11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Six Littleton Groom) took the chair at11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr.TULLY asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– It cannot he stated whether an examination for appointment as telephonic mechanicwill be held this year until inquiries as to staff requirements being made by the Public Service Board have been completed.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Pay of Employees
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries will be made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for
Home Affairs, upon notice -
Will he consider the advisability of having the footpath between Hotel Kurrajong and Federal Avenue, which has been left incomplete, attended to?
– Instructions have alreadybeen given for the completion of this work to be expedited.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What action has the Government taken on the recommendations of the Federal Pastoral Advisory Committee, dated 18th May, 1928?
– The recommendations of the committee involved action both by the Commonwealth and certain of the States, and copies of the committee’s report were forwarded to the State Governments for their purposes. As I indicated in reply to a question in this House on the 30th August last, the Commonwealth Government was prepared to discuss with the States those matters in which joint action would be necessary, but that no action could be taken at the time because of the financial stress and the difficulty of obtaining loan money to meet the expenditure involved in the proposals. That is still the position. When the time is opportune the matters referred to will receive the earnest consideration of the Government.
Administration of Bruce-Page Government
Motion (by Mr.Bruce), (By leave), agreed to -
That so much of the Standing and Sessional ordersbe suspended as would prevent notice of Motion No. I General Business from taking precedence for this day.
Mr.SCULLIN (Yarra) [11.4].- I move -
That,inthe opinion of this House, the Bruce-Page Government, by class legislation and partisan administration, has caused dislocation of industry, has struck at the foundation of the arbitration system, and is responsible for the crisis in the timber industry.
It has been patent to a good many people for a long while that political considerations alone have caused the exaggerated reports, which being published from time to time have caused the impression that by reason of the number of industrial disputes that occur here, Australia stands pre-eminent among the nations of the world as a land of strikes. The fact is that statistics show that other countries have more industrial disputes than we do. But there has unfortunately grown up here in recent years widespread industrial unrest and bitterness. There is a cause for every effect, and the cause of this particular effect is to be found largely in the actions and inaction, and in the partisanships of the present Government. I propose to review some of the things that have happened. One of the first actions of the Government was, for the first time in our history, to include industrial offences in the Crimes Act. Formerly our legislation against strikes and those who refused to work under certain conditions was contained only in industrial enactments. Itwas left for this Government to describe such conduct as criminal and to amend the Crimes Act to deal with it. That was the first step of the Government in applying the policy to which so much objection has been taken.
More recently, certain amendments to the Arbitration Act which it placed before Parliament brought to life various penal sections which were practically dead. To these were added other penal provisions. This action of the Government has been resented most bitterly not only by trade unionists, but by a very large number of our people who love justice.
Having gone so far, it was not a big step for the Government to introduce the Transport Workers Bill, the object of which is to include in our statutes certain objectionable regulations which have been framed to apply to transport workers.
One of these provides that men shall not have the right to work until they have obtained a licence.
If legislation containing class distinctions of this description had been passed by a Labour Government and made to press as heavily upon the employers as these provisions do upon the employees we should have heard shouts of indignation from honorable members opposite; but in the existing circumstances they are quite prepared to regard with entire complacency the proceedings of the Government. Such laws can only create bitterness, because they are unjust and oppressive. By including industrial offences in the Crimes Act the Government has branded as criminals honest and sincere working men who are carrying on an agelong struggle to improve the living conditions of themselves and their wives and families.
A very striking thing occurred recently, which should cause the Government to pause and examine its position. The Prime Minister has said a great deal about the desirableness of establishing peace in industry. He issued invitations to representative employers and employees to meet and discuss this subject. Eventually a peace conference met, but under most unhappy circumstances. Almost simultaneously with the beginning of it, notice was issued by certain collieryowners that 11,000 of their employees would be dismissed. At the same time some of the most respected leaders of the trade union movement, who have done more in a single year than the Prime Minister could do in twenty years to establish peace in industry, were being prosecuted under the unjust legislation passed by this Parliament. In such an atmosphere the peace conference met and appointed a sub-committee to investigate certain questions and report back to the full conference. Subsequently the conference carried unanimously a motion which was, in effect, a vote of censure upon the Government. It was as follows: -
That penal clauses in the industrial legislaation of the Commonwealth are not generally conducive to industrial peace.
The Government may reply that penal provisions have appeared in the Arbitration Act right from the inception of the system, and that the motion is a condemnation of the old as well as the new laws.
To some extent that is true. But the ‘ Government has aggravated and added to the penal sections of the Arbitration Act. It has, moreover, administered the law more vicious than any previous government has done. It is significant that this is the first time that representatives of organized employers and employees meeting in conference have condemned the inclusion of penal sections in our industrial legislation.
Until recently there were no penal provisions in the Crimes Act against industrial offences ; it dealt only with criminals, and not with honest workers. The carrying of that motion at the industrial peace conference is one of the most striking industrial occurrences of the century, and neither the Government nor the Parliament can afford to disregard it.
I intend to do more than make general charges. As a specific illustration of the kind of thing that is happening I cannot do better than direct attention to the present crisis in the timber industry. It is right to the point and up to the minute. To get that dispute into proper perspective it is necessary to survey the whole situation. In 1921 the late Mr. Justice Higgins after an exhaustive examination for many months into all the conditions of the timber industry, granted a general 44-hour working week to the employees. Some time afterwards the Government took out of the hands of one judge the power to determine the hours of work, and placed it with the Full Bench of Arbitration Court judges. For that and other reasons Mr. Justice Higgins resigned his seat on the Arbitration Court Bench. In 1922 the Full Court of judges, on an application by the employers that a 48-hour week should be restored, made an inquiry into the hours of work in the industry. This application was rejected, although a 48-hour week was .allowed in certain sections of the industry which had to meet with competition from overseas. In the other branches of the industry the 44-hour week granted by Mr. Justice Higgins was retained. The extra hours worked by the bush section of the industry provided some protection for the Australian timber industry; but now that that decision of the court has again been reviewed and a general 48-hour week has been fixed, that measure of protection has gone. With it has gone a good deal of the protection that has been granted to the Australian timber industry by this Parliament. I remind honorable members, in passing, that added duty was placed upon timber some little time ago, not by the Government, but in spite of it.
The gravamen of my charge against the Government, that its legislation is responsible for the existing industrial unrest, can be supported by one section of the amended Arbitration Act, although there are other sections to which I could make pointed reference. Section 25d provides that the Arbitration Court, before making any award or certifying to any agreement, shall consider its economic effect upon the industry affected. When supporting that provision in Parliament the Attorney-General said that the court “must operate within the area of economic possibility.” What has been the result of that legislation? In the case of the timber workers the court, acting on the instruction given by this Parliament at the instance of this Government, that the judge and the Full Court must take into consideration the economic position of an industry, appointed a clerk working in the Arbitration Court, who, I understand, has had but little experience as an accountant, to investigate the condition of the timber industry. How did he do that ? He examined the books of ten companies, although there were something like 4,000 respondents in the case. We have not the names of the companies whose books were examined. The union representatives had no access to the balance-sheets of those ten companies, and no opportunity was given to them to cross-examine the officer who examined the books, or to ascertain how much stock had been watered, and on what basis the estimate of profit was made. The official appointed by the Arbitration Court reported that these ten companies were making, oh the average, a profit of only 2.2 per cent. On that finding; - in accordance with legislation proposed by this Government - the standard of living of thousands of men is to be reduced, and in some cases brought below the bread line. It is well known by those who have some knowledge of the industry, and have travelled through the bush parts of Australia, as I have done, that many of the timber plants are obsolete. It is also well known thai for at least four years there has been a price-cutting war in the timber industry, the object of which has obviously been to crush out those millers who are not members of the timber merchants’ combine. On those price-cutting figures was based the award of the Arbitration Court, which has taken from the nien n large part of their livelihood. That could not have been done had it not been laid down by this Government in i rs legislation that the economic position of an industry must be taken into consideration by the Arbitration Court when making its awards. The workers of Australia are the victims of that unfair action. The dictum of the late Mr. Justice Higgins, than whom there was no greater Arbitration Court judge in the world, that the standard of comfort of the family unit should be above the question of the profits of an industry, has been set aside. He laid it down that a man with a family was entitled, in return for his labour, to a living wage which would enable him to enjoy a decent standard of comfort befitting a member of a civilized community. That ruling has been swept away, because this Parliament, at the instance of the Government, has in- effect said to the Arbitration Court that in making its awards the profits in an industry must be its first consideration in determining how much bread and butter the workers shall receive for their efforts.
Let me give one or two illustrations of the unfairness of the award made possible by this legislation. I shall not weary honorable members with all the figures. That would make too long a story. A timber worker employed in a mill at Newcastle, previously receiving £4 lis. a week as the basic wage, now receives £4 5s., a reduction of 6s. a week. The basic wage of the workers in Victorian country towns, such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Warrnambool and Geelong, was previously £4 4s. a week, and is now £3 19s., a decrease of 5s. In the bush mills the basic wage has been reduced from £4 6s. to £4 ls. a week. The story does not end there. Wot only the ba.sic wage but also the margin allowed for skill over and above the basic wage has been reduced. The box-nailing machinist under the old award enjoyed as his margin for skill an extra 10s. a week. Now there is no margin for him ; so that a man working on a box-nailing machine in Newcastle has had 6s.’ a week taken from his basic wage, and 10s. a week from his margin for skill, a total reduction of 16s. a week. Such a man was previously receiving £5 ls., and is now in receipt of only £4 5s. a week. Some honorable members may say that there is little skill involved in working a box-nailing machine. That may be true, but hitherto the judges of the court have held that this work is skilled, and a margin was allowed for it. However, the judge who made the most recent award has said, in effect, that there is no skill required for that work. But let us take the dove-tailing and moulding machinists who have served an apprenticeship of years to fit them for their work. They were in receipt of a marginal allowance of 21s. a week above the basic wage. That has now been reduced to 3s., a decrease of 18s. a week.
– I say, in answer to that most persistent interjector, the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill), that it is not a question of our being judges, but of our challenging the class of legislation under which these judgments of the Arbitration Court are possible. Dove-tailing machinists working, say, in Ballarat or Bendigo were, under the old award, in receipt of £1 ls. as the marginal allowance for skill over the basic wage of £4 4s. a week. Their wages were £5 5s. a week for highly skilled work. I challenge any honorable members to say that that was too much to pay them. Yet those machinists now receive under the new award a basic wage of £3 19s., plus 3s. for skill, or a total wage of £4 2s. a week, which is 2s. a week lower than the basic wage for labourers under the old award. Their wages have been reduced by 23s. a week, and, in addition, their hours of work have been increased by four hours a week. For similar work in Newcastle the wage has been reduced by 24s. That is the result of this class legislation.
Honorable members interjecting -
– Honorable members by their continual interjections are obstructing the Leader of the Opposition in the delivery of his speech. I ask them to listen to him in silence.
– In the timber industry there is a grade of employment called “mixed functions.” It has previously been laid down in all awards - a just and common sense ruling - that if men are taken from one class of work in an industry and put to more highly skilled work, they must be paid the rate for the higher work for the time that they are employed on it. But what has happened under the new award ? The judge has laid it down that the employers may describe a worker as a man employed on “mixed functions,” and he can then be employed for the whole of his time on the more highly skilled branches of the work for whichhe is engaged, and paid only half the margin for skill for that work. For example, the shaper machines are operated by probably the most highly skilled workers in the industry. The margin of skill provided under the award for this work is 21s. a week above the basic wage. The provisions of the new award allow an employer to take a man from that class of work and put him on a box-nailing machine for one day a month or even for one day in the year, and to call him a worker on mixed functions. In such a case, the marginal allowance for skill for that worker would be reduced by 10s. 6d. a week. That opens wide the door to unscrupulous sweating. The employer may deliberately evade the intention underlying the award of the court. He may put one unskilled labourer after another on machines, and pay them practically labourers’ wages for highly* skilled and dangerous work. These machines are unquestionably dangerous to operate. I suppose that there are more accidents in the timber industry than in any other, because of the dangerous nature of the machinery that has to be used. These machines should be operated only by highly skilled machinists, and yet labourers may be engaged on them at labourers’ wages. It is high time that we turned our attention to the provisions of this class legislation, which, in effect, instructs the Arbitration Court judge to take into consideration the economic position of an industry, and to make the profits of the companies in it the basis of its awards.
I wish now to refer to the boys employed in the timber industry. The old award, because of the dangers of the industry, provided for one unapprenticed boy to every eight adults; now the proportion is one boy to four men. There are approximately 20,000 men working in the industry, and the alteration in the award means that instead of employing 2,500 boys as previously, the industry may now employ 5,000 boys. That will displace 2,500 adult workers.
– Is the work of adults done by boys?
– Yes, and I can give illustrations of that. If the honorable member went into the bush, he would find many bushmen classified as boys, simply because they are under 21 years of age. These youths are well developed, and, as bushmen, are in the prime of life, and are doing men’s work.
– And get men’s wages.
– Hitherto they have been getting the adult wage, but under the new award, the wage has been reduced. Bush boys between sixteen and seventeen years of age - and I have seen some fine specimens of young men at these ages in the bush - were, under the old award, receiving 45s. a week; now they are receiving 25s., or a decrease of £1 a week. Bush boys, from seventeen to eighteen years of age, previously receiving 52s. a week, now receive 35s. a week, or a decrease of 17s. a week. Take the case of boys nineteen years of age and over. Under the old award they were classified as men, and, indeed; at that age many of them are men. Many a youth of nineteen has all the vigour of manhood, and is able to do a man’s work.
Mr.Bell. - They are getting men’s wages, if they are doing men’s work.
– Yes, under the old award.
– They are still getting it.
– Under the new award they are to receive £3 a week.
– They are getting full wages.
– The honorable gentlemen who are interjecting are aiding me in my condemnation of this award. If they insist that these boys are in some places still getting men’s wages in spite of the award, they are proving how unjust the award is. But if they were getting men’s wages in all mills they would not now be revolting against the award. A number of youths, nineteen years of age and over, who were employed at the saw benches, received under the old award an average of about £5 10s. a week. Under the new award they can be employed at £3 a week. It may be argued that these youths have not wives and families to maintain. No doubt, most of them are unmarried; but, as under the new award their services may be obtained for £3 a week, they will displace thousands of adults who have wives and families dependent on them. By such means are the awards being evaded. Is it any wonder that there is revolt in the timber industry to-day? It is useless to say to men whose livelihood has been taken from them that they should obey the awards of the court. lt certainly does not become the Prime Minister to preach that doctrine to them, seeing that his Government has moved to disallow awards applying to its own employees. The workers of Australia are convinced that the Arbitration Court is being used to attack their conditions of living. This class of legislation, and the awards based upon it, are strong evidence to that effect. The whole principle underlying the arbitration system is being underrained. From my place in this House, as Leader of the Labour party, I say to those who are inclined to condemn the whole principle of arbitration that the arbitration system is sound ; but it must be based upon just and impartial laws, and be administered by impartial adjudicators.
I now turn to another aspect of the case, for I do not want to trespass unduly upon the time of other honorable members who desire to speak, particularly as there are rumors of the fall of the guillotine on this debate. For the first time the precious secret ballot, of which we heard so much three years ago, is to be brought into operation. I said when the subject was being discussed then, and I repeat now, that I have no objection to a secret ballot being taken; but I suggest that a secret ballot he also taken of the mill-owners. There is evidence that many of them would vote against the dictates of the timber combine.
– Several mill-owners in Ballarat want to work, but they are not allowed to do so.
– They had men at work in some places, and were told by the combine to put them off. I should like a secret ballot taken among those employers to see if they stand for the wretched sweating wages laid down in this award. The union has raised no voice against the taking of the ballot - indeed, it is giving every facility to enable it to be taken - but it rightly resents the way it is about to be taken ; it objects to the question to be submitted to its members. I ask honorable members to approach this matter with an open mind. If they believe in a ballot so sincerely as they profess, they will agree that it ought to give a true reflex of the opinion of the men concerned. The question to be submitted is, “Are you prepared to resume work under the existing award of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration?” On the face of it, that question looks reasonable enough; but when we consider to whom it is addressed its absurdity is revealed. Some thousands of members of the union are not affected by the award ; yet they will receive ballot papers. Men who are working are to be asked if they are willing to resume work! In New South Wales the whole of the bush timber workers, with the exception of about six men, are at work. It is true that they are working 48 hours a week, as they have done since 1922. There has been no dislocation in that section of the industry in New South Wales, yet those men will be provided with ballot-papers and asked to say whether they are willing to resume work. Again, hundreds - possibly thousands - of men, are working as members of this union in mixed industries. They comprise timber workers in furniture factories, motorbody building works, car and wagon shops, and similar establishments, in which the working week consists of 44 hours. These men are at work, and, although they have no quarrel with the award, they are to receive ballot-papers on which they will be asked to indicate whether they are willing to resume work. The whole thing is a farce.
– Bather, it is a conspiracy.
– Legislation based on economic considerations bas led to this class of award. It is evident that in our midst there are many persons who are more concerned with profits than with the conditions under which men work. That class has existed ever since the wages system began. I submit that if it is fair that men shall be asked to accept a lower standard of living, that margins for skill shall disappear, that there shall be no reward for the years,, of training needed to enable them to gain that skill, merely because an industry is not paying large profits, it should also be fair that men working in industries paying 20 per cent, dividends should receive double their present rates of pay. Will any honorable member deny the justice of that contention? We have not previously laid it down in Australia that men’s wages shall be determined by the profits of an industry; we have said that their wages shall be based on the cost of maintaining a wife and family, and that, in addition, there shall be a margin for trained and skilled workers. If, through bad management, watering of stock, or obsolete methods, an industry is not paying huge dividends, are workers to be paid less than a living wage, and no consideration given to those in industries which return handsome dividends to their shareholders? If the basis of awards is to be so radically altered, surely we should take the good with the bad. It would at least be honest that in those industries which pay 20 per cent, dividends the weekly wage should be doubled. Very little is spoken of our flourishing industries, although we hear a great deal about languishing industries, and the necessity for cutting wages. No honorable member who upholds this award is prepared to go out into the bush and toil for £3 19s. a week.
Nothing tends to make men bitter more than to be lectured from the bench that they must reduce their standard of living - buy less clothes, less food, and less of the comforts of life - because “the country cannot stand it, especially when that lecture is given by a gentleman who receives twice as much per day in salary as they are paid for a week’s work. Such lectures come ill from men occupying such positions. Are men, women and children to go hungry because the country cannot afford to pay them a living wage? “What the country cannot afford to pay is the excessive salaries which so many in our midst receive. Itis there that the first cut should be made.
– Let us start on our own salaries.
– If the honorable member will move in that direction, I shall support him. The man who is not prepared to accept a reduction of his own income, has no right to require others to do so. This law and its administration have brought the arbitration system into contempt in Australia. Whatever the guilt of those who have been goaded into resisting awards, it is not so great as the guilt of those who have goaded them into disobedience. The Government which introduced class legislation, such as the Crimes Act, the amended Arbitration Act and the Transport Workers Act and its regulations, is more guilty than the men against whom that legislation is directed. Notwithstanding all the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act, the Government, when it wanted’ to lay a charge against an industrial leader, had to resort to legislation that was regarded as practically a dead letter. No honorable member who voted for the War Precautions Repeal Act believed that it was for anything else than to deal with the aftermath of war. Although not rerepealed, it remained dormant, and in the meantime the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act were placed upon the statutebook.
– Is the honorable member willing that they should be repealed ?
– Yes, every one of them. Will the honorable member support me if I attempt to remove those pen nl clauses? The honorable member nods his head, but a nod cannot be recorded in Hansard. Will he say “ Yes “ to my question ?
– I hope to get a few more recruits from the other side of the . chamber. The debate so far has not been in vain. The Government was afraid that the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act were not sufficient to deal with Mr. E. J. Holloway, one of the moat lovable of men, who has undermined his health by sitting through the small hours of the morning for the past twenty years, endeavouring to settle industrial disputes, and has proved himself to be one of the best types of citizens. No other man has done more for industrial peace in Australia; scarcely another has done so much. Yet he is the man pounced upon by the Government, which, fearful that the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act were not sufficient, called to its aid the War Precautions Repeal Act. Although a strike is an offence under the Arbitration Act, and there are 10,000 men on strike to-day, this man is chosen as “ the shocking example.” An old and lifeless law has been resurrected to fix a crime upon a man who is as good a citizen of Australia as any member of this parliament. Again, pro- secutions have been launched against men because they issued statements to the press. This is an offence against certain provisions of the Arbitration Act; but I remind honorable members that it is also an offence to publish such statements. No action, however, was taken against the press. These actions are convincing evidence of discrimination on the part of the Government, and of partisan administration of the law. Possibly it can be shown that both sides to the present industrial dispute in the timber industry have committed breaches of the law; but it is significant that no prosecutions have been launched against the employers. The Prime Minister and his supporters in this Parliament talk glibly enough about the need for obedience to the law; but when it suits the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues in the Ministry, they show a nice discrimination as to the manner in which the law shall be applied. There was the case of the Abrahams Bros., who deliberately robbed the Commonwealth of hundreds of thousands of pounds by fraudulently withholding returns of income so as to escape taxation. The Government, had it been so disposed, could have applied certain provisions of the War Precautions Repeal Act to those persons. It preferred to take other action, and to let the matter be settled. But when the leaders of trade unions and other representatives of the workers commit breaches of the law on behalf of people who are fighting for their bread and butter, the Government deems it necessary to launch prosecutions against them. Up to the present, nothing has been done by the Government to deal with the colliery owners, who took concerted action, about a fortnight ago, by serving notices of dismissal on 11,000 coal miners. Clearly, their action was taken in order to force the miners to accept a reduction in wages by1s. a ton. Of course the Prime Minister will say in respect of this matter, that there is no evidence of a lockout. He told the House yesterday that the Government could not force the mine-owners to continue employment if the mines were not paying. My answer to that is that if, in certain circumstances, employers cannot be forced to continue to give employment in industry, similarly the laws of this country should not be used to force men to sell their only commodity - their labour - if it does not pay them to do so. Under our arbitration system it is the duty of the court to make equitable awards. The court should not be influenced by the profits of an industry.
Mr.Rodgers. - This House is about the worst place in which to consider the details of Arbitration Court awards.
– This is the place where honorable members should have full opportunity to consider the effect of Commonwealth legislation. I am the last man to suggest that Parliament should fix the rates of wages for industry; but I am entitled to show the unsound basis upon which a number of awards have been made under legislation passed by Parliament at the instance of this Government, and I suggest that the honorable member must accept his share of the responsibility for such legislation.
I now direct the attention of the House to a statement which appeared recentlyin the public press, and, so far as” I am aware, has not been contradicted - I refer to the cabled report of a speech made in England by Sir Hugo Hirst, a member of the British Economic Mission which visited Australia recently. That gentleman is reported to have said that whilst in Australia he met some employers who believed in the policy of starving labour into submission. It is quite obvious, if one may judge from recent events, that the colliery-owners in New South “Wales hope to starve the miners into submission; to compel them to accept a wage reduction of ls. a ton. A lockout has been defined as “the refusal, by employers acting in combination, to provide work with a view to compelling employees to accept the terms or conditions of employment offered.” Does not this definition of a lockout apply to the present action of the collieryowners of New South Wales? Of course it does; but there has been no investigation into their action at the instance of this Government, nor has the” Government seen fit to resurrect certain provisions of the War Precautions Act to buttress the Arbitration Act so that they may be dealt with.
Clearly, the view of this Government is that the standard of living of the men must be reduced. I say that the standard of living must never be made subservient to profits. The late Mr. Justice Higgins many years ago laid it down that the standard of living should be defined as decent conditions for all persons living in a civilized community. The legislation introduced by this Government repudiates that ideal, and awards under such legislation make it impossible for men employed in certain industries to live under decent conditions. I do not doubt that, when he replies, the Prime Minister will endeavour to persuade honorable members that this discussion about Arbitration Court awards is out of place in this House; that we have heard it all before, and that the business of making awards and the fixing of the basic wage has been referred to an independent tribunal. I answer that by saying that the Arbitration Court has been acting under instructions to be found in legislation introduced by this Government and passed by this Parliament. If men are expected willy nilly to accept Arbitration Court awards, whether good or bad; why did not the Government accept the determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator in respect of a number of postal workers who were transferred to Canberra recently? It is obvious, of course, that the Government is determined -to discriminate not only in the class of legislation introduced, but also in the manner of its application. I submit, therefore, that by its legislation, by its administration, and by its discrimination in the application of its laws, this Government is responsible for the industrial unrest which has dislocated industry in Australia, and, therefore, it should be condemned by this Parliament.
– When I saw the notice which the Leader of the Opposition gave yesterday, I was a little puzzled, and for the moment could not understand why it had been submitted at this juncture, because this subject - like all that the honorable gentleman has just said in support of it - was more fully dealt with at two successive Federal elections, in both of which honorable members opposite were defeated. But as the honorable member’s speech developed, the reason for the motion became apparent ; and he made it plain towards the close of his remarks, when he referred specifically to the crisis in the timber industry. The honorable member dealt, practically throughout his speech, with that particular dispute, and, I may add, displayed a considerable knowledge of its various phases. Those who have a knowledge of recent events will appreciate readily enough why the Leader of the Opposition, in speaking to his motion, concentrated in this way upon the timber industry, and will also understand how he came to display such an intimate knowledge of his subject. The fact is that the honorable member has been instructed to bring this matter up in the Federal Parliament and make a demonstration, and so that there could be no doubt about the Opposition doing it, and doing it with a knowledge of the subject, Mr. Culbert, the secretary of the Timber Workers’ Union, was sent to Canberra this week to address the Federal Parliamentary Labour members.
– That is not true.
– The honorable member for Darling must withdraw that statement.
– I do so, Mr. Speaker, but as the statement of the Prime Minister is not true, he should be compelled to withdraw it.
– Ihave quoted what has appeared in the public press. If what I have said is not correct honorable members will have an opportunity later to put the matter right.
Several honorable members interrupting
– Order ! If honorable members will not allow the Prime Minister a fair hearing it will be necessary for me to name the offenders. The Leader of the Opposition was given a fair opportunity to state his case, and the Prime Minister is entitled to a similar hearing.
– There is nothing to prevent any honorable gentleman opposite from saying that Mr. Culbert has not been in Canberra if the facts are not as I have stated, or from saying that the Leader of the Opposition did not obtain from Mr. Culbert much of the information Which he gave the House this morning concerning the dispute in the timber industry.
Honorable members again interrupting
– I rise to a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition has made a serious charge against the Government. I listened attentively to all that he had to say in support of his motion.Now, because of the continued interjections of honorable members opposite, it is impossible for me to hear the Prime Minister in reply.
Mr.Blakeley. - You know what he is going to say. Most of it is Untrue!
– If the honorable member continues to interject, I shall have to name him.
– I am aware that you are doing your best, Mr. Speaker, to ensure a fair hearing for the Prime Minister, and I for one would like to hear what he has to say.
– The honorable member has not raised a point of order against any individual member ; but I again call upon the House, and particularly the honorable member for Reid, who is continually interjecting, to obey my ruling.
– The point I wish to make is that the Leader of the Opposition dealt specifically with the dispute in the timber industry, and I suggest that he has been instructed to make a demonstration at this particular juncture.
– That is not true.
– The honorable member forWerriwa must withdraw that statement.
– I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker.
– The motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition covers very wide issues, and if he had addressed himself seriously to all the questions comprehended within it, I think his speech would have been very valuable to the Parliament and to the country at the present time. The working of our arbitration system and the steps taken by the Government to enforce awards of the court, are matters of vital concern to the people of Australia at this particular stage of our industrial history. The honorable gentleman dealt, not with those wide questions, but with the merits of an award that has been given by the Arbitration Court in the timber industry. He realized the weakness of his case, because towards the end of his speech he said that I should probably claim that this House is not the proper place to consider the merits or demerits of an award of the Arbitration Court. It must be obvious to every honorable member that that is so.We have not the evidence before us; we cannot check the statements that have been made, nor can we determine the justice and equity of the judge’s decision. I do not propose to examine what is embodied in the award, nor to endeavour to arrive at a decision as to whether it is just or unjust. I propose to deal with a deeper and more important question.
I wish first, however, to refer to the remarks of the honorable gentleman with reference to amendments that have been made to the Arbitration Act, but particularly to section 25 of that act. He said that under that section an instruction had been given to the court which, when carried out, would result in the wages of the workers being lowered below the level that is necessary to maintain the bare existence made possible by the basic wage.
The actual wording of that amendment is as follows : -
The court shall, before making any award or certifying any agreement, and in proceedings for the variation or cancellation of an award or an agreement, take into consideration the probable economic effect of the agreement or award in relation to the community in general and the probable economic effect thereof upon the industry or industries concerned. Provided that this section shall not affect the practice of the court in fixing the basic wage.
The. honorable gentleman did not make the slightest reference to that proviso. He painted a picture of this Government sing its majority to alter the act in such a way as to instruct the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to depart from the principles laid down by Mr. Justice Higgins, and to reduce men below the standard that is acceptable in any decently civilized community. He completely misrepresented the position, and did not afford any assistance to us in the consideration of a question that is of vital importance to the whole of the people of Australia. It is necessary to go a good deal deeper than he went. “We have laws for the regulation of wages and the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes. Is that system to be continued or is it to be discarded? The honorable gentleman said he would wipe out the penal sections of the Arbitration Act; and, upon the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) interjecting, asked whether that honorable member would support him in such an action. The honorable member for Swan fulfilled the expectation of all those who know him, by replying that he would do so. Time and again in this House he has stated frankly that he does not believe in the system, and that in the interests of Australia it should be wiped out. I am quite sure that the attitude adopted by the Leader of the Opposition has not the endorsement of the industrial movement outside. In an interview which the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) had with representatives of the trade unions he asked whether they desired that the penal sections of the Arbitration Act should be wiped out. When they replied in the affirmative he said, “ Of course you recognize that if the penal sections which operate against employees are to go, those which operate against the employers also must go. “ The representatives of the unions asked for time to consider the matter; but although some months have elapsed and the Attorney-General has since asked for an answer, he has not bo far received one. Although that is a fact which has to be remembered, it is not the point which I wish, particularly, to stress. If the sections which provide penalties for breaches of awards, and the general provisions for the enforcement of awards, were repealed, the whole system of compulsory arbitration for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes would fall to the ground. Such a law could not remain on .the statute-book unless it contained the power to enforce its observance. Why have we wages regulation and legislation for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes within the law ? It is well known that action along those lines was taken, not only to protect the interests of the workers and to ensure- that employers would not be able to avail themselves of economic circumstances to force unfair and unjust conditions upon them, but also because it is essential to protect the community against powerful organizations of either employers or employees, who possess sufficient strength to carry on a prolonged struggle to the detriment of the community, and the complete dislocation of our economic and industrial life. Chaos certainly would follow if that system was wiped out, and not replaced by a better one. *
A system of compulsory arbitration was inaugurated in 1904 with penal provisions that this Government, by its amending legislation, has since modified. Strikes and lockouts were declared illegal, and penalties were fixed for breaches of the law. That system continued in operation for very many years without any serious development. Possibly that development was delayed by the prosperity that was universally enjoyed, with a resultant continuous improvement in the conditions of those who applied to and invariably were given relief by the Court. Probably the war also had some effect; but ever since its termination a change has been taking place and the feeling has been engendered that unless the awards of the Court are obeyed the system must be abolished. Our economic problems have steadily become graver, and consequently the Court has been unable to advance continuously the conditions of those who have sought to have their awards reviewed. I do not think that honorable members will deny that from time to time the” workers have taken advantage of their strength to disregard awards of the Court, and to achieve their object by striking. The position became so acute that it was obvious that if the system was to be saved action would have to be taken to secure the enforcement of awards. That has been the attitude of the Government since it assumed office.
Let me briefly review the different acts upon which the Government has been challenged. It is contended that the Crimes Act makes criminals of decent, honest working men. That act was directed against men who were blatantly attempting to. destroy the basis of our constitution and endeavouring to convert our people to the doctrine of communism and bolshevism. So far as I know, exception to provisions of this character is not taken by any. honorable member. Honorable members opposite will not, I imagine, claim that it was a good thing for Communist Sunday schools to be established in Australia. The sections to which I have referred were designed to prevent the spread of doctrines which were aimed at the uprooting of our institutions. Another purpose of the act was to enable the Government to prevent deliberate attempts from being made to hold the community to ransom, by interrupting the operation of vital and essential services, such as the postal serviced of the Commonwealth, and the transport services that are necessary to maintain our interstate and overseas communications. It is an obligation of every government to prevent the community being held to ransom by the interruption of essential services, and honorable members opposite cannot truthfully assert that the action taken by this Government under the Crimes Act to deal with certain situations has not been overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Australia.
There is another reply to the charge that legislation such as the Crimes Act is class legislation. Honorable members op posite are always ready to suggest, when a small group of unionists is prevented from disorganizing essential services, that they are the victims of class legislation, and that the action taken is action in the interest solely of those whom they describe as the rich employers. Yet, surely, they know that for every employer protected by such action, hundreds, and even thousands, of working men who are in danger of being prevented from continuing at their employment, are equally protected, and their interests similarly safeguarded. Legislation to prevent the holding up of essential services cannot be rightly regarded as class legislation. If it is class legislation, it is class legislation in favour of the workers and industrialists generally, because it is they who benefit from it in the greatest number.
I wish now to refer briefly to the amending Conciliation and Arbitration Act, the penal clauses of which honorable members opposite say are vicious. Many of the honorable members opposite are not guiltless of having misrepresented to the people the effect of the penal clauses of that act. As I must conform to the rules of debate in this House I must say that that has been done through inadvertence or mistake; but, unquestionably, it was done. When speaking before on the subject I have given instances to show how the. people were misled. I read an article written by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), in which he put the case in a way which totally misrepresented what the Government had done. This Government did not introduce penal legislation in the arbitration law; all we did was to make it clear that we intended to enforce the provisions of that law; and that has been done. The object of the amending Conciliation and Arbitration Act was to ensure that both sides would obey the awards of the court. Do not honorable members of the Opposition consider that the awards of the court should be obeyed? If they do not, they should say so quite definitely, instead of rendering lip service to the principle of arbitration by saying that the awards of the court should be observed, and then supporting men in flagrant defiance of them. On the other hand, if they consider that the court should he obeyed, why do they not advocate the observance of arbitration awards, and tell the men what will happen if they are not obeyed? They should do that, not occasionally, but continually, and quite definitely. But they have not done so. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) mentioned this morning an award of the Arbitration Court, which he said was unjust.
– It is an outrage !
– But before the last general election the honorable member tried to pretend that he believed in the observance of arbitration awards.
– I do, but I believe in decent awards; the right honorable gentleman does not
– I remind the Leader of the Opposition that after some considerable delay, and a little reluctantly, he came out into the open regarding the waterside workers, and said that they should obey the award and observe the law. But that was just prior to an election, and he knew the temper of the people and what they demanded of him.
– That is a deliberate misrepresentation. I made the statement in this House months before the election.
– Now the elections are over, and the Leader of the Opposition thinks that he can make no political gain by telling the men what they ought to do, instead of defending the court and urging obedience to the award, he says that it is unjust.
– He said it was a corrupt award.
– He suggested that it almost amounted to a corrupt award. How can we continue a system of arbitration” if certain members of this Parliament behave in that way? We have to remember what is embodied in the principle of arbitration.
– Get back to honesty in your arbitration laws.
– I ask the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) to cease interjecting. The honorable member has already been warned, and if he continues to disregard the direction of the Chair, I shall be compelled to name him. He has already been warned once. I also ask the honorable member for
West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), who is a new member, to refrain from interjecting. It is distinctly out of order to interrupt the proceedings in that way.
– Arbitration was adopted to provide a means whereby conflicting parties in the industrial sphere could settle their differences amicably. To give effect to it, there must be an independent and impartial tribunal, to which the parties can submit their case for decision. As. both parties are pledged to observe the awards of that tribunal, no attempt should be made to induce Parliament to review the awards of the tribunal. If honorable members opposite wish to follow a contrary course, we had better scrap the arbitration system, because it would not, in such circumstances, function successfully for 24 hours.
There are two points which I wish to stress in connexion with the attitude of certain honorable members towards our arbitration system. It is being suggested that the Arbitration Court is not impartial, that it does not determine disputes according to the facts placed before it, and that it does not make a fair and honest award. It has also been suggested by honorable members opposite that, in one case, the judge was biased and prejudiced, and that he was not honest in his decision. If honorable members opposite continue to adopt that course of action, they will undermine not only arbitration, but our whole system of law. Up to the present the Australian people have respected the judiciary for its absolute impartiality. That has been one of the best features of our national life. In reflecting on our judiciary in regard to industrial or any other determinations, honorable members opposite are striking a vital blow at out present constitutional system. Honorable members opposite strive to justify themselves by saying, “Look at the persons you appoint as judges. You do not appoint impartial men, who will exercise their own judgment and sense of fairness.” If that is the attitude they intend to assume towards the judicial appointments of this Government, one may properly direct attention to some of the appointments made in Queensland by Labour administrations. There a Labour ex-Premier was appointed a member of the Board of Trade and Arbitration to settle industrial disputes, and Mr. Dunstan, a former Australian Workers Union secretary, was appointed to a similar position. I am, not for a moment, suggesting that either the ex-Premier of Queensland, Mr. Gillies, or Mr. Dunstan, having been thus charged with responsibility and authority, would fail to perform the duties of their offices in other than an impartial manner and to the best of their ability. But, in the face of such appointments, I say that honorable members opposite have no right to suggest that the men appointed to judicial positions under the Commonwealth will not carry out their responsible duties impartially and with due regard to the traditions of the judiciary. If they wish to dispense with arbitration-
– We wish to get back to honest arbitration.
– I name Arthur Blakeley, the honorable member for Darling, for disregarding the authority of the Chair by continually interjecting after being directed not to do so.
Motion (by Mr. Bbuce) proposed -
That the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) be suspended from the service of the House.
Question put and a division called for.
In division -
– Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to the fact that although the honorable member for Darling did disregard your previous warning, he has now interjected only once after a considerable period of silence, and I feel that he was hardly given an opportunity to apologize to you for his conduct. I think that he might be given that opportunity.
– The honorable member was warned definitely twice that he would be named if he persisted in interjecting. Still, in the circumstances, -if the honorable member will apologize, I shall ask the House if the division can be called off.
– I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, that I disobeyed your ruling.
– Is it the wish of the House that the call for the division be withdrawn and the matter not further proceeded with?
Honorable Members. - No
The tellers for the Ayes were appointed, but the tellers for the Noes declining to act -
– Do I understand that the tellers for the Noes refuse to act? honobable members of the opposition. -Yes.
– The tellers for the Noes have refused to act, and therefore, according to the usual practice, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative.
Mr. Blakeley thereupon withdrew.
- Mr. Speaker-
Motion (by Mr. Coleman) negatived -
That the honorable member be not further heard.
– I do not propose to say anything further regarding, the attitude which some honorable members have adopted towards the judiciary; but I point out that whenever a new judge proceeds to give an award which is not acceptable to some section of the community, they proceed to denounce him. That has occurred time after time. It has been suggested that the late Mr. Justice Higgins was our greatest arbitration judge - and, of course, he was a very great judge - and that his decisions were always accepted. But that is not actually the case. Let me quote an opinion about him expressed by Mr. Le Cornu, president of the Seamen’s Union -
Mr. Justice Higgins had taken a stand with the capitalists, and was supporting them in their contentions. The union had deliberately flouted the award and would continue to flout it until the end of time.
That statement was made in 1919. Then Mr. Tom Walsh has said -
Mr. Justice Higgins seems to be on the side of the employers. … I deem it my duty to say that the two greatest obstacles to a settlement now appear to be His Honour Mr. Justice Higgins and the Controller of Shipping.
Those two quotations point the moral that there are some who, whatever the decision of the court may be, and however respected the judge, will challenge a decision which does not suit them. Are honorable members opposite going to adopt that attitude ? If they do, they will strike a vital blow at arbitration. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the Transport Workers Act, and as we so recently discussed it, I do not intend to say more about it now than that it was introduced to protect the community as a whole. The attitude of honorable members opposite seems to be that they are prepared to support the waterside workers, and to throw in their lot with them, regardless of the fact that in so doing, they are abandoning the unionists in every other industry that is dependent on the continuance of the transport services. This act, like the Crimes Act, is not class legislation; its object is to keep essential services going. The measure was brought down to protect the rights and interests of the overwhelming majority of the working men of this country.
We are rapidly coming to the point where we must determine whether our system of arbitration is to be continued or whether we .shall abandon it. If it is to be continued, we must recognize that awards must be obeyed, and the prestige and position of the judiciary maintained. It is necessary to provide in our legislation, powers that will enable the executive government to take action when those who are not prepared to obey the awards of the court are defying the laws of the country, because it is impossible to have upon the statute-book legislation which any section of the community may be permitted to defy. If we do not agree to the continuance of the present system of arbitration, we must ask ourselves what is to be substituted for it* If we do not put something in its place, there will be chaos in industry, and this will mean disaster for the industrial workers.
Let, me remind honorable members opposite of what arbitration has done for trade unionism. It is the greatest force that has operated in bringing trade unionism to the point that it has now reached. In 1907, some three years after the first Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed, the population of Australia was about 4,200,000, and its trade unionists numbered about 194,000. In 1927, the population had grown to 6,200,000, an increase of about 50 per cent., and the trade unionists had increased in number to 911,000. The principal factor in that growth was the existence of the Arbitration Court and the principles of collective bargaining in the consideration of the matters before the court.
I certainly ask every working man to consider what will happen if the arbitration system goes. It will mean that we shall be driven back to the basis of collective bargaining without any sanction of law. At the present time Australia is passing through difficult economic and industrial times. In a market which is overstocked, as the labour market unquestionably is, what will be the position of the working man if the protection of the Arbitration Court ls removed, and at the same time the strength of trade unionism is diminished, as it undoubtedly will be? The workers will be left without the protection of the law which they now enjoy through the Arbitration Court, and the trade unions will not have their present strength. Therefore, I ask every man in this country who is a trade unionist to consider seriously what may happen if this present arbitration system goes, as it inevitably will if awards are defied and the impartiality of the tribunals is to be challenged on the floor of Parliament. We should be driven back into the position in which we were in the nineties. Hard economic facts then confronted the community - problems which were insoluble at that time. The result was an industrial upheaval, and great fights which were finally determined by a lowering of the living standard of the employees, and the reduction of their wages. If we pursue the course taken by those who led the unfortunate waterside workers into their tragedy, who to-day are leading the. timber workers in the same direction, we shall inevitably be driven back to a position in which only economic facts operate. To lose the protection of the arbitration law would be a tragedy indeed for every working man.
In no sense are the charges levelled against the Government justified. The whole of the Government’s legislation has been framed for the general good of the people. We have taken very definite steps in many directions, and, if you will, drastic action under the Crimes Act. We took that action, not as is suggested, in the interests df any one class, but to protect the overwhelming majority of the people.
We have amended the Arbitration Act to insure that arbitration awards shall be obeyed, and that those who defy them shall be punished. In doing that, we were not passing what can, with any fairness, be described as class legislation, but were introducing measures designed to help the great majority of the people. We took drastic action against the waterside workers when they tried to hold this country to ransom, and that action, again, was taken in the interests of the community at large. There is not the slightest justification for any of the charges contained in the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. The Government has not introduced any class legislation, and its actions have been designed to protect the interests of all sections and to enhance the prosperity of the country and the happiness of the whole people.
Sitting suspended from12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
.- The Prime Minister, in replying to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), attributed the action taken by him in submitting this motion of censure to an instruction he had received from outside. The right honorable gentleman had no ground whatever for that misrepresentation. He must have thrown out the suggestion at a venture. The Leader of the Opposition submitted his motion on his own initiative, so that he might bring under the consideration of the House a matter that requires ventilation. Mr. Culbert, secretary of the Timber Workers’ Union, was not sent from Sydney to convey certain instructions to the Leader of the Opposition. It was the Leader of the Opposition who asked Mr. Culbert to come to Canberra to give him the facts which he, in turn, placed before the House so cogently this morning. In his reply to the honorable member, the Prime Minister depended on agross misrepresentation of the facts.
– The honorable member is not in order in accusing any honorable member of gross misrepresentation.I ask him to withdraw the remark.
– I have no desire to run counter to your ruling, Mr. Speaker; but I submit that the Prime Minister made statements that amounted to misrepresentation, which may have been wilful or otherwise; but whether wilful or not it amounted to gross misrepresentation. In the course of my remarks I propose to refute what he said and I shall endeavour to correct him on many points on which he has misrepresented the position.
The Prime Minister said it would be unwise to discuss the timber workers award because the House did not have the evidence before it to show whether it was just or unjust. How does he justify the action of his Government in reviewing a determination made by the Public Service Arbitrator in regard to certain postal employees in Canberra ? In doing so had Ministers before them more evidence than was placed beforethe House this morning by the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the timber workers’ award? If it becomes a question of examining the evidence available, surely the Leader of the Opposition produced this morning sufficient evidence to enable any man of ordinary intelligence and impartiality to determine whether this particular award was just or unjust.
– The House had no evidence before it.
– The House had evidence before it that the effect of the award was to reduce wages in some cases to the extent of £2 10s. a week and to bring about an alteration in conditions of labour that had become an established custom in a big industry. Surely when we know that an award is going to bring about hardship, distress, and partial starvation, that is sufficient evidence on which to review it. My honorable and learned friend may say that it is not proof ; but, at any rate, it is evidence, and evidence which the Government should take into consideration.
– It was not the evidence on which the award was based.
– I shall deal with that point again.
The right honorable the Prime Ministerquestioned the propriety of the reference made by the Leader of the Opposition to the Crimes Act. He said that the act as amended had been passed for the specific purpose of maintaining the welfare of the people of Australia, and that the new provisions had been inserted in it to bring about the abolition of Bolshevik Sunday schools. Has any one ever heard of the Government taking action under the Crimes Act to close Bolshevik Sunday schools? Have the tutors in these mythical Sunday schools been pursued? As a matter of fact the charge made by the Leader of the Opposition - and it is causing a great deal of agitation in the minds of the people - was that these provisions were inserted in the act for the purpose of repressing and coercing unionists and union officials, and not for the purpose of suppressing Bolshevik Sunday schools. According to the Prime Minister, the class legislation criticized by the Leader of the Opposition - the Crimes Act, the penal provisions of the Arbitration Act, and the Transport Workers Act - had to be placed on the statute-book in order to prevent vital industries from being held up by certain bodies of workers, or as he said, in order to prevent certain organizations from holding the rest of the community to ransom. The right honorable gentleman -is fond of repeating phrases of that kind until they become nauseous platitudes. One hears or reads of them in every speech he makes. He is particularly fond of talking about bodies of workers “ holding the community to ransom.” If there has been anything of that sort-
– Does the honorable member doubt it?
– I do not, and I propose to show that the Prime Minister has conveniently ignored the need for protecting the community against an organization which is holding it to ransom. If any body of people can be charged with holding the community to ransom, it is the coal-owners who have issued notices that unless a certain thing is done, they intend to close their mines on the 2nd March. Is that not holding the community to ransom ? Was not the action of the ship-owners who decided to increase freights to and from Australia an attempt to hold the community to ransom? The Prime Minister may contend that the action of the ship-owners could .not be justified, and as a matter of fact, he has pleaded with them to hold their hands, but has he pleaded with the coal-owners to withdraw the notices dismissing their employees? Has he pointed out to them that their action is likely to cause a stoppage of essential services ? No. His attitude throughout the coal trouble hai been that of a partisan, and, unfortunately, that of a bitter partisan. He sees everything wrong in what the workers do, but can see no wrong in what is done by the employers, and particularly by organized employers. Speaking last week on the debate on the coal-mining industry - and he repeated the sentiment last night - he said -
There is no law in this country to compel a man who is losing money and whose capital is fast disappearing, to continue to carry on his business.
As a statement of naked fact, I do not think any one could quarrel with that. There is certainly no law to prevent a man from closing down his business if he is losing money. But on the other hand, there is a law against a number of men acting in concert, closing down their coal mines, or preventing the running of steamships, or holding up a State like Tasmania to the depredations of organized capital, yet we have never heard the Prime Minister suggest that the law should be put into operation against such people.
– There is no law to prevent a man from working.
– The activities of the present Government, during the past two or three years, have been almost wholly confined to devising means to compel men to work against their will - to work even under the most onerous and tyrannous conditions, and they justify themselves by saying that the men are taking concerted action and, therefore, under the laws passed by this Parliament, are participating in a strike. The gravamen of the charge of the Prime Minister against the unionists is that they are attempting to hold the community to ransom when they refuse to sell their labour for what they consider an inadequate remuneration.
The right honorable gentleman referred to the constitution of the Arbitration Court, and justified the appointment of Judge Lukin on the ground that the Queensland Government had appointed an ex-Premier of the State and an ex-union secretary as members of the Queensland Board of Trade and Arbitration.
– I did not attempt to justify the appointment of Judge Lukin on any ground.
– Then will the right honorable gentleman tell me why he alluded to the appointments in Queensland?
– Simply to show that they had been accepted, and that it had been concluded that men appointed to honorable offices would properly carry out the duties of their office.
– If the right honorable gentleman is now anxious to shift his ground, I am willing to allow him to do so. If it is not his suggestion now that the appointments made in Queensland were partisan appointments, and therefore his Government was also justified in making partisan appointments, I should like to hear what he has to say on the point.
– I certainly did not suggest that.
– Later, I shall show that the right honorable gentleman has meddled with the constitution of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court; that his appointment of partisans to that tribunal is bringing the arbitration law into contempt, and that the present Government’s administration of that law is ruining the principle of arbitration and has brought about the industrial trouble we are now experiencing in Australia.
It was said, by the Prime Minister, that their was nothing in the charge made by the Leader of the Opposition in reference to the penal provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, because the original act, prior to the amendments made by the hill passed last year, provided for penalties. He went further and said that there is no arbitration system in Australia which does not provide for penalties. In saying this, the right honorable gentleman is either misleading himself or attempting to mislead the House.
– Why should not there be penal provisions in the act?
– There have always been penalties in the arbitration law, in order to secure the observance and proper policing of awards, but they bear no comparison with the draconian nature of the penalties contained in the amending legislation introduced by the present Government. It is true that there have been penalties in the Federal Arbitration Act since it was first passed, but so far as they represented unfair, heavy or savage penalties, they long ago became a dead letter. They were never enforced. Can honorable members mention a case in which a heavy penalty such as £1,000 has been sought to be enforced except under the Bruce-Page Government ? As a matter of fact, the penal provisions of the original act became a dead letter. They were allowed to lapse. There are in the Queensland and New Zealand arbitration laws and in the wages board legislation of Victoria, no penal provisions comparable with the provisions of the federal act as it now stands. The amending act of last Parliament set up a new code of penalties. They changed the whole character of our arbitration law, and made it comparable with the Crimes Act, and as a consequence all unionists are treated as quasi criminals. The argument against the recently passed amending act is that it has tended to destroy the character of our previous arbitration legislation, which was based on conciliation, and the promotion of amity and good feeling between the various parties. Are we therefore not justified in saying that the whole character of our arbitration legislation has been altered by this Government?
The Leader, of the Opposition quoted from a decision of the Peace Conference, which was held in Sydney. This was the statement as given to the press by Mr. McDougall -
It was accepted as a principle by both sides at the meetings in Sydney, that industrial legislation is the most important matter for both employers and employed at the present juncture. Both sides agreed that, as a matter of principle, the introduction of penal clauses in industrial legislation was not conducive to peace.
What inspired that? Was there any reason for it? Was it carried because an arbitration act was introduced in 1904 that contained penal provisions, or because laws were passed in Queensland and in Victoria that provided penalties for breaches of awards? No. It was passed because it was recognized that recent laws introduced by this Government are destroying the possibility of peace in industry.
– Then the motion submitted by the Opposition is very badly framed.
– The motion does go very far, but it represents the considered view of both sides to that conference.
– It was defiance of the law that rendered this legislation necessary.
– Does the honorable member say that this legislation is in defiance of the law of the country?
– Certainly not. The honorable member misrepresents me.
– The gentlemen who attended the Peace Conference saw the situation in the light in which it is seen by honorable members of the Opposition to-day in putting forward this resolution. They realized that the character of the law has been changed, and that the wrong-headed policy of this Government in devising and administering industrial legislation is largely responsible for the destruction of the harmony in industry which should, and did exist in Australia, until it was broken down by the present Ministry. Had the system of arbitration broken down just prior to the introduction of these repressive laws by the Bruce-Page Government ? Had chaos been brought about in industry so as to justify the Prime Minister in coming along with a new code of criminal laws to enforce something approaching decent conditions, and peace and harmony in industry? “Was that the position? The Prime Minister, particularly when on the hustings prior to the Federal elections of 1925 and 1928, urged that it was; but there was not a tittle of justification for his statement or for the attitude he then took up. The Prime Minister himself is the very worst disturber of peace in industry that we have ever had in this country. Had he not been in power during the last five years, we should be enjoying a greater measure of peace than we have to-day.
– It is easy to make such a statement.
– Let me reason with honorable members opposite, if they are capable of reasoning on this question. I asked whether arbitration had broken down prior to the legislation introduced by this Government. I find from an examination of the statistics contained in the Commonwealth Year-Booh, that in 1913 there were 575 Federal and State industrial awards and 401 industrial agreements operating in Australia. In 1922 there were 1,042 awards and 780 industrial agreements, while in 1927 there were 1,335 industrial awards and 713 agreements in operation. At the beginning of 1927 there were 740,000 unionists working peaceably under awards. When the Crimes Act Amendment Bill was introduced there were about 700,000 unionists working amicably under awards, while there were over 700,000 unionists working under awards before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act was altered in such an evil fashion last year. There were 740,000 unionists working under awards before the Transport Workers Bill was brought down. That indicates that fully 90 per cent, of the unionists of this country accepted arbitration as a principle for the regulation of industrial conditions, and in fact were peaceably working under industrial awards.. It is true that there were sporadic outbreaks of strikes or industrial disputes, and that some unions even refused to recognize awards, but that did not justify the destruction of the system of arbitration or the extreme action taken by the Government in placing under a disability nearly three quarters of a million of unionists who were working peaceably under their awards. Can any one claim with reason that, because there have been spasmodic outbreaks on the waterfront and elsewhere, the whole body of the unionists of Australia should be brought under this coercive and repressive legislation, and have their liberties whittled down or taken from them?
– Such men are not affected.
– They are affected. When the honorable member makes such a statement, he shows either that he has not studied the subject or is too prejudiced to give an independent judgment upon it.
The Prime Minister claimed that the industrial situation in Australia was such that it was almost impossible to carry on, and that the resultant hardship to the community was worse here than in Great Britain or the United States of America. The right honorable gentleman unconscionably twisted the truth with regard to the position in Australia. He endeavoured to make it appear that Australia was being torn by dissension as the result of the machinations of Bolsheviks, Communists and extremists who, he alleged, rule the industrial unions of Australia and make it impossible to carry on business. The Attorney-General has been just as great an offender as the Prime Minister in this respect, to the serious detriment of Australia’s reputation abroad. An examination of the statistics for the last four years on the subject is illuminating. For that period, the average number of men * concerned in disputes for each year was 180,000 in Australia, 1,600,000 in Great Britain, and more than 2,000,000 in the United States of America. At the moment, I cannot say exactly how the proportion works out for each country.
– That is the important point.
– I believe that an analysis of the figures will show that the proportion of men concerned in disputes in Australia is not greater than it is in Great Britain. The population of Great Britain is 43,000,000 as against 6,200,000 in Australia. Do honorable members suggest that that is not a cogent argument!
– Are those figures for the last four years ?
– Those are the approximate averages per year for fouryear period 1924-1927. The figures relating to Australia are taken from the Official Year-Booh of the Commonwealth of Australia, and those for Great Britain from the Labour Year-Book.
– And they include the general strike in Great Britain.
– I do not know whether the honorable member wishes to contend that because the general strike in England inflated those figures, therefore the exclusion of the returns relating to that great industrial upheaval would show that there has been peace in England ! My figures for the United States of America are taken from the American Labour Year-Book, and are for the last four years for which statistics are available. The argument that I am developing is that it is obvious to the average individual that although a large number of men have been concerned in industrial disputes, whether brought on by themselves or forced on them by employers, the proportion concerned in this country does not appear to be greater than that involved in industrial disputes in Great Britain or in the United States of America.
– Not even during the life of this Government, which has been in office during the whole of that period !
– The Prime Minister contended that Australia has been torn by industrial dissension because of the policy of its labour or union leaders. Has the Treasurer been unable to follow my argument, or is he merely trying to wriggle out of the difficulty? He joined with the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral in, declaring that industrial conditions in Australia were so deplorable that it was almost impossible to carry on business and that no man’s investments were safe because of the imaginary action of the union leaders in fomenting trouble? Because of these things, they said, it was necessary as a corrective, to introduce repressive legislation of a coercive nature, which would make it impossible for the workers to strike. That was the argument to which I was referring. My contention is that industrial unrest in Australia is not worse than it is in other civilized countries, but if the Treasurer is interested enough to pursue the comparison further, and wishes to know what has been the experience during the regime of this Government, he will find that the results tell very badly against the Bruce-Page administration.
– I shall incorporate the figures in Ilansard this afternoon.
– I have quoted authentic figures from the Year-Boohs of the respective countries, and they cannot be upset unless the honorable member does what he has so frequently done - attempts to manipulate and fake the figures.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Dalley to withdraw the statement that the Treasurer manipulates and fakes figures.
– I withdraw the term “ fake “ if it is considered offensive, but one cannot fail to recall that the Treasurer is not meticulously careful in replying to arguments and questions. I venture to suggest that the very unenviable reputation the honorable gentleman has in this Parliament is because of that and I warn him that his reputation is not likely to be enhanced if he continues to mishandle the truth.
– I object to that remark.
– Order ! The honorable member for Dalley must realize that it is unparliamentary to accuse the honorable gentleman, or any honorable member, of mishandling the truth.
– May I say that he carelessly handles the truth?
– On a point of order, I desire to suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that the honorable member for Dalley is en,tirely out of order ! As a matter of fact it was the Treasurer who accused the Prime Minister when he was Treasurer in a previous administration of being a “ figure faker.”
– Evidently the Treasurer intends to draw a comparison between the industrial conditions prevailing in Australia and elsewhere.
As an illustration of the futility of the industrial legislation of this Government I shall quote an interesting table taken from the official Commonwealth YearBooh, relating to the number of working days which were lost during the four years ending 1927.
Early in his career as Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce outlined a policy to promote industrial peace in Australia. He claimed that he felt that he had to pass repressive measures that would prevent unionists from ignoring awards or taking any other action to flout the law of the country. The whole body of his legislative policy has, professedly, been largely directed to bringing about peace in industry. The figures which I shall quote indicate the success or otherwise of his efforts. The number of working days lost as a result of industrial disputes during the years 1924-27 are as follow: -
– It is time that something was done about it.
– Has not the right honorable gentleman already done “ something about it ? “ The more he attempts to do the worse the situation becomes. What is necessary is that something should be done to prevent the placing of further coercive legislation upon our statute-book. Such legislation does not in any way tend to improve the industrial conditions of Australia, or to promote harmony in industry.
I shall, for a moment, traverse, the attitude of this Government generally towards the industrial situation. Has it not always been considered a wise policy for a government when there has been a clash between employers and employees in any industry in any country, to hold the scales of justice evenly, and not to take sides unless one side is evidently in the right and the other in the wrong? Generally speaking, where there is a clash between industrial forces, the Government should assume a neutral attitude, using its power and influence to mediate at the right time for the settle-, ment of the dispute. That is what governments in Australia have done in the past. But this Government has abandoned that policy. What is involved in these industrial clashes? Is it only academic questions that have to be threshed out between the unions and the organizations of employers? No. There is always something fundamental at stake* when serious clashes take place in Australia, or in any other country. These grave industrial disturbances often .involve essentials of the class struggle, and it does no good to ignore the fact that at times they cause much bitter feeling. One side strives for the maintenance of standards of living, for proper remuneration for labour, for the right and the liberty to enjoy a fair share of happiness and prosperity, and the other side is usually fighting for what it considers a fair return from its capital and investments. Because these things are fundamental, or are so regarded, bitterness and hatred often arise, and the struggle often becomes a matter of life and death to the workers. If the Government, when such a conflict of interests occurs, leans towards capitalism, and uses its legislative and administrative power against those who are fighting for life and liberty, there) is bound to be bitter feeling, such as we have experienced recently. That is the present position in Australia. This Government has been guilty of taking sides in a flagrant way in an elemental struggle arising out of the system under which people live in this and other countries. If we examine the processes by which industrial disputes are adjudicated, or the decisions of the industrial tribunal, we find that the clash of interests frequently causes disappointment and bitter resentment as the result of the decisions. But the Prime Minister asks the people to accept these decisions in a sportsmanlike manner. He says that they are made under the laws of the land, and must be accepted, whether right or wrong; and that we have an arbitrator whose decision must be final. He does not, however, apply that dictum to the recent award of the Public Service Arbitrator in the case of the postal employees.
But are the decisions of the Arbitration Court to be likened to the decisions of an umpire on the cricket field or of the chairman who presides over a debate on some academic question? Certainly not. On the cricket field we accept the word of the umpire whether right or wrong. That is sportsmanship. But the Attorney-General who so far as I have been able to discover, has little of the milk of human kindness in him, and hardly a visible spark of humanity -
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks must not be offensive to another honorable member.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether he has considered what must be the feelings of the 20,000 workers who may be injuriously affected by a decision of the Arbitration Court, and think that a gross injustice has been done to them. Their status in life, the comfort of their wives and children, their own leisure and happiness, and even the quantity and quality of their food and clothing are all things that may be affected by an adverse award. Does the honorable gentleman consider that that decision, affecting such fundamental matters, is on all-fours with the decision of an umpire on a cricket field? Does he think that the worker must suffer what he considers gross injustice under an award of the Arbitration Court, and not say a word about it until perhaps five years hence, when his union may have an opportunity of applying for a revision of the award? Does he say that a worker must be content to accept, in a sportsmanlike way, any award that may be given, no matter how it affects him, or how unjust it may seem to him? If an award takes away from a worker 25s. a week and increases his working hours by four a week - or if under it he, being a married man, is deprived of his employment in favour of a youth whose wages are less - does the AttorneyGeneral say that he should accept that decision as a batsman would accept the decision of an umpire on a cricket field? Is that the kind of argument he would apply in a case like this? Parliament has the right to examine any of the decisions of the Arbitration Court. If under our arbitration laws, we have decisions such as that recently given in the timber workers’ case, then arbitration as a principle is doomed to failure in Australia. I hope that arbitration, will persist; that it will live long to benefit industry and all concerned in it. But it cannot long survive under the policy of this Government.
The Prime Minister very superficially recalled, this morning, the history of industrial arbitration, in Australia. I wonder if he has really studied the subject, or has he merely accepted casually some one else’s comments. During the struggles of the early “ nineties “ - I do not know whether the Prime Minister knows anything about this - the workers really had no rights and unionists were entitled to little protection in the eyes of the law. Employers fought for what they called freedom of contract, freedom to destroy unions, and to take away the liberty of the worker. Although the organized employers then fought for what they considered to be absolute rights, no honest or rational man would, to-day, be justified in upholding their standards. It was the struggles that took place 40 years ago that led to the introduction or arbitration and conciliation laws. The authors of arbitration, or at least some of them, are still living. Among those who first devised the law, and those who distinguished themselves in administering it were Mr. B. R. Wise, Mr. Justice Higgins, Mr. Richard Seddon, of New Zealand, and Mr. Justice Macaulay, of Queensland. I could name many others; but those distinguished gentlemen stood for all that was best in arbitration. Did they stand for arbitration as it is administered to-day by the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth? Their conception of arbitration was as different from his as anything .possibly could be! Those men were inspired by a love of their fellows; they had sympathy .with the workers. They recognized the basic human rights which the Attorney-General would deny to the workers. They laid it down that, in fixing the rates and conditions of work, the court had to consider the worker as a human being in a civilized community, who was entitled to a wage sufficient to keep himself in decency and comfort, having regard to the standard of life applicable to the whole community. Those principles have been undermined by the recent legislation of this Government. They are being absolutely slaughtered by the AttorneyGeneral. How can those high objectives be attained, when a judge, is expected to take into account the economic conditions, or the probable economic effect, of an award upon industry? When a concern is struggling along, making no profit, like some of our mines and .other hitdustries in times of depression, is the court justified in reducing by 50 per cent, the wages of the men employed in it, and undermining their hard-won conditions on the ground that the economic effect of its award on the industry warranted such action? None of the authors or champions of arbitration would justify that narrow interpretation of the arbitration principle.
– What would the honorable member do in a case like that?
– I know what has been done in such a case. Take the Hampton-Cloncurry copper mines in the north-west of Queensland. In 1922 a severe slump took place in the copper market, and the price of copper dropped in a few months from £110 to £68 a ton. The mines closed down, because they could not carry on at a profit. Does the honorable member suggest that,’ to enable those mines to carry on, the workers’ wages should have been reduced, and their conditions made worse? That would not have been right. The Arbitration Court has attempted to establish a certain standard of living, and we must endeavour to maintain that standard, despite the fact that an occasional industry may have to close down because it cannot compete with similar industries either here or overseas.
– In that case what would become of the workers in the industry concerned ?
– They would be absorbed by other industries. Does the honorable member still contend that when prices slump, or where a depression in industry takes place, we should destroy the industrial conditions in that industry ?
– That is better for the men than idleness.
– I commend to the honorable member, and other honorable “members interested in this debate, the written judgments of Mr. Justice Higgins and Mr. Justice Macaulay, both of whom were noted as authoritative, impartial, and painstaking presidents of their respective tribunals. If honorable members opposite will read those carefullyreasoned judgments, in which are laid down the basis of human rights in such matters they will in many instances form an opinion quite different from that which they now hold in regard to arbitration. Compare these judgments with the judgment of Judge Lukin in the timber workers’ case, which, to put it mildly, is a most inhumane document. No attempt has been made by the judge to enter into the feelings of the workers, or to consider them. The judge took into account only one thing, and that is really a myth - the statement that the timber companies are earning only 2.2 per cent, upon their invested capital. That is the basis of the award, and its object is to increase the 2.2 per cent, to 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, which, in the judge’s opinion, is the proper return for an investment of the kind. The wage-earners’ wages and conditions are to be slaughtered in order to protect profits. That is the gist of that award, and it explains the resentment which is felt to-day in the timber industry: It is, however, only a replica of what exists in other industries; it is the origin of the fear that exists in the minds of the workers of Australia that their conditions are being undermined as a result of what might be described as a political conspiracy instituted by the organized employers of Australia to reduce wages, extend the hours of working and otherwise encroach upon the conditions of the workers of this country.
It may be Only a coincidence that the general offensive made by the organized employers against the wages and conditions of the workers during the past two years was concurrent with the passage through this Parliament of the most coercive and repressive laws which have ever come before it for consideration. But the coincidence seems even more strange when we consider how the personnel of the Arbitration Court was dismissed on one pretext or another two or three years ago and another personnel created, and reflect that one of those new judges has shown not the slightest tittle of human understanding or sympathy with the workers but has, on the contrary, treated them brutally.
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the word “ brutally.” To suggest that any judge would treat any person brutally is to make a grave reflection on the judiciary.
– I defer to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and withdraw the word “ brutally. “ The award of that judge can only be construed as unjust; indeed it is being so construed by the workers who are refusing to abide by it. The law under which that award was made is itself repressive; the penalties provided therein are savage, and the administration of the award made by the tribunal appointed under it has certainly been very unfair and burdensome to the workers.
The judge seemed- to place great emphasis on the remuneration payable to capital in the timber trade - said to be 2.2 per cent. The Leader of the Opposition this morning, pointed out that those figures had not been examined; that the union officials had no opportunity of scrutinizing them, for when they asked to see the accounts the judge said, “ I have seen the figures.” No further discussion was allowed. It is well known that because of the price-war in the wholesale timber trade, especially in relation to imported timbers, there has been a great reduction in the profitearning capacity of many persons engaged in that trade. When the great war broke out, 45 companies and large firms comprised the Sydney and Suburban Timber Merchants’ Association. During the war the timber industry earned huge profits, with the result that the number of timber companies was increased and last year the association comprised 95 members. The keenness of the competition between those firms prevented some of them from obtaining a fair return on the capital invested in the industry. Apparently the court in seeking a remedy for the diminution of profits, could find only one solution, namely, that the timber merchants should recoup themselves at the expense of the workers engaged in the industry. One timber merchant, writing to the Labour Daily on the 30th January, 1929, made the position clear. He wrote -
It is well known that the timber combine is trying every known method to out the small man.’ . . . Their idea is to try and cut down their . . . overhead expenses at the cost of the worker, so that they can have a better go at the small man. The worker is to be the goat. . . . Anyway, my firm is sticking to the old 44 hours, and we do not intend to reduce our men’s wages.
– Who wrote that letter ?
– It was written by Mr. E. B. Warren, Managing Director of Warren Bros., timber merchants of Newtown, New South Wales. It is not practicable at this juncture to go into the details of the award; the Leader of the Opposition this morning gave some of the patent facts and explained the changed conditions under it. Honorable members will agree that he, at least, made out a prima facie case for the timber workers, who are refusing to work under the award - a case that ought to be answered.
I have endeavoured to’ show that the workers are suffering an organized onslaught on their conditions. Sir Hugo Hirst, who came to Australia at the special invitation of the Prime Minister is reported to have said on his return to England that in Australia some employers talk of starving labour into submission. It is extraordinary that a gentleman like Sir Hugo Hirst should have- arrived at that conclusion if there was no foundation for it. Unfortunately, there is strong evidence to support his conclusion. The Prime Minister seems to deal with industrial questions in an altogether detached way. He appears to be concerned only with coldly upholding and enforcing the law, irrespective pf who may be helped or injured. He seems to be incapable of understanding the point of view of the workers, although they constitute the largest section of the community. The right honorable gentleman has deceived himself if what he says in this chamber are his sincere opinions - under the Standing Orders I am not permitted to doubt the sincerity of his opinions as expressed here. He has probobaly never heard of the biblical injunction : “ Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. “ Every repressive measure that he and his confreres have introduced, is an infringement of that injunction. They have endeavoured to take away from the worker his basic rights and to place him under the control of oppressive laws and a tyrannical court. The Prime Minister can adopt a very smug complacency in considering these things, because he never comes in contact with the misery and degradation that exist among workers where tyranny prevails. Apparently, he can consider the conditions in the timber industry to-day without losing any sleep, or being in any way upset. What does it matter to him that 5,000 workers might be thrown out of employment to make provision for youths who will be paid half the award rates, that the workers toil an extra four hours a week, or that their wives and children are half starved and semi-clothed?
– It concerns the Prime Minister as much as it concerns the honorable member.
– The Prime Minister has given no evidence of his concern. If he had an ordinary human understanding of the suffering of the workers when wages are cut down and their conditions of living reduced, he would adopt a different attitude. There is no virtue in maintaining this placidity, this smug complacence, when he has a majority behind him and has not to submit to the conditions he imposes on others. He prefers to treat the workers of the country as chattels, dumb driven cattle, unworthy of the same consideration that is given to employers, particularly ship-owners and coal barons.
I ask the right honorable gentleman s whether he thinks that in his six years as Prime Minister, he has done anything to justify his memory being revered in the years to come. For six years he has been continuously in office with an ample majority behind him. What record has he to show?
– It is as good as that of the honorable member.
– If the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) wishes to comment on my record, he will have an opportunity to do so. I am now referring to the record of the Prime Minister - a record of repressive and coercive industrial laws, as evidenced by those sections of the Crimes Act that apply to unionists, the Arbitration Act Amendment Bill1, the Transport Workers Act and the regulations thereunder, and his packing of the arbitration bench. What record has he in his favour? To what solitary measure can he point in support of his claim to be a statesman? What measure has been introduced that will be remembered as a monument to the credit of the BrucePage Government? There is not one. This Parliament has been used by the Prime Minister to give effect to the dictates of the Employers’ Federation; its time has been, taken up, its powers utilized, and its authority subjected to the wishes of the employers of Australia. When the right honorable gentleman steps down from his official position and retires into either the cool shades of opposition or private life, the memory of his achievements will inspire nothing but contempt for the laws he introduced as well as for the way in which he administered them.
– The Government has no need to attempt any further reply to the motion moved this morning by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). Even were the poverty of his arguments not in themselves a sufficient vindication of the Government the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has himself supplied a complete answer to the charges of his leader. He showed that there was less industrial dislocation in Australia during the last four years than in either Great Britain or the United States of America, and, despite the sneer of the honorable member at my use of statistics, the publications of the Statist prove beyond doubt that during the regime of the present Government there has been greater industrial contentment than during either of the five-year periods which preceded it. On page 191 of the Industrial Gazette for 1928 it is shown that between 1914 and 1918 1,123,975 working days were lost in Australia through industrial disputes. In New South Wales, from 1919 to 1923, the average number of days lost per annum was 1,315,000. In the four years from 1924 to 1927 the average number of days lost was 950,000, or a decrease of 400,000 compared with the previous five years; while, for the year 1927 alone, the figure waB 841,000- over 100,000 less than the average for the whole period. I shall prove later that the average number of days lost in those industries which are affected by the amended arbitration laws of the Commonwealth has declined continuously, while in those industries that have not been so affected - especially the coal-mining industry - there has been an increase. Therefore, the comparison favours the legislation of this Government much more than appears on the surface. I shall deal later with the statements of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and the Deputy Leader (Mr. Theodore), in regard to dislocation of industry, class legislation, and the suggested attack on the foundation of the arbitration system, and shall prove conclusively, from statements made by Labour men, even by the honorable member for Dalley himself, and by figures that cannot be disproved, that every one of the charges made against the Government is absolutely baseless and unwarranted.
I wish, first, to direct attention to the rebellion that has broken out in the ranks of the timber workers against an award of the Arbitration Court. Seven years ago, when the hours of those who worked in country timber mills were lengthened from 44 to 48, there was no talk of rebellion; yet now we have the spectacle of honorable members opposite saying, “Because you have dared to interfere with the conditions of the pampered darlings who can hang round the Trades Hall, and elect the extremists who control the marionettes that are sent to this House-
– Order ! The Treasurer must not describe honorable members of the Opposition as “ marionettes.”
– I withdraw the expression if it is unparliamentary. But I stress the fact that, when the men working in country timber mills, who do not enjoy many of the conveniences of modern civilization, had their hours lengthened, the attempt was not made to overturn the system of compulsory arbitration. Those men were allowed to suffer ; but now, when the men who work in the cities are asked to work the same number of hours as the country man has been working, it is thought necessary to take drastic action. That is merely hypocrisy, and is but another illustration of the political stunting that has been engaged in during the last four years in connexion with, not only the industrial legislation of the Government, but also its entire programme. Last year, when the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) brought down an amending arbitration measure, the Australasian Council of Trade Unions said, “ We shall take a referendum of all the unions of Australia to decide whether they will withdraw from the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and boycott it.” What happened? Not one referendum was taken, and not a single union withdrew from the court, or even attempted to do so. The only action taken has been taken since the present strike began. I do not believe that the rank and file of the timber workers wish to carry on this fight. I represent a greater number of timber workers than any other honorable member of this House. They are country timber workers, who, during the last seven years, have been compelled to work 48 hours a week without a protest from honorable members opposite. No attempt was made to withdraw from the court until the latest award was issued; but it has since been suggested that the timber workers and the carters and draymen should withdraw.
Just before an election is to be held honorable members who sit opposite tour the country professing a belief in the principle of compulsory arbitration. They even give it lip service in this House. But what is their attitude, later, when an award affects adversely any union that is politically strong? Then, despite the fact that 600,000 or 700,000 unionists may be working amicably under awards of the court, they suddenly decide to stand behind 10 or 15 thousand unionists who are politically powerful and more than usually troublesome, and assist them in their defiance of the laws of this country. There is no surer way to either undermine or destroy the arbitration system than to criticize continually the awards of the Arbitration Court in this Parliament. That court was established for the purpose of hearing industrial claims quite apart from considerations of party politics, and in a detached atmosphere. But what do we find ? When awards are promulgated after a most exhaustive investigation by the judges, in the course of which both the employees and the em- ployers are given the opportunity to put their case as fully as possible, we are asked to express disapproval of those decisions.
The Leader of the Opposition has speciously suggested that every clause in the timber workers’ award is either detrimental to the employees or not in their favour. I have here a condensation of the award, and I have also read it in extenso. In many instances the conditions of the men have remained the same as before and in others have been improved. Take the question of the transport of employees. There was no provision in the 1923 award; but the present award provides that, where means of transport to the bush or bush saw-mills are provided by the employer on the termination of service of an employee, that employee, his family, and his goods and chattels shall be transported free of charge by the employer. Provision has also been made for piece-work, and the rates fixed must enable an employee to earn, during the normal hours of duty, 10 per cent, above the minimum rate for the class of work in which he is engaged. Considerable stress has been laid upon the fact that one class of employee will receive 3s. a day less than he was paid previously; but no mention has been made of the fact that, in practically every other instance, the wages are maintained at the existing level, and in at least one case an increase has been granted. The wage of the shaper machinist under the old award was £1 ls., and it has not been altered. The boults carver and the general joiner occupy a similar position. The moulding machinist has been reduced from £1 ls.’ to 18s. His is the case referred to by the Leader of the Opposition. But, on the other hand, the wage of the timber bender has been increased from 9s. to 10s. The object of the court was to enable the timber industry to get on its feet, and increase the amount of employment it could provide. The plight of the industry in the last few years, especially in New South Wales since certain legislation was passed by the Lang Government, has been the most deplorable in its history. What will be the effect of this award, which says that the men in the cities shall work the same number of hours as are worked by the men in the country? It will be to make timber cheaper, reduce the cost of houses, and enable the workmen to acquire their own homes more readily. Rents will come down, the cost of production generally will be reduced, employment will be increased because there will be greater activity in the construction of houses, and more use will be made of the local product. Yet, honorable members opposite would have this House believe that the effect must be unexampled calamity. They adopt a theatrical pose, and seemingly are horrified to think that there should be a reduction of wages or a lengthening of hours. That that is merely a pose is proved by the record of the honorable member for Dalley when he was Premier of Queensland. In 1922 the Government of which he was the head passed a salaries act, which reduced by 5 per cent, all salaries over £300 a year. All automatic increases were also stopped at the same time. The honorable gentleman and his colleagues went to the Arbitration Court and secured the reduction of the basic wage from £4 5s. to £4 a week. Yet at the same time they raised the salaries of members of the Queensland Parliament from £300 to £500 a year! Honorable members opposite have to adopt this pose, because they have been, driven to it during the past week by men outside, who have told them that it is time they made another demonstration. It ie well to remember that the legislation passed by this Government and now condemned by the Opposition has been pronounced upon by the people of Australia on two occasions. In 1925, in response to a direct challenge by the Opposition, we went to the country on the issue whether the industrial legislation of the Government was in the best interests of the people of Australia, and were returned with an overwhelming majority.. Only last year we again submitted our legislation to the verdict of the people, and were returned with a definite majority.
Let us examine the legislation itself, so as to see if there is any justification for the charge of honorable members opposite that it is class legislation, and that it is responsible for the present bitterness. Four measures are said to be responsible for the existing position, of which three are the Crimes Act, the amending Arbitration Act, and the Transport Workers Act. It will be found that the present bitterness is not due to that legislation, but to the manner in which it has been misrepresented throughout the country by honorable members opposite. -
When the Crimes Bill of 1926 was under discussion ‘ in committee, certain clauses, particularly clauses 30a to 30h, which relate to unlawful associations, were passed on the voices after a debate which lasted only fifteen or twenty minutes. Those provisions were agreed to almost unanimously, no division being called for. Clause 30a, which dealt with vital services, was strongly opposed by the Labour party. That legislation has since been endorsed by the people, though there have been no prosecutions under the section. But under section 30k of the Crimes Act, action was taken in connexion with Brown and Carrigan to enforce the law to enable the lighthouses services of the country to be carried on. That particular section is concerned with acts of violence, and was enacted to prevent any person from obstructing and intimidating by violence those who desire to work in accordance with the laws of the land. Whatever honorable members opposite may say to the contrary, I confidently assert that a majority of the people, including many trade uniouists, are in favour of this legislation.
I now wish to deal with the amending Arbitration Act, concerning which there has been a campaign of misrepresentation. The amending Arbitration Act of 1926 provided for the appointment of conciliation commissioners, which had long .been desired by the “ unionists, and asked for by their executives. It also provided for the appointment of arbitration judges for life, which had repeatedly been asked for by the unions. There has been a campaign of misrepresentation concerning the penalties imposed by the amending Arbitration Act of 1928, but as every one knows, there was no increase in the penalties provided. The maximum penalty of £1,000 which is attached to the committal of one offence was not provided for in the amending act of 1928. but had been in force for some time before that act was passed, in fact, since 1904. A similar penalty is in the New South Wales act, and although the Labour party has been in. office in both the Commonwealth and the State, no effort has been made to remove it from the statute-book. On the other hand, provision is made in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the amending act for the reduction of penalties. Honorable members opposite have not mentioned that. It is true that the amending measure made it possible to enforce the original act in cases in which its provisions were difficult to enforce. It has been suggested to-day that the penalties provided in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act should be abolished. A resolution passed at an industrial peace conference has been read in the House. Eighteen months before that resolution was passed, the Attorney-General convened a conference of union executives, and informed them that if penalties applicable to employees were withdrawn, those applicable to employers would also have to be repealed. The Attorney-General asked the executive of the unions to express an opinion on this matter, and to give an indication in writing of their attitude on this question. Although that request was made in September, 1927 - eighteen months ago - a reply has not yet been received. If we did not provide penalties, compulsory arbitration would be useless; there would be no means of enforcing an award. In the amending measure to which I have referred, there are other provisions which should benefit the workers and enable the Arbitration Court to function more expeditiously and more cheaply than has been the case in the past. The measure also deals with representative “orders, conflicts between Federal and State jurisdiction, awards for industries as a whole, the appointment of conciliation committees and for the holding of a secret ballot - all provisions in the interests of the unionists themselves. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Labour party was in favour of the secret ballot; but honorable members will recall that, on Wednesday last, numerous questions were asked which suggested that every effort will be made to prevent a secret ballot from being held in the timber workers’ case. When the opportunity for it is provided they run away like wild horses. But is it not right that endeavours should be made to ascertain the views of the men by holding a secret ballot? I have referred briefly to the main provisions of the Arbitration Act. Honorable members opposite have refrained from referring to the benefits which the measure confers upon trade unionists generally. They have confined their attention to one or two phases of this legislation, and have misrepresented the penal sections.
The Transport Workers Act was a definite issue during the last elections, as a strike was proceeding at. the time. There is no question as to the opinion of the majority of the people regarding it; but as the subject has been fully dealt with by the Prime Minister, there is no occasion for me to discuss it further.
Finally, I wish to refer to the dislocacation of industry. On page 165 of the New South Wales Industrial Gazette, it is shown that in 1921 the number of working days lost in the mining industries was 395,000, whereas in 1927 the number lost was 683,000. During that time there had been no alteration of the Commonwealth law that dealt with mining awards or of the personnel of the industrial peace tribunal, yet the number of days actually lost was nearly doubled in all industries other than mining where the arbitration law had been altered by this Government, the number of working days lost in 1921 was 302,000, and in 1927, 215,000, or practically 100,000 less. These are figures which cannot be disputed or manipulated in any way, even by honorable members opposite.
Regarding arbitration generally, the present system provides for dissatisfied parties submitting their cases to an independent arbitrator, whose decisions they must obey. It is worth while recalling the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), who is the only member of the Opposition who has ever held the responsible position of leader of a government or a Minister of the Crown. He, when Premier of Queensland, took a definite stand in connexion with a measure which provided the manner in which awards should be made. On that occasion he said that in fixing an award it was necessary to take into consideration the prosperity of the industry and the efficiency of the workers.
– When was that?
– That was a statement made by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) in 1916, when Premier of Queensland. Yet because a similar provision is incorporated in section 25a of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act, it is said that this Government is doing something which will destroy the basis of arbitration, and prejudice the conditions of living in Australia. The provision in our act relating to the basic wage, which is almost identical with that in the Queensland act, reads - “ 25d. The court shall, before making any award or certifying any agreement, and in proceedings for the variation or cancellation of an award or agreement, take into consideration the probable economic effect of the agreement or award in relation to the community in general and the probable economic effect thereof upon the industry or industries concerned. . . .
Provided that this section shall not affect the practice of the court in fixing the basic wage.”
I think I have completely answered the charges of the honorable member for Dalley that honorable members on this side are attempting to worsen the conditions in industry. He drew a pitiful picture of what is likely to happen in certain mining districts, but such conditions actually existed in certain parts of Queensland during his regime. There is no need to manipulate figures to show that such is the case ; it is beyond dispute. I have already referred to the action taken by the honorable member for Dalley in connexion with the Public Service, when, in introducing an Arbitration Act, he was forced to take cognizance of economic facts. He has done these things, and yet he attacks others who attempt to do them. Surely there is no need to say anything more. The honorable member’s charges have been completely answered.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the question be now put.
– I move -
That the honorable member be not further heard.
Question - That the question be now put - put. The House divided.
Majority . . 8
In division. -
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the motion (Mr. Scullin’s) be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Tuesday next at 3 p.m.
Debate on Industrial Situation : Application of the Closure - Influenza Epidemic - Leavefrom Compulsory Training Camp - Auditor-General’s Report.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) agreed to -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I protest against what I consider to be a gross abuse of the privileges of this representative House during the discussion on the motion submitted to-day by the Leader of the Opposition.
– The honorable member must not reflect upon a decision of the House.
– I refer to the brutal application of the “gag.”
– Order ! I call upon the honorable member to withdraw the word “ brutal.” It is not a proper term to apply to any proceeding in the House.
– Then I employ the term “ unconscionable.”
– I have called upon the honorable member to withdraw the word “brutal.”
– In what way does it reflect upon a decision of the House, or in what respect is it a departure from legitimate criticism?
– The honorable member has used a word which cannot properly be applied to any proceeding in the House, and I ask him to withdraw it.
– I withdraw “ brutal,” and substitute “ unconscionable.” A fortnight ago the Prime Minister urged honorable members on this side to participate in the debate on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply, and said, in effect, “ For God’s sake, talk!”; but when an issue of grave importance, such as the crisis in the timber industry, is under consideration, he applies the “ gag.”
– At one time the Prime Minister urges honorable members of the Opposition to speak, as he did during the AddressinReply debate, but when honorable members on this side are anxious to address the House on a momentous matter, the “gag “ is resorted to. I am glad the Minister for Health (Sir Neville Howse) is in the chamber. I do not wish to be unduly critical, but it seems to me that he has treated a most serious subject in a cavalier fashion. I refer to the epidemic of influenza which is causing such ravages in Great Britain. I want to know if the Minister is aware that, because of information received from the other side of the world, the medical profession and nurses of Victoria are being organized and suitable institutions surveyed so that if that dread disease reaches Australia, adequate provision will be made to prevent its spread. As a sensible member of the community, I believe in exercising every reasonable precaution to prevent the ravages of any disease, and I want to know if the Minister will display his utmost alertness and co-operate with the State medical authorities in order to place Australia in a proper state of preparedness to repel any invasion of this particular disease. According to the cable news appearing in the Melbourne newspapers, the death-rate in Leeds last week was greater than it was during the epidemic of 1918.
Mr.SCULLIN (Yarra) [4.2].- On the loth inst. there died in Melbourne the grandfather of a corporal who was in camp at Seymour. The corporal made application to the commanding officer for the afternoon off in order that he might attend the funeral, but his application was not granted. I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence if it is in the power of the commanding officer to grant permission in such circumstances and, if so, why permission was not granted in this case.If the regulations do not permit of leave being granted in such cases, I ask the Minister to see that they are amended to enable it to be done.
– I can inform the honorable member that the officer in command of a camp has authority to grant leave of absence. I shall ascertain why leave was refused in the instance referred to by the honorable member.
. - Last week when the honorable member for Maribyrnong brought under my notice the possibility of an outbreak of influenza in Australia, I made inquiries and submitted to this House a carefully-considered report which the honorable member will find in Hansard. In that report, I expressed my pleasure at learning that the epidemic, so far as Australia is concerned, was a very mild one, and that it had been practically non-existent since the end of October. I also stated that the outbreak in England was of a very mild character. It is true there has been an access of deaths, but it is utterly ridiculous to compare the present outbreak with the epidemic of 1918. It is not of the same type and is probably only one of those cases of recrudescence which are annually experienced.
– I trust the Minister will not take it too lightly.
– I have conferred with the Minister for Health in Victoria and communicated with the Ministers for Health in the other States. Every step will be taken to do as the honorable members desires, but it ought to be satisfactory to the honorable member to recognize, as I said at the end of my report last week, that there has hitherto been no relationship between the outbreak in Great Britain and the influenza we are experiencing in Australia.
.- During the discussion on a matter which came before the chamber at an early hour of the day, there was a reference to some observations made in the course of the report of the Auditor-General on the finances.
– On the motion for the adjournment of the House, the honorable member cannot continue a debate which has already been concluded.
– I am referring to something entirely different. In the course of his report on the finances of the Commonwealth for the year 1926-27, the Auditor-General, speaking of the attitude of the Treasurer, said -
In reporting on the Treasurer’s accounts for the year 1925-26, I drew attention to the want of uniformity in treating sums which were transferred fromthe Consolidated Revenue to Trust Funds for expenditure in the subsequent year. Inthe accounts of the year 1926-27, the previous methods have been continued. Whilst raising no question as to the legality ofthe procedure, I unhesitatingly say that the method of presenting accounts is such as to obscure the true position.
These observations coming from such a source and in such a connexion, are peculiarly significant, having regard to some observation I heard the Treasurer make recently about manipulation. They seem to be germane to the general question of manipulation. At an earlier hour of the day, a general discussion was proceeding on industrial matters, upon the unfortunate trouble in connexion with the timber workers’ dispute, upon the administration of the Government, and upon the legislation passed by it. I am not permitted on this motion for the adjournment of the House to continue that debate.
– That is a pity.
– It is a great pity, but I have no intention of pursuing a line of action which may well be challenged by Mr. Speaker, and in that way interrupting a public discussion on matters of importance on which we must necessarily be engaged for the remainder of the day. From the political point of view, perhaps, it suits the Government to gag discussion on these matters. One is bound to confess that, so far as the debate had proceeded, the weight of evidence was entirely against the Government, and it appeared as if the longer it proceeded, the more damning would be the charge against the Government. I greatly regret that when this highly important subject was raised, involving as it does the whole ambit of the industrial legislation passed by this Government, its administration, and the purity of the judiciary - or perhaps the propriety of its decisions - the Ministry proved itself afraid to meet the issue and the volume of evidence which this party had available against it.
At the very time when this House was dividing upon the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition, news reached us that in a Melbourne court, the Timber Workers Union had been fined £1,000, and that disturbances took place of a very regrettable character, aggravated and promoted, presumably not designedly, but nevertheless inevitably, by this Government. I point out that the responsibility for those disturbances and for the tremendous discontent and unrest that exist in industrial circles, rests with this Government, which claims to have set out to curb and cure industrial unrest. The Government has constantly exaggerated the extent of the industrial unrest which exists in Australia. What ever may be its volume, that unrest has been largely increased and fomented by this Government. I think that is unanswerable.
– This Government lives on industrial unrest.
– As the honorable member for Grey says, the Government lives on industrial unrest. I should have liked an opportunity to open up for consideration the general fundamental principles underlying the industrial situation in Australia. 1 am not one of those who habitually reflect upon the judiciary. I have never done so. But I have exercised my right to criticize the decisions of the judiciary, and on some occasions I have ventured to go to the length of saying that, by training and environment, judges have been impelled to adopt a view upon industrial problems which is entirely out of harmony with the best interests of the working classes of this country.
– That is a mere matter of opinion.
– That is why I am embracing this opportunity, which is one of the few opportunities available to me to express my opinion on the subject. I should also like to deal with the right of free speech, which after all is fundamental, because we are told that “man shall not live by bread alone.” I was very interested to read a recent contribution to the Law Institute Journal of Victoria, by the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who, referring to our Arbitration Court, said -
There is not enough criticism in Australia of the decisions of the tribunals, and there is no treatise to which people inquiring can look for the purpose of study. The tribunals may be acting on mistaken principles, but unless the principles enumerated are brought together and compared with the reasons, how are they to be criticized with effect? I am sure that my successors would have been glad, as I should have been, of honest, well informed criticism.
That statement of the lately deceased and greatly esteemed ex-president of the Arbitration Court reveals a high degree of wisdom and statesmanship.
– I call attention to the state of the House.
Bells rung and there being no quorum present -
House adjourned at 4.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 March 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290301_reps_11_120/>.