7th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday next at 3 p.m.
I should like to intimate to honorable senators the purpose of this motion. As they are aware, a motion of censure on the Government is being debated elsewhere, and as the Government are, therefore, under challenge, following established custom, it is not proposed to proceed with business.
– Has not the Government proceeded with business under similar circumstances twice before ? Is not the reason for the adjournment that the Government have no business to go on with ?
– The business-paper is a sufficient answer to the honorable senator’s question. If my motion be carried, as I trust it will be in the circumstances, I shall follow it with another proposing the adjournment of the Senate.
– Has the Minister for Repatriation any statement to make on behalf of the Government in connexion with the position due to the strike?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Seamen’s Strike : Action of Government - Position of Tasmania, Western Australia, and Queensland Loyalist Workers - Lettergrams tor Tasmania - Sentences on Australian Sailors.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– On the motion for the adjournment I should like to express my appreciation of the effort of the Government to man a vessel to send the Tasmanian returned soldiers home to their State. The feeling indicated by an interjection just now made by an honorable senator desiring to know whether the Minister is prepared to make any statement on behalf of the Government concerning the position due to the seamen’s strike, represents the feeling of the people generally . of Tasmania. I do not wish to say anything concerning the merits or demerits of the seamen’s grievance at the present time, but I do desire to emphasize the fact that in a country that has provided every reasonable facility for the lawful and civil settlement of any grievance which a body of men may have, a strike such as we have to-day cannot be tolerated, and everything that is possible to carry on the affairs of the State should be done. I have been interested in strikes in the past myself, but on those, occasions there was no other means by. which aggrieved men might obtain justice. To-day there are every means available, and I am convinced that the men engaged in the present strike are being led or driven by a section of notoriety-seeking irresponsibles to refuse to avail themselves of the civil method which has been provided for the settlement of industrial disputes, and for which the men themselves in the past fought so strenuously. It is a terrible thing that not only is the whole industrial life, and the whole commercial life, of the nation hung up by these men at the present time, but the soldiers who have been away from their homes fighting for these men’s liberty in Europe, and have done so much to secure the perpetuation of that liberty, are denied the right to return to their people after four years’ war service. I am sure that every honorable senator, no matter on which side he sits, will heartily support the Government in their effort to send these men home.
– We will support them to the last extremity if they act promptly in the matter.
– I shall not go further than to congratulate the Government on their effortto send these men home, and to express the hope that they will insist upon carrying out their purpose.
I should like to bring under the notice of the Government the isolated position of the State of Tasmania. No other State is similarly circumstanced. Every other State of the Commonwealth has some link of communication with other States on the mainland, but Tasmania, being an island State, is absolutely isolated, and in the worst position of all.
– No; Tasmania has coal, and we have none in South Australia.
– Tasmania has coal that is of no use for gas or steaming purposes. Our native coal may be all right for domestic purposes, but in a very short time the cities of Tasmania - and particularly Hobart - will be in darkness for the want of gas coal. That is not the most important consideration. There must necessarilybe a sugar famine in Tasmania before very long, and there is also a shortage of wheat in the State. These matters are very serious, and it behoves . the Federal Government to make every effort torelieve the people of Tasmania from the stress of circumstances for which they are not in any way responsible.
– Our produce has accumulated for lack of means of export.
– Unfortunately, we have in Tasmania become almost used to that. Exportable and perishable goods, such as fruit, have accumulated, and we have almost abandoned the hope of getting that produce away,al though a very good market for it is to be found on the mainland.
I should like to suggest, through the Leader of the . Senate, that, while the present difficulty continues, the PostmasterGeneral might well re-introduce the system of lettergrams for the benefit of the people of Tasmania. It may be a small matter, but when there is such uncertaintyconcerning the delivery of mails, the right to make use of the system of lettergrams would . be of considerable advantage to the people of Tasmania. I hope . that the Postmaster-General . will take ‘that suggestion into consideration. I shall not delay honorable senators longer, but I repeat that I hope that the Government willbe firm in the action they have proposed to take, and will insist at least on’ the immediate despatch of the soldiers who desire to return to their families in Tasmania.
– Senator Earle has made one or two remarks in reference to the industrial dispute that at present rages which he may probably regret later on. It is a regrettable dispute, and one which is very seriously affecting Australian industries. He used words of a rather strong character, particularly at the present juncture; when there are men in the community who are honestly endeavouring to bring about a settlement of this unfortunate dispute. I had occasion last week to express my regret that the seamen did not avail themselves of the Arbitration Court. I still regret that the leaders of their organization did not put into operation the machinery of the ballot, which was suggested by Mr. Justice Higgins, and which, I believe, would have resulted in a majority of the men agreeing to submit their claims to that Court. I made that statement. But there is in Melbourne to-day an industrial body which is doing its very best to bring about a settlement of the trouble - I refer to the Industrial Disputes Committee of the Trades Hall. Whilst we all regret that the dispute exists, this is not the time when we should use words which may possibly inflame the passions of men more than they are already inflamed.
– We must be civil to them, must we?
– Negotiations are pending at the present time with the Industrial Disputes Committee of the Trades Hall, which is endeavouring to bring about a settlement of the trouble, and consequently it is unwise to use words which may have the effect of making matters worse than they are. But I think that there is a remedy in the hands of the Government - a remedy which can be exercised without injury to anybody.
SenatorFairbairn. - Hear, hear ! Let us hear what it is.
– Proclaim the Navigation Act. Put into operation that portion of the Act which deals with the manning scale, food schedule, and conditions of employment.
– There is no trouble about the manning.
– Senator Needham is only making a stalking horse of the Navigation Act. He is indulging in so much camouflage.
– I am not doing anything of the sort.
– The honorable senator does not know the Act.
– I know something about the Navigation Act.
– Not much.
– I helped to pass it, and in those days Senator Guthrie was my leader so far as that measure was concerned.
– No, the honorable senator voted against me.
– I voted with Senator Guthrie nine times out of ten, because I recognised then, as I do now, that no man in this Parliament has a better knowledge of our navigation laws than he has.
– Why, the honorable senator voted against me.
– I voted with the honorable senator nine times out of ten. If the Government would proclaim that portion of the Navigation Act to which I have referred, and allow the provisions affected by international adjustments to stand over till ‘a later period, they would do much towards paving the way to a settlement of this unfortunate dispute.
– In reply to the remarks of Senator Needham, I would point out that since we passed the Navigation Act in 1912 - although the Act has never been proclaimed - powers have been conferred on the Arbitration Court which enable it to deal with all those questions which are dealt with in the Navigation Act - questions relating to the quantity of space that the seamen must have, the wages that they must receive, and the number of hours that they must work. All these are subjects with which the Arbitration Court now has power to deal. No later than December last they were dealt with by that tribunal. If, therefore, the Government proclaimed that portion of the Navigation Act to which Senator Need- ham has referred, there would still remain some other loop-hole by means of which Mr. Walsh and others would be able to evade responsiblity.
– They have boldly declared that direct action is their policy.
– That, of course, is what underlies this industrial struggle. I think I have always been regarded, even by the unionists with whom I have had frequent disputes, as a fairminded man, and I say without hesitaton that the present strike is the cruellest one I have -ever known. To plunge these people into starvation, and to inflict misery upon their women and children, is, to my mind, as cruel a thing as was the war which Germany forced on the world. One can say no more than that.
– What is the difference between this strike and the strike in 1890, when the honorable senator fought for freedom of contract?
– There were no arbitration laws in existence then. The men were perfectly right to go on strike in those days.
– That is so. The position to-day is quite different from that in 1S90.
– It was in; consequence of that trouble that the Arbitration Court was established.
– We did not object to the weapon of the strike in those days. I have frequently sympathized with the poor sailors, and more particularly with the poor stewards, on account of the deficient accommodation to which, they had to submit. But if they only exercised a little patience, and took their grievances to the Arbitration Court, which is presided over by a sympathetic Judge like Mr. Justice Higgins, they would, I am sure, get th« most benign treatment that it is possible to extend to thom. I understand that all ships now being built for the purpose of trading in Australian waters conform to the conditions that are provided for in our Navigation Act. The accommodation provided upon them will surpass the accommodation that is required by that Act. In this respect, too, our overseas ships are improving every day. No doubt, Australia has led the world in enacting liberal navigation laws; but Great Britain and other countries which trade in our waters are following in her track. I hope that the Government will take a firm stand in regard to the present industrial dispute. We want to know who constitute the Government. We desire to know who is running this country. We wish to be faithful followers of the Government. If it is going to be a Soviet Government, let us know it, and we will obey it. But when we have a Government which is elected by the people upon adult suffrage, as are the members of both -branches of this Parliament, and of most of the State Parliaments, there is surely no excuse for disobeying its rule. The lawabiding citizens of Australia desire to know who is going to govern this country. The Government ought to make some statement regarding the matter. I have no desire to create trouble, but I am satisfied that the great majority of the seamen wish to have the present dispute settled. The seamen of Queensland have now been out of work for twentysix weeks. We used to be told that the workers lived on the verge of distress - that they were within one week of starvation. Yet these men have been on strike for twenty-six weeks, and. there is no sign of starvation amongst them. Indeed, I have been told that the only people in Queensland who are getting food are the union strikers. The Government are providing them with food, whilst- the lawabiding citizens are not being fed at all. In the back country of Queensland the settlers cannot obtain flour. Then, just think of the returned Tasmanian soldiers, who fought so well for us, being unable to get to their homes on account of this strike. One would imagine that every section of the community would be only too anxious to do their very best for these boys. One would think that the unionists would be rushing the boats in their anxiety to take these men to their homes. Some of these soldiers have not seen their parents or relatives for four years, and it is a cold-blooded tragedy that they were not returned immediately to their own State. Again, I would instance what happened the other day to a ship outside Fremantle, which was sending out S.O.S. signals. The union seamen, I am sure, wanted to go to her assistance, but their leaders would not allow them to take coal to people who might then have been in dire distress. These things make my blood boil, for I like to help people when they are in distress. I hope the Minister will, before the Senate adjourns, make a statement assuring us that this matter is receiving the earnest and constant attention of the Government, and that they intend to do something to restore law and order in Australia.
– I am not going to follow the course adopted by the previous speakers, and shall not refer to the present industrial dispute at all. As honorable senators, we attended this sitting to-day, not with the idea of engaging in a controversy, but as the Government supporters have beguna controversy, I claim the right to make an appeal-
– This is not a matter of Government supporters or Opposition.
– It is a matter of national safety.
– I am going to make an appeal of a different character; an appeal on behalf of the unfortunate mothers and fathers of those boys in jail to-day because of a slight indiscretion on the Australia. In the little suburb of Campsie, Sydney, five of those boys lived. They come of respectable parents, who gave their lads to the service of their country in the great war which has just ended. After four and a half years’ of service abroad the lads were on their return to Australia, and when they went ashore at Fremantle they were guilty of some slight indiscretion through drink. I remind the Senate, also, that when volunteers were wanted for the Zeebrugge raid - a raid from which, as they knew well, they might never return - two of these lads volunteered, and one of them received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous bravery during that exploit. I ask of the Government that, when the joy-bells are ringing on the 19th of this month proclaiming victory for the freedomof the world, they will think of these unfortunate lads, and by a peace pardon bring joy to the hearts of their parents and the boys themselves. “We have been told ‘ that criminals, men who have sinned against the laws of their country, are to have their sentences shortened in connexion with the Peace celebrations, and I put it to the Government that similar treatment might well be meted out to these lads, who have simply sinned against discipline. By reviewing the sentences upon these lads, they may bring joy to those lonely homes in Campsie.
.- The Standing Orders, I understand, precluded me from discussing the adjournment of the Senate to a future date; and, therefore, I take this opportunity of expressing my regret that the Leader of the Senate did not move for the adjournment until to-morrow: The rule that the second Chamber of a Legislature shall adjourn when’ a Government is challenged is one which, in my judgment, may occasionally be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Just now a particularly critical time is at hand: a time when we ought to be in our places in this chamber to give expression to our views, and support the Government in any action which they may decide upon in connexion with the strike. Strong action should be taken at once. The six members of this Chamber from Tasmania ‘are at present representing a State which is in a condition of slow strangulation. During my previous membership- of the Senate I was not prone to enlarge upon the position of Tasmania as the Cinderella of the Union. Although, constitutionally, the State is a part of the Commonwealth of Australia, it is not geographically connected with the other States and has not the advantage of railway communication with them, such as they possess between each other. In common with people in the other States, the citizens of Tasmania are anxious to meet their returning soldiers, in order to give them an appropriate welcome in connexion with the great celebrations which are now approaching to mark the greatest peace the world has ever known. Naturally enough, . we sympathize with those people, and I thank the Government for trying to relieve the situation; but the difficulty concerning the return of our soldiers to Tasmania is not the worst that we are confronted with. It is most unfortunate, whoever is responsible - whether the Government of Australia or Mr. Walsh - that tens of thousands of tons of foodstuffs should be piled up on the wharfs in the various ports in Tasmania awaiting shipment to the mainland, while thousands of people here are on the verge of starvation; and I ask the Minister representing the Government and his colleagues, if it is not time that something were done in regard to them ? Suppose this condition of things lasts another five or six months; are the Government going to delay action until the end?
– Would you care to suggest what should be done?
– That is not my duty, and I am not expected .to do that. I am, however, prepared to stand behind Ministers in any strong action, whether popular or unpopular, that they may take for the purpose of restoring order.
– We will back the Government up in any action .they may take.
– I am quite certain that the representatives of Tasmania will support the Government, because at present we cannot put our hands to the plough. We cannot do anything. There is not merely a shortage of sugar and fuel, but quite recently there was extreme danger of a shortage of flour and wheat in ‘Tasmania. The situation in that respect bias been relieved only temporarily. How long are we going to stand this sort of thing 1 The fiction which Admiral Clarkson has now taken should have been decided upon earlier in the crisis.
– They say that if Admiral Clarkson were put out of the way, there would then be a settlement
– Tasmania, as I have said, is being slowly suffocated, ‘as the result of this industrial upheaval, and I, for .one, do not want to see the business of the Senate postponed from week to week. Are we to he kept ‘here, doing nothing but walk about the streets of
Melbourne, occasionally bothering Ministers for relief in connexion with returned soldiers? We do not want that.
The Government have already taken action by inviting volunteers for one steamer. Why have they not invited volunteers for more?
– For the lot; in order to get the work of the nation going again.
– That was done before, and it can be done again. We do not wish for anything but fair play, but must speak honestly ‘and straightforwardly .to the Government. At present, the people of Tasmania are requesting their Government to intervene; but neither the State Government nor senators appear to be able to do anything. I say, therefore, that we should not adjourn until next week, but should have an opportunity to be in our places from day to day, in order to support the Government in any decision that they ‘ may come to with regard to the strike. This period of passivity must come to an end sooner or later. The sooner it ends, the better it will be for Australia. In the press of last week, we read that loyalists went down to work cargo on the Wyandra under police protection. It is disgraceful that in this country the peaceful work of unloading a ship should have to be done under police protection. That ship, I might add, took the same cargo, backwards and forwards three times between Tasmania and the mainland, because of this industrial unrest. Is this a liberty-loving country? If so, how long is the present position to continue ? Are we to stand idly by and say nothing, for fear that, we might offend Mr. Walsh? Who is Mr. Walsh?
– The uncrowned king !
– Who is to govern this country, Mr. Walsh, or the constitutional Government of Australia, which represents people of different shades of political opinion- and properly so, for it is a national Government? Yet what are they doing? I hope the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), or the Leader of the Senate (Senator Millen) will tell us to day what is intended to be done, and will do it pretty quickly.
.- I brought under the notice of the Government early last week certain correspondence which -had appeared in the Melbourne daily press regarding the position of loyalist workers so far as Government relief measures were concerned. Judging from that correspondence, it would seem that, on account of the Government having placed their relief money in the hands of the Trades Hall Executive, loyalist workers have been practically prevented from benefiting. I suggest that, in connexion with the distribution of relief, and in view of the statement of the Acting Prime Minister that no one would go hungry during this time of Peace celebration, the moneys to be made available by the Government be controlled and administered by the municipal authorities. If that is not done, I feel sure that the amounts will not be allocated as the Government and the public generally would wish. It has been necessary for the Argus to open a fund for the relief of loyalist workers and their families, for it seems that, on account of their being loyalists, these people have been victimized, so far as the relief hitherto afforded by the Government is concerned. It is not merely in Victoria that suffering is occurring. I know that the same conditions exist in New South Wales and in Queensland. The seamen’s strike originated in the latter State, and there is much distress in Brisbane. I do not advocate that the persons responsible for the strike should be given relief from Government sources. There are very many people suffering, however, as a result of what is nothing short of a rebellion on the part of certain individuals.
– It is treason !
– It is treason ! I trust that the Government will see that in theother States, as well as in Victoria, there shall be general participation in relief, according to the promise of the Acting Prime Minister.
With regard to the sentences passed upon certain sailors on board the Australia, I understand that the Government intend to review the eases. I ask that they shall appoint a civil tribunal. As an exsoldier, I would far rather go before a civil Court, upon any charge, than have to go before a military or naval tribunal. I trust the Government will ascertain if it is not possible to reduce the sentences. Those men who have been punished have been away from home for years. It has been stated in this chamber times out of number that when men return, after having been away at the war for long, they are not normal. It is not natural that those sailors should have, come back in every respect normal men after having endured several years in the North Sea.
– The Leader of the Senate (Senator Milieu), by way of interjection just now, asked my colleague (Senator Mulcahy) what he would suggest. I hope and believe that that inquiry does not indicate that the Government themselves, in view of the circumstances, feel either hopeless or helpless.
– No; but anxious to receive suggestions from all sources.
– I take it that that is the attitude of the Government. I hope that before the Senate rises the Minister will be able to make some definite statement to honorable senators and to the country. The Government, through one of their officials, Admiral Clarkson, Controller of Shipping, have called for volunteers to man a vessel to take soldiers home to Tasmania. Perhaps the Minister can indicate what measure of success has so far attended that invitation. I believe there will be adequate response, not merely from the soldiers concerned, but from other than returned men. I think, indeed, that we may gain some indication of the general sense of the community regarding the situation, in the matter of that response, both as to quantity and quality. All the Tasmanian members of this Parliament who were in Melbourne waited upon the Acting Prime Minister last week, in conjunction with a representative body of the soldiers concerned. The circumstances were placed before Mr. Watt, and he readily grasped them, and promised to do all that might be possible. One of the soldiers present volunteered, on behalf of a number of his comrades, to man any vessel or vessels to take them across to their homes. Mr. Watt then stated that it would not be necessary to consider that offer in view of other matters which he had in mind.
– He said it might cause trouble.
– Yes, and that he had other matters in mind. Yesterday, when the strike negotiations had reached a stage where it seemed that settlement could not be achieved, I had an opportunity to ask officials of the Returned Soldiers Association - and I took upon myself the responsibility of doing so on behalf of my Tasmanian colleagues - if that body would assist in organizing the offer of the Tasmanian troops which had been made in an informal manner to the Acting Prime Minister. The Association, recognising that the affair possessed no party political characteristics, and did not involve participation in the dispute on either side, intimated willingness to organize the proferred help, and I believe something has been done in that direction to-day. Perhaps, we shall be able to learn the result during this afternoon.
I suggest, apart altogether from this offer of the Tasmanian returned soldiers, and in connexion generally with the maintenance of communication between Tasmania and the mainland, that volunteer crews be called for to carry on ordinary traffic and transport between the island State and the mainland.
– Where will you get the coal?
– It would be only part of a general scheme to re-establish the shipping of the Commonwealth.
– There is plenty of brown coal.
– I scarcely like that suggestion of the honorable senator, who does not appear to be viewing the situation quite as seriously as circumstances warrant. Brown coal, as the honorable senator must know, is not suitable for steam purposes. The whole question of re-establishing the shipping trade of Australia, if the conference to-day should prove abortive, is one which the Government should boldly face. They should take the immediate course of reestablishing the shipping of the Commonwealth
– I did not refer to brown coal for steam purposes, but was thinking of it in regard to domestic use.
– I believe the Government will find that the general sense of the community will support them in taking comprehensive action to reestablish the Commonwealth’s shipping activities. It has been asked, Who are Mr. Walsh and the men behind him? The best way to ascertain is to test the whole matter. And the best way to ask the country what it thinks of the situation is to call for volunteers to man our vessels. The Controller of Shipping has requisitioned various vessels during the past six months or more-
– Over which he has now no control owing to Mr. Walsh.
– Let him take with regard to shipping generally the course which he proposes to take in connexion with the transport of Tasmanian troops. I. for one, feel very confident that if that course is followed, the Government will find that they will have the support not merely of honorable senators, but of the great bulk of the community. I believe that the public will support their action, and that they will find volunteers coming forward both in quality and number sufficient to afford them an opportunity to re-establish our Inter-State shipping communication.
Senator REID (Queensland) 3A1].Our Tasmanian friends have referred to the difficulties in the way of supplying Tasmania with coal and foodstuffs. They have mentioned that Tasmanian soldiers are detained here in Melbourne when th ev want to go to their homes, and that also is no doubt a great hardship. But I would remind the Government and honorable senators generally that north Queensland, and the greater part of north-western Queensland, is in, perhaps, a more difficult situation than is Tasmania.
– That is all the more reason for action by the Government.
– North Queensland is absolutely cut. off from the rest of Queensland.
– The north-west of Western Australia is in a terrible situation so far as the need for supplies is concerned.
– It is in somewhat the same position as the north of Queensland, which is completely -cut off from southern Queensland, with which it has no railway communication. Honorable senators wil) recollect that the strike commenced in Queensland. The seamen under local articles withdrew from the steamers there, and they have been laid up for a longer period than have the steamers in Melbourne.
– For twenty-six weeks.
– Northern Queensland has been suffering all this time, and not only northern Queensland, which is I do not know how many times larger than Tasmania, but all of western Queensland that is supplied from Townsville. This embraces a very large area of country, in which there are some large townships. It embraces the Cloncurry mining district and the pastoral country right up to the Gulf. The people in those districts are almost starving. 1 see from the press that some of the towns have no flour, and all the people have to live on are the dry biscuits to be found in the stores. If the strike is prolonged to any extent, its effects must be very serious indeed, not only in Tasmania, but in the other parts of the Commonwealth to which I have referred.
It is most ungrateful on the part of the seamen that they should delay the transport of some 700 Tasmanian soldiers who are in this State, and wish to get to their homes. *
– The number is increasing every day.
– I point out that returned soldiers who enlisted in North Queensland are in the same position. When they get to Brisbane, they are stuck there, as they cannot proceed to the North. Honorable senators will remember that when the trouble took place in Townsville the other day, through cattle being let out of the yards at the Ross Creek Meat Works, and a practical revolution took place, when the police had to use firearms in the streets, it was necessary to send to Brisbane for additional police. These had to be sent by rail to>
Longreach, by motor cars from 160 to 170 miles from Longreach to Winton, and by train from there back to the coast at Townsville. Even then the railway people stuck them up, and if it had not been for the head District Engineer and the District Traffic Manager, those police would never have got to Townsville to uphold the laws of the State, although they were servants of the Government, and the railways were in the hands of the Government.
I know that it is easy to talk, and easy to blame the Government for not doing something. I do not wish to say anything that would add to the trouble at present existing. I have handled men and strikes, and, as an employee and an agitator - if I may use the term - I know the difficulty of handling men. I know what is likely to happen if the Government put their foot down in this strike, and insist upon giving effect to the laws of the country, as I hope they will do. This is a democratic country, and for the protection of the people the Government have a right to make a stand to uphold the laws and the machinery provided for collective bargaining, which has always been looked upon as the one salvation of the worker. Those who are engaged in the strike, not only .defy collective bargaining, but they defy the Arbitration Court, and every one who opposes them. If the Government make a stand, the result may be that other industries will be dragged into the trouble, and the whole of the commerce of Australia may be paraylzed.
– It would be a speedy paralysis, instead of a slow paralysis.
– Quite so; but it is just as well that we should face the facts, and if other industries are dragged into the trouble the position will be made worse for the people who are now almost starving in north and north-west Queensland, and also for the people of Tasmania. If the Government do intend to put their foot down, I am willing to back them in any course they propose to follow.
– Which foot does the honorable senator want put down?
– I want the Government to put both feet down, and, when they have put them down, to stand on them. The Government should consider what they propose to do, and, once they take action, they should see the thing right through, no matter what takes place. I am only pointing out from my past experience and knowledge of such things that this may increase the difficulties we now have to face. It is possible we may have to face civil war, amd, if that is necessary, I am willing to face it, and to back the Government right through. I do not wish to bring it about, or to evade it. In a Democracy such as we have, and in view of the return of pur men from the Front, and the burden we are carrying at the present time, I am at a loss to understand how any sane person could think of bringing ‘about the present paralysis. I do not wish to say a word that might inflame the feelings of any one, but I say again that if the Government take a stand I trust they will see it through to a finish.
– We cannot have strikes and arbitration. One or the other must go.
– We have an Arbitration Court provided by law, and we are here to uphold the laws of the country. In connexion with the position in Queensland, the State Government are more or less at the head of the very people who are causing the present trouble. I do not wish to make trouble between the Federal Government and the Government of Queensland, but honorable senators are well aware that the Government of Queensland omits no opportunity to make political capital out of any move. In Tasmania, on the other hand, there is a Government in sympathy with the Government of the Commonwealth.
– And recently elected by the people.
– That is so. In Queensland we have a Government that are afraid to take a stand against the very people who have brought about this paralysis.
– Yet they had to do so the other day.
– No, they did not do so. It was the local police who took the stand for their own protection, and they do not yet know whether the Queensland Government are going to back them up or not. According to the press reports that are coming through, the Queensland Premier does not know on which side of the fence he had better descend, and is quibbling as to whether he will back up the officials who took a stand for their own preservation or will turn them down. I trust that the Government will realize that the people of north Queensland are between the devil and the deep sea, and are in a worse position than are the people of any other part of Australia, owing to the connexion of the Government of the State with the people who are causing the present trouble. I trust that the Federal Government will put their foot down, and determine to uphold the laws of the country. If they do so, and will see the matter through to a finish, I shall be with them completely.
. This is the testing time no£ only for individuals and Parliaments, selected on the principle of democratic representation, but for Governments which in their turn are supported by such Parliaments More than a week ago I stated my mental, political, and citizen attitude in the matter quite clearly to honorable senators and the public of Australia. My contribution to the debate will therefore be exceedingly brief. I am only going to emphasize the remarks of those who have spoken before me. I am going , tosay very little of Tasmania’s position, acute as it may be, because we have heard from other honorable senators that that position is reflected in the circumstances of districts on the continent of Australia. The return of Tasmanian soldiers to the Island State, although important and necessary, is entirely subsidiary to one great question. The fortunes of Tasmanian producers, who in. many cases are faced with ruin, are also subsidiary to the great question to which I am about to allude, and which has been referred to by speakers who have preceded me. The question is whether the Government of Australia, typified in the person of its Acting Prime Minister, who represents democratic principles and con-‘ stitutional rights, is going to govern, or those forces which typify derision of ‘the Constitution and the judicial methods which have been established. That is the vital question. That, question is whether the infant Hercules, this Commonwealth, so lately victorious in conjunction with our Allies on the battlefields of Europe, in fighting for the principles of Democracy and liberty, is to strangle the snakes now attacking it in its cradle, or is to meet the fate of Laocoon and his children, who were destroyed by serpents. I have risen in my place not to emphasize the needs of Tasmania, as it would be my privilege and duty to do, but to say that the supreme question at thf* present moment is whether the principle of the constitutional treatment of industry and the protection of individual and collective rights is going to triumph, or whether the antagonistic principle is going to secure the victory.
The Minister, in reply, may say something, ox, in his wisdom, may decide not to say anything. He may ask what I suggest. Before I suggest anything, I shall say that, as one of thirty-six men who have the privilege of being present in the chamber by virtue of the principle of constitutional and democraticrepresentation, I do not intend to abate one jot of my right to represent the people of Australia in deference to the so-called claim or right of Mr. Walsh and his confreres. I shall not abrogate my rights in any one particular. If it shows a proper appreciation of the needs of the country, I shall support the Government to . the last extremity, whatever that may be. The Leader of the Senate may ask me what I propose, and in answer I may say that the community has established a tribunal, through the portals leading to which every Inter-State industrial dispute, every dis pute of a thoroughly Australian character, may be sent for decision, and as that tribunal has been derided and ignored by those who are creating this crisis, the Government should at once ascertain whether it has - as I sincerely believe it has - behind it the great community forces which operate in time pf peace. If it has those forces behind them, let Ministers at once take possession of the ships, which represent so many industrial activities and instrumentalities - ships which are now lying idle - and call upon the well-disposed citizens of this country to stand behind them and operate the wheels of industry. Let the Government do this- at once. Let it not adopt any mealy-mouthed procedure by calling for a few volunteers to man the Rotomahana only in order that she may carry passengers to Tasmania, but not cargo. Let them operate, as in normal times, the’ means of transport both for passengers and cargo. Let Ministers ascertain whether the community is behind them or not. If, unfortunately, Democracy is not behind them, then the blood of Democracy will be upon its own head. Let us ascertain where victory will ultimately repose. I have no hesitation in saying that it will repose with the Government. I rose chiefly to assure the Ministry of my humble support to the very last extremity if it will only exhibit the’ necessary backbone.
– Before the Minister replies, I should like to say a word or two upon the unique position into which this country has lately drifted. Those of us who are acquainted with industrial matters may well be pardoned at this juncture for recalling the dreams of the workers of twenty-five years ago. If those men could only express their Teal thoughts, they would say that this country is now peopled by an entirely different race. Their dream then was for the settlement of all industrial disputes by means of arbitration. It was the one remedy which they urged would prevent them from being ground between the upper and nether millstones. The men who have come so lately on the scene, and who have done so little to mould public opinion in the direction of arbitration, are not true leaders of the workers in any sense of the term. They are men who are trampling in the mud the very means by which we looked for deliverance-
– And from which we derived very great benefits.
– Undoubtedly. Why, the progress which the seamen have made during the past twenty-five years - and I speak as one who has had practical experience of a seafaring’ life - is’ nothing short of a monumental testimony to the wisdom of adopting arbitration, not only for the benefit of the seamen themselves, hut for that of the people of this country. I worked as a seaman for about £7 per month, and I believe that less work is being done to-day for double that amount. As- for the sleeping accommodation and the food which is supplied to the seamen to-day, no comparison can. be instituted with the conditions that obtained twenty-five years ago. The question for every sane seaman to ask himself is, “ How have ail these alterations been brought about?” Certainly they have not been achieved as the result of striking. They have not been secured by taking up the (position which Mr. Walsh has taken up - that of industrial dictator of this country. He is the man who has declared an industrial war on Australia. He says, in effect, that he does not care whether men, women, and children go hungry and cold so long as he achieves his purpose. The time has come for every seaman who chooses to exercise his own judgment to fling from him men of the Walsh type. How different it was when the seamen were led - and successfully led - by Senator Guthrie and others twenty-five years ago. They secured many advantages which they would never have obtained if they had not resorted to arbitration. What has Mr. Walsh done compared with the towering figures in Australia who did so much for the uplifting of the workers?
Mr. Walsh, I presume, belongs to that party which prated so much about negotiation in connexion with the war, and which would have made peace with the Germans by no other means than that of negotiation. But when he has the door of the Arbitration Court wide open to him - the only place where negotiation can succeed - he flouts it. He holds up this community of four and a half millions of people, and tells them that it does not matter what they think, or what the unionists themselves think. It is what he and his little coterie of industrial revolutionists think that really matters.
– He will not even let the seamen vote.
– I believe that a vote has not been taken on this subject, and I would appeal to the rank and file of the seamen, who have shown remarkable common sense under very trying circumstances, to get back to sanity, as in the time when they faithfully abided ‘by the laws of this country, even though those laws wore not as favorable to them as they are to-day. Their present leaders will only bring arbitration, into contempt, and when that day dawns, the death-knell of the prosperity of the workers will be sounded. I am here to support any action on the part of the Government which will terminate the existing strike, not only for the good of the community, but for the sake of the seamen themselves. The latter require to be saved -from their false guides. It is not all . those who cry “ Lord, Lord !” who can be depended upon. The very firstman upon whom an eye should be kept is the man who is lisping labour . all the time, but who is unable to present worthy credentials. The seamen should take their courage in . their hands and slamp. in the mud the proposals made to them by irresponsible men of the Walsh and O’Neill type. Let them get back to common sense by accepting arbitration,, which is the acknowledged policy of . the Official Labour party, and let them refuse to hold up the community any longer.
The seamen are not the worsttreated individuals in the community. Take, for instance, the position of the men in the north-west part of Western Australia. Why, in Wyndham the other day -there were only two tons of flour to supply the whole of the inland portion of that country. But what does Mr. Walsh care ? His troubles ! Yet he must know that the suffering section of the community will not continue to take things lying down. He must be made to understand that the seafaring industry - and I speak as a friend ofthe seamen - is not the only, industry in Australia. The seamen have had the better end of the stick, and have had mighty good terms up to date. There are men in the industrial life of this country who are not enjoying . anything like the benefits which have been conferred on them. I hope that the worm will turn and put men of the Walsh type in their place. Let me point to the farmers of this country. Farming is the leading industry of the Commonwealth. It is an industry which is supporting nearly 250,000 people. Are there any stop-work meetings on the farms?
– It will come to that before long. ‘
– I hope that it does. Mr. Walsh and his confreres will be the first to squeal when the pangs of hunger bite them in the stomach, where they can feel them. I hope that the Government will be up and doing, . and that they will show these blind leaders of a sane body of men that they cannot any longer paralyze the industries of this country. These are, of course, stirring times. Arbitration is being flung on one side, notwithstanding all the effort which was required to make it a reality. We all recognise that the only two elements which are flouting arbitration to-day are two elements which are at opposite poles. ‘They consist, first, of the Industrial Workers of the World, which have never lifted a finger to advance Labour’s true interests. Who stands alongside that organization? The Tory or reactionary element of this country. A pretty pair to be standing side by side, condemning the one means which the worker has for getting labour conditions fixed in his favour. When these elements are condemning arbitration, they are condemning Mr. Justice Higgins. Who is Mr. justice Higgins? If I could recall the many hard things which have been said about him - particularly by anti-Labour men - I should be able to convince the seamen of their folly in following these blind leaders, and turning their backs upon their best and fairest friend. The time has arrived when stern action must be taken. The country must declare whether it will be governed on constitutional lines, or whether it will be- governed by Soviet rule. Let the best elements in the community be up and doing. Let us say to these men, “ There is the Arbitration Court, which, is your own chosen instrument for the adjustment of industrial disputes.” The time has come for the various sections in this country, bent on preserving its high standards and good reputation, to array themselves against the strikers, with a view to preventing further suffering. I will support the Government if they say, “We are going to man, not merely the Rotomahana, but every other ship which is lying idle, not merely in the interests of the community, but in the interests of the seamen themselves.” The hour has struck when this country must prove to the world that it intends to be governed by a sane, enlightened, and independent majority, and nob by the remnant of irresponsible who are attempting to ruin it to-day.
– During the course of this discussion reference has been made to a number of matters which are of minor importance, and I think honorable senators will appreciate the spirit of my statement when I say that it will perhaps be more appropriate if I give them my assurance that I will bring those matters under the notice of the Ministers concerned, and limit my observations on this occasion to the serious situation which exists in connexion with the seamen’s strike. I am sure honorable senators will recognise - as the Government do - the extreme seriousness of the’ position with which the country is confronted. Its very seriousness throws upon us all a heavy responsibility. Particularly does responsibility rest upon those associated with the Executive Government. It is their responsibility to see that the terms we use are moderate in the extreme, and are calculated to promote progress towards a settlement of the existing dispute rather than to add fuel to the flames. It is because of this’ great responsibility that the Government recognise that they are under an obli gation, which they claim to ‘be faithfully discharging - the obligation of endeavouring to exhaust every peaceful means to ‘secure a solution of the trouble before considering the necessity which may be forced upon us, of looking for relief in other directions. The Government have been urged to do something. There is a law upon our statute-book, and the Government are sworn to see that that law is respected and administered. The Government will discharge that obligation. With the arbitration laws existing on our statute-book there is no justification whatever for the action the men have elected to take, and it is a little reassuring to know that it is difficult to find an expression of opinion anywhere in this country on the part of individuals outside the leaders of the Seamen’s Union themselves which does not deplore the attitude of the seamen in ignoring the opportunities afforded by the Arbitration Court for the settlement of their grievances. That view has been expressed abundantly to-day. Regret it as we may, we are bound to recognise that the action of the men constitutes a direct and open challenge to the law of this country, and to the authority which stands behind that law. The Government does not propose to allow the law to be openly flouted. Some honorable senators have suggested that the Government should take some action ; but having indicated the view which the Government takes of the position, they would hardly expect any statement to be made as to the action contemplated by the Government. I can only assure the Senate that the Government has had frequent consultations over the matter, and is shaping its course with a view to securing, at the earliest possible moment, the resumption of normal industry, and that it will not lightly regard those efforts which have undoubtedly been made to .challenge constituted authority in Australia. I do not think that I can profitably add to this statement, .except to stress the point that the Government endeavoured, up to the last moment, to utilize all peaceful means available of securing a settlement. Ex- ception was taken by one speaker to the fact that volunteers had not been called for the Rotomahana last week. I remind honorable senators that until Monday last there was a possibility of achieving a constitutional settlement of the dispute, and so long as that appeared probable, the Government would have been false to the best interests of this country if it had jeopardized the prospect by any precipitate action. Unfortunately, the last approach to the Court not only did not help matters, but, on the contrary, made more pronounced the unfortunate and misguided determination of the men as to the course which had been selected. Consequently, the Government is called upon, in the light of inf ormation thus disclosed, to take such action as may be required without undue delay. In the meantime, the Government is fully conscious of the great hardship inflicted upon individuals, and the still greater hardship which will undoubtedly be caused unless some steps be taken promptly to terminate the present unfortunate dispute. The Government has .approached this problem in a spirit slow to do anything which might make it appear that it was seeking a cause of quarrel with the seamen ; it has, rather, approached the problem with a desire to act the part of the peacemaker.
– The Acting Prime Minister spoke some brave words five or six weeks ago as to what the Government would do.
– I remind the honorable senator that the Government is dealing with a mightily thorny subject just now. Senator Reid indicated some of the possibilities that might arise out of this trouble, and I ask the Senate to accept my assurance that the Government is addressing itself to the problem of securing, if possible, a peaceful solution of the difficulty. If that is not possible, the Government is determined that the laws of the country shall be respected, and that, as early as possible, industry shall be allowed to run its normal course. May I say, in conclusion, that I have just received the announcement that, as far s can be seen at present, the *Rotomahana will sail to-morrow afternoon.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.1S p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 July 1919, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1919/19190709_senate_7_88/>.