8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers. .
Deliveries in Tasmania.
– I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs a question regarding a communication made by the Minister to myself and other Tasmanian senators on the 20th August last to the effect that it had been decided by the Government to deliver sugar to any port in Tasmania at the same price as that at which it was then being delivered at Hobart, namely, £49 per ton, provided that freight, in-‘ surance, and wharfage charges were no greater at other ports than those prevailing at Hobart. Is the Minister aware of the fact that effect has not so far been given to that promise? Will he explain why delay has taken place in giving effect to it, and when the people of Tasmania may expect its fulfilment? . If the Minister is not in a position to give me an answer immediately, perhaps he will be able to do so on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate?
– I shall have inquiries made, and will report later.
The following papers were presented : -
Commonwealth Bank Act 1911-1914. - Aggre gate Balance-sheet of Commonwelth Bank of Australia at 30th June, 1920, together with Auditor-General’s Report thereon.
Public Service Act. - Appointments ofG. D. Williams, Department of Trade and Customs.
Senator NEWLAND presented the report of the Public Works Committee, together with minutes of evidence, relating to the proposed mobilization and vehicle stores at Midland Junction, Western Australia.
ADJOURNMENT (Formal) .
– I have received from Senator Elliott, a communication notifying his intention to move the adjournment of the Senate, in Order to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, namely, “Thereportof the Royal Commission on the Northern Territory Administration.”
.- I move -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until 2.30 p.m. to-morrow.
Four honorable senators having risen in their placesto support the motion,
– I have taken this step because we shall shortly have before us a Bill dealing with the subject of the representation in this Parliament of the Northern Territory, and will later be considering the administration of Territories’ placed under our control by theMandate. It is important in the circumstances that administrative and judicial officers, appointed by the Government, should know exactly where they staud in carrying out their duties. I wish it to be perfectly clear that I hold no brief for officers condemned in the report of Mr. Justice Ewing on the administration of the Northern Territory. With one exception, they are absolutely unknown to me. If they have done wrong they should be punished by dismissal or otherwise; but I think that some definite charge should be made against them, and that officers who, to the best of their knowledge and ability, carried out the duties with which they were intrusted, should not be sacrificed to the prejudice of any political party, or be made scapegoats for the Government.
In the appointment of a Royal Commissioner to make such an inquiry as in this instance Mr. Justice Ewing was asked to undertake, the utmost care should have been exercised by the Government to insure the appointment of a just and impartial person for the task. In point of fact, when the matter is inquired into, it appears that the Government exercised no care at all. I challenge them to deny the -statement I made in this House before, that Mr. Justice Ewing waited on and button-holed Ministers for the appointment, and, so far as one can see, practically appointed himself on his own terms. When one considers the nature of his task, and its essential unpleasantness, however conducted, one can only come to the conclusion that it was sought for one particular purpose - the unworthy one of gaining notoriety at the expense of the officers concerned. ,
The Senate is entitled to know definitely, from the Government, what offence they allege the officers concerned were guilty of, and whether they consider that the evidence supports the presumption of their guilt and the findings, such as they are, of the Royal Commissioner, justifies the action they propose to take in regard to those officers. If we are in the fu.ture to obtain from the Administrators and Judges appointed to the outlying Territories of the Commonwealth the conscientious and just performance oftheir duties, we must, in our turn, insure to them a fair deal when confronted with a situation such as arose recently in the Northern Territory, and when they are faced with charges of the nature dealt with by Mr. Justice Ewing as a Royal Commission.
Taking the investigation against Mr. Justice Bevan, it would appear from page 5 of the report of the Royal Commissioner that there existed in the Territory a very strong feeling that justice was not fairly and impartially administered. The Commissioner states that his general impression was that the people had ceased to have confidence in their Judge, and in this he felt to some extent that they were justified, although he was of opinion that many unfounded accusations had been made against him. This is followed by a summary of a number of matters, which seems to have been intended to justify the suspicion that hag been formed of Mr. Justice Bevan. On page 6 of his report, Mr. Justice Ewing refers to the case of the aboriginal Romula, and makes what would appear to be a most serious charge against Judge Bevan, concluding with the statement -
How Judge Bevan allowed such things to be clone in his Court, I cannot understand.
When we turn to the explanation of the matter given by Judge Bevan, it is perfectly clear that the report is quite misleading - lt is stated that when the accused pleaded “ Not guilty,” his counsel said, “ But he is guilty; ho said he was,” and the Commissioner then said - “ I know of no right enabling counsel employed for tho defence of the accused to declare in the presence of the jury that the man whom he is pretending to defend is a guilty man. How Judge Bevan allowed such things to bc done in his Court, I cannot understand.” The answer, of course, is that such things were not done. The evidence shows that the accused was only asked to plead once, and upon li is pleading “ Not guilty,” his counsel stated that he had been instructed that accused would plead “ Guilty,” and that as he was not prepared to go on with his defence he asked for an adjournment, which was granted by mc as being apparently the only fair course.
That is a perfectly plain and straightforward action, and if this is one of the cases supposed to justify the suspicion of unfair administration by Judge Bevan, it absolutely fails to be sustained. From the way the matter is referred to in the report of Mr. Justice Ewing, one can scarcely avoid the conclusion that in this, as . in other matters, the Royal Commis- sioner had determined, whatever the evidence, to find adversely to the Judge.
At page 6 of the report it is mentioned that during a strike Judge Bevan worked as a labourer upon the Darwin wharf and received the pay of the company - an incident which the industrial section of the community never forgot or forgave. When I refer to Judge Bevan’s version of this matter, I find .the following statement made -
One of the Dutch boats which was bringing Government and general stores to the town arrived at a time when the wharf labourers were on strike. As the stores, both Government and general, were needed, and had they been overcarried there would have been considerable loss and shortage, one .of the Government officers organized a body of volunteers from the Service, and with the help of some of the merchants of the town the ship was unloaded. I, for a short time, assisted. The volunteers, including myself, received the ordinary rates of pay. The pay was given by the Government, and not by any company.
So that if Judge Bevan was wrong - and he may have been in the opinion of some persons - the Government were equally culpable, and by paying him were, in fact, accomplices in the offence, if it was an offence. Judge Bevan goes on to explain that -
This occurred in the early part of 1013, and the fact of my assisting was well-known, as it was published in the Southern papers. I never received any adverse comments on it from any responsible Minister or departmental authorities, who, at the time, were as competent to judge of the propriety of my action as the Commissioner is seven years later.
In any case there is surely a Statute of Limitations applying to such matters, and if Judge Bevan was wrong after seven years it is time that the matter was dropped. It seems to me that the statement made by Mr. Justice Ewing, that the industrial section of the community never forgot or forgave the offence, explains his attitude, and these accusations were brought, not for the purpose of insuring that justice was fairly and impartially administered in the Territory, but in order to bring about the dismissal of an officer who had offended a powerful union. It is, in fact, the old case of the loyalist wharf labourers over again, but carried to the utmost extremity of injustice.
Again, the close friendship of Mr. Justice Bevan with Dr. Gilruth is apparently cited as a charge against him, and a reason for the suspicion of his impartiality. Was it a crime that these officials, associated as they were in the administration of the Territory, should have been friends ? Is it to be maintained that in future in all these Territories each official must rigidly isolate himself from the others, and have nothing whatever to do with them? It was stated that Judge Bevan and Dr. Gilruth ‘had a private telephone, and that, too, is submitted apparently as bolstering up the charge against Judge Bevan of unfair and partial administration of justice.
There is an apparent charge made against the Judge that he took steps to obtain the abolition of trial by jury in the Territory. Owing to the manner in which this matter is referred to in the report of Mr. Justice Ewing, one might have reason to think that the people of the Northern Territory were justified in some of their suspicions.
– Did not Mr. Justice Ewing himself do away with trial by jury in the case of certain members of the I.W.W. ?
– A general statement is made in the report, and it would appear as if it applied to every case, whether of civil or criminal jurisdiction, but when we turn to Judge Bevan’s version of the matter we find that it is only in cases where men of coloured races were involved that the suggestion was made. Judge Bevan says -
This recommendation was made by me on the ground that I did not consider from the experience I had had that justice waa fairly meted out in cases in which the racial question was involved. I had experienced the same difficulties as my predecessors found. When I pointed out that Mr. Nelson-
Mr. Nelson was the so called representative of the people of the Northern Territory appointed at the inquiry by Mr. Justice Ewing - who himself was on the jury panel, had in public, in effect, stated that no juryman would regard his oath, the whole matter was promptly dropped by Mr. Barrett and the C ommissioner.
Yet the incident is stated in the Commissioner’s report in such a way as to lead people to believe that Judge Bevan had advocated the total abolition of the jury system in the Northern Territory. Surely, in the case cited by Judge Bevan, such a recommendation cannot be held to be a crime.
Again, on page 6 the Commissioner finds that persons have been imprisoned in the gaol at Fanny Bay on long terms without any warrant or justification in law, and that it was the custom to imprison native and halfcaste witnesses in the Fanny Bay gaol without any warrant of law. He finds, also, that debtors, including young men who . had offered their services in the great war. were imprisoned for long terms. Those statements, and the findings, as printed, would lead one to believe that Judge Bevan was responsible for all these iniquities. It will be found, byreferring to Judge Sevan’s own statement, that none of such cases was tried by him, but that they were all cases of imprisonment under the order of a magistrate. Only one of them came under Judge Bevan ‘s notice upon appeal from the sentence by the magistrate, and in that case he reduced the term of imprisonment ordered by two months. Judge Bevan further says -
As the magistrates purported to administer the existing law in these matters any interference by me other than by properly constituted process of appeal would have been improper and unwarranted. It is to be noted that the Commissioner apparently doubts his conclusion as to these imprisonments being illegal, as in paragraph 3, page 7, he says that, “ if not illegal,” they were “ a disgrace.” If contrary to the law, it is a matter for surprise that in no case was the order for imprisonment set aside on appeal by either myself or the Supreme Court of South Australia or the High Court, to which Courts an appeal lay.
That seems conclusive, and yet these matters are put down, apparently, as constituting a charge against Judge Bevan. Moreover, it is clear that Mr. Carey and the Administrator, so far from being concerned in such atrocities, succeeded, after a long period spent in making representations to the Government in Melbourne, in having the gaol regulations amended for the benefit of such persons. Again, in regard to the finding about the rehearsing of native cases, so far as one can learn, there was only one instance alleged of this, and it is admitted by the Commissioner in his report that the moment Judge Bevan heard of it he ordered that such practices should be at once discontinued.
Nowhere is there evidence of any other cases of such a nature. Various ‘animadversions are passed on the officers.
On page 9 reference is made to a deputation, with the Mayor of Darwin at their head, who waited on Dr. Gilruth and endeavoured to order him from the country. The Administrator refused to agree to this, and the Commissioner’s comment is that the Administrator “ does not appear to have addressed them very diplomatically.” I should like to know’ what is meant by “ diplomatically “ in that instance. I have had some experience in dealing with an excited mob of that kind, and I know that one has to talk to them in plain and definite language. The time for diplomacy has then passed, unless the Commissioner means such diplomacy as promising to redress their grievances, and then when the crisis has passed have them dealt with in course of law. In point of fact, what Dr. Gilruth said was that he intended to obey the instructions of his Minister in the matter. The Commissioner’s comment on that is, “it is clear that Dr. Gilruth seems to possess none of those qualifications which would fit him for the position of Administrator, except personal courage.” Surely a loyal obedience to the orders of his Minister in face of peril of that kind shows that he is possessed of very much greater qualifications than the Commissioner mentions. Later on, when similar tactics were applied to compel the departure of Messrs. Carey, Bevan and Evans from Darwin, in that case successfully, the Royal Commissioner was again not satisfied, and apparently considered that they should have adopted the same attitude as Dr. Gilruth took on a similar occasion by refusing to go, although he condemned Dr. Gilruth’s conduct on that occasion. It is impossible for any official reading the report to find any guide to what his line of conduct should be should a similar occasion again arise. I do not intend to traverse fully the grounds of the Commissioner’s report, nor the file of correspondence relating to it, both of which are now before the Senate. I have said enough, however, to voice the apprehension which I feel as to how officers can be expected fearlessly to administer important duties allotted to them in the Territory if they are to be subjected to violence and threats by any section of the community which they are supposed to govern, especially if they have afterwards to depend for their justification on a Commissioner appointed in such circumstances as I have mentioned.
I turn now to the conduct of the Commissioner himself, and his administration of the funds intrusted to him. So far as I can see from the files, the Commissioner has been guilty, if not of embezzlement, of the conversion of public moneys. According to the report by Mr. Shepherd, the Royal Commissioner expended the sum of £470 over and above the amount which had been agreed upon to meet his travelling expenses, and when pressed for vouchers as to how the sum was made up in travelling expenses, he was compelled to admit that part of it, at any rate, had been expended in purchasing curios for his children, and he very generously offered to refund the amount so expended.
– If it was insisted on !
– Yes. If any employee confessed to his employer, when pressed to account for money, that he had gone to the races and spent part of it in backing a certainty that did not get home, but that he would refund it if pressed, honorable senators can imagine the sort of answer he would get. Then we have the sum of £349 lis. 6d. paid to Mr. H. G. Nelson, so far as one can1 understand, without a shadow of authority from the Government, and when one comes to inquire into it one finds that Mr. Nelson was the leader of the militant unionists whose cause the Royal Commissioner seems to have undertaken to champion. The Commissioner states that Mr. Nelson was the representative of the people of the Northern Territory, and that his services were utilized to assist Mr. Barrett, counsel to the Commission. Mr. Barrett, as counsel to assist the Commission, and present complaints on behalf of the public, was paid the sum of £400, and it would appear that the utmost required from Mr. Nelson was his attendance as a witness on certain of the charges. Nowhere does it appear how, or in what manner, he was authorized by anyone to be a representative of the people of the Northern Territory, aud to be paid for it. When one further inquires into it, one finds that Mr. Nelson was apparently the ringleader in the outrage on the officers, and the attempt to subvert the Government of the Territory. Further, there seems to be a pretty definite charge that he either stole, or was accessory to the stealing of, a certain letter which was the basis of the whole Commission. That being the situation, and such being the character of the man who was selected, apparently by the Royal Commissioner on his own initiative, as a fit and proper representative of the people of the Territory - a man who was apparently not at all particular about what he did, and who was prepared to declare publicly that he would not be bound by his oath as a juryman - it seems most extraordinary that he should be intrusted practically with the prosecution of those officers who had offended him by taking sides against him in an industrial matter.
When taking up his duties the Royal Commissioner, I am informed, conducted a religious service at a church in Darwin, where he attempted to improve on Solomon’s saying that all men are liars, by the assertion that all men are thieves if they have the opportunity. It would appear that he has exemplified this saying in person, and made ample use of his opportunity on this occasion to enrich himself at the Government’s expense. As we are on the eve of considering a measure to secure the representation of the Northern Territory in this Chamber, I think the report of the Royal Commissioner, and the events which led up to it, and the treatment of the officers concerned by the Government, ought to be very fully gone into.
– I am in some doubt as to the object Senator Elliott had in moving the adjournment of the Senate. If it was for the purpose of enabling him to express the views to which we have listened attentively, and 1 venture to say with some sympathy, he has accomplished that object. If it was for the purpose of enabling the Government to make a statement on the matter, he has entirely failed. Probably owing to the fact that he is a new member of this Chamber, he is unaware of the practice of informing Ministers of any intention to take this step. Therefore, until the motion was read from the Chair, I had no knowledge of his intention to bring the subject up for consideration this afternoon. Tn the circumstances it is utterly impossible for me or any one else to attempt to deal with it with any profit from any point of view whatever. The honorable senator has advanced very many propositions, but to attempt without any previous consideration of them, and without even the documents in front of me, to make any comment upon them, would, 1 submit, be a mere waste of my own time and the time of the Senate generally. I hope the honorable senator will understand that I am not suggesting discourtesy on his part. I assume that it was an oversight that he did not give me notice. Had I received notice in time, I should certainly have endeavoured, by looking through the papers, and even bringing them here, to place myself in a position to speak at greater length than I propose to do. There are, however, one or two matters to which I feel I can make some reference even now. First, 1 should like to assure Senator Elliott and the Senate that the Government is nol accepting Mr. Justice Ewing’s findings as being entirely and absolutely justified by the evidence. I do not propose to elaborate that statement any further except, perhaps, to venture the opinion that if the Government were called upon to-morrow” to find some one to fill the position of Commissioner for an inquiry of this kind, they would hardly bc disposed to throw the additional responsibility upon Judge Ewing’s shoulders.
Senator Elliott very properly raised the question of why the officials concerned have been dismissed. That action was not taken because of the findings in Mr. Justice Ewing’s report. I have said that the Government does not regard those findings as being entirely and definitely supported by the evidence, but it did take a very serious view of the fact that those gentlemen abandoned their posts without any authority for doing so. It may be, as Mr. Justice Ewing points out, that by so doing they possibly avoided an unpleasant experience. That is not the point. When a man is placed in a position, he should remain at his post until h°. is either recalled or forcibly ejected. The Government takes a very serious view of that matter.
– Did not. they go in fear of their lives?
– No man can quite look into the heart of another, and see what is there ; but I venture to say that if these men did allow themselves tu- bo unduly influenced by what had happened, the fact of consequence is that they proved they were not the people who could be intrusted with the occupation of important Government positions in the remoter portions of the Commonwealth.
– But was there adequate protection for these men ? We had 300 police around Parliament House the other night.
– If that line of argument had been applied to our soldiers in the firing line, it might have been said that they, too, could have thrown down their arms on certain occasions because they had not adequate protection.
– But there is great difference between a civilian and a soldier.
– Of course there is, but the responsibility is the same.
– The soldier gets no representation. Now we are proposing to give these people in the Territory representation in the Senate.
– I feel that I have said all that I can profitably say at the present tdma The main reason why the Government dispensed with the services of these gentlemen, or, rather, why they dispensed with the services of the Government, have bean given ; and I can only repeat that the Government are not accepting, with that full confidence which they like to have in the reports of Royal Commissions, the whole of Mr. Justice Ewing’s findings as being fully supported or justified by the evidence submitted:
– I was under the impression that the motion had to be seconded, and so I was waiting for some honorable senator to do so before addressing myself to the subject, as I would have preferred to speak in advance of the Minister.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.
– I am not questioning your ruling, Mr. President. I am merely stating that for the moment I was under the impression that the motion had to be seconded. I do not intend to address myself to the. criticisms of the inquiry and the findings of the Commissioner. As honorable senators are aware, I was one of the counsel engaged for one of the parties involved in the inquiry and affected by the findings, and, as such counsel, I have signed a representation to the Government wherein counsels’ views are succinctly set forth in respect of the findings. With that I shall for the present leave the matter foi the proper consideration of the Government. The memorandum which we have signed, and which has been presented in a parliamentary paper, indicates what, generally, are our views with respect to the findings, and so I do not propose to reiterate them this afternoon. I rose particularly, because of my association with the inquiry, to dissociate (myself from the discussion that has been entered upon to-day, and I do not propose to deal with any of the details referred to by the mover. I, like the Minister, was absolutely unaware, until Senator Elliott submitted his motion, that the matter was to be discussed to-day or at any other time in the Senate, for I have had no communication with him on the subject. On previous occasions the honorable senator has asked a number of questions, on notice, with regard to the inquiry, and, in connexion with these also, I may say ‘ that I had no knowledge whatever of his intention until the questions were actually placed upon the noticepaper. I say this in fairness to him and to myself. There has been no communication between us, either direct or indirect, with respect to any aspect of this matter. Indeed, I have had very little communication with Senator Elliott. I had the privilege and honour of standing beside him on the platform at the last election, but” since he has come into the Senate we have been thrown very little in each other’s way, our only communications being, I believe, with regard to certain provisions or proposed amendments in the Industrial Peace Bill and other legislation before us.
Senator FOLL (Queensland) f3.38].-
I have no desire to dwell upon this subject at any length, but I may point out that on previous occasions I, in common with other honorable senators, have urged that Royal Commissions to investigate matters of this kind should comprise members of the Parliament. We are sent here for the purpose of controlling the public finances and insuring efficient administration, and I repeat that it is most undesirable on the part of the Government to be continually appointing as Royal Commissioners men who have no responsibility to the taxpayers. I indorse the remarks made ‘by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) concerning the three officers who left their posts in the Northern Territory in the circumstances mentioned. It is all very well to say that, because a rowdy section of the people threatened them, no other course was open to them. They held certain commissions from the Government. They represented the Government in the Northern Territory, and they failed in their duty because a deputation waited upon them and informed them that unless they left Darwin certain things would happen. Senator Millen quite properly quoted the case of our soldiers in the trenches. What would have been the position if our men in the front line of trenches had laid down their arms and cleared out because, for the moment, perhaps, they might have been slightly outnumbered? There was no justification whatever for these officials in the Northern Territory abandoning their posts. If they had told the deputation to do their worst and “be hanged to you,” and if, as a consequence, they had been forcibly placed upon . the vessel at Darwin, they would certainly have been held in much greater respect by the community than they are at the present time. I do not intend to discuss the action of the Commissioner. I hold no . brief for him, but, nevertheless, I think the Minister was wise when he said that it was not likely the Government would endeavour to secure his services again. We know what has happened as the result of his inquiry into the case of the Industrial Workers of the World prisoners in New South Wales.
– The honorable senator must not allude to that matter.
– I only intended, Mr. President, to make passing reference to it, because, in the course of his remarks, Senator Elliott drew attention to the fact that, according to the finding of the Commissioner, the Administrator of the
Northern Territory had dispensed with trial by jury, and, although in the case of the Industrial Workers of the World prisoners a full inquiry was made by a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, who found those men guilty, Mr. Justice Ewing, as Commissioner, decided without hearing fresh evidence that, in effect, they should have the benefit of the doubt and be released.
– You must admit he was a good man for the job.
– I think he provided good argument for the early restoration of constitutional government in New South Wales. It is well known that the Premier of that State refused to open the Industrial Workers of the World case until he was sure that he could secure Mr. Justice Ewing’s services.
– I think the Storey Government are the most disappointed people in connexion with Judge Ewing’s report on the Industrial Workers of the World cases.
– Order ! That is a matter which cannot be discussed at length on the motion before the Senate. I have already allowed considerable latitude.
– In Mr. Justice Ewing’s report there are certain matters which the Government cannot fail to take notice of. There is, for instance, his scathing comment upon the administration of the Home and Territories Department in Melbourne, and a very serious statement as to the manner in which the liquor traffic is controlled in the Northern Territory. The traffic there is under Federal control, and the evidence shows that whenever shipments of liquor arrive in Darwin a fair proportion finds its way into the sly-grog shops as well as the hotels. This indicates a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. There is also comment showing that the manner in which the Northern Territory is policed is very unsatisfactory indeed. These are charges for which the Home and Territories Department must accept a certain amount of responsibility. I shall conclude by saying that the principle reason for the unsatisfactory report in connexion with the departure of these officers is the attitude of the Government in appointing, as Royal Commissioner, a man from outside who owes responsibility to no one, instead of appointing parliamentarians to do this business.
– During the past twelve years or so there have been quite a number of comic opera occurrences in connexion with the Northern Territory, but the greatest of them all has been furnished in the report of Mr. Justice Ewing. During the inquiry I took a good deal of interest in the evidence, and perused all that was made available in the press from time to time. I know that there was much of it that was not published, but from my reading of what was made available it appeared that the recommendations were at variance with the evidence tendered. I was under the impression, for a considerable time, that the evidence would be made available to Parliament, and I believed the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) promised that that would be done. I do not know what the Government intend to do in the matter, but it seems that if honorable senators are to thoroughly acquaint themselves with the report and findings of Mr. Justice Ewing they must have the evidence before them. I trust the Government will see that the evidence is forthcoming at an early date to enable Parliament to express an opinion on the findings of Mr. Justice Ewing. It seems that this is a matter that will require another Royal Commission, to investigate the work and findings of Mr. Justice Ewing. From a perusal of the report, and the evidence I have collected from time to time, it seems that they are sadly in conflict on certain points. It is not my intention to say anything on the merits or demerits of the case other than to mention that the best thing that can be done in regard to the evidence and the report is to consign them to the limbo of forgetfulness, and allow the Government to deal with the officers concerned as men who deserted their posts. Whatever happened in the Northern Territory prior to that incident did not justify the officers in leaving the Territory. I do nob intend to place much reliance or give much consideration to the evidence or findings of Mr. Justice Ewing further than to say that these men did something which they ought not to have done. I believe thai certain playful “ sports “ at Port Darwin merely bluffed these men, as I do not think the residents in the Territory are worse than any one else. They desired a change, and they took the matter into their own hands. The people in the Territory are certainly more isolated than those residing in other parts of the Commonwealth; and people in Melbourne, for instance, have no conception of the temperament of men living under conditions such as those which obtain at Port Darwin. The climate in the Territory is trying, and men and women live under conditions which tend to foster grievances of many descriptions. For that reason they ave not to be judged by the standards of those who live under more favoured circumstances. There are one or two remarkable features in connexion with the findings of Mr. Justice Ewing, and one fact is particularly emphasized. It is the fact that, although the Commissioner took a competent officer from Melbourne as his secretary, when it came to preparing his report Mr. Justice ‘ Ewing went to Tasmania and left the officer, who had been closely associated with him throughout the inquiry, in Melbourne. The report was prepared either by Mr. Justice Ewing or by some one else who knew nothing whatever about the evidence that had been tenderd, or the inquiry generally. It is most extraordinary that the officer who should have been employed in preparing the report, the secretary to the Commissioner, waa not called upon to assist. ‘That point is emphasized by Judge Bevan in a statement in which he denies the accusations made by Mr. Justice Ewing. A most extraordinary procedure was followed, and this is looked upon as being a very serious attitude for a Commissioner to adopt. This fact is also commented upon in a letter signed by Mr. Alban E. Morley, Senator J. H. Keating, Mr. George Shaw, and Mr. A. L. Smith, counsel for the officers concerned. Each of these legal gentlemen acted for the officers affected by the inquiry, and they have -written a letter to the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in which they call special attention to the fact that the gentleman who went to the Northern Territory, and who was mainly responsible for obtaining witnesses and arranging the work, was not called upon to assist in framing the report. I also desire to direct attention to iU because it appears an extraordinary step for the Commissioner to have taken. I agree with those honorable senators who have said that very little good can result by Senator Elliott moving the adjournment of the Senate, apart from calling public attention to the case, because neither Judge Bevan nor any of the other officers concerned can derive much benefit as a result. I am looking to the time when the evidence will be produced in the Senate. When it is available honorable senators will have an opportunity of comparing it with the report, and doing something one way or the other.
– Does not the honorable senator think that the pronouncement of the Minister for Expatriation (Senator Millen) that the Government are not going to take much notice of the report, is weighty?
– I do not think the Government will take much notice of the report, but the position is so unsatisfactory that it should not be left where it is. Something should be done in the interests of the officers concerned and the residents of the Territory generally. We should wipe the Commissioner’s report off the slate and deal with the men for what they are supposed to have done. In considering the whole question we should not be influenced by the recommendations of Mr. Justice Ewing or anything contained in his report.
.- I must apologize to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) for my apparent discourtesy in not mentioning the fact that it was my intention to discuss this question to-day. I was quite unaware of the proper procedure, and, as a matter of fact, I intended to take this course yesterday, but having failed to give the necessary notice I was prevented from doing so. I approached Mr. President, who was good enough to advise me as to the proper procedure, but he omitted to draw my attention to the fact that I should also mention the matter to the Minister.
– That is entirely outside my duty.
– Mr. President could only advise the honorable senator as to the procedure under our Standing Orders.
– Quite so. I think 1 have accomplished something, ms we are now informed that the Go vernment do not intend to act on the report of the Commissioner, but will deal with the officers concerned on a definite charge of deserting their posts in the hour of danger. It is not my intention to defend their action in that regard, but we have now got down to something definite, and the officers will have an opportunity of meeting a definite charge. I desire it to be definitely understood by officers intrusted with administrative and judicial duties what is to be the attitude of the Government towards them. If it is to be understood that they must in future stick to their posts whatever happens, we have learned something, and probably there will not be a repetition of the offence. In view of the training that soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force received In obeying orders, I have no doubt that in connexion with similar appointments in the future the Government will adhere to their policy of preference to returned soldiers. I am rather disappointed at the brief reference of the Minister for Repatriation to the conduct of the Commissioner. Recently Parliament had before it certain men who had rendered service to the country, when it conveyed to them its appreciation of their work. If we have the right to praise we should have the right to blame, and in cases of this kind, where duty has been unsatisfactorily performed, Parliament should call the Commissioner before it to enable an expression of disapproval for unsatisfactory service to be recorded. As I can’ see that no good purpose can be served by continuing the debate, I ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are -
Country storage -
– I desire to direct the Minister’s attention to the fact-
– The honorable senator is out of order.
– Well, sir, I ask-
– Order! The honorable senator must not discuss my ruling.
– May I very respectfully point out that from time immemorial it has been the custom to allow honorable senators, in connexion with answers to questions, . to ask other questions directly bearing upon those answers.
– That is not so. It has been ruled over and over again that the proper time to do that is when questions without notice are being replied to. During the past two years that practice has been observed by Ministers. I must, therefore, rule the honorable senator out of order.
– By way of personal explanation, may I say that my question has not been answered in the form in which I put it?
– That is an argument. It is not a personal explanation.
– It is an explanation with regard to my personal relationship to the question.
– The honorable senator will please obey my ruling.
– Then I will talk to the Vice-President of the Execu tive Council about the matter at a later stage.
Prohibition of Importation
asked - the Minis ter representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers are - 1, 2, and 3. By a proclamation dated 26th February, 1919, issued under the provisions of section 52 (g) of the Customs Act 1901-1916, the importation of dyes other than of British origin is prohibited, unless with the consent of the Minister for Trade and Customs. The term “ dyes,” as referred to in the proclamation, applies to the following, whether in paste, powder, solution, or any other form, viz., all derivatives of coal tar generally known as intermediate products, capable of being used or adapted for use as dyestuffs or being modified or further manufactured into dyestuffs; all direct cotton colours; union colours; acid wool colours; chrome and mordant colours; alizarine colours; basic colours; sulphide (sulphur) colours; vat colours (including synthetic indigo) ; oil, spirit, and wax colours, dyes, and stains; colour acids; colour bases; colour lakes; leuco acids, and leuco bases.
Under this proclamation permission to import foreign dyes is given only where it can be shown that the dye or an effective substitute therefor is not obtainable within the Empire.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
What quantity of calcium carbide was imported into the Commonwealth during the years (1st) 1913. (2nd) 1919, (3rd) the first eight months of 1920?
– The information is being obtained.
Motion (by Senator Russell) proposed -
That leave be given to introduce a Bill for an Act to provide for the representation of the Northern Territory in the Parliament of the Commonwealth.
– There is a very strong feeling in the Senate against the passing of a Bill of the character outlined in the motion which has just been submitted. In order to save the time of the country and the temper of honorable senators, I suggest that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) should ascertain the feeling of honorable senators in regard to it. with a view to allowing us to get to a division forthwith.
– Senator Pratten in some mysterious way seems to have ascertained, I will not say the temper of this Chamber, because it has not one, but its mind regarding this Bill. Now there is only one way in which the mind of honorable senators can be ascertained, and that is by means of a division. I submit that for its own credit, the Senate will not take a division until honorable senators know precisely the nature of the provisions which are contained in the measure. Following established precedent, I hope that the motion will be allowed to pass without discussion, and I have no doubt that when honorable senators see the wise provisions which are embodied in the Bill, they will be so stirred that they will unanimously decide to pass it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Senator Russell) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 8th September (vide page 4270), on motion by Senator Russell -
That this Bill bc now read a second time.
– It cannot be said that the subject-matter of this Bill has suffered from lack of attention. There are few questions which have been more criticised than has that of compulsory arbitration. Indeed, the subject has become so hackneyed that one is irresistibly reminded of the old controversy between Free Trade and Protection. Everybody has given attention to the subject of compulsory arbitration, and if there be any difference between it and the fiscal question, it is that in regard to the latter, people were always prepared to take either one side or the other, whereas if we listen to the critics there is only one side to the question of compulsory arbitration. The principle underlying it has been condemned in a most unqualified manner. But I do not think that that is the correct view to take of the matter. During the war period, compulsory arbitration, as a means of settling strikes,- suffered considerably, as “compared with the results that were achieved in the earlier years of its operation. During the first ten years of the existence of the Arbitration Court it. was the proud boast of supporters of the principle of compulsory arbitration that every industrial dispute brought before that Tribunal had been settled in a satisfactory manner. That being so, I cannot understand the attitude of those who to-day urge that the system of compulsory arbitration is a failure. It is true that during the war period some strikes occurred which were quite unjustifiable, but we Have to recollect that during that period people’s minds were somewhat unhinged, so that they became accustomed to think in a haphazard and eccentric fashion. I dare say that the unionists who defied the arbitration law during that period, and who resorted to direct action, deserve to be extended the same charitable consideration which was extended to our soldiers upon their return from overseas. Right up to the war period no industrial dispute was dealt with by the Arbitration Court, which was not settled by the President of that Tribunal in a satisfactory way. I do not suggest that the parties to those disputes obtained all that they desired upon every occasion.
– We never do.
– And we never shall. We may fairly apportion the blame for any apparent failure of the system of arbitration to both sides. Each side has made blunders, and even the President of the Court, in some of his decisions, has blundered. In saying that I do not suggest that we could have obtained a President who would have improved upon the conduct pf Mr. Justice
Higgins. To my mind he has been almost an ideal President. I know of no rr-an in the public life of this country who could have carried the responsibility which has been imposed upon him and emerged from the ordeal to which he has been subjected more meritoriously. His temperament made him suited for the position, and his sympathies “were with the purposes of the Court he .presided over. With one important exception, I may say that Mr. Justice Higgins has shown himself to be an admirable President of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. But even the President of the Court should not be above the criticism of legislators called upon to improve the Conciliation and Arbitration Act ?o prevent difficulties arising in future and any contradiction of terms in its administration. To me it was unthinkable, because utterly inconsistent, that under an Act providing for compulsory arbitration it should be possible for what might be called voluntary’ awards to be made, that is to say, awards which might be recognised or ignored, as those to whom they apply considered wise in their own interest. If our law is not a compulsory law, and the awards made under i£ are not to be recognised, no matter how displeasing they may be to some persons concerned, then we should call our legislation on this subject by its proper name, and should speak of it not as “ compulsory “ arbitration, but as “voluntary” arbitration.
The decision given by Mr. Justice Higgins to which I am specially referring was responsible for a great deal of trouble in the industrial world, and was, in my opinion, a most unfortunate slip or blunder on the part of the President of the Arbitration Court. I was treasurer of the Waterside Workers Federation when that decision was given, and I can assure .honorable members that the officers of the Federation were surprised at the interpretation which Mr. Justice Higgins put upon the award made in connexion with the handling qf wheat in the Commonwealth. An award had been made of ls. 9d. per hour for wharf labourers, and we considered that very handsome remuneration for the work. Wheat lumpers, however, contended that they were entitled to more for handling wheat than men were entitled to for handling general cargo. They demanded, and ultimately secured, 2-s. per hour. That brought about a great deal of troublebefore the matter was finally decided. As I am criticising the action of Mr. Justice Higgins in that matter I shall explain his own attitude on the subject by recording in the pages of Hansard what he had to say on the subject. He said -
One would have thought it sufficiently obvious that there is no breach of an award on the part of a worker if he decline to take employment at the minimum rate prescribed. The contrary view, however, has been hotly urged, and some partisans of the employers, newspapers, and others, have gone so far as to call it a “strike” when men refuse to accept work which is offered at the minimum rate. In Webster’s Dictionary “ strike “ is defined as “ the act of quitting work.”
I am not going to split hairs as to the meaning of the word “strike,’’ but, in my view, to say that it is not a strike or a stoppage of work if a man refuses to accept employment at the rate laid down in an award of the Conciliation and Arbitration ‘ Court is quite contrary to the spirit of the Act we passed for the purpose of preventing strikes. If this is not. so, I fail entirely to understand the underlying principle of compulsory arbitration.
– The statement made by Mr. Justice Higgins was simply an incentive to the men to disregard the award.
– Mr. Justice Higgins went on to say -
It is quite in harmony with the principle of freedom of contract.
I have always understood that the principle of freedom of contract was quite contrary to the principle of compulsory arbitration. I must have been under a delusion as to the real meaning of compulsory arbitration, of which I have been ah advocate so long, if the President of the Arbitration Court -was right in arguing in that way. I claim to have had as long a connexion with the principle of compulsory arbitration as most legislators can claim1. I took a part in passing the first State law on the subject in Western Australia some twenty years ago, and I was a member of the Senate when the first Cooranonwealth conciliation and arbitration law was passed. In all these years I have never been able to reconcile the principle*^ freedom of contract with compulsory arbitration.
Mr. Justice Higgins went on to say
It is quite in harmony with the principle of freedom of contract, subject to the minimum wage, that an employer should seek by extra wage to attract men who, as he thinks, will give him extra speed and efficiency. The device of the minimum wage will soon prove to bc a bane instead of a blessing if the position be perverted as the arguments tend to pervert it. I can only say plainly that there is no breach of the award or impropriety in a man refusing his services in loading wheat, unless the employer pay him more than the minimum. It is all a matter for contract.
Seeing that I have disputed his finding in this particular matter, I put on record his own explanation of the matter, and I leave it at that. Whilst I criticise Mr. Justice Higgins, I cannot forget that he took upon himself the responsibility of acting as President of the Arbitration Court, knowing that he would have to travel over an unsurveyed track, and that very few rules were laid down for his guidance. We passed a law, and said in effect, “ We want you to settle disputes and fix wages.” We did not say how wages should be regulated, nor that it was the duty of the Court to harmonize wages paid between one industry and another. We did not lay down any -principles to guide the Court as to how wages should be regulated between one kind of workman and another. We left the terms “ skilled “ and “ unskilled “ undefined. We did not say that skilled workers should be rewarded in a greater measure than unskilled workers. We left it to the President of the Arbitration Court to find a way out of these difficulties for himself. I must admit, in the circumstances, that Parliament is to blame in failing to lay down principles and rules for the guidance of the Court in the fixation of wages. We simply provided for settling strikes. The incomplete character of our work has brought about a condition of affairs which is very injurious to some industries in Australia. In many instances todav skilled labour is paid wages at a lower rate than those paid to unskilled labour. This cannot but be harmful to the best interests of the community, because if no additional or sufficient reward is given to skilled industry, there will be no inducement to workmen to perfect themselves in order that they may produce better work.
I have before me a work written by a gentleman who is at the head of the Labour Department in Victoria. The writer has experience and knowledge of institutions established for conciliation and arbitration, and I advise any one interested in the subject to peruse the work, Wages and Prices in Australia. Mr. Murphy, the author of this work, says that in. Victoria we have a most unfortunate state of affairs so far as skilled and unskilled workers are concerned. I have selected six unskilled labour organizations and six skilled workers’ organizations for the purpose of comparison. The unskilled workers’ organizations I have selected are the wharf labourers, coopers’ labourers, glass workers’ labourers, coalyard labourers, gas workers’ labourers, and builders’ labourers. The skilled workers’ organizations I have selected are saddlers, painters, blacksmiths, fitters of agricultural implements, gold miners, and cabinetmakers. I have drawn my conclusions from wages paid two or three years ago; but whilst in the .meantime higher wages have been paid in some cases to skilled workers, and certainly to unskilled workers, the changes made do not affect the comparison materially. I find that the average wage per hour for the unskilled workers in the six organizations I have selected is ls. 5d., and the average wage .per hour for skilled workers in the organizations I have mentioned is only ls. 4d. That is to say, that skilled workers receive Id. per hour less than is paid to unskilled workers. That is a state of affairs which we cannot permit to continue. It is a most unfortunate result of the fixation of wages, and one which no one would have expected to follow from our legislation. There is, I consider, an obligation upon us to amend our legislation to prevent such a state of affairs continuing, and to secure for the skilled worker the remuneration which his skill entitles him to.
There is another aspect of -the question which I have not seen publicly referred to either in the magazines or the press, or in parliamentary debates, but it will be forced upon our attention in the future, whether we like it or not. Whilst we have been trying to classify and fix wages for different kinds of workmen, we have not recognised, although we must recognise it in the future, that industries themselves are of different kinds, and should be classified also. It is absolutely necessary for us to have a classification of industries in Australia so that we may place the hall-mark of our approval on those which are most valuable and im- portant to the Commonwealth. We have no such scheme in operation now. I admit that it will be a very difficult and delicate task to undertake, but that would be a very poor excuse for refusing to attempt it. We have institutions Avhich ought to be investigating questions of this kind. The Inter-State Commission would be a very proper authority to take this task in hand, and to give Parliament the benefit of their investigations, so that Parliament might later take action to classify industries, in order that those engaged in them, either as employers or employees, may receive the encouragement and help that Parliament can give, in proportion to their importance to the Commonwealth. We are at present giving help and consideration to some industries to a much greater degree than is justified. Certain industries when they come before the Court can get an award that satisfies them, and gives them a very high remuneration in the shape both of wages to those employed and of profits to the employer. We have in Australia industries that may fairly be called parasitic, because they are living on other industries to an extent that is not fair or just. A case in point is mentioned in Mr. Murphy’s book. He points out that the coal-miners of Newcastle are receiving in remuneration, and the coal-owners are obtaining in profits, an amount far above that to which they are justly entitled. I have the greatest sympathy with coalminers. I know the arduous nature of the work, the unhealthy conditions under which it is carried out, and the dangers the men face every day that they go into the bowels of the earth. If I were classifying their industry, I would give the coal-miners, perhaps, the highest wage of any Australian workman, but with all the sympathy and support that T could give to the coal-miners of Newcastle, or of Australia generally, however unhealthy and dangerous and skilled their work may be - and it has all those characteristics - I would not give them a wage far and away beyond what their proper remuneration should be, taking into consideration the merits of, and the rewards deserved by, other industries which practically have to subsidize coalmining in order to provide the very large wages and profits now being paid by it.
This is one of the results of compulsory arbitration. When we introduced that system, and were agitating for it outside, most of us thought that it would be the employers in an industry who would be called upon to pay the higher wages given to their employees, but we find that quite the contrary has happened. In many cases we have discovered that the increased wage can be passed on to other industries, and that it is these which are, in effect, paying the increased rates gained by some, the coal trade being one glaring case in point.
– Inevitably it must be passed on.
– Not necessarily. Unfortunately, it has been too often passed on. but it should not always be so. Some industries can very well afford to meet the increased wages without putting a burden on other industries in which wages and profits are not nearly so high. I ask Senator Payne’s attention to this phase of the question, and to the particular industry with which I am dealing to illustrate the subject as a whole. . Mr. Murphy says at page 30 of ‘his very instructive book -
In 1916 a big strike of coal-miners occurred. Mr. Justice Edmunds was appointed, with very wide powers under the War Precautions Act, to inquire into the facts and effect a settlement. In his judgment he granted the men a15 per cent, rise in wages, and at the same time allowed the employers to pass it onby raising the fixed price of coal 3s. a ton. An ordinary tribunals powers would have ended with the rise in wages, but this was a wartime Court with extra war-time powers, and so His Honour, acting quite within his jurisdiction, was able, in effect, to say: - “The coalminers shall have an extra 15 per cent, wages, and the public will pay it.” Taking Mr. Knibbs’ figures, this order works out as -
The number of coal-miners at the date of the strike was 15,000. Their aggregate wages were £2,600,000 per annum.
The 15 per cent, increase amounted to £390,000. Over 9,000,000 tons of coal are used in Australia each year. Three shillings per ton on that would amount to £1,350,000. The difference between these sums in favour of the coalowners is £960,000.
The actual cost to the public must be considerably less than £1,350,000, because there is much coal used, not sold to the public, on which the 3s. would not be paid. The learned Judge, as his judgment shows, intended merely to recoup the employers, hut the figures suggest that the real result was -
The men got a rise of 15 per cent.
The owners got a bonus equal to the amount produced by the extra 3s. per ton, less the 15 per cent, rise in wages.
The public paid both..
Is there any way of justifying the taking of this money from the public in these circumstances? Is there any good reason why the employers should be relieved of the payment of any higher wages granted?
A rise in the price of coal is more serious than a rise in other commodities, because the effects do not stop with coal. Such a rise increases the cost of production all round. The price of so many necessary articles in every-day use is so intimately connected with the cost of power produced by coal that the consequences of that 3s. rise to the general public must amount in money paid in the shape of higher retail prices to a larger sum, infinitely larger than at first appears, for coal power is used for travelling, cooking, producing, heating, and almost everything, and the public always pays the extra cost.
That is one outcome of fixing a price that penalizes some industries at the expense of others.
There are industries that produce articles which must he sold outside. That is true of most of our primary products, very little of which are used in Australia. Practically all the gold, silver, lead, and tin produced in the Commonwealth is sold overseas, and must be sold at the world’s price. That is the experience of the primary producers of Australia in most cases. The wheat-grower has to sell his product at whatever the world’s parity may be. The man who grows wool or meat, or produces butter, must sell his goods to a great extent outside Australia, and it is the outside price that regulates his returns. If an award were given, against him he could nob pass it on. The gold-miners of Australia, to my knowledge, have suffered very materially from that fact. The gold they produce has not increased in price, but their cost of living has increased. They follow quite as arduous and quite as unhealthy a calling as the coal-miners do; perhaps even more unhealthy a calling, because the ventilation of coal mines to-day is ever so much better than it has been in the previous history of the industry, and a great deal better than it is in most gold mines. For that reason, coal mining is not as unhealthy as gold mining, although it may be Quite as hard and dangerous. Instead of the gold-miner drawine as good a wage as the coal-miner, for the last twenty years to my knowledge, he has practically stood still in the matter of wages, whilst the coal-miner has, gone up to almost double the figure that he drew before. I remember that some twenty-five years ago in the Newcastle district of New South Wales, and the same conditions were general in the coal trade throughout Australia, the struggle was to keep wages up to a bare living existence. Coal was then sold at less than half the price it brings to-day, and if the wages have gone up in proportion to the price, the coal trade has undoubtedly benefited at the expense of gold mining. The gold-miners are no worse off than the other primary producers, who are being preyed upon to some extent by various other callings.
The coal-mining industry is not the only one which has unduly profited. Many of the so-called protected industries have benefited in the same manner as it has. They get the advantage in another way. The articles they produce are sold within Australia, and the price is such that the extra cost can be passed on to the local consumer, so that the rest of the community has to pay willy-nilly for whatever increases those industries may get. For these reasons, a classification of industries is an absolute necessity,, if justice is to be done in the future between industry and industry. That is a phase of compulsory arbitration which, so far as I know, has not been sufficiently ventilated or taken into account by legislators. I hope that more attention will be given to it in the future, because I see no possibility of arbitration being dropped. There is no prospect of our going back to the old laissez faire methods of wage fixing. Society is becoming more complicated every year. The whole trend of society is to become more complicated, and as it does so the greater will be the necessity for wage-fixing and price-fixing. From the very moment that we adopted the principle of fixing wages we also adopted, although we may not have recognised it, the underlying principle of price-fixing, because we cannot do the one and ignore the other. We may do so for a while, but we cannot Continue indefinitely, because, just as the wage is fixed, so is the product of the labour fixed as regards its price to the public. These are considerations which we cannot ignore. We may slur them over, but they will come to the surface. (Never in the history of Australia did they come so prominently to the surface as during the war period. We had one price fixing institution after another in operation, until there were very few commodities that were not affected by prices which were fixed by some constituted authority. I see no hope of ever reverting to the old method of allowing supply and demand to operate without any restriction. The moment we interfere with any industrial operation we disturb this so-called law of supply and demand. We must, I think, go on and fix prices to an even greater extent than in the past, and so long as we take into consideration the attendant circumstances of the various industries we should be able to do justice to all concerned.
– We must either abandon the principle altogether or apply it all round.
– I think so. We cannot engage upon this work and drop it the moment we choose to do so. This is one reason why, I think, we shall have more arbitration in the future. It is of no use to think that we can go back to the old methods. Notwithstanding its condemnation I have not heard any one say he was prepared to abolish the principle of compulsory arbitration and price fixing.
Whether we shall have more strikes in the future I am not prepared to say. I think we may expect strikes. But I cannot understand how certain members on the Labour side can contend for a recognition of the so-called right to strike as a means of settling disputes. The right to strike and compulsory arbitration are as wide apart as the poles, and that being so, those who claim to be the mouth-pieces of Labour cannot consistently argue for the right to strike if they desire compulsory arbitration. The history of the Labour movement in Australia shows that the use of the strike weapon by one section has been disastrous in its effects upon other sections of the community who may have had nothing to do with the cause of the dispute. Therefore it is quite inconsistent to talk about the right to strike and at the same time claim access to the Arbitration Court. At all events, it is inconsistent with the former attitude of the Labour party, which ardently advocated and agitated for years, until the Conciliation and Arbitration Act was placed on the statutebook. I expect to see many strikes in the future, but I believe that, in the course of time, the public generally will be so disgusted with’ their effects that they will demand their cessation. No. section of the community should be permitted to inflict an injustice on any other section. We know how, quite recently much harm was inflicted upon men, women, and children in this city through the action of one union. This right to strike surely cannot be tolerated in any civilized community. Still it has been supported and to some extent condoned : but this cannot go on indefinitely. The sense of right will eventually come to our rescue. Public opinion will be educated to a proper view of the responsibility which one section of the community has to another section, and eventually strikes must disappear. It will then be possible to carry on our industries under full compulsory arbitration - not a partial application of it as we have had in the past - which will be recognised as the only proper method for the settlement of industrial disputes. The tendency and trend of civilization is towards the regulation of society; the day of laissez faire is gone, and no section of the people, be it a union of workers or capitalists, will be allowed to do what they please regardless of the general welfare.
– I desire to say a few words concerning the Bill now before the Senate. It is somewhat different in construction from a measure - the Industrial Peace Bill - which we had before us a short time ago. That measure dealt with the conciliation principle, whereas this is more fully concerned with the system of arbitration. There is a vital distinction between the two. In the previous measure an attempt is made to get the full benefit to be expected from a conference between employer and employee, in order to remove that feeling of distrust which of late years has crept into our commercial and business life. This bringing together of employer and employee in conference cannot but be beneficial in its results, because they change sides, so to speak. That is to say, the worker and the employer are able to view matters from fresh angles. For instance, the workman is brought to realize that the question of wages is not determined by the price of the article that he has made so much as by the cost of distribution and market conditions. “Without a full realization of these factors it may be quite easy for a workman to arrive at wrong conclusions, based merely upon the wages cost of a certain article, and its cost to the community. On the other hand, the employer in conference will get a better appreciation of the employees’ demands, and, perhaps, be made to see that the pressure brought to bear upon him is perfectly justified by the circumstances, and that the workman in demanding that the members of his family shall have a fuller opportunity to enjoy some of the things which civilization has provided, for us is quite reasonable. But decisions reached by this method of conciliation will have no legal form until entered in the Court. That is to say, supposing employer and employee in conference agree upon certain matters, the agreement will not be binding until it is registered, whereas an award by the Arbitration Court would be binding immediately on all the parties.
I have said that there would be fewer cases for the Arbitration Court as the result of the measure which we passed last week, because the Arbitration Court will now only be called upon to consider those cases that are not affected by the Industrial Peace Bill or that have not been determined by it. In connexion with this subject, some interesting information is contained in a recent work (1905) on Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration, by Douglas Knoop. He points out, dealing with the situation in France, that the average number of cases dealt with in the eighties slightly exceeded 40,000, and of these two-thirds were settled by conciliation or withdrawn. In 1905 more than 50,000 cases came before the Committee of Conciliation, and of these, 60 per cent, were settled by the Committee or withdrawn, and only about 15 per cent, were reserved for judgment. I think the experience of the French people will be ours. Of course, he would be an optimistic man who believed that it was possible to evolve any definite scheme for the elimination of all in- dustrial disputes, because so long as there is any development in connexion with our industries, matters of dispute must necessarily present themselves.
There is frequently a tendency to look back, and regard earlier periods of our history as the “good old times.” I think they are looked upon as “good old times,” because industrial life then was more or less in a crude condition. It had not, as now, become specialized, and trades, or even sections of trades, had not taken upon themselves distinct forms, and so opportunities for friction were not so frequent as now. This, probably, is one reason why there is more unrest at the present time than during any other period of the world’s history. As compared with earlier days the workmen are separated from their tools of trade as well as from their employers, who, at one time, worked side by side with their men. Throughout the whole of our industries we have not that system which, whilst it had some disadvantages, possessed many advantages, in which a youth learned his trade and grew up practically side by side with his employer. The apprentice of earlier days knew his employer intimately and learned the trade in which he was engaged from beginning to end. The position todayis that a young man may enter upon a calling where his particular work may be putting the thread on a bolt, fixing a nut, or making pins for a particular piece of machinery. He may spend years at work which calls for no initiative, and gives him no interest in his employment, and this is often responsible for a good deal of the discontent which prevails.
One frequently hears in conversation that arbitration has failed, but I do not think it has. There has been congestion in our Arbitration Courts, and, on that account, some at least consider that the system is at fault. But when one looks back upon our industrial life and realizes the progress that has been made, particularly during recent years, it must be admitted that the lot of the ‘ industrialist has been considerably improved. During recent years the eyes of the world have been riveted, on southern lands, particularly on Australia and New Zealand, to see the results of our experiments in connexion with industrial legislation. Many of the methods and forms that we are now adopting for settling -industrial disputes were in force as far back as 1836.
– We can go back to the middle ages in England.
– Yes, but I shall be content for the present to refer to the period which I have mentioned, as at that time methods and forms for settling disputes were adopted which are similar in many respects to those in force to-day. Even during that comparatively short period one can see that enormous strides have been made in the industrial world, and that the position of the worker has been considerably improved.
As Senator de Largie mentioned, attempts have been made to arrive at a basis on which to work. It will be remembered that Mr. Justice Higgins laid down as a guiding line “ The normal needs of an average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilized community,” which meant that he would . require to be satisfied as to what were normal needs or what was a basic or minimum wage. But I do not think it entered the mind of the Judge at the time that a minimum wage would, in most cases, become the maximum wage. It was simply laid down as a guiding line or a starting point to determine what could be done. Mr. Justice O’Connor said that “ wages should not be left to the higgling of the market,” and Mr. Justice Cooper was inclined to place the regulation of wages on the profit-sharing basis. It is a very difficult problem to solve, particularly if we take the last two authorities I have mentioned. Mr. Justice O’Connor said that “ wages should not be left to the higgling of the market.’’ How are we to work on that basis ? If the market for the product of a man’s labour should fall, how is the employer to ascertain what proportion should be given to the man who produces ? If we are to take the basis suggested by Mr. Justice Cooper” and say that the question is to be settled on a profit-sharing basis, how are we to determine the exact proportion of the profit a labourer should have from the work he has done?
– What would be the position in an industry where there were no profits?
– If we are to take the basis suggested by Mr. Justice Cooper, and pay wages on the basis of profits, the employee must naturally be prepared to share in the losses. The industrial and social conditions have greatly improved, and the workers of to-day do nob have to bear the burdens or encounter the difficulties that were experienced by our early pioneers. The wages paid are higher, the hours of labour shorter, the facilities available are greater, and provision has been made for compensation when workmen are killed or incapacitated during the performance of their work.
It should not be declared that our arbitration system has been a failure merely because congestion has resulted owing to the number of plaints lodged. Looking back at some of the earlier legislation passed in connexion with the settlement of industrial disputes, we find that the employer was allowed only two days to respond to the plaint lodged against him, and if the dispute was not settled by the authorized representatives within two weeks, their power of judgment ceased. It was a case of swift justice on both sides. If we were to include such a provision in our . present arbitration laws, there would be a stormy protest, and it would be said that we did not know what we were doing. It appears necessary that cases should be dealt with more expeditiously, or that the Court should have the power of referring to some lower Tribunal the question of settling disputes in their earlier stages. Our Arbitration Court should not have more work thrust upon it than it is able to expeditiously and effectively perform. It has been said, on the other hand, that the number of Judges should be increased. I believe that in many instances disputes should be settled before anger is imported into them, and before there is a desire on the part of the contesting parties to fight to a finish. While thismay be interesting from the point of view of which is the stronger, it certainly has to be regarded as a tragedy, because not only do the workers involved suffer, but the whole community is compelled to suffer unnecessary hardship.
The question of the public having representation on Tribunals dealing with disputes has also been suggested from time to time; but it is difficult to know how that principle can be satisfactorily’ embodied in any Statute. The members of the general public are the purchasers of the product of the workers’ labour, but they have no voice. It is almost useless to suggest that a vote should be taken, but some method should be adopted whereby those who are vitally interested should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion as to whether operations should cease.
– Why not form a Consumers party.
– The consumer today is one of the most blatant asses in the world. He experiences many inconveniences, and is continually growling, but is somewhat stifled because he does not know when hemay be placed in an awkward position. Employers and employees are consumers, and legislation framed to protect the consumer may detrimentally affect the employer or employee.
We ought to endeavour, as far as possible, to exclude from the Arbitration Court cases of a minor character which can be settled satisfactorily by other Tribunals which are not so slow in arriving at finality. Such cases ought not to reach the Arbitration Court at all.
– The Industrial Peace Bill is designed to enable Tribunals of that character to be created.
– That Bill and the measure which we are now considering deal with cognate matters. If the course which I have suggested be adopted, there will be no need whatever to appoint additional Judges to the Arbitration Court. In considering the improvements which have been effected in industrial conditions I may, perhaps, be pardoned for reminding honorable senators of the difficulties and the inconveniences to which shearers in this country were subjected in years gone by. In the early days they were obliged to cover immense distances on foot and to carry their swags. They had not the advantage of modern methods of locomotion. Then, when a shearer reached his destination, he usually found that his sleeping quarters were unfit for human habitation, and that the food supplied to him was of the coarsest description. When he had finished his job he was faced with another long dreary trudge through the wilderness to his next place of employment. Then, when the season was over, he invariably found that his reward was altogether incommensurate with the discomforts to which he had been subjected. To-day, largely as the result of the establishment of the Arbitration Court, the shearer gets better industrial conditions, better food, better sleeping quarters, and a better means of transport. In that way he has less idle time and enjoys many other advantages. The success of that Tribunal must be counted before we can declare that it has proved a failure.
It is easy for one to pick up publication after publication and to read in . them statements as to the inefficiency of the legislative measures which have been enacted in regard to labour, both in Australia and New Zealand. We are assured by these writers that there have been so many strikes here and so many in the Dominion. But may I remind honorable senators that strikes are not a new thing in the world’s history? Proportionate to the number who were employed in the very early days, strikes were quite as numerous then as they are now. They were quite as sanguinary, and they caused quite as much disruption to trade. We are prone to magnify the evils to which we are subjected because of our rooted antipathv to being disturbed. We therefore plead with the workmen, “ For God’s sake let us have a little peace !” I repeat that, in the early days of the world’s history, industrially, its inhabitants had to submit to just as many strikes and to infinitely more disabilities than we are subjected to at the present time.
There are very few provisions in this measure which call for comment. To all intents and purposes it is a Bill which can best be considered in Committee. But we ought certainly to survey the whole ambit of the measure and to learn from experience how we may improve it by converting it into an instrument which will achieve the purpose’ for which it has been designed. If we do that, although we may not be called upon to materially alter its provisions, we shall, at least, have done our best to make the principle of arbitration operate more successfully in the future than it has done in the past.
.- As Senator Senior has already pointed out, this Bill does not call for very much comment upon the motion for its second reading, because, to a very great extent, it is a. machinery measure which deals with many aspects of the Arbitration
Court and its work. It seeks to make that Tribunal a more effective one than it has been hitherto. One cannot fail to remember that the work of the Court during the past few years has not given that general satisfaction which was anticipated. Its awards have not been accepted as final and conclusive for any considerable length of time by those who have been affected by them. It seems to me that the principle of compulsory conciliation and arbitration cannot be effective unless some machinery is evolved by which an award of the Court must be obeyed by both parties to any industrial dispute. Unless we can so amend the law as to obviate the possibility of either party to a dispute ignoring the award of the Court, arbitration in Australia must fail. I do not desire to detract from the good work which has already been done by that Tribunal. But we have now arrived at a stage in the history of Australia when some finality must be achieved in regard to disputes which come before the Arbitration Court from time to time. How this end can be accomplished it is very difficult to say. In this Bill it is proposed that penalties shall be imposed for the creation of a strike, and those who encourage a strike are also liable to punishment.
I would like at this poiut to deal with some of the remarks of Senator de Largie concerning the increasing unrest which is discernible amongst the workers of this country. He pointed out that awards had been given in the coal-mining industry which had had the effect of penalizing the community as a whole without touching the colliery proprietor. When a body of men apply to the Arbitration Court for a redress of their grievances, I assume that the Court takes into consideration, not only whether the industry can afford to pav the increased wages sought, or to make a diminution in the hours of employment but also the condition of the men who are engaged in that particular industry as well as the cost of living and their general surroundings. But it is possible for the Court to make an award irrespective of whether or not the industry concerned is able to stand it. When an award of that character is made it is imperative that those engaged in the industry should pass on the increase to the consumers of whom the workers themselves form a part. As a result we’ hear men constantly affirming that although they are getting higher wages to-day they are not nearly as well off as they used to be. In Australia, the lowest coin in our currency is a halfpenny. When it becomes necessary for a manufacturer of textiles to increase the price of an article as the result of an award of the Court by one-eighth of a penny per yard -
– He does not lose the one-eighth of a penny.
– No. In that case the consumer invariably has to pay an additional halfpenny per yard. In other words, the manufacturer derives a benefit of three-eighths “of a penny per yard, which, in the aggregate, represents a very considerable sum. I take the case of an award giving higher wages and shorter hours in an industry engaged in the production of a special commodity, and involving an increase in the cost of the article produced to the extent . of one-sixteenth of a penny per lb. The manufacturer will in all probability charge the distributer one-eighth of a penny or one-fourth of a penny more for the article, and by the time it reaches the consumer, although the increase in wages to the worker may represent only oneeighth of a penny per lb., he may have to pay for the article an increased price of one penny per lb.
– A difference of five-eighths of a penny on the wool clip in respect of some of the operations of the Wool Pool represented over £10,000,000.
– A difference of one halfpenny per lb. on the whole wool control represented £5,000,000.
– The increases which have been made in the prices of necessary commodities have justified the workers, especially those who have large families to provide for, in the statement that, although their wages have been increased, they are no better off to-day than they were when they were in receipt of a much lower rate of wages. This is a matter to which public men in Australia should give close consideration.
Senator de Largie referred to pricefixing. I have never been an advocate of price-fixing in Australia. I believe that attempts which have been made at price- fixing have lamentably failed to benefit the consumer in whose interests they were made. Many instances might be quoted to show that the consumer has had to pay more for an article after the price was fixed than was demanded for it when there was free competition amongst those distributing it.
– The honorable senator would not say that that was the effect of fixing the price of sugar.
– I have not said that, but I remember distinctly that when the price of meat was fixed last year there was an immediate increase in the price charged to the consumer in Tasmania.
– In Tasmania the price of steak was fixed at ls. 3d. when I was getting it for ls. per lb.
– The price of steak was fixed at ls. 3d. per lb. on the northwest coast of Tasmania when local residents were obtaining it at l1d. and ls. per lb. The price of meat was increased to consumers on the north-west coast of Tasmania to the extent of 2d. and 3d. per lb. when cattle were selling at 30s. to 40s. per 100 lbs.
– The fixing of the price of meat is scarcely relevant to the Bill.
– I agree that it is not relevant, but I have been drawn off the track. Senator de Largie mentioned that in Australia to-day many unskilled workers and ordinary labourers are receiving higher weekly wages than the skilled workers engaged in various trades. The honorable senator desired to convey the impression that it would be impossible for us to secure a sufficient supply of skilled labour if that state of affairs were not radically altered. I agree with his remarks up to a certain point, but I cannot agree with his suggestion that lads are not induced to enter skilled trades to-day, because unskilled labourers receive higher wages than are paid to many skilled workmen. That is not the reason for the scarcity of skilled labour. An unfortunate condition of affairs exists in Australia to-day which is prejudicial to the possibility of our being able to meet our requirements for skilled labour from amongst Australian workmen. I may be pardoned if I repeat a statement which I have made before in this Chamber with regard to the impossibility of numbers of our highly intellectual lads becoming: engaged in skilled trades in Australia. They are deliberately excluded from many skilled trades and are forced to enter the already overcrowded ranks of unskilled labour. This is due to the fact that under present legislation in the Commonwealth only a certain proportion of apprentices to adults can be employed in any skilled trade. As the number of lads seeking employment is greatly in excess of the number of adult tradesmen in this country, what hope can we have that we shall be able to recruit the ranks of skilled labourers in the Commonwealth from amongst our own people? lt is impossible to overcrowd the market for skilled labour in Australia. What we need is a considerable influx of skilled workmen, but they should be our own lads trained in our own industries. We must recognise that the future prosperity of the Commonwealth- depends on the building up of a nation of skilled people from those born in this country.
– If our people are not skilled they are. not really educated.
– Exactly. I said a week or two ago that we shall find ourselves in a most unenviable position as a nation if we have to rely for skilled workmen on importations from overseas, whilst persons born in Australia are compelled to swell the ranks of unskilled, labour.
I welcome any legislation that has for its obiect the improvement of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Anything that will tend to bring about the settlement of industrial disputes, that will make our people more contented, and will help us to build up our industries and add to the volume of our production, must meet with the approval of ever-“ member of the Senate. I shall support the second reading of the Pill, and trust that when the measure is being considered in Committee proposals calculated to improve existing conditions will be cordially supported.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Senate adjourned at 5.41 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 9 September 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200909_senate_8_93/>.