11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 2.80 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. In the Melbourne Age and the Sun NeWS Pictorial of yesterday appear statements purporting to describe proceedings at a ministerial party meeting held on the previous day. In each report references are made to me, and to opinions I am alleged to have expressed - which are inacurrate in both cases. The report in the Sun News Pictorial contains these words -
asked questions which indicated apprehension about the result of the bill. One of his expressions was, “ The Ministry’s object is to throw the workers to the wolves “.
I absolutely deny that I ever used that expression at a party meeting or elsewhere, as an indication of my own views, and I object very strongly to the publication of statements concerning my views which are without foundation in truth and unauthorized by me. I can only interpret the publication, of such inaccuracies as an attempt to intimidate public men in the performance of their duties.
Motion by Mr. BRUCE (by leave) agreed to -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional Orders bo suspended as will enable the Notice of Motion No. 1 - Want of confidence in the Government - to take precedence of all other business until disposed of.
.- I move -
That, by its withdrawal of the lock-out prosecution against the wealthy colliery proprietor, John Brown, after its vigorous prosecutions of trade unionists, the Government has shown that in the administration of the law it unjustly discriminates between the rich and the poor, and that as a consequence the Government has forfeited the confidence of this House.
The Australian people were astonished nt the Government’s recent withdrawal of a prosecution against Mr. John Brown without any adequate explanation of the reasons for adopting that course ; especially as the Attorney-General had stated that, as a result of full investigation by his department, he was satisfied that a breach of the industrial law had been committed. If there is one thing more than another in regard to which the Government has prided itself, or at any rate paraded its virtue, it is the rigorous and impartial enforcement of the law, and in particular, the industrial arbitration law. The fact is that Ministers have been very happy when setting the law in motion against trade unionists; towards that section of the community the Government has been unyielding and relentless. The Attorney-General himself has always been lacking in mercy when asked to show leniency when negotiations were in progress for the settlement of industrial disputes then current. Last year when the executive officers of the Waterside Workers Federation were being prosecuted at the instance of the AttorneyGeneral, representations were made to him that the summonses should be withdrawn- because the union had abandoned what it admitted to be an illegal attitude, and had ordered its members back to work. But the honorable gentleman refused to show any leniency. The principles underlying his uniform attitude throughout last year and the early part of this year are crystallized in the answer he gave in this chamber to a request by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) that the summonses against the Federation be withdrawn because the men had decided to resume work -
The Government has a responsibility to the people of Australia to administer the laws which this Parliament has made. That responsibility is discharged by the institution of a prosecution in such serious circumstances as now present themselves. The matter is now before the courts, upon which the responsibility of judicial decision depends.
He declined to take any steps to stop that prosecution or to facilitate the negotiations then in progress. Ever since the Government made more drastic the punitive provisions of the arbitration law, he has been adamant in refusing all appeals for considerate treatment of the workers, but he has never failed to assure the House that the law would be enforced with the same severity against the employers. During the discussion of the amending arbitration bill of last year, he reiterated the statement that the new law would apply with equal force to employers and employees. When scepticism was expressed by honorable members on this side of the House regarding the readiness of the Government to enforce the punitive sections against the employers the AttorneyGeneral and other ministerialists were highly indignant. The honorable gentleman virtuously declared that the penalties proposed in the bill would apply alike to the employers and the employees, to federations of employers and unions of workers. The lockout in the northern collieries of ]STew South Wales this year gave to the Government an opportunity to show that it was sincere in these protestations. As early as February last, attention was drawn to the matter in this House, first when there was the threat of a lockout, and subsequently, when the lockout actually took place, the colliery-owners acting in unison having closed a large number of the collieries operating in the district, thereby throwing out of employment 12,000 workers. As early as February it was put to the Government that action should be taken to enforce the law against the coal-owners. The Attorney-General undertook to consider the matter. He considered it for nearly six weeks, aDd then towards the end of March announced that action would be taken against one colliery-owner only, Mr. John Brown. Process was issued out of court and, I suppose, duly served upon John Brown, and the prosecution was launched. In the meantime negotiations had been proceeding for a settlement of the trouble. Indeed, there had been negotiations between the collieryowners and the coal-mine employees for more than a year. At a later conference the Prime Minister appeared upon the scene, and calmly made public the intimation that it was intended to withdraw the prosecution against John Brown. The mystery of the whole proceeding is that the Prime Minister should apparently have resolved upon that course without making an adequate explanation of his contemplated action. Subsequently he gave varying explanations in the course of two or three successive days. In addressing conference, the right honorable gentleman gave it as his reason for what was being done that the prosecution of John Brown would not bring about the re-opening of the coalmines. On the next day he stated, according to the public press, that he understood that both sides desired the withdrawal of the prosecution. Again, on the following day, he said that so long as proceedings were pending against one of the employers, it would be impossible for them to discuss the coal trouble. The right honorable gentleman shuffled shamefully. On the outburst of public indignation which occurred when the withdrawal of the prosecution was broadcast throughout Australia, the Prime Minister apparently realized that it was necessary to bolster up a rotten case, and so cast about for some sufficient explanation. In setting out what he considered to be an adequate explanation he did a grave injustice to the coal-miners’ officials. He led the general public to believe that those officials had consented to the withdrawal of the prosecution, when he must have known that they had given no such consent. They were not consulted on the subject, nor was their advice sought. Mr. Davies, the general secretary of the Coalminers Association, made a statement to the press, refuting the Prime Minister’s suggestion that both parties to the conference had consented to the withdrawal of the prosecution. Mr. Davies said -
At no time during his consultation with the union delegates, prior to the conference, did Mr. Bruce intimate that he intended to withdraw the proceedings against Brown. Mr. Bruce made a remark to the effect that they had shot the timber-workers for £1,000 and had shot poor old Holloway for £50, and that that had not settled the timber industry trouble; and if John Brown was fined £1,000, probably after months of litigation, that would not settle the coal trouble.
– When was that statement made?
– It was published on the 10th April, and the facts were repeated in a further printed statement by Mr. Davis giving a review of the coal trouble. There is an extraordinary mystery about the whole of the proceedings. The Prime Minister, in addressing the conference, used the words “ The Government had decided to do a certain thing,” that is, to withdraw the prosecution. I do not know whether the Prime Minister regards himself as the Government, or whether he did actually consult his colleagues in the Cabinet and they resolved upon this course of action, or whether he decided upon it at the suggestion of people outside this parliamentary institution.
The Attorney-General came into the picture at about this stage. Shortly after the announcement of the withdrawal of the prosecution, the Attorney-General addressed a very weighty and pointed memorandum to the Prime Minister, presumably for the consideration of Cabinet. In that memorandum he reviewed the whole question of penalties under the industrial law, made special reference to the prosecution of John Brown, and commented very unfavorably upon the withdrawal of that prosecution. He also made allusion in it to the lack of moral and legal justification for the dropping of the prosecution, and said, as well, that it was politically inexpedient. He said that the proceedings against John Brown, who had been charged with instituting a lockout, had been discontinued; that this action had made it impossible to enforce penalties against other persons, and that it had encouraged resistance to the industrial law by the strikers. Subsequently, he said that the action of withdrawing the prosecution was politically inexpedient.
– From what is the honorable member reading?
– I am reading from the published report of the memorandum.
– To what memorandum does the honorable, member refer, and where was it published?
– The ‘AttorneyGeneral is the only person who can say authoritatively whether he prepared this memorandum and sent it to the Prime Minister. I am only assuming that such a memorandum was prepared, because it has been publicly stated in the Sydney press that such a memorandum was prepared and forwarded to the Prime Minister. If he so desires, the AttorneyGeneral can, by interjection, clear up all doubt about the preparation of the memorandum. I do not wish to allege that he is the author of a cabinet memorandum on the matter if that is not the case.
– The honorable member said that he was quoting from a newspaper, but he did not name it.
– My authority is the Sydney Sun. It would, perhaps, facilitate the consideration of this subject - because the preparation of the memorandum has an important bearing on it - if the Attorney-General would admit that he prepared a memorandum in which he criticized the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution.
– Is the statement that the honorable member for Dalley has read contained in the memorandum?
– Apparently, the newspapers which published the statement had sufficient authority for circulating it. We may take it from the silence of the Attorney-General that there is at least some truth in the published statement that a memorandum was prepared, and that in that memorandum the Attorney-General questioned the wisdom of the action of the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution. He questioned the wisdom of the action on moral and legal grounds, and in a public statement, published on 10th April - about the time that the memorandum was prepared - he said -
The withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown was obviously a condition precedent to the coal conference now being held in Sydney.
That statement has never been denied. In a separate statement published on the same date he said -
Both sides recognized that a frank exchange of views was imperative, and this was impossible if one of the parties were subject to a pending prosecution and thus prevented from making any disclosures which might prejudice the case in the court.
In those statements the honorable gentleman attempted to make an excuse for the withdrawal of the prosecution by suggesting that it was a condition precedent to the conference that the prosecution should be withdrawn. Who made that condition ? The AttorneyGeneral could not have known or even have reasonably assumed that the miners consented to it, for they did not, and have repudiated the suggestion that they did. If there was a condition precedent to the conference it must, therefore, have been made by the employers. No one has said that they did make the condition, but the Prime Minister has allowed it to be inferred that the condition was made.
I ask honorable members to contrast the public utterances of the AttorneyGeneral upon this matter with the statements made in his memorandum to the Prime Minister that there was neither legal nor moral justification for withdrawing the prosecution, and that it was politically inexpedient to withdraw it. A comparison of these statements must lead to the conclusion that the prosecution was withdrawn by the Prime Minister without consulting the AttorneyGeneral. That point needs to be cleared up. Who administers the laws of the Commonwealth?
– Mr. John Brown, apparently!
– Well, who, nominally, is administering the AttorneyGeneral’s Department. The AttorneyGeneral should be consulted and his advice acted upon when an important prosecution of this description is involved. At any rate, he should not have been ignored by- even the head of the Government. When it was first proposed to withdraw the prosecution the Prime Minister should surely have had some consultation with the Attorney-General. Apparently, he had none.
In these circumstances, we are justified in examining the facts, in so far as we can ascertain them, and in drawing what inferences Ave can from the various statements that have been made upon the subject, in order that we may arrive at a sound judgment as to what considerations have operated in this matter and what influence has been brought to bear upon the Government. In one of his explanations the Prime Minister referred to “pending proceedings.” He also referred to the difficulties of the situation. In that connexion he used these words -
As long as these proceedings” were pending it was impossible for the employers to discuss with the representatives of the miners the economic conditions of the. -industry, as any statements made by them might be used in the prosecution.
Who told him that? Who pointed out to the right honorable gentleman the difficulty of conducting the inquiry while a prosecution “was pending against this colliery-owner? Whoever did so appears to have assumed the responsibility of dictating to the head of the Government. Some one obviously did it. A great deal of explanation will be required to get over that difficulty. It is true that the Prime Minister met the representatives of the coal-owners before the conference, and there was nothing wrong in his doing so. He also met the representatives of the coal-miners. Doubtless he was actuated by the hope that something might be done to bring about a settlement of the trouble. When he met the coal-owners did they inform him that there could be no settlement of the trouble unless the prosecution against John Brown were withdrawn? That they did is the only reasonable infereoe that can be drawn from the facts and the statements that have been made public. If that is so, the coal-owners acted as dictators. As a matter of fact they have been the law breakers from the very stai’t of the trouble. They have offended more grievously against the Commonwealth law than any unionist or body of unionists since the Arbitration Act was amended last year.
It must be remembered that when unionists or unions commit an offence against the law by going on strike, as admittedly they have done on occasions, they not only risk a prosecution under the law, but also subject themselves to extreme suffering, hardship and lo3S not provided for in the law. A body of unionists that is dissatisfied with” an award, or has some grievance or fancied grievance which causes it to commit an offence against the arbitration law, subjects itself to hardship and sacrifice whether the Government takes action against it or not. That cannot be said of the millionaire coal-mine owners who close down their mines. Not only are they able to avoid the suffering and hardship which falls upon the miners irrespective of the law, but apparently they are also immune from prosecution, because of the political influence they are able to wield. This influence is so great, seemingly, that they are able to commit most flagrant breaches of the law and still go unpunished. They are able to inflict untold suffering, hardship, degradation, starvation and destitution upon their employees and the families of their employees, as they have done in the Newcastle district, without fear of the consequences. There was never any justification for the closing down of the collieries in the Newcastle district. That was a most tyrannous attempt to force the employees to agree to a wage cut, but although it was wholly illegal the Government has proved itself unable to enforce the law.
In these circumstances, what becomes of the high-minded attitude, or the exalted pose, of the Attorney-General who said that he intended to see that the Commonwealth law was vindicated where” either employers or employees committed a breach of it? If the Attorney-General had had a spark of manhood in him he would not have remained in the Ministry after his advice in respect of this prosecution was disregarded by the Prime Minister. Seeing that he made it so clear in his memorandum that there was neither legal nor moral justification for withdrawing the prosecution he should have stood by his opinion even to the extent of resigning his position. There must surely be a limit to the degree of humiliation that a man should stand at the hands of his political chief. He should not be compelled to act unjustly or to remain silent while an injustice is being done. The Attorney-General cannot excuse himself by saying that this action was taken by the Prime Minister. Every member of the Government must accept equal responsibility for it. But apparently all ideas of what is just and fair and reasonable and manly must go by the board.
There might have been a modicum of excuse for the Attorney-General if he had taken a different attitude throughout in regard to the enforcement of penalties under the Arbitration Act; but towards unionists he has shown no mercy. He enforced the law against the waterside workers and the timber workers, and in February of this year - just a few weeks before the John Brown prosecution was launched and only a few days before the lockout occurred on the coal-fields - he enforced it against Mr. Holloway, an official of the Melbourne Trades Hall. On that occasion he refused to consider any suggestion by the officials of the trade unions that there should be a gesture of leniency, with a view to bringing about a better feeling between the parties and possibly a settlement of the dispute. The AttorneyGeneral said that that was beyond him. In reply to a question by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) on that point he allowed it to be inferred that once a prosecution was launched it was no longer his responsibility, but became the responsibility of the particular court which had to deal with the subject. When a prosecution is launched, and a summons or other process of the court, whatever it may be, is issued, it is usually considered to be beyond the control of the political head of the Department of Justice. Does that not place it in the hands of the judiciary or the magistracy, as the case may be ‘( How, then, does the PrimeMinister justify his action in interfering? There have, of course, been cases, under both State and Commonwealth law, in which a prosecution has been stopped by government intervention, to facilitate the securing of industrial peace, and exception would not be taken to the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown if that procedure had been in accord with the ordinary conduct of the Commonwealth Government in these matters, when the settlement of a. serious industrial trouble might result. It appears, however, that the Prime Minister was told by the coal-owners that there could be no settlement unless the prosecution was withdrawn; that he was given to understand that a settlement would be arrived at if that were done; but that, after the prosecution was withdrawn, the coalowners threw the right honorable gentleman overboard, and would not agree to any settlement. At the conference which followed they proved as uncompromising as they had been previously.
It is to be hoped that the AttorneyGeneral, when speaking upon this matter, will state why a prosecution was initiated against one colliery-owner only. When it was assumed that the timber workers had offended against the Commonwealth law, this Government did not single out some one particular timber worker, and prosecute him to make a test case. On the contrary, it prosecuted the whole union, as well as a representative official in Melbourne. But in this case it was only after six weeks consideration that the Government decided to launch a prosecution, and then it proceeded against one coal-owner only, Mr. John Brown, although all the members of the Colliery Proprietors’ Association were concerned in the lockout which occurred, and the officers of that association were responsible for carrying the lockout into effect. Mr. Charles McDonald is one of them; but there has not been even a suggestion of prosecuting him.
The Attorney-General has assumed an attitude of impartiality and aloofness in these matters. He has referred to his position as involving semi-judiciary responsibility, and no doubt it does. The honorable gentleman has to make decisions which are judicial in their nature. But he has used his responsibility and his powers ruthlessly against the trade unions, and in the administration of his department has resorted to practices which I consider most questionable. The Attorney-General was responsible for the prosecution a little while ago of the secretary of the Australian Seamen’s Union, Mr. Jacob Johnson. I may say, for the information of honorable members, that in Sydney the opinion is prevalent that the Attorney-General’s Department - at any rate, so far as it is represented by his officers in Sydney - acting principally under the instructions of himself or of his officers in Canberra, carries on most questionable and doubtful practices. It apparently does not hesitate to use faked evidence to support its prosecutions.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to withdraw the suggestion that the Attorney-General gave instructions to his officers to use faked evidence.
– If that charge can be inferred from my statement, I withdraw it. The Attorney-General’s Department certainly acted in a very questionable manner in regard to the prosecutions launched against Jacob Johnson and in regard to its prosecutions against unionists. It is also acting in a very doubtful manner in the matter of the prosecution against John Brown, by withdrawing that prosecution without offering any adequate explanation for its action. The Jacob Johnson prosecution was under the personal consideration of the Attorney-General, who directed it, in the sense that he issued the instructions to his officers, and, undoubtedly, persons employed by his department were making use of faked evidence. That statement is supported by affidavits read in this House.
The Attorney-General has since been invited to make an inquiry into the matter, but he declined to do so, notwithstanding the grave implications in the statements which were made. Yet he poses as a purist in administration, as one whose sole concern is to administer the law justly. In the instances which I have presented he has given no indication either that he has justly administered the law or that he has administered it with impartiality.
So that we may not be told that drastic criticism to the withdrawal of the Brown prosecution has come only from members of the Opposition in this Parliament, I shall quote now what the Nationalist press has said about the matter. I shall not quote the personal opinions of honorable members opposite, as they may themselves desire to reiterate them during the course of this debate. This is what the Melbourne Herald had to say on the subject on the 9th April, 1929, the day after the prosecution was withdrawn -
It will now be asked what new facts or circumstances have induced the Government to withdraw the prosecution. We fear that in suspicious quarters it may be suggested that the altered circumstances arc that Parliament is now in recess. It will be suggested that the proposal to prosecute Mr. John Brown served a very useful political purpose. It will be suggested that subsequently in the Cabinet or in the party room it was considered impolitic to Sool the law on to a wealthy mine-owner who might be a contributor to party funds. And it will be suggested that the Prime Minister was instructed to take the first favorable opportunity of getting the party out of the awkward position in which it had been landed by the legal enthusiasm of the AttorneyGeneral.
The Adelaide Register of the 11th April stated -
In the case of Mr. John Brown the Federal Government has committed an amazing and even inexcusable blunder. In a democratic country nothing is better calculated to provoke intense feeling than a suspicion that there is, in reality, one law for the rich and another for the poor. The Government should not have launched a prosecution against an eminent and influential employer, except on an adequate basis of proof. But, once set in motion, the law which recently penalized the lumpers and timber workers should have been allowed to take its course.
On the 12th April the Melbourne Am published this statement -
Astonishment caused by the sudden withdrawal of legal proceedings against Mr. John
Brown, coal-owner, is developing into intense public indignation. It is certain that no other Australian Government has in recent years so foolishlly or brazenly exposed itself ibo the onslaughts of its opponents or subjected the loyalty of its fair-minded supporters to such severe strain as the Bruce-Page Ministry has done by this single set. To use the conference and the possible embarrassments of one of its constituent clements as a smokescreen will satisfy only those ready to defend the Tact Ministry at any sacrifice. The community’s sense of justice has been affronted; its faith in the administration of the law has been shaken.
The Sydney Bulletin said -
The Bruce-Page Ministry made a silly mess of its dealings with the coal baron, Brown.
On the 20th April the Australasian had this to say -
The announcement of the withdrawal of tho prosecution against Mr. John Brown, charged with having done something “ in the nature of a lockout,” came as a thunderbolt. . . . The public’s faith has suffered a rude shock.
Those excerpts sum up more tersely and more pointedly than I can do the real nature of the action of which the Government has been guilty. It has shown grave partisanship; it has acted as the cat’s-paw of wealthy interests; ‘it has demonstrated the facility with which it can discriminate between the rich and the poor. That facility has been shown in the past in its treatment of certain taxation cases. An ordinary citizen who evades or avoids the payment of income tax is haled before a magistrate and fined. There is no equivocation in his case; but in the case of the millionaires who defrauded the Commonwealth to the extent of £500,000, no prosecution whatever was instituted. The public knows, too, that prior to the case of the Abrahams brothers, another millionaire, Sir Sidney Kidman, was allowed to evade the payment of land tax due to the Commonwealth.
– His arrears of land tax were allowed to accumulate for years, and eventually he was allowed to go scot free. In the present case, John Brown, a millionaire coal-owner, and a political friend of the Government, has been allowed to escape. A prosecution against him was not pressed home. Evidently he has some mysterious influence over the Prime Minister, not possessed by the common worker, which enables him to flout the administration, laugh at the Government, and act the part of a law-breaker who is immune from the penalties that the law imposes on others. The Government, which was prepared to prosecute the workers, not once, but innumerable times, to drive home with the most bitter, relentless, and ruthless enthusiasm in their case the penalties provided by Commonwealth law, has allowed wealthy law-breakers to escape because, apparently, there is some little known, but, nevertheless, real, political influence, which works in their favour.
– The grounds upon which this censure motion is founded are the most serious that could form the basis of a motion “ of want of confidence. Leaving out of consideration the verbiage of the motion, such as the reference to “ one law for the rich and another for the poor,” and coming directly to the gravamen of the charge, we find that it is that the Government has not been impartial in its administration of the laws of the country, but has been subject to certain influences, to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, referred in the concluding words of his speech. Were the charge substantiated, the Government would not be entitled to remain in office for five minutes longer.
The task of presenting the case of the Opposition has been undertaken by its Deputy Leader. I cannot congratulate him upon the manner of its presentation. He has not dealt with it in the manner that the seriousness of the charge required of him. His statements contained the innuendo that the Government is subject to some outside influence. In one portion of his speech he said that the prosecution of Mr. John Brown was withdrawn at the instance of some one not connected with the Government; later he stated that Mr. Brown appeared to be immune from prosecution, because of the political influence that he wields. He also said that the Government is the cat’s-paw of wealthy interests and its millionaire political friends. There is not a scintilla of justification for any of those statements. I suggest that in making them he degraded the debate to a level below that to which he should have descended.
A considerable portion of the honorable gentleman’s speech was devoted to an attack on the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham). While I am content to leave the Attorney-General to defend himself, I propose to show that for the charge that the Attorney-General allowed himself to be overridden by the Prime Minister and was guilty of a serious dereliction of duty, there is not the slightest basis of fact. The honorable gentleman’s personal hostility to the Attorney-General led him to use words which he was called upon to withdraw, whereupon he suggested that the officers of the Attorney-General’s Department are prepared to produce faked evidence in prosecutions initiated by the Commonwealth against Australian citizens. Not only is that not the truth, but the statement is an insult to public officials who have served this country so well. To suggest that a man of the integrity and reputation of the Solicitor-General would be guilty of such an action is to level an unfair charge against a public servant who is not able to defend himself. The officers of the Attorney-General’s Department maintain that high standard of honour for which the public servants of this country are renowned. I resent bitterly that the honorable gentleman, because of his apparent hatred of the Attorney-General, should have descended to such tactics.
I shall not refer further to the innuendoes against the integrity of the Attorney-General, but propose now to deal with the substance of the charge levelled against the Government, namely, that it improperly withdrew the prosecution against John Brown. That prosecution was initiated towards the end of the last session of this Parliament. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested that there was an unwarrantable delay in initiating proceedings. That is not so. Appearances indicated that a lockout of the coal-miners in the northern portion of New South Wales was taking place, but considerable difficulty was experienced in obtaining evidence that that really was the case. The AttorneyGeneral was alert, and took all steps to see whether or not there was any breach of the law by the coal-owners- on which to base a prosecution. Nor did he rely entirely upon his own judgment, for he sought the opinion of eminent counsel in Sydney. The greatest difficulty was experienced in finding evidence which would justify the Government in initiating a prosecution; but eventually sufficient evidence became available to do so, although grave doubts still remained as to the possibility of success. As soon as the AttorneyGeneral felt that there was a prima facie case, and a possibility of success, he initiated proceedings. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) also asked why only one owner was prosecuted, and not all the members of the Coal Owners Federation. I do not think the honorable member asked that question seriously. He knows that the Coal Owners Federation is not the owner of the coal mines, and could not as a body be made responsible for a lockout; that it is only against individual mine-owners that proceedings could be taken. As to the suggestion that proceedings should have been taken against all the mineowners concerned in the dispute, let me say that there were so many complications and difficulties associated with any prosecution, that the Government had to select one coal-owner and proceed against him as a test case. In prosecuting for a lockout, the Government has to establish certain facts. It cannot merely assert that men are not being employed in a mine and that therefore a lockout exists, and the owners of the mine have rendered themselves liable to a penalty. In addition to establsihing the fact that a coal mine is not being worked and that employment is not being offered, the Government has in such a case also to establish the fact that the mine was being carried on at a profit. Unless that is done; we cannot prove that a lockout exists, or that a coal-owner has committed an offence against the law. To get the strongest possible case, the Government instituted proceedings against Mr. John Brown, because it was believed that the mines under his control were probably the most profitable in the northern coalfields of New South Wales. The Government realized the gravity of the situation, and felt that no advantage would be gained by prosecuting indiscriminately. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) suggested that Mr. John
Brown must possess some wonderful political influence, and some mysterious influence over me. But if Mr. Brown’s mysterious influence over me was responsible for the withdrawal of the prosecution, why was he in the first place singled out for prosecution? The circumstances certainly do not indicate that Mr. John Brown had any particular influence over me, in the early stages of these proceedings, at any rate. I do not know whether the innuendo went further, but I presume that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was not suggesting that I was bribed.
– There was no suggestion of anything of that nature.
– I should like to make it clear that I did not see Mr. Brown or have any negotiations with him, nor was any influence brought to bear upon rae in regard to him, individually, concerning the withdrawal of the prosecution. Within a few days after this Parliament adjourned, I left for Sydney, where I arrived on the Wednesday before Easter. On arriving there, I was communicated with by telephone, by Mr. Rees or Mr. Davies - I do not remember which - and it was- suggested that I should confer with these two gentlemen in connexion with the then existing circumstances. I arranged to see them at once. They waited on me, accompanied by a third person who, at the time, I did not know. The object of their visit was to inform mc that the union had a scheme to submit which they thought would be acceptable to the owners, and might lead to a settlement of the trouble in the coal industry, the reopening of the mines, the re-employment of the men, a cessation of the losses which were then being incurred, and an end to the sufferings of women and children. The gentleman who accompanied them was a Mr. Miller, an accountant, who, I understood, was primarily responsible for the scheme which they submitted. We spent some time in considering the basis of their proposal, and I said that I thought it desirable that I should meet the executive of the Miners’ Union and should bring Mr. Bavin to any conference with them. We accordingly arranged another conference the next afternoon, which was attended by Mr. Bavin and representatives of the unions engaged in the coal-mining industry. We had a lengthy discussion on the scheme for which Mr. Miller was responsible. It was considered exhaustively and the impression was made on me, as I told the conference, that the scheme might form the basis for negotiations, but that as I was not a coal mining expert, and unfamiliar with the problems of the industry, I could not express a definite opinion on the value of the scheme. I suggested that the way to arrive at a decision regarding it was to arrange a conference between representatives of the miners and of the coal owners. When we were discussing the possibilities of such a conference, the representatives of the miners - who at that stage believed in the scheme, but subsequently ascertained that it was not so attractive as they originally thought it to’ be - maintained that the owners should be compelled first to re-open their mines, as in the case of a strike the workers were always required to return to work before negotiations for a settlement were begun. There was much discussion on the subject. I said that the Government was desirous of continuing the negotiations as there seemed a possibility of a settlement. I pointed out, however, that it was most doubtful whether the owners would agree to the conditions on which the miners’ representatives proposed to insist; that there was a great difference between the action of individual miners in going back to work and the re-opening of coa] mines in which operations had been reduced to such an extent that only safety men were being employed and there was no certainty of a permanent resumption of work. I said that the Commonwealth Government could not compel the mine owners of New South Wales to re-open their mines and offer employment to the men, not having the power to do anything of that sort, and that if the State executive determined to act in the matter the reopening of the mines could not be brought about on the following Tuesday, because it would be necessary first to summon the State Parliament, to consider and pass legislation empowering the State Government to take over the mines. And such legislation having been framed and passed, there would be delay before it could be put into operation, so that there was no possibility of the mines being opened compulsorily before three or four months, or an even longer period, had elapsed. The conclusion arrived at was that action along those lines would not have the desired effect. We then considered whether any other steps could be taken, in the course of which we dealt with the subject of fines and penalties. It was at this stage that the remarks to which Mr. Davies referred were made: that, although the Timber Workers Union had been fined £1,000, and Mr. Holloway had been prosecuted, the timber strike was not thereby settled nor the timber mills re-opened. Similarly, I said, we should not secure the opening of the coal-mines by the contemplated prosecution of Mr. John. Brown for having caused a lockout. I mention these facts to show that the whole purpose of the discussion was to discover what could be done to get the mines opened immediately. After every possibility had been traversed, the conclusion was arrived at that there was only one way in which we could bring about a conference between the representatives of the miners and the mineowners. Mr. Bavin and I undertook to see if we could induce the owners to agree to a conference. Incidentally, let me say that we had no power to force them to a conference. The representatives of the miners did not, that night, vary the condition upon which they would agree to a conference, namely that the mines should first be re-opened. On the following day, Good Friday, Mr. Bavin and I saw Mr. McDonald, who was the only representative of the mine-owners then in Sydney. W e placed the position before him, and he undertook to consult the members of his organization to ascertain whether they would participate in a conference. I then left for Melbourne, and Mr. Bavin continued the negotiations. The coal-owners met on the following Tuesday, and, after having considered the matter, said they would not agree to the re-opening of the mines prior to the holding of a conference. Mr. Bavin saw the representatives of the miners, and eventually they gave way on that point. We then had to consider the pending prosecution of Mr. John Brown, and consequently I returned to Sydney on the Wednesday. The coal-owners said they could not take part in a conference, the whole basis of which would be a consideration of their profits and the cost of production in the mining industry, when one of their number had been prosecuted for a lockout, and every other coal-owner was liable to be similarly prosecuted, because it would be impossible for a full, frank and open discussion to take place. I promised to consider their representations and advise them of the course I was prepared to take. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) was in Melbourne, and I telephoned to him. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) made an incorrect statement, when he said that the Attorney-General knew nothing about the proposal to withdraw the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. He knew all about it, because I discussed it fully with him.
– Before it was withdrawn ?
– Yes. It was clear to me at the time that if we withdrew the prosecution we should open our flank to every kind of political attack. I could n”ot deceive myself on that point. It was obvious; it jumped to the eye. I realized fully that Ave would immediately bc charged with administering the law in one way where the worker was concerned, and in another way in connexion with ‘the big coal-owner. I could not disguise from myself the fact that every form of political propaganda would be launched against the Government. Almost the first remark made by the Attorney-General when I rang him up was, “ If this is withdrawn, the political atmosphere is going to be extraordinarily bad for the Government and its supporters.” Our subsequent conversation considered the question from every angle. He asked me what I thought were the prospects of a successful outcome of the suggested conference. I informed him that, although I could not be definite in the matter, there appeared to be a very good possibility that the conference would succeed. After we had discussed the matter fully we agreed that, although from a political stand-point it would be an act of lunacy to withdraw the prosecution - because such an action must have a repercussive effect upon the Government and its supporters - all that mattered was that the opportunity should be given for the parties to meet each other in the hope that there would be a settlement of the trouble in the coal-mining areas of New South Wales with the result that the mines would be re-opened, and the men would return to work. We agreed that that was the main consideration in the interests of, not only the miners and their dependants, but also the whole industrial life of the Commonwealth. The Attorney-General and I, therefore, concluded that the best course was to withdraw the prosecution, and allow the conference to proceed. The conference took place on Monday the 8th April last. In opening it, I made a fairly long statement, a portion of which it is essential I should read. It was attended by representatives of the Northern Collieries proprietors and the combined mining unions. The latter were represented by the following gentle- in on: - D. Bees, general president, Miners’ Federation; D. J. Davies, general secretary, Miners’ Federation; T. Hoare, Northern District president, Miners’ Federation; A. S. Evernden, general president, Amalgamated Engineering Union; J. Atkins, general secretary, Federated Engine-drivers’ Association ; H. C. Morton, secretary, Colliery Mechanics’ Association ; and E. S. Miller, accountant to the unions. After I had stressed the desirability of getting the parties together, and had appealed to them to forget their past troubles, and to face the proposals that had been advanced in an endeavour to bring about the reopening of the mines, I went on to say -
The Government believes that this is the best way to deal with the situation, and, for that reason, and because it would be impossible to carry on the deliberations of this conference and got that full expression of opinion from both sides with absolute frankness of discussion, otherwise the Government does not propose to proceed with the prosecution for a lockout which has already been initiated. Representatives of the mine-owners have pointed out that this prosecution - which, as I have shown, is for the recovery of a penalty, and unhappily would not solve the problem - will, if proceeded with, render it impossible for them fully to discuss this question and put every aspect of the case as they see it; because all the time there would be the possibility that statements they made here might.be of such a character as to influence the result of the prosecution. After very full consideration the Commonwealth Government came to the conclusion that the wisest course was not to proceed with the prosecution. The consideration that has influenced us in that course has been that while, if successful, we might recover a penalty of £1,000, that would do nothing to help the unfortunate minors and their dependants, or to get the mines re-opened. On the other hand, if this conference were in any way hampered by one side being prevented from putting its case as fully, as clearly, and as explicitly as it would bo otherwise prepared to do, that would be imperilling the success of the conference. Having to choose between the two alternatives, now that both parties are prepared to meet and frankly discuss the matter, we have decided not to proceed with the prosecution. We trust that very much bettor results will come from full and frank discussion than any benefit that would be derived from the possibility of success in a prosecution for the mere recovery of a monetary penalty.
That statement was made at the opening of the conference and in the presence of representatives of the unions. Afterwards the delegates agreed to a short adjournment to consider the position. On the following day when the conference was resumed, Mr. McDonald, for the owners, made a long statement, as also did Mr. Rees on behalf of the unions. In the course of the discussion, not one word was said against, and no exception whatever was taken to, the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution instituted against Mr. Brown.
– The miners’ representatives had not a chance to object. The right honorable gentleman walked out of the conference. I was there.
– Order ! The honorable member for Hunter will have an opportunity to reply to the statement of the Prime Minister when his turn comes. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was given a fair hearing and the same courtesy should be extended to the Prime Minister.
– When the conference resumed on the day following the statement made by me, no reference whatever was made to the Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has stated that he was present at the conference. That being so, it is very strange, judging by our experience of the honorable member’s behaviour in this chamber, that, if he felt so strongly on the subject then as he appears to do now, he restrained himself from commenting on the matter.
– The threat was made at the Canberra conference that Mr. West would be thrown out if he intervened in the proceedings, and I did not wish to be thrown out of the Sydney Town Hall. That is the reason why I did not object on that occasion.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said that, from day to day, I gave varying and conflicting explanations of the Government’s action. I absolutely deny that. The only statement made by me was that which I have just read, and it was available to the press on the first day of the conference. If, as has been indicated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, paragraphs appeared subsequently in the press which suggest that I made conflicting statements, the responsibility is not mine. I made a full and clear announcement concerning the Government’s action on the first day of the conference, and gave our reasons for the withdrawal of the prosecution. The statement which I made at the opening of the conference was fully reported in the Sydney press, for the very good reason that it related to a matter of grave importance to- the State. But, apparently, in the press of the other States only the brief report that the Prime Minister had announced the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. John Brown was published, and the reasons for the Government’s action were not made known. I was in Sydney until the Wednesday, the statement to which I have alluded having been made at the conference on Monday, and, as I have said, no protest was made on behalf of the unions concerned. When I left Sydney for Melbourne on the Wednesday night, it was obvious that the serious position in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales was regarded as of vital and paramount importance, and there was general agreement that nothing should be done which would prevent a settlement of the dispute. Everybody realized that it was imperative that the coal mines should be re-opened and the existing dislocation of trade terminated. When I arrived in Melbourne on Thursday, however, I found that there was a considerable amount of turmoil and misunderstanding, because of the inadequacy of the reports that had appeared in the press of that city concerning the reason for the Government’s action. I therefore made a statement amplifying those reports. I am convinced that much of the trouble in this matter is due to the fact that the reasons for the withdrawal of the prosecution had not, until then, been published.
On the day following the opening of the conference I saw the SolicitorGeneral and instructed him that the proceedings against Mr. Brown were to be withdrawn in view of the negotiations that were then proceeding for a settlement of the dispute, advising him that I had consulted with the Attorney-General, who concurred in the action which the Government proposed to take. The Solicitor-General then sent the following instruction to the Crown Solicitor on the 9th April:-
I am instructed by the Prime Minister to instruct you to apply for the withdrawal of the information against John Brown.
The court is to be informed that this step is taken in view of the conference now proceeding between representatives of the miners and the mine-owners, with a view to resumption of work at the collieries.
On the Thursday the matter came before the Court and Mr. Nield, instructed by the Deputy Crown Solicitor in Sydney, said -
In view of the conference now proceeding between representatives of the miners and the mine-owners, with a view to resumption of work at the collieries, I ask that leave be given for the prosecution to be withdrawn.
The Court gave the necessary permission.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition says that Governments have intervened again and again to stay legal prosecutions when it was thought that that might tend to bring about a settlement of industrial trouble. The offence alleged against the Government is, therefore, not that it withdrew this prosecution, but that it has not been impartial in its prosecutions, and ha3 singled out a particular section of the community for attack. Honorable members opposite are extremely angry that this prosecution has been withdrawn. But suppose that the conference which was being held when the proceedings were stayed had succeeded, and the collieries were open to-day, suppose that the wheels of industry had been re-started as a result of the Government’s action. Honorable members opposite would then not have dared to open their mouths about this matter, and we should not have heard a. word about it. Again, suppose the prosecution had been directed against the miners, and a conference which offered the only possibility of a settlement could not be held while proceedings were pending. Would honorable members opposite in such circumstances charge the Government with acting wrongly if it brought about a stay of proceedings? The logic of the honorable member’s case is not very good. Again, what would have been the feeling in New South Wales if the holding of the conference had been prevented, because the Government stood obstinately by the course it had adopted? Surely everybody would have condemned the Government, and rightly condemned it, for not allowing the opportunity to be availed of for getting industry working again.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a certain quotation from a newspaper. I ask him whether he has any document in which appear the statements which he quoted?
– I have no document, nor knowledge of the existence of any document, beyond what I have seen in the newspaper referred to.
– The statements contained in that newspaper could, if correct, have come only from a Cabinet document. But the document from which the newspaper paragraph purported to quote, but which it did not quote accurately, conveying quite an erroneous impression as to its contents, was circulated by the Attorney-General, and sent not only to me, but to every other member of the Cabinet, and was marked as a Cabinet document. No one outside Cabinet except an officer could have any knowledge of its contents, unless the document were stolen, or its contents had been improperly disclosed in dereliction of duty by some public officer. It is a lamentable thing that a journal should use a document which it knew to have been stolen, or should publish statements which it knew could be disclosed only by some trusted officer in dereliction of duty. It must be clear to all honorable members, and to no one more than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who was himself for some considerable time the head of an administration, that government would be rendered impossible in any country if the members of a cabinet could not circulate among themselves documents freely expressing their opinions on important matters of public interest, and it is a serious thing for journals to use documents of this kind coming improperly into their possession.
The Government has been charged with being other than impartial in its administration. It has been said that we have picked out individuals and organizations amongst the workers for prosecution, and have taken no action against the employers. It is true that we prosecuted the waterside workers. We tried to avoid the necessity for that prosecution by repeated appeals to the persons concerned that they should obey the law. In spite of that they persisted in their course, and we were forced in vindication of the law to take action against them. That was also the position with regard to the timber-workers. It was very much the position with regard to Mr. Holloway, who went out of his way to make the Government prosecute him. While prosecutions were carried through in those cases, I remind honorable members opposite that we have not vindictively pursued the trade unions or the workers under the provisions of the Arbitration Act. Let me point out that practically every trade union in this country has recently been flagrantly defying the law of the land by collecting levies for the support of the timber workers on strike. We have not pursued those organizations. Although it is anticipating the introduction of legislation which would have been brought down to-day or to-morrow but for this censure motion, I must point out that we have come to the conclusion as a result of recent experiences that we cannot prevent strikes and lockouts by the provision of penalties and the infliction of punishments. This position has arisen because recently the overwhelming majority of the trade unions of this country have not cooperated in observing the law, and the responsibility for the present situation rests on their shoulders. The action of the Government in the case of. Mr. John Brown was not different from that adopted by it throughout the dispute. While there appeared to be the possibility of bringing about what the people desired, the prevention of strikes and lockouts, the Government was prepared to retain and enforce the arbitration law. It has now been made clear, by the happenings of the last few months, that the object desired by the people cannot be achieved in that way, and the Government therefore proposes to institute a system that will prevent the law from being brought into contempt.
I have explained the facts and circumstances of this case to the House. I have been intimately concerned in the matter throughout, and I take the major share of responsibility for what ha3 been done by the Government. Being in Sydney at the time, I was the Minister who was closest in touch with the parties to the dispute, and I had to come to a decision and convey my views to the AttorneyGeneral. These were concurred in by him, and subsequently endorsed by all members of the Cabinet. I say emphatically that I have kept only one object in view, and that was the resumption of operations in the coal-mining industry and the ending of the loss and suffering caused by its dislocation, and the crippling of all the industries of this country. Were I again faced with similar circumstances, and had I to decide whether I would foi low the course of political expediency and avoid giving an opportunity to my political enemies to attack me for my action, or pursue a course which I believed to be in the interests of Australia, I would unhesitatingly take the action I took on this occasion.
– I desire to comply as strictly as possible with the rules of debate. But I feel the position keenly, for the simple reason that the whole of the locked-out miners reside in my constituency. They number 12,000, and reckoning that the number in each family averages three, one may safely say that 36,000 persons in my constituency are dependent on the coal industry for their livelihood. I support this motion of want of confidence. I believe that the people of Australia have lost faith in the present Government because it has shown discrimination between rich and poor in its adminis’tration of the arbitration laws. Statutes enacted to deal particularly with the workers are invariably put into operation; but, when the interests of the wealthy classes are threatened, the Government tells us that it is impossible to administer those laws by inflicting fines. For 25 years, the party opposite has assisted to administer the arbitration legislation of the Commonwealth, and it has only now awakened to the fact that so far as those laws touch the rich they cannot be put into operation. Let me remind honorable members of the following remarks in a speech made in this House by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) on the 21st February last, during the debate on the coal-mining dispute. According to Hansard, he said -
Several of the mine-owners are already taking steps to close down some of the mines. Honorable gentlemen opposite will have a great deal to say on that subject, but let me first say that if the mine-owners take any action which infringes the law of this country, the Commonwealth Government will proceed against them just as it will against any one else in the community who breaks the law.
The Prime Minister went on to say that, so far as the coal-owners were concerned, he was guided by the findings of Mr. Bavin, the Premier of New South Wales. He added: -
The only fact that wo know for certain is that at the suggestion of the Bavin Government an investigation was made by expert accountants into the books of the various coal-owners, and that their inquiry showed that the difference between the cost of producing coal and the selling price of it was 2s. per ton.
We find that Mr. McDonald, the chairman of the Northern Collieries Association, who, I understand, supplied the figures or hooks of the owners upon which Mr. Bavin’s conclusions were based, has now given evidence on oath before the coal commission that he is not responsible for the conclusions to which Mr. Bavin came. We do not know how much profit has been made by the coal-owners. In a statement in the New South Wales legislature in October last, Mr. Bavin said that he had come to the conclusion, from the reports of the various accountants who had inspected the owners’ books, that the margin of profit was not more than 2s. per ton. Presumably, Mr. Barton is the accountant to whom Mr. Bavin referred, but that gentleman said in evidence before the commission that he saw no books, and that his calculations were based merely on figures submitted to him by a responsible official of the Premier’s Department.
I turn now to the Prime Minister’s justification of the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown. Perhaps I was responsible for the institution of proceedings ; at any rate, I advocated that a prosecution of him should be made a test case. I was one of his slaves before I was elected to this House, and from my first-hand knowledge of him and his methods, I regarded him as an ideal subject for prosecution. I stated in the House in February that an ex-manager of one of Brown’s collieries had declared that coal could be sold at 6s. per ton less than the present price without necessitating any interference with the men’s wages. I have with me a cost sheet which I obtained from that manager, after the Attorney-General had announced the intention of the Government to prosecute Mr. Brown. The information was submitted to the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor in the Customs House, Newcastle. My informant was manager of the Richmond Main colliery before he was sacked for having had the courage to engage a man who had been blacklisted by the Coal-owners’ Federation. There is some humanity about that man. I honestly believe that the same may be said of the Prime Minister; but. unfortunately, forces are at work which compel him to act in opposition to his better nature. When the man to whom I refer was manager at the Richmond Main colliery, the hewing rate was 2s. 11.2/8d. per ton. The detailed costs were -
total outputfor two weeks (1918 -5,407 tons.
Traction to Hexham -1s. 5.16d. per ton. Stores- 8.83d.
Approximately 10s. 4d. per ton to Hexham.
The colliery was then in the developmental stage, and production costs were at their maximum. Its output in1918 was only 5,407 tons per fortnight. To-day the average output is 3,000 tons per day, or 27,000 tons per fortnight. It is true that the wages of the miners have increased by 17½ per cent., and those of the offhand labourers by approximately 3s. 6d. per day. But those increases were more than offset by an advance of as. 6d. per ton in the price of coal. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) stated in the House in February last -
In Queensland a little more than half the increases approved by the Coal Tribunal have been put on to the price of coal by the proprietors of the mines. In 1916, the Queensland industry made an increase of1s. 9d. a ton instead of 3s. per ton as laid down by Judge Edmunds. Another increase of 15 per cent. to the miners followed in 1919. When the increase in the price of coal in New South Wales was 2s. 9d. per ton, Queensland increased the price by only1s. 6d. a ton.
The honorable member’s statement supports the argument I have advanced. The Queensland colliery-owners were allowed to increase their selling price only in proportion to the increase in wages. Yet the Prime Minister said that it was uncertain that the prosecution of Mr. John Brown would have been successful. The right honorable gentleman referred to the proceedings at the conference in the Sydney Town Hall. It is remarkable how many “B’s” have been connected with the present dispute in the coalmining industry. At the head of the list is the baron of the coal-fields, John Brown. Next in order of priority is the
Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), who is supported by two able lieutenants in the persons of Mr. Bavin, Premier of New South Wales, and Mr. Butler, Premier of South Australia, and also “ lancecorporal “ Buttonshaw. Another “ B “ is Sir Wallace Bruce, of Adelaide. I attended the conference, not as a delegate, but as a visitor, and when the Prime Minister announced the intention of the Government to withdraw the proceedings against John Brown, I was inclined to protest; but, recollecting that for interjecting at the conference in Canberra the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) was threatened with ejection, I kept silent, and so avoided the indignity of being thrown out. In the newspapers published on the following day, however, Mr. Davies, secretary of the Miners’ Federation, declared that that body was not a party to the withdrawal of the proceedings, and I have sworn statements by him and Mr. Rees to that effect.
– Did not the Prime Minister hit and run?
– In opening the conference the Prime Minister spoke for fully three-quarters of an hour. Then Mr. Bavin spoke. When he had finished the Prime Minister introduced Sir Wallace Bruce, and then, with Mr. Bavin, walked out of the conference and did not give men a chance to protest then.
– That was the proper procedure, after having formally opened the conference. He was not a delegate.
– The Prime Minister deliberately sought to convey to the press the impression that the representatives of the Miners’ Federation were parties to the withdrawal of the proceedings against John Brown. In a pamphlet they have issued, the federation officials declare that they were not consulted in regard to this matter, and that, had they been consulted, they would certainly have objected to any interference with the ordinary course of the law. The withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown shows absolutely that discrimination has been made between the rich and the poor. Before this debate is concluded I hope that a decision will be made to prosecute not only John Brown, but also some of the members of the Government. The cry of the Nationalists, in order to save the coal industry from ruin is to reduce, reduce, reduce. Up to the present I have not heard any supposed genius among them suggesting, in order to save this country from ruin, a reduction in interest rates, in profits and in dividends. The coal industry to-day is in a position similar to that which I forecast in this Chamber in February last. At that time I- referred to the visit of the Prince of Wales to the desolate coal areas of Great Britain and I said that we did not want in this sunny land of Australia the deplorable conditions which his Royal Highness had the courage to expose. To-day, similar conditions are existing in Australia. There are on the Northern coal-fields 36,000 people in want of bread and clothing, and of these 12,000 are responsible for the welfare of the remainder. They want to work and to obey the laws of this country; yet they are denied the right to work under the industrial awards simply because the coal-owners, backed up by the Government, have callously locked them out until such time as a reduction in wages is accepted by them. During the war a food blockade was instituted by Great Britain, and how cruel was its operation to the enemy nations.. We all look with horror even in war time upon the action of a nation in trying to starve innocent women and children into submission, yet to-day, in peace time, the coal-owners of this country have imposed similar conditions upon the coal miners to try to force them to accept a reduction in their standard of living. When this subject was debated in this House last March, many honorable members opposite were in sympathy with the miners. I refer now to the honorable members for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and Angas (Mr. Parsons). In February the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) said he was satisfied with his investments in the industry. They gave him a greater return than any other of his investments, including investments in city properties. To-day pressure has been exerted upon them by the Government and they have deserted this Chamber, refusing to stand to their guns. Previously they said that they stood not for any party, but for the nation. To-day,. one section of this community is suffering a cruel injustice. They have suffered the pangs of hunger and the want of clothing during the cold winter months. No one expected the miners to withstand the hardships that have been imposed upon them, and they would not have been able to do so had it not been for the loyal assistance of their comrades in other industries. This has enabled a married man to obtain a food order of 15s. a week with an additional 3s. a week for each child. A single man receives a food order of 8s. a week. Honorable members behind the Government said last February that they stood for justice. Let us have justice now. This question concerns the welfare not of individuals ruling this country but of the whole nation. Do not let it be said that this Parliament stands for discrimination between the rich and the poor. Last March I said that this Government was running into recess, that the various Ministers were burrowing into their various dugouts to conduct a war of tyranny upon the miners. In view of what has transpired, can that be denied? There are in my constituency numerous returned soldiers who have received ejectment notices from the “War Service Homes Department. I would remind honorable members that during the war there were sent from my constituency two battalions of infantry, including one miners’ battalion, to fight, as they thought in the interests of this country and to make it fit for democracy. They did their part, and now the administration of the War Service Homes Department has served returned soldiers, who are locked out of work, with notices giving them from 21 to 42 days to vacate their homes, and, in addition, to pay court costs. Another injustice has been perpetrated in respect of pensions. I have appealed to the Minister for Defence to give these men justice by taking action against the Government of New South Wales, which is administering the dole to the poor, starving miners. The Police Department of that State refuses to issue a food order to any person who is in receipt of a pension of £1 a week. The returned soldiers, in view of the promises that were made to them at the time of their enlistment, should receive every assistance. Under the system of tyranny that is being conducted in Australia to-day - I have sworn affidavits to support my statement - the Department of Labour and Industry of New South Wales, which is commonly referred to as the “Flying Gang,” has refused to supply milk to a returned soldier’s wife who is in the last stages of tuberculosis, although that diet has been prescribed for her by her medical attendant. Her husband protested te those administering the department, and said, “ Are you prepared to allow my wife to die?” They callously replied, “Yes.” Another man, who recently lost his wife, has four little children to support, and one of them is trying to keep house so that they may remain together. The department has refused to give him any ration supply simply because he has no wife. He has been told to place his children with the State, or. else get a woman to assist him in the house. I am not exaggerating these cases; I am giving honorable members cold, solid, and unvarnished facts. My candid opinion is that industry is being mismanaged by highly-paid servants, while those in control are keeping themselves busy by running round the country and squandering the profits. Since the lockout took place John Brown has paid from £2,000 to £4,000 for yearling colts, while those who helped to build up his wealth are starving. This position has had much to do with bringing about the chaos that prevails in industry to-day. It explains partly why so many people are starving, not only in the coal areas, but in other industrial areas. We are continually being told that the Government must act according to the Constitution; but the plain fact is that it ignores the laws made under the Constitution when it suits it to do so. What we need is an amendment of the Constitution which will effectively prevent extreme wealth and extreme poverty in the community. Thousands of our citizens are in dire need of food and clothing, and we should do something to help them. If the Government had sufficient courage it could alleviate the position ; but it appears to have no courage whatever. I should like the AttorneyGeneral to tell me which sections of the
Constitution would need to be amended to make Mr. John Brown the legal king or dictator of Australia. If he will not do that, perhaps Tie will tell me how we could amend the Constitution to give effect to the views expressed by the Prime Minister at a meeting of the Nationalist Association in Sydney last month. The right honorable gentleman said on that occasion that he believed that the time had arrived for the owners of industry to take the workers into their confidence, and to eradicate all idea that industry was being carried on merely for profit. He said that the employers should submit their books for examination, and reveal the actual profits that were being made. If the Prime Minister were honest - and I think he would be if he had not behind him a body of callous legal gentlemen with neither heart nor soul - he would take immediate steps to remedy the present grievous troubles. I suggest to him that he should alter the terms of reference of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, and enable it to compel the coal-owners to submit their books for public examination, so that the people of Australia, as well as the coal-miners, might know the exact position. That would clear the air. I suggest, also, that the mines should resume work under the conditions whichprevailed before the stoppage, and that we should take the result of three months’ output as a basis for assessing the profits. The commission could easily have its officers at the collieries and make a careful record of the business done. If the Government would do this, it would regain the confidence of at least some of the people. The Prime Minister said that a lot of discussion had taken place on the statement of the miners’ representatives that, in the past, when disputes have taken place and work has been continued under the existing conditions, grievances have been ventilated and remedied. The miners were justified in advancing that claim, and I submit that the coal-owners should agree to resume working under the old conditions until the points in dispute have been considered and determined by the competent authority. No one denies that the coal-owners have broken the law. When the workers do that they must pay the penalty, and the coal- owners should also be obliged to pay it. The Government has plenty of courage when the workers commit breaches of the law. It has shown on numerous occasions that it is prepared to prosecute them to the bitter end. Consequently, we feel the injustice of allowing the collieryowners to go scot free. The vicious prosecution of the workers is indefensible; but so also is the exemption from prosecution of the colliery-owners. Months were spent in gathering evidence upon which to base a prosecution against Mr. John Brown, and, when the department was instructed to launch the action, it should not have been withdrawn by the Prime Minister without any consultation with his colleagues. The following paragraph from an article which appeared in the Sydney Sun yesterday is worthy of our close attention : -
The Attorney-General commented unfavorably on the withdrawal of the proceedings against Mr. John Brown, who had been charged with instituting a lockout. This action, he said, had made it impossible to enforce penalties against other persons, and had encouraged resistance to the industrial laws by the strikers. Mr. Latham described the stop taken as “ politically unwise.”
Cabinet, it is understood, was not consulted by Mr. Bruce before the announcement was made that the proceedings against Mr. John Brown would be withdrawn.
Nor were the coal-miners consulted on the subject.. We gather from that article, which is said to have been based on a departmental document, that the Attorney-General was not consulted. I heard the Prime Minister say “ we have decided to withdraw the proceedings against Mr. John Brown.” May I ask, who were the “ we “ ? According to this article, the Attorney-General was not consulted and the miners were not. Were they the Prime Minister and the coalowners ?
– What, in fact, was said was that the Government proposed to withdraw the proceedings.
– That was said a long while afterwards. The Government deserves censure on another count. Surely it should take care that the lives and limbs of those who “go down to the sea in ships “ are protected ; but apparently it is not concerned about that, as is shown by the following report, which appeared in the Adelaide News on the 15th July, 1929-
Carrying about 7,000 tons of coal for the Adelaide Electric Supply Company, Limited, the steamer King Cadwallon has been abandoned owing to fire in two holds. The outbreak occurred about 500 miles from Durban (South Africa).
Mr. F. W. Wheadon (managing director of the company) stated this morning that the loss represented six weeks’ consumption. Coming at this juncture, it was a serious matter.
A shipment of 0,000 tons was due about August 23, and another of 8,000 tons a month later. The company was not actually badly off. Since the start of the coal trouble in New South Wales in February it had been carrying on with its own stocks.
Air. Wheadon said that the cause of the coal cargo on the King Cadwallon catching on lire was probably the oxidization of the sulphur in it. It was well-known that coal in large heaps, even in Australia, caught fire. Occasionally after being stored for a long time, Australian coal contained rather less sulphur than English coals.
The shipment on the King Cadwallon was specially selected for having low sulphur content, lie said.
That fire may have led to a most disastrous loss of life. When coal ignites through sulphur fumes, or through what the miners term “ spontaneous combustion,” serious explosions result under conditions which make it impossible for persons in the vicinity to escape. Almost the only time when the miners win the sympathy of the general community is when they are concerned in an explosion of that character. The fact is that the coal-miners always run excessive risks. Men working in favorable positions are sometimes able to escape when explosions occur in the mines, but older men, who are physically not so fit, who may be working in dangerous places, are often the victims of these accidents. Moreover, men who work in dangerous places cannot mine so much coal as others who work under better conditions, and this is reflected in their wages. The mcn in the dangerous places see a possible indictment in the tonnage sheets that are submitted daily and fortnightly, and realize that probably other men less physically fitted than they, may be hewing more coal and that they will be termed slackers or “polers.” So, instead of timbering dangerous roofs, they endeavour to keep pace with others who do not need to take such precautious. Consequently, we read, periodically, of men being carried out of those mines into oblivion. Honorable members opposite take care never to read such accounts, or to extend sympathy to the victims of casualties in mines. The only time when the unfortunate miner receives sympathy from them is when 50 or 100 of his fellow workers are involved in a dreadful catastrophe and blown into eternity through a gas explosion in a mine. The Prime Minister said, “ We must produce more,” probably referring to himself. I warn honorable members opposite that if the coal-owners insist upon the sacrifice of the “ seniority” clause this fight has only just begun. The miners will suffer anything rather than the loss of that essential principle for which” their forbears fought and suffered. A lot of capital has been made of the principle of the right of seniority of employment, and of what the boss terms his right to hire and fire those whom he desires. Some honorable’ members may ask themselves why the owner of an industry should not have the right to engage or to dismiss whom he likes.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing the conditions of work obtaining in the industry. The motion is confined to the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. John Brown.
– I consider that the point with which I was dealing is an essential one and in order. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, extended leniency to the right, honorable the Prime Minister when he wandered over every subject under the sun.
-Order! The honorable member is not in order. He will either continue the discussion of the motion or resume his seat.
– I regret that honorable members opposite, who originally condemned the withdrawing of the prosecution against John Brown, have gone out of the chamber. They should be here to listen to the proper presentation of the facts. They have declared that they do not stand for a government administering only in the interests of one class, and they should be here to support their expressed convictions. This Government has proved beyond doubt that it is prepared to prosecute workers over any trifling technical breach of the law, but that when it comes to the coal-owners or owners of any other industry committing a similar or worse breach of the same law it allows them to go scot free.
.- AsI listened to the motion of censure upon the Government and to the reply of the Prime Minister, I came to the conclusion that a considerable amount of inconsistency exists amongst honorable members of the Opposition. That leads me to a retrospective glance at the world’s history and compels me to sympathize very considerably with the Prime Minister of Australia. History has revealed that a certain section will always follow a leader, not to assist but to find fault with and harass him. Like a certain other Leader, the Prime Minister of Australia has been bitterly assailed while faithfully performing his duty. Whether he goes to the right or to the left he is attacked by the Pharisees of his day. When, swayed by a sympathetic consideration of the sufferings expounded to him, he tried to relieve the suffering as it were on the “ Sabbath Day “ and set aside the majesty of the law in the belief that by so doing he would alleviate distress, it was said that he had committed a sin, and he was forthwith assailed by the Pharisees. Doubtless those mine men who interviewed the Prime Minister and laid before him the troubled lot of their colleagues, were sincere. They recognized the seriousness of the position. It was not the Prime Minister who stirred up this alleged hornets’ nest. The right honorable gentleman explained that he went to Sydney to visit the Show, not to withdraw proceedings against John Brown, but that he was approached by those who felt genuinely concerned in the distress occassioned by the coal dispute and gave attention to them.
– Who were they?
– The Prime Minister explained who they were. Those representative workers approached the right honorable gentleman and he entered into conference with them in a conscientious endeavour to bring about an amicable and desirable result. I am confident that those nine Labour men foregathered with the
Prime Minister at the suggestion of the coal workers, and that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) realizes in his own heart that the right honorable gentleman was genuinely sympathetic with the request that they brought before him. It is obvious that the view of the mine-owners could only be that it was impossible for them to enter into a round table conference with the miners and participate in a frank discussion while the case of John Brown was pending. John Brown was representative of the mineowners and his case affected them all. I submit that the Prime Minister entered into that conference with the best of intentions, with the desire to help people so sadly in distress that he considered that, although it was the “ Sabbath Day,” or an apparent breach of the law, the element of human compassion should enter into the matter and that the case of John Brown should be set aside in order to clear the atmosphere for amicable discussion. I believe that the nine representative workmen who sat in conference with the right honorable gentleman felt that he had done the right thing. But now the political Pharisees come upon the scene and see in what was done an opportunity to make capital, not on behalf of those in distress, but on behalf of themselves. Their desire is merely to get on to the Ministerial benches. The records of that conference are printed and disclose that the workers who attended it felt that the Prime Minister of Australia was doing the right thing in cancelling the case against John Brown.
– Could it not have been adjourned.
– The honorable membermust realize that an adjournment would have been ineffective, as the case would still have been sub judice. It is my belief that the Prime Minister took the correct action, and that his object was solely to alleviate the distress caused by the inactivity of the coal mines. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) thinks that a noble action was done when one of the bosses reinstated a. man who had been black-listed by an owner. He holds a different opinion when the position is reversed, and a loyalist worker is concerned. This whole matter centers upon the question whether the Prime Minister was justified in his action and was actuated by the best interests of the country when he decided to cancel the case against John Brown; whether he believed that he would then leave the way open for a round-table conference between owners and miners with the object of re-establishing work at the mines and. relieving the distress in that industry in New South Wales. The right honorable gentleman has been frank, and has convinced me that he acted with the best of intentions, realizing that man was not made for the law but that the law was made for man.
.- The charge that has been levelled. against the Government is a very serious and definite one. The honorable member for Forrest endeavoured to make the House believe that in withdrawing the charge against one colliery proprietor the Prime Minister was actuated with the best of motives. But the charge levelled in the motion before the House is that a similar opportunity obtained when the waterside workers were endeavouring to negotiate to prevent further trouble on the waterfront, and nothing was done except to prosecute them. A similar opportunity also existed during the timber workers’ strike, but instead of accepting it, the Government had the Timber Workers’ Association prosecuted, also one of the leading union officials in Melbourne. The genesis of the present coal trouble arose out of the closing down of a large section of the industry by the owners, who made the bald statement to the miners, “ Accept our terms, or be unemployed.” They were operating under a law passed by this Parliament. The miners could not obtain an increase of wages without first approaching the tribunal appointed to deal with such matters. Apparently the coal-owners can, with impunity, flout the legislation which this Parliament has enacted. Without fear of the consequences of disobeying the law, the coal barons can say to their employees that, unless they are prepared to accept a reduction of wages, they will be thrown out of employment. What is the use of passing legislation when employers can do such things without question? When the stoppage occurred every one of the mines was paying handsome profits. Now the owners say that they do not know what profits the industry as a whole was making. Let us take the case of a mine with an output of 5,000 tons of coal a day. Even if the profits were only 2s. a ton, that represents a very satisfactory return to the mine-owners. Indeed, many other industries would be regarded as flourishing if they could show similar results. That the northern mines need not have closed is demonstrated by the action of the coal-owners in southern and western New South Wales continuing operations and paying the wages which were in operation prior to the stoppage of work. In the light of that fact it is idle to say that the coal-owners were justified in closing down their mines because they did not pay. Apparently the departmental officers considered that John Brown was the person whose prosecution was the most likely to be successful; but, had action been taken against other companies whose stock had been watered, more satisfactory results might have been achieved. Whatever the Government’s intention in instituting proceedings against Mr. Brown, it is significant that, at one period, it was rumoured that he proposed to break away from the coal-owners’ association. It may be that the action taken against him was instituted with a view to keeping him in the association. Instead of withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. John Brown, the Government should have proceeded not only against him, but also against other coal-owners. That there is a stoppage of work in the coal industry to-day is a disgrace to the Government. It is responsible for the privation and suffering among those engaged in the industry. Only last week I visited a family on the coal-fields whose members had not tasted meat for a week, and, through lack of nourishment, were ill. A good deal has been said about an inquiry to ascertain the amount of profits made by the coal-owners. Although the officers of the Collieries Employees’ Federation have offered to return to work at reduced wages if the coal-owners can prove that their profits are not more than 2s. a ton, we still hear on all sides that these officials are holding up the industry. The responsibility for the present conditions certainly does not rest with the miners. Honorable members who blame the workers know nothing about the coalmining industry. Had there been any real desire to ascertain the amount of profits made by the coal-owners; the Government of New South Wales could have taken over the mines and worked them, and found out for itself what the profits really were. If that action had been taken in the beginning, the trouble would have ended before this. Now, however, we have reached such an impasse that either the Commonwealth Government or the Government of New South Wales must intervene to effect a settlement. In its administration of the law the Government is acting in the interests of the coal-owners and to the detriment of the workers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has made no effective reply to the charges levelled against his Government; they remain unanswered.
.- The language of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) in moving his motion of censure was clear and definite, but so far the charges he levelled against the Government have not been answered. The Prime Minister has not shown that his Government has administered the law impartially. Throughout the trouble in the coal industry, he has shown himself an able advocate of the mine-owners. Indeed, had he been briefed by them, ho could not have put the case from their point of view, more effectively. Members of deputations which have waited on him have felt that they were dealing, not with an impartial and independent Prime Minister, but with a partisan whose sympathies were entirely with the coal-owners. His re-* plies to various deputations have revealed a knowledge of the coal-mining industry which he could have acquired only from the mine-owners themselves. Throughout the dispute the stand taken by the miners lias been that before they will discuss the matter in conference, work must be resumed under the old conditions. That is in accordance with the attitude of the employers throughout industry generally. We have seen it in connexion with the timber dispute: the men have been told that they must first return to work under the iniquitous Lukin award. The Prime Minister said that, in any case, work in the coal mines could not be resumed under four months. That is absurd. The safety men are still employed in the mines, and if the coal-owners were really desirous of re-opening the mines, work could be resumed within a few days. On one occasion, the Prime Minister said that the Commonwealth Government did not possess the power to enforce a resumption of work, but that possibly the State Government had that power. The right honorable gentleman knows very well that if the Nationalist Government in New South Wales desired to do so, it could force the coal-owners to re-open their mines within a very short time by threatening to cancel their leases if they failed to do so. The coal companies hold the areas they are working, under lease from the Government of New South Wales and pay tribute for every ton of coal won. The Prime Minister endeavoured to convey the idea that the Government of New South Wales could not do anything, but if a Labour Government had been in office in that State industrial trouble on the coal-fields would not have occurred, because immediate steps would have been taken by such a government to cancel certain of the colliery leases. The Evening News of the 9th April, states - Consider Mr. Bruce’s confession of political impotence. The Commonwealth, lie explains, cannot take over the mines, but “between the Commonwealth and State Governments there was power if it was deemed wise to exercise it.” But, “even if the State and Federal Governments were absolutely convinced that the owners were wrong, and were acting to the detriment of the public, and had to step in and insist that the mines should be worked, it would take a very considerable time to do it. Whatever steps were taken in that direction would occupy months, because the necessary legislation would have to be put through.”
Was there ever a more pitiable confession of the failure of the whole political system, both Federal and State, to handle a great question ? Was there ever a better demonstration of the need for reform?
But Mr. Bruce is wrong. If the Governments had the necessary will-power and capacity for prompt and effective action, the Parliaments could be summoned for special action and legislation could be put through swiftly. That would be done in war-time, and it is only the stodgy and hidebound respect for political habits and customs that prevents the political machine from being made to function effectively.
The present position is the negation of every rational idea of government and of every mandate of business commonsense.
That is the opinion expressed in a conservative newspaper, which has been so hostile to the workers that the trade union movement in New South Wales declared it “black.” On the 19th August, the Evening News also published the following: -
It might be feasible for the State and Federal Governments to create an authority to control the whole industry from the coal in the pit to the consumers. Such an authority would not resume anything, but would control everything, on the basis of a fair price to the consumer and a reasonable dividend on the capital actually employed, but not on watered stock or extravagant flotations. The moral right of the community to exercise such a wide control would rest upon the primary fact that the community is the owner of the coal, and that the community has an inherent right to the use of that coal at a reasonable price. lt is conceivable that such a policy might necessitate an extensive writing down of values, but the same thing occurs every day in industries which cannot justify the market price of their shares by the results of their economic activity. There is really no reason why capital invested in coal mining, or coal marketing, facilities should be artificially exempted from the economic law which should regulate profits by the law of supply and demand.
That paragraph should appeal to the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), who has much to say concerning the immutable law of supply and demand. The Government, which is supporting the coal-owners, knows that the coal-mining industry is hopelessly over-capitalized, and that the conditions under which it is operating are economically unsound. It is assisting the coal-owners to compel the men to return to work at lower wages so that this hopelessly over-capitalized industry may obtain sufficient profits on its overcapitalization. The Prime Minister stated that he discussed this subject with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), and suggested in effect that the withdrawal of the prosecution against this wealthy coal haron would create a political upheaval, but that in the interests of the country the Government would do its duty. The right honorable gentleman had no option. It would be unthinkable for the Government to punish a man who contributes so heavily to the Nationalist party’s funds. It is ridiculous of the Prime Minister to ask why the Government issued the summons. The reason is quite clear. Immediately prior to the adjournment of Parliament for the winter recess, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) raised the question of the coal industry, when the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) were anxious to speak. I shall watch with interest the attitude of those honorable members towards the motion now before the House. As the hour was late, the Prime Minister was stampeded into action, but not because he was anxious that Mr. Brown should be prosecuted. Mr. Brown, who is an irresponsible person, has been at loggerheads with the Caledonian Colliery Company for some time, and it was rumoured that he intended to break away from the vend and re-open his collieries. When it was realized that that was contemplated, the Government instituted proceedings against Mr. Brown, in order to hold him within the combine, and, having achieved its objective, the summons was withdrawn. Action was taken shortly after the House had gone into recess, when honorable members had not any opportunity of debating the matter in Parliament. In reading detective stories, which I do sometimes in my leisure moments, my first desire is to find a motive for the crime and then to attempt to discover who committed it. In this case we have to discover the motive for issuing a summons and the reasons which actuated the Government later in withdrawing it. Mr. John Brown, who has been a thorn in the side of the Northern Colliery Proprietors Association for some years, is a person whom Mr. McDonald finds very difficult to handle. The Prime Minister stated that the utterances of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) were degrading, but the actions of the Government in this instance are contrary to constitutional government and degrading to our democratic institutions, which -if the present system is continued must crumble to the ground. The right honorable gentleman further stated that the Government endeavoured to avoid prosecuting the wharf labourers and the timberworkers; but the records show that in a spirit of vindictiveness, it rushed in like over-zealous policemen to crush the men and to create a situation which would assist them politically. Notwithstanding what the Prime Minister has said, Mr. Brown and the other coalowners associated with him who are locking out the men are still defying the law. We have been informed that the federal arbitration system is to be abolished. That policy has been adopted, not because a few industrialists have broken our arbitration law, but because the Government has not the courage to prosecute employers who are flagrantly defying it. The frame-up of the evidence in the Johnson case - I do not know who was responsible - was comparable with some of the most degrading cases that have figured in the political life of the United States of America. It has been said that the employers would not meet in conference with the men whilst a prosecution against one of the coal-owners was pending, and that the prosecution had to be withdrawn before negotiations continued. The prosecution was withdrawn because of the attitude adopted by Mr. John Brown, who some time ago said, “You cows, I will see you eat grass. I will bring you hack to the conditions of 1914.” That language is typical of the brutality of the man who is breaking the law and whom this Government is protecting. The most ludicrous sentence of the Prime Minister’s speech was that in which he said it was hard to prove the existence of a lockout. The Attorney-General, who appeared anxious to proceed against these men in order to vindicate the honour of the Government, said during a debate in this House last session that if an employer broke the law he would be punished. He further contended that although it was at times difficult to prove the existence of a strike it was easy to prove that a lockout existed, but to-day the Prime Minister said that before a lockout could be proved in this instance it had to be shown that the mines were being worked at a profit. There is no reference to profits in the lockout provisions of our arbitration laws. Honorable members opposite who ridiculed statements by honorable members on this side of the chamber that it was difficult to prove the existence of a lockout will now have to adopt a different attitude. The Prime Minister says - and apparently the Attorney-General agrees with him - that we were right in saying that a lockout cannot be proved. I tell him that it is not necessary to instruct a royal commission, or any other tribunal, to ascertain whether the miners are being overpaid or the mine-owners are making a profit. The outstanding fact is that in 1912 the average price of coal was 12s. a ton, and the average hewing rate was 2s. 9d. ; while in 1929 the average price of coal is 25s. a ton, and the average hewing rate 4s. a ton. That is a plain statement of fact, which no person can refute; and any law which requires additional proof is purely and simply, as has been frequently stated, “ a hass.” The present Government has on two occasions been given a new lease of life on the cry of the maintenance of law and order. In 1922, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was sabotaged, and the gentleman who had stated his intention to either stand by or fall with him watched his downfall and promptly took his place. Since that time, his Government has not put before the people any decently constructive programme designed to lift this country out of the economic chaos caused by the aftermath of Avar, but on the contrary has twice appealed to the passions of the people with, the cry of the maintenance of law and order. It has deliberately set out to precipitate industrial disputes, so that it might make its appeal on those grounds. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) will not, I think, attempt to deny that on various occasions he has deplored the “ preachings of communism, because he has considered them to be a danger to law and order and constitutional government. The Sydney Labour Daily, on the 27th April, 1929, reprinted a letter which the honorable member wrote to the Melbourne Argus in connexion Avith the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. I make the following quotation from it, Avith the object of showing how seriously the honorable member then viewed the position : -
The outraged and protestant Nationalist is Mr. Gr. A. Maxwell, M.H.K. for Fawkner, who, writing in the Melbourne Argus, first quotes the Federal Attorney-General as follows: -
Investigations in relation to this matter have been proceeding ever since the beginning of what is described as a lockout. The inquiries were completed yesterday, the facts were finally considered by counsel lost night, and proceedings will be taken to-day against Mr. John Brown.
And then he thus trenchantly comments on the Government’s base betrayal of their responsibility as custodians of the law -
In view of the foregoing, the announcement by the Prime Minister that, in order to promote peace in the coal industry, proceedings against Mr. John Brown had been withdrawn, comes, I have no hesitation in saying, as a painful shock to every supporter of the Ministry. In my opinion, respect of persons on the part of those charged with the duty of enforcing the law is a much graver menace to the stability of the Commonwealth than open defiance of the law by those who object to it.
As a Nationalist member of the Federal Parliament, and as a lover of even-handed justice, I desire to dissociate myself from and to publicly record my protest against the action of the Ministry in abandoning proceedings against Mr. John Brown which had been instituted by the AttorneyGeneral on grounds which, in my opinion, warranted a prosecution.
By a process of evolution our parliamentary institutions have developed to our existing form of government, which we term democratic government; that is, the government of a free people under a full franchise, with freedom of selection under the cleanest possible conditions. The very corner-stone of that democracy is the basic principle that the law shall be administered with even-handed justice to all, and that all respectable citizens shall receive the greatest measure of protection under it. If democracy does not mean that, then it means nothing at all; and in those circumstances I should be a revolutionary to-morrow. Political exigency does not enter into the question. If any government, drunk with power or in a spirit of arrogance, is prepared to act contrary to that basic principle, and in the interests of capitalists of the callous, brutal type of John Brown, to hurl assault after assault against the very foundations of democracy, it will cause the Constitution to be regarded with scorn and to stink in the nostrils of the people. If, as a consequence, any movement should arise which would bring about the dissolution of that democracy, it would be upon that government that the blame would rest. I feel strongly in this matter, not because the Government has allowed to escape the man who of all men should not have been so treated, but because I see in its action the flouting of basic principles that ought to be sacred to all, and because I realize the gravity of the situation. Therefore, the Government should be censured, not only by this House, but also by every citizen who wishes to see this Commonwealth develop in a peaceful, constitutional way. If the Prime Minister, or any other person, says it is a fact that the miners consented to the withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown, he is the most brazen and picturesque dealer in falsehoods since the days of Ananias. The members of the Miners’ Federation were totally opposed to the withdrawal of the prosecution. The Prime Minister went to the conference and, having stated what he proposed to do, withdrew hurriedly, before any person could raise a voice against him. Is there any basis for comparison between the awful consequences that flow from the action of the coal-owners and those that arise from a strike of the workers? There is no way in which the two actions can be compared. When a man is fighting for a principle which be believes may benefit himself or the generations that come after him, he brings trouble only on himself. Can that be weighed in the scales against the disastrous effects that are caused by the action of this man Brown, who, if he had his deserts, would be placed in leg-irons in a dungeon and made to suffer the tortures that he has compelled thousands of others to suffer during his lifetime - little children crying for food, and fathers and mothers tortured by their sufferings? The production of coal is vital to the industrial progress of the Commonwealth, and particularly to industry in New South Wales. Although the southern coal mines are inferior to those in the northern areas, and, compared with northern mines, are uneconomic, nevertheless, during all this period of trouble, these southern mines have been in continuous operation, and are paying well. I know, also, one small coal mine in the north that is worked by a number of men. They have to win the coal 6 or 7 miles from the sea coast, and transport it in motor lorries to the nearest port. Notwithstanding their heavy costs, they are making a satisfactory profit on their operations. The honorable member for
Wentworth (Mr. Marks), speaking of the industrial situation recently to a number of his select supporters, mentioned that, while Labour criticized the coal-owners, neither Mr. Scullin nor Mr. Theodore said anything about the “ basher “ gangs. The honorable member is supporting the Government in the action it has taken, because he is interested in southern coal mines. With pharisaic self-satisfaction, he sits behind the Ministry, supporting it in all that it has done in connexion with the dispute in the coal-mining industry. Every day that the children of northern coal-miners are allowed to starve, every day that the lockout in the northern mines is allowed to continue, brings increased profits to southern mincowners, and larger returns on the investment of the honorable member - larger returns on money which he never earned in his life, and never could earn. It costs as much to win 1 ton of coal from the average southern mine as it docs to take 3 tons out of the average northern mine. Notwithstanding this handicap, the men employed in the southern mines receive full award rates and the mines show a profit. Miners in the northern field are anxious to get to work, but the owners refuse to re-open the mines. It is useless for the honorable member for Wentworth to talk about the operations of the “basher “ gangs. With true pharisaical complacency, the honorable member, I have no doubt, is chuckling at the miners’ misfortunes, which, as I have shown, mean more profits on his investments in southern mines. Though the honorable member has talked freely enough about “ basher “ gangs, he has had no criticism to offer concerning the policy of the Nationalist Government of New South Wales, which takes advantage of its brief season of authority to compel the police forces to support the coal barons in. defying the law. The miners are anxious to go into the mines, but the police, at the behest of the coal-mine owners and the Nationalist Government of New South Wales, are keeping them out. The men are ready to obey the law; they are prepared to observe the findings of the constituted tribunals; they are waiting to go into the mines to produce coal for Australian industries; but these brass buttons of authority, employing all the forces at their command, are preventing them. The Government will, no doubt, continue in its course. It may, with the aid of a prostituted press, succeed in stampeding the miners, and compel them to resume work under conditions that are wholly inequitable. The wealthy coal barons and other capitalistic combinations may, for a few years longer, continue to control this Nationalist Government; but, if they do, all I can say is that, if the Government is not destroyed by the votes of the people, it will be by some other means. As far as I am concerned, I have said on the public platform on many occasions, and I repeat now, “ God speed the day that will destroy any government if it continues in this manner.”
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Lazzarini) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) drew a pathetic picture, which I fear is all too true, of the condition of affairs in the northern coal-mining districts. But the condition of . the industry and of those engaged in it is, I suggest, the strongest justification that could have been advanced for the action of the Government to which exception is now being taken by honorable members opposite. I remind the House that before such action was taken there had been many conferences with a view to the settlement of the dispute in the northern coal areas, but all had. proved ineffective, and it was not until all these steps had been taken that the prosecution was instituted. After this was done the miners themselves approached the Prime Minister with the outline of a scheme which, they hoped, would be effective.
– How does that justify the withdrawal of the prosecution?
– If the action of the Government had been instrumental in bringing about a settlement, and if as a result of the conference the mines had been re-opened, we should have heard no criticism with regard to the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– The honorable member’s statement is only so much political hypocrisy !
– I object to that statement, and ask for its withdrawal.
– I withdraw the hypocrite. Do you rule, Mr. Speaker, that it is out of order to refer to any statement as hypocritical?
– I fail to see any distinction between political’ and other hypocrisy. If an honorable member is charged with being a political hypocrite he may assume that the allegation has a personal reference.
– If the Prime Minister had refused the request of the miners for a conference on the ground that he would not withdraw the prosecution, honorable members opposite would have been the first to criticize him. Obviously it would have been absolutely impossible for Mr. Brown to take part in a conference with a prosecution hanging over his head.
– Mr. Brown did not go to the conference in any case.
– He was a member of the organization that was represented at the conference. If he had taken part in the negotiations he would necessarily have been obliged to make statements concerning his operations that might have been used in evidence against him in the prosecution. In the circumstances, a free and frank discussion of the conditions in the industry would have been out of the question, because the principal question at issue was that of rates of pay, and statements made at the conference might conceivably have strengthened the case against Mr. Brown then pending. It seems to me that the withdrawal of the prosecution was the only way in which it was possible to ensure a successful conference. We cannot dissociate this matter from the position existing on the coal-fields at the time. If there was any chance at all of a settlement being arrived at - and the miners themselves thought that there was - almost any steps were justified to bring it about.
– What is wrong with prosecuting the colliery-owners now?
– The honorable member may do it. I might do it, or any honorable member might prosecute. Nevertheless, as the Government gave an undertaking to withdraw the prosecution it would be hardly right to go back on that undertaking now.
– What undertaking did the Government give?
– The Government gave an undertaking to withdraw the prosecution.
– To whom did it give that undertaking?
– To the conference.
– It gave no such undertaking to the conference. Did it give the undertaking to any one else?
– The Prime Ministertold the conference that the prosecution would be withdrawn. It was on this> understanding that the Coal-owners; Association entered the conference. Now that the conference has not been successful it would not be equitable to go back and renew the prosecution. It seems to me to be one of the first principles of fair dealing to stick to a promise once it has been made.
– The Government promised to prosecute John Brown. Why did it not stick to that promise ?
– Because the circumstances justified it in doing otherwise.
– Why could not the Government have merely postponed the prosecution ?
– A postponement would have been no better than proceeding immediately with the prosecution. The case for the prosecution turned upon the question of whether or not it paid to work the mines; the questions before the conference were matters of costs, working expenses and profits, therefore the information given at the conference could have been used subsequently against the defendant. At that time it was a case of withdrawing the prosecution altogether or of allowing it to proceed. If the Government had insisted on the prosecution there would have been no conference. If there had been a hitch in the holding of the conference honorable members opposite would have been the first to say the Government should have exhausted every effort to bring one about. The announcement in regard to withdrawing the prosecution was first made to the preliminary meeting of the representatives of the miners and collieryowners, after which the representatives of the miners went back to prepare their case. The parties met again next day, with their cases prepared, and the representatives of the union did not make any protest whatever against the proposal to drop the prosecution.
– It would have been impertinent for them to do so, and the honorable member knows it.
– That is a matter of opinion. The representatives of the union evidently recognized the soundness of the position taken up by the Prime Minister, and as explained by him to the conference. Since no objection was raised by the union representatives, the Prime Minister was justified in assuming that they were not opposed to the course which he proposed to follow. It was on the following day, after the case for the union had been presented, that the prosecution was withdrawn. On many other occasions proceedings in the Arbitration Court, under our arbitration laws, both in the Commonwealth and State spheres, have been arrested and stopped in the greater interests of the community. There is no difference between those cases and the one now under discussion. The whole point is, what was best to be done at the time to get the mines working again? The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) referred to constitutional powers. As every honorable member knows there exists no constitutional power for the Commonwealth Government to intervene in an intra-state dispute, but the State Parliaments have full powers in such cases. At this time, however, the State Parliament of New South Wales was in recess. The dispute was regarded so seriously that immediate action was deemed to be advisable. It was thought that a week or two would see the conference finished, and that the whole matter would then be settled. There was no time in that period for the State Parliament to act. Notice would have to he given before Parliament could be called together, and there was certain to be a debate on any matter brought before the House. Both parties - and certainly the union - hoped that the conference which the union itself had suggested would result in a settlement of the difficulty, and the re-opening of the mines. On the whole, I think that the miners were overoptimistic, and that the plan which they put forward was not as watertight as they considered it to be. However, the result of the conference ought not to influence the minds of honorable members when considering the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister before the conference began ; they should try to visualize the position as it confronted the Prime Minister. If the conference had been successful every newspaper in New South Wales and every union representative would have applauded the Prime Minister for the action which he then took.
– Is the honorable member sure of that?
– I am, and the honorable member himself would have been among those who applauded the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet were justified in acting as they did on that occasion, and my only regret is that their action did not have the result that they anticipated, and for which we all hoped. We must remember that in the circumstances confronting the Prime Minister at the time, and in view of the widespread distress which prevailed in the mining areas of northern New South Wales, every consideration of humanity urged him to take whatever action was necessary to ensure that the conference should be held and peace in the coal-mining industry restored.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 p.m. to 8 p.m.
.- The charge presented by the. Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that the Government has shown partiality with respect to the prosecution of Mr. John Brown, and that, not only in this instance, but also in others, it has exhibited favoritism towards certain wealthy interests in the Commonwealth. In his defence, the Prime Minister told the House that, in withdrawing the prosecution, he recognized that he was exposing his flank to his political opponents; that is to say, he perceived that the people of Australia would regard his action as one that gave support to the accusation of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore). The community at large, the Prime Minister immediately recognized, would consider that the Government had adopted one attitude towards the coalowners and another towards the trade unionists and their officers. The charge itself is admitted. The Prime Minister pleaded guilty; but he submitted that there were extenuating circumstances. His only argument was that of expediency. He said it became desirable in the interests of the country that the prosecution should be abandoned. He claimed the right to determine what was expedient in the country’s interests, irrespective of the proper administration of justice. That was an extraordinary argument for him to advance. In days of old, ki uga cut off men’s heads on a similar plea. Those men probably knew too much about the affairs of their rulers. The plea of expediency is to be judged not only in the light of the intentions of the Prime Minister, but also having regard to the results of his action. Those kings who applied the doctrine of expediency in olden times, and whose decisions brought disaster upon their countries, usually paid the price of their mistakes. It cannot be said that the Government, or the Prime Minister, was a wise judge as to what was expedient in the circumstances of the coal dispute. The present situation exhibits the failure of the expedient that the Prime Minister devised, and the sequel has not in the least justified the defence advanced by him this afternoon.
Let me briefly examine the facts that led to the initiation of this prosecution. There was a long preparation for the launching of it. According to replies given by the Attorney-General to questions asked in this House, extreme difficulty was experienced in securing evidence. Apparently, the law was very slow in its processes. This afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition contrasted the slowness of that procedure with the rapidity with which the Government acted in launching prosecutions against alleged infringers of the law who belonged to trade unions. The law functions against the unions with the speed of an aeroplane; but observe the tortoise-like fashion in which it travels after Mr. J ohn Brown ! The interference of the- Prime Minister in the coal situation generally has been traversed in this Parliament, and I think that all honorable members have a recollection of the frequency with which those on this side of the House, in the early part of this year, addressed themselves to what they believed then to be the discriminating attitude of the Government towards the coal proprietors. It was not until the very eve of the adjournment of the House that the Attorney-General intimated that the evidence that would warrant the launching of the prosecution had been secured. May I offer the opinion that declarations in this Parliament of ministerial intention are, in effect, compacts with the legislature ? It could quite easily happen that, in the absence of such a declaration, the House would be dissatisfied with the conduct of its business, and would take steps to dismiss a government from office. Surely when Ministers, after repeated pressure, not only from this side but from their own supporters, announce a decision, which has been long expected by the Parliament and the country, to conduct a prosecution, its abandonment requires something more than the halting explanation that the Prime Minister gave this afternoon. The obligation to this Parliament to proceed with the prosecution should have been taken into account as well as the expediency of the step that . was contemplated.
The visit to Sydney, of which the Prime Minister spoke this afternoon, seems to me to have been a most interesting one. It was not made ostensibly for the purpose of reviewing the coal situation. So far as the Government was concerned, if we are to judge its. intentions by the statements made to us before the adjournment, the situation had ended. The Commonwealth had no more to do with the negotiations. Its powers, so the Prime Minister had said, had been exhausted. But no sooner had the Prime Minister reached Sydney than the matter was re-opened, and he invited the mine-owners and representatives of the unions to a conference. He stated this afternoon that a condition precedent to the holding of that conference was a promise on the part of the Government to withdraw the prosecution.
I remind the House that, in dealing with the difficulties of administering the law in such a case, the Prime Minister said that it was impossible to proceed against the Colliery Proprietors’ Association as a body, and that he could deal only with the coalowners individually. He pointed out that it was essentia] to show, not only that the miners had been locked out of their employment, but also that the mine was incapable of being worked’ at a profit. The withdrawal of the prosecution was said to be justified by the proprietors on the ground that if the conference was held, and the prosecution was afterwards proceeded with, their interests would be prejudiced, because they would probably have made admissions which could be used in evidence against them. I contend that they could not be prosecuted for causing a lockout, unless those admissions specifically showed that they were carrying on their mines at a profit. If the mines were being operated at a loss - and that was the whole argument put forward to justify the lockout - nothing that the colliery proprietors could say at the conference would expose them to the processes of the law as administered by the Attorney-General. Not only must the Government have agreed to abandon the prosecution of Mr. John Brown, but it must also have guaranteed immunity from prosecution to all other colliery proprietors, no matter how much they might have admitted in the conference that their mines were operating at a profit. I think that it is a fair inference to be drawn from the Prime Minister’s admissions. Therefore, the Government has to answer for the withdrawal of the charge against Mr. John Brown, and explain why, having regard to the fact that it could only prosecute individuals, it also gave immunity from prosecution to the individual companies which joined the conference, without having previously endeavoured to ascertain whether they, like Mr. Brown, could- be charged with having caused a lockout. A number of individuals form the Colliery Proprietors’ Association. According to the Prime Minister’s speech, none of them was guilty of an offence against the law, unless his mine had been carried on at a profit, and yet the case of only one proprietor had been considered by the Attorney-General’s Department. In Mr. Brown the Government discovered a proprietor, who, according to ex parte evidence was carrying on his mines at a profit. It believed him to be guilty of an offence against the law, - and yet without having investigated the affairs of any other proprietor, it granted them all immunity from prosecution, irrespective of whether they were carrying on their mines at a profit, and liable therefore, to the penalties of the act. I should say that if the coal-owners had been able to produce to the conference any evidence that the mines were being carried on at a loss, the representatives of the unionists would have been willing to give consideration to that fact. But is not the whole proceeding suspect ? Is it not palpable that every one of the coalowners invited to the conference was a potential law-breaker, and that before they would go into conference they had to be guaranteed immunity from the penalties which the law prescribes?
The conference obviously proved to be of the character predicted by the Opposition, and this prevented any possibility of u successful termination of the dispute. Let me remind honorable members of what occurred at the conference for which the abandonment of the prosecution is said to be the sole justification. In the first place, the proprietors objected to the mine-workers being represented by the delegation they had selected. When that objection had been waived the owners said that they were opposed to the proceedings being reported, and to any notes of importance being made public. The delegates of the workers took exception to that, and the mine-owners replied that they attended the conference, not as representatives of the Northern Collieries Proprietors’ Association, but only as representatives of individual colliery interests, who had been invited by the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales to hear certain proposals that would be made by the unions. Apparently, before they would accept the invitation of the Prime Minister, he said to them, in effect, “Meet these chaps to have a talk and the prosecution of John Brown will be withdrawn, and no other colliery proprietor will be prosecuted.”
– Quite possibly the owners insisted that they would attend the conference only on those conditions.
– That would make the offence more grave. I could understand the Prime Minister, in a mistaken use of his discretion, and through the goodness of his heart, making such an offer; hut agreement to such conditions as the result of intimidation by the proprietors would have been outrageous. The subsequent history of the dispute has proved that the attendance of the employers at the conference was mere bluff. If the gathering had been a legitimate endeavour to effect a settlement of the dispute, and open the mines in the interests of the country, as the Prime Minister has declared, what justification can the Government offer for its inactivity since April last? The right honorable gentleman said that he agreed to withdraw the prosecution in order that the conference might, untrammelled, consider means of bringing about a resumption of work in the mines. If a resumption of work was expedient and urgent in April, it became more urgent in May, gravely urgent in June, and by July had become supremely critical to the welfare of the community. But from the date when the Government promised to give to the proprietors immunity from prosecution, it has 11Ot moved a finger to secure a resumption of operations in this essential industry. If the vitals of the nation were being sapped in April by the cessation of the production of coal, how precarious is the position of the Commonwealth to-day? If it were desirable to devise expedients four months ago to promote a resumption of work in the mines, how can the Government excuse its failure to devise alternative expedients every day since the first “ expedient “ failed.
– Can the honorable member suggest anything else that the Government could have done?
– If the production of coal is of such supreme importance to the welfare of the country, as to justify the setting aside of the processes of the law in April, most certainly those who adopted that expedient were under an obligation to attempt something to the same end in May and June. Otherwise, it is manifest that the setting aside of the law in April was an act of class consideration for the benefit of an industrial group with which the Government is particularly concerned.
I emphasize the Prime Minister’s consideration of expediency, because he put it forward as fundamental to his defence. Indeed, no other logical excuse for the
Government’s action has been advanced during this debate. The AttorneyGeneral has not yet spoken.
– I am waiting to hear something more solid to answer.
– I submit some points for the consideration of the honorable gentleman. First, is any Government justified in making bargains with men whom it has indicted for infringements of the law? Second, is any Minister in a democratic community warranted in bargaining with a group of persons, including one against whom legal proceedings had been taken, and others whom the legal advisers of the Crown suspected of being violators of the law? I recollect that the Government did something of the kind in the Abrahams’ case, but such trafficking in justice strikes at the very root of democratic government. If a group of men holding a strongly entrenched economic position can refuse to carry on an industry, unless they are given immunity from the operation of the law, parliamentary and representative government are in their death throes. Can any body of men, either wealthy employers or strongly organized workers, have respect for the law when they are told by the Prime Minister that any law to which they may be subject will be set aside if it is expedient to confer with them regarding the terms upon which they will resume work in their industry? This consideration is crucial, not only to this debate, but also to the future government of the country, and I emphasize it the more because, from a thousand platforms, ministerial supporters have referred to the organizations with which we on this side of the House are connected, as amongst the lawless elements of the community, including men who have no respect for the will of the legislature and ar.e prepared to bring the ordinary processes of law and order into contempt. The Government action in regard .to John Brown has done more to breed amongst industrial unionists distrust of the processes of the law than anything else that has occurred in Australia during the last 25 years. This Government has thrown the industrial code into the cauldron of insurrection. If John Brown, or any other employer who is charged with an offence against the industrial law, can bargain with the Government as to whether a prosecution shall be proceeded with, the organized employees will one day discover how to assert their strength for the same purpose, and when that happens respect for political institutions and the industrial laws will vanish. The trouble that will ensue will have been incubated by this Government.
The Ministry has to justify not only the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown on the grounds of expediency, but also its persistence in the prosecution of Mr. E. J. Holloway. The Government cannot believe that in the timber-workers’ dispute it was inexpedient to promote a conference between the parties. It cannot reasonably argue that it was undesirable for the employers and workers in the timber industry to confer and yet desirable for the coal -owners and the workers to meet in conference. Nor can the AttorneyGeneral justify the prosecution of Mr. Holloway by saying that the proceedings were merely the operation of the law of the land. He abandoned that defence when he set aside the law of the land on the grounds of expediency in the case of John Brown. That the law should operate ruthlessly against one class of persons, but that considerations of expediency should influence the Government when applying the law to another class is a monstrous doctrine. However contradictory the Government’s actions in regard to many things may have been, it cannot with any show of reason contend that in the administration of the law the sole consideration in respect of the coalmineowners is the expediency of accepting the condition they proposed as a preliminary to meeting the workers in conference, but that when dealing with other groups of citizens, less wealthy but equally indispensable economically, no consideration of expediency is to be entertained, and that the law must be inexorably enforced. Some months ago the Attorney-General said in the House that it was not for him to determine whether or not the law should operate against certain persons; his only concern was to ascertain whether or not they had been engaged in practices which brought them in conflict with the law, and when the evidence appeared to incriminate them, it was his duty to institute proceedings regardless of the consequences. That was his answer when the Government was asked to remit the fine imposed on Mr. Holloway.
– I do not think the honorable member is correct in relating that statement to Mr. Holloway’s case.
– I invite the AttorneyGeneral when speaking to deal with that point. It is not sufficient for the Government to justify its withdrawal of the proceedings against John Brown; it mustjustify also its refusal to withdraw the proceedings against the Timber Workers’ Union.
The charge made by honorable members on this side of the House is that, the Government has shown in the administration of justice that there is one law for trade unions and their members and another for corporations of employers and individual employers. I was intrigued by the statement of the .Prime Minister that no prosecution could be instituted against the Northern Collieries Proprietors’ Association. Did the right honorable gentleman mean that if the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and his associates had formed, instead of a trade union, a corporation, it would have been impossible for the Government to prosecute them as. a corporate body? Did he mean that because certain men form an association for the purpose of operating a great industry, including the regulation of the working conditions and remuneration of their employees and the prices at which their commodities shall be marketed, they are immune from prosecution as a corporation? If men may corporately, but not individually, engage in the control of a great industry, and be immune as a corporation from prosecution, the administration of the law of this country is a travesty of justice. It is a peculiar commentary upon the situation to say that persons have to combine in accordance with the commercial practice, instead of with the recognized trade unions’ practice, in order to place themselves, as a corporation, above the law. As a matter of fact, the Newcastle coal ring has been proceeded against under the law of this country. The Prime Minister’s contention reminds me of the old saying that laws are like cobwebs, in which the small flies get caught, hut through which the big flies tear their way. Every proceeding which the Government has taken has led, step by step, to making the industrial situation in Australia worse.
In his concluding remarks this afternoon, the Prime Minister indicated that it was because of what had occurred in connexion with these proceedings that he now contemplates introducing the repeal of our arbitration legislation. Logically, the Government has no alternative but to repeal a law which, it admits, it’ has refused to administer. Logically, there is nothing else left for the Government to do, although I shall strongly oppose that step. What are the facts? After the John Brown episode, it will be impossible for the Government to institute proceedings against a trade union or a trade unionist for going on strike or for engaging in any offence against the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
– The Attorney-General, I think, last week threatened such action against the Seamen’s Union.
– That is a monstrous manifestation of the Government’s willingness to commit again the offence with which we are now charging it. The Government refused to apply the law in the case of John Brown, even after it had prosecuted a trade union that had committed an almost identical offence. If, after that action, any member of the Cabinet believes, that the Government can, in the future, institute proceedings against unionists for going on strike, he should not remain on the treasury bench. But there is more involved in the attitude of the Government towards Mr. John Brown than the mere determination of an industrial dispute. What is to be the future of democracy in this country? Are the laws to operate irrespective of economic and social consequences, and apart altogether from the consideration of a particular person’s place in the community? Is the law to be applied at the discretion of Ministers? Is the law such an uncertain thing that it will hit Smith and miss Brown? If, in the future, we have any repetition of circumstances such as those associated with the John Brown case there can be no respect for the law, and with the passing of respect for industrial law, there seems to me to have ended a chapter of order that has been one of the brightest pages in the history of civilization. Whatever may have been the sins of this party and of those who belong to it, in its behaviour towards the requirements of the community, never, while they have been administrators of the law, have they been charged with having in:terfered with its processes once they have been initiated. When the time comes for the public to realize fully the whole of the circumstances in this case, they will see in it not a mere expedient to convene a conference which resulted in nothing, but a demonstration that the offences with which the Government charges its opponents are really the sins of its own heart, sins which it commits at every opportunity.
:. - The charge levelled against the Government by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) is a very serious one. The Prime Minister admits this, but says that the charge is not justified by the facts. I listened very carefully to his reply ; it was, in my opinion, utterly unconvincing. The Prime Minister admits having withdrawn the prosecution against John Brown, but he did so, he says, with the best of intentions in the interests of peace. Surely there is not a parallel - certainly not a recent one - to such an admission of incapacity to deal effectively with a serious situation. I can hardly conceive of a weaker plea. The right honorable gentleman said, quite gratuitously, that he hoped there was no suggestion of corrupt conduct on his part. That was never even hinted at by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. We are concerned now, not with any corrupt action, but with the maladministration of justice, and the consequences that must follow the perversion of these principles upon which this democracy rests.
A short review of the situation seems to be called for. At the time this prosecution was withdrawn an industrial dispute had existed for some months. The situation created ‘ was very serious. It had been discussed in Parliament at length and with some heat. Proposals for a settlement had been put before this House, but unhappily these were unacceptable to the parties and the position was unchanged when the Parliament adjourned for some months. We need not inquire into the circumstances which closed it when there was so much to be done, but we are confronted with the fact that this Parliament, fresh from the people, elected on the vital issue of industrial peace, and asked to consider as the first business before it a measure imposing more severe penalties for breaches of industrial laws than any I can recall, was closed before any solution of the trouble had been found. The Government, greatly concerned, had offered to co-operate with the Government of New South Wales to the extent of one shilling per ton in order to enable the price of coal to be reduced, but nothing came of this.
Almost on the eve of the adjournment - I speak subject to correction - the Attorney-General announced that he proposed to launch a prosecution against John Brown. His announcement occasioned some surprise, but was generally approved. It was conceded that he flew high, although he began his flight late. He intended to pierce the topmost clouds. He had tackled the biggest man in the coal industry. On the eve of adjournment members were cheered by the roseate prospect of the big rogue elephant of the coal vend being brought down. But life is full of disappointments. A little while after members were dispersed to their homes a statement appeared in the press to the effect that the prosecution against John Brown had been withdrawn. Being asked by a newspaper to comment upon the occurrence, I said -
It seems rather extraordinary. Proceedings were initiated belatedly and they seem to have been withdrawn very abruptly. No doubt, in due course, we shall be furnished with an explanation, but at present, to the man in the street, the procedure seems a little tortuous, and would suggest that the law is not only “ an ass “ but suffers from locomotor ataxia.
Looking at this statement with detached mind, after an interval of several months, it seems to have hit the bull’s eye. Here :vp have the gravest situation which has confronted this country for years. Some 10,000 or 12,000 miners are idle. Every industry in the State of New South
Wales and a great many industries throughout the Commonwealth are affected. Enterprise is hampered; trade depressed ; the public inconvenienced and embarrassed; Newcastle, the second city of New South Wales, reduced to pitiable conditions. It has caused a loss of millions of pounds to the community.
The situation when the AttorneyGeneral launched the prosecution was not at its nadir. When the Prime Minister withdrew the prosecution it had grown worse, and of course, time has still further aggravated it. The dispute still continues, and the only thing - apart from the offer to contribute one shilling per ton - the Commonwealth has. attempted to do to settle it or to deal with it at all was to prosecute John Brown, and this step they retracted.
The Prime Minister tells us he did this for the sake of industrial peace, but as we all know, there is no peace, and no prosecution. Why was the prosecution withdrawn ?
The ordinary course of justice Kas been abruptly arrested; a prosecution duly launched has been withdrawn, and the Prime Minister tells us he did this in the interests of peace. This explanation which has been accepted by some around me as sufficient is one of the weakest and most unconvincing I have ever heard. It is weak in itself, but coming from where it does it is doubly so. Here is a Government which has been continually spurring on its flagging zeal to fresh exertions in the..cause of industrial peace, by heavier and still heavier penalties for breaches of industrial laws, and it withdraws prosecutions in the interests of peace. I stood alone on this side of the Chamber in deploring the extension of penalties to the waterside workers. I stood alone also in opposition when it was proposed that Walsh and Johnson should be dealt with by some specially penal process which would punish the wrong-doers and at the same time ensure industrial peace. The Government’s policy has been one of dependence upon and belief in penalties as a means to industrial peace. The Government has boasted of the success of this policy. At the beginning of the session, early in the year, I pointed out that the real reason why the waterside strike collapsed was not the penal provisions of the act, but the vast number of unemployed men who were compelled by want to find their way to the wharfs and to accept employment. Whether these heavy penal clauses had been enacted or not, the strike would have collapsed on that account, but the Government did not accept this view. It believed in its penalties. It will be generally admitted that this is a very grave matter indeed.
The Attorney-General, although he has not had much experience of industrial matters, is an eminently fair and logicallyminded man who would have satisfied himself, before launching this prosecution, that there was a reasonable chance of its success. I shall not comment upon that phase of the subject further than tosay that the charge was one of doing “ something in the nature of a lockout “; that is to say, the closing down of a mine with the intention of compelling men to accept reduced rates of wages. That is a lockout within the meaning of the section. Perhaps I had better read the provision, for the Prime Minister seemed to think it necessary to prove that the mine was being worked at a profit. I do not see anything on that point in the definition of lockout, which appears on page 174, volume 24, of Commonwealth Acts. It reads - “ Lockout “ includes the closing of a place or part of a place of employment by an employer………. with a view to compel his employees or to aid another employer in compelling his employees to accept any term or condition of employment.
– The right honorable member has read only a part of the definition. I was advised that there was no chance of a successful prosecution under the second part of the definition, but only under the first portion of it which refers to “ unreasonable “ action.
– I was not aware that I had omitted any material part of the definition. I shall read the whole of it. It is as follows - “ Lockout “ includes the closing of a place or part of a place of employment, and the total or partial refusal of employers, acting in combination, to give work, if the refusal is unreasonable, or the total or partial suspension of work by an employer, with a view to compel his employees or to aid another employer in compelling his employees, to accept any term or condition of employment.
I do not suggest that there is not some force in what the Attorney-Generalhas said ; I am content to point out that the employers, of whom Mr. John Brown was one, acted in concert - that is not denied - and closed their mines with the object of compelling the men to accept lower wages. Whether their action was reasonable or unreasonable need not concern us at the moment. The point is that they did something which precipitated a most serious state of affairs, which still continues. The Attorney-General launched this prosecution. It was entirely within his province to do so. He has stated, wrongly I think, that in respect of some of his functions he is not responsible to Parliament. What he meant to say, and what is certainly true, is that some of his acts are quasijudicial. He is charged with certain duties of a judicial nature.For instance, he has to launch prosecutions. He has to satisfy himself that there is sufficient ground upon which to base such prosecutions; but he has no need to satisfy himself of the certainty of a conviction. His responsibility ends when he has convinced himself that a prima facie case exists, and the Attorney-General is the only Minister who can or ought to launch or withdraw prosecutions. I was Attorney-General of the Commonwealth for ten years, and during my term of office no one ever ventured to suggest that a prosecution should be withdrawn except upon my recommendation. I have never heard of that being done in Australia. I believe that during the regime of the Ramsay Macdonald Government in Great Britain Sir Patrick Hastings, rightly or wrongly, withdrew a prosecution; but at whose instigation I do not know. So far as I know, no government of the Commonwealth has ventured to withdraw a prosecution except upon the initiative and by the recommendation of the Attorney-General.
What happened in this case? The Prime Minister went to Sydney. He was anxious, and I give him every credit for it, to bring the unhappy state of affairs in the coal industry to a satisfactory conclusion. We were all desirous that this should be done. While he was in Sydney he met the representatives of both parties to the dispute. He was in the closest touch with Mr. Bavin, the Premier of New
South Wales, who also was very anxious to effect a settlement “of the trouble. In the course of the conversations it was put to the Prime Minister that there could be no conference while this prosecution was pending, and that the withdrawal of it was a condition precedent to the conference. If I am in error in making this statement it is an error into which, according to the Melbourne daily press, the Attorney-General himself fell. The honorable gentleman will be able to correct me if my statement is not accurate. At any rate, the Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that he regarded the withdrawal of the prosecution as a condition precedent to the conference. While it may not have been put in that way it was certainly understood so. This prosecution was then in process of incubation. In due course it would have been launched and Mr. John Brown .would have been charged with doing something which was an offence under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. I dm not at all sure of our powers in respect of coal under the Crimes Act, but since we are able to deal with trade and commerce it would certainly not require very much more jurisdiction, if any, to give us authority over that which is essential to trade and commerce. It is perfectly certain that industry in this country can be reduced to extremities by the withholding of coal. If, therefore, wo have no authority to deal with ‘ coal of what use is it for us to talk about controlling trade and commerce? Coal, or fuel of some kind, is essential to trade and commerce. I leave that point with the remark that in my opinion there is no doubt whatever about our having jurisdiction over this dispute.
If it be held that this was an intrastate dispute, the answer is that it was a dispute likely to extend, in fact was extending, and its effects have extended, to more than one State. Undoubtedly it could in five minutes have been made to extend technically to other States. But these points are after all not material to the immediate issue before the House. The Attorney-General had decided to prosecute; apparently he had no doubt whatever about the legality of the prosecution, and in due course the case would have come before the court. But the
Prime Minister, with the best of intensions, went to the conference and said that, in the interests of peace, he proposed to withdraw it.
And we are asked to believe now that the Government, which evinced such strong faith in the efficacy of these penal sections has been converted - that it no longer believes in penalties, but is confident that peace in industry is to be found in the good old-fashioned way of turning the other cheek and preaching the gospel of goodwill toward men? In the face of all the facts this is too great a draught upon our credulity. Little children would not accept it unless they wanted to believe, despite everything. The great bulk of the people of this country will not for one moment believe that if the hoot had been on the other foot, the prosecution would have been withdrawn. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden) said this evening that if the conference had been successful we should have heard no more about this business; but one could defend the compounding of any felony by such reasoning; any act might be justified provided that good came out of it. I do not suppose that we would have heard any more about this business if the conference had been successful. But it failed, and if the Prime Minister had known a little more about the parties to this dispute he would have realized that no good could come of it. If he had wanted an answer to the employers who asked for the withdrawal of the prosecution he could have suggested a withdrawal of the notices. That would have led to an immediate resumption of work, and there would have been no “catch” in it. If the notices instead of the prosecution had been withdrawn work would undoubtedly have been resumed. It might have been a flash in the pan, as the Prime Minister suggested, but it would have been something even if it were only temporary. It would have been better than following such a will o’ the wisp as the withdrawal of this prosecution in the elusive hope that it would lead to piece. As it was, the parties met, and each resolved to concede nothing. The prosecution being withdrawn, there was no opportunity for bargaining; and so the representatives of both parties came out from the conference as they went into it. Without reflecting upon either the employers or the employees, knowing the parties to this dispute, I say that any one who imagined that such a conference was likely to be effective was a fool. I do not say that by way of censure or even of criticism.
These are the circumstances under which the prosecution was withdrawn. As a member of this party, let me ask upon what ground this Government and party have always stood? Have we not stood for the administration of justice, pure and undefiled? Has not that been the slogan and watchword of the Government? When the time to take down this sign comes the Government must go out of business. But what has it done? Fresh from the elections, it comes armed with all the powers that the people can give it, to impose such penalties as will compel the unruly worker to abandon his evil ways and come to heel. No sooner has it got all these powers, including the licensing of waterside workers, than it withdraws the prosecution against John Brown.
It stands for the enforcement of the law: it stands for the impartial administration of the law. Yet it withdraws this prosecution. I know Mr. John Brown very well. He is a splendid -specimen of the man who makes his own way in the world, a type against which I have nothing to say. But he is an outstanding representative of capital. For many years, honorable members on this side- of the House have gone to the people in support of the policy of holding the scales evenly between labour and capital; of knowing neither party. Our platform was supposed to be wide enough to accommodate both worker and employer. But when has a prosecution against a worker been withdrawn by this Government? There are workers in the electorate of the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden). Supposing that a Labour administration had been in office - Labour has been in office and it may be there again - and it withdrew a prosecution against a unionist official, what would the Nationalist organizations and the Nationalist party say when the Labour Prime Minister, from his place in this House, stated, “I did it with the best of intentions, to promote industrial peace “ ? Why, from Dan to Beersheeba * there would be a howl of derision.
Does the right honorable the Prime Minister think the people mere fools that he asks them to accept such a statement? Whatever his motive, the withdrawal of the prosecution was a blunder of the first magnitude. The honorable member for Parramatta asked, “ What if it had succeeded?” But it has not succeeded, and we have to bear the brunt of its failure, and tell the people that we did this thing with the best of intentions ! This Government, which only six months earlier imposed the heaviest of penalties at its command upon wharf labourers, which demanded the heaviest of penalties for the timber workers, and denounced them because they were breakers of the law, has now suddenly, inexplicably, experienced a change of heart. It has turned away from its lately cherished ideals : it believes now in peaceful measures: it deplores penalties: penalties are useless. But the unionists of the country will say, “ It is a pity that you did not realize this before, and were converted only when you had to deal with a capitalist in the vanguard of the offenders.” It is very awkward. The Prime Minister says that he takes all the responsibility for what has occurred, that the action was his. I contend that it was most improper to do what was done. The right honorable gentleman explained that he spoke over the telephone to the Attorney-General. It is a pity that that telephone conversation could not have been broadcast. It would have been intensely interesting, and whether it was broadcast from an A, B or C class station, there would have been no lack of an audience. I cannot believe for a moment that the Attorney-General accepted this usurpation of his authority without some protest. But what did he say? We do not know. We only know that it was done, and when it was done, the Attorney-General was notified.
– That is inaccurate.
– In a technical sense, that is so, because the Prime Minister; stated that action was not taken until the Thursday. But the fact remains that the thing’ was to be done. The AttorneyGeneral was told, “ I have decided to with- draw the prosecution.” The matter ought - to have been left entirely to the AttorneyGeneral. “It was altogether wrong for the Prime Minister to interfere, to tamper with the machinery of justice. That was an intolerable action. While accepting the Prime Minister’s assurance that he acted with the best of intentions, and that, although belatedly, he has come to the conclusion that heavy penalties are not all that they were said to be, but that there is a good deal to be said for the suaviter in modo in dealing with things, I cannot help saying that, in taking this action, the right honorable gentleman has provided the enemy with much ammunition. .He has turned from the ranks of this party “tens of thousands of men who, although they will go over to the other side with the greatest reluctance, will not vote for a party which has shown so very clearly that it has one way of treating labour and another way of treating capital.
– I cannot but entertain some regret that the ministerial party is left without anything by way of extenuation of its conduct in this awkward matter. It has been my great pleasure to listen to two very able and exhaustive speeches in succession from opposite sides of the House, uttered in burning condemnation of the action of the Government. Not one word has been advanced in reply to them. All the afternoon the Attorney-General has been applying hot water bottles to his feet in an endeavour to pluck up courage to rise and say something in defence of himself and his Government; but up to the present he has been unable to excite his thinking apparatus to the necessary pitch.
– The honorable member has not been very successful, either.
– There sits the honorable member for Warringah, burning to make a speech and under orders not to do so, his party realizing that his eloquent silences are his best contributions to its success. The Prime Minister, in a speech the weakest that, in a long experience, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has ever heard, said that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) had brought the debate to a level unworthy of the subject. As a matter of fact, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not make that level. He found it already prepared. In politics, as in coal-mining, it is the boss who determines the level, and so the Deputy Leader of the Opposition had perforce to follow the Prime Minister, and deal with him where he found him.
It was from the Attorney-General that the statement emanated that the Government has a responsibility to administer the laws passed by Parliament. I remember, as I have more than once stated, that, while the Attorney-General was still qualifying as a private in the ranks for the position which he now adorns, he delivered a speech, in the course of which he urged the present Government to administer effectively and fully the laws of the Commonwealth. Every member of the Labour party stands behind that policy. Every government has a responsibility to administer the laws so long as those laws remain on the statute-book. That is a principle which the Labour party has more than once had to assert and even defend, notably in that notorious - I might almost say infamous - case of the Abrahams brothers. The Labour party has urged not only that the laws should be administered, but also that they should be administered without fear or favour. This party has consistently claimed that they should be administered equitably, and that equal opportunity should be given to all classes of the community. It has urged the equitable imposition of taxation, and equality in regard to prosecutions for the evasion of taxation; equity and equality in the imposition of what might be termed industrial penalties. This party has strongly demanded those things in the interests, in particular, of the class which it represents in this Parliament. Theoretically, the laws are so administered, but, without alleging corruption, I submit that anybody with any particle of everyday knowledge is aware that wealth has always been able to buy or work its way into a position of advantage in the courts and elsewhere. It has frequently happened that representations are made to the administrative authorities directed to show that prosecutions. should not take place. As a principle, I have no objection to such representations. They may be proper. They may possibly have merit. They may also be the medium of conveying to the responsible administrative authority facts which will help that authority to come to a conclusion as to whether or not a prosecution should take place. It is necessary to add further that such representations should be scrupulously examined and weighed with the utmost care by the responsible authority to ser that the fountain of justice is not polluted. But when the matter has gone beyond the stage of preliminaries, and has passed to the jurisdiction of the courts, different considerations arise.
The right honorable the Prime Minister in the course of his speech said that it was obvious that political capital would be made out of the course of action upon which he was determined. Indeed, he said that it would be something more than obvious - that these things jumped to the eye. Political capital is made out of things, which impress the public mind - that great jury which decides the virtue or otherwise of the public actions of public men. Why then should it be obvious that political capital, resting upon public opinion, should be so strongly made against the action of the Prime Minister if on examination it could be proved to be sound and right? Of course it was obvious that political capital would be made out of it; of course it jumps to the eye that we, as an Opposition, would press the point which I suggest we are pressing with great success against the Government. To the meanest intelligence it was apparent that the action of the Government was open to challenge and censure. That is why it is being censured to-day. Like Caesar’s wife, the judiciary should be above suspicion. It is a part of the duty of the judiciary to see not only that ‘it is free from corruption, but also that its conduct shall not be capable of bearing in the public mind the appearance of dishonesty or corruption. The action of governments, as the trustees of the whole people, should equally be above suspicion. It should not leap to the public eye or to the public mind that something a government has done is dishonest or in the highest degree suspicious.
What happens if we apply on the other side, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has done this evening, the theory which the Prime Minister has laid down in the course of this debate? What would have occurred if, when the industrial trouble on the waterfront or in the timber dispute was at its crisis and conferences were in prospect, the militant representatives of. the trade unions had said “Withdraw your odious transport tickets and orders; suspend your prosecutions against trade unionists, and then we shall come to you in conference and possibly settle this industrial trouble “? The answer that would have been given in such circumstances would have been the answer already provided by the Attorney-General, “We are charged with the duty of administering the laws of this country “ - presumably without fear or favour. There is scarcely a person in this chamber, or out of it, of such mean intelligence as not to know from his experience, the attitude adopted by the Government towards members of trade unions and the vast body of public opinion in Australia associated with them. The Government has always insisted on. obtaining its pound of flesh - its legal rights. The vindication of law has been the claim, and almost the clamour, of the Government ever since it assumed office. It has shown no great leaning to humanitarianism or conciliation ; but has insisted on the vindication of the law with, perhaps, technical accuracy but little sympathy when dealing with industrial organizations; while, on the other hand, there has been the suspension of the law, and diversion of the course of the law, in the case of those who are entrenched behind wealth and influence.
I was greatly interested in the disclosures made this afternoon by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) in connexion with a document reproduced in the Sydney Sun. I am not at all concerned how, if at all, the document got out of the custody of the Government. That is not the concern of the Opposition. If the Attorney-General had disclaimed any knowledge of such a document, or the authenticity of the report in the paper in its entirety, instead of only a minor part of it, we should have been bound to accept bis disclaimer, but it is obvious, from the little that he has so far ventured to say, that such a document was in circulation as Cabinet propaganda to persuade the majority of the Cabinet to agree with him that the withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown, whatever it did to the fount of justice, was politically unwise.
This matter having become in this way notorious, one or two points in connexion with it are interesting. First, there is the -vital difference between the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham), and the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) ; and, secondly, the Attorney-General’s two voices, or many voices, in respect to this matter. I accept the view of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that, in a matter of this kind it is the special prerogative of the chief law officer of the nation to lay down the policy of the Government in regard to prosecutions, and to say whether they are to be withdrawn if that extreme course is justifiable or otherwise. That is his supreme responsibility as the chief law adviser of the nation. The Attorney-General doos occupy that position of trusteeship for _a whole nation, in addition to his special and more restricted obligation as the law officer of the Cabinet. What emerges clearly from this debate is that this tremendously important item of Government policy - the withdrawal of the prosecution against the man Brown - was not approved by the chief law officer of the nation, or, rather, that it was not approved by him until the political necessities arising out of the purely political considerations urged by the Prime Minister, overbore the deliberately formed judgment of the Attorney-General upon this question. Politics prevailed over the duty that rests on the AttorneyGeneral alone to take a loftier view.
The .Deputy-Leader of the Opposition made it clear in a speech which, although comparatively short, covered the whole ground, that only one really important point was involved in this debate, namely, whether this Parliament, representative of all Australia, is to approve of a course of conduct which more than suggests the pollution of the fount of justice. The Prime Minister admits, as indeed he must, that a most serious charge has been levelled against the Government. In that case, why does he not face it fairly, instead of giving us an attenuated history of all the minor details of the case while avoiding the transparently clear issue ? Why does he not answer the charge that the withdrawal of this prosecution was fundamentally wrong and calculated to shake the confidence of the people in the administration of justice by the Government? The Prime Minister’s answer is that the withdrawal of the prosecution was a condition precedent to the conference being held. If that be so, whoever imposed that condition - obviously Mr. Brown or his friends - challenged the Government of this country to a trial of strength. It was a threat, addressed either by or ou behalf of a man required to answer before the courts to a very serious charge, against a Government which, in its capacity as trustee for the whole nation, took the responsibility of laying that charge.
The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) endeavoured to give the Prime Minister a little homely instruction on what constitutes a lockout. I have heard the Prime Minister more than once say that we cannot expect a man whose business is not paying to carry it on. Knowing his life history and business associations, we can understand his point of view. When the right honorable member for North Sydney was reading the definition of “lockout” the AttorneyGeneral asked him to read the whole of the definition. I suggest that the right honorable member was reading a sufficient part of the definition to cover not only his own case but the whole case. The definition of “ lockout “ in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act reads - “ Lockout “ includes the closing of a place or part of a place of employment . . . with a view to compel his employees, or to aid another employer in compelling his employees, to accept any term or condition of employment.
Was not that precisely what occurred in this case? Is it not a fact that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) repeatedly asked in this Parliament why proceedings could not be instituted against
Brown on those simple facts? The honorable member made no pretence to a knowledge of the law, but presumably he had read that simple definition and applied its simple language to the facts as he knew them. Knowing that many thousands of men were out of work and that their dependants had been reduced almost to destitution, he asked why proceedings were not instituted against the persons immediately responsible for the industrial situation on the coal-fields. What occurred? The Attorney-General did not act hurriedly. Before he eventually decided to institute proceedings, he had informed his mind through every possible avenue of information that a prosecution would lie against this defendant. The position is most admirably described in a letter to the press by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) who sits on the opposite side of the chamber and whom we shall doubtless hear to advantage upon this subject. I shall not read the whole of the letter which the honorable member was good enough to contribute to the Melbourne Argus. After publishing the fact, by way of an interesting preface, that he is a thoroughly well-established and loyal supporter of the Nationalist party, the honorable member went on to say: - On March tho 18th the Attorney-General was asked in the House of Representatives by Mr. Watkins, Labour member for Newcastle, “ Has the Attorney-General decided yet to prosecute the coal-mine owners in connexion with the present industrial trouble on the coal-fields of New South Wales”. The Attorney-General said “ The matter is under consideration and a decision will be reached at an early date “. On March the 22nd the following question was addressed to the Attorney-General by Mr. Hurry, Nationalist member for Bendigo -
There are no coal mines in Bendigo, but someone doubtless suggested to the honorable member for Bendigo that he might ask this question which he did as a perfectly obliging, amiable and, I may add, docile member of the Nationalist party. That is- not in the letter. As the late Sir Thomas Bent once said when quoting a ruling “ That is a bit of my own “. The honorable member for Bendigo asked -
Has the Attorney-General completed his inquiries into the matter of instituting proceedings against the mine-owners in respect of1 the lockout in the coal-mining industry! If so, is he in a position to make a state ment to the House? To which the AttorneyGeneral replied - “ Investigations in relation to this matter have been proceeding ever ‘since the- beginning of what is described as a lockout. The inquiries were completed yesterday, the facts were finally considered by counsel last night, and proceedings will be taken to-day against Mr. John Brown “.
– That was a remarkably opportune time to ask the question.
– It is perfectly obvious to me that the coal-miners of Emu Creek must have been prompting the honorable member for Bendigo, who had doubtless been keeping himself well informed. The letter of the honorable member for Fawkner continues -
This announcement was received with strong expressions of approval from all parts of the House, especially by members on the Ministerial side who regarded it as convincing proof of the impartiality of the Ministry in -its enforcement of the law. In answer to a further question as to the act under which it was proposed to take proceedings the AttorneyGeneral said - “ Under a provision of the Industrial Peace Act 1920, applied in conjunction with a provision of the Arbitration Act, certain of the provisions of which are made applicable in the case of awards made by special tribunals under the Industrial Peace Act.”
The honorable member for Fawkner added -
In view of the foregoing the announcement by the Prime Minister reported yesterday that in order to promote peace in tho coal industry proceedings against John Brown had been withdrawn comes, I have no hesitation in saying, as a painful shock to every supporter of the Ministry.
May I be permitted to re-appraise at lesser voltage the extent of the shock suffered by certain members supporting the Ministry. The letter continues -
In my opinion, respect of persons on the part of those charged with the duty of enforcing the law is a much graver menace to the stability of the Commonwealth than open defiance of the law by those who object to it.
I hope those utterances of the honorable member will be carefully studied. The letter continues -
As a Nationalist member of the Federal Parliament and as a lover of even-handed justice I desire to dissociate myself from and to publicly record my protest against the action of the Ministry in abandoning proceedings against Mr. John Brown, which had been instituted by the Attorney-General on grounds which in his opinion warranted a prosecution.
An important and outstanding fact is that when the Attorney-General decided to institute proceedings against
Mr. John Brown he had satisfied himself beyond all reasonable doubt that an offence had been committed.
– It was his duty to do so.
– Yes, that was his duty. On his own showing he made exhaustive inquiries and he strained the patience of honorable members on both sides of the House almost to breaking point before he made his declaration. His decision was unquestionably supported by eminent counsel. The action of the Government was considered from every view-point before a prosecution was decided upon.
It is not suggested by the Government to-day that the decision which the Attorney-General and his advisors reached was wrong. It is not argued that facts upon which the prosecution might be proceeded with did not exist. It is merely urged that as a conference was about to be held, and it was difficult to rope in Mr. John Brown unless the prosecution was withdrawn, therefore in the public interests it should be withdrawn. The public interest can never he served by vitiating the course of justice. It may appear to be temporarily served. That course may appear to be, as the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) has said, the sole expedient open to those who look only at the surface of things; but it can never be the result of the deliberate judgment of the responsible highly trained and sensitive law officers of the Commonwealth. May T repeat, in my own words, what the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) said in his fine speech : that if Mr. Brown was able to make use of this statute, which was passed for his protection as well as for his prosecution, he could have gone to the conference and perhaps have shown that what he did was done for some good cause independent of the industrial dispute. If his conscience was clear he should have embraced the opportunity to attend the conference, and for that matter the court, for the purpose of proving his innocence in the matter.
The conference failed, and the Prime Minister, who pretended to be omnipotent, returned from Sydney without having established peace in industry. But the offence remains. The law is thought to have a long arm. Time does not run against the Crown in offences of this kind. An offence has been committed, and no excuse having been submitted as provided by law, I invite the Attorney-General, and the Government of which he is a member, to put the wheels of the criminal law in motion against this continuing offender and to test the case in the courts of the land. I invite the Attorney-General to quote a parallel case to this in the history of the Commonwealth, and I venture to say that he cannot do so, unless he cites those unfortunate cases which have on other occasions been quoted against this Government and the Nationalist party. I invite him to show where in the administration of the criminal law in this country similar action has been taken.
May I ask the Attorney-General to remember that Governments come and Governments go. Even the present administration is not a permanent institution. There are some principles which we hope are permanent and which should always prevail. Some of us believe in the legal maxim that the law should be administered without respect of persons. We believe in the inscription which appears on the threshold of our courts of law, “Let justice be done though the heavens may fall.” Whatever human institutions may perish that established principle should always remain. While some may suppose that an individual case is a small matter, the point at issue is vastly more than the personal equation. I ask them, -in the interests of the country, which, either by accident or by the design of the people, for the moment, they represent, to go back upon their tracks, to take up this prosecution where they laid it down and, as the custodians of the well-being of our people, to administer without fear or favour the laws of the land.
– The charge made against the Government is not merely that it has withdrawn a prosecution. That, apparently, would not in itself be regarded as being necessarily wrong in principle. The charge is that, by the withdrawal of this particular prosecution against John Brown, the Government has shown that in its administration of the law it exercises unjust discrimination between the rich and the poor; and a comparison is sought to be made between the action of the Government in this case and its action in prosecuting certain trade unions. It is therefore important that at the outset it should be clearly understood that the charge is not merely that a criminal prosecution was instituted and subsequently withdrawn, but that the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of this prosecution show that an unjust discrimination has been exercised and that the Government is, in an evil sense, a respecter of persons ; or, to put the matter shortly, that it is not administering the law without fear or favour. That is a charge, the seriousness of which I seek neither to deny nor in any way to conceal or minimize, and since it has been formally made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.. Theodore) and supported by members of his party, the Government is bound to reply to it. I believe that I can add something to what the Prime Minister has already said, and I shall deal in greater detail with certain legal aspects of the question that have been referred to only cursorily, and upon entirely false assumptions in the course of the debate. In February and March last, a large number of coal mines on the northern coal fields were closed. The men were ready to work on the terms and under the conditions previously prevailing, but the employers were not prepared to open their mines and give them work. In common language that was a lockout, but as I shall point out directly, it by no means follows that it was a lockout in. the sense in which that term is used in our legislation. I had to deal with the matter from the point of view of the provisions of Commonwealth statutes.
During the months of February and March, various conferences took place and every effort was made by both the Government of New South Wales and this Government to bring the men and the coal-owners together. It has been suggested that nothing was done. Not only -was there conference after conference, and interview after interview in Sydney, at which persuasion was brought to bear on both sides, unfortunately without success, but this Government went so far as to summon a special conference at -Canberra and to arrange to bring representatives of the mine-owners and the miners here to discuss the whole position. While these conferences were proceeding, the matter was being investigated from the legal point of view, and, as I shall show, they extended over a considerable period. I doubt, however, whether I should have considered it proper to authorize a prosecution if the conferences had not apparently come to an absolute dead-end. As long as conferences were being held and there appeared to be a chance of adjusting the matter upon an amicable and legal basis, it was certainly, I suggest, a matter for consideration whether in those circumstances it was wise to take legal proceedings. I shall show the House later that exactly the same principles were applied in the prosecution of trade unions to which reference is made in the motion now before the House.
The particular point under consideration by the Attorney-General’s Department was the question of a prosecution for a lockout. In Canberra, of course, there was no evidence either one way or the other upon the matter. The Deputy Crown Solicitor, Sydney, was therefore instructed to employ leading counsel and to make investigations to ascertain what evidence was available, and, if counsel advised that there was a prima facie case, a prosecution was to be instituted. A prima facie case is one that is sufficient to start off a prosecution so that at least the defendant will have to go into the box. I did not require - and I agree with those honorable members who said that it is not proper for the AttorneyGeneral to require - a cast-iron and necessarily successful case before authorizing a prosecution. But I did want a prima facie case, and I left it to counsel to determine whether or not there was such a case. I did not determine that myself ; in fact I did not see the evidence upon which the advice of counsel was given. In a matter like this, as counsel had advised that there was a prima facie case, it was very desirable indeed that I should act upon their advice and institute the prosecution rather than reconsider the matter, with the only possibility that I might determine that I should not prosecute. No objection can be taken to my submission of the matter to counsel for their determination as to whether there was a prima facie case on the evidence, nor to my acceptance of their recommendation in favour of a prosecution, in view of the fact that, in their opinion, there was a prima facie case. In a matter in which political considerations are more or less involved, it is wise for the Attorney-General to obtain absolutely independent external advice.
– Who gave that advice ?
– Dr. Brissenden, K.C., and Mr. Nield, of the New South Wales bar.
It has been argued by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that the Northern Collieries Association ought to have been prosecuted. That is an example of the curiously irresponsible observations which the honorable gentleman often makes when they happen to suit his case. As a matter of fact, a prosecution could in this case be instituted only against persons or. companies who are bound by certain awards. The Northern Collieries Association was not bound by any relevant award; therefore it was impossible to institute any prosecution against it.
I come now to the provisions of the law. dealing with lockouts. It appears to be thought by some honorable members that it would be easy in this case to prove a lockout. The ease with which a case can be proved depends upon the evidence that is available in relation to the relevant provisions of the law. The definition of “lockout” is this - “Lockout” includes the closing of a place or part of a place of employment and the total or partial refusal of employers acting in combination to give work, if the refusal is unreasonable.
That is the first part of the definition.
The second part is this - or the total or partial suspension of work by an employer with a view to compel his employees or to aid another employer in compelling his employees to accept any term or condition of employment.
Several honorable members interjecting
– Order ! I ask honorable members to cease interjecting. It is quite impossible for the AttorneyGeneral to develop his argument if he is ceaselessly harassed by honorable members. He is entitled to be heard in silence. Honorable members will have the right to reply to his statements if they so wish.
– With.reference to the second part of the definition inquiries were made as to the facts from the union secretaries and all other. . available sources.
– How much did they cost ?
– The honorable member for Hunter is very excitable, and is the possessor of a loud voice. I did not interrupt him, and I suggest that he give me the opportunity to speak without interruption to the question.I am anxious to have this portion of my speech reported in a coherent form, so that it may be intelligible to those who read it. I was definitely advised by counsel that they had not been able to obtain any information which would support a charge under the second branch of the definition of a “lockout.” That must be accepted as the result of the careful inquiries which were made. We may all have our suspicions; but, when it becomes a matter of legal evidence, one has to obtain that evidence before there would be any sense in instituting proceedings. In this case, on the evidence available, the advice was that a prosecution would not lie under the second part of the definition. Thus, one is forced back to the first part. There, the advice of counsel was that it was easy to prove the closing down of places of employment, and the total or partial refusal to give work ; but the difficulty was to show that that refusal was unreasonable. Counsel advised that if certain evidence which they thought would be obtained were available, and there appeared to be no doubt about the matter, a prima facie case could be made out that the refusal to give work was unreasonable. The ground upon which that advice was based was that counsel thought they could make out a prima facie case that profits were being earned at the collieries of John Brown. They had no access to the books of Mr. Brown, and the evidence, the general nature of which I saw, related to statements which had been made by, or on behalf of, Mr. John Brown, some time ago as to the commercial position of, and the results obtained from his collieries. Counsel thought that if the evidence of the witnesses substantiated that claim, there would be a prima facie case that the refusal to give work was unreasonable.
The essence of the thing, it will be perceived, is this. As honorable members are aware, it is no offence to refuse to give employment if it is impossible for the employer to carry on at a profit. In this case the whole question as to the unreasonableness of the refusal to give employment depended upon that element. The issue, apart from certain legal points which I will mention in a moment, was, whether the collieries were carrying on at a profit. That, as honorable members will perceive, had a very important bearing on the position with which the Prime Minister was faced later in Sydney when the miners desired a conference with the mine-owners. The questions of fact to be determined in the prosecution were - What were the costs and what were the profits of the collieries of John Brown? Counsel also took the view, which I may say, incidentally, I did not share, that evidence as to the profits of collieries other than those controlled by Mr. Brown would be relevant to this inquiry. It appeared to me that the evidence relating to the profits of other collieries would be irrelevant; but. I was not prepared to stop the prosecution on that ground, and directions were given to use every available argument in support of the prosecution.
The particular point which I hope I have made clear is that the essential fact in this prosecution related to the costs and profits of the collieries. The- provisions in the law which prohibit lockouts, and the only provisions which could by any possibility be regarded as relevant to this case, were section 6 and section 6a of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Section 6 imposes a penalty upon any person or organization which on account of any industrial dispute does . anything in the nature of a lockout or strike, or continues any lockout or strike. That section was not applicable in this case, because, under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, an industrial dispute is defined as an interstate industrial dispute, and section 6 applies only to interstate strikes or lockouts. The dispute in the coal mining industry has at all times been confined to New South Wales. It is true that, had the miners taken certain action, it could have been extended to other States, as the right honorable member for
North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has already said; but they did not at that time, and have not since, taken action to extend the dispute. Section 6a of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act imposes a penalty for a strike or lockout by persons or organizations bound by or entitled to the benefit of an award of the Arbitration Court, and the provisions of this section have been interpreted by the High Court to be confined to a strike or lockout against an award of the court. That in effect, is a summary of a judgment of that tribunal. It means that this particular section is applicable only to cases where an organization or persons are bound by an award of the court. The coal industry, it should be noted, is not affected by any award of the Arbitration Court. Therefore, prima facie, on its own terms, section 6a is not applicable. But awards affecting the coal-mining industry have been made by the Industrial Peace Tribunal set up under the Industrial Peace Act, and a section in that act provides that awards made by the tribunal in- question may be enforced in the same way as awards of the Arbitration Court. Section 44 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides for the enforcement of awards made under that act. Undoubtedly the section of the Industrial Peace Act to which I have referred, brings into operation section 44 of the Arbitration Act, so it is possible to impose penalties for breaches of any award made under the Industrial Peace Act. It is, however, a very disputable question, and one upon which legal opinions differ, whether the section in the Industrial Peace Act which I have mentioned, brings into operation the strike provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which are penalties on strikes and are not provisions for penalties for the enforcement of awards. In this case the awards in question did not contain any terms prohibiting a lockout or strike. It is doubtful whether the strike provisions can be regarded as means of enforcing awards, particularly iti view of the existence of other very specific provisions providing for enforcement of awards. There was also the still greater difficulty that the only awards made by the Industrial Peace Tribunal, which had anything to do with the matter, were made several years ago. The principal award, that dealing with the hewing rate, was made in 1920 and it was to last for one year only. Indeed all the awards, according to their terms, had expired.
– But the parties were still working under them.
– The parties were continuing to work under them although apparently they were no longer in operation. To that again there was a possible answer, but it raised a difficult legal point. The section of the Industrial Peace Act to which I have alluded states that awards made by the Industrial Peace Tribunal may be enforced in the same way as are awards of the Arbitration Court; but under the Arbitration Act an award is made for a term specified in the award and is continued until a new award is made. There is no such provision in the Industrial Peace Act. From this point of view it is arguable whether the provisions in the Arbitration Act apply to awards made, by the Industrial Peace Tribunal. I mention this to indicate to honorable members that the issues involved were by no means simple. On the contrary they were most difficult and complicated.
After consideration, I determined that it would not be proper for me in disputable matters such as these, any one of which might cause the prosecution to fail, to act upon my own opinion. I considered it would be proper to allow these arguable legal matters to be determined by the court. Accordingly I asked counsel to advise on the question of evidence, and the advice I received was that if it could be proved that the mines could be operated at a profit, a prima facie case could be established. As soon as I obtained that advice I gave instructions for the issue of a summons. The summons was issued immediately.
Some days elapsed, and the Prime Minister, who was in Sydney, communicated by telephone with me in Victoria. He informed me that a new position had arisen in regard to the coal situation. It is necessary to understand that at this time it appeared that all the resources of conference had been exhausted, that there was no chance of getting any further by conference, or even of holding a conference. It was in such circumstances that the prosecution was instituted. In the course of this telephone conversation the Prime Minister told me that the miners had a proposal which they said would probably commend itself to the owners. It was something entirely new, and they were actually talking of getting the mines going by consent in the following week. The proposal of the miners depended upon certain estimates as to costs and profits of the mines, and the union representatives wanted to have another conference with the owners. The Prime Minister told me something of the nature of the proposal, and it depended almost entirely upon financial considerations. Then he went on to say that the difficulty was that the prosecution against- John Brown was pending, and that the owners would not go into conference with a prosecution hanging over their heads, since the essential thing in that prosecution was the profits which the mines were making. He asked me for my opinion of the situation. I replied that very special circumstances would, be required to justify the withdrawal of a prosecution when once it had been instituted. I also said that there were obvious political difficulties in the way, because the motives of ‘ the Government would be in many quarters misunderstood, and in many quarters misrepresented. I asked him what was the real chance of success of this conference; did he think that there was any real chance pf the mines starting work again if the conference was held. I said that the matter was not even worth consideration, unless there was a very real chance that the conference would be successful.
– What was the date of this conversation ?
– It was on the Saturday morning before the Monday on which the conference sat. The date was the 6th April. I was in the country at the time, and was specially sent for to the telephone and spoke from my place in the country. In answer to my query regarding the chance of success, the Prime Minister replied that the proposal of the miners seemed to be the most promising that had yet been put forward, and that in his opinion there existed a real chance of success. I had already discussed with him some of the difficulties in the way of a successful prosecution, and it seemed to us that the success of the prosecution was doubtful. I expressed the view that, having regard to the thousands of men out of work, and the detrimental effect of the hold-up of industry, it would be difficult to justify preventing the holding of the conference. Although there were obstacles in the way, with a possibility of political trouble for the Government, I thought that if the grounds for withdrawal were made clear, the act of withdrawal could be justified.
It is quite wrong, therefore, to suggest that I was not consulted on the matter, or that the Prime Minister instructed the Solicitor-General over my head. That is not the case. The Prime Minister and I discussed the matter over the telephone, as I have said, and in view of the changed circumstances, and because it was impossible for the conference to take place while the prosecution was pending or possible-
– Why was it impossible ?
– Because the essential thing in the prosecution, as I have explained, was the financial position of the collieries.
– Would that position have been disclosed?
– Yes; that aspect of the matter was vital. The success of the prosecution depended on whether the refusal to provide work was unreasonable.
– Then the prosecution would have done what all these actuaries and experts have not done.
– Exactly, and that object would have been secured by the prosecution, although it was not the main object. No responsible legal adviser would have allowed the collieryowners to go to a conference to discuss their profits, while there existed a chance of a prosecution for a lockout. The holding of the conference was, in fact, impossible unless the prosecution was withdrawn. That was the actual position which existed at the time, and the Prime Minister and f, representing for this purpose the Government of the Commonwealth, had to make up our minds whether, having regard to the magnitude of the issues involved, the thousands of men out of work, and the accounts of destitution and distress of which we were reading every day, a special case had not been created in which special action was justified. We thought so at the time, and I think so still. I consider that the Government adopted the proper course, although the timid and safe course would have been’ to do what honorable members opposite now suggest should have been done.
– Could not . the conference have been held without prejudice to an ensuing prosecution?
– From a practical point of view that would have been a hopeless proposal. ‘ Any one with experience of legal proceedings knows that a full conference on the facts, though without prejudice, gives away the whole case, and provides pointers for examination and cross-examination. The interjection of the honorable member reminds me that such a proposal wis mentioned between the Prime Minister and myself. It was raised as a possibility, but we agreed that it would be quite impracticable, and, indeed, so il would have been. No such proposal could be effective when there would be at the conference a large number of persons who could not be bound.
– Was Mr. Brown present at the conference ?
– I was not there, but Mr. Brown is not recorded as having been present. The Prime Minister has stated what happened at the conference on the following Monday and subsequent days.
The announcement of the withdrawal of the prosecution was made in the Victorian press in a very unfortunate manner. It merely said that the Government had decided to withdraw the prosecution against Mr. John Brown, but no reasons whatever were suggested. When I was questioned on the matter by representatives of the press, I made a statement, without having previously seen the Prime Minister or communicated with him, to the effect that the abandonment of the prosecution was an essential condition to the holding of the conference, that the conference could not have taken place unless the prosecution had been abandoned. This is not a matter of the coal-owners having taken up a highhanded position;” It is not my concern to defend the colliery-owners ; I do not know any of them. I have never seen John Brown in my life, and I have never heard from any coal-owners, either before or after this matter was dealt with, and no influence has been brought to bear on me from any direction in regard to this subject.
– Did Mr. McDonald make any inquiries from the honorable gentleman in regard to it ?
– Mr. McDonald has never said a word to me about this prosecution, and I have never seen him about it.
Reference has been made to statements appearing in the Sydney Sun and relating to a memorandum prepared for the consideration and discussion of Ministers. The statements in that journal are partly accurate and partly inaccurate. It is surprising to me that any newspaper should publish what it knew to be a document prepared for the confidential consideration of Cabinet Ministers. It is impossible for any government to continue upon a sound basis unless there can be the fullest and frankest discussion of all aspects of matters arising for their consideration, and it is surprising to me that the Sun should have lent itself to the publication in either a correct or incorrect form of such a document. It is more surprising still when I find that in parts which purport to be quoted the words have been altered, and words are put in as quoted which do not occur in the memorandum at all. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) said that he had no access to the memorandum itself, and that he was speaking on this aspect of the matter simply on the basis of what he had read in the Sydney Sun. He stated three times in his speech that in this memorandum, I, as Attorney-General, had criticized the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. John Brown on both legal and moral grounds. He said that I stated in the memorandum that the withdrawal was not justifiable on either legal or moral grounds. The honorable member said he relied on the statement in the Sydney Sun, and he appeared to be quoting from that journal. Neither that statement nor anything like it appears in the article published in that newspaper, a copy of which I have before- me, and I may add that nothing like it appears in the memorandum.
– What is the inference to be drawn from the Minister’s remarks ? Does he suggest that I had the memorandum?
– I make no insinuation. I say that the honorable member professed to be quoting from the Sydney Sun.
– I did not profess to quote from the Sun except when I was reading from it. Which part of the account in that newspaper is correct and which part is inaccurate?
– If the honorable member thinks he is going to draw me on cabinet discussions as easily as that he is mistaken. It is a common device to make an inaccurate statement, or one without any foundation of fact, and then to challenge a denial of it. I am not going to be caught by any such old trick as that, either by the Sun or by the honorable member.
For the purpose of prejudice, reference has been made to the Abrahams case. It is remarkable how people will- go on saying things that have been shown again and again to be absolutely without foundation. For example, it was said by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) this afternoon, that the ordinary procedure, where there had been an evasion of income tax, was to hale the individuals concerned before a police magistrate. But did that happen to the Abrahams Brothers? No. Why not? Seven persons were haled before a police magistrate and were fined the maximum penalty for the offence; but proceedings under the Income Tax Act for any of these taxation offences cannot be taken before a police magistrate if it is desired to obtain more than £500. If the proceedings had been taken before a police magistrate we should have been limited to a penalty of £500; but we were after hundreds of thousands of pounds, and we got hundreds of thousands of pounds. That is why the proceedings against the Abrahams brothers themselves were taken in the High Court.
– The Minister was bought off.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong is out of order. He must withdraw that remark.
– I ask for its withdrawal. It is a personal insult.
– Having to comply with the rules of the House, I withdraw the statement. That is enough. Do not come at me again.
– The honorable member is again out of order.
– Oh, go and get your head read.
– The honorable member must withdraw that remark.
– Oh, well, you need not go and get your head read.
– I name the honorable member for Maribyrnong for disrespect to the Chair.
– If the honorable member does not immediately apologize to. the Chair, I must take the only course open to me-
– I apologize.
– And move that the honorable member be suspended.
– I have already apologized to the Chair.
– I understand that the honorable member has apologized. If that is so, I shall proceed no further in the matter.
– The honorable member for Dalley went back to what he called the Kidman case. Every honorable member knows that that was inquired into, and that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) was represented by counsel at the inquiry. The whole matter was examined, and it was found, in the words of the commissioner, that no blame was attachable to the Government or the Commissioner of Taxation in any respect.
Reference has also been made to the Johnson case. I am prepared to furnish to any honorable member who would like to have it a copy of a letter that I wrote to Sullivan Brothers on this case, in which I stated reasons why it did not appear to me to be shown that any injustice had been done to Johnson, or that there was any ground for re-opening the matter. I shall be glad to let any honorable member have that letter. It is sufficient for me to say that the matter of controversy was whether Johnson had used certain words at a union meeting. Affidavits made by a man named Andresen, who had sworn that Johnson used those words, did not declare that he had not. used the words, and did not say that any of the evidence given was false. The minutes of the meeting taken by the president of the Seamen’s Union, Mr. Baker, showed that Johnson had used the words, and a letter written by Johnson himself to the secretary of the Newcastle branch - Mr. Hussack, I think - also showed that he had used the word3.
– I do not think that that is a full or accurate statement of the facts.
– I am not professing to state the facts fully, but what I have said is accurate, and I shall send to the honorable member to-morrow a copy of that letter.
The honorable gentleman stated that many industrial prosecutions have been withdrawn in the interests of industrial peace. I am not aware of them, but what the honorable member has said on behalf of the Opposition shows plainly that he complains, not of the mere withdrawal of the prosecution, but of the withdrawal in circumstances which suggest to his mind discrimination or undue favoritism to one person or class of persons.
In certain respects there . are ‘ real distinctions between the administration of industrial law and the administration of other laws. In the administration of the criminal law, if there is evidence of an assault or of murder a prosecution follows. No appeal is made to a murderer not to offend in the same way again ; the law operates automatically.
– Did the AttorneyGeneral ask John Brown not to do it again ?
– I have never spoken to Mr. Brown, but at the conferences which the Prime Minister attended many efforts were made by the Government to induce the coal-owners to open their mines. An offence against the industrial law introduces various considerations that do not arise in the administration of other laws, and I have never taken proceedings against a trade union without appealing to it, and endeavouring to find some means of reaching an accommodation. The reply which I have made to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition with respect to the waterside prosecution itself shows that I have always considered it proper to take into account all the circumstances. The only two prosecutions of unions to which reference has been made have been those of the waterside workers and the timber workers, and in each case there was evidence of the offence days before legal proceedings were authorized. It would be a mistake to initiate prosecutions upon all occasions when there was evidence of a breach of the industrial law. In the case of the timber workers there was plainly a strike against an award; there was no doubt about the offence, because the strike had been openly declared by the union; indeed, it has since been justified by some honorable members opposite. Clearly an interstate dispute had been created; there was an actual interstate strike and none of the difficulties which presented themselves in the case of Mr. John Brown were present. The strike was declared on the 31st January. On the 7th February I made a direct appeal by telegram to the officers of the Timber Workers’ Union and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to induce the men to resume work and have their grievances adjusted in a constitutional manner. Correspondence by telegram ensued. When I visited Melbourne I interviewed representatives of both parties and tried to bring them together. The interviews were confidential, because I gave an undertaking that I would not use against the parties anything said by either to me. Unfortunately, this effort at pacification failed, and on the 13th February I received from Mr. Crofts, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, who was acting for the timber workers, a message stating that the workers persisted in their attitude. The concluding words of his telegram were - The workers’ prefer to suffer rather than bow down to the present onslaught upon their conditions instituted by your Government’s legislation.
Notwithstanding that declaration, proceedings were not taken against the union until the 1st March. Honorable members will see that appeals had been made to the union, that I had endeavoured to bring the parties together, and that although this was a clear and glaring strike, no prosecution was instituted until a month after it had been declared. In the case of the waterside workers’ strike, the time which elapsed before proceedings wore taken was shorter, for reasons that must be obvious to honorable members who have taken the trouble to inform themselves of the facts of this most unfortunate dispute in connexion with which so many people are still suffering owing to the incompetence of the leaders of the men and the unwise counsels given by some honorable members of this House. The waterside workers’ .strike was sudden and immediately held up trade and commerce. Honorable members opposite may laugh at the holding up of the sea transport of Australia, but it is no laughing matter for the producers and workers when a waterside strike is operating at every large port of the Commonwealth. Prompt action was necessary. The dislocation of overseas transport for a week could have been vitally serious, and the Government would have failed to do its duty if it had not done everything possible to terminate the strike at the earliest possible moment. We could afford to proceed with less speed when dealing with the strike in the timber trade. On the 12th September the Prime Minister directed a personal appeal to the waterside workers, pointing out the grave suffering and distress which must inevitably follow - and which has followed - the action they were taking, and urging them to return to work and adopt constitutional methods for the rectification of any grievances under which they considered they laboured. On the 13th September, this reply was sent to the Prime Minister by the president of the Waterside Workers Federation -
Waterside conference now assembled this morning again repudiated Judge Beeby’s award.
It was a repeated defiance of the law and a threat of a continued hold-up. Process was issued on the, 17th September. Even then honorable members will perceive that opportunity was afforded for wiser counsels to prevail. Then it is said that on the 17th September the men were ordered back to work by their union. What was the actual action of the union? What the union did was to pass a resolution to the effect that the repudiation of the award having served its purpose for the time being, the men were advised to resume work. In every port where the Transport Workers’ Act is now in operation, the men paid no attention whatever to the direction of the union and the strike was continued. It was impossible for trade and commerce to operate in their regular channels so long as the work at even one large port was held up. The ports of Melbourne, Adelaide, Fremantle and Newcastle were all held up in whole or in part, and also several Queensland ports. In view of those facts the Government proceeded with the prosecution. There was no vindictiveness or undue haste in that proceeding. An examination of the facts shows that in each case, so long as there was any chance of bringing about a settlement, instead of resorting to a prosecution, the Government endeavoured to reach an amicable settlement. In the coal case, only when the possibility of arriving at a settlement at the conference appeared to have been exhausted, was a prosecution instituted, and when unexpectedly, the possibility of a conference achieving real success emerged, the prosecution was withdrawn. It is not being suggested by any honorable member that whenever there is a breach of our arbitration laws, there should automatically be a prosecution without any endeavour to arrange a settlement by friendly measures.
– It is suggested that once’ a prosecution is ‘launched, it should be proceeded with.
– That at least, has not been suggested by the acting Leader of the Opposition.
– The Government should certainly have proceeded with this case in view of the fact that it had proceeded against the unions.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) said that in this case the Government should certainly have proceeded and he supported his argument by reference to what he regards as the character of the action of the Government against the unions. That is a fair statement of his position, but the honorable member does not say that the mere withdrawal of the prosecution is in itself, necessarily wrong. That is the point that I am making iu connexion with the interjection of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). That being so, there are two questions to consider, the circumstances and the motive. Did the circumstances justify this action? I put it that the chance, which appeared to be real, of opening the mines and allowing thousands of men to return to work, and which was said to be real by the representatives of the miners themselves, was sufficient to justify the Government in acting as it did even at the risk, which was foreseen, of this debate in this House. As to the motive of the withdrawal, who could support the view that there was any unworthy, small or mean motive behind the action of the Government ? The safe course was obvious. The timid course, as I have already said, was also obvious. From a political point of view, there was everything to gain and nothing to lose by going on with the prosecution.
I conclude my speech by saying that I am proud to belong to a government which is prepared to take a political risk of this character rather than abstain from taking a course which the interests of the country pointed to as proper, for the reason that it would not expose itself to political criticism. When the Prime Minister and I agreed that the prosecution should be withdrawn, I recog.nized that difficulties would be raised. I recognize now that there were real difficulties in the way, but I consider that we did the right thing. I say frankly and finally, that if I were again faced with the same circumstances and the same serious position, I should not, merely for the sake of maintaining a principle with which generally I agree - that once a prosecution is instituted it should continue - place myself in the position of preventing the possibility of a settlement of the dispute and of thousands of men returning to work the following week.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Anstey) adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Elections and Referendums - Statistical Returns in relation to the Senate Elections, 1928; the General Elections for the House of Representatives, 1928; the submission to the Electors of a Proposed Law for the alteration of the Constitution, entitled “Constitution Alteration (State Debts) 1928”; together with Summaries of Elections and Referendums, 1903-1928. Elections, 1928 -
Statistical Returns showing the Voting within each Subdivision in relation to the Senate Election, 1928, and the General Elections for the House of Representatives, 1928, for Victoria.
Statistical Returns showing the Voting within each Subdivision in relation to the General Election for the House of Representatives, 1928, for the Northern Territory.
Rabaul - Report of Commissioner (BrigadierGeneral T. Griffith) appointed to inquire into and report upon matters relating to mass meetings of natives at mission stations, Malaguna, January, 1929; together with evidence.
Australian Imperial Force Canteens Funds Act - Ninth Annual Report by the Trustees, 1st July, 1928, to 30th June, 1929 (including the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the Technical Education of Soldiers’ Children).
Development and Migration Act - Second Annual Report of the Development and Migration Commission, for the period ending 31st December, 1928.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations of the Arbitrator, &c. : -
No.6 of 1929 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
Nos. 7 and 8 of 1929- Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 9 of 1929 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
No. 10 of 1929- Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association.
No. 11 of 1929 - Commonwealth Medical Officers’ Association.
No. 12 of 1929 - Fourth Division Officers’ Association of the Trade and Customs Department.
No. 13 of 1929 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 14 of 1929 - Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union.
No. 15 of 1929 - Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia, Amalgamated Engineering Union and Australasian Society of Engineers.
No. 16 of 1929 - Arms, Explosives, and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia.
Nos. 17 and 18 of 1929 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Air Force Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 75.
Air Navigation Act - Regulations Amended -Statutory Rules 1929, Nos. 48, 49.
Audit Act -
Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, Nos. 31, 33, 68.
Transfers of amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council -
Financial Year 1928-29 -
Dated 22nd March, 1929.
Dated 6th June, 1929.
Commerce (Trade Description) Act - Regu lations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 37.
Cotton Bounty Act - Return for 1928-29.
Defence Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, Nos. 29, 34, 38, 51, 59, 70, 71.
Electoral Act (Commonwealth) and Electoral Acts (State of South Australia) - Amended Regulations relating to Joint Electoral Rolls,South Australia - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 57.
Electoral Act (Commonwealth) and Electoral Acts (State of Tasmania) - Amended Regulations relating to Joint Electoral Rolls, Tasmania - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 78.
Estate Duty Assessment Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 32.
Excise Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 74.
Export Guarantee Act - Returns showing assistance granted to 31st March, 1929.
Housing Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 46.
Iron and Steel Products Bounty Act - Return for 1928-29.
Land Tax Assessment Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 45.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Fitzroy, Victoria - For Public purposes. Launceston, Tasmania - for Postal purposes.
Tully, Queensland - For Postal purposes.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1929, Nos. 35, 64, 72.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1929 -
No. 3 - Electric Light and Power.
No. 4 - Laws Repeal and Adopting.
No. 5 - Public Service.
No. 6 - Land.
No. 7 - Administrator’s Powers.
No. 8 - Explosives (No. 2).
No. 9- Supply (No. 1) 1929-30.
No. 10 - Superannuation.
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinance of 1929 -
No. 5 - Customs.
Northern Australia Act -
Central Australia -
Ordinances of 1929 -
No. 4 - Public Service.
No. 5 - Interpretation.
No.6 - Printers and Newspapers.
No. 7 - Birds Protection.
No. 8 - Supreme Court of Central
No. 9 - Registration of Births and Deaths.
Crown Lands Ordinance- Regulations.
North Australia. -
Ordinances of 1929 -
No.5 - Public Service.
No. 6 - Interpretation.
No. 7 - Printers and Newspapers.
No. 8 - Birds Protection.
No. 9 - Supreme Court of North Australia,
No. 10- Registration of Births and Deaths.
Crown Lands Ordinance - Regulations.
Papua and New Guinea Bounties Act - Return for 1988-29.
Post and Telegraph Act-Regulations Amended -
Statutory Rules 1928, Nos. 97, 99, 123.
Statutory Rules 1029, Nos. 14,15,16, 65, 80.
Power Alcohol Bounty Act - Return for 1928-29.
Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department of -
Health- W. W. Hurst ; G. R. Osborn.
Home Affairs - A. R, Hogg; R. W. McNair.
Postmaster-General - A. J. McKenzie.
Treasury - L. F. Johnston.
Regulations Amended -
Statutory Rules 1928, No. 113.
Statutory Rules 1929, Nos.36,66,67.
Quarantine Act - Regulations Amended -
Statutory Rules 1929, Nos.50, 82.
Railways Act- By-law No.52.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Beat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinances of 1929-
No. 3 - Queanbeyan Lease.
No. 4 - Lotteries and Art Unions.
No.5 - Rates.
No. 6 - Amendments Incorporation.
No. 7 - Interpretation.
No. 8- Meat.
No. 9 - Weights and Measures.
No. 10 - Federal Capital Commission’s Arms.
No. 11 - Statistics.
No. 12- Rates (No. 2).
No.13 - City Area Leases.
No. 14 - Leases (Special Purposes).
Seat of Government (Administration) Act -
By-laws - Statutory Rules 1929, No.27. Order for variation of plan of layout of the City of Canberra and Environs, dated 24th April, 1929.
Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 30.
Shale Oil Bounty Act- Return for 1928-29.
Sulphur Bounty Act- Return for 1928-29.
Treaty of Peace (Germany) Act- Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 73.
Wine Export Bounty Act - Return for 1928-29.
Wireless Telegraphy Act- Regulations Amended- Statutory Rules 1928, No. 129.
House adjourned at 10.48 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 August 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290815_reps_11_121/>.