12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In view of the prospects of a bountiful production in Australia this season on account of the recent splendid general rainfall, I should like to know if the Government will take steps to assure protection to workers on the waterfront, so that when produce is available for shipment it will be despatched promptly, and not be allowed to rot on the wharfs?
– The Governmentis always prepared to afford protection to everysection of the community that needs it.
The following paper was presented: -
Defence Act- Royal Military College of Australia - Report for period 1st July 1928, to 31st December, 1929.
Rates of Pay - Uniforms
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Privates and gunners -
Recruits- 3s. per diem.
Trained soldiers - 4s. per diem.
Corporals - 9s. per diem.
Sergeants - 10s. per’ diem.
Privates and gunners - 4s. per diem.
Corporals- 9s. per diem.
Sergeants - 10s. per diem.
The only variation is that recruits are paid at the same rate as trained soldiers, i.e., 4s. per diem, under the militia scheme.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– It is not intended to issue the new uniforms referred to by the honorable senator, but when new clothing is being made a slightly modified type will be issued.
Preference to Unionists
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Whether it is correct, as reported in the press on 14th May, that instructions have been issued by the Government to heads of departments for the preparation of lists showing the names of non-unionists in their respective departments, and that these employees will not participate in Public Service arbitration awards, and will also be the first to be dismissed in the event of retrenchment?
– As a result of a direction by the Government to the effect that awards obtained by registered organizations of Public Service employees should be restricted in their application to members of such organizations, and to returned soldiers irrespective of whether they are members of organizations, instructions have been issued with the object of ascertaining those employees to whom the provisions of relative awards should be applied. On the question of dismissals I would invite attention to the following statement of the Prime Minister on the matter read by me in this chamber on 7th May last : -
The conditions in the contracts will, therefore, be that preference shall be given firstly to returned soldiers and sailors, and secondly to members of trade unions. This will also apply to employment and dismissals in the Public Service.
Debate resumed from 14th May (vide page 1715), on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce -
That Statutory Rules, 1930, No. 38, Transport Workers (Waterside) Regulations, be disallowed.
– As Senator Sir George Pearce has pointed out, it is necessary to trace the history of the legislation and arbitration affecting waterside workers over a number of years in order thoroughly to understand this motion and the regulation which it seeks to disallow. Honorable senators will recall that for some considerable time trouble was simmering on the waterfront, and that it came to a head upon the promulgation of the Beeby award. Whether one agrees with that award or not, one has to admit that it is the law of the land, and, as such, must be honoured by all right-thinking people. When the award was promulgated members of the Waterside Workers Federation: went out on strike. They paralyzedour shipping and held our trade andcommerce up to ransom. Because they disagreed with the decision of a body created by the people of Australia to determine wages and conditions of employment, they defied the law, and said, in effect, “We do not like the law of the land, and we refuse to obey it.”
Senator McLachlan read a highly informative statement by Mr. Blackburn which gives the history of the Beeby award, and proves conclusively that the watersiders have brought all this trouble on their heads by their own action. I propose to quote somewhat extensively from the award of Judge Beeby, and to give the reasons which caused the learned judge to arrive at his decision.” In reviewing the history of legislation and conditions affecting waterside workers, judge Beeby intimated that when the court first began its investigation into the matter some years previously those workers were a very badly organized body. He then pointed out how their conditions and wages had been bettered by the operation of the Arbitration Court.It is evident that the men were quite willing to accept wages and conditions that were favorable to them, but that they revolted when awards were not to their liking. Judge Beeby said -
I was surprised at the tendency of some witnesses to live in the past, and to assume that the conditions existing prior to 1914 still prevail, and also at the avowal by some union, representatives that while the court’s awards had been of great benefit, the union was entitled, during the currency of those awards, by direct action at moments when pressure was likely to be effective, to compel compliance with conditions which had not been prescribed by the court.
During the hearing of their plaint, the union raised a contention that has been put forward by honorable senators opposite, that the blame was wholly attributable to the ship-owners; that most of the disputes of recent years were the result of pin-pricking tactics on the part of foremen. After hearing evidence on this point, Judge Beeby said -
I asked for evidence in support of this statement, but none of a convincing nature was forthcoming. I have no doubt that foremen are as any other group of human beings, and that some of them at times act indiscreetly. But there is not a scintilla of evidence that the bullying “ ganger “ of the old days is now tolerated on the waterfront. A substantial percentage of foremen, are members of the federation: Practically all of them in the past have had experienceas working labourers. When this was pointed out it was alleged that whilst they do not now” bully” mcn, foremen when picking up labour, , exclude those who “ stand up for their rights “, Again 1 asked for evidence in support of such a charge, but it was not forthcoming.
– There was overwhelming evidence.
– Surely the honorable senator is prepared, to accept Judge Beeby’s statement that it was not forthcoming.
– Every one knows about it, nevertheless.
– Then why was it not placed before the court? Judge Beeby said -
X was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the federation and some of its vigilance mid other officers, more than the workmen themselves, have been responsible for most of the unrest of recent times on the waterfront, nui that much disorder has been fomented v purposes other than the remedying of legitimate grievances. Occasionally, the federation has been caught in a maelstrom of industrial disorder set in motion by some other body of workmen. Sympathy strikes have at times been beyond the control of the federation’s governing body, but the federation must’ accept responsibility for most of the sectional strikes and the holding up of individual ships in different ports. These stoppages of work have usually arisen from demands by groups of men, backed up by a branch executive, or by the federal committee of management itself, for restrictive conditions, not authorized by the court;’ from attempts to enforce local nz les or regulations in conflict with the award; from refusal to accept the decisions of boards of reference on disputed points; from efforts t(> secure payment of excessive rates for special work without submission to boards of reference; from demands for increases in the number of hands employed without reference to boards ; from enforcing the “ fair division of work “ policy by demanding the employment of more men than were fairly necessary; from efforts to destroy the mobility of labour employed, and from the adoption by the committee of management and branch executives of a new policy aiming at securing control without responsibility of waterside operations in the Commonwealth.
That is a scathing indictment by the learned judge of those union organizers. The employers were even blamed by the judge for being too lenient, for not enforcing the awards of the courts, arid for yielding to demands not in accordance with those awards. I know of one instance in Port Adelaide in which a union demanded conditions over and above those set out in the award.
– I rise to a point of order”. Last night, Mr. President, you found it necessary to prevent an honor able senator on this side from dealing with matters that could not be connected with the motion before the Senate. Senator Chapman has made reference . to a matter which has nothing to do with the motion before- the Chair. I ask whether he was in order in doing so ?
– Now that my attention has been called to this matter, I have to inform the Senate that a good deal of this debate has been out of order. Senator Chapman has followed other honorable senators in that respect. He may, of course, plead the excuse that other honorable senators had made certain statements to which he deemed it necessary to reply. I think that honorable senators have repeated those statements so often and other honorable senators have, given so many replies to them, that it is not necessary to pursue the subject further excepting in so far as it affects the opening of certain pick-up stations in the port of Melbourne. The debate has spread all over Australia. So much having been said about the rest of Australia, I ask that for the remainder of the debate honorable senators confine their remarks to a discussion of certain pick-up places in the port of Melbourne.
– It was my intention, Mr. President, to connect my remarks with the subject before the Chair. I desired to give the reasons why Judge Beeby made his award which resulted in the waterside workers’ strike, and also to show that he deliberately withheld preference to unionists because of what took place. I intended also to indicate that if preference had been given to unionists, the non-union workers would. either have been forced to join the union or been thrown out of work, and then to show that this regulation was opposed to the aim of Judge Beeby and contravened the intention of the Arbitration Court.
– Does the honorable senator say that that award caused the strike ?
– Of course it did. Senator McLachlan has made that perfectly clear. This regulation overrides the intention of that award, which provided that the times and places for the engagement of “ labour existing on certain dates were to continue until varied by agreement or by findings of boards of reference; but the committee of management of the union, in defiance of that provision, directed all branches to adopt only one pick-up. Both morning and afternoon pick-ups were provided for, and the practice of two pick-ups daily was in. operation in most of the ports throughout Australia. The action of the committee of management was a direct defiance of the court. Judge Beeby also said -
Unfortunately employers, for reasons which it is not necessary to traverse, although a.l ways protesting, acquired the habit of gradually yielding to the conditions imposed by the federation. Mr. Justice Powers, in hiE later awards, tried to meet the position by ordering that only local customs dating prior to 1023 in some States and 1921 in others, should continue, and still trusted the federation to control the rules of branches. Now, however, the employers have submitted a mass of uncontradicted evidence to prove that the federation lias paid no heed to the warnings of the court. Branches have been, and still ure, permitted to make their own domestic rules, and. furthermore, the committee of management of the federated branches, the’ governing body of the organization, has itself directed the enforcement’ of conditions contrary to the award.
That practice which was adopted throughout Australia shows the manner in which members of- the Waterside Workers Federation acted in direct defiance of the Arbitration Court. Employers throughout Australia have admitted that many unionists are reliable men, capable of performing good work and that if left alone they would continue to do so. On this point, Judge Beeby said -
The workmen, however, attempt to justify breaches of the award by stating that they run the risk of union fines unless they obey local rules and the directions of” their branches. In many branches it is clear that matters of policy and the framing of rules arc not the result of proper discussion at representative union meetings.
In order to give the Senate some idea of the extreme views held by some of the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, I quote the following from Judge Beeby’s judgment -
One witness (perhaps inadvertently) stated that shipping operations should be adjusted to fit in with the federation’s policy, in order that more men might be .employed. . Another defended certain slowing-down tactics in one port as quite justifiable until the “present system was altered.” Another stated, in effect, that whatever the union did was right until the workmen were allowed to “ run the wharfs.”
Such extravagant statements by representatives of the organization are typical of those placed before the court. Before dealing with the various claims, the learned judge referred to the evidence called by the employers in support of their contention that since the first award had been made there had been an appreciable decline in efficiency. A return was submitted showing that there had been a good deal of unnecessary delay in the handling of cargo which resulted in increased prices being charged not only for the requirements of. primary producers, but for many commodities used by other sections of the community. If this regulation is allowed to remain in operation, members of the Waterside Workers Federation will again secure control and abuse their powers as they did previously, resulting in considerable hardships being inflicted upon practically every section of the community. If the volunteer workers are forced to seek employment at the same pick-up as members of the federation, they will he badgered, heckled and perhaps bludgeoned into joining the union. Under the system in operation prior to the Beeby award, the go-slow policy was practised by union labour in practically every port. In referring to this aspect of the question Judge Beeby said -
Varying conditions made me refuse to accept as conclusive a return submitted by the employers which purported to 6how that since 1912, the average rate of handling overseas general cargo with four men in the hold, had fallen from 17.87 tons to, with six mon in the hold, 13.64 tons.
The learned judge was so surprised that he would not accept the reports without confirmation, and accordingly asked Mr. .Sutcliffe, who was then an officer engaged in the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, to furnish him with a report on the same- subject. His report showed that in 1912, with four men in the hold, 16.83 tons were handled, and in 1925, with six men in the hold, 13.87 tons were handled.
– That was in the port of Melbourne?
– Those men,,, were picked up at Hogan’s Elat.
– They were members, of the Waterside Workers Federation. In many cases volunteer workers have handled a larger tonnage in a specified time than unionists and as they become more experienced the figures will doubtless improve. In the circumstances, which have been fully brought before the Senate by other honorable senators on this side of the chamber, there does not appear to be any reason why this regulation should be allowed. Its operation would result in considerable conflict between the members of the Waterside Workers Federation and the volunteers. It would give the members of that federation an opportunity to conduct work under conditions which for years were detrimental to the interests of the community. The promise which was given to the volunteers should be honoured.
In connexion with the attitude adopted by certain vigilance officers of the federation the judge made some very scathing remarks. After the minutes of the proposed award had been considered by the two parties, the learned judge said -
I hoped that after consideration of the reasons stated by me for the proposed award, the federation would approach the court again with assurances, supported by definite action, that the conduct of the . branches of the organization would be brought under proper control; that the policy which had brought about the results pointed out in my judgment would be abandoned, and that the federation would accept and act on the advice of the court on many matters which had brought it and its branches into disrepute in the industrial world. A perusal of the comments on the draft award, however, discloses that the matters referred to have not been seriously considered. The federation has merely traversed the award and objected to every clause which is not in accord with its claim filed in the court. It pays no heed to the reasons for the alterations in the old award. Time alone can tell whether this attitude will persist. I can only repeat and extend what I said in my original judgment. If, in future, the federation can satisfy the court that it has changed its policy, the court will afford every opportunity for application for improvement of conditions.
It will be seen that these unionists, owing to the strength of their organization, were in the position to enforce shipowners to grant conditions over and above those provided for in the award of the Arbitration Court.
– Terrible !
–It is rather terrible to contemplate, because the men were already enjoying substantial benefits under arbitration. The award rate of pay was 2s. ll£d. per hour. In some instances double time was allowed and the conditions of employment were made as easy as possible. All these matters were taken into account by Judge Beeby in determining the claim for preference. If preference had been awarded, volunteer workers would have been compelled to join the union, the alternative being lack of employment on the waterfront and the prospect of starvation. At one time the award relating to work on the waterfront provided for preference to unionists, and in the draft award Judge Beeby proposed, with certain exceptions, to grant preference. He said that in view of the failure of the federation in its comment on the minutes, to even admit the necessity for controlling branches and disciplining groups of men who failed to observe awards, clause 19 of the minutes of the award would be struck out and no order for preference made. He deliberately refrained from giving preference.
I come- now to a point made very cleverly by Senator Daly yesterday. The Leader of the Senate endeavoured to persuade honorable senators that the new statutory rule would not over-ride the award of the court, because the court had not power to deal with non-unionists. But the court has power to grant preference to unionists,’ and for the reasons which I have already cited, Judge Beeby deliberately refrained from doing so. Had preference been granted, any volunteer worker who failed to join the union, would have been shut out from employment, because only unionists would have been called first, and non-unionists would get a job only when labour was short. But the court would not ‘ give preference to unionists, i,t would not do something’ which would amount to compelling a man to join a union. The regulation we ar-3 considering would, in effect, force the men into a union and would override the decision of the Arbitration Court. If all waterside workers are forced to assemble at one pick-up place, there will” be constant friction between unionists and non-unionists, and trouble will ensue instead of peace as predicted by Senator Daly. Senator O’Halloran referred to certain incidents at Port Adelaide.
– The honorable gentleman will not be in order in referring to the incidents mentioned. At least two honorable senators, one on each side of the chamber, discussed that matter fully. If my attention had been directed to it at the time, I should have prevented them from continuing along that line of argument. My attention has since been directed to the fact that, in the debate on this motion, references to what happened at Port Adelaide are out of order. I must, therefore, ask the honorable senator to confine himself to the matters set forth in the statutory rule.
– I regret that other honorable senators have had an opportunity to relate what happened at Port Adelaide and that I am not permitted to put the other side of the case. I shall nowcontent myself with saying that during the clash between unionists and non-unionists acts of violence were committed at Port Adelaide, that five men were taken to the Adelaide hospital, and that there were many other casualties. I am definitely opposed to the regulation laid on the table of the Senate. It will not make for peace in the waterside industry. Trouble occurred also at the port of Melbourne, where non-unionists were attacked arid in some cases chased through the streets by mobs of unionists. If all waterside workers are forced to assemble at one pick-up place unionists and non-unionists will be thrown together. The ship-owners promised that the nonunionists would be given preference; it was a. promise that could be given quite in accordance with the award of the arbitration court; but with nonunionists and unionists all mixed up at one common pick-up place the shipowners will no longer be able to honour that promise. The regulation, if allowed to stand, will bring about the badgering and butchering of men who came to the assistance of the country when the unionists went on strike, holding up the trade and commerce of Australia, and inflicting great loss and suffering on the general community. The regulation is not in the best interests of the people, and I shall certainly vote for the motion.
– After six months in office the present Labour Government has suddenly decided that unionist wharf labourers in Melbourne are not getting their fair share of work. In plain English, the Ministry has been compelled to take certain steps with the object of forcing volunteer labour off the Melbourne waterfront. Hence this regulation now under discussion. I listened to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) yesterday afternoon with great interest, and, I must say, with a great deal of admiration for the extraordinarily fine show he put up in pleading a lamentably weak case. I think we are all familiar with the dislocation and chaos that towards the end of 1928, when the TransportWorkers Act was passed, caused enormous damage and loss to the community generally, until eventually, largely with the aid of volunteer labour, shipping services were restored. On that occasion the volunteers, who took the place of the members of theWaterside Workers Federation who would not obey an award of the Arbitration Court, were promised permanent preference of waterside work, a privilege which the Waterside Workers Federation had enjoyed for a long time, but apparently valued very little. Since the advent of volunteer labour during the last sixteen or eighteen months, ships have been loaded and unloaded expeditiously, and in some ports pillaging has been reduced. The Government of the day and ship-owners gave a pledge that, when the strike was over, the volunteer workers would be protected in their employment. It is the first occasion that I can remember of a promise made to volunteers who have come to the aid of the community at a time of trouble being honoured. That pledge has been faithfully kept up to now; but ever since the election of this Government there have been ominous rumblings of impending trouble for the volunteers, and threats that the present satisfactory position would be altered. It is clear that the present Ministry did notrelish any move in that direction, but as a first step it has ordered a common pick-up place for unionists and volunteers, and I submit the latter can only attend at some considerable risk to themselves.
Yesterday Senator Daly said that police protection is unnecessary; that no more police are inquired at the pick-up place than before. On the 16th April, when I was on my way to Tasmania during the Easter recess, I saw about 2,000 people assembled in the vicinity of No. 10 and No. 11 berths on the north side of the river Yarra. It is possible that many of them were merely onlookers but in attendance there were a dozen, perhaps more, mounted troopers and about 30 or 40 foot police. That was two days after the promulgation of this regulation. It is true that there was no trouble on that occasion, but having had a good deal to do with large bodies of men in different parts of the world I am a pretty good judge, and it was obvious to me, as it would have been to any spectator, that there was in that great gathering all the elements of very serious troubleat any time. A thoughtless act could easily have brought about trouble.
Senator Daly is an optimist when he says that the idea of having a common pick-up place is to enable the two parties to come together and fraternize. In the absence of adequate police protection I can imagine a jolly good “ box on “, which at a later date some Labour poet may probably immortalize in a poem entitled, “ Howwe beat the scabs at Hogan’s Flat”. Human nature being what it is there is bound to be a clash when two bodiesof men of opposing interests are brought together at a common pick-up place and there is no buffer in the shape of police. Some people are bound to get rather badly hurt.
– That would be the “ poetic justice “ I presume ?
– The AttorneyGeneral with a fine pretence of righteous indignation has declared that the action’ of the ship-owners in adhering to their pledge to the volunteers constitutes a challenge to the, Government and that the challenge will be accepted. I may remind the Attorney-General that the duty of the Government is to the community as a whole and not to a particular union.
Mr. Brennan bolsters a very poor case with arguments that are deplorably weak. He is reported as having said -
Someof the volunteers are single men and large numbers are foreigners.
Since when this sudden concern for married men which finds no place in the Labour movement? As to foreigners, the Australian Labour party is riddled with them. What concerns the community is that whether he be a single man or a foreigner the volunteer wharf labourer has proved himself an infinitely more efficient and reliable worker than the average union “ wharfie”. Members of the Waterside Workers Federation, whose claim for absolute preference on the waterfront has just been rejected, have suffered through causes brought about by themselves. If an arbitration award is not acceptable to them the industry must stop no matter how ruinous the consequences to the community may be. I speak with feeling in this regard because I have had some of this medicine applied to me in civil life. Judge Beeby in dismissing the recent application of the Waterside Workers Federation for preference, said -
The present situation was entirely of the federation’s own creation and was in no way a punishment inflicted by the court.
Again in the course of his summing up, he said- -
The industrial history of thu federation has made it impossible to legalize control by the federation of the waterfront labour.
That statement is on all fours with the sound principle that preference to unionists can only be granted in exceptional cases when it is likely to serve the public interests, and the union by its observance of the industrial law and by its sense of public responsibility, may be given the privilege without doing injustice to any one. On the evidence before us, does any honorable senator maintain that that applies to the Waterside Workers Federation? The answer is in the negative. The record of this union speaks for itself, and compels me to cast my vote for the disallowance of this mischievous and, to my mind, dangerous regulation.
Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) [4.3 1 . - It appears to me that the direct effect of this statutory rule will be to bring two absolutely hostile sections of workers together at one common pick-up place. In the past there has been a considerable difference of opinion between these sections which has taken the form of assaults and actions not to the credit of the Labour movement, and will any one say that these two bodies can meet in this way on one common pick-up place without getting into “holts “ or coming to clashes ? The danger of that is very great indeed. It has been urged that up to the present the statutory rule has functioned satisfactorily; but it has already been shown that the hostile elements have been kept in check by the presence of large bodies of police. There is, however, an even greater incentive to the absence of trouble. The unionists are not likely to indulge in any hostile act until this statutory rule becomes the law of the land. It is not yet the law of the land and I hope that it never will be. The. Government is in an awkward position. It is its duty to do all things to preserve law and order, but in doing so it comes into conflict with its supporters, the unions. I shall quote a few lines from a most pertinent statement by that gifted writer, Sir Henry Maine, in his Popular Government. At page 64 of that work, he wrote -
If any Government should be tempted to neglect even for a moment its functions of compelling obedience to law - if a democracy, for example, were to allow a portion of the multitude of which it consists to set at defiance some law which it happens to dislike, it would bc guilty of a crime which hardly any other virtue would redeem, and which century after century might fail to repair.
Those are weighty words indeed, and are very applicable to the case in point. The Government will be inclined to favour the unionists upon whom it relies for support. At the same time it is bound by its oath of office to maintain law and order. Undoubtedly, it has a very difficult problem in front of it. I refer to that aspect of the matter because, although I should like to be allowed to roam over the whole subject and cite our experiences in Queensland, you, Mr. President, have very properly ruled that out. I shall content myself with bringing forward that phase and commending it to the attention of the Government. At the same time I shall oppose the legalizing of this statutory rule.
.- I rather admire the way in which the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) has conducted the business of the chamber up to thu present, but I commiserate with him in regard to the very invidious position in which he found himself yesterday. I felt sorry for the honorable senator when he was so hard put to it yesterday in replying, with his special pleading, to the case put forward by Senator Sir George Pearce. The case for the Government’s action in this matter is the weakest that Senator Daly has yet been called upon to support in this chamber.
The members of the Waterside Workers Federation are just realizing the inexorable operation of the law of cause and effect. They have been forced in a very bitter way to appreciate the biblical words, “ As a man soweth, so shall he reap “. The wharf labourers are indeed reaping a very disagreeable harvest. Some of their sowing was done in all ignorance, but much of it was carried out with due deliberation. The members of the Waterside Workers Federation endeavoured to take advantage of this country to further their own selfish ends, and their reprehensible action has haa a boomerang effect. I realize that some of them went into the business deliberately, and that others had not the moral courage to prevent their comrades leading them astray. Now this Government is going out of its way to assist members of that federation, under the guise of endeavouring to solve the problem that now exists at Port Melbourne. As usual, Senator Barnes yesterday spoke from the heart instead of from the head. The honorable senator is very easily moved to give expression to his sentimental feelings rather than to his soundreasoning and experience.
– I generally combine the two.
– Yesterday the honorable senator did not. He pleaded a pathetic case and urged that justice should be meted out to the members of the Waterside Workers Federation and their starving families. How in the name of common sense will this regulation bring work to the watersiders at Port Melbourne or any other port?All the ports in Australia are suffering equally with Port Melbourne. If we take the evidence advanced by the secretary of the Wharf Labourers Union, Melbourne, we find that a great deal of the present distress is due to the policy of high protection and prohibition of certain imports endorsed by* this Government. Ships are coming into Australia only half loaded with cargo, and men in their thousands are struggling to obtain a day’s work on the waterfront. Continuity of employment is impossible for those unfortunate individuals because of the limited quantity of cargo which, owing to the policy of the Government, is available to be handled. The Prime Minister has been approached by the organization and urged to do something to assist these men. But how is this statutory regulation going to solve the problem? How is that modicum of work to be equitably distributed among the hundreds of watersiders who need employment? How is it possible to ration out work that does not exist?
– I do not think that is the purpose of the regulation, but will the honorable senator inform us what injury the regulation will do ?
– Senator Barnes knows as well as I do what effect the regulation will have. I do not like to impute motives, but the honorable senator’s experience and my own is that when mob rule is allowed, to prevail among starving men, trouble must ensue. These men are all struggling to get the same job and thoughts of their starving wives and families will urge them to desperation. In the bitterness of their feelings what treatment would they mete out to the volunteers were it not for the protection a afforded “by the police ? It is my belief that the Government, in introducing this regulation, knows exactly what effect it will have. The members of the Waterside Workers Federation outnumber the volunteers by five to one, and those unfortunates, with one picking-up place, will be crushed out. A ring of members of the federation will be formed at the pickingup place and the volunteers will be sent to the background where the agent engaged in employing men will not be able to see them. If one volunteer forces his way to the front and is fortunate enough to obtain a job, he will probably get a clump on the head and will never again join a gang of unionists. It is no use shutting our eyes to the effects of the regulation. It is my opinion that if it is allowed to operate, members of the federation will oust the volunteers out of their billets and place them in the position of semi-starvation in which many of the unionists find themselves to-day. Both sections must live.- I do not blame the unionist wharf labourer. He cannot help -his present position. But he should have thought of what would be the effect of his action before he took it. I do not want (o crush him or inflict further punishment upon him. .But it is obvious that the work is not there; that too many applicants are available for the waterside work that exists in Australia. Even at peak periods there have been too many men for the work available at the several ports. I have been associated with the industry for very nearly 40 years, and I realize that while a limited number of “star” gangs have made an excellent living, the majority of watersiders have eked out a precarious existence. It is customary when other work is .scarce for the unemployed to take out union tickets and rush to the wharfs in an endeavour to get employment there. Instead of introducing this statutory regulation, the Government should have endeavoured to overcome the difficulty in some other way. I remind honorable senators of the expense that is imposed upon Victoria in having to keep on duty squads of police to protect volunteer wharf labourers from the unionists. No one with any knowledge of human psychology would expect the unionists to be other than bitter when they saw the volunteers in employment and themselves idle, with their wives and families almost starving. The Government is merely humbugging the unionists by telling them that it will fight this thing to the bitter end. It is apparent that this regulation is merely the thin edge of the wedge. If by this means the Government succeeds in driving the volunteers off the wharfs at Port Melbourne similar tactics will be employed at the other ports, and in the majority of cases the volunteers will be driven out.
This proposal for one pick-up is deliberately introduced to engineer trouble. Instead of the Government trying to uphold the laws of the country, it is seeking to bring about rioting and other troubles. Honorable senators opposite know that I am not exaggerating the case. I know from experience that I am right. Nobody knows better than SenatorRae the treatment that is meted out to volunteers by unionists. How often a volunteer meets with an unfortunate accident when working down below. How often a sling can go wrong, and some heavy article accidentally fall and injure a volunteer. Some unionists consider that they are justified in adopting such tactics, as the volunteers took their places. They firmly believe that had they not done so their unions would have won the strike. Of course nothing of the kind would have happened. They forget that the wives and families of these volunteers were probably on the verge of starvation, and they were thus driven to take up this work. They became waterside workers because other employment was not available and also to help the country in its moment of trouble. Now a Labour Government, with a considerable majority, comes into power and wants to crush those men out of existence. The whole thing indicates a narrow point of view, and is purely class legislation.
The Leader of the Government in the Senate said that he wanted to see 100 per cent. peace on the waterfront. I have not the slightest doubt that he does, but I do not think that this is the proper method to preserve peace. The regulation is really an insidious attack upon the volunteers - to oust them gradually off the wharfs. I recollect what happened in the early ‘nineties, and almost ever since the trouble on the waterfront has been more or less the same. There is more peace at present in the industry than there has been for many years, and all because of the introduction of the Transport Workers Act and the licensing of volunteers. My Queensland colleague, Senator Cooper, yesterday quoted some very illuminating figures showing how handling costs have been reduced by the honest endeavour of volunteers to do a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
Former costs have been reduced by onehalf. Obviously that will lessen the cost of production to the community.
– Stevedoring charges have not gone down.
– I am pointing out that where these men have been given a free hand they have performed a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay without injury to themselves.
– How does that affect the cost of production?
– It is obvious that transport costs will be reduced and that, for instance, the people in North Queensland will pay less for articles transported by sea from Melbourne or Sydney. If the wharf labourers to-day can handle goods at half the cost of handling them previously, it is obvious that other charges also can be reduced. There is efficiency on the waterfront in the north of Queensland to-day because the men are allowed to do a fair day’s work. The licensing system enables a foreman to discharge them if they do not give a fair return for their wages.
– They are being terrorized.
– The honorable senator may use that expression on the soap box in the Domain, but he knows that it is so much “bunkum.” I feel certain that the wharf labourers in the north of Queensland, referred to by Senator Cooper, are not being terrorized. Even now they are not doing more than an ordinary day’s work. The improved conditions there show what efficiency, common honesty, and supervision can do in reducing the cost of production.
– That is not the result at Port Adelaide.
– What I have said applies to all the out-ports. While there has been no victimization in applying the licensing system, the system certainly has tended to preserve order. We hear a great deal about the tyranny of the old days. Those days have gone, but to-day we have a tyranny of a different kind. The tyranny of the old days led to efforts which have brought liberty; but that liberty is being misused. The wor.st tyranny to-day is that exercised by the executives of some of the trade unions. There are no greater tyrants in ‘ the country than the union vigilance officers. Some of the unions have realized that fact and have endeavoured to get rid of them. This sectional legislation will give power to a small body of men to tyrannize others. If persisted in, it will bring ruin to the Commonwealth, for it will take us hack to the days of mob, -rule. Why has the port of Melbourne been chosen for a test of strength? We heard a great deal yesterday about the conditions at Port Adelaide. Why have not similar tactics been adopted there? Was Melbourne chosen as the battle-ground because a Labour Government is in power in Victoria?
– There is a Labour Government in South Australia also.
– It has only just got into office. It may be that Melbourne was chosen because the supporters of the Labour party are more numerous there than in Adelaide. Senator Hoare said that a trial of strength would take place in Melbourne. Does that mean that if mob rule is successful in Melbourne, there will soon be mob rule in other ports ?
The licensing system has done much to reduce pillaging in our ports. I do not say that all the members of the Waterside Workers Federation were guilty of pillaging, or that all the losses of cargo were due to pillaging in Australian ports. But I do say that if the volunteer workers are displaced by members of the union, pillaging will increase. I am acquainted with a number ,of prominent public men who at one time were employed on the wharfs. I could entertain the Senate by. recounting some of the stories they have told me regarding what took place on the wharfs when they were employed there.
– The honorable senator would be out of order in doing so.
– It is well known that a gang of “ crooks “ associated themselves with the Waterside. Workers Federation, not to carry out legitimate work on the waterfront, but to indulge in pillaging. Their object was the same as that of that body of men who travel from shearing shed to shearing shed, not to engage in the legitimate work of shearing, but to indulge in gambling. Strictly speaking, they have nothing to do with the union. If this regulation is not disallowed, these “ crooks “ will again be in evidence. For the sake of the wharf labourers themselves, and for the sake of the good name of our Australian ports, we should .see that nothing is done which would give rise to the pillaging which took place in the past. On the grounds that I have mentioned, I shall support the motion for the disallowance of the regulation.
.- The regulation which forms the basis of this discussion is a small document and appears to be very inoffensive; but when we remember that on every ship which carries inflammable cargo there are notices prohibiting smoking, and that it is an offence to carry a naked light in close proximity to a powder magazine we can not but realize that not to disallow the regulation would be equivalent to applying a match to the inflammable structure on’ which Australia at present appears to rest. I shall not follow the lead of those one or two honorable senators whose speeches I listened to ; I shall deal with this regulation from the point of view of its effect on the welfare of the community generally. Not long ago trade in the southern portion of Australia, particularly between Victoria and Tasmania, was dislocated by a hold-up of the shipping services. A similar dislocation occurred each year for about six years previously. But for the last sixteen months there has been a continuous shipping service between Victoria and Tasmania. That happy state of affairs is the direct outcome of the passing of the Transport Workers Act, and the coming into operation of the regulations . made * thereunder . by . the late Government. The wharf labourers themselves are the first .to admit the benefit of that legislation. Numbers of them have told me that since the passing of that act, they have been more continuously employed than for many years previously. When a strike of waterside workers took place about sixteen months ago, a call was made for volunteer workers to take their place. There’ was a satisfactory response to that call, and from that time volunteer labourers have worked side by side with - unionists on the wharfs. I do not- agree with those honorable senators who, in supporting the motion before the Senate, have, blamed the waterside workers for all the troubles that havetaken place on the waterfront during the last six or seven years. I do not blame the waterside workers at all for what has taken place. I place the blame on those who do not work - the organizers of the waterside workers.
SenatorRae. - Probably the honorable senator regards all ship-owners as angels.
– When the strike occurred, I had a conversation with 40 or 50 members of the Waterside Workers Union on the wharf in Melbourne. They told me that they were quite content with the conditions previously existing on the waterfront and that they were prepared to obey the awards of the court. But they had not been allowed to do so. They said, moreover, that the views they had expressed were the views of the majority of the members of the union - that quite 80 per cent. of the transport workers did not want to leave their employment. I asked them if the rules of the union did not provide for majority rule and they informed me that if they attended a meeting and freely expressed their views they would be termed “ blacklegs “ and would be terrorized. I then asked them by whom they would be terrorized. They then informed me that action wouldbe taken by those whose business we know it is to cause industrial strife whenever possible. That is the real position. It has been mentioned in my presence that if this regulation operates there is no doubt as to what will happen.
– It has been: in operation for three weeks.
– Yes, but the period during which its disallowance can be moved has not yet expired. During the present critical period surely legislation likely to inflame the minds of the people should not be introduced. We ought to do all we can to reconcile all sections of the community.
– The object of the regulation is to reconcile the interests of those engaged on the waterfront.
– This morning’s Canberra Times contains the report of an utterance of the Leader of the Government in theSen ate (Senator Daly) to the effect that this regulation had been brought into operation with the idea of bringing the two opposing factions to gether. In this connexion I am reminded of an incident which occurred at Glebe where one section came with pickets and the other with bare hands to commence work. The result was a riot in which many men were injured. It is apparent to every one what the result may be if this regulation is not disallowed. The Prime Minister recently stated that he stood for constitutional government. Does he? Will not this regulation, if agreed to, be a distinct contravention of an award of the Arbitration Court? Is not an award of that court the law of the land? Members of the present Ministry have appeared on public platforms and distinctly stated that an award of the Arbitration Court is not the law of the land, and have openly urged workers to defy an award of the court. How can we reconcile such statements with the statement of the Prime Minister that he stands for constitutional government? I intend to support the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) for the disallowance of the regulation.
– It has been interesting to me to follow the debate on this motion, and to hear the one-time sponsors of trade unionism denounce the working class on every hand.
– Who has been doing that?
– It is easy for such honorable senatorsto say that they are just as good labour men to-day as they were when they were members of the party to which I belong. I know exactly where I stand in regard to this proposaland I have no hesitation in saying that my heart goes out to the working men of this country who have done so much to bring about the conditions which many are now able to enjoy. I intend to stand or fall by that policy and God forbid the day should ever come when I shall turn down those whose claims I should always advocate. One important aspect of this subject has been deliberately orunintentionally overlooked by honorable senators opposite. Senator Payne referred to a statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) who said that he believed in constitutional government. There is no need for me to refer to the last general election, but it should be apparent to every one that the present Government was returned upon a definite platform, one of the main planks of which is the retention of our present arbitration system. The subject of arbitration is closely associated with this matter. In the first place a section of the. men at present employed on the waterfront known as loyalists, volunteers, scabs, free labourers or whatever term may be applied to them are not. covered by any award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I do not know if. the employers by whom they are engaged will take advantage of this position, but there is always the grave danger of them doing so. Under the existing conditions it is impossible to ascertain whether the employers by whom these men are engaged are paying the wages provided in the award. The regulation provides that those seeking work on the waterfront shall be engaged at the one pick-up. I have been informed on good authority that a person in Brisbaneemploying waterside workers owns the property on which the men he employs are picked up and consequently only those whom he wishes to engage are permitted to enter his property.
– The regulation relates only to the Port of Melbourne and not to Brisbane.
– But the principle is the same. The honorable senator gave us a lot of trash that had very little to do with the subject. It is quite possible that conditions similar to those in Brisbane obtain in Melbourne. I am satisfied that at present the ship-owners and shipping companies discriminate between members of the Waterside Workers Federation and volunteers. Honorable senators oppositecontend that such discrimination is justified because the volunteers came to the rescue of the shipowners.
– They came to the rescue of Australia.
– The people who cameto the rescue of Australia are the unionists who built ‘up the conditions which the people are enjoying to-day. I donot desire to traverse in detail the dispute which led up to the introduction of the Transport Workers Bill as that has very little bearing on the subject. The question we have to consider is whether the employment on the waterfront now offering is being equally distributed among the men who are seeking it. I am advocating that the men who are entitled to the work should have a fair chance of getting it.
– They would not take it when it was offered.
– Is it a crime to strike ?
– They threw up their jobs.
– Even if they did surely that is not a reason why they should be penalized.
– The honorable senator believes in penalizing the other fellow.
– No penalty has been inflicted upon the other fellow.
– The honorable senator would like to penalize him.
– If the workers had not gone on strike these new-found friends of the honorable senators opposite would not have been in employment today. Not one word has been said regarding the tactics of the shipping companies, although cases could be cited in which employers have caused a good deal of trouble. The ship-owners want everything their own way. There may be a few extremists among the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, but there is at least one honorable senator opposite who holds very extreme views. In the Voice of Hobart of 10th October, 1929, Senator Ogden, in referring to the red raggers or extremists, said -
I would put the extremists on a ship; that ship would be made of stone and the sails would be made of lead. I would give them the wrath of Almighty God for a storm and make the first port of call Hell.
That is the expression of a man who professes to hold moderate views. I cannot understand an honorable senator who professes to be a Simon pure, suggesting such drastic action towards his opponents. Stress was laid on the fact that the licensing system has been responsible for peace on thewaterfront.
– So it has.
– Honorable senators overlook the conditions which obtain to-day. The clamour for employment is so intense and sp few jobs are available, that consequently there is industrial peace on the waterfront. During the war period the requests of employees for higher wages and improved working conditions were generally complied with -
– All the best men were at the front.
-Although that has nothing to do with the subject under discussion, I may say that I appreciate all that was done by our soldiers, and 1 suppose I have made as many sacrifices in connexionwith the war as the honorable senator who interjected. The soldier who deserves the most credit is the one who does not parade or trade on his service. During the war period the working class of this and other countries were granted increases in wages because the employers did not desire any cessation of operations. As a consequence the conditions of employment were improved and rates of wages were increased.
-But prices of commodities went up also.
– I am not contending that the position of the workers was bettered. Shortly after the war, Mr. (now Judge) Beeby visited America and upon hisreturn declaredthatif the world was tobe safer for democracy, the hoursof labour would have to be reduced. I believe he was the first to raise this issue and a few years later the principle of 44 hours was observed in certain Arbitration Court awards. On the waterfront, as I have already stated, the conditions of the waterside workers were improved, but since the war there has been a deliberate attempt toreduce wages.
– Where? Senator DOOLEY.- Practically all over the world, but particularly in Australia.
– Does the honorable senator say that wages have been reduced in the waterside industry?
– I did not state that there had been a reduction in wages on the waterfront, but I am not in a position to say, nor is the right honorable senator, whether the workers are getting ali they are legally entitled to receive under the awards.
– The honorable, senator knows that they are.
– I do not know whether they are or are not ; but I do know that if the employers or ship-owners decided tomorrow that they would not pay the award rate, there is no law to compel them to do so. It is advisable, therefore, that the claims of the Waterside Workers Federation should be recognized, so that the workers can be sure that they are being paid wages to which they are legally entitled. The granting of preference will mean protection to all persons employed on the waterfront. If the shipping companies got the upper hand no one doubts that, when it suited their purpose, they would pay volunteer workers whatever rate they chose to give and the workers would have no protection unless they were associated with the federation. The Prime Minister was quite right when he said that the Government stood for the observance of law and order. That end would be attained by the action taken by the Government. The principle of preference is embodied in this regulation, and I hope that it will be allowed to stand.
I have been associated with the tradeunion movement all mylife and I have no fear for the future. I know that, in the main, trade unionists are a good class of men. Ofthe total number who enlisted for the war, 90 per cent., at least, were members of some trade union organization. They proved themselves men on theother side and they will continue to act as men in the pursuit of their peaceful avocations in this country. Every man with spirit will stand up for what he believes to be his right. Surely honorable senators opposite will not condemn men for having the courage of their convictions. Every man worthy of the name seeks to make his conditions and the conditions of his fellow workers better than he found them. I trust that those honorable senators who have so severely criticized the waterside workerswill concede that at least they are human, and. should not be condemned for doing what to them appears to be the right thing.
– I am. amazed at the inconsistency of this Government. Although Ministers profess to be staunch supporters of the principle of arbitration, the statutory rule now under discussion was framed with the deliberate intention of overriding the decision of the Arbitration Court. It seems to me that the whole issue is subjudice because when the regulations were under consideration an application was before the Arbitration Court for absolute preference to unionists. Judge Beeby refused the application because the members of the Waterside Workers Federation had so frequently defied the award of the court. Ho also declined to disturb the existing arrangement with regard to the pick-up places. All honorable senators who claim to be upholders of law and order and of the principle of arbitration, must realize that the waterside workers have been flagrantly and violently disobedient to the court. Without reference to Parliament, this Government is attempting to override an Arbitration Court decision by promulgating new regulations under the Transport Workers Act. The intention, of course, is to strike a Wow at that loyal band of volunteer labourers who came to the assistance of their country when the waterside workers openly flouted the Arbitration Court by refusing to load produce for export or unload commodities necessary for the people of Australia. These men disobeyed the law, just as, during the war, they defied the la.w and refused to load Bed Cross comforts and Christmas billies for “ diggers “ at the front. Honorable senators who are supporting the Government do not like to-be reminded of the attitude of the waterside workers during the war.
An attempt is now being made to drive these volunteer workers into . the ranks of the law-breakers. If this movement is successful, the lot of the volunteer workers will be most unenviable. At a time when members of the Waterside Workers Federation refused to work, these men accepted the good wages then offering, and by their industry have got together comfortable homes for their wives and children. They should not now be compelled to assemble at a common pick-up place with thousands of unionists, who, we know, will at once attempt to bludgeon them into submission. We do not forget what happened on the waterfront at the port of Melbourne. During the height of the dispute, it was not an uncommon spectacle to see hundreds of unionists attacking one or two free labourers. On one occasion they actually threw a free labourer in front of a moving train. They pursued these unfortunate men into their homes, and even harassed the children of volunteer workers in the schools, and endeavoured, by every means in their power to make the lives of all connected with them a hell upon earth. And they are still doing it.* Fortunately, Judge Beeby, in his wisdom, refused to grant preference in employment to members of the federation. Volunteer workers are still permitted to. enjoy the good conditions of employment available and high wages offering to men who are willing to obey the laws of their country. I do not suggest, of course, that all unionists are undesirable characters. Many thousands of them are reputable citizens, but, unhappily for them, they have been misled, and in certain circumstances, are unable to help themselves. They are in much- the same position as the timberworkers as the result of their ill-advised and ill-considered strike. Their secretary may be in Parliament to-day, but where are they to-day? The coal-miners of New South Wales also have been misled and arc in a desperate position to-day. Those foolish men declined to work for rates of pay under which it was possible to earn anything from £10 to £18 a week. They spurned the opportunity. Now they are begging for assistance, and their wives’ and children are suffering great privations. Instead of being commended for bravery, men who disobey . the laws of their country and turned aside from opportunities to work should be regarded as cowards. Members of the Waterside Workers Federation are now in distressful circumstances. I am particularly sorry for the members of the Port Philip Stevedoring Association, an organization of efficient returned soldiers. It is to be regretted that, against their better judgment, they were dragooned into striking. Had they stood out against the move then made to dislocate the industry on the waterfront, their lives would have been endangered and the lives of their women and children have been rendered almost unendurable. These men very much regret the action which they took.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin), very wisely said the other day that there should be no time for loafers or sweaters in this young country. With that sentiment I agree entirely. We have legislated against the sweater, but apparently it is difficult to enforce the law against the loafer and therefore we cannot safeguard adequately the interests of the consumer. The loafer, by strike methods, is responsible to a great extent for increasing the cost of everything required by the consumer. I am wondering if this Government and its supporters will have the courage to bring pressure to bear upon the waterside workers and the coal-miners to give up striking and get to work.
– Is the honorable senator directing his remarks to the motion before the Senate?
– I wish to show that this statutory rule, if allowed to stand, will not bring about peace in industry. It is extraordinary that although
Ave have in this country some of the richest coal seams in the world, near to the surface and close to our seaports, and used to export £3,000,000 worth of coal annually, we are now placed in the ridiculous and uneconomic position of having to import coal in large quantities from the Mother Country, which had to be won from seams deeper, narrower and more difficult to work than are the coal-mines in Australia. The industrial position of this country would be farcical if it were not so serious. All the trouble is being caused by a coterie representing the red element which dominates the actions of trade unionists as well as of the official Labour party. I understand that Senator Rae has stated that he does not wish to see peace in industry.
– I did not say so in unqualified terms.
– This Government is exhorting the farmers to work longer hours to produce more wheat for export and assist the finances of this country. Already our wheat-growers are working at least twelve hours a day. Why does not the Government exhort the coalminers to dig more coal?
– It is an abselute fact. What protection is afforded our wheat-growers?
– I rise to a point of order. The Government is not proposing to take any action with regard to pickup places for farmers or coal-miners.
– The honorable senator is out of order.
– I am very sorry, Mr. President. I shall endeavour to apply my remarks more directly to the motion to . disallow this statutory rule. I was merely making a comparison between the position of our wheatgrowers and that of waterside workers who jeopardized some time ago the interests of many primary producers by refusing to load our surplus products for export. I honestly believe that the Government has been impelled by outside forces to take this action. It is repeating the mistake which it made when it withdrew the preference in employment to returned soldiers. In its attempt to force all workers into trade union organizations, I believe the Government is taking instructions from extremists ‘ in the Labour movement. If this regulation stands, it will simply mean mob rule on the waterfront, with the extremist element persecuting, terrorizing, and starving the loyalists, They will make life impossible for men whose only sin is that they have accepted the high wages prevailing in Australia for doing honest work that is available . to them. It is to them a rich reward compared with what could possibly be earned by them in other countries. If this extremist body, the Waterside Workers Federation, once more secures power on the waterfront, it will not be long before Ave have further strikes. Providence has been very good to Australia lately, and as the result of a bountiful rainfall Ave shall have a great deal of produce to export, but if effect is given to this statutory rule, there Wl only be sore heads and empty pockets for loyalist workers, who have given us peace and efficiency on the waterfront
CArer since the Bruce-Page Government passed the Transport Workers Act. As has happened in the past, the produce of the farmers - the wheat, the wool, the butter, the fruit, and the meat, may deteriorate- or rot ‘on the wharfs for all the “Waterside Workers Federation cares. We have had strikes year after year, holding up the export of our produce, and we have even been denied reasonable communication with Tasmania. Almost always at the height of the tourist season, upon which Tasmania relies so much, we have had strikes and terrorism. We have known mob rule. In Melbourne volunteers have been bludgeoned; attempts have been made to throw them under trains; everything has been done to try to terrorize them.
– The honorable senator has not yet connected his remarks with the discussion of this regulation.
– I am showing that if effect is given to this regulation, and loyalists are forced to assemble with an overwhelming number of strikers on a common pick-up ground, we shall have chaos, and probably bloodshed, on the waterfront. To my mind, it will be a calamity to have any departure from the present peaceful conditions. It is the duty of this Parliament to afford protection to the volunteer workers. Honorable senators know that even if volunteers are anxious to become members of the Waterside Workers Federation, it is almost as difficult and as costly for them to do so as it is to join an exclusive club. The initiation fee is very heavy, and there is no certainty, if they are admitted as members, that they will get their fair share of the work that is going unless they become very friendly with the officials of the union. I have a tremendous admiration and liking for those who work, but I have no time for shirkers and pilferers. The Melbourne branch of the Waterside Workers Federation contains a very serious proportion of men with criminal records. Some of them have had as many as ten convictions against them. We do not want men of that sort handling the produce of Australia. We know very well that the rifeness cf pilfering in our ports had earned for Australia an unenviable reputation, but since the volunteers have been handling cargoes, not only has the work been done more speedily ; there has been practically no pilfering.
I am sorry that workers have been misled and are suffering, but we are in honour bound to stand by those who desire to work and help us to carry on the commerce of this country. We are in honour bound to protect them. In the past bullies, autocrats, and terrorists have pursued free labourers with villainous tyranny, and I am afraid that if the free labourers now working on our wharfs are forced to go in’ among a gang of bashers on Hogan’s Flat, we shall again have disorganization on the waterfront, more misery, and probably bloodshed. I trust that this statutory rule, so autocratically brought in to defy the Arbitration Court, will be disallowed.
– It is rather unprecedented in the history of this Parliament that a day and a half of. the valuable time of the Senate should be spent in the discussion of a motion such as this, but the time has been well spent if it directs attention to ‘a problem which has lately assumed rather big proportions, and of which this waterside workers regulation pretends to be a solution. I was waiting for Ministers to display some feelings of regret or contrition for the action of the Government, but beyond a respectful silence, which is usually a very wholesome prelude to a change of heart, nothing has come from them by way of indicating that they are sorry for what they have done. We can only hope that time will prove to them, if the barrage of solid facts and arguments cannot do it, that at least they have made a serious mistake.
The proposal of the Government seems ‘ to be an attempt to override an award of the Arbitration Court. ‘ This has “never been done before. It is obligatory on us as senators, with responsibilities to our constituents, to see that the action of the Government responds to at least three tests : whether ii is expedient or politic; whether it is equitable, and whether it is just to the people as a whole. Applying the first test, whether it is expedient or politic, J fail to see how it can possibly be so, because in the first place it is only of geographical significance. The regulation i° not proposed to be applied to the whole area of this continent. It has’ been specifically framed to apply to one port’ in the
Commonwealth. Even if the Senate were foolish enough not to exercise the prerogative it enjoys in respect of ordinances and regulations, and permitted this promulgated regulation to operate in a circumscribed area in Victoria, it would naturally follow, as night follows day, that other areas not so smiled upon by the present Government, would immediately consider that they had a grievance and appeal to the Government to be treated in the same way. I cannot imagine members of the union in Queensland, Western Australia, or anywhere else outside Victoria remaining quiescent when they see that a small part of Victoria has been singled out- for special federal legislation, while they have been left out in the cold. Therefore, on the ground of expediency alone, which, afte all is said and done, is a ‘characteristic of legislation, although it should not be, the action of the Government in promulgating this regulation stands condemned because it is the beginning of a pack of trouble for the Government.
Applying the next test - whether the regulation is equitable or not - we find that the people who have succeeded in getting the ear of the Government have got it for one reason only. They have proved themselves to be more bellicose, more unmanageable, more fractious, and more disobedient to the law than any other section in Australia ; and they have been rewarded for disobeying the law by the smashing of an a~ward of the Arbitration Court into smithereens. Have we come to that pass in Australia that we are to pass special legislation for the purpose of favouring those who, instead of obeying the law, have disobeyed it? It is a sorry outlook for this country if all that a person needs to do in future is to have a malignant intent to break the law .and he will be -rewarded by the Government. I am sure Ministers have not studied that aspect of the question. When they took the first step they could not have realized what the next step must necessarily be. So much for the lack of equity in this proposal.
Now as to its justice to the community. I take it that, ‘after all, the community has some small claim to have its just grievances remedied, and is entitled to protest against injustices being inflicted upon it. Let me apply that standard to this regulation. What has the Government done? Honorable senators well know what it has done, by presuming to introduce this regulation. I remember that years ago, when I worked among the wharf labourers, you could not organize them for love or money. You could not get them to strike even to remedy a legitimate grievance. Now you cannot stop them from striking on the slightest pretext. Do their strikes help society? They do not; they wound it vitally, as every honorable senator opposite would admit if he dared give expression to his honest opinion. I have seen perishable goods piled up on our wharfs in different States, rotting away because these men were on holiday or in conference, or flouting the law of the land. I have seen the , juice trickling away from cases ‘of beautiful fruit, which these men refused to load. In consequence the hard work of the primary producers of Australia was rendered useless. If such a state of affairs is to continue we may as well get one of the old-time battering rams and knock our Arbitration Court out of existence altogether. Many of the awards of Judge Beeby and the late Mr. Justice Higgins, two of the best friends that the workers of Australia ever had, were trampled in the dust by the Waterside Workers Federation. We have now arrived at the cross-roads, and must decide the direction in which we shall travel in future.
The purpose of this regulation is merely to condone the action of those who have been guilty of law-breaking; of those who have caused endless monetary loss to Australia. A miserable handful of men have taken it upon themselves to defy the laws, and to render futile the labour of our producers. The Government proposes to establish one central picking-up place, where all applicants for waterside labour shall congregate. I point to the inconsistency of the Government’s attitude. Do they make any provision for one pick-up for the miners of Kalgoorlie? No. Those miners have to attend early in the morning, at the change of shifts, and again at night, to apply for work, but the Government has no word or action for them. It thinks only of this boisterous and law-breaking remnant, who have done so much to injure the country. Had those miners, for whom the Govern.ment has no sympathy, indulged in tactics similar to those employed by the watersiders, they would have closed every goldmine in Australia. Instead, they stuck loyally by the law of the land.. and assisted Australia in its time of travail. The cherished ideals of the Labour party are liberty, equality, and fraternity. This regulation violates every one of those ideals. It is merely bestowing favoritism on the curly-headed darling of the family. I do not say that I have no sympathy for the watersiders. By criticizing the wrong actions of the members of the Waterside Workers Federation, I prove that I am a better friend to them than this ill-advised Government. Claiming to be socialists, they have been guilty of unsocial practices by holding up the commerce of the country and allowing valuable produce to become destroyed, when it should have been on the high seas, bound for a waiting market.
The Government wants both partiesthe members of the Waterside Workers Federation and the volunteers - to congregate at Hogan’s Flat. He would be a flat indeed who went there without a union ticket, and without being a member of the Waterside Workers Federation. I should rather call it “ Hogan’s Trap.” The rules of combat there would be six unionists, armed with bottles on bricks, against one poor, unfortunate volunteer. The unionists would endeavour to “persuade” the volunteer to their line of thought, in their own “playful “ fashion. Is that fair play? I am confident that the people of Australia will not stand for that sort of thing. Honorable senators opposite, and their supporters, call these volunteers, scabs, disloyalists, and all sorts of other unpleasant names. .1 call them patriots, men who have upheld ‘the law of the land. I leave those ugly terms on one side. My conclusion on the point is that disloyalty or scabbing is all a matter of either chronology or geography, time or place. When, during the coal strike, Australian miners refused to work for £2 a day, and coal was imported from Great Britain, the miners of that country
Senator Lynch. were not called scabs. And similar remarks apply to the recent timber strike. But when unionism steps out, attempts to take the welfare of the community into its own hands, and plays fast and loose with the common weal, it needs to be put into its proper place, as was done during the French Revolution. Senator Bae knows very well that during those troublous times, when the proletariats were on top, care was taken that trade unionism should not usurp the functions of the Committee of Public Safety.
I shall read a statement by a Frenchman, who has some very interesting observations to make on the manner in which some sections of trade unionism are seeking to usurp the rights of the community in Australia. This gentleman, a Mr. Daye, who represents that important newspaper, the Paris Intransigeant, wrote -
Soviet Russia herself lias not readied the degree of socialization which, in an entirely pacific manner, Australia has already passed! . . Already the 44-hour week is considered too long, and a demand for a 40-hour week is being made, work to cease, on Friday, and not resumed until Monday. Only the farmer, who is in the minority, toils on unremittingly, Trade union regulations are observed as though they were law, and arbitration tribunals have obtained such influence that they have gradually established, independently of Parliament, a whole series of laws governing every form of work. . . . Perhaps, with similar financial experience, grafted on to such social conditions, they will show us that a State may develop Very well without money - or rather with the money of others, and with an entirely fictitious personal fortune, in the environment of continual strikes and social1 instability such as exists nowhere else but in Australia.
I quote that as the opinion of a verykeen observer, who has lately passed through Australia, and who” belongs to the Republic of France, which is not a capitalistic country. He indicates that unionism, run mad, is retarding the progress of Australia. The men who stand behind this small industrial rebellion in Melbourne are not only ruining themselves, but are also bringing disaster on the country. I am very sorry that the Government has introduced this regulation, and I should like to see it retrace its steps. There are some 900,000 trade unionists in Australia, working under hundreds .of federal awards, and if - this
Government begins to interfere with one award it will have to interfere with others. Does it not realize the trouble that will follow such an action? I advise the Government, while it has yet time, to retrace its steps and do the fair thing by the people of this country. I ask it to have regard to the interests, not of a section of the people, but of the whole of them. I advise the Government to let these unionists in Melbourne “ cool in their own gravy.” I regret that the Government has taken this action without full consideration. If it persists in following the policy on which it has embarked, further troubles are inevitable.
– If there is one thing more than another which this long debate has indicated, it is the vindictive and undying hatred, which most honorable senators opposite still cherish towards trade unionism, despite their frequent disclaimers. Whenever unionism is mentioned ; whenever it attempts to better the conditions of the workers, it is denounced and derided by them; whenever it suffers, a setback there is jubilation in the ranks of the Opposition. If. they could wipe out unionism to-morrow, they would reach the summit of their bliss.. It appears strange - but perhaps, after all it is not strange - that those whose hatred of unionism is greatest, are those honorable senators who at one time were among the shining lights of the Labour movement, but now, having deserted their onetime principles, they are constantly endeavouring to malign those who stuck to their principles. The most vicious, the most anti-social, the most lopsided view of unionism is exhibited by those honorable senators of whom the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) is the chief exponent.
– That is the honorable senator’s opinion.
– It is also the opinion of tens of thousands of Australians. But even if it were only my own opinion, I have good warrant for forming it. I was associated with many honorable senators now sitting opposite when they, too, advocated and defended the things which they are now foremost in attacking.
– I have a better union record than the honorable senator has.
-. - I am reminded that “ self praise is no recommendation.”
– I point out to the honorable senator that he is making a somewhat lengthy introduction to his speech on the question of whether or not this statutory rule should be disallowed. That isthequestion before the Chair.
– You will admit, Mr. President, that the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition, during his speech, gave the whole history of the dispute on the waterfront, from its inception to the present time, and that successive speakers dealt with almost every possible phase of the subject before the Chair. Surely it is rather late to restrict the latitude previously given.
– That may be so; but I remind the honorable senatorthat the subject before the Chair is a motion for the disallowance of a regulation. The honorable senator has not yet started to discuss that motion.
– Then I shall do so immediately. This regulation sets out that there shall be only one picking-up place, but not in the sense indicated by Senator Lynch, when he made an erroneous comparison with the three shifts worked in the mines on the gold- field. It is not a question of one pick-up in the matter of time, but of one pickingup place. Senator Lynch inextricably mixed up time and place. The objection to this regulation is based on the fear that it will lead to a conflict between the unionists of an earlier day and the socalled volunteers of to-day.
– What would the honorable senator call the volunteers?
– I call them “ scabs “. Senator Chapman related a number of alleged offences attributed to members of the Waterside Workers Federation by Judge Beeby. He described the judge’s remarks as a scathing indictment of those men. I assure the honorable senator that the judge’s scathing indictment of the men is nothing to be, compared with their opinion of Judge Beeby, or indeed, with what I think of the learned judge. Unfortunately, there is a standing order which forbids criticism of members of the judiciary, excepting to eulogize them.
Senator Lynch was permitted to say that Judge Beeby was one of the best friends that Labour ever had. Surely it is competent for me to dispute that statement, and say that Judge Beeby is one of the biggesttraitors that ever served in the ranks of the Labour movement.
– Order!The honorable senator is out of order in two ways: first because the character of Judge Beeby is not now under discussion, and secondly, because it is not permissible to refer to a judge in such terms.
SenatorRAE. - Is it right that Senator Lynch should be allowed to give Judge Beeby a high character, and for me to be prevented from contradicting him.
– The honorable senator is aware that there is no standing order to prevent the bestowal of praise onhonorable senators, although there are several standing orders to prevent honorable senators from abusing one another.
– I shall have to bow to the standing orders, however lopsided they may be. I admit that the character of Judge Beeby is not now in question; but I do not know why Senator Lynch went out of his way to eulogize that gentleman, or to speak so highly of his qualifications. The point is that Judge Beeby, however able he may be, entirely misconstrued the true functions of trade unionism in alleging all those faults against the members of the Waterside Workers Federation. Every organization has its objectionable characteristics. I do not deny that undesirable men may be in the ranks of the Waterside Workers Federation; but there are equally objectionable men in the ranks of other organizations, not even excepting those blackcoated gentlemen who are never characterized as loafers, yet are the chief sinners under that heading. If we are to condemn an organization as a whole because a criminal element attempts to use it to serve their own ends, then we must condemn even the churches, and indeed, every institution in the land; for in every institution there are men who seek to use it to their ownadvantage. Apart from those few undesirable men who may be in the ranks of the Waterside Workers Federation, the waterside workers of Australia are one of the finest bodies of men in the world. They have done more by their fighting attitude to gain advantages for their fellow workers than almost any other branch of workers, with the possible exception of the coalminers, has done. Thathonorable senators opposite oppose the militant attitude of the unions is evidence that they object to unionism itself, for without militancy there would have been no unionism.
– But surely there should be a limit.
– There must be a limit to everything, but just what that ‘limit should be depends on time and circumstances, It cannot be set down in hard and fast terms. Many of the things which Judge Beeby alleged against these men were actions which they, as a result of their experience, found to be absolutely necessary if. they were to defend the rights so hardly won. Unless unionists are prepared to fight for the maintenance of the rights they have won, and to make them a stepping stone to higher things, unionism must be destroyed. It is only the fighting spirit behind unionism that has made unionism possible. Only because unionism persisted in defiance of the law which prevented it, was it able to grow until even the legislature of Great Britain was compelled to recognize what it had formerly proscribed. I say, further, that most of the charges alleged against the wharf labourers are to their infinite credit. I glory in the fact that they have been ready to resent pin pricks, and thatwhenever they have been hit, they have hit back. A good deal has been said about produce being left to rot on the wharf. For seven years, I was engaged in fruit-growing in New South Wales, but never once was any of my fruit held up. Does that not show that the holding up of perishable produce was indeed a rare occurrence?
– Perhaps the honorable senator only sent his fruit by rail to Sydney and did not export it.
– Even so, it is more than probable that it had to be transported by ship to Melbourne - whether a man is a direct or an indirect shipper is immaterial. Certain happenings have been grossly exaggerated in order to throw mud at the wharf labourers. Honorable senators opposite say that there are a great many more unionists than there are so-called volunteers, and the preponderance of unionists must inevitably lead to a clash between, the two bodies of men, resulting in the volunteers being driven from their work, and possibly ruined. If present conditions are allowed to continue, honorable senators will find that all the alleged brutality and unscrupulousness of the members of the Waterside Workers Federation will before long be the attributes of the/ volunteers. Human nature is very much the same everywhere. If a monopoly of work on .the waterfront has led to a growth of tyranny among unionists, then I say that to give the volunteers a monopoly of that work would be to encourage in them exactly the same characteristics. If, on the other hand, this regulation is allowed to remain in operation it will result in the men meeting’ each other, when they will inevitably learn that their interests are in common. It suited one crowd to jump in, not for the sake of that stupid idea of protecting their country, but to get a job which they previously could not obtain. They thought it was a grand thing to be in employment when they had been out of work for some time.
– In doing so, did not they take a certain amount of personal risk?
– The risk was very small considering the services of the police were a’vailable to safeguard them, and, if necessary the military forces.
– There have been complaints in Victoria concerning police protection. It has been urged that it should be withdrawn..
– That is not the point with which I am dealing. These men rushed in to get a job and owing to the rotten state of our social system there is not- work for all. One can get employment only at the expense of the other. In course of time these volunteers will inevitably be subjected to the tyranny and pin-pricks and attacks which have been objected to by the members of the federation. Instead of fighting against each other they should pull together in order to maintain whatever advantages they now enjoy. Honorable senators opposite seem to think that the police alone are ensuring peace on the waterfront. This regulation has been in operation nearly a month and no difficulty has arisen.
– It is only on probation.
– The regulation is as much in operation to-day as if the Senate had confirmed it.
– It is in operation subject to the approval of Parliament.
– It is only a question of duration.
– The men are working under restraint.
– According to honorable senators opposite they cannot be1 restrained. Some grossly exaggerated statements have been to the effect that on the one hand they are earning enormous wages and on the other that they have been perpetually on strike and consequently could not have been earning anything. These contradictory utterances have been made merely to vilify and malign honest men.
– They refused good wages.
– Other contradictory statements were that while on the one hand they obeyed their leaders, there were instances in which they allegedly disobeyed them.
– They were called out one week and ordered back the next.
– The right honorable senator is referring to two incidents in one dispute. . It has frequently been stated during the debate that the members of the Waterside Workers Federation have for years been keeping the country in a perpetual state of turmoil, causing the destruction of property and generally acting in a manner detrimental to the community. That is a wholesale charge, made in a spirit of vindictiveness, and so grossly exaggerated that I venture to suggest that an impartial listener to the debate would say that the sole desire of honorable senators opposite is to defeat trade unionism. Those who had deserted’ their’ Labour principles are foremost in attacking those with whom they were once associated. It has been said that the people in Victoria, whom this regulation primarily affects, are in no worse position than they were under the old system. I think it was Senator Thompson who said that the same amount of money is in circulation. We can get a little beyond such simplicity. The dislocation of an industry seriously affects the particular locality in which it is established; but that dislocation differs in a marked degree from the gradual growth or failure of an industry when people can adjust themselves to the changing conditions. Nearly twelve months ago the following statement appeared in a Melbourne newspaper : -
A story of acute distress in Port Melbourne «:ns told to the Premier (Sir William Mcpherson) to-day by a deputation of 80 local shopkeepers and business people, who, pointing out that owing to unemployment in the district, little retail trade was being carried on, and that they were themselves on the verge of ruin.
The deputation asked the Premier to use his influence with the chairman of the Commonwealth Steamship Owners Association (Mr. V. T. Appleton) to secure re-employment for watersiders who had lost their jobs owing to the waterside workers’ strike, in preference to late volunteers, but not in preference to the original volunteers.
It was stated that many of the later volunteers were foreigners, who were sending their savings out of the country.
Sir William Mcpherson ‘replied that he thought that there was justification for . the request. He would consult with Mr. Appleton. Introducing the deputation, Mr. Williams, “M.L.C., declared that the distress in Port Melbourne was more acute than in any other industrial area of Victoria.
A Better Spin. “ The request before you,” he told the Premier, “ is to see if the watersiders cannot have a better spin from the , ship-owners. Unemployment is so bad that many of the shopkeepers are not even taking enough to pay their rent.”
Cr. J. P. Crichton said that 130 local families wore being assisted by the Benevolent Society. The business people had been standing up to the unemployed for months, but they could not afford to do so any longer. “We have many loyal men who fought for the Umpire,” he went on, “and they lost their employment owing to striking. A mistake was made, but mistakes can generally be rectified. In their case, however, there seems no chance of it.”
Honorable senators who so freely speak of the men who served their country and who, during the war and since, pose as patriots and loyalists, must admit that hundreds of these men who have been prevented from obtaining work, served the Empire in a manner which they laud to the skies when it .suits them, and totally ignore on other occasions. The paragraph continues - “ In the place of these men are aliens receiving wages, and the money is going out of the country. The council is doing all it can, and will spend £35,000 on road construction. That will employ 30 extra men.”
Mr.- C. McCarthy, speaking for the shopkeepers, said that many of them had to put off assistants, and were doing the work themselves. Bates and rent3 coming due could not be paid. ‘ If even a percentage of the local resident watersiders was not reinstated the shopkeepers would soon be in a similar plight.
Nailed-up Shops. “ Ours is the main port of Melbourne,” Mr. McCarthy added, “ and visitors arriving by steamers cannot help noticing a lot of shops nailed up.”
Another shopkeeper, Mr. R. Murphy, said that property-owners had been unable tocollect rents, in some cases for six months, and had not evicted the tenants.
If present , conditions remained soon Port Melbourne would no longer exist.
Similar statements were made by other speakers, which I shall not quote. The Premier of the day, Sir William McPherson, who is not a Labour man, gave a sympathetic reply, but nothing has been done to relieve the position of these unfortunate people. Ample means are available for the protection of those who some seem to think may be molested, and I trust the Senate will not support the motion moved by the Leader ‘ of the Opposition.
Senator Sir JOHN NEWLANDS (South Australia) [6.1]. - As I understand it is desired to take a vote before the dinner adjournment, I shall content myself by saying that I intend to support the motion for the disallowance of this regulation.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [6.2]. - If I refer to only two points raised during the debate, I trust honorable senators who have offered criticism will not think that I am treating them discourteously. Because of the desire that a vote shall be taken before we adjourn for dinner, I must necessarily be very brief. Senator O’Halloran and several other speakers said that this regulation is the, same as that originally promulgated fixing the pick-up places. I have before me Judge Beeby’s award in the Waterside Workers case, on page 61 of which I find set out the following times and places of engagement: -
The port of Melbourne - overseas section - between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Mondays to Fridays inclusive, and 8a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturdays, Federation labour may be picked up at the following places : -
Then there is this explanatory statement, with reference to the interstate section, to be found on page 62 -
Federation labour shall be picked up only between berths Nos. 10 and 11 on the north side of the river, and No. 7 on the south side.
Now we come to paragraph 2 of the regulation.It reads as follows: -
On and after the 14th day of April, 1930, transport workers (being waterside workers) may be engaged and picked up at the port of Melbourne at the following times and places. . . .
I emphasize that there is an essential difference between this regulation and the statement made by Senator O’Halloran. In the interstate section the pickingup places are for federation labour, whereas this regulation deals with “ transport workers “ and so applies to both federation labour and volunteers.
– My statement was correct.
– The pick-up places indicated in clause . 2 of the regulation is included -
I have already road Judge Beeby’s statement relating to the pick-up places. Undoubtedly this regulation provides for a new pick-up place, and from this point of view it has an important bearing on the question at issue, because it introduces a new principle, namely, that the same pick-up place is to be used not only by members of the Waterside Workers Federation, but by volunteer workers as well - a course not contemplated by Judge Beeby in his decision.
SenatorO’Halloran. - He fixed five pick-up places.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.This regulation, I repeat, introduces an entirely novel principle in the Transport Workers Act, and, therefore, scarcely comes within the scope of that measure. What is the purport of the act? It is to be found in section 12, which states that a licence issued to a waterside worker may be cancelled if the worker -
The act has nothing whatever to do with labour conditions, rates of pay, pick-up places for federation workers, or anything of the kind; but this Government, in order to circumvent the arbitration law, has brought in a new regulation embodying a principle never contemplated when the act was passed. I think it is ultra viresof the act. The act regulates only the conduct of persons who engage in work on the waterfront. I have nothing further to say except that Senator Rae’s ideas of trade union principles and those of honorable senators on this side who helped to make the Labour movement, and who founded many trade union organizations, are as wide asthe poles. We always stood, as we stand to-day, for tradeunionism under the law and in obedience to the law. Senator Rae appears to think that whatever trade unionists do is right whether or not it is in flagrant defiance of the laws of the country. I thank God that I do not subscribe to that kind of trade unionism.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Sitting suspended from 6.14. to 8 p.m.
Private business taking precedence after 8 p.m.,
Debate resumed from 8th May (vide page 1561) on motion by Senator Sir Hal Colebatch -
That the report from the select committee on the standing committee system be adopted.
Upon which Senator Daly had moved by way of amendment -
That the word “adopted “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ recommitted “.
– The honorable senator will not lose his right to speak.
– As I understand that the select committee is agreeable to the amendment of the motion, perhaps the matter can be disposed of at once.
Amendment agreed to.
Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from Sth May (vide page 1561) on motion by Senator Foll -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [8.3]. - Before Senator Foll left for Great Britain he intimated to me that in view of the statement made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) when ‘this matter was last under consideration he had no desire to proceed further with his motion. On his behalf I move -
That the Order of the Day be discharged.
Motion agreed to. Order of the Day discharged.
Penny-a-word Messages - Report of Select Committee.
Debate resumed from 10th April (vide page 1106) on motion by Senator Herbert Hays -
That the report from the select committee appointed to inquire into and report upon the desirability and commercial possibility of sending messages from Australia to England over the Beam Wireless at a penny a word, presented to the Senate on 14th August, 1929, be adopted.
– The report of the select committee upon penny-a-word wireless messages is important, and as it opens up the possibility of a new and cheaper means of communication between Australia and Great Britain, I should like to give the matter further consideration before discussing it. I therefore ask leave to continue my remarks at a future date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
In committee: Consideration resumed from 10th April (vide page 1118).
Clause 21 -
Before an application is made for confirmation by the court of any scheme for transfer or amalgmation -
the Registrar shall, if so directed by the court, cause a report on the scheme to be made by an independent actuary, and shall cause copies of the report to be sent to the companies concerned.
Upon which Senator Rae had moved by way of further amendment -
That the words “ if so directed by the court”, sub-clause (1.), paragraph (c), be left out.
– In the case of amalgamations or mergers of life insurance companies, it seems to me that actuarial examinations should take place in the interest of the policy-holders or share-holders of the companies proposing to amalgamate or merge. If such examinations are made mandatory, and not subject to a direction by a court, the persons concerned in the amalgamating companies will have some assurance of the bona fides of the proposed transactions. If the companies concerned were small and insignificant the expense involved would not be very great; but if there is a good deal at stake the cost feared by Senator McLachlan would be amply justified, because of the safeguard it would give to the share-holders or policy-holders.
. - My anxiety is for the interests of the policy-holder, who in most cases is the share-holder in life insurance companies. I think that the Mutual Life is the only Australian company with actual share-holders. No transfer or merger should be approved without the consent of the share-holders and policyholders. It has been suggested by Senator McLachlan that it would be a difficult matter to communicate with all the policy-holders of a big life insurance company, and impracticable to secure their views; but there seems to be no difficulty in issuing bonus declarations to policy-holders of big companies, or in sending out notices to them when directors are to be elected. If Senator McLachlan can assure me that the interests of the policy-holders will be protected without the amendment suggested, and that the policy-holders will be given every opportunity to study any proposed scheme of amalgamation before it is finally confirmed, I shall be satisfied ; but I suggest that the interests of these people are paramount to any court procedure. The policy-holders are the owners of these companies, and should be consulted in the first instance in regard to any proposed amalgamation.
– The clause is based on legislation in operation in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and other States, and the safeguards provided have been found to be ample. But I can quite understand Senator Rae raising objection, because he represents a State in which no such protection is afforded by life insurance legislation. Clause 20 imposes on the life insurance companies the duty of obtaining the confirmation of the court. Sub-clause 2 of that clause provides -
The scheme shall set out the agreement or deed under which the transfer or amalgamation is proposed to be effected, and shall contain such further provisions as are necessary for giving effect to the scheme.
Before an application is made to the court for the confirmation of an amalgamation five requirements have to be complied with. The first is -
No amalgamation of companies which are honestly carrying out their duties can take place now without an actuarial examination. The vendor company has to submit an actuarial valuation to the purchasing company, and the latter has to get its actuaries to check that valuation. It is the duty of the court to see that the company accepting the liability has a statutory fund sufficient to meet, not only its own obligations, but also those it is likely to incur under any scheme of amalgamation. It will be seen that the whole scheme is submitted to the court. Honorable senators will remember that I accepted an amendment to paragraph b, an amendment which I shall later on ask to have re-cast. That paragraph provides for the publication of the intention to make the application. Paragraph c then sets out that -
The Registrar shall, if so directed by the court, cause a report on the scheme to be made by an independent actuary. . . .
Resort to that provision is not very frequent under the State law. I remind honorable senators that the actuaries are entirely independent. They show no favour, and have a very high reputation to live up to. The figures would be placed before the judicial authority and, if it was necessarythat the interests of the policy-holders should be specially protected, that authority would immediately order the Registrar to have an independent actuarial report made, the expense of which would have to be borne by the companies concerned.
Turning to the point made by Senator Thompson, which is not quite similar to. that which Senator Rae is endeavouring to develop, I draw the attention of honorable senators to sub-clause 3 of clause 21, which reads -
Any person whom the court thinks likely to be affected shall be entitled to be heard on any application made to the court under this section.
If there is the slightest foundation for suspicion, any person affected may apply to the court for a hearing, and that is done at the expense of the companies.
– Is it not rather an involved course to have to go to the court to obtain information that should be placed before those concerned?
– Surely the honorable senator misses the point. The published notification is very widely promulgated, and if a party is affected in any shape or form he may make application to be heard in the matter, either by himself or with the assistance of a solicitor or counsel. I put it to honorablesenators that we do not want to embarrass honest people. I have known cases where, under State legislation, that power has been used by people who have harbored extraordinary views regarding the liabilities of insurance companies. The judge was ultimately satisfied as to the good faith of the companies, but he awarded those misguided persons the costs that were occasioned by the application. Speaking from some experience of this branch of legislation, I think that honorable senators may well accept theclause which has been carefully drafted, and is modelled entirely on State legislation. Senator Rae’s amendment practically provides that the work shall be done twice. That should be at the discretion of the judge, and we have given him that discretion. I cannot accept the amendment, because I feel that it would impose an unnecessary burden on insurance companies. The primary duty of the judge in relation to an amalgamation is to act as a sort of judicial trustee on behalf of the policy-holders whose interests are involved in the transaction. I submit that those interests are adequately protected by the clause as it stands.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [8.21]. - I am chiefly worried about the wording of this clause, and how it is going to work. Apparently the procedure is that when a company wishes to amalgamate with another company, it sets up a scheme and preseuts it to the court. The clause provides : -
Before an application is made for confirmation by the court of any scheme for transfer or amalgamation . . .
the Registrar. shall, if so directed by the court. . . .
How can the court make a direction to the Registrar before the application has been lodged ? I fail to see how paragraph c can work in practice.
– My personal experience is that the papers are lodged in the court in the first instance and the court is seised of the scheme. The application referred to is the actual application to the court.It is in the nature of interlocutory proceedings, and the finalapplication is made under this clause.
– Does the honorable senator contemplate that the court will make an order before an application is made?
– That has been done repeatedly.
– I have a suggestion to make to Senator McLachlan, which I hope he will accept. It would satisfy the doubt that I have in my mind, and I think that it. will improve the bill. Paragraph b reads-
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator cannot go back to paragraph b. We are now dealing with an amendment to paragraph c.
– It is my intention to recommit paragraph b at a later stage.
– I am not sufficiently satisfied with the explanation given by Senator McLachlan to cause me to withdraw my objection. Provision is made that copies of the scheme shall be deposited with the Registrar, together with copies of the actuarial and other reports, if any, upon which the scheme is founded. I am not a lawyer, but surely the words “ if any “ indicate that there is no absolute necessity for the lodging of the actuarial or other reports. If my interpretation is correct there is all the more reason why my amendment should be adopted. Senator McLachlan has stated that the court will take any action that is necessary to conserve the interests of the policy-holders. The judge is not necessarily an actuary or an accountant, and something might pass his observation.
– But the Registrar is an actuary, and he has to study the scheme.
– There may or may not be a submission of the actuarial or other reports. If Senator McLachlan omitted the words “ if any “, it would be perfectly clear that it was necessary to deposit the reports. I want to see the policy-holders or share-holders protected. The expense involved in an actuarial investigation is a legitimate charge against the companies, as it ensures that there shall be no doubt that the proposal is based on honest and business-like lines.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out be left out (Senator Rae’s amendment) - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 22 agreed to.
Clause 23 -
When a company has ceased to issue, or undertake liability under, life policies or industrial policies, it shall so long as it continues liable on the insurances previously effected, be doomed to carry on insurance business for the purposes of this act.
– I move -
That the words “ so long as it continues liable on “be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ unless and until the Registrar is satisfied that reasonable provision has been made for its continuing liability in respect of “.
Since this clause was drafted, it has been found that there are a few policies, the liability in respect of which has been undertaken by companies of undoubted integrity and standing. It is not desirable that the requirements of this legislation shall be complied with by such companies, which no longer are carrying on business, although they still, in law, remain liable.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 24 (Deposits by existing companies) .
– I should like to knowhow it is proposed that it-he money shall be invested;
If it is paid as a deposit in order to secure the policy-holders, howcan it be invested by the company? When the money is handed over to the Treasurer the company ceases to hold it.
– Obviously, Senator Rae has not read clause 25 (1), which reads -
Every sum of money deposited by a company in accordance with the requirements of this act shall be invested by the Treasurer in such of the prescribed securities as the company selects.
The investing of the money is undertaken by the Treasurer, not the company. Clause 24 deals with deposits by companies. Sub-clause1 gives the company six months in which to deposit with the Treasurer money or approved securities to the value of £20,000. Subclause 2 provides that where the net liability of the company is less than £20,000, it shall deposit with the Treasurer money or approved securities equal to its net liability, but in no case of a value less than £2,000. Sub-clause 3 makes provision for the building up of the amount of the deposit by at least £2,000 per annum until it reaches £20,000. There is then the safeguarding provision in sub-clause 4 - that the Treasurer shall not accept a deposit, or any sum on account of a deposit, except on a warrant of the Registrar, and also that the Registrar shall not arbitrarily refuse any application for a warrant.
– In what way does subclause 4 safeguard the public against the notation of unsound companies?
– I shall explain that in connexion with a later clause.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 25 agreed to.
A foreign company not carrying on insurance business in the Commonwealth at the commencement of this act shall, if it desires to carry on that business in the Commonwealth, deposit with the Treasurer, in respect of each class of insurance business proposed to be carried on by the company, money or approved securities or both to the value of twenty thousand pounds.
– I move-
That the word “ twenty “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “forty.”
I move this amendment in no spirit of racial hatred, but with a desire to give some preference to purely Australian companies. In my opinion there are already too many companies operating in Australia. Some of them are Australian, others have their head offices in Great Britain, while still others are of foreign origin. In order to assist Australian companies, some obstacle should be placed in the way of foreign companies. I use the. word “ foreign “ as applying to any company whose headoffice is outside Australia.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [9.45.] - I ask the honorable senator in charge of the bill whether it is not possible to avoid using the word “ foreign “. I do not like it to go out to the world that this Parliament has passed an act which classes British companies as “foreign.” I am not opposed to the underlying principle of the clause or to the proposal that we should require a higher deposit from a company which has its head office, say, in London, than from one with its head office in Australia, but I think it is unfortunate to provide that a British company is a foreign company.
– Can the honorable senator suggest a better term?
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.A slight alteration in the drafting of this clause and in the interpretation clause would, I think, overcome the difficulty. I think this is an entirely new procedure in connexionwith Australian legislation.
– These words are used in every State life insurance act.
– It is an unfortunate term to use.
– The six existing State life insurance acts refer to companies whose head offices are outside Australia as foreign companies, and in this measure similar language is used. I must oppose the amendment moved by Senator Rae because although it may be quite true that a good deal of money goes out of the country for reinsurance purposes, the State Life Insurance Company of Queensland effects its reinsurances, not with the insurance companies trading in Australia, but by treaties with so-called foreign companies in London. It is preferable to have companies operating in Australia than to send money overseas in the form of treaties. A certain element of preference is given to local companies in that there is a safeguarding clause under which they can in the first place deposit £2,000. We wish to assist the expansion of local companies by enabling them to contribute their deposits in a piecemeal manner, whereas foreign companies are compelled to deposit the whole sum of £20,000 at once. I suggest that the honorable senator allow the clause to pass in its present form as it is more in keeping with the principle which he supports. It is better to keep the money in Australia than to send it overseas.
– I think this ia an occasion on which we can give preference to the British Empire, which is the general policy of this country. Provision could be made for a deposit of £25,000 by companies operating within the Empire and of £30,000 for what are essentially foreign companies. “ Foreign “ is an unfortunate term to apply to anything within the Empire, and if the amendment is amended in the direction I have suggested, I shall be inclined to support it.
– I do not know what reinsurances amount to, but I think provision could be made in the bill to prevent money from going outside Australia.
– That cannot be clone in connexion with the State Life Insurance Company of Queensland.
– It could with other companies. The amount involved in connexion with the company referred to by Senator McLachlan would not be considerable, and I suppose that arrangement has been made for reasons not associated with the insurance business. I think Senator Colebatch’s suggestion could be met by leaving out the word “ foreign “ ; the clause would then refer to a company which was not carrying on business in Australia.
– But it might apply to a company not yet formed.
– I intend to press my amendment, as I think we should demand more than a mere £20,000 as a deposit.
I remind Senator McLachlan that this is not a penalty inflicted solely upon foreign companies.
– It has to be considered in conjunction with clause 27.
– Under clause 27 Australian companies are not being asked to pay more than foreign companies. A Commonwealth company proposing to carry on insurance business after the commencement of this measure will be allowed to lodge the deposit of £20,000 at the rate of £2,000 per annum. I do not think that in the matter of instalments there is any difference between clauses 24 and 27. I am quite agreeable to support the proposition if the principle is conceded that we should give preference to Austraiian companies. The whole of the assets of Australian companies are available for the protection of policy-holders, but in the case of proprietary companies whose head offices are abroad, the local policy-holders are protected only to the amount of the deposit. Numerous difficulties would arise if, when a foreign company failed, the dividend available had to be collected in Great Britain. Senator McLachlan, who is in charge of this measure, should not be obsessed with the idea that it isperf ect in every respect, but should accept an amendment in accordance with the settled policy of the country. Every penny of insurance money which goes outside the country, may be regarded as tribute to outside interests. If we could not conduct the business ourselves, it would be a different matter; but Australian life insurance companies have been effectively operating for many years, and we should not place further burdens upon the people by inducing foreign companies to come to Australia.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [8.55]. - It would be quite a simple matter to re-draft this clause to distinguish between British and foreign companies, and also to provide that foreign companies all deposit a higher amount. The necessary amendment could then be made in the definition clause in order to make a distinction between British and foreign companies. I do not think that the obligation placed upon British companies should be higher than is suggested here.
– There are no companies other than Australian or British companies carrying ou life insurance business in Australia.
– But foreign companies may commence business here.
– If Senator McLachlan carried his argument to its logical conclusion, he should be agreeable to strike out the clause altogether. It is futile to say that there are no companies other than British or Australian companies carrying on business in Australia; this clause has no application to companies now carrying on business in Australia. I do not like the idea of referring to British companies as foreign companies and then to penalize British companies. I am entirely in sympathy with the suggestion that a foreign company wishing to commence business here should be required to make a very substantial deposit. There is more than a sentimental reason behind my suggestion. Some 35 years ago the Equitable Life Insurance Company of New York - a foreign company - commenced operations here, did a large insurance business and ultimately let down the people who had put money into it. The same thing might happen again. It is more difficult to safeguard the interests of investors in a foreign company than those of investors in an Australian or British company. I think it is worth while considering whether it is not practicable to make some differentiation between British and foreign companies.
– A substantial preference is given by the clause to companies already carrying on business in the Commonwealth. Under section 24 a deposit of £20,000 has to be paid irrespective of the number of classes of life insurance business which are being carried on, but under clause 26, which relates to companies which may commence operations after the commencement of the act, a distinction is drawn between such companies and what is, in ordinary parlance, a foreign company. We provide in it that with respect to each class of life insurance business carried on a deposit of £20,000 shall be lodged, thus providing a substantial preference.
SenatorRae. -A company may be carrying on only one class of life insurance business.
– Yes, but under this clause a deposit of £20,000 has to be paid for each class of business conducted. If honorable senators will pass the clause in its present form, I shall have it re-committed. In the meantime I shall consider the suggestion made by Senators Colebatch and Rae concerning a differentiation between foreign and British companies.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 27 and 31 agreed to.
Clause 32, verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 33 to 37 agreed to.
– This is one of the most important clauses in the bill. Representations have been made that we have rather tightened up too much the provisions governing the statutory funds. I, therefore, move -
That after sub-clause 1 the following words be added -“ Provided that nothing in this subsection shall be deemed to prevent the application of amounts standing to the credit of a statutory fund to the constitution of special reserve in respect of the class of business to which the statutory fund relates.”
– It seems to me that the clause sufficiently safeguards the statutory funds without the proviso.
– To the ordinary lay mind that would appear to be the case, I confess that I had considerable difficulty in deciding whether or not to insert the proviso, but the actuaries tell me it is advisable to have it for the purpose of safeguarding the statutory funds. It will give the provision a little more elasticity. As it is the desire of those who are familiar with the working of this class of business to have the proviso inserted, I offer no objection to it, The suggestion comes from a very able man who, I understand, has communicated with the departmental heads in relation to the matter. With the proviso inserted, the companies working under the law will be allowed a little more elasticity.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 39 and 40 agreed to.
Clause 41 verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 42 (Liability of directors, &c., in respect of misfeasance in relation to statutory funds).
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [9.13]. - This clause provides that if in the course of winding-up an insurance company, the court is satisfied that, owing to any contravention of the provisions of the act, the amount of any statutory fund has been diminished, every person who at the time of the contravention was a director, manager, liquidator or officer of the company shall be deemed to be guilty of misfeasance unless he proves that the contravention occurred without his consent or connivance and was not facilitated by any neglect on his part. It seems to be necessary to insert similar words in sub-clause 5 of clause 38, because exactly the same principle appears to be involved.
– There is a subtle distinction from a legal point of view between clause 38 and clause 42. The former imposes uponthe directors of an insurance company the responsibilities of trustees and the law is well defined on the responsibility of trustees. In clause 42 liability in respect to misfeasance in relation to statutory funds is clearly defined. Any officer of a company shall be deemed to have been guilty of misfeasance unless he proves that the contravention occurred without his consent or connivance and was not facilitated by any neglect on his part. Safeguarding provisions are necessary in clause 42 under which the trustee law will not operate, but there is no occasion to insert those provisions in clause 38, because in that case the ordinary trustee law affords the necessary protection.
Clause verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 43 (Accounts and balancesheet) .
– Most balance-sheets of life insurance companies are unsatisfactory, not because of what they disclose, but because of what they fail to disclose. The average person can make neither head nor tail of the financial position of the ordinary insurance company from a consideration of its balance-sheet.
– When we come to consider the schedules which are not on conventional lines, Senator Rae will find that the point he has raised has been fully covered. I have an amendment to make to one of them.
Clause verbally amended and, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 44 to 47 agreedto.
Clause 48 (Accounts, abstracts, and statements to be signed and deposited).
– I should like to know if there are means of obtaining information in regard to the operations of an insurance company other than from its printed accounts. A gentleman of standing, who has been a policy-holder in the Australian Mutual Provident Society for over 40 years, has, time after time, at meetings of the company, put questions relating to its operations, and has been ignored. I want to see that that kind of cavalier treatment cannot be meted out to a policy-holder.
– I am afraid that this clause does not meet the point raised by Senator Rae. It covers the returns that must be furnished to the registrar, and they will embody a great deal of information. If the honorable senator will look at the schedules carefully he will see that a great deal of minutiae is required.
– Will it be accessible to the policy-holders?
SenatorMcLACHLAN.- Some of it, but not all. Some of it must be regarded as confidential and could not possibly be disclosed, otherwise it could be used to the advantage of competing companies.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 49 (Provisions as to valuations).
– It is required by this clause that-
The basis of valua tion adopted shall be such as to place a proper value upon the liabilities, regard being had to the mortality experience among the class of persons whose lives have been insured in the company, to the average rate of interest from investments, and to the expenses of management (including commission), and shall be such as to secure that no policy shall be treated as an asset.
The question I raise in this connexion is in relation to the secret reserves which must have been created in every insurance office in Australia by the fact that premiums fixed many years ago were based on an expectation of life, which, in the succeeding years, has been proved to he entirely higher than was predicted. It is admitted that during the last 30 years there has been an improvement of twelve years in the expectation of life. It is obviously unfair that premiums based on a shorter expectation of life aremuch higher than they ought to be, but I do not know how we can protect policy-holders in that respect. With other honorable senators, I have received a communication which has missed its objective by being unreasonable in many of its terms, but on this phase of of the matter it says -
For these reserves have been accumulated by charging excessive premiums in anticipation of a death-rate of about twice that which has actually been realized. At the same time the rateof interest earned has been nearly double that which was assumed in the calculations.
I do not go so far as to agree with the writer in this, but I do think that it is a fair thing to state that there has been an improvement of twelve years in longevity in the last 30 years. The letter continues : -
At the same time the rate of interest earned hasbeen nearly double that which was assumedin the calculation. As a result all sorts of extravagances have been perpetrated .
I shall not follow the writer any further as I do not agree with the terms or the style of the letter generally. However, as I have taken up this point throughout the passage of this bill, I should like to have an assurance that there is a possibility of this matter being rectified in the near future.
– I desire to endorse Senator Thompson’s remarks. I have heard a number of insured people comment on the subject. I consider my life is good enough to carry a premium equal to only half of what I pay. Undoubtedly the expectatiou of life is very different now from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. Improvements in sanitation, hygiene, surgery and so on have gone a long way towards lengthening the average span of human life, and policy-holders should receive some benefit. It is an entirely reasonable thing to ask that the actual assessment of expectancy of life should bebrought up-to-date, and if there is any benefit accruing to the policy-holders it should be conferred on them. I think that entirelyunnecessary overhead expenses are paid as directors’ fees and so forth, and that we are. being mulcted for the benefit of the companies.
– The position is amply safeguarded by the provisions of paragraph (c). The longevity of the present generation may be attributable to the various causes advanced bySenator Rae, or even to the procuration of monkey glands and that kind of thing. But a short period of 50 to 100 years cannot be taken as a conclusive test that life has really been prolonged. I know that Senator Thompson and all of us would like to lay hands on our policy money before it becomes due, and that none of us wants to pay any more than one can possibly help. Still, insurance companies have to provide for contingencies, such as epidemics.
– Do they not take into consideration the fact that epidemics have been largely wiped out, through the application of modern science?
– While some forms of epidemics have been counteracted, they will probably be replaced by others. It is a most extraordinary thing but nature will find a way out. I think that we have gone as far as we can in the matter by providing for a registrar, who will be an actuary.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [9.35]. - I do not know that we can do anything in regard to this matter, but I should like to comment on the remark that has been made that we are doing too much for posterity. Surely the whole essence of insurance is provision for the future ! If in this single matter of life insurance we make a little more provision for the future than is necessary, that may, to some extent, offset the many directions in which we are piling up burdens against posterity. I do not think we need to worry a great deal about the matter. There are other considerations. Certain life insurance companies, because of the risk they took during the war, incurred losses which will for a considerable period counteract the advantages of any increased longevity. It has also to be remembered that it is always open to the insurer to insure in a purely mutual company.
– Are there any such?
– Of course there are.
– Nominally only.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.No, actually. No person gets any private profit out of them. Anything in excess of premiums is paid as bonuses. It may be that such companies carry over to the future a little more than is absolutely necessary, but need we quarrel over that ? What is wrong with it ? The bonuses now paid by such companies are very high and of actual value to the insurer and to those in whose interests he is insured.
– The policyholders themselves also have their just claims.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.Surely life insurance policies are taken out chiefly in the interests of one’s dependants. It must also be remembered that there is very keen competition for business amongst life insurance companies. I do not think we need to worry ourselves with the idea that we are making too much provision for the future. In some respects we in Australia are apt to pile up a burden on posterity rather than to make provision for it. What does it matter if premiums are slightly higher than seems absolutely necessary so long as we obtain acorresponding benefit in the form of bonuses? After all a mutual company is governed by the directors that the policy-holders choose to elect. If the policyholders are not satisfied with the policy of the concern ; if they desire to cut down premiums and increase bonuses, the matter is entirely in their hands. While I admit Senator Thompson’s contention, I should be very loth indeed to include in an act of Parliament a provision which arbitrarily compelled a company to make a lesser provision against the future than its directors considered to be necessary.
– I am somewhat surprised that Senator Colebatch has lectured me. I never said anything about posterity.
– I merely looked at the honorable senator because he was opposite me.
– I am not in favour of passing burdens on to posterity. I think that those who shelter themselves from a charge of extravagance under the pretence that what they are providing for posterity should be paid for by posterity indulge in a false and narrow-minded hypothesis. We are to a certain extent wasting assets that would otherwise go to posterity, and Ave should not grudge any benefits that may go to our successors through other channels.
The point that Senator Colebatch’s customary logic missed was that, although these benefits in the shape of bonuses may go to posterity, it is a very serious thing if, because of heavy premiums, people have to forfeit their policies. It is not sufficient to say that because a company over-charges the beneficiaries under one’s will will reap an advantage. If, because of restricted finance, a person is unable to pay his high premiums, posterity will suffer. Again, I think that Senator Colebatch is a very trusting man - far too trusting for one with his business experience - to assert seriously that no gain is obtained from so-called mutual companies other than by policy-holders. As a matter of fact, the supposed democratic constitution of these mutual companies which provides that policy-holders elect directors, and the directors appoint the managers, is, to put it colloquially, all “ bunkum.” Nominally, policy-holders have that power, but they are scattered all over the country and it is impossible to organize them into concerted action. In most cases the board of directors is a happy family, and they select one another. Everything is arranged before the annual general meeting takes place and any vacancies occurring in the interim are filled by the surviving directors. Those people pay themselves what they like as fees, and even those companies which are credited with the greatest halo of sanctity are, in this respect, big swindling concerns that exploit their policy-holders.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 50 to 54 agreed to.
Clause 55 (Shareholders’ address book).
– The clause provides that shareholders “ on the payment of the prescribed fee “ may obtain a copy of the book of addresses of shareholders. What is the prescribed fee ?
– That will rest with the Registrar. The regulations will be made under the act.
– We must be particular about regulatipns. I recall that honorable senators opposite put up a very strenuous fight recently against a certain regulation and I should like to be assured in this instance that no undue obstacles will be placed in the way of policy-holders.
– The whole thing is a matter of administration.
– Only a nominal fee should be charged.
Clause verbally amended, and, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 56 (Application of division).
– I should like to know whether the bill contains any provision dealing with probate insurance.
– I take it that the honorable senator refers to ordinary life policies. A probate policy is merely another name given to life policies by insurance agents, in order to attract a certain class of policy-holder. I do not think that there is any special provision in the bill for such policies. I shall look into the matter.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 57 and 58 agreed to.
Clause 59 -
– I move-
That the following words be added to subclause (1): - “which shall thereupon be cancelled “.
Should a policy-holder return the policy issued to him, the Company is obliged to refund any premium which has been paid in respect of it; but there is no provision for the cancellation of the policy itself. This omission is causing some uneasiness.
Amendment agreed to.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [9.49] . -Clause 59 (3) provides that where a policy-holder objects to any condition in his policy, his policy shall be deemed to have been returned to the company if addressed, prepaid, registered and posted for transmission as a registered letter. On the other hand, a policy sent out by a. company shall, in terms of sub-clause 2 be deemed to have been delivered to him at the time at which it would reach him in the ordinary course of post. The obligation to register the letter should rest upon both parties.
– Sub-clause 2 fixes the time when the policy is sent out. If nothing happens to cause it to go astray, the person to whom it is addressed is deemed to have received it. The position is entirely different from that which arises when a person returns a policy to which he objects. It would scarcely be fair that a company should be required to refund any premium paid, merely on the man’s statement that he posted tha policy to the company. Sub-clause 3 has purposely been made more rigid than sub-clause 2 in order to protect the company. Thousands of policies may be issued each year by a company. They arc posted by officers of the company as part of their ordinary work. But when a person to whom a policy is issued objects to its terms something in the nature of an extraordinary happening takes place, and greater precautions are necessary.
– I do not object to the policy-holder having to register a policy to which he objects; but I ask whether the same obligation should not rest on the company.
– I do not think that it should.
– We should insist on policies being registered both ways. Should a policy sent out by a company be lost in the post, the person to whom it was issued might be required to make an affadavit before a Justice of the Peace that he did not receive it. The same principle should apply to the company as to the policyholder. The policy does not become any more valuable because an objection is raised to it, and there is, therefore, no greater justification for registering it when it is returned to the company than when it is sent out by the company.
– The return of the policy entitles the policy-holder to a refund of any premium paid, and necessitates the cancellation of the policy.
– What protection has the man if he does not receive the policy at all? It is not sufficient for the company to say that it posted the policy to him.
SenatorRAE. - That is a sound objection, and we should make provision to meet it.
– All well-managed insurance companies keep a record of letters and policies posted. The only reason for a company saying that it sent out a policy when it did not do so would be that it anticipated an objection being raised by the person to whom it was issued. I do not think that any more is required of a company than that it should prove that it posted the policy.
– What would happen if a policy were destroyed by accident?
– The person to whom the policy was issued, knowing that he had only 21 days in which to object to it, would be on the lookout for it. It must be remembered that the right to a refund of any premium paid is something which policy-holders have never previously had. The obligation on the part of a company to refund money in certain circumstances, is a good ground for giving it some additional protection. The policy-holder should be required to produce the receipt for his registered letter containing the policy he has returned.
– I have no objection to that.
– Unless it is contended that a company might be guilty of fraud, I cannot see what object it would have in not sending out a policy.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [9.56]. - I am more than ever convinced of the desirability of making the company register the policies which it sends through the post. Let us take the case of a man who, on the 1st May, paid his premiums but did not receive it by the 21st May.
– Clause 63 would safeguard his rights.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.That clause deals only with the replacement of a policy which had been received by a policy-holder and lost thereafter. It does not meet the case now under consideration. Before a policy-holder can exercise the right, given to him by clause 59 (1) he must see the policy; otherwise he cannot say whether it contains any objectionable condition. In the case I have mentioned, should it not reach the policyholder until the 23rd May, and he then finds that it contains an objectionable provision, it is too late for him to claim a refund of any premium paid. The additional cost of registering the letter is not very great.
– Many thousands of industrial policies are issued every year.
– A policy-holder regards his policy as something of value. I do not propose to press my objection, but I think that more protection should be given to policy-holders. A man who has a right to lodge an objection to a policy issued to him should be safeguarded against the possibility of the policy going astray. Evidence that a letter was posted by a company would not protect him.
. - As Senator Mclachlan stated, the thousands of industrial policies issued by insurance companies are usually posted in the ordinary way. If an industrial policy-holder wishes to object to any of the conditions in his policy he has the right to do so within 21 days, and in practice I think this provision will not inflict hardships upon any one. If the companies were compelled to register every industrial policy despatched by post a tremendous expense and an unnecessary amount of office work would be involved.
.- I move-
That the words “ unless thecontrary is proved” sub-clause 2, be left out with a view to insert in Lieu thereof the words “ if sent by registered post “.
The sub-clause would then read -
Where an industrial policy is sent by post by a company to the person to whom it is issued it should, if sent by registered post, be deemed to have been delivered to him at the time at which it would reach him in the ordinary course of post.
The cost involved would not be great -
– It would be added to the premium.
– Perhaps; but the cost to the individual policy-holder would be small, and the extent to which the company would be involved would not be great. It is not unusual for communications to be lost in the post. I recall an incident which occurred some years ago in a settlement where I was residing, when the lady of the house placed on the mantelpiece a letter which had been left for me and it was blown into the fire by a sudden gust of wind. Not knowing by whom the communication was despatched I was put to considerable inconvenience before I received any information on the matter.
– Registration would not have prevented that.
– It would not have been so loosely handled. At that settlement ordinary letters could be collected by any one calling at the post office, but registered letters were delivered only to the addressee. That is the object of registration. The amendment I have submitted will protect policy-holders, and will not place a heavy burden upon the companies.
– I regret that on this occasion I should have to part company with my old and esteemed colleague, Senator Rae. If we were to compel insurance companies to register industrial policies registration would not be a. better safeguard than the record of despatch kept in the company’s office. When a premium is paid on an industrial policy the person insured anticipates the receipt of a policy. The insured person who pays the premium knows that the policy is to be posted, and that within the prescribed period of 21 days following its receipt he has the right to lodge an objection. A policy-holder would naturally be expecting the policy and if it did not arrive within a reasonable time his natural inclination would be to make some inquiries. The registration of such a document would not provide any additional security. Many industrial policies are taken out for small amounts, and if companies were compelled to register the hundreds of thousands of industrial policies which they handle it would mean placing an unnecessarily heavy burden upon them. Such a procedure might result in an additional charge being made to the policy-holders, and in their interests I suggest that the clause be allowed to stand in its present form.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 60 and 61 agreed to.
Clause 62 (Liability of agent of foreign company).
– Provision is made in clauses which have already been passed for the payment of a deposit by companies of foreign origin ; but I should like to know if any care is taken to ensure that such companies have sufficient assets to meet their liabilities. The liabilities of a company carrying on business in Australia might be greater than the deposit of £20,000 provided. What means have we of ensuring that a foreign company is able to meet its liabilities?
– This provision is to cover agents who in the past have come to this country on behalf of foreign companies, and who have not attempted tocomply with the law. This clause provides a penalty, not on the company, but on the agent who enters into acontract.
Clause agreed to.
Senate adjourned at 10.12 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 15 May 1930, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1930/19300515_senate_12_124/>.