Dora B. Montefiore April 1911

A Labour Party in Power I

Source:"Justice, April 15, 1911, p.15;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford

As a Labour Party in power, in the Federal, and in some of the State Governments, of Australia is somewhat of a novelty in democratic evolution, it may be of interest to British and American Socialist readers to have under their eyes facts and documents showing exact tendencies, possibilities, and probabilities of the legislation and administration such a Labour Party Government can effect, and how far it is likely to be of use it in replacing competitive capitalism by collective, organised ownership of all the means of life which are at present shut away from the worker and used for his exploitation. We are in Sydney at the present moment on the eve of an annual Labour Congress, at which 500 delegates from all over the State are expected to be present. It is the first Congress held since a LABOUR GOVERNMENT WAS IN POWER IN THE STATE. I hope to attend it as a visit or and hope to send an impressionist and a detailed article on the work done and the resolutions passed. But as a, preparation for those two articles, I mean now to let the Labour Party first speak for itself through extracts from its General and its Fighting platforms, its pledges, its rules, and its agenda for the forthcoming Congress.

The Political Labour League of New South Wales has its headquarters at the Trades Hall, Sydney. Its Executive consists of president, vice president, general secretary, and 30 members of whom four are women. Its objective is: (1) The cultivation of an Australian sentiment based upon the maintenance of racial purity, and the development in Australia of an enlightened and self reliant community. (2.) The securing of the full results of their industry to all producers by the collective ownership of monopolies, and the extension of the industrial and economic functions of the State and municipality.

Its fighting platform is: Maintenance of a White Australia, The New Protection, Nationalisation of Monopolies, Graduated tax on Unimproved Land Values, Citizen Defence Force, Commonwealth Bank, Restriction of Public Borrowing, Navigation Laws, Arbitration Act Amendment.

Its general Platform is an enlargement and explanation of the foregoing; and under the heading of “Nationalisation of Monopolies” it states that “If necessary, amendment of Constitution to provide for same.” (This point must be kept in mind, as I shall refer to it in my later article on the forthcoming referenda, dealing with questions affecting changes in the Constitution.) The Citizen Defence Force includes compulsory training and an Australian owned and controlled Navy. The Commonwealth Bank plank postulates “non-political management.” The Arbitration Act Amendment is to provide for Preference for Unionists, and exclusion of the legal profession, with provision for the inclusion of all State Government employees. Old Age and Invalid Pensions; General Insurance Department, with non-political Management; Civil Equality of Men and Women; Naval and Military Expenditure to be allotted from proceeds of direct taxation; Initiative and Referendum.

Their pledge, is: “I hereby pledge myself not to oppose the candidate selected by the recognised political organisation, and, if elected, to do my utmost to carry out the principles embodied in the Australian Labour platform , and on all questions affecting the platform to vote as a Majority of the Parliamentary Party may decide at a duly constituted caucus meeting. I further pledge myself not to retire from the contest without the consent of the Political Labour League of New South Wales.” Then follow rules for guidance of members in Federal elections, the last rule being that “All branches or Federal District Leagues, conducting a Federal election, shall provide the necessary funds for the purpose. Each Federal branch shall forward the sum of 1 to the Executive before taking the ballot. This platform was adopted at the Brisbane Conference in 1908.

The New South Wales State platforms, which were adopted in January, 1910, are in principle on the same lines, with a detailed demand for Free, Secondary, Technical and University Education; Nationalisation of Coal Mines; Zone system of Railway Fares and Freights; Graduated Land and Income Taxes, Increased Probate Duties, a Right to Work Bill; Reform of the Liquor Traffic on the lines of a plebiscite of the electors on the subject of its nationalisation; State Maternity Subventions; Municipalisation of the Hospitals; and the construction by the Government of Workers Dwellings.

Under the rules of the P.L.L. any person over the age of 16 can become a member. The yearly subscription is: for males 2s.; for females 1s; financial members of bona fide trade unions half rates. Branches of 15 to 50 members can send 1 delegate to the Electorate Council; branches of 51 to 100 send 2 delegates, and one delegate for each additional 50 or part thereof. Delegates to the Annual Conference or any special conference shall not belong to any other party political organisation, and shall be called upon before taking their seats at conference to subscribe to the platform and constitution of the P.L.L. The General Secretary shall be paid a salary of not less than 208 per annum. Labour members of either House or of the Federal Parliaments have the rights of attendance and speech at all special or general meeting of the Executive. The Executive has sole charge of all matters relating to elections not expressly vested in local branches. No person can nominate a candidate who has not been three months in same branch or in an affiliated union “Any candidate personally canvassing or engaging others to canvass for votes shall be disqualified for selection.” A special women’s organisation, known as the W.C.O.C. exists for organising industrially all female workers, for canvassing at elections, distributing literature, and generally organising for the Party.

The twentieth Annual Conference of the Party was to commence on January 26, with the following order of business: (1) Credentials; (2) Standing Orders; (1) Appointment of Sub committees; (4) President’s Annual Address; (5) Executive Annual Report; (6) Annual Balance sheet and Auditor’s Report; (7) Election of Executive; 1911; (8)Agenda; (9) Resolutions. There are 648 resolutions down on the agenda paper, which will ensure that membership of the Standing Orders Committee will not be a sinecure.

Amongst these items I select the following: “That people long in the country be allowed to have one day’s horse racing in the year without registration of courses.” “That the term woman be used in all cases instead of female.” “That the Crown employ a Crown defender as well as a Crown prosecutor.” “That the time has arrived for the Government to pass protective legislation for the women workers of the State, as Wages Board awards have failed to give women a living wage.” “That Conference considers that none but union journalists and artists should be employed on the Labour Daily about to be established.” “That a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into and report upon the exorbitant increase in the cost of commodities, which nullifies any increase in wages.” “That a referendum be taken with the object of altering the Gambling Act so as to allow Tattersall’s sweeps in the State of New South Wales.” “In order to preserve the purity of the white race, and in the interests of social and moral reform, that it shall be considered a penal offence for any white person (male or female) to cohabit with any Asiatic or other coloured person, and that the marriage of the same be prohibited.” “That a weekly ‘Hansard’ both State and Federal, be sent post free to all householders.” “Prohibition of manufacture and sale of cigarettes, with a view to preventing the moral and physical deterioration of future Australian citizens.” “That no officer under the Government receive more than 1,200 a year including judges.” “That no Asiatic aliens be allowed in future to occupy any house or building situated in a resumed area owned by the State.” “That the Fighting platform provide for a maximum working day of eight hours, and a minimum payment of 8s. per day, for all adults by statute for the railway and tramway and other State services.” “That adult suffrage be introduced into suburban municipal election” “That a foundling home be established in a central position for the proper treatment of our Australian babies.” “Alteration of plank 16 on General Platform to read, ‘State subsidy to maternity of 5 and to continue at the rate of 5s. per week for each child, until the age of 16 years.” “That the law in regard to landlord and tenant be amended to provide that landlords shall not possess any greater powers to recover rent than any other creditor has to recover an ordinary debt. That courts be established to fix rentals, allowing not more than six per cent. on capital values.” “That compulsory State Insurance is desirable.” “That a literary and artistic section, dealing with the encouragement of literature and the arts in Australia, be included in the Labour platform.” “That the school age of children be raised from 14 to 16.” “That sleeping accommodation be provided for all classes of long distance travellers on the railways.” “That it is desirable for the benefit of the inhabitants of New South Wales that a State medical service be established, and that this measure should be adopted and dealt with by Government at the earliest date possible.” “A State Bush nursing scheme.” “Free State treatment of all school children; when necessary.” “That all children inadequately clothed shall receive, free of cost, any article of wearing apparel that may be considered necessary for their material comfort and well-being.” “That imprisonment for debt be abolished.” “Land Nationalisation to be the second plank on the fighting platform.” “That full rights of citizenship be granted to all women qualified to vote. “That lawyers shall not be permitted to plead at a Revision Court.” “That Labour Ministries should be elected by caucus after each general election, that the caucus should have authority to unseat any individual Minister at any time.” “That no person who has not been a member of the P.L.L. or affiliated union for years shall be eligible for selection as a Labour candidate.”

I have endeavoured to select from these 648 agenda items, dealing with such a vast range of subjects as representative a list as possible so as to illustrate for those outside Australia the tendencies, difficulties, problems and aspirations of the rank and file of Labour Party in power. The documented facts given above will provide the political canvas on which will be painted the picture I send next week. The local colour, atmosphere and pigments will be supplied by the 500 delegates.