11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. M. CAMERON, as chairman, presented the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, together with minutes of evidence and plans relating to the proposed establishment of an automatic telephone exchange at Edgecliff. .
Ordered to be printed.
– Some time agoI asked the Prime Minister a question in relation to action by the Premier of Victoria, which I conceived to constitute a grave breach of the Constitution. Has the honorable gentleman yet had time to look into that matter; if so what was the result ? Can he give me any information on the subject?
– I am not yet in a position to give the honorable member a reply to his question.
Report of the Tariff Board.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs indicate when he will be in a position to make a statement in connexion with the report of the Tariff Board on the cotton industry and the Government’s decision in connexion therewith? A number of honorable members have received communications upon this subject, and would like to know when the report will be available.
– I hope to be in a position to make a statement at an early date.
– Is it a fact that the Government proposes to issue Treasury bills in London to the value of £5,000,000 in denominations of £10,000 and £5,000? If so, will the Prime Minister inform me why precedent is being departed from on this occasion ? It is not usual to raise such a large amount of money by this means. In my opinion the issue of these bills under existing circumstances is not justified. If the bills are to be issued, will this be done with the approval of the Loan Council? For what purpose is the money required ?
– Treasury bills to the value of £5,000,000 are being issued in London by the authority of the Loan Council. The bills are for a limited period, and, so soon as the opportunity occurs, a long-dated loan will be raised, and they will be redeemed. The issuing of short-dated bills is a practice sometimes adopted when the state of the money market is such that it is not considered desirable at the moment to float a long-dated loan. These bills will be issued in the ordinary way. Tenders will be invited for them, and the best tender accepted. The money is required to carry out various projects approved by the parliaments of the Commonwealth and the States.
– Is it true that the bills will be issued at 6 per cent.?
– The price will depend upon the tenders received.
– I took the trouble this morning to walk across to the site of the National War Memorial with the object of ascertaining how much work had been done there.I found not a yard of metal, nor a bag of cement on the site. Not a sod had been turned there except in connexion with the trial holes put down sometime ago. In view of the statement made a few days ago that a large amount of money had already been spent on the site, I should like the Minister for Home Affairs to indicate exactly how much money has been spent there, and for what purpose ?
– I shall obtain the information and let the honorable member have it as early as possible.
– Seeing that the Prime Minister has repeatedly made the statement that, the proprietors in industry should take their employees into their confidence, and reveal to them the actual profits made in their particular concerns, I direct his attention to the fact that the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry, which is now conducting an inquiry into coal production costs, is taking evidence in camera. The mine-workers have indicated that, as that evidence is not being made public, they will not consider themselves bound by the findings of the Commission. Will the Prime Minister consider the amending of the terms of reference to the royal commission with the object of obliging it to make a public inquiry into coal production costs, thereby clearing the way for an early resumption of work on, the coal-fields? I understand that the royal commission will shortly present an interim report on this aspect of its inquiry.
– The royal commission appointed by the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments is investigating matters relating to the profits of the colliery proprietors with the object of determining certain facts in relation thereto. The commission has full power to obtain all the information necessary to enable it to arrive at an authoritative finding. It is disastrous that the miners have indicated that they will not consider themselves bound to accept the findings of the commission because the evidence has not been taken in public. It would not be in the best interests of the community generally to conduct such an inquiry in public. I have not made any statement such as that attributed tome by the honorable member; but I have said on many occasions that it would be desirable for employers in industry to make authoritative figures available to their employees with the object of removing the misapprehension, under which some of them at least seem to labour, that capital is receiving unduly high profits from industry. I cannot see my way clear to take any action in the direction suggested by the honorable member, and I suggest to him that, as the findings of the royal commission will be authoritative, and, as counsel representing the miners is being afforded full opportunity to put their case, he should strongly urge the miners to accept those findings.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to state when the inquiry into the coal industry will be completed? Is it a fact that the period of the commission’s inquiry extends until December next, and is there any truth in the statement published in the Sydney Sun that the cost of the commission will be £50,000?
– I do not know when the investigation will be completed, and no date has been assigned for the conclusion of this inquiry. As to the cost of the commission I have no information at the present moment.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to inform the House when the report of Mr. Justice Davidson will be received? Will it be made available to honorable members so soon as he has read it?
– I have no official information as to when the interim report will be received, but I think it will be presented next week, if not sooner. Obviously, it will be necessary for me to read it before giving any assurance as to the publicity to be given to it.
– I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, a question of urgent public importance. It relates to a certain class of amusing fiction which has emanated from the basement of this building and purports to be issued or authorized by one, Colonel Munro, of Sydney, in support of the political organization known as the Country party. Has Colonel Munro any existence in any capacity, military or otherwise, or has he, indeed, any existence in fact? Is he as mythical and insubstantial as the fictions which appear under his name ?
– I shall make inquiries on the subject from the Minister for Defence.
– On Wednesday last I drew attention to the fact that certain unauthorized organizations and persons were using the facilities of this House to carry on their work. I wish to know, Mr. Speaker, whether you have seen a copy of the Melbourne Her ald of yesterday’s date in which it is stated that unauthorized organizations and persons other than those connected with the Country party are also carrying on their operations here. Is this being done with your concurrence, and, if so, will you make premises available for the Labour party for the same purpose?
– No authority has been given by me to any person connected with any political organization outside Parliament to occupy any room in this building, Ministers, members, and the officials of the House have had rooms allotted to them ; but the manner in which the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, for example, may use the rooms which have been placed at their disposal is a matter for their discretion. It is left to the discretion of those to whom official rooms have been given to use them in a proper manner; that has been the practice followed ever since I have been a member of this House. As regards the official notepaper, honorable members and certain officials alone have the right to use it. The proper exercise of all the privileges of membership must be left to the discretion of members themselves. It must be left to their honour.
– I accept the statement made by yourself, Mr. Speaker. I consider that it is reasonable and proper to regard whatever we do with our rooms as our own business. May I, however, draw your attention to the fact that you have been misled-
– Is the honorable member asking a question ? He must not discuss or debate the subject.
– I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the documents which have been issued from the precincts of this House have not been issued with the authority of the Government.
– The honorable member is now giving information.
– Have you seen the Melbourne Herald of last evening? If not, may I read part of its contents, and ask you whether the information contained in this article coincides with what you have stated from the Chair. The article states -
Nationalists denied to-day that there was any significance behind the prediction of higher political honors for the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) issued by the Nationalist publicity organization, and which was the subject of comment in Parliament yesterday.
Mr. Archdale Parkhill, a member of the publicity committee of the Parliamentary Nationalist party, stated there was no foundation for the suggestion that the object of the article was to pave the way for Mr. Latham as Leader of the party in succession to Mr. Bruce.
Asked who authorized the release of the article, he said he had nothing to say. The general feeling among Nationalists is that the issue of an article containing publicity for the Attorney-General is singularly inopportune at this time when the political situation is so unsettled.
The sentence which seemed to hint at Mr. Bruce being displaced by his Attorney-General is regarded as particularly unfortunate. The use of such publicity methods has been embarrassing not only to the Ministers concerned, but to the whole party.
Every member of the Parliamentary publicity committee except Mr. Parkhill unhesitatingly denied having seen the article before references were made to it in the Herald.
The secretary of the committee (Senator Foll) said he had not seen it, although it was the practice to submit all publicity matter to this committee before release.
What I wish to draw your attention to, Mr. Speaker, is that these documents are issued by unauthorized persons not connected with any party in this Parliament.
– I have not seen the issue of the newspaper from which the honorable member has quoted, but I can state definitely that no room in this building has been allotted to anybody in the manner suggested in the article from which he has read. The Chair cannot take notice of every gossiping paragraph published about honorable members and their doings; but I feel sure that the honour of this House is safe in the Hands of those to whom rooms have been allotted.
– In regard to the question asked by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), I wish to ask the Minister representing the Minister for Defence whether he knows of a gentleman by the name of Colonel E. J. Munro, who is General Secretary of the New South Wales Country party ? Does he know that this gentleman has a very distinguished war record, and that he weighs about 16 stone ?
– Order ! Questions addressed to Ministers should concern matters relating to the business of their departments.
No reply being given -
– I wish to know whether I am to receive an answer to my question from the Minister?
– Questions must be connected with some act of administration of the department with which the Minister is concerned, or with some measure before the House for which he is responsible. I understand that the honorable member’s question referred to the identity of some one connected with a political organization outside this House.
– The honorable member for Batman implied that Colonel Munro had in fact no existence, and the Minister indicated in his reply that he would find out whether or not that was so. I maintain that I have as much right to receive an answer from the Minister as had the honorable member for Batman.
– A Minister may answer a question or not, as he thinks fit. Such matters as he has referred to are not, as a rule, regarded as proper subjects for inquiry of Ministers by questions without notice.
-I rise to a point of order. I addressed a question without notice to the honorable Minister representing the Minister for Defence, who appeared to be dumbfounded, and to be unable to answer it without notice. Therefore - very properly in my opinion - he asked that notice of it should be given.I submit that the honorable member for New England is not in order in supplying the deficiencies of the Minister by answering the question for him. I desire to get an answer from the Minister in relation to the propaganda issued from the basement of this building and associated with the Country party. That there may be a colonel of the name mentioned by the honorable member for New England, and that he may be of a certain given avoirdupois I do not deny. My point is that the honorable member for New England, however well informed, has no right to answer for the honorable Minister, who appears to be ill informed.
– The honorable member for New England was particularly careful to seek information andnot to give it.
– In reply to the honorable member for New England, I wish to state that his question concerns brain, muscle and character. If he will put it on the Notice Paper, I shall obtain the required information.
– Did not the Minister, when he was campaign director for the Nationalist party during the last general election, have various conversations with a gentleman named Colonel E. J. Munro, secretary of the Country party?
– The question seems ratherto convey information than to seek it.
– It is a leading question.
– My object is to satisfy the honorable member for Batman and others that Colonel Munro does exist, and that he is a recognized officer of the Australian Country party. It is only fair in view of the evasive attitude of the Minister -
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw the suggestion that the Minister has taken up an evasive attitude.
– In deference to you, sir, I withdraw the suggestion.
– Is it not a fact that trade union secretaries are using a room in the basement of Parliament House? If so, is it with your approval, Mr. Speaker?
– The answer to that question is contained in my reply to a previous question. No rooms have been assigned to others than those I have mentioned.
– In deference to you, sir, I have withdrawn the suggestion that the Minister has been evasive; but I certainly think that he has been most unfair to members of the Country party.
Sale of Liquor - Registration of Doctors
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. The honorable member’s attention is invited to the Liquor Ordinance 1929, published in Commonwealth Gazette of the 4th July, and laid on the table of the House on the 15th August, 1929. The period for which licences will be granted is indicated in section 16 ( 3 ) of the Ordinance. Before the Ordinance can be brought into force, it is necessary to make certain appointments provided for in the measure. Consideration is now being given to the questionof making these appointments and to the fixing of a date for the commencement of the Ordinance.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
“Jack’s Day” Fund.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and the honorable member will be informed as early as possible.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Works, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he furnish the following information: -
the total Commonwealth debt, excluding State debts, on 30th June, 1923, and 30th June,1929, abroad and in Australia, respectively;
the total interest payable on Commonwealth debt on 30th June, 1923, and 30th June, 1929, abroad and in Australia, respectively?
– The information is being compiled and will be furnished on Wednesday next.
Drawback of Duty on Labels.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the great difficulties facing the wine industry, will he extend to the exporters of wine in bottles the benefit of the provisions of drawback duty in regard to labels?
– It is contrary to the practice to allow drawback of duty on labels affixed to containers as such labels can be produced satisfactorily in Australia.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
With reference to his reply to the question by the honorable member for Melbourne that public baths would be built at Canberra when funds are available, as the construction of these baths is desirable from a health point of view, will he give favorable consideration to the question of using some of the money now proposed to be spent on roads in the Territory for the purpose of building these baths before the approaching summer?
– The question of allocating funds for the construction of public baths at Canberra will be considered, when the revised programme of works to be constructed during this financial year is being dealt with.
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether he has come to any decision as to the necessity of a doctor being stationed at Stuart (Alice Springs); if so, what action, if any, does be propose to take?
– The question of providing medical attention for the residents of Central Australia is at present receiving consideration, but no decision has yet been arrived at.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The information is being compiled and will be furnished on Wednesday next.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he supply the following information: -
– The information is being compiled and will be furnished on Wednesday next.
asked the Prime Minister. upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1-2. Inquiry is being made into the cost of obtaining the desired information and consideration will then be given to the questions of the honorable member.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Debate resumed from 28th August (vide page 379), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– If the history of the Commonwealth, apart from the war years, particularly its political history, were to be written, it would be found to be indissolubly bound up with arbitration laws and their administration. Because of the manner in which it has been applied, the system of arbitration has wrought a considerable amount of harm to industry and those engaged in it. To-day the cost of production is so high that, except in wool and wheat, there is practically no export trade, and as a result of the comparatively low prices that rule for those commodities the country is faced with a serious economic position that no right-thinking person can afford to ignore. I am not suggesting that arbitration is in itself in any way harmful. After all, it is the only constitutional and sane method of settling industrial disturbances. No matter how widespread a dispute may be, or how long it may have lasted, its settlement is invariably the result of arbitration. Take the timber strike for example. Although the timber workers are defying an award of the Arbitration Court, they are now seeking to settle the dispute by means of further arbitration in the form of a conference with the employers.
Adherence to the principle of arbitration is and always has been the policy of the National party. I state definitely and emphatically that the measure which we are now discussing does not propose to do anything in the nature of abolishing arbitration, as has been suggested by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore). The National party does not stand for the abolition of industrial arbitration. Its object now is to institute a simpler process than that which has been in existence for many years. This measure aims at the withdrawal of one system of arbitration from an already over-crowded arena, the removal of at least one overlapping jurisdiction, and the substitution of a simpler procedure. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has wrongly described this as the recourse of wreckers. The honorable gentleman claimed that the work of the late Hon. C. C. Kingston, the late Hon. Alfred Deakin, and others, would be undone if the bill became law. That is not the case. What is being done is to give effect to the intention of those statesmen and of the Constitution. The intention of the Constitution was to give to the Commonwealth means of dealing with genuine interstate disputes which were beyond the effective control of individual States ; and what was intended to be an emergency power has been used to set up permanent wage-fixing tribunals which deal with a mass of detailed arbitration matters over which the Constitution intended that the States should exercise entire control. The fact that the judiciary and the police were by the Constitution left under the control of the States is additional evidence that they were expected to deal with all substantially industrial matters within their own borders. The lack of a Commonwealth police to enforce the observance of awards has been responsible, to some extent, for the partial breakdown of the arbitration system. It is manifest that the States are not prepared to police with the same vigour and interest laws that are passed by another authority. Moreover, I contend that compulsory arbitration to be reasonably successful must be accomplished by instrumentalities capable of giving effect to it.
The Constitution provides that the Commonwealth Government can deal only with disputes which extend to two or more States, and any branches of industry that are not cited as parties to n dispute, escape from the operation of the arbitration awards. In addition, the Federal Arbitration Court has no power to make a common rule. It is beyond this Parliament to make a federal award a common rule, because the Constitution will not permit of it. The federal court is only supposed to operated when a dispute exists, and dis- putes come before it when compromise and conciliation have been exhausted, when both parties are spoiling for a fight and when it is exceedingly difficult to induce them to act with calmness and reason. That is the position regarding the exercise of Commonwealth arbitration as I see it.
For the first decade after federation, this conception of the sphere of the Arbitration Court continued. By a High Court decision State instrumentalities were” in the early stages of arbitration excluded from the operation or purview of the Commonwealth court. It was concoded that the States should control their own servants and be masters in their own homes. But they were included by a later decision of the High Court. Immediately that happened other industries went before the federal court and this resulted in great congestion of business there. Some unions were kept waiting for years to have their cases heard, and the hearing of cases extended for periods of eighteen months and over. Additional judges were appointed. Again the inclusion of State instrumentalities in the field of Federal arbitration caused absolute confusion in State finance. A State Treasurer would budget for a surplus of, say, £50,000, and suddenly be confronted with an award of the Federal Arbitra- tion Court involving the State in an additional expenditure of perhaps £200,000. This would leave him with a deficit of £150,000. Moreover, the railway com-‘ missioners in New South Wales are paying hundreds of thousands of pounds annually in concessions to men working under State awards to harmonize their conditions with those of men doing similar work under Federal awards. The report of the royal commission which recently investigated the disabilities of South Australia recommended a subvention from the Commonwealth largely because of the disabilities imposed on the finances of that State by the operation of the Commonwealth arbitration system.
– The honorable member’s argument is that the railway workers should not receive a living wage.
– 1 shall come to that later. In addition we find that litigants make a choice of jurisdiction. They go to the State tribunal, obtain an award, and if it suits them well and good; but if not, they go to the Federal Arbitration Court for ah award. They then make a choice between tribunals and also between judges. At one stage it was considered advisable by the trade unions to approach Mr. Justice Higgins and there was a rush to come under bis jurisdiction. At another stage, Mr. Piddington was the vogue in. New South Wales, and there was a rush to come under his jurisdiction. The arbitration system has been carried on for some years under those conditions. And what has been the result? It has created a sense of injustice and simmering dissatisfaction among the workers of this country. Mr. Murphy, the chief of the Victorian Department of Labour, has had a wide experience of the arbitration system, and in his book Wages and Prices in Australia, he says: -
If you want to make a man discontented, show him that another man, doing the same or similar work, is getting more pay. As long as we have separate tribunals - counting wages boards and courts of arbitration throughout Australia - it is inevitable that the wide powers they possess of fixing wages high or low, as they please, will be used in such a way that wide divergencies in the rates will occur. These divergencies, in some cases, resulting in one man getting in the vicinity of double the amount of another doing similar work, have been, in my opinion, a fruitful source of strikes.
And what has been the effect of the present arbitration system upon industry? Let me give the instance of a manufacturer in Victoria. He says: -
In my business we are under 38 wages boards and arbitration awards. The result is endless confusion and enormous expense. Some of our employees commence at 7.30, some at 7.45, some at 8.0, and some at 9.0. Some cease for lunch at 12.0, some at 12.30, and some at 1 o’clock. Some have 30 minutes, some 45, and some 60 minutes. Some cease work at 5.0, some at 5.15, some at 5.30, -some at 6.0. Some work 35 hours a week, some 44, some 48. Can one imagine anything so complicated and irritating? A clerical staff is employed to check the hours and conditions. As a matter of fact, they are so complicated that I am unable to tell when the employees should be coming or going.
I ask, in all seriousness, how can any honorable member say that industry can be effectively carried on under those conditions, which, unfortunately, are common to a number of industries?
Let me point out what has been the cost of the arbitration system. It is hard to estimate; but the Australian Railways Union has spent £9,084 in sis years; the timber workers £555, for the transcript of evidence only; and the clothing trade £554 on printing and serving the log and summons. That will give some indication of the enormous cost borne by industry in the bringing of claims before the arbitration tribunals of Australia. Whence does this money come? There is no hidden store from which it can be obtained. Tt has to be taken out of industry. The needs of industry are too much forgotten under the arbitration system. They are relegated to the background while the paid advocates of employers and employees fight protracted and expensive battles in the various courts of the land. The tremendous cost involved in these legal fights is an imposition upon industry, and this has led, to a large extent, to the unemployment that exists in Australia to-day. The other day a writer in the Sydney Morning Herald succinctly summing up the situation said : -
Were it possible to direct into industry and business 75 per cent, of brains and energy and money now spent preparing cases for the arbitration court and in legally fighting awards, statistics of production would tell a cheering tale. There would be fewer decent, despairing dejected men tramping streets in search of work.
To-day we have an army of men who are not producing anything. The union secretaries and advocates are doubtless decent enough men in themselves, but they produce nothing. They are more or less parasites upon industry, extorting from it a considerable amount of money which it cannot afford. We should wipe away all the advocates on both sides and return to the system of round-table conferences. If these men were engaged on some reproductive work industry would be far better off.
Further there are too many clashing tribunals in Australia to-day. There are in the Commonwealth sphere the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, a Conciliation Commissioner, a Public Service Arbitrator, and special tribunals in the coal industry established under the Industrial Peace Act; in New South Wales, an Industrial Committee, Industrial Boards, and a Conciliation Committee; in Victoria, Wages Boards; in Queensland, a Board of Trade and Arbitration, and Industrial Magistrates; in South Australia, an Industrial Court, and Industrial Boards; in Western Australia, a Court of Arbitration and Industrial Boards; and in Tasmania Wages Boards. I submit that the industries of this country can no longer stand the strain of the over-lapping authorities and jurisdictions of these various tribunals. They are absolutely unnecessary, and the action taken by the Government to-day to cut the entanglements that are embarrassing industry, is the most hopeful that we have seen in Australia for many years. What is the public opinion in respect of this industrial confusion and the situation that I have indicated to this House? Let me cite one statement of many from the Judiciary. Mr. Justice Higgins probably had more experience of industrial law and its administration than any other man in the world.
– He was the founder of federal arbitration.
– I accept that interjection because it strengthens my argument, and makes his statement more authoritative. Mr. Justice Higgins said : -
It would be well, in my opinion, to amend, the Constitution by transferring to the Federal
Parliament the whole subject of industrial regulation and to let that Parliament organize and co-ordinate the system of tribunals, local and general.
– Hear, hear!
– I shall in due course explain to honorable members the reason why Mr. Justice Higgins’ proposal has not been given effect. Its achievement is absolutely impossible, largely because of the attitude of honorable members opposite. Procrastination in this matter is puerile, stagnation is evidence of ineptitude, but the courageous course now proposed by the Government leads towards progress and prosperity. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), who was for many years one of the leaders of the Labour movement and Attorney-General and Prime Minister in Labour and Nationalist Ministries, wrote in an official pamphlet, issued for the guidance of Nationalist speakers in the 1919 referendum campaign
Trade is too affected by organizations of capital and labour. All these must be controlled, and the Government which controls them must be able to do so fully and effectively to deal with the problem as a whole, not only with a bit here and there. Unless it can so deal with it, government is futile.
That is what the present Government says, and it is confirmed by experience. The right honorable gentleman continued -
First of all, the Commonwealth must be able to deal fully and effectively with the whole field of industrial matters. In order to assist and supplement, and harmonize the work of the State industrial tribunals, it is necessary that there should be no fixed limits set to the sphere of its control.
In the Governor-General’s Speech, in 1922, the last he submitted to Parliament while the right honorable member was in office, a paragraph occurred, declaring that action would be taken to -
Put an end to the clashing jurisdictions, conflicting and overlapping awards, uncertainty, delay, expense, loss and other unsatisfactory features of the present machinery for dealing with industrial disputes.
This Government holds the same view, but has been unable to take the course suggested under the limited constitutional powers of the Commonwealth.
The trade union movement has never regarded arbitration favorably; it has accepted it reluctantly, and to. that factor is due much of the lack of harmony in industrial affairs. On the 14th July, 1927, the council of the Australian Railways Union passed a motion declaring that -
The perpetuation of arbitration is to the’ detriment of the organized workers of the Commonwealth, and the Australian Railways Union in particular.
A second resolution called for collective action on the part of the working class in opposition to what was designated “the chloroforming effects of Arbitration Courts.” Those resolutions were again affirmed in May last. An All-Australian Trade Union Congress, held in Melbourne in July, 1928, went so far as to recommend the taking of a vote of the unions to decide whether they should continue under the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court or abandon it. The Australasian Council of Trade Unions publishes a journal called The Pan-Pacific Worker. In its issue of the 2nd April, 1928, Senator Arthur Rae, writing on “ The Curse of Compulsory Arbitration,” said -
It is impossible to estimate the moral harm which has been done to the Australian working class by its hasty and ill considered acceptance of arbitration as the solution of labour’s problems.
– Why does the honorable member take notice of individual criticisms, instead of the decisions of responsible bodies ?
– I am submitting to the House statements by responsible leaders of the labour movement, and resolutions passed by the representatives of the unions sitting in conference. Surely these are responsible decisions and utterances. In June of this year a committee of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, at a meeting held in Melbourne, passed a motion declaring that -
Neither employer nor employee can be satisfied with a system in which the fate of hundreds and thousands of men and women on both Bides is decided in an atmosphere of litigation, at huge expense, and by men of limited knowledge and understanding of industry.
– Hear, hear.
– With that view every one on this side of the House is in agreement. Could there be a stronger condemnation by the responsible leaders of trade unionism of the existing arbitration system, which the Government is trying to improve? The Pan-Pacific Worker, the journal through whose columns trade unionism becomes articulate, published on the 15th May, 1928, the main resolution adopted by tie Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat at its meeting at Shanghai, China, in February, 1928. That resolution concluded -
The relatively well-organized Australian trade union movement has been displaying a degree of militancy, particularly in the transport and metal industries, and efforts are correctly being made to develop and strengthen national organization around our affiliated organization, the Australasian Council of Trades Unions. There are some weaknesses, however, which must be overcome. We must eradicate pacifist tendencies in our effort to combat imperialist war, and remove all illusions regarding the possibilities of constitutionalism in the workers’ struggles against the employers…..
Compulsory arbitration is an indirect method of class collaboration, and has a dampening effect upon the fighting spirit of the workers; systematic plans should be formulated to make the workers rely upon their organized strength to gain better conditions.
The Communist, the official organ of the Communist party in New South Wales, stated, in its issue of the 1st May, 1928, that the meeting at Shanghai was marked by the -
Presence of the representatives of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions (500,000 members), in addition to representation of the All-China Labour Federation, the far eastern section of the Russian trade unions, as well as Japanese and Filipino organizations.
The Labour Council of New South Wales, of which Mr. J. S. Garden is secretary, addressed an open letter to the Amsterdam Trade Union International in the Pan-Pacific Worker of the 1st July, 1928, in which it unequivocally promised support for a revolutionary struggle. The following passage from that letter is significant : -
We propose that the fundamental policy of the new United Trade Union International be the class struggle and that all forms of class collaboration, or industrial peace be abandoned as detrimental to the best interests of our class.
Honorable members opposite ask why 1 am reading these quotations. I do so to acquaint the House with authoritative statements in regard to arbitration on behalf of the trade unionists of Australia. If they were repudiated by the leaders of the Labour party, I would not be justified in accepting them as authoritative; but in the absence of any such repudiation I am entitled to accept those views, as the general public does, as those of the industrial section of the Labour movement.
– They are repudiated by every speaker on this side of the House.
– The honorable member will have an opportunity to express his repudiation, and if he does so, it will be the first that has been uttered from his side of the House, though such a disavowal would carry greater weight if it came from a more responsible member of the Labour party. In any case, repudiation would make no difference to the opinions of the persons whom I have quoted.
There must be a remedy for the existing unsatisfactory state of affairs. I have quoted the views of an eminent judge of the Arbitration Court, of a former Prime Minister, and of representatives of the trade union movement, as to the need for a change in the arbitration system. The remedy proposed, namely, an amendment to the Constitution to give the Commonwealth extended industrial powers, is one which is endorsed by all parties in the Fe’deral Parliament. Efforts have been made to get those extended powers. Four times have appeals been made to the people by referendum, and on each occasion the electors have rejected the proposal. In 1911, and again in 1913, the Fisher Government appealed to the people for extended powers for the Commonwealth Parliament, including authority to deal with -
Corporations, including (a) the creation, dissolution, regulation and control of corporations; (&) corporations formed under the law of a State, including their dissolution, regulation, and control, but not including municipal or governmental corporations or any corporation formed solely for religious, charitable, scientific or artistic purposes, and not for the acquisition or gain by the corporation or its members; and (c) foreign corporations, including their regulation and control.
On both occasions the people gave a negative answer, notwithstanding that the proposals were put forward and supported solidly by the Labour party. In 1926 the present Government made another appeal to the electors by referendum, and one of the questions put to them was in terms identical with those of the 1913-13 questions submitted by the Labour party as quoted above, namely -
Corporations, including (a) the creation, regulation, control and dissolution of corporations; (6) the regulation, control and dissolution of corporations formed under the law of a State; and (c) the regulation and control of foreign corporations, but not including municipal or governmental corporations, or any corporation formed solely for religious, charitable, scientific, or artistic purposes, or any corporation not formed for the acquisition of gain by the corporation or its members.
One would naturally suppose that the Labour party, having applied to the people for this extended power on two occasions, would have supported a similar appeal by the Nationalist Government in 1926. The members of the party did, in fact, vote in favour of the referendum bills in this House, but the Worker, which is the mouthpiece of the Australasian Workers Union wrote -
The Labour movement has made up its mind
Co fight the referendum proposals tooth and nail. It will not have them or any portion of them. From the first syllable to the last they arc anathema.
The one proposal which the Worker said was anathema was identical word for word with what the Labour party had proposed to the electors on two previous occasions.
– We did not trust the present Government.
– The Worker continued -
Instinctively, the members of the rank and file will have nothing to do with them, because they emanate from the Bruce Government, which they know from experience is the most bitterly hostile anti-Labour, anti-working-class administration that has ever had control of the affairs of this country.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has, by interjection, repeated the statement he made in the House last week in explanation of the Labour party’s opposition to the referendum proposals of this Government in 1926. Yet the Deputy Leader of the Opposition argued during this debate that the only way to solve the difficulties which admittedly face us is to get the people to grant to the Commonwealth, by a referendum, the additional powers that are needed. This shows the futility of Labour’s position, for the leaders of the party quite evidently disagree among themselves. They speak with two voices, and in every way show their utter insincerity. As ‘ a matter of fact, their only policy is to be “ ag’in the Government.” The workers of Australia are entitled to something more than that from the men whom they send here to represent them.
When the first referendum on this subject was taken in 1911, there was a division among the Labour party leaders. The leaders of the party in the States, whose principal spokesman was Mr. W. A. Holman, were against the granting of the powers, while the leaders in the federal sphere, among whom the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was prominent, were strongly in favour of the granting of them. The whole subject was debated at the Labour conference held early that year, and a motion was moved for the expulsion of Mr. Holman and those who opposed the granting of the powers, though there was nothing on the subject in the Labour party’s platform at that time. In view of the utterances of some honorable members opposite, it would be well worth the while of those who are keenly interested in this question to compare the attitude of the party in those days with its attitude to-day.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made certain remarks about the comparative freedom of Australia, in recent years, from serious industrial disputes. It will be admitted that our most important industrial organizations are the railway and transport groups. They could, if they wished, hold up the entire trade and commerce of the country. It is significant that the principal officers of these unions, Messrs. Rymer, of Queensland, and Chapman, of the Australian Railways Union of New South Wales, have both visited Russia. To my mind, that is full of significance. Recently, Mr. Chapman advocated that our obligation to pay interest on the money loaned for the building of our railways should be repudiated, with the object of making the railways pay. In this connexion, I invite the attention of honorable members to a remark made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in his speech on this bill. He said that men who wor* receiving interest ou money that they had lent should be obliged to make some sacrifice. When he was asked what he meant by that, he indicated again that they ought to be compelled to make some sacrifice. In these circumstances, are not the people of Australia entitled to infer that if the honorable member ever secured a seat on the Treasury bench he would take some step to relieve the Government of its contractual obligation to pay interest on the money lent to it for various purposes? There is every reason why we should view, with the gravest apprehension, the state of affairs in the railway and transport workers’ organizations of this country. It would be most undesirable for these ever to come under the control of one organization, particularly if men like Rymer and Chapman were at its head. The danger from this would be accentuated, because the political leaders of the Labour party today appear to be too weak to assert themselves.
It must be apparent to everybody that any system of industrial arbitration must depend, for its success, upon mutual trust and honorable conduct on both sides. The penalties provided in the original act were designed more n3 deterrents than as penalties in the ordinary sense. But when one party to a dispute consistently repudiates the decisions and awards of the court, the whole system must inevitably be weakened. The recent conduct of some workers’ organizations in repudiating or ignoring the awards of the court, has been chiefly responsible for the breakdown of arbitration. Although it is true, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said, that we have had comparatively few industrial upheavals in Australia of late years, those few have occurred in the industries which are vital to the progress of the nation, and have done far greater damage than numerous strikes in smaller and less important industries would have done. The remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) were robbed of their force because he overlooked this important fact.
Not only have some of the unions flouted the awards of the court, but they have been encouraged to do so by their leaders. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), for instance, in a speech which he delivered at Clifton Hill, Victoria, recently, referred to the award in the timber workers’ case as “a judicial attack on the employees “ and added “ There did come a time when an award was so outrageous and unjust that, it was impossible to accept.” Those remarks are extremely serious. Instead of condemning the timber workers for refusing to accept the award of the court and upholding the law, the Leader of the Opposition actually applauded their action. Similarly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in an address in the Sydney Town Hall, encouraged the men to continue the strike, although he and they knew that to do so would be a breach of the law. In another address, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the 6th June, the honorable member referred to the actions of the police force. A member of the audience interjected, “It will always be the same”. The honorable member replied, “ No, not always. If the workers put their own government in power they can control the police force.”
– Hear, hear.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.The only inference to be drawn from those statements, and from the interjection of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) is that if the Labour party were returned to power it would use the police force to assist, not those wh’o maintain the law, but those who break it. A more reprehensible statement has never before come from the lips of a responsible leader of the people, and been applauded by an irresponsible member of this House. At a meeting of the Sydney Labour Council on the 21st June, Mr. Reeves, who was notorious as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World during the war, intimated that the numbers and names of policemen who had protected volunteers had been noted, and that secret conferences had been held with a view to dealing with them. It is clear, therefore, that if ever the Labour party is returned to power in this Parliament, it will be dominated by men of the class of Reeves, Garden and others. Honorable members on the other side dissent, but if that is not so, why have not the statements I have quoted been contradicted ?
– The honorable member knows that they have been contradicted.
– I know that the leaders of the political Labour party have not had sufficient courage to contradict them; they have been too fearful of losing a few votes.
By contributing £80,000 in levies to enable the timber workers to continue their strike, and £1,000,000 in levies to assist coal-miners who have been out of work in the last ten years, the rank and file of industrialists have also been guilty of serious breaches of our industrial law. This money has been used to assist men who were engaged in illegal conduct. Seeing that our trade unionists have been able to pay such huge levies for this purpose, it would not be surprising if the State Governments took steps to impose a levy of 6d. per week upon them with the object of building up an unemployment insurance fund. A levy of that amount weekly would produce a very large sum, and the recent contributions of trade unionists are an urgent invitation to the State Governments to act.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition described this bill as an attack upon the principle of the 44-hour week. It is nothing of the kind.
– Does the honorable member believe in a 44-hour week ?
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.My views on that subject are excellently expressed in the following statement made by Sir Arthur Duckham, the leader of the British Economic Delegation, which recently visited Australia: -
When we come to deal with the question of the 44-hour week, the problem arises, what is the length of the week in which a sufficiency can be produced to pay for the standard of living properly demanded in Australia, plus a surplus to pay for any charges of the State and to provide money for further development? There we have the whole basis of the 44-hour week question. If we can produce in len hours per week all that we need for the community, let us have a 10-hour week, and there can be no objection to it; if we can produce in 44-hours per week all that we need for the community, let -us have a 44-hour week.
That is my attitude. I worked at a trade in my early days, for 48 hours a week, and in the evenings found time to attend book-keeping and accountancy classes, and to take part in the activities of debating and sports clubs, and did not find it any hardship. I have worked much longer weeks since, which is one of the reasons I am here. If we can produce sufficient to meet the economic needs of the country in a short .working week let us have it by all means. The Nationalist party is not desirous that men should work longer than is necessary and is concerned only with the welfare of the country. If it can be proved that the country’s work can be done in a 44-hour week, or even a 36-hour week, then there can be no objection.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) said that if this bill were passed the workers would be given over to potential sweaters. I asked him whether he meant the State Governments, and his reply was, “ Yes, in some cases.” In Queensland, the honorable member’s own State, they have never accepted the system of Federal arbitration. Industry there has operated almost entirely under State arbitration awards. Up to the 22nd August, 1929, only 24 Federal awards were operating in Queensland, as against 252 State awards operating on the 31st June, 1929. This shows conclusively that in Queensland the State Government was not regarded as a potential sweater, and surely the honorable member would not regard the later Government of Western Australia as one either. I think the honorable member was merely playing with words when he made that statement; he thought, apparently, that the phrase sounded well. Everybody knows that with our anti-sweating laws, our workers’ compensation legislation, our early closing hours, particularly so long as the supreme power rests in the hands of the people, nothing is to be feared in the direction of sweating. The honorable member for Dalley had no compunction when he was Premier of Queensland in asking that the railway workers there should go before the Arbitration Court to show cause why wages should not he reduced. After the conclusion of the hearing, the court reduced their wages by 5 per cent., and reduced those of other public servants by 10 per cent. What a howl would go up from the honorable member and his friends if the Bavin Government in New South Wales did such a thing 1
I have in mind three instances in which the honorable member for Dalley tried to give exhibitions of courage, but in every case his determination broke down. One was in regard to tUe stand which he made for the 48-hour week. Addressing the Brisbane Trades and Labour Council in Brisbane, in 1923, he said -
Those who believe that once the workers obtain power they will reach a celestial paradise should turn their attention to Russia, where the workers possess power, and where they And they are beset by limitations on every hand.
That is the view of every honorable member on this side of the House. Again, he justified his continued refusal to introduce a 44-hour week by saying that it was not good policy to interfere by legislation with the free performance by the Arbitration Court of its duties. He went on to say “ that for a reform to be enduring, they should make sure of its economic soundness before it was brought in.” That also is the opinion of every honorable member on this side. The honorable member for Dalley remained firm in his attitude for some time, but when his party threatened to appoint another leader, he swallowed his words and, in- order to retain his position, brought in a measure for a 44-hour week long before its economic soundness had been demonstrated.
Again, when the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was expressing opposition to the proposed objective of the Labour party in 1921, he said -
They are leaving the well-beaten path of the Labour movement, and are adopting totally new and strange doctrines - doctrines of Russian communism and the Industrial Workers of the World of America.
Notwithstanding that expression of opinion, however, in 1923 he seconded the adoption of an objective for a Queensland Labour platform which included the very principles to which he had previously objected. The third example of the honorable member’s remarkable changes of front occurred during the campaign in which I contested the Warringah seat. I was addressing a meeting of electors, and the honorable member for Dalley was addressing another on the opposite corner of. the street in favour of the Australian Workers Union candidate. He then said “ Mr. Lang must be disciplined ruthlessly, with the gloves off”. When an interjector said “Your number is up for Dalley “, he replied “ There will be no shrinking on my part”. Yet, a few months later he licked the hand of Mr. Lang the man whom he had then opposed, and he did even worse than that. He bit the hand of the man who had helped him to win the Dalley seat in the Federal byelection in February, 1927. He took a vigorous part in the campaign to defeat Dr. H. V. Evatt, the sitting member for Balmain, who was withstanding the full fury of Mr. Lang.
The electors of Australia must recognize that a man who is capable of doing these things, is not fit to administer the industrial system we need to-day, nor is he qualified to deal with the measure now before the House. When it was suggested to the honorable member for Dalley that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) might lead a Government in this House, and obtain the backing of the Labour party, he poured scorn and contempt on the proposal, and in doing so, said, “We have in Mr. Bruce the best asset the Labour movement can have”. The honorable member for Dalley, with his Queensland record, and as a result of the speeches he has made in this House, is certainly the best asset that the antisocialist party in Australia could have, because the people, while in their sober senses, would never entrust the Government of Australia to such a man. The only concrete suggestion regarding’ the industrial problem which has come from the Opposition, was made by its leader (Mr. Scullin) when he said that we should endeavour to evolve a means of settling disputes which would be of a simple character, and free from legal entanglements. That is exactly what the Government is now putting before the House. Mr. Scullin further suggested that the scheme adopted should be similar to that put into operation under the Peace Act. In that connexion I propose to quote the remarks made by Mr. Gibson, a prominent leader of the Labour movement in Australia, and a man who was selected to represent Labour at the Geneva Conference. This is what he said : -
I am honestly and conscientiously of the opinion that the Industrial Peace Act and its administration are mainly responsible for the parlous condition in our coal-mining industry to-day. I say. that as one having had no little experience of the measure. In fact, it was placed on the statute-book by a Prime Minister to get straight with a judge with whom he disagreed. The motive was bad in the- first place. . . .
. The additional cost of producing steel led, within six months, to 500 of those men being thrown out, because orders for steel could not bc obtained at the enhanced prices. . . .
That was his opinion of the operation of the Peace Act. The weakness I see in the measure now before the House. We must see that the two sides in an industry do not, in the course of a round table conference, work in with each other to the detriment of the public as they did under the Peace Act, and to some extent with the wages board system.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
.- I was interested in the opening remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), because he kept fairly close to the subject-matter of the bill; but in concluding his speech he mentioned many matters which were quite irrelevant to the subject under discussion. He stated that in .the Labour movement there were persons who were to be regarded as parasites. The honorable member should be the last to make such a statement, as for many years before he became a member of this Parliament he did very little in the public interest. The honorable member also stated that the framers of the Constitution intended the State authorities to function in the settlement of industrial disputes. I do not wish to express my opinions concerning the intentions of the framers of the Constitution, but the High Court of Australia, which comprises some of the ablest men this country has ever known, has distinctly set out in a number of judgments what was intended by the framers of the Constitution as they see it. In every decision, with the exception of one, the High Court has expressed the opinion that it was within the power of the Commonwealth Parliament to legislate and of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to adjudicate in industrial matters. We have to consider, not what some honorable members have said regarding arbitration, but . the judgments of the High Court. The honorable member for Warringah quoted opinions uttered by certain persons which might mean that they were opposed to arbitration, but the same could be said of remarks of honorable members opposite. I think it will be recognized by most people that, in the Country party at least, a number of honorable members are opposed to arbitration, and believe that the conditions under which men shall work and the wages they shall be paid, should be decided only by the “ boss “.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) have endeavoured, by an unusual line of reasoning, to lead honorable members to believe that certain statements made by the right honorable gentleman on different occasions have suggested the possibility of the Government introducing legislation to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I can only say that whatever words may have been used they did not convey that impression to the people of this country or to the members of his party. It must be recognized that from whatever viewpoint this matter is considered the members of the Nationalist party were not consulted as to the proposals of the Government in the matter of arbitration. The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General have endeavoured to justify the action which the Government ‘ is now taking. Their speeches suggested an attempt to throw the mantle of statesmanship over an act of political cowardice.
In order to understand the whole circumstances, it is necessary to review briefly the history of Commonwealth arbitration. It can be inferred, from the utterances of the right honorable gentleman, that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is not a supreme authority, that it has limited powers, and that its existence has been responsible for a serious amount of overlapping in the administration of arbitration. I ask honorable members to carry their minds back to the Arbitration Act of 1904, and to recall the numerous amendments which have been made in that act up to the present date. It was I think, in 1910 that the first important decision was given concerning the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, when in the Whybrow case the High Court ruled that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court had not the power to make a common rule. I do not intend to elaborate that point. The State courts have power to make a common rule, the effect of which is that when an award is made for an industry every employee in that industry is governed by it, irrespective of the locality in which he is employed. The judgment of the High Court meant that only members of the organization for whom the award was made - for or against - and the employers cited as respondents before the Commonwealth court, were governed by it. Various decisions were also given from time to time by the High Court to the effect that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court had jurisdiction over State services. This is a direct contradiction to the assertion of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), that the framers of the Constitution intended that the State arbitration authorities should deal with all matters within their own borders. In 1920, the High Court ruled that the employees in State instrumentalities had the right of access to the Federal Arbitration Court, and in consequence of that decision, every State servant, who so desired, came under the jurisdiction of that court. It has been said that the powers of that court are limited, but we will find that every decision of the High Court and of the Arbitration Court, from 1920 to the end of 1926, has had the effect of giving to the court almost unlimited powers, making it a supreme authority. The judgment in 1920 in the waterside workers’ case decided an important point. Under sub-section 2 of section 28 of the act, any award made by the court continues in force until cancelled by the court, or until a new award is made. Once a union or a set of employers come under the jurisdiction of the court, by the making of an award, they cannot be released from the court’s jurisdiction until the court itself think it desirable to release them. That was the first important decision. Several applications to be released from an award of the court were made to a single judge, but in 1926 the full Arbitration
Court decided that if a State organization wished to be released from an award, or have an award cancelled, that could be done only by the Full Court. In the Amalgamated Carpenters’ case, in 1926, the full Arbitration Court refused a release from the provisions of a Federal award. In the Locomotive Engineers’ case, in the same year, the Full Court - despite the fact that both employers and employees were agreeable - refused, to release them. Does this suggest that there is any lack of supreme authority? In 1926, it was decided by the High Court of Australia in the Clyde Engineering Company’s case, that the award of the Federal Court over-ruled any State award, or any act of a State Parliament. Every judgment of importance which has been given in regard to the powers of the court has been in the direction of granting increased powers. When honorable members say that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is not a supreme authority, they should consider the three points I have mentioned.
The existence of overlapping awards has been mentioned as one of the defects of the present system. But the decision given in 1926 absolutely removed the possibility of any other jurisdiction interfering with the awards of the Federal Court. It does not matter whether its decisions relate to, say, the hours per week in New South Wales, or to any other conditions laid down by a State authority, the Federal authority is supreme. Immediately a case is brought into the Federal Arbitration Court, no action can be taken in any State Arbitration Court in the direction of obtaining an award. When an award of the Federal Arbitration Court is made, every other decision in relation to that industry becomes null and void.
– Provided it occupies the whole field.
– An award of the Federal Court supersedes that of any other authority. In 1912, the late Mr. Justice Higgins, for whose wisdom and sympathetic handling of disputes I have always had the greatest respect, came to a decision which, in my opinion, was unwise. In the Marine Engineers’ case, he ruled that customs not covered by the award, but in existence under a State award, should continue. That unwise decision, which was followed by Mr. Justice Powers and others, has caused trouble - not because of any constitutional difficulties through the court failing to make comprehensive awards to cover every condition in the industry to which they applied.
In 1924, however, this practice was condemned in the strongest possible terms by Sir John Quick, who said that it was a vague and indefinite way of dealing with industrial matters. Judge Drake-Brockman also has just as strongly condemned it, and has stated that he will not insert such a provision in any award that he makes. Recently he made a comprehensive award covering the clothing trades, and did not insert that provision in it.
The Commonwealth Arbitration Court was the first court that “was competent to deal with every phase of an industrial dispute. At the present time it is the only tribunal that is competent to deal with every question that is likely to be in dispute in any industry. ‘
There is one striking defect in these proposals of the Government. In three of the States there is no tribunal that is competent to deal with every phase of an industrial dispute. They are Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria. There is ample proof of the correctness of that statement. On the 4th July, 1928, a number of respondents in the locomotive engineers’ case made application to be exempted from the provisions of the proposed award, and to have their case heard by a State tribunal. Judge DrakeBrockman said -
In neither Victoria nor South Australia- the two States that made application to be exempted- was there any tribunal competent to deal with the whole of the disputes before the court. If he were to send the case back to the State tribunals there was no power in any existing tribunal to determine fully all the matters at issue.
During the hearing of the carpenters’ case before Judge Lukin in 1928, the union made application to be exempted from the provisions of the award. The employers contended that, if that were done, there was no court competent to deal with the matters in dispute, and on that ground the judge refused to exempt any State. That is a defect of the law under which State courts operate. In 1913 the late Mr. Justice Higgins was asked to take action under section 38 (8) of the Commonwealth Arbitration Act - the section which gave to the court the power to refer back to the States any matter which it thought ought to be so referred - to refer certain matters that were then before him. He then remarked -
The wages prescribed in the different States are glaringly inconsistent as applied to men doing the same work.
This morning the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) endeavoured to make it appear that any differences in wages paid to men doing the same class of work were due to the overlapping of Federal and State awards. That is disproved by the above remark of the late Mr. Justice Higgins, who went on to say -
To refuse to adjudicate would be to ‘ seriously endanger the peace of the industry.
Under the provisions of the State law in Tasmania, many matters cannot be dealt with by the State court; and in addition, any increases granted to employees in the railways service on account of the raising of the minimum wage may be vetoed by Parliament itself. In South Australia the operations of the industrial code makeit impossible for innumerable matters to be decided by the State tribunal. The Victorian act contains many provisions which prevent it from functioning in every industrial dispute. The last Labour Ministry in that State amended the act to ‘provide that, if both sides were agree- able, the State tribunal could deal with matters that otherwise, would be outside its jurisdiction. If one side refuses to agree, there is no redress for the other.
There may be differences of opinion among honorable members opposite regarding the necessity for a basic wage. Honorable members who sit on this side are unanimously in favour of it. By the judgment of the late Mr. Justice Higgins, in the Harvester case in 1907, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was responsible for the fixation of the first basic wage in Australia. According to reports that appeared at the time in the newspapers, the honorable member for
Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill) during the 1928 election campaign, argued that this Government had been responsible for inserting in the Arbitration Act a provision which protected the wages of the workers. He referred to the proviso to section 25d, which reads -
Provided that this section shall not affect the practice of the court in fixing the basic wage.
Where is that provision in the bill we are now discussing? The Commonwealth Arbitration Court is the only tribunal which makes provision for a basic wage throughout Australia. It was first put into effect in 1907, and was followed by a similar provision in South Australia in 1908, and in New South Wales in 1914. There is no basic wage declaration in either Victoria or Tasmania. Consequently, in what way will the workers be protected in those States?
– The States have sovereign rights and powers.
– I wish to know what rights they propose to exercise, and whether this Government has been given any guarantee that they will pass the necessary legislation to deal with these matters. Has a definite promise been made that such legislation will be passed ? The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) is credited with the statement that this is a proposal to throw the workers to the wolves, but he has denied having made it. He need not have done so, because it is true.
Is this proposal consistent with the ideals which actuated the founders of federation? Is it in accordance with the wishes of those who provided that there should be legislation for arbitration embracing the whole of the industries of Australia? Is there any indication that the people wish the Commonwealth to give away the power it has exercised for 25 years? Not one politician has suggested from any platform that the Commonwealth should retire from this field. I am supported in my views on this matter not only by members of my own party, but also by the highest legal authorities that have dealt with it. As far back as 1907, prior to the establishment of a basic wage, Mr. Justice Heydon during the hearing of the boot operatives case in New South Wales, said -
I believe that the minimum rate for this industry should be £2 14s. a week; but unfortunately, in Victoria the rate is only £2 8s. a week, and if I were to apply what I feel is the proper minimum rate, for boot operatives in this State I would be doing an injustice to the manufacturers in this State.
He fixed the rate at £2 8s. a week, and inserted in his award the proviso that it should, be increased to £2 14s. a week if at any time the Victorian rate was so increased.
– The Prime Minister is a Victorian himself.
– Yes, and he must recognize the difficulties which this bill will create. When this matter was discussed at the Premiers Conference in 1928, the Prime Minister said that many suggestions have been made to get over this difficulty of industrial control. One was that the Commonwealth should control our shipping and shearing. That, added Mr. Bruce, was all wrong, because there were many other industries with nation-wide ramifications. There have been a number of conflicting decisions at various times, as honorable members opposite have said. They quoted de- ocisions of Mr. Justice Higgins. Let me remind them that in the engine-drivers and firemen’s case in 1913, when he was urged to refrain from making an award covering two States, Mr. Justice Higgins said -
If one could treat each State as a watertight compartment there would be some force in the argument, but nothing is more certain than that the workers in various industries closely watch and discuss the conditions in other States, and there is nothing more productive of discontent than comparisons showing unequal treatment of employees in different centres.
Does that opinion suggest that the evacuation of the industrial field by the Federal Arbitration Court is going to remove what Mr. Justice Higgins regarded as a prolific source of discontent? Here is another illuminating statement by Mr. Deputy President Webb in the carpenters’ case in 1924 -
There were national and constitutional reasons why the united States of Australia should maintain uniformity in industrial conditions. One of the most important conditions of the Federal compact is that the trade between States is to be free, but there can be no real freedom of trade between them if there is a wide divergence of the industrial conditions.
All this shows that it is to the interest of the people that the bonds which hold them together should not be sundered. And after all, there are good reasons, other than material reasons, why industrial arbitration should remain an activity of the Federal Government. This is the first legislative attempt in 29 years by a government of the Commonwealth to weaken the economic, social and industrial bonds that bind the people together. Everybody must recognize that the closer association of the workers and the employers in the Federal sphere has helped to create a strong Federal spirit, and has tended, in an economic sense, to place the manufacturers of the different States on an equal footing. But apart altogether from that aspect of the subject, certain social standards have been set up which it is most undesirable should now be destroyed, because they vitally affect hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Commonwealth.
Something has been said in the course of the debate about strikes by industrial organizations against awards. In 1925, - when Mr. Justice Powers was dealing with an application for the deregistration .of the Seamens Union, he said that during the 21 years that the Federal Arbitration Court had been operating, there have been only three applications before it for the de-registration of unions for having broken an award. The honorable the Attorney General (Mr. Latham) quoted four instances of organizations striking against awards, and Mr. Justice Powers, as I have shown, mentioned only three, so that assuming the AttorneyGeneral to be right, there have been only seven instances of unions refusing to accept awards since the inception of the Arbitration Court.
– What the honorable member has said concerning my statement does not even remotely approach what I did say.
– The AttorneyGeneral mentioned four specific cases. But it does not matter, I now invite the honorable gentleman to present to this House a record of all the awards that have been made by the court since its inception, together with the number of cases in which unions have refused to accept decisions of the court. If these represent even a decimal fraction of the awards that have been made, I am prepared to allow the House to regard my statement as inaccurate.
Does any honorable member suggest that the transference of jurisdiction in industrial arbitration to the State courts is likely to prevent industrial trouble? Is it not a fact that in 1917 when certain organizations in New South Wales were working under a State award the greatest industrial disturbance that this country has known took place? It is ridiculous to suggest that the evacuation of the industrial field by the Commonwealth is likely to lead to industrial peace. That being so, the fault is not with the principle of arbitration, but with the manner of its administration. Arbitration cannot be a good thing under State jurisdiction and a bad thing under Federal jurisdiction ; the trouble must be laid at the door of administration.
A comparison has been made by the Attorney-General of the number of trade unions working under State awards with the number working under Federal awards. The honorable gentleman refrained from mentioning the number of organizations that are working under State awards, but we know that 143 trade unions, representing 769,000 trade unionists, are registered under Federal jurisdiction, and that of this number, 407,000 are working under awards of the Federal Arbitration Court. I believe, also, that eighteen employers’ organizations, representing 16,000 employers, are covered by the Court. Although the 407,000 trade unionists working under Federal Arbitration Court awards represent only slightly over 50 per cent, of the trade unionists under Federal jurisdiction, it is fairly safe to assume that, as the Attorney-General did not supply the figures, the 769,000 trade unionists registered in the Federal court represent practically all those unions which are performing work of a similar character in the different States.
I turn now to the bill itself. The verbiage of clause 37 is not understandable to the average person; it is not clear even to the legal mind. A few days ago I - submitted it to a gentleman of high legal standing, and he confessed that it was difficult to understand. It provides that after June, 1930, all Federal awards now in operation shall lapse, and also that if after the commencement of the act the court makes an award that is in conflict with a State award, the latter shall override the Federal award. This may have important and far-reaching effects, as I propose to show. The Federal Arbitration Court, after a most exhaustive investigation of the standard of hours in industry, fixed 44 hours as the standard working week in certain sections of the engineering trades. If this Federal award lapses it will mean that in those States where the standard of hours in industry is 48, the sections of the engineering trades for which the award of 44 hours was made will revert to a 48-hours week. And yet this Government claims that it does not seek to make the conditions of the workers worse than they are. Prior to coming under the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court, large numbers of industrial organizations were operating under State awards, which became null and void where they conflicted with awards of the Federal court; but, if this bill is passed, the Federal awards will lapse and industrial organizations will’ automatically be governed by State awards, irrespective of the fact that the conditions in industry may have changed drastically in recent years.
– Some of those State a wards are ten and fif teen years old.
– That is so. I think i have adduced sufficient evidence to show that the Government’s proposal is a. retrograde step, calculated to imperil the ties that bind us together in the Federal sphere. Its effect will be to make worse the conditions obtaining in industry. State awards will result in wide variations of wages and conditions, and will, therefore, give manufacturers in one State a distinct advantage over manufacturers in other States. These varying awards also tend to aggravate the jealousy that exists between the States of the Commonwealth. The Government in bringing this bill forward is guilty of a craven act of political cowardice. I trust, however, that the majority in this House will place the national interest first, and, regardless’ of personal or party considerations, reject the bill. Unquestionably, every member of this Par,liament has been sent here to assist in giving expression to the ideals of the people as embodied ianthe Constitution. All personal and parity considerations should be disregarded in the discussion of an important measure such as this.
This Government, toiling in the mire of its coercive legislation and the various acts which it has passed, becomes alarmed as soon as the first cloud darkens the industrial horizon, and now seeks to retire from the field of industrial regulation. In 1925 and 1928 it went to the country ostensibly on the issue of industrial peace. The Prime Minister’s utterances at that time were obscure, as are all his speeches, but, apart from what he said, the people undoubtedly returned the Government to keep industrial peace in this country. To-day it proposes to hand the arbitration powers, not to another authority, but to seven authorities, working under different jurisdictions. Reference has been made to the overlapping of Commonwealth ‘and State arbitration. It must be admitted- that the. Commonwealth Constitution limits the scope of Federal arbitration to disputes affecting two States or more, but there are in some of the States industries that are purely local. Ono example is the steel works in New South Wales. There are no similar works elsewhere in Australia, and for that industry there must be some form of State arbitration. The Federal Arbitration Court has power under section 36 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act to refer to any State industrial board such cases as it considers necessary to bedecided by that board, and it may act on the board’s report without hearing the evidence of the parties concerned. I agree that there has been considerable legal expenditure and difficulty so far as the hearing of claims is concerned. It has taken a long time to make awards, and I remind honorable members that, according to statements made on the floor of this House, there were, in March, 1929, 160 cases listed before the Federal Arbitration Court. Under those circumstances, it is practically impossible to expedite the hearing of cases. I suppose that the total number of men engaged in the maritime industry to-day does not exceed 30,000, and the Government now proposes that the four Arbitration Court, judges, who to-day are making awards for 407,000 employees in various industries throughout Australia, shall devote their attention only to the maritime workers. Unless other work is found for the judges, they will have practically nothing to do. The position is absolutely ridiculous.
I sincerely trust that the bill will be defeated. I speak feelingly, because I am one of those who believe that every action taken should be in the direction of strengthening the Federal bonds that join us together. The passing of this legislation will weaken, if not break those bonds altogether. The workers represent 85 per cent, of the community, and I appeal to those who have their interests at heart to assist in defeating the proposals of the Government.
.- A quaint local custom of one of the old Greek States was, that any one desiring to bring into the State a new law should appear before an assembly of the citizens to propound that law with a halter round his neck, so that should the law not meet with the approval of the Assembly, or not be considered necessary for the requirements of the State, the halter might properly be used to strangle him.
– Oh, that those days might come back again !
– In the position in which we find ourselves to-day, we have a counterpart of that custom, because the Ministry is standing before this House with a bill for which it asks the approval of the House. If the House rejects it, there is little doubt but that politically execution will properly be administered to the Government.
This bill has been introduced in an unusual and remarkable manner. The day before it was brought in, the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) opened his budget for the Commonwealth with a note of cheerfulness which is rather characteristic of him, and represented the triumph of hope over experience. But the next day the Prime Minister, when introducing this measure, favored us with a second budget speech, delivered in a tone very different from that adopted by the Treasurer the previous day. The right honorable gentleman, if I remember aright, for over half an hour spoke exhaustively of the present economic position of this country. He drew a serious picture of the condition of Australia, in an economic and financial sense. I do not say that he was wrong in much that he said. I agree with him that the “condition of this country to-day is serious, but I wish to point out that the right honorable gentleman has been one of the last to recognize that fact. After all, the quality of statesmanship is shown by forecasting and forestalling events, and not by recalling them after their occurrence. For years past, many persons, both inside and outside this House, have issued warnings to the right honorable gentleman that if the course upon which he was proceeding were persisted in, it must lead .to financial trouble and economic stringency. But at that time those, who, from a sense of public duty and responsibility, uttered words of warning, were dubbed as jeremiahs and croaking pessimists. The right honorable gentleman once said that this country would be quite all right if only the critics could be put under restraint. He now apparently recognizes that those critics were true prophets and that we have reached a serious position. The object of his second-reading speech was evidently to impress upon the House and the country the grave condition of our finances, so as to justify, and prepare the ground for, the measure which he was introducing. In effect, the right honorable gentleman said, “We are in a very bad way, and we cannot carry on. We are threatened by lowering clouds on every horizon. The only way out of the difficulty is to reorganize industry so that costs of production may be lowered.” I ask every honorable member to be perfectly honest. Was it not clearly implied in that and many other speeches that the Prime Minister has delivered during the last year or two that costs of production could be lowered only by reducing wages ?
– The Prime Minister said that there was no intention to reduce wages.
– I know that the right honorable gentleman said that he did not mean to reduce wages. His habit is to do a thing while he keeps repeating that he does not intend to do it. That is what I object to. There is no doubt whatever that every time the Prime Minister speaks about the cost of production, there is in his mind, and it can be clearly associated with his speech, the idea that the cost of production can be lowered only by a reduction in wages. Why has the Government suddenly changed from a cheery optimistic tone about the finances of the country to one of dismal gloom? It is because the right honorable gentleman is trying to impress upon the minds of the people the necessity for a radical change in the industrial conditions of Australia. It was not the proper thing for him to do. I honestly believe that the right honorable gentleman’s speech did not represent his own settled convictions. In the earlier part of the right honorable gentleman’s career, he clearly indicated that he shared the views of those who said that government was proceeding on wrong lines. A recent and notable speech of the right honorable gentleman, which I shall, quote presently, presents an opinion entirely different from that which he presented to this House on Friday last. When the Prime Minister went to Victoria to assist in the Balaclava election, he endeavoured to make the Government’s arbitration proposals one of the outstanding issues. At any rate he devoted much of his speech to that subject. I shall now read a short extract from that speech as published in the Argus of the 23rd July. Knowing how carefully and accurately the Prime Minister’s press publicity is organized, I have no reason to suppose it to be inaccurate. In any case it has not been contradicted. After dealing with the arbitration proposals, the right honorable gentleman is reported as follows : -
Referring to the present economic depression, Mr. Bruce said that unless something could be done to alter the present position the maintenance of the existing standard of living in Australia would become increasingly difficult. The remedy was to stimulate industry and restore its competitive power both inside and outside Australia. Some would say that this could be done by further assisting the export trade with subsidies, guarantees and bounties, and internal trade by raising the Customs barriers, so as to protect further the whole of the producers against outside competition. This course had been pursued in the past and it had brought Australia to its present position.
The right honorable gentleman has been in power for seven years and he has done more than any other Prime Minister to bring this country to the condition which he describes. So far, every’ thoughtful business man must agree with that conclusion. But he seems to have suffered from some lapse, either in his logic or in his sense of humour, because the next sentence reads - “ No action by governments could remedy the present, difficulties.” The very thing that he condemns has been done by his own Government for seven years, and it has brought the country to this pass. Then we find the right honorable gentleman disclaiming all responsibility for it. Like Pontius Pilate of old, he stands on high, washing his hands of the whole position, and tries to escape all blame by thrusting it upon somebody else. He goes on to say -
The only solution lay through industry itself, and only by co-operation between the parties to industry could salvation be found. One of the greatest obstacles was the dual control by the Commonwealth and the States in industrial matters.
Then he launches out upon his propaganda on behalf of the present bill. It seems to me that those two speeches were very illogical and inconsistent, and do not represent a statesmanlike view of the condition of affairs in this country. The Prime Minister is always laying emphasis on the need for lowering the cost of production. Every man in the House, and outside it, is agreed upon the point; but the Prime Minister has always avoided acknowledging how important a bearing the cost of living has on the cost of production. High wages are constantly cited as the cause of the present difficulty ; but why do men demand them? Why these fights in the Arbitration Court and elsewhere? It is because the cost of living is constantly increasing. As I have always said, the prices go up by the lifts, while the wages ascend by the stairways. The prices rise first, and then come the demands for more and more wages to meet the increased prices. Yet the Prime Minister says that the Government can do nothing. Instead of intervening in many industrial disputes, where the Government has merely done so to meddle and muddle, it should have done its duty, and exercised the powers it possesses to try first to bring down the cost of living, which is the most urgent problem in Australia to-day. The great unemployment difficulty is due to that high cost. The slackness in industry is due to the fact that the purchasing power of money has seriously declined. We should deal with first things first.
– Every other country is trying to reduce that cost.
– Yes, and yet the position of Australia in that respect has not improved since the late war. All the things which the Prime Minister declared in his Balaclava speech to be responsible for the high cost of living have been done by this Government. It has deliberately brought down measures that could only have the effect of adding to that cost.
– With the support of the Opposition.
– And, I am sorry to say, with the assistance, also, of members of the Country party, who are pledged to support the Government! The problem has been tackled from the wrong end. Nobody desires to see wages reduced.
– Not real wages.
– When I say wages, I mean real wages. Without altering the present rates of pay, it would be possible to increase immensely the purchasing power of wages; but to-day the people have to bear a tremendous impost in the form of heavy taxation through the customs, special control boards, and monopolies that have been allowed to operate and have been fostered by this Government. That is the cause of all our industrial trouble. The Government, instead of exercising its power to reduce, has sent up the cost of living. Let that cost be reduced, and then the Government will have done something tangible.
The impression has been created throughout Australia, largely by statements in the press by members of the Government and others, that this bill provides for the abolition of compulsory arbitration. Many persons have said to me over and over again, “For goodness sake do anything you can to get rid of arbitration.” But that is not the purpose of this bill. Even if it is passed, the arbitration powers will remain in the Constitution, because no attempt has been made to wipe them out. Similar legislation may be reimposed at any time.
– And will be.
– Even by this bill it is proposed to substitute a complicated system of arbitration and wage control, which is worse than that now in operation.
– Does the honorable member call it a system?
– I have used that term for want of a better name. The more one considers the measure in detail, the more heterogeneous one finds it to be.
– Its object seems to be to find jobs for the present judges.
– I shall leave that matter out of consideration. In discussing a few aspects of the bill, I do not intend to go over the ground already covered; but I shall speak of one or two points which I think have not been dealt, with.
It has been alleged in the .press thai I am quite inconsistent in opposing the bill, because I have expressed my desire and intention to abolish arbitration. Of course, that is entirely a misrepresentation. 1 have spoken on this matter on two major occasions in this House, and, if any one can find in those speeches any proof of inconsistency with my present attitude, I shall publicly apologize. In 1923, I spoke on the subject of arbitration, and dealt particularly with the extension of the Arbitration Court by the appointment of State branches. I also referred to the important subject of the position of State instrumentalities. Again, in 192S, I referred to the interrelation between tariffs, the Arbitration Court and the Navigation Act, showing how these three were closely interwoven and inter-acted. I said that, in my opinion, this artificial system was wholly wrong, and that I would get rid of it if I could. I presume it is upon that statement that the accusation that I have expressed an intention to get rid of arbitration is based ; but the words that I then used were “I am prepared to get rid of arbitration, but not on the employers’ . terms.” I said that I was not desirous of abolishing the Arbitration Court, and removing such protection as it might have properly afforded to workmen, at the same time leaving the manufacturers and others in possession of their great privileges under the Tariff. If one had to go, the other must go. But I said at that time that I did not believe public opinion in Australia to be sufficiently advanced to agree to such a course of action, and therefore, meanwhile, the present legislation must be tightened up, as was intended by the bill we were then debating. I have never said that I was prepared to abolish one part of this system that I considered iniquitous, unless the other part was also despatched.
– Even if the honorable member had said that, he would be perfectly at liberty to change his mind.
– Quite so; but I would not like to change my mind quite so frequently as the Prime Minister has done. The inter-relation of the tariff and the Arbitration Court leads to one of the greatest objections that I see to this bill. Unquestionably, the court bases its awards on the cost of living. Although I do not consider that to be a sound practice, I do not think that there is any other way in which the court could act, and one of the principal contributing factors to the cost of living is the prices caused by high customs duties. The control of the tariff, and therefore the control of the prices of goods, remains entirely in the hands of the Federal Government; but it proposes to hand over arbitration and the fixing of wages to the State authorities, who have no control over those prices. The State authorities might grant awards based on the cost of living at a particular time, and the next moment the Minister for Trade and Customs might bring down a tariff schedule that would upset the whole arrangement. The Government wants all the power to fix prices, and at the same time desires to get rid of all the responsibility for fixing wages. That is manifestly unjust and absurd.
I dealt at great length in 1923 with the position of State instrumentalities, and to every view I then expressed I adhere to-day. The proposal to exclude State instrumentalities from the operation of the general industrial laws of the Commonwealth is unjust. The demand for this comes chiefly from State governments. I can understand State Ministers, when they find themselves in financial difficulty, being tempted to economize in their budgets by making cuts in their Public Service votes. They demand the right of full control over all those instrumentalities and the men employed in them. It sounds a plausible request; but the position is becoming quite illogical, because every State government in Australia conducts some public utility which, in its nature and essence, competes with similar industries conducted by private enterprise. The proposal means that a State Government entering into business undertakings is to be free from the obligation to pay specific rates of wages which rests upon private enterprise. This is unfair to private enterprise and grossly unfair to the public servants.We are told that there are 200,000 persons engaged in State instrumentalities - I think that is an under-estimate because when I spoke in 1923 the number was reckoned at 250,000 - and nothing but jealously, bitterness, and resentment will be caused if those men are not to be allowed to have their wages and conditions of labour controlled by an independent tribunal in the same way as their fellows engaged on exactly parallel works conducted by private enterprise.
We have heard much talk about the need for “peace in industry”. What is meant by that phrase? Usually it means merely an absence of strikes. But peace in industry can be had upon those terms only if the interests of the public are not considered. The Attorney-General when explaining the provisions for the formation of maritime committees said that it would not be right to allow the representatives of the parties meeting in conference to fix the wages of the industry in the absence of any representative of the public. In effect, said the honorable gentleman, these conferences could arrange between themselves to “ take down “ the public; and to provide against that contingency the bill proposes that a judge shall act as chairman of a committee. I am not hopeful that even the presence of a judge will ensure that the decisions arrived at will have due regard to the economic conditions of the country. That is a most difficult thing to determine.
The amended Arbitration Act empowered the court to consider the probable economic effect of any award it might be about to make, and the chief judge had to admit the inability of the court to exercise that power. No individual can foresee the full economic effect that will follow any great change in wages and working conditions. That will be determined by the play of other economic conditions; in other words, by competition. The danger which the Attorney-General foresaw in connexion with the maritime committees will arise also out of a number of other arrangements for which provision is made by the bill, but in respect of which no such precaution as the appointment of a judicial chairman is to be taken. The awards now in operation will persist until the 30th June next unless disallowed by a State tribunal. But large numbers of men are working under agreements registered by the Federal Arbitration Court, and honorable’ members have been inundated with representations from various bodies regarding the disadvantages they will suffer if effect is given to the provisions of the bill. The Journalists Association, and the Theatrical Employees Association are among many that will be affected. I have a list showing that at least 54,000 employees are working, not under awards of the court, but under agreements registered by the Court. Apparently all these agreements are to be scrapped. The Prime Minister1 has stated that they can easily be continued by the parties applying for them to be registered under the State tribunals which may be appointed. In Victoria, the wages board system is in” operation, and although the people of that State have been prone to dilate upon, the merits of the system, I have always contended that they take too narrow a view of it. The effect of its operation has been to increase prices. Employers and employees have conferred and agreed regarding wages and other conditions in an industry, and have decided to pass the cost on to the public. These decisions have been reached quietly and without the publicity which accompanies the taking of evidence and the hearing of argument in open court. Nevertheless, the effects of these private agreements on the public through the increase of prices are at least as pronounced as are those that follow awards of the Arbitration Court. The proof of that is that the cost of living in Victoria is just as high as in other States. The arrangement which the Government proposes in this bill is merely an extension and perpetuation of the wages board system, by which the parties may agree to any log that suits themselves, register it with the court, and thus make it law. The public is not considered, and is kept in the dark till it is asked to foot the bill. Instead of abolishing this system, the danger of which the Attorney-General has admitted, the Government proposes to extend it. It is true that a judge will preside over the maritime committees, but is it to be supposed that if the two parties are agreed, the chairman will precipitate industrial strife by refusing to concur in the agreement because it is uneconomical?
– One defect in the proposal is the absence of public inquiry.
– That is so. As, under the wages board system, agreements will be reached in private.
– What would happen if both parties agreed and the judge dissented ?
– I cannot say.
– -If the honorable member had read the bill he would have been able to say. It is plainly provided that the judge shall have power to refer any matters to the judicial Board of Review.
– The judicial Board of Review is to consist of judges. In other words, men who are trained only in the law are to be set up as economic experts to deliver judgment on the ramifications of trade and business, and to be empowered to declare whether a proposed agreement is economic or not. It is beyond the power of any board to do that. The effects of an arrangement regarding wages and working conditions can be tested only by trial in a competitive market.
– What will happen if the judicial Board of Review opposes both parties?
– I do not know.
– The honorable member might refer to the bill.
– We are raising questions of doubt and difficulty, and instead of telling us to refer to the bill, the Attorney-General might explain how. these problems are to be dealt with.
– I explained that in my speech.
– I hope that other honorable members understand what will happen; I do not. Another objection to the Government’s proposal is that this is the most inopportune time that could have been chosen for the making of such a change. Hitherto, the Arbitration Court has operated on a rising market. The principal difficulty that led to the drafting of this legislation, arose out of the timber strike. That dispute was not settled by the Arbitration Court. . Nor was the transport workers’ trouble settled by the Transport Workers Act; the pressure of the large amount of free labour that was available enforced economic conditions on the waterfront. Similarly, no award of a court could be imposed upon the timber industry. Some of us urged that view last year when the amending Arbitration Bill was under consideration. The legislature may create penalties, but it cannot enforce them, and an award of the courtcan become truly operative only when it is in accord with the economic conditions of the country at the time it is made. The timber strike is finished in Melbourne and is petering out in Sydney because of the large number of free workers who have come in to enforce economic conditions that compel obedience to the court’s award. I ask leave to continue my remarks when the debate is resumed.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I desire to know, Mr. Speaker, whether you will make inquiries to ascertain whether an abuse of the privileges of the House is being committed by the Labour party in using certain duplicators for the purpose of printing thousands of propaganda leaflets for public distribution? I should also like to inquire whether parliamentary stationery is being legitimately used for this purpose, and whether this matter is not being distributed with the help of, and with the special postal facilities accorded honorable members.
– A staff of typists, with the necessary equipment, is provided to assist honorable members with their correspondence. Each party is thus provided for. The proper use of these facilities, as well as the proper enjoyment of all the privileges appertaining to membership of this House, is, as I said this morning, left to the discretion and honour of honorable members themselves, and I have no knowledge of any abuse of them. Certainly I am not in a position to conduct -an investigation of the matter. Honorable members are expected to use the privileges and facilities provided for them in accordance with the usual practice that has hitherto prevailed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 August 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290830_reps_11_121/>.