance of such practices, which place the small men at the mercy of the large contractors. The subcontractors are bound hand and foot to find all the necessary plant and do the work for half the money which the original contractors receive from the Government. I trust that honorable members will insist on this matter being thoroughly sifted in order that it may be ascertained how much money the original contractors are pocketing, not for doing work, but for simply writing out tenders.
– The practice to which the honorable member for Grey refers is, and has been for many years, the subject of common complaint throughout Riverina. What underlies the whole trouble is the system of grouping, which has the effect of preventing the men who really carry the mails from receiving a fair and legitimate price for the work done. The grouping system absolutely shuts out bona fide men from lodging tenders. When such men tender at a price which will pay them, a large company, which operates all over the Commonweath, puts in a group tender, and although the tender of the firm for a particular place may be low, the whole sum received from the Government is greater than it would be if it were possible for bond fide men to’ tender singly. In many cases, as the honorable member for Grey has pointed out, the subcontractors are induced to carry the mails in order to make a bare living. In the Hay and Deniliquin districts particularly, the Postal Department has for many years been asked to revert to the old system of single tenders, which would have settled all the troubles which have been described. The contracts would then be given to the men who really carry the mails, and the price paid would be sufficient to enable them to pay for the necessary plant and horse feed. I feel certain that the Postmaster-General will look into the matter, and he will then find that the practices described are not confined to South Australia, but extend to many other parts of the Commonwealth.
– I cannot believe that the Government will allow the present position to continue. Not only should immediate action be taken, but there should be a thorough investigation, in order to ascertain whether the fifty-one cases referred to this afternoon are all that can be discovered. The honorable member for Grey has pointed out that one contractor received a sum of £160, and got the work done for ^72. Either too much was paid by the Commonwealth under this contract, or the person who is really doing the work is receiving too little. I should like to know what the original contractor really does in return for the balance of ,£88. If he puts that sum into his pocket, the Commonwealth is being robbed, because he is receiving money for, apparently, no work, not even supplying the necessary coaches. The Postmaster-General interjected that no complaints have been made as to subletting. But that does not affect the question in the slightest, for the simple reason that a sub-contractor is afraid to make a complaint, no matter what he may be suffering, lest he should lose the work. It would appear from the evidence laid before us by the honorable member for Grey, that the Postal Department, instead of trying to carry out the Act, which declares that there shall be no sub-letting, has done everything possible to shield those who are committing a breach of the law which should not for one moment be tolerated. No inquiry has been made as to the opinion of the sub-contractors, and it is highly desirable that that opinion should be obtained. The hired agreement appears to me to be a mere subterfuge, and I am astounded to hear that the Department has taken no notice of the practice. Everything possible should have been done to show that this hired agreement is genuine, and at any rate to show that the Government will not countenance any attempt at an evasion of the law. I shall support the honorable member for Grey, and I trust that he will be supported by honorable members generally, not only in getting some of these contracts determined as an example, but also in securing the work for those who are performing the service. If £i6o is a fair price to pay, the man who is doing the work for £12 ought to get the larger sum.
– It will be found that the men who do the work for the lower prices always work wretchedly long hours.
– I feel satisfied that they do, and, therefore, I contend that in this case the man ought to receive the difference between the sums, if . £160 is a fair price, and thus be able to get sufficient assistance to enable him to work a reasonable number of hours, and still carry out the service efficiently.
– Does not the other man take a risk under the contract in the first instance ?
– Apparently he takes no risk-
– But in the first instance he does.
– The sub-contractors have to get bondsmen.
– It has been pointed out by the honorable member for Grey that a sub-contractor has to sign an’ agreement with the contractor.
– But, in the first instance, the man who takes the contract takes the risk of letting it at a higher or lower price.
– Apparently he is not taking any risk. He is getting from’ the Commonwealth almost twice the amount that he pays to the sub-contractor.
– That is so, but still he takes a risk.
– It is an extraordinary imposition on the Department that a firm of contractors like Cobb and Co. should in this instance put in a tender for twice the sum which they consider the work is worth. It must be so if the sub-contract is let for , £72. Of course the public do not complain, as the service is rendered in a satisfactory way. The contractor who is pocketing this large sum takes good care that the public are properly served, otherwise he would not get a contract again.
– But which of them is responsibleto the Government for the carrying out of the contract ?
– Undoubtedly the first contractor is responsible, but under the Act he has no right to sublet. The Department, it seems to me, has been trying to shelter firms which have been committing a breach of the law. Surely the honorable member for Grampians does notcountenance that.
– No; I did not know that it. was a breach of the law.
– Undoubtedly it is.
– I was under the impression that if he took the responsibility of the contract he would have the right to sublet.
– If the honorable member will look up the Act he will find that the contractor has no right to sublet, and that in the opinion of the AttorneyGeneral a breach of the law has been committed.
– But these people deny thev are sub-letting.
– I am not blaming the present Ministry, but their predecessors, who, instead of carrying out the law and determining the contracts immediately, did. all that they could to get from the AttorneyGeneral an opinion that would enable, the same state of things to be continued. I trust that the House will not countenance.- the sweating that has been going on as some honorable members have said, not for a year or two, but for forty years. Surely now is the time to take action. I am astounded to hear the Postmaster-General, by interjection, apparently showing a disinclination, to do the only thing that should be done - to do justice to the sub-contractor, to the public, and to the Commonwealth. I trust that the matter will be thoroughly investigated.
– I do not know that I should have risen but for the remarks of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, although I desire to thank the honorable member for Grey, who, during the short time that I controlled the Department, was good enough to bring under my notice the case of Vines and the Ballarat contract. He will remember that I took a considerable interest in discovering all the circumstances connected with that case, and he will admit, as the papers will show, that instead of attempting to shield the contractor. I did all that it was possible to do to bring the man into line with’ the contract, and the regulations under the Act. Neither during my term of office nor, I think, since that time has the Department desired to shield the contractor in a breach of the regulations.
– Then why get all these different opinions ?
– I presume that if the honorable member were in charge of the Department he would, before acting on his own opinion, seek the advice of the law officers as to whether there had been an infringment of the Act or the regulations. That was the first course taken by the Department, and then, as the late Prime Minister pointed out during my temporary absence. I was brought into contact with a serious legal difficulty. But, irrespective of the legal difficulty, there was the fact that the contract had been entered into for a considerable period, and that it would very shortly expire, when the PostmasterGeneral would have an opportunity to review the whole of the circumstances. Since I left the Department the other fifty cases to which the honorable member for Grey has referred have been brought under its notice. I heard of only one case, but directly I learned of its existence I did my best to secure the cancellation of that part of the contract which was sub-let, although I am not sure that that was the proper course to pursue. I presume that the Commonwealth will continue the practice which heretofore has been followed by the Department, namely, to secure the carriage of the mails through certain districts at as reasonable a rate as possible. What is the purpose in asking for tenders? Parliament insists that the Department shall let contracts for all the services to be rendered, and the object in asking for tenders is to secure a reasonable rate. If, instead of letting group contracts, every short line were let separately, I feel, sure from my experience - short in the Commonwealth, but long in Tasmania - that the contracts as a whole would cost very much more than they do when grouped.’ It will be for the House to consider, when the Postmaster-General submits his estimates, whether he shall continue the grouping system at a low rate, or whether he shall let minor contracts, and pay the contractors a higher rate .for the services rendered, arid so make ‘ the cost of that particular group of contracts very much more than it is.
– Does the honorable gentleman think that no breach of law has been committed ?
– Under these circumstances, particularly in the case of Vines, there appears to have been a breach of the regulations, and for that reason I considered it my duty to refer the whole matter to the law. officers, and I was pursuing the inquiry, when circumstances arose which caused me to leave the Department. The matter is now in the hands of my successor. I have no doubt that the officers in the Department will consider that their first duty is to secure for the Commonwealth as moderate a rate as possible for the execution of the contracts. It will, therefore, be for the Ministry to determine whether, instead of paying, say, £3,000 for the grouping of contracts, the Commonwealth shall pay £4.000 for separate contracts over shorter distances.
– This is not a question of rates, but a question of breach of contract, and of the contractor paying only one-half of what he receives to the’ subcontractors.
– Then will be considered that other very important point, with respect to the other fifty sublettings of contracts of which we hear, but of which, apparently, no complaint has been made by the sub-contractors, and that is whether the Minister will not be doing a mischief to the sub-contractors, rather than giving them any advantage in determining the contracts. Very many of them, it must be remembered, are in poor circumstances, and have to provide their own horses and vehicles.
– There is no doubt about that, and their poor circumstances are taken advantage of in very many instances.
– Poor circumstances are taken advantage of in all cases where work is let under contract.
– Unless proper conditions are made.
– All the interjections I have heard from honorable members during the last few minutes suggest that, in their ‘opinion, the Commonwealth should not seek to get its work done at the lowest price, but at a price which is most convenient to a great number of the small contractors.
– We should see that men who work for the Commonwealth are properly paid, and work reasonable hours.
– -I am satisfied that what is running in the minds of these honorable members is a desire to serve a number of small contractors. It must be apparent to us all that it is to the interest of the Commonwealth to get the work done at as low a rate as possible, instead of giving to a great number of small contractors the opportunity of tendering at a higher rate. If that is to be the policy of the Government the expenditure of the Department will be very much in excess of what it is. I think that the House should be satisfied to leave the matter where it is. I trust that the honorable member for Grey, having again called attention to the circumstances, will not press his motion for adjournment. I suggest that he should either ask for an inquiry into all the circumstances, or that honorable members should be given full particulars of the report from the Department, and of the papers in the case, before they are called upon to express an opinion. ;
– Will the honorable gentleman call for an inquiry?
– No ;. there will be no occasion for taking that course, I think, after the honorable member has called attention to the matter. I am quite satisfied that the Minister will see that justice is fully done, but I hope that, before he decides to make a change in the direction indicated, he will give the House an opportunity of reading the full report from the Department on the services which have been referred to, as well as a full report on each case, and a statement showing the amounts which have been received by the fifty men who have been spoken .of, and who have, apparently, made no complaint.
– It is not a question of complaint, but a question of what they are getting for their work.
– With, this information in their possession, honorable members would be in a position to make a comparison, and to ascertain whether the contractor was making out of the subcontractors anything like the proportion which it is said is made out of the contract with Vines. I imagine that it will be found that the contractors for the whole of these groups are not making a sum so serious as that which is made in connexion with the case of Vines. We all know that during the last two years this firm has made a serious loss over their contracts throughout Australia. I am not speaking of the loss of a few hundred pounds, but of a loss of some thousands of pounds. On one occasion my predecessor had to consider whether the contracts of this firm should not be cancelled, or whether he should make a serious reduction in their favour, so that, although one case may be pointed out where there appears to be such, an extraordinary dissimilarity between tha amount paid and the amount contracted for, yet it is one case out of fifty or sixty, and we shall find that on an average there has been no such dissimilarity. If, before the consideration of the Estimates for the Department is commenced, all the papers in these cases are laid upon the table, honorable members will be in the position to judge how far the claim which is set up by the honorable member for Grey is a fair one, and how far they consider it desirable to stop the system which has hitherto existed of letting contracts in groups rather than separately.
– The honorable member for Denison, with his intimate experience, has, I think, put this matter very well, that is as to whether we should do away with these large group contracts, or whether we should call for special contracts for every small postal line. I do not intend to go into the question referred to by .the honorable member for Hindmarsh. I do not know that any illegality has been committed. I am not one to raise my voice in favour of the commission of an illegality. But to my mind it is a question as to whether these subcontractors are not better in the hands of lar?,e contractors than in taking a contract from the Government.
– No; the point is, has there been a breach of the law ?
– That is quite another question.
– And let the main contractor take more than half the money ?
– In every line of business a contractor takes a big risk. He may make a profit on one line, and a loss on another. I have risen to give a concrete instance which came within my own knowledge, and which illustrates what might occur if the system of allowing small contracts to be taken, direct from the Government were enforced. In the district which I represent a mail contract was accepted at so low a rate that the guarantors had to come in and take it over from the original contractor.
– That frequently occurs.
– I have no doubt that it does. I do not remember who was PostmasterGeneral at the time to which I refer, but the guarantors asked me to look into the matter, to see if anything could be done for them. The original contractor, whom they had guaranteed, was unable to carryon the service, partly because of the high price he was called upon to pay for horsefeed on account of the drought, and the guarantor who had to take over the service from him, and who knew nothing whatever about the work, asked me for advice.
– Every sub-contractor has to find a substantial man to back him up.
– The only advice I could give was to submit to the first loss, and to get out of the affair in the best way they could. As I have said, they knew nothing about running a mail service, and had no horses of their own, so that they were actually losing on every week’s working. A company such as Cobb and Co., however, would probably take all the circumstances of a case into consideration. They would not be bound by hard and fast lines.
– We know that companies generally do take all the circumstances of a case into consideration.
-There are liberal men connected with the management of companies, just as there are liberal men elsewhere; and in the case of the failure of a subcontractor there are no guarantors to suffer hardship. If the sub-contractors fail, the principals carry on the service themselves, or find some one else to do so. If the sub letting of contracts is made illegal, the Department will be bound to a system under which separate contracts will have to be let in many cases for lines of five or ten miles in length. At the present time, by reason of the disorganization of the railway service in Victoria, through the discontinuance of trains, a number of small road services have had to be arranged by the Postal Department; but the persons employed are not a whit better off than they would be in the hands of a contractor such as Messrs. Cobb and Co. It seems to me that it would be. absurd to put on one side a firm such as that of Cobb and Co., which, under several managements, has been taking contracts ever since I was a boy. But if we make subletting illegal, that is what must happen. The Department will be bound to let out the mail services in small contracts throughout the whole Commonwealth.
– Why not?
– One reason why they should not is that such an arrangement would increase the cost of the service as a whole, and would not be as efficient as that which at present obtains.
– In Queensland it has decreased the cost.
– My recollection of the Victorian mail coach services is a pretty long one. Those services have always been good, and we are now falling back upon them again, in some of the country districts, in place of the railway service, because they are more frequent. I do not see how we can get along without letting large contracts. The honorable member for Grey has given only a few instances of subletting.
– I have mentioned fifty - one cases.
– There has been only one complaint.
– It is not a question of complaint ; it is a matter of principle. Do honorable members believe in the subletting of contracts?
– If contractors are not guilty of an illegal act in subletting, we cannot prevent them from doing so, unless we change the law.
– The Crown’ Solicitor says that they are guilty of an illegal act.
– The Postmaster-General has not said so. The question resolves itself into a consideration as to whether it is better that the large contractors should be abolished. I feel myself that the small sub-contractors are no worse off in the hands of the large contractors than they are in the hands of the Government, and I speak from personal experience in the case I have mentioned.
– I do not complain of the action of the honorable member for Grey in calling attention to this matter, because there are undoubtedly some very important principles bound up in this apparently trivial case. In the first place, as the late PostmasterGeneral pointed out, the question arises whether large contracts should be let in groups, or each individual mail service separately advertised by the Department. The subject is so important that I think this is not a proper occasion for its discussion. Such an occasion will arise when the Estimates of the Postmaster-General are under consideration. There is little doubt in my mind, and there can be little doubt in the mind of any one who has considered the matter, that to let every individual mail contract to a separate contractor would largely increase the cost of the postal services of the Commonwealth. That being so, I think that the matter is one with which the House should deal on an occasion when honorable members are prepared for its consideration, and not in connexion with the discussion of the isolated case brought under notice by the honorable member for Grey. He has referred to ihe Ballarat-Rokewood contract as being beyond doubt a case of subletting, and I understood him to say that the contractors themselves have admitted the fact.
– The contractors do not admit it, but the Crown Solicitor does.
– The . Crown Solicitor considered it a case of subletting, but the contractors do not. They say -
In form our agreements are for hiring and service. We also affirm that they are such in substance and fact, and were certainly intended as agreements for ‘ services at specified wages. All our dealings with the employes named have been strictly as between master and servant.
There is no admission there of subletting.
– The contractors are not likely to make such an admission.
– These contracts will expire within a few months.
– It is twelve months since I first drew attention to the matter, and it will be another twelve months -before the contracts expire. .
– I am informed that they will all expire very shortly. / ‘
– They will expire about the middle of 1905.
– That is not my information. The practical consideration which confronted me was this, that if the Department had cancelled this particular contract^ it would have had to defend an action at law.
– Has the honorable member no faith in the Crown Solicitor?
– I have the utmost faith in him ; but his opinion would not save the Department from the cost of defending an action at law, if we cancelled the contract, and I am doubtful whether we are justified in putting the public to that expense.
– How does the honorable member propose to prevent the same thing being done again with the next contracts ?
– I should say the best way will be to submit the whole matter to the House, and to allow honorable members to say whether these mail contracts shall be let in groups, or separately.
– The question is not whether they should be let in groups, but whether they should be sub-let.
– There can be very little subletting if there is no letting in groups to large contractors. I do not express any opinion on the subject now, though I must say that the group system has worked fairly well in the interests of the public, and certainly of the Department, and should not be judged by an isolated ‘case. I say that in all kindness and consideration to the honorable member for Grey. He has also drawn attention to the disparity between the amount paid to the sub-contractor and the amount received by the contractor; but my information is that the sum of ^72 a year given to the sub-contractor is not the only consideration which he received. I” am informed that Messrs. Cobb and Co. agreed to withdraw their coaches from the mail line on which Mr. Leviston was running his coaches.
– Messrs. Cobb and Co. are running their coaches there to-day. The honorable member takes exception to Mr. Vines’- evidence, but he will not take notice of the other man’s statement.
– I do not know either party. I am stating the facts as they have been furnished to me by officers of the Department.
– The official papers show that Mr. Leviston denies that emphatically.
– I have not seen the documents to which the honorable member refers. ‘ I have here a statement compiled from the official papers by the Secretary to the Department.
– It does not state the case fully.
– As the honorable member has not seen the paper from which I am about to read, it is rather rash for him to say that it does not fully state the case. I hope he will allow me to read it before he forms his opinion. This paper was prepared by the Secretary to the Department, who, like myself, knows neither party, and is absolutely impartial. It contains this statement -
In the case brought under notice by Mr. Poynton, a complaint appears to have been made to him on behalf of Mr. Leviston, who entered into an agreement with Cobb and Co. to carry on that particular service, Ballarat and Rokewood, for £72 per annum, for which Cobb and Co., as contractors, were receiving £160 per annum. There was, however, a further consideration, Cobb and Co. withdrawing their coaches, which were being run in opposition to Leviston, and transferring to him their business on that road, and the good-will thereto.
– Mr. Leviston has emphatically denied that.
– How did the honorable member find that out?
– I do not know how that information was obtained - whether by a Mahatma or not - but it is certainly not here.
– The Department should obtain its information from Mr. Leviston, as well as from Cobb and Co.
– I presume that the information which I have read has been gathered from the official papers in the case, and from the testimony of the postal inspector of the district.
– It is a very one-sided statement.
– The Secretary to the Department continues -
Even if Leviston made a bad bargain, and this is not shown, it is scarcely a fair thing to endeavour to bring pressure to bear upon the Department without making any complaint or statement to either the Department or any of its officers.
– Are we to understand that unless a sub-contractor complains, the practice of sub-letting would be allowed to continue?
– Why did he not complain to the Department if he had a grievance? He seems to have gone to a Member of Parliament instead.
– Some honorable members appear to have interpreted my interjection as to no objection having been lodged by other sub-contractors as indicating a state of mind which certainly does not exist so far as I am concerned. All I say is that, in the absence of objections on the part of the alleged sub-contractors,- and the public, there is every reason to suppose that the arrangement is working satisfactorily. It has been going on for thirty years, and this apparently is the first time it has been challenged. If the persons who are carrying on the work are content, and the public convenience is fully studied, is there no good reason why the present arrangement should not be allowed to continue?
– But why should subletting be permitted, whilst we have a regulation providing that there shall be no subcontracting ?
Mr- MAHON.- It is denied that there has been sub-letting. The Crown Solicitor, of course, says that there has been a breach of the regulations, but the contractor says that he has not sublet, and threatens that if we cancel this particular contract he will take action at law.
– That does not appear from the papers.
– It is somewhere in the official papers.
– It does not appear among them now.
– All I can say is that Mr. Vines threatens legal proceedings if we interfere with his contract, and that, as a practical man, I object to involve the Department in very heavy law expenses in regard to a contract which will expire within a verv few months. Possibly it will save time if I read the rest of the remarks made by the Secretary of the Department in his memorandum. He there gives the reasons which have largely- guided me. He says -
In view of the fact that there are so many services which may be said to be in the same category - sublet - that no other complaints have been made by any of the parties concerned, or by the public, who appear to be well served, and especially in consideration of the fact that in order to redress the grievance of one individual, fifty others would be _deprived of their business, and probably their means of livelihood.
– The Minister knows that that is not correct.
– That is a bit of special pleading.
– Honorable members must recognise that if these contracts are cancelled, it does not follow that the men who are now carrying on the work will secure them, and thus be able to continue in their present occupation. To that extent the statement of the Secretary to the Department is quite accurate.
– But some other men would get the contracts.
– The memorandum proceeds - that to cancel so many services could not but lead to considerable confusion and public inconvenience, and probably also to increased expense, while the Crown Solicitor is satisfied that Cobb and Co., acting on the advice of their solicitor, were satisfied that then- agreement under which the contracts were sublet, was not illegal, and in view of this, any action on the part of the Department adverse to them would probably be contested in the Law Courts.
There is the statement to which I referred.
– That is not definite; it is all bluff.
– The memorandum proceeds -
The Postmaster-General thought it better to allow these contracts to continue under the existing conditions until they expire shortly, and, in the meantime, to have the conditions of contract so revised as to preclude subletting of any kind, whether colorable or otherwise.
– Has the Minister alreadydecided to allow the contracts to be completed ?
– The Secretary says that the “ Postmaster-General thought it better. ‘ ‘ I have not yet arrived at any decision in the matter. The memorandum concludes as follows : -
It may be as well to state that nothing was known of the practice complained of in the PostmasterGeneral’s office until this solitary case was brought under his notice, and that it does not extend beyond the State of Victoria.
– We have evidence that it does extend.
– It extends into New South Wales.
– It may so extend, for the reason mentioned by the honorable member for Grey, namely, that the contracts are let in groups. This House ought to decide whether that principle shall be followed. The burden of that responsibility should not be placed upon an individual Minister. If the House determines that it is inadvisable to let contracts in groups, and that each individual service shall be the subject of a special contract to different individuals, the’ course to be pursued by the Postmaster-
General will be perfectly clear. If we interfered in the case referred to we should disarrange all the mail services around Ballarat, and involve the Department in a lawsuit, and it was owing to my desire to avoid these consequences that I hesitated to take action.
– When the Post and Telegraph Bill was under consideration, the question of mail contracts engaged a good deal of attention. The position in Queensland was such that the system of calling for tenders resolved itself into merely a matter of form, because, owing to the grouping of the contracts, Cobb and Co. were able to secure nearly all of them. We were then told by the Minister representing the Postmaster-General that there would be no more grouping. The defence which has been offered by the Postmaster-General is one of the weakest I have ever heard from a Minister. I am sure that if he were not on the Treasury benches he would not accept as satisfactory the statement which he has himself made. The grouping system is one of the most pernicious that could be permitted.
– I am not responsible for the grouping.
– But the Department over which the Minister presides is responsible. The honorable member for Grampians has put the matter very nicely for the contractor, but very badly for the sub-contractor. The honorable member for Grey has mentioned a case, in which the contractor is paid ;£i6o per annum, and gets the work done by a sub-contractor for ^72. The honorable member for Grampians is not so simple as to suppose that the subcontractor is not required to pay for forage for his horses. Does he think for a moment that the contractor would let a contract, and provide forage for the horses engaged in performing the work? The contractor is the “ butter -box man,” who comes between the Government and the sub-contractor He scoops the pool all the time, and the other poor devil has’ to do all the work. This is another Victorian swindle which needs exposure, and the sooner it is done away with the better. I am surprised that the honorable member for Grampians should stand up to defend the subletting system. I always looked upon him as one of the fairest men in -this Chamber, and yet he is apparently willing that the subcontractors should be robbed of half of the amount to which they are entitled. Theman who is doing nothing is getting all the money, whilst the man who is doing the work is receiving nothing. Only two years ago, in Queensland, Cobb and Co., the great firm which was said to be the only one which could run the mails in thai State, wanted to filch £30,000 from ihe Commonwealth. They said that they would not run any more coaches unless they received that amount of money. But the Postmaster-General was firm with them, and told them that if they did not perform their work he would re-let the contracts at their peril. He took this action with regard to some of the services, and Cobb and Co. had to cave in. Last year, when tenders were called for for the mail services in Queensland, every man had the same chance, because the contracts were not grouped, and now we. find that many of the services are being conducted at half the cost involved under the old system. Instead of one firm running the whole of the coaches in Queensland, the services are performed by hundreds of men, and this has proved of benefit, not only to the Commonwealth, but to the travelling public. In the old days, under the Cobb and Co. regime the fare between Winton and Longreach was 50s., and travellers had to be very civil in order to obtain a place on the coaches. Now they can go to and fro for £1 or 10s. each way. Cobb and Co. are monopolists of the worst kind.
– The Cobb and Co. Proprietary is not the same all over Australia.
– It is practically the same firm in New South Wales and Queensland.
– But not in Western Australia.
– It does not matter whether the same individuals are concerned. Cobb and Co. is, in each case, a syndicate, and big syndicates have no souls, and do not care how they grind the money out. so long as they pay big dividends. The right honorable member for Swan said there was no real grievance, because the man who was running the coach between Ballarat and Rokewood did not complain. The right honorable gentleman has been sp accustomed to breaking the law that he is rather surprised when people object to that being done. Tlie law has been broken in connexion with these contracts.
– Where is the proof of that?
– The honorable member for Grey spoke for over half an hour, and gave information which should have proved sufficient to demonstrate that the regulations had been broken.
– The Minister says that that is not so.
– Sufficient proof has been given not only of sweating, but of lawbreaking, on the part of the contractors.The regulations specifically state that there shall be no subletting, and I am satisfied that the Postmaster-General has a perfectly good case upon which to proceed. I was very sorry to hear him shield himself behind the plea that if he took action theCommonwealth would be involved in law costs. Such threats, as have been made, should not frighten the Minister. If he is determined to give us honest, fair, and square administration, he should see that tlie regulations are strictly adhered to.
– I quite agree with the honorable member for Maranoa that the defence offered by the Postmaster-General was very weak. Notwithstanding the statement of the Secretary to the Postmaster-General, as to what the Minister thought best, he tells us that he has not yet arrived at a decision. He said, further, that although the law is against the subletting of contracts, he does not propose to see that it shall be fully carried out.
– He is practically carrying out the decision arrived at by a colleague of the honorable member’ in the Deakin Ministry.
– All I can say is that if my colleague acted in such a manner, I should condemn him, and it is idle for the Prime Minister to endeavour to bolster up the case of the Postmaster-General in that way. I ask him whether he does not agree with the honorable member for Maranoa that his colleague made a very weak defence? We have already condemned the grouping of mail contracts, and the Prime Minister has expressed himself strongly against that system.
– I still condemn it.
– If that be so, why should the Postmaster-General tell us that we should not throw the responsibility of saying whether the system is good or bad upon him? That is one of the matters regarding which the Minister ought to take the full responsibility.
– I contend that it is for the House to decide.
Mr- CHAPMAN.- The House has already decided the matter, and the country is entirely opposed to the system. It is idle to contend that the grouping of mail contracts results in a saving of money to the Commonwealth. We should aim at securing open competition, and accept the lowest tender from a legitimate contractor. The system of grouping contracts renders it impossible for a small contractor to put in a tender, and consequently he can secure employment in this way only by accepting a sub-contract.
– What is the honorable member’s opinion of subletting?
– I am opposed to the principle. Although it might occasionally be necessary for the Department to resort to what might be considered a harsh proceeding in order to avoid subletting, I certainly think that it should discountenance the system, and trust that the Minister will reconsider his decision. I “hope that he will recognise the temper of the House. If he is not prepared to accept the responsibility now is the time to give him a plain intimation, before the Estimates of the Department are submitted, that we will not permit the grouping system to continue. All contractors should be placed on an equal footing, and if that be done there will be no cause for complaint. The principal charge levelled against the Department has not been answered bv the Postmaster-General. I do not say that he is responsible for the system of which, complaint is made, but I certainly think that the admission that he is not prepared to take the responsibility of determining this matter is a weak one.
– How could I be expected to accept the responsibility for something which occurred before the present Government took office?
– I do not say that the honorable gentleman should. I ‘am not blaming him for what has taken place ; but I certainly condemn the attitude taken up by him in contending that the question of whether grouping should be permitted is a matter for the determination of the House.He said that we could not expect any individual Minister to take the responsibility.
– We have already decided the matter.
– That is my contention, and I hope that the Minister will recognise, in the opinions expressed during this debate, an indication that the House considers that the grouping system should not be continued. A serious statement was made bythe honorable member for Grey, who urged that the contractor in the case referred to was an influential man, and that favoritism was being shown.
– He is an influential man.
– Are we to understand that the honorable member alleges that the officers of the Department deny to others the treatment which they extend to this contractor? The charge made by him should be inquired into ; the Government should make sure that the supervision of mail contracts and everything associated with them is above suspicion. Unless every man is treated impartially, what opportunity will small contractors have to secure mail contracts? I have had some experience of the way in which large contractors act. I know that they secure a large number of mail contracts, and force the small contractors to take subcontracts at much lower rates. If the Department called- for tenders, and wealthy firms were the lowest tenderers, it would be difficult to prevent them from taking up groups of contracts, but I hold that the Department should do its utmost to prevent the adoption of that system. It is attended not only by the pernicious results to which reference has been made, but tends to create monopolies. In the hour of need - when, because of drought, fodder is dear,, and other difficulties beset the contractor who has taken up a group of mail contracts he is likely to say to the Department - “ Give me some concession, or run the risk of having your mail services in remote parts of the Commonwealth paralyzed.”
– An incident of that kind has actually occurred.
– I am aware of that. A number of serious charges has been made against the Department, and I hope ihat the Postmaster-General will inquire into them. Long before the Minister came into office, great dissatisfaction with the way in which the Department conducted its business was expressed. I do not blame the Minister for this condition of affairs, and I am sure no one doubts that he is anxious to mete out fair play ; but charges against the Department have frequently been made by the public. It is said that the management is unsatisfactory.. There is undoubtedly a feeling of unrest on the part of the people, and the opinion is general that a thorough inquiry into the administration of the Department is necessary. I have a number of minor complaints to make against it, but shall refrain from mentioning them until “ grievance day.” The honorable member for Grey has done good service in bringing this matter forward, because it affects all contractors. We wish to know whether there is any ground for the charge of partiality, and we wish the Minister to say that there shall be no more grouping, but that every one shall have an opportunity to tender for our mail contracts. If that system be adopted, we shall secure the most effective service at the most reasonable cost, and all cause for complaint will disappear.
– I do not think that the Postmaster-General should be held wholly blameworthy in respect of the system of which complaint has been made. There is a good deal to be said in favour of the practice of allowing a responsible firm to take up a number of contracts, for if the Department does j not secure a strong financial firm to deal with them, it is likely in times of stress to be placed in a very awkward position. I hold, however, that care should be taken to prevent subletting to the extent to which I believe the practice at present prevails. It has been urged that, instead of grouping a number of contracts, it would be better to invite small contractors to tender separately, and to accept the lowest tender. I disagree with the contention that it is desirable in every case to accept the lowest tender, for the adoption of that practice would, in a great number of cases, result in the worst form . of sweating. In many districts a man accepts a mail contract at so low a rate that it is necessary for him to sweat every one employed in connexion with it. Under the grouping system, no firm should be allowed to sublet a contract at sweating rates. If the system is to continue the Department should be informed of any proposal to sublet a contract, and subletting should not take place without the express approval of the Department. The Department would take care that a contract was not sublet at a price that would not allow a man to carry out the work under reasonable conditions.
– No subletting.
– I do not think that my honorable friend realizes the magnitude of the postal service of Australia.
– The honorable member for Hume spoke against subletting when the Post and Telegraph Bill was before the House.
– I am not in favour of subletting as a general rule, but the Department should have a full knowledge of the cases in which it is resorted to. and should see that the prices paid will enable the sub-contractor to carry out the work without resorting to sweating. In travelling in various parts of Australia I have often found mail coaches so underhorsed and under-manned as to render a long journey both difficult and trying. That should not be the case ; but when I have spoken to the drivers of these coaches, or to the contractors, they have invariably replied, “ What could you expect at the price we are getting?” ‘
– If they do not receive a reasonable rate they have no one to blame but themselves.
– I agree that that is so. and for that reason I am not in favour of the Department accepting, in every case, the lowest tender.
– Why should the Government pay two persons in respect of one contract ?
– The distribution of a number of mail contracts, relating to remote parts of the Commonwealth, might perhaps be carried out to better advantage by a sound financial firm than by the Government. Such a firm would probably carry out the system better than would the Government, and could be compelled to observe the full conditions of the contracts. The honorable member for Maranoa has referred to the attempt made by Cobb and Co. to rid themselves of the responsibility for a mail service in Queensland, owing to the difficulties which they experienced as the result of the long-continued drought. No doubt they lost money in connexion with the contract.
– Some contractors were ruined.
-Doubtless Cobb and Co. lost money in connexion with the service in question, but their contracts were not cancelled. Had those contracts been let separately, no doubt, the whole’ system would have gone by the board.
An Honorable Member. - What about the guarantor?
– I have had considerable experience of guarantors of contracts, and have ‘found them in manycases to be men of straw. I wish it to bedistinctly understood that I am , not infavour of the Department invariably accepting the lowest tender. The officers of the Department should fix what is a fair rate to allow for an effective service. If that were done we should have no sweating, and the service as a whole would be improved.
– How would the honorable member distribute the contracts?
– It seems to me that in certain cases the Government would not be able to distribute the contracts as well as would a strong financial firm. It is for that reason that I think that, with the exception of services in respect of the more freely settled districts of the Commonwealth, the system of accepting tenders for a number of contracts from a strong financial firm is better than that of accepting separate tenders for small services from individual contractors who have no financial backing. In my own electorate; - and, indeed, in many parts of New South Wales - small contractors are not receiving half as much as they should in respect of mail services.
– Many of them have taken contracts at starvation rates.
– Quite so; and the position will become more acute. In many localities men who submit tenders for the carriage of mails look upon a contract merely as a means of securing wages, and fail to give any consideration to alterations of season. Some little latitude should be allowed the Department. There should not be a hard-and-fast rule that in all cases the lowest tender shall be accepted, for if that system were adopted it would be of no benefit either to the public or to the contractors. The officers of the Department should be able to estimate what is a fair amount to pay in respect of any service. I would remind the honorable member for Franklin, who interjected just now, that I know of a case in his own electorate in which a contractor took up a mail contract at a starvation rate.
– It ruined him.
– If a strong financial man had been behind him that would not have happened.
– How would the honorable member decide to whom a tender should be given?
– I think the Department should be advised of any proposal to sublet a contract. Representative firms should not be allowed to sublet at starvation rates. If the subletting, however, is at a fair price, I should have no objection to the practice, because I firmly believe that in various parts of Australia the work can be better carried out in that way than under the direct supervision of the Postal Department, the offi cials of which may be many hundreds 0; thousands of miles away. The Department ought to have somewhat of a free hand, always providing that there areno starvation sub-contracts, and that the. Commonwealth does not lose a large sum byallowing group contracts to be farmed out at large profits to individuals. But we must not forget that those large firms have to undertake financial responsibility. They are answerable for the proper carriage of the mails, which, if the Department does its duty, must be accomplished, no matter what are the variations of the season. On this account those large firms are entitled to some consideration. Having regard to all the circumstances, I think that some alteration is necessary, though I cannot agree with the honorable member for Grey that every contract, no matter how small, should be direct with the Government.
Mr.Mcwilliams (Franklin). -I have great sympathy with the PostmasterGeneral, because this is really one of the most difficult administrative matters with which a Minister can be Called upon to deal. In districts where there are no railways, and where so large a proportion of the travelling public depend on the vehicles which convey the mails, this question is one of great importance. But I protest against the Department being allowed to use their judgment as to who shall or who shall not receive contracts. Such a discrimination would open the door - I will not say to fraud or improper influence, but to charges that contracts were given to or taken from persons on account, it might be, of political influence.
– The Department is not compelled now to accept the lowest tender.
– And in some cases the Department does not accept the lowest tender.
– In all States where there is political honesty and good government a Department will not take a contract from one’ person and give it to another, unless for very strong and proper reasons. But if a hard-and-fast line were to be applied now in the way suggested by the honorable member for Grey, I am afraid that very serious injustice might result.
– I do not suggest anything of the kind. I suggest that this man’s contract should be forfeited, because he has deliberately broken his agreement.
– If we draw a hard-and-fast line, a very serious injustice may be done, not to the man who sublets the contract, but to the man to whom it is sublet.
– The honorable member’s consideration is all for the man who sublets.
– I am as absolutely opposed as is the honorable member for Grey to subletting, and I ‘go with him to the full extent of his denunciation of the practice. But, if this rule is to be applied, I ask the Postmaster-General to show some consideration to the small. man who has taken the sublet contract, and has bought his eight, ten, twelve, or, it may. be, twenty horses, and made other provisions for carrying it out. If we are now to have a clean slate, and offer contracts for competition again, the small man now doing the work may be shut out altogether.
– The small man is protected for the period over which he has agreed with the contractor.
– The honorable member for Franklin would rather allow the original contractor to pocket the difference all the time.
– No ; I would not.
– That is what is occurring.
– In Tasmania, there was a system - I do not know whether it is now applied in Commonwealth contracts - which answered very well indeed. Alternative contracts were always called for, one for the whole group, and one for each line. In some cases, the smaller contracts were infinitely preferable, while in other cases it was found better to let the whole in one group. Whatever we do, we ought to see that there is not encouraged a great monopoly by one or two large firms, who compel the* small contractors, in order to get any work, to take sub-contracts.
– That is exactly what is happening.
– Sometimes in Tasmania when a contract for a main line, say, from A to B, has been let, and the running over small roads to isolated townships has been sublet, it is found that the sub-contractor really gets more from the original contractor than he would under a direct contract with the Government. Unfortunately, the large- contractors generally endeavour to monopolize the best paying roads, and, to use an American phrase, “ freeze out “ the small contractor every time. It is a common practice for one firm to put in four or five different tenders, and when it is found that two or three of those tenders are too high, to simply forfeit the deposits on them, and accept the contract at the lower figure of one of the remaining tenders. I know that such a practice is not recognised or allowed, but all who have practical experience know that it is resorted to in all kinds of contracts. So long as there is open competition, there would be very great difficulty in drawing any hard-and-fast rule, which would protect the contractor, and allow him to get a fair price. I would far rather see contractors lose occasionally, or see occasional inconvenience and injustice, than I would allow a public Department to discriminate between tenderers, and decide what price was to be remunerative. There have been serious complaints from time to time in the different States, and even in the Commonwealth itself, that favoritism has been shown in the matter of mail contracts. Personally, I do not say there is any ground for the complaint. But such a charge was made, and is commonly made, because the Department, in the exercise of its judgment, gives a contract to one person in preference to another. I should like the Postmaster-General to bear in mind that if a hard-and-fast rule is to be applied, some consideration should be shown to the men who have already taken sub-contracts., and made all preparation for carrying out the work. Whatever punishment may be inflicted on the man who sublets, it ought not to extend to the man who has taken a subcontract, and is prepared to carry it outto the best of his ability.
Question resolved in the negative.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– In answer to the right honorable member, I desire to state - 1 and 2. Yes, so far as available from the State returns. ,
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– In answer to the honorable member’s questions I desire to state -
A letter, forwarding the report, has been received. I have the papers with me, and will be prepared to allow the honorable member to peruse them.
The papers will also be available for the press, but as they are rather voluminous, we do not think it advisable to have them printed.
Treasurer, upon notice -
Cable Company; and, if so, what amount?
– The answers to the right honorable members questions are as follow : -
£9,000 per annum. 3.£23,870 per annum.
An amount of£6,000 is paid annually for mail service to the New Hebrides and other Pacific Islands, which do not include the Gilbert Islands. 5.No.
An amount of£30,172 14s.9d. has been paid to the Imperial Government in respect of loss on the business of the Pacific Cable, up to 31st March, 1903.
I may say that the amount . of that loss is divided between the original contracting States of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria.
– Is the . £30,000 a Commonwealth loss?
– None of that loss is borne by the Commonwealth, but is borne by the States interested. The £30,000 is paid by the Commonwealth nominally, but really on behalf of the three States interested.
asked the Prime Minister,upon notice -
– In answer to the honorable member’s questions, I desire to state that-
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether he will place on the table of the House a report on the working of his Department for- 1901,1902, and 1903, and henceforth submit such report annually ?
– The answer to the right honorable member’s question is as follows : -
It is estimated that the cost of the compilation of an annual report of the Department will be £400 per annum, exclusive of printing ; the matter is under consideration.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– In answer to the honorable member’s questions. I have to state - 1 and 2. The late Treasurer, in 1901, was furnished by the Departments with a return which showed that the additional expense which would be incurred by the Departments if salaries of officers receiving £150 per annum and under were paid fortnightly would be £3,068 per annum. Later estimates show that it would cost an additional £100 in the Postmaster-General’s Department, making the total £3,168. In view of the cost involved in the proposed alteration, it is not proposed to make any change in the present practice.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member’s question, I have to state -
The expense of preparing such a report would be considerable, and altogether out of proportion to its utility.
If the right honorable member desires any special information regarding the Department, I shall be happy to have it prepared for him.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
If he will prepare and present to Parliament in print, and distribute among members, a return showing the transactions in money orders through the Post Offices between the several States, and also between the several States and other countries for the years 1901,1902, 1903?
– In reply to the honorable member’s question, I have to state -
The return asked for will be prepared as soon as possible, and laid on the table of the House.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– In answer to the honorable member’s questions, I have to state -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 21st June, vide page 2520):
Clause 48, as amended -
The Court, by its award, or by order made on the application of any party to the proceedings before it, at any time in the period during which the award is binding, may -
prescribe a minimum rate of wages or remuneration, and in that case shall on the application of any party to the industrial dispute or of any organization or party bound by the award make provision for enabling some tribunal specified in the award or order to fix, in such manner and subject to such conditions as are specified in the award or order, a lower rate in the case of employees who are unable to earn the minimum wage so prescribed ; and
direct that as between members of organizations of employers or employes and other persons offering or desiring service or employment at the same time, preference shall be given to such members, other things being equal ; and
appoint a tribunal to finally decide in what cases an employer or employé to whom any such direction applies may employ or be employed by a person who is not a member of any such organization.
Upon which Mr. Johnson had moved by way of amendment -
That paragraphs b and c be left out.
-As the time of honorable members has been so much occupied this afternoon in considering the question of subletting,it is, perhaps, appropriate to inquire whether it is necessary or desirable for us to sub-let so much of the business proposed by this Bill to the trade unions of Australia. I am quite aware, as has been stated, that one of the great objects of the measure is the facilitating and encouraging of organization; but I take it that the only organization which should be encouraged is one for the purposes of this Bill, and not for other purposes.
Now, a trades union organization is for other purposes. In some cases that purpose is to provide benefits ; in many cases the purpose is political, and a large proportion of the subscription paid goes not to purposes such as this Bill provides for, but to other purposes which are not included within its provisions. Not only, in my opinion, could associations be formed altogether independent of trades unions, for the purposes of the Act, but it could be done at a much less subscription by the members of the associations than the subscription to the trades union, which necessarily is larger than would be required for the purposes of the Act, because the purposes of the union are considerably more extensive. I am not one of those who say that men should not be compelled to do something for the benefit of the community. I can quite see that if the measure is to be as beneficial as its ardent supporters think it will, it will be perfectly right to compel members of the industrial classes and employers in those classes to do something. But the question is, should that compulsion not be strictly confined to what is necessary for the purposes of the measure which enforces the compulsion? Should we not merely say that a man shall join an organization for the purposes of the Act only, and that he shall not be required to join an organization for benefit purposes, when, perhaps, he has already provided himself with benefits in a friendlysociety, or to join an organization which is political in its association, as some unions are, when he is absolutely opposed to the political policy which it supports? That seems reasonable.
– Nearly impracticable, I think.
– I think I can show the Prime Minister that it is quite practicable, and more easily practicable than the provisions of the Bill. Surely it is a reasonable conclusion. If so, then a proposal to compel men - because it is practically compulsion, if it can be decided that employment is to be given to only unionists - to join a body which has purposes other than those for which they join, and probably purposes antagonistic to those in which they believe, is one that ought not to meet with the approval of honorable members. It has been interjected by the Prime Minister that these organizations need not necessarily be trades unions. In theory that is quite true, but in practice it will be .found that they are trades unions. When this Bill becomes law, just as was the case in New South Wales, it will be found that certain existing trades unions will claim to represent the employes in particular callings. Although they may form only a small proportion of these employes, still they will claim to be an organization which can represent them, will be accepted by the Registrar as fulfilling the conditions, andthen no other union will be allowed to represent those employes. Although the Acts of New Zealand and New South Wales do not absolutely say that trades unions shall be the organizations referred to, still practically it has been found that the trades unions have established their claim. Although in many cases they comprise only a few of the employes in the industry, still they have established their claim to represent those employes. So that, as a practical issue, we must recognise that in almost every case - I admit that’ a few exceptional cases may arise ; one or two may have arisen - these organizations will be the trades unions as we know them. It must also be remembered that the decisions of the Courts have gone very far beyond what possibly some members of the Committee anticipate. I shall allude to only one case, which has been referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth. Under a decision of the Arbitration Court of New South Wales, the employe of a baker in the area to which it applies must be a unionist - though not necessarily when he enters’ the employ. If anybody in the employ of that baker does not within a ‘ certain period join the union, he must leave. This decision has been enforced on men who were outside the original dispute. It was enforced through an agreement’ made by some bakers - masters and men, and that agreement being made a common rule by the Court, it was extended much beyond those who were parties to it. Under that common rule it was decided by the Court that a man who is not a unionist shall not continue to receive employment. If a non-unionist who has been in the trade for twenty years, says, “ I decline to join the union, because it has a political complexion or a political association, or because it has benefits which I have already provided for through my friendly society,” then out of that business he must go. It must be acknowledged, therefore, that we are giving the opportunity for most drastic decisions. And when we see what has taken place, we must consider what may occur under this provision. If evidence be needed of the political complexion or character of some unions, it can be found in the case of the Shearers’ Union, which has been referred to so often. Surely that is largely a political body? In its rules it provided that there should be a contribution to a political newspaper.
– Not to a political newspaper. It is no more political than is any other journal.
– Well, to a newspaper which is largely political.
– As every newspaper is.
– In the same way I would object to force from men a contribution to the Age, the Argus, the Herald, or the Telegraph. .
– It is a newspaper which expresses political views.
– It is a newspaper which has a strong political leaning, and gives expression to strong political opinions.
– When the honorable member has said that it is a newspaper, he has said everything.
– I am quite ready to admit that the same remark is true of a great many newspapers. In its rules, the Shearers’ Union provides that there shall be a contribution to a newspaper.j and also a subscription to the political expenses of candidates. The latter rule has been brought before the Court, and a decision has been given which is intended to make an alteration in that respect.
– The Employers’ Federation is strongly political.
– Certainly, and if’ there was any such provision as regards any such association, I should object to it on the same ground. In Sydney lately there was a proposal that all the associated unions should join the Political Labour League. A motion to that effect was moved, and it was defeated by only two votes.
– The Political Labour League is a separate body from the Australian Workers’ Union.
– Of course it is ; otherwise there would be no need for the proposal to be made. There is no doubt that the two votes required will be readily obtained at a future date, and that the unions will become affiliated with the Political Labour League.
– If the majority of the members think fit.
– A majority has nearly been obtained.
– The Employers’ Union is political.
– I admit that it may be, and it is on some questions, but that is not the point. The Bill does not provide for the payment of subscriptions into the funds of unions of employers. The proposal in New South Wales was that the trades unions should join the Political Labour League. That proposal was defeated by a majority of two votes. But when a number of new unions have been formed - a process which is always taking place under the Arbitration Act of that State - a majority will, no doubt, soon be obtained in favour of joining the Political Labour League.
– It might be against doing so.
– Of course it might; but it is not likely that it will be so. What would the members of - the Ministry say if the unions to which the operation of this Bill is to be largely intrusted were to propose to join the Free-trade or the Protectionist Association ?
– Some of them have practically done so.
– I am not saying that they have not a right to do so; I am speaking only of their relation to this Bill. If the whole of the unions to which the operation of the measure will be largely intrusted were proposing to become part of a Free-trade or Protectionist Association, would the Government support the proposal to force workmen to join a declared active political body to whose principles they were absolutely opposed?
– The unions are primarily . trades unions. If they become incidentally political that is absolutely a matter for those who compose them.
– This is a creating of constituencies. I have given the evidence in support of my conclusion. The facts are not denied, and I leave it to the Committee to judge of the soundness of my inferences. I know where the objections would come from if a majority of the existing unions, whose members comprise only a small part of the workers as a whole, were- proposing, or were likely, to unite forces with any political party on this side of the chamber.
– Some of them have already done that, iri opposition to the political labour movement.
– Have done what?
– Have given weight to . a political organization other than the Labour Party.
-To what political organization ?
– To the Protectionist Association chiefly.
– There has been no association of the unions with the Free-trade Party.
– A number of the leading men in some of the unions are strong freetraders.
– I quite believe that.
– Many of the members of the union with which I am connected would not vote for the leader of the Labour Party in the State Parliament.
– But the unions are proposing to join the Political Labour League, which supports that gentleman.
– All that the members of the unions are compelled to do is to contribute to their funds ; they cannot be compelled to vote for any party.
– Ought we to compel men to contribute to the funds of unions holding political views which are contrary to their own convictions?
– Why cannot they vote as thev think fit?
– I will leave the matter where it rests now, and the Minister of External Affairs can reply to me when he rises.
– If the trades unions were joining the party to which the honorable gentleman belongs, not a. word would be said about it.
– Probably not from this side of the chamber, but a great deal would be said from the other side:
– Some of the best unionists in Sydney have been voting for the Free-trade Party all along, but we have not objected to them as. unionists.
– Of course not. But it is now proposed that all the unions shall join the Political Labour League, which votes one way, and one way only.
– Is that the honorable member’s objection?
– It is objectionable to compel men to join unions which hold political views and exercise political influence in opposition to their convictions.
– Where is the compulsion ?
– Are we not dealing with a clause which provides for employment being given to unionists only ?
– The clause does not say that.
– What is the use of this evasion? This is not the Arbitration Court of New South Wales, but the High Court of Parliament. The clause says -
The Court . . . may . . . direct that as between members of organizations of employers or employees and other persons offering or desiring service or employment at the same time, preference shall be given to such, members, olher things being equal.
– What does that mean?
– It means that men may be forbidden, not merely to enter, but to remain in an employment because they are non-unionists. That has been done by the New South Wales Arbitration Court, acting under a similar provision.
– Only after a lock-out, I think.
– Not after a lock-out.
– The same thing occurred in New Zealand in connexion with the bootmakers’ award.
– I believe that there has been only one case in New South Wales so far. In the New South Wales Government Gazette. No. 534, of 13th October, 1903, is published an agreement between the Sydney and Suburban Master Bakers’ Association and the New South Wales Operative Bakers’ Association, which was made a common rule by the Court, and an extension allowed, which carried it considerably further than the original parties to the dispute. Clause 12 of the award reads as follows : -
Any non-unionist operative baker hereafter entering the employ of any member of the Industrial Union of Employers shall join the New South Wales Operative Bakers’ Association at or before the end of one week from the date of his so entering the employment. Wherever a nonunionist applies to an employer for employment as an operative baker the employer shall inform him of this condition of the agreement.
That means that men who have been twenty years in the baking trade in New South Wales are absolutely forced, if they desire to continue at that employment, to become unionists.
– It was open to them, when the common rule was about to be applied for, to ask for an exemption.
– I do not know that it was open to them under the New South Wales Act in the same way as it will be under the Bill. They probably did not receive notice.
– The Court decided by rule that it would not extend an agreement without notice.
– In that case the non-unionists could have raised an objection. Whether they did or did not I do not know. If they did, the objection has been overruled. Here is the head note to another award -
A master undertaker may employ a non-unionist in a case of emergency, but cannot retain him permanently in his employ, without making r?asonable efforts to secure a competent unionist.
– That seems perfectly right.
– I am only showing that these things have happened under the New South Wales Act, and may happen under the provision which I have read, which is practically the same as that in the State Act. It mav be said that without such a provision unionists . might be improperly dismissed from their employment; dismissed not for the manner of doing their work, or for unreliability, but for having chosen to take a certain attitude in the interests of themselves, or of their fellow-employes. But under the Bill, as it stands, a unionist might be dismissed for that reason. In any case, the onus of proof that he did not dismiss his employe except for good reasons other than the fact that the employe was a member of a union is cast upon the employer.
– The honorable member is confusing two things. We are not now speaking of the dismissal of the unionist, but of his right to preference of employment.
– Yes; but the honorable member has himself suggested that unionists might be penalized.
– Without this provision unionists might be penalized. The employer might say, “ You have compelled me to pay higher rates of wages ; but I shall get even with you by dismissing you all.”
– That could occur under the clause.
– But having dismissed one set of unionists the employer would have to take another set of unionists.
– No doubt the position of unionists is safeguarded, so far as it can be, by the Bill, whether they are members of political or non-political unions. In New Zealand the Government have been asked to give preference to unionists’ in the railway service of that State, as will be seen by the following telegram from Wellington, dated 13th June : -
Replying to the request of a deputation of railway servants for the preference employment of unionists, Sir J. G. Ward said he could not see his way to grant the request. If he did such a thing, he would lay himself open to a charge of coercing men to join a society. It would be looked upon as very improper to say that a man who had been twenty years in the service should be dismissed, and one who might have been in only a year retained in preference.
That is the opinion of a gentleman who is a member of the Ministry which introduced the first Arbitration Bill in New Zealand. I understand that Mr. Seddon holds similar views.
– Neither of them disputes the clause that is in this Bill.
– It was not applied to the railways.
– It would apply to the railways if the Court thought fit.
Mr.DUGALD THOMSON.- But there is a special railway clause.
– There is a difference; but it does not arise in the way the honorable member suggests.
– Here was a request made to the Government which was practically the author of the New Zealand measure, to do in connexion with the railways of that, country what can be clone under this Bill, and the Minister of Railways actually refused it. I come to the question raised by the Prime Minister, whether, considering the difficulties of the position, any. other proposal than that of making use of the trades unions - political or nonpolitical - for the purposes of this Bill, can be found. It seems to me that the issue at stake at any time is one between employers and employes. That must be so. Therefore, why should not the employes and employers - not a portion of them, but the whole of them within a certain industry - be the parties to the matter? I admit that in discussing this measure we are under a difficulty. If it applied only to disputes extending beyond a State, this provision for preference to unionists would not matter one way or the other. I think the Prime Minister will admit that it is inapplicable to disputes that extend from one State to another. But as the Bill in a great number of its clauses goes much further, and makes provision for this great industrial octopus taking hold of the industries of every State, Ave must consider the matter in that light. If it is found that that control can be obtained, and that practically the industries of every State will come under the management of the Commonwealth, we .should endeavour, at any rate within restricted areas, to have the question in dispute settled as between the whole of the employers an.lthe whole of the employes in an industry. We might limit the areas, as is done in New Zealand. Why should a portion of the employes or the employers settle a question of much moment to the whole of an industry ? Would it not be infinitely petter than that a trades union or than that some little group of employers should act for the whole, that the whole body themselves should act in connexion with the purposes of this Bill? Is that impossible? It might have been thought to be impossible when the first Conciliation and Arbitration Acts were introduced. But our business is to learn from experience. After eight years or so we ought to be able to make some improvements upon the original Conciliation and Arbitration Acts. In my opinion, it is not impossible. The alternative suggested could be more easily effected than the proposals of this Bill can be carried out. No doubt, one reason for naming the trades union as parties in the original .Act was that the unions had assets which could be dealt with if they raised unnecessary trouble by the Arbitration Court. But it would be possible to collect payments from the suggested organizations far more easily, and far more certainly, than it is possible to collect union subscriptions. The time of the Arbitration Court in New South Wales is occasionally considerably occupied with cases for the recovery of union subscriptions and fines.
– There is no necessity for its being so; it arises from a defect in the Act
– I do not know the reason, but it is so. If the whole of the employes within a given area in a particular industry were considered to be members of an organization, authority could be given by the Court to the employers to deduct an amount from their pay weekly. It would be a very trifling amount - nothing like the union subscription. It might be a halfpenny or a farthing in the pound on the wages paid, or it might be less. That amount could be deducted and paid into an employes’ fund, under the control of the Court. The employers, of course, would be required to pay in an equivalent amount to an employers’ fund.
– An amount calculated on their turnover or profits?
– Every employer who paid his men on a certain day in the week would deduct this little proportion, which might be fixed by the Court, and would hand that amount, with the names of those from whom it had been deducted, to an official of the Court.
– Is this proposal made in lieu of organizations?
– It is made in answer to the Prime Minister’s challenge in reference to the difficulty of providing any system to take the place of the unions. The parties immediately concerned in any dispute are the employers and the employes, and it is desirable to have all the employes and all the employers - not merely a portion of them - made parties to action, dispute, decision. The reason why the unions were made use of in the first place was that it is necessary to deal with bodies which have funds and a continual existence, and not with an unorganized mob. But in my opinion it is possible to constitute a body with a continual existence from the whole of the employes of an industry, and funds can be raised readily and simply by means of a small contribution deducted by the Court through the employers from the wages of the employes. The employer would pay in a similar amount as his contribution to the employers’ fund.
– That is compulsory unionism.
– The honorable member can call it what he likes. I call it compulsory organization for the purposes of this Bill, but not for any other purpose. I do not object to compelling people to do something for the good of the community, although I do object to compelling them to do something for the good of a section, and to the injury of the rest.
– Does the honorable member propose to allow the employers to stop a portion of the employes’ wages ?
– I would allow the Court to do that; not the employers. The employer would only be the medium. Does not the honorable member propose to allow a trades union to take a much larger portion pf the employes earnings than I propose that the Court should take?
– What amount would the honorable member desire to take?
– It would be a trifling amount, as any one can see. If £60,000 were paid in wages in a city - and of -course much larger sums are paid weekly’ in large cities like Melbourne or Sydney - a penny in the pound would raise £250 as the employes’ fund, and £250 as the emplovers’ fund. That is much more than would be required. A very small contribution would be required, because the purpose of it would be to do one thing, and one thing only, namely, to carry out the purposes of this Bill. Of course, there would be no question of preference for unionists then, because all the employes would belong to an organization. The Court also could regulate the associations and provide rules for them, including rules for the election of their governing bodies.
– Would the honorable member compel the employes to join ?
– They would be members by being employes. The Prime Minister admits that it’ is desirable that the parties to a dispute should be not merely some of the employes and employers, but the whole of them. The only difference between the honorable gentleman and myself in that respect possibly is that he thinks it is impracticable to achieve that end, and that as a substitute we have to utilize trades unions. I am pointing out that, in my opinion, that is not necessary, and that it is possible to accomplish what is desired more readily and easily by recognising all the employes in an industry as an organization on the one side and all the employers on the other. No matter for whom a man worked, there would be under the sanction of the Court a trifling deduction from his wages, and the record and payment would constitute his sign manual as a member of the particular employes’ organization. None of the objections that can be raised against the union proposal could be raised against that. For instance, the objection raised that employes might be harshly dealt with, because they were unionists, could not apply where all employe’s are members of the organization, and the Court would not need to decide that none but unionists should be employed. Then, . under my proposal, the organization would be strictly confined to the purposes of the Bill, whereas, under the other scheme, the organization might be a political or benefit association, to which men might’ be compelled to contribute in order to carry out objects to which they were absolutely opposed. I should like to point out that, apart altogether from the question of preferences to unionists, the clause provides for preferences of another kind. Under it any preference the Court might see fit to direct could be given to certain employers or employes. There is nothing to prevent the Court, if it were foolish enough - of course, the idea is absurd - from deciding that men under five feet ten inches in height should receive a preference. The Courts, both in New Zealand and New South Wales, have, under a similar provision, given decisions which I think are very unwise - if I may be allowed to say that of a Court’s decisions - which may prove . exceedingly injurious to industry, and consequently to the Commonwealth. One of these decisions in New South Wales affects one of the largest bodies of men in that State. The Court decided that the last men to be taken on should be the first to be dismissed. That is to say, that if ten men were put on to-day they should, in the event of any slackness of work, be dismissed before those previously engaged.
– That is a very old custom in all industries.
– Such a provision might operate very injuriously, because among any ten, or twenty, or 100 men who may be taken on at any given time, some may be found who are capable of rising to a good position, and of effecting improvements in the industry, and thus advancing it. Still, they would have to go, whilst much inferior men were retained. What would this mean to the men themselves? It would keep a body of men - the same body - constantly floating between work and wages and the borders of starvation. Is it fair to decree in regard to any particular body of workmen that, although they may be able to obtain work for a time, it is only for a time, as they must always be the first to go in the event of slackness of work?
– That practice is almost universal in private employment - other things being equal.
– This is not a case of other things being equal.
– The honorable member must recollect that in the case referred to the men were engaged on. piece work, and that, therefore, it was not quite so important as it might be in other cases that the employer should be allowed to pick and choose his men.
– But it is important to the employer, and very often for the safety of the employes in a mine, that the best men should be retained.
– A decision such as that indicated would prevent a number of relatives from being put on when a change of management occurred.
– Perhaps so. Whilst the private employer ‘ would, of course, endeavour to retain desirable old hands, and very properly so-
– Many of them sack the old hands and take on younger men.
– The honorable member is speaking of employers of whom I have not had experience.
– -I know of many such as I describe.
– So far from that being the case with many employers, I know that they increase the rate of pay given to their old employes, in consideration of their long service. Although it is recognised that they do not earn the extra money perhaps iri a direct way, still they give compensation for it by bringing their long experience and acquired aptitude to bear. At any rate, such consideration is only reasonable when extended to old employes.
– Hear, hear.. I wish all employers would show the same spirit.
– I think that most employers try to keep on their older hands, but when new men show special aptitude or ability, the industry will be advanced by their continued employment in preference to less desirable hands. Take, for instance, the case of the manufacture of porcelain and pottery. Some men by their special capacity and ability to design might lead to a large development of trade in Australia, and an increased manufacture, but under the rule now proposed the employer would not be free to make the choice when it became necessary to reduce the number of his workmen.
– The rule to which the honorable member refers has never been applied, so far as I am aware, except to the one case in which there was a uniform hewing rate for coal-getting, in which the men were engaged on piece-work at so much per ton.
– I thinkthere was another case ; but I shall accept the statement of the Prime Minister. One effect of that decision is that men who, in comparison with others, are less careful, and who are more given, say, to neglect the use of safety lamps, have’ to be kept on.
– Is not the honorable member splitting straws?
– Does the honorable member think I am splitting straws when I refer to considerations relating to the safety of mines. I am only giving an illustration.
– Does the honorable member know that that rule was insisted upon by the miners and by the Court, because it was alleged that the management were attempting to weed out all the prominent unionists, and get rid of them? That was the allegation, and the Court., in order to prevent that kind of thing, decided thatunless incapacity could be proved the men must be put off in rotation.
– I am only mentioning that case as an illustration of one of the preferences that might be made. An infinite variety of preferences could be given, and that which I have mentioned is not the only one. As to the wisdom of that form of preference, we may differ.
– I do not say that I should approve of it in all cases.
– I cannot profess to know all the circumstances of the case alluded to ; but I say that if the principle were generally applied it might seriously injure our industries. Under the clause a variety of preferences, quite apart from the question qf membership of the union, might be given. In my opinion, the Bill would have been a better one from the stand-point of its advocates if an advance had been made upon previous measures, and provision had been made for embracing the whole of the employers and employes within a certain area. If that had been done nearly all the objections I have spoken of to-day would have disappeared, and means would have been afforded for the satisfactory settlement of those difficulties between employers and employes, which we must all regret, and which we all desire to see removed. The very fact that all interests were represented in an organization would secure that reasonable average of opinion - as distinguished from the extreme views that are often entertained by small bodies, whether of employers or employes - which would more than anything else tend to the settlement of the industrial affairs of Australia. Such a proposal may be embodied in an amendment, but not at this stage. We shall probably have to recommit clause 4, and deal with the matter in connexion with the interpretation of the word “ association.” I do not say that this course will be adopted, but it may be. I have only outlined my proposal, in reply to the challenge thrown out by the Prime Minister, when he invited honorable members to suggest, anything that could be substituted for the recognition of the trades unions which have aims and objects entirely apart from the purposes which it is sought to achieve bv this Bill.
– I desire, with the permission of the Committee, to amend my amendment by confining it to the omission of the words “ direct that “ at the beginning of paragraph b. My object is to allow a test vote to be taken upon the question of omitting the whole of paragraphs b and c.
Amendment amended accordingly.
– I hope that we shall have an opportunity to consider, in some concrete form, the thoughtful views put before the Committee by the honorable member for North Sydney. I propose to endeavour to discover, as far as possible, how far honorable members of the Opposition are in agreement with the Government and their supporters. On every occasion when discussing the provisions of this Bill, I have pointed out that, in common with a considerable number of other honorable members, I feel that the general principle of arbitration is a good one. That the principle is a sound one is incontrovertible; but many of us feel that the Government have gone altogether too far in this proposal.
– This Bill was framed by the last Government, of which the honorable member was a supporter.
– The honorable gentleman asks, in effect, whether, in supporting the late Government, I did not absolutely approve of the- Bill introduced by them. Although an honorable member may support a Government, he does not necessarily approve of every detail of a Bill introduced by it.
– I could not blame the honorable member for failing to support the Bill, when so few members of the late Government are doing so.
– I have no desire to enter into any of those dissertations that are so interesting to honorable members; but would point out that I never approved, in its entirety, of any Bill introduced by a Government of which I was a supporter. A number of honorable members believe that many of the matters with which we are asked to. deal in connexion with this Bill might well be left to those actually identified with States industries, and to members of the States Parliaments. We believe that it would be better for both the Federal and States Legislatures, and create a greater feeling of harmony if we did not in any way trench on the ground of the States Parliaments. I have sought by examining the rhetorical sentences of honorable members opposite to discover the germ of their meaning, believing that it would be well to see how far honorable members of the Opposition are in agreement with them. The .discussion of this question of preference may give rise to the bitter feeling “of antagonism that often exists between parties and individuals; but nothing that we are called upon to consider in this Chamber should call for even one unkind or unfriendly word. We may discuss the principle involved as vigorously as possible, but we should remember that the individual is widely separated from the principle. The first question we have to consider is whether this clause would give a preference to a unionist or a member of an organization. It is obvious that it would. I shall presently show a common ground of agreement between the Opposition and the Government and their supporters, but while we say that this clause would give unionists an absolute monopoly of the whole of the work in Australia, honorable members opposite declare that it would not.
– Unionists could not do all the work.
– No ; they can only do all the legislating.
– And we could not get better men to do it-
– If the honorable member will bear with me for a moment, I shall endeavour to get on absolutely safe ground, so far as he is concerned. The position of unionists and non-unionists, under this clause, may be briefly illustrated. If A desired to purchase a piece of land from B,- and was informed by him that he could do so, but that the land was under offer to C, and that if C did not want it, he would be prepared to take his money for it, the position would be that the land was held under option by C. That is exactly the position in regard to unionists and non-unionists under this Bill. If the clause be carried, any work remaining to be carried out after, employment has been found for all unionists will be available to a man outside an organization. The scraps from the labour heap will be gathered by the outsider.
– That is not the experience of New Zealand.
– The honorable member and I do not agree. Honorable members of the Opposition say that this clause would give unionists a monopoly of work, while honorable members opposite say that it would not do so. The common ground of agreement is that it would not give the monopoly, but would give unionists the option. Work that a unionist did not wish to do might be carried out by a man outside those organizations. We have heard a great deal about the sacred rights of majorities, and it has been said that we see here an infringement of the great democratic rule of government by majority. I wish only to deal with facts, and shall quote the figures relating to the number of unionists in New South Wales, which are significant of the numbers in all parts of Australia. There are 66,000 unionists in New South Wales; while there are no less than 464,000 workers of a similar status. Of that number, 380,000 are males, and 84,000 females. If, as the result of the passing of this clause, the option of securing the labour of the State would be given to the 66,000 unionists, as against 464,000 nonunionists, honorable members are right in asserting that this is a proposal to infringe the sacred rights of the democracy. In this Parliament majorities always rule, but under this clause the’ majority of the working classes, who do not belong to unions, will be placed at a disadvantage. The statistics show that so far six workers out of seven have not joined unions in New South Wales, and now we are asked to say that only one man out of seven shall have any rights under this Bill.
– The honorable member is speaking of women workers as male workers.
– Is not the honorable member including many workers who will be excluded from the provisions of this measure ?
– I am speaking of all railway servants, and male and female workers in New South Wales. The total number of persons belonging to unions is 66,000, while other workers, male and female, number 464,000.
– Non-unionists will indirectly participate in the advantages of the Bill.
– I shall deal with that matter presently. It is impossible to discuss the principle of arbitration and conciliation without referring to the position in New Zealand. That Colony has been the home of this class of legislation for a considerable number of years, and has also enjoyed a large measure of prosperity, good seasons, and good prices, so that wages ought to have increased there. What do the statistics show? In New Zealand the average wage paid to male workers in 1891 was 29s. per week; in 1896, 29s. 9d. ; and in 1901, 31s. 5d. per week, so that during a boom period extending over a period of ten years, the rate of wages increased only 2 s. 3d. per week. In 1891, female workers in New Zealand received an average of 13s. 4d., and they now receive only 12s. 5d., showing a reduction of11d. per week. In New South Wales, where we have suffered severely from drought, and have had very little legislation in this direction, the average wage paid in respect of the same class of male labour is 35s.11d. per week, as against 31s.5d. in New Zealand, so that, notwithstanding the great advantages which New Zealand enjoys - notwithstanding splendid seasons and high prices - male workers there receive 4s. 6d. per week less than is paid to the same class of workers in New South Wales. In New Zealand the women, as I have mentioned, are receiving 12s. 5d. per week, whilst in New South Wales the average rate is 13s 3d., a difference of10d. per week in favour of the last-named State. Honorable members will be in agreement with me so far as this statement of fact is concerned. The figures are accurate, and I do not propose now to draw any inference from them. The next question for us to consider is whether it is proposed under this clause to force persons to join unions. When that question was first put, the reply of honorable members opposite was - “ We shall not force them to join a union; but we shall induce them - -decoy them,” The only difference between us, therefore, on this point is a difference as to terms. Let me state the position by means of a simple illustration, which I am sure will appeal to my philosophic friend, the honorable member for Darling. If he were sent to catch a horse, would he set out with a stockwhip or with a hatful of corn? I am inclined to believe that, with his knowledge of horses, he would take a hatful of corn; and in this clause we have the political corn with which the masses of the people are to be decoyed into joining organizations. There is, therefore, no real difference between us in regard to this point. It matters not how persons are led to join unions or organizations as long as they join, and in this case it is proposed to use political corn rather than a political whip. Le me deal with another aspect of the case, the cost of this Bill. Some honorable members opposite have stated, by way of interjection. that nonunionists receive all the benefits of unionism without bearing any of the cost of the system. If such a state of affairs exists, it is obviously unjust, and should be rectified. Honorable members should consider what is to be paid by Australia in order that the’ whole of the workers of the Commonwealth shall be forced to enter the ranks of organizations or unions. I shall show honorable members the position of unions in New South Wales. I propose to make no passing reference to the reasons why men enter unions, but will refer rather to the rules and conditions laid down for membership, and to deal mainly with the cost which this legislation will impose on the people of Australia. Members of the New South Wales Operative Bakers’ Association pay an entrance fee of 10s., and applicants must have served an apprenticeship of not less . than four years, or be approved by three out of the five shops in which they have worked. I am not at this moment making any reference to yearly subscriptions, but merely to entrance fees. For the Sydney Coal Lumpers’” Union a candidate must be nomi nated by two financial members two weeks prior to regular meeting, and, after running the risk of a ballot, must pay an entrance fee of £1 is. In the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners a candidate must be nominated by two members, and there must be testimony as to character, with a certificate of good health from the branch surgeon, the election being by the majority of members present. A candidate, other than an apprentice, must have worked at the trade for five years, and be a good workman, of steady habits, and good moral character, not less than nineteen nor more than forty years of age.
– What is there wrong with those rules?
– Nothing, except that there is no room for old or weak men ; even the honorable member for Darling would not be able to join this union. Another regulation in this society is that any candidate having only one eye shall not be eligible foc admission.
– Is there any rule as to the colour of the eyes?
– Cyclops, who made thunderbolts for Jupiter, would not, with his one eye, have a ghost of a show of getting into this New South Wales union. The Prime Minister, who has acted all through with the utmost courtesy and wisdom - on which I am glad to be able to congratulate him - has taken a good deal of sting out of this discussion- Like a sensible man, he knows how to give way when he cannot win. He is learning rapidly, and he says that unions shall be absolutelyopen.
– I expressed that opinion fourteen years ago in the case of the coal lumpers, who charged £5 as the entrance fee to their union.
– The Prime Minister was right then.
– I hope so.
– But he has been wrong many times since.
– Not often.
– I will not at any length emphasize the manner in which men get into unions. Obviously an out’sider frequently cannot get in ; but the oneeyed man I regard as the most unfortunate. In the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, members from the age of nineteen to twenty-five pay an entrancefee of 7s. 6d. ; from twenty-five to thirty, 10s. ; from thirty to forty, 15s. In the
Federated Ironmoulders’ Union a candidate is admitted on nomination by two members, initiation being at the following meeting, and the entrance-fees are - from the age of twenty to thirty, 5s. ; from thirty to thirty-five, 10s.; from thirty-five to forty, 15s. ; from forty to forty-five, 20s. ; and over forty-five, £2.
– - And cheap at that .’.
– In this union, members over fifty years of age pay an entrance fee of 5s., but are allowed only dispute benefits.
– Tell us of the benefits of these unions.
– I shall a little later on. In the United Boiler-makers and Iron Shipbuilders’ Union a candidate must be nominated by two members, and, on election, pay an entrance fee of 10s.
– Has the honorable member no cheaper unions to quote?
– I have a number of “ cheaper “ unions, but will not quote them. The present limited benefits of unionism, the charges for admission, and, further, the entrance fees, are not matters to which I desire to direct special attention ; my desire is to deal with what amounts to more than the entrance-fee, namely, the continuous weekly subscription. The Prime Minister has taken a good deal of the censure out of our remarks by his declaration that a union shall no longer be a close corporation, but, to use his own words, “ A fair business shall be done; there shall be a fair entrance-fee and a fair subscription.” Now, ,New Zealand is regarded as the special home of this most blessed of all legislation. In the Wellington Printers’ case, a judgment was given, and that judgment shows what in New Zealand is regarded as a fair weekly subscription to a union. If we- quote New Zealand as an example of the benefits of legislation of this kind, it is reasonable, also, to quote that Colony as to what is a fair rate of subscription. I do not know what obtains in the organization with which the Prime Minister is connected, but in New Zealand the members of the Typographical Society pay 6d. per week. In the award in the Wellington Printers’ case, there is the following: -
If and after the Union shall so amend its rules as to permit any person now employed in the trade in this industrial district, and any person who may hereafter reside in this industrial district, and who is a competent journeyman printer, compositor, or operator, to become a member of such union upon payment of an entrancefee not exceeding 5s., and of subsequent contributions, whether payable weekly or not, not exceeding 6d. pex week. . . .
I ask honorable members opposite if 6d. per week may be regarded as a reasonable subscription? Will the honorable member for Darling answer the question?
– I shall tell the honorable member all about it by-and-by.
– The answer all depends on the benefits, but 6d. per week is about an average.
– I have the New Zealand example, and also the concurrence of my very reasonable and generous, if somewhat unwise friend, in saying that 6d. per week is a fair subscription. Now, 6d. per week means 26s. a year. In the last Parliament, and during last election, the two political parties fought very bitterly on the great question of free-trade and protection - a question which was the cause of much tumult, trouble, and worry, and of the change of a considerable number of seats in this Parliament. It is always conceded that the amount of money required by the Government of the Commonwealth is something over ,£9,000.000 per annum, to which narcotics, stimulants, excise, and so on, contribute about £4.000,000 or £5,000,000. This leaves something over £4,000,000 to be contributed by the great body of the people of Australia, or something over £1 per head. In order to become a unionist, if the rates approved by the honorable member opposite be correct, a man has to pay £1 6s. per year in addition to entrance fees; in point of fact, he has to pay more to become a unionist than the people of the country have to pay per head - I state the case in the free-trade way - in order to protect the whole of the industries of Australia. This taxation on the worker individually means more than the whole of the indirect taxation per head.
– But what does the unionist get in return?
– What I say is that £1 6s. per year represents to the individual worker a larger amount than the indirect taxation per head of the population, excluding excise and the duties upon narcotics and stimulants. I have epitomized for the benefit of honorable members the points on which the two sides of the House are agreed. First of all, we are agreed that this Bill gives a preference to a minority, inasmuch as it gives a preference to unionists.
– The Minister of External Affairs admitted that fact, and justified it.
– That it gives a preference to unionists? Yes.
– In New South Wales there are only 66.000 unionists as against over 400,000 workers outside unions, so that the Bill gives preference to a minority.
– No ; because the Bill only gives the preference in specific instances, and refuses it in other instances.
– A preference is given only where the case makes it necessary.
– In New Zealand the preference is as often refused as granted.
– Then may I take it that sometimes the Bill gives a preference to a minority ?
– It may mean the majority of a trade.
– We may take it that if a preference is given, it is given to a minority.
– The fact is quite the opposite.
– Honorable members opposite have granted that sometimes a preference is given to a minority, and that it is refused to a majority.
– In half-a-dozen cases I can name at once, preference has been given to a minority.
– Who says so?
– Order !
– I say so, and I can prove it.
– Of course/ if the honorable member says, so, it must be correct.
– In what trade has preference been given to a minority?
– Order !
– In the case of the Barrier miners, for one.
– They are not in a minority.
– And in the case of the bread-carters preference was given to a minority.
– Order. I must ask honorable members not to persist in this conversation.
– It is provided in the clause that preference shall be given to members of the union affected, and as there are only 66,000 members of unions, as against over 400,000 outsiders, there must be a preference to a minority.
– It all depends on the conditions in the union in question.
– It depends on a simple calculation, and if the honorable member cannot grasp the fact that 400,000 is more than 66,000 I must pass on. I take it that we are also agreed that this Bill means taxation, without the permission of the majority. If there be 400,000 outside and 66,000 inside unions, we force the former into a position in which they have to pay £1 6s. per annum. Surely that is taxation without the permission of the majority.
– No taxation without representation.
– But when it comes to a question of some nobler principle - I will put it that way - the Prime Minister abandons his idea that representation must go with taxation, and forces 400,000 people to pay £1 6s. per annum each, in order to please 66,000.
– Does the honorable member say that one man can force five?
– Yes, if the five have no sense.
– But they will already be unionists if they have sense.
– It is said that at present a third of the House is governing the whole House ; but that is a presumption which is incorrect. This Bill is preserving the labour of the country for a small minority, and leaving the scraps for a huge majority ; as to that we are all agreed. Honorable members grant that the main labour of. the country is under option to unions which number 66,000 members, and that the scraps are picked up from the rubbish heap by the unfortunate people outside. I have no doubt, from the expression of the faces of honorable members opposite, that they agree with that position.
– We dispute. the honorable member’s figures, which, as usual, are incorrect.
– The honorable gentleman will have an opportunity to prove that they are incorrect. My next point is that the Bill forces the great majority to join an organization. Honorable members say, “ We do not force them, but we decoy or induce them to come in.” Why are we quarrelling so bitterly when it is only a question of the difference between the word “decoy” and the wor-d “force”? On all these points we are agreed. Another point is that it is interfering with industries and other matters which constitutionally are within the province of the States, and will be better dealt with by the States. We are all agreed with regard to that matter, although we seem to differ with regard to the great national principle involved. My last point is that, instead of the Federal Parliament reserving this great power until the States haw failed to secure what is desired, it is simply wasting its strength and energy by interfering in all sorts of pettydisputes, quarrels, and rivalries in the industries of the States. These are points on which . we are all agreed ; these are the questions which underlie the whole of the argument, and it is extremely regrettable that when honorable members are agreed with regard to these things - the great democratic principle of control by majority, the sacredness of labour, and that if anything should win it is competence and honesty - there should be any difference of opinion. I have placed before the Committee a number of facts, and I question whether honorable members can touch one of those facts with regard to either numbers, or wages, or the essentials underlying the whole matter.
– We cannot” touch the facts, but we can touch the figures.
– The honorable gentleman cannot touch a single figure that I have given. He cannot touch the point that taxation is being placed upon the people in order to create new unions. I am not dealing with the question as to whether unionism is right ; I am only showing the people of this great country the facts of the case. On an occasion of this kind an honorable member should never do either of two things. He should never treat a subject lightly, and he should endeavour to sugar-coat as much as possible the dose which he intends to administer. I have told honorable members a large number of facts, to which reply on their part is impossible; and if I have sugar-coated the dose a little and made it palatable to them, it is mutually satisfactory.
– I have not spoken very often on this Bill in Committee, but in my speech, on the second reading of the previous Bill, I said that I felt there were involved in its de- tails certain great principles on which there would necessarily be a fight. We are now considering one of the most important clauses in the Bill, and I hope that Ministers will not think that those who cannot see eye to eye with them as to the necessity for adopting this principle are bent on the destruction of the measure. I trust that it will get through the House in some form, but it is in the consideration of these most important clauses that we are bound to give and take a little on each side, in order to produce a complete and workable Bill. To my mind, it is clear that if the Prime Minister and the Minister of External Affairs had had sufficient opportunity of considering the simple alternative suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney, it would have shown them a way to make the measure much more perfect than it is in its present form. It would do for them all that they desire to do in the Bill, and more than they will do under its operation. It would give them the complete unity of all those who are employed in trades or callings.
– How can thev get a list of all those who are employed in the shearing industry ? It is impossible.
– Under the provisions of the clause suggested by my honorable friend, every pastoralist would be bound to return to an officer of the Court the name of every person who has been employed as a shearer for a certain time - for three months, or, if it is preferred, for only one week, and side by side with that return would come in the shearer’s subscription towards his union. By that means two things would be accomplished. First, it would secure the names of the members of the organization, and, secondly, it would get rid of the complaint of unionists that while they subscribe money to make the conditions of work in their calling better, non-unionists, reap the benefit of their sacrifice. By that means all men would be’ got into the union, and the expenses would be fairly divided, and we should have a body which could meet under rules framed for its guidance, to appoint its officers and elect” its committee, who would be responsible to the Court for bringing employers before it, and charged with the duty of replying to any case which might be brought forward by the other side. It would do all that the draftsmen of the Bill desire to do, and much more than can be accomplished under its provisions in their present form. Perhaps it is rather late in the day to propose an amendment of such magnitude, as it would mean the recasting of the measure. But it Offers such a great advantage over the present previsions . that it would be wise . on the part of Ministers, I think, to keep open the way for adopting the principle before the Bill is passed through the Chamber. . To my mind the provision in regard to preference is one that is fraught with all sorts of difficulties. At the same time, I see that if preference were done away with it might lead to the breaking down of what is sought to be gained by unions. If there were no other way out of the difficulty I should be prepared as a last emergency to accept the Bill as it is. But I am bound to vote against this clause, or for any amendment in the direction of adopting the suggestion of the honorable member for North Sydney, because I believe that while the principle of preference may in some cases be necessary, it might without safeguards bring in its train all the bacl effects which are feared by the opponents of this kind of legislation. In the first place, it must inevitably create a large body of what might be called economic pariahs - men of lower caste - or if another form of expression be preferred, it would create an aristocracy of labour, and side by side with that aristocracy of labour we should have quite another class who would be out of everything. Of course it is urged against this idea by the Minister of External Affairs that there are three ways in which these economic pariahs could secure employment. First of all, he says, a man, if he is competent, can get in, because the clause contains the words “other things being equal”; secondly, he may join the union, and so get in ; and thirdly, he may make an organization of his own, or join with others in creating such an organization, and thus get in. It is a most difficult thing fr.r an outsider who has the bitter feeling of the whole union against him to prove that he possesses, not only more competency, but even sufficient competency to get in. The reply will be made to the man, “ The only way in which you can make.yourself competent is by joining the union.” That is a form of compulsion which, I think, ought not to be put on any man, particularly when we come to consider not alone the past history of these unions, but what they are tending to become. Shirk the conclusion as we may, unions are tending to become more or less political organizations. There is frequently a great difficulty in the way of the men joining the unions. Take some of the employers’ unions in New South Wales. The Chamber of Manufac- 4t tures - a body which I never joined, although I am a manufacturer - is a strongly protectionist political body, and, consequently, a free-trade manufacturer does not feel inclined to join it. Similarly, if there were in Sydney an organization of employers under this measure, I might find myself quite at variance with them. That would be the position of many of the working men connected with our various industries. A great number of men are quite opposed to the politics of the Labour Party, and are unwilling to join unions which are dominated by the political element. There are good reasons for thinking that the outsider would not have an opportunity to obtain employment. It has been suggested that such persons could unite and form unions of their own; but. if they did so, their applications to register would be opposed by the existing organizations with all the influence they possess. To show how harshly legislation of this sort might operate, I would like honorable members to consider the case of a farmer driven off his land by a drought, and compelled to go to a city, to obtain work. Such cases frequently occur. He might so down to one of the wharfs, and apply for work in the unloading of a vessel - unskilled labour which a healthy farmer would have the strength for. and would naturally take up. But he would at once be met by a demand f°r J£5 as an entrance fee to the Wharf Labourers’ Union. He would have to pav that sum to purchase the freedom to work for his bread. Perhaps compelled by special circumstances, he would pay the money, and accept the work. But after a little while he might be thrown out of employment again, and looking round for something else to do. might see an opportunity to carry a bricklayer’s hod. But he would again be met with a demand for an entrance fee of, say 30s.. to enable him to join the organization of hod carriers. Possibly he might pay the money and co to work, and, later on. he might again be deprived of employment. Then he might see an opening as the driver of a lorry, work for which his farm experience would fit him. But again he would be met bv the draymen’s organization with a demand for an entrance fee of £3 or £4. Honorable members may say that the fees I have named are too high, but my reply is that the tendency will be to make them high. If we- provide for the creation of close corporations the entrance fees will inevitably become larger and larger, until the unskilled worker, the manwho belongs to the most hopeless class in the community, whom we should try to protect more than any other, will have nearly every opportunity of earning a living taken from him. While I am in favour of settling disputes by arbitration, and am committed to the general principles of the Bill, I think that the Committee should consider the matter very gravely before agreeing to adopt the principle of preference to unionists ; because the adoption of that ‘ principle will inevitably do great injustice to those who are not members of unions, and do not desire to become so. The honorable member for North Sydney has pointed out that the corollary to the principle of preference is the rule that the last to come shall be the first to go, and he was right in saying that the adoption of that rule will stamp out all individual effort at improvement, because the last man appointed will know that, however well he does his work, and whatever his ability, he must be the first to go if . any dismissals are resolved upon.
– That rule has been adopted in one case only, and there the men to whom it is applied are paid for piecework.
Mr.G. B. EDWARDS.- Quite so. No doubt it is not quite so objectionable in that case ; but we cannot put powers of this kind into the hands of persons whom self-interest prompts to have them used without having them abused. I cannot see why those who desire the measure to pass cannot adopt the alternative that has been offered. The rule that the last to come shall be the first to go is so absurd that one cannot understand how any person possessed of the sense of justice could wish to embody it. in legislation.
– It has not been embodied in legislation ; it is only an award of the Court.
– If such a principle were applied to this Legislature, could we expect to have imparted to our proceedings a higher tone or a better intellectual character? Or we might imagine it being applied to our gaols. There is as much logic in one application as in another. The best judge of a man’s capacity is the person who employs him, and the employer should determine who shall be the first to go. Seeing the injustice which the provision under discussion may inflict upon the weakest and most helpless of our workers, and remembering the possibility of accomplishing all that we desire without it, I think that the Committee should treat the matter very gravely. The Minister of External Affairs has told us that we have no right to consider legislation of this kind at all if we will not adopt the principle of preference. But that is quite a wrong view. We are bound to consider the interests of the working classes as a whole, and are providing for the settlement and prevention of disputes for the benefit of the whole nation. We can do that in the best way by adopting the suggestion of the honorable member for North Sydney, making all the workers in an industry members of an organization, and using their contributions to pay the expense of settling disputes. In that way we may get rid of what is perhaps the greatest element of bitterness in the present relations of employers and employes. At . the present time, the fact stares us in the face that the majority of the workers are not unionists. I do not think that the figures given by the honorable ‘ member for Richmond - that only one man in seven is a unionist - are to be relied upon.
– I got them from the Government Statist of New South Wales.
– Only one man in every four at Broken Hill is a unionist.
– I think that those figures are more suitable, because in Broken Hill there is practically only one industry. In comparing the unionists with the rest of the population, it must be remembered that there are very many persons - book-makers, errand boys, and others - who are not connected in any way with the various industries to which the members of unions belong. If we make all engaged in an industry members of an organization, and empower them to appoint representatives, I think disputes will be more easy of settlement, because the Court will know that the whole body of workers concerned is represented, while at the same time we shall get rid of the objection that we are making, use of what are, more or less, political organizations to carry out legislation dealing with economical and social problems.
– I agree that the question which the Committee is now discussing is one of the most important with which we have had to deal in connexion with this Bill ; and it is one to which, I apprehend, the fullest consideration that honorable members can give will not be objected to. For my part, I do not approve of the principle contained in the paragraphs now under discussion. I do not approve of the principle whereby this Parliament, or any Parliament, gives a preference in relation to employment to one class of men over other men who may be equally worthy. I hold that it is improper for this Parliament or any Parliament, to say to any workman, “ “Unless you are a member of a certain union, your chance of earning your living will be less than it would be if you were a member of that organization.” To my mind, such a law is an unwarrantable interference with the rights of individuals. Not that I am one of those who believe that compulsion is always wrong. I think that the compulsion of an individual, for the benefit of the majority of the whole community, is in many cases desirable. But I certainly do not think that it is desirable in the interest of the community to say to a certain number of men, “ We will endeavour to make your task in- earning your living as hard as possible, unless you join a certain organization, which you do not wish to join of your own free will.” That is the principle upon which this paragraph is founded. It is a provision which seeks to compel employes to enter organizations by putting disabilities upon them, if they do not join. A grave and serious disability is cast upon employes unless they become members of unions. The onus of proving that that is justified, and that the extreme measure proposed is warrantable, lies upon those who support it. I. think I can say without undue exaggeration that, so far, at any rate, as the weight of authority goes, it has been on the side of those who oppose the provision. In practice we find this principle to be very injurious in its effects. I have certain information which I propose to put before honorable members which will, I think, show that the actual working of a similar provision to this has produced mischief and injustice, and that, ‘ therefore, it is extremely likely that mischief and injustice will be produced if we pass the paragraph as it stands. It has been stated - I think that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat was one of those who said so - that the Arbitration Court in New South Wales, and Arbitration Courts generally, do’ not give a preference to unionists, unless there is some very grave special reason why that preference should be given ; such a reason as that the majority of the employes concerned are members of a union. I think I can prove conclusively that preference to unionists has been granted in New South Wales, where the unionists were not a majority of those affected by an industrial award. Thereby a minority has obtained a special privilege over a majority, the rights of the majority have been infringed, and the status of the minority has been improved by legislative act.
– The honorable member’s own union has, of course, certain privileges.
– I am not aware of the existence of any union to which I belong. But I belong to a profession which any man can enter if he has the necessary brains and the necessary application. The Minister of External Affairs is one of the bright and shining examples of what industry and ability can effect in this respect. The same course as he has taken is open to every other honorable member. Even the honorable member for Melbourne Ports might, I believe, in course of time-in a long time, possibly - attain to such a position as the Minister of External Affairs has reached. I propose to give some instances to show that the contention that the principle of preference to unionists has always been exercised in favour of the majority of those affected is not correct. I wish firstto deal with the case of the bread-carters; and I may say that, for this purpose, I have carefully perused the reports of the New South Wales Court of Arbitration, and for every statement that I make relating to cases in New South Wales, I am prepared to give chapter and verse, when called upon. In that case the evidence showed - I am reading from the judgment - that the members of the union and the nonunionists in the bread-carting trade were about evenly divided.
The union, of course, claimed, as they claim in nearly every dispute that comes before the Court, a preference -
The union’s claim was that the employer should only employ a non-union carter on condition that the said non-union carter joins the union within one month, at fees not exceeding 10s. nomination, and rs. per week.
That seems to me to be a grossly excessive sum to compel men to pay. As a matter of fact, preference was given to the unionists; and the result, therefore, was that a large number of men - an equal number of men with those who were in the union - were put at a disadvantage. But they were put at a further disadvantage. There was this important point in the judgment. It was decided that - any non-unionist carter hereafter entering the employ of the respondent - that is the employer - shall join the bread-carters’ union at or before the end of one month from the date of his entering the employment, provided the entrance fee to the union does not exceed 5s., and the weekly contribution does not exceed 6d.
That is to say, while it was provided that any man hereafter going in for bread-carting should join the union, it was also provided that any non-unionist who went from one employer to another should join the union. The Judge said -
This condition does not apply to those who are already in employment; but to illustrate it, if a bread-carter in Mr. Langer’s employ should apply to Mr. Law for employment, then Mr. Law would be bound to apply this condition to the bread-carter.
That - is to say,, the practical operation of this award is to force a man who is a bread-carter into a union whether he likes it or not. Whether the objects of the union -even its industrial objects - meet with his approval or not, he is to be forced into it. That was a ‘case in which the union did not claim, and could not claim, that it represented a majority of those in the trade. All that it could claim was that it represented an equal number. Yet the unionists were given a preference - an improper preference, in my opinion - over those who were not members of the union. In the case of the dispute between the Barrier Branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, which is reported in Volume II. oi the cases decided by the New South Wales Arbitration Court, the union claimed a preference. In this particular case the facts are striking, as showing to what lengths unions are prepared to go. The case against preference is set out by Mr. Cruickshank, on page 546, and the facts stated by him were agreed upon by all parties. Mr. Cruickshank says -
Respecting preference to unionists, I differ from my colleagues, and for the following reasons : - In this dispute, all the other issues were filed a long time before the hearing, and this particular demand for “ preference “ was never considered or thought of until after the Court arrived at Broken Hill, and was evidently the suggestion of somebody after the Court opened.
That is to say, this particular claim for preference was a readied-up claim, after the real crux of the matter had been put before the Court.
Therefore, the natural inference is (and such ‘ inference is supported by the evidence), that up to date there has been no trouble, and there would be no likelihood of any, provided things were allowed to remain undisturbed. There are about 6,000 men employed in or about the Broken Hill mines ; 4,000 are non-unionists, and 2,000 are members of the union.
Yet those 2,000 members of the union claimed preference over 4,000 non-unionists.
– That is an ex parte statement.
– It is a statement by the Court. The honorable member has been singing the praises of the Court for the last three weeks, but when a statement is made by the Court which tells against him, he will not take it on trust.
– What did the Court decide ?
– That there should be a preference to unionists. If the honorable member will look up the figures relating to trades unions, issued on authority by the Government Printer of New South Wales, he will find that the facts are as stated in this judgment - that the number of men in this union was a little over 2,000. Indeed, the facts stated in Mr. Cruickshanks judgment are admitted. It is a fact that is not denied that the unionists, were a minority ; and the figures issued by the New South Wales Government Printer, and certified by the Registrar of the Unions, show that the members of the Barrier Branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association were only about one-third of the total number of the men employed in the mines.
– Does the honorable mem-‘ ber say that there are 6,000 men employed ‘ there ?
– What did the Judge say?
– The Judge gave a preference to unionists in that case. All that I am endeavouring to prove from these facts, is that a preference is frequently given to a minority. That is my whole position upon this point. That is to say, a minority of the employes obtained a preference over the majority. If the honorable gentleman still doubts the statement, and thinks that a member of the Court was lying, I will refer him to the figures taken from the reports issued by the Registrar of Trades Unions, which show that the Barrier Branch of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association had 1,200 members in 1002. In September, 1.903, they had about 2,000 members. As an honorable member appears to doubt my statement that there were 6,000 men employed in the mines, I may state that I find that the President of the Court - the Judge - says, in his very opening sentences, that “ about 6,000 men are simultaneously employed at the mines” - proving my statement to be absolutely correct. In that case, I say again, a preference was given to a union which included only a minority of those employed in. the industry. Then there was the case of the New South Wales Saddle and Harness Makers’ Trades Society.’ The members of that industrial union obtained a preference. . At the time of the award, in 1903, the union embraced 208 members all told. The total number of men working for employers who had over five hands engaged was 550; but as the award applied to all employers, even though they only kept one hand at work, the award affected between 1,000 and 1,500 men. Therefore, the 208 members of the- union secured a preference over a large majority of the workmen engaged in the trade. These three- cases establish the proposition which I have been endeavouring to prove, namely, that in a number of cases preference has been given to unionists who represent only a small minority of the employes. Another reason why I object to preference being given to unionists is that when undue power is placed in the hands of any class or section of the community, or in the hands of individuals, there is an ineradicable tendency to use it oppressively. History teems with examples in proof of this assertion, and the records of the trades unions offer no contradiction. The preference for unionists has been used in the most cruel and unjust fashion in New South Wales, and I propose to quote some cases in order that the significant facts may be brought within the knowledge of the Committee. I shall first refer to that magnificent organization which extends over the whole of Australia, and which is presided over lay the Minister of External Affairs -
Aloft in awful state the godlike hero sits, would probably describe his manner of presiding over them. The Wharf Labourers’ Union, of which we know the honorable and learned member is very proud, obtained a preference for its members over nonunionists. I am not now discussing whether or not such preference could be justified on any grounds. Possibly it might be justified, because the. honorable and learned member belonged to the union.
– Does the honorable and learned member know that, so far as Sydney is concerned, there were no wharf labourers outside the Wharf Labourers’ Union ?
– When ?
– Before the award was given there were none.
– This precious AVharf Labourers’ Union wished to hamper, as far as possible, the admission of individuals into its ranks. That is the only way in which we can read their application to the Arbitration Court in December, 1902. We know that since then the union has endeavoured to prevent men from joining it. The facts of the case are set out in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald, signed by W. Briggs and J. Crameri. These men afterwards made affidavits that were filed in the Arbitration Court. Their letter reads as follows : -
Finding, since the constitution of the Arbitration Court, that preference regarding all work must be given to unionists, I and others were desirous of becoming members of the above union, so as to-be able to continue working without being molested as non-unionists, as the Wharf Labourers’ Union covered the work that we were following up at the time. I, therefore, with four others, proceeded to the union meeting room to have ourselves proposed as members, and to pay the entrance-fee and yearly subscription, which amounts to £1 in all; 10s. for entrance, and 10s. for a year’s subscription in advance.
Well, when we made application at the door for admission, we were told that we would not be able to join; I asked the reason why, and I was told that the books were closed against the admission of any new members whatever. When asked as to how long they were likely to be closed, I was told by the doorkeeper that he could not tell me.
Well, sir, . we tried several times for admission after this, and always received the same answer at the door from the man in charge. I then thought that the best thing to do would be to go and see the secretary himself at his office in Erskine-street, which I forthwith did on the following day. I asked him if there was any chance of joining the union so as I could continue on with my work, and he said no, there was not, as the books were closed, and he did not know when they would be opened ; in fact, he said we had no hope of joining, thereby absolutely prohibiting us from earning a livelihood, while our employer then was and is still wiling for us to work, if we could only manage to obtain the union medal, without which no man,- be he ever so good a citizen, let alone a native of the land he lives in, can do any work in this lovely city of ours called Sydney. I may here state also that I put the question to Mr. Harrison, the secretary of the Wharf Labourers’ Union, viz. : - “ Is your union legally justified in closing their books in this manner, to the utter exclusion of all men desirous of becoming members?” The answer I received was : “ That is for you to find out.” He then turned on his heel and left me. That was all the satisfaction we got from him, when asking for what we deem is the right of every citizen of this labour-ridden State - the right to become members of any labour union, should we desire it, and were willing to pay the ruling fees as to entrance. The Arbitration Court says that employers must give preference to unionists under a penalty, therefore, that being the case, no man should be debarred from qualifying himself as a unionist if he so wishes.
Subsequently affidavits were made and filed in the Arbitration Court, and on Monday last Wm. Briggs, Joseph Crameri, and George Holmes, in their affidavits, stated that -
In February they together proceeded to the registered meeting room of the union in St. Philip’s Schoolroom, Church Hill, Sydney, having previously arranged with Charles Jackson, a financial member of the union, to propose their admission to membership and arrange a seconder. Thev applied for admission, but were informed that they would not be able to join, and that the books were closed to the admission of any new members whatsoever. Holmes and Briggs attended several times at later meetings, to be told on each occasion that the books were closed.
When these facts came before the Court, it expressed itself as astounded at the monstrous injustice of the union presided over by the Minister of External Affairs, and ordered that the books should be opened, and that new members should be put on the books without the necessity of an election or a ballot of any kind whatever. The Court stated that the union had practically admitted that it had committed a wrong, because about three weeks previ,ously it had opened its books. So that it is clear it kept the books closed for a considerable time for the express purpose of debarring certain men from earning their living, and only opened them when it was forced to do so.
– Does the honorable and learned member know that the members of the Seamen’s Union, and of the Waterside Labourers’ Federation, numbering 11,000, could transfer to the Wharf Labourers’ Union at any time?
– What is the use of saying ‘.hat the members of another union could join the wharf labourers’ organization ? What I say is that the union has endeavoured to take the bread out of the mouths of men who were not unionists.
– Is not the bread taken out of the mouths of the unionists if others get the work?
– One class should not have a preference over another. The unionists were endeavouring to prevent those outside their organization from earning a living, and the judgment of the Court that their action was tyrannical and unjustifiable, affords conclusive proof that I was correct in my contention. Now I wish to refer to a very extraordinary case, in order to show that if too great a” power is given to any individuals or groups of individuals they are bound to use it oppressively if they get a chance. It is the old story that “ eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” I refer to the case of the boat Kiama. The steamer Kiama belongs to the Kiama Road Metal Company, and is usually employed in bringing road metal to Sydney. She was recently chartered by the Southern Coal Owners’ Association to load a cargo of coal, to be discharged into the s.s. Wyandra. When the Kiama arrived, the Coal Lumpers’ Union refused to carry the coal, on the ground that the men usually engaged in discharging metal were nonunionists. The objection was based, not on the ground that the coal-lumpers were required to work with non-unionists, but on the fact that the men usually engaged in discharging road metal were nonunionists. The owners of the Kiama had engaged members of the Coal Lumpers’ Union to discharge the coal ; but when the boat arrived they refused to do the work. The men usually employed in discharging metal had, some months previously, tried to join the union, and paid the entrancefees. They were told, however, by the unionists, that they would be blackballed, because the union was determined not to admit more members ; hence they . withdrew their applications. Now, as I wish to be fair, and to give both sides in this matter, I shall read the full official answer given by the secretary of the Coal Lumpers’ Union, Mr. A. D. McDonald. This letter will show to what straits some people are driven in order to justify an improper position.
– Could what the honorable member has described take place under thisBill ?
– I say, absolutely, no.
– Mr. McDonald writes as follows: -
Permit me to contradict the statement made by the acting secretary of the Southern Coal Owners’ Asociation, re the blackballing of the non-unionists who work in -the steamer Kiama, by the Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union. When that steamer first came to Port Jackson,- and was about to enter into the coal trade, I, in company with other officers of this union, used every endeavour to get the non-union men, who followed the steamer Civility (of the same firm as the Kiama), to join the union. The men, after a great deal of persuasion, promised to join, and went so far as to be nominated, when all at once they found out that the union rate of wages would not be paid, and, when they had joined the union, their services might be dispensed with, other non-unionists being got to do the work, thereby leaving them on the already overcrowded labour market to do the best they could.
Now, sir, I must characterize this statement of the acting secretary of the Owners’ Association as nothing more or less than a misrepresentation of the position. These men never came up for ballot, although nominated, so therefore could not have been blackballed.
With reference to the discharging of the Kiama, I may point out that the members of this union have too long been made a convenience of by stevedores, and are always first to maintain industrial peace and existing conditions with all employers. This does not give the acting secretary of the Owners’ Association much credit for such misleading statements to the public. I am, &c,
Secretary The Sydney Coal Lumpers’ Union.
– What has the Court done since ?
– The Court had no jurisdiction. In the first place, the secretary of the Coal Lumpers’ Union has made a number of statements, which, as I shall show, are absolutely incorrect. He stated that the men found out that the union rate of wages would not be paid. That is wholly untrue. Then be said that they feared that when they had joined the union their services might be dispensed with, and that other nonunionists would be got to do the work. That again is absolutely untrue. Members, of this union were the only persons who desired that the services of these men should he dispensed wilh. I propose to read some extracts from a letter written by Mr. Salmond, managing director of the Kiama Road Metal Company, and published in the Sydney Morning Herald of 6th inst., and also from a letter sent to the same journal by Mr. F. J. Thomas, the charterer of the steamer in question. Mr. Thomas in dealing with the Kiama episode, wrote -
Firstly, I did not assert the Kiama non-unionists were blackballed at a ballot, but, being nominated for membership, they withdrew at the last moment for the best of reasons - that a propgrtion of them would undoubtedly be blackballed (an indignity they could not be’expected to submit to), and they with the instincts of true manhood, loyally stood by each other and withdrew their nominations. Officials of the union on being asked if, in the event of a proportion of these sixteen men (some of whom had served Mr. Salmond, of the Kiama Road Metal Co., for fourteen years, others for eight years, and by dexterity, sobriety, and faithful services have proved their efficiency ; also having wives and families to support) being rejected by the union, although possessing all these qualifications as efficient workmen, would they expect the Kiama Road Metal Company to dismiss these rejected ones, and replace them by present members of the union, admitted that must of necessity be the result. No honorable employer, appreciating the value of faithful and efficient workmen, could so degrade his manliness as to treat men like that.
I think most honorable members will agree with the sentiment expressed in the last sentence. The letter continues -
Secondly, I have to-day seen the contract made between the Kiama Road Metal Company and the stevedore engaging these men, which expressly stipulates that union rates of wages must be paid to the workmen, which contract was in force at the time these men applied for admission ; which fact entirely subverts the secretary’s statement that all at once they found out the union rates of wages would not be paid, and on becoming unionists their services would be dispensed with. The simple truth of the matter is that the employers desired the men to join the union, and gave every encouragement to do so.
Lastly. Regarding the episode of discharging the Kiama, while giving due credit to the patience and long suffering of the union in waiting for a favorable opportunity, and recognising the fine sense of equity and justice displayed by them in maintaining industrial peace, and existing conditions with all employers, still I might be pardoned if I suggest what might have conduced more to that end.
This steamer had carried cargoes of coal for us before, within the last few weeks. Union men were always engaged to handle it, and I heard no objection raised, or any intimation that it was not working to the satisfaction of the coal lumpers. Then, without previous warning, industrial war is declared, and in the most arbitrary manner, we (having in all good faith engaged a steamer under contract to supply another shipping concern with coal for a mail steamer) are compelled to break that engagement and have a chartered steamer thrown on our hands, together with a cargo of coals, banned against discharge, a position absolutely without remedy, from which we were rescued only by the generous conduct of the proprietor in buying the coal for himself, and releasing us of the engagement of freight.
– Did this occur after the passing of the New South Wales Arbitration Act?
– Yes; it occurred at the end of May or the beginning of the present month. I do not wish to lay any stress on the loss which- the employer was compelled to suffer, because I recognise that a consideration of that kind would not receive much sympathy in certain quarters.
But I would lay special stress on the injustice done to other workers. The letter from Mr. Salmond, managing director of the Kiama Road Metal Company, set forth that-
Previous to the arrival of the s.s. Kiama from Glasgow in December, 1902, the gang of lumpers working the steamer Civility with stone cargoes were advised by our stevedore and by myself personally to endeavour to become members of the Coal Lumpers’ Union, because we intended to work the new steamer in the coal and stone trade as business offered. With that object in view, eight of the gang went up for nomination, and paid their entrance fees. Prior to the ‘allotted period - a fortnight before the ballot - elapsing one of the gang had a conversation with a friend as to his proposer and seconder, and he was told that if any individual members of the union acted prominently they would afterwards be debarred from work,’ and as a matter of fact the men say that there was evidently no intention of the union accepting them as members. At any rate, it was asserted that there would be a few of them refused on account of the action they took during the 1890 strike by working this company’s vessels then.
Another of the men was told that whoever were accepted as members of the union would have to leave the s.s. Kiama and “ stand on the corner and take his chance with the rest.” On these conditions the men naturally withdrew their applications. This company contracts with a stevedore to discharge cargo, and has a properly drawn out agreement and specifications as to the manner in which work has to be performed. One of the clauses of the specification reads thus : - “ Current and, union rate of wages to be paid to the workmen employed by the contractor. If it shall at any time be proved to the satisfaction of the manager that a lesser rate than the union rate has been paid to . the workmen employed, and the contractor refuses to pay such rates, then the manager shall be at liberty to cancel the contract.” The stevedore employs constantly sixteen men. These men have been under my supervision for from eight to fourteen years, and are as good a gang of men as can be found anywhere, and will compare against an . equal number of picked men from the union. The stevedore is classed by the men to be as fair as any man can be. The men in conversation with me state that they make more money in the Kiama than they would under any union rules. I say that Mr. McDonaldis simply juggling with the word “nomination,” for the nomination is only the preliminary.
With reference to what occurred on Monday, 30th May, when the steamer Kiama was ready to discharge cargo to the steamer Wyandra, the union lumpers refused to work, although on several previous occasions they had done so. We were taken wholly by surprise. In an interview with Mr. McDonald - who is the secretary of the Coal Lumpers’ Union - at 2.30 p.m. on that day, I begged of him to reconsider the position, as I would guarantee that the men would join if the union would accept them. He said he had just come from an executive meeting called to consider the case, and his men had agreed that the Kiama must work union, which literally meant that I would have to discharge sixteen able-bodied men, who have worked under me for from eight to fourteen years, and employ sixteen men from the union, whom I had never seen before. Had I taken the . line of least resistance I would have told my sixteen men to clear out, their only fault being that the Lumpers’ Union would not accept them as members. My company was put to very great expense, and the difficulties I had to contend with cannot be treated of in the dimensions of such a letter as you would publish.
This is a further proof of the injustice that may be perpetrated when the advantage of an unduly strong position is given to members of a union. This was a deliberate attempt to prevent a number of men from earning a livelihood, and a deliberate
I attempt, which, unfortunately, was successful, to inflict a heavy financial loss on an employer who had for a number of years employed a number of sober and reputable workers.
– Is the honorable and learned member aware that this practice was, unfortunately, in force for a number of years before the New South Wales Act came into operation?
– What practice?
– The practice of preventing any one outside a union from working the traffic, and also of refusing admission to new members for a considerable period. The facts referred to by the honorable and learned member are no argument against the Act.
– The honorable gentleman does not see the point.
– I certainly do.
– These men were nol asked to work alongside non-unionists.
– Quite so.
– But having entered into a contract to unload a boat in which none but themselves would be concerned, they said to the employer, “We will not do this work, because at some previous time you had non-unionists working for you.”
– That is no argument against the Act.
– It is an evidence of absolute oppression, and every honorable member who values his liberty, and the liberty of his fellow citizens, should endeavour to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
– The practice came into operation before the New South Wales Act came into existence.
– The honorable gentleman, and those who support him, are now endeavouring, to give a preference te the organization which was guilty of thu practice, in order that its position may be made stronger than ever.
– If this provision is rot designed to place unions and unionists in a stronger position than ever, what is its object? Is it intended to weaken or strengthen their position?
– To give the Court the power.
– It has been placed in the Bill for only one purpose - to strengthen the hands of one section of the community. Any one can see that that is so.
– Any one like trie honorable and learned member can do so.
– The Prime Minister can also see that that is the object of the provision He is not so thick-headed as he would have us believe.
– I wish to show the’ arbitrary way in which this preference system frequently works by quoting one or two decisions of the New South Wales Arbitration Court. The first is In re Bull, reported in volume 2, part IV., page 335, of the New South Wales Arbitration Reports. It deals with the position of undertakers - a subject about which some honorable members were disposed to be facetious when it was previously under discussion, although I do not know why men engaged in the undertaking trade should not have the privileges that are accorded to others. The heading of the case reads as follows : -
Under the preference clause in the undertakers’ award, an employer, except in cases of emergency, is not justified in engaging a non-unionist without applying to the secretary of the employes’ union to ascertain whether any competent union labour is available.
That is to say, an employer is not to engage the best man he can obtain, but is to interview the secretary of the employes union and ascertain whether he can take on a man. The facts of this case disclose a very harsh proceeding. A man who was riot a unionist was engaged, and an endeavour was made to induce him to join the union. He took steps to do so, but occupied a little more time than he should have done in arranging the preliminaries. On the first occasion’ that he proposed to join he did not have sufficient funds to pay the necessary contribution, but a few days later he was proposed as a member. His employer, however, was brought before the Court for employing a non-unionist, and was punished for the offence. I shall now refer to the case of In re Byrnes, reported in the same volume, page 349. The heading sets forth that-
A master undertaker may employ a nonunionist in a case of emergency, but cannot retain him permanently in his employ without making reasonable efforts to secure a competent unionist.
In other words, a man may employ a nonunionist in order’ to tide himself over an emergency, but as soon as that emergency has passed the man who has assisted him is to be dismissed and a unionist engaged. This was an extremely harsh case. A coachman employed to take charge of a hearse had suddenly to leave his employment, and as there was a funeral to be carried out on the day of his departure, it was necessary to at once engage somebody to take his place. It was decided that in employing a non-unionist for the day in question he had not transgressed the law, but for continuing to retain him after the emergency had passed he was held to be only one remove from a criminal, and was fined, notwithstanding that he had sent the man to the secretary of the union and, had personally called on that officer, and endeavoured to get the man into the organization. It will thus be seen that a provision of this kind leads to oppression.
– These cases occurred under an exactly similar provision in the New South Wales Act.
– This case was brought under a section of the Act in which preference is given to a unionist. As an example of the way in which a trade may be injured and hampered- by such a provision as this, let me quote the case of the Journeymen Coopers v. The Vacuum Oil Company, reported in vol. 2, part III., page 253. The Vacuum Oil Company imports kerosene from America, and large quantities of the liquid are placed in casks. I suppose that every honorable member who has ever had a barrel of liquid in his possession knows that, owing to the weather and other causes, hoops sometimes become loose. The -Vacuum Oil Company had the temerity to employ a boy at a wage of something like £1 per week to go round with a hammer and tighten the loose hoops, and for that the Company was brought before the Arbitration Court, which held that a duly licensed cooper must be employed, and that that cooper must be a member of the union. I also wish to refer to the case of the Southern Collieries Proprietors’ Association, reported in volume 2, part r, page 8. This was the case in which it was ruled, as it seems to me in absolute opposition to all reason and justice, that the last to come should be the first to go - that the man who had had the least employment’ should be “ thrown out “ first. That plea was put forward by the secretary of the union, Mr. Ritchie, who wrote the mine-owners a letter, in which notice was given that in the future, when it became necessary to shorten hands the miners would insist that the last to come should be the first to go. . Mr. Ritchie appears to be an individual who required severe checking by the Court. He made grossly untrue statements, which he got published in the daily press, and he had to apologize to the Court, by whom he was severely censured, for’ making those statements with a view to influence the decision. This shows that the legalization of preference to a union of this kind must lead Fo the further oppression of those who happen to be out of the organization. It shows how this claim for preference must work; and in this connexion I desire to refer to two cases relating to musicians. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat stated yesterday that he intended to propose an amendment providing that unions must have rules under which facilities are given for the admission of new members.
– An amendment providing for facilities for the admission of new members, for no interference by administration with admission being given effect to, and, further, for continuance of membership without oppressive treatment.
– In regard to the last point of oppressive treatment, I think I can show the Committee the necessity for some very stringent legislation. There have been cases in which unions, to whom no preference has been given by the Court, have endeavoured to make matters extremely unpleasant for individuals who were not members. The musicians, who delight us at the theatres with their overtures, appealed against Mr. J. C. Williamson for an order giving preference to members of their union ; but the Court refused to make such an order, and dismissed the petition. That, however, did not worry the members of the union, who proceeded to take other steps. There was a member of .the union who played in an orchestra in which a man was employed who had committed the heinous crime of not joining a union ; and because of this the member of the union was fined, by the Musicians’ Union, 5s. for playing with a non-unionist. He was sued before the Arbitration Court, and the Court enforced the fine with costs. It is, therefore, evident that some provision must be made to prevent any action of that kind in the future If this power be left to the unions uncontrolled-
– A lawyer may do much worse and get off scot free.
– That may be the honorable member’s experience; it is not mine. In this particular case the sole reason that the Musicians’ Association asked for a preference was most amusing. Because Mr. J. C. Williamson-
– Who had to “back down “ eventually.
– Because Mr. J. C. Williamson employed in his Sydney orchestra two Victorians, who were members of the Victorian union but not of the New South Wales union, the latter asked the Court to give a preference. When beaten on that point, the New South Wales Musi’cians’ Union made it as “ hot “ as possible for any man who played with a nonunionist.
– Is a Sydney barrister allowed to plead in a Victorian Court ?
– That would certainly not be allowed.
– That is a cruel question to ask.
– I have several times asked for order ; but it seems -to me that no attention is paid to the request. It is absolutely necessary, in order that the business may be done expeditiously as well as thoroughly, that attention should be givento the remarks of an honorable member who is addressing the Chair. I ask every honorable member to assist me in keeping order, 50 that we may get on with the business. I may point out that we are in Committee, and if any honorable member hears any remark to which he would like to reply, the proper time is when he gets his opportunity to address (he Committee.
– I was about to say’ that some very stringent provision, such as the honorable and learned member for Ballarat has indicated, is necessary in order to prevent the oppressive treatment of men’ who have, notwithstanding the disabilities placed on them, refused to enter unions. This is a matter to which I think the Committee should give their most serious attention. The Minister of External Affairs was, as usual, very entertaining yesterday when defending this particular clause; but we extracted from him a promise tha’t the. Government would insert a provision against persons being prevented from joining unions. I am glad to see repentance even at this late stage.
– That remark is most unfair ; I expressed the same opinion fourteen years ago. .
– I am glad to see that the remarks of the Judge of the Arbitration Court are to bear good fruit, even in this Bill. Of course, we are told that this provision is the very essence of the measure, but we have been told that so often in regard to so many other clauses, that one scarcely knows whether or not to believe the statement. The Minister of External Affairs dwelt at great length on the enormous sacrifices which unions are making under the Bill, and on the little they ask in return. It is most extraordinary that if the unions are making such enormous sacrifices, they should be besieging Parliament to permit them to do so- If the unions did not think they were going to get a great deal more than they give, they would not be in favour of the Bill for one moment ; nor would any one else, because it is only human nature for men to endeavour to obtain the best they can for themselves. The Minister of External Affairs told us that, under the Bill, a unionist could not decline to work with a non-unionist. I presume the same was said in New South Wales; yet in the case of the musicians, we see that a man was actually fined 5s., with £1 rs. costs, for working with a non-unionist. In the Kiama case, unionists actually refused to work, not because they were asked to work with non-unionists, but because nonunionists had previously been employed on the vessel. We are told further that unionists cannot, in a body, refuse to work; but that seems rather a wide assertion which the Minister would do well to moderate. I think it was pretty well laid down in the Teralba case, that all that was necessary was for unionists to give a fortnight’s notice, in which case they could leave in a body. All that unionists give up is the right to leave their employment without notice, and nothing on earth can stop them from exercising that right, short of dragooning, and I do not suppose that that is proposed.
– Employers have exactly the same right.
– An employer has the right to shut up his works and ‘allow his machinery to rust.
– An employer may discharge each employ^ if adequate notice be given.
– In this respect there is no comparison whatever between’ employer and employed. An employer’s machinery must, in the vast majority of cases, be kept in use if he desires to maintain his position. We were told, further, by the Minister that non-unionists suffer no disability under this clause. If that be so, why have unions in the particular cases which have come before the New South Wales Arbitration Court, asked that there shall be a disability? Why have unions asked for special preference ? It is- because they desire, when work is short, that they shall have the most, and nonunionists the least, advantage.
– Has a union ever done the honorable and learned member a personal injury ?
– No. When men have discussed the question with me, and have asked my opinion, I have always advised them to join unions, which, it seems to me, have, in Great Britain and in Australia, done most valuable work, and, I think, will do much valuable work in the future. But what I object to is compulsory preference given by Act of Parliament. It is wrong that members of a union should by law have an advantage over men outside - that men who do not wish to belong to unions should be forced to join. Large numbers of men in Victoria receive benefits from friendly societies. The society to which I belong, the A.N.A.. comprises thousands of workmen, as also does the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows. Members of such societies want no financial benefits which trades unions can offer, because -their own associations are far stronger financially, and have their funds invested in the most careful fashion. Why, therefore, should men, who do not desire sick benefit or other similar advantages, be forced by this Bill into joining a union, when they prefer to retain their individual liberty?
– What does the A.N.A. do for wages, in any case?
– The A.N. A. does not profess to do anything for wages, but to provide for men in their hour of sickness, and for widows in their hour of need. It does not follow that those who object to this provision say that every act of a union must be* oppressive and unjust. We do - say, however, that to make a discrimination in favour of either employers or employed must have an injurious, effect. I firmly believe that if the majority of employers were, for the time being, put in the position of workmen, and given a preference, they would act just as tyrannically as the workmen propose to do. We who oppose this provision say there is a great principle at stake; that this is an undue interference with individual liberty ; that the Bill endeavours to take away from men the right to earn their living as best they can. In our opinion, the Bill gives to a section, and, as I have shown in the cases quoted, a small section, an undue advantage over men who are not members of an organization. A few months ago a special Commissioner from the Department of Commerce and Labour, Washington, U.S.A., visited Australia, and wrote a report on the labour conditions and the Arbitration Act of New Zealand. He discussed that Act exhaustively, and wound up with these words, which seem to me words of common sense, applicable to the present circumstances : -
The right to remain at work where others have ceased to work, or to engage anew in work which others have abandoned, is part of the personal liberty of a citizen that can never be surrendered, and every infringement there of merits, and should receive, the stern denouncement of the law. All government implies restraint, and it is not less, but more, necessary in self-governed communities than in others, to compel restraint of the passions pf men which make for disorder and lawlessness.
Our language is the language of a free people, and fails to furnish any form of speech by which the right of a citizen to work when he pleases, for whom he pleases, and on what terms he pleases, can be successfully denied. The commonsense of our people, as well as the common law, forbids that this right should be assailed with impunity. It is vain to say that the man who remains at work while others cease to work, or takes the place of one who has abandoned his work, helps to defeat the aspirations of men who seek to obtain better recompense for their labour, and better conditions of life. Approval . of the object of a strike, or persuasion that its purpose is high and noble cannot sanction an attempt to destroy the right of others to a different opinion in this respect, or to interfere with their conduct in choosing to work upon what terms and at what time and for whom it may please them to do so.
In discussing this very question as . to whether the unionist should have preference over the non-unionist, the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission, appointed by President Roosevelt to settle one of the most gigantic strikes in America, said -
The right thus to work cannot be made to depend upon the approval or disapproval of the personal character and conduct of those who claim to exercise this right. If this were otherwise then those who remain at work might, if they were in the majority, have both the right and power to prevent others, who choose to work, from doing so. This all seems too plain for argument. Common-sense and common law alike denounce the conduct of those who interfere with this fundamental right of the citizen. The assertion of the right seems trite and common-place, but ,that land is blessed where the maxims of liberty are common-places.
That is the position which I, and those who think with me, take up in this matter. We have no objection, at any rate, I can honestly say that I have no objection to unionism per se. I like to see any organization of men, banded for the common object of improving their own condition and that of those around them, succeed. But I do object, and I enter my most fervent protest, against a proposal which seeks to give preference to one set of men over another, which says to a certain set of men, “ If you join a union, or an organization, we shall take care that you shall have the best chance of earning your bread; but if you remain outside that organization we shall make it hard for you to earn your bread.”
He that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.
That is the principle underlying this compulsory preference to unionists - a principle which strikes at the individual liberty of the subject, gives a wicked and unjust preference to one class, makes it more difficult for another class to earn its living, and is not founded on justice or equity.
– It seems to me that, after all the attention which the honorable and learned member for Wannon has devoted to this provision, his concluding remarks show that he does not understand it even now. He states that it proposes a compulsory preference to unionists. It proposes nothing of the sort.
– I am quite aware of that.
– Why did the honorable and learned member say that it proposes a compulsory preference to unionists if he did not think so, or was aware to the con- .trary ?
– What is it there for?
– What it proposes is that the Court shall have power to give preference to unionists.
– That means just the same.
– It does not mean just the same, and if any one has studied the operation of the Act in either New South Wales or New Zealand he knows that it does not mean just the same, because the Court has exercised discretion in regard te the granting of preference to unionists.
– But has it not been interpreted as a direction?
– That is the whole point.
– It has been departed from in a variety of instances. I regard this as one of the most important features of the Bill. The’ Minister of External Affairs said last evening that unionists were asked to give up the only weapon that they possess. They are prohibited by legislation of this sort from striking, and thereby being able to take advantage of economic conditions to promote their own welfare. They are asked to give up that weapon absolutely, and to consent to be prohibited from taking advantage of it, even though circumstances might absolutely justify its use. On the other hand, is it not a fair thing, as the author of the New Zealand Act saw, to give to unionists in return for this surrender of a power at least a guarantee that, if they go before the Court, the men who have borne the heat and burden of the day, shall not be penalized at the sweet will of one individual ?
– That is provided for in clause 10.
– No. We attempt to provide for that when we say that men shall not be dismissed because they are unionists. Any honorable member who knows anything about the relations between employers and employed must admit that it is the easiest thing in the world to manufacture a reason why a man should be dismissed. Take my own trade in Sydney. I know two or three men who have been victimized by employers. Although no better or more conscientious workmen exist in the trade, yet a variety of reasons have been found for dismissing them. The simple truth is that the employers looked upon these men as agitators, and did not desire their services. We may provide that an employer shall give a good and sufficient reason for dismissing a man, and he may be able to do so without acknowledging that the real reason is that the man is a unionist, and as it is called an agitator. At the same time this man may not be an agitator at all, in the sense that our honorable members opposite understand the term, although he may be honestly fighting against oppression and injustice, and in favour of conditions which would be regarded as equitable by the community if they only understood the situation. We should give to such a man the only protection that can be given to him, and that is the protection of his fellowworkmen, who understand the position, and are able to say whether he is being victimized or not.
– I thought that the Court was to be his protection ?
– The Court will be a protection if it is given the necessary power, but some honorable members wish to take away from the Court that power.
– The honorable member says “No,” but he is taking every step which works in the direction of taking from the Court the power to settle a dispute in that way.
– To get the power for the Court to treat all alike.
– The honorable member can make all sorts of altruistic professions, but they work out to nothing.
– I have done as much for the workers as the honorable gentleman.
Mr- WATSON.- I have not alleged anything against the honorable member. So far as I know he has never given cause for the slightest reproach against himself. But I submit that all his professions of regard for the non-unionist are made at the expense of the man who is making the condition of the non-unionist bearable. To whom is the upraising of the workers as a class due? It is not due to the man who stands aloof from all reform and keeps away from his fellows, but to the man who sacrifices time, money, and prospects in order (hat some general good may be accomplished beyond even what might accrue to himself.
– How has the non-unionist benefited ?
– In the general upraising of the workers as a class that has gone On throughout the old world, principally in England and in these States as well. Though it has been due to the unionist primarily and almost entirely, the nonunionist has benefited, and I do not begrudge him some benefit.
Mr- Skene. - How is it that he has not found it out before?
– Because, like a large number of people who will always remain in the community, he has been absolutely blind to his own interests, because in manycases, the non-unionist has submitted to conditions not from choice but from necessity ; his stomach has been a factor in the consideration and he has been compelled to accept terms that his reason told him were not sufficient for the service which he was rendering.
– Why do the unionists try to keep non-unionists out of the unions?
– May I ask the honorable and learned member why does his organization keep out the man who wishes to practise law ? Why does this paid agitator come here and talk about stirring up strife - this gentleman, who is secretary to the Law Institute, that is prepared to pre’vent any competitor from coming into the field?
– I claim your protection, sir, against a foul and contemptible attack upon me. The statement of the Prime Minister is absolutely incorrect.
– Is not that true?
– Parasites !
– Will the honorable member for Kennedy keep order?
– I ask your protection, sir.
– I understand that the honorable and learned member for Wannon has risen to a point of order.
– I ask your protection, sir, against the attack of the Prime Minister, who said that I am the paid agitator of an association which has been formed to keep men from joining the legal profession.
– I rise to a point of order.
– Order ! I must decide one point of order before I can take another.
– But the point of order I wish to take refers to something which occurred previously.
– Will the honorable member for Kennedy please take his seat?
– It is absolutely incorrect to say that I am connected with an organization which, seeks to keep men from joining the legal profession.
– I rise to order. I wish to- know if the honorable and learned member for Wannon is in order in saying that any statement made by the Prime Minister is a foul and contemptible falsehood? I wish the remark to be withdrawn.
– I did not say that.
Mi. McDonald. - The honorable and learned member did say so.
– Will the honorable member for Kennedy kindly resume his seat while I deal with the point of order ?
– I want the remark to be withdrawn first.
– The honorable member for Kennedy will find that I shall keep order. The honorable and learned member for Wannon complains of a statement made by the Prime Minister that he is a paid agitator.
– That is not the statement I want withdrawn.
– The statement is distasteful to the honorable and learned member, and therefore I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw it.
– I ask for a ruling on the point of order that I raised.
Honorable Members. - Chair !
– Will the honorable member for Kennedy be seated?
– I rise to order. I wish to know if the honorable and learned member for Wannon is in order in saying that a statement made by the Prime Minister was a foul and contemptible falsehood ?
– Order ! I shall deal with that matter immediately after I have dealt with the point of order.
– Very well, sir.
– Does the honorable and learned member for Wannon desire me to withdraw the statement that he is a paid agitator? The term was applied to the honorable member for Darling and a number .of honorable members on this side; but it seems that it must not be applied by us to honorable members on the other side. If the honorable and learned member wishes me to withdraw the remark, I shall certain lv do so.
– I now ask the honorable and learned member for Wannon to withdraw the words “foul and contemptible.”
– It is not correct to say, as interjected by two honorable members on the other side, that I used the term “ falsehood.”
– It is absolutely true.
– I did not hear it.
– It is not correct to say that I said that the Prime Minister said something which was a falsehood. He knows that I did not use that word.
– That is quite correct, and I shall not ask the honorable and learned member to withdraw a word that he did not use. He did not use the word ““falsehood,” but he used two adjectives, which I do not think are in keeping with the dignity of the Chamber or his position as a member, and I ask him to withdraw them.
– I withdraw them, sir. I am sorry that I used an expression which was a shade too strong.
– I would appeal to honorable members to allow the debate to proceed in an orderly fashion. Some honorable members show a disposition to engage in conversation across the chamber, but as such conduct is not conducive to the progress’ of business, I ask them to refrain from it. Every honorable member will have an opportunity to speak as long as he likes on the question, so long as his remarks are in order.
– The honorable and learned member for Wannon objects to the term which I applied to him a few moments ago, and I have, therefore, withdrawn it; but I can substitute for it something equally expressive in defining my attitude towards him. He has freely insinuated against the supporters of the Government that they are actuated by ulterior motives in trying to pass the Bill, and that there are associated with the measure outside agitators, who are anxious for it to pass so that they may gain their own ends. But it comes ill from him, as the hired watchdog of the law association, -which, although it does not; perhaps, keep men from entering the legal profession-
– It has no power to de so.
– No. But it comes down like the proverbial thousand of bricks on the individual who attempts to practise law without a licence.
– And it has refused to allow women to practise.
– I am surprised to hear a charge of that sort levelled against the honorable and learned member for Wannon, whom I looked upon as a champion of the fair sex.
– In Victoria an Act has been passed which allows Women to enter the legal profession.
– The point I wish to drive home is that, without this clause giving preference to unionists where the Court considers necessary, the members of an organization who deem it necessary to take a certain attitude for the preservation of their own interests, or those of their fellowmen, would have no protection from the revenge of an unscrupulous employer.
– Is not sub-clause 3 of clause 9 sufficient?
– Although we may require employers to show cause for dismissals, it is the easiest thing in the world for an employer to manufacture a dozen reasons for the dismissal of an employe, if he feels it necessary to do so. I have known of that being done. The Minister of External Affairs pointed out the other evening that upon only one occasion has a conviction been’ secured in New South Wales under a provision similar to that referred to by the honorable member for Lang, and in that case the employer was innocent enough to plead guilty to the charge. The giving of preference to unionists was originally proposed by Mr. Reeves in the legislation, he introduced in New Zealand, to compensate them for the .sacrifice they made in relinquishing the right to strike, and to protect prominent members of the unions from being punished by employers. He says, at page in, of volume 2, of his State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand -
I think it enough to point out that, in New Zealand, the community, mainly for the purpose of self-protection, has deprived trade unionists of the right of striking - of the sacred right of insurrection to which all workmen rightly or wrongly believe that they owe most of what lifts them above serfdom. The Arbitration Act, moreover, deliberately encourages workmen to organize. When, in obedience to the law, they renounce striking, and register as industrial unions, it does not seem amiss that they should receive some special consideration.
He goes on to show the exertions and outlay involved in securing the proper organization of a trade, and the proper observance of the awards of the Court. The latter is one of the most important duties cast upon unions by the arbitration law.
– The measure will never be effective unless the unions act as watchdogs in regard to it.
– Quite so. I do not complain of the terms in which the honorable member for North Sydney puts forward his proposition. . I regard it as a sincere attempt to find a way out of a difficult)’ which has presented itself to his mind. But we must remember that what is aimed at in the Bill, the casting of responsibility upon organizations, presumes cohesive bodies, not mere collections of scattered units who may be separated by distance, as well as in thought and aspiration, We must have cohesive bodies, possessing sufficient influence to restrain those who may be disposed to go to extremes, or to refuse to obey the awards of the Court. I have already admitted in this chamber on several occasions that for some years I was not in favour of compulsory arbitration. I did not favour it until I saw it was possible to use the unions as influencing bodies, with a view to enforce the awards of the Court. The Teralba case, which was referred to by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, illustrates the position of the Government in this matter. An award was given by the New South Wales Court, largely reducing the hewing rate in the Newcastle coal district, and affecting 4,000 miners there, who accepted it without question, although there may have been a’ little grumbling. Another award - a subsidiary one - was given, affecting 200 miners employed at Teralba, in the same district, but they refused to obey it, and went out on strike. Undoubtedly if there had been no Arbitration Court that strike would have spread.
– There would have been a general strike.
– Yes, a strike extending throughout the Newcastle district- Any one who knows the volume of the coal trade there can imagine the amount of distress, and suffering and loss to “the State, and to tha whole Commonwealth, which would have ensued if that had happened. The Teralba strike collapsed because of the steady pressure brought to bear by the union upon the recalcitrant miners. No other organization could have brought such pressure to bear. The Teralba miners were forced to admit that the members of the Miners’ Union were men who looked on their position with sympathy, and had every desire to help them. But these men were strongly and persistently counselling them to obey the award of the Court, and to abide their time to have it reconsidered. Without a trades union, such as is contemplated by the Bill, and by the New South Wales and New Zealand Acts, it would be impossible to bring such pressure to bear. The organizations suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney would be useless. Their members could be forced to contribute so much by order of the Court; but they would have nothing in common. There would be no bond to bring them together, .and to keep them together.
– They would Belong to the one trade ; they would have that in common.
– That would not be enough. More than that would be required to enforce obedience to awards. A trades union does a great deal more than collect subscriptions from its members, which is all that would be done by the organization suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney, Such an organization would not have the power, and, therefore, could not undertake the responsibilities, of a trades union, whose members are bound by ties such as’ could never be imported in its case.
– What is voluntary is stronger than what is coercive.
– I admit that. I do not think it will be found that the compulsion provided for will be taken advantage of by the unions to any large extent. The honorable and learned member for Wannon instanced the action of the Sydney wharf labourers and of the coal lumpers in closing their books as something which had arisen because of the passing of the New South Wales Arbitration Act.
– No; I did not.
– The manner in which the honorable and learned member spoke of the matter led one to believe that the cases were used to support his arguments against the Bill. The Sydney wharf labourers closed their books in 1890, after having, for a considerable time before, exacted an entrance fee of £5, and the New South Wales coal lumpers closed their books before 1890, after having exacted, for a considerable period before, a similar entrance fee. After the strike of 1890 had collapsed, and the unions had become strong again, the coal lumpers once more closed their books. I was one who, in 1890, and subsequently, , protested against that phase of unionism which proposed to make close corporations of the unions. Therefore, my present attitude is not, as suggested by the honorable and learned member for Wannon, a new departure.
– I did not say that it is.
– I took the honorable member as saying so. He said that the Government were prepared at this late hour to propose something which would lessen the possibility of the unions becoming close corporations. This is not a new departure ; it is in consonance with what I have put forward for years past, and with what I have declared to be the policy of the Government ever since it came into existence. The instances referred to by the honorable and learned member do not affect, in the slightest degree, the case for or against the Bill. Wherever a union is strong, and a number of its members are very selfish, there will be attempts to make it a close corporation.
– Was not the refusal of the coal lumpers to unload the Kiama . virtually a strike, entered upon in defiance of the Act?
– There had been no award in the case of the. coal lumpers.
– It will probably be ten months before they can get an award under the Act. They ‘ have not been brought under the Act. the coal lumpers had pursued that
– But, as I have said, course -I think improperly - for a considerable time before the Act was brought into ‘ operation. Therefore, their case affords no indictment of the Act. I know of no other union, apart from those two, in New South Wales, which has attempted in this fashion to make its body a close corporation. Of course, nearly every union of artisans insists that every member shall be a qualified workman, before he is allowed to join, and that is a very proper principle. But, beyond that, with the exceptions mentioned, I do not think there is any condition imposed by anytrade union throughout Australia of the nature indicated in the present relation. The honorable member for North Sydney, and subsequently the honorable and learned member for Wannon, made a great deal of the fact that the unions, or some of them, go in for politics. Of course. I suppose, one of the worst features of that development is the fact that they have gone in for the wrong sort of politics. But the question whether they go in for politics has really nothing to do with what we are now discussing; because they have just as much right to go in for politics as individuals, or as members of unions, as they have to join in a temperance crusade or an agitation against compulsory vaccination, or any movement which is not usuallv included within the sphere of party politics. We cannot at tempt to limit the individual liberty of a man in that way ; nor, if we cannot limit him as an individual, should we attempt to limit a number, who are members of an organization, made up of individuals. We must be prepared to allow these people to take their own course. I might point to the fact that many of the most prominent trades unionists of Sydney are men who have never worked with or voted for the Labour Party. Quite a number of the most prominent men in the trades unions have been consistently against the Labour Party in politics. Mr. Bavister, a strong supporter of the Free-trade Party, with which the honorable member for North Sydney is so honorably associated, is one instance of a man who has for years kept up his connexion with a trades union, of which he is a trusted officer as well as being a member of the Trades Council and of the Eight Hours Day Committee. In every way heis known to be a man out of harmony with labour politics. But that fact has not interfered with Mr. Bavister’s chance of election as an officer of his. union in the slightest degree. . On the other side, we have many’, other instances. There are Mr. West and Mr. Talbot, who are well known as protectionists, and many others have similarlylrefused to give up their convictions in regard to protection, or freetrade, in order to advance the labour programme. They put their general politics first, as they are entitled to do, and no one has ever interfered with them for so doing.
– Is not that an argument for keeping the organizations underthis Bill perfectly distinct from the trades unions ?
– Not at all. It is an argument to show that there is nothing in the proposition that we should not recognise the unions in ‘the Bill or give them preference, because they may go in for politics. Of course they may go in for politics as individuals, or even as members of unions ; and if they dp, is it not ridiculous for any oneto assume; that the unions can constrain their membersto act in any particular direction if they . do not want to do so ?
– The others will call them “ blacklegs “ for that.
– They have not called Mr. Bavister a blackleg, have they? He was a member of Parliament with the honorable member for New England, and no one has accused him of being disloyal, because he held aloof from Labour Partv politics. I admit that a union passed a rule, on one occasion in
New South Wales, to the effect that its members should vote for ‘the labour candidate. But it is manifestly ridiculous to pass any such rules, with the expectation that they can be made effective. The Court afterwards declared that that rule must come out, and it was dropped ; bub. even while it was in existence it was, in my view, the most absurd rule that could have been placed upon the books of a trades union. Every one knows that you cannot enforce a rule of that description ; and if a thousand men who are to-day non-unionists, and who perhaps do not agree with Labour Party politics, were to join a union to-morrow, there would be nothing to coerce them iri regard to the exercise of their political rights.
– Political action keeps some men from joining the unions.
– I am inclined to doubt that statement. I have had a very long experience, for my age, of trades unions. I joined a union when I was. 18 years of age, and I have been a member ‘lever since. I have had a great deal of I experience of trades unions in New South Wales outside my own ‘ trade ; and I heard, long before the unions went in for politics, just the same excuses made by individuals as to why they did not join a union. Many men do not join a union for fear that if they do they will be marked men, and that it mav prevent their advancement at the hands of the employers, for (whom they are working. Another class who do not join are those who are too mean to contribute the small weekly amount that is necessary to keep the unions going. I have known men to be very efficient agitators and workers for a union until it obtained a certain concession, when they immediately withdrew even their paltry subscription, and left other men outside their own workshop to struggle as best they, could. Such men embrace another section of nonunionists. But I admit that there are many men who keep aloof from unions for conscientious reasons.
– -Some of the freetrade workmen in Sydney certainly do.
– I am inclined to think that very few keep out of unions for that reason, though they may keep out of the Political Labour Leagues - and very properly so, if they do not approve of their methods. Of course, that is always a matter of opinion.
– Why should not this provision apply only to organizations as distinct from trades unions ?
– All that this provision proposes to do is to endow the Court with power to declare a preference for trades unionists, or members of any organization, and subject always, be it remembered, to the amendment which the honorable and learned member for Ballarat and myself have evolved, which provides that nothing in the nature of a close corporation must be attempted, and that if it is the registration, and any benefits which ‘ may have accrued under the award of the Court, shall immediately disappear, and be withdrawn from the union.
– The distinction is that this Bill provides for an organization, and does not refer to a trades union at all.
– The honorable member is, of course, relying upon the technical phraseology of the Bill; because, after all, any one who knows anything of legislation of this class, and who has followed its history, must have recognised by this time’ that such legislation could never have been brought forward, or could not have been as successful as it has been, except for the fact that it is not founded on a skeleton organization or a chance working together of a number of dis-united individuals, but that unions exist which are made responsible under the law - unions of men combined in one body, by ties of sentiment and loyalty one to another. And such unions are necessary to the successful working of this measure. The honorable member for Richmond, who is always sufficiently amusing, even if he is not instructive, tells us that in this Bill we are perpetrating the enormity of making 400,000 work people in New South Wales subject to the caprice of 66,000 unionists.
– I do not think that I put it quite in that way.
– Practically that wasthe effect of the honorable member’s contention - that only 66,000 were enrolled as unionists, and that, by this preference, we shall make 400,000 work people depends upon them.
– I will see what the honorable gentleman makes out of that.
– I suppose that if I make too much out of it. the honorable member will say that he did not intend it to be understood in that way. I have taken thetrouble to refer to Mr. Coghlan’s Statistical Register for New South Wales, and I find that there are employed in that State among the professional and mercantile classes, including dealers, telegraph assistants - who number 5,000 - doctors, lawyers and professional persons of that description, 187,000 people. Those, although they are workers, are not workers in the sense of being eligible for membership of any existing trades union.
– Do they not include employers also ?
– No; they include people who are not eligible for membership of any existing union. They also include persons engaged in domestic service. I am subtracting from the 400,000 all those who are not eligible to join any existing union, and who are not engaged in any occupation to which any union relates. To give the figures in detail, there are 110,000 members of the professional, mercantile, and dealing classes; 72,000 engaged in domestic service and lodging; 5,000 post and telegraph assistants; 77.000 are engaged in agriculture; 18,000 are engaged in dairying; 3,000 are engaged in fisheries and forestry ; 9,000 are people of independent means - making a total of 294,000 who are not eligible for membership of existing unions. Therefore, if the whole of the 66,000 work people who are members of unions were registered under the Court, and were granted preference, we should have to subtract from the number of those who, according to the honorable member’s argument, would possibly be subject to their control, 294,000 people.
– Let me tell the honorable gentleman what I did say. I wrote to Mr. Coghlan, and asked him the number of unionists in New South Wales. The answer he returned was 66,900. I wrote to him again, and asked him the number of workers in New South Wales. The replywas 460,000 - just as I stated it. The Prime Minister will find that Mr. Coghlan is right.
– I am quite sure that Mr. Coghlan is right on the question as it was put to Kim by the honorable member. Even in that shape, however, it cannot convey any such impression as the honorable member evidently anticipated. He was trying to persuade the Committee that 66,000 men were dominating 400,000 men, and could compel them to join the unions, whereas all those who are engaged in occupations in which there are no unions should be subtracted from the latter number before the honorable member’s arguments are applied.
– Will not this Bill force those people, who are now outside the unions, to form such organizations?
– Only in those cases in which disputes arise. No persons can obtain any recognition from the Arbitration Court unless they are members of an organization. But, as has been proved in New Zealand and New South Wales, we may go on for years and years without having organizations formed in certain industries, because no dispute may arise. There are certain persons who follow callings in which no unions exist, and such persons could not be compelled to join the unions. That is where the arguments of the honorable member for Richmond were at fault. He was also in error in confusing the 66,000 persons in the unions registered under the Arbitration Act with the total number of unionists in New South Wales. A very considerable number of unionists are not registered under the Act, and that fact involves another subtraction from the honorable member’s figures.
– But would they not be included in the 400,000 mentioned by the Minister ?
– Yes; they would be included among the 400,000, but not among those I have deducted, because I have embraced only those engaged in industries in which no unions exist. I am not certain in regard to all the unions that are registered or unregistered, but I know of all the callings in which unions exist, and I subtracted those engaged in such callings from the numbers quoted by the honorable member for Richmond.
– The Minister is “not questioning the figures, but explaining them.
– I am showing clearly that the deduction sought to be drawn by the honorable member is absolutely without foundation. If he will admit that, I shall be satisfied. I wish to impress upon honorable members that, in the first place, this proposal is an integral portion of every Arbitration Act that has been brought into operation. Without it, it would be almost impossible, at any rate, in my view, to make this measure effective. The proposal put forward by the honorable member for North Sydney falls far short of providing for the kind of organization which alone could be held responsible for the successful working of the Act, and for the observance of the awards. The policing under this measure must be carried on, not by an army of inspectors, but by the members of the unions, who will know, even down te the smallest details, whether or not the awards are being observed. Without a provision of this kind it would be impossible to secure attention to details. I hope, therefore, that honorable members will hesitate before they strike out a provision which, according to the evidence of representative employers in New Zealand, has been found to work reasonably, which does not deprive the employers of the right te pick and choose among the men who pre-sent themselves, and which, in any case, is only to be applied after the Court has thoroughly gone into the question and has become convinced that it is necessary to have some such condition laid down.
– After the very lengthy debate that has taken place upon this clause, I do not intend to detain the Committee at very great length. I wish, however, to direct attention to one or two matters which I think ought to have some effect in influencing honorable members. I shall not emulate the example of the Prime Minister, who has indulged in a somewhat heated exordium. It seemed almost as if he imagined that he was called upon to sway the emotions of a very large audience outside the House. After the first tumult had subsided, he returned to his old methods, and, although his manner was as of old, his logic was not so convincing as usual. He says that this provision is an integral part of every Arbitration Act that has been passed. I contend that it is not an essential part of any. I should not only omit the provision that the Court may give preference to members of organizations, and, by consequence, to unionists, but I should actually include within the four corners of the Bill an express provision that the Court shall under no circumstances give preference to members of organizations over non-members. I say that, although I quite recognise, with the Prime Minister, the splendid work that the trade unions have done in the emancipation of labour. At one time there was not one member of this Committee who would not sympathize with the efforts of the unions by any legitimate means - by any pressure that was short of criminal - to force nonmembers to join the union- That, however, was in the days before Arbitration Acts were brought into operation.
Then the unions had to fight for the reformation of the law, and to combat the power and prejudices of the capitalist classes. Their good work and the expenditure of the savings of the members of their organizations might then have been rendered altogether nugatory by men who entered into secret arrangements with their employers, or who accepted less than a fair wage. It was absolutely essential then that the unions should put down those men who were called, perhaps with some justification, “ black-legs.” The moment, however, that an Arbitration Act such as this is adopted the very functions of the unions are gone - they no longer exist. It is impossible, under such legislation, for men who are not members of the unions to neutralize the good effect of the work done by the organizations.
– What effect would this, or any other Bill of a similar character, have if there were no unions at the back of it?
– I am dealing with another point just now. So far from agreeing with the Prime Minister that the recognition of unionists as against non-unionists is an essential part of any Arbitration Bill, I contend that the justification for differentiation has absolutely passed away, because under the award of the Court, it is absolutely impossible for a man who is not a member of the union to destroy the effect of an award. He cannot take less than the prescribed wages, or work an hour, or even a minute, longer than is provided for under the award.
– Not until he is found out.
– The Bill absolutely bristles with provisions which are intended to secure the enforcement of the awards of the Court.
– There is nothing to prevent an employer from dismissing all his men for bringing a case before the Arbitration Court.
– The honorable member must forget that provision is made that the most severe penalties shall be inflicted upon employers who may attempt to interfere with the members of the union. Clause 9 contains a provision that a penalty of £20 shall be imposed upon any employer who dismisses an employe by reason merely of the fact that he is an officer or a member of a union. Then again, in. clause 57, provision is made that if any employer is adjudged to be guilty of any contravention of part II. of the Bill, or of wilful default in regard to any award, he shall, in addition to the penalty imposed for the offence, be subjected to a series of serious disabilities. He is to be deprived of all rights, privileges, benefits, or advantages under the Bill, but at the same time is to be subjected to all the liabilities imposed upon him by the award of the Court. Provision is also made that in certain events imprisonment is to be the alternative to a monetary fine. Therefore, so far as legislation can provide, by imposing penalties upon employers, the Bill guards against an employer victimizing any employe merely because he is a member of a union.
– Does the honorable and learned member think that under the terms of clause 9 any employe will have a reasonable chance of securing a conviction against an employer?
– I do. It should be as easy to prove in Court that an employer is guilty as it is to say, with knowledge of the fact, that he is guilty. The matter must’ be one of fact, and not one of opinion.
– It may be a matter of intention, which it is impossible to prove.
– We know that there is always a difficulty in proving an intention. At the same time, I say that, so far as we can provide against such offences, we have done so in. this Bill, . and that it is not necessary to pass this provision in order to prevent an employer from discriminating between unionists and non-unionists. Our objection to the clause is that it is not essential to the Bill. Members of unions would be the only persons who would enjoy lights under it ; all others would be subject to liabilities. The unions would have the power of initiation. The only reasonable ground that may be advanced for the retention of this clause is that if an organization engaged in a big fight against an organization of employers had only a small membership it might not have sufficient funds to carry on the war.
– That is a very important ground.
– It is the only ground on which this clause can be supported ; but it has not yet been advanced by -honorable members opposite. It is the only justification, if there can be any justification, for the provision. It is not necessary, however, that this provision should be made. If we adopted the suggestion of the honorable, member for North Sydney, and made all that were concerned members of an organization under the Bill, every one of them would have to pay a share of the costs of a successful or unsuccessful fight. That would be a solution of the difficulty.
– The honorable and learned member means reconstruction.
– I do not mean anything of. the kind. If the suggestion were- carried out-if, instead of allowing an organization to be confined to certain persons, we declared that all who were interested in a dispute should constitute the organization necessary to put the machinery of the measure in motion - every one of them would be called upon to bear a share of the necessary costs. It will thus be seen that there is in reality no justification for a provision of this kind. It is not necessary, when it is open to us to provide otherwise, and on much better grounds, for the division among those who would be benefited by an award of some share of the cost of securing it. I should be prepared not only to excise this clause, but to justify the insertion of a provision to prevent any dispute being raised on the question of preferential employment. The clause goes beyond the New Zealand and the New South Wales Acts. I think that the New Zealand Consolidating Act of 1900 does not contain any express provision like this, but in the definition section there is a definition of “ industrial matters,” which declares in effect that that term shall include a claim for preferential employment. The words “ preferential employment “ are not used, but that is the effect of the provision. There is no provision in . any subsequent part of the measure that is analogous to that now under consideration. The reason is that in New Zealand the provision was put in so that the power could be exercised only where the cause of the dispute was the employment of men who were not members of an organization, or, as such a body is called there, an “industrial union.” That was the reason alleged by Mr. Wise, when speaking in the Legislative Council of New South Wales, for the inclusion of a similar provision in the Arbitration Bill of that State. I have here a report of the speech made by Mr. Wise when moving the second reading of the Bill in the Legislative Council. He pointed out that the employment of persons who were not members of an organization might be the cause of a strike, and that it was therefore necessary to give the Court power in such a case to adjudicate between the claims of men who were members of the union and those who were not. He said -
Further, I point out that strikes have arisen from this cause. Now, how are they to be settled? They are settled at present in a way we know of - a settlement which nine times out of ten is no settlement at all. But under this clause the Court will have power to say - and this is the way in which the provision has been interpreted in New Zealand, and I suppose we should follow the decisions of Mr. Justice Williams and Mr. Justice Edwards very much - that in certain cases where the custom of the trade is to employ unionists, other things being equal, preference shall be given to unionists. For example, supposing in any particular trade it had been the custom year after year to employ unionists, and that in ninetynine cases out of a hundred the men in the trade were unionists, and that the difficulty had arisen because three, four, or five non-unionists were employed, I quite admit that theoretically it does not matter whether they are unionists or not ; but we have to deal with human nature as it is, and, although the arguments I put forward may not commend themselves to everybody else as strongly as it appears to me they ought to, as to the reasonableness of objecting to nonunionists being employed, still the fact remains that that objection is raised ; and’ if it is an objection based on sentiment, because it rests on sentiment, it is all the stronger and more ineradicable. If, then, there is that fact as an inducing and most powerful cause of controversy - a cause that leads to difficulties that breed more bitterness than almost any other difficulty - surely it is not an unreasonable thing to say that the Court, having investigated it, may. say to any employer, if the declaration can be made without injustice being done to anybody - I make that proviso - “ When you have your next vacancy, if there is an equally competent union man you shall employ him.”
He referred only to cases in which the cause of dispute was the employment of men who were not members of an organization. He went on to mention by way of further explanation, that in New Zealand, where applications for preference had been made, but were not the initial cause of the dispute, the Courts had refused to exercise jurisdiction. He said -
I have referred to one New Zealand case where the Court refused to give preference to unionists because, as a matter of fact, in that particular trade non-unionists had been employed - there was no custom of the trade to employ unionists.
It was further pointed out that it was the originating cause of dispute. I may mention that I read the debate on the amending Bill of 1903 in New- Zealand, and found that in several of these cases the local Court had refused to exercise jurisdiction, because the matter of preference was not the originating cause of the dispute. I say. therefore, that we are going beyond the declared. policy of the Bill passed by the New South Wales’ Legislature, and, from an examination of the provisions of the New Zealand Act of 1900, that we propose to go beyond the apparent policy of that measure, because there is no express direction under the enacting sections of the Act of New Zealand, analogous to that contained in the clause before us. It has been said by the Prime Minister that this is an integral provision of every Arbitration Act that has hitherto been passed. It is not, however, a necessary one, and in support of that assertion I have as my authority a statement made by Mr. Wise in moving the second reading of the New South Wales Bill. He pointed out that, even if the clause which dealt with the question of preference were lost, the main purpose of the Bill would not be affected
If the clause is omitted the Bill will still remain an instrument of great value, in my opinion, for the furtherance of industrial peace.
That statement is borne out by an examination of the causes of disputes in the old country. I find from an article by Mr. Holt Schooling in the May number of the Fortnightly Review, that in round numbers in only 6 per cent, of the disputes between 1897 and 1 901 was a question of trades unionism the originating cause, and that in only 13 per cent, of the total disputes was the originating matter the question of the employment of particular classes of persons. Even in those cases the dispute was not necessarily because the persons in. question were non-members of a union. The real cause of the disputes was, of course, the desire to better the conditions of the labourers. In 64 per cent, of the total disputes in England during the period named the cause of the disputes was the alleged inadequacy of wages.
– Is not that an argument in favour of allowing this provision to remain as it stands ?
– No; it shows that it is not of the very essence of the Bill. As has been pointed out by several honorable members, it would lead to indirect political effects, ‘which should not be countenanced by Parliament, and as it is not a necessary part of the Bill, we should strike it out.
– If the disputes in regard to this question were so small in number, in what way is injury likely to result from this provision ?
– The injury that is likely to occur has been pointed out. It is proposed that persons shall be made members of an organization for one purpose, and by joining that organization they must become members of a union for another purpose. The definition of “ association “ includes trades unions, and under clause 63 an association, on registration, would become an organization within the meaning of the Bill. A man may be deprived of the benefits of a friendly society on breach of an award. By becoming a member of an organization he would really become a member of a union that had been transformed into an organization, and as such, as has been pointed out, might, by his subscriptions, support a policy the very opposite of his creed. His subscriptions might be diverted to a use which, as a private citizen, he would naturally condemn. An examination of the Bill, and the fact that only a small percentage .of disputes originate in England in connexion with trades union matters, should convince us that w« ought not to pass a provision of this kind, that would have such dangerous effects, more especially when it is not necessary for the general working of the measure. It would also interfere with the liberty of a very large section of the workers. I do not propose to follow the Prime Minister and the honorable member for ‘Richmond in their examination of the figures relating to the number of workers in New South Wales. I dare say that some mistake has been made. Let me refer to the figures relating to the members pf organizations, and workers who are not members of organizations in New Zealand. Taking Judge Backhouse’s report of 1900, together with the figures quoted by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat in moving the second reading of this Bill-
– We have since heard from New Zealand that those figures are incorrect.
– I think that the honorable member must be in error, because Judge Backhouse, in his report for 1900, gives figures which show a disparity of only about 1,500, as compared with the figures given in a cablegram sent by Mr. Seddon to the honorable and” learned member for Ballarat a few months ago.
– We telegraphed to Mr. Seddon asking whether they were correct, and he replied that there was a mistake.
– I know that there has been a mistake, but I would point out” that as there is not a difference of 2,000 in a total of 48,000, the discrepancy cannot in- terfere, to any great extent, with the percentage. According to Judge Backhouse’s report, in 1900 there were 48,000 employes in New Zealand, and of that number 26,000 were members of organizations or industrial unions. In 1903, according to the cablegram from Mr. Seddon, there were 57,000 workers, and of that number 23,000 were members of industrial unions, so that, notwithstanding the many inducements held out by the New Zealand Act to persons to join these industrial unions, there does not. appear to be a desire on the part of a very large section of employes to become members of such organizations. .
– The figures also show that there is no danger to be apprehended in respect of this provision. ‘
– By forcing workers to become members of organizations we shall really be fettering their discretion and their liberty of action. I think that it was in 1900 that the statutory provision giving the New Zealand Court power to give a preference was passed. Judge Backhouse then thought that this would lead to a large increase in the number of members, .but, as the figures show, the very opposite has been the result. Judge Backhouse’s words were -
Already the wider definition of the present Act has had its effect, and I have little doubt that the number of unionists will largely increase.
I do not for one moment say that members of the Government party in the House have an ulterior motive in securing the retention of this paragraph. But I do say that the power, given can be used in the direction indicated - that is, it may be used in strengthening political organization. I do not say that that is the motive of honorable members in securing its retention, but that the provision may be so used is evidenced by the fact that there is an agitation in New Zealand to make preference to unions compulsory by statute. That is part of the Labour Party’s programme in New Zealand. The honorable member for Wannon reminds me that there is no such provision in the Western Australian Act.
– That is a very imperfect statute.
– I accepted the statement of the Prime Minister as correct that such a provision was part of every Arbitration Act which has hitherto been passed.
– The Prime Minister mentioned three Acts-
– That such a provision is not essential is evidenced by the fact that it is not included in the Western Australian Act. In the debate on the amending Bill of 1903 in the Legislative Council of New Zealand, a proposal was made to carry out the Labour Party’s programme, which included compulsory preference by the award - that is, the giving of compulsory preference to unionists. That proposal was rejected by forty-five votes to twenty-one; but it shows the trend of policy in New Zealand.
– A number of labour members voted with the majority.
– To show how extreme the demands are becoming, I may mention that the organizations wanted to have the power to submit disputes for reference without giving the general notice prescribed by the Act. The organizations desired, further, that, instead of all the members of an organization being directly consulted as to whether a reference should take place, a majority at a meeting, no matter how small the meeting might be, should have the power to decide. That shows that the more the organizations get, the more they ask for. In the award in the Auckland boot trade dispute, which was settled in 1900, there is in clause 2 a provision for preference to unionists ; and one would think that that would be enough. But shortly after the award was applied, an agitation sprang up for an extension of if in the direction of greater preference to unionists, and in April, 1901, the award was amended by the addition of the following provision : -
When a non-union workman is engaged by an employer in consequence of the union being unable to supply a workman of equal ability willing to undertake the work, at any time within twelve months thereafter the union shall have the right to supply a man capable of performing the work, provided the workman first declines to become a member of the union.
What does that mean? It means that, although a man may be in employment, unless he becomes a member of a union he may be dismissed, and at any time a member of a union may be substituted for him. The demand of the Labour Party for such a provision in the award relating to the boot trade, indicates the tendency of this provision, and it means that ultimately preference must be given to unionists. I should like to refer honorable members to a voluntary industrial agreement which has been entered into in England. If it is essential here that men should be forced to join unions, whether they like it or not, surely that is more essential in the United Kingdom, where there is no compulsory arbitration. As I pointed out, unions’ are protected here by the fact that there can be no blacklegs under the Bill, and an employer cannot be unjust to a man because that man is a member of an organization. All must be treated alike ; the award cannot be frustrated, by the fact that men who are not members of a union refuse to accept its conditions. The engineering trade in England is carried on under an industrial agreement, entered into at the end of the big strike of 1897-8, and the declaration with which that agreement starts is -
Every workman shall be free to belong to a trade union or not, as he may think fit.
That is the declaration of labour, because it is signed .by representatives of one of the biggest voluntary organizations in the United Kingdom.
– But that agreement was signed after the workmen had been beaten in the strike.
– That agreement was signed at the end of the strike in 1897-8, and since then work has been carried on amicably under its provisions.
– After ‘they were beaten, what could the workmen do?
– The next declaration of the agreement is -
Every employer shall be free to employ any man whether he belongs to a trade union or not.
– Why did they want to sign that declaration, seeing that the law gave both sides the option?
– If such a provision is essential where trades unions are protected, surely it is more essential in the United Kingdom, where the system is voluntary.
– But in England the men could have gone on strike again next day.
– Surely, in the terms of settlement of a big strike, on which nearly a quarter of a million of money was spent, that provision would not have been inserted if the position of labour had been destroyed.
– Does the honorable and learned member not see that if men in Australia go on strike under the Bill, every penny of their funds will be forfeited by the mere fact of their going on strike? The engineers who signed that agreement could have gone on ‘strike without forfeiting anything.
– Have I not admitted that there . is one apology for the suggestion that non-unionists shall be forced to become members of unions? That apology is that, in the case of a successful strike, non-unionists ought not to have the advantage of, perhaps, better wages or shorter hours without contributing to the cost of the victory. But it is not essential to have the provision. If the suggestion ‘ of the honorable member for North Sydney to make all persons in an industry an organization for the purpose of the Bill, or to have some limitation in that direction, were adopted, all would be responsible for the cost.
– How could they be levied upon?
– Under the Bill.
– And by the creation of a fund.
– Then it is ‘ proposed b to rob the employes of , their weekly wages by force ?
– The Minister asks how the penalties could be recovered. If we can recover a penalty against members of an organization, surely it will not matter what may be the basis of that organization. It will not matter whether there are 2,000 or 20,000 members.
– But it will matter whether they have any funds.
– Costs should not be asked against men who have no funds.
– What are the rules of the organization to be?
– We have not yet reached schedule B, which prescribes what the rules are to be.
– Who is going to-‘ govern the association?
– The committee. If the Minister will look at schedule B he will find it there prescribed what are to be the rules of an organization for this very purpose.
– What are the purposes of the organization?
– We might give facilities for the collection of subscriptions for. the purpose of meeting the costs of an award, or for any other purpose. Power could be given to the secretary, committee, or whatever the management might be, to collect from the members of the organization dues, for. the purpose of meeting the expenses of an award.
– That is done now under trades unions.
– Of course it is; and not only is it done under voluntary unions, but is actually provided for in the Bill in regard to any organization. However, I do not wish to labour the point. The fact that we may recognise an organization under the Bill, every member of which will be liable, without being a member of a trades union, to contribute to the costs of a fight against employers, removes the only possible reason for the inclusion of such a provision as that under discussion. This provision is not essential, and as it may lead to ulterior consequences which may have political effects we ought not to countenance it should be struck out.
– I take an altogether different view from that of the honorable and learned member for Angas, as to the necessity and value of the proposal we are now discussing. My experience of the Factories Act in Victoria is that it is most effective, and continuously effective, when backed up by strong, active, vigilant trades unions. I am quite sure that many of the advantages of that Act would not be reaped by those in whose interests it was framed unless there were powerful trade organizations watching it closely. An army of inspectors would be required to make the Act effective were not trades unions zealously taking care that its provisions are carried into effect. The proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney would create machinery for collecting subscriptions from those directly interested.
– From all.
– But beyond that there would not be any organization.
Mr- Dugald Thomson.: - Oh. yes, there would.
– In what- way ? Who would elect the officers ?
– The members.
– Who would watch its interests ?
– The committee.
– Well, then, it would be a more comprehensive trades union, and there would be greater compulsion than the Bill proposes.
– Hear, hear; but only for one object.
– How would the honorable member confine such an organization to one object ?
– Of course, that could be done.
– Let us suppose for a moment that the whole of the men in the engineering trade in New South Wales, or in Australia, were compelled to subscribe 6d. per week.
– Not 6d. ; nothing like that amount-
– Then let us suppose that the men were compelled to pay 1d. per week -for the purposes of this Bill. That1d. would not only provide means for carrying out the provisions of the measure, but would make those men members of the engineers’ organization.
– The money collected would go into Court.
– What is to prevent the organization at any time resolving to use its power for any political or social purpose the majority of members may decide?
– Because the registration as an organization would be cancelled.
– By whom?
– By the Registrar.
– Would not the Registrar cancel an organization such as we are proposing if it were used for illegitimate purposes ?
– Already the Arbitration Court in New South Wales has compelled one organization to strike out a rule which made the object of that organization political.
– The Court struck out a rule which made it necessary to contribute to the election expenses of parliamentary candidates.
– That shows plainly that the Court has supervision, and is likely to exercise it. I hold that the proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney is impracticable; it is useless for the objects of this Bill, and will prove a means of enabling employers to do for men what men ought to do for themselves. As to the objections raised in connexion with the operation of the provision, I should like to direct attention to what Judge Backhouse said on the point. It is very remarkable that the striking report of Judge Backhouse has not been quoted before, but it is alluded to in Mr.’ Wise’s speech, which has been quoted in the course of the discussion. Mr. Wise directed attention to the fact that Judge Backhouse lays it down distinctly that no harm has come from the provision, that many employers are in favour of it, and that- the objections are only’ sentimental objections on the part of a nuniber of employers who are opposed to the principle. Judge Backhpuse said-
An ordinary workman hesitates, moreover, to make an application which marks him as incompetent. It is always provided in awards that, where unionists and non-unionists are employed, they shall work in harmony. Safeguarded in these ways, the granting of preference, it may be said, can only be objected to, as one of the Judges put it to me, on sentimental grounds. Mr. Clarke, a large employer of labour in Auckland, told me that, with these limitations, the difficulty was practically non-existent.
What are the limitations? That the union must not be a close corporation, that every one who is willing to join must be afforded facilities for that purpose, and that there must be no subscription or entrance fee which is prohibitive. With these limitations, Judge Backhouse gives his opinion that there is nothing harmful, that there is a great deal which is beneficial in this provision, and that no one is injured in any way by the carrying out of the Act.
– Mr. Reeves quotes the President of the Wellington Employers’ Association to the. same effect.
– Quite so. and I could cite other illustrations, all bearing out what I say.
– The Judge balances up very fairly -in the report, but he does not put it quite so strongly as the honorable member thinks.
– The honorable and learned member has brought out clearly the important fact that in New Zealand no minority has been coerced, that, notwithstanding that the provision has been in force for a number of years, the number of . trades unions has only increased at a very small ratio, and that the number of workers inside is far smaller than the number outside the unions. Such being the case, where does the cry of coercion come in, and how is it going to be effected ?
– It shows that men do not want to join the unions.
– I quite recognise that it does. But does not the honorable and learned member know that that is only human nature? Does he not know that in every walk of life the great brunt of the work is borne by a few, and that the largemajority are parasites who live on the fruits of the workers? Take any organization of a social or religious character. The great mass outside the organization are too ignorant, or too careless, or too thoughtless, to in any way contribute to the benefits whichthey are only too glad to receive and take advantage of at the very first opportunity.
– Are non-unionists thoughtless and ignorant ?
– Does the honorable member assert that the whole body of workers outside unions are parasites?
– I have not said so.
– The honorable member has said that they are ignorant.
– I said that the vast majority of people in connexion with religious and social organizations are too ignorant and careless to do any of the work, or to bear the brunt of the battle, and yet only too ready to reap the benefits which are gained. That is what I said, and what I repeat, and no one knows it better than the honorable member. He knows, too, that the condition of things in the world would be very different to-day if every man were doing his duty in the walk of life in which he finds himself, and it is because men in connexion with trades and professions do not do their duty as citizens that that condition exists. Take the illustration afforded to us by the last general election in Western Australia, when only 27 electors out of every 100 voted.- Does not that demonstrate that the vast majority are so taken up with their material interests or pleasures that they will not exercise the greatest right which has ever been bestowed on a free people? Surely my honorable friend will admit that. Surely he will not contend for a moment that because only 27 electors out of every 100 voted, therefore universal suffrage is wrong, vicious, selfish, exclusive? The argument which he applies to trades unions is that, because the vast majority of the workers have not joined trades unions, their aims and objects are wrong.
– A very large number of persons were prevented from exercising the franchise.
– We admit that.
– Order. The question before the Committee has nothing to do with the exercise of the franchise.
– In New Zealand the Act has not forced men to join unions which they did not desire to join, or which it was not to their benefit to join. The Court has demonstrated that it can discriminate. For instance, it was asked to give unionists preference in connexion with the engineering trade, and it refused. Again, it was asked to give unionists preference in regard to other trades, which could be mentioned, and it refused. All we ask is that the Court shall have the right, in circumstances which, in its wisdom, may justify such action, to compel men to become unionists.
– Is there a special section in the New Zealand Act granting preference to unionists ?
– Power is given to the Court to grant preference to unionists, and the Court has exercised it and refused to exercise it.
– Is it exactly the same power ?
– It is.
– Is not the same power given in the interpretation clause of this Bill as is given in the interpretation section of the New Zealand Act?
– Very possibly, but that does not alter the position.
– Then this clause is superfluous ?
– I do not think so, but if it is superfluous, and the power is granted in another part of the Bill, why this strenuous objection to the clause?
– Why admit it?
– Because I think it is necessary for the reasons I have indicated. To-night, and previously, we have heard a great deal about the liberty of the subject. The honorable member for Gippsland, who, as head of the. McLean Government, did more than any two other Premiers in Victoria to bring into operation the Wages Board provision in the Factories Act, has been prattling about the liberty of the subject.
– That is a subject which the honorable member does not understand.
– If I do not understand’ the subject, Professor Herron, of the Harvard University, does. This is what he says -
The truths that stood for liberty less than a century ago now fairly oppose the freedom of the sons of God. The tyranny of to-day was the liberty of yesterday. The old passion for independence (and liberty) is the new passion for gain, for the authority which money gives in state, church, and society.
The men who are prattling about liberty are those who are opposing to the very death a measure which has for its object the bringing of liberty to the toiling masses of Australia.
– He was referring to the tyranny of labour.
– He was referring to the tyranny of the so-called prattlers for liberty. What does my honorable friend mean by that term? Does he refer to the negative liberty of the savage, or to the positive liberty of seamstresses under the Factories Act in Victoria. We had a negative liberty here and seamstresses made shirts for i£d. each, but when we were given that repressive measure, the Wages Board compelled the employers to pay the same persons 16s. a week for 48 hours’ work. Where is the liberty and where is the freedom ? Is it to be found in the laissez faire policy of my honorable friend, or in the “ thou shalt not “ which is contained in such a measure as we have before us? The men who in this Chamber prattle about liberty, and talk about the rights of the working man, know nothing about him or his interests. They represent him in no way, and are not in sympathy with his aspirations and ideas. Honorable members who represent banking, insuring, and mining interests claim that this will be an oppression to men who do not belong to trades unions, and yet they belong to the closest corporations and closest trades unions that it is possible to conceive. Take, for instance, the insurance companies of Victoria, and treat as a unit one company. It will be found that it is absolutely impossible for one to inaugurate a new company here unless he belongs to the Underwriters’ Association.
– The point is not closing them, but forcing them open.
– The organizations I am speaking of are closed. The Insurance Institute here is such a close corporation, such a fearful trades union-
– Is that right?
– These people think so, but they refuse to allow that right to others.
– But does the honorable member think it is right?
– If I had to choose between the two evils of a monopoly or an organization, and unbridled and unrestricted competition, I should prefer the former by all means, and I should regulate it, and I am sure that it would be to the advantage of the community. .
– The whole political history of the honorable member bears out that statement.
– I am not ashamed of my political history in any respect. Let me tell the honorable member that at the last Trades Union Congress, held in Chicago, it was unanimously resolved that the trusts there had been, to a large degree, beneficial to the interests of the trades unions and wage-earners of America, and that trusts properly regulated were infinitely better than competition unbridled and unchecked. This proposal is opposed by the representatives of the most powerful and close corporations in Victoria. They know the value of these unions or corporations. They compel every one who wishes to trade with them, whether lawyers, bankers, or insurance brokers, first to join their ranks. That being the case, why should they be so apprehensive about the interests of the working men ?
– Does the honorable member approve of that?
– Of the two evils, I prefer the latter. I am not either approving or disapproving of it.
– What is the latter?
– I am pointing out that they deny to others what they consider to be good for themselves.
– Does the honorable member approve of it?
– I will not enter into that matter. It is too big a question to be discussed now, and not relevant to the amendment. Not one representative of a large body of working men has been authorized to protest against4 this clause. With some exceptions, those who oppose it are those who are opposed to the spirit and genius of the Bill, and to trades unionism.
– That is most unfair.
– I have said that there are exceptions, and I will accept my honorable friend as one of them.
– I am not opposed to trades unionism.
– I accept my honorable friend’s assurance ; but he speaks only for himself. What about the honorable and learned member for Wannon, and other honorable members sitting in the Opposition corner? Is it not notorious that they are opposed to the Bill?
– Many of those .who opposed the clause have shown the sincerity of their sympathies for labour to a greater extent than the honorable member has done.
– I am content to leave the public to judge that. I hope that the amendment will be rejected. I can regard those who vote for it only as voting against one of the main provisions of the Bill, and one of the leading principles of radicalism and trades unionism.
– I have opposed the Bill; but not because I am opposed to unionism or am out of sympathy with the workers. My position should indicate that.
– The honorable member does not believe in trades unionism.
– I would not raise my finger to prevent a man from joining a trades union, nor would I refuse to employ a trades unionist. I believe that trades unionism has done a great deal for the labouring classes. In my opinion, no trades unionist should be black-balled ; but, on the other hand, no legislative preference should be given to trades unionists. We are legislating, not for trades unionists, but for all sections of labour.
– Did the honorable member ever know of a strike of any consequence in which a union was not concerned ?
– I myself went out on strike once, but I am not a union. I do not desire that any unionist shall be placed at a disadvantage ; but, in passing a measure of this kind, we have no right to give unionists an advantage over nonunionists. The Prime Minister, has stated that the action of the Sydney Wharf Labourers’ and other unions, in closing their books, was not the outcome of the ‘New South Wales Arbitration Act. We all know that. But when he says that we have no right to complain of such occurrences under the Act, because they took place prior to its becoming law, I say that we have such a right, because we are being asked to give certain privileges to .unionists, and therefore it should be open to anyone to become members of. unions.
– So it is.
– It required a decision of the Court to bring that about. The spirit and intention of unionism must be judged by the acts of the unions, not by what their members say.
– Only two unions out of hundreds have closed their books.
– Notwithstanding, the action shows the spirit of unionism. The members of those unions were willing to allow others to starve in order to keep work for themselves. I wish to put unionists and non-unionists on an equality.
– The honorable member is willing that the unionist should pay the cost of the advantages which the - nonunionist enjoys.
– No. The Minister of External Affairs said that the wharf labourers closed their books against his advice at a time when there were 3,000 men in the union, and employment for only 1,500. But if we are going to regulate employment in that way, let us provide that where there is not sufficient work one set of men shall be taken on for a month, and shall then give way to another set. Such a state of affairs shows the utter futility of legislation of this kind to prevent distress among the working population. I do not believe that all non-unionists are scabsThere are both good and bad men in unions, and both good and bad men outside unions. The unions cannot claim a monopoly of the good men. There must be organizations under the Bill, but they should be organizations formed only for the purposes of the measure, and those who wish to join them should be permitted to do so on payment of the smallest fees possible. Moreover, they should have nothing to do with any matter not arising under the measure. References have been made to the report of Judge Backhouse on the New Zealand legislation, but that report is a neutral one. The Judge does not go into ecstasies about the New Zealand system. We cannot say yet that the New Zealand system of giving preference to unionists has or has not worked badly, because the colony has been on the ‘ up-grade ever since the Act was passed, and we do not know what its effect would be in times of depression. The Minister of External Affairs tried to make a joke of the proposition of the honorable member for North Sydney, that all those connected with an industry should be made members of an organization, whose funds should be under the control of the Court. The Minister said that if the masters were required to deduct from the wages of their employes the funds due to the organization, and to pay them into Court, they would be robbing their employes. That was a silly thing to say. A great deal of the time of the New South Wales Arbitration Court is now taken up in hearing cases dealing with the nonpayment of subscriptions. There have been instances of extreme hardship, men having been, compelled to pay subscriptions out of very scanty earnings. Surely the action of the Court under these circumstances can be termed robbery of the employed, if the action of the employers under the circumstances referred to by the Minister would justify the use of that word. The organizations under the Bill should not be allowed to become political organizations. We should not compel men to join organizations other than those formed purely to carry out the purposes of the Bill.
– We are not doing that.
– If preference is given to unionists - and that has been done in New South Wales by order of the Court - other men in the same line of business will be unable to obtain work. They will thus be compelled to join a union or to starve.
– The honorable member’s mind runs on different lines from that on which mine works. If the Court makes an award giving a preference to unionists in any employment, a man who is a non-unionist cannot secure employment unless he joins a union. He will be compelled by force of circumstances to join a union or to starve. I admit that the clause contains the words “ all things being equal.” But who is to judge of that? In a Sydney case the Judge said that the Court was to decide as to things being equal, and not the employer. In some of his decisions the Judge in Sydney has said that an employer must go to a union when he requires the services of a man. An employer mav want a workman within a day, and the Judge in some awards has given the union a week in which to supply an employ^, so that, by having to go to a union, the employer may have to wait a week. Surely we should provide that no such restrictions shall be placed upon employers of labour, who are developing ithe wealth of the country. At a later stage I intend to. move an amendment upon paragraph b, and if my proposal is carried, it will remove the opportunity of doing any such injustice. I propose to omit the word “ and,” and to insert the following words: - provided that an employer may employ a person or persons who are not members of an organization, but shall constitute them members by paying the fees of membership for any or all such persons to such organization.
That is a fair proposal. If an employer desires . to employ certain persons let him do so by paying the membership fees to the union connected with the trade. I know numbers of cases in which men who have been for some time in the country have come down to Sydney, and have got work straight away; but if this Bill had been in force they could have obtained no employment, because they were non-unionists.
– Where does the honorable member get that idea from?
– I quite recognise the kindly nature of my mild and amiable friend, the member for Darling, but surely he is aware that the Arbitration Court in Sydney has decided that an employer must employ a unionist or stand the risk of being fined ?
– Unionists have preference ; that is all.
– What is the use of talking nonsense? A saddler at Redfern employed an old mate who came to him and,, told him that he was in a difficult position! and expected to have the bailiffs in. He paid him a higher wage than the award of the Court. The secretary of ‘ the union came along and said, “ You are employing a non-unionist,” and the saddler was hauled before the Court for committing an offence, whereas he was simply employing a man out of pure benevolence. The honorable member for Fremantle laughs at this statement. But it is absolutely true, and the facts can be found in the records of the Court.
– What is the name of the man?
– The name, I think, is Booth. I am not accusing unionists of trying to do hard things, but they will not believe that hard things have happened when they do not wish to believe them to be true.. They will not recognise ‘that any good can come to a working man outside a union. Their outlook is narrowed by their surroundings. I am not here to fight against unions, but I am here to fight to put every workman on an equal footing. Men like myself have been charged with being enemies to unionism, and never doing anything for working men. I am Drepared to set my career against that of any honorable member in the Labour Party in respect to what I have done in the interests of the workers. I have done things that this Bill would prevent me from doing again. Although I say it myself, I have done things which were actuated by the highest altruism.
I have had a man come to me who had been working for three weeks for 30s. He was a farm hand, and 1 did not want a farm hand ; so I employed him in building, and gave him 5s a day to start with. He was a man who had not handled a tool in his life, but I kept him so employed until he could earn a workman’s wages. Let honorable members opposite, with all their boasts of what they do for the working classes, tell me of any man in their own ranks who has ever done anything of that kind. I oppose this Sill because I do not believe that it will help the masses. It will neither widen employment nor increase it ; nor will it increase wages. The Arbitration Act in New South Wales has done very little to help the masses.
– We admit that it does not increase employment.
– I do not think that my amendment is an unfair one, and I trust that the Prime Minister will consider it carefully. It will give the employer power to employ whom he likes, so long as he pays the union fees. Of course he will be able to deduct those fees from the wages of the men, if he chooses.
– The honorable member for Darling.
– The honorable member for Darling did not rise to address the Committee. I did.
– I do not wish to have any misunderstanding. It has been my practice to call on an honorable member from each side of the Chamber alternately.
– Hut the honorable member for Darling did not rise.
– The honorable member for Darling has risen no fewer than five times ; and I thought it right to call on him. I am sorry if the honorable member for Robertson thinks that 1 passed him over, but I can assure him that I did not see him. Otherwise I should have called on him.
– I understand that a number of other honorable members wish to speak upon this question, which I admit is an important one. In moving that you report progress, however, T wish to ex* press the hope that a division will be taken, at any rate, to-morrow.
House adjourned at 10.47 P-ni.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 June 1904, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19040622_reps_2_20/>.