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21. Chapter XXI Some Labour Legislation

A NEW Administration was formed by Mr. Deakin out of his own supporters. The Labour Party resumed its position of the “uncrowned king.” Mr. Deakin, after all his strictures upon its methods, its aims and ingratitude, came under its sway once more.

During the session the Government passed an Act known as the Contract Immigrants Act. The Labour Party and Trade Unions attached great importance to this. It made the landing of any person under contract to perform manual labour in Australia subject to a number of conditions. The contract must be in writing, the wages must be at Australian rates, the hiring must not be in contemplation of a labour dispute. The contract must have been submitted to and approved by the Minister. If the immigrant landed before or without such approval he became liable to a penalty—so did the employer—and the contract became void. Another important condition was that the contract was only allowable if the employer could not obtain in Australia workers of equal skill and ability.

The Opposition managed to obtain one concession—that the last condition should not apply to any British subject born in the United Kingdom, or descended from one born there.

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Some—indeed many—of the Labour Party affected to believe that a man who went to Australia under an agreement of work and wages was a “slave” and a “chattel.” It seemed to me that such a contract was as little consistent with slavery as any other contract to work. To prevent deceit on the part of an employer or his agent, precautions were entirely justifiable, but there was much more than that in view. The legislation reflected, I think, a general desire on the part of the Labour Unions to restrict such immigration as far as possible.

In the Trade Marks Act of 1905 there were some extraordinary provisions to provide for what is called “workers”' trade marks. This provision was the thin end of a wedge to be driven into the freedom of shopkeepers to buy and sell articles made by non-Union labour. The “Union label” was the right name for this trade mark.

The Opposition made an heroic effort to prevent this means of tyranny, but in vain.

All these devices came before the High Court, which, by majority, decided that the power in the Constitution to legislate respecting trade marks did not cover workers' trade marks.

Another striking provision of the Trade Marks Act is that establishing a Commonwealth trade mark! After its registration the Minister is to be deemed its proprietor. It is to consist of a distinctive device or label bearing the words, “Australian Labour Conditions.” This trade mark can only be applied to goods about which both Houses of Parliament declare by Resolution that “in their opinion the conditions

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as to the remuneration of labour in connection with their manufacture are fair and reasonable.”

Such a cumbrous and almost impossible method of securing the benefit of the mark seems comical in an Act of Parliament, but consider what follows. The next section provides that both Houses “shall be deemed” to have passed such Resolutions if the goods were produced in the Commonwealth “under conditions as to the remuneration of labour prescribed, required, or provided in relation to the goods by an industrial agreement, under an industrial law.” The cause of the Labour Unions was served by daring and ingenious lawyers in those days!

A Bill to constitute British New Guinea a territory under the Commonwealth had been before Parliament for a long time. It became law in 1905. The endeavour of White Australia to develop Dark Papua under a Labour Government will be watched with great interest.

Crown lands in New Guinea cannot be sold, and all rentals of such lands must be on the basis of unimproved value. It is estimated that the flow of the Fly River equals that of the Mississippi or the Amazon. If only it could be “laid on” to the adjacent continent!

Parliament met again on June 7th, 1906. The numbers of the Deakin Party in the two Houses were small. In the Senate they were powerless; in the House they were a small minority. If I exclude Ministers the numbers were utterly insignificant.

The course pursued by the Labour Party in putting us out and bringing Mr. Deakin and his friends

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back was quite sensible and legitimate from their point of view, because we were, as compared with the Ministers, not at all likely to help them in their endeavours to promote the interests of their leagues by class legislation.

The Labour Party did not bind itself to the Ministry so as to frustrate its own designs. It was a loose tie of convenience, which kept Ministers in power without prejudice to independent action at the approaching election. The Labour leader, Mr. Watson, whom we all esteemed, was a great admirer of Mr. Deakin, but was quite frank in his demands for a clear programme of future action, that would enable the Labour Party to know how to act in future eventualities. One definite demand was as to his views on the question of a progressive Federal land tax in order to “burst up” the large estates; the other was, whether Mr. Deakin would alter the Constitution, if he could, to permit of the “nationalisation of monopolies.” On the former point Mr. Deakin seemed to think that such a tax was more a matter for the States to consider, and that it involved intricate financial problems; on the latter point Mr. Deakin had stated that the question of Socialism—which he took to include such matters— was a matter also for the States.

Two projects for trade reciprocity with South Africa and with New Zealand were submitted to Parliament. That with New Zealand fell through, but that with South Africa became law in both countries.

The most thoroughly debated Bill of the 1906 session was a measure known as the Australian Industries

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Preservation Act—even more graphically described as “an Act for the preservation of Australian industries and for the repression of destructive monopolies.”

This Act, amended more than once, is one of the most interesting measures on the Statute Book of the Commonwealth. Besides the objects described above, it aims at the prevention of “dumping” and other forms of unfair competition intended to injure Australian industries “the preservation of which is advantageous to the Commonwealth.” A defence is allowed on the ground that the thing done “was not to the detriment of the public, and that the restraint of trade or commerce effected or intended was not unreasonable.”

The House was dissolved on the 8th of November, 1906. In the campaign which followed I made my main points of attack the helpless position of the Deakin Administration, its absolute dependence on the Labour Party, and the public dangers arising from the Socialistic aims of the Labour movement.

Most of the Labour candidates “watered down” their Socialism, and Mr. Deakin did not look far enough ahead. He professed to see no danger.

The new Parliament might be classified as follows:

Senate   House  
Ministerialists  20 
Opposition  15  29 
Labour Party  15  26 
36  75 

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Again the Government was in a deplorable position. The Deakin party had fallen from 25 to 20 in the House, in the Senate from 10 to 6.

My old friend and colleague, Lieut.-Colonel A. J. Gould, was honoured by a unanimous call to the position of President of the Senate. He followed a very able man, but his Parliamentary experience, judicial temperament, and personal worth, made him the most desirable choice. In the House Sir Frederick Holder was re-elected to the Chair, as he well deserved to be. His fitness for the position was obvious, but the loss to the active business of the House his presence in the Chair involved was as great as ever.

The House only sat for two days, and was prorogued, so that the Prime Minister could proceed to London to attend the Imperial Conference of 1907. Mr. Deakin made, as he was bound to do, a great impression in London. His suggestion for a secretariat in connection with these meetings was adopted. The fact that Ministers were unable to open the door to fiscal negotiations enabled our Prime Minister to give a free run to his impetuous oratory.

The second session of the third Parliament began on July 3rd, 1907. On the 30th Sir John Forrest resigned his position of Treasurer and his connection with the Government. His reason was that as he had fought hard against the Labour Party at the recent elections he could not continue in office by virtue of their support. His conduct was appreciated on all sides, and the speech he addressed to the House was an excellent one, full of frankness and

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also good feeling. Sir William Lyne became Treasurer, and the Postmaster-General, Mr. Austin Chapman, succeeded Sir William Lyne.

Sir William delivered his first Budget Speech a few days afterwards. The revenue for 1906–7 was £533,000 above the estimate, the expenditure was £32,000 below. A new tariff of Customs duties was submitted, containing a number of increased rates, but establishing preferential rates in favour of Great Britain.

The consideration of the tariff in Committee extended over several months—from August to December. The debates were of immense length. There were numerous divisions, many of them very close. The Government proposals were frequently reduced. There were the same cross-currents as on the first occasion—local interests, and a desire to let off the primary industries and people living in the interior as cheaply as possible—playing havoc with fiscal principles and party ties. The preferences given to goods of the United Kingdom were substantial, and not many of the new duties could be branded as extreme.

The Senate met again to deal with the Tariff Bill on January 22nd, 1908. The House did not meet until March 11th.

Under the power it possessed of making suggestions the members of the Senate spent several months in discussing the details of the Tariff Bill. It made 238 “requests” for alterations. In dealing with these requests, up to May 6th, the House refused 24, modified or partly agreed to 22, and accepted outright 66–112 in all.

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The session was brought to a close on June 5th. It began on July 3rd, 1907, so that it lasted for eleven months. The tariff was the sole reason for the extraordinary length of the session.

The House received with general regret the news of the retirement of Mr. J. C. Watson from the leadership of the Labour Party. He was a great loss to them. No leader of that Party before or since could hold a candle to him so far as tact and mental balance were concerned, and his abilities were all of the best sort for a political leader. Mr. Andrew Fisher was his successor. With a different style, Mr. Fisher was a thoroughly reliable and straightforward chief. They were both able to devote the whole of their time and energy to the duties of leadership. My case was sadly different. I could not give up my professional career. I was therefore irregular in my attendance, often devoting the whole force of my mind to cases in Courts hundreds of miles away from Parliament. That I was able to remain leader of the Opposition at all was a proof of the extraordinary confidence my supporters had in me, and the strength of their desire to retain me in that capacity. But, obviously, the anomaly of a leadership in Parliament, and a leadership at the Common Law Bar, divided by a distance of six hundred miles, could not last much longer. Whilst the Labour Party solidly supported the Deakin Party in office my constant presence could not have altered the position of affairs. When the Labour Party began to weaken in their support of Mr. Deakin the situation changed in such a way that a leader who could always attend the House became a necessity. The able and

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devoted services of Mr. Joseph Cook, as deputy leader of the Opposition, were the main factors in making my position tolerable. Had he been less able, or less loyal, or less devoted than he was, a leadership so long and so often suspended as mine was could not have lasted for a single session.

An Act providing for bounties to encourage the production of various articles of Australian origin and manufacture was passed in 1907. I had no difficulty in principle over these proposals. They seemed to me to be preferable to duties of Customs, because the expense of the national policy came out of the pockets of the nation and not out of the pockets of those encouraging the local articles by buying them; and as nearly everything is a raw material of something else, users were not penalised. Power was given to the Minister to withhold the bounty if the rates of wages paid were below standard. Should no standard exist, they must be fair and reasonable.

In the same session an Act was passed authorising the survey of a route for the transcontinental railway connecting Kalgoorlie in Western Australia with the railway systems of the rest of Australia at Oonadatta in South Australia, a distance of about 1,000 miles, mainly over dry and unpeopled areas. The cost of this survey was not to exceed £20,000. But the opposition the Bill had to encounter was formidable, and in more than one session, not because of the amount involved, but because of the great expense of constructing a line afterwards, and the dubious prospect of any adequate return. None of us believed that the line would become self-supporting at any early

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date; but the importance of the connection was great, from the military point of view, and because of the immense resources of Western Australia—one million square miles of the whole continent.

On May 12th, 1908, the death of Mr. Kingston was reported to the House. He was a man of such rare ability and winning qualities that he fully deserved all the tributes paid to his memory.

The visit of the American Fleet was the outstanding event in the history of the Commonwealth for 1908. We owe that to the sagacious policy of President Roosevelt, who has always had a far-sighted view of the future relationship of America and Australia as the guardians of the Pacific. Another great object was the improvement of the Fleet in seamanship, discipline, and gunnery. The reception of that magnificent Fleet was so enthusiastic that it firmly cemented a long-standing friendship. The two democracies were brought face to face in a more pleasant and impressive fashion than could have been possible in any other way. Admiral Sperry, his officers, and men created a fine impression. The humblest lad of the Fleet had any number of Australian homes open to him, such was the intimacy of the feelings awakened by the visit.

The North American Review published an article from my pen on that memorable visit. In a letter I got from the Admiral later he mentioned the wonderful benefits that had followed this unrivalled expedition, particularly the improvement in gunnery.

The 1908 session began on September 16th. Sir William Lyne produced the Budget early in the

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session. A few days later I moved that the financial proposals were unsatisfactory.

This motion gave Ministers a severe shaking. It became evident that Labour support was becoming uncertain. The two main points of my indictment were the gross confusion in the Postal Department and the proposal to establish Old Age Pensions without making due provision for them.

A few days later the Labour Party withdrew their support from the Ministry. There was perfect good temper on both sides, but the way in which the crisis began and ended was unique.