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My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
2003

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Appendix 9: The Coercion Act, otherwise known as the Industrial Disputes Act

The Coercion Act was the serious nickname given to the amendments made to the Industrial Disputes Act by the Wade Government in 1909. Under the 1908 Act, there was provision for a penalty of 1,000 for a strike, lockout or anyone instigating them. There was also a prison sentence of two months against individual strikers.

As Evatt points out in his Australian Labour Leader, under Wade's proposed amendments in 1909, there was a provision for twelve months gaol for anyone promoting or participating in a strike in any industry which could be defined as producing a "necessary commodity", including coal mining. And a senior police officer could forcibly enter any place where it was suspected that a strike meeting was being held. Evatt notes

The introduction of the Bill caused a political sensation. Following Holman's suggestion, it was immediately dubbed the "Coercion Act". Bowling was proceeded against and convicted under its provisions. The unfortunate blunder by which he was forced to wear leg-irons en route to jail played some part in the rout of the Deakin-Cook Federal Government in April 1910, for Bowling was widely known as a man of good character. (p.243)

Evatt also notes that the Governor, Lord Chelmsford, who accepted that the Holman Government of 1910 had a mandate from the "recent elections" which put Holman into power, when asked to exercise the prerogative of pardon for the gaoled Peter Bowling,

was correct that, in part at least, the elections had been fought and won by Labour upon a promise to repeal the Coercion Act.... (p.259)


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