12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I regret that I am not yet able to supply the right honorable senator with that information.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs yet able to announce the decision of the Government in regard to the request I made on the 18th June for the exemption of agricultural lime from sales taxation, in view of the fact that other fertilizers are exempt?
– I am not yet able to give the honorable senator that information.
guarantee op 38. per bushel- policy of the Government - Polls of Wheat-growers.
– Will the Leader of the Government say why, when the Commonwealth Bank Board notified the Government that it was informed that it would be irregular and illegal for the Government to guarantee the board against loss if it provided money for the payment of 3s. per bushel for wheat, under the measure before us some time ago, the Government did not make provision for the advance to be made and indemnify itself against loss, as other governments have done? In other words, why was not the Government sincere ?
– The. Government was prepared to guarantee the bank against loss, but the bank was not prepared to accept the guarantee.
– Could not the Government have guaranteed the bank, and indemnified itself afterwards?
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
– In the Wheat Marketing Bill now before another place, provision is made for the repeal of the Wheat Advances Act 1930.
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow : -
Since September, 1928, four polls have been taken in New South Wales at two of which there was a majority in favour of the establishment of a compulsory pool, but as the majority required by the act was not obtained, a pool could not be established. In two instances there was a majority against the establishment of a compulsory pool.
In Victoria two polls of wheat-growers have been taken. In one instance there was a small majority against the establishment of a compulsory pool. In the other case a majority favoured . the establishment of a compulsory pool, but as this majority was not the requisite majority specified by the act, a pool could not be formed.
” NEW GUARD.”
– Inquiries are being made into the questions asked by Senator Rae relative to the New South Wales organization known as the “ New Guard”, and a reply will be furnished to the honorable senator as soon as possible.
Reductions of Costs
– On the 17th July, Senator R. D. Elliott asked the Minister for Transport the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
Motion (by Senator Herbert Hays) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator Milten on account of ill health.
The following papers were presented : -
Patents Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 88.
Transport Workers Act - Regulations amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 76- No. 77.
Bill received from the House of Representatives; Standing and Sessional Orders suspended; and bill (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Senator BARNES (Victoria - Vice-
President of the Executive Council) [11.11].- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
The history of industrial arbitration in Australia holds many memories for honorable senators. Most of us are able to recall that in the years of our youth we fought for a means, which we thought would be sane and sensible, of avoiding the industrial disturbances which took place from time to time. After a great deal of agitation and argument, what we now know as the arbitration system of Australia, was established. Last year, honorable senators will recollect, a bill to amend the Conciliation and Arbitra tion Act was passed by this chamber after a very lengthy discussion, and agreement was reached with another place only after a conference of managers of both Houses had been held. The bill met with some obstruction in this chamber. At that time a number of industrial representatives were in Canberra, and it was decided to hold a conference of representatives, the Government, the Opposition, and the industrialists. The result of that conference was reported to the Senate. The principles to which the Senate then agreed with respect to the extension of the sphere of conciliation are the subject of the provisions of the bill now before us, consequent upon the judgment of the High Court in the case of the Australian Railways Union versus VictorianRailways Commissioners. The majority of the justices held that section 34 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which deals with the appointment and functions of conciliation committees, was invalid. I think I am correctly interpreting the opinion of honorable senators who were present at the conference to which I have referred when I say that they welcomed the proposal to establish conciliation committees representative of both employers and employees, with an independent chairman called a commissioner. It was felt that the views of both sides could be placed before such committees, and that the chairman would be able to deliver a prompt judgment on the evidence submitted to him. The judgment of the High Court, to which I have already referred, also declared that section 33 of the act was invalid on the ground that it was inseparable from section 34. I think I am right in saying that the Senate last year desired that a reasonable means should be devised of settling industrial disputes. At the time we thought we were providing this, but eventually what we provided was challenged, and the High Court determined against us. The purpose of this amendment is to remedy defects in the principal act.
Under section 34 the Governor-General appointed conciliation committees consisting of members selected by the GovernorGeneral from nominations by the parties to the disputes. As the court did not consider persons so chosen to be authorized agents of the parties, it held that it was a law enabling a body of persons to settle a dispute by issuing a decree arrived at by a discussion among themselves without any hearing or determination between the disputants, and that such a law was not a law with respect to conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes. The line drawn is a fine one. The intention in making the appointments from among nominees of the parties was that such nominees would be representative of those parties. In actual practice such would be the case. However, in view of the technical distinction an alteration of the language used in the section is necessary.
There are also some consequential alterations arising from the judgment. For example, the chairman of a committee was not to be present at the initial deliberation, but was to be called upon if the other members were unable to arrive at an agreement. As the members of committees are to be given the status of representatives, it is now proposed that the chairman shall be present throughout the discussions. With the reenactment of section 34 in a valid form, the validity of section 33 will not be impaired. It is proposed to extend the operation of this provision to cover not only applications for the settlement of disputes or the variation of awards, but also applications to set aside, suspend or cancel awards. The act contains specific provision for the suspension or cancellation of awards on various grounds, such as the breach or non-observance of awards. This power is of a punitive nature. Contained in the section is a power to set aside, suspend or cancel an award for “ any other reason “.
These Words are intended to be read in connexion with the preceding words, and were meant to give the court general power over cases of misconduct. The words, however, ha,ve. been, given the very widest interpretation, as if they were placed in a separate and distinct section, and stood alone wholly divorced from their context. The amendment proposed in clause 6 of the bill will restrict the power to the limits intended. It will be seen, therefore, that the bill introduces no new principles, and is substantially a technical amendment founded on the exposition of the letter of the law by the High Court
There is no great need for me to say much on this subject. I think that all honorable senators recognize the wisdom of settling industrial disputes by arbitration. That method has not always turned out as successful as was anticipated by most of us, but after all, even a judge sometimes, being human, is liable to err. I have had personal experience of that. In my opinion, and that of the members of the Australian Workers Union, a president of the Arbitration Court, in giving a judgment, did err. The union would not accept the judgment, and for a long time its members were out of employment. I am generally the last to advise men to strike, but there are occasions, such as the exceptional one to which I have referred, when it is necessary for the workers to set themselves in opposition to a determination by an arbitration court. Generally speaking under arbitration the industries of Australia ha.ve been carried on reasonably peacefully. At times employers and employees have resented determinations by the Arbitration Court, and have employed other means to settle, their disputes, but the folly of such a course has been demonstrated over and over again. ]$o industry can cease operations without throwing every other industry in the country more or less out of stride. Take the waterside workers, about whom we have heard so much in recent weeks. There are-comparatively few men engaged on the waterfront, but a cessation s of work on their Dart disorganizes the whole industrial eastern of Australia.. It is common sense for us to say, “ Let us get together and put our case before a judge of the Arbitration Court “. The purpose of this bill is to give effect to what the managers of the Senate, in conference with the managers of the House of Representatives, thought they were providing for, and I commend the measure to honorable senators.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) ‘ [11.25]. - After explaining the provisions of the bill Senator Barnes has made a speech in defence of arbitration, a matter which is not, raised by the bill, and is not a point at issue.
This bill has an unfortunate history. At the last elections the issue was whether the Federal Arbitration Court and federal arbitration law were to be maintained. The Bruce-Page Government had put forward a policy for the withdrawal by the Commonwealth from the arbitration field except in regard to the maritime industry, and that policy had been challenged by the then Opposition. Labour declared at the elections that it stood for federal arbitration. The issue was not arbitration’ or no arbitration, because, if the’ Commonwealth withdrew, State arbitration laws would still remain ; it was whether or not the Federal Arbitration Court and law should be maintained, and on that issue the present Government won. The country declared for the maintenance of the Federal Arbitration Court. But this bill, far from maintaining the Federal Arbitration Court, deals it a deadly blow, hamstrings it and renders it inoperative. When introducing its bill last year the present Government did not take the ground that it proposed to extend the powers, functions, or scope of the Federal Arbitration Court, but said that the conciliation power in the existing act could usefully be extended. At any rate, that was the pretext put forward for a bill which was almost entirely devoted, in its main principles, to the appointment of conciliation committees. There were provisions in the main act for such committees, but the Government declared that it wanted more of these. The bill, however, contained a number of other clauses the effect of whichwas to strike out the provision for the holding of secret ballets and the provision under which the Arbitration Court was directed to pay regard to the economic positionof an industry. There were also clauses relating to quite a number of Blatters not mentioned at the election: When the bill came before us, recognizing that the Government had been given a mandate to maintain the principle of arbitration,the Federal Arbitration Court and arbitration law’, we accepted the assurance of the Government that it desired to extend the conciliation provisions of the existing law, and, theref ore, we did not object to the clauses which gave the conciliation committees additional powers. But we struck’ out of the bill the other provisions to which I have referred. As the result, a dispute arose between the two Houses, and a conference of managers was arranged. That conference’ unanimously arrived at an agreement as to the amendments made by the Senate which should be accepted or rejected. The report of the conference was adopted in both chambers, and this is what Senator Daly, who was then Leader of the Government in the Senate and one of the managers at the conference, had to say when he brought up the report -
I wish to say that an excellent spirit prevailed at the conference. Both parties attended the conference obviously animated by the. desire to arrive at an agreement if that could be done without sacrificing principles, and, I think, that the Senate may rest assured’ that in all matters of importance its views have been met in. a very reasonable way.
Mr. Beasley was handling the matter in the House ofRepresentatives. He was a member of the Ministry at the time, and was one of the managers for the House ofRepresentatives at the conference. In making his report to the House ofRepresentatives, he said -
The deliberations of the conference were of a lengthy character. Naturally the representativeson both sides stressedtheir respectiveopinions, and endeavoured to reach a’ decision which they thought would meet the position. Each member of the conference entered into the negotiations with a desire to make this measure of benefit to the people from his particular point of view. 1 say quite frankly and definitely that the amendments agreed upon do not accomplish all that I would desire. Some of’ the principles for which the Government has fought will not be- embodied in the’ bill. Undoubtedly it has had a rugged passage in both branches of the legislature, and in the conference. The report of the conference is submitted to the committee for its favorable consideration, and it is hoped’ that it will carry us along the path that we all desire to follow. The administration’ of the measure will be watched very closely by the Grovernment. Every possible means will be taken to make this law operate as smoothly as possible. If the circumstances under which it has been necessary for us to accept this compromise change, the Government will seize the earliest opportunity to give” effect to the principles which it thinks should be embodied in this legislation.
Certain members of the Labour party in another place voted against the adoption of the conference report, but Mr. Chifley who was then a private member, but. is now a member of the Government, spoke iri support of it in these terms -
I am prepared to go before the trade unions in any State, and to give to the men who really understand arbitration a full explanation and justification of the vote I shall record this afternoon. My duty in this House is to serve the people I represent, the majority’ of whom arc workers. Although I do not think that the bill, us amended, represents all that we should have got, I believe I am justified in accepting it as representing some improvement on existing legislation.
So much for the final shape in which that bill emerged from the conference between the two houses. It can, I think, -be truthfully said that it represented substantially the Government’s interpretation of its mandate from the electors not to make any alteration in the act, but to maintain the principle of Commonwealth arbitration and the power of the court. But no sooner was that measure placed upon the statute-book than the Government by its administration, deliberately used the powers vested in it under certain provisions of the act as amended to prevent the Arbitration Court from functioning. Let me remind honorable senators of what happened. One of its first acts was to appoint no less than seventeen conciliation committees.
That briefly is the history of the action taken by this Government in those claims. In this bill the Government is going a step further. It is now attempting to over-ride the decision of the High Court ; it is attempting to take from the Arbitration Court power to adjudicate in respect of all claims rightfully and lawfully brought before it. Not only is the Government proposing to do this, but in the last clause of the bill it is enacting that the provision relating to this arbitral power with which it seeks to clothe the conciliation - committees, shall be retrospective to the date of the intervention by the Attorney-General in the claim by the railway commissioners before the Arbitration Court. The bill purports to extend the conciliation provisions of the Arbitration Act. It does nothing of the kind. Nor is it designed to uphold the principle of arbitration, because no one will seriously contend that, under the existing law, the Arbitration Court is not able to function freely and effectively in all the States.
We need not look far for the reason for the introduction of this hill. For many years, when Australia was enjoying an era of prosperity, industrial organizations brought before the court, lime after time, claims for higher wages and improved working conditions; and because industry was thriving and prices of all commodities were increasing, the court made awards in order to, if possible, enable employees to keep pace with the increased cost of living. Now, for the first time, because of the change of the economic situation, the court has, perforce, to make awards on a lower scale, and this Government, at the behest of its supporters, is doing all in its power to prevent the court from functioning as an arbitral authority in industrial disputes. In other words, this Government and its supporters are determined that arbitration shall be a one-way traffic business; that the court shall only make awards for increased wages and never bring in determinations to reduce wages.
– I agree with and admire the observations which have just fallen from the lips of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), and am a little amazed at the knowledge of detail he has displayed, having regard to the limited time given to him for the consideration of the bill. I had seen nothing of it until it was put before us this morning, and I find the greatest difficulty in following its various provisions without having before me the principal act to compare the proposed amendments with the existing law. I remember, however, sufficient of the measure which was passed last year for the appointment of conciliation committees and commissioners to recall that the whole of those provisions were declared by the High Court to be unconstitutional ; and I know that in this bill they have been replaced by- a number of clauses which are designed, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, to over-ride the decision of the High Court. I was not a member of the Senate when the last amending bill was under consideration, but if I had been - I do not know whether I am recalcitrant in nature or not - I think it would have taken a great deal of argument to induce me to vote for it. I should have Looked at the history of arbitration in this country from the passing of the first Commonwealth act over 25 years ago to the latest amendment, and would have recalled that, in that time, it had been amended no less than twenty times. Some of the amendments were of a minor character; others, again, were so radical as to alter the whole character of the legislation. Finally, the arbitration tribunal was given the status of a Commonwealth court, and judges were appointed with life tenure. That having been done one would have thought that the last word about the amendment of this act had been heard; but now further drastic amendments are before us. These have direct bearing upon the recent judgment of the High Court, which declared invalid those provisions of the amending act which clothed the conciliation commissioners with arbitral authority. An attempt is being made to replace, as nearly as possible, the provisions which were superseded by the High Court. ‘ In the provisions of a previous amending bill which were superseded by the judgment of the High Court, and which it is now sought to replace by going as near as it is possible to go with the provisions which have been superseded, a very radical alteration was brought about. That bill, I suggest, proved to be as great a surprise to the majority of the members of this Parliament as was the Trojan horse to the citizens of ancient Troy.
No one in either House appeared to have the slightest idea of what these alterations involved. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, it was not until the Government appointed the seventeen conciliation committees, to which he referred, that it was realized that the whole purpose of the act was to< substitute conciliation committees for the Arbitration Court, and to- leave the three judges who had just been appointed with, a life tenure, high and dry, with nothing to do;
– At the conference between the two Houses a promise was- given that that would- not be done.
– I do not know what promises were made, but I believe that, with the exception perhaps of the Government and some of its supporters, no one realized that the new legislation would be used for such a radical and subversive purpose as the suppression of the Arbitration Court by conciliation committees. I would myself vote against this measure on general’ principles. Arbitration as known in this country has undoubtedly operated in the direction, not of settling disputes, but of creating them. While we have in existence a tribunal set up, for the purpose of hearing disputes, and while the. decision of the High Court stands that a dispute, within the meaning of the Constitution, is a demand on one side and’ a refusal on the other, we shall never have that tribunal idle. T.t, is hopeless hi such circumstances to look for that industrial peace which is supposed to be the object of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act’.. As one learned judge said, while there is in existence a tribunal which may give men better conditions, we shall find’ men. constantly coming, before it. That is only natural.
This cannot be better illustrated than by the experience of the Australian railways, and particularly of the Victorian railways. For many years the railway men of Victoria agitated for- a special tribunal to fix their wages and conditions of labour. The answer to that request was -a very obvious one. They were told that they already had a tribunal; they were under the Railways Commissioners,- who had no interests to serve but those of the country. In relation to the rail ways, they represented the country, and although their tenure was- a very definite one, still,- if they ran counter to the sentiments’ of the people, there was behind them the parliament which could, at need, be the tribunal to guard the interests of (she- workers. The men- were not satisfied with- this, and threatened to- strike. They did strike. They demanded the right to affiliate with the Trades Hall, and eventually, after long years< of agitation, a1 Railways Classification Board wa& appointed. It was presided- over by a county court judge, a man of an eminently judicial and,- if I may so so, democratic frame of mind. He was the choice and satisfaction, of both sides. He sat almost continuously for seven years as president of the board, composed of representatives of the commissioners and the employees: At the end of that time, according to representative railway men, conditions- in the service were more- unsettled than- when the board was first constituted. Then, in. 1920, there was given what has become known as the Engineers’ Judgment;. The matter out of- which this judgment arose had- been under- consideration for years, and when the judgment Was given, it upset’ the whole principle of State instrumentalities. It was held that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was competent to fix wages and conditions of employment in State railway services. What happened? The moment’ that judgment was pronounced, the dispute which was necessary to bring the Victorian railways under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was created. I’t was created by the secretary of the railwaymen’s organization sending letters, to the railways commissioners, and immediately the Railways Classification Board’ was thrown overboard, and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was appealed to. Sir John Quick; a- Deputy President of the Arbitration Court, sat hearing the railway case for over three years.
– Warren Hastings again.
– Yes. No one would cast any reflection either on the judicial qualities or great learning of Sir John Quick, but eminent lawyer and statesman though he- is, he would be the last to claim that at the end of three years of studying this question, he knew anything like as much about it as did the railways commissioners. Nevertheless, he gave his judgment, and no sooner did he do so than the present economic cataclysm fell upon the .country. The railway commissioners, whom one might have thought could be entrusted with the management of the railways for the benefit of the State, found .that they could not carry on, and they had to go, cap in hand, to the court, asking permission to run the railways in the only way in which that task could be done properly. Thus,. the railway men were first under the control of the railway commissioners, then under a classification board composed of representatives of the commissioners and themselves; then they were under the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and now it is proposed to place them under the control of the conciliation commissioners provided for in this bill. If we set up another tribunal after this, we should find that the workers would carry their disputes to it, and for this reason: While there are two tribunals sitting side by side, both competent to deal with the same dispute, the workers have a double choice, and they always hope that they may do better before the second tribunal than before the first. It is only attributing to them the qualities of human nature to say that they will try that tribunal which, in their opinion, will give them the best conditions.
I agree with my leader, who said that this bill is intended to go as close to the High Court judgment as this Parliament can go. Its purpose is, as we know from our experience of the last act, to supersede the Arbitration Court. When efforts are made by such persons as the railway commissioners, who are concerned with the greatest income-producing asset in the State, to vary conditions of employment in the railways, the disputes will be referred to the Arbitration Court, and if this bill goes through, the conciliation commissioners may bc moved to intervene. I have not yet had time to study the. bill fully, and I do not know whether it still retains the provision, which is present in the act, that once a dispute has been referred to a conciliation commissioner, the Arbitration Court must stay its hand. As has been pointed out, the purpose of this bill is not to uphold arbitration, but to supersede it. After a trial extending over 25 years, we must face the fact that arbitration has either failed or succeeded. If it has failed, there is no reason for believing that another arbitration tribunal - which is called a conciliation committee - will succeed. If the Arbitration Court has succeeded, there is no need to replace it by any other tribunal.
I view with the gravest misgiving the proposals embodied in the bill. I know that one is not allowed to impute motives, but I venture to say that the real purpose of this bill is not the purpose which appears on the surface. That has been proved by what happened in respect to the last amending act. If this bill is passed, its effect will be, not to do what Parliament clearly received a mandate to do, namely, to uphold the Arbitration Court, but to supersede the Arbitration Court. For that reason I intend to vote against the bill.
– The honorable senator who has just resumed his seat said that this measure was intended to supersede arbitration, but my innocent view of the matter was that conciliation was intended to precede arbitration. Indeed, the act under which we have been working is known as the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. To say that the arbitration system has not been conducive to industrial peace in the Commonwealth is to do it less than justice. While arbitration, from the workers’ point of view, operates to protect their interests, it also serves to protect the interests of good employers who, deprived of this protection, would be at the mercy of bad employers. There are good aud bad employers, just as there are good and bad employees. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act was intended to preserve a proper standard of living for those employees who desired to do a fair thing by their employers, and to protect those employers who were prepared to treat their workers properly. That the arbitration system has been largely successful, there can be no doubt. When it fails to preserve industrial ‘peace, and there is a strike or a lockout, the fact is blazoned all over the world, with the result that Australia has received a great deal of unfair publicity, and has earned an undeserved reputation as a land of industrial unrest. The fact remains that the great majority of the workers are carrying on contentedly under agreements and Arbitration Court awards, and are producing more per head than the workers of any other country in the world. When an agreement is signed by the representatives of the workers and the employers, it is usual for that agreement to be honoured. Notwithstanding the existing depression, which has robbed a quarter of our wage-earners of the means of livelihood, there are still 500,000 or more workers carrying on under Arbitration Court awards, and if they are deprived of the protection afforded by those awards, there is nothing for them but to revert to the old, savage methods of direct action.
Dealing with the history of arbitration over a period of 21 years, Mr. Justice Power, who recently resigned from the Arbitration Court bench, stated -
I have formed fixed opinions on many economic and industrial matters which have been arrived at under old conditions and on the information gained as a judge of this court for many years. I am satisfied, personally, that these opinions are right, but my successor will have to deal with present conditions to meet the new conditions, the new claims of the workers, and the new aspirations which the workers are attempting to obtain and realize in every civilized country in the world, including Australia.
If there has been a degree of unrest and discontent, that is only natural in a young country like Australia. If we were all content with our lot, very little or no progress would be made. Differences are unavoidable when there is a general desire on the part of all to improve their conditions. This learned judge has rendered wonderful service to the country in his judicial capacity. No one in Australia was .better acquainted with our arbitration machinery. He went on to say-
These new claims must, in the interests of the employees, the employers and the public, be dealt with by arbitration and not by force - by right and not by might. The unrest cannot be ended by coercive’ or punitive acts of Parliament only. Force has failed as the basis of civilization whenever attempted.
That fundamental fact has. been instilled into the minds of the present generation.
It applies both nationally and internationally? The day has long passed when might was regarded as right. The learned judge continues -
The real cause of unrest must be found and removed. “ It never smokes but there is fire,” as Carlyle said in 1830, in an essay ou “ Chartism “. You may “ abolish the system to no purpose if the disease is left untouched “. The policy of “ Might is right “, as Thackeray said, is “the code of honour of the devil “. The better code of honour is “ to do unto others as you would they should do unto you “.
He also quoted a pronouncement by the then Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), in his latest policy speech, in the following terms -
The Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, in his policy speech said - “ My ministry stands firmly for the principles of the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes within the law. Freedom of contract and direct action are the methods of barbarism, while the bringing of industrial disputes under the region of law is in accordance with the first principles of human progress - any other attitude by a responsible ministry in Australia to-day is unthinkable. . . . It is also proposed to strengthen the powers of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.”
– Why is the Government trying to break down a court in favour of which Mr. Justice Powers spoke so strongly?
– This is not an attempt to break down any court; it is a proposal to precede arbitration hy a sensible system of conciliation.
– Conciliation powers are already conferred by the act.
– Apparently they have not proved altogether satisfactory. This is considered a better method of preceding, not of superseding, arbitration. The Senate not very long ago accepted such a method of preventing the development of very serious industrial disputes. These disputes generally start in a small way; and if they were handled on the spot hy a conciliation committee there would be every prospect of avoiding a more serious conflagration. In the concluding portion of this very interesting review Mr. Justice Powers says -
It is really unionism that has done the great work for the workers during the last ten years, with the assistance of this court, which has enforced just claims and refused unreasonable claims. I do hope that unionists of Australia will not let extremists, whatever’ they call themselves or are called, destroy the great work that their leaders have done for them in the past, by trying to enforce by direct action, impracticable rates or unfair couditions, which can only cause unemployment and loss to the workers and their families and the public, as well as to the employers.
With those sentiments, one can readily agree. Now, however, in what seems to me to be a genuine attempt to improve the industrial machinery throughout its varying operations, we are met with a very substantial and perhaps fatal opposition. But I remind the Senate that reactionary effects will follow if the effort to improve the conciliation and arbitration system is prevented, because the confidence which employers have had in the system will be removed, and the lack of confidence of the workers will be accentuated.
Our actions at the present time arc influenced largely by what is known as the plan of financial rehabilitation. During the proceedings of the Premiers conference in Melbourne this very question was discussed fully, sometimes in public, and at other times in committee. It was recognized, of course, that in order to meet our national obligations there had to be retrenchment, and an alteration of the industrial conditions in certain directions. The Attorney-General of Western Australia, Honorable T. A. L. Davy, explained the difficulty that his Government would have in bringing about a percentage reduction in the case of State employees. He stated that a majority of the employees of that State worked under awards of the State arbitration tribunal, and that their wages were adjusted automatically so as to conform with the cost of living figures. It is interesting to note that one of the Premiers, discussing that aspect of the matter said -
I think that Mr. Davy is arguing about something which probably the Western Australian Government will not have to face. When we regard the question of an arbitration court, we realize that that can be moved in a certain way if it be necessary.
– Who said, that?
– Mr. Hill. It is to be found on page 79 of the report of the proceedings and decisions of the conference. At the bottom of the same page Mr. Theodore is reported to have said -
Could not the employers force the position by registering under the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in Western Australia?
– What does the honorable senator suggest was meant by that statement ?
-I leave that to honorable senators to determine. It has only one meaning to me. Nothing is likely to be more damaging to the confidence held in the court than the realization that employers can move it as suggested.
– It was a most improper suggestion.
– I agree with the honorable senator. I have no desire to do anybody an injustice, but I could not ignore that statement. I am surprised that it was made in open conference, instead of in committee.
A good deal has been said concerning the position of the railways in South Australia. In that State wages boards, an industrial court, and the Federal Arbitration Court operate. I agree with the opinion, already expressed, that there should not be this overlapping and duplication, and that neither employers nor employees should have the opportunity of approaching two or three industrial tribunals, so as to get the best deal possible. But what has happened in South Australia? There, certain employees in the railway service, after a lot of trouble, established what might be described as a wages board, with power to prescribe their wages and conditions. That board sat for about thirteen months before it arrived at a decision; and, immediately, the Railways Commissioner, although he had been represented on the wages board, appealed to the court, and had the decision declared null and void. Those railway employees, who desired tohave their case decided by the State tribunal, were perforce compelled to appear in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The matter had no sooner come before that court than the general cut of 10 per cent, was made by it, affecting the wages of employees governed by awards throughout Australia. It is questionable whether that decision is applicable to those men, because the court had not made an award governing their wages and conditions.
More good has been done by the prevention than by the settlement of industrial disputes. It is very difficult to bring about a settlement once a dispute begins to spread over industry like a bush fire. Much could be done by an extension of the principle of conciliation. If trouble arose, conciliation committees could prevent it from dislocating industry. We are living in abnormal times, and have to take abnormal steps to cope with the rapidly-developing situation. Before the Senate decides to reject this measure - which, as I understand it, aims at overcoming a position that has been brought about as a result of a decision of the High Court - it should seriously consider the consequences of such action. If we need anything in Australia at the present time, it is continuity of development. But our men . are only human. Man. for man, the Australian worker and employer can hold their own with any similar class in the universe. We cannot hope to be 100 per cent, successful.
– Other countries, such as Canada and the United States of America, are better off without arbitration.
– From the employers’ point of view, that might be so.
– From the point of view of both sides.
– At any rate, the policy of this country, generally speaking, is that, instead of resorting to violent direct action, we should have some sensible arbitral system. The policy of arbitration has been adopted by the nations of the world for the purpose of preventing conflicts such as have been witnessed in the past.
– Arbitration is of no use to the man who is out of work.
– Nothing except work is good for such men.
– What is wrong with work ?
– Nothing; but one-fourth of our citizens cannot procure it. If, as a result of the rejection of this measure, it is ma’de more difficult to carry on arbitration proceedings, and disputes are not checked in the initial stage, there must be chaos in industry.
– Surely the court is not overworked now; there are judges to spare.
– The case of the Australian Railways Union cost the workers £7,000 to present to the court. Surely some less costly system of arbitration than that should be available. I know that many different occupations have to be covered in the railway industry, which would make difficulties for conciliation committees. But much more could be done by this more expeditious and satisfactory means of conciliation than is being done. We should not compel employers and employees to spend their time and money in expensive court proceedings if the work can be done satisfactorily by conciliation committees. The alternative to improving our present machinery is to allow it to become inoperative. That would lead to more, and not less, friction in industry.
– The whole of our arbitration machinery is obsolete.
– The honorable senator is entitled to his opinion; but if our arbitration machinery is obsolete, surely it is our duty to bring it up to date. The honorable senator would doubtless like to scrap the whole system, and revert to the open market method of bargaining.
– Arbitration has had a good trial.
– I point out . to the honorable senator that the time lost in industry through sickness and unemployment is considerably greater than that lost through industrial disputes of every kind. Industrial balance-sheets never take into account the time lost by sickness. In my opinion, it is our duty to do our best to overcome the difficulties connected with our system of industrial arbitration, and the establishment of conciliation committees will help to this end.
– State arbitration tribunals could be used.
– We have been struggling for a good while now to obviate duplication; but it would be absurd to expect the Premiers Conference, of which six State Premiers are members, to agree to the removal of duplication in arbitration by the elimination, of State tribunals. As this Senate is one of the chief legislative bodies of the Commonwealth, it should deal with the subject. I suggest that we should do all that “we oan to strengthen the system of Commonwealth arbitration.
– It will not be strengthened by the passage of this bill1.
– That may be the opinion of the honorable senator; but it is not my opinion. Looking ahead, it must be admitted that we are facing probably five years of depression. Unless God is good, or some circumstances arise over which we have no control, the next three years will be very serious in their effects. In this period of unprecedented depression, we should do all that we can to assist the main industries of Australia.. I have listened frequently to honorable senators opposite speaking about the difficulties of the primary producers. No one would dare to suggest that anything should be taken away from these people. But the secondary industries are most important to Australia. This country depends more upon them than upon any primary industry to provide employment. Secondary industries do actually provide more employment, pay more wages, and create more wealth than any primary industry.
– The- honorable gentleman should examine the statistics..
– There is no doubt that the secondary industries create more wealth than any primary industry.
– A lot of primary industries would go absolutely to the wall if it were not for secondary industries.
– That is so. It is beyond our control to relieve the plight of some of the primary industries ; but we can assist secondary industries up to a certain point. “We cannot control the price of primary products that are shipped overseas; but surely it is our duty to keep our secondary industries operating as smoothly as possible.
– By still further decreasing the purchasing power of wages, as has been done during the past ten years?
– As one who has lived all his life among the workers, I am of the opinion that this measure would do a good deal to keep the wheels of industry moving. There is no doubt that the workers are making big sacrifices at present,, and we should do all that we can to assist them.
– The people are beginning to realize that the party which is called the Labour party does not represent the interests of the workers of Australia.
– That interjection does not cut much ice, and is irrelevant. I again say that it is the duty of this branch of the legislature to do everything possible in these precarious times to keep the wheels of industry moving.
– The best service the honorable senator can do to the workers is to leave them alone.
– The honorable senator and I do not see eye to eyeon this subject. I ask the Senate to remember that this bill has been asked for by the employees of industry. As I have not heard of any serious objection to the measure by the employers, I submit that we should not reject it. In my opinion if its provisions became law they would improve the position of industry in Australia. We have something to gain by accepting the bill, and a good, deal to lose by rejecting it.
.- This bill represents the “ severalth “ attempt to amend our industrial arbitration machinery legislation. It is quite clear, therefore, that it is not for want of amendment that our arbitration system is not a success. Although many amendments have been made to1 this law it is still far from perfect; in fact, it is no nearer perfection. I propose to show the effect of the amendments now suggested will be to make the position worse than it is. Let honorable senators cast their minds back to the days when Mr: Justice Higgins was appointed President of the first Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I think that it will be admitted that at that time there was no man in the Commonwealth who was considered to be more fitted for that position. We know very well that even in the early days of Commonwealth arbitration its first president put it on record that the approach to the court was made difficult, because it was surrounded by a “serbonian bog of technicalities “. The question is : Would our acceptance of this amendment make the bog more boggy or less boggy? I say unhesitatingly that it would make it more boggy. It will make it a bog without any bottom. The late Mr. Justice Higgins was regarded as one of the highest authorities on arbitration, and he made it very clear that this system of settling industrial disputes was being defeated because of what the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) has recently described as the “ entangling legalisms “ that surround it. It is about twenty years since Mr. Justice Higgins spoke of the “ serbonian bog of technicalities “, and made it clear that in his opinion the process of arbitration should be simplified. He also said that it was necessary that public opinion should display a greater respect for this institution.
Bearing that in mind, let us ask whether in these days of broad democracy - I will not say sane democracy, because it is doubtful if there is sane democracy in this country - this institution has behind it the support of a robust public opinion ? Has anything been done to undermine the good opinion in which arbitration was formerly held by the public? In my opinion, the genuine respect for arbitration has been undermined by the so-called true friends of arbitration, who have turned out to be false friends of it. Did the public take heed of the warning given by Mr. Justice Higgins, and were steps taken to simplify our processes of arbitration? As the years have sped by the very reverse has happened. We know that during the war certain action taken by the then Prime Minister of this country seriously injured arbitration. The powerful trade unions bore down upon the Government of the day and caused it, by virtue of their bullying strength, to trample upon industrial arbitration. It is well to remind ourselves that the strong and powerful unions have frequently used their strength to bring arbitration into contempt. When the big unions, with their overbearing tactics, forced their views before the Prime Minister to whom I have referred, to his shame be it said that he did as they wished him to do, and arbitration was trampled to the earth. Steps were taken at that time which really led to the wreck and ruin of this system of settling indus- trial disputes, for the Government set up authorities to supersede the Arbitration. Court. This naturally brought the court into contempt. Mr. Justice Higginsprotested, but to no avail. It was not the weak and struggling unions, but ‘ the strong and bullying ones, who “ brought this about. The Government of the day bargained with the strong and powerful unions, but would not bargain ‘with the weaker and less powerful unions because, apparently, they did not matter and could not threaten anybody. But have the weaker unions no justice on their side ? Is justice always on the side of the strong and powerful? We know that those big and unreasonable bodies are able at times to disorganize the transport, mining, and practically all other industries of this country. It is not the justice of their cause but their might that wins.
In my opinion, honorable senators opposite have been talking with their tongues in their cheeks. The words of the present Prime Minister in regard to industrial arbitration are still fresh in the minds of the public. The right honorable gentleman said that the Government intended to free industrial arbitration from the entangling. legalisms which surrounded it. But will that be done by the passage of this bill? In my opinion if we pass this bill we shall shackle and bind arbitration more than ever.
Previous speakers have said that arbitration is a spent force. There is a reason for that. Even while the judges of the Arbitration Court are without anything to do, it is proposed that other bodies shall be superimposed on the court. This will not lead to a general respect for arbitration, but will bring it into contempt. If this bill is carried the workers will be disgusted, and the confusion which must follow will inevitably bring arbitration into disrepute. A contemptible notion is being put in the minds of the people that the judges of the court are not the men who should be exercising arbitration jurisdiction. But in the past, before so many attempts were made to interfere with arbitration, the system gave satisfaction to the people.
How is Labour answering the questions put by Mr. Justice Higgins or by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) ? It is doing so by adding to the system of arbitration complication upon complication until the court is so costly to approach that the workers and people engaged in business and the public generally are becoming disheartened and disgusted with it. Delays that have already brought the system in Australia, into contempt will be intensified beyond all description by this bill, and I have, therefore, no compunction in voting it down. All that the Arbitration Court should be called upon to do is to arbitrate. Prior to the enactment of our arbitration law, unscrupulous employers could grind the workers into the dust, and it became obvious to all that the only means of giving satisfaction to the workers was to appoint some one of standing in the community to arbitrate and prescribe decent- conditions of wages and labour. But one outstanding feature of the system to be set up for that purpose was to be simplicity. Our Arbitration Court was created to work on those lines, but amateurish tinkering and party political considerations were brought into play. At the last election, Mr. Bruce said that the Commonwealth should go out of arbitration except in regard to maritime industries, yet his party was placarded from Cape York to Cape Leeuwin as one which was out to smash arbitration. The real enemies of arbitration were not the Bruce-Page Government, but the members of the then Opposition. You know, Mr. President, there are friends and friends; there are true friends, fair-weather friends, and false friends, masquerading as true. I do not call the Labour party false friends of arbitration, but when I find them using the arbitration system as a means of downing political opponents, I can come to no other concluson than that those who are pretending to bc the friends of arbitration will in the long run be found to be its false friends. At any rate, they have so entangled the procedure that it is now almost impossible for the Arbitration Court to benefit either party. It is our duty to remove the entanglements and cut the Gordian knot. That is my purpose; their’s is to add complications to the machinery until in the end arbitration will be the despair of everybody. Let the leading feature of our system be its simplicity; let us have no further tinkering with it, particularly when it is done to put another political party in the mud by falsely denouncing it as enemies of arbitration.
Australia, so far as arbitration in the industrial sphere is concerned, is the experimental plot of the world, and when it was first brought into reality, it was not through any ‘ action on the part of Labour. It was the Seddon Government of New Zealand which brought it in, and long before Labour had found its footing in Australia, there was an Arbitration Act on the statute-book of Western Australia. Let those who flatter themselves that Labour founded the arbitration systems in Australia, sink, so to speak, their ungenerous belief and narrow spirit thousands of fathoms deep and pile upon it millions of tons of stone or pig-iron so that it may never rise again. Let Labour try to act reasonably. Let it adhere more closely to the policy of “live and let live.” Above all, let it take a holiday in respect of some of its ideas so that for the first time in Australia arbitration may have a fair chance. This it cannot have while amateurs are tinkering with it. Lcl the court exist to arbitrate and do nothing more. If we are to continue mending and tinkering with the system we shall only add to those delays which already, as I have shown, have earned for arbitration in Australia, the disrespect of people generally, and we may as well give the whole system a painless death and let its epitaph be, “ Arbitration. Done to death by its foolish or false friends “.
– If ever there was a time in the history of Australia when its industries should be left to themselves, unhampered by the restrictions of the past, it is the present. Those who have been in this Parliament for any lengthy period knowthat a great deal of its time has been devoted to arbitration matters, either in the direction of amending or criticizing the existing act or in discussing motions for adjournment relating to various industrial disputes. The roadside of industry in Australia is strewn with wreckage, which is largely the result of compulsory arbitration. Can any supporter of the Government say that the secondary industries of this country are in anything but a most unsatisfactory condition? With very few exceptions, it is impossible for any of the products of our secondary industries to be exported and sold in the world’s markets. What is the reason for this? Is the Australian worker less competent than the worker overseas? Has he not demonstrated time and time again, particularly in the primary industries, that he is not only a hard worker, but also an intelligent worker, who is capable of competing with workers of other countries? Yet to-day many of our secondary industries cannot be carried on at a profit because, notwithstanding all the tariff-restriction and protective duties that have been imposed, the cost of living has gone up beyond all anticipation, largely because of legislation such as the measure we are now considering. How can webuild up secondary industries if they are to be hampered, particularly at a time like this when there is so much unemployment in the country? I know that many factors, over which we have no control, contribute towards the present unemployment, but why should we make it more difficult for industries to carry on? Why should we hamper them by passing legislation such as this? As a matter of fact the Government should be doing all it can to remove every restriction that binders the industries of the country, primary and secondary, and thus enable employers to provide work for the unemployed.. The few industries that are doing well are limited to such key industries as steel, and, to a lesser degree, coal, which are sheltered almost to the extent of prohibition of all competition. This legislation can have no other effect than to impose further hampering restriction upon industry. Such are the complexities of our existing industrial legislation that every concern of any size must employ a special industrial officer, who devotes the whole of his time to watching industrial legislation, guarding against breaches of awards, even in his own establishment, and seeing that the proper line of demarcation is maintained between one industry and another. The whole position is ridiculous. No other country in the economic position of Australia to-day would be so foolish as to attempt to strangle industry by passing legislation such as this. I shall oppose the second reading of the bill.
From time to time the Government has spoken of the mandate it has been given by the people to do certain things, among them being the amendment of the arbitration law. But when it brought in a bill for the purpose, as the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition has shown, it went to extremes. Its bill contained provisions which by no stretch of imagination could be regarded as coming within the mandate given by the people. The people were appealed to on a certain issue and they give a certain verdict and, although I did it with reluctance, because I have no patience with the Arbitration Court, I conceded that the Government was entitled to amend the arbitration law. But what it has attempted to do in the arbitration bills it has submitted can by no means be construed as coming within its mandate. The Government will recognize this when opportunity is given to the people to express an opinion on the matter.
– Is the honorable senator claiming that the people are not behind arbitration?
– At the last election the question of arbitration was certainly a prominent factor, but the people did not give this Government a blank cheque to fill in as it pleased.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– From our experience of arbitration we must, I think, admit that it has not achieved all that was claimed for it in the settlement of industrial disputes, but that, on the contrary, it has provided facilities for the creation of disputes, it has hampered industry, and has proved to be one of the greatest contributing factors to the present volume of unemployment. Our most urgent need at this time is to relieve industry of the burdens resting upon it. Instead of doing this, the Government is adding to our difficulties. Had it been sincere in its desire to promote industry it would have introduced legislation to prevent further duplication of Commonwealth and State activities in the industrial field. Because of this conflict between Federal and State authori- ties those engaged ip. industry do not know where they stand. The States have both the constitutional power and the industrial machinery, and if the functions of their tribunals were not interfered with by federal legislation, I have no doubt that they would work to the satisfaction of all concerned. The Arbitration Court has been a hindrance rather than a help to industry. Th© provisions in this bill also indicate that the Government is not strictly observing the mandate which it declared it had received from the people at the last general election, because the intention of the measure is to take from arbitration judges their jurisdiction in certain industrial matters, and vest it iti conciliation committees. Soon we shall have before us a bill to give Borne measure of relief to our wheat-growers, who owe their present position, to some extent at all events, to the hampering restrictions imposed upon our secondary industries by Arbitration. Court awards as well as to high tariffs and other legislative proposals “which have had the effect of increasing costs of production all round. While those engaged in our secondary industries obtain some compensation by way of enhanced prices in the local market, the full extent of the burden falls upon our primary producers who are obliged to accept world’s parity for their exportable surplus. I regret that the Government should have introduced this amending bill instead of introducing proposals for the repeal of legislation which we all admit has failed to achieve its purpose, but has, on the contrary, hampered the expansion of industry.
– One would conclude from, the remarks of honorable senators opposite that this was a comprehensive bill, designed to alter completely our system of arbitration instead of being merely a proposal to clarify the law and establish what the Senate thought it had succeeded in establishing about twelve months ago. Senator Herbert Hays has declared’ that we should destroy arbitration, free industry of all restrictions and allow employers to have an open fling.
– I rise to a point of order. I cannot allow the honorable senator to put into my mouth words which I did not use. I did not say that industry should have an “ open fling “, and be permitted to exploit labour.
– If I am misrepresenting the honorable senator I withdraw what I have just said about his attitude to our system of arbitration ; I fail to see how otherwise it is possible to interpret his remarks in favour of the removal of all restrictions upon industry. However, if the honorable senator tells me that he did not intend to convey that meaning to the Senate, I shall accept his assurance and leave the matter there. But if the honorable senator sincerely believes that employers and employees should be permitted to settle their differences in their own way, I claim his support for the bill, because it seeks to take the settlement of an industrial dispute, in its earlier stages, away from the entangling legalisms of the court and place it in the hands of conciliation committees comprising an equal number of representatives of employers and employees, presided over by an independent chairman appointed by the Governor-General in Council.
I am surprised that the measure has been received with hostility by honorable senators opposite, but hope that, upon reflection, they will allow it to pass.
– The honorable sena- . tor’s hope will not be realized.
– I trust that I shall not be disappointed, because I feel sure that the framers of the Constitution had in mind the establishment of industrial tribunals of the character now contemplated for the settlement of industrial disputes. Section 51 of the Constitution provides, in paragraph xxxv, that the Parliament shall have power to make laws with respect to “ conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State “. That clearly suggests the exercise, by some legally appointed tribunal, of conciliation powers before the arbitral powers of the court are invoked for the settlement of industrial disputes.
– Does the honorable senator say that is not possible without the passing of this bill?
-We cannot effectively use this method of conciliation under the act as it stands. This, 1 think, was admitted in the discussion on the amending bill last year. Section 26 of that act repeals section 33 of the principal act, and provides -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, an industrial dispute or an application to vary an award shall not be dealt with by the court or a judge thereof, in pursuance of any power conferred upon the court or judge by this act, in any case in which a conciliation committee has been appointed in pursuance of an application made under subsection 2 of the next succeeding section.
That section of the 1930 act was inserted with the full consent of the Senate, and was intended to enable conciliation committees to handle a dispute before it went to the Arbitration Court. After agreeing to that provision, the Senate dealt with other clauses which provided the machinery for the setting up of conciliation committees, and gave them their powers to function. It was thought that the intention of the Senate had been translated into an act, but after some months this section of the act was challenged before the High Court, and was declared to be ultra vires. The present bill differs in no way from the previous act except that it seeks to make clearer those sections of the act to which the High Court took exception. I hope honorable senators will not regard this measure as an attack on arbitration, or an attempt to change the existing system.
– Those possibilities are contained in the bill.
– I fail to see them ; but even if they exist I appeal to honorable senators to let the bill pass the second reading, and when it is in committee they can amend it to suit themselves. The Opposition has the numbers, and can erect what safeguards it likes, or impose what restrictions it likes. I ask only that the basic principle be allowed to remain that conciliation shall precede arbitration. We have heard from honorable senators of the Opposition a great deal of condemnation of the arbitration system, but, after all, what has it done? It has secured for the workers a basicliving wage which is fixed at the lowest figure possible to sustain the average family of five units. According to the latest figures, the average federal basic wage in the six capital cities is £3 7s. 6d per week. This is supposed to be sufficient to supply the needs of a man, his wife and three children, and amounts to 13s. 6d. per unit. Only the other day Parliament passed a measure reducing the old-age pension, but did not bring it lower than 17s. 6d. per unit.
– Does not the honorablesenator think that the wage per unit might be higher if there were no Arbitration Court?
– I do not think it would. Owing to the present extensive unemployment there would be so much competition for available jobs that wages would be forced even lower than they are to-day.
– Nobody intends to deprive the workers of arbitration.
– We have heard a great deal to the effect that the legal restrictions imposed by the Arbitration Court should be swept away. When times were good, and industry was prosperous, it was never suggested that the workers should receive a greater share of the proceeds of industry than they were entitled to under the awards of the court. It did not matter whether an industry, subject to an arbitration award, was paying 5 per cent., 10 per cent, or 20 per cent. ; the workers still received only the basic wage. But when industry ceases, through no fault of the workers, to be prosperous, it is said that the legal fixation of wages should be swept away, so that the workers might bear the whole burden of the depression. I strongly oppose that contention. Honorable senators should look upon this bill as a simple measure designed to put into effect what we thought we had enacted last year. When we passed the bill last year we thought we had devised a system whereby employers and employees could meet round the table, and, free from the atmosphere of the court, settle their disputes as practical men. It was also provided that an agreement, once arrived at, could be registered in the court, and have all the force of an award. In this way the good employers who, I believe, constitute 90 per cent, of the whole, would be protected against the rapacity of the other 10 per cent. Legal protection of this kind is as necessary for the employers as it is for the employees. Just as the workers should be protected against that small section of employers who would grind them down to slavery, so the employers who treat their workers well must be protected against those who would try to depress industrial standards.
– I should not have participated in this debate were it not for the speeches of Senators O’Halloran and Kneebone, who attempted to show that this was a simple little measure designed to introduce the “ novel “ principle of conciliation as a preliminary to arbitration in the settlement of industrial disputes. That is the veriest pretence, and I am sure that those honorable senators are as well aware of it as I am. Let us compare this bill with the act it proposes to amend. Clause 4 of the bill states -
Section 34 of the principal act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead -
Why did not the honorable senators who defended the bill quote section 34, which it is proposed to repeal? They knew that, if they did the whole Government case would be exposed as a hollow sham. Subsection 1 of section 34 of the principal act is as follows: -
In order to prevent or settle industrial disputes the Chief Judge may appoint, for such period as he thinks proper, conciliation committees consisting of such persons as he thinks proper, and of a chairman appointed by him.
If we compare this section with clause 4 of the bill, which is to be substituted for it, we find that the difference between them is that, under the bill the conciliation committees are to be appointed, not by the Chief Judge, but by the Governor in Council. Sub-clause 3 of clause 4 of the bill states -
Conciliation committees may be appointed in relation to industrial disputes in an industry or a branch or a section of an industry defined by reference to locality or otherwise.
Sub-section 3 of section 34 of the act is the same word for word; but subclause 5 of the bill, which proposes to repeal sub-section 7 of the principal section, is in these terms -
Before appointing the members representative of employers or of organizations of employees, the Governor-General may take into consideration any recommendations made by or onbehalf of employers or organizations of employees in relation to such appointments.
What is the object of this alteration? The whole purpose, of course, is to enable the Government of the day to appoint the chairmen of these committees. There is no other reason for it. There is machinery in the existing Arbitration Act to do all that is proposed in the present bill, with this exception: that under the act as it stands the Chief Judge of the court is the sole person empowered to appoint the chairmen of conciliation committees. Under the act, such power was deliberately taken out of the hands of the political authorities, and put into the hands of the Chief Judge - an absolutely impartial person. The Government, by this bill, proposes to take this power away from the Chief Judge, and place it in the hands of the Governor in Council, which, as everybody knows, means the’ Ministry of the day. For honorable senators opposite to say that this is a simple little measure, designed only to introduce the novel principle of conciliation, is, to put it mildly, only a hollow sham.
– Regarding this matter, I feel very much as does the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat. I do not think that the supporters of the Government can fairly charge me with being unfriendly to the system of federal arbitration. I have proved by my actions that I have always stood for federal arbitration. Even as late as the last elections, it was with great distress of mind that I had to place myself in opposition to the opinion of the great majority of the members of my party, and fight for the retention of the Federal Arbitration Court, and the federal arbitration system.
The Labour party, as Senator Pearce has pointed out, then stood for the retention of the Arbitration Court. In the light of that fact, Government supporters should endeavour to explain why in this measure it is proposed to break down the court and to substitute an entirely new system. The only explanation so far offered is the very lame one which has been so decisively exposed by Senator Greene.
– Did the honorable senator oppose this system last year?
– I did not. I supported the measure which was introduced last year, and I want this hill to have a similar basis. But, as Senator Greene has pointed out,, there is already provision in the act for the appointment of these conciliation committees. In certain cases they have been appointed; but because the decision of one of them did not coincide with the view of a powerful, and an influential section of the Government’s supporters, it is proposed that the power to appoint such committees shall be taken from the court and given to the Government. It is not a function of the Senate to endorse action of that kind.
It is argued that it is time we approached the settlement of industrial disputes from the stand-point of conciliation rather than of arbitration. Those who use that argument would have us believe that there is not in the act to-day provision under which the methods of conciliation may be used for the avoidance or the settlement of industrial disputes. Section 2 of the act sets out its chief objects. They are, inter aiia, -
It will be noticed that conciliation is placed before the exercise by the court of its powers. Evidently the government of the day stood up to its election pledges. Now, however, the pledges that were given to the workers of this country only as late as last election, are to be broken. It has been admitted by the Minister that this action is the result of the Victorian railways case.
– - It is the result of a decision of the High Court.
– The High Court had to rule against the decision of a conciliation committee, in the interests of the Victorian Government.
I wish to refer to the jurisdiction of the judges of the Arbitration Court, and to the court itself, with a view to showing that in bringing forward this measure the Government has not made provision in a proper’ way for the application of the principle of conciliation.
– What is the- reason for the honorable senator’s reversal of form?
– I want the Minister to tell us why there has been such a reversal of form on the part of the Government. He should admit that it has been caused by the pressure which has been exerted by the Victorian Railways Union, and one or two other interested bodies that have the ear of the Government. Section 16; of the act provides -
Each judge shall be charged with the duty of endeavouring at all times, by all lawful ways and means, to reconcile the parties to industrial disputes, and to prevent and settle industrial disputes, whether or not the court has cognizance of them, in ail cases in, which it appears to him that his mediation is desirable in the public interest.
Every possible provision is made for giving effect to the principle of conciliation. The Government knows that that is so. Why does it now refuse to utilize those means, and endeavour to substitute what is not only dangerous, but also obnoxious to honorable senators who sit on this side of the Senate?
– The Government is giving effect to the decision of the conference of managers of both Houses which was held last year.
– It is not giving effect to the decision of the managers. As Senator Pearce has pointed out, the representatives of the Government at that conference of the two Houses, and its supporters in both chambers, agreed that the legislation then placed on the statute-book after the fullest consideration, met the wishes of the party. The Minister now attempts to lay it down that something else was then attempted by the Government, and that the present bill proposes to give effect to it. Nothing of the kind is the case; the proposal to-day is to take away from the court the power to do what it may now do, and to place that power in the hands of the Government.
– To substitute political for judicial control.
– That is so. Political control, so far as arbitration is concerned, is dangerous, It would destroy the whole principle of the system, would bring it into public contempt, and would cause the trade union organizations to lose the conditions which, under a free and untrammelled system, they enjoy today. I speak as one who has proved himself a true friend of arbitration. I am glad that the Senate is able to stand between the Government and its intentions in that respect. We should be lacking in our duty to the great body of the people of Australia were we to pass this measure as it stands at present.
Senator O’Halloran urged that we should agree to the second reading of the bill, and endeavour to amend it in committee, so as to make it more acceptable to all parties. How is that possible, when the whole intention of the measure is to remove from the act the first great essential - non-political control by the court - and to place the control in the hands of the Government? It goes even further than that. Sp as. to meet the position caused by the famous Victorian railways case, the Government proposes to make the bill retrospective, and to destroy in that way, not only the influence of the court, but also the judgment that it has given. The Senate will not stand for that. If the Government wants to amend the Arbitration Act fairly and adequately, I shall assist it to do so; but whenever I sco a deliberate attempt being made to break down the act, and to smash the influence and the power of the court, I shall do my utmost to defeat the aim of the Government. I hope that the bill will be rejected on the second reading, because it is hopeless to attempt to amend it.
– Under the cloak of an effort to make further provision for conciliation, the Government is attempting to deal a fatal blow at the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The case for the Government has been put with considerable adroitness by one or two honorable senators who have spoken in. favour of the measure ; but there is no escaping the fact that, as a consequence of what has happened since the Senate agreed to compromise on the legislation, which was introduced last year, the desire is to substitute conciliation committees which, to a large extent, will be controlled by the Executive of this country, and those who are allied with it. In short, as one hon. orable senator has stated, this is a gesture in the direction of political control over something which we have always regarded as somewhat sacred. It is useless for our friends opposite to argue that this is a very simple and unimportant amendment, or that it is in harmony with what was agreed to last year. That may serve the purpose of advocacy. But we have to be guided by what has happened since that time, and the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the measure. What is it that the Government proposes to do?
– Compared with what the honorable senator did a little while ago, he proposes to somersault.
– If the Minister contends that I, a little while ago, did what the Government now proposes to do, I tell him that I did so inadvertently, and that I am always prepared to somersault in regard to anything that is subversive of the best principles governing the administration of justice in this country. That is what this proposal is ; there can be no escape from such a conclusion. I have always been a supporter of arbitration in the true, the honest, and the incorrupt sense of the term; of arbitration that is arbitration, not that which will give to only one side what they desire. That is the class of conciliation and arbitration which is provided for in this measure. A conciliator under this proposal would really be the creation of the executive of the day. I was amazed to learn from the report which Senator Kneebone read this morning, that a Minister of the Crown, had suggested that a State or a Federal tribunal was the minion of any government. A more disgraceful allegation than that is scarcely conceivable to the mind of an honest man. I suggest that the underlying objective of this legislation is to bring about what was visualized in that statement - a tribunal that would be the minion of the Government and of those who ai*c associated with it politically from time to time. The events that have occurred subsequent to the passage of the amending measure last year, add considerable force to that contention. It is the abuse of arbitration, and the attempt to do under the guise of arbitration what was never visualized by those who first fathered the system, that has brought the system to the sorry plight in which it stands to-day. Neither the principles nor the intentions of those who visualized arbitration are being administered to-day. Arbitration has become the plaything of the politicians. It has been removed from the plane that it should occupy: The work of the Arbitration Court judges has been rendered impossible. No one ever thought that the Arbitration Court judges would be called upon to determine piece-work rates for thousands of different varieties of work or for hundreds of different classes of occupations. It was considered originally that the court would be called upon to determine the basic hours of work and the basic wage, but that all other matters would be left for industry to determine.
As I have already said, I have stood, and still stand, for arbitration, conducted on right principles; but I consider that the principles sought to be applied by means of this bill are subversive of the true principles of arbitration. This method is corrupt. I do not use the word in the sense that the officials are corrupt ; but the attempt is being made continually to play off one court against another, to extend disputes - paper extensions, such as were referred to this morning among others - and to do other things which are altogether to the bad.
To leave general principles, and come to the proposals in the bill, let us ask why this measure has been introduced ? In my opinion, the members of the present Labour Government, and Labour advocates generally, have for a very long while been preaching a false doctrine to the people. They have, been telling the people that by means of Arbitration Court awards, wages boards determinations, and so on, the wages of the working people of this community can be maintained and increased. Now that they have found that that doctrine is false, and that economic realities are asserting themselves, they have not the courage to withdraw from the false position that they have occupied, and to tell the people that our Arbitration Court system must also work the other way, and must yield to the economic realities of the country. Instead of doing that, they are building up barrier after barrier with the object of postponing the day of reckoning. In doing so, they remind us of the friends of King Canute, who called upon him to stem the flow of the tides of the oceans. Nothing that petty man can do can stop the operation of economic laws. These must be heeded before the rehabilitation of the financial and industrial affairs of this country can be completed. Those who preach the principles of arbitration must have regard to economic laws if they are honest, and the workers must be told that a reduction of their emoluments is inevitable.
The Government and its followers last year conceived that brilliant idea of falling back upon the conciliation provisions of section 34 of the principal act to which Senator Greene has referred. No fewer than seventeen conciliation committees were appointed under the last measure we passed to amend the Arbitration Act, although an assurance was given to us that the Government did not intend to try to oust the Arbitration Court from its proper sphere of jurisdiction. I am quite willing to admit that for a time the Government stood out against the demands of the industrialists, but ultimately it was forced to its knees. If the industrialists had had their way, the number of conciliation committees appointed would have been legion. The object of appointing these committees was, as one honorable senator said this morning, to hinder the reduction of wages in the railway services of the Commonwealth.
– But is it not a fact that an appeal may be made from the decisions of a conciliation committee to the court ?
– That is quite true, and it illustrates my point that one of the objects of the Government in introducing the last arbitration bill, and in submitting this one to us, is to prevent the Arbitration Court from exercising its proper function of declaring a basic wage for industry. Everything possible is being done to restrict i and delay the application of economic realities to industry. It is of no use for the Government to pretend that the purpose of this bill is to extend still further the principle of conciliation.
Having set up these tribunals, the Government found that they were unconstitutional. The High Court has determined that point quite definitely. The clothing of these conciliation committees with quasi-judicial powers was declared to be unconstitutional. Following upon that decision, the Arbitration Court heard the basic wage case, and reduced the emoluments of the industrialists by 10 per cent. An attempt is now being made to put back the clock, as one honorable senator has said. I charge the Government, in this matter, with attempting to prevent the operation of true economic laws, and with trying to hinder the Arbitration Court from exercising its proper function.
The proposal in clause 3 of the bill is nothing more or less than an attempt to prevent the Arbitration Court from functioning “ in any case in which a conciliation committee has been appointed “. These conciliation committees are composed of equal representatives of the employers and the employees, with a conciliation commissioner appointed by the Government as chairman. Surely it is clear, therefore, what is intended. This is no time for camouflage. We should face the facts, and look at things as they really are. Undoubtedly the intention of the Government is to oust the Arbitration Court from its proper sphere of jurisdiction. We have heard something during this debate about “entangling legalisms “. I suggested to Senator Lynch while he was speaking that an attempt was being made to legalize entanglements. I doubt very much whether some of the fifteen proposed new sub-sections to section 34 of the act are constitutional. Proposed new sub-section 10, for instance, reads as follows : -
If no agreement between the parties as to the whole of any such industrial dispute is arrived at, the conciliation committee shall hear, inquire into and investigate the industrial dispute, or so much thereof as has not already been settled by agreement, and all matters affecting the merits of the industrial dispute, and the right settlement thereof, and shall by an award determine the dispute or so much of the dispute as has not already been settled by agreement.
It is surely clear from that that the draftsman has endeavoured to avoid the difficulties in the previous measure. Pro posed new sub-section 11 reads as follows : -
For the purposes of this section, a conciliation committee shall have all the powers which are conferred by this act upon the court or a judge thereof, other than -
judicial powers; and
powers which, by reason of the pro visions of section eighteen a or section eighteen aa, are not exerciseable by a single judge.
It is apparent from these two proposed new sub-sections that an effort is being made to give to the conciliation committees arbitral, as against judicial, power. If I properly understand the decision in the railway case, the court held that arbitral powers could not be conferred upon the committees. If I am wrong in this belief, the Leader of the Government (Senator Barnes) will be able to correct me in his reply.
I am Opposed to this bill, because I believe that it is purely political. The Government is seeking a way of retreat. It is trying to get away from the false doctrines which it and its followers have preached for a long while. It is lowering the flag to the extremists. It is endeavouring to impose upon the country conciliation committees which are, in fact, to be nothing but creatures of the Government. Senator Kneebone mentioned in his speech that a Minister of the Crown had said that these tribunals could be moved. I have heard of the court being moved, but not in the sinister way suggested. The court may be moved by motion, and an effort was made some time ago to move it by that means. But it was suggested this morning’ that these tribunals could be moved by some consideration other than justice. That suggestion should not have been made. Speaking for the State which I represent, I repudiate the inference that there has even been a breath of suspicion against either arbitration or the judges of the Arbitration Court.
Why should there be this extreme haste to get away from the court? In my opinion it is not only because the court has already directed that there should be a 10 per cent, reduction of wages, but also because the Government fears that other adjustments may be made. But economic laws cannot be evaded in this way. They cannot be escaped. Whatever we do they will overtake us. There is only one proper course to pursue. The facts must be faced. Industry cannot stand any further burdens. The workers must realize that the wages and conditions granted hitherto by arbitration tribunals have been granted in prosperous times under prosperous conditions. Now that conditions have been reversed, the proper function of our arbitration tribunals is to review their previous awards. In the doing of this they should be left entirely free from the control of the administration or from political influences. It is the proper function of arbitration tribunals under existing conditions to relieve industry of the burdens which make it impossible for it to operate.
I heard the position described tersely the other night by a gentleman who found himself at a meeting which was not of his political opinion. He was a Labour man, but the meeting was not a Labour meeting. After several speakers had expressed their opinions, this man rose, and one might have expected an explosion of some sort; but the gentleman simply denounced arbitration. He said, “ What has arbitration done for the working man? It has put him out of a job, and is keeping him out of a job “.
– Was that gentleman Senator Rae?
– I do not know his name, but he certainly threw a “ ray “ of light on the subject from his point of view. He put the position graphically. There is no doubt that arbitration is to-day keeping thousands of people out of work. The conditions granted to industrialists by arbitration awards cannot be maintained. Artificial standards have been set up, and so long as the maintenance of these is insisted upon, the workers will be kept out of work. Our arbitration machinery should be able to operate with facility with the object of removing the obstacles to the restoration of industrial stability. So long as every effort to restore industry to a proper economic basis is resisted, so long will our return to economic stability be delayed.
Senator Greene has pointed out the absolute adroitness of those who are asking us to support the bill on the ground that it is only a small thing, and not very far removed from its predecessor.
The two measures are as different as chalk is from cheese. Something has been said about the basic wage and the number of people who have to be provided for out of such a low wage. It was shown in an inquiry not long ago that only 6 per cent, of the employees of the Newcastle Steel Works were working on the basic wage. Yesterday, in reply to a question submitted by Senator Ogden, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Barnes) told us that the remuneration paid to gardeners in Canberra is far above the £3 7s. 6d. referred to by the honorable senator. It may be a good basis for an argument to talk about how low the basic wage in this country is, but ‘we must take the position as we find it. The low percentage of employees on the basic wage in the Newcastle Steel Works may be extraordinary so far as Australia is concerned, but certainly the reply furnished to Senator Ogden yesterday shows that a large majority of the workers in Canberra are paid far much more than the basic wage.
– When the unemployed in Canberra who are drawing the dole are given work, they will not accept less than £1 a day.
– I have already dealt with that subject. The Minister has been constantly referring to the 400,000 unemployed. If he- wants to find one of the causes of their unemployment let me remind him of the man whose story I gave a few moments ago. The cause is the strangling condition? which surround the employment of labour to-day.
– The honorable senator does not believe in them.
– I do not. This legislation would make the conditions more entangling than ever, and its effect would be to prevent relief flowing freely to the men who need work. I point out to my South Australian, friend that in his State the men themselves have taken steps to secure relief. They will not tolerate all these restrictions.
– Senator Lynch said that they were working for a few shillings a week on the farms.
– The honorable senator does not understand the position. In South Australia there are thousands of men working in the farming industry for less than the basic wage, simply because the industry cannot afford to pay them the basic wage.
– What nonsense!
– The honorable senator is probably a good judge of nonsense, but what I am stating is the truth. Labour sees that its house of cards is falling, and it is attempting to buttress it by this sort of legislation. For my part, strongly as I stand for arbitration, Istand more strongly for its rapid administration, and for its adjustment to the falling economic conditions of the country. I shall vote against the second reading of this bill for the reasons given by other speakers, as. well as for those I have somewhat loosely adduced in the last few moments.
– I am astounded at the stand taken up by honorable senators opposite. By introducing this bill the Government has shown that it is earnestly desirous of giving effect to the decisions arrived at by the conference of managers of both chambers. Any one who has had industrial experience in this country knows that the conciliation provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act have always been used for the settlement of industrial disputes. I have attended dozens of conferences between representatives of labour and employers. As a matter of fact, when a claim is filed the court itself orders the parties to get together to see how much of the claim they may agree upon, the rest being left to the decision of the court. This bill is designed to simplify the procedure of conciliatory methods. Honorable senators are quite aware how costly it sometimes is to fight cases before the Arbitration Court. Conciliation committees simplify and cheapen the procedure by bringing together the parties, who, although not possessed of judicial knowledge, have ample practical knowledge of the matters upon which they are about to confer. Surely that is a common-sense method of doing things. The chairman of a conciliation board, no matter what government is in power, will always be a common-sense person qualified to give a judgment which will be respected by the parties. I am surprised that honorable senators opposite should have repudiated a decision they agreed to with enthusiasm only a few months ago. We all know the turmoil that occurs in industry from time to time, and for over 25 years we have been endeavouring to apply common sense to the settlement of industrial troubles, and so that the country may not be plunged into turmoil and its citizens generally penalized we have established an arbitration court.
– Has the Arbitration Court prevented that sort of thing?
– Not altogether; but I can remember the state of affairs that existed in this country before the advent of arbitration courts. It was sufficient to induce Labour to fight for a saner method of getting its troubles settled. Why honorable senators opposite want to run away from that position I cannot imagine. For myself, I am a vigorous industrialist, because I was trained to be such, and I take second place to no man in the industrial movement in fighting for what I believe to be right; but I have sufficient sense to know that I may sometimes be wrong, and I am willing tosubmit my case to the judgment of any person or persons qualified to give a judgment on the merits of my case. The majority of the electors have undoubtedly endorsed the method of settling industrial disputes by arbitration courts or wages boards. They also stand four-square behind the method of settling disputes by conciliation. Yet, when the Government tries to carry the desire of the people into effect by means of a bill, what is the attitude of honorable senators opposite? They say, “Knock it out on the second reading.” I can remember when some of the opponents of the bill were fighting with the broadsword to set up an arbitration system in Australia.
– If this bill is defeated we shall still have an arbitration court.
– But we shall be lacking in adequate means forthe speedier and cheaper settlement of disputes by conciliatory methods. Labour has fought to provide means of amicably getting over-
– A High Court judgment.
– It is useless for honorable senators to quote a solitary instance of a mistake by a trades union. Employers’ organizations often err. It is only natural to expect it. What fault can be found in a system of appointing an independent conciliation commissioner, who will deliver his judgment after hearing the pros and cons from both parties to a dispute? It is a sensible means of settling industrial troubles.
– The alternative is direct action.
– Yes, with all the risk of getting back to slave-market conditions, to escape from which the pioneers in the industrial movement had to fight tooth and claw.
– We shall never return to those conditions.
– We shall not return to them because this Parliament will never sanction legislation to make that possible. I repeat that this Government is earnest in its desire to see the adoption of common-sense methods for the settlement of industrial disputes, and I have heard no argument from honorable senators opposite to prove that there is anything wrong with these proposals. I, therefore, consider that the Senate would be extremely unwise if it rejected the bill on the second reading. It is an essentially fair proposal. Both sides to a dispute will have representation on a conciliation committee, and with their practical knowledge of the conditions in the particular industry concerned, a settlement ought to be possible without undue loss of time. To me it is amazing that some honorable senators should treat the bill in such a flippant manner, for surely they admit the urgent need for industry to be conducted in peace and harmony. Even at this, the eleventh hour, I hope that the bill will not be rejected contemptuously, as threatened by the Leader of the Opposition. Peace in industry is essential to the welfare of Australia. This being so, it is our duty to provide the facilities for the smooth working of our industrial activities. I do not care to say harsh things about political opponents in this chamber, but I cannot refrain from remarking that their attitude to this bill appears to be particularly vicious and mischievous, and warrants me in the belief that their deliberate intention is to destroy our arbitration machinery. I charge them with this responsibility, and again urge them to allow the bill to pass the second reading. We shall then have an opportunity, in committee, to consider the details and, possibly, be able to remedy any defects that may be disclosed. I sincerely trust that better counsels will prevail and that the Senate will carry the second reading.
Question - That the bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided. (The President - Hon. W. Kingsmill.)
Majority . . . .17
Question so resolved in the negative.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) . - I lay on the table of the Senate the first report of the Standing Orders Committee on the proposed new Standing Orders, and amendments of existing Standing Orders.
That the report be printed, and the consideration thereof in committee of the whole Senate be an order of the day for the next day of sitting.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Barnes) read a first time.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) agreed to-
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Tuesday next at 3 p.m.
Bank Rate of Interest - Kingsford Smith - Duty on Spirits - American Magazine Articles.
Motion (by Senator Barnes) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [3.44]. - The Leader of the Government in the Senate has just laid upon the table regulations under the Transport Workers Act. It is fifteen clays since the regulations were gazetted, and now, when the Senate has only a quarter of an hour to sit, they are tabled. The usual thing is for these regulations to be laid on the table in the morning. No doubt the Minister was in possession of them earlier, but has kept them until now. My object in rising is to draw attention to the almost contemptuous way in which the Government is treating the Senate in regard to this matter. It is attempting to deprive the Senate of an opportunity to discuss the regulations. Of course, it will be possible next week to move that they be disallowed, but it is significant of the Government’s attitude towards this chamber that the matter should have been dealt with in this way.
.- I desire to draw the attention of the Leader of the Government to a statement which appeared in this morning’s issue of the Sydney Morning Herald referring to the financial agreement reached at the Premiers Conference in Melbourne. It states - “ The action of the South Australian Parliament in including the banks within the scope of the clause in the Financial Emergency Bill, reducing interest on mortgages on October 1, has endangered the whole of the Premiers’ plan,” said the chairman of the Associated Banks of Victoria (Mr. Gr.D. Healey) to-night. “Unless this is altered, the whole conversion plan goes to the wall. They donot realize what they have done. At the Premiers’ conference an arrangement was made that the banks were to be left to arrange the reductionof interest themselves without legislative interference. If they did not reduce their rates as they promised, regulations could have been introduced subsequently. The Governments of Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland exempted the banks from this clause, but the action of one of the smallest States has now thrown the whole question of conversion again into the melting pot. The Premier of South Australia (Mr. Hill) has thrown a spanner into the works, andhis best plan is to rectify the mistake at once by amending legislation.”
That is a very serious statement, especially as we were led to believe that unanimity existed among the various governments regarding the loan conversion proposals. I submitted the matter to the Minister earlier in the day in the hope that he would make some statement regarding it on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate.
I wish also to refer to the report that, the services of Mr. Kingsford Smith are likely to be lost to Australia. I regard this man as one of the greatest pioneers of aviation, and I trust that, even at this late hour, and in spite of the financial difficulties of the Government, something will be done to render it unnecessary for Mr, Kingsford Smith to leave Australia.
– I should like to know whether the Government proposes to take any action in the direction of waiving the penal duty of 5s. a gallon on imported spirits not bottled in bond. On a previous occasion I brought the matter before the Minister representing the Minister’ for Trade and Customs, and he frankly admitted that the Government was aware that large quantities of whisky and other spirits were being brought into bond, bottled there, and subsequently poured from the bottles back into casks before being distributed throughout the country. This penal duty was imposed nearly two years ago, and theSenate has not yet been given any opportunity to consider it. The Government allows the duty to remain, although it is being evaded by many importing merchants. The Minister said that he did not know the extent to which the practice was indulged in, but he could easily find out by making inquiries of the State liquor authorities, who can furnish him with complete particulars.
Under the licensing laws of most of the States, the vendors of liquor in bulk have to keep complete records showing exactly to whom they sell, and how they sell. The imported whisky, after being bottled, is poured back into the casks so that the distributors may avoid having to pay the heavy freight on bottled whisky, which is a considerable item when the bottles have to be sent 300 or 400 miles inland. At present there is wholesale evasion of this duty, and it ;s intolerable that the existing situation should be countenanced by a decent government. Those who suffer under the penal duty are chiefly those living inland, away from the capital cities. Throughout Australia there are many clubs and hotelkeepers who, for years, have maintained a connexion with small distilleries in Scotland, from which they obtain whisky in bulk of a quality superior to that which they are able to purchase in bulk in Australia. All those clubs and hotelkeepers, with an established trade import house whisky which often has a state-wide reputation, will be penalized, because they import well matured spirits and honestly obey the law to the extent of paying 5s. a gallon on all that they import; while on the other hand those who seek to monopolize the whisky trade import the liquor, place it in bottles, and then empty the contents back into the casks before selling it to their customers, thus evading the duty of’ 5s. a. gallon. That practice is being followed on a wholesale scale, and it is an abuse which the Government should not tolerate for another day, particularly as the duty has not received parliamentary sanction.
.- I wish to bring under the notice of the Senate an article that appears in an American review called The American Mercury. It is entitled, “ Americans at the Antipodes “, and is written by an obscure writer, evidently an American, if one may judge by the extravagant language that he uses. It contains a very gross libel upon Australia, and reflects upon the chastity and the honour of the womenfolk of this country. At page 302 this nondescript writer says -
For bachelor Americans there is no dearth of female companionship. Australian girls reason naively that every male American is a desirable catch . . . Melbourne, with its Little Lonsdale-street, is the only city in Australia that tolerates open prostitution. Americans with reputations to maintain are never to be seen in this quarter.
The article goes on to say-
The Yankee attitude towards the country and its people is - during business hours - excessively cordial. Otherwise, I sadly suspect that it is very much like the attitude of a certain type of American everywhere else. Wherever Yanks foregather, privately, may be heard an enlightening recital of Australia’s obsolete business methods, obnoxious social customs, and general economic instability. A popular toast goes : “ To Australia - the laud where the flowers have no fragrance, the birds no melody, and the women no virtue “.
The writer also expresses the hope that America - this great country that has its “ speakeasies its scandal, and its corruption - may some day wrest Australia from the British Empire.
I draw attention to this article because of its scurrilous nature. The magazine in which it appears ought to be excluded from the Parliamentary Library.
– I once more direct the attention of the Government to the position of the wheat-growers of this country. Although an act has been passed by this Parliament making provision for them, effect has not been given to it. It is known that, on the strength of that legislation, which provided for the payment of 3s. a bushel, the wheat-growers entered into certain solemn obligations, which very many of them are not in a position to fulfil. The Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) informed me the other day that the Government had no intention in the matter, despite the fact that the question had been raised by me in the Senate on two occasions, and that the Senate had decided unanimously that some action should be taken. The argument is advanced that the Senate should be pilloried for its action in connexion with the Wheat Marketing Bill last year; but we have a partial justification for what we then did. The Minister bore witness to the truth when he said that, as matters turned out, it was just as well that that measure was rejected by this chamber. There is an old saying, “ Murder will out”. Truth also will out on occasions. I want to know where we stand. As I have repeatedly stated, the wheat-growers of this country are in a very unfortunate position. They are the most patronized and fondled, but at the same time the most fooled and neglected section of the Australian people. An act was passed specially in their interests, but nothing has resulted from it. If the Government sincerely desires to help the wheat-grower, let it stand behind the determination that has been expressed. If the act is illegal or unconstitutional, as the Commonwealth Bank avers, the Government could easily indemnify itself as previous governments have done.
, - The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) is well aware that the matter of the transport workers regulations, which are referred to in the papers that have been tabled, is sub judice.
In reply to Senator Poll I may say that the Commonwealth Bank has already reduced its interest rates on deposits and advances. It was understood by the Premiers Conference that the private banking institutions would act in like manner; but I cannot say what action they have so far taken.
The duty on whisky, referred to by Senator Johnston, is at present receiving the attention of the Government.
Senator Lynch is well aware that there is a Wheat Marketing Bill before this’ chamber, the first reading of which has been passed, and that it was not the fault of the Government that the wheat-growers were not paid 3s. a bushel for this season’s harvest. The Commonwealth Bank is run, not by the Government, but by a board; and that board refused to advance the amount necessary for the payment in question to be made. That is the situation as it stands at the present time. What it will be when honorable senators have dealt with the Wheat Marketing Bill, I cannot pretend to know.
– I inform Senator Ogden that, as Vice-Chairman of the Library Committee, I shall have much pleasure in bringing his remarks before that committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative-
Senate adjourned at 3.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 July 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19310724_senate_12_131/>.