11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 8 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion of Want ofconfidence.
Debate resumed from 16th August (vide page 82), on motion by Mr. Theodore -
That, by its withdrawal of the lockout 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.
.- Before addressing myself to thevital issue of the motion of no confidence now before the House, I desire to refer briefly to certain remarks made in the course of the debate by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini). In accordancewith the friendship, political and personal, which exists between honorable members of this chamber, the honorable member saw fit last week to offer to me advice as to the manner in which I should manage my financial affairs. Dur111g the course of a long legal career in Sydney, I have acted as trustee of many large estates, and I have invariably gone out of my way to invest large sums from them, and from my own estate, in Australian industries, including coal-mining. Apparently, the honorable member desires me to depart from that policy, and in future not to invest such large amounts to encourage Australian industries and provide employment for our people, and, of course, earn a fair return on the money invested. He said, “ “With true Pharisaical complacency, the honorable member for Wentworth, I have no doubt, is chuckling at the miners’ misfortunes, while taking increased dividends from the coal mines.” No one who has known me in this Parliament for the last ten years would seriously suggest that I would chuckle at the misfortunes or sufferings of any person or section of the community. I had not expected such an unkind charge from the honorable member. I desire, however, to thank him for his unsolicited advice and to regret that I cannot see my way to adopt it.
In the last ten years, during my representation of the electorate of Wentworth in this House, I have heard many censure motions launched against the governments led in turn by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and the present Prime Minister, and all have failed; but I do not remember one which was of such vital importance to the country as is that which is now before the House. I am glad that this matter has been brought forward for full investigation. Having given the subject a lot of thought, I have decided that I should not vote in the division without first stating the reasons for my decision. As a public man, I have always endeavoured to live up to the ideals of one of Australia’s greatest statesmen, William Charles Wentworth, after whom my constituency is named, who was responsible for the institution of responsible government and the adoption of trial by jury in Australia. During the last few days I have wondered what would be his attitude if he could be called upon to record a vote on the motion that has been submitted by the honorable member for Dalley. Possessing all the attributes of a great man, would he in circumstances like the present have cast a silent vote? I am sure he would not; he would have acted in accordance with the slogan which has been shouted from the bridge of the good ship National Party by my own captain, the Prime Minister, “ Take the courageous course rather than the easy one.” The easy course for me would be to remain silent and vote without explaining my reasons. A lot of courage is required to make a speech which may prove a test of friendship. I was present in the House of Commons in 1924, when the Campbell case was being debated, and I remember the Speaker saying on that occasion that, the matter being of such serious importance, no interjections would be allowed, and that every member must be permitted to express himself without interruption. The motion now before us also is important, and I ask honorable members to bear with me if I should hit hard against this side or that.
The first incident in the history of the case which is the subject-matter of the motion was the Attorney-General’s announcement in the House some months ago that the millionaire coal-owner, John Brown, was to be prosecuted by the Government. I received the announcement with equanimity. Honorable members know that tears did not spring to my eyes, nor was I riven with grief. Unlike the AttorneyGeneral, who reiterates that he has never met Mr. Brown, I have known him for many years, in the course of which he has “ shouted “ for me one bottle of beer. I do not know whether I was particularly fortunate or not; but I have yet to learn that this multi-millionaire, whose fortune was made for him by the workers of the northern coal-fields, has bought land about Newcastle and converted it into parks for the recreation of the workers and their families. That has yet to happen. During the course of this debate, the suggestion has been made that, in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. Brown, the Prime Minister was actuated by some ulterior motive, and that Mr. Brown had either been or was about to become a subscriber to the funds of the National party. No one knowing the Prime Minister would attribute such a motive to him, and no one knowing Mr. Brown would charge him with excessive liberality. The fact is that, in making a comparison of their respective generosity, Harry Lauder might be likened to a Moth aeroplane as compared with the giant threeengined John Brown. The suggestion that he subscribes generously to the National party’s funds goes by the board at once. A prosecution was launched, and what we have to ascertain is whether the Government had grounds for taking that action. “We know from the statement of the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) that he thought that although the case was not too strong there was a prima facie case. I think , so too. That opinion is justified by the fact that Mr. John Brown had shut down his mines, and it might fairly be asked, if it were alleged that that was done because he could not work them at a profit, why he had not gone before some properly constituted tribunal and stated the fact, when perhaps he would have obtained a reduction of his operating costs. But be did not do that. The inference was a fair one that he in closing his mines was doing something in the nature of a lockout. Yet I wonder whether the Attorney-General, before launching the prosecution, gave any thought to the fact that some of the Newcastle mines could not, for various reasons, compete against the British mines, and that proceedings might possibly be instituted against some of our miners. The reasons for the temporary closing of mines occasionally have been comically absurd. Let me give four actual instances in which mines have been closed, at a loss of thousands of pounds; and it is such cases that have made it practically impossible for our coal to compete against British coal landed here. In one instance .the men stopped work because they did not like the smell of a horse’s breath. Of course that norse should have received medical attention. In another instance, the men stopped work because they wanted to celebrate the winning of a football competition. That stoppage caused a loss of over £1,000, and of course it added to the cost of producing coal which has to compete with British coal. In ‘the third instance, the mine was stopped because the men disapproved of the brand of axle grease used in it. There are all sorts of grease, including axle and palm grease. We all know that there was no palm grease used in connexion with the Prime Minister’s action. In this case the axle grease was objected to, and the mine was shut down temporarily. The fourth instance was more serious. The men stopped work because the manager of the mine insisted upon them observing certain precautions for their own safety that had been made obligatory by act of parliament. The Attorney-General might have taken action in those cases, but instead of doing so, he proceeded against one of the wealthiest men in Australia, because he thought that there was a prima facie case against him. A prosecution was instituted. I want honorable members to try to appreciate the difference between a ‘writ and a prosecution. A writ is part of the proceedings in a civil case, and is frequently withdrawn because the parties concerned have” conferred together and arranged a settlement. This prosecution was something entirely different; something between the procedure in a criminal case’ and that in a civil case. Once a prosecution has been issued it must be proceeded with. It can be likened to the ocean waves which beat on the shores of my electorate, whose momentum may have begun thousands of miles away, increasing in force as they roll on, until finally they expend their strength as they break on the beach at Bondi.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), and the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) have given to the House their reasons for withdrawing the prosecution. It was a momentous decision, and the first of its kind in the history of Australia. Had I been in the position of the AttorneyGeneral, I certainly should not have done what he did. One thing that must remain inviolate, and that has withstood attack for centuries, is the fount of British justice. It must not be touched. The Campbell case, to which I shall refer later, is not exactly parallel with that now under consideration ; but it had in it certain features which make the two cases alike. Let me visualize the scene of this withdrawal. I see the two chief actors in this, shall I say, tragedy, stealing along in rubbersoled shoes and with sticks of gelignite in their hands, towards the citadel of justice. Other footsteps are heard, and they withdraw into the shadows. They recognize members of their own camp : in the verbiage of old they see passing “ My Lord Chief Justice Maxwell of Fawkner, and such well-known figures of the times as Billy of Blithering Blazes, Billy the Watt,” and others. The two chief actors say to each other, “ Shall we confer with these men ? “ but they determine to attend to the matter themselves. Then the deed is done.
Let us deal with the matter in the method of reductio ad absurdum. I understand that the speed motor record between Sydney and Canberra is held by the right honorable the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). But we know how fast the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) can travel in a motor car, and he may desire to attack that record. If he did so, he would, in racing from the Sydney post office to Canberra, break all the traffic laws in existence. Yet that would not matter to him if, because of the precedent established by the Government, any prosecution instituted against him might be withdrawn. What is to stop men from entering the Commonwealth Bank, and saying to the teller, “You -have £10,000,000 in gold here; hand it over.” Nothing, except the fear of prosecution. But for fear of the law the “ basher “ gang would give freer rein to its iniquitous proclivities. If the practice of withdrawing prosecutions were adopted in extenso it would mean that people would lose all respect for the law, and the very nation itself would crash. For that reason alone the John Brown prosecution should have gone on.
I should like now to make some further references to the withdrawal of the Campbell prosecution by Sir Patrick Hastings, the Attorney-General of the last MacDonald Government. I sat in the gallery of the House of Commons during the debate on that case, and heard the addresses upon it of such able and eloquent men as Sir
Douglas Hogg, Sir John Simon and Sir Robert Home. The air, as honorable members can well understand, was electrical. The censure motion placed before the House was couched in terms almost identical with those which we are considering to-day. But there were differences between the two cases which I shall point out. At the time the incident happened, the man Campbell was the sub-editor of a newspaper called The Workers’ Weekly. The article in respect of which action was taken was a direct incitement to mutiny in the Navy and Army, and the outcry against it, not only in London but throughout England, was unmistakable. One heard comments about it wherever he went. The protests were so serious that the MacDonald Government was forced to take action. Campbell was a self-confessed communist of A and not B grade. Certain people who were interested in him, however, brought such influence to bear upon the Ramsay MacDonald Government - that they had considerable influence was revealed during the debate - that Sir Patrick Hastings recommended and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald ordered the withdrawal of the prosecution. Undoubtedly in that case there was an ulterior and a wicked motive in the withdrawal. The law should have run its course against Campbell notwithstanding that he was a supporter of the party in power. In that respect the motive was distinctly different from that operating in the case of John Brown. I shall deal with this case without fear or favour irrespective of the mirth of honorable members opposite. They know as well as I do, that the speech that I am making leads not to the door that opens to office, but to the furnace. However, I am inspired by the desire, at this momentous crisis in the history of my country, to place my views before honorable members without any reservations. I shall read a number of short extracts from the. official report of the House of Commons debate on the Campbell case. The first is from that part of Sir Robert Home’s speech in which he dealt with the administration of the law. He said -
If the administration of the law should become subject to any considerations of political expediency then justice, as we have known it in this country for centuries, would disappear.
Civilized communities can only enjoy full liberty if the political executive is excluded from interference with the mechanism of the administration of justice.It is for that reason that the very salutary rule has been observed in this country that the AttorneyGeneral, in forming his opinion on matters of prosecution, is entirely free from any political influence whatsoever.
The Prime Minister (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald) : Hear, hear.
Sir R. Home. ; He acts in a judicial capacity, and no Minister and no political party is entitled to interfere with him. If crimes were not to be punished or prosecuted because the delinquents belonged to a particular party, then the law would be mocked and retaliation by the other party, when it came into power, would bring about a condition of things in which justice would be destroyed. If there bc any gift more than another which the British nation has given to the world in which it can take pride, it is that dispensation of even-handed justice which has characterized our race in all parts of the world and has gained for us the confidence of all peoples in our administration of the law. No greater blow, no more grievous blow, could be struck at our civilization than that our courts should be in any measure manipulated for party purposes.
In that case it was quite clear that the persons responsible for the withdrawal of the prosecution were actuated by party political motives. I submit that that was not so in the withdrawal of the John Brown prosecution.
In dealing with the grounds of withdrawal, Sir Robert Home, in the same speech, said -
This ground of withdrawal is really not a reasonable one or one which can stand the light of examination for a single moment.
Sir Robert suggests, in that observation, that there may be reasonable grounds for the withdrawal of a prosecution. On that point I most respectfully differ from him. In my humble judgment, once a prosecution has been launched it should be carried through. I shall later discuss whether the grounds upon which the John Brown prosecution was withdrawn were reasonable or otherwise.
Sir Robert Home also observed ;
Without ascribing motives, without even making up one’s mind upon the perplexing and conflicting explanations which have been given of the devious course followed by His Majesty’s Government, it is perfectly apparent to us that the House of Commons cannot contemplate in silence such a dereliction of a fundamental duty, and cannot pass over without censure an act which, if it were repeated, would strike a most deadly blow at our respect for law and justice in this country.
Throughout the debate on this case in the House of Commons it was argued that the whole incident should be thoroughly investigated. Honorable members urged that the matter was so serious that all the facts in relation to it should be ventilated in the open light of Parliament and not concealed in some dark corner.
Sir John Simon, in the course of his speech, dealt with the point that no public objection was raised at the time to the withdrawal of the prosecution. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) and also the Prime Minister, saidthat no objection was raised in Sydney at the time to the withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. I regret that I cannot agree with them on that point. It must he remembered that a Prime Minister is not in the best position to judge the feelings, nor to hear the candidly expressed views of the people. I am a member of some 42 clubs and associations - some large and some small - and although I find it a hopeless drag to maintain an active connexion with all of them, I nevertheless find them excellent places to go when I want rest and recreation or desire to ascertain the opinions of the people on any question of public importance. Mixing frequently with men of all types, one gets to know what they are thinking, and I can say that there has been a good deal of comment on this action of the Government. The quotation from the speech of Sir John Simon that I wish to make is as follows: -
I think my honorable friends above the Gangway are making the greatest mistake in the world if they think ordinary men and women do not care about this. A police magistrate is the decent man’s friend. The ordinary citizen - a taxi driver - knows perfectly well that though he may get stern justice from a magistrate he will get justice. He knows that if he drinks he will be fined. He knows that if he is careless and hits someone in the street he may possibly go to prison. But he also knows that if a rich man tries to bilkhim the magistrate is not going to let the rich man off by any representation which may be made secretly, and for that very reason - I do not think some honorable members seem to know it - the law will not allow a private prosecutor who has once instituted proceedings for an indictable offence to withdraw such a prosecution, but would insist that the papers must go to the Public Prosecutor in order to see that there has been no underhand dealing.
There was no underhand dealing between the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and either John Brown or the Northern Collieries Association. I agree with the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) that we must seek for the motive which inspired the Prime Minister. It was the motive that underlay the withdrawal of the prosecution against Campbell, in Great Britain, that led to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald being driven from office. Campbell was a supporter of his party, and the pressure exerted by members of that party was so strong that it compelled the Attorney-General, Sir Patrick Hastings, to take action. He called the Prime Minister into his room quietly and secretly, and it was decided that the prosecution should be withdrawn. Sir Patrick Hastings admitted having said to the Prime Minister, “ This prosecution must be withdrawn.” A similar decision was arrived at by our Prime Minister and Attorney-General, but their motive was altogether different from that which actuated Sir Patrick Hastings and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald.
A very able speech was delivered by Commander Bellairs, in the course of which he- said : -
May I alao remind the House of what Sir Henry Maine said in 1885 - and no greater authority in legal matters could possibly be cited : “ If any government should be tempted, even for a moment, to forego its function of compelling obedience to the law, it would be guilty of a crime which hardly any other virtue could redeem, and which century after century might fail to repair.”
At a later stage, Sir Douglas Hogg made the following statement: -
The charge which we make, and which we understand those below the Gangway think should be investigated, is a charge that the Government of this country used their political influence, in party interests, in order to interfere with the even administration of justice in this country.
There is a direct charge that the Government had withdrawn the Campbell prosecution for political and party motives. Was that the case in the John Brown prosecution ?
Opposition Members. - Yes
– Honorable members opposite must know that there was no such motive. The Prime Minister had a great deal to lose. I do not refer to the possibility of his going out of power ; that would be nothing to him. A man’s integrity and honour are more to him than his political existence. I believe that the Prime Minister has spoken the truth. If I thought that he was actuated by an ulterior motive, I should walk across the floor of the chamber and vote with the Opposition on this motion. I wish to quote another observation by Sir Douglas Hogg, concerning the right of the Attorney-General to withdraw the prosecution. On that point he said -
When I was Attorney-General, at any rate, when once a prosecution was instituted I never took advice or counsel, or brooked interference from any Minister or anybody else, on the question whether it should bo withdrawn. That was a matter which, rightly or wrongly, I regarded as my duty, and a duty which I ought to exercise judicially and uninfluenced by any outside person. But be that as it may, our complaint here is not merely that the Government interfered, but that the reason why the Government interfered was manifestly, when one reads what happened on the 6th August, the pressure brought to bear upon them by their own back benches.
A little later, on the question of maintaining the freedom of the judiciary from political interference, Sir Douglas Hogg said -
I hope that this, as the Attorney-General quite rightly said, is not to be treated merely as an attack on a Minister, or merely as a party move. I seriously do say to the House of Commons that, in my judgment at least, the facts which I have outlined do constitute a grave case at least for inquiry as to whether or not the Government has departed from what, to my mind, is the most essential bulwark of our liberty, that is, the freedom of the judiciary from any executive interference. It is a thing which we fought for hundreds of years to obtain. (Honorable Members - Hear! hear!) I do not mean by one particular party. * It is the common birthright of all of us who are Englishmen, all of us who are Britons. Anything that tends to undermine that bulwark of liberty, anything which tends to shake the confidence of the public in the independence of the judiciary, is a thing which ought to be unsparingly condemned and unhesitatingly exposed.
In every one of the extracts I have read it is made clear that if political or party interests influenced the withdrawal, the action must be condemned. I come now to the other side, however. When the Deputy Leader of the Labour party moved the present censure motion, the gravamen of the charge against the Government was that it had withdrawn the prosecution against John Brown. The motion itself charges the Government with the withdrawal of that prosecution, and with administering one law for the rich and another for the poor. Yet, unfortunately for the argument of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, he said in the course of his speech that similar prosecutions had been withdrawn on numerous occasions in the past, and he asked why was not such a course followed in the case of so and so. mentioning prosecutions against members of labour organizations. Thus the mover of the motion himself condemns the Government not for withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown, but because, apparently, it did not also withdraw the prosecutions against Johannsen, Walsh, and others. In other words, he agrees to the principle of withdrawal, yet moves a motion of want of confidence because there has been a withdrawal - a negation of the charge made. We must also remember that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in a speech recently addressed to thousands of men, used, I understand, the following words : “When the Labour party gets into power it will be able to control the police.” What will be the feelings of the “ man in the street,” as the public is referred to colloquially, when he compares the words of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and the action of the Prime Minister, which action constitutes, in my opinion, a grave error of judgment. Will he not be rightly entitled to say, “A plague o’ both your houses “ ?
I have come to a decision, the nature of which honorable members have no doubt already guessed from what I have said. In the past I had a big practice in the marine courts of this country; but I was away at the war for five years, and when I came back somebody else, who had not gone to the war, had taken my practice. That is one of the penalties we have suffered who served our country. I have in mind one case heard before the Marine Court in which the captain of a ship, through an error of judgment, caused a loss to his owners of over £100,000. In other cases errors of judgment on the part of ship captains have led to even greater monetary losses, and to loss of life as well. Yet, though the captains in these cases acted with their eyes open, or omitted to do something which they should have done, the court in no way punished them. Why? Because they had honestly done what they thought to be right, and though they had committed errors of judgment, they had acted to the best of their ability. Similarly, in the case we are now discussing, the Prime Minister did something deliberately, and with his eyes open; but he did his best. He has said so on the floor of the House. He said that he acted after conferring with the Attorney- General, who reminded him that he was placing a bomb in the hands of his opponents and that he was following a course which might have dire political consequences. In my opinion, he committed a grave error of judgment, but-8 might any member of this House. None . of us is infallible. The Prime Minister told the House that he . thought the plan put forward by the miners’ representatives, when they asked for ‘ a conference, had a reasonable chance ‘ of success, that it might result in the opening of the mines by the following Tuesday, and might end the suffering of the women and children on the coal-fields. The scheme seemed to him to be a workable one, and he had to come to a quick decision regarding the action he would take. I think he came to the wrong decision, but I am convinced that he believed what he did to be right. What are the likely consequences of his action? This aspect of the case has been dealt with by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who brought the great Nationalist party into being, and presided in distinguished fashion as its head for a number of years. He was eventually replaced by the present Prime Minister. Mr. Hughes said that the Prime Minister’s action might result in the loss to the Nationalist party of tens of thousands of votes. It may, but, on the other hand, it may not. As a member of a third generation of Australians, I recognize in the Australian public this characteristic, which is apparent both on the playing fields and in relation to the graver affairs of life: they are a non-forgetting people, but they are a forgiving people- If the public see a man on the cricket field do something wrong, through an error of judgment, but with a clean motive, believing at the time that he was doing the right thing, it will not hold it against him. I have had ten years’ experience in this
House, part of the time under the right honorable member for North Sydney, and the remainder under the leadership of the present Prime Minister. I am certain that there is no member of this House, whatever his politics, who believes that the Prime Minister is other than an upright and honorable man. The same thing is true of the Attorney-General, and of the other members of the Cabinet. Our public life would be impossible if members of this House, and the public generally, had not faith in the personal integrity of those who compose the Government. This House is very jealous of its honour, and rightly so. I have looked at the present issue from every angle. I have studied it intensively for days, while making up my mind as to what I should say, and determining the manner in which I should place my views before the House. Naturally, the matter needed thorough consideration, so that I should be able to make my attitude perfectly clear. I have no doubt whatever that in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. Brown, the Prime Minister, upright and honorable man as he is, and associated in Cabinet with men equally upright and honorable, was actuated by right and proper motives. I am convinced that he believed he was doing something in the best interests of the country; something that would put an end to the economic trouble on our coal-fields. Some may consider that the right honorable gentleman took the courageous step. All I wish to say on that point is that if the responsibility for making a decision had been mine, I should have done nothing that might tend in any way to injure the fount of justice, even though such action might result in the opening of the mines and in ending the suffering of a large number of people. He took, so it was stated, the courageous step, but in my opinion it was a step in the wrong direction. He should have said, “ No ; I will not do this thing, even if it would bring all these benefits.” In my opinion the Prime Minister did wrong; he committed an error of judgment. But since his methods were strictly honorable, he should not be penalized for what he did. All the members of this House are but shadows flitting across the screen of our national existence. “We serve our purpose and pass on, and others take our places. The impression we leave on our passing may or may not be lasting. That must depend upon the methods we employed to bring into being those ideals of national service which inspired or actuated us. My final words on this motion of censure are: This thing has been done by the Prime Minister, but I trust that never again will such a shadow pass across the edifice of justice.
– I intend to support the motion of censure moved by the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) because I believe that the very cornerstone of our democracy, the basic principle of dealing justly with all sections of the community, has been endangered by the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution against the wealthy coal baron, Mr. John Brown. It must be patent to all that the Government’s decision has struck a blow at the fount of British justice. “When honorable members supporting the Government went to the country at the last elections, and also at the elections in 1925, they boasted that they alone stood for justice to all sections of the community; for law and order; for constitutional government as opposed to mob rule. They told the electors that if they voted for Labour they would be voting for revolution, and they promised that if the Nationalist Government were returned to power the administration of the affairs of this country would be such as to ensure an era of industrial peace. The Government has abjectly failed in its promises. It has pursued the workers and union officials ruthlessly ; and whenever it has had an opportunity to deal with wealthy employers it has fallen down on the job. The latest evidence of its ineptitude is the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. Brown.
Every quotation made by the honorable member for “Wentworth (Mr. Marks) was ample justification for the moving of this motion of censure. The honorable member . said that he was occupied for several days in coming to a decision with respect to this matter. I am convinced that if he were at liberty to vote as he thinks he would have no hesitation whatever in voting against the Government. Apparently he has been spending a great deal of time in thinking out how he could justify his vote for the Ministry when he firmly believes that it erred in withdrawing the prosecution.
– He has been training for the tight rope.
– The honorable member for Batman is right. We have had the example, also, of other honorable members opposite denouncing the Government for its action; but we know that, when the vote is taken, they will support the Ministry. I am wondering if honorable members who now excuse the Government would be ready to justify similar action by a Labour Government, if in a similar set of circumstances it withdrew a prosecution against Mr. Holloway, or the Waterside Workers Federation, or any other labour organization.Would they display the same anxiety then to condone the act? We all recall how they cheered the decision to lodge a prosecution against Mr. Brown, but now honorable members opposite are searching their minds for excuses to exonerate the Government for its withdrawal.
– They are now considering the Government’s motives.
– Exactly. Honorable members opposite charge the members of the Labour party with inconsistency. Actually that charge may be levelled against them. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) both, in unmistakable language, condemned the Government. I am sorry that the honorable member for Fawkner has not the courage to vote for the motion. It cannot be disputed that he was speaking exactly as he felt when he said last week -
I urn just as convinced to-day as I was when I wrote a letter to the Melbourne Argus, that the prosecution of John Brown should have gone on. If I had been Attorney-General, I would not have withdrawn it. In my opinion the Government committed a very grave mistake when they ordered its withdrawal.
Notwithstanding this clear statement of his views, and because of party considerations and the cracking of the party whip, the honorable member is not free to vote according to his conscience. He said that the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown had weakened the confidence of the public in the administration of the law. Could a more serious statement be made by a King’s counsel, one of the leaders of the bar in Victoria? The courageous speech of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) on this matter must have impressed the electors throughout Australia. He said that he found the reply of the Prime Minister unconvincing; he described the Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution as a blunder of the first magnitude. Yet the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) excused the Prime Minister on the ground that the motive underlying his action was right. It would appear that the Prime Minister may do the most foolish thing imaginable, but so long as his motive is right the honorable member will continue to support him.
Even the Attorney-General appears to have regarded the Prime Minister’s action as a tremendous blunder, for in the Sydney Sun he is reported to have written in a certain memorandum that there was neither legal nor moral justification for withdrawing the prosecution; that it was politically inexpedient to withdraw it; and that its withdrawal made it impossible to enforce penalties against other persons. The speech of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) showed that he, too, disapproved of the action of the Government. In the circumstances, it is strange to hear Government supporters charging the Opposition with insincerity. If honorable members opposite could be loosed from party ties, we should hear more speeches of the type of that uttered by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). No impartial man can stand for the prosecution of the workers, and for the wealthier section of the community being allowed to go scot free when they commit breaches of the law. The representatives of a democratic people cannot justify such discrimination. It is no wonder that throughout Australia there is a growing feeling that the Government believes in there being one law for the rich and another for the poor. The coal owners flouted the law. Regardless of the awards of an industrial tribunal, they decided to close down their mines. They told the coal-miners that they must accept the terms offered, or be unemployed. Some of them are reputed to have used very strong language to their men. It is said that Mr.. Brown, addressing his employees, used words to the following effect : - “ You cows ; you will be made to eat grass, for I will impose on you the conditions which obtained in 1914.” On the hustings the Government boasted that it knew neither employer nor employee; but its actions belie its words. First, there was considerable delay in instituting a prosecution against a mine-owner ; later, when the processes of the law had been set in motion, so soon as a request was made to the Prime Minister to withdraw the prosecution, he agreed to do so. The right honorable gentleman ‘ said that he consulted the Attorney-General before deciding to withdraw the prosecution against Mr. Brown, but it would appear that the only consultation with his colleague was an intimation that a certain decision had already been arrived at. One gathers from the Attorney-General’s statements, sis reported in the Sydney Sun, that had he first been consulted, he would not have agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution. The Prime Minister admitted the facts contained in the charge levelled against him by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), but explained his action by referring to the “ extenuating circumstances.” He said that he had hoped that the conference which would be held if the prosecution were withdrawn would bring about industrial peace. In view of the failure of the conference to achieve that end, it would appear that the mine-owners bluffed the Prime Minister. They knew that there was practically no hope of industrial peace resulting from the conference; all they wanted was the withdrawal of the prosecution of one of their number. By refusing to meet the miners in conference unless the prosecution against Mr. Brown was first withdrawn, they assumed the role of dictators to the Government.
Has the Government ever accepted diction by the representatives of industrial unions? Whenever they have asked the Government to stay its hand in connexion with prosecutions of unions and unionists, the reply has been that the law must take its course. The Prime Minister said that he could not force the coal-owners to disclose in a conference their financial position, because the information might be used against them in the court in the event of the prosecution being proceeded with. I remind him that the main reason given by them for closing the mines was that they were unprofitable. If that were so, there was no danger of any evidence as to profits being adduced which could be used against them. They had nothing to fear from any conference. It is abundantly clear that the reason given was only an excuse; that although the mines were already profitable they wanted still greater profits. They thought that the economic condition of the 12,000 miners who would be thrown out of employment was such that they would be unable to withstand their employers. The closing of the mines whereby 12,000 men were thrown out of work was an act much more reprehensible than that of men who, in defence of a principle, go on strike : for when ‘men strike they know that it will mean suffering for themselves and their families, whereas the coalowners are above want and suffering ; they remain unaffected by the great tragedy for which they are responsible. In April last the Government said that the trouble in the coal industry was a serious matter. It is a hundred times more serious to-day. Yet the Government sits idly by and allows the law to remain inoperative. It is no wonder that the electors now realize that, notwithstanding its protestations, the Government has discriminated in favour of one wealthy section of the community that locked out the miners. The Attorney-General said that the withdrawal of the prosecution would be justified if the resultant conference were a success. The conference was not a success, and the coal-mine owners knew it would not be a success. It is a pity that the Prime Minister, when asked by the mine-owners to withdraw the prosecution against one of their number, did not advise them to withdraw their notices, which have resulted in 40,000 men being unemployed in New South Wales. The political impotence of the Government has led even to many newspapers that usually support the Nationalist party, strongly condemning it for its failure to take effective action. The Sydney Evening News of the 9th April stated -
The present position is the negation of every rational idea of government and of every mandate of business common sense.
The Government has failed miserably. It tried to set the law in operation to deal with John Brown, who realized that if taken to court he would have to show what profits he was making. The prosecution was withdrawn. Up to the present time, he has evaded that question ; he has not put his cards on the table. If he had been prosecuted in April last, the amount of his profits would have been known to-day, and I believe that the present dispute would have been settled long ago.
– A decent Minister would have forfeited his lease by now.
– Yes. I was in Queensland shortly after the withdrawal of the prosecution, and I was interested in the contents of a weekly letter written by an ex-publicity officer of. the Nationalist party, Mr. Farmer Whyte, who was for many years editor of the Brisbane Daily Mail, and was afterwards editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. I think that he did very good work for the Nationalist party, judging by some of his articles. Commenting on the withdrawal of the prosecution, he stated in one of his fine weekly letters to a number of newspapers in Australia - I am quoting from the Daily Times, Bundaberg, of the 17th April -
The Prime Minister’s announcement of the abandonment of the prosecution of Mr. John Brown in connexion with the closing down of the coal-mines came as a bombshell, and has been the subject of much discussion in the Federal Capital as well as elsewhere. The general opinion is that the Government has made a blunder of the first magnitude. . . . Those who had heard the AttorneyGeneral announce in the House of Representatives, in reply to Labour criticism, that there was one law for the rich and another law for the poor, that the Government had, after careful investigation, decided to institute proceedings against John Brown, are amazed at the turn of events.
No doubt Mr. Whyte wrote what he thought to be the truth, and I believe that the great majority of the supporters of theNationalist party agree with him. He did wonderfully good work as the party’s propagandist before the last federal election. Those who applauded him then will probably applaud him to-day on the ground that he expresses what he judges to be the honorable view, however distasteful it may be to the Federal Cabinet, on this important issue.
The Attorney-General, by his speeches in this Parliament some months ago, gave the impression that he took an opposite view from that now adopted by him regarding this matter. In reply to a request made by the Labour party for the withdrawal of the prosecution of the Waterside Workers Federation, he stated :
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.
The Prime Minister, in an effort to make us believe he would not discriminate in favour of wealthy employers, stated in the House on 22nd March last -
The insinuation has been very freely made that the Government is prepared to enforce the law against the workers and trade unions, but not against the mine-owners and employers. I repudiate that insinuation. If any Commonwealth law is being infringed through the action of the mine-owners, the Government will take steps to prosecute the offenders.
In the case of the prosecution of the Waterside Workers Federation, both the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral said that the law must take its course, and a similar attitude was adopted with regard to the charge against Mr. Holloway, who, although a strong Labour party man, is respected, I think, by all sections. He was a very sick man, and had been on leave in order to recuperate his health; but the Government instituted a prosecution against him, and announced that “the law must take its course.” He was fined £50, and he would have been sent to gaol had not some of his friends come to his assistance and paid the fine. The Waterside Workers Federation was fined £1,000, and the Timber Workers Association received similar treatment. Industrial unions have but meagre funds, and these bodies found great difficulty in meeting the heavy penalties imposed upon them. These prosecutions were not withdrawn, but John Brown,. of course, was treated quite differently.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) submitted certain questions to the Attorney-General which have not been answered, and I think that a member of the Cabinet should reply to them. Two of these questions were -
Is any Government justified: in making bargains with men whom it has indicted for infringements of the law?
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 had suspected of being violators of the law ?
In the Abrahams case the Government did something of that kind, and brought upon itself severe criticism by Mr. Justice Starke, when a matter bearing on the case was under consideration. His Honour remarked -
The whole case seems to be based on conspiracy. Why were they not prosecuted for conspiracy under the Crimes Act? A reasonable inference would be that they might have been committed to gaol.
Sir Edward Mitchell observed ;
There was evidence at the time these facts were discovered from which there may be a strong inference drawn; but subject to great difficulty of proof.
Mr. Justice Starke then said ;
That is not for the Attorney-General to decide; that is a matter for a jury, lt is plain on this material that the defendants operated together, and possibly with others, systematically to defraud the Commonwealth.
This Government hesitates to administer justice promptly when the actions of a wealthy magnate are under consideration. It shows leniency towards its wealthy friends, towards men like the Abrahams brothers, the millionaires who had defrauded the Commonwealth of approximately ?600,000, and had never paid their proper income tax since the Commonwealth had begun to collect it. On the only occasion when the Government instituted proceedings against a wealthy employer, the prosecution, after a few weeks, was withdrawn. No wonder industrial unionists throughout Australia are asking why this leniency is shown to the wealthy friends of the Nationalist party, while the Waterside Workers Federation; the Timber Workers Association and men like Mr. Holloway have to suffer severe penalties. As was remarked by the honorable member for
Fremantle, it must be a flabby kind of law under which prosecutions against the rich are withdrawn and penalties are inflicted on the section of the community that is not affluent.
One of the most unfair episodes in this debate has been the attempt of the Prime Minister and other Ministerialists to prove that the miners representatives agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– If they had agreed, that would not have been sufficient justification.
– No. But Ministers, in order to excuse themselves have sought to throw the blame on the representatives of the men. When I was in Queensland some months ago, I read that Senator Foll, the Government whip in the Senate, had telegraphed to the Prime Minister asking whether the miners representatives had agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution, and the reply published in the Rockhampton press stated, amongst other things -
Miners were fully represented by the officers of their union when I made that statement, and no dissension from the view I expressed was made by them. Therefore, Government withdrew prosecution.
That statement was most unfair and, also, incorrect. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has pointed out that the Prime Minister, after announcing to the conference that the Government had decided to withdraw the prosecution, then left the hall. The miners representatives were never asked whether they concurred in or dissented from that course. To the Prime Minister’s telegram Senator Foll added -
The officials of the miners unions were quite in accord with the action of the Government, recognizing that it was the only sensible thing to do. ls it conceivable that the representatives of the miners, who had appealed to the Government in vain to withdraw the prosecutions of Mr. Holloway and ether colleagues, would have agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown, one of the most conservative and wealthy employers in Australia, who said to the workers “ I shall make you cows eat grass. I shall drive you back to the conditions of 1914. Take what I offer or starve”. When I read Senator Foil’s statement in the Rockhampton press, I telegraphed to Mr. Davies, the general secretary of the Miners Federation, and received this reply-
Miners never consulted on withdrawal Brown’s prosecution. At no time did they agree.
Other honorable members have quoted from Mr. Davies’ pamphlet, stating the whole history of this prosecution, and the extracts show clearly that at no time did the representatives of the miners agree to the withdrawal of the prosecution; in fact, they were never consulted.
The Government has been guilty of a grave dereliction of public duty. In the administration of the law, it has discriminated in favour of the wealthy coalowners. It has shown a bias against the workers and in favour of the wealthy employers, and for that reason is not deserving of the confidence of the House.
– During the last three sitting days there has been a barrage of criticism of the Government’s action’ in withdrawing the John Brown prosecution. Much of it was absolute misrepresentation, and some of it was so fantastic in its suspicion of the motives which actuated the Prime Minister, that one wonders in what murky atmosphere some honorable members opposite move and have their being. Can men endowed with such a capacity for distrust of their fellows ever have complete faith in their own best friends? The honorable member for “Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) gave expression to the incredible theory that as Mr. Brown was supposed to be weakening in his resolve to keep his mines closed and was contemplating re-opening them, the Attorney-General had launched the prosecution for the purpose of arousing his fighting spirit; that object having been achieved and his flagging determination lo maintain a lockout having been stimulated, the purpose of the prosecution was secured and it was accordingly withdrawn.
The propounding of such an outrageous theory shows an unhealthy imagination such as I did not think the honorable member possessed, and a capacity for suspicion and distrust of his fellows which I am sure few men would envy.
– It is not imagination ; it is fact.
– Any fair-minded man who does not allow himself to be carried away by mere political catch-cries, aud who takes the trouble to look the facts full in the. face, can come to one conclusion only, and that is that the action of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General in withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown was most chivalrous and courageous - taken, as it was, with a full appreciation of its inevitable aftermath of misconstruction and misrepresentation, with spartan-like disregard for party political interests, and simply and solely in the interests of the unemployed miners whose representatives appealed for a conference, which the Prime Minister desired to help them to secure, and which could be secured only by the adoption of this course. It must be obvious to the dullest mind that from the mere stand-point of party political advantage, the Government had everything to gain by the prosecution of Mr. John Brown, and indeed, if that were possible, by pursuing and persecuting him with the utmost relentlessness, and everything to lose, politically, by the withdrawal of the prosecution. “When the Prime Minister went to Sydney to attend the Royal Show luncheon there could have been nothing further from his mind than the withdrawal of that prosecution. Then the representatives of the miners appeared upon the scene, accompanied by an . accountant with a new scheme as a basis of settlement of the trouble. They wanted a conference, and their hopes and enthusiasm ran so high that a resumption of work on the following Tuesday was seriously entertained. “Would the Prime Minister use his influence to bring about that conference, and possibly put an end to a dispute which had already lasted for weeks and which if continued could only bring misery in its train ?
The. Prime Minister had no power to call a compulsory conference - mark that ! He could not make the employers attend ;. he could only request them to do so. The request was made and the obstacle of the impending prosecution was encountered. Until that obstacle was removed, the conference, on which the men’s represents- tives centred high hopes, would not take place. One may ask - 1. Was it reasonable on the part of the mine-owners to insist upon the withdrawal of the John Brown prosecution before they would agree to the conference? 2. Were the mine-owners merely trying to take a mean advantage of the situation, the Prime Minister being obviously anxious to bring about the conference, yet having no power to compel them to take part in it? 3. Or had they some justification for imposing such a difficult condition? 4. Was there any real connexion between the proposed conference and the impending prosecution ?
A great deal of light is thrown upon the first three questions if we commence by answering the last; and the answer is that there was a very close connexion between the proposed conference and the John Brown prosecution.
Both dealt with the question of profits, and honorable members who heard the Attorney-General’s lucid speech last Thursday night will remember his explanation of the word “ unreasonable “ as applied to a “lockout.” If any employer closes his business and in so doing locks out his employees because he cannot carry on that business at a fair profit, such a “ lockout “ is not “ unreasonable “ and is not a punishable offence. For that reason, the success of the prosecution launched against John Brown depended upon the Crown being able to prove that he was making a reasonable profit. If the prosecution established that he was making a fair profit, the “ lockout “ was then unreasonable and a punishable offence. On the other hand, if inquiry disclosed that he could not make a fair profit under existing conditions, the “lockout” would be regarded as reasonable and the prosecution would fail. Now let me turn to the proposed conference and see what was to be the basis of discussion. The principal proposals of the men’s representatives were, put shortly -
The first point of those three is that which is germane to the subject under discussion. That was the scheme upon which the hopes of an early resumption were based, and honorable members will notice that such a scheme required the wholehearted co-operation of the mine-owners in the matter of assessing the cost of production. It is obvious that even if accountants were employed for that purpose, it would be exceedingly difficult if not impracticable, to ascertain exactly what the costs of production were without the co-operation of the mine-owners. One can appreciate the statement of the mineowners that they could not be expected to place the whole of their cards on the table, or to disclose their detailed working costs, unless they were assured that the facts would not be used against them possibly in connexion with an impending prosecution. In effect, they said, “If you are going to shoot us you must provide your own ammunition.” Reasonable persons must admit that the mineowners had some grounds for their demand that the prosecution should be withdrawn before they took part in the conference. Whether that demand was reasonable or justified is entirely beside the point. The Prime Minister was. faced with the difficulty of deciding whether the prosecution should be withdrawn or the conference abandoned.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the price of arranging a conference was the withdrawal of the prosecution ?
– Unless the prosecution was withdrawn the conference would not have been held.
– Obviously, both could not take place. The Prime Minister having convened the conference had to choose between two courses. In any case, if the prosecution had been successfully proceeded with, it would not have had the effect of the mines being re-opened, whereas if the conference had been successful that might possibly have been the result. What would the Deputy Leader of the Opposition have done in such circumstances? It is futile for honorable members opposite to say that they would have opened the mines and worked them under Government control, because the
Commonwealth does not possess the power to intervene in that way. It is useless for honorable members opposite to suggest that, had they been in power, they would have importuned the State Government to do this, because by the time the slow machinery of the law had become operative many months would have elapsed, and that would have been poor consolation for those whose enthusiasm once ran so high that they were hopeful of bringing about the resumption of work on the Tuesday following the date of the conference. That was the atmosphere which prevailed in Sydney on that particular occasion. There were two alternatives open to the Prime Minister. One was to abandon the conference, the other to abandon the men and their representatives who desired the conference. Again, I ask what course the Deputy Leader would have taken in similar circumstances. Would he have abandoned the prosecution or dashed the hopes of the men of an early resumption of work. Judging by the condemnation of the Prime Minister’s action for the bold action he took, honorable members opposite would have allowed the prosecution to be proceeded with and have turned a deaf ear to the men who believed that a conference was likely to bring about a resumption of work. Doubtless, they believe in safety first - politically. There are those who seriously pretend to hold up their hands in horror at the withdrawal of the prosecution as an interference with the law. To the layman it would appear axiomatic that as a prosecution may or may not be set in motion at the discretion of the Attorney-General it must alsobe within his discretion to withdraw a prosecution provided the circumstances justify such a course. I believe that in this case the circumstances more than justified the action which was taken. Supposing that the prosecution had been against the men’s representatives, and that there were some prospects of a conference being held to bring about a resumption of work and that the conference was dependent upon the withdrawal of the prosecution, honorable members opposite would have strongly supported a withdrawal. It is difficult to imagine the Deputy Leader of the Opposition as the leader of a government declining to act as the Prime Minister acted. If he had withdrawn the prosecution would his action have been regarded by honorable members opposite as interference with the law ? A good deal has been said as to whether the miners representatives did or did not agree to the withdrawal of the prosecution. It is clear that the miners representatives did not condemn the Prime Minister, and in this case I think we are safe in assuming that silence gave consent. They did not protest at the time.
– They did not have an opportunity.
– The honorable member for Hunter (Mr James) was present, and I am sure that he would have taken an opportunity of protesting had he so desired.
– I did not wish to be thrown out, which is what Mr. West was threatened with on a similar occasion!
– The desire of the Prime Minister and the men was that the mines would bere-opened as early as possible. Their minds were filled with the idea of an early resumption of work. That was the atmosphere in which the conference was held. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in opening his attack upon the Government used these words -
The course has been frequently taken of withdrawing prosecutions if by so doing industrial peace may be secured, and no exception taken to it.
I imagine that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has regretted using these words, as they are a complete reply to the question put by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) to which allusion was made by the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde). The Deputy Leader of the Opposition destroyed his own case by using the words which I have quoted, because they mean that if the conference had been successful and industrial peace on the coal-fields had been secured, no exception would have been taken to the withdrawal of the prosecution. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may complain of the lack of success of the conference, but not of the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) complained of an improper motive which he failed to prove.
– It was not the Prime Minister’s fault that the conference was not a success. He did everything that mortal man could possibly do to achieve that object. The condemnation of the Government by honorable members opposite is merely a political afterthought, and no right-thinking person will be deceived by such tactics as theirs. They appreciate the action of the Prime Minister in placing party political advantage last, and in choosing to risk condemnation and misrepresentation in doing what he believed to be in the best interests of the workers and the people of this country generally. I am proud to be associated with a government which can rise above mere party political advantage, and can “grasp the nettle” as this Government has done in the interests of the Australian people.
.-It must be most disconcerting to honorable members opposite to find that there are some in their own ranks severely criticizing the Government for its action in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. John Brown. I listened intently to the utterances of the Minister for Markets and Transport (Mr. Paterson) in his endeavour to justify the present lockout.
– I did not attempt to do so.
– The Minister also failed to justify the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution. Prior to my association with the Federal legislature I took part in debates on motions of want of confidence in a State legislature, and during many years’ political experience I have never heard representatives of a government submit such a poor case as that made in replying to the charges of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore). I have listened carefully to the speeches of honorable members opposite, including those who, although deprecating the action of the Government, are unwilling to vote, against it. They talk one way and intend to vote another way. The position is ridiculous, and makes the proceedings of Parliament an absolute farce. As members of the Commonwealth Parliament, we are charged with the serious duty of administering the affairs of this country, and I take it that an honorable member, when he speaks in this chamber, wishes to convey the impression that he is sincere. Yet what do we find ? We find some honorable members, although challenging and criticizing the Government for its action, saying to the members of the Cabinet, “ My dear friends, you have done wrong, but for goodness sake, do not do it again.” As a new member, I am keenly disappointed to learn that, in this chamber, there are honorable members who are willing to forget their duty to this country by voting against their convictions. The moving of this censure motion has, at least, focussed public attention upon the haphazard manner in which the Government is administering the laws of this country. The subject before the chamber is closely allied with that of arbitration, which is shortly to be debated, and I wish, in a few words, to expose the hypocrisy of the Government.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to the hypocrisy of the Government.
– Then let me say that I wish to expose the ineptitude, insincerity and unconscionable conduct of the Government. In the near future, we shall have an opportunity of discussing the various phases of arbitration, and its operation in this country. To-day the charge against the Government is that, in administering the industrial laws of this country, it has been guilty of a partisan act. It cannot be denied that that charge has been ably and completely proved. On the one hand the Government has rigidly enforced severe penalties upon industrial organizations, such as the waterside workers and timber workers unions, and also upon their leaders. On the other hand, an employer of labour, guilty of breaking the law of this country, has been allowed to go scot free. That inconsistency alone must cause the Government to lose the confidence of the people, and the sooner we get rid of the members of the present Cabinet, the better it will be for this country. Strange to say, this Government is not dispensing that evenhanded justice that we have heard so much about from time to time. It has been guilty of class discrimination, and has, therefore, forfeited the right to govern this country. The question may well be asked: Is constitutional government to remain? As a member of a State legislature, Ihave advocated the use of constitutional methods in both Commonwealth and State spheres; but it cannot be denied that the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown has, indeed, weakened and undermined the Federal Constitution, of which we, as Australians, are so justly proud. The Nationalist party prides itself upon its action. Let us examine some of the methods of that organization at the recent Federal election. On that occasion the Nationalist Federation, through the medium of its organizations in the various States, flooded the country with pamphlets containing statements to the effect that Labour candidates were anti-Australian, anti-British, and anti-constitutional.
– We are discussing not a general censure motion; but a specific charge against the Government.
– I am putting my case in my own way. The honorable member for Fawkner, in one breath, condemned the Government, and in the next breath said that he intended to vote for it.
– The honorable member does not say that I spoke one way and will vote in another.
– I do.
– I challenge the honorable member to prove that.
– The honorable member for Fawkner criticized the Government for its action, and at the end of his speech said, in effect, that it had indeed done a grievous wrong to the community; but that he would stick to his friends with the tenacity of an octopus.
– Does the honorable member consider that to be a fair representation of my speech?
– That is what I gathered from the speech of the honorable member. I shall watch carefully to see in which way he votes.
– I shall unhesitatingly vote against the motion. I said that in my speech.
– We now know where the honorable member stands. On the one hand he condemned the Government, and on the other he supports it.
– I shall vote against the motion of censure.
– The position is that the honorable member will stick to the Government, right or wrong. Never before, in the history of Australia, has a Government shown such vindictiveness in trying to crush the workers of this country.
– The workers have had plenty of opportunities to obey the law.
– I shall certainly watch to see in which way the honorable member votes.
– I shall vote against the motion.
– The present Government has shown time after time that it discriminates between the poor and the wealthy classes in the community. That, in itself, is a substantial ground for censure. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) made an extraordinary speech this afternoon. He led us to understand that he has a considerable interest in the coal industry. We are glad to know that he puts the great wealth at his command to such a good purpose. Unlike the Prime Minister, he knows John Brown personally and. was able to assure us that the coal baron keeps a bottle of good beer in his locker.
The honorable member went on to discuss the withdrawal of the prosecution of a man named Campbell, which was instituted in Great Britain by the Ramsay MacDonald Government. My reply to his observations on that point is that two wrongs do not make a right. We could have quoted with equal justification the extracts used by the honorable member, who, likecertain other eminent lawyers on his side of the chamber, was able to introduce a big “ but “ into his speech. He roundly condemned the Government for withdrawing the prosecution of John Brown, yet concluded his speech by saying he would voteagainst the motion. He told us that he was a plucky man. Seeing that all tight rope walkers are pluckywe must agree that the honorable member is plucky, for he walked a tight rope this afternoon.
– The degree of pluck depends a great deal upon the height of the tight rope from the ground.
– The honorable member for Wentworth reached great heights in condemning the Government, but he fell very low when he intimated that he intended to support it. One may well ask what right John Brown has to special consideration? So far as we can see, his wealth has won it for him. We have heard many times that money talks. It certainly seems to carry a big influence with the present Government.
We were assured when the Government introduced its drastic industrial legislative policy recently, that its object was to restore peace in industry. Honorable members on this side of the Chamber protested that that was not the way to introduce harmony into our industrial relations ; but was the way to increase the discord. Our argument has been amply proven. When the lockout occurred in the coal-mining industry the Government, after a certain amount of delay, made the dramatic announcement, through the Attorney-General, that proceedings would be taken against John Brown for a breach of the law. We cheered that announcement because we thought that the proper and just thing was to be done. That action was taken a few days before the adjournment of Parliament early this year. During recess it seems that a number of Cabinet meetings were held, and certain conversations conducted among different members of the Government, the result of which was an announcement, just as dramatic as the first, that the prosecution would be withdrawn. Many lame excuses have been given in the attempt to justify this action ; and even many supporters of the Government remained unconvinced. It has been said, for instance, that it was necessary to withdraw the prosecution because a conference was about to be held with the object of bringing the parties in the coal dispute together. Seeing that the con- :ference was held in April and the dispute still remains unsettled, the Government was unwise to use that excuse. Moreover. John Brown is still keeping his men locked out. Even supposing that the prosecution was withdrawn for the reason I have given, why were not fresh proceedings taken against this person when the peace negotiations failed, for he is still breaking the la.w? That, I submit. is a pertinent question. To-day 12,000 coal-miners are out of work through thi. lockout; the wives and families of many of them are starving, and between 30,000 and 40,000 people who reside in the coal areas and are dependent upon the industry, find themselves in a precarious position. For how long is this state of affairs to continue? Are people to remain on the verge of starvation while these wealthy persons break the law with impunity? It is appalling that such things can happen in a young country like Australia. The Government, through its “iceberg” Attorney-General, has rigidly enforced the law against trade unionists, but has allowed the law-breaking employers to go scot free. The AttorneyGeneral took the part of Samson, the strong man, against the workers, but he seems to be as weak as a kitten against the employers. He is willing to oppress the wage-earners, but lets the wealthy classes in the community do as. they like, irrespective of the law. We have heard speeches from eminent lawyers, who have said that the withdrawal of this prosecution was a grossly unfair act, and constituted a tampering with the machinery of justice. I listened with a great deal of interest to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who spoke with some of his oldtime force and fire. The right honorable gentleman has had a lengthy experience of industrial affairs, and I believe that in what he said he obeyed the dictates of his heart. He adduced sound arguments to support the assumption that in this case the Government had blundered seriously. I am very glad that we shall have a test vote on the motion. I trust that every honorable member will stand up to his obligations and register his vote. That vote will remain as a record for all time, and will clearly show which honorable members are in favour of, and which are opposed to, class distinction in administration. The present Government have had a very long tenure of office, but at last they have been found out in a misdeed. There is every indication that the Bruce-Page structure is crumbling, and that many Government supporters are leaving the sinking ship.
– We shall see about that.
– I advise the honorable member for Wilmot to act in a like manner. Let us speed the day when Australia will free itself from this tyrannical and insincere Government, and place in power one that will administer evenhanded justice to all sections of the community.
.- I listened with considerable interest the other afternoon to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). The invariable practice of that honorable member is to give us exhumations from Hansard, taking therefrom a number of dry bones, which he proceeds to rattle vigorously. Because of that habit, his constituency might well be re-named “Ex-Hume.” During the course of the speech to which I have referred, he indulged in some sarcasm at my expense. This habit of his would lead one to suppose that he was reared on vinegar instead of milk. When he quoted from one of my speeches he adopted the dangerous practice of taking sentences from their context, and quoting them only. Further, he quite overlooked the phrasing of the motion of want of confidence. I admit having said that I would prosecute, with the utmost rigour of the law, persons who were responsible for lockouts and strikes; but I point out that the House is not discussing a motion of want of confidence in me for having withdrawn a prosecution, and therefore anything I would or would not do has no bearing on the matter. If the honorable member for Hume will read the motion carefully he will find that the basis upon which it asks that the House should express a want of confidence in the Government is, not the withdrawal of a prosecution, but the reason for that withdrawal. It suggests that the Government administers the law in one way for the rich, and in another way for the poor ; in effect, that this prosecution was withdrawn because J ohn Brown is a rich man. I hope that that is now definitely fixed in the minds of honorable members opposite, because so far it appears to have evaded them.
When he answered the charge, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) gave a correct and very concise summary of the facts. I am one who believes in dealing with facts, not fancies. What are the facts? The Prime Minister went to Sydney. Upon his arrival there, he was met by Messrs. Rees, Davies, and Miller, representing the miners. They requested an interview, which was granted. They then informed him that they had a scheme which, if adopted, they confidently expected would lead to the early re-opening of the mines. The Prime Minister replied that, although he was not intimately acquainted with the mining industry, he was very anxious that the mines should be re-opened; and he promised that he would try to induce the mine-owners to agree to a conference. True to his word, as he always is, he proceeded to make arrangements for that conference. He was just as anxious as the miners that the mines should be re-opened and that the distress consequent upon their having been closed down should be alleviated. It must be remembered that he had no power to order a compulsory conference. That fact has not been disputed. Whel the mine-owners were approached they said they would not go to a conference while the prosecution against Mr. John Brown was pending. The Prime Minister has stated most definitely that his sole reason for having withdrawn the prosecution, after he had consulted the AttorneyGeneral, was to bring about a conference which both he and the miners thought would result in the adoption of their scheme and the re-opening of the mines. Some honorable members opposite have said that the Prime Minister should have known that nothing could come of such a conference. I remind them of his statement that he was not intimately connected with the industry but accepted the value placed on this scheme by the miners themselves. He thus showed that he respected their opinions and recognized that they possessed a good deal of knowledge on the subject. Honorable members opposite who suggest that he ought not to have withdrawn the prosecution, on the ground that he might have known that the conference would not result in the re-opening of the mines, reflect very seriously upon the intelligence of the miners’ representatives, who assured him that if the scheme was adopted it would prove successful. Do honorable members opposite infer that those gentlemen were speaking without knowledge when they gave that assurance
The Prime Minister took the only action which could lead to the holding of the conference.
I have already stated that the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) quoted only a portion of one of my speeches. Possibly he was present when I delivered my first speech in the Commonwealth Parliament. On that occasion I referred to certain remarks that had been made concerning, and extracts that had been taken from, a speech which had been delivered in the South Australian Parliament, and went on to say that one could prove anything by taking sentences from their context. I referred to the fact that in the Bible itself, one can find the phrase “ There is no God” - a rather startling statement, standing by itself. The explanation is to be found in the words which immediately precede it, which are “ The fool hath said in his heart, ‘ There is no God ‘ “. Therefore, when making partial quotations from a speech one must exercise the greatest care; otherwise ammunition may be provided for the man mis-quoted. For the edification of the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) I shall read other portions of the speech from which he made his quotations.
Honorable members interjecting-
– Order! I ask honorable members to cease interjecting. It is impossible to follow the honorable member for Angas (Mr- Parsons). Many of those who are interjecting have already been heard in silence, and he is entitled to similar treatment.
– The quotation I wish to read is this -
I do take strong exception to remarks -im pugning the honesty and integrity of my leader. If there is one man ‘in the Commonwealth who has given of his ‘best -and sacrificed Iiia time for the good of his country it is the Prime Minister. Whatever his political -view may be -it is neither 4air nor just tha’t ‘he should be charged w’ith insincerity or dishonesty, or :with being in league -with people who are not regarded as the “friends of -Australia. The Prime Minister <ga>ve abundant evidence of his sincerity and love .for the country o’f his birth -during the stress of war. He ‘fought and Bled for .Australia. Any one who reflects upon (his sincerity *is himself -.unworthy of respect.
Upon that I base the vote which I shall give at the conclusion of this debate. The real issue, to my mind, is whether the Prime Minister withdrew this prosecution in good faith, in all sincerity, and in the belief that he was acting in the best interests of the country. The Prime Minister has assured the House that he withdrew the prosecution because he believed that the conference between the miners and the mine-owners would result in an early resumption of work in the mines. He was assured by the miners themselves that their plan was a workable one. I believe in the absolute honesty and integrity of the Prime Minister, and I repudiate any suggestion that he was not in this matter actuated by the highest motives. I welcome this censure motion, because .it is directed personally against the Prime Minister, and affords me an opportunity of stating my belief in the Prime Minister’s honesty and good, faith. He has already given abundant proof of his love for Australia. I particularly draw the attention of certain honorable members opposite who have reflected upon him, to this fact. He has shown that he was prepared to work and fight for it in the dark days of the war, and is still animated by the same high ideals, and by a determination to work constantly for its advancement in these days of peace.
– It is not .my intention to give a silent vote on the issue now before the House. While I regret that the necessity to move a vote of censure at this stage has arisen, now that the motion is before us it is the duty of every member to express his honest opinion on the question at issue. The Prime Minister has explained the position, and from his point of view a fair explanation has been given. Other honor-able members have endeavoured to justify his action. I look at the matter, not from the ‘legal point of view as did the ‘honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), but from that of the man in ‘the street. How does it strike me? We have the spectacle of a prosecution ‘having ‘been launched after consultation wath the most eminent advisers whose ^assistance the ^Government could obtain. Those ^advisers informed the . Government that ‘.there were grounds foi’ a prosecution. It has always been our belief that once a prosecution was launched it should be allowed to go through to its conclusion. The honorable member for Fawkner has said that if he had been in the place of the AttorneyGeneral he would not have agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution. Such a withdrawal, he said, was a grave mistake, and one could not estimate the harm that might be done by it. “With that statement I agree. No one can tell where this may end, because it will have a bad influence throughout the whole country. In the past men connected with some industrial organizations have believed they were doing the right thing when they defied the law. They were actuated in their defiance by honest and sincere motives, believing that they were assisting to preserve a necessary standard of living. When an award was pronounced by a. judge of the Arbitration Court they regarded that award as unjust; they believed that the judge, in issuing such an award, was wronging them. They resisted the award, and for that they were prosecuted, tried and fined. That is the law. Now let us look at the other side. The law says that it is unlawful to strike: It also says that it is unlawful to institute a lockout. The Attorney-General said that it was very doubtful whether it would be possible to obtain a conviction against an employer on a charge of instituting a lockout; but there is no doubt about the possibility of obtaining a conviction for taking part in a strike. That has already been done. If there exists a doubt regarding the power to obtain convictions against those who institute lockouts, there is an end of all industrial law. We cannot expect the great mass of the people to respect or obey a law that is doubtful in its operation against one side to a dispute, but very certain in its operation against the other side. The AttorneyGeneral seems doubtful regarding the effectiveness of the law as it stands. The workers of the country cannot hope for justice if the law is defective, and the Attorney-General has indicated in what way it is defective. In the present instance, a prosecution was launched against one of the employers. The Prime Minister went to Sydney to attend a show.
He was interviewed by the miners representatives, and asked to use his endeavours to bring about a conference between the parties. He agreed to do so. When lie interviewed the employers, however, they put a pistol to his head, declaring that they would not take part in any conference until the prosecution against John Brown was withdrawn. I have no fault to find with the Prime Minister up to then, but at that point he weakened. If he had been a shrewd administrator, and a good business man, he would have said to the mine-owners, “I shall withdraw the prosecution provided the conference takes place, and the mines are opened.” Who could have objected to that? The mines would have been opened, and the men would have returned to work; but to withdraw the prosecution without making any stipulation regarding the success of the conference -
– Does the honorable member say that the object of the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution was to placate John Brown, or was it to facilitate the holding of a conference?
– If my honorable friend had been in the position of the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General would he have consented to the withdrawal of the prosecution without imposing any conditions?
– I do not think I would. . That is where I differ from the Prime Minister.
– I recognize that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) is shrewd enough, and keen enough intellectually, not to have made the mistake that the Prime Minister did. No doubt the Prime Minister, in the goodness of his . heart, believed that a settlement would be reached as a result of his action, but he should have stipulated that the prosecution would be withdrawn only after the men were back at work, and the dispute settled. In failing to do this he failed in the responsible position which he hold3. The honorable member for Fawkner, who is keen and logical enough in some of his arguments, said that he would condemn the Government, and politically execute those who had done wrong.
– I did not say that. I said that if the responsible members of the Government had been actuated by an improper motive, they would have been guilty of a crime, and I would have executed them.
– The honorable member for Fawkner asked what was the motive. Was it pure .and good? I remember reading a story once about a man who was charged with stealing. He was caught red-handed with the property in 1 1 is possession, and was charged before a magistrate with having stolen twelve bibles. The magistrate asked him why he hud done it. He replied that his motive was a good one, that he had stolen the bibles because ho wanted to start a Sunday school class. That, however, did not satisfy the magistrate, who convicted him. notwithstanding that his motive was pure; that he had acted in what he believed to be the best interests of the community, and with a desire to improve the minds of young people. I look upon the withdrawal of this prosecution as a very grave matter. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) touched on the essence of the thing when he referred to the burning of the effigy of a judge in Sydney, and the singing of songs to the effect that the singers would hang that judge on an old apple tree. He said that those who were doing such things were bringing the law into contempt.
– So they are.
– So they are, and who is setting them the example? If the Government sets a bad example by refrainhis: from prosecuting a wealthy offender against the law, what are the great mass of . people to think? They will certainly think that the law is no longer entitled to respect. By withdrawing this prosecution the Government has done more to weaken respect for constitutional authority in Australia than anything done by the wildest members of any industrial organization. The only effective way to remedy the harm already done is to turn this Government out of power for its failure to administer the laws of the country impartially, and to put in its place one which will see that justice is done. Suppose the Labour party had been in power when an industrial dispute occurred, and both employers and employees were charged with offences against the industrial law. If we had shown bias by convicting the employer, and letting off the employee, would not every member on that side of the House have condemned us? And they would have been justified in doing so. We might have pleaded that our motive was good, because we desired to see the men back at work, but that would not have justified us in the eyes of honorable members opposed to us. Every newspaper would have placarded the country with the charge that the Labour administration had shown extreme partisanship. That would have been the commonsense way of viewing its action. I feel sure that if the Government went to the country on this issue, one half of its supporters would not be returned, and I am equally confident that if honorable members vote on this motion in accordance with their convictions, we shall see the end of the Bruce-Page administration.
.- The debate has already been so protracted that there is very little new matter that one can introduce, but it relates to a subject upon .which very few honorable members would care to give a silent vote. This is not a trivial matter. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself (Mr. Bruce), admitted that the subject was of sufficient importance to involve the fate of the Government. Because it is one which should not be lightly considered, I certainly do not care to cast my vote without giving my reasons for it. If we throw our minds back to the debate which took place in this House last year on the amending Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, we will recall that a great deal of discussion took place concerning the imposition of heavy penalties for disobedience of awards of the court. Honorable members opposite repeatedly directed attention to what they called the vindictive character of the penalties. They declared also, that whilst those penalties would be enforced against the employees, the employers in industry would be allowed to escape. That was a charge which, I believe, every honorable member on this side of the House found it necessary to repel. If I remember rightly, over and oyer again during the debate on that bill, every supporter of the
Government sought to rid himself of responsibility in connexion with the charge, by affirming that the penalties would be enforced on each side with complete impartiality. It was Carlyle, I think, who said that “ The most potent force in the average man’s mind is a natural sense of justice “. We felt that our honour was involved in the accusations that partiality would be shown in administration. Accordingly we all resented the charge most strongly. In a debate prior to the last adjournment, the Government was twitted with not prosecuting Mr. Brown, and there was a feeling on this side of the Blouse that, in some measure, the assurances which we had given in the discussion on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, were being imperilled. There, was a growing feeling in the House that the Government should do something to justify itself and its supporters. I think I am right in saying that when the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) announced, in circumstances which all honorable members will recall, that a prosecution had been instituted against Mr. John Brown, the subdued expressions of approval which alone are permitted in this House, came with equal emphasis from honorable members on this side of the Hou3e and from honorable members opposite. There was an intense feeling of relief that our faith in the Government was justified, and that our pledges were to be honored. Consequently, we went away feeling that there was nothing to explain and nothing for which we need apologize. Therefore, I can assure honorable members that the shock which I received from the announcement of the withdrawal of the prosecution was very great indeed.’ I felt, and I think many other members on this side of the House felt also that, to use a colloquialism, we had been “ let down.” The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) in a skilful analysis of the position, used very warm expressions with regard to the action of the Government, which I think every honorable member must endorse. He examined two phases of the motion. In the first place, he considered whether the circumstances justified the Government’s action, and then he dealt with the question of motive. I need not follow the honorable member in what he said under the first heading. I entirely agree with him that a general survey of all the circumstances did not justify the withdrawal of the prosecution. J think the honorable member said that the circumstances did not give any justification for the action of the Government. He then went on to consider its motive. It seems to me that there has been a great deal too much said on this point.
– We have to consider the terms of the motion of censure.
– Up to the present, the argument has turned mainly upon whether or not the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral had honorable and right motives for their action. That aspect of the matter I am not going to discuss for a moment. It is an axiom in political life, and I think a wise one, that in all our discussions we are not justified in imputing personal motives. That is a right and common sense point of view, because the motive does not necessarily furnish a true criterion of the right or wrong of a political act.
– Can we discuss the terms of this motion in any other light?
– If the honorable member will listen to me as patiently as I did to him, he will find out. I repeat that the motive does not necessarily afford a true criterion of the right or wrong of a political act. Evil intention, I would like to believe, has never effected any good ; but I do believe that a great deal df evil has been caused with the most honest intentions in the world. I believe that many evil things and wrong things, particularly from political points of view, have been done without any wrong underlying motive. But that does not make them the less wrong. No one doubts for a moment that the great housing scheme in England was launched with the highest of motives, and yet that scheme has done an immense amount of harm to the country as a whole. It does not necessarily follow that, because a certain act has been done with a right intention, it is hot open to Censure. We are all familiar with the epigram attributed to Talleyrand that a certain act was “ worse than a crime - it was a blunder.” Of course, the observation has become merely an epigram, witty and cynical. As a matter of fact, it should not be credited to Talleyrand at all.
In its original form it was far more effective. The man who first used the expression was Fouché, who said of a certain act that “it was worse than a crime; it was a political fault” - a remark not nearly so attractive as Talleyrand’s epigram, hut more convincing, because a political fault in its effects upon the body politic may be worse than an isolated crime. History is full of instances in which well-meaning, honest men have done utterly foolish things which have caused immense harm.
– Everyone admits that ; but what has it to do with the motion of censure before the House?
– It would be serious, indeed, if, when considering matters of policy, we had always to wait until we had learned the motive underlying certain actions. Many who advocate socialism may do so from the highest motive. Indeed, some of the aspirations of the socialists make a strong sentimental appeal to every one of us so that even to-day, there are people who profess to believe in the principles of socialism, although on every hand its disastrous effects are manifest. The very words “He meant well,” imply condemnation.
– Is not the Government charged with dishonest discrimination?
– Whether intended or otherwise, if the effect of the Government’s action is to discriminate, then it has discriminated. A blunder may be made in good faith; nevertheless, it should carry with it political censure. We can judge this particular matter without attacking any person’s motives or questioning his honour. We all make blunders - and we all have to pay for them. The only folly is in resenting the presentation of the bill. The question I must ask myself in connexion with this motion is whether th,e withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. Brown was in accordance with the Nationalist policy - the policy which I am pledged to support; and, if not, is it a sufficiently serious matter to destroy confidence in the Government. If, as honorable members supporting the Government have said, the Nationalist party stands for justice even more than does the Labour party, then its members must be even more tender in conscience than others in matters of this kind. After all our protestations of our belief in justice, we have now to determine whether we are prepared to stultify ourselves when the promises of the Government have not been carried out. Is there any ground for. thinking that, in this matter, the Government has acted contrary to the principles which its supporters are pledged to support, or that it will not make similar mistakes in the future? The question I have to answer is whether, if ground for thinking so does exist, I ought to refuse, so far as lies in my power, to give it an opportunity to act similarly again. This is not the. first time that principle has been sacrificed by the Government. Last session, just at the time when it was declaring publicly that arbitration awards should be obeyed, the Government itself repudiated an arbitration award. Honorable members know that on that occasion I crossed the floor and voted against the Government, which was saved only by the Speaker’s casting vote. That, surely, was a serious enough lesson, which should have been a warning to the Government that it was following a wrong course, and that, in future, it should be careful to dispense justice with an even hand. But it did not care whether or not it avoided the appearance of evil, for once again it broke its promise. I feel very strongly upon this matter. I feel that I, personally, have to .answer for what has been done. That which the Prime Minister has done is not a thing which the leader of any party can lightly do, and then say to the members of his party, “ You must support me.”
– What does the honorable member insinuate?
– I insinuate nothing.
– The honorable member said that the Prime Minister, having done this thing, said “ You must support me.”
– I said nothing of the kind. I said, “ The thing which the Prime Minister has done is not one which the leader of any party can lightly do, and then say to the members of his party, You must support me’.” This is a matter concerning which every honorable member must exercise his own independent judgment. I want to judge it by considering not whether the action of the Government is opposed to the policy of the party opposite, but whether it is contrary to the principles of the party to which I belong. I do not say that there is anything dishonest about the action taken. I do not impute dishonest motives; but I do say that the whole transaction shows a lamentable lack of intelligence. To consent to give the Government an opportunity to do such things again - and both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General said that they would do this again if the occasion” arose - would be to act contrary to my sense of duty to my constituents, contrary, also, to the pledges I have given and to the policy on which I was elected to this House, and entirely opposed to all my ideas of honour and integrity. The points which I have mentioned, not whether the Prime Minister’s motives were right or wrong, will guide me in casting my vote on the motion before the House.
Sitting suspended from 6.1S to 8 p.m.
.- I am pleased that the present trend of the debate is in the direction of the real issue before the House. I propose to correct certain remarks made this afternoon by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons), who inferred that the representatives of the miners had asked for the conference that was held in Sydney, and also said that the prosecution of John Brown was rightly withdrawn so that a conference could be held. On many occasions the statement that the miners’ representatives had asked for a conference has been refuted. It was denied in the Australian press by the secretary of the miners’ organization, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) similarly repudiated the suggestion. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), in his opening remarks, said that on a vital issue, such as the present motion, he felt called upon to express his opinion. I hope that if, by any chance, the Government proceeds to “gag” honorable members in order to terminate the debate, he will recognize that other honorable members also desire to make their opinions known. If a motion to apply the closure is submitted, I trust that he will vote against it, in view of the opinion he and other honorable members have expressed. He said that he was to some extent criticizing the Government; but I point out that the Government was not perturbed by his remarks, because it knew full well how he intended to vote on the matter. Testimonials have been given concerning the Prime Minister’s administration. When honorable members opposite resort to such tactics as proclaiming the honesty and integrity of Ministers on such an important issue as a motion of want of confidence, they merely draw attention to the weakness of their case. I have had the privilege of occupying a seat in this House for seven years, and never have I heard a motion of want of confidence lodged with more justification than the Opposition has for its present action; nor have I ever heard one to which less effective reply was made. The evil effect of n partisan administration of the law has been stressed. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has declared that, as a result of the action of the Government in this case, thousands of Nationalist followers will no longer support it. The great mass of the people stands for equity and fair treatment to all sections, and will not tolerate conduct such as that to which the Opposition is now taking exception.
The Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution of John Brown gave me no surprise. To be quite candid, I was astonished when the prosecution was lodged ; but when and under what circumstances was it instituted? This Parliament was in session, and members of the Opposition, particularly those representing country districts in which coal-mines were located, were daily drawing attention to, and almost protesting against, the Government’s inactivity. I remember the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), in the early hours of the morning, on one occasion last session, making an impassioned appeal to the Government. On that occasion, a number of honorable members behind the Government were found supporting the Opposition in their protest, which was followed by a declaration by the Government that an information had been laid against John Brown. On that occasion, the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said -
No one with a spark of humanity in him could fail to heed the appeals of the honorable member for Hunter. I appeal to the Prime Minister to set his inquiry afoot. We in this chamber stand for the people of the nation, and not for a privileged few. If the coalowners have closed their mines merely to put their business on a better profit-earning basis, they are doing an injustice to the nation, for coal is an essential daily commodity. This is not a chamber to be moved by sentiment. We must weigh the facts and hold the scales of justice evenly. I hope that the Prime Minister will take action to have the matter cleared up.
The honorable member emphatically declared that the law should not be administered in the interests of a privileged few. He also said that, if the closing of the mines was merely for the purpose of placing them on a better profit-earning basis, action should be taken against the owners. The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General said in this House, prior to the institution of the prosecution, that there was a prima facie case against John Brown, according to the Government’s legal advice obtained prior to the launching of the prosecution. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) declared that the scales of justice should be held evenly ; but it has been shown on many occasions that this Government does not” mete out even-handed justice.
The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Parsons) tried to excuse himself in his reply this afternoon to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney). It was a most ineffective reply, and the honorable member for Hume could not be blamed for having quoted the honorable member’s remarks. The words quoted were clear and definite, and his other remarks did not affect the issue. The honorable member for Angas said -
If it is proved that there is a lockout in the industry, the Government should prosecute the offenders with the utmost rigour of the law. If it does, it will have my full support. If, on the other hand, 4here is a strike at any time in any industry, and if the Government prosecutes the offenders with the utmost rigour of the law, again it will have my wholehearted support.
There is undoubtedly a lockout in the coal-mining industry to-day. I remind the House that the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General declared in this chamber that they were satisfied, on the best legal advice obtainable, that a lockouthad occurred, and that that was why the prosecution of John Brown had been lodged. In my opinion, that is an answer to the honorable member for Angas. In his speech he did not give any reasons why those responsible for the lockout should not be prosecuted. He was clear and definite in his assertion that they should be prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Owing to the protests made by the Opposition, and the speeches of honorable members opposite who took the same view of this matter, this Government that is clinging to office by a slender majority, not knowing from day to day where the members of its party stand, was forced to prosecute John Brown. I ask honorable members opposite, who supported the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) in his appeal, whether they are now prepared to sink their opinions and forever be regarded as loyal party followers, or whether they hope to mislead the people by saying that they adopted an independent attitude on this issue. If they vote against the present motion, they cannot honestly -claim to have shown independence. They may vote loyally with their party if they like ; but, if they do so, those who have listened to their platform appeals from time to time, in seeking the suffrages of the electors, will know definitely that they are tied to their party, that their policy is framed for them, and that they cannot on any occasion, such as the vote on this motion, express an independent opinion. If they vote against the motion they will be retracting from the views formerly expressed by them, and doing the bidding of the Prime Minister, who acted in this matter without his party’s sanction. Those honorable members opposite who spoke in the same manner as the honorable members for Wannon and- Angas will have to answer for the vote they record on this motion.
What happened after the close of last session? I say that, when the Government was free from the criticism of the Opposition, the financial magnates who control the destinies of the Nationalist Federation spoke. Something had to be done, as was suggested last week by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), and somebody declared that the prosecution must not go on. Since the Parliament was in recess, and all danger of criticism by the Opposition and defeat on the floor of the House had passed, the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General withdrew the prosecution. I have never believed that the supporters of the Government are free from the influence and pressure of outside bodies. I have read enough to convince me that the money magnates who supply the political funds of the ministerial parties dictate the policy of the Government. In support of that opinion I propose to quote statements that have appeared from time to time in the leading articles published in the conservative press. The Melbourne Age said on the 26th October, 1922-
The inner circle of the masters of finance had met to prepare the way for raising funds for the conduct of the “Nationalist” party’s federal campaign. It was a secret gathering, to which only the very elite of the wealthy section of the community were admitted.
Mr. Bruce was the lion of the gathering. His connexion with Flinders-lane is sufficient to guarantee him a cordial welcome to all such conventions. Mr. Bruce impressed on the meeting that they had everything to gain by clinging to the “Nationalist” party. . .
The National Union is an irresponsible and secret junta which collects and administers the funds used by the “Nationalist” party in fighting campaigns. It consists wholly of representatives of the wealthy interests. It is the head and front of money power. It receives almost fabulous cheques from shipping, pastoral, commercial, importing, mining and financial concerns, and in dark secrecy it allocates the money to various branches of the “Nationalist” party.
A secret body of rich men who, in defiance of the spirit if not the letter of the electoral law, put into power accommodating politicians who are bound to their service.
Does not that fit the present occasion? I admit that the policy of the Parliamentary Labour party is framed at conferences representative of organized labour. The policy of the Government, on the other hand, is dictated by the financial powers of the community. The Melbourne Herald has given its testimony on that point -
That powerful National organizations which provide funds for the party commanded the situation and made their strength brutally clear to the Prime Minister. In fact, they shaped the policy. “No concessions, no cash for the elections,” they said. Cash carried the day!
Cash has again won the day. The Government is powerless to formulate its own policy; it must do as it is told by the National Federation and the National Union. On another occasion the Age said -
Secret organizations like the National Union exercise a most pernicious influence in public life, and the community will be richer when the power of the Government is taken from their hands, and passed over to men whose principles and actions are dictated solely by considerations of the public interest.
And so say all of us; it is indeed time that the destinies of Australia were directed by a party that is not controlled by the money interests. Mr. T. R. Ashworth, ex-president of the Victorian Employers Federation, said in Melbourne in 1922-
The control by the National Union of the political machine organizations has given the irresponsible and unrepresentative National Union the control also of the “ Nationalist “ members of Parliament. That irresponsible and secret junta, composed of individuals whose very names are unknown to the public, has’ thus become the dominating force in federal politics.
In February, 1925, the Brisbane Courier published this damning statement -
A small coterie of men who, as an association, represent interests that are the remnants of reaction, and the hard core of special privilege. … A self-appointed oligarchy that dare not tell the people for whom it stands, for what it stands, or what interest it seeks to conserve. . . . An unknown dictatorial oligarchy.
On the 14th May, 1925, the same journal said -
Democracy is a futility, a howling farce in fact, if the electors are to be subservient to a coterie of representatives of the moneyed interests such as the National Union is.
Many more statements in a similar strain have been published, not in the Labour press, but in journals that usually support the Government. These allegations have never been contradicted. Apparently they were true when they were made, and I believe that they are equally applicable to . the conditions of to-day. The political organizations that support the Government and finance the election campaigns of the Nationalist and Country parties are still receiving fabulous cheques from secret juntas; the Government is still subservient to the money power. There is little occasion for wonderment, therefore, that it was not prepared to proceed with the prosecution of a political friend who is included amongst those who supply the fighting funds of the National Federation. Need we be surprised that the Geelong Woollen Mills were virtually given away because they detrimentally affected the profits of private enterprise, that the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers was sacrificed, and that privileged persons have been allowed to evade payment of income tax and other forms of taxation? Cash rules the day! In this fact we see the explanation of the changed attitude of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) after he - had castigated the Government by means of a letter published in the Melbourne press.
– What is the honorable member suggesting about me?
– I suggest that the Prime Minister withdrew the prosecution of John Brown without the approval of the honorable member.
– He did.
– Later, in the partyroom, he explained to his supporters the reason for his action and warned them that if they voted against him in the House they would be forced to go to the country and many of them would become election casualties.
– No such threat was used by the Prime Minister.
– I believe that the Prime Minister was the lion at the Party meetings as he is said to have been at the meetings of the National Federation, and that he put the rule over his supporters, forcing them to defend his actions in the House, regardless of their convictions. It is no secret that the action he took in withdrawing the prosecution of John Brown has caused a cleavage in the Ministry.
– I deny it.
– There is no truth in that statement.
– The newspapers have been filled with statements to that effect, and always where there is smoke there is fire. One does not expect the honorable members who support the Government to declare in the House that the Prime
Minister did wrong and to vote against him. One does not expect them to admit the facts I have stated regarding the control of the Government by outside organizations.
– The statements are not true.
– They have never been authoritatively refuted. One may assume that if the statements were incorrect the newspapers which published them would have been sued for libel, but no such action was taken. Having withdrawn the proceedings against John Brown the Government, like any other wrong-doer, had to plead either justification or extenuating circumstances. During this debate the Government has been defended by two of the most eminent advocates in Australia - men who have made their mark as special pleaders in the courts. The fact that their defence of the Government was no credit to them was due not to lack , of ability on their part, but to the poorness of the case they were required to handle. They had to rely on the worthiness of the Government’s motive. The vote that will be recorded on this motion will not truly reflect the opinions of honorable members. Those who support the Government will not be permitted to vote as their conscience directs. But sooner or later the electors of Australia will constitute themselves a grand jury to try this matter and when the facts are judged by that tribunal, many of those who now support the Government will be consigned to political oblivion.
The coal mines were being operated under award conditions. The owners declared that they could not continue to operate the mines at a profit under those conditions, and, after a brief notice, closed them. The Attorney-General and his officers considered the circumstances at length and eventually issued a summons against John Brown for having caused a lockout. We have been told during this debate that before a prosecution for a lockout could succeed, the court must be convinced that the mines were being or could be operated at a profit. The advice of the most eminent counsel in Australia was that the Government had a case against Mr. John Brown. If the prosecution had been proceeded with the court would have found that the mines were showing a profit, that Mr. John Brown was responsible for causing a lockout, and the farce of a commission sitting for month after month would have been dispensed with. It has been said that the Prime Minister directed the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. Brown to enable the conference to proceed; but it would be interesting to know who said that the conference could not continue its deliberations whilst a prosecution was pending against one of the mine-owners. It is evident that the mine-owners said that they would not be a party to the conference if ‘the prosecution was not withdrawn. If the workers had been on strike and said that they would not meet the employers in conference until a prosecution against them was. withdrawn, the Government would not have acted as it has in this instance. When a strike has been in progress it has always been the practice of Arbitration Judges or employers to insist that the men must return to work before their case can be considered or a conference between employers and employees can be held. On the 15th May, 1928, vide Hansard, page 4820, I asked the Prime Minister the following question in connexion with the strike of marine cooks : -
I should like to know if the Prime Minister has read a statement in the Sydney Morning Herald to-day concerning the dispute between the Marine Cooks’ Union and the Huddart Parker line of steamers. The owners are now tying up their boats. The statement referred to is as follows : -
An offer aiming at a settlement . was received in Melbourne yesterday morning from the Federal Secretary of the Marine Cooks’ Union (Mr. Tudehope), who forwarded the following telegram from Sydney : - “ Our members to resume under suspended award; question of roster to be subject of conference if required after resumption. Above terms, if agreed to, will be subject to ratification at our meeting to-morrow morning. In view of these negotiations, again request extension of time until Wednesday.”
In view of the request of the cooks, which might bring about a settlement, will the right honorable gentleman use his influence with the owners of the steamers or make overtures to them, to induce them to suspend action in regard to the tying up of their boats, so that they may meet in conference with the cooks, and a possible large industrial upheaval may bc prevented?
To that the Prime Minister replied : -
Much of the trade of Australia has been held up for some weeks past owing to this unfortunate dispute between the cooks and the owners of one of the lines of steamers trading on our coast. The union concerned is acting in contempt of the Arbitration Court, a body constituted under statute of this Parliament, and has had its award cancelled. To my mind, its proper course now is to place itself completely under the jurisdiction of the court, and unless it does so I shall not feel disposed to take any action in regard to the matter at this stage.
Although Mr. Tudehope, the secretary of the union, was trying to settle that trouble and communicating with the owners by telegraph in an endeavour to bring about a conference, the Prime Minister said that the men had first to return to work before the holding of a conference would be considered. But the mine-owners responsible for the lockout in this case imposed the condition that the charge against Mr. John Brown should be withdrawn before they would be parties to a conference, and the accommodating Prime Minister fell in with their wishes. We protest against the treatment meted out to the employers, which differs in a most marked degree from that shown to the employees. Notwithstanding the partiality shown in this instance there has been no tangible result from the conference. Proceedings have not been reinstituted, and day after day the mine-owners are flagrantly breaking the law. It has been stated in the press - and it was also mentioned by the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden) in this House, and by Senator R. C. Elliott, in Melbourne - that there had been a good deal of unnecessary confusion in the minds of certain persons concerning the action of the Federal Government in withdrawing the prosecution, as the union or its representatives could lodge a prosecution against Mr. Brown. These gentlemen know that the miners’ union is to-day expending its funds in feeding 12,000 or more of its starving people, and that its finances are so depleted that the cost of bringing a case before the court and defending an appeal would be more than the organization could stand. Was it left to the ship-owners to prosecute the Waterside Workers Federation? No! This accommodating Government prosecutedthe men. It was not left to private individuals or organizations to do so, as the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden) and SenatorR. C. Elliott suggested should be done in this instance. Frequent reference has been made to the motive which actuated the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution, and it was to the motive which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) tenaciously clung to salve his conscience and to justify the vote which he will record on the motion. If the motive justified the action of the Prime Minister, many murders and other such crimes could also be justified. What was the motive actuating Mr. Holloway when he was prosecuted and persecuted by this Government? He made an honest attempt to help the people whom he represented, and all his efforts were with the object of effecting a settlement. It is interesting to compare the action of the Government in the coal-owners case with its activities in connexion with the waterside workers. The waterside workers went on strike because they believed that the Beeby award was a blow at their industrial organization, and that it would have the effect of depriving them of wages and conditions which they had fought for years to secure. I am not attempting to justify that strike, but in that instance the Government did not wait for months, but, within a week after the cessation of work, the Prime Minister introduced into this House a Transport Workers Bill, which I regard as the most pernicious piece of legislation that has ever been placed on the statute-book.
– The honorable member is not in order in reflecting upon legislation passed by this Parliament. I ask him to withdraw that remark.
– I withdraw it. Shortly after the Beeby award was made the waterside workers went on strike, and the Government at once introduced into this Parliament a Transport Workers Bill which later became law. That legislation was undoubtedly intended to intimidate the waterside workers, to prolong the dispute, to break up the organization, and also to provide this Government with a slogan on which to contest a general election.
Whilst the Government was acting in this way, responsible leaders of the Labour movement in Australia were doing their utmost to settle the strike. They were appealing to the men to return to work.
– And their appeals were ignored.
– They were not. Undeterred, the leaders of the Labour movement were endeavouring to get the waterside workers to reverse their decision. Representatives of the Waterside Workers Federation communicated with its branches throughout Australia directing the men to return to work. In this case the prosecution against the employers has been withdrawn, but in the waterside workers case the members of the executive of the waterside workers organization, who sent telegrams to branches throughout Australia, requesting the men to return to work, were prosecuted and persecuted. The motive of the Prime Minister has been accepted as a satisfactory explanation of his action in this instance, but in the case of the executive of the waterside workers, the motive has been ignored. In this dispute a settlement has not been reached, but in the other instance an absolute settlement was assured. The Government acted in that way merely to provide it with an election slogan which, unfortunately for the party on this side of the House, they used successfully in 1925, and again in 1928. Long before the waterside workers dispute commenced, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) definitely asserted that whilst they put up a joke on the people prior to the 1925 election, they had a better one for the 1928 election. Their wishes were realized, an award was made, a strike occurred, men were unfairly prosecuted, and the Government was returned on its slogan of maintenance of law and order. It is giving effect to its slogan in a most biased manner. Justice is not available to all; one section of the community is being prosecuted, whilst another section is allowed to do just as it pleases. Australia is confronted with many difficulties. The majority of honorable members and the people of Australia generally are desirous of bringing about industrial peace, but that is not possible when the workers, even after they have settled their disputes, are prosecuted and a large coalowner who, in defiance of the law, continues to keep his mines closed, is allowed to go scot free. The Prime Minister can always be found on the side of the employer. The parrot-cry of the Nationalists is that wages must come down, that the cost of production is too high. That cry is avidly seized upon by conservative minds to further their own interests. The Prime Minister supports the attitude of the large employers. He has obeyed the bidding of John Brown and other coalowners that wages must come down even though the cost of living is increasing. There is never any suggestion to decrease interest rates and other impositions that bolster up the cost of living. At one time a Premier of the South Australian. Parliament, Sir Henry Barwell, afterwards Senator Barwell, said that wages must come down.
– The honorable member is going beyond the bounds of the debate.
-I intend to connect my remarks with the subject under discussion. Sir Henry Barwell, when Premier of South Australia, said that wages must come down, and that if the workers would not agree to that he would do his best to force that condition upon them. A similar attitude has been adopted by the Prime Minister. He is to-day assisting John Brown to reduce the wages on the coal-fields. My electorate, although not a coal-mining district, has subsidiary industries which have been detrimentally affected by the action of the coal-owners. There are in my electorate many idle men who should rightly be working on the ironfields of Whyalla and Iron Knob. Indeed, more work would be available in South Australia and in Australia generally but for the action of the coal-owners in closing the mines. So far as I can learn, wages on the coal-fields have, since 1910, increased by only 55½ per cent. I ask honorable members to compare the wages paid in that industry with those paid in rather industries and also the increases in wages since 1910. In one industry, with which I was closely connected, the daily wage in 1910 was 8s. 3d., and to-day it is 14s.11d., representing nearly 100 per cent. increase. The coal-miners have received an increase in wages of only 55½ per cent., while prices of commodities have increased during that period by 110 per cent.
– I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the motion before the House.
– It has been said, on many occasions, that the coal-miners are on strike. That is the parrot-cry of the supporters of the Government. On every platform they have clung to the cry of strikes and the need to maintain law and order. There is no doubt that there is a lockout in the coal industry. The press of Australia is specially featuring the timber strike, and also the operations of the “ basher “ gang, whose actions are certainly not justified. I maintain that the Government by withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown is assisting the coal-owners, whose conduct is as much to be condemned as that of the “ basher “ gang, since they are starving thousands of people throughout Australia. The Government is an accessory to the fact. This matter is most serious. We talk about industrial peace and the need for conciliation. There can be no conciliation when one section of the community is prosecuted for breaking the law, and another section allowed to go scot free. How can there be harmony between employerand employee when the workers know that they are not receiving just treatment? How can we expect any law to be observed when Cabinet Ministers assist the wealthy coal-owners to break the law? The Government has pleaded guilty to the charge that has been levelled against it, relying upon the support of its members on the question of circumstances to keep it in office. But the circumstances of a particular case have not previously been taken into consideration. The Government has been guilty of partisan administration of the law, and for that reason the censure motion is justified. No government that assists in breaking the law has the right to occupy the treasury bench in this Parliament.
.- As a rule I give the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) credit for keeping to the subject under debate; but to-night you, Mr. Speaker, have had frequently to call him to order and to warn him to keep within the bounds of the motion. I shall reply briefly to his ancient arguments. He, like many other honorable members opposite, has experienced considerable difficulty in finding arguments to support the motion before the House. He maintained that the moneyed magnates of Australia dictated the policy of the Nationalist party, and that their dictum had to be accepted, otherwise the Government would be forced out of office. I have heard similar statements by the Opposition ever since I have been associated with politics. I have heard them at every election year in and year out. When the Labour party has no substantial case to put to the country in support of a motion it has before the House, it reverts to its old tactics. Upon every occasion it brings out arguments which not only are lacking in force, but also are hoary with age, and are almost deserving of an oldage pension. Those arguments have been put before the people of Australia at every election since 1917, when the last Labour government went out of office. I hope that we have now heard the last of them.
– The honorable member is an optimist.
– I realize the unfortunate position of honorable members opposite, and that they have been forced to fall back upon their old contentions.
– Apparently they have nothing else with which to support their case.
– That is evident. The honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) made lengthy reference to the Transport Workers Act. He described it as pernicious legislation.
– I would remind the honorable member for Moreton that that reference was withdrawn by the honorable member for Grey, and therefore cannot now be discussed.
– Never before on the water-front of Australia have we had the peace in industry that exists there to-day. Never before have so many men been employed, and never before has there been better work done. Never before have the workers on the waterfront enjoyed such happy conditions. I am privileged to represent many of these people. I have discussed this question with them; and they have informed me most emphatically that they are satisfied with their improved conditions. They are freed from the troubles to which they were so long subjected. If, in the coalmining industry of Australia, there existed the peace and harmony now prevailing in the waterside industry, we should not now be discussing this subject. I have the deepest sympathy with coalminers and their wives and children. I have some knowledge of the extent of their sufferings, because I am privileged to represent about 70 per cent. of those engaged in the coal industry of Queensland. Although in that State the miners are working full time, I know, and I have known for many years, the difficulties of the industry hitherto.
– Does the honorable member know that the coal-fields of Queensland are not as rich as the coalmines of John Brown?
– I know the conditions of the coal industry in Queensland, and I do not need the advice of the honorable member.
– The mines of Queensland are still working and wages are being paid.
– I know that the mines are workingin Queensland and have just said so. I know many of the difficulties of the industry in New South Wales. I have said before that there are faults on both sides, and until a spirit of goodwill and harmony prevails in the coal-mining industry, the present trouble will continue.
I come now to the motion before the House. Throughout the discussion the. opposition has endeavoured to draw a red herring across the trail. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr Maxwell) has suggested to me that apparently honorable members opposite have forgotten the substance of the motion and that I should remind them of it. The motion reads -
That, by its withdrawal of the lockout 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.
If that were the case I should agree with the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) that the people would have lost confidence in the Government, but I feel certain, after what has been said by the Prime Minister, and the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), and many other speakers on this side of the House, that there is no doubt throughout the country as to what prompted the Prime Minister to withdraw the prosecution against John Brown. Let me briefly review the circumstances. The dispute in the coal-mining industry has been in existence for the greater part of this year, and numerous conferences have been held to try to bring about a settlement. The greatest difficulty was experienced in getting even the first conference to assemble; but after strenuous and sustained efforts on the part of the Prime Minister and his Government, a Thoroughly representative gathering of all sections of the industry was held in Canberra. Unfortunately, it made little progress towards a settlement of the dispute. It was agreed, however, that a royal commission should be appointed to investigate the whole subject. But more, difficulty was experienced in settling the terms of reference to the commission. Both parties were at variance as to what matters should be brought within the scope of the inquiry. All the pressure that could be brought to bear on the parties to the dispute was exercised to try to get them to negotiate a settlement. Many conferences have been held, but all have been fruitless. It was not possible to get either party to make concessions or adjustments in the interests of the general community.
When it appeared that a deadlock had been reached, the miners came forward with a fresh proposal which was drafted after consultation with the accountant of the unions, Mr. Miller. The Prime Minister has related to honorable members the circumstances which lead to the investigation of that proposal. He has told us that on his arrival in Sydney for the annual show at Easter, he was telephoned by Messrs. Davies and Rees, the executive officers of the union, who asked him whether he would meet them and discuss their new proposal, for they believed that it would bring about peace in the industry.
The Prime Minister at once agreed to meet them, and after discussing the proposal exhaustively with them, he. came to the conclusion that there was possibly some merit in it. He said, however, that he was not thoroughly informed on the details of the coal-mining industry, and that the proper thing to do was to try to arrange a conference between the miners’ representatives and the representatives of the colliery owners so that the proposal could be discussed, and, he hoped, adopted, if practicable. The miners’ proposal was’ based on the profits of the mines. The mine-owners pointed out that the fullest and frankest discussion would not take place on the question of costs and profits while a prosecution was pending against one of their number, as the details disclosed at the conference could be used against any of them in a prosecution for a lockout. After further minor difficulties had ‘been overcome, the conference was held. It was addressed by the Prime Minister and also by Mr. Bavin, the Premier of New South Wales. It was pointed out, however, that seeing that the prosecution which had been launched against Mr. John Brown involved questions affecting the earnings of the collieries, it was hardly fair that the coalowners should be called upon at a conference to reveal the details of their business, and so perhaps provide evidence which could be used against Mr. John Brown at the hearing of the charge against him. The whole basis of the charge against Mr. Brown was the degree of profit, or otherwise, which his mine was yielding at the time it was closed down. That was obvious to the Prime Minister, who, in addressing the conference, made these remarks: -
I felt it an obligation that I should come here with the Premier and at least stress to the delegates how important are the questions they are facing. 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 get 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 sec 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 results 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 miners 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 otherwise would he 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 better results will como from full and frank discussion than any benefit that will be derived from the possibility of success in a prosecution for the mere recovery nf a monetary penalty.
As far as I am concerned, I now commend this problem to you. I trust that you will find a solution of the present difficulty; in fact. I am certain you will if both sides will approach it in a spirit of determination to arrive at an answer, and will keep out of the discussion the wider question of the solution of all the great problems which confront you, and also any consideration of what has brought about the present position, or any recrimination as to who is responsible as to things which have led to the present difficult situation.
I trust, gentlemen, that the result of your deliberations will be to solve this problem which is of such importance to all of you as well as to those you represent, and which is also of such paramount importance to the people of Australia.
– After the Prime Minister concluded his speech, he called upon Mr. Bavin.
– That is so.
– The miners’ representatives were not given a chance. The honorable member should read more of the report.
– At the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s speech Mr. Bavin addressed the conference. I may add that the conference was attended by the following representatives of the miners : - Messrs. D. Rees, 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 Enginedrivers Association ; H. C. Morton, Secretary, Colliery Mechanics Association and E. S. Miller, accountant of the unions. These representatives of the men were in attendance when Mr. Bruce made the speech from which I have quoted. It was obvious that every one present was anxious that the dispute should be settled. That the miners’ representatives were anxious was shown definitely by their having introduced the proposal which caused the conference to be called. They believed that their scheme would set the wheels of industry in motion again. At the preliminary conference with the Prime Minister there was a definite discussion on the possibility of resuming work on the following Tuesday. At the conclusion of Mr. Bruce’s speech, Mr. Bavin addressed the conference, and Mr. Rees and Mr. McDonald also spoke briefly. At this point, Sir Wallace Bruce took the chair. It was then decided to suspend the sitting from 3.30 o’clock to 4 o’clock, in order that the different representatives could discuss the mode of procedure to be followed subsequently. Up to that stage no protest had been made by the miners’ representatives against the withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. When the conference re-assembled at 4 p.m. it was decided to adjourn until 11 o’clock the next morning. At this second short sitting no protest was made against - the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– I rise to a point of order. A great deal of capital has been made by the honorable member who is now addressing the Chair, and also by previous speakers, out of the fact that the Prime Minister was present at the conference when the miners’ proposals were discussed.
– What is the honorable member’s point of order?
– The point is that these statements do not convey the whole of the facts as to what happened at the conference.
– The honorable member has not raised a point of order; but has referred to a point that is at issue in the debate. He has already addressed the Chair on the subject, and the honorable member for Moreton (Mr.
– The statements that I have made so far are based upon the official report of the proceedings. The conference to which I am referring was held in the Sydney Town Hall from the 8th to 10th, and from 16th to 18th of April - six days in all. As I have said, up to the point of adjournment on the first day, no protest had been made, nor any word of criticism offered at the action of the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. Every one was concentrating on finding an avenue for the settlement of the dispute and removing every possible obstacle to the attainment of this end. When the conference re-assembled on Tuesday, the 9th April, the chairman of the Northern Collieries Association, Mr. C. M. McDonald, made a lengthy speech, which was followed by a lengthy speech by Mr. D. Rees, the general president of the Miners Federation. This gentleman did not make any protest against the withdrawal of the prosecution. The whole attention of the delegates of the conference - and this is to be said to their credit - was focussed upon ways and means of bringing about a settlement of the dispute.
– The honorable member has now given the correct reason why no objection was taken at the conference to the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– Even the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) admits that the whole attention of the conference was focussed upon the problem of how to settle the dispute. It was felt at that time that it was a matter of paramount importance to get the wheels of industry moving, and the withdrawal of the prosecution was tacitly, if not actually, agreed to by the miners’ representatives. It was only after the industrial leaders came into contact with the political leaders of the Labour movement that these base allegations were made against the Prime Minister. It was not until some days after the conference that any point was made by the political Labour leaders of the withdrawal of the prosecution; but since then repeated efforts have been made to throw suspicion upon the motives of the Prime Minister in acting as he did.
With this end in view, it has been further suggested that the Prime Minister acted without consultation with or reference of the matter to the AttorneyGeneral; but both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have been able to show that this is not so. They have assured us that a lengthy telephone conversation took place on the subject of the withdrawal of the prosecution, in the course of which a discussion occurred on the possibility of the Labour party attacking the Government by means of a motion of censure or otherwise if the prosecution were withdrawn. Both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were fully aware that if they allowed the prosecution to proceed they would not be subjected to a motion of noconfidence, such as we are now considering, but that if they did take that course there would be no possibility of the conference or hope of a settlement. It is perfectly obvious that they preferred to do the right, the big, and the creditable thing, the statesman-like action of withdrawing the prosecution rather .than to allow it to proceed, and so prevent the holding of a conference which might restore peace in the industry. They knew as well as we do of the distress that existed in Newcastle and on other coalfields. They realized that coal-mining was a key industry, and that the shortage of coal was causing considerable hardship, not only in New South Wales, but also in Victoria and to a lesser extent in South Australia. They knew that this could be overcome if a successful conference were held.
Unfortunately the Prime Minister’s well-meant efforts did not meet with the success that they deserved. The conference proved abortive. Had it been successful we should never have heard of this motion. Instead of being subjected to a motion of no-confidence I think that the Prime Minister and his Government should be applauded for having had the courage to do what they did and risk the consequences. I feel sure that when the red herrings that have been drawn across this trail are brushed aside and the true facts are made known to the people of Australia, they will agree that the Prime Minister did the right thing. The prosecution was withdrawn with the sole object of relieving the suffering and distress that existed in the northern coal-fields, and of setting the wheels of industry in motion again. It was realized that coal was essential to the full-time working of many industries, and particularly those responsible for the gas and electric light and power services.
This particular issue was raised in the last State elections in Queensland. Practically every time I addressed a meeting I had hurled at me the inquiry, “What about John Brown” ? An explanation on the lines I have given to-night was accepted by the people. Other speakers in other parts of Queensland made similar replies to this question. What was the result of the election ? No one knows better than the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) that the Labour Government in Queensland were routed. The Balaclava by-election, held recently, afforded a further opportunity to the critics of the Government in this matter to raise the question; yet the Government candidate, Colonel White, was returned with an overwhelming majority. [ unhesitatingly support the Prime Minister in the action which he took, and believe that he would again give a similar example of his courage if he were faced with a like position on a future occasion. Any person who knows the Prime Minister as we have learned to know him during many years, and as the country has learned to know him, would expect nothing different from him. I have no hesitation in opposing the motion.
Before I resume my seat I wish to correct a misapprehension under which the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) appears to labour. He has alleged repudiation by me of statements which I made during a debate on the coalmining industry, as reported in Hansard, page 496. With a view to correcting this impression I shall read an extract from that speech, and also one from a speech of his as reported at page 1696. I said -
The coal-mining industry is now paying the penalty for its departure from simple economic principles, on which all sound business depends. The present crisis is mainly due to inflated prices. Whatever increase in wages or improvement in conditions has been demanded has invariably been granted, and the cost passed on to the consumer. In’ some cases more than the increased costs have been passed on by the mine-owners. In an interview on this subject, some remarkable statements .were made by a prominent Newcastle mine manager. If his figures are correct, the coal-owners have been having the very happy experience of receiving increases in selling prices which have more than compensated them for increases in wages agreed to by the Coal Tribunal. He states: -
The sliding scale operated until 1910, when. Mr. Justice Edmunds, appointed by the Commonwealth Government, increased contract rates by 15 per cent., and day labour by 17i per cent. The price of coal, on the recommendation of His Honour, was increased by 3s. per ton. Although not definitely laid down, it seemed to be understood that it was to recoup owners for increased wages, and, as the country was at war, the assumption was a reasonable one. At any decently managed mine the increased cost of wages would be under ls. 6d. per ton. In 1919 wages were increased by another 15 per cent., and the selling price by 2s. 9d. for best quality coal in the northern district. The 15 per cent, on wages would not exceed ls. 9d. in the cost of production. In 1920 another increase of 17 i per cent, was awarded by the coal tribunal, and the selling price was increased by 4s. The added cost would not exceed 2s. per ton. Selling prices were, therefore, increased by 9s. 9d. per ton, as against a probable in- crease of 5s. 3d. in productive costs.
The gentleman who made that statement is the manager of one of the large southern companies. There must surely bc some explanation of the disparity between the increase in the wages and the selling price. The position needs to be cleared up if full co-operation between employers and employees is to be expected. It cannot be doubted that many people with industrial interests dependent upon coal are thinking very seriously about the present position. They are beginning to ask whether the present selling price is justified. If it is a fact that the price of coal has been increased out of proportion to the increase in wages, and if there is no explanation other than increased profits to account for it, public opinion will inevitably be ranged against the coal proprietors. It must not be forgotten that coal is a key commodity. If its price is unreasonably high, that will cause an unreasonable increase in production costs in other industries.
– On a point of order, I wish to know whether the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) is quoting from a debate of this session ; and, if he is, whether he is in order in doing so.
– The honorable member for Moreton is in order on two grounds, the first of which is that he is making a statement in the nature of a personal explanation. He has referred to a statement that was made earlier in the debate, and I understand that he wishes to correct it. I draw attention to the fact that several references to a previous debate in this session have been made by honorable members who sit on my left. There has been a long adjournment between the first and second portions of this session,, and the practice has been in such circumstances not to enforce strictly the Standing Order which disallows quotations from the reports of a current session’s debates. That Standing Order contemplates a normal session. Had it been enforced strictly during the period of the war and after, when a session lasted for three years, the Standing Order would have been reduced to an absurdity. The honorable member for Moreton is quite in order.
– I went on to sayIn 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.
At page 1696 the honorable member for Hunter is reported to have said -
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) has also substantiated my statements by declaring that the increase in the price of coal in Queensland was only about one-third as great as the increases in New South Wales, although a similar rate of wage has been paid.
To this I’ replied, “I did not.” Nowhere in my speech do the words “ onethird “ appear. I wish the honorable member for Hunter to realize that when I make a statement in this House. I will always stand up to it. In conclusion I would like to say that I am proud to be supporting a Government that is not frightened to expose itself to political criticism such as we have had to-day, rather than abstain from taking a course which in the interests of the country is indicated as the proper one to take.
The action of the Prime Minister has my endorsement. The more I listen to this debate the more I am convinced that the people of Australia also will unhesitatingly support his action.
.- I do not propose to traverse the remarks of the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis), who has made the customary appeal to honorable members to vote against the motion because of the nobility of the Prime Minister’s character, and who has ignored the basis of the charge that has been levelled. I wish, however, to correct his statement that there was a tacit agreement between the Prime Minister and the Miners Federation that the prosecution against John Brown should be withdrawn. There is no justification for that statement. Not one word uttered during the course of this debate, by either the Prime Minister or any other speaker, can be taken as a basis for any such suggestion; and, so that it may not go upon the records of this House without an immediate challenge, I take this, the earliest opportunity available, to correct it.
If the case that has been made against the Government were submitted to the great body of public opinion, it would be regarded as unanswerable. I should welcome a general election to-morrow upon this one issue, and so would every honorable member who sits on this side. That would give a proper opportunity to determine whether the people of this country are satisfied that the administration of justice under this Government is above suspicion. Nevertheless one would need to be a super optimist to expect the motion to be carried in a parliament of this composition. There are one or two honorable members who at the last election were returned as independents, but who so far have not expressed any opinion. I refer firstly to the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mc Williams), and in doing so I direct attention to the affection that has suddenly been shown for him by the Government Whip, the desire evidently being to seduce him from the path of independence that he has followed since he entered this Parliament in November last.
– I can assure the honorable member that the whip has not mentioned the division to me.
– I confess to being astonished, but I accept the honorable member’s assurance. May I courteously suggest that he owes a duty to this
Parliament, and to the people whom he represents, to at least state where he stands before the debate terminates. The same remarks apply to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Collins), who in November last defeated the Government candidate, and who so far has remained silent during the course of this debate, which is the most important that has ever been launched in this Parliament.
– They have been promised immunity at the next election.
– Judging by the change which appears to have taken place in their mental attitude towards the Government, that is not at all unlikely. There is no doubt that if a vote were taken in this Parliament to-morrow on the simple, clear-cut issue, whether the Government’s action was justified, and it did not involve defeat of the Government, it would be carried by an overwhelming majority.
The merits of the motion moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) proclaim themselves. The solidarity with which honorable members opposite have demonstrated their loyalty to the Government is a clear indication that to-day they are bound by that discipline which formerly they so strongly criticized in the Labour party. It used to be a cheap jibe of the Nationalists that the members of the Labour party were caucus-ridden. No party to-day is so firmly in the iron grip of discipline as are the Nationalist and Country parties, which comprise this Government and its followers; but their method of chloroforming internal opposition is of the most subtle and insidious character. The Government cuts a very sorry figure as a result of this debate. Some of the most scathing of the criticism that has been uttered has come from their own supporters, notably from the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The remainder of their followers are huddled together like the crew of a drifting derelict in a storm. They realize that public opinion is definitely against them. They are being attacked in their own press because of this action. From the Prime Minister downwards their arguments have been feeble and unconvincing. Practically every speech has contained an appeal ad misericordiam.
The House has been asked to extend pity to this pathetic Prime Minister, who after an experience extending over a period of six and a half years, enters into an arrangement of this description, and then asks us to accept his statement that he was actuated by the noblest of motives. On the other hand, the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) has endeavoured to obscure the real issue by making a microscopic examination of a number of unnecessary details. At very considerable length he has stated the reasons for the hesitation of the Government to launch the prosecution, showing clearly that the matter was most carefully considered before the prosecution was instituted. I was interested to note that during the course of his speech he drew a distinction between prosecutions under criminal law and those under industrial law. No doubt he was trying to show that there was a larger measure of executive discretion allowable in withdrawing an industrial prosecution, than in the case of a criminal one. I presume that is the correct inference to be drawn. He said that in the administration of the criminal law, if there was evidence of assault or murder, a prosecution followed, and no appeal was made to the murderer not to offend in the same way again. Yet the Government had the choice of taking action against John Brown, and those associated with him in this infamous lockout, under either the Arbitration Act or the Crimes Act, by way of a criminal prosecution. Any suggestion that there is a legal difference in the nature of the offence because the charge is laid under the one act rather than the other, is to indicate the poverty of the arguments to which the Government has to resort in an endeavour to justify its action. Never during the last six years has a more criminal act been committed than this lockout, or one involving more widespread loss, suffering, degradation, and class hatred. That is certainly the view of the average man in the street, even if it is not the view taken by the law.
Another argument used by those who have defended the Government’s action, has been the cheap suggestion that unionists or any other private individuals could launch a prosecution against the coal-miners. Such a suggestion is worthy only to be treated with contempt. The initiative rests with the Government to administer its own laws, and to utilize the machinery which it has itself created for the suppression and punishment of offences. The AttorneyGeneral went into an elaborate explanation in an endeavour to show that it is difficult to prove a lockout. How does he reconcile that statement with the words he uttered when introducing the amending Arbitration Bill in 1927 ? The AttorneyGeneral then said -
There are very few lockouts, and for a very good reason. The Arbitration Act contains a penalty against strikes and lockouts. It is difficult to prove a strike against a union, but it is a relatively easy thing to prove a lockout against an employer.
If anything is calculated to make persons disgusted with the attitude of the Government, it is this conflict between the utterances of the Attorney-General in 1927 and those of 1929. Neither the Prime Minister nor any one else on that side of the House has been able to answer this question: Why was the prosecution against John Brown withdrawn without any guarantee being received that the lockout would be brought to an end, that the coal-owners would cease breaking the law, or that a genuine attempt would be made to bring about a settlement?
– Would the honorable member be prepared to give undertakings unconditionally ?
– In this instance there was a deliberate breach of the law. I ask the honorable member to contrast the amazing alacrity displayed by the Government in launching prosecutions against unionists with its dilatoriness in taking action against the employers. I ask him to let this sink home: If a prosecution had been launched against a body of workers out on strike, would the Government consider any proposal for withdrawing that prosecution under a similar set of circumstances?
– The Government’s behaviour during previous industrial trouble gives the lie direct to any such suggestion. The prosecution against John Brown was withdrawn without the members of the Government party being consulted, and even without John Brown being approached to learn what his future action would be, or whether he intended to discontinue the offence he was then committing. Nor has any explanation been forthcoming as to why proceedings have not since been instituted, if not against John Brown, then against one or more of the other offending coal-owners. This is a continuing offence, continuous in its consequences of suffering, injury and injustice to the miners and their families. A new crime is committed for each day that the offence continues. The Government has maintained a discreet silence upon this phase of the question, and has not answered the criticism directed against it on the point. It is useless to suggest that an honorable compact existed between the coal-owners and1 the Government, that the prosecution once having been withdrawn would not be re-instituted. Even if that were the case, since the undertaking was given fresh offences have been committed, by reason of the fact that the lockout has been persisted in, and any compact made prior to the conference, relating as it does to the offence then existing, should not hold good after the conference has broken down and the lockout or breach of the law is continued. Why did not the Government institute the prosecution, not under the Arbitration Act, but under the Crimes Act, which it passed in 1926 for the purpose of dealing out even-handed justice to employers and employees alike. At any rate, we were told that was why it was passed. Section 30j of that act gives the Governor-General power to issue a proclamation declaring that a serious industrial disturbance, prejudicing or threatening trade or commerce with other countries or among the States, exists, and once- that proclamation is issued, any person participating in a lockout or a strike is liable to deportation and/or imprisonment.
– This dispute was confined to one State.
– Nevertheless, the hold-up of the coal industry affects the trade of the whole Commonwealth. Its effects are felt in Melbourne, and other parts of Australia, and I challenge the honorable member to prove that the dispute does not come within the ambit of the Crimes Act on the ground that any interruption of the coal industry affects the transport and the economic life of the whole nation.
This law must be tested, or the Government must face the charge of being influenced by class distinctions, of dealing out “eye-wash” to the people, and of not being sincere when it places legislation of this kind on the statute-book. If the Government had been sincere and the power under the Crimes Act was inadequate, it should have called Parliament together, and demanded emergency powers for the purpose of coercing the coal-owners to accept the authority of the law and controlling the depredations of capital oh the coal-fields, as it did for the purpose of taking action against the watersiders on a previous occasion. Honorable members opposite may make what cheap jibes they wish about the attitude of the Labour party on this matter; but what conclusion are we to come to regarding the diffidence, hesitation, incapacity, doubt, and vacillation evident in this instance, compared with the alacrity displayed in “putting the boot “ into the trade unions and unionists when opportunity offers. If it is impracticable to proceed with the prosecution against John Brown, why not institute one against somebody else ? It is the principle of the thing that counts. A government which administers the law in this fashion is the worst possible enemy of democracy. It is an agent provocateur of revolution. It creates class bitterness by pressing its prosecutions against one class and not against the other.
No more effective attack has been made against the Government during the course of this debate than that contained in the speech of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). His views are entitled to respect. He is an eminent King’s Counsel, and a leading member of the Victorian bar. He recognizes, or should recognize, that respect of the law is based upon the equity, purity, and impartiality with which it is administered. Yet he assumes the role of counsel for defence for the Government after having at first constituted himself judge, and having passed judgment upon it. He said that the charge against the Government was a capital one, involving, if proven, the penalty of death. He, like his legal junior, the honorable member for “Wentworth (Mr. Marks), finds the Government guilty on every count in the indictment contained in the motion, but finally arrives at the casuistic conclusion that the Government is not really guilty, because it was actuated by the best of motives. I am unable to follow the honorable member’s reasoning, and I cannot see how he could rely on such an argument if he were conducting a defence in the courts of the country. He adopted the legal metaphor, but not, I think, with very fortunate results. In dealing with this motion he strains at the gnat in the form of motives, but swallows the camel in the form of maladministration and injustice. If the honorable member were called upon to defend an accused person - say, for argument’s sake, on a charge of murdering the inoffensive honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) - I feel sure that he would not rely upon a plea that the accused was actuated by the highest and noblest intentions. Such a line of reasoning reminds me of a story I read once of a man who was charged with murdering his father and mother, and who pleaded with the judge for mercy on the ground that he was an orphan. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) could succeed in the case I have stated only if he pleaded the insanity of his client. Presumably, in the case against the Government now before us, his final plea and defence is “Not guilty on the ground of insanity.” Or, if you like, on the ground of political stupidity and incapacity. No more scathing indictment could be made against the Government, an indictment which aroused the auger and resentment of the honorable member for Warringah who, realizing its true significance, took the honorable member for Fawkner to task. The honorable member for Fawkner later took refuge in the terms of the motion moved by the Deputy
Leader of the Opposition. I should like to ask the honorable member for Fawkner what are the particular words that he objected to in the motion, which is as follows : -
That, by its withdrawal of the lockout prosecution against the wealthy colliery proprietor, John Brown, after its vigorous prosecutions of trade unionists, the Governmenthas 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 motion makes the motive an ingredient of the offence, so that the motive must be proved in order to prove the charge.
– The motion was not drawn up as an indictment for purposes of prosecution under the law. It must be considered in the light of the facts that surround the case. The facts are that trade unions and trade union officials have been fined for breaches of the arbitration law. John Brown was prosecuted under the same law, and the charge was withdrawn. Perhaps, for legal purposes, uo question of mens rea or guilty intent, as understood in law, arises in connexion with the Government’s action, but for the purpose of the man in the street there was undoubtedly unjust discrimination. If the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) objects to the motion, if he quibbles over its phraseology, I invite him, and I am sure all other members on this side join with me in the invitation, to frame a suitable amendment more in keeping with his view. Perhaps then we shall be able to see our way clear to support him, and help to bring about a better administration of the law. The honorable member knows this basic fact : The defeat of the motion will vindicate the Government and establish an iniquitous precedent that will influence future administration. There is no doubt that if the motion is defeated this Government which, as the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) has said, has displayed an unrepentant attitude and has declared it would repeat the offence, may do the same thing in the same inconsequential and reckless manner to-morrow. All honorable members who are hardened by a little worldly-wide experience must, if they are allowed to exercise an independent judgment, vote against the Go vernment on this motion. In any case, a government guilty of such a gross act of incompetence is no longer deserving of confidence, and if the honorable member for Fawkner and others who think with him do not feel called upon to vote for the motion, they at least should refrain from voting at all, and by some such means show that they disapprove of the Government’s action.
– The Government is charged not merely with incompetence, but with corruption.
– Not according to my interpretation of the terms of the motion. If the’ honorable member thinks otherwise I hope he will seek an opportunity to make a personal explanation, and indicate in what way he thinks the motion should be altered.
– I do not wish to have the terms altered. That is the business of the Opposition.
– The honorable member, like all of us, is answerable to his constituency, and I suggest that, if he seeks refuge in that particular line of argument to explain his attitude towards the motion now before the House, he will not he doing credit to his eminent talents, not only as a Parliamentary representative but as a lawyer. It was such refinements of reasoning, such legal artificialities, such sophistry, that no doubt induced Dick, the butcher, to say to Jack Cade in Henry VI “ The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers “.
If we look at this matter from the standpoint of the man in the street, we shall find that the issue is a simple one. The man in the street will ignore much of the argument that is heard in this chamber.
– But not all lawyers agree that unjust discrimination is quite the same thing as corruption.
– Whether we accept as our guide the definition prescribed by a standard dictionary or employ the meaning attached to the words in our courts of law, I say emphatically that legal refinements will not be observed by the people generally, when they are considering this matter. They will nol analyse it with all the precision and microscopic care of a lawyer, but they certainly will protest against the grave departure from precedent established by this Government.
This is not a Government of children. Ministers are not so many “babes in the wood “ so to speak surrounded by evil uncles prepared to seduce them from the path of political rectitude. It is a Government of men who should have realized the serious consequences that would flow from the withdrawal of the prosecution launched against Brown. There is no doubt that if the prosecution had been persisted in, the prestige of Nationalism would have been raised to an exceptionally high level. The determination of the Government to deal impartially with both sides to the coalmining dispute would have given colour to the statement made by Nationalist candidates from a thousand platforms in election after election that Nationalism stood for even-handed justice and the rule of the law.
Both the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral admitted that they had considered carefully the serious consequences of the withdrawal of the prosecution. And now they have to make the humiliating admission to this Parliament that the Government, in effect, yielded to a threat from the employers that there would be no conference unless the prosecution was withdrawn Surely such an admission strikes at the doctrine of law and order which ministers and their supporters have affirmed thousands of times from public platforms in this country. Recognizing that a serious breach of the law had taken place and was slowly strangling industry in every State as well as causing misery to thousands of men, women and children, the Government launched a prosecution and then withdrew it on a frivolous and trifling pretext. The withdrawal of the prosecution in this capricious and impulsive way certainly has not enhanced the prestige of the head of the Government or the Ministry itself. Fortunately, as the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Lacey) has said, the issue in the last analysis will be tried not in this House, but at the bar of public opinion. The man in the street will undoubtedly contrast the Government’s action in Brown’s case, following as it does other acts of discrimination in favour of big business interests, with its action in the waterside workers’ dispute, the Johnson case and the Holloway case, and unquestionably the inference to be drawn will be, rightly or wrongly, that pressure has been brought to bear on the Government by the big shipping and coal interests which support the Government financially and otherwise. The man in the street is bound to question the sincerity and honesty of the Government’s motive.
The miners themselves firmly believed that the Government never intended to proceed with the prosecution against John Brown. The honest belief on the coalfields, held by the 12,000 miners thrown out of employment, by bankrupt shopkeepers and by starving women and children, was that Mr. Brown, stubborn and pig-headed as he is, was prepared to treat with the miners’ unions individually, apart from the combine, and that the effect of the prosecution was to stiffen his opposition and make him continue -the struggle. I do not say that this View was the correct one, but at all events it was firmly believed by the miners, aud honorable members opposite will find it exceedingly difficult to convince the public io the contrary. The statement also has been made on the coal-fields that the prosecution having achieved its purpose, that is to say, having aroused the antagonism of Mr. Brown, it was then withdrawn. The miners believe also that if the prosecution had been proceeded with Mr. Brown would have reopened his mine rather than face a searching and humiliating crossexamination as to his profits, and whether he could carry on his enterprise successfully. The miners believe, further, that the Government is in sympathy with direct action methods on the part of the coal-mine owners in refusing to open the mines; that it is in sympathy with the purposes of the lockout, namely, to bring about a drastic reduction in wages. The continued inaction of Federal and State Nationalist governments lends colour to this opinion. These administrations are acting in unison. They have consulted with one another, and have talked about the constitutional barriers and difficulties that surround this problem. But they do nothing. By standing idly by, they allow the impression to go abroad that they are privy to this conspiracy .to break down the awards of the.Hibble tribunal and destroy the wage standards of the industry.
What has this Government done up to the present? It is true that it has in collaboration with the State Government, appointed a royal commission, which, according to the Sydney Sun, newspaper, is likely to sit until next Christmas, and cost this country £52,000. No fewer than four King’s Counsel, four juniors and an army of supernumeraries are appearing before that body. Meanwhile, the coal and other dependent industries are languishing, and governments do nothing. I say emphatically that the inference to be drawn by the people from the action of this Government is that it is dominated by big business interests. The prosecution of Mr. Brown would have rehabilitated the Government. It would have enhanced its prestige. The opinion is freely held in the Labour movement that the owners would never have dared to close the mines if Labour had been in power. The failure of the Ministry to act conclusively proves that it is a rich man’s government. The claim that it stands for even-handed justice will not bear examination. By its action the Government has destroyed the confidence of the people in the impartial administration of justice. There is a fundamental legal doctrine, which the honorable member for Fawkner knows full well, that the law should speak to all with one voice. There is also an old couplet -
What is the law if those who make it
Become the very first to break it?
This statement has stood the test of centuries. It is one of the basic principles upon which our system of parliamentary government and jurisprudence has been established. It is a national calamity that this Government should see fit to break down these age-old precedents. In doing so it plays into the hands of the propagators of the communistic doctrine that the whole system of government under capitalism is class-biased, inherently immoral, and, at times, even corrupt.
There is undoubtedly a double code of justice and a double standard of morality in this and many other communities when we see, on one hand, unionists, labour leaders in and out of Parliament, subject to imprispnment, searching investigation, humiliation, and other forms of contumely and insult ; and, on the other hand, we have the spectacle of John Brown, the representative of wealth and privilege, being allowed to escape. .
I shall conclude by quoting a number of extracts from the policy speeches of the Prime Minister in 1925 and 1928. Having done that, I shall invite honorable members opposite to explain how they can square their endorsement of both policy speeches with the action of the Government in regard to Mr. Brown. In 1925 the Prime Minister said -
The paramount issue in this campaign is the maintenance of law and order and the supremacy of constitutional government. We are for the rule of law - for justice to all citizens and special privileges to none.
Can honorable members opposite say that in the future ? Prior to the 1925 election, the Prime Minister said : -
The issue is whether this country is to be governed by the Parliament duly elected by the people under our democratic and constitutional form of government, or whether their authority is to be flouted, and the destinies of the people determined by irresponsible extremists, who are attempting to arrogate to themselves an autocratic dictatorship over the nation.
Ministerial Members. - Hear, hear !
– Honorable members* say “Hear, hear,” yet they allow the coal-owners of Newcastle to exercise an autocratic dictatorship over the Government and the nation. When the time of testing comes they will hear the words of the Founder of Christianity, “ Woe unto you, scribes and pharisees. . . . which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” In 1928, the Prime Minister said -
The continuance of our constitutional form of government is the supremacy of parliament and the observance of the laws of the land. . . Where either side has defied the court, and has refused to obey its awards, the ministry has refused to interfere with the court and has taken action under the laws to ensure that those who were defying the court would be punished.
Will honorable members opposite be able to say that in the future, in view of what has taken place in connexion with the John Brown prosecution? The whole of the grounds upon which they have exploited election after election and won support have gone. In the past they have succeeded, because their statements have conveyed to the public a semblance of sincerity and truth, but should they in a future campaign rely on such grounds they may expect many members of their audiences to cry out, “ What did you do about John Brown and the northern coalowners ? “
The Government stands condemned by its actions, its equivocations, vacillations, political cowardice, mal-administration, tyranny, prejudice and bias. When next the electors have an opportunity of expressing their judgment, they will show clearly that they have tried the Government and found it wanting. Commenting on the Government’s policy in Melbourne recently, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) said: - “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.” The withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown is only one of a number of reckless, stupid and impulsive actions of the Government, which cause me now to repeat what I have said previously, that I would welcome an election on this issue to-morrow, because I honestly and sincerely believe that the Labour party would sweep the Commonwealth from end to end. The Nationalist party is showing signs of breaking up; its morale has gone; some of its leading members have been courageous enough to express their intention of voting against it. Others, like the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) denounced the Government for its treatment of the John Brown case, although stating that they would vote against the no-confidence motion. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) said that he does not stand for what the Government has done. Their statements will be used in denouncing Nationalism at the next election. The electors will hear them as the voice of Nationalism on Nationalism. They will carry conviction to tens of thousands of Nationalist voters in constituencies which hitherto have been regarded as antilabour.
Even the capitalistic press is denouncing Nationalism. The Sydney Daily Guardian, which has been unmeasured in its vindictive hostility towards the Labour party during recent years, in its issue of August 19th last, contained the following : -
See what Party Government did to Federal Attorney-General Latham! He cuts a poor figure.
Latham knew that to drop the legal proceedings against John Brown, though the industrial law still prosecuted and punished trades unionists, was wrong in law, in morals, and in political principle.
He know that Bruce’s policy of abandoning Federal Arbitration was a “ blunder worse than crime.” It was default from Federal duty, foolish and timid; the policy of Lackwit and Taildown
But the Attorney-General, supposedly a man of high talent and strong character, acquiesced as though he had been the veriest party hack in politics for a living.
In the retrospect you may see that Latham, had he been bold enough, could have enforced greater wisdom and courage on Bruce and Page.
No Ministry could have persisted in either false policy, if its Attorney-General had staked his resignation on his principles.
Probably the members of Cabinet purred gratefully over Mr. Latham for being a facile party man.
But had he been more resolute, he could still have kept his place, with his prestige in politics raised instead of lowered.
I leave the matter there.
– Before the honorable member resumes his seat will he answer a question? Does the honorable member suggest that the terms of the motion do not convey a charge of corruption against the .Government ?
– I say definitely that there is no charge of corruption as defined by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) actual or implied, in either the motion or the speech of its mover. I have discussed this matter with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) and have also consulted the dictionary; the matter has been viewed from every angle to see whether the term “unjust discrimination “ includes or implies corruption. The term means what it says - a discrimination that is wrong and unjust, but not a discrimination that is corrupt. The man in the street will interpret the term to mean that the Government has done something wrong, something manifestly unjust, in discriminating between John Brown and the representatives of trade unions. There is ample opportunity to amend and modify the terms of the motion. I give the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) credit for having expressed in this House from time to time high ethical ideals, but if he is prepared to be a party to condoning the offence with which the Government is now charged, it will be an eternal smirch upon his political escutcheon.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has laboured hard to convince himself that the Government has done something corrupt. He does not really believe that it has done so, for if he did, he would rejoice that at long last something had been done by the Government which would give the unfortunate party to which he belongs the opportunity of attaining the office to which it so long and so vainly has aspired. It is indeed a shameful thing that the suffering, privation, and misery of the unfortunate coal-miners and their families in the Newcastle district should be made by the Opposition a football of political expediency, pawns in the political game, something to be battered about to gain a party advantage. Regardless of the consequences of their action, members of the Opposition have callously sought to gain a paltry party advantage from the sufferings of their fellows.
How has this unsavoury dish been introduced into this House? How has it been garnished? The mover of the motion introduced it by referring to a stolen document of State; but his description of that document was so distorted that even its author could not recognize it. Then he flavoured it with suggestions of corruption or faked evidence in the case of J ohannsen, notwithstanding that it is well known that a letter was written by the Attorney-General to Johannsen’s solicitors on 22nd June last pointing out that the minutes of a certain meeting were taken by the President of the Union and typed by him. The minutes showed that Johannsen’s speech was as alleged by the witnesses for the prosecution. That fact is pertinent to this issue.
The charge contained in the motion is supported by imputations, equally false, about the Abrahams case. It is well known that special legislation was passed by this Parliament to widen the powers of the Government in order to enable it to take action against the Abrahams brothers. Honorable members know that thefirst step in a prosecution is to serve a process on the supposed offender, or to arrest him. Neither course was possible in the case of the Abrahams brothers, as they had fled from justice. It is general knowledge that the Labour Government of Western Australia did not move against the Abrahams brothers as fast as the Commonwealth Government moved. Indeed, that Government compromised its action ; but, of course, honorable members opposite have made no reference to that fact.
Who is the waiter who has introduced this unsavoury dish with all its odours? Let us go back and study the history of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) . When he was a young man he went to North Queensland where he worked - not too hard - in the mines. He soon saw that it was easier to make his living by using his tongue rather than his hands, and so he became an agitator, a disorganiser of industry. In the North he was known as one of the “ Reds.” Later, he entered the State Parliament, where he remained a “Red,” always counselling a disregard of the law, preaching insurrection and class hatred, and endeavouring to upset industry. That is his early history in this country. In time he became a Cabinet Minister, and a Premier. He grew to share the unfortunate handicaps and disabilities of Mr. John Brown in that he also is reputed to have become very wealthy. That was his position in the State from which he has fled - the State from which I come.
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) so far, has not said anything pertinent to the motion, but has purported to give the history of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) who introduced it. I submit that his remarks are not connected with the action of the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution of John Brown, or Avith the conditions in the coal industry.
– As the honorable member knows, I have just resumed the Chair, and did not hear the earlier portion of the speech of the honorable member for Kennedy. He is entitled to make refer ence to tlie honorable member who introduced the motion so long as it is relevant to the question before the Chair.
– I submit that the personal history of the honorable member for Dalley and his alleged actions prior to his being elected a member of this Parliament, are not germane to the motion before the Chair, and are therefore out of order.
– The honorable member for Kennedy may proceed.
– The honorable member who has moved this motion asking the House to condemn the Government on the ground of inconsistency and class prejudice, and whose proud boast when Premier of Queensland was that he would search the pockets of the rich - although in reality he merely emptied the pockets of the poor - caused nearly every mine in Queensland to close down, and introduced class legislation which he now professes to deplore. This strong man, who talks of enforcing the law, urged, as Premier of Queensland, that Parliament should not interfere with the State Arbitration Court, or introduce legislation providing for a 44- hour week. When pressure was brought to bear upon him by the extremists in his party, he threatened to resign; but the “Reds,” who were pushing the party, “ called his bluff “ and he passed that legislation, in spite of the fact that he had said that it was not in the best interests of the State.
This then is the individual under whose regime the spectre of unemployment stalked naked and unashamed throughout Queensland. There are other wriggling and unsavoury messes of which one might speak, and I advise the honorable member not to wriggle too much lest the allegory become too obvious! He speaks of “ legislative blots “ ; but was it not he who, while Premier of Queensland, after men had been convicted before a judge of the Supreme Court and a jury, and had had punishment inflicted on them in accordance with the criminal law of the State, actually pushed through the Queensland Parliament an amendment of the criminal code to inflict further and retrospective punishment on those men in addition to that imposed by the judge after having heard the evidence put before the Court. That was done by him in 1922. This protagonist of law and order ! This upholder of the laws of the State! This individual who stands for even-handed justice to rich and poor alike! Later he submited himself to the electors of Herbert, who, knowing him so well, rejected him. After that he went south, and there became the member for the monetary seat - the £5,000 seat.
– Although the honorable member will be in order in contrasting the conduct of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) with that of the Government, his criticism must be relevant to the motion.
– I submit that the matter at issue is the integrity of the Government, and therefore, that I am entitled to show that the honorable member who submitted this motion is not sincere. But if I have in this instance said more than I should, then-
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Kennedy has challenged the sincerity of the honorable member who introduced this motion. According to a ruling given earlier this day, that expression is totally unwarranted and out of order.
– The honorable member for” Kennedy is not entitled to charge any honorable member with insincerity. I understand that he accused the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of being insincere, and, if he did, I ask him to withdraw the expression.
– I withdraw it, and, in its stead, charge him with being totally inconsistent. In support of my allegation let me remind the House that not very long ago, when the timber workers were on strike, this honorable member having first carefully taken legal opinion to see how far he could safely go, went to a meeting of the union and urged a continuation of the strike against the Commonwealth arbitration law. No word of protest was heard from, him regarding the practices of the basher gangs, or the bombing gangs, or of any others who had been responsible for public disturbances. Then he went recently to Newcastle, as mentioned by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), and for what purpose ? Not to stop the strike, or to bring relief to the industry; not to help the miners; but to consolidate the political party to which he belongs !
It was emphasized by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) this evening that the object of this motion is wholly political. He talked of the votes of tens of thousands of persons being influenced. Evidently the mover of the motion gloated over it. That was almost as obvious as the uneasiness and discontent of many of the members opposite, who by the iron discipline of their party, are compelled to support it. They were evidently uneasy and uncomfortable in speaking on it. One cannot help thinking of those lines of Macaulay -
Where’er ye fling the carrion, the raven’s croak is loud;
Where’er down Tiber garbage floats, the greedy pike ye see;
And wheresoe’er such lord is found, such client still will be.
I suggest that the duty of honorable members is to defeat the motion - to disinfect the House and get on with the business.
Practically no attempt has been made by honorable members opposite, except the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), to bring the dispute in the coalmining industry to a satisfactory and peaceful solution. There was some pretence of their being shocked at what was supposed to be an act of injustice when the prosecution against John Brown was withdrawn, but it was perfectly well known by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that it was a pure act of mercy courageously performed by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.
– Mercy to poor John Brown !
– Mercy to honorable members opposite and the poor miners in the coal-fields. One of the points that the honorable member for Dalley endeavoured to make was that the action of the Government would bring the law into contempt. He said that it would weaken the observance of the law in the community; but nothing could be more potent in that respect than the interpretation placed on the Government’s action by honorable members opposite. The dissemination of the views expressed by honorable members opposite which, I submit, are entirely at variance with the facts, is more likely than anything else to weaken respect for the law. It is still open to any honorable member opposite, or to the unions, to prosecute John Brown if they so desire. Everybody knows that a lockout, in fact, took place. Whether, in law, that constituted an offence is quite another matter. It is peculiarly difficult to establish what is a legal lockout in a mining case, because mine development is an asset shown in a balance-sheet. Amortization of leases is to be provided for, during the life of the mine, together with the writing down of the mine development and the writing off of the plant, which becomes obsolete when the mine is closed. But I am not concerned about that aspect of the matter. I am content to assume for my argument that all the evidence required to prove an offence by John Brown was in the possession of the Government, although I know that that was far from being the case. The Government had launched the prosecution under the industrial arbitration law, and the men were locked out when the Prime Minister was approached by the miners, who, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said by way of interjection, were anxious for a settlement and believed that a settlement would result from a conference. They submitted their proposals to him, but it was obvious that no conference could take place while a prosecution was hanging over the head of one of the coal-owners. Consequently the prosecution was withdrawn.
I do not offer the slightest apology for opposing the motion. I rejoice in the fact that the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General had the courage to do what they did. Feeling that there was a chance of the mines being opened, they took the wide and generous view, and also the correct view, of the situation in deciding to withdraw the prosecution. . Their action was acquiesced in by the silence of the miners, whose representatives at the conference uttered no word of protest, although they had an opportunity to put forward any objection they might have had to the Government’s action. Nobody was influencing them to remain silent. They went on with the conference because they desired a settle- ment, and believed that that would result. Assuming that John Brown had been guilty of an offence that could be proved against him, it was a matter of choosing between a prosecution on the one hand and the possibility of an immediate opening of the mines on the other. Honorable members opposite have said that we should have let the law take its course, irrespective of the consequences. Had the Government done that they would have been charged with a cruel action in not being prepared to sacrifice an opportunity to prosecute in order to enable the miners to return to their work. That is undoubtedly the cry that would have been raised. As a matter of fact, the Government knew full well that it would lay itself open to such a motion as has been submitted in this House, and realized that its action would be open to misrepresentation both in and outside this chamber. It was so obvious that nobody could have overlooked the certainty of this political “ stunt “ ; but the Government did the correct thing. There would not have been a Boston tea party had it not been for rigid adherence to the letter of the law. The British Government lost the American colonies because it insisted on the letter of the law in regard to the tea duties. History has shown that that act was a colossal blunder. It is a matter for congratulation that this Government has at its head two members who are prepared to act in the best interests of their country, irrespective of any party advantage or small personal political consideration. If I found myself in a situation similar to that in which the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were placed, I should pray God to give me strength to decide as the Government determined in this matter. I offer no apology for supporting the Ministry on this motion, and I rejoice in its courage.
.- I listened while the Prime Minister, the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister for Markets made “ heavy weather “ in a vain endeavour to meet a charge, the gravamen of which is admitted even by honorable members opposite. I propose to quote from the autobiography, and also an independent biography of Theodore Roosevelt, passages relating to the methods he adopted to end the great coal strike in the
United States of America in 1902. I commend both volumes to the perusal of honorable members in the hope that they may draw from them inspiration and courage to deal with the grave industrial problem that now confronts this country. Roosevelt said of himself -
I am genuinely independent of the bigmoneyed men in all matters where I think the interests of the public are concerned. I treat them precisely as I treat other citizens, that is, I consider their interests so far as my duty requires, and so far as I’ think the needs of the country warrant.
And so far as in my power lies, I shall uphold justice, whether the man accused of guilt has behind him the wealthiest aggregation of riches in the country, or whether he has behind him the most influential labour organizations in the country.
Roosevelt was regarded as one of the foremost statesman in the history of the United States. I believe that the Prime Minister aspires to be regarded ‘as a statesman. If ever he writes the story of his own life, will he be able to say of himself what Roosevelt truthfully wrote of himself? The position of the coal industry in America in 1902 was similar to that obtaining in Australia to-day. I quote Roosevelt again -
The big coal operators had banded together and positively refused to take any steps looking towards an accommodation. They knew that the suffering among the miners was great; they were confident that if order were kept, and nothing further done by the Government, they would win; and they refused to consider that the public had any rights in the matter.
The same type of coal-owner is in our midst and it is the duty of the Government to grapple with him, but in dealing with this problem it has blundered and bungled very badly, and some honorable members who will support the Government when this motion of censure goes to a division will find difficulty in reconciling their votes with their utterances in the House prior to the institution of proceedings against John Brown. They have admitted by interjection that the Prime Minister decided to withdraw the prosecution without consulting his supporters; nevertheless they are now expected to be as dumb driven cattle, and respond to the crack of the party whip. For those others who will have the courage to vote in accordance with their convictions, we on this side of the House have nothing but admiration. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Gr. Francis) referred to iron discipline. One could have no greater example of tyranny of that sort than the compulsion put upon honorable members opposite to endorse an action taken by the Government without consulting them, and contrary to the convictions of some of them. The honorable member said also that it is still competent for any person in the community to prosecute John Brown. But whose is the duty to prosecute? Was the prosecution of the timber workers, the waterside workers and Mr. Holloway left to any individual? No; the Government acted, and with remarkable promptitude ! Honorable members have quoted from the Melbourne Age a reference to a secret meeting of an organization to raise funds for the Nationalist party’s election campaign. “ It was,” said the Age, “ a secret gathering to which only the ‘very elite of the wealthy section of the community were admitted. Mr. Bruce was the lion of the gathering.” Because of his action in interfering with the processes, of the law, the public will regard him not as a lion, but as the meek little mouse that gnawed through the ropes of the net that entangled the monster John Brown to enable him to escape - temporarily, I hope. We are asked to believe that the Prime Minister was assisted in that operation by the Attorney-General, but I believe that the Leader of the Government acted before he consulted the legal member of his Cabinet. The decision of the Government to prosecute Brown was belated, and made only as a result of the urgings of honorable members on this side and a few opposite. Very shortly afterwards the Prime Minister visited Sydney and there a revolver was, at it were, pointed at his head; whereupon, he rushed to the telephone and announced to the Attorney-General that he proposed that all proceedings against John Brown should be discontinued. The right honorable gentleman stated in the House last week -
I take the major share of responsibility for what has 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 Attorney-General. These wore concurred in by him and subsequently endorsed by all the members of the Cabinet.
The speech of the Attorney-General, however, left the impression that when he received the Prime Minister’s telephone message he was most reluctant to concur in the action which had been taken. He said that strong reasons would have to be advanced before the prosecution could be withdrawn, but evidently the pressure exerted on the Prime Minister in Sydney was so great that he had to take what he called “ the courageous course.” In my opinion he merely held up his hands and said “ Kamarad “. The courageous course would have been to refuse to withdraw the proceedings against Brown, in the same way as the Government refused to withdraw the prosecutions of the timber workers, the waterside workers and Mr. Holloway. The speed with which the right honorable gentleman gnawed, through the ropes of the legal net which bound Mr. Brown was in marked contrast to the determination of the Government to prosecute the waterside workers. So far from assisting them to escape the Government pressed for and obtained the maximum penalty of a fine of £1,000. We have heard a great deal about the motive of the Government in suspending the operation of the law for the benefit of a wealthy coal-owner. Let us assume that the motives of the Government in. connexion with all the industrial prosecutions have been pure and lofty. In taking proceedings against the waterside workers the motive, we are told, was to keep the wheels of industry moving, but even after that objective had been obtained, after the workers had, in effect, capitulated, and their leaders had ordered them back to work, the Government persisted in the prosecution. However good its motives may have been, the Government has still to answer the charge of having discriminated between different sections of the community in the administration of the law. Magna Charta stipulated that in all cases fines were to be proportioned to the magnitude of the offence. Was not the lockout by John Brown an offence of great magnitude which called for a severe penalty? That great charter also established the supremacy of the law of England over the will of the monarch; surely this Parliament should insist on the supremacy of the law over the will of a Prime Minister, but neither the will of the Parliament nor the will of th Prime Minister has prevailed in this instance; John Brown has won the day.
The coal strike in the United States of America in 1902 had been in operation for some months causing great distress and threatening calamitous results to the nation. Roosevelt intervened, and I propose to contrast his strong, courageous, statesmanlike, and successful attitude with the weak, timid, vacillating, unjust,’ and discriminating attitude of this Government, which has resulted only in lamentable failure. I quote from Bishop’s biography of Roosevelt -
On October 1, lie invited the operators and representatives of the mine workers to come to Washington on October 3, for consultation with him for the purpose of endeavouring to reach n settlement. When this was announced, a storm of protest came from the newspapers which had been upholding tlie cause of the operators in the strike. They declared that his course was without authority under the Constitution, that its immediate effect would be to prolong the strike by encouraging the strikers to persist, and that for a president to interfere in the affairs of private corporations was a proceeding so unconstitutional as to make him liable to impeachment.
The conference failed in consequence of the attitude adopted by the coal operators. The miners were prepared to listen to reason, but the employers would not. The failure, as set out in the biography of the late President Roosevelt, is referred to in this way -
Well, I have tried and failed. I feel downhearted over the result, both because of the great misery made for the mass of our people, and because the attitude of the operators will beyond a doubt double the burden on us while standing between them and socialistic action. But I am glad I tried, anyhow. I should have hated to feel that I had failed to make any effort.
When that effort failed, President Roosevelt formulated the idea of appointing a commission of arbitration. This was acceptable to the miners, but met with strong resistance from the mineowners. The statement continues -
The operators went away from the interview, exulting in the fact that they had turned down both the miners and the president.
I can imagine Mr. John Brown attending the conference and exulting in the fact that the prosecution had been withdrawn, and that he had defeated the wishes of the Prime Minister and his Government and the mine-workers. The extract continues - 1 refused to accept the rebuff, however, and continued the effort to get an agreement between the operators and the miners. 1 was anxious to get this agreement, because it would prevent the necessity of taking the extremely drastic action I meditated.
If the Prime Minister and his colleagues would carefully study the biography from which I have been quoting, they would benefit by the experience of others, and might then have the courage to bring the present industrial trouble on the coalfields to a successful conclusion. The extract continues -
In order that mining operations might be resumed as speedily as’ possible, the President consulted with Senator Quay, who was allpowerful in Pennsylvania politics, and was assured by him that whatever the President desired him to do so, hu would have the Governor of the State notify the President that he could not keep order in the coal regions and needed federal interference. The President then informed Major-General John M. Schofield that in case of federal interference he wished to send him to the coal regions with the regular army troops with instructions to act as receiver of the mines, take full charge, put down all violence, and disregard any orders from the operators.
That sets out the drastic action which the late President Roosevelt proposed to take if the arbitration commission to which I have referred could not reach a satisfactory decision. The biography continues -
No one except Senator Quay, General Schofield, and two members of Roosevelt’s Cabinet had knowledge of this part of the President’s plan. He had arranged with Senator Quay, who was in Pennsylvania, to telegraph to him when the moment arrived at which he ( Roosevelt) wished the Governor to notify him of his need of federal interference; the message was to be “ The time for the request has come.” Tlie President had all preparations made for starting the troops within half an hour.
If the coal operators would not accept the findings of the arbitration commission, President Roosevelt had arranged that the general and his men should be ready within half an hour to take possession of the mines and have them worked on behalf of the nation. No such drastic action has been proposed by this Government. On the contrary, its policy is one of masterly inactivity. I also quote the following, which has an interesting. bearing on the present industrial situation on the northern coal-fields : -
Whether knowledge of the President’s purpose leaked out or not cannot be stated, but something acted as a powerful incentive upon the operators, producing a sudden change of front.
It would appear from the foregoing that probably a secret government document went astray in that case. Undoubtedly something happened which influenced the coal operators to agree suddenly to the commission. Although the personnel of the commission was agreed upon by the miners, certain objections were raised by the coal operators; but eventually the whole matter was left in the hands of the President, who, after making a few modifications at the request- of the coal operators, appointed the commission, and it was not long before the dispute was settled. Briefly stated, the main points of the commission’s findings were -
That the miners should have a 10 per cent. increase in wages; that non-union labour and union labour should be treated on equal terms; that all disputes between operators and miners should be referred to a Board of Conciliation of six members, three chosen by the operators and three by the organizations of mine workers. In case of failure by the board to agree, the question in dispute should be referred to a United States Circuit Judge of the District as umpire, and his decision should be final. The findings of the commission were to be obligatory upon operators and workers for three years.
Similar proposals have been suggested as a means of settling industrial disputes here, and are regarded by some as an innovation; but the findings which I have just quoted were submitted by a commission of arbitration in America in 1902. The findings continue -
Time has completely justified the President’s course. Not only did the findings of the commission secure peace in the anthracite mines during the three stipulated years, but permanently, for since 1902 there has been no strike there and no serious labour trouble.
– There is no Labour party in America.
– If the honorable member for Balaclava so desires, I can quote the opinion of the late President Roosevelt on the Labour party. The extract continues: -
The great lesson of the settlement which the President had secured, and which impressed the people of the land, was that the labour problem had entered upon a new phase, was no longer only an economic problem, but a moral and human one.
– Quite right.
– I am glad the honorable member agrees. President Roosevelt further stated -
The workers had been compelled to unite to secure not merely their economic, but their simple human rights, and a body of men who commanded the respect and confidence of the country had decreed that those human rights should be recognized and protected.
These words should appeal to the Prime Minister and his colleagues. He continues : -
I must govern my actions by the laws of the land, which I am sworn to administer. These laws are enacted for the benefit of the whole people, and cannot and must not be construed as permitting discrimination against some of the people. I am President of all the people of the United States of America, without regard to creed, colour, birthplace, occupation, or social conditions.
When prosecuting the members of the Waterside Workers Federation and of the Timber Workers Union the Government adopted a very firm attitude ; but when it encountered the first obstacle in connexion with the prosecution of Mr. John Brown it was unable to display any backbone. Contrast the drastic steps taken by an exPresident of the United States of America when the conference failed, with the laissez-faire attitude of the Government in connexion with the present dispute. This is a national trouble. If the workmen had been at fault, any legal obstacles which were thought to exist would have soon been overcome. In this instance, it is not the workers who are responsible, but the wealthy coal magnates, and the Government has shown conclusively that the law is being administered in the interests of the rich and to the detriment of the poor. As a democratic people, we cannot countenance the action of the Government, and although it may survive the motion now before the House, its action will not meet with the approval of the people. President Roosevelt also said -
I sent for him (Schofield), telling him that if I had to make use of him it would be because the crisis was only less serious than that of the civil war, that the action taken would he practically a war measure, and that if I sent him he. must act in a purely military capacity under me as commander-in-chief, paying no heed to any authority, judicial or otherwise, except mine.
It is interesting ‘to compare the attitude of this strong man with the vacillating action of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. I have already stated that at a certain meeting, which was supposed to be attended by the elite of Melbourne, the Prime Minister was held to be the lion of the gathering, but in the eyes of the people he will be regarded as the mouse which gnawed through the rope of the legal net in which Mr. John Brown was entangled.
– Would the honorable member be in favour of the military being called out to settle an industrial dispute ?
– Desperate diseases sometimes demand drastic remedies. Reference has been made to the course adopted by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) when Prime Minister, but the action of that gentleman, for whom I hold no brief, whether constitutional or not, had the effect of keeping the wheels of industry in motion. That is more than the present Government is doing. This administration has displayed weakness, inactivity and impotence. During the coal dispute in America, to which I have referred, there was considerable rioting. Many casualties occurred and the situation was regarded as calamitous. A strong man was, however, at the helm, and he did not scruple to take immediate and drastic action, even though it was unconstitutional. fie acted for the benefit of the people, and to get the mines working at the earliest possible moment. What we require at the head of the Government to-day is a strong man not afraid to take similar action if necessary. The coal mines are idle, and have been so for some considerable time. We have heard1 of the appalling distress and misery suffered by th& miners and their wives and children. Just before the House- adjourned in March last, even honorable members- supporting the Government urged1 that John Brown should be prosecuted for closing down his mines. It remains’ now to be seem, whether they will vote- for the- withdrawal of the prosecu-tion. What action, drastic or otherwise, does the Government’ propose to? try tosettle the dispute ?^ I have heard of no suggestion! on. its part. It is adopting, an attitude of laissez faire- It is; impotent, and, inactive. This motion should be carried, but that is very doubtful in view of the iron discipline which has been imposed on members of the other side. They must do as they are told. They are like dumb driven cattle. They make no effort to resist the crack of the whip. I ask honorable members to contrast the strong, courageous, firm and statesmanlike action of President Roosevelt in bringing the coal strike in the United States of America to a satisfactory issue, with the weak, timid, vacillating, unjust and unstatesmanlike attitude adopted by this Government. I strongly support the motion, and I regret that honorable members opposite who previously urged the prosecution of John Brown, are not permitted to vote for it.
.- This debate has rendered a service inasmuch as it has given to the John Brown incident a publicity that previously was lacking. The press of this country contented itself by merely stating that the prosecution against John Brown had been withdrawn. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that a large section of the community resented the action of the Government. This debate has served to focus a spotlight upon that action, and, as a result, people have had one more proof that the Government is prepared to do what it considers to be right, regardless of political consequences. Honorable members opposite, and those associated with them in the Labour movement throughout Australia, have endeavored to make political capital of the action of the Government. Several members have referred to statements made during the Queensland State election, and I have with me a statement of Mr. McCormack, the late Premier of . Queensland. Speaking at Innisfail during the last election,, that gentleman said among, other things that the Federal Government had abandoned the prosecution against John Brown because a Tory Government was in power in New South Wales. Mr. McCormack knew full well that that was not the motive actuating the Federal Government in withdrawing the prosecution. When the statement appeared in the Brisbane press I replied to it.
– The honorable member did not reply accurately.
– Two days later the honorable- member, for. Dalley (Mr.
Theodore) arrived at Brisbane. When interviewed by a representative of the Daily Standard he is reported by that paper to have said -
Mr. Bayley has said that ‘the prosecution was withdrawn with the concurrence of the representatives of the miners union. That is untrue; the miners and their representatives have bitterly resented the action.
The honorable member for Dalley does not use words carelessly. As evidence of that, one lias only to recall the meticulous care with which he chose his words the other day when dealing with a stolen document. The honorable member said at that time that my statement was untrue. The untruth lay in the fact that the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) put words into my mouth that I did not utter.
– I have the Daily Mail’s report of the honorable member’s speech.
– That was on the 23rd April. On the 30th April, a week later, the honorable member addressed the miners of the Ipswich district. He said -
Concerning the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown, Mr. Bayley had told the public that the miners had agreed unanimously that this should be done.
That is absolutely incorrect. The honorable member grew bolder as he went on. The week previously he said that my statement was untrue. On the 30th April he said that my statement was a barefaced untruth. I shall now quote from the Brisbane press what I did say in my rejoinder to Mr. McCormack after he had spoken at Innisfail. I said at that time that a conference had been called, that it was attended by representatives of the miners’ unions and of the mine-owners ; ‘ that the suggestion was made by the owners’ representatives that it would be impossible for them to lay all their cards on the table, inasmuch as a prosecution was . hanging over the head of one of their members; and that when Mr. Bruce proposed that this prosecution should be withdrawn, the conference without dissent agreed that the case against Mr. Brown should be dropped.
– I say that that is absolutely untrue.
– I said that on the 19th April. On the 23rd April the honorable member for Dalley said that I stated that the prosecution was withdrawn with the concurrence of the representatives of the miners’ union.
– What newspaper is the honorable member quoting?
– I am quoting the . Brisbane Courier of the 19th April.
– I quoted from the Brisbane Daily Mail.
– The Brisbane Daily Mail published practically the same article. The honorable member for Dalley twisted my words. He said that I stated that the prosecution was withdrawn with the concurrence of the representatives of the miners’ union. It would be impossible for them to concur unless they had spoken. I made no such statement. The words that I used were “ without dissent.”
– The honorable member said that the conference agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution.
– I said that the conference, without dissent, agreed to that.
– It did not.
– Of course it did. If Mr. Speaker put a question to this House and a number of “ Ayes “ were called and no “Noes,” the House would agree to it without dissent. When the honorable member for Dalley misquoted my words by saying that I stated that the miners had agreed unanimously to the withdrawal of the prosecution, he knew full well that he was using words that I did not utter. I did not refer to this subject in Queensland, nor did I reply to the honorable member for Dalley. I considered that unnecessary, because the people of Queensland have known both of us for a long time. I refer to the subject to-night, to show that some honorable members opposite will go to any length” to attempt to prove that honorable members on this side will do anything to aid their political advancement.
I have no wish to discuss the censure motion, because that subject has been thoroughly threshed out. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham), and other honorable members oh this side who have spoken, have put the case fairly. We have heard the charges levelled against the Government by honorable members opposite. I say unhesitatingly that I stand behind the Government, and that I am proud to be a member of the party supporting it. I am confident that when the people of Australia know, as they will assuredly know, the full facts of the case, they also will give their verdict in favour of the present Government.
and the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) either with bunches of flowers or with boxes of chocolates.
– What about a drop of Scotch?
– I leave that to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). Several honorable members supporting the Government have gone to considerable trouble to eulogize the Prime Minister because of his supposedly lofty motives and good intentions in the matter of withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown. Let us take in contrast the attitude of the Government supporters towards prominent trade unionists. The lowest and meanest language is used by them to break down any suggestion of lofty motives or good intention on the part of unionists dealing with matters concerning their organizations. Of course, to some members of the Nationalist party the members of the Cabinet are above reproach. Even when the Government makes mistakes, they consider it quite justified in so doing, because they allege it is acting in the interests of the country. In reality, the Government always acts in the interests of the class it represents. The Nationalist party is anxious at all times to discredit the motives of trade unionists. Its action at the last election, as in other elections, in distributing certain anti-Labour literature throughout Australia, caused me to lose’ any regard that I might previously have held for the members of that party.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) said that upon the coal-fields it is believed that this prosecution was launched in order to help the coal-owners to tighten up their organization. They found Mr. John Brown a difficult man to handle and felt that if the prosecution were launched against him it would consolidate their position, enable Mr. McDonald to stabilize the situation, and prevent Mr. Brown from breaking away from the combine. I agree with that view. The AttorneyGeneral has assured us that the prosecution was launched only after the fullest investigations had been made. He said that every avenue had been explored in order to gather evidence. He then made the peculiar statement that he had not seen fit to peruse that evidence. Those who are associated with legal affairs may think that that course was quite in order, but it seems to me that the gentleman who is responsible for the initiation of such proceedings as these should satisfy himself before taking action that a prima facie case had been made out. The Attorney-General told us that he was prepared to accept the opinion of eminent counsel in Sydney on that point without considering the evidence himself. That is an extraordinary position.
The Prime Minister, in discussing the matter, said that he had been accused of being friendly with Mr. John Brown. If that were held to be a justification for withdrawing the prosecution, he said that it could not, at the same time, fit in with the action of instituting proceedings. I submit that it is unnecessary to prove the existence of any friendly feeling between the Prime Minister and the person prosecuted. It is enough for us to know that the forces which direct the activities of the Nationalist Party in New South Wales are directly and intimately associated, if not with John Brown, at least with Mr. McDonald, who, is the mouth-piece of the colliery-owners. In our opinion the prosecution was launched at the instigation of Mr. McDonald for the purpose already outlined.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) had a good deal to say about the motives which actuated the Prime Minister and the Government in connexion with this matter. I think that the prosecution was withdrawn because certain interested parties felt that it might lead to the revelation of too many financial details in connexion with the working of the collieries. It has been suggested that in order to prove the existence of a lockout it is necessary to show that the particular industry was being worked at a profit and that there was justification for continuing to operate it under existing conditions. I take it that if the case against Mr. John Brown had been investigated in a court of law, the court would have had power to compel the defendant to produce his books and records, so that the returns from his collieries could be ascertained. If such records had been produced in court they would have become public property. The mine-owners all along were anxious to prevent anything like that from happening. When the question of producing books and records was recently discussed before the royal commission on the coal industry counsel for the collieryowners strongly objected to any evidence respecting profits being taken in public. The commission finally agreed to take in camera the evidence that was tendered in respect of profits. Throughout all the investigations that have been made into this industry, whether by Government or other tribunals, the mine-owners have resisted every effort to obtain a public statement as to their profits. If the ordinary processes of the law had been in operation against Mr. John Brown it would have been possible to ascertain the return from his collieries over a number of years, and that, of course, would be contrary to their interests.
Honorable members who represent constituencies in States other than New South Wales may be interested to know that the move for the withdrawal of this prosecution originated with members of the Nationalist Consultative Council in that State. In other words, it was made at the instigation of those people who control both Commonwealth and State Nationalist activities in New South Wales.
It is obvious that the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. John Brown was not discussed with the Prime Minister before he left Melbourne to attend the Sydney Show. It was first discussed after he reached Sydney. The Prime Minister has told us that upon his arrival in Sydney he was approached by the representatives of the union, who told him that their accountant had suggested a scheme which might lead to a settlement of the dispute. According to what has been said to me by the representatives of the men who met the Prime Minister, he remarked : “ The case made out seems to be too good to be true “. It appears now that after consulting with the representatives of the unions the Prime Minister had a conversation with the representatives of the colliery owners. In all such instances which have come under my knowledge, that is, where a person has acted between two parties, the intermediary has satisfied himself before calling the representatives into conference that there is a reasonable possibility of the success of the conference. Surely the Prime Minister’s knowledge of industrial affairs was not so limited that he called these representatives together at the Sydney conference before ascertaining that there was a reasonable hope of reaching a settlement. If he did so he displayed, as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) has said, a lamentable lack of knowledge of the people with whom he was dealing.
As a matter of fact the report of the Sydney conference shows quite clearly that the owners had not the slightest intention of doing anything that would settle the dispute. They raised quibble after quibble, and put as many hindrances as possible in the way of carrying on the conference. They did their best to prevent the accountant of the unions from even attending the conference. It will be remembered that in the discussion on the coal industry which we had in this House earlier this year, the selection of an accountant to act for the unions caused a good deal of comment. I think it will be realized now that the unions had every justification for insisting upon the right to choose their own accountant. It is quite clear that the mine-owners were afraid that Mr. Miller knew too much about the industry. Otherwise they would not have taken such strong objection to his being present at the conference. It was finally agreed that he should remain in attendance as an advisor.
The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin) has referred to some of the obstacles which were raised by the colliery owners at the conference. I do not intend to go over that ground again. But there is one point that I shall mention, which seems to me to prove conclusively that the owners had no intention whatever of doing anything effective. They said that it would be necessary to adjourn the conference to give them sufficient time to consult with the London shareholders in the colliery companies, before they could arrive at a definite decision. It is extraordinary that persons many thousands of miles from Australia should have to be consulted on a matter of such vital concern to the Commonwealth. In view of all these facts we are not prepared to accept the statement that the prosecution was withdrawn for the reasons which honorable members opposite have stated.
It is a common thing to judge persons by their general conduct, and we contend that the general conduct of the Government has been to attack the workers on every possible occasion and to protect to the fullest extent the interests of its own supporters. That is proved conclusively by the language used in the statute in relation to lockouts. In that connexion the word “ unreasonable “ appears. I submit that that word was inserted in order to safeguard the wealthy interest in the community. The reasonableness or unreasonableness of the actions of the workers is never considered. As the’ statutes are framed it is almost impossible to get a conviction against the employing class, and this Government is responsible for the wording of the acts. Honorable members should call to mind the attitude of the Government when certain action was contemplated against the transport workers. When that bill was under consideration, it was pointed out that it was impossible, without some experience, to frame a statute which would cover every contingency. Consequently, power was included in the measure to enable the Attorney-General to draft interim regulations which would have the force of law. Nothing like that was suggested when action against the employers was contemplated. In view of all these circumstances, I submit that it is impossible for us to believe that the Government is as anxious to enforce the law against tlie employers as against the employees.
We have been told that the union representatives at the Sydney conference did not take any exception to the withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. John Brown, and that they even tacitly approved of it. Had the union representatives at that conference objected to the withdrawal of the prosectuion when the Prime Minister was talking they would have been charged with discourtesy or with having attempted to prevent the conference from proceeding. However, I have received a letter signed by D. Rees, General President, and D. J. Davies, General Secretary, of the Combined Mining Unions, which should refute once and for all the suggestion that they agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution. The letter reads -
We desire to refute and deny any statements which have been made, or likely to be made, to the effect that representatives of the Combined Mining Unions agreed to, or condoned the withdrawal of the Commonwealth Government’s prosecution against Mr. John Brown.
Never on any occasion did the Prime Minister or any other person. consult the representatives of the unions, or discuss with them the question of the withdrawal of such prosecution.
The Mining Unions and their representatives certainly do not agree with the action of tlie Government, and have at various times most emphatically and publicly protested against the law being prevented from taking its course.
That is an emphatic refutation of the suggestion that at any stage of the proceedings these men were given an opportunity to express their opinion of the proposal of the Prime Minister to withdraw the prosecution. The right honorable gentleman has said that he heard of no objections in Sydney. Doubtless he would not in the precincts of the Hotel Australia and other places that he frequents while in Sydney; but in those places where the great body of the people congregate there is a different atmosphere, and I can assure him that considerable resentment at his action has been expressed. On the following day a strong protest against it was made by various bodies who are entitled to be heard.
During the course of the debate I have stated, by way of interjection, that when the mine-owners failed to meet the wishes of those by whom the conference was called, some means could have been found to resume the prosecution at its conclusion. Several references have been made to the length of time that has elapsed since the conference was held; and it must be obvious, even to members of the Government, that the mine-owners were not sincere in their attitude towards it. If, prior to the conference, the investigations made at the instigation of the Attorney-General proved the existence of a prima facie case, that case is just as strong or even stronger to-day. It is strange, therefore, that the Government has not since taken action to have the law vindicated. The conclusion is inescapeable that in New South Wales there are influences which are sufficiently strong to induce the Government to refrain from persisting with the prosecution. As time goes on it will be made plain to honorable members who sit on the Government benches that they are being dragged at the coat-tails of the members of this inner circle, and are doing their bidding. It is apparent that this inner circle can wield a remarkable influence, also, in the State Parliament. One of the first acts of the Bavin Government when it assumed office was to withdraw a prosecution for criminal libel that had been instituted against the Sydney Morning Herald by its predecessor in office, because of an attack by that newspaper upon Mr. Piddington. The case had reached the stage when it merely awaited presentation to the court; but the consultative council of the National party in New South Wales succeeded in having it stopped. Yet, when certain trade union leaders in that State held meetings ‘ with the object of bringing to a successful termination the struggle in the timber industry, they were seized by several members of the police force and charged with conspiracy. John Brown, McDonald, and others can lock out 12,000 employees, and inflict all the hardships it is possible for those people to bear, yet the State Government will not charge them with conspiracy, showing clearly that there is differentiation in the administration of the law.
This action of the Government has convinced me that I am correct in the view that I have long held regarding the manner in which the laws of this and other countries are administered under the existing social system ; and, if ever I have a voice in the government of the Commonwealth, I shall consider myself justified in pursuing a policy that I have advocated in the ranks of my party, many members of which I have criticized from time to time because of their failure to take full advantage of the opportunity to act as members of this Government have acted. This Government has administered the laws along class lines. They have seized every opportunity that has presented itself to do the bidding of their masters. On the other hand, when the Labour party has been in power it has administered the laws impartially, and very often has subjected to considerable hardship and suffering members of the class it represents. We may regard this as a dignified and deliberative legislature, but the fact cannot be disputed that John Brown has the power to bring it into the utmost contempt. It is exceedingly difficult to get the mass of the people to realize this position fully, but action such as this will greatly strengthen the hands of those who are endeavouring to bring about a right conception of the situation.
The debate might fittingly be concluded by the presentation of the following indictment against John Brown and those who are associated with him: -
That you, John Brown, and (here follow the other names) did on or about February last unlawfully conspire together to secure a heavy reduction in miners’ wages by closing down your collieries, for the purpose of adding to your already large bank balances, without good and reasonable cause.
You are further charged with conspiracy to starve upwards of 10,000 miners into surrendering their freedom, so that you can at any future time, by the power of victimization, terrorize your employees into foregoing those conditions of labour which have hitherto secured them some small measure of freedom.
You are further charged with the heinous and barbarous offence against morality and ordinary human decency of having conspired together to starve thousands of helpless women and innocent children in order unlawfully to induce them to bring pressure on their husbands, sons and brothers, to become your bondslaves forever, contrary to the statutes of our Realm.
It is further charged against you that your conspiracy has brought great distress, ruin and bankruptcy to the business people of the cities of Newcastle and Maitland and to the towns of Cessnock, Kurri Kurri, Abermain,. Weston, Wallsend, West Wallsend and various other towns and villages, and that many industries have been compelled to close or reduce their activities to the serious loss and suffering of thousands of wage-earners and their dependants.
You are also charged with high treason to the people of the Commonwealth in having caused heavy and serious losses to the revenues in the State of New South Wales, and by creating an artificial scarcity of coal, have imperilled the railway service and other public services in various States of the Commonwealth.
Take notice that, if, on evidence, these charges bc sustained, in addition to all other pains and penalties by law provided, your coalmines shall be forfeited forever and become the property of the people of New South Wales, free of all compensation or payment of any kind whatsoever.
You are also called upon to show cause why you and each of you should not be deported at the termination of your trial, as a menace to the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth of Australia, by your actions in depriving the citizens of this Commonwealth of a commodity necessary to their existence, which, being tlie gift of Nature to all the people, has been fraudulently appropriated by you.
When’ the time is opportune, such an indictment will receive the endorsement of thousands of persons throughout the Commonwealth. The Government has failed to do its duty ; it has not permitted the courts of this country to give a determination upon the matter. Therefore, the people generally should be allowed to pass judgment.
Judging by the utterances of several members who sit on the Government side of the House, together with leading articles, letters and comments that have appeared in the antilabour press throughout the Commonwealth, I am satisfied that when the people are next asked for a verdict they will return a government which will apply the law against Brown and his asassociates with the utmost rigour. The Crimes Act and other penal legislation should be invoked to such an extent, even to the extent of deportation, that some kind of even-handed justice will be clone to the people, as a whole. I hope to be associated with that Government, and I feel that the time is not far distant when I shall be.
.- The motion before the House declares that the Government should be removed from office because of its withdrawal of the summons against John Brown. Having regard to the source of this motion, I think” that for sheer political effrontery it is without parallel in the experience of this
Chamber. As the action of the Government has been completely justified by the speeches of the right honorable the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, I do not propose to traverse the ground which has been so adequately covered by them. There are, however, some aspects of the case under review to which I wish briefly to refer.
In the consideration of all serious charges, political and otherwise, the record and character of the accuser is of interest and importance. I suggest that we look at this charge against the Government from that angle. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in one of the feeblest opening speeches ever heard in this House, charged the Prime Minister with being guilty of discrimination in the administration of industrial justice. In a peculiar degree, and more especially because of the manner in which it was made by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), this charge is a personal one levelled against the head of the Government. This House and the country . generally, are- asked, therefore, to choose between the challenged and the challenger, between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The issue is between the Prime Minister who is and the Prime Minister who would be. I shall have something to say later of the personal record of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the administration of indusrial law; but for the moment I shall confine myself to the issue between the two parties, the Government and the Opposition. This issue compels us to consider the two opposing parties in the light of the respect which each has shown in the past towards the maintenance of industrial law. The actual charge levelled by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that the Prime Minister, because of his withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown, is no longer fit to be entrusted with the administration of industrial justice. The inference is that honorable members opposite, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition especially, by their record are eminently fitted to be entrusted with the administration of the industrial laws. As I see this matter, as I believe the country sees it, and as I am confident the House will decide, the justification of the Government on this issue is absolute. I wish, however, to direct the attention of the House to the manner in which honorable members opposite have respected and honored the industrial laws of the country. That record is most disreputable, vicious, and contemptible, and I am amazed that the party possessing it should have the impudence to attack the Government on this question.
– The honorable member confines himself to general statements, and makes no definite charges.
– I shall not hesitate to make definite statements. I shall not indulge in low and mean innuendoes, but shall come out into the open and speak candidly. I shall not deal in sinister personal suggestions, but shall say quite frankly what I mean. Let us consider the record of honorable members opposite who have spoken on this subject with such unction. Notorious as the story is, let me remind the House of the attitude and actions of honorable members opposite during the past twelve months in connexion, first, with the waterside workers strike and” then with the strike of the timber workers. In each case the strike was against an award of the Arbitration Oourt. It was a strike against an award of a particular industrial tribunal which came into being as a result of years of agitation and pleading by the members of the party opposite, or its predecessors. Those strikes were a definite flouting of awards of that tribunal which honorable members opposite now declare they will defend to the last ditch. In view of the Opposition’s extraordinary attitude on the present issue, it is pertinent to inquire what part they, and particularly the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), have played during these most deplorable strikes. Their record is an outstanding example of political cowardice and futility. Let us consider the unhappy history of these two strikes in detail.
Mr.Fenton. - The honorable member’s remarks are hardly relevant.
– The honorable member would like to have them stopped, I know. In each of the strikes I have referred to, the breach of industrial law was flagrant and open. There was no question about that. Moreover, it was committed despite the fact that the prospect of its success was remote in the extreme. Never in all the sad history of strikes in this country was the situation from the outset so much against the unfortunate workers, who were misled by honorable members opposite, and never was it more certain that thousands of men would lose their means of sustenance, and that tens of thousands of women and children would endure suffering and hardship. There were two men waiting to take up each position vacated by a striker. These were not, as honorable members opposite would suggest, “blacklegs “ and “ scabs,” but good unemployed unionists who were prepared to work, and did work, under the awards of the court. No question of wage-cutting entered into the matter. If honorable members opposite had lived up to the traditions of former members of their party, they could have prevented those strikes, the continuance of which was the direct result of the cowardly concurrence of honorable members opposite in what were undoubtedly flagrant breaches of the law.
– It is not in order to suggest that honorable members of this House have been guilty of cowardly conduct.
– I withdraw the charge of cowardice, though it has been made a number of times by honorable members opposite. They did not utter any word of warning to the workers, nor did they urge them . to remain in employment and to observe the law. They made no effort to ward off the tragedy towards which the unfortunate workers were drifting. Yet they now have the presumption to slobber about the sacredness of the industrial law of the country, and to condemn the Government because, as they say, it has not observed or enforced that law. Not only did honorable members opposite allow the strikes to run on week after week, and month after month, but, by many acts and statements, they actually encouraged the men in their foolish conduct. They will tell us, of course, that they were busy behind the scenes; but nobody knows what they were doing in the interests of peace. They may say that they were pulling strings here and using their influence there; but I maintain that public men and representative Labour leaders worthy of the name should take a more prominent lead in the preservation of industrial peace at such times. I remember when Labour leaders, most of them now gone-
– Ah, the good old days !
– I do not say the good old days; but the days when there flourished stout-hearted, brave men on that side of the House. I remember that when men like W. G. Spence, Gregor McGregor, Batchelor and R. S. Guthrie were members of the Labour party, they did not, in times of industrial trouble, waste time in making mean insinuations. They acted as leaders, and played the parts they had undertaken. They went out as mediators, and with fair success.
Thursday, 22 August 1929
Honorable members opposite now jeer and make hostile demonstrations. If instead of being a member of this Government, I, at this moment, were secretary or president of a political Labour league, with a handful of preselection votes in my pocket, I could make the strongest possible statements without those members saying a word in protest. That is the explanation of the extraordinarily supine and hopeless acquiescence of honorable members opposite in the continuance of these industrial disturbances. These two strikes were, as I have said, a flouting of the industrial law, which was supported by honorable members opposite, and now, unfortunately, thousands of workers in Australia have permanently lost their jobs, and thousands more have suffered in consequence.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), in speaking to this motion made a number of insinuations and foul suggestions which he was afraid to put into words. By his general bearing he has degraded the position which he is temporarily filling, and he has introduced to this House a new and a lower standard of political morality and party leadership. The honorary member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) denied that there was any evil suggestion in the motion, or that it was in any way a personal attack upon the
Prime Minister. It is, however, unquestionable that this censure motion contains sinister insinuations against both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. This was evident throughout the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and of many of those who followed him. This being so the honorable member for Reid now suggests that the motion might be amended. In support of what I have said I quote the following passage from the speech of the honorable member for Dalley-
Evidently John Brown has some mysterious influence over the Prime Minister which enables him to flout the administration, laugh at the Government, and act the part of the lawbreaker.
Will honorable members opposite say that no evil suggestion is contained in . that statement, which comes well from the honorable member for Dalley? Perhaps he wished to convey the impression that Mr. John Brown sent a ton of coal to the right honorable the Prime Minister at Frankston, or promised him the”good oil” in connexion with some horse races. In framing his motion the Deputy Leader of the Opposition knew that he would be setting a new standard in debate, and that those who followed him would proceed along the same lines. The honorable gentleman also said that if the Attorney-General had been a man of principle he would have resigned from the Cabinet rather than acquiesce in the withdrawal of the prosecution. I suggest that if the honorable member himself were a man of principle he would not make such filthy and unsupported suggestions in this Chamber.
– What does the honorable Minister mean by that statement? His words convey an implication which, I think, is quite unparliamentary, and he should either define his meaning or withdraw what he said.
– As the honorable member for Dalley regards the expression as offensive, I ask the honorable Minister to withdraw it.
– I suggest that it is for you, Mr. Speaker, to say whether the word “ filthy “ is offensive.
– It is not proper for an honorable member to describe the utterance of another honorable member as “ filthy “ in the ordinary sense of the term. I, therefore, ask the Minister to withdraw the statement.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggested that the Attorney-General, in acquiescing in the withdrawal of the prosecution, did not act as a man of principle, and in describ ing his charge as “filthy” I was not using the word literally, but broadly; but to satisfy him I withdraw the statement. Indeed, I feel that I should apologize to both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General for having taken the slightest notice of the personal charges made by him against them; but such charges are so unusual in the public life of Australia and the insinuations in the speeches of honorable members opposite have been so persistent, that one does not wish to allow them to pass without pro: tost.
I do not propose at this stage to enter upon a defence of the Government’s action. That task has already been well performed.
– The ‘honorable mem ber has been put up to be as dirty as possible.
– Order ! I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to Avith- draw that statement.
– I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker.
– The defence of the Government’s action has been absolute and complete. I should like to add that in the opinion of the majority of members of this House and the people of this country, the Prime Minister all through the dispute has been acting disinterestedly on behalf of the nation. As an outstanding proof of the right honorable gentleman’s disinterestedness let me remind honorable members that last year the Government offered a bounty of ls. a ton on coal exported from New South Wales, in the hope that that would lead to a settlement of the dispute. Immediately strong protests came from the coal-mining interests of Victoria. At that time I thought the proposal would injure Victorian interests, and I urged the Prime Minister not to persist with his offer, but the right honorable gentleman said that the Victorian interests must be made subservient to the national interests.
Honorable members will understand what this meant to the Prime Minister himself when I tell them that the most important coal-mine in Victoria, that from which the strongest protests came, because it would have been the one most seriously affected, is Wonthaggi, and that mine is situated in the constituency of the Prime Minister. I mention this as conclusive proof that the right honorable gentleman has been actuated by one motive only, and that is the desire to serve the interests of the people of Australia, and particularly the coal-mining interests of New South Wales.
Mr. West interjecting,
– If the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) wil not cease interjecting, I shall have to name him.
– Honorable members will note that the leader in this crusade to secure a greater respect for the dignity and majesty of the law is the honorable member ‘ for” Dalley (Mr. Theodore). I suggest that probably he has furnished the worst example that Ave have ever had of a public man in this country inciting to violence. I refer to the speech made recently by him in Sydney. On the occasion to which I refer, he practically threatened ‘the police of Sydney, telling them of what would happen to them if the Labour Government came into power, should they persist in defending the unfortunate volunteer workers from the violence of the “basher” gang.
– The honorable member knows that is not true.
– It is the only inference to be drawn from the honorable member’s statement as reported in the press. He said that when a Labour Government came into power the police would be controlled.
– Quote my words.
– That was the effect of the honorable member’3 statement. The only inference to be drawn from his remarks was that something would happen to the police if they persisted in carrying out the orders of the Government of the day.
– That is quite inaccurate.
– It is remarkable thai an honorable gentleman who indulged in such unrestrained language should bo found two or three weeks later condemning the Government for an alleged wrongful administration of the industrial laws. The action taken by the Prime Minister was unquestionably right, and it will always be a source of satisfaction to me that I was associated with him as a member of his Government when he took that action.
– A discerning public will readily recognize that the Government’s case is indeed lamentably weak when it necessitates a responsible Minister expressing himself in the most unusual terms used by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) to-night. I have never previously heard a responsible Minister show so little respect for his high office. The Minister has set an unfortunate standard of conduct before honorable members. This debate has been remarkable in that honorable members opposite have descended to such depths; at times their remarks have been most objectionable. The speech of the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) was the most un for hma te to which I have -ever listened. If the electors of Kennedy could have heard it there is little doubt regarding the manner in which they would treat their representative when next he sought their suffrages. He gave an alleged history of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) ; but he had to admit that this same man Avon the confidence of the people of Queensland, who elevated him to the high office of Premier of that State. The charge levelled against the Government is one of vital importance. Honorable members who condone such discrimination between rich and poor are no longer deserving of a place in this House. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Attorney-General has attempted to minimize the gravity of the charge. The Prime Minister said that the grounds upon which the motion is founded are the most serious that could form the basis of a want of confidence. He realized, that his action Avas one of lunacy because of its repercussion upon the Government and its supporters. No member on this side could have expressed the position more truly. The Attorney-General said that the safe course Avas obvious, as was also the timid course. He added that the Government had nothing to lose but everything to gain by going on with the prosecution. The safe and easy course wouk have meant the upholding of the good name of the Government, the retention of the confidence of the people and no pollution of the fount of justice. Why then
Avas it not f followed ? In the circumstances the only proper course Avas to proceed with the prosecution of Mr. Brown. The facts of the case are admitted by the Government, but in explanation of its action, reference has been made to the circumstances of the case and the underlying motive. The record of the debate will reveal that not only on this side of the House, but. among Government supporters, too, there is a conviction that the charge of discrimination is well founded. There is common agreement among the members of the House on the following points - (1) That a dislocation of the coal industry has taken place; (2) that through the action of the colliery proprietors 12,000 persons have been thrown out of employment and others who are dependent upon them are suffering privation and want; (3) that by their act John Brown and others committed a breach of the Industrial Peace Act and the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act; (4) that at previous times and places action has been taken under the acts mentioned to prosecute unionists and trade union organizations ; (5) that the opinion of eminent counsel had certified to a prima facie case having been made out against John Brown; (6) that the Government promised Parliament that proceedings would be instituted against John Brown; (7) that a summons Avas issued; and (8) that without consideration of impartial administration, and Avith no purpose of securing the ends of justice or of vindicating the law, the Government deliberately arrested its processes. It attempted to defend its action on the ground that its motive Avas good. But the administration of justice has been described by an eminent authority as the rendering to every one of due or right treatment, merited reward or punishment. Justice implies the strict and judicial rendering of what is due - fairness and even-handed impartiality. The Government is not prepared even to dispute the fact that it has departed from that cardinal principle. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) states that as a lover of even-handed justice he dissociated himself from the action of the Government in this matter. The announcement that the prosecution had been withdrawn came as a painful shock to him. The honorable member is accustomed to receive shocks in public life ; but why was this a painful one ? It was because the ends of justice had been defeated.
– Not necessarily. The Government had the power to withdraw the prosecution, and the circumstances might have been considered to be such as would justify that action; but in this case I did not think that the Government was justified in the action it took.
– There should be no arrest of that process by which justice is obtained. If we sought to regulate its administration according to motives and circumstances, what a collection of contradictions we should have! Wrongdoing would become a virtue; villainous acts would become symbols of ennoblement; fraudulent practices would become canons of honour. There can be no standing upon the dividing line; we must take our place either for justice or for improper discrimination. The honorable member for Fawkner who first condemned the Government, and then soothingly condoned its action, knows that he could not obtain an acquittal in a Criminal Court on a plea of motive. It is a wellestablished rule in the courts of this country that a good motive must not prevent wrong-doing from being regarded as a crime. I was recently asked to befriend a young man who had just been released from gaol in Adelaide. In reply to my questions he told me that he had been imprisoned for forgery for nine months. His father was blind and in ill-health, and it was thought that an operation would possibly be the means of giving him good health. The father wrote to him from Broken Hill and asked for £15 to cover the cost of the operation. The young man said that he forged a cheque for £16 and sent £15 to his father. Undoubtedlly the motive of the son was good; but a conviction was recorded. When the court was about to give its decision in that case that was the proper time to consider the motive of the accused. But that was not the procedure adopted in the case of John Brown. . I believe that the honorable member for Fawkner^ and other honorable members, agree with me that the Government has been guilty of a dereliction of duty in not allowing the law to take its course.
– The framer of this motion himself introduced the question of motive by’ charging a dishonorable motive.
– I have looked at the charge embodied in the motion, and have also examined the dictionary definition of “ unjust.” “ discrimination,” and “ corruption,” and by no stretch of the imagination can “ unjust discrimination “ be associated with “ corruption.” The leading authority does not support the construction that some honorable members opposite have tried to place upon the terms of the motion in order to excuse themselves from their obvious duty. If motive is to be the standard by which public action is measured, then ineptitude, extravagance, weakness, and arrogance in public policy are all to be excused on that score. We could never carry on the affairs of government in any country if a Ministry was to be excused for wrongdoing on the score of high motives. Can any honorable member opposite convince himself that the Government has acted properly in the case of John Brown ? Since it is well known that it has not, honorable members should express their true conviction and vote accordingly. Even if we assented to the peculiar reasoning of the Prime Minister and said that circumstances and motives transcend all “ considerations of justice and the processes of the law, he would immediately be faced with a peculiar position. If the Prime Minister claims that the prosecution of John Brown should be withdrawn, E. J. Holloway should be able to convince Ministers that the action for which he was fined was prompted by a good motive, and that he should not have been penalized. The impartial administration of the law is a cardinal feature of our legal code and the moment that principle is departed from, patronage is created and the ends of justice defeated. The Prime Minister stated : -
Were I again faced with similar circumstances, and had I to decide whether I would follow 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.
If ever a person adopted an expedient course the right honorable gentleman did so when he withdrew the prosecution against Mr. John Brown. The air of injured innocence which he displays does not convince or deceive, any one, and I am sure that those who read the debate on this motion will realize that there is little justification for the right honorable gentleman adopting the course he took. What was the real motive behind his action? He said that the coal-owners were not prepared to go into conference until the prosecution was withdrawn. That in itself is a confession of guilt on their part, and shows conclusively that their profits in the coal business are more than they wish to make public. One of the principal points to be discussed at the conference was the profits which the coal-owners were making, and if they had nothing to hide they would have agreed to being* represented at the conference without imposing any condition. They realized, however, that if their profits were published they might be further incriminated. If the coal-mining business is in the parlous condition which the owners say it is, surely they should welcome an opportunity for disclosing their position and justifying their action in the eyes of the people. If the Government had proceeded with the prosecution of Mr. Brown, he would not only have been compelled to disclose his profits, but in the course of cross-examination would have been asked many questions which would have been very embarrassing to him. The action of the Government is astounding when we remember that it was not the legal member of the Cabinet, who usually institutes proceedings and takes any further necessary action in cases of this kind, who withdrew the prosecution. The Prime Minister) not the AttorneyGeneral, instructed the SolicitorGeneral to withdraw proceedings, and we are informed that the SolicitorGeneral instructed the Crown Solicitor on the 9th April in these words -
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 owners with a view to the resumption of work at the collieries.
That action was taken under instructions from the Prime Minister and not from the Attorney-General, and merely because the coal-owners said that they would not go into the conference until the summons had been withdrawn. The procedure adopted in this instance is most unusual, and calls for a fuller explanation than that which has been given by representatives of the Government. In endeavouring to defend the action of the Government, the Attorney-General spent most of his time in discussing other industrial troubles which were irrelevant to the motion before the House, and I cannot recall a government ever giving a more unsatisfactory defence of its actions. The construction placed upon this dereliction of duty was anticipated by the Government, as one of its representatives has admitted that it knew it would be charged with improper motives. That opinion was expressed by the Attorney-General when he was first consulted by the Prime Minister, and shows that the Government recognizes that the action which it proposed to take would not inspire the confidence of the people. Even the Prime Minister had not failed to recognize the great possibility of strong public disapproval. There is an insistent demand for the prosecution not of John Brown the coal-owner, but of John Brown the law-breaker. The law should be observed particularly by the Government, and if this Parliament does not protect the rights of the people, their confidence in constitutional government will be seriously undermined. I trust that the action of the Opposition in censuring the Government for being so remiss in its duty will show future administrations that they cannot tamper with justice. The Government should realize that it is its responsibility to administer the law without discrimination, and thus ensure confidence and respect in those institutions which control the destiny of this nation.
– The Opposition has hopelessly failed to sustain the charges embodied in the motion submitted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore). For hours I have listened to the explanations which have fallen from the lips of honorable members opposite who have addressed themselves to the motion, and it may be truly stated that their arguments have been based upon false premises. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in launching the motion was actuated more by a desire to gain political advantage for his party than to do that which he thought was right. He is, of course, anxious to see the Government defeated, and to influence the votes of certain supporters of the Government.
– And he has succeeded.
– The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may see the possibility of securing the support of certain individuals on this side of the chamber, who are expected to vote against the Government on all matters, not from the viewpoint of what is right, but for their own political purposes.
– Does the honorable member include the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) ?
– The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) can be relied upon to vote against the Government on most occasions. Those honorable members seem to delight in thrusting in the knife and giving it a twist whenever the opportunity presents itself. If members of the Opposition think that the framing of the motion or the contentions contained in their speeches have in any way influenced those two honorable gentlemen, their minds can be disillusioned, because these honorable members are actuated absolutely by their own opinions. The motion is merely a political stunt. We know too well that the Opposition has a right to bring forward motions of censure. It has a right to exact obedience from its supporters, and further it has full control over their actions. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has expressed his opinion of the action of the Government. He enjoys a freedom that is denied to members opposite. He has a right to express himself, and he has fearlessly done so, but I challenge honorable members opposite on any occasion to express themselves contrary to the dictates of caucus and to the principles laid down at party meetings.
– I object to the statement that honorable members on this side are not free to vote according to their convictions. I regard that as a gross reflection upon myself and my party, and I ask that it be withdrawn.
– It is out of order to suggest that any member of the House does not vote according to his convictions. If the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) implied that, I ask him to withdraw his remarks.
– I implied that even if the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) disagreed with the motion, he would still be bound to support it.
– On a point of order I ask that those words be withdrawn.
– I ask the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) to withdraw the words in question.
– I withdraw. The demand of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) for withdrawal comes as a surprise even to his own colleagues. I was a member of the Queensland Parliament when it was controlled for nearly fifteen years by the political party of the mover of the motion, and during that period no member of the Labour party was allowed to vote against the Government on any bill or amendment.
– The Queensland opposition was very weak at the time.
– That would show how weak the Government w?as at the time of the last election when it was obliterated after it had devoted fifteen years of office to intrigue and adjustment of rolls.
– Was this issue before the Queensland electors ?
– Absolutely. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) went to Queensland. He spoke at two meetings on the subject of the Johannsen prosecution, and then the labour organization let him know that he was not wanted there, so he returned to New South “Wales.
– The honorable member is brave when the honorable member for Dalley is absent.
– I have waited a long time for an opportunity to speak on the motion, and I am not going to study the convenience of honorable members who like to absent themselves from the chamber. Anything that I say I am quite willing to repeat when the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) is present, and he knows it. As the Opposition has failed in its endeavour to induce members on this side to vote for the motion, it should withdraw it at this stage’. Any Government must know where it stands in regard to its supporters. Although we are up against party politics, we must be guided by our consciences. The interests of the country must be put before the interests of the party. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) made a bitter attack upon the Government. He said that the Prime Minister, by withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown, would lose tens of thousands of votes for the Nationalist party. That, no doubt, actuated the mind of the right honorable member. Contrast his attitude with that of the Prime Minister, who put foremost the interests of his country. He was determined to do the right thing, and in my opinion he did the right thing on this occasion. Honorable members opposite have not been able to fix upon the Government the charge of lack of action and failure to try to bring about a settlement of the dispute. That is the one great feature of the debate. The Government’s action, although it failed, was a noble endeavour, and the motive behind it must be apparent to every reasonable man. The Prime Minister has laid his cards upon the table. He informed the House that when he visited Sydney he was interviewed by the representatives of the miners. They suggested that from a meeting of the mine-owners and miners in conference a settlement of the dispute might eventuate. On their behalf the Prime Minister met the coal-owners, and they in consultation pointed out to him that they could not place their cards on the table and make their books available for examination while a prosecution of one of the coal-owners was pending. The Prime Minister, to facilitate a settlement, decided to withdraw the prosecution. It was a noble gesture. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) told us of the misery that was existing in his electorate. He said that 27,000 persons were out of work, and over 30,000 were affected by the dispute. Children were in want of food and clothing. Sick mothers were asking for milk, and husbands were denied assistance. Surely that is another reason for congratulating the Prime Minister upon his action. The charge of discrimination has been levelled against the Government. Honorable members opposite have repeatedly stated that because Mr. John Brown was a wealthy man the Government were either induced or compelled to withdraw the prosecution ; they hold no other view. They wish to give to the general public the same stuff that they give in the Domain when they stand on a kerosene case and say anything but the truth to unfortunate persons who cannot get information from any other source.
– Do they not read the newspapers ?
– They read one particular newspaper, and consequently know only one side of an argument. The Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution acted in the interests -of the mining industry. He adopted a statesmanlike attitude which unfortunately has been foreign to Australian politics for many years.
– What action did the Government take?.
– It tried to bring about a settlement of the dispute.
– Do not the statutes permit of a prosecution against Mr. John Brown ?
– The union may at any time take action to bring about a prosecution. It is very refreshing to know that Australia to-day has, as its chief citizen, a man who can rise above party politics, and adopt a statesmanlike attitude in the interests of his country. We are to be complimented upon our Prime Minister. I shall make no apology for my vote on the motion. It gives me pleasure, in the interests of the coal-mining industry, to support the Government in the action which they took. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), failed miserably to substantiate his case. He was either totally ignorant of events, or deliberately attempted to justify the motion by making statements that were not based on fact. One of his arguments was that the prosecution had been withdrawn without adequate explanation or reason by the Prime Minister; but by means of a printed document the Prime Minister was able to show conclusively that he acquainted the conference with his reason.
– Was it adequate?
– Decidedly. What is more, his announcement was reported in the press. The Labor Daily of the 9th April, 1929, published the following statement by the right honorable gentleman -
The Federal Government believes that it has adopted the best course in not proceedingwith the prosecution against the coal proprietor for a lockout. This action was taken so as not to hamper the discussion at this conference. If the prosecution was allowed to stand it may mean that the mines would not be re-opened.
A further statement hy the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was that he was led to the conclusion that the prosecution was withdrawn by the Prime Minister without consulting the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham). Both the AttorneyGeneral and the Prime Minister have denied that that was so, and their denial has been corroborrated by the following statement by the Attorney-General published in the Labor Daily on the 10th April, 1929, under the headlines: -
Condition Precedent to the Conference.
The Government considered that the most important tiling was to get the coal-mines open again. When the conference met in Sydney, it was recognized that a full, frank and direct interchange of views was essential, and accordingly a necessary condition of the conference, which both sides desired should take place, was the abandonment of the prosecution of John Brown.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) also said -
The Attorney-General has stated that, as a result of a full investigation by his department, he was satisfied that a breach of the industrial law had been committed.
The Attorney-General has denied that he made any such statement, and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has been unable to produce it in either print or writing. When honorable members analyse the reasons advanced by the honorable member for Dalley for launching this motion, and learn that his charges are baseless, they must agree that the motion should be defeated. If the action of the Prime Minister had brought about a conference from which no good was likely to come, probably he would have been criticized even more severely; but there was a likelihood of results.
– I shall read what the Labor Daily had to say at the time on that point. Its headlines to the reports of the proceedings of the conference were “Re-opening of Northern Mines may be to-day’s decision” on the 10th April; “ Outlook is more promising “ on the 11th April; “Public demand for settlement ; Miners pin faith in conference “ on the 16th April; and “New coal proposals; Owners make secret offer; Miners’ delegates now considering scheme,” on the 18th April. Unfortunately, on the 19th April a complete deadlock was reached. I have shown, however, that there were grounds for the belief that something would come of the conference, and the miners pinned their faith to it. Therefore, the Prime Minister acted wisely and without any intention to do an injustice to any section. Furthermore, he took action without considering the interests of John Brown. Honorable members are awareof that; yet they seek to convey the impression that preference was given to one side. They have stated repeatedly that the withdrawal of the prosecution was decided upon because Brown was a wealthy mine-owner. Even in politics it is well to be honest; and if honorable members opposite will allow themselves to be ruled by their consciences, they will admit that the action taken by the Prime Minister was both businesslike and statesmanlike. I am glad to have the opportunity to support him, and regret that the Opposition has not seen fit to withdraw the motion. It has been stated that the Prime Minister acted contrary to ordinary procedure. Many political actions are contrary to ordinary procedure. On a memorable occasion, when the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was defeated in the Queensland Parliament, he introduced a system of voting by proxy, and with the assistance of proxy votes kept himself and his party in power.
– Were they not the votes of members of the Queensland Parliament ?
– They were ; but the honorable gentleman nevertheless acted contrary to ordinary procedure.
– Was it against the law?
– He made the law to suit the circumstances.
– The honorable member’s party refused pairs for sick members, and the honorable member for Dalley voted for them by proxy.
– I understand that the Prime Minister has insisted that every sick man shall be given a pair. I fear that, if ever the Labour party should get into power in Australia, its treatment of its opponents will not be similarly generous. I am confident that every member of the Government party will stand behind the Prime Minister and applaud his motive.
.- I have listened patiently and attentively to the debate. Quite a number of speakers have stressed the exact meaning of the motion. Before I entered this Parliament I was under the impression that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor. My parliamentary experience has extended over a period of eight months, and I have assiduously searched the records to ascertain what justification there was for such a belief. We must admit that it would be a bad principle if it were laid down in statute law. What I found was that there was only one law on the statute book applicable, supposedly, to all sections of the community, but - and this is infinitely worse than having two laws - there existed discrimination in the administration of the one law as it applied to two different classes. In listening to the supporters of the Government who spoke against ‘ the motion, I was struck by the very wide difference of opinion among them. This, to my mind, tended to prove the truth of the charge against the Government, and the weakness of the Government’s defence. In an endeavour to cloud the issue, these speakers indulged in all sorts of verbal camouflage and legal technicalities. The Attorney-General gave reasons for the delay in starting the prosecution, but he covered up his reasons for dropping it. He went to great length in describing the legal difficulties in the way of bringing the law into operation against John Brown. He was trying to impress the House with the validity of his reasons for the long delay which had elapsed between the time that he gave his word that the prosecution would take place, and the time that it was actually launched. He did not give any valid reasons, however, why the prosecution was subsequently withdrawn. He also spoke of the delay in prosecuting the trade unions under the same act, but the fact remains that a prosecution against organized trade unionism, and individual members of the Labour movement, having once been launched, no such withdrawal ever took place. The Government’s action in this case has struck a vital blow at the fundamental principles of British justice. It has shaken the confidence, not only of the people of Australia but of the whole Empire, in constitutional government, and is causing people to ask themselves, have constitutional governments outlived their usefulness, or ceased to be worthy of public trust? I do not propose to insinuate that members of the Government were actuated by sinister motives in the action taken, but I do say that there was undoubtedly discrimination in the administration of the law.
– And unjust discrimination.
– Yes; there was unjust discrimination.
– Amounting, in fact, to a miscarriage of justice.
– Yes; I shall go so far as to say that it amounted to a gross miscarriage of justice, which, reflects upon every member of the Government. Once a prosecution is launched a case should be out of the hands of the Government, and solely within the control of the courts. To interfere with the courts is to pollute justice, and to violate the law. If it was right to interfere with the prosecution against John Brown after it had been launched, may we not assume that the same thing could and should have been done with equal propriety in the case of the timber workers, and the waterside workers ? If it was right to single out and deal with one individual only among the mine-owners, why was the prosecution launched against the whole organization in the case of the timber workers dispute and against one member of the organization, Mr. Holloway, as we’ll. It has been said that there was no evidence to support the charge of instituting a lockout. From the technical and legal point of view, perhaps not; but if the fact of 12,000 men being out of work, and their dependants suffering want, is not evidence of the existence of a lockout, what in the name of God is? No matter what efforts are made to cloud the issue with technicalities, nor how medieval records are searched in the endeavour to find excuses for the employers, the fact remains that the action of the coal-owners did constitute a lockout. This incident brings to my mind a statement made by an illustrious gentleman who, I believe, was once a member of this Parliament - I refer to the late Lord Forrest - who said that governments might pass any laws they like, so long as he was allowed to administer them. That is peculiarly applicable to the present situation. I am not one of those who maintain that every member of the Government should be pre-eminently intelligent; but I do say that governments should endeavour to be consistent in the administration of the law. During the course of this debate the Prime Minister made use of these words -
Honorable members opposite are extremely angry that this prosecution has been withdrawn.
Let us say that, if the Prime Minister and other honorable members on that side had to live in the environment which surrounds many honorable members on this side of the House, and understood the position as we do, they also would be extremely angry. The Prime Minister went on to say -
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?
One might excuse a young member, like myself, lacking in experience, for presuming to address this House with suppositions; but the Prime Minister of Australia should understand that we are living in an age of reality. If it is competent for him to use the word “ suppose “ in the way he has done, it is equally competent for me to take the same liberty. Let me, then, suppose that a little more care and judgment had been exercised by this Government in the appointment of its Arbitration Court judges, and that all its appointees had been of the calibre of the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who based his judgments on humane principles, instead of those favoured by the champions of accumulated capital. In that case we should not be confronted with the present trouble in the timber industry. Again, suppose the Attorney-General and the Government had exercised a little more care in the amendment of the Arbitration Act so as to close the existing loop-holes of escape for the employers on legal and technical points; suppose the Government had taken the same care for the protection of the employees that it has taken to ensure the protection of the employers, then the present trouble would have been averted, and there would have been no occasion for this debate.
The Government has failed to furnish any satisfactory reason why this motion should not be carried. Some of the statements made by honorable members on the other side of the House have been amusing in the extreme. For instance,’ the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) referred to a number of things which had led to stoppages in the coal-mines, one of them, I remember, being the playing of a football match. That might create the suspicion that these things figure in the cost of production of coal. If that be so, then there is also room for suspicion in the minds of honorable members on this side of the House, and of others outside the House, that the cost of poultry farms and racing stables may also figure in the cost of coal production. Mr. Crouch, ex-M.H.R., in a letter to the Melbourne Age, referring to the speech made by the Prime Minister during the course qf this debate, said that three paragraphs required some explanation. Mr. Bruce said -
The circumstances certainly do not indicate that Mr. John Brown had any particular influence over mo, in the early stages of these proceedings, at any rate.
Mr. Bruce should state at what stage, and how late it was, that Mr. John Brown did exert “ particular influence “ over hiin.
Again Mr. Bruce states: - “ The -coal-owners said they could not take part in a conference the whole basis of which was 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.”
Did Mr. Bruce, therefore, withdraw a prosecution recommended by the AttorneyGeneral because the evidence would- disclose that not John Brown only, but many other of Mr. Bruce’s friends, were guilty of.au offence?
Lastly, Mr. Bruce states that one of Mr. Latham’s first remarks when he was informed of the withdrawal of the prosecution was: - “ If this is withdrawn, the political atmosphere is going to be extraordinarily bad for the Government and its supporters.”
Does Mr. Bruce, therefore, charge his Attorney-General with meeting a just claim for the withdrawal of an illegal prosecution by considerations of political effects rather than what justice demanded? Mr. Bruce, as to this, can be best answered by Mr. Latham, who; it is admitted, described Mr. Bruce’s action as “making it impossible to enforce penalties against other persons.”
One other question most electors will ask. If the prosecution was advised by Mr. Latham, and was withdrawn by Mr. Bruce - ostensibly to bring about peace between tlie parties - why was not John Brown again prosecuted when the coal-owners refused peace?
We are told that the other coal-owners feared that their profits would be disclosed if the prosecution against Mr. Brown was proceeded with. It is remarkable that these points are never raised when a trade union organization is fighting for an award in the Arbitration Court; though it is notorious that the wives of unionists are subjected to all manner of indignities and insults, being required to describe in detail every article of personal attire in support of the claims which their husbands may be making for an improvement in wages. No suggestion has ever been, made that the womenfolk should be protected from these indignities, and yet we hear this outcry about the probable disclosure of the owners’ profits in the event of a prosecution against Mr. Brown. This, indeed, has been advanced as one reason for the withdrawal of the summons. Evidently there was a fear in the minds of certain people - I am not suggesting whom because I do not know - that if, in the prosecution against Mr. Brown the profits of the other coal mine-owners were revealed, prosecutions would be launched against them also. If the owners were afraid of a disclosure of profits, why have we heard so much of this hypocritical cry that they cannot continue to pay the existing rates?
The point has been raised that, since there was no evidence of a lockout, the Government was not justified in proceeding with its action against Mr. Brown. I went into this aspect of the matter, and I have already admitted that from a legal and technical point of view there was no evidence of a lockout. But we should also consider this issue from the practical side. I have been actively identified with industry for many years. Only eight months ago I was a worker in industry and can speak upon the practical side of it. If an organization that respects the law, and is working under Arbitration Court awards, goes on strike in a fight for better conditions, it must go back to work under the old conditions before it has any hope of securing a conference for the consideration of its claims.
I have before me a report on the coal industry setting out clearly that the miners were prepared to resume work under the terms of the tribunal established under the Industrial Peace Act, but the owners laid down certain conditions for observance before work could be resumed. They claimed (1) the right of dismissal and the free selection of employees; (2) that all restriction on output must be removed; (3) that all contract rates be reduced by 20 per cent. ; (4) that day wages men be reduced by1s. 6d. per day; and (5) that all boys be paid for the actual job instead of according to age scale. I have yet to learn that there has been any restriction in output except that imposed on the employees by the employers. If the conditions laid down by the employers do not constitute some evidence of a lockout, I do not know what the term means’. The miners, I repeat, were prepared to carry on under the termsof the constituted tribunal. The Ministry and its supporters have resorted to technicalities and camouflage in defence of the Government’s action.
Up to the present not one sound argument has been advanced by any speaker from the other side of the House why this motion should not have been moved. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) spoke of a number of stoppages in industry. He conveniently forgot to mention the causeof the strikes to which he referred. I have been in one or two industrial disturbances myself, and I can assure the Minister that men do not go on strike merely for the fun they are likely to get out of it. In many instances they have been actually forced to strike against objectionable industrial laws passed by this Government. The fact that two strikes were in progress simultaneously is another condemnation of this Government’s discriminating administration in the industrial sphere. The Transport Workers Act was the cause of one of these industrial upheavals, and there can be no doubt that the same influences were responsible for the trouble in the coal industry. There has been a concerted attack upon the wages and conditions of employees in industry generally.
I remind honorable members that the whole of the northern collieries are upon leases from the Crown, the terms of which provide that before a lease can be suspended the court must be satisfied that the labour conditions have not been observed. It is notorious that the coalowners have ignored the conditions of their leases, but still the acting Premier of New South Wales, when requested to cancel leases, refused to take action. Coal is an essential commodity, and a lockout in the industry is a national calamity.
In its discriminating policy, this Government has pursued the workers without mercy. The maximum penalties provided for by the law have heen imposed upon them. It should now prosecute the coalowners in the interests of the 12,000 men who have been thrown out of work in New South Wales, and of the additional 20,000 or 30,000 women and children who are on the verge of starvation. There has never been any trouble about finding an avenue of attack against the worker or the organizations that represent him; and there shouldbe no trouble now about finding an avenue of attack uponthe mineowners. The question of expediency was raised as far back as April last. If it was expedient then to take action, how much more apparent is the need now, with so many people on the verge of starvation? During the war, at the behest of a nationalist government, thousands of men who are now locked out left their employment to enter the shambles on the other side of the world. They were told that they were going to fight to make the world safe for democracy. After the war these men returned to Australia, and now they are fighting, as they never fought on the other side, for their economic life and the comfort of their wives and families. Meanwhile this Government is standing idly by.It looks on with indifference at the spectacle of these men getting more than their share of a liberal application of the boot, to use the vernacular of the man in the street. During the war, supporters of the Government sang, “We do not want to lose you, but we think you ought to go.” The Ministry of the day enlisted men from all parts of the Commonwealth to take part in what they were led to believe would be the last war. Hundreds of returned soldiers are now amongst the miners who have been thrown out of employment by the action of the mine-owners in closing the mines, and this Government is not raising a finger to assist them. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has told us that ejectment orders have been served upon a large number of ex-service men who are living in War Service Homes. What does the Government propose to do about them? This question transcends party. During the debate on the coal industry in an earlier session this year, honorable members on the other side were agreed that the time had arrived when something should be done. Here in this motion is a golden opportunity for them to prove their sincerity. The privation, degradation and starvation among the coal-miners and their families have increased since then. It may be said that the Government is not called upon to take any action, but with equal truth it can be said that it has no right to bludgeon through this House legislation which has caused hardship to timber workers and waterside workers. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. J. Francis) said that the men on the waterfront are satisfied with their condition. That statement is absurd. The honorable member should visit the waterfront and ascertain the true position. Legitimate trade unionists, among whom are many returned soldiers, are out of work, while nondescripts may, for ls. a head, buy the right to work. Coercive and provocative legislation, such as has been introduced by the Government, will not bring about peace in industry. Honorable members have nothing to fear from holding out the hand of fellowship to the workers. So long as they are allowed to live under decent conditions, the workers are prepared to do their part. The censure motion has been fully justified. So far, not one sound argument has been advanced against it. I appeal to Government supporters not to face both ways. If they still feel as they said they felt in an earlier debate to which I have made reference, they should cross the floor when the bells are rung to-night. Were the Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution instituted against John Brown made an election issue, I feel certain that those who supported the motion before the House would be returned by their electorates as supporters of a new and better government.
. The debate has enabled us to become conversant with the facts of the case, so that I shall be’ brief, and confine my remarks strictly to the motion. before the House. When the Prime Minister attended the Sydney Show, there was a general feeling throughout the community that an effort should be made to re-open the coal-mines, and to end the suffering of the coal-miners and their families. That was the atmosphere which surrounded the Prime Minister when the representatives of the miners interviewed him in Sydney and proposed a scheme which they believed would bring about ah amicable settlement of the trouble. The Prime Minister knew that previous conferences had failed; but he had reason to hope that a further conference would have different results. He did not underestimate the gravity of the situation, particularly as he was well aware that a prosecution of one of the coal proprietors had been launched, but he felt that as there was a chance of a further conference being successful, the responsibility of refusing to make it possible was too great for him to accept. The mine-owners were adamant in the stand that they would not attend any conference unless the prosecution of Mr. Brown was withdrawn. That was chiefly because the question of profits was involved.
– What had the coalowners to fear?
– No mau could be expected to lay all his cards on the table at a conference if he knew that, in the event of the conference being unsuccessful, the particulars he disclosed would be used against him in a court. It is probable that the demand for the withdrawal of the prosecution came, not from Mr. Brown himself, but from the federation of colliery owners. The Government has been chided for not having instituted a fresh prosecution against Mr. Brown in view of the failure of the conference. Surely honorable members will realize that the Government cannot play with a double-headed penny. In matters of this kind there can be no “ Heads I win, tails you lose.” The prosecution had to be withdrawn unconditionally; the Prime Minister had to take his chance of the conference not being fruitful. That it was not a success was no fault of his.
– Could not proceedings be taken against John Brown now, seeing that the Prime Minister was bluffed?
– I cannot see any evidence that the Prime Miinster was bluffed. If he was misled, the representatives of the miners must accept their share of the responsibility. The request for a conference came from thom, and they did not object to the terms which made it possible. They were anxious only for the re-opening of the mines. Had an amicable settlement been arrived at by the parties engaged in the conference, honorable members opposite would not now be blaming the Prime Minister. Instead of a motion of censure on the Prime Minister being moved, he should be commended for his courage. He realized fully the risk he ran politically, but to his credit he took it in the interests of the people as a whole. His action showed his bona fides. I do not hold that no prosecution should ever be withdrawn once it has been launched. If the Prime Minister had taken that view when the proposal for a conference was placed before him by the representatives of the miners, what would the Age and other newspapers, which now seek to make political capital out of his action in withdrawing the prosecution, have said? The only question which arises is whether the Prime Minister was honest in doing what he did. I am convinced of his honesty. Indeed, his willing acceptance of a. political risk is evidence of his honesty of purpose. If the charge levelled against him were proved there would be nothing more to say, for a government guilty of unjust discrimination in the administration of the law would be unworthy to remain on the treasury bench. But there has been no such discrimination. The prosecution was not withdrawn because John Brown was a rich man. Had it succeeded he would probably have been called upon to pay a fine of £1,000. I am sorry that the conference failed, and I should like to have seen a prosecution launched against Brown, because we might then have definite information as to the profits of the coalowners. If we had accurate knowledge on that point some progress might be made towards inducing “the coal-owners and the miners to work together once more. It has been said that discrimination was shown by the vindictive action of the Government in prosecuting the unions, but I point out that they had persistently defied the law. They had had ample opportunities to obey it. They would not return to work, even at the behest of the leaders of the Labour movement. They, preferred to listen to men like Mr. Jock Garden, rather than to their accredited representatives in this House. If they were foolish enough to do that, they deserved to be penalized for their breach of the law.
The charge of vindictiveness on the Government’s part has no foundation in fact. Honorable members opposite have said that it prosecuted the unions and let rich men go free, but they overlook the fact that the prosecution was withdrawn in the public interest. It is impossible to show that the Prime Minister did not serve the best interests of the people by li is statesmanlike action in withdrawing the prosecution. I do not intend to charge the Opposition with making political capital out of this motion; but nothing has been said to substantiate its accusation. I have to judge the Government on the evidence submitted to the House. Three-fourths of the statements by the Opposition are irrelevant to the matter under consideration. It is clear that the Government acted in good faith. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell^ declared that if he had been Attorney-General he would not have withdrawn the prosecution.
– Does the honorable . member know anything concerning the secret document?
– No; I pay no attention to what has been said in that regard, because I am prepared to accept the assurance. of the Attorney-General that the newspaper statement does not represent what he wrote. The Opposition would have displayed better tactics’ if it had admitted that its case was weak and had withdrawn the motion. The public will recognize that no inroad has been made upon the sacred realm of justice. The best of reasons exist in this case for the withdrawal of the prosecution, because the Government acted honestly in the public interest. In similar circumstances, it would be justified in repeating its action. I believe that the Prime Minister would have withdrawn a prosecution of a union of employees just as readily as that of a coal-owner, and would not have bothered too much ‘about the technicalities of the law so long as the best interest’s of the country were conserved. I am aware that the public will not be informed fully of the facts of the case if members of the Opposition can prevent it. In their election campaigns they display the greatest possible contempt for the public by repeating, night after night, statements that had been proved to be erroneous. They appear to give the public little credit for common sense. A day may come when the Opposition will occupy the treasury bench; but motions of this kind will not bring them success in that direction.
Mr. NELSON (Northern Territory) 2.28 a.m.]. - The more honorable members opposite address themselves to the motion, the weaker becomes their defence of the action of the Government. Some of them have a legal mind, and they are naturally cautious in expressing their opinions. Every possible argument has been resorted to by them ; but the case has not been answered. In desperation, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) indulged in a campaign of abuse. He chastened the members of the Opposition, but did not refer to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), or the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks), who have so strongly criticized the action of the Government. The Minister for Trade and Customs, however, forgets that, when a private member, he, too, strongly criticized the Government of which he is now a member. On one ‘occasion he placed it on record in Hansard that the present Treasurer, who is now his colleague, was the most tragic Treasurer the Commonwealth has ever known. The Minister was then an outlaw or a brumby in his party, and, although there were other honorable members on that side of the chamber who had prior right to a portfolio, he could see that he would not get anywhere unless he adopted different tactics. When he made the statement to which I have referred a boiled lobster would appear anaemic compared with the face of the Treasurer. The Minister for Trade and Customs will now, doubtless, assert that the Treasurer, whom he so roundly condemned, is a heaven-born financier. He forgets his inconsistency; but we do not. There are many members of his party who have loyally stood up to the collar who are wondering why this gentleman has received such preference; but it was because he was a rebel, and defied his party, At that time, the Prime Minister, boiling with righteous indignation, told the present Minister for Trade and Customs that, if he accused the Treasurer of all these things, he must also accuse him, as he was a party to every action of the Treasurer. That, however, did not appease the wrath of the present Minister, who still continued his criticism of the Government. The Prime Minister and his colleagues then put their heads together in an endeavour to determine the best way in which to deal with this refractory member of the party. They decided to give him a portfolio, and he now occupies a seat in the Cabinet, whilst those who bowed to the dictates of the party have been left well behind. If the present Minister for Trade and Customs were not governed by party discipline, he would now be associated with the right honorable member for North Sydney and the honorable member for Perth. Several legal opinions have been expressed in connexion with the motion launched by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the general tenor of which has been to the effect that the law must be observed. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis), who, as a self-appointed instructor of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, endeavoured to quote a good deal of obsolete material concerning the administration of Labour Ministers in Queensland, and also made some astounding statements in an endeavour to justify the action of the Prime Minister in breaking the law. He recalled what he termed the Boston tea-party, and said that, if it had not been for the rigid observance of the law by the Imperial Government on that occasion, the United States of America might still be a portion of the British Empire; but, because the law was observed, that territory was lost to Britain. The honorable member was preaching a doctrine of disobeying the law. As a legal gentleman, he is entitled to adduce those arguments if he so desires ; but, when ordinary workmen are involved, the same principle does not apply. He then switched around and with some complacency contended that Mr. Brown was right in breaking the law. The honorable member also unsuccessfully attempted to belittle the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, whom he charged with inconsistency; but, before the honorable member submits a loose charge of that nature, he should see that his own house is in order. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) is perhaps the most prominent monument of inconsistency on that side of the chamber. Unlike the honorable member for Kennedy, I intend not to make merely a bare assertion, but to place on record the inconsistency of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who has performed many political somersaults. In a letter which was published in the Melbourne Age concerning labour and communism, the honorable member stated -
We should he careful to point out to the people that it is not the Labour movement we oppose, but the Labour party. The Labour party is beginning to take fright at tlie suspicions of the public that it is allied with the communists, and to allay these fears it passed a certain resolution at a recent interstate conference. But the public knows that that does does not rid the party of the communists, who use unscrupulous methods to get into the movement. Does the Labour party adopt constitutional methods to remedy its grievances? No. It adopts the communists revolutionary methods.
This honorable member says one thing to-day and contradicts it to-morrow. In the Argus, which no one will suggest is a paper which supports the Labour party, the honorable member for Fawkner made a statement, which I cannot at present locate, to the. effect that the Labour party has done everything constitutionally. He denied the statement attributed to him to the effect that the party was revolutionary. The honorable member then went on to refer to the Country party, and in a communication to the Melbourne Herald, he said -
The Country party is not founded on principle, but on its interests, and has no right to exist.
Shortly after that, the honorable member contributed a letter to the Age, in which he stated -
I can find no fundamental difference between tlie policy announced by the Leader of the Country party and that announced by the Leader of the Nationalist party. There is no reason why the Country party and m the Nationalist party should not become one.
Later in the Argus, he is reported as having said -
So long as that separate meeting was insisted upon he doubted .the bona fides of the
Country party. It was humiliating to be supporting a Ministry carried on in that way.
The honorable member still permits himself to be humiliated in the most degrading manner. He makes public statements which are not supported by his acts and utterances in this House. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) said that the proper thing to do was to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister that he acted in the best interests of the Commonwealth. The honorable member first inflicted a wound, applied the acid, and gently removed it and substituted a healing balm. I suggest that if, for instance, I evaded taxation because the Bible was not taught in State schools, and I appeared before the court and put that plea to the judge I should certainly suffer a double penalty. Yet in effect the plea of some of the members supporting the Government is equally absurd. They insist that the Prime Minister took a certain action with a view to bringing about the resumption of work in the coal-mining industry. I do not find fault with him for taking action at that time, but we must remember that a lockout or strike is a continuous offence, and even if the Prime Minister did, with the best of intentions, suspend the operation of the law with a. view to bringing “about industrial peace, that does not alter the fact !that the offence is still continuing. Do the legal minds behind the Government contend that that offence can be continued indefinitely merely because the Prosecution wa3 temporarily suspended in the hope of ending a dispute? The true test of the Prime Minister’s sincerity is for him to vindicate the law by proceeding with the prosecution so that justice at least may be done, but he is not prepared to do that. He is satisfied to allow the offence to continue indefinitely. That position, cannot be justified.
– It would not be honorable to renew the prosecution.
– Does the honorable member seriously contend that once a prosecution has been temporarily suspended with the object of achieving some national good, it should not be proceeded with even though the offence is still continued ?
– The prosecution can be taken up by others.
– The honorable member is sitting behind a government which brought into existence an act of Parliament which, in many respects, has been most tyrannical in its operation. That legislation was introduced to break organized labour in Australia, but in it was included a section that made lockouts a penal offence. The case against John Brown was so clear and definite that the persistency of the Opposition brought about a rebellion in the ranks of the Government, and even government supporters clamoured for his prosecution. Now that this legislation, which was originally intended as a coercive measure against organized labour, has reacted against John Brown, honorable members on that side are saying that some organization other than the Government should institute proceedings. They want to shift the responsibility for vindicating the law upon the ordinary layman. This Government is morally bound to back up its own laws. It is a quibble to contend that some one else should institute the prosecution.
– The unions prosecute the small employers.
– It is true that a union may, under the act, institute a prosecution, but this Government is responsible for carrying out its own laws. If it falls down on the job, what must the man in the street think? The position is untenable. Npt only should the law be just and impartial, but it should appear so to the public. Is the law being administered to-day as the fundamental principles of justice demand? I say emphatically that it is not. Only a short time ago the Attorney-General prearranged the verdict in a case before the court.
– The honorable member is suggesting an improper arrangement and I ask him to withdraw his remarks.
– If it is necessary for me to withdraw the statement I do so, but the fact remains that the case was thoroughly ventilated. The statement of the presiding judge, Mr. Justice Starke, has been read on the floor of this House. It contained a scathing indictment of the
Attorney-General’s interference with the course of justice. We have since had another instance of the interference of the Attorney-General in the administration of the law. I say emphatically that the law does not appear to the public to be just. The Prime Minister made a feeble attempt to defend himself against the charge that has been levelled against him. Unfortunately for him a very secret document of seventeen pages reached the light of day. Its appearance caused consternation in the ranks of the Government, and the members of the Ministry knew very well that the game was up. The amusing part of the incident was the Prime Minister’s attempt to allocate the blame for the loss of the document. He said that the Solicitor-General was like . Caesar’s wife; he was beyond suspicion. No mention was made of the staff that is responsible for the handling of these confidential documents. Surely it is entitled to be classed as being beyond suspicion. The Prime Minister admitted that the information could have been divulged by Ministers, but I suppose that even the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) would contend that a Minister is also beyond suspicion. The disclosures that have been made place the Attorney-General in an invidious position. He is no longer entitled to hold the scales of justice in his hands, because he. has beyond doubt administered the law in a partisan spirit. He definitely stands committed, by his own actions, to the barbarous doctrine of one law for the rich and another for the poor.
– Is it not rather one law for the poor and no law at all for the rich ?
– I stand corrected. The honorable member has stated the true position. The Attorney-General has sown the seeds of injustice; consequently, he must expect to reap a harvest of rebellion. That is evident to-day from one end of Australia to the other. The Government is afraid to interfere with John Brown, even though he is throttling the whole of the industries of Australia by withholding from them a vitally necessary commodity. This big baron snapped his fingers in scorn and said “ Pull off your dogs !” and they were afraid to disobey. The starvation and degradation that have resulted from his action are rapidly bringing about a state of desperation. There is a close connexion between poverty and crime. When John Brown offends against the law he is able to avoid paying the penalty ; but the unfortunate person who, through starvation, is driven to commit excesses, has the full rigour of the law applied to him. I admit that the violation of any law is bad and should be deplored, but when there is a suspension of the laws, in the interests of a particular class, it is nothing less than a national calamity. The Government has suspended the law in the interest of wealthy people, while in the case of the unfortunate worker their attitude has been “Let the machinery of justice grind as small as it likes ; it is only the worker who is being ground.” I was a member of this House long before the Attorney-General was elevated to his position of trust.
– How did he get it?
– By destructive criticism. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) was hustled out of the Cabinet because he had not a kick. The administration of the laws of this country, particularly the penal sections, has been characterised by passion and caprice ever since the honorable gentleman’s elevation to his present position. I have seen him introduce many bills the sole object of every one of which was to. crush organized labour. He has sought to do what even the military forces of other countries have failed to do. The Prime Minister has now admitted that the Government is impotent when it is a question of enforcing the harsh, unjust penal sections of our laws, and that it is now proposed to “ throw up the sponge.” Since the advent of the Bruce-Page Government their every action has given cause for agitation, until now they can hardly command a majority in this House, and when the people begin to realize that our laws are not being administered impartially their administration will come to an end. The evasion of the law becomes general the moment its operation is either harsh or unjust; and that is the position to-day. Unquestionably the administration of the law is both harsh and unjust. Judging by the feeble defence that has been put up by the supporters of the Government, it would appear that the Ministry is prepared to reconcile itself to any evasion of the law so long as it is in the interests of the class it represents; but the moment there is an attempt at evasion by any other section, no mercy is shown. The immunitythat is enjoyed by Brown, Kidman, Abrahams and others, coupled with the severity and vindictiveness shown to others, will alienate the support of all fair-minded people in Australia.
Partiality in administration will destroy the trust of the people in the judiciary. When they see that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, it is not to be wondered at that they have nothing but contempt for those by whom the laws are framed. That contempt is increased by the proposal of the Government to repeal an existing law. The Government, with much trumpeting, declared that it would bring about stability and tranquility in industry by the passage of certain legislation; but when they found that that legislation reacted against their own friends, they concluded that it was a failure, and decided to repeal it. Such an admission by the Prime Minister is a sufficient justification for an affirmative vote on the motion we are now discussing. If the Government should succeed in repealing that law, the result will be to cause the existent hatred to spread over a wider field. The highest legal authorities in our land have laid it down that it is not sufficient to prove that a law is just in the abstract; it is much more important for our legislators to convince those who are subject to the operation of the law, that there is justice in its application. That is a fundamental principle of British law, and if the people see discrimination being practised as in this case, it will be impossible to convince them that the law has been justly applied. This debate, as conducted by honorable members on the other side of the House, has been a monument of hypocrisy. Either the Attorney-General or the Primp Minister - I forget which - complained of the donations which other organizations were making towards the support of the strikers and their families. It is true that hundreds of thousands of pounds have been donated for this purpose, and the lord mayors of the chief cities of Australia, together with members of the churches, have been the principal offenders. They have donated money for the purpose of appeasing the hunger of the victims of John Brown and those associated with him. The labour organizations, the lord mayors, and the churches, and every one else who has contributed towards this fund, are outside the law, but I challenge the AttorneyGeneral to prosecute them for what they have done. He would not dare to do it, because he knows that they were prompted by far more humane motives than those which prompted the Prime Minister in withdrawing this prosecution.
Apropos of the administration of justice, I read in the Melbourne Age of the 5th August, the following item. It is headed, “New Guinea Justice - Theft of Four Pounds - Five Years’ Imprisonment “ and proceeds -
Sydney, Sunday. - A man named Tyler, formerly a member of the police force in the Mandated Territory, but who, it was alleged, was dismissed for being asleep on duty, arrived by the steamer Montoro to-day to finish a sentence of five years’ imprisonment imposed in New Guinea for the theft of £4.
Honorable members should understand that the administration of the law in New Guinea is the direct responsibility of this Parliament, and more particularly of this Government. Does any one suggest that five years’ imprisonment was a fair sentence to impose on a man convicted of stealing £4. The Government does not rush to mitigate that harsh sentence though God knows under what urge of necessity this man committed the offence. Yet it will go to any length to protect John Brown from the rigour of the law, even to the extent of jettisoning the law itself. Recently the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Abbott) visited the Northern Territory, and while he was there I introduced to him a deputation from the unemployed. Hundreds of men had been induced to journey over 3,000 miles across the continent to the Northern Territory by a promise of this Government to the effect that large public works would be carried out. The works were stopped, and the men were left without employment, or means of gaining a livelihood. Their case was placed before the Minister, but he gave them no relief. Later, he agreed to supply them with food until the steamer arrived, on condition that they left by the vessel Avhen it departed for the southern States, and that when they arrived at their destination they repaid their passage money. The men accepted these conditions, because the alternatives were to get on the boat or remain in the Territory and starve. As soon as they boarded the vessel, however, they were arrested as absconding debtors, and sent to gaol. They had not a feather to fly with; they didnot possess the price of a meal, nor the means of earning it, because the Government had closed down its works.When they proposed to leave the Territory in redemption of the promise given to the Minister, they were arrested and imprisoned according to the law. Why does not the Government take steps to repeal that law?
– The honorable member is now discussing the repeal laws. How does he connect that with the motion before the House?
– The Prime Minister made the definite statement, when defending his action in the John Brown case, that it was proposed to repeal the law under which John Brown was prosecuted. I thought it was theprivilege of honorable members to reply to statements made during a debate, particularly those of the Prime Minister.
– The honorable member is discussing a matter which has no application to the motion.
– The Prime Minister said that it was proposed to repeal the law under which a prosecution was launched against John Brown. I am pointing out that these men who were brought into the Territory on the promise of the Government to find work for them, were, when leaving it because that work was not available, arrested and charged under the law with being absconding debtors. While the Government made no attempt to stay these proceedings, nor to repeal the law under which the men were charged, it directed that the prosecution against John Brown should be withdrawn, and it now proposes to repeal the law under which that prosecu- tion was instituted. I appeal to the Prime Minister to do the same thing for these men in the Northern Territory as the Government has done for John Brown.
The charges made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in support of his motion of censure have been amply proved. The defence of the Government advanced by honorable members opposite has been woefully weak, and the worst defence of all has been that offered by. the members of the legal fraternity. The people of Australia are now firmly convinced that, as a result of the administration of» the law by this Government, there exists one law for the rich and another for the poor.
– I wish to voice a protest against members being called upon to discuss a matter of such great importance at halfpast 3 o’clock in the morning. I have never known any government to gain in prestige by tactics of this kind. It is a tragedy that such important matters should be discussed on a party motion. I place the want of confidence motion on one side altogether; I place the question of motive on one side, and also the question of the Government’s intention. I propose to treat this matter from one point of view only, and that one of overpowering importance - the interference by the executive with the judiciary. I do not propose to lecture the House; but I do not think that we are likely to get any closer to a solution of such problems, as the relations of the government of the day to the courts of justice, by indulging in the “ slang-whanging “ which has been going on across the chamber from both sides. Apart from the needs of the women and children dependent on the miners, the coal industry of New South Wales has not very many claims on the sympathy of the people of Australia. We fought this issue out some sixteen or eighteen years ago in the debate on the coal vend. The coal-owners at that time took up the position occupied by the Barons some centuries ago. They entered into an arrangement with the coalminers to share the plunder which they were extracting from the public and consumers in the other States. Of course, from the point of view of the coal-owner and the miner, every thing in the garden was lovely. They plundered the other States to such purpose that Victoria, which was a large consumer of New South Wales coal, was forced to develop the Yallourn electric supply scheme and the Wonthaggi coal mine. As a result, comparatively little New South Wales coal is now used by Victoria except for gas, though I noticed a report in the newspapers last night that 380 men had been discharged by the Melbourne Harbour Trust owing to the shortage of coal to carry on its operations. In Tasmania the position is much the same. With the exception of coal for gas, not much New South Wales coal is now required there. The coal-owners really destroyed the market by their tactics.
Apart from all other considerations, I think that government interference in the coal industry is a mistake. Last year, it will be remembered, the Government proposed to pay an export bounty of ls. a ton on New South Wales coal. Had that scheme been accepted, it would have had a very bad effect on the coal-mining industry in other States, and if later in this session the proposal comes before the House in the form of a motion it will, I assume, be dealt with on its merits. I consider that the Prime Minister made the mistake of his life when he withdrew the prosecution against Mr. John Brown. Most honorable members have some knowledge of the great fight that took place between the executive and the judiciary in Great Britain over issues similar to that which is the subject of this motion. I firmly believe that the action of the Prime Minister in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. Brown will, if permitted to go unchallenged, tend to bring about a state of affairs similar to that which exists in the United States of America, where justice has become a byword, and is the object of derision in all British-speaking communities. This interference in the case of Mr. Brown is the more reprehensible because admittedly there has been a lockout in the coal industry. I agree that the Prime Minister was actuated by the best motives, but I remind honorable members that it is said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If we allow the consideration of a government’s action in relation to the judiciary to be determined by motives we shall follow an extremely dangerous course. I am not prepared to endorse any such action. No more dangerous principle could be enunciated in this Parliament than that which affirms that, if its motives are good, a government may do something that is wrong.
– The Prime Minister said that he would take the same action to-morrow in the same circumstances.
– I venture to say that the right honorable gentleman would not do that. I have never been able to subscribe to the doctrine that evil is right if the object is good. It is much to be regretted that we are called upon to discuss such an important matter as this in the terms of a “motion of censure. [ agree with other honorable members that the Prime Minister acted with the very best of intentions when he started out on this dangerous course. I do not believe for a moment that either he or the Attorney-General intended to apply the principle of one law for the rich and another for the poor, and it is regrettable that this allegation is contained in the motion. Still, this fact does not relieve me of my responsibility. I do not propose to consider this matter from the standpoint of party or in the light even of a motion of censure. The one great question which I have to decide is this : Was the Prime Minister justified in withdrawing the action against Mr. Brown? I say he was not. I consider it a disgrace to this country and to this Parliament that any man should be allowed to flout the law as Mr. Brown did before the prosecution was launched, and has done since it was withdrawn. I cannot understand the position taken up by the Prime Minister when he says mat he would do the same to-morrow in similar circumstances. The Government is not justified in allowing Mr. Brown to continue breaking the law.
It has been said by certain honorable members that the Government could not, with self-respect, re-institute a prosecution. I do not hold that view. To squeamishness on the part of a Minister or Ministers should allow a deliberate violation of the law to continue. If, some months ago, it was right to institute proceedings against Mr. Brown, it should be right now to re-institute proceedings, in view of the fact that the conference failed to effect a settlement of the dispute in the industry. The position as regards Mr. Brown is now as it was when the prosecution was launched, and I suggest that the dignity of a Minister should not be considered in view of the seriousness of the offence - the deliberate violation of the law in defiance of the Government and of Parliament. The Administration is supposed to hold the scales of justice evenly. The sense of justice has been the attribute of some of the greatest and noblest minds that the British nation has produced. When Gordon was sent to Khartoum he was asked what he proposed to do when he got there, and his reply was - “I am going to hold the balance evenly between all classes and all creeds.” No man could start out with a higher objective than that. I fail to see how the cause of justice is being served when one man can deliberately violate a law which is being operated against other citizens of the Commonwealth. This interference by the executive with the judiciary should not be tolerated. The fact that certain State governments have interfered in the past carries no weight with me, and it should not be considered by other honorable members. It is deplorable that the State Governments have done this. Parliament should take a definite stand in this matter. I regret that the cursed system of party government prevents such issues as this from being dealt with on their merits. I trust, however, that action will be taken to place on record the decision of this Parliament. I suggest that it may be possible to do this on a non-party motion, in the consideration of which Parliament might have an opportunity to say definitely that in no circumstances shall the executive, or any Minister, be allowed to interfere with the judiciary of the Commonwealth. This is one of the most important matters which could engage the attention of this Parliament. Whatever the motive underlying the Government’s action, the general impression is that it has committed a grave error. Public opinion is strong that there should be no discrimination in the administration of the law, and that the scales of justice should be held evenly. I shall not delay the House further; but
I felt that I should express my views, before registering my vote on this motion which I believe will be endorsed by the majority of the people of Australia.
.I nm pleased that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) has moved this motion. Indeed, no other course was open to him in view of the withdrawal of the prosecution instituted against Mr. John Brown. In the early hours of a morning in March last, I listened to an impassioned address by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) which evidently had its effect on some honorable members opposite, for not long afterwards the Government took action against one of the coal-owners. When it was announced that proceedings had been instituted against John Brown, Ave rejoiced (hat at last the Government had the courage, or the temerity, to prosecute that powerful coal baron, who, we believed, should be shown that he had no more right to break the laws of the country than had its poorest citizen. Irrespective of whether or not the coal proprietors were prepared to meet the miners in conference, the duty of the Government was to proceed with the prosecution once it had been launched. Honorable members opposite have said that there would have been no vote of no confidence if the conference had resulted in an amicable settlement of the trouble. I maintain that it was the duty of the Opposition to bring this matter forward in the House, because of the vital principle involved. Before he agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecution, the Prime Minister should have obtained from the coal-owners an assurance that they were prepared to re-open the mines. The right honorable gentleman Avas not so courageous as some of his supporters would have us believe, otherwise his sense of duty would have compelled him to tell the coal proprietors that, if the mines were not re-opened, he, as the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, would re-open them and allow the men who wanted to work to do so. Some years ago there was an industrial dispute on the Rand. The men were not prepared to use a certain class of explosive, and consequently a lockout took place. Paul Kruger, the President of the Orange Free State, a man of some courage and conviction, whose example the Prime Minister might well have followed, told the mine-owners that, if they were not prepared to open the mines, he, as President, would do so, and give them back to the people to whom they rightly belonged. The Opposition is justified in charging the Government with discrimination between the rich and the poor in its administration of the law
During the trouble on the water-front, there was a time when, a resumption of work seemed likely. Indeed, some men had actually returned to work. In the circumstances, an appeal was made to the Attorney-General to withhold a prosecution which had been launched against the union; but he replied that the law must take its course. The workers, fighting for justice, must be ground under the iron heel; but not so the ship-owners or the coal barons ! During the shipping dispute men working on vessels engaged on the Australian coast Avith whom there was no trouble offered themselves for employment, only to be told that they could not be employed unless they took out licences. Again, when an industrial union was prosecuted, and a request made that action be withheld, the Government said that nothing could be done. Whenever the representatives of the unions have asked the Government to stay its hand, or have asked for a conference, they have been told that, before a conference could be agreed to, they must resume work,, or be starved into submission. In the light of these instances are
Ave not justified in saying that this Government believes in one law for the rich and another for the poor? Legal gentlemen on the other side use different phraseology when referring to the Government’s action ; but their remarks Wil. not convince the general public. The Government will find it exceedingly difficult to convince the public that the motive underlying the Prime Minister’s action was right. We all have done wrong things with the best of motives; but Ave have not escaped the penalty of our wrongdoing. If it is right to release a coal baron from the consequences of his wrongdoing, it is equally right to excuse a coal miner who is -prevented from working because of a lockout should he break into a store in order to obtain food for his wife and children. I am surprised at honorable members opposite referring to the courage of the Government in this matter. No real defence of its action has been advanced, except by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. The rest of the remarks from the other side consisted of a tirade of abuse against the workers. Supporters of the Government were so short of ammunition that they discussed the attitude of honorable members of the Opposition in industrial crises extending over a long period of years. The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) indulged in personalities concerning the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and the first remark by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) was that the motion was a vicious personal attack on the Prime Minister. If that was the opinion of the Minister for Trade and Customs, he certainly reciprocated well, because his speech was entirely such an attack on the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It was suggested that the latter had an ulterior motive in submitting the motion, although the only course open to him was to protest against the Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution. I have had experience of strikes and lockouts. The men who are accused of constantly agitating receive a great deal of abuse; but I remind the House that Christ himself was an agitator, and if He came to this earth again the very men who now denounce the agitator of to-day would re-crucify Him. Only by agitation have the workers reached their present position in society. They have had opportunities to educate themselves and their children, and have made themselves the equals of those who have been privileged to receive a college or university education, and who regard the workers as persons who know nothing.
– Typical class-hatred talk.
– I have no feeling of class-hatred. When we find men and women rebelling against the existing state of society it must be remembered that they have been driven to that attitude because the wealthy classes have ridden rough-shod over them for years. The northern coal-fields of New South Wales are to-day a hotbed of rebellion, and it is due to the fact that a section of the community is trying to deprive the miners of industrial advantages that have been secured after many years of organization. When a worker endeavours to improve his conditions he is regarded in certain quarters as a rebel, or some more objectionable epithet is hurled at him. I look upon every person on earth, no matter what his race or class, as one of God’s creatures. Equal opportunities should be available to all. I do not agree with the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) who endeavoured to convince the House that the coal-miners and the owners had combined forces for the purpose of exploiting the rest of the people. It has been shown clearly that, while the wages of the coal-miners have increased 55 per cent. since 1910, the price of coal has gone up to the extent of 240 per cent. I, therefore, fail to see how the honorable member arrives at his conclusion.
– The honorable member is familiar with the operations of the men.
– I think that I am; but we all know that a combine controls the destinies of this country so far as coal is concerned. The difficulty is that we have never had a Government, State or Federal, that has had sufficient courage to tackle the coal vend as it should be dealt Avith. Although millions of tons of available coal lie untouched in the New South Wales fields, industries are being closed down because they cannot obtain that commodity. Men and women are being dismissed from their employment, and are increasing the great army of unemployed throughout Australia, simply because a section of the coal-owners in New South Wales is not prepared to permit a commodity that really belongs to the people to be mined and utilized in the factories throughout the country. I am sorry to know that 200 or 300 men have been dismissed by the Melbourne Harbour Trust, although, I hope, only temporarily, because certain factories cannot obtain enough coal from Wonthaggi or from the Railways Commissioners of Victoria.
I believe that the coal-owners are engaged in a general attack on the miners of New South Wales, and hope to beat them to the knees; but God forbid that the day should ever come when the men now deliberately locked out would be denied the right to live. Without employment the miners cannot obtain food, and therefore the coal-owners are not justified in closing their collieries. It is terrible to contemplate that, in a country where we boast of British freedom and justice, a set of men acting in concert are not only throwing out of employment 12,000 miners, but also ruining the small business men on the coal-fields, who have been prepared during periods of unemployment to assist the miners by supplying them with the necessaries of life on credit. It has been represented on behalf of these business men that they are threatened with ruin; but this has been like a voice crying in the wilderness. The one coal-owner who stands out in defiance of the law is a man who I have always regarded as a person who should be bled. He is a soulless individual, and I believe that when his time comes he will range himself alongside Old Nick. If I am class conscious, it is because I have had personal experience of the industrial struggle. I can visualize the difficulties experienced by the miners on the northern coal-fields. I have not yet visited them, but I hope to do so before returning to my home in Tasmania, so that I may be in a position to speak of their conditions with first-hand knowledge. As one who has risen from the ranks of the working classes, and has shared their griefs and sorrows, and possibly their joys at times, I have always stuck to them, and I hope that I shall always do so. No matter what honorable members opposite may say about class hatred, we on this side are loyal to our class, just as honorable members opposite support theirs through thick and thin. I have no doubt that they are just as sincere in their efforts to preserve the interests of their section of the community as we are to uphold those of our section I do not know whether there is any justication for the assertion of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) that the National party will lose thousands of votes in consequence of the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. John Brown, but it was freely stated in many newspapers that the action of the Government was unjustified, and that many whose sympathies are with the National party were amazed to find that the right honorable the Prime Minister had acted as he did. Many who are not supporters of the Labour party now believe that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But a new era is dawning for the workers, and it will not be long before the Labour party will again occupy the treasury bench, when the people can expect brighter and happier days than they are now experiencing.
– Owing to the fact being stated in the press, in many cases without explanation, there is no doubt that many persons throughout Australia were surprised at the action of the Government in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. John Brown ; but in view of the information which has been made available by the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, and other honorable members, they are now more enlightened and are supporting the action which the Government has taken. During the debate the case has been put from different aspects, and from conversations with persons in the public galleries it is safe to assume that a majority of the people is now taking a different view of the situation.
– Then the motion has been of benefit to the honorable member’s party ?
– Yes. The Nationalist party is under a debt of gratitude to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) for submitting the motion and giving the Prime Minister and his colleagues an opportunity of stating the facts. The action of the Government was freely discussed during the recent election campaign in Queensland, yet for the first time for many years, the Nationalist party was returned there with an overwhelming majority.
– I did not hear the subject mentioned.
– I was informed that it was brought forward by opponents of the Nationalist party on every possible occasion. One man, who asked how we were likely to get on, stated he was afraid that the John Brown episode would affect the party very severely. That was not the case, as when the electors heard the facts a large majority of them supported the
Nationalist candidates. Then the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has contested a federal seat since .the prosecution against Mr. Brown was withdrawn, and he was elected to this House with a majority almost as big as that of his predecessor. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition in submitting the motion endeavoured to ascertain the motive in withdrawing the summons, and he was informed by the Prime Minister that, although he knew political capital would be made out of his action, he was anxious to restore industrial peace in the coalfields. The right honorable gentleman knew, as the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has stated, that there are many men, women and children on the coal-fields confronted with starvation. Instead of imposing a fine of £1,000, so that the Government might obtain its pound of flesh, it was decided to withdraw the prosecution and provide a means whereby the men might be able to return to work and thus obtain food for their wives and families. What was the motive of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in submitting the motion? Was it not to make political gain? All the honorable member could hope to achieve was to besmirch the character of the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General. If that was not his object, it was to cast slurs upon the Nationalist party and thus assist the Labour party in gaining a majority at the next general election. We on this side would not fear the verdict of the people even if an election were held to-morrow. It has been stated during the debate that the facts have not been clearly placed before the people; but the *Labor Daily, as mentioned by the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser), stated on the day preceding the withdrawal of the prosecution that there was every possibility of a conference being held and of the men returning to work. Even on the day on which the prosecution was withdrawn the Labor Daily did not endeavour to make political capital out of the incident. If we are satisfied that the Prime Minister was actuated by proper motives, we have no further need to worry. If the motive was good no offence has been committed. The present Prime Minister, who has held office for six or seven years, has devoted the whole of his time to the service of the people, and no one can truthfully assert that in carrying out his important task in the interests of the people he has not at all times been actuated by the best motives. Even if a mistake had been made, there is no justification for the base insinuations which we have heard. Can we expect men of character, determination and ability to devote their time to the interests of the Commonwealth if they are to be condemned as honorable members have condemned the Prime Minister ? There is no one who could justly say one word against the Prime Minister.
– Before or after the withdrawal of the prosecution?
– Either before or after. The verdict of the majority of honorable members will be in his favour. He deserves the credit of the people of Australia as he knew that political capital would be made out of his action by persons of the calibre of honorable members opposite. They do not care whether the men are able to return to work or not, although that is the main essential at the moment. If they are honest men they should accept the explanation of the Prime Minister, in the honest and straightforward manner in which it was given.
– What of the 17-page memorandum from the Attorney-General?
– A knowledge of the contents of that document is something of which honorable members have no reason to be proud.
– The honorable member should be careful 1
– Order ! If the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) does not cease interjecting I shall have to name him.
– We have been informed by the Attorney-General that the newspaper statement to which the honorable member for Batman referred was an alteration of that document so great that its author could not recognize it. Probably the least said about that matter the better, particularly as the document was used by persons who had no right to it. Like the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) I am sorry that this issue is being fought out on party lines, but it is apparent that honorable members on this side of the Chamber have more freedom than honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) referred to, the utterances of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) but that honorable member, though he acted impetuously in writing adverse comment in the press, on hearing the full facts has said that he believes the Prime Minister to have been actuated by honorable motives and he intends to support the Government. Like him, I intend to vote against the motion, which I am sure will bc defeated.
– I regret that some honorable members opposite, including at least one Minister have endeavoured to descend to personalities against the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) in whose speech I challenge any honorable member to find anything of a discourteous nature to which exception can be taken. The pliant Minister for Trade and Cus-. toms (Mr. Gullett), when speaking to-night tried to cloud the issue by adopting the practice which I regret to say is frequently used by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page). His speech was full of abuse, and that undoubtedly is no argument. The Minister for Trade and Customs only a few months ago said that the right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) was the most tragic Treasurer that Australia had ever known. Yet he is now sitting cheek by jowl with him drawing a ministerial salary. The Minister for Trade and Customs endeavoured to draw a red herring across the trail by saying that no member of the Labour party had attempted to persuade the waterside and timber workers to return to work. That statement is often made by honorable members supporting the Government, yet the” experience of Australia is that no one has been more active than the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), the Deputy Leader (Mr. Theodore) and other members of this party in trying to bring about industrial peace.
– They have been more inclined to promote industrial disorder.
– The honorable member’s spleen was given full vent earlier in the debate, and under those circumstances I ask him to let me make my speech in my own way. Our experience has been that the members of the Labour party, whether in opposition or in office, have been only too ready to approach the employers with a view to settling disputes. Were a Labour government in power in this, country now all our industrial troubles would disappear within three days. The Tory party in the Old Country had more sympathy for the workers than this Federal Government. Mr. Baldwin on many occasions made efforts to settle industrial disputes. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has already taken action to benefit the workers. When he was previously Prime Minister of Great Britain a false charge in respect of the Zinovieff letter was levelled against him. That charge, which the honorable member for Warringah solemnly declared in this House to be justified, was responsible for the defeat of the first British Labour Government. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has taken action to end the present trouble in the cotton industry. Employer and employee, by conferring together, have now settled their difficulties and agreed to submit their claims to arbitration. Had a Labour Government been in power in Australia the disputes concerning the timber workers and the coal miners would not have arisen. The Prime Minister has taken no action to bring about a settlement. He is college bred and possesses a distinguished air but he never mixes with the working classes, and he is determined not to do so. Their aspirations and their mode of living are entirely beyond his knowledge and sympathy.
We have been told that the Prime Minister, in withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown and consequently interfering with the judiciary of this country, was actuated by the highest motives, that his heart was troubled because 12,000 coal miners were out of work, and because women and children were starving ; yet, just one week before Mr. John Brown was to be haled before the court, the Prime Minister attended a conference of the parties to the dispute, and without any definite promise from the coal-mine-owners of a settlement being brought about, agreed to withdraw “the prosecution. A period of six months has since elapsed, and the miners are still locked out. The owners fooled the Prime Minister at the conference, and they have fooled him ever since. Yet the judiciary of this country has not been used to punish John Brown for his offence.
– And the offence still continues.
– That is so. What was the attitude of the Prime Minister in respect of the Melbourne branch of the Waterside Workers Union? It has been said that the court gave a decision that was entirely unfair to the workers. Rightly or wrongly it was the opinion of the leaders of the waterside workers that the gun was loaded against them. They recognized that the law had to be obeyed, and so they approached the men, but while efforts were being made to get the men to return to work, proceedings were taken against them. They were hailed before the court and fined £1,000. Mr. Holloway, a leader of the waterside workers of Melbourne, has devoted the whole of his life to securing a fair deal for the workers and to promoting harmony between employer and employee. Even that man was viciously seized as if he were a criminal, and taken before the court. The point that I am stressing is that discrimination was shown between employer and employee, between the workers on the one hand and John Brown, the millionaire coal mine-owner, on the other.
Honorable members supporting the Government have accused us of fostering class hatred. They say that we are here to help the bottom dog, and that I do not deny. Some persons hold the opinion that there must be a class struggle in civilized society. They point on that since the dawn of time there has been found in possession of the natural commodities of the earth, such as coal, iron, and water resources, men who have been able to keep others in thraldom. Some say that to some extent those con ditions exist in Australia to-day. Such an opinion must make the workers of this country dissatisfied, but all the preaching of class hatred in the Domain, on the Yarra bank and the esplanades pf Australia, could not do one-tenth of what the Prime Minister has done upon this occasion to encourage that dissatisfaction. A pamphlet issued by Sir Neville Howse, in an endeavour to win the last election, has done more to foster class hatred than has any document issued by the Communist party. It is entitled “Facts about the Bruce-Page Government.” On the front page appear these words - “A Hand-Book for the guidance of National Party Candidates and other speakers.” No less than seven or eight pages are devoted to an explanation of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat.
– Does the honorable member intend to connect his remarks with the motion under discussion?
– Yes. The Prime Minister acted in defiance of the advice of the Attorney-General. We have been informed by the press that the AttorneyGeneral was prepared to resign his position unless the Prime Minister altered his attitude. However, the Prime Minister had his way, and his action has done more than anything else to promote class hatred in this country. The pamphlet issued by Sir Neville Howse is designed to lead the electors of this country to believe that the members of the Labour party are desirous of promoting class hatred.
– If the honorable, member had read the pamphlet he would not waste his time in stating generalities. .
– The Minister knows that he wasted his time in putting this blatant nonsense before the public. He knows in his heart that it is utter humbug. Page 128 contains a Labour Glossary, and pages 129 to 140 contain a description of how the Communists captured the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. As the pamphlet was circulated through; out Australia, it is no wonder that the election campaign was almost ineffective so far as the Nationalists were concerned. Under the heading “A Labour
Glossary” the following list of abbreviations and their meanings is given : -
A.C.T.U. - Australasian Council ofTrade Unions.
A.L.P. - Australian Labour Party
E.C.C.I. - Executive Committee of Comintern
I.F.T.U. - International Federation of Trade Unions
I.W.W. - Industrial (or Independent) Workers of the World.
O.B.U. - One Big Union
O.B.U. of U. - One Big Union of Unemployed
P.P.T.U.S. - Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat (the A.C.T.U. is affiliated to the P.P.T.U.S., which is a creation of the Communist International designed to organize the workers in countries bordering the Pacific in the interests of Communism and the Russian Soviet Republic).
R.I.L.U. - “Red” (or Russian) International of Labour Unions, another name for the Communist International or “ Third International “. “ Third International “, - The Communist International Organization of Trade Unions with its headquarters at Moscow. So called, because it is the third attempt at international organization of trade unions. The first fizzled out years before the war, the second still exists in a moribund state, with its headquarters at Amsterdam. The “ Third International “ is the weapon by which the Soviets hope to force Communism on the world in General.
U.S.S.R. - Union of Socialists Soviet Republics, the Communist organization of the Russian States.
T.L.C. - Trades and Labour Council
It was with such nonsense as this that this minister tried to turn the election.
-Order! I ask the honorable member not to continue in that vein. He is not connecting his remarks with the motion before the Chair.
– I am contrasting the complaint of this Government, that this motion was moved for political purposes, with their failure to deal with a man who had violated the law by locking out 12,000 workers after the Attorney-General had launched the attack. That action was taken by the Prime Minister, because of the social standing of the persons with whom he was dealing. They are members of his ownclass. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the soil is ready for those who preach class consciousness? Whether it was intended or not, the fount of justice has been polluted. On the 16th inst. the Melbourne Age published a leading article headed “ The Abandoned Prosecution,” in which it expressed the following opinion : -
The censure motion submitted yesterday by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament will be widely and cordially approved. It was something more than party strategy. It may be regarded as a sincere and necessary protest in the interests of political and administrative purity.
Honorable members who sit on this side would have been lacking in their duty had the motion of want of confidence not been moved. This article, from which I have quoted, makes the following further statement : -
It is simply not true that the abandonment of the John Brown prosecution was due to difficulties. On the Prime Minister’s own confession it was due to a desire to get the consent of the mine-owners to confer. He says it was clear to him at the time that, because of what he did, every form of political propaganda would be used against him. But now he wears an air of injured innocence. But that kind of talk may not be allowed to strike men dumb. The martyr pose in politics, particularly in view of the Cabinet document quoted in yesterday’s debate and the revelations published elsewhere in these columns, is not impressive. On this issue the Government acted most unwisely, most unjustly. And when men say, as they do, that under the BrucePage Government there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, it is not enough to answer with the sneer that such talk is trite.
It is not necessary for me to press home that point. If the Government are concerned at the loss that is caused by strikes, they must surely be concerned at the fact that the mine-owners, by locking out 12,000 employees, have interrupted the flow of at least £1,000,000 into the pockets of the people of this country during the last six months. A handful of men have been able to defy the Government because they are hand in glove with them. They are immune from prosecution because they have an equal social status with Ministers. It has been proved that there is a privileged class in Australia. We should be unworthy sons of the Britishers who in the past had to fight for their freedom if we did not go to every corner of this continent and fearlessly expose the manner in which the fount of justice has been polluted by no less a person than the Prime Minister himself.
– I am particularly pleased to be able to say that honorable members who sit on this side have not, during the course of the debate, been guilty of deliberate and wilful mud throwing, as have two members at least who sit on the Government benches. The honorable member for Kennedy. (Mr. G. Francis) delivered a speech which had no bearing whatever upon the motion, but was confined to abuse to which it was most painful to listen. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), however, was even worse. He wholly begged the question, and concluded with an apology. We have been told by many speakers that all persons are treated alike by this Government. The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) has stated that a fair amount of time was given to the waterside workers to enable them to make up their minds in a certain direction. Later in his speech, however, he admitted that the time was not so long as he at first suggested. I have stated from perhaps 100 platforms in Queensland that I honestly believe the executive of the Waterside Workers Federation made a mistake in the advice they gave to their members. But a greater power than the executive took action within a few days of the giving of that advice. There was then a conference of the Waterside Workers Federation, representative of every branch throughout the Commonwealth. It was not composed of paid officials - or, as honorable members opposite sneeringly term them, “agitators” - but of men from the waterfront along the whole coastline. By 48 votes to 22 that conference decided to recommend to the members of the Federation who were defying the Beeby award that they return to work under the terms of that award and enter into negotiations for the settlement of local difficulties. At that time at least 50 per cent, of those members had not ceased work, notwithstanding the advice of their executive. What action did this Government take”? They saw that the ground was slipping from under their feet, and thereupon decided to continue the prosecution of the Federation. Within a few days the Federation was brought before the Court and fined the maximum amount allowed by a law which had been passed by this Government. That was not the action of a government which wished to bring about industrial peace.
I have stated on many occasions that if you are not prepared to fight fairly and openly you will drive men into subterranean channels, and the result cannot be other than disastrous. If the Government had treated the Waterside Workers Federation as they have treated the wealthy coal barons who are defying the law of this country, and had attributed to them an equal honesty of purpose, they would not have the difficulty that confronts them to-day on the waterfront. A solution of that difficulty will not be found by methods such as those that have been adopted by the Government. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) said that the Attorney-General had made a mistake; and a similar remark in connexion with the Prime Minister’s action was made by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell). If these two leaders of the Government are capable of making such a mistake after mature consideration, how much more likely to do so are men who had not learned either their training or capacity? They were advised by counsel who, in the words of the Attorney-General, are learned in the law. I agree that a man who is made a K.C. possesses legal knowledge and ability above the ordinary. The Attorney-General suggested that those gentlemen had considered only one portion of the section that defines “ lockout.” I am unable to agree with him. I am perfectly satisfied that if I asked the honorable gentleman, as a K.C, for a definition of a section, he would be so jealous of the position which he holds in the legal world that he would read the whole of it and not consider and advise upon only one portion of it. For that reason I believe that the AttorneyGeneral was advised not merely upon one portion of the section defining what would constitute a lockout, but upon all the relevant sections. It is no defence for the Attorney-General to say that he did not make himself cognisant of the situation, but relied entirely upon the advice of eminent counsel. He should have resolved all doubts himself before embarking on the prosecution. To-night the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) . made reference to the remarks of Mr. Justice Starke in the Abrahams’ case. He quoted the following passage from the report of the conference -
Mr. JUSTICE STARKE. ; The whole case seems to he based upon conspiracy. Why were they not prosecuted for conspiracy under the Crimes Act? A reasonable inference would be that they might have been committed to gaol.
Sir Edward Mitchell. ; There was evidence at the time these facts were discovered from which there may bo a strong inference drawn, but subject to great difficulty of proof.
Mr. Justice Starke. ; That is not for the Attorney-General to decide; that is a matter for a jury. It is plain on this material that the defendants operated together, and possibly with others, systematically to defraud the Commonwealth.
So in the present case, also, the matter was one for decision not by the AttorneyGeneral, but by a jury, or at any rate by a magistrate. “We were told by the honorable member for “Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) that if this prosecution had been proceeded with, and a conviction recorded, John Brown would only have been fined ?1,000 iu any case. Of ; course ?1,000 would not have meant a great deal to John Brown, but a conviction would have meant more than that; it would have held him up to the people of this country as a man who had flouted and broken the law, and had been punished accordingly. The Government has no scruples about prosecuting and punishing other persons who break the law, such as business men in a small way who evade their income taxation, or omit to send in returns. I know many such persons who have been fined sums of ?2 or more for this offence. When the Government prosecuted the waterside workers, the timber workers, and Mr. Holloway, it should also have pressed the prosecution against John Brown.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) claims that he still stands where he did when he wrote his letter to the Argus, condemning the Government for withdrawing the prosecution; but he is now prepared to vote for the Government because lie believes that it was actuated by good motives. He claims to be independent in his’ judgment on this matter, but we all know what happens when such independent members hear the cracking of the party whip. If the Attorney-General was not prepared to go on with this prosecution he should have told the people that he did not feel qualified to see that the law was administered impartially, irrespective of the social position ‘of those who transgressed it. . The Prime Minister shed a great many crocodile tears over the sufferings of the women and children on the coal-fields, but suffering is no new thing to them. Women and children have been suffering there for years past because of the operation of the laws for which this and similar Governments have been responsible, and the manner in which they have been administered. Much has been said to the effect that the conference could not have been held had the prosecution not been withdrawn. I know just as much about these matters, and perhaps a little more, as do most, honorable members in this House. Dur- ing the past ten years I have been associated very closely with the proceedings of the Arbitration Court in my State. I know that at the suggestion of the Court conferences have frequently been held, and at these conferences statements have been freely made, and accepted without prejudice to either party. The Court has always recognized this principle. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that prosecutions under the industrial law have often been withdrawn in the past. That may have been done in the case of prosecutions initiated by the Labour Department, but in all my experience I have known of no case in Queensland in which prosecutions once instituted by unions against employers have been’ withdrawn. There have been cases in which seven days’ final notice has been given to employers to obey the law, or take the consequences. In many such cases, the employers have recognized that it is better to do the right thing, and a settlement of the matter at issue has been arrived at. It has been suggested during the course of this debate that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. There is only one law for all ; but the manner of its administration makes it appear that there is one law for the rich and one for the poor. There have been glaring examples of this discrimination of application under this Government. Honorable members on the other side have suggested that statements made by speakers on this side of the
House regarding Sir Sydney Kidman’s evasion of taxation were not true. If those statements werenot true, Sir Sydney Kidman could have recovered damages from every labour politician in the country, and every labour newspaper, because they were freely published both from the platform and in the press. The action of the Government in refraining from prosecuting the Abraham brothers for the evasion of income taxation, and in accepting £500,000 in settlement, has been defended by members of the Government. Mr. Justice Starke stated that, in his opinion, the amount collected was altogether too high, but I contend that whether the amount was too much or too little the Abrahams brothers were not entitled to receive different treatment from that meted out to other people. They should have been prosecuted as any one else would have been. It was said that they had escaped from the country, but I do not believe that they were smuggled away in wool packs. I have a very good idea that they went away on first-class tickets, and with passports supplied to them by the Government. Friends of mine have been prosecuted as tax defaulters, and have been fined, but they were small men compared with the Abrahams brothers. The men to whom I refer were fined £100, and charged double tax. I do not object to that, but the same thing should happen to the wealthy people also.
Mr.White. - The unions pick out the small employers, and let the big ones go.
– I know of small farmers who have been fined sums up to £2 for making out incorrect returns because they were ignorant of the intricacies of the la.w. There was more excuse for them than for those who employ agents to interview the Prime Minister on their behalf.
– Why did not the unions prosecute John Brown?
– It is not the function of the unions to prosecute John Brown. Did the Government wait for the employers to prosecute the waterside workers? This Government is prepared to show its class bias by prosecuting union officials, and by letting off those whom the honorable member represents. We have been told that no conference would have taken place unless the prosecution against John Brown had been withdrawn. Yet the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister were implored in thisHouse to withdraw the prosecution against Mr. Holloway, because it was hoped to arrange a conference that might have led to a settlement, they said that in no circumstances could they interfere with the operation of the law. That case was almost exactly similar to that of Mr. John Brown. I do not think that the Prime Minister or anybody else believes that John Brown had any intention of attending that conference. I do not think that the Prime Minister is the unsophisticated fellow we are told he is. If he really believed that John Brown would come to the conference and lay all his cards on the table, he is not fit to hold his present position. I direct the attention of honorable members to the following report which appeared in the Sydney Labor Daily of yesterday’s date : -
BEEBY GIVES A STRONG HINT.
Enginemen’s Case. “back to workfirST.”
The interest taken in the proceedings before Judge Beeby in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court yesterday was revealed by the number of men who assembled at the top of King Street to hear the application by the Metal Trade Employers’ Association calling upon the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Australian Society of Engineers to show cause why an order should not be made declaring that a strike existed in the engineering industry in this State.
The case arose out of the cessation of workon the part of the employees of Hadfield’s (Australia) Ltd., following on the refusal of the employers to grant a demand for a 40- hour week for night-shift, to be paid on a 44- hour week basis, plus 5 per cent.
Mr. W. C. Myhill appeared for the Metal Trades Employers’ Association; Mr. A. Evenden for the Amalgamated Engineering Union, and Mr. O. Bryant for the Australian Society of Engineers.
His Honor said that the effect of the order asked for would be to release the employers from all obligations under the awards. “ It is regrettable,” he said, “ that the employees should have taken action when there is so much unemployment.”
Mr. Evenden suggested that the judge should convene a conference of the parties with the object of reaching a settlement.
His Honor replied that he would be pleased to assist the parties, but he would do nothing until the men resumed work. He had laid down that principle, and if the men did not return to work he would make the order asked for.
I am wondering if the Government will believe that Mr. Evenden is as sincere as it affected to believe Mr. Brown was when it withdrew the prosecution? I know, however, that employers are never prepared to confer with unionists unless the men agree to resume work on the conditions obtaining prior to a strike.
– I have known Mr. Evenden for many years and I can. say with every confidence that no man is more honorable than he.
– Alf my knowledge of those engaged in industry confirms me in the belief that trade union officials are just as honest as any other persons in this community. I have been for a long time associated with organized labour, and I know that no body of officials would he so stupid as to urge men to strike. It is much easier for them to draw their salaries when work is proceeding under normal conditions than it is to draw pay during industrial strife. It is also easier and more convenient for honorable members of this House to draw their allowances without the necessity for all-night sittings to deal with motions of this character. The representatives of organized labour in the political and industrial field are working incessantly for industrial peace. Their purpose is not to destroy peace as this Government is doing. Mr. Holloway, one of the most prominent Labour officials in Victoria, is recognized by all the judges in the Arbitration Court and by every other industrial tribunal in the Commonwealth as a man who has worked harder for industrial peace than perhaps any other Labour leader. Yet this Government, because of its bias against the class which Mr. Holloway represents, instituted proceedings against him, not for the purpose merely of having a fine imposed, but to strike a blow at the morale of all the men concerned in a particular industrial trouble. Loud-mouthed Government supporters have been endeavouring to persuade the people of Australia that the workers are being misled by paid agitators. I cannot allow such an insult to the intelligence of the workers to pass without . the strongest condemnation. There is more intelligence in the aggregate amongst the working classes in this or any other country than there is in the class opposed to Labour. They have learned their lessons not in the universities, which a number of members opposite have been privileged to attend, but in the hard school of adversity.
The Government is deserving of the strongest censure in this matter. It was not the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who was responsible for this motion. It emanated from the Federal Labour Party, which decided unanimously that the Government should be censured by Parliament for its action in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. Brown. Every action of the Prime Minister shows that his viewpoint is anti-Australian - that he has no sympathy with the ideals of the Australian working classes but is entirely in harmony with the moneyed interests. I believe that the right honorable gentleman had decided to withdraw the prosecution before he got into telephonic communication with the Attorney-General. He has told us that there could not have been a conference if he had not done that. “What right had the Prime Minister even to assume that the conference would be successful? Mr. McDonald, on behalf of the owners, had been perfectly honest about the matter”. Speaking as chairman of the Northern Collieries Association he stated definitely that until the men accepted the reduced rates suggested by the employers there would be no further work in the mines. Yet the Prime Minister in his innocence committed the mistake of withdrawing the prosecution. I cannot, however, be persuaded that the right honorable gentleman is as unsophisticated as he would have us believe he is; but if he did not know that the owners had no intention of keeping the wheels of industry going the sooner he and his colleagues in the Cabinet are removed from the Treasury bench the better it will be for Australia.
.The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), and other honorable members who have spoken to the debate from this side of the House have had no apology whatever to offer for the launching of this censure motion. Indeed the statements made by a certain number of the ministerial supporters may be regarded as warrant for the action that has been taken. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mc Williams) and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins), said it was a pity that this issue could not be dealt with from a nonparty stand-point. Clearly, their view is that the Government should be condemned, but in the interests of the party, the motion should not be carried. The fact that the debate on the motion has been so protracted is evidence that the Government stands condemned. On certain other occasions the Ministry has not treated a motion of no confidence with the seriousness it has shown in the present instance. No fewer than three such motions were submitted some years ago. One was moved by the then leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), another by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) and a third by the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), now the leader of this party. The Prime Minister did not then adjourn the House. Instead, he replied immediately to the criticism offered by the movers of the several motions, and allowed the work of the House to proceed. In this case, however, he has taken the course adopted by all administrations when faced with a motion of censure relating to such an important subject as this. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition gave notice of motion last week the Prime Minister adjourned the House, and has declined to transact any business until the motion is disposed of. His action was tantamount to an admission that his decision to withdraw the prosecution was wrong, and that therefore the charge was a serious one.
The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Perkins) has said it was unfortunate that the reasons for the withdrawal of the prosecution were not published in all the States when the announcement was made of the Government’s intention. He wishes us to believe that the motives for the Government’s action fully justified the course adopted. But the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) has pointed out that even after the reasons were given the Melbourne Age published a scathing leading article intended to influence public opinion against the Government. It would appear, therefore, that even if all the facts had been published at the time, the position of the Government would not have been improved. Actually it has been condemned by nearly all the newspapers in the Commonwealth, and I believe the newspaper opinion is thoroughly endorsed by the people generally. It is undeniable that, in this case, the administration has been flagrantly partisan, in the interests of the big coal-owners of Australia.
– The honorable member for Fawkner was aware of the Government’s motives when he wrote his letter to the Melbourne Argus.
– That is so, and he said he intended to support the Government, because its motives were right. We are told that the Prime Minister took action to have the prosecution withdrawn so as to ensure resumption of work in the collieries. Had the conference been successful perhaps the right honorable gentleman would not have been open to such strong condemnation, but his action could not have been condoned. I take the view that there should have been no bargaining at all concerning the re-opening of the mines. The Government should have insisted upon the mines being re-opened, so that the coal-mining industry could be carried on and other industries allowed to function as heretofore. Let us visualize the circumstances that led to the issue of the summons against Mr. Brown. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), in his speech last night, said that he intended to be pointed and straight - that he was not going to mince his words. He conveyed the impression that he intended to speak plainly for the benefit of honorable members on this side of the House ; but before he had proceeded far his speech developed into a tirade of abuse of honorable members on this side.
Let us carry our minds back to a sitting of this Parliament earlier this year. The earnest remarks of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) created on the other side of the House an atmosphere which forced the Government to do something. Honorable members will recall the remarks of the honorable members for
Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), and Angas (Mr. Parsons) on that occasion. They feared a public outcry. The result was that shortly afterwards it was announced that action had been taken against John Brown, a man who for many years had enjoyed and still enjoys concessions and privileges which belong to the people as a whole. The coal deposits of this country are the heritage of the whole people and not of one man or group of men. The force of public opinion, especially the views expressed by its own supporters, compelled the Government to take action. We on this side had said the same things; but even the impassioned speech of the honorable member for Hunter was not sufficient to strike a responsive chord in the heart of the Government. It therefore cannot take to itself credit for having instituted an action against John Brown; it took action under compulsion. But the House had not been long in recess when there was a withdrawal of the prosecution. To that withdrawal I take the strongest exception, for I am convinced that the Government did it wilfully in the almost certain belief that the conference would prove abortive. This talk of the motive underlying the withdrawal is, to use a colloquialism, so much eyewash. The Attorney-General said that it is extremely difficult to prove a lockout. If that is so, it is evident that the people have been fooled for a long time. They were told that the penal clauses of the legislation introduced by the Government would apply equally to employers and employees; that the law was the same for the rich as for the poor. That may indeed be so, but how differently is the law administered. This debate has shown that, where industrial unions have committed breaches of the law, prompt action has been taken against them by the Government. A strike can be proved in a moment. Men may not actually be on Strike, but to adopt an attitude of resentment against their employers is to be adjudged guilty of an offence against the law. But when an employer is guilty of a breach of the act, we are told how difficult it is to prove the existence of a lockout. To close the doors of a factory and to cease operations is, apparently, not to be guilty of engaging in a lock- out. Before a lockout can be proved, the books of the employer must be examined to ascertain whether the industry is making a profit. If the employer is sufficiently clever to fake his books without being found out, he cannot be proved guilty of causing a lockout. The gravamen of the charge against the waterside workers during the trouble on the waterfront was that they were engaged in a key industry, and that by striking they were holding the whole community to ransom. For that reason we were told that immediate action had to be taken. In their case, there was no mealy-mouthed consideration of motives. Honorable members will recall the previous election, when the Nationalist party displayed posters depicting Tom Walsh tramping on the Union Jack and painting Australia red. The Government was desirous of deporting Walsh and Johnson. It introduced legislation to accomplish its purpose, but the attempt was unsuccessful, and it did not get its quarry. After its return to power, fresh legislation was introduced to remedy the defects in the earlier legislation. There was no waiting to see whether Walsh and Johnson had made a profit; there was no payment of £5/5/- a day to Dr. Brissenden. Walsh and Johnson were seized and placed on Garden Island. Later when it was found that the Attorney-General of that time had sold the Government a pup, another law was passed. In the more recent waterside workers’ trouble, honorable members will recollect that when, by various means, the Government was unable to get what it wanted, it introduced the Transport Workers Bill. There was no delay in dealing with that measure ; it was’ passed through this House by the application of the “gag.” Not long afterwards police and youths armed with rifles were stationed on the wharfs at Port Adelaide to ensure that the wheels of industry were kept going and that the country was not held to ransom.
– That was done to incite honest workers to violence.
– Such actions show how ruthless the Government can be when dealing with the workers. How different its treatment of John Brown, who is today holding the country to ransom ! He is starving 12,000 men and their dependants because he cannot make the profit he desires. I should like to know how much profit he made during the Great War, when the price of coal increased by 260 per cent, as against an increase of 55 per cent, in the wages of the coalminers. John Brown got all that profit from a deposit which belongs to the people. The proprietors of the coal mines in New South Wales are picking out the eyes of the mines and making it unprofitable to win the coal which is left. John Brown ought to have been prosecuted, but not he alone. The Federal Arbitration Act, like Homburg’s Coercion Act in South Australia, had so fine a net that no one could escape. A man who refused employment when it was offered to him under it was guilty of having done something in the nature of a strike. Yet John Brown and the other coal-owners associated with him in a key industry, are unmolested. It is true that all the coal mines have not been closed. In keeping open the southern mines the coal-owners have made a strategic move. Their action is similar to that taken by the mining companies of Broken Hill in 1916, when they charged the workers with holding up munitions of war. The true reason was that their bins were full and they did not want to produce any more at the moment, for fear that they would not get the high prices then ruling. Having reached this impasse the coal-owners arc now trying to re-organize their business so that they will not suffer financially, and that any loss will be borne by those who delve in the bowels of the earth. When John Brown gets what he wants,, matters will proceed as before just so long as it suits him. This man is not the only coal-owner who should have been prosecuted. If the Prime Minister is as fair-minded as he claims to be, he should consider the interests of the whole of the community. Certain persons may be very critical in their comments upon the action he has taken, and, if his feelings are hurt, the responsibility will rest upon his own shoulders, because I believe that he knows what he has done on the present occasion. As a business man he is well acquainted with business methods and the possibility of “ rigging” markets to get rid of surplus stocks. In the coal-mining industry there are greater opportunities for doing that than there are in the business in which the Prime Minister was trained. The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were the principal speakers in defence of the Government’s action, and then two other Ministers endeavoured further to justify it, but they merely alleged that the circumstances warranted the withdrawal of the prosecution. I shall show that the Government has man-handled the Courts of this country-
– An honorable member may not allude in those terms to the judiciary.
– I bow to your ruling, and say that the Government manipulated the processes of the law in a manner that could not be justified. I am inclined to think that the Prime Minister was driven to the conference owing to the atmosphere created in this House, particularly by the speech of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I think that he knew that unless he did something in the matter his reputation would suffer. He declared that he decided to withdraw the prosecution for the purpose of bringing about a resumption of work in the mines; but if, in referring to the workers, he was sincere in his statement about the wickedness of the country being held to ransom by a section of the community, he would not have allowed any coterie of individuals to persist in the stand taken by them in the dispute in the coal-mining industry. When the workers put forward a defence against certain actions of the employers, and propose not to resume operations until they have gained redress along the lines they consider to be proper, they are compelled to return to work before negotiations will be entered into for any form of settlement. Therefore, I contend that if the Prime Minister were the man he claims to be he would have compelled John Brown to open up his mines before giving him an undertaking that the prosecution would be withdrawn. Suppose a conference of workmen had been called, and they held the whip-handle, would not the Prime Minister or the AttorneyGeneral or any other member of the Government have immediately set the law in motion to bring them to heel? This
Government has done that before. The law was not sufficiently drastic in the case of Walsh and Johnson to enable it to carry out its ideas as to how a certain object could be achieved. Therefore, the Government had a new act passed to enable it to deport them. In another instance the Transport Workers Act was “gagged “ through this Parliament ; but the crime of the men on the waterfront was insignificant compared with that of the coal-owners. The policy of the Government in this matter has been well described as one of laissez faire. It says that if the trade unions wish to take action they are at liberty to prosecute John Brown. We on this side are invited to become the administrators of the law, while the Government sits idly by. It does not ask the “ bosses “ to take action against the unions. It did not request them to hale Mr. Holloway before . the court. It did not invite the shipping combine to proceed against the Waterside Workers Federation, or the timber workers to prosecute the association of employers in that industry. I suggest that it is the height of foolishness to say that the unions should carry out the prosecution of the millionaire, John Brown. Their funds for a year would not equal the profits of the coal magnates for a month. If we. permit governments to act as the present Ministry has done, in this matter, the law in Australia will be respected no more than it is in America where governments can be “bought.” Does this Ministry say seriously that the unions should prosecute John Brown? I do not imagine that the Attorney-General would support that contention. If that is the view of the Government, it has fallen down on its job. T would not mind if the motion were defeated provided there was a definite assurance of an immediate resumption of work on the coal-fields. It has been said by many honorable members opposite that this motion has been submitted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and supported by honorable members on this side of the chamber merely for political purposes; but we must recognize that practically all that is done in this chamber may be regarded as political propaganda. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) referred to a brochure issued under the direction of the Minister for Health (Sir Neville Howse) setting out the achievements of the Government during the last Parliament with the sole object of helping it to win the last general election. If we had not challenged the action of the Prime Minister we should not be worth our salt, and the people who sent us here would question our right to represent them. It is our duty to see that these coal-mining magnates do not ride roughshod over the mine-workers who, through force of circumstances, are compelled to toil in the mines to obtain the wherewithal to sustain life. The right honorable the Prime Minister admitted at the outset that he knew that his action in withdrawing the prosecution against John Brown would be used for political purposes, and that he would be severely criticized for the action which he had taken. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) have expressed regret that this subject has been discussed from a party view-point. If it had not been so regarded the Government would have been asphyxiated. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) let the cat out of the bag concerning the lopsided system of arbitration when he said that if John Brown had been fined £1,000 the mines would not have reopened. That gentleman could pay a fine of £1,000 without the slightest inconvenience. It is the duty of members of the Opposition to review the position of the workers in comparison with that of organized capital, and in view of the latest developments it is useless to deny that there is not one law for the rich and another for the poor. It would be extremely difficult for Mr- Holloway to pay a fine of £50, but a fine of even £1,000 would not embarrass Mr. John Brown in the least. The workers in the coal-mines do not own a Wallace-Isinglass or a Prince Foote; they cannot pick up money as easily as the mine-owners, and from their meagre earnings they contribute to union funds in order to fight for their rights in the Arbitration Court. The worker is condemned on every hand. If he has a glass of beer, which is in many cases his only pleasure, he is classed as a degenerate, and even that luxury is, we are told, to be more heavily taxed by the imposition of higher excise duties.
The Tory Government in South Australia has even imposed income taxation upon single girls and capitalized their board and lodging so that they cannot avoid the tax-gatherer; but when the masters of industry are involved they receive every consideration from the Government. The only effective way in which to ascertain the opinion of the people is by a general election. If the people were asked to vote on this issue it would be found that an overwhelming majority is opposed to the action which the Government has taken. Apart from the Prime Minister and those who are similarly circumstanced, there are very few who will support the action of the Government in this instance. I support the motion which, if voted for upon its merits, should be carried.
– I should like honorable members to carry back their minds to the time when the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) decided to withdraw the prosecution against Mr. John Brown. The first move in connexion with the dispute, as the Prime Minister stated, was taken when the miners’ organization placed before him certain proposals which they had drawn up. That is concrete evidence of the fact that the organization had an earnest and practical desire to avoid trouble on the northern coal-fields. The outstanding feature of this protracted struggle has been the miners’ organized efforts to observe the award of the Coal Tribunal and the tolerance and restraint shown by them in the face of the strongest possible provocation in consequence of the action taken by the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Bavin). These proposals were placed before the Prime Minister. Before any arrangements were made to convene a conference, he must have considered them at some length, and they must have appealed to the right honorable gentleman as a reasonable basis upon which a settlement could be effected. It has been said that the Prime Minister has no knowledge of the coal-mining industry, but he has been actively associated with the discussions which have taken place form time to time in connexion with the dispute. He has reviewed the proposals made by the Premier of New South
Wales, and therefore must have more than a passing knowledge of what is likely to bring about a satisfactory settlement. He discussed these proposals with the miners’ officials, and must have realized that they were sensible and practical and embodied a scheme worthy of consideration. After discussion he suggested that the owners should meet the miners in conference, and undoubtedly placed before the owners the proposals submitted to him by the miners. If the owners thought the proposals embodied a scheme upon which they could not have a reasonable discussion, why was not the Prime Minister so informed ? Did they tell him as the evidence disclosed, that they were not prepared to consider the men’s scheme? We know enough concerning the Colliery Proprietors Association of New South Wales to realize that if it let the Prime Minister down on that occasion it was not the first time it had done so. It allowed Mr. Bavin to publicly state that the pit head profits were 12s. 8d. a ton, but later denied responsibility for that figure. When Mr. Bavin stated that 2s. a ton .was the average rate of profit being made by the mine-owners, and they realized that it would probably be shown that that figure was wrong, they again repudiated the statement of the Premier of New South Wales. In these circumstances I view with grave suspicion the proposition of the colliery proprietors’ representatives in connexion with the conference. The Prime Minister knew what they had done previously, and in view of their action in connexion with tb.e figures submitted by Mr. Bavin there was no justification for placing implicit faith in anything which the colliery proprietors’ representatives placed before him. Notwithstanding the fact that the Prime Minister regarded the proposals as a sound basis for settlement, the first act on- the part of the colliery proprietors representatives before attending the conference was to hold a pistol at the head of the Prime Minister and demand that the prosecution against Mr. Brown be withdrawn. I am not particularly concerned with the withdrawal of the prosecution against Mr. Brown, but with the fact that in giving the undertaking that he did the Prime Minister said in effect that proceedings would not be instituted against any other coal-owner. The Prime Minister is credited by his supporters with a burning desire to relieve the distress on the coal-fields; but he was moved in that way for only a day or two, and that was when he is supposed to have taken certain action in regard to the conference. The Government moved very slowly in the first place, and as mentioned by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), it has since been entirely inactive. It was only during those two or three days that any expedition was shown by the Prime Minister in trying to bring about a settlement of the dispute. It is only logical to assume that if John Brown is to be immune from the law, the other colliery proprietors will be justified in regarding themselves as being in a similar position, and that if the colliery proprietors of this country are to be immune from the law, every other employer of labour throughout Australia will claim to be immune in similar circumstances. The issue of this question rests, not so much upon the Prime Minister’s motive for his actions as upon the result as far as the preservation of law and order is concerned. The Prime Minister has practically given to the colliery proprietors a definite promise of immunity from the law. What stands behind that promise? This Government went to the country in 1925 and again in 1928 on the cry of law and order. It contended that it was the only political party capable of preserving law and order. Let us see what has since happened. In the case of the waterside and timber workers, the law was rigorously enforced, but in the case of John Brown, upon the first occasion that the Government had an opportunity to enforce the law n gainst an employer of labour, it fell down on its job. The Government also said that it was prepared to maintain respect for the law. In this objective it has also failed and a sense of injustice is prevalent among the poorer classes.
This is a matter, not of to-day or yesterday, but of centuries. Right down the ages there has always been one law for the nobodies and another law for the somebodies. That impression is inherent in the minds of the great mass of the community. Thus the Prime Minister has added fuel to the smouldering fire of suspicion that is alive in the mind of practically every member of the community who is not of the privileged class. The consequences of his act must be farreaching. It is evident that he did not give proper and careful consideration to his decision. It has been said that honorable members on this side have imputed corruption and dishonesty to the Government. I have no wish to suggest personal dishonesty or corruption on the part of the Prime Minister or his colleagues, but I refuse to believe that he is possessed of all the political virtues - that he is a political paragon, and is not prepared to take advantage of a coal crisis to, gain political prestige.
The methods used by the Nationalist Federation at the last two elections have shown that this Government is prepared to resort to any political expedient in order to achieve success and to maintain office. I recognise that the Prime Minister must have seen some possibility of a settlement of the coal dispute. The prestige of the Government was waning, and one can easily understand that had the Prime Minister arranged a settlement, he would have been able to pose as the industrial saviour of Australia. There is no doubt that the mineowners would not have been prepared to go into conference unless they were sure absolutely of immunity from the law. The Prime Minister certainly gambled; he knew that in the event of failure he would have to face the condemnation of the community, and that in the event of success, he would recover his lost prestige. It is evident that he did not give proper consideration to Sis decision to withdraw the prosecution against John Brown because, had he paused to reflect, he must have concluded that the public generally would gain the impression that there was one law for the employer and another for the employee. There is no doubt that a lockout was in progress. Although that has already been admitted by the Prime Minister and his supporters, they are now quibbling on the question. They contend that when an industry is unprofitable a stoppage of work on the part of the employer is not a lockout. A prima facie case had been made out for the prosecution of John Brown. It was the first occasion on which the Government had had an opportunity to give effect to its promise to the people to enforce the law rigorously against both employer and employee. Last session it was contended by honorable members on this side that the Government was not sincere in its promises and that the law would be enforced only against trade unionists. That contention has been borne out. The Government promised to apply the law impartially and to deal out even handed justice. It was returned to office on the cry of law and order. Yet on the first occasion that it had an opportunity to prosecute an employer, it crumpled up, and refused to set the machinery of the law in motion.
Let us survey the position of this Government, which is prepared to enforce the full penalty of the law against trade unionists, but not against the employers. .The honorable member for Warringah has said that prosecutions against employers could be instituted by trades unions. That statement was supported by the Attorney-General. This Government, which was going to enforce the law against both sides, now says that the union may institute proceedings if it so desires. Was there ever a more pathetic position for a Government to be placed in - a Government which considered itself to be strong and fair to all sections of the community. It has proceeded against trade unionists, but against the employers the strong arm of the law has become numb.
The suggetsion is that the Government should be spectators, while trade unions, with credit amounting to perhaps £500 or £1,000, should be prepared to take action against John Brown with his millions.
It is further argued that honorable members who sit on this side would bc better employed if they went amongst the trade unionists and advised them to obey the law. If we did that the retort would be “ Are the other side obeying the law? Has any action been taken against the mine-owners to compel them to observe the law?” We should be scoffed at and jeered at. I have never shown the slightest hesitation in expressing my views upon any industrial dispute.
Let us consider for a moment the conditions surrounding the existing trouble. The mines were working under an award of the coal tribunal. I agree with the Attorney-General that there may be some doubt as to whether an award of the coal tribunal has the force of law, although the courts have decided that Federal awards continue after the date of their expiry and until they have been cancelled, or until a further award has been made. It has been suggested that that does not apply to awards made or agreements entered into under the Industrial Peace Act. Whether it does or not, we can reasonably assume that the coal tribunal was the last industrial body which inquired into the conditions and the rate3 of pay of the coal-miners. Many sound lawyers hold that the award of that tribunal is still legally binding. Whether it is or not, on moral grounds the industry should continue to work under it until another agreement or award has been made to cover the industry. The present trouble had its genesis in the sympathy that was extended to the colliery proprietors when they approached the Premier of New South Wales with the proposal that efforts should be made to bring about a reduction in the price of coal. Could they not reasonably have been expected to move the machinery of the law or to request the appointment of a tribunal to consider their representations? If a body of unionists were to ask the Premier of a State to assist them to get better wages, they would be told to go to the court and ventilate their grievances there. The Premier of New South Wales gave a sympathetic hearing to the representatives of the coal-owners that there should be a lowering of the conditions and a reduction of the wages of the miners on the northern coal-fields. The Prime Minister then came into the picture, probably as a result of representations by the Premier of New South Wales. Those two gentlemen thus definitely allied themselves with the coal-owners. If the Prime Minister had had any respect for the laws passed by his Government he would have said not only to the mine-owners but also to the Premier of New South Wales, “ There is a Federal tribunal which has been appointed to adjudicate in these matters. It is my duty to hold the scales of justice evenly between both parties. I cannot be expected to suggest to the workers that their wages should be lowered.” Instead of doing so, however, he listened sympathetically to the suggestion that the wages of the miners should be reduced and their conditions lowered. The miners thus found that they had ranged in opposition to them not only the mine-owners, but also the State Premier and the Prime Minister, whose Government administered the laws which governed their conditions, and it is reasonable to assume that they became suspicious,. The most conservative Government in the past never showed so openly the direction in which its sympathies lay. Then, as a result of pressure exerted by honorable members who sit on this side of the House, the Government was reluctantly compelled to signify its intention to put the law into force against one owner. That was the first time the opportunity had presented itself to them to take this action; yet they fell down on the job. The idea in the mind of any reasonable man must be that there has been collusion between the New South Wales Government, the Commonwealth Government, and the mine-owners, to do an injustice to the miners. No other conclusion can be drawn from the facts.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has been accused of facing both ways. One honorable member went so far as to suggest that he rushed into print hastily, and subsequently regretted it. It is ridiculous to suggest that a man with the legal training and the experience of the honorable member for Fawkner would act hastily and incautiously. He admitted that the Government had displayed incompetence, and that a colossal blunder had been committed, but argued that, as the motive could not be impugned, the Prime Minister should.be allowed to continue to direct the destinies of the Commonwealth. He further stated that there had been no suggestion of corruption. I make no imputations of that character. I have already said that I believe the Prime Minister acted to a certain extent in the belief that a settlement of the coal trouble would bring him an immense amount of political prestige. The censure motion says that there was unjust discrimination. That there was gross blundering over this matter has been admitted; that discrimination was exercised cannot be denied. The question to be determined is the significance which should be attached to the word “ unjust.” Strong grounds exist for believing that the action was unjust, and that can be admitted without implying that it was corrupt or dishonest. Have not some of the greatest injustices in the world been committed by men who believed that they were doing the right thing ? I make no charge of corruption.
This censure motion says that there was unjust discrimination between persons representative of different classes. When the law is applied with full, force in one case, and is not applied with equal force in another, there exists more than a mere suggestion that an injustice has been perpetrated. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has laid it down that no matter how grave the error committed by the Government, so long as its motive was pure, it should not be censured, but should be allowed the opportunity of committing still more errors. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) referred to cases in which shipping masters had not been punished for errors of judgment, but we know that many captains have been removed from their commands, not because they were dishonest or corrupt, but because they were incapable of realising the possible consequences of their errors. It is on that ground that we on this side of the House prefer this charge against the Government. Everyone on this side, and many, I think, on the other, know that deep down in the hearts of the great mass of the people there is a feeling that the law is now, and always has been, administered differently in its operation against the rich as compared with the poor. That smouldering suspicion may well be crystallised into certainty as a result of the Government’s action in this case, so that the common people may believe in very truth that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
– The Government has frequently attempted to wear down the opposition of honorable members on this side of the House by a process of exhaustion, but this is the first time it has ever tried to starve us into submission. The conduct of the Government over this matter amounts to nothing less than slavedriving the officers of Parliament, whether they be members of the Hansard staff, or messengers about the House.
When a person is charged with an offence before a court of law, it is usual for either prosecuting counsel, or for the bench itself, to inquire whether the accused is a first offender, whether he has been guilty of other offences, and whether or not such offences were serious. Other honorable members have dealt with certain of the offences of which this Government has been guilty, apart from that now under review. It has been shown that the Government has exercised discrimination of an injurious character in its treatment of different classes of persons p ractically ever since it has been in office. One of the worst examples has been in regard to the remission of taxation, and most of those who have benefited by this form of discrimination are wealthy persons, and payers of large sums in land taxes. I hold in my hand the last annual report issued by the Commonwealth Taxation Commissioner, and a glance at this document is sufficient to show to what extent the Government has allowed privileged persons to evade their just responsibilities. It indicates that there has been discrimination in favour of the rich as against the poor. It shows that outstanding land taxes owing by some of the biggest and wealthiest corporations in Australia amount to £1,113,000. Income tax to the extent of over £2,000,000 is also outstanding, making a total of nearly £3,500,000. Most of these arrears are due by wealthy members of the community. The report also contains pages filled with the names of persons owing small amounts of income tax and land tax. They have been prosecuted in the courts, and against them verdicts have been obtained, and costs of prosecution allowed. This again demonstrates conclusively that the Government has shown discrimination in favour of the rich, and against the poor. Again, let us consider the Abrahams case. We have not heard the last of that even yet. When this matter was being discussed on a previous occasion I made an interjection to the AttorneyGeneral saying, “You were bought off.”
The Attorney-General asked, on a point of order, that I should withdraw the interjection, and I did so.
– The honorable member must not now repeat the statement.
– I made that interjection, and subsequently withdrew it. I believe that it was not right for me to make the interjection, but I do say now that the Abrahams brothers purchased immunity from prosecution by promising to pay a large sum of money.
– They were prosecuted.
– I remind the AttorneyGeneral of the attitude adopted by Mr. Justice Starke in connexion with this matter. The report of the Commissioner for Taxation says -
The court refused to make any order, giving as the reason that the Executive Government of the Commonwealth had entered into an arrangement with the defendants whereby the penalties payable by the defendants were fixed by the executive authority, whereas the law left to the judiciary the fixing of the penalties.
Mr. Justice Starke washed his hands of the whole affair, saying that the Abrahams brothers ought to be prosecuted under the Crimes Act for conspiracy.
– The remarks of Mr. Justice Starke amounted to a severe censure upon the Government by the judiciary.
– They did. It is evident that in that case discrimination was shown in favour of the Abrahams brothers. A small taxation defaulter would not have been allowed to escape prosecution.
I wish to reply to honorable members on the other side who have quoted from a document purporting to be a copy of the proceedings at the conference between miners and mineowners at which the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales delivered addresses. Mr. Davies, General Secretary of the Miners Federation, is, I think it will be agreed, one of the fairest and ablest men in the trade union movement in Australia. He has given his version of what occurred at that conference, and has replied to the assertion that the miners were silent when the Prime Minister proposed to withdraw . the prosecution against John Brown, thus giving their tacit consent to the proposal.
– The reply was given the day following the conference.
Mr.FENTON.- Yes. The Prime Minister stated that the miners tacitly agreed to the withdrawal of the prosecutions. Mr. Davies was the man most concerned. He was present at the sittings of the conference, and was able to take notes of what transpired. His version of what occurred is just as reliable as the report made by the Prime Minister.
– The report was not made by the Prime Minister, but by the officials of the conference.
Mr.FENTON. - It is quite probable that after the shorthand notes or the longhand record had been made of the speeches of the Prime Minister, and the Premier of New South Wales, they both had an opportunity to revise the proofs. I am not making any charge against any one, but honorable members know that they themselves have the right to revise the proofs prepared by Hansard in this House. Of course, if the Prime Minister’s speech to the conference was read from a prepared document there should have been no need for him to correct the proof. I propose to read the statement prepared by Mr. Davies so that it may be incorporated in Hansard side by side with such portions of the Prime Minister’s speech to the conference as have been quoted during this debate. Mr. Davies writes -
The Prime Minister opened the conference with a lengthy speech, traversing the history of the dispute and the position of the coal industry generally. Mr. Bavin also addressed the Conference with a short speech, referring to certain incidences and phases of the trouble, and wishing that the Conference wouldfind a solution whereby the mines could be re-opened and placed on a better basis.
At the end of the Prime Minister’s speech, he stated that the Commonwealth Government had decided, in view of the conference, and in order that nothing should prejudice its success, to withdraw the summons against John Brown. At no time during his consultations with the Unions’ delegates prior to the conference did he intimate that he intended to cancel the proceedings against Brown.
He made certain remarks that they “had shot the timberworkers for £1000, and had shot poor old Holloway for £50,” and that it had not settled the timber industry trouble, and that if John Brown was fined £1000, after probably months of litigation, it would not settle the coal trouble.
The unions’ delegates were never consulted on the matter, and the first intimation they received was the statement made by the Prime
Minister, and the manner he made it left a distinct division of opinion as to whether it meant absolute cancellation of the proceedings, or only a stay pending the Conferences’ deliberations. And although certain Press statements would make it appear that the unions’ representatives approved of the withdrawal of the summons against Brown, this we emphatically deny, and have protested against the action of the Government, holding that if it was advisable, in the desire to settle the coal trouble, and necessary to withdraw proceedings against John Brown, it is equally desirable and necessary to remit the fines imposed on the timberworkers andE. J. Holloway, in order to settle the trouble in the timber industry.
If the Government refuses now to remit these fines, they stamp themselves as being a class-biased Government, prepared to administer the laws to their limit against the workers, and adopt an entirely different attitude towards the employers; or, in other words, “One law for the rich, and another for the poor.”
What I have just read is practically an endorsement of the terms of the motion.
– What the honorable member has been reading is not a record of the conference.
– I say it is. I also take this opportunity to remind the honorable member for Balaclava that in the discussion of the Abrahams case, his predecessor (Mr. Watt) said that the Government’s action gave more than point to statements that had been made that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor.
During this debate several honorable members supporting the Government have “dressed” it down pretty severely. Whilst they were speaking I could not help thinking that if the moving of this censure motion had done no more than to extract from the honorable member for Fawkner certain admissions which he made, it was well worth while. It also gave other honorable members opposite an opportunity to express their views on this important subject, though we know how their votes will go when the division hells ring. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) was in agreement with the honorable member for Fawkner. Both are legal men and both declared that, had they been AttorneyGeneral they would not have withdrawn the prosecution against Mr. Brown. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), the honorable member for
Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) and the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann), all spoke strongly against the Government. It is obvious from what has transpired in this debate that the Government is hanging to office by a very slender thread indeed, if it is prepared to accept the class of support tendered to it by the six honorable members whose names I have mentioned, five of whom are sitting behind it. If I were Prime Minister and had to depend upon such support as that, I would certainly resign because I should consider my position altogether too precarious. But of course this Government will hang on notwithstanding that it could not have been condemned more strongly by honorable members on this side of the House than it has been by some of its own supporters.
It may be said that the Labour party has launched this motion of noconfidence for political purposes. The fact that several honorable members, who in other circumstances would support the Government, have expressed their views in such unmistakable terms, indicates that the DeputyLeader of our party was fully justified in attacking the Ministry. I have not the slightest desire to delay the House. I rose simply to place the miners’ version of the conference proceedings side by side with statements made by a number of honorable members on the other side of the House. I have never listened to so many apologies from honorable members supporting the Government. It appears to me that there has been altogether too much protesting. Surely the Prime Minister did not need to have his case bolstered up by speeches from three colleagues in the Ministry as well as fourteen or fifteen Government supporters, whose main purpose appeared to be to give the right honorable gentleman a character testimonial. The whole thing appears to be very ludicrous. Speaker after speaker from the other side rose to apologize ‘‘or the action of the Government. I congratulate my Deputy Leader on having moved this motion. The Prime Minister charged the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) with having degraded the debate. As a matter of fact the position of Parliament was degraded by the Government’s action in withdrawing the prosecution against Mr. Brown.
The history of the Commonwealth has never been besmirched so badly as in recent times. I venture to say that some of the blackest pages of Australian history are being written at the present time. The reports of the debate on this motion will be handed down and will stand as a humiliating record of what this Government has been prepared to do. I am one of those who will never be the tool of any party. On former occasions I have kept the Government, of which I was a supporter, up all night on issues upon which I disagreed with it, and I would do the same to-morrow.
– Your Government?
– Yes, my Government. The honorable member and others of his party have not the pluck to keep any Government up all night. All that the Prime Minister has to say when he wishes to have his own way is “ Ope, gape and swallow; we lead, you follow.”
– I had not intended to reply to the debate until the honorable the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett) spoke, but certain remarks which he made call for some comment from me. The major portion of the discussion on the censure motion was, I think, conducted with a fair degree of propriety by honorable members on both sides, and no fault can be taken with the lines followed by most honorable members. Though some who spoke from the Ministerial benches indulged in personal abuse, they are for the most part the small fry of the Ministerial party, and the gross aspersions which they attempted to cast upon me are beneath contempt. Consequently I do not intend to make any further reference to them. It is a wellknown legal dictum that if you have a weak case the best course to adopt is to abuse your opponent. This plan was followed by a number of Government supporters. It was obvious, also, that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), was put up to make a personal attack upon me, but all the honorable gentleman did was to give us a most pitiable exhibition of coarse invective. In the whole of his speech he hardly alluded to the subject matter of the motion or replied to any of the arguments used by honorable members on this side. He searched intently through the garbage heap of his mind to discover the foulest epithets contained therein for the purpose of applying them to myself. The honorable gentleman conjured up the most opprobrious adjectives and epithets, and made vile insinuations concerning myself. The language employed by the honorable member who, since he has been in this House has, I understand, posed as a cultured gentleman - as one who wished to be on friendly terms with members on this side, and to elevate the tone of Parliament, was comparable to the language and tone that might be adopted by a drunken fishwife.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– I submit, Mr. Speaker, that what I have said of the honorable member for Henty is fair comment. Surely parliamentary practice, which controls such matters will not prevent one from replying to the Minister, especially in view of the latitude allowed to him.
– The Minister was allowed no undue latitude. When he used language that was unparliamentary, I immediately called upon him to withdraw it. I now ask the honorable member to do likewise.
– Certainly, if you insist, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw the remark to which you take exception. But I say, with due deliberation, that the Minister when addressing the House made a violent personal attack upon me and that the abuse which he resorted to branded him as willing to be the commonest kind of Cabinet hack. I am now satisfied that he has been cast for that role in this Parliament.
The only other reference which I wish to make is to one or two points raised by the Attorney-General. I say this of the .honorable the Minister, that although his case may have been weak and his treatment of it not very forcible, he at least was courteous and polite in the language which he employed. When replying to the charge that he refused to withdraw the prosecution against the waterside workers, he pointed out that in that case there had been an immediate interruption of essential services - the transport services of the Commonwealth - and that therefore the prosecution could not be withdrawn. But surely if the Minister examines all the circumstances of the lockout by Mr. Brown, against whom a prosecution was launched, he will realize that in that case also essential services were being held up. There was the cessation of work in the mines and cessation in the production of coal. The honorable gentleman was at great pains to stress the enormous difficulty of succeeding in the prosecution against Mr. Brown. He emphasized that in order to succeed in an action against the colliery-owners it would be necessary to show that they are making profits, although why it was necessary to establish that fact before it could be alleged that they were guilty of a lockout was not made clear by the Minister. He spoke, moreover, of the impossibility of prosecuting the Colliery Proprietors Association. Indeed, he ridiculed the suggestion. The many difficulties that he put before us to justify the withdrawal of the prosecution of John Brown and the failure to proceed against him or any other colliery-owner falsifies what he said over and over again when dealing with the Arbitration Bill last year. He said then that it would be a simple matter to. enforce upon the employers the penalties for a lockout, whereas those imposed on trade unions would be largely ineffective. He went further, and said that an employer would be afraid to do anything in the nature of a lockout, because he had tangible things to lose - his business, his assets, his capital - whereas the unions were not in that position. Have not the facts of the last few months shown either that he unwittingly misled the House or that he misunderstood the difficulties that would arise in cases such as that of John Brown ? The case of the Opposition has been proved up to the hilt. The Government not only acted unwisely ; it acted unjustly. Honorable members on the other side have made more than one attempt to weaken the attack on the Government by alleging that the motion charged it with gross offences, that it alleged sinister motives which could not be substantiated, that it contained charges of corruption against the Prime Minister and other Ministers. That has been denied during the course of the debate. I deny it now. There was no implication of corrupt dealing by the Prime Minister, but a definite oharge that in acting in this discriminating fashion he acted unjustly. That charge has been proved out of the mouth of the Government’s own followers - a sufficient justification for the moving of the motion of censure.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented: -
Nauru - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Nauru during the year 1928.
New Guinea - Report to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of the Territory of New Guinea from 1st July, 1927, to the 30th June, 1928.
Canned Fruits Export Control Act - Third Annual Report of the Canned Fruits Control Board, for the year ended 30th June 1929, together with a statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the Act
Commonwealth Bank Act- Treasurer’s Statement of combined accounts of the Bank and Savings Bank at 31st December, 1928; together with the certificate of the AuditorGeneral.
Dairy Produce Export Control Act - Fourth Annual Report of the Dairy Produce Control Board, for the year ended 30th June, 1929, together with a statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Dried Fruits Export Control Act - Fifth Annual Report of the Dried Fruits Control Board, lor year ended 30th June, 1929, together with a statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the Act,
North Australia -
Ordinances of 1929 -
No. 10 - Income Tax.
No, 11 - Education.
No. 12 - Prison.
North Australia -
No. 11 - Education.
No. 12 - Darwin Chinese Public Cemetery.
No. 13. - Prison.
No. 14 - Darwin Town Council.
Public Service Act- Appointment of C. S. Barbour, Department of Health.
Wine Overseas Marketing Act - Report of the Wine Overseas Marketing Board, to 30th June, 1929, together with a Statement by the Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
House adjourned at7.28 a.m. (Thursday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 August 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290821_reps_11_121/>.