10th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at S.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– -What action, if any, does the Minister for Trade and Customs propose to take on the recommendation of the Tariff Board that a bounty should be paid on. cotton yarn spun in Australia ?
– As the matter to which the honorable member refers is one involving the policy of the Government, I am unable to answer his question.
Transferof Head Office to New Zealand.
– On two or three occasions I have asked the Prime Minister questions regarding the proposed transfer of the head office of the Phosphate Commission to New Zealand, and the position of Australia in connexion therewith. Has the right honorable gentleman any further information on the subject ?
– On previous occasions I have informed the right honorable gentleman that cablegrams were being exchanged between theCommonwealth and the British and New Zealand Governments with a view to preventing the removal of the head office of the commission from Australia. I have now received, from both the New Zealand and British’ Governments, replies to the latest cablegram sent; but I regret to say that we have not yet come to any arrangement that will ensure the retention of the head office of the commission in Australia. In the course of the investigations into the position, it has become apparent that there are several questions regarding the general conduct of the Phosphates Commission, and also the personal relations between the commissioners, that require very full investigation. The Government is, therefore, appointing a royal commission to go into these questions, and Sir John Monash has agreed to act as the commissioner. We anticipate that his inquiry will not occupy more than a very short time, and we have asked the British and New Zealand Governments not to take, pending that inquiry, any further action for the removal of the head office of the commission. As soon as the inquiry has been completed, I hope we shrill be in a position to settle this question definitely and finally, and, I trust, the head office of the commission willremain in Australia.
Mr.PROWSE. - Has the Minister for
Public Health given further consideration to the request to appoint a quarantine officer at the port of Esperance, so that pratique may be given to. ships in. that port?.
– The appointment has been made, and I have sent to the honorable member a notice to that effect.
Visit to Australia
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the proposed itinerary of the tour of the Empire parliamentary delegates 1926, wherein it is proposed that the visitors shall be thirteen days in Queensland, seven days in New South Wales, of which one day will be spent at Newcastle and three in Sydney, two days in the Federal Capital Territory, thirteen days, in Victoria, eight days in Tasmania, six days in South Australia, and eleven days in Western Australia? As it is of the utmost importance that the visitors shall obtain a reasonable idea of the potentialities of Australia, will the right honorable gentleman endeavour to have the itinerary redrafted, so that advantage may be taken of the time allotted to New South Wales to allow the visitors to get Borne knowledge of the large area of fertile wheat and grazing land in that State?
– The contemplated visit to Australia of representatives of all the self-governing parts of the Empire is being arranged and conducted under the auspices of the Empire Parliamentary Association. The Government is giving every assistance in its power to make the tour a success; but the whole of the arrangements are in the hands of the association, and I suggest to the honorable member that he should make his representations to its executive, by whom, no doubt, they will receive full consideration.
Reported Sale to New South Wales Government
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is true, as reported in one of the newspapers, that 200,000 tons of coal lying; in New South Wales, and belonging to the Federal authorities, have been handed over to the State Government for civic purposes? Was this coal brought out from England at a cost of, at least, £4 12s. a ton?
– The Commonwealth Government still has certain stocks of coal at grass, the actual quantity being, not 200,000 tons, but 130,000 tons. This is the residue of* a very large stock of coal that was obtained in 1917. A great proportion of it has been made available to the States on previous occasions, the coal having considerably depreciated in value. The action now taken has been to constitiute a. board, consisting of the Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, Commander Fernley, and, I think, Commander Ramsay, to advise the Government as to the price at which the coal should be made available to the States. I have written to the State Premiers indicating the proportion of coal to which his State would be entitled on. a population basis, and asking if he desired that any of it should be reserved for his State. Whether the coal will be -utilized for public utilities or for keeping manufacturing establishments going is a matter entirely in the hands of the State Governments, and it is entirely at their option to accept any part of the supply available to them. This coal has no value to-day for naval purposes.
– The right honorable gentleman will pardon me, but quite a number of shiploads of coalwere brought here recently from overseas for the Navy Department at an enormous cost, which I think was a scandalous waste of money.
– No new coal is included in the stock towhich I have referred. That coal has been lying at grass for. many years.
Article by Sir John Ross.
– Has the Prime Minister read an article published in the Empire Review for April by Sir John Ross, and entitled, “ One of Our Most Vital Problems “ ? If not, will he have the article examined with a view to its valuable suggestions upon migration being reprinted for the benefit of honorable members?
– The article to which the honorable member refers has not been brought under my notice. If he will put his question on the notice-paper,I shall look into the matter and see what can be done.
Trade Relations with Commonwealth.
– Yesterday, when I directed a question to the Minister respecting trade relations between the Commonwealth and the Republic of Brazil, he replied that he had no knowledge of the matter. Is he aware that the ConsulGeneral of Brazil, now resident in Sydney, has been in communication with the Department of Trade and Customs for some time; and, if so, will he do everything possible to encourage trade relations between the republic and Australia ?
– I can only refer the honorable member to the answer that I gave him yesterday, but in view of his remarks I promise him that I shall inquire into the matter, and see whether any communications have been sent to the department other than through me.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that at a recent election in Great Britain the people of a very conservative division of London returned a Labour candidate ?
– Does the honorable member intend to connect his remarks with business in this House?
– Is the Prime Minister aware that there has been a change of feeling on the part of the people of Great
Britain, as evidenced by that election, and, if so, will he send a letter of sympathy to the British Government?
– The question is out of order. Questions put to Ministers must relate to public affairs with which they are officially connected, to proceedings pending in the Parliament, or to any matters of administration for which they are responsible.
– It is now about a year since the Minister for Defence gave a very unsatisfactory answer to my representations, and those of the people of Manly, respecting the removal of the quarantine station from North Head. In view of the strong representations made to him since, will he give me the assurance that he will reconsider the matter with a view, perhaps, to coming to a more favorable decision.
– I assure the honorable member that I shall give the matter grave consideration, but unless he brings forward stronger representations than those already made to me, I am afraid that, on behalf of the Government, I shall be compelled to give a true and accurate reply.
– As the automatic telephone system has been well established in nearly all the suburbs of the capital cities of Australia, and as there are about 300,000 people residing in the Newcastle-Maitland district, does the Postmaster-General not think it time to establish an automatic telephone exchange at Newcastle?
– The Newcastle district would be well served if there were another cable from Newcastle to Sydney. There are difficulties there, but the Government is trying to overcome them as early as possible in order to give Newcastle a better telephone service than is obtaining there to-day.
– From time to time reports appear in the press regarding oversea purchases of Australian ‘ stud sheep. During recent years the Govern menthas frequently been asked when this practice is to be discontinued, by act of Parliament or regulation. I should like to know whether the Prime Minister proposes to take action.
– Although representations have from time to time been made to me regarding this matter, none has been made by the representative bodies of the sheep-raising industry. If such representations were made, the Government would give them the fullest consideration.
– In view of the favorable report issued by the New South Wales Railways Commissioners in support of a railway connexion between Yass and Canberra, will the Prime Minister take steps immediately to re-submit that proposal to the Public. Works Committee?
– The whole question of railway communication between Canberra and the southern and western States is at the moment receiving the consideration of the Government. I assure the honorable member that his representations will be taken into account.
– Is the Minister yet able to inform the House of the position respecting theproposed Canadian embargo upon Australian butter exported to that Dominion ?
– I am not in a position to give any information at present. So far as I remember, two or three. cablegrams have been dispatched to Canada, but no reply to them has been received.
Reports and Balance-sheets - Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Government is not concerned in the erection of premises for the Commonwealth Bank, that being a responsibility of the Board of Directors. The intention of the board in regard to the provision of accommodation at Hobart is not known.
Classification - “ E “ Class Engineers, Postal Department
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Public Service Board of Commissioners has reported -
asked the Postmaster.General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice - 1.Is it a fact that the contract signed in January, 1925, between the Amalgamated Wireless Company and the Marconi Company for the erection of beam wireless stations in Australia, contained a provision for the completion of the stations within nine months of the sites being available?
– The information is being obtained, and a reply will be furnished at the earliest possible moment.
Connexion with Port Augusta.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
-The question of the construction of a railway between New South Wales and Port Augusta has been very fully considered on several occasions, and the reports up to the present have enabled the Government to form the opinion that the suggested connexion between the New South Wales railway system and Port Augusta via Broken Hill and Condobolin is not the most advantageous.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce), by leave, agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) on the ground of ill-health.
Debate resumed from the 2nd June (vide page 2545), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Upon which Mr. Charlton had moved by way of amendment -
That all the words after the word “That “ be left out with a view to the insertion of the following words in lieu thereof: - “the bill be withdrawn with a view to eliminating Clause 2 and substituting therefor the following: -
Section fifty-one of the Constitution is altered -
by omitting from paragraph (i) the words ‘ with other countries, and among the States.’
toy omitting from paragraph (xxxv.) the words ‘Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State ‘ and inserting in their stead the words -
Labour, and employment, and unemployment, including -
the terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, occupation, or calling;
the rights and obligations of employers and employees;
strikes and lock-outs;
the maintenance of industrial peace; and
the settlement of industrial disputes.’
by adding at the end thereof the following paragraph : -
Trusts, corporations, combinations, monopolies and arrangements in relation to -
the production, manufacture, or supply of goods, or the supply of services; or
the ownership of the means of production, manufacture or supply of goods, or supply of services.”
– Despite 25 years’ experience of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, the people, inheriting a conception of democratic government as it exists in Britain, strengthened by experience of the State Constitution moulded faithfully upon that most wonderful instrument of government which has served our race so long and so well, imperfectly apprehend, the limitations imposed upon this National Parliament and upon themselves by a written Constitution. Before Federation, it was enough for them to decide that a thing should be done, and, if physically possible of accomplishment, it was done. Australia is par excellence a democracy, and when the States were invited to federate, their people were told, and believed, that union would extend their power and reduce the burden of taxation. The experience of a quarter of a century has sadly disillusioned them. The expense of government has been increased, and the power of the people has been- hampered at every turn by the terms of a Constitution which, as I have already said, they have never properly understood. The Commonwealth Parliament, unlike the British Parliament, or even a State Parliament, enjoys only the powers set out in the Constitution. Before this Parliament can legislate, it must not only consider the expediency and practicability of what it proposes to do, but also closely scan the terms of the written instrument which has created it. For unless the power to legislate on a particular matter is expressly conferred by that document, this Parliament can do nothing, even though the nation may topple to its fall through lack of federal action. Having ascertained that the subject-matter with which it desires to deal is included in the enumerated powers, this Parliament is only half-way on its journey, for it has yet to find out whether the apparently clear words of the Constitution actually confer the power to legislate in the direction desired. I have referred to the disillusionment of the people. We who sit in this Parliament are in like case. I have sat in governments that set out with much enthusiasm to give effect to this new instrument of government, and time and again the High Court has declared with emphasis and finality - for the powers of this Parliament are only what the High Court declares them to be - that in respect of matters of vital importance, upon which the Constitution appears to speak clearly, this national Parliament is impotent. The Prime Minister, when introducing this bill, referred to the Commonwealth Parliament as the national Parliament. So it is, and surely the functions of a national Parliament should be national in their scope, and nothing vital to the welfare of the nation should be beyond its legislative competency. But when we study our enumerated powers in the light of the High Court decisions, we find that in respect of matters that each year are becoming more and more important to the well-being of the civilized world, this Parliament is only national in name. The great problem that confronts the world to-day, the Aaron’s rod that swallows up all other rods, is the labour question. In some one or other of its myriad aspects it not only impinges upon the periphery, but penetrates to the very centre of every phase of social activity. Finance is one of the most important matters with which this or any Parliament can deal; yet finance is governed by industrial conditions. Do we not repeatedly deplore that continual industrial unrest diminishes theproductivity of the people, and threatens to shake the State to its very foundations? In England recently there occurred an industrial upheaval which amounted, in effect, almost to civil war. Never before in her long and splendid history was England in such great peril as she was a fortnight ago. At one period during the Great War - the fact came to my knowledge as a member of the Imperial War Cabinet - England was within six weeks of defeat by starvation. Had the German submarine campaign continued with the same vigour as during the previous three months, there would inevitably have been an end to England and to us. But recently the margin of safety was even narrower than at that critical period of the war. The industrial question, therefore, is one of vital importance; and when the Government, in submitting its proposals, declares with emphasis that that question imperatively demands legislative action in the interests of the community, we must accept the position and determine that this problem shall, at all hazards, be solved if human ingenuity can solve it. It has a myriad aspects. To find a solution is not easy, and it may be that it is impossible. It is a citadel not to be carried by assault from one quarter alone. It is like a rectangular column which, looked at from one side, bears one inscription, but approached from another, seems something very different. We must have power over the whole, in order to deal with any part. The industrial question arises out of the differences between labour and capital. To deal effectively with either we must be able to deal with both. But this National Parliament has no power to deal with either. We are not asked to consider disputes between an individual workman and his employer, but those which concern great masses of men and large accumulations of capital. The industrial question continually obtrudes itself upon our deliberations. The other day we were discussing the development of the Northern Territory - a matter apparently widely remote - nothing, it would seem, could well be more detached from the industrial question than this, but even into this quiet backwater o# national affairs the labour problem obtrudes itself. How is the Territory to be developed by coloured or by white labour? What rates of wages should be paid ; what should be the conditions of work? And in considering the development of Australia generally, we are compelled to consider whether the interest of the primary producer or of the manufacturer is, or ought to be, paramount; whether we should consider the producer or the consumer. Ali these questions have relation to employment and unemployment, and are different phases of the labour question, and are conditioned by it. The Australian Constitution has been established for twenty-five years, and good work has been done under it; but, unless we can enlarge our powers, we seem to have almost exhausted our opportunities for useful work. I say deliberately - and every man knows the statement to be true - that unless we can grapple successfully with the industrial question, this country cannot come into its heritage. We must do what is possible to bring about a modus vivendi between labour and capital. To that the necessary corollary is that Ave must have power over both ; so much is obvious. At present, as I have said, we have no power over either; and no one else has, lor it is a national matter with which the States are unable to deal. What happened when the first wheat pool was created ? At the outset, we were frustrated in our purpose, which was to serve the interests of this country in an hour of dark peril, by the action of one of the States, which, by acquiring the wheat, prevented us from disposing of it to the greatest advantage of the Commonwealth. Freedom of trade is assured to the people by the Constitution, but how can trade be free when commerce is in fetters and the States have the power of acquiring the goods the subject-matter of commerce? We must have power to control every part of the arena in which the industrial conflict is waged. Nothing less will serve.
Those who drafted the Constitution provided for its amendment; but, although we are a progressive people, we are in essence very conservative. It is, indeed this combination of progress and stability that has made our greatness possible. The habit of the people of this country of saying “ No,” to any question asked of them, will be difficult to . overcome. They do not understand why, being, as they are told at elections, masters in their own household, monarchs with no limitation to their power, they should be told, when they ask that something vital to their well-being shall be done, that nothing can be done because of a mere piece of paper. When they seek for an explanation, they are told that they set their seal to tho Constitution, and, although that instrument can in theory be amended without much difficulty, it is, in fact, very difficult to change, because of the nature of man and the temperament of our race. But it is admitted by a1! sections of the community that amendments of the Constitution are desirable.
Unhappily, there surrounds this great national question the clinging tendrils of party, and every proposed amendment is looked at through party spectacles. That, again, unfortunately, is in the nature of man. It has fallen to mo many times to bring forward amendments of the Constitution, and they have always been regarded with suspicion. But my efforts have not been entirely in vain. The voting on the various referendums shows that the people are becoming alive to the necessity for amendments.
This brings me to the proposals now before the House. It was stated last night by the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that these proposals had come upon us somewhat abruptly, not having been heralded as he conceived to be proper in the circumstances. I shall not discuss that aspect of. the matter. I shall not look this gift horse in the mouth, for that reason, at any rate. It is enough that it is proposed to amend the Constitution. The situation imposes upon us the solemn duty of looking at these proposals most carefully, in order that the Parliament may be lifted out of its present humiliating position. As things are now, it can deal with neither labour nor capital. It cannot legislate to control any union or any company in this country. It cannot protect a union, nor can it prosecute one. It cannot even make a uniform company law. Nothing could be a greater reflection upon the dignity and the usefulness of this Parliament than the fact that, in its twenty.fifth year, it must confess that it cannot make a uniform company law, let alone deal with the activities of companies, or corporations, as they are technically called, which contribute towards industrial unrest. The present Parliament is in a special sense qualified to deal with this matter on its purely industrial side, at any rate, for it was elected in a veritable tumult of industrial unrest, and received probably the most emphatic mandate ever given to the Commonwealth legislature. It has been commissioned to find means of protecting the vital interests of the people of Australia. It is clearly authorized, nay, commanded, to settle, if it can, or to settle as far as it can, the industrial unrest that so unhappily disturbs Australia. In the early part of this session, the Prime Minister introduced an amendment of the Crimes Act. In speaking on the second reading of that bill, I ventured to say -
The Government, returned by an overwhelming majority, has a mandate, if any government ever had, to go to the root of this matter. But we can only play with it unless we amend the Constitution, and give this national Government the power to deal with these things, which every other Government has. We talk about dealing with industrial questions, and I do not care what measures the Government introduces, its power is so limited that its choice of methods is not very wide. When industrial unrest arises out of a dispute between organized labour and organized capital, whether corporation, combine, or trust, we have no power to deal with either party. A parliament so constituted is national only in name. I hope that the Government will at the earliest moment, after having examined this question, permit this House to consider the amendment of the Constitution.
Those words set out my attitude towards these amendments. I am unfeignedly glad that the Prime Minister proposes to give the people an opportunity to consider this matter. It would have been well, perhaps, had that been done earlier; but certainly it ought to be done. In considering the Government’s proposals we have to ask ourselves, “ What is the disease from which the body politic is suffering? What is the wrong for which these proposals are declared to be the remedy?” I have already answered the question. Industrial unrest is a worldwide phenomenon. It exists in every country. A visitor from England affected the other day to be outraged to thu bottom of his soul by the spectacle of industrial unrest in Australia. But as he came from a country where strikes seem to be the favourite recreation of the people, his denunciation of our iniquities fell upon deaf ears. It is undeniable, however, that although we do not suffer severely by comparison with some other parts of the world, there is much need for reform. As we are all passionate lovers of our country and desire wholeheartedly that it shall go forward to its great destiny, we must do everything in our power to limit industrial unrest to the minimum. More than that we cannot do, human nature being what it is. The disease being industrial unrest, the remedy, to be effective, must be one that goes to its very root. It is not sufficient merely to paint the face of the leper so that it shall assume a healthy normal hue. It is the removal of the leprosy that is required, and if it be necessary for the leper to bathe in Jordan, that must be done. It is of no use for us to tinker with this question. Industrial unrest arises out of the nature of man and the clashing interests of capital and labour. This is particularly so in these modern days when great, and ever greater, masses of capital are needed in order that labour may be employed productively. If by any unhappy chance half of the capital that is now employed should be destroyed, labour would need to exert itself a great deal more than it is doing to bring forth perhaps only 25 per cent, of what it can produce to-day in a given period. Other things being equal, the greater the capital employed the less the exertion that labour is called upon to undergo to produce a given amount of wealth. Clearly, in the very nature of things, clashes are to be expected between capital and labour. Labour in Australia, and in most other countries, is almost wholly organized, and well organized. But it is not better organized than capital. Labour is marshalled into what are known as trade unions. Ninety per cent, of capital, on the other hand, is owned by companies or corporations. The amount of production carried on in this country by individuals and not by companies is negligible. Clearly, therefore, we cannot deal with industrial unrest unless we deal with companies as well as with unions. So much I think is obvious. I have in this Parliament on four occasions advocated the amendment of the Constitution. Although the amendments I’ proposed at different times differed slightly from one another, in essentials they were the same, covering the same ground in the same way. In each case they were framed to give this Parliament complete power over trade and commerce corporations, trusts and combines and industrial matters. The Leader of the Opposition last night spoke as if the amendments proposed iu 1919 were a radical departure from those proposed in 1915. They were not. It is perfectly true that in 1919, in the circumstances in which we found ourselves at the time, it became expedient to fix a period during which the powers asked for might be exercised. That period was three years. I speak, however, not of the period for which the powers were to be granted to this Parliament, but of their nature. I have before me the three pamphlets which were issued to the people, giving the reasons why they should vote for or against the questions submitted at the various referendums. The questions put in 1919 were, in essence, the same as those put in 1915.
– I did not say otherwise. All I said was that in 1919 there were limitations proposed in regard to the time during which the powers might be exercised.
– I admit that. There was a limitation of time proposed, but I am speaking of the nature of the powers to be granted. It will be observed that in 1911, 1913, 1915, and 1919 the people were asked to agree to the omission from paragraph (i) of section 51, of all the words after the word “commerce,” so that the power of the Commonwealth should extend to the whole of the subjectmatter, of commerce without any limitation whatever. They were asked that the paragraph dealing with corporations should be deleted, and a new paragraph inserted, and for all practical purposes the new paragraph proposed was the same on all four occasions when the matter was considered by this Parliament, and on the three occasions when it was submitted to the people, and the same thing may be said of the amendment dealing with, trusts and combines. The proposed amendments of our industrial powers followed on each occasion similar lines. These proposals were submitted to the people on three separate occasions. They were withdrawn in 1915, during the war, upon an agreement arrived at with the State Premiers that they would grant powers sufficient for our purposes, which, in effect, would cover the ground of the proposed amendments to the Constitution.
I come now to the criticisms directed to the bill by the Leader of the Opposition. Apart from the point to which I have already referred, the honorable gentleman complained that the Prime Minister had not made a preliminary announcement concerning this matter, which he thought was rather unusual. That seemed to disturb him a good deal. He complained, too, that the matter should have been discussed with the Premiers of the States. I shall say nothing about that, except that I discussed these matters with the State Premiers on at least four occasions, and my experience was distinctly unfortunate. I draw no distinction in this regard, between Premiers representing Labour States and Premiers representing Nationalist States. They were all tarred with the one brush. They put forward a hundred reasons why they should not be dethroned; why their splendid majesty should not be tarnished; why they should not be pushed a little from the centre of the stage in order that we might get some foothold upon it. When, under the stress of war, they were driven to make some concession, or appearance of concession and reasonableness, to the people who by that time were stirred up far beyond the point at which they care two straws about State rights - in my opinion, the people have never cared much about State rights - the State Premiers came to an agreement with the Commonwealth Government, to which only one of the six made even an attempt to give effect. But for the happy circumstance that the High Court found that the defence power of the Commonwealth was like the widow’s cruse, of such a nature that when we wanted a power we had only to dip our hands in this vat of power, and lo, it was there - but for this the Parliament would have passed through its severest ordeal hampered and fettered by the doginthemanger conduct of the State authorities. I do not at all blame the Prime Minister for not consulting the State Premiers in this instance. I understand that he has been consulting them on other matters. Perhaps if they had shown more reasonableness on those, the Prime Minister might have been induced to go a little further with them. I have always, in and out of the Labour party, spoken, not as a unificationist, but as one who demanded the right of the national Parliament to exercise national powers. But 1 say boldly now that, in my opinion, if the people of this country were given a free and unfettered opportunity to express their opinion, they would prefer a Constitution vesting sovereign powers in the Commonwealth, and allowing it to transfer powers to the State authorities, after the fashion provided for in the Canadian and South African constitutions. I venture to say that if the State authorities ever put the matter to the test, they will find that the citizens of tha States have not forgotten that they are also citizens of the Commonwealth. The setting, of men in their capacity of citizens of a State against themselves as citizens of the Commonwealth has lost all its magic. The people now demand that they shall have the legislation they require. They do not care two straws whether the instrumentality exercising the power to legislate calls itself a municipality, a state, or a commonwealth. But there are some powers which can be exercised only by this Parliament, and commerce is one of them. The power over commerce is clearly as wide as the continent, and this Parliament alone can exercise it. The same observation applies equally to the power to control corporations and industrial matters.
The proposals of the Prime Minister, as seen through the spectacles of the Leader of the Opposition, are open to certain objections. To the first proposed amendment, omitting the words in the paragraph dealing with conciliation and arbitration that confine our jurisdiction to interstate disputes, the Leader of the Opposition, I understand, takes no exception, but, on the contrary, approves of the proposal. On the other hand, he is very strongly opposed to the second paragraph, proposing the establishment of authorities with such powers as the Parliament confers on them with respect to the regulation and determination of terms and conditions of industrial employment, and of the rights and duties of employers and employees, with respect to industrial matters and things. He contends that this power should be granted to the Parliament. On the whole, I am inclined to agree with him. Since what this Parliament suffers from is the want of power, and since our reason for going to the people is to ask them to grant us power, and we are responsible for the request, it appears curious that we should confess unfitness to be trusted with its exercise. The objections put forward by the Prime Minister to the exercise of this power by the Parliament were not without force. He said that Parliament could not deal directly with industrial matters, and mentioned many which would clearly overburden us with matters of detail and administration which would prevent us considering any other subject. But we must consider that the grant of power is one thing, and the extent to which it is exercised is quite another. I remind the Prime Minister, and other members of the House, that the powers which by this bill it is sought to persuade the people to grant are powers which the British Parliament has always enjoyed. So, too, have the State Parliaments. The grant of additional power to this Parliament depends on the turn of the wheel of fortune - upon the varying interpretations of the Constitution by the High Court - yet the parliaments of other countries enjoy powers which are almost limitless. The British Parliament can, as Dicey says, do almost anything except change a man into a woman, that is, there- is nothing that is physically possible that it cannot do. It can remove the King from his throne, just as it can amend a law for the registration of motor cars or pass some other relatively trivial measure. And this limitless power it has always possessed. From the hour of trial in war and in so-called peace it has” emerged with its dignity and honour unsullied, and its reputation enhanced. There has been no abuse of its power. There is a very good reason why there should be none. We who are members of Parliament are never likely to forget that although we are placed in authority, our masters are not asleep and will punish severely any trespass beyond bounds which they conceive to be proper in any set of circumstances. This Parliament has great power in regard to taxation. Do the electors, whose fears have been excited by stories of the dangers to which they will be exposed if they grant larger power to the Commonwealth, not remember that this Parliament has power to utterly confiscate everything they possess? There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent us from taxing them until they have literally nothing left. Surely no power transcends that. Men may, if they like, talk about the taxation of capital, or a capital levy; but what does it matter who has the capital if the Parliament can take by taxation all that capital produces? If I am permitted to hold my pannikin under the tap as long and as often as I like, why should I care who owns the barrel? Again, this Parliament has power to deal as it pleases with its public servants. We could impose on them a working week of any duration we pleased, and determine ourselves every condition of their service. But we have deliberately refused to do this, Instead of governing the Public Service directly from the floor of this House, we have appointed a board of commissioners to control them. Although governments of different political complexions have succeeded each other in the Commonwealth, there has been no attempt to destroy this system ; on the contrary, it has been extended. Experience has taught the people a lesson; they want to give this Parliament power to deal with industrial unrest. To do that we must have power over every part of the field of industrial unrest. Over trade and commerce, over corporations, over trade unions. Every parliament in the world - America alone excepted - has these powers. As we already possess great powers which we have not abused, and as upon every Parliament that abuses its powers retribution comes swift and severe, I venture to say that we shall have a much better chance of carrying the proposals than ever we had before if we say to them, “ This is the power that the Parliament must have if it is to protect your interests.” As to the power itself, one party would propose to use it in one way and another party in a different way ; but in the end the people will decide to what extent and in what way it shall be used. As to the abuse of power, the judge upon the bench may abuse his power, the soldier to whom a rifle is given may use it to shoot his officer ; and members of parliament may abuse their authority - but none survive long to tell the tale. Those men are likely to represent the people longest who best interpret the people’s will as mirrored in their concept of what is best in the country’s interests. I entirely agree with the Prime Minister that we should tell the people that we have no intention of exercising this power directly. We made no attempt to exercise the power of conciliation and arbitration directly. It never occurred to us to do so. We appointed independent persons to act for us in that case, and so we shall do in this. But while this Parliament will not exercise the power directly it must have authority to take whatever action is necessary to ensure industrial peace. Industrial unrest takes a thousand shapes. We must be able to deal with it in all circumstances. The future is not wholly mirrored in the past, and we cannot, by looking back, arrange our conduct and policy so as to meet every difficulty that may arise. If we try to do so we shall find ourselves bitterly disappointed. No one can say how this power must be used; but we know that, if given, it will be used for the benefit of the people. Whatever is necessary for their protection shall be done. I am a believer in strong government. The people expect and respect a strong government: the worst and least excusable fault of an administration is weakness. But what avails strength without adequate means to give effect to its resolutions? A government and a parliament must have necessary powers. If we desired a victory, should we arm our fighters with obsolete weapons and trust wholly to their courage; should we not rather send them forth with the latest and most effective instruments of war-‘ fare? We should have this power to use if and when circumstances demand; but we should never dream of using it to do such things as fix directly the basic, wage, or to grapple with the problem of child endowment and other questions which should be referred to properly constituted tribunals. Honorable members must realize what it is we are handing over to these authorities. We may clothe them with very great powers.
– But if we create we can dissolve.
– All will depend on the conditions of appointment. We must give these authorities such conditions as would make positions upon them attractive to good men, and thus it may easily come about that we may set up a tribunal such as a High Court, which is independent of every other institution in the country, and supreme over them within the limits of its jurisdiction. We are going to hand over to these authorities power over matters vital to the welfare of this country. It will be for them to determine the hours to be worked, the wages to be paid, whether child endowment shall be a principle of the industrial system, how it shall be engrafted in the wage system, and a hundred and one other questions. When this authority has been set up the Parliament can do nothing. Eighty per cent, of the people of this country are wage earners, and it is these authorities that will deal with the only things that really matter to that 80 per cent. They will be, in effect, industrial legislatures or dictators. The right honorable gentleman and other honorable members on this side, myself included, would be the last in the world to set up a soviet. But I ask my right honorable friend, what is this but a potential soviet? It may be a. fascist soviet; but, at any rate, it will be a council determining the hours and conditions of labour of the whole community. That is exactly what the soviet council does. There is nothing to prevent the creation of an individual soviet or council attached to every industry, with a grand council over the whole. I ask honorable members to look at that position. I am against setting up authorities having supreme power over matters absolutely vital to the people. This Parliament must be supreme.
I come, now, to the third point made by the Leader of the Opposition - that it is not proposed to ask for power to legislate in relation to corporations. It is not proposed to do this. I think this a cardinal error. Corporations are the entities with which organized labour has to deal. Honorable members do not complain of the proposal to ask for power to control trade unions. They ought to be legislated for to their own good. There must be power in this Parliament to deal with them. They are a mighty influence in the land, and some one must have control of them. Who will say that the citizens of the Commonwealth who are members of unions, should, as unionists, be beyond the reach of the law? No one should be beyond the reach of the law. Every one must be amenable to it, and this Parliament should be supreme over all; not necessarily acting directly, but having the power to interfere. But trade unionists will say, “ You ask for power to make laws to control us; what about making laws for those with whom we deal?” Labour is concentrated in unions, and capital in corporations or companies. At one time I had a calculation made of the money invested in companies in this country. It amounted to hundreds of millions of pounds. Over those interests we have no authority whatever. Notwithstanding the very plain words in the Constitution - and no words could indicate more plainly that this Parliament was intended to exercise its power to deal with corporations - the High Court ruled otherwise. The Deakin Government piloted through Parliament, or, at all events, drafted, a Companies Bill, but the High Court ruled that, although this Parliament has power to usher companies into the world, and, possibly, to attend their obsequies, it has no control whatever over their actions. It may be that the court, as now constituted, takes a different view. If so, it becomes more necessary to set down beyond the vagaries and shifting opinions of any court what the powers of the people are. In regard to the trade and commerce power, a previous High Court held - the present court takes a different view - that there is an underlying principle permeating the Constitution. By the doctrine of reserved power which is laid down, every section is to be interpreted in such a way as to favour the sovereignty of the States and to diminish the authority of this Parliament. The Commonwealth Legislature should have power over corporations, direct and without limitations, and the grant of it should be expressed in language that is unambiguous. In drafting, every additional word is a danger; in seeking to cover a wider field we may find that we have vacated that which we held. The only safe course is to seek full power over trade and commerce, corporations, and industrial matters. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that the power which the Government seeks in relation to “ trusts and combinations in restraint of trade” is not sufficient. Proposed paragraph xlii would be more effective if it followed the wording of the 1915 bill, namely -
Trusts, combinations, monopolies, and arrangements in relation to -
the production, manufacture, or supply of goods, or the supply of services; or
the ownership of the means of production, manufacture, or supply of goods, or supply of services.
With the desire of the Leader of the Opposition to give this Parliament authority to deal with corporations I am in sympathy, but his amendment will not achieve it. He seeks to effect his purpose by inserting these words -
Trusts, corporations, combinations, monopolies and arrangements in relation to -
The words used in the 1 915 bill were -
Corporations, including -
the creation, dissolution, regulation, and control of corporations;
corporations formed under the laws of a State, including their dissolution, regulation and control . . . . ; and
foreign corporations, including their regulation and control:
Under that power this Parliament could deal with the creation, dissolution, and control of corporations. I doubt very much whether it could do so under the proposal submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, especially if the existing paragraph relating to corporations were retained.
– If there is a doubt about the effect of the amendment, there should be no difficulty in redrafting it.
– We are agreed as to the need for this amendment of the Constitution. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he welcomes the proposals contained in the bill, but he does not like the form in which they are submitted. He said they will not give this Parliament enough power, and he suggested that the Prime Minister should reconsider them. He even offered to co-operate with the right honorable gentleman in formulating the questions in such a way that they would receive the support of both the Labour and Ministerial parties. I have been associated with the Leader of the Opposition on four different occasions in an endeavour to get from the people the powers to which these bills refer, and the suggestion which the honorable gentleman has made represents a further advance than anything previously achieved. He has made a gesture towards an amicable understanding which cannot be ignored, especially as the Prime Minister declared that this is a national and not a party question. I shall support the Government’s bill, but because the right honorable gentleman has said that this is not a party issue I have spoken my mind freely, and I suggest to him that he will certainly ensure the acceptance of these proposals by the people if he will make such amendments as will represent a reasonable compromise with the Leader of the Opposition. If he does that, he will shift from his shoulders the immense responsibility of conducting a referendum campaign in a hostile atmosphere, and he will make victory certain. The grant of these additional powers will enhance his prestige, and he will have the first opportunity to put them into force.
.- -The speech to which the House has just listened is one of . the most interesting and informative that has fallen from the lips of the right honorable gentleman for many years. With many of the things he has said, I am in disagreement, for reasons I shall endeavour to define ; but his remarks will constitute a valuable aid to historical thought during the progress of this debate. This bill is unusual, and, in one respect, unique, for it creates unanimity in neither party, and apparently begets no enthusiasm in the press or in the country. It obviously catches the Opposition in a puzzled state of mind, as the uncomfortable utterance of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday clearly showed. From one point of view, that fact may be regarded as satisfactory, but to me it is not so, because a similar condition of embarrassment exists on the Government bench, or, at least, amongst the supporters of the Government in the constituencies. The two groups into which parties are divided may be likened to two well-bred dogs watching a bone held in the hand of the Prime Minister. The Opposition, while thinking that the bone is not large enough and does not hold sufficient meat, is inclined to snatch it, but distrusts the hand that offers it. The situation of the ministerial members is the reverse of that. Not many members on this side of the House are tempted by the appearance of the bone, although they have implicit faith in the man who offers it. For my part, I differ slightly from both groups. In regard to the general policy of the bill - apart from its form, the procedure associated with its introduction, and the method by which it has been referred to the people, I agree with the Government. I believe in the surrender of complete industrial authority to the Commonwealth. I was one of a band of men who fought the referendum proposals of 1911 and 1913. I did not take a conspicuous part in opposing the 1915 bill, because the campaign was not proceeded with beyond this chamber; but by 1919 I had become convinced that, with certain modifications, I had been wrong in opposing the earlier proposals, and that the Constitution qf the Australian Parliament should be permitted to grow. I openly announced my renunciation of the views I had expressed on the two earlier referendums.
– I think the honorable member advocated the extension of this Parliament’s industrial powers even at an earlier date.
– Yes, but not in the way proposed by the Fisher Government in 1911 and 1913. My change of attitude was due to the fact that the industrial situation had intensified by the sustained practice of compulsory arbitration throughout Australia. Circumstances had complicated the position in such a way that no cure appeared to be possible other than by giving to the Commonwealth Parliament full authority in the industrial arena. We have tried by discussions with the States to secure the adoption of other curative methods. We have even heard suggestions that the Commonwealth should abandon industrial arbitration. Although realizing the follies of the system we have practised, I never believed in that extreme course; but I have been convinced that by no process of discussion with the States shall we secure a delimitation and reassignment of industrial authority. This Parliament must therefore cut the Gordian knot for itself, and, by a frank statement to the people, convince them that the extended powers now sought are necessary to save this country from a rapid approach to economic and industrial chaos. I am not at all dismayed by the remark, although I speak as one who formerly enjoyed authority in the State arena, that this is a move towards unification. We shall still retain, even if we pass this bill, the Federal form of union; we shall still have equal representation of the States in the Senate; and we shall still have to go to the people for whatever additional powers we want. The vital Federal principle of the Constitution remains unimpaired after a quarter of a century, and the proposal to transfer this, that, or the other power, does not affect in any way the federalism of the two entities - the people and the States - on which our Constitution is founded. I agree entirely with the Prime Minister that there is nothing sacrosanct about our Constitution. We say pious things of, and pay our sincere homage to, the great ancestral institutions of Britain, under which we have won and keep our freedom, and we believe that her form of government is the best. I can imagine a sanctity gathering round an historic institution, or an historic practice; but the birth of the Australian Constitution is remembered by us all. Some of us took part in endeavouring to induce the people to accept it. It is not like the laws of the Medes and Persians - unalterable. It is the thing with which we started work. It is like a schoolboy’s suit, which this young nation, as it has reached to manhood’s stature and proportions, has outgrown. We should survey the situation frankly, and, every time we find our clothes too small, should tell the people that a larger suit is necessary. Without any desire to lay unholy hands on a sanctified institution, let us tell the people how we feel about the industrial and commercial powers which we are seeking from them. Here I join issue with the Government on the question of procedure. I frankly confess that I am astonished at the action of the Government in submitting this bill. I have recently re-read the speech delivered by His Excellency the Governor-General at the opening of this Parliament. There is no announcement in it of an intention to submit during this session what is obviously the most important measure of the session.
– There was nothing, either, in the Government’s policy speech.
– It may be read into the Government’s policy, for there were many statements of policy, by the Government and many answers by the Opposition. The answers were disbelieved by the electors, and the policy statements were accepted. I think I can show that there was an intention on the part of the Government to submit proposals for amendments of the Constitution at some stage during this Parlia ment. We have just come from a general election, in which the people voted, by a large majority, for the Government’s policy. The right honorable the Prime Minister, in introducing the bill, said that it was only an advance step in a general re-building by this Parliament of the Constitution. There is to be a constitutional session at Canberra, or elsewhere, during the life of this, the tenth, Parliament. That being so, are we to have in three years four appeals to the electors - for that is what this proposal means ? Are we to thrust the people, in the middle of winter, into a hurried and unannounced referendum campaign, and ask them to determine the most vital proposals they have ever been called . upon to consider ? If the bill is only a first step, the recent general election will be followed in a few months by a referendum, and, later, by another referendum and a general election. AH those appeals to the people will be made in the course of three years, and the fact that the last two may coincide in point of time makes little or no difference. Members of the Government may solace themselves by believing that they will obtain a large vote because of the compulsory provisions of the electoral law ; but the proposals may still be unfair to the people. I doubt whether it is fair to make voting on proposals for altering the Constitution compulsory. I am not, however, finally pronouncing on that. On this question the important thing is not the quantity, but the quality, of the vote. The great fights that were conducted in 1911 and 1913 roused the people and re-educated them on the subject of the Constitution. The great advantage of the vote was not that the party advocating reforms won or lost, but that the people were dragged from their homes by a natural desire to see the fight conducted in the public halls of this country. The educative effect of the campaign was of even more importance than the adoption of the Constitution, and that effect cannot be obtained on the present occasion if, in the middle of winter, we suddenly spring a proposition of this importance on the people. We may compel them to vote, but we cannot compel them to read the arguments for or against the proposition. Even allowing the right honorable gentleman’s contention that this matter is vital, I fear that he will find the people cold to the appeal, and that, notwithstanding the threat of compulsion, there will probably be a reduced vote, or the proposals will be defeated. I am a great believer in a well-timed appeal to the people, and so is the Government, for it appealed at the right time for the last general election; but I contend that the Government has mis-judged this appeal. An appeal at a wrong time, particularly if it be a referendum, may fail. Those are a few plain words in opposition to the procedure adopted by the Government, and adopted, doubtless, deliberately. I ask the Prime Minister, why all this hurry, in view of the fact that we are to have, during this Parliament, a session for the revision of the Constitution ? The right honorable gentleman said that this question -was urgent; but he gave no proof of that. His speech contained merely a declaration that the Government considered it urgent. Why is it urgent? Why is it more urgent today than it was immediately before the general election ? ‘
– It may be urgent because the Prime Minister wants to go to England.
– I am not implying any motive, and in a matter of this kind I suggest that honorable members should be above making such petty insinuations. Why is the question deemed urgent now, when it was not urgent a few months ago ? Only one thing has happened since the election, and that is the decision of the High Court on the question of the 44 or 48 hour-week. Is it necessary to spring on the people a bill of this kind without notice, and to take a referendum at huge expense, because of that decision ? That difficulty will adjust itself in the ordinary course of industrial evolution long before the people can register an opinion on this question. This is panic counsel, and I take leave respectfully to tell the Government that to have a hurried referendum on a special issue because of that conflict of authority, if it be a conflict, is bad tactics, to which I am sure the people will not respond. As the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) reminded the House, even if this proposition is accepted by the people, the Parliament will not give it effect for nine or ten months. If we rise in August it is unlikely that we shall settle down to serious business until early in the new year. Where, then, is the ground of urgency? If we place upon the Government the onus of proof of urgency, further evidence is required than the Prime Minister has yet produced.
While I declare these things, and declare them rather more emphatically than other speakers, because I feel strongly about them, I am by no means satisfied with the condition of industrial arbitration in this country. ~No observer or student of economics can be unaware of the bad conditions into which we have gravitated - conditions which do not differ fundamentally from those that have existed since the failure of the 1919 referendum. Those unsatisfactory conditions prove the importance of this action, but not the urgency of it. Again I say to the Government, the necessity for hasty or immediate action has not been established. Let us review the state of industrial affairs in Australia. It is due to Federal limitation, as has been stated often in this House, and was re-emphasized this afternoon by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). There are other contributing causes, but the Federal limitation is a basic cause and irremovable except by action of this kind. Out of it arises the conflict of jurisdiction, the overlapping, the duplication in authority and in appeal, and the ruinous competition between Federal and State authorities, which has been to the lasting disadvantage of the workers and those who have capital invested in business. But, apart from this basic cause, there are many causes of trouble which spring out of the process of arbitration which the Commonwealth has established - that is to say, the Arbitration Court. Our system is the apotheosis of the jurist, who officiates amid the pomp and embellishment of a court, and surrounded by expensive lawyers. In the atmosphere of opposition and conflict of such a court, there can be no real conciliation, and little entirely acceptable arbitration. I speak now with some knowledge of what the court has done to benefit the worker particularly, and to stabilize industry; it has done it not because a jurist presided, but despite that fact. Much better results would have followed had other means been employed. One direct result of the system we have established and followed is that conciliation, which was supposed to be the first step to arbitration, has been forgotten. In our Arbitration Court conciliation is dead and buried. The first President of the Court was known, and, in his legal capacity, respected by all of us. He paid no attention to the conciliation provisions of the Constitution, or to the debates of the Convention, which put conciliation before arbitration. He apparently doubted the wisdom of the court concerning itself in any way with conciliatory preliminaries. That was because he preferred to sit on high on his bench, as all judges do, and hear third-rate evidence of the plaintiff’s case through solicitors and barristers, all of them, except the men who gave the original instructions, being essentially ignorant of the industrial conditions concerned, both generally and specially. That is the attitude of the judge and the court in our prevailing industrial system.
– The right honorable gentleman suspended me last year for saying less than that about the judges!
– My honorable friend was not suspended - his memory is at fault. He would have been suspended had it not been for my good nature. He made a violent attack upon a Supreme Court judge in Victoria in the discharge of his strictly judicial work. I am speaking of what I know of the practice of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and the same procedure has been followed by his successor and the two deputy presidents.
– But conferences precede the judicial procedure in many instances.
– Even they are compulsory; and that is not conciliation. I know that there are boards of reference also, but there is always the atmosphere of a court, and the conclusions that are reached must be submitted to the court in order to make the agreement a binding one. Under such a system of compulsion it is not likely that binding and stable agreements will be reached. Not only has conciliation been dropped out of sight in the operation of our industrial laws, but serious delays have arisen in consequence of the legal methods adopted. There are no short cuts. The circumlocution of a court must always be en dured. Honorable members opposite have frequently referred, in this chamber, to plaints that have remained on the list unheard for six and even for twelve months.
– Sometimes for two years.
– If I were a unionist I should lose faith in arbitration if I had to wait so long as that for the hearing of a plaint.
– Voluntary conciliation has always been possible.
– That is so; but a barrier of compulsion has been erected, and we have altogether departed from the theory of collective bargaining.
– What would the right honorable gentleman do with parties who refused to meet around the table with the object of conciliation?
– The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) knows very well that there have been occasions when the parties in a dispute have refused to submit a matter to the court for hearing, and the heads of governments have presided when the feud has been of great magnitude, and have eventually reconciled the parties. The ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) did so in a dispute connected with the coal industry, and subsequently established a special tribunal to deal with that industry. The machinery of conciliation provided in the act was never properly used by the President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and it would be lamentable if we overlooked it in creating a new court with new powers.
– I hope that it will be one of our first considerations in connexion with these new proposals.
– It is in order that we may give consideration to the possibility of effective conciliation that I am dwelling at some length on the obvious defects in our past methods. Another source of trouble under the present system has been the absence of power to enforce awards. Many men have abandoned compulsory arbitration because they say it is impossible to compel large bodies of unionists to accept the decisions of the court. My reply to that is that we have never tried to do it. The present AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham) proposed some time ago, by means of a private member’s motion, that we should create some administrative machinery to police awards and determinations of the court. I think that the honorable member, as a lawyer, would admit that it could be done without any alteration of the Constitution. But it has not been done, nor is it intended to do it, so far as I can see. Out of the creation of this cumbersome machinery, which does not seek conciliation, and has no power to enforce its awards, have arisen a number of blunders which unionists and employers alike deplore. One principle on which the court has operated is the most amazing that I have ever heard stated. Mr. Justice Higgins declared, in his capacity as president of the court, that he would not consider whether an industry could stand the payment of a minimum wage, but intended to fix the wage that it would have to pay. He is the first and only man who, during my public life, has declared that profits do not and should not condition wages, and I know of no economist who would do so. The application of so crude and bald a policy to the’ economic life of a young country like onrs, in its present stage of partial development, could have no other effect than to damage industry. For an academic economist on the bench to work on the assumption that an irreducible living wage must be paid in all industries is ridiculous. It is a slow form of industrial suicide to put into operation. But because the statement came from the lips of a judge people seem to be afraid to challenge it. Statements of that. kind have never been made by the members of wages boards.
– We have not heard of any industry closing down in consequence of Mr. Justice Higgins’ adherence to that principle.
– The honorable member cannot be well acquainted with our industrial history. The mining industry has been seriously affected by the application of that principle.
– Shows which were paying only 10s. a week deserved to be adversely affected.
– I need not at the moment go into that; I have answered the honorable member’s interjection.
– The closing down of mines has not been due to Arbitration Court’ determinations only.
– It may have been contributed to by the payment of extravagant dividends in the good years, and by other circumstances; but because of Arbitration Court awards the industry has been crushed and crippled in every State.
– It was better that that should happen than that it should be carried on under the old sweating conditions.
– I, wish to say quite frankly that I have a great respect for the operation of the law, and for exponents of the law in their proper position ; but I have very little faith in jurists or judges as heads of arbitration tribunals. Unless we are very careful, I think we are in imminent danger of repeating thu follies and blunders of the past. I do not say that that must necessarily happen, but it is a danger. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) alluded to the fact that if these proposals are adopted, the three men who will be called upon to exercise this power will have larger power than even this Parliament, and larger power, I venture to say, than has ever been entrusted to any men in normal times in British history. It will be not merely administrative, but also legislative power. Whether this bill is passed in its present form or not, the three men who will be appointed under the Judiciary Bill will possess the whole of our arbitration authority, and in their position of authority they will have more effect’ on the position, incomes, prospects, employment, and wealth of the working classes than the whole of the Parliaments of Australia. That will be so, irrespective of the alteration of the Constitution; but if the policy of the Government in correlation with this bill is given effect, these three men will hold in the hollow of their hand the fortunes, prospects, and careers of at least 80 per cent, of the Australian people.
– And they will greatly affect the fortunes of the other 20 per cent.
– But that is no criticism of the proposals to grant extended powers.
– That is so. If the extension of our judicial system of arbitration is agreed to, we shall fasten’ upon our people a burden which even this Parliament will not be able to lift. I shall argue that question presently. I wish it to be understood how great is the legislative authority it is proposed to entrust to these unknown and as yet unselected men. It will be greater than any of us enjoy, greater than this Government- enjoys, and greater than the whole of the Australian Parliaments enjoy. Even if they were angels from Heaven I should hesitate to repose in the three new jurists of the Arbitration Court the enormous powers which must be given under this extension of powers and the Judiciary Bill which the Government has introduced.
– We may as well close this place up altogether.
– I think not. I shall endeavour to show that there is another course. The new judges will probably endeavour to aggrandize their position as other men have done before them. They will seek to magnify the importance of their court. They will keep as much power in their hands as possible, and no matter how conscientiously they may discharge their duties, they must compete one against the other, and that not necessarily for popularity only. It must be remembered that they will have no public opinion to guide them. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said that the safety in giving larger power to Parliament was that even if it were abused by the members of Parliament, those who abused it could soon be replaced by others. But if we give a life tenure to these judges, and equip them with such tremendous powers, and they abuse those powers, their removal can be effected only by an indignant Parliament on a resolution passed by both Houses. I ask the Government to pause before it goes so far as to place these men in charge of a machine which they will be tempted to operate until it makes them veritable industrial autocrats. I am a believer in the wages board principle for the consideration of industrial problems, and the prevention and settlement of disputes. I was born and bred in this State, which first experimented with wages boards, and my public life has been spent in it. I know that mistakes have been made in connexion with wages boards. At one time the legislature appointed the members of the boards, but later the automatic system of appointment was developed, because employers, employees, and the general community alike became satisfied with the work of the boards. Let me briefly compare the wages board principle with the Arbitration Court principle that we have developed. The comparison may be made more extensively later, but it may be stated in a few words now. The wages boards constitute a system of collective bargaining. The employers and employees, sitting together, study the problems which they have been called upon to determine. They know how much their respective sides can give, and not infrequently it has happened that they have reached a determination without calling upon the chairman to exercise his authority, other than to preserve order and direct the procedure. In one case in particular, which has become famous because of the criticism it has been subjected to, the chairman was called upon to frame a most difficult log of wages and conditions. He was a man of great experience in other lines, though not in this one; but in a few weeks he had signed a perfect log with the full agreement of both sides, and on not one occasion during the discussion did he need to give a casting vote. That has happened on many occasions. In so far as the wages board principle has been adopted in our economic and industrial life, it has. been for the lasting benefit of all concerned. There is no collective bargaining through the medium of barristers in a supreme or arbitration court, with final arbitral powers. We should do our best to develop in the Federal sphere the system of wages boards, which hitherto we have neglected. Perhaps the greatest advantage of the wages board system is that the men on each side who sit at the table to make the award know the conditions of the industry with which they are concerned. On the one side practically all their capital is invested in it, and on the other side practically their whole life has been spent in it. The prospects of both parties are bound up with the successful solution of the problem they are called on to consider. No employer or employee can get away with a falsehood in any matter under consideration, for all the parties concerned would know it to be a falsehood. The chairman and members of a wages board do not arrive at a decision upon evidence skilfully submitted, but upon craft knowledge and their intimate acquaintance with the facts of the industry with which they are concerned. There is a check upon one side by the other, and the balance is well-nigh perfect so long as both sides select reasonable men to represent them. It is the most expert industrial tribunal that can be called together. The only difficulty is that of securing an ideal chairman. We are not always able to get such a man in this or in any other part of Australia.
– How is the public represented on a wages board?
– To a great extent, by the authority and morale of the chairman, and by the fact that the people generally know what effect upon the industry a decision by the board is likely to have. I do not say that we could not improve the wages-board system by the appointment of a representative of the consumers, but self-interest and experience are checks which produce a balance on a wages board which cannot be secured in the decision of a court.
– There is expedition with the wages boards.
– I was going to say that their operation is infinitely swifter than that of any other system for the settlement of questions that has been devised. At present, we have three judges operating under our limited jurisdiction, and, if we are to have only three when we secure the more ample jurisdiction proposed, the delays of to-day in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court will be as nothing to the delays of to-morrow. We must invent some system which will give expedition if it is to be without other serious disadvantages. I have known wages boards to be called into existence in a week, not because there was trouble, but because there was the unanimous desire shown by employers and employees to have such wages boards operating, and in several cases determinations upon which the industries concerned operated for years were arrived at within a month.
– In other cases, the proceedings have been protracted and an appeal made to a court on legal grounds.
– There have not been very many such cases in this part of Australia.
– Difficulties have arisen in connexion with the coal tribunal.
– That, I think, was appointed under the War Precautions Act.
– No, the Industrial Peace Act.
– I understand that it was to continue some war precautions regulation.
- No, the coal tribunal was established on exactly the same principle and basis as those of wages boards.
– The right honorable gentleman refers to what is known as the
Hibble Tribunal, and admitting that it is appointed on the principles and basis of a wages board, it should be remembered that it is called upon to function in connexion with the most difficult industry in Australia. It would be remarkable if it achieved expedition and complete success. I do not think that such difficulties have arisen in Victoria in connexion with the boot trade or the white-workers’ trade. I do not know the temperament or the capacity of any of the men who constitute the coal board, but I am certain of the greater wisdom of the principle of the wages board in 99 cases out of 100 when compared with the Arbitration Court.
– A wages board can only deal with disputes intra-state.
– We all realize that limitation under the Constitution as it stands. We are hoping that complete industrial authority will be given to the Commonwealth, but I do not think we could entrust to three jurists exclusive power for the regulation of wages and conditions of industry the exercise of which they are not equipped to perform.
– The right honorable gentleman is not suggesting that, under the proposed amendment of the Constitution, we could not do what he suggests in the establishment of wages boards ?
– No; I have said that it could be done. Half the apprehension felt since these proposals were launched by men concerned in industries in this country, arises from the fact that it looks as if they were designed to deify the court, and give it entire control of industry. If the community could be satisfied that the exercise of the powers sought would be provided for by the- creation of a scheme for which the Government would make itself responsible, and that the wages board principles would be the basis of that scheme for giving effect to the new powers in the Federal arena, we should get an enormously increased vote in favour of these proposals. I fear the operation of these powers by judges.
Mention was made by the Prime Minister, the right honorable member for North Sydney, and the Leader of the Opposition, of the provisions of the bill dealing with authorities. It seems to me that some confusion exists, for which probably the rapid utterance of. the Prime Minister, as he reached the conclusion of his speech, may be responsible. There are three things to be considered in connexion with the proposed new paragraph xl. First of all, what is the Government’s intention; secondly, as to the wisdom of it if we read the bill aright; and thirdly, whether it is possible to do what the Government suggests. The Prime Minister said that there is ho desire for the exercise by Parliament of all the powers which we seek from the people, but rather to give them to authorities created under special legislation passed by this Parliament. The desire apparently is to short-circuit Parliament, to cut it out, leaving these things to some created authority, so that the Parliament may be free to do other work instead’ of being called upon to deal with economic and industrial matters. Some men believe that that can be done, and believe in its wisdom. I do not believe in its wisdom, if what I have suggested is what the clause means. I believe that this Parliament should ask the people for these powers, at the same time saying deliberatelythat it would devise machinery for their proper exercise. I do not believe that the power should be pawned to a court in advance. I am not saying this venomously, or in opposition to the Government, as the Prime Minister is aware; but I believe that if we secure increased jurisdiction this Parliament should be responsible for the acceptance and discharge of the larger powers granted. In actual practice it would not itself exercise the powers once in a hundred times. It would create machinery for the proper discharge of those powers; but at any time it should be in a position to call back any power which it gives, or destroy any authority which it creates. Anything which would tie the hands of the Parliament in the discreet exercise of any powers entrusted to it under the Constitution would be unwise.
– There is nothing in the bill to prevent the Government from doing what the right honorable member suggests.
– I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman is speaking now as the head of the Government, intent on carrying this bill, or as a lawyer.
– I am trying to indicate what would be the actual power given under this measure.
– The right honorable gentleman speaks in his dual capacity, doubtless. .
– With the assistance of the legal advisers of the Crown.
– I suppose the right honorable gentleman’s legal adviser has considered the matter or the bill would not be framed in the way it is. If that be so, I do not think that we should ask power merely to establish an authority with such powers as Parliament may confer upon it.
– What is proposed is that Parliament should be able to confer such powers as it thinks proper, and to withdraw them from time to time.
– Then I think that what is intended might have been better expressed in another way. The matter might be left entirely as the first proposed amendment leaves it by proposing the omission of the words “ extending beyond the limits of any one State “.
– We should then only have powers for the conciliation and arbitration.
– We would have powers for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes. Let us consider what is meant by the “prevention “ of industrial disputes. I venture to say that to prevent a dispute is to stop one from growing. Is that not wide enough under the present terms of the Constitution to permit any authority, if it sees a struggle looming, to exercise ha power and settle the dispute?
– It could not lay down a general rule for industry under the powers the right honorable gentleman suggests, which would merely be powers for conciliation and arbitration between the parties to a dispute.
– I do not think that it would he wise for the Parliament to pass over to any authority a power it does not exercise itself at any stage. If we ask for these powers in such a way that the people will understand that if they are given we shall accept the responsibility for their discharge, though in actual practice we might pass them over to authorities such as courts or wages boards, we shall get a better response to the proposals; but Parliament must retain the power to intervene whenever it feels disposed to do so for the good of the nation.
– That cuts across the intention of the Government to take the matter out of the realm of party politics.
– That may be for tactical reasons, but I doubt its wisdom. If members of this Parliament are worthy of their positions, when they ask for these powers they should be prepared to accept the responsibility of their exercise. It is impossible, in my judgment, to take questions of hours, wages, and labour conditions out of politics. All we can do is to minimize the frequent references to them in the legislative chambers. We may do that by devising machinery, but nothing will ever prevent workers and other people interesting themselves from their own point of view in the politics of the country and the election of members of Parliament. Surely there is nothing more important than this unless it be the defence of the country itself, because on the just settlement of such questions the prosperity of 90 per cent, of the people depends. We cannot shut them out from the hustings or from Parliament. If we are prudent we shall create a machine which will be better able to do this work than we are.
I was struck, as the right honorable member for North Sydney was, with the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition for a consultation. It was suggested in two forms: first, a consultation with the
State authorities to see whether they would be prepared to surrender certain powers to the Commonwealth. I think the answer to that suggestion is found in our past experience, and in this connexion 1 speak as one who spoke for a State on more than one occasion.
– The’ right honorable gentleman was hard to shift.
– Eventually I shifted to this Parliament, and I see the matter now through the other end of the telescope. There are men carrying responsibility in the arena of the States to-day who believe that they have wide vision. They are not anxious to forfeit their place in the sun, and consider that they are the chief custodians of the welfare of the States whose government they control. They do not believe that they take the narrow view which we may be inclined to attribute to them, and they prefer to stick to their job. I think it would be hopeless to expect the temporary or permanent surrender of such powers as the Governproposes to ask the people for, as the result of voluntary agreement between the authorities of the States and the Commonwealth. We must go straight to the people. Another consultation suggested by the Leader of the Opposition is, I think, worthy of full consideration, and it is that at this stage, when there is comparatively so little difference between the two parties in this Parliament concerning the required amendment of the Constitution, there might be a conference between leaders and members of the rank and file of the parties to see whether they could not get a little closer together. I am assuming that that suggestion was made sincerely and honestly by the Leader of the Opposition.
– Hear, hear!
– Such a consultation might have a good effect, because though at one time there was a gulf between the parties to he bridged, there is now hut a very small rift. Only ten or eleven years ago it would have been equivalent to suicide to stand on this side of the House, with a Liberal or National Government in power, and advocate any of the things that the Prime Minister is advocating to-day. The life of an honorable member under such conditions would not have been worth a moment’s purchase in his constituency. He would have been cast to the lions.
– No honorable member on this side would now advocate this proposal if the Government had not brought it forward.
– I do not know whether there are any lions in the honorable member’s constituency, but, if there are, I am afraid that they are well tamed. I am- talking, not of the honorable member’s constituency, but of places where people have an alert and vigilant public conscience, and an intelligent and educated public opinion. Joking apart, I have never heard of the rejection by the Government of an offer coming from the Leader of the Opposition on an important question when reconciliation is theoretically possible. It is not my business to lecture the Prime Minister, but, if I were in his position, I should be inclined to ascertain how far reconciliation is possible in this case. We have never carried any referendum of importance calculated to make the Constitution a living entity. What we have done by referendum was to amend the Constitution in relation to the holding of Senate elections, upon which the people practically voted in their sleep. They also carried the State debts amendment. The State debts principle was not new. I was one of those who had a hand in the framing and the submission of the proposal to the people. It merely brought up to date the powers conferred by the Constitution under which we federated. Broadly speaking nothing else has been carried by referendum. But the granting of additional powers is coming nearer and nearer, and it may be that a break in the Labour ranks will bring it about.
– It may be brought about by a break in the Nationalist ranks.
– I take that to be not a break, but only a bend. We shall know later on in the debate how many honorable members are inclined to bend or break. As for me, I shall await to see what form the bill will take before I decide whether I shall support it. I want certain amendments made to the bill, but they are not the amendments proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
– Does the honorable member advocate postponing this matter until a constitutional session is held at Canberra next year?
– I have strongly urged that this matter should not be rushed. If we are to have a constitutional session next year, let us then endeavour to present a satisfactory bundle of propositions to the people for their consideration. Why should we hurry ahead with one in this fashion? The Government would be well advised to consider these two points - the folly of hurrying, and the wisdom of accepting the proposal for a conference with the Leader of the Opposition.
.- After tho. weighty pronouncements by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the Loader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) it would seem like arrogance to rise and take exception to the proposals now before honorable members. But much of the ground on which I intended to speak has been covered by the admirable speech of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt). Nobody could have put the flounderings of the Arbitration Court before this country in clearer terms, and with a greater wealth of detail than he did. But what surprises me is that he is prepared to take the risk of allowing the Arbitration Court, the chief instrument of industrial unrest, to further control the industrial life of Australia. Australia led the world in the great national experiment of compulsory arbitration. To-day it is the only country, excepting perhaps New Zealand, that perseveres with a system that has produced nothing but chaos, confusion, and no clear gain for the worker. I find myself in agreement with the Prime Minister respecting the necessity for increased Federal powers, but I am not prepared to vote for the increased industrial powers as provided for under this measure. From that position nothing that has transpired in this debate so far has shaken me in the least. Compulsory arbitration has had the industrial field to itself for twenty years. If the Commonwea’th Arbitration Court bad been a brilliant success during that time in respect of disputes extending beyond the boundaries of any one State, there might be some justification for granting’ to it the full measure of industrial control that has been proposed. But what is the position? The right honorable member for Balaclava has clearly stated that in determining wages and conditions under the system of compulsory arbitration in vogue for the last twenty years, the court has completely ignored the economic conditions upon which alone the industries of this country can achieve success. The court has laid down again and again that it is concerned only with the cost of living, and by its cumulative awards has increased the cost of living until the unfortunate worker who has placed his trust in the court has become bewildered. He has no clear money to-day. The cost of living has greatly risen owing to this floundering instrument of industrialism. The present system of arbitration is fundamentally wrong. I listened with interest to the splendid address of the right honorable member for North Sydney, who painted in wonderful colours the picture of a great nation struggling for power. He would have left us with the impression that Australia has no power to protect itself industrially, but I contend that complete and absolute power exists within Australia to deal with all industrial matters as the people think fit, but they in their wisdom have limited the power of the Commonwealth to disputes extending beyond the boundaries of any one State. This Parliament derives its right to interfere in industrial matters only by the provision of the Constitution relating to conciliation and compulsory arbitration. It has failed to provide conditions that satisfy either the employer or the employee. It has ruined the economic standard upon which industry can successfully thrive, and we are now asked to embrace within this power of compulsory arbitration the whole of the industries of Australia. I, for one, will not take the risk. I have listened to the speeches from both sides of the House, and I have watched the progress of events outside, particularly references from industrial centres. It seems to me that in industrial matters we have completely boxed the compass. Honorable members are at their wits’ end to know what is to be done. I sympathize with the Government in its difficulty, because it is not of its own creation. It is a legacy of 20 years of industrial floundering. It is sought to-day to obtain for the
Federal Parliament complete and absolute power over all industrial conditions. It has rightly been said that there are many entanglements across the approach of the court, and that many of its awards are exceedingly complicated. There are three courses open to the Government: first to let the present system continue ; secondly, to remove it by the process of making this Parliament, and any instruments created under it, supreme in the land; and thirdly, to call a halt, to review the situation and to ask the Federal authorities to recede from the sphere of industrialism altogether except in relation to two industries. I know of only two industries that are practically beyond control by the States. One is the shipping industry. The seamen on our coast should not be paid different wages, and be employed under different conditions on different stages of the journey. The other is the coal-mining industry. Only in respect to shipping and coal mining may the arbitration system be said to be interstate in its incidence. There exists between the mine-owner and the miner, who feels that he is hewing dividends for his employer, a gulf as wide as hell itself. As for the rest of our industries, who will tell me that we must apply to them this thing which is called the common rule ?
– What about the sheepshearing industry ?
– The Arbitration Court, in its shearing awards, has recognized different conditions and wages in the various States. It is a fetish of this Parliament that we must control all industrial legislation. After this long period of agony in federal arbitration circles, the Government now proposes to unify and glorify the central arbitration system. In answer to the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), in his eloquent appeal for further power, I call his attention to the bright and illustrious example of the 48 States which form the great United States of America. There they seek no central power. There is no compulsory arbitration court in America, nor is there in Great Britain. The system of compulsory arbitration has failed in this country. The very conditions of its establishment were such as to create a warring element and an atmosphere of discontent and distrust. No one could have put the position more clearly than did the right honorable member for Balaclava who, I suppose, expressed SO per cent, of the thoughts I had ready for expression in respect of the composition and failure of the Arbitration Court.
– Does the honorable member’s condemnation apply alike to the State and Federal Arbitration Courts?
– Not so much to the State Arbitration Courts; they know conditions better. I am not influenced in my statement by the fact that there are State Arbitration Courts. I personally prefer, not the wages board system, but a devolutionary system that permits those in the industry to go right into the factories and shops to fix wages and conditions. What is the use of a system under which no first-hand knowledge is possessed by those who have to settle disputes. The workers are disturbed in an industry. They go to their unions who, in turn, go to their industrial pleader. He goes to the judge, who in his turn makes a pronouncement based chiefly upon a compromise. So crafty and clever have become the industrial manipulators that outrageous claims have been made in the hope that the award of the court would be something near what the applicants really expected and desired. Such methods pay no regard to the economic conditions by which industries must be regulated if they are to endure and prosper. So uneconomic is the system that has grown up, largely because of compulsory arbitration, that the products of the secondary industries cannot be sold in the markets of the world. What representative of the primary producers will take the risk of voting for a measure which, if endorsed by the people, will place all rural industries at the mercy of a central arbitration court, presided over by three lawyers who have been elevated to the bench but have no first-hand knowledge of country conditions? Even now, only a few of our primary products can be profitably placed in the overseas markets. Dried fruits can be exported only by the payment of a bounty in Australia and the granting of preference in the markets of Great Britain. Upon every pound of butter which is exported a bounty is paid. I do not object to the payment of a bounty to some new experimental industry or to an existing industry that requires assistance to tide it over a crisis; but it is false economy to dip into the public treasury and practically pay pensions to industries that are as old as the nation itself, in order that they may place their products upon the markets of the world. By such expedients this country is being reduced to a wretched condition. Of secondary products, practically none except manufactured primaries can be marketed overseas. How can this nation become great, how can we expect population to come to Australia when such woefully unsound conditions obtain? I say, in all sincerity, to employers and employees, “ You have had twenty years’ experience of the fundamentally unsound system of allowing other people to prescribe the conditions of your industry. Get closer together, and fix your own conditions.” There must be a change of system and a change of heart before Australian industry can be placed upon a sound economic basis. Those who differ from me I refer to the soldier settlers, who, of all men in the country, deserve an opportunity to prosper. Those engaged in the dairying industry are settled upon some of the richest land in Australia. A competent board bought for them land in the most favoured districts at current market values; certainly no exorbitant prices were paid. The soldier settlers in Victoria were lucky in having the services of Mr. Mclvor and other members of a board, which has worked with patience, knowledge, and sympathy for the soldier. It has purchased land, built homes, and made working improvements. Yet, notwithstanding the advance of £2,500 of capital by the State, and favorable weather conditions, the average soldier dairy fanner and his wife, by working seven days a week, taking no holidays, and living a life of drudgery, can only earn between them half the present basic wage. That is the sorry plight of thousands of young soldiers and their brides who have settled on ready-made dairy farms in Victoria. The time has come to cry a halt. We must be honest with the people and tell them that they cannot take more out of the pot than is in it. By an arbitrary system of exacting1 from industry every possible penny without consideration of the economic conditions that surround it, the cost of living is increased to such an extent that the married worker with a family cannot get enough money to pay his way. The system suits the single man but it is of no benefit to the man with a family. After twenty years’ experience of compulsory arbitration we find our industries in an unsound economic condition. It is time that we paid more attention to the condition of our industries, instead of wading deeper into the serbonian bog of compulsory arbitration.
– Does the honorable member mean that wages are too high ?
– That purely political interjection will not help the honorable member, or the workers he represents. The honorable member would do better to face, honestly, the conditions that the compulsory arbitration system has brought about, and realize that it has not been as beneficial to the worker as its advocates predicted. Inevitably, the time will come when the whole community must face the facts. Out of what fund will the country find money to finance the awards of a court which at every appeal compromises in the interests of so-called industrial peace? By this system many of the primary industries are beaten to their knees, and I shall not vote to expose the primary producer to the false economic conditions that will result from the operations of a central arbitration court. I may be told that the proposed industrial authorities will operate in ft devolutionary way. I remind the Attorney-General that whatever power the Commonwealth has to-day in respect to industrial matters arises out of the reference in the Constitution to conciliation and arbitration. The proposal now before the House is either a graft upon that principle, or is at attempt to set up side by side with it a new system that ignores compulsory arbitration. The Governnent is proposing to establish an industrial authority which will have power to legislate and regulate. Like the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), I shall never vote to create any authority that will he superior to Parliament. The Migration Bill contains the same proposal, and I shall oppose it. I have had enough experience of commissions. This tendency to hand government over to commissions will have to be curbed. I believe in the democratic principle that the people must rule through this Parliament. What is the workers’ view of arbitration courts ? While the Government is placing before the country proposals for an alteration of the Constitution for the purpose of giving the Commonwealth greater powers in regard to industry, two great unions are resisting Federal awards, and one has declared a preference for the State award. The New South Wales Parliament by statute established a working week of 44 hours. That was in conflict with the Federal Arbitration Court’s award of 48 hours. The workers rejected the arbitration award, and both employers and employees have shown such an absolute lack of confidence in the system of compulsory arbitration that they have accepted the working week of 44 hours established by the State authority in defiance of the Federal authority.
– Pending a decision regarding the extension of the Commonwealth power.
– In the meantime both sides have made an abject surrender to the State authority. In my opinion, this bill represents an attempt to persevere with a system that has failed. The industrialists are divided in regard to it. When the workers consider that they have a grievance, they should have a ready reference to a tribunal that is thoroughly conversant with the conditions of their industry. The employers should take the workers more into their confidence, as has been, done with such signal success in the United States of America; and I do not know why this Government, of all governments, should want to persevere with compulsory arbitration, which the whole outside world has rejected. It is idle to complain of the constitutional limitation of this Parliament’s powers in respect of industrial matters. The industrialists have all the power I am prepared to give to them; indeed, they have too much. Under the State wages-board system there is very little industrial trouble, and in general practice it will be found that the closer a tribunal is to the industry with which it has to deal the less will be the unrest in that industry. But if a central court is to have authority to impose conditions upon employers and employees in any part of Australia, the industries of the country will be strangled.
In industrial circles and in this chamber opinion in regard to these proposals is divided. I hope that the bill will be debated from a non-party aspect, and that honorable members on both sides will speak as their knowledge and experience dictate. If that is done, some good may result from this bill. Otherwise, it will be my duty to vote and work against the measure.
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) having replied to the Prime Minister and proposed a most important amendment, I am surprised that no Minister has risen to inform the House whether the Government intends to proceed with the bill in its present form. I expected the honorable the Attorney-General to state the views of the Government.
– Did the honorable member expect that to be done before honorable members on his side had spoken ?
– If the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) was on this side, and his leader had moved an amendment that involved re-drafting the bill, he would contend that it was time the Government expressed its views.
– It is time that members of the Opposition stated their case.
– We have stated our case, and have made a proposal. While there has been much talk about the indecision of members of the Opposition and their supporters outside, it appears to me that there is greater indecision on the ministerial side of the House. The countenance of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) at this moment portrays either deep meditation or depression. Not one speaker on the Government side of the House has spoken in favour of the bill. - 1 took it for granted that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) would support the amendment of the honorable the Leader of the Opposition, because the amendment is virtually the same as the proposals which were to be submitted to the people in 1915, but were withdrawn. The right honorable member had either to forswear himself or to support the amendment. I was particularly gratified to find that early in the debate the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) was prepared to give forceful expression to his views. It is a pity that amendments of the Constitution are so difficult to bring about. Without saying anything derogatory to the framers of the Constitution, who were capable men, 1 consider that they followed too slavishly the constitution of the United States of America. When the Fisher Government in 1911 proposed amendments of the Constitution, the then member for Flinders (Sir William Irvine), who is now Chief Justice of Victoria, said that it was essential that the Commonwealth Parliament should have greater powers; but that, as the Labour party was in possession of the Treasury bench, he would not support the proposals. Some honorable members have referred in glowing terms to the constitution of the United States of America; but, had it not been for that” noted jurist, Judge Marshall, giving a wide and liberal interpretation of that constitution, the people of the United States of America would not have been able to live under it. That man seemed to be inspired in his interpretation, and his decisions enabled that great country to progress. Australia to-day, like the United States of America in the past, has suffered from too narrow an interpretation of the Constitution. Under recent decisions of the High Court, we are in a better position than formerly, and, if the whole matter were put to the test, it might happen that the High Court would now concede more powers to us than we realize that we possess. I am not a unificationist, although I would unhesitatingly abolish the State Parliaments and substitute something different in their place. The most recent example of a federation is furnished by the South African Union. The white population there is much smaller than that of Australia. In speaking about their new constitution, General Smuts said, “ We have avoided the mistakes of the Australian Constitution, and have taken full power to the national parliament and delegated certain powers to the provincial parliaments.” In order to get out of our difficulties we need the support of a majority of the people and a majority of the States. It might happen that, although we had a majority of 400,000 or 500,000 votes, the proposal would be lost because a majority of the States did not favour it. I believe that the people would readily alter that condition of things if the facts were fairly stated to them. Those who led political thought in this country at the time of the framing of the Constitution, were affected by the State rights microbe. They did not wish to take too much away from the States, and, therefore, they copied, to a large extent, the century-old constitution of the United States of America. When the American Constitution was framed, no steamer had ever crossed the ocean, and the electric telegraph and many other modern inventions were unknown. The circumstances under which the constitution of the United States of America was framed were peculiar. There had been a war which resulted in the severance of the American colonies from Great Britain, and when Washington, Hamilton, and others, assembled to draw up a constitution, their desire was to make it so binding that the American people could not evade it. If all parties in this House and in the country were united on the question of altering the constitution, there would still be great difficulty in altering it. The sister dominion of Canada framed a constitution at a time when she had the experience of the United States of America to guide her, but she did not copy their constitution. The Canadian Parliament, in all national matters, is unfettered by the provincial parliaments. During the regime of the Deakin Government, Mr. Deakin and Mr. P. McM. Glynn, who had a hand in framing our Constitution, sent memorandums to South Africa, warning South Africans against tying themselves up as Australians had done. The result, according to a statement by General Smuts, was that South Africa avoided the mistakes made by the framers of our Constitution, gave the Union Parliament full power over industrial and other matters, and delegated certain powers to the provincial parliaments.
– The South African Parliament has full power over trade and commerce.
– That is so. I do not say that the Constitution of South Africa would be acceptable to us, in every detail, but, with minor alterations, I believe it would- be much better than the one we have. The number of members of parliament in Australia is not so large as it was, for the Labour Government of Queensland has abolished the Upper House there as a useless excrescence; but even now we have something like 600 members of parliament. For my part, though I do not know that all my colleagues would agree with me, and I am sure that the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), and some other honorable members who support the Government, would disagree. I would submit to the people this simple question; that section 51 of the Constitution be amended to read : - “ This Parliament shall have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth.” I should dispense with all definitions, and strike out the 39articles which limit our power. Some honorable members may say that I am seeking for unification in one move, but I do not think that that could be honestly argued. I consider that we should be wise if we followed the South African, and, to some extent, the Canadian example, and clothed the National Parliament with full powers, and the State Parliaments with limited powers, and reduced the number of members of parliament. I think it would be worth while if, irrespective of the present State boundaries, we were to divide Australia into, say, twenty provinces, each with a population of something like 300,000 people.
– If that were done, there would be a few provinces in Svdney alone.
– That city, with its 1,000,000 people, would have a community of interest, and it would be advisable, probably, to make Sydney into a single province. The same thing could be done with Melbourne. Wherever there was shown to be community of interest, I should set up a separate province. That would do away with the necessity for creating new States. The Riverina, for instance, could have a provincial parliament. The sooner we face the question of constitutional amendment in a big way, the better for Australia; for it is high time that we had a Constitution more in consonance with the views of the people. Doubtless the Government measure has been considered by honorable members opposite in their party room, and they think it wise to submit these proposals to the people; but, in my opinion, it would be better to postpone consideration of the bill until the proposed constitutional session can be held at Canberra. If we were to consider the amendment of the Constitution in a broad way, I believe that we should be able to reach conclusions that would settle, in one move, such problems as the creation of new States, the financial difficulties of Tasmania and Western Australia, the financial problems of the Commonwealth generally, and a good many other important matters that are crying out for permanent solution. The Commonwealth Parliament should have truly national powers, and, if it wore given them, it would be possible to inaugurate an era of prosperity such as we have not yet known. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) urged last night that consideration of these problems should be deferred, and I hope that the mere fact that the provisions of the bill have been considered in the meetings of the parties that support the Government will not cause the Government to shut its eyes to the wisdom of accepting the suggestion. There can be little doubt, from, the speeches de- livered this afternoon by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), whose sentiments appeared, by interjection, to be approved by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), and that delivered by the Leader of the Opposition last night, that there is a widespread desire on the part of the people generally for an amendment of the Constitution; but the indications are that it would be wise to postpone a move with that object until all the needs of the situation can be considered. If the Government has any real intention to hold a constitutional session, I submit that it would be unwise to force a decision on the issues in this bill now; for then in twelve . or eighteen months’ time we should have to face the whole question again. It must be remembered that it will cost from £80,000 to £100,000 to hold a referendum. If all we hear of the congenial surroundings of Canberra is true, and if it is true also, as we are sometimes told, that this Parliament is being unfairly influenced by the Melbourne metropolitan press,” it would surely be desirable for us to wait until we can get to Canberra, and there, in quietness and without hindrance, evolve proposals that will meet all the requirements. 1 was glad that one section of the Melbourne morning press commented- favorably on the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that the matter should be postponed. Quite likely the influential newspapers of other capital cities did the same. In my opinion the arguments that have been advanced in support of postponement are unanswerable. Possibly, now that the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) has also suggested postponement, the Government may be inclined to give more earnest consideration to the wisdom of it. If the Government presses for a vote on this bill, and it is decided to hold a referendum, it seems certain that some of its supporters will refrain from campaigning in support of the proposals, or that they will actively oppose them. It would be advisable to give the people plenty of time to consider the full import of any proposed alterations, for experience has proved that they will not agree to anything that they do not properly understand. I should not like to suggest that in submitting this bill the Government is kite flying, for I agree with my honoured leader that any questions involving an amendment of the Constitution are of national importance, and should be treated as such. It is highly undesirable that they should be reduced to what I may be allowed to describe as merely party political questions. If there is any way by which we could submit them to the people, with the approval of all the parties represented in the Parliament, it would be wise for us to find it, even if it took us some time to do so. That method is likely to lead to success, where another one may render success practically impossible. If the Government desires us to consider this as a non-party matter, it ought not to hold hard and fast to its own proposals. This bill is not in the same category as a Crimes Bill, and it is reasonable to expect that the Government will listen to all suggestions that are made to improve it. I know that the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Latham)’ will agree with me that certain words in the Constitution are exceptionally difficult to define. For that reason I am anxious, if the Government will not agree to postpone the matter, that earnest consideration should be given to the amendment that the Leader of the Opposition moved last night. It provides for alterations similar to those which the
Labour Government endeavoured to have made in. 1915. I think I may fairly say that I had a good deal to do with the framing of those proposals. They were considered at great length, and represented the united wisdom of the party. With the exception of one or two words, the proposals as now submitted by the Leader of the Opposition are identical with those agreed to by the Labour party in 1915. These words are used for a purpose. I personally prefer in an act of Parliament that as few words as possible should be used, that they should be plain words, and easily understood; but if the proposals submitted by the Leader of the Opposition contain a few more words than are contained in the proposals of the Government, their purpose is to make the position more secure. If the AttorneyGeneral examines the words of the amendment he will, I think, recognize that, on a test of their constitutionality, they would have a better chance of passing the scrutiny of the High Court than would the words used in setting out the proposals of the Government. I, of course, defer to the honorable gentleman as a legal man understanding his business, but I know why the amendment has been framed in the way in which it has been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition. I assume that honorable members on the other side accepted the proposals of the Government because they were satisfied with the explanation of them sriven by the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, but it is of no use to ask for an amendment of the Constitution on lines through which some legal gentleman could drive a coach and four. Whatever is put to the people should be able to stand the test of examination by the High Court. For these reasons I favour the phraseology of the amendment. I thought that we might before now have heard what the Government intends to do. If the Prime Minister is prepared now to adjourn the debate in order that there may be such a consultation as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, I am prepared to ask leave to continue my remarks. If he is not ready to do so, I must continue.
– I am afraid that is the position.
– I do not wish to introduce a party spirit into the debate in any shape or form, and if by interjection
I am led to do so, I hope the lapse will be forgiven. I believe that the Prime Minister will eventually accept some of the suggestions which have been made by the Leader of the Opposition. The proposals of the Leader of the Opposition would, if agreed to by the people, give this Parliament the ample powers which we think it should have. He proposes that we should ask for powers with regard to -
Labour and employment, and unemployment, including -
the terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, occupation, or calling;
the rights and obligations of employers and employees;
strikes and lockouts;
the maintenance of industrial peace; and
the settlement of industrial disputes.
What words could be added to make the power more complete? If the people granted this power, this Parliament could pass legislation which must be beneficial to the whole community. The Attorney-General may contend that the proposals submitted by the Government would give us all we are asking for; but I know that in 1915 all the words used in the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition were considered absolutely necessary to make the position secure. The burden of the Prime Minister’s complaint in introducing the bill was that at present the Commonwealth has not full powers to deal with industrial matters. It cannot intervene in disputes that do not extend beyond the limits of a State. We may have operating within the limits of one State a giant organization in which millions are invested, and by which thousands of men are employed, and should a dispute occur in connexion with it this Parliament is powerless to intervene. As the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) said, when on previous occasions we asked for increased powers we did not receive the assistance even from State Labour Governments that might have been expected. I believe in consulting the State authorities as far as practicable, but the powers of this Parliament in industrial matters should not be confined to industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of a State. When in 1915, the second year of the war, the State Governments suggested that the people should not be disturbed by being asked to vote upon proposed amendments of the Constitution while the war was on, an arrangement was made with them to temporarily grant certain powers ,to the Commonwealth Government. As the Leader of the Opposition and the right honorable member for Balaclava have said, only the New South Wales Government made any attempt to redeem the promise then made by the State Premiers. I personally believe that the people were at the time in such a temper that although the war was in progress they would have been prepared to assent to the proposed amendments of the Constitution. The number- of people voting at the first referendum in favour of the proposals then made was surprising, as no doubt the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) would agree. When, two years later, the Labour party decided to risk the result of an election and a referendum at the same time, there was an increased vote in favour of the same proposals. I believe they would have been carried when the war was in progress, because at the time this Parliament was practically exercising, under various war-time acts, the powers which were asked for. In order that the community might be kept united and as calm as possible in the stress of war, it was agreed, though not unanimously, by the members of the Labour party to accept the promises of. the State Premiers and withdraw the referendum for constitutional amendment. The vote in favour of these proposals has increased as the people have become more educated concerning them. There has been a good deal of boasting about the vote recorded for the party opposite at the recent general election, but I have said before and now repeat, that no other party in Australia ever polled such a vote as was polled by the Labour party at that election. If the Government is in earnest about securing the consent of the people for its proposals it should be prepared to promote an agreement between all parties as to the questions which should be submitted to the people. I find it difficult to know where the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) stands in this matter. He has, of course, a perfect right to his own opinion, but I understood him to say that he does not believe in the
Federal Parliament interfering in any way in industrial matters, and that their control is the province of the State authorities. If he did so express himself, I regret it. I do not think the State authorities can effectively deal with a great industrial organization such as the coal miners, the Australian Workers Union, and those engaged in great industries whose operations extend throughout the Commonwealth. I have always been favorable to the increase of the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament. It is not right that it should be hobbled and hampered by being able to exercise only certain powers delegated to it. This Parliament is, under the present Constitution, and the “ thirty-nine articles,” of section 51, a National Parliament, only in name. I have a few words to say about the trade and commerce powers. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister in introducing the measure had very little to say about trusts and combines. He devoted most of the speech to trade unions and their administration. The trade unions of to-day take a secret ballot on all questions, including those of little importance. No honorable member will deny that the trades unions of this country have been splendidly conducted. Our marvellous organization of trade unionism stands second to none in the world and is a great- credit to the working classes. Mr. George Fairbairn, the Agent-General for Victoria, administered a severe rebuke to the ‘ ‘ calamity howling “ persons, who continually talk of the industrial troubles of Australia, and by so doing cause incalculable harm to this country. He said that Australia is a comparatively peaceful country comparing more than favorably with most other countries, including the Old Country. In proportion to population there was in Great Britain more time lost in strikes in one year than in Australia in fifteen .years. The control of trusts a«d combines is most important. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) disagreed with the Leader of the Opposition only respecting the form in which his proposal, so far as it affected corporations, should be submited to the people. If we embody three proposals in one, they will be rejected, but if we separate them it is possible that one or two of them may be carried. There are combinations operating all over the world. In Great Britain few individuals conduct businesses of their own. In the grocery business, two great classes of organizations operate - the multiple shop proprietaries and the co-operative concerns. No one will deny that cooperative organizations like the Manchester Co-operative Society have conferred a great benefit upon the masses of the people in Great Britain by selling goods at cheap rates. But there are other combinations that are fattening and battening upon the worker by increasing the prices of their goods. The operations of trusts and combines must be regulated. I do not know how far the Government’s proposals will affect them; but all we know is, that it is asking for additional powers in industrial matters, and reference is vaguely made to trusts and combinations. The people of this country would not consider, for one moment, a proposal to increase the industrial powers of the Commonwealth if it did not apply to trusts and combines. During the war huge profits were made by many individuals. In 1915 a book was published containing the argument for and against the (referendum then proposed to be taken. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister at the time, and put the case for the referendum. The following statement was contained in that bool? : -
Now, we all know how the cost of living has increased, so that it is with the utmost difficulty that the bulk of the community fire able, even with the greatest economy, to make both ends meet, and, making every allowance for the effects of the drought, there can be no doubt whatever that this is due very largely to manipulation of the market by unscrupulous persons at the expense of the community. These persona frequently pose as patriots. They subscribe £50 to patriotic funds, and fleece the public of £5,000 by high prices.
It is an easy matter to be generous when one is robbing other people. It is that aspect of the question that affects the worker, the real wealth producer of the community. To protect him from the operations of combinations and trusts, we have asked that the present proposals shall include that submitted to the people in 1915. A referendum will be of little use unless we deal with combinations. It is time that this Parliament had power to enact laws respecting the activities of combinations and trusts over the whole of Australia. In most cases these organizations are established for the sole purpose of making enormous profits at the expense of the consumers, lt was never intended by tho great wise Mind that there should be a vast gulf between the conditions under which the different classes of the community live. Under existing conditions, one can well understand the widespread discontent that prevails among the working classes, not only here but elsewhere. I do not wish to infuse any party spirit into this discussion. If the Government is not prepared to listen to the suggestions that have been put forward by honorable members from both sides of the House to meet in conference, or to postpone the submission of the proposals to the people until next year, there must surely be some ulterior motive behind the introduction of this measure. On a question like this, there should be unity in parliament, and if we can obtain that unity what a splendid example we shall set to the people outside when next year we submit to them a drastic amendment of the Constitution to clothe this Parliament with additional powers.
– I am surprised that the Leader of the Opposition did not propose an amendment to defer the further consideration of these proposals until they can be dealt with, together with other suggested amendments, during the special constitutional session which the Government has forecast. I, and I believe other honorable members on this side, would have voted in favour of delay. It would be preferable for all proposed amendments of the Constitution to be dealt with together, instead of piecemeal. The amendment submitted by the honorable gentleman relating to trade and commerce is a natural corollary to the proposals submitted by the Commonwealth. If the Commonwealth Parliament is to have full control of industries, it must have the same control of trade and commerce. Whilst I am a firm adherent of federation upon the terms and conditions contained in the Constitution, I am also a lover of home rule. Legislation and administration cannot be brought too close to the people. The more intimately they are associated with the people the cleaner and better will legislation and administration be.
So, whilst I am prepared to give the Commonwealth full power to deal with matters of national import, I prefer that the States shall retain complete control of domestic affairs. If the Commonwealth Parliament is to be given absolute authority in industrial matters, and, as the Leader of the Opposition properly suggested, in the realm of trade and commerce also, the complete centralization of power must profoundly affect the development of this thin and sparsely populated continent. Few people realize the time and care that were given to the drafting of the Constitution, the many conventions that were held, the detailed analysis of older constitutions, and the sustained effort that was made to evolve an instrument of government that would be most effective in the building up of this country by the exercise of Federal and State powers in the appropriate spheres. Having regard to the care taken to perfect the Constitution, there should be no undue haste to make amendments for which the people have given no mandate. I do not remember any Minister indicating, during the last election campaign, that the Government would propose an amendment of the Constitution in order to make the Commonwealth Parliament supreme in industrial matters. Had the Government announced a proposal to bring all industries, whether in the northwest or south-west of Western Australia, in Queensland, or Tasmania, under the jurisdiction of a Federal Arbitration Court, I would have declared my opposition to it, and I believe such a declaration by the Government would have had a big influence upon the votes of the people.
– The framers of the Constitution believed that it gave to this Parliament greater powers than it actually does.
– The honorable member does not believe that the framers of the Constitution intended to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to deal with industrial matters other than those of an interstate character. Clearly their opinion was that the Commonwealth authority would deal only with shipping, shearing, and other industries that are federal in their scope.
– Did not some of those who framed the Constitution pass, during the first seven years of federation, legislation which they believed to be constitutional, but which the High Court declared to be ultra vires - as in the famous Harvester judgment?
– That is true, but I am sure that the framers of the Constitution never contemplated that the railway servants of the various States and most minor industries would pass under the jurisdiction of a Federal Arbitration Court.
Sitting suspended from 6.80 to 8 p.m.
– I suggest that the honorable the Leader of the Opposition should withdraw his amendment and substitute another to refer the question to a special parliamentary session. I, for one, promise my support to such an amendment.
– It would not receive much support from the Government side of the House.
– It would be given more support than the amendment now before us. While asking for control of many things, the amendment eliminates control of trade unions. It differs greatly from the Government’s proposal that this Parliament should have control of both the employer and the employee so far as they come under the arbitration and conciliation provisions of the Constitution. The amendment further seeks power in regard to “ the ownership of the means of production, manufacture, or supply of goods, or supply of services.” That raises a very big question. Surely the experience of the past should make honorable members realize that, when political interference is permitted, all possibility of success in business disappears. My reason for asking for delay is that I am opposed to taking the powers asked for from the States. Had this proposal been made by honorable members opposite, I feel quite certain that not half a dozen honorable members on this side would support it.
– That is a significant admission.
– And it is my conviction. I believe in consistency. I am not like the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), who made a fine speech which ended in nothing. He denounced the proposals of the Government, and then suggested some sort of agreement between the two parties. I have never heard a better example of a “yes-no” speech. Last night he said that I was “ in the breechin.” I assume he meant that I was a brake on those who desired to go too far. Is it not desirable that some one should apply the brake in those circumstances ? I do not hesitate to declare my views on this important question; it is my duty to think for myself and decide what is best in the interests of Australia. I have been twitted contemptuously by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), because I represent a constituency of large area. I have as many constituents as the Tight honorable member, and they are men who have fought a stern battle against adverse conditions in the outback. It is an honour to represent them, for they are the best class of people of this country. I claim that I have won the confidence of the electors in the back country. The right honorable member for Balaclava said that he would vote for the Government, although he denounecd the Government’s proposals as next to useless. Honorable members know, from questions I have asked of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) on the subject of restraint of trade by manufacturers protected by the Customs tariff, that I have no sympathy with monopolists, and would give the Government all the power necessary to control them, for they are a greater danger than tile wildest Bolshevik or I.W.W. I do not blame members of the Labour party for their desire to alter the provisions of the Constitution. They saw their opportunity when it was being framed, and obtained parliamentary representation on a population basis. I say quite candidly that I do not believe in representation on that basis. In a country where the people are congregating in large cities there is great danger, if representation is on a population basis, of the cities obtaining control of the Parliament. When members of the Labour party saw industrialism developing and Australian cities increasing in size, they became desirous of obtaining control of trade, commerce, and industry. We were asked to join a federation, not to agree to unification. Honorable members opposite have always been in favour of unification; but we now find that honorable members on this side, perhaps not intentionally, are assisting the passage of legislation which makes our federation little better than a unification. If this Parliament is granted power in industrial matters it must ask for power to control trade and commerce. That is as certain as that night follows day. Unless honorable members on this side believe in unification, they are making a grave mistake in assisting to pass this legislation. The proposal is to spend £80,000 on a referendum for which there is no mandate from the people. I am not aware of any special appeal having been made for it, and there is no reason for it except the 44-hours dispute in New South Wales. No general desire for it has been expressed, though the manufacturers of New South Wales, on account of the Lang Administration there, may have brought pressure to bear on the Government. I believe in “home rule,” and, if the legislation of that State is not what the people there desire, it is their duty to elect a different Parliament at the next election. I wish to give to this Parliament control of national matters; but any one can say that control of industries throughout Australia is a national matter? The proposals are preposterous, monstrous. I can understand honorable members opposite favouring them, and that honorable members on this side should lend their support to them astounds me. If the proposal is carried, it will involve the country in a large expenditure, and honorable members in some expenditure, too. I have no doubt, if there is an unholy alliance between the two parties, what the result of the appeal to the people will be. Any one can see that the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition was moved to save the face of honorable members opposite. They will gladly accept the Government’s proposals, for there is only one little thing in them to which they object. For the last fifteen years the Labour party has been asking for this power. They will certainly support the proposal that this Parliament should have control of trade unions, and that it should have power to appoint authorities to make investigations into industrial matters. Although this Government may pass legislation appointing certain authorities, that legislation will not control the next Government or the next Parliament. Tf the Labour party is returned at the next election, it will be able to alter all the legislation we pass.
– But it cannot alter the Constitution.
– It will have power to appoint authorities, and the legislation of this Parliament appointing authorities can be repealed by it. The mistake the National Governments have made is that they have not repealed the legislation of previous Labour Governments. Fifteen years ago we had on the coast of Australia an admirable shipping service. Where is that service to-day? The Katoomba remains, but the owners say that they will not be able to continue her sailings much longer.
– The steamers are being sold.
– The honorable member knows what the Navigation Act has done to his State. We have not had a Government with sufficient courage to say that the provisions of that act are absurd. Why a man working on the sea should get double the pay of a man working on the land I do not know. Having decided on a system of arbitration, I cannot understand why we allow any body of men to defy the law. We handcuff and fetter one section of the community while allowing other sections to go free. The Government has power to deal with industrial disputes, and it should use it.
– It is not game to do so.
– If I had the power to enforce the law I should certainly use it. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) is a great- believer in large organizations of employers and employees, and also in arbitration. There has been an Arbitration Court in New South Wales for a long while, and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been functioning for a number of years, yet in spite of that, strikes occur almost daily in nearly every industry. I have, in my room, a list of the cessations of work that have occurred in the coal-mining industry over a considerable period. Almost every day there has been trouble at one colliery or another; although in addition to State and Federal Arbitration Courts, that industry has been granted a special tribunal.
– The Government said that it would settle all strikes if it were given the power to do it.
-Well, it has not done so, and that is my complaint. I consider that it has ample power to deal with those who cause dislocations in industry, but it will not use it. The coal miners have three methods of settling their disputes, but they will not take advantage of any of them, and so incalculable injury is caused to thousands, and even tens of thousands of workers. The Government comes along now and says that it wants us to agree to a bill conferring judicial powers on certain authorities with the object of securing industrial peace. I want action.
– Direct action?
– Yes. I want the law to be observed. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) knows very well that if his party were in power, and had passed certain legislation, he would want it enforced. It is pitiable that the Government should be worrying itself about equipping certain authorities with judicial power with the object of maintaining industrial peace, when it already has all the power that is necessary. It is more than pitiable when we remember that although Western Australia is to a large extent dependent upon her eastern trade there is not a single boat working in the trade at present, because the coal miners are on strike.
– It is not a coal-miners’ strike.
– The right honorable gentleman knows very well that the engine-drivers are on strike. Enginedrivers are necessary to the effective carrying on of the coal-mining industry, and the coal miners are out on strike with the engine-drivers.
– I repeat that it is not a coal miners’ strike.
– And it is wrong to blame the coal miners for it.
– I have already said that coal miners are on strike practically every day of the week.
– I deny that too.
– It is very rarely that there is not trouble in the coalmining industry.
– There has not been an interruption of the coal trade since the war.
– I agree with the statement of the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr Watt), that the Arbitration Court has created a feeling of intense animosity between the employers and the employees. I do not think that there is a country in the world where the antagonism between capital and labour is as great as it is in Australia.
– That is silly nonsense.
– It is not.
– It is absolute rot.
– The right honorable member is so obsessed with his idea of the value of arbitration that he cannot realize the truth of my statement. I agree with the right honorable member- for Balaclava also that the wages board system is far more likely to lead to satisfactory results than the Arbitration Court system is. We are much more likely to get our industrial troubles satisfactorily settled if they are dealt with by representatives of employers and employees, who know the industries with which they are connected from A to Z, and an independent chairman, than if they are dealt with by the Arbitration Court. I should be even more strongly in favour of the wages board principle if the right to appeal to a court were granted. The Arbitration Court system involves the summoning of witnesses from all over the country, and all the technicalities associated with the interpretation of law. A good illustration is provided by the railway employees’ case, which was recently heard before the Deputy President of the Court, Sir John Quick. He endeavoured to follow all the ramifications of the railway business, and to make an award covering all branches of the work. That has also been attempted in connexion with the timber industry and other big industries that I could mention. It is too ridiculous for words to drag witnesses from Western Australia or Queensland to give evidence in industrial cases in Melbourne, and yet that is done in connexion with almost every big Arbitration Court case. Our experience has shown quite definitely that the Arbitration Court, as it is at present constituted, can never lead to a. condition of industrial peace.
.- I hope in the course of my address to be able to do something to heal the soreness, and smooth the discordance that the introduction of this bill has apparently caused among honorable members on the Government side of the House. I hope also to be able to say something to soothe even the ruffled feelings of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), who has just concluded an impassioned attack upon the Government of which he is generally so distinguished a supporter. This is not the first time that the Labour party, as the direct agent of yourself, Mr. Speaker, has had to assist in the conduct of the business of this House by restoring good feeling, peace, and order among honorable members opposite; for, recently, they have become strangely fond of making vitriolic attacks one upon the other. We are now considering a bill which is more than “ a bill for an act,” in the ordinary sense, for it deals with the Constitution, which is the foundation of all the acts of the Parliament, and, I was going to say, the charter of our liberty ; but I had better say of it, in its present form, that it is the charter of the qualified liberty that we enjoy in this Commonwealth. The Prime Minister has moved the second reading of this bill for the purpose of amending the Constitution. The Leader of the Opposition has tabled an amendment that is by no means inconsistent with the general purpose of the bill, but really amplifies and extends it, in accordance with the endeavours that have hitherto been made by members of the party of which I am a member to extend the powers contained in the Constitution. It has been suggested, at least by interjection, that the amendment has been framed in such complicated terms that it could not he understood by the average elector; but we have had it from the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), and I believe him, at least on this occasion, that, after 25 years of careful study, none of us is able yet to understand the Commonwealth Constitution as it was originally framed. After all, even in the freest and most highly educated democracy, who can hope that the average elector will understand the various intricate and subtle implications of a written Constitution f I do not pretend to criticize the democracy in that regard. In fact, our experience is that there is prolific disagreement upon the meaning of acts of Parliament, even among those who make them. Lawyers argue about their differences, and even judges on the bench are not at one on the subject. So we can hardly expect that the average elector is likely to appreciate, in all its subtlety, and in all its ramifications, the meaning and implications of the bill before us. In those circumstances, we need not pay very great attention, from that point of view, to the criticism that has been levelled against the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. For my part, I find it difficult enough at election time to get my constituents - and they are as brightly intelligent as any people I have ever met, as evidenced by their representation in this House, and by other circumstances - to distinguish between the different candidates who offer themselves for election, without asking them to appreciate the subtlety of acts of Parliaments, or the terms of written constitutions. It has been stated in the press, and elsewhere, that these proposals of the Government will rend the Labour party asunder, and those who say these things seem quite reconciled to the dreadful consequences that they prophesy. But why should these proposals rend the Labour party asunder 1 They are not our proposals. They are ours in substance; but for the terminology, method, time and circumstance under which they are submitted, the Labour party has no responsibility whatever. That is the responsibility of the Government. The Prime Minister without consultation with any one - the Leader of the Opposition, the Governments of the States, or the industrial leaders throughout Australia - has felt competent to submit these proposals to Parliament in the hope that his prestige is equal to their speedy carriage and their acceptance by the people in the constituencies. The responsibility is not ours. The differences arise not out of labour policy; but out of the method in which these proposals have been submitted to Parliament, and the limitations on the proposals themselves. The differences on our side appear to represent the high-water mark of unanimity when compared with the differences that are rapidly develop ing amongst honorable members on the other side of the chamber and amongst those responsible for sending them here. We have our policy, and we have no disagreement about it. Sofar as industry is concerned it is summed up in few words - complete industrial power for the Australian Parliament.
– Nationalization of all industries.
– I am dealing with the question before the chamber. I shall deal with the honorable member in a little while. We have no differences about our platform. We are agreed upon it. If we could but get the Government and its supporters to accept it in the simple, and yet comprehensive form in which we are prepared to submit it, we could, I think, guarantee its speedy acceptance by the people as a whole. I have heard rumors to the effect that many industrialists outside suspect the good faith of the Prime Minister in introducing these proposals. Many persons suspect an ulterior motive. As to that, what I say is that I do- not trouble about ulterior motives. I believe that in some phases of these proposals there is an ulterior motive ; there is a belief that these powers can, and probably will be, used against the party of which I am a member. But, after all, when one speaks of the motives in the mind of the Prime Minister, I count myself, with theadvice of experts in the industrial world, whose opinion I can obtain, probably as able a judge as the right honorable gentleman himself, of the consequences of what is done in this House. I judge the proposals for what they are, and for the consequences which I see may flow from them. I am not concerned with the motives - though ulterior and even base - though I do not say that they are base, which may be in the mind of the Government or of the right honorable gentleman who introduced the measure to the House. But if there is suspicion in the minds of some of my friends outside in the industrial world, I may be permitted to point out that their suspicions are well founded, and that there is more than a fair measure of justification for the doubts they entertain at least as to the good faith of the Government. The Prime Minister in his second-reading speech spoke of the healthy relationship between employer and employee, and the desirability of maintaining it. The memories of the electors are not so short that they have so soon forgotten the iniquitous coercion act known as . the Crimes Bill, which was passed through this House so recently. There was nothing in that bill to indicate a desire on the part of the Prune Minister to maintain a healthy relationship between employer and employee. It was a poisonous measure, designed on the face of it to poison the minds of industrialists, and to create suspicion against the Government responsible for it. Nor have the people forgotten that speech of the Prime Minister in- the course of which, in his own suave language, he promised to restore to the trade unions of this country the control of their own affairs by means of the secret ballot. They read his promise to restore to the trade unions of this country control of their own affairs as a threat on the part of a reactionary government to interfere with the age-long right of trade unions to control their own affairs in their own way. When they -read in the press of another bill, to deal with essential services, which we shall shortly consider, and to which I can make only a passing reference, they are sufficiently astute to be able to see in the terms of this measure the promised application of the methods of the strikebreaker up-to-date. So I say that if people have their suspicions, they are not altogether without justification, judging the Government as well by its performances as by its promises. But there is this point of view : The Crimes Act arose out of the deportation fiasco. The latter having utterly failed, bringing humiliation and contempt upon the Government that introduced it, the Prime Minister felt bound to make a gesture to the country and Parliament by passing the Crimes Bill. This much must be said to the credit of the Government: that a pigeonhole had been found for the Crimes Act. That measure is at rest. I do not think that even the most suspicious of my industrial friends outside need really fear that the Crimes Act is likely to be put into force.
– Walsh and Johnson have gone to rest, too.
– Well, they have not gone so far as it was originally intended they should go. It seems to me that so elaborate a catapult never made so poor a show of throwing a missile as our Deportation Act ejecting Walsh and Johnson. I suggest to the honorable - member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) that the less he now says about Walsh and Johnson, who are still, by the grace of God, with us, the better for the country. In like manner, following the analogy, it is quite likely that this proposed referendum arises from the fact that the Government, in order to win the elections, talked at large about the secret ballot, and teaching the unions how to manage their own affairs, and grandmothers how to suck eggs, and the Prime Minister, finding himself confronted with the necessity of doing something to give effect to his election and platform promises, was so far embarrassed that he conceived the brilliant idea of asking for a referendum for an amendment of the Constitution, in the hope that when it was defeated he would be able to tell the people of Australia that he had tried his best, but they had failed to give him the necessary powers. I am not oversuspicious, nor am I entirely guileless, and, therefore, it appears to me that that aspect of the case is worthy at least of passing consideration. Alternatively, giving the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt, it may be that when he set out, as honestly as could be expected of the leader of a Nationalist government, to do something he had promised in the way of dealing with trade unions, for the first time, he really discovered how limited were his constitutional powers in that regard. When that happened, he began to dream dreams and to see visions. The wise men saw a star in the East, and the Prime Minister, like the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) saw the light. It was an orientation, almost amounting to inspiration, and he said; “We must amend the Constitution and amplify our powers to deal in an Australian way with an Australian subject. What is easier? I can go to the people and ask them for extended powers. I can go more easily to my party and tell them that I must have extended powers; and the thing is done.” And so the right honorable gentleman stood at this table, proposing these amendments of the Constitution for the amplification of our industrial powers, as though , he were the first and only one who had received this blessed inspiration for the liberation of Australia. Not one word of acknowledgment for those who had fought this fight before him. Not one word of acknowledgment even to the right honorable member for North Sydney. Naturally I am not here to defend the principles and policy of the right honorable member for North Sydney, but even the gentleman who deals in brimstone down below, is entitled to his due. On the like principle, the right honorable member for North Sydney is entitled to his due. I do not wish to make the analogy too close, but I mention it in passing. I do not suppose that it occurred to the Prime Minister, when speaking on the second reading of the bill, that he was supported by a phalanx of cordial, more or less enthusiastic, and at least docile supporters, each one of whom had once, twice, or thrice voted against the very proposals that he was advocating. If, Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I were to say to them, “Hold up your hand the one who has not voted against these proposals,” not one of them would venture to respond. Or the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) would perhaps be the single exception. On the other hand, did it occur to him to congratulate himself on the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was supported by a party every one of whose members had twice or thrice voted for the acceptance of these proposals or proposals similar to them.
– Nearly every one of the members of the Labour party voted against the 1919 referendum.
– The least the right honorable member says about that, the better for him. He undertook to say that the 1919 referendum was in all its main particulars the same as the 1911 and the 1913 referendums. But there was as much difference between them as there is between a baby and a man. The 1919 referendum was for an amendment of the Constitution which, if carried, would have now expired, and we should have been thrown back to the condition in which we are to-day, or worse.
– What rot !
– That referendum pre-supposed the holding of a convention within twelve months of the date of the passage of the bill introduced at that time. It meant that at the expiration of the time in which those amendments were to take effect, we should have been involved in confusion worse confounded, because the operations which would have been commenced under those amendments would have been inchoate at the time the Constitution reverted to its previous position.
– But the people would have re-voted them.
– We cannot ask for amendments of the Constitution every ten minutes. In spite of that, so keen were the members of this party upon an amplification of Australia’s powers that the great majority of our party accepted the proposals for what they were worth, and they were not worth much.
– Mansard sets out the facts.
– It sets out exactly what I have said. I was complimenting the right honorable gentleman upon the fact that he had pioneered these proposals, and that he had fought for them in earlier and brighter and better days,, at least for him. I do not wish to withdraw or water down what I have said. In like manner, even the right honorablemember for Balaclava, who was honest enough to admit to-day that he had previously been wrong, pledged himself to support generally our proposals. I, myself, . remember that he did at least advocate amplified industrial powers for the Australian Parliament. No doubt he quailed, as the previous honorable member for .Flinders (Sir William Irvine) did, at the prospect of these powers being exercised by a Labour government. How well I remember .Sir William Irvine rising in his place, swallowing his words, deprecating what he was then pleased to call mere verbal consistency, . and stating that he advocated extended powers for Australia and was prepared to entrust them toanother government, but not to the Labour Government then in power. Fortunately for us, his was not the spirit that marked the nation-builders of 1911 and 1913, or, at least, some of them. I hope that we of the Labour party shall not descend to that. I do what the right honorable gentleman failed to do. I pay a tribute to the pioneers of this work upon this side of the House, and I would point out that, at the very time these- buccaneers, profiteers, lawyers, and rich oligarchies were objecting to the amendment of the Constitution on the ground that it would bring ruin and disaster to Australia, the present Leader of the Opposition, not claiming to be a constitutional lawyer, but fresh from the mines, stood four-square by these very amendments which, by virtue of the bill and his amendment, are now under consideration. “We should give a little credit where credit is due. At least, the Prime Minister, admitting that he is a new chum and a neophyte in this matter, and admitting that he had not time to turn up past speeches on this question to learn what we had already said on the subject, might have instructed his private secretary or some one else to give him a list of those who had blazed the track for these constitutional amendments. It may be that with nations, as with individuals, the uses of adversity are sweet, and even profitable; and so it may be that there is much in the divine ordination of affairs which requires men who have given their mind and heart to great public projects, and whose proposals are destined ultimately to be accepted, to drag after them for long and weary years the comatose carcass of the reactionary, as we have dragged it in this case. Let us hope that we are fulfilling some high destiny in so doing. At all events, I congratulate myself at this stage upon the fact that, willy-nilly, in spite of the chortling of a few honorable members on that side, we have brought the Government up to the mark to see at least that the Australian Constitution requires amendment upon the lines now being followed, or on some such lines. In after years, if the present Government, as nominal leader, succeeds in effecting an amendment of the Australian Constitution, and our successors, or some of us, when upon the platform, claim for the Labour party the credit for bringing in these reforms, we shall be told, “ But the Bruce Government brought that about;” just as, in connexion with the old-age and invalid pensions and factory legislation, when we point to our years of pioneering work and education, we meet with the answer that some government other than a Labour government brought about those much needed reforms. We justly claim that the Labour party has done splendid work in times of adversity and against heavy odds, and that it was the real, if not the nominal reformer. The proposal is to amend the Constitution because one part of it has been found to press too tightly on the Government. Because the boot of the youth is not found suitable for the foot of the man, the Government begins to cut a hole at the spot where it begins to pinch, instead of realizing that the boot is too small, and that amendments of a more general and more generous scale are required than those now proposed. What are these amendments? I entered the chamber in time to hear the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) speaking of an unholy alliance between the Ministerial side of the House and this side. I have spoken a few words kindly meant, but perhaps not altogether gentle in tone, about the Ministerial side and its leaders; but, after all, how does the honorable member expect that the Australian Constitution will ever be amended if he approaches the question of our basic charter in the spirit of the words “ unholy alliance.” Is this a party question? I ask the honorable member for Swan, does he want ample powers under the Constitution. while his party is in power, and restricted powers while his political opponents are in power, or does he believe that the Constitution should be independent of party, that it should be the basis, and not the superstructure, of political action, and that it should be laid without any regard to the political complexion of the persons who may be required to legislate upon it, remembering that the choice of those who legislate remains with the whole of the people of a free democracy? The first proposal under the bill is to amend section 51 of the Constitution by omitting from paragraph 35 the words, “ extending beyond the limits of any one State.” At present the Constitution gives to this Parliament power to legislate in regard to “ conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.” And those qualifying words, “ extending beyond the limits of any one State “ have, over a long series of years, nearly broken the hearts and emptied the pockets of the industrialists who have sought redress of their grievances under the intricate system of law that was erected by the Federal and State authorities with Arbitrary and vexatious limitations. Not only that, but the cumbersome system has led to confusion in industry which has reacted upon the employers and has caused endless loss and trouble to Australia. During all those years the Labour party has been endeavouring to have those words removed from the Constitution, and honorable members opposite have been resisting our efforts. Was the Prime Minister aware of that when he introduced the bill ? A further amendment proposed by the Government is the insertion after paragraph xxxix of the following paragraph: -
So far as that proposal goes, a great deal may be said in its favour, and the one thing that may be said against it is that it is humiliating to this national Parliament to set up even an imaginary obstacle to its free right to legislate. But that objection is much more apparent than real, and if I am asked why this provision is inserted in the bill, my answer is that the Government has asked in that regard from motives of expediency, and that it is for the purpose of bringing Ministerial supporters into line, the Government knowingfull well that honorable members on this side have sufficient intelligence and acumen to see that the creation of these authorities will involve no real limitation of the power of Parliament. Yesterday the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt’) said, by interjection, that this proposal was “ shortcircuiting Parliament “ ; andthe right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) declared to-day that it aims at setting up industrial legislators, if not industrial dictators. I am not sufficiently familiar with the term “ shortcircuiting “ to be able to declare whether there is any real foundation for the assertion of the right honorable member for Balaclava, but the contention that this proposed paragraph means the setting up of industrial oligarchies or dictators is absurd. This Parliament is in the position of a principal appointing agents.
Under this bill we are appointing agents with such powers and such tenure as we choose to prescribe. We can at a moment’s notice destroy the agency we create, and we may even perform the miracle of recreating an agency which has been destroyed. We are principals exerting plenary powers over industry through agents of our choosing, appointed upon terms and conditions fixed by us, and performing duties to be dictated by us. The agent is not greater than the principal, nor the tenant more powerful than the landlord. This power which the Government is seeking will be full and complete, and apart from the humiliating feature to which I have already alluded, that part of the bill is perfectly satisfactory to me. We may also invest State authorities, presumably even State Parliaments, with such powers as we choose. We could appoint the Supreme Economic Council to do the job. Surely that will commend the bill to the honorable member for Swan. We may appoint judges if we will; but. not necessarily judges - we may appoint boards, and arbitrators of any kind, or no judges or arbitrators of any kind. There is no limit whatever to our choice. But it may be argued, for example, this Parliament cannot by statute directly establish a 44-hour week. There is nothing, however, to prevent it from passing a resolution affirming the general principle of a 44-hour week, and requiring effect to be given to the principleby a tribunal. If ‘the authority created by this Parliament did not do what this Parliament required it to do, its existence would be terminated or its functions reduced.. Effect must be givento the will of Parliament, and there can be no breach of faith in the Constitution or ending of tribunals in pursuance of that principle,subject, of course, to the f ulfilment of contracts.
– If one of these authorities seeks to do something that is in conflict with an award of a reconstructed Arbitration Court, which tribunal will be supreme?
– Parliament will be supreme, and the action necessary to meet any particular circumstances will depend upon the conditions prevailing at the time. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers)made an attack upon the Arbitration Court. These amendments, do not necessarily involve the use of an Arbitration Court or any form of arbitration. We may use other forms of conciliation, and it is wise to bear in mind that this provision is dealing with the arena in which legislation may take place, and not with the legislation itself. Whilst, we are endeavouring to liberate Parliament, the honorable member is endeavouring to shackle it, and that essential difference between us should he sufficient to satisfy him of the futility of his opposition. I can readily understand an oligarchy of rich persons - profiteers and buccaneers, as I said before - being opposed to the amplification of Parliament’s powers, because enlargement of the powers of the Parliament involves diminution of the powers and privileges of the rich classes. I can understand the opposition of certain newspapers to these proposals because the liberation of Australia’s Parliament will mean the vesting of control in. the people, and the withdrawal of it away from newspapers and other oligarchies which have controlled public opinion in the past. I can understand all kinds of reactionaries being opposed to these amplified powers for the same reason, but I cannot understand any hefty Australian like the honorable member for Wannon, unless he speaks for the privileged classes, joining them in opposition, when he knows that these proposals are merely for the enfranchisement of a Parliament of which he is a member, and in which he was not long ago a chosen Minister of the Crown, exercising administrative power. Does the honorable member fearfully anticipate a time when lie may be so drunk with power that, as a member of this Parliament, he will do something outrageously detrimental to the people who elected him? If he does not fear himself, there is no reason why he should oppose the amplification of Parliament’s powers in the manner proposed. It is unnecessary for me to defend the principle of arbitration, because we have already converted the Primo Minister. The right honorable gentleman paid a glowing tribute to the Arbitration Court, and, strange to say, was not heckled by any of his supporters. In other days, when members of the Labour party championed the claims of the Arbitration Court, honorable members opposite, in chorus, pointed out its manifold defects and deficiencies. But when the right honorable the Leader of the Government offered his meed of praise to the principle of industrial arbitration, his supporters were silent, if not satisfied. I have lived to hear the leader of this reactionary Government quote with approval a resolution passed through this House at the instance of the then member for Northern Melbourne (Mr. Higgins). I have heard that gentleman attacked and slandered from the Government bench, and I did not hope to live to hear the Leader of this Government quoting his words in support of a policy for increasing the powers of the Arbitration Court. I hope I have made it sufficiently clear that, so far as I am concerned, these greater industrial powers are welcome. This is a long-delayed step in the right direction, and, so far as industry is concerned, the proposed powers are in my opinion ample. The right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) spoke of the “ uncomfortable speech “ delivered by the honorable the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition is not “ uncomfortable “ in this matter. When these bills were thrust upon the House, almost at a moment’s notice, he, with characteristic moderation and generosity, got busy among the persons he represents, and took counsel with them, as an honest man, tq find out their views. He then came to this chamber and made his speech, and it was a sound one. It is obvious from the method of submitting these proposals, and their insufficiency and incompleteness, that many activeminded industrialists will not support them. It was to be ‘expected, in the circumstances, that there would be diffidence, and that is why the honorable the Leader of the Opposition proposed that the question should be deferred for consideration by all sections of opinion interested, and, if convenient, that it should be made a subject for discussion at what has been called a constitutional session of this Parliament. The postponement was suggested so that an honest endeavour might be made to get all sections of opinion into line at a time when there seemed a good prospect of obtaining agreement. If that is done, I, for one, will view this subject from the Australian stand-point, and having said my last word in the matter of party recrimination, will join with others to the limits of my humble powers in creating an instrument worthy of this Commonwealth, and” destined to be the basis upon which all shades of opinion may have free play to work out for Australia her full and complete destiny, without the shackles and hobbles which have held her in restraint so painfully for so many years.
, - I am sure that every honorable member who has listened to the impassioned speech of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) welcomes his declaration that the proposals of the Government are ample to secure that Commonwealth control of industry which apparently a great number of honorable members desire. The honorable member is usually independent in his utterances, and on one notable occasion he and another honorable member alone stood solidly against certain proposals similar to these. From his remarks we may assume that now the Government’s proposals are satisfactory to the industrialists of Australia. The Government has a progressive programme for the benefit of the workers. Its objects are to secure continued industrial peace, and to make it possible for the workers to own their own homes, and to earn sufficient real wages to provide for their families food, clothing, healthy living conditions, and a measure of recreation and leisure which our twentieth-century civilization demands for all. At another time the Government will submit the details of that industrial programme, and will then explain the provisions for providing homes, and the means of ensuring improved living conditions. There will also be proposals for reducing the cost of production and providing just wages and hours. At the present time, the Government’s main concern is to find a solid rock foundation upon which to build its industrial legislative edifice. The Government’s policy, as a whole, is designed to bring about a general improvement in the industrial conditions of this country ; but it recognizes that none of its proposals can succeed unless there is a solid rock foundation to build on. With that object it has brought down the present proposals for amending the Constitution, and asks for a decision bv the people on that issue alone. In the minds of some honorable members the ‘Government’s proposals may not represent perfection, but they will undoubtedly be welcomed by all who recognize the serious condition into which industry in this country has drifted. To me the proposal to amend the section of the Constitution dealing with conciliation and arbitration not extending beyond the boundaries of a. State resembles the action of Pandora in re-opening her box. Honorable members will remember that the King of the Gods gave a box to Pandora with strict injunctions that she was not to open it: but she, with a woman’s curiosity, did so and allowed all the ills of the world to escape. She could not recover them, and, in great distress, returned to Zeus and asked what she should do. He told her that if she opened the box again she would find hope in the bottom, and that she should let hope out and see what happened. Duplication, industrial chaos, and overlapping of conflicting awards have been brought about by the inclusion of this section in the Constitution, and a re-opening of the Constitution is required to give the people of Australia hope to be able to remedy this intolerable state of affairs. If proof of the necessity for this constitutional amendment was needed, it could be found in the state of affairs in New South Wales during the last three months. The New South Wales Parliament has deliberately passed an act. providing that no matter what the number of hours determined by a Commonwealth award may be, the number of working hours in New South Wales shall not exceed 44 a week. As a result of that interference with’ Commonwealth awards under which men have been working with satisfaction, 20,000 men were out of work for several weeks, and many of them are now returning to work, not for the basic wage, but for ll/12ths of the basic wage determined by the Arbitration Court. They are working 44 hours for 44 hours’ pay, although the Commonwealth award of 48 hours was the only award under which they could obtain the basic wage. I was glad to hear the statement of the honorable the Leader of the Opposition, that he was prepared to discuss these proposals on their merits, and not from a partisan point of view. I was interested to learn that, on the whole, he agreed with them, and to ascertain later, from the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), that although they are not all that he desires, he regards them as a satisfactory step forward.
I suggest, however, that the honorable the Leader of the Opposition has taken extraordinary action if he desires to secure non-party discussion of the proposals. His amendment is to strike out all the words after “ That “, and to substitute a proposal which differs vitally’ from that of the Government. If he would withdraw his amendment, and be prepared to discuss such parts of the Government’s proposals as are capable of being discussed without impinging on vital principles, the Government would be prepared to meet his wishes. It must be understood that no good purpose would be served by discussing vital principles on which the views of the two parties cannot be reconciled.
– What does the honorable the Treasurer mean ? I wish he would make his meaning clearer.
– The amendment of the honorable the Leader of the Opposition wipes out the Government’s proposals, and substitutes proposals which the Government, in no circumstances, can accept; but parts of the Government’s proposals are undoubtedly open for discussion. For example, we could discuss the way in which the separate clauses should be presented.
– When does the Treasurer desire to discuss the details of the bill? Does he desire that to be done in committee ?
– We are willing to go into the whole matter in committee ; but we are also quite prepared for the Leader of the Opposition to discuss it with the Leader of the Government.
– I am quite prepared to discuss it with the Leader of the Government, to see whether we cannot come to some understanding.
– And the Leader of the Government is prepared to discuss it with the Leader of the Opposition provided that no matters of vital principle are involved.
– I am prepared to discuss it at any time.
– At the moment I am concerned with examining the two sets of proposals with the object of showing how different they are in outlook. It appears to be quite beyond question that the methods by which the Opposition propose to regulate and control industry, as expressed by its leader and the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and those proposed by the Government, are entirely dissimilar. The Opposition suggests that industrial peace, and even the millennium itself, may be ushered in and maintained by Parliament agreeing to a continual ‘ series of bills for the regulation of hours of work, wages, and other conditions. The Government is of the opinion that these matters, which affect the life, health, and welfare of the workers, should be investigated and determined in the most impartial atmosphere it is possible to find. It is of the opinion that an absolutely independent authority should deal with them. It is impossible for. Parliament ever to assume an impartial and non-partisan attitude, for it is always composed of the representatives of different parties, the outlook of which is continually altering. The Government believes that it would be unwise to make Parliament the cockpit of battles over these important matters. The criticism offered by the Leader of the Opposition to the Government’s proposals may be stated under three heads. He argued, in the first place, that the proposals should not have been brought, forward in their present form; in the the second place, that they were not urgent; and, in the third place, that they should have been left for the consideration of a constitutional session. My reply to’ the first argument is that the matter is urgent. Everybody knows that on the 16th December last the New South Wales Parliament passed an act which deliberately cut across the federal arbitration system. Section 12 of that act reads as follows: -
Where in any award oi order made under any Act of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, or in any industrial agreement made pursuant to any such act, for any industry to which the principal act applies other than coal mining and shipping, with respect to vessels trading ‘beyond the limits of a port, provision is made that the standard or ordinary weekly hours of work or duty of an employee shall “not exceed a number stated in the award, order, or agreement greater than 44, or where in any such award, order, or agreement, expressions of a like significance occur, then in such a case the standard or ordinary hours of work or duty of such employee shall not exceed those prescribed by or under section 6 of this act.
By passing that act the New South Wales Parliament precipitated the trouble. Two-fifths of Australia’s population is resident in New South Wales, a great many of our secondary industries are established there, and fully two-fifths of our industrial workers are employed there. Already 20,000 men have been on strike over the matter, and they have only returned to work on the undertaking that the question of hours per week will be settled at the earliest possible moment, and within the next three or four months, after the Federal Arbitration Court is reconstituted. The men have gone back to work for less than the basic wage, and nobody desires that they shall be obliged to work under present conditions for any longer than is absolutely necessary, for it must mean hardship to their wives and children.
– The workers voluntarily accepted the conditions.
– I submit that the matter is extraordinarily urgent. If the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that the matter be left for attention during a constitutional session next year were adopted, the referendum would not be held next year, but nearly three years hence, when tne next election comes to be contested.
– The people of New South Wales are perfectly satisfied, and did not ask the Government to make a case for them.
– Even if they are perfectly satisfied at present, I am certain, from my experience, that they will not be satisfied for very long. The Leader of the Opposition knows that in bis own district the coal miners were perfectly satisfied with a certain tribunal for three or four years, but at present they are dissatisfied with it and are on strike.
– The miners are not on strike.
– They are on strike because of decisions of this tribunal. We cannot expect men to be satisfied with unstable conditions. It is only fair that casual employees should know where they stand. It is vital that this matter should be settled, not only in the interests of the workers, but also in the interest of the maintenance and expansion of industry and the establishment of new industries. New industries are of vital importance to Australia, for they widen the circle of employment here. The Leader of the Opposition complained that the Government was discourteous to the State Go vernments in introducing its proposals in this way. He argued that a conference of State Premiers ought to have been called to consider the matter. Did the New South Wales Government consult the Commonwealth Government before it introduced the bill to which I have referred ?
– Does the Treasurer suggest that two wrongs make a right?
– I do not. Throughout the last quarter of a century continuous, but fruitless, attempts have been made to reach a satisfactory decision with regard to State and Federal jurisdiction in industry. In 1909, when the State Premiers met to consider the per capita payments, they also dealt with industrial matters, and the following motion was passed unanimously : -
When the Court of a State determines on complaint of an industrial tribunal that -
Nothing was ever done to give effect to that. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned a conference of Premiers that was held in 1912 - subsequent, may T point out, to the taking of the referendum by the Labour Government. That conference considered the question of fixing a line of demarcation in industrial matters ; but, although there were five Labour Governments in the Commonwealth at that time, as well as a Commonwealth Labour Government, nothing effective was done.
– Some of the State Labour Governments ‘ opposed the Commonwealth Labour Government’s referendum proposals.
– That is . so. Honorable members know very well thai in 1915, during the war, the State Governments were urged to equip the Commonwealth Government with sufficient power to deal with industry. Some of the Premiers were willing to do as the Commonwealth desired, but others were not, and nothing was done. The’ matter was also on the agenda-paper of the 1918 Premiers’ Conference, and the following motion was carried: -
A secondconference was held later in that year, but all efforts to obtain an agreement failed. Before the referendum was taken in 19.19, definite assurances had been given in behalf of the State Parliaments that they would take certain action to equip the Commonwealth Parliament with additional powers, but only one Parliament did anything definite In these circumstances,I submit that it would have been quite useless to consult the State Governments on this occasion. The proper and straightforward course for the Government was to introduce its proposals to this Parliament and seek authority to submit them to the people for approval. That course was taken, and the Commonwealth was not discourteous to the States in taking it. The Leader of the Opposition also argued that it would have been better had the Government held its hand until the whole question of constitutional amendment could be considered at a constitutional session. He said that when a decision had been reached the whole matter could be submitted to the arbitrament of the people. To decide the wisdom or otherwise of that course, we have only to ask ourselves what happened on previous occasions when constitutional questions were submitted to the people for consideration. On the first occasion the whole matter was submitted in the form of one question, and the. people were asked to vote a straight out “ Yes “ or “No.” Thev voted “No,” for the reason that they did not understand the position, and would not give unlimited power. On a subsequent occasion the proposed amendments were submitted in the form of a series of questions, but the very multiplicity of questions confused and befogged the people, and on that occasion many who were prepared to vote “Yes” to some of the questions did not understand all of them, and so voted “ No “ to the lot in order not to make any mistake. On this particular occasion, we are dealing with two issues. One concerns the essential services of the Commonwealth, and is a plain and straightforward issue, which every one can understand. The other deals with ‘the whole question of industry, and, although certain clauses will be referred in one question to the people, they hang together, are part and parcel of the one issue, and form a compact whole. If a man were building steps to his house he would not set one brick to-day and two or three more next week, but would put in the whole construction at the same time, if he expected it to be of any use. We have had the other system tried. Proposals have been submitted in globo and turned down. Proposals have been brought forward in series and submitted with other proposals for the amendment of the Constitution, and have been turned down. Every one apparently is agreed that the time has come when this particular amendment, or something closely resembling it, should be made in the Constitution, and the Government brings it forward as a single clear issue. If it will clarify the position and bring about 25 per cent, more industrial peace than we have at the present time, or will eliminate even onefourth of the waste due to overlapping State and Commonwealth awards, it will be worth to the people many times the cost of the referendum, and will be one of the best investments the Commonwealth has ever made. So the criticisms of these proposals are effectively answered. I notice the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) is looking at me very hard, and I do not hesitate to refer to the proposed new states’ referendum, concerning which I have often been twitted. I believe that the creation of new states is essential for the proper development ment of this country, and I believe that the best and most appropriate means to secure the passage of the new states referendum is to submit it with other proposed amendments of the Constitution, which, if carried, will commend the new states proposal to the people.
– More piecemeal legislation !
– No. In my view the new states proposal depends for its acceptance by the people on some better distribution of powers between the Commonwealth and the States. I am quite content to have this matter discussed in its proper place. What should be our constitutional powers in relation to industry is a question which can be dealt with by itself, and I believe we can settle it now, because, apparently for the first time, we have reached some measure of agreement upon it. I now come to a comparison of the Government’s proposals with those of the Leader of the Opposition. There is one touchstone which, it seems to me, should be applied to these proposals. In my opinion those which will tend most to ensure improvement in the wages and conditions of the workers are those which every one should support. I believe it is the aim of every member of this House to bring that about. During the last seven or eight years there has gradually grown up in this country a general agreement as to the necessity for constitutional changes in regard to industrial powers. That is due to a variety of factors. One is, I think, that the war markedly changed the whole national outlook of Australia. It taught us to think in an Australian way, as we did not do before the war. It tended to put an end to much of the parochial feeling which previously existed. In addition, modern invention in transport and means of communication has tended to annihilate distance and bring us closer together. At the same time, modern methods of industry, and the establishment of many bie industries supplying raw material, partly finished material or finished goods to all the States, has tended to make the nation much more one in its commercial out-look than it has ever been before. Further, the effect of the tariff on the national life has been greatly increased owing to the rapid growth of secondary industries. We are recognizing more and more that, as the tariff is a Commonwealth instrument - and we hope some day a scientific one - operated by this Parliament, its aim to establish industries and ensure their prosperity should not be defeated by isolated State action such a3 is threatening at the present time in New South Wales. Here, after long consideration, and sometimes acrimonious debate, we decided, for instance, that a certain measure of protection was necessary for the steel industry to enable it to thoroughly establish itself under good conditions. Suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, the Government of New South Wales, without proper inquiry, altered the whole conditions of that industry. It reduced the hours of labour in the industry from 48 to 44 per week, and at once made it necessary for the steel industry to approach the Commonwealth Parliament for a revision of its tariff protection. Every one can see what a stupid position we shall get into if, because one State alters the hours and conditions of labour, we must alter the tariff accordingly, not because of any general alteration in industries or conditions throughout the Commonwealth, but because those in power in one State appear to have gone mad.
– This is an excellent non-party spirit which the honorable gentleman is displaying.
– I say that this is a difficulty which has to be borne in mind. It will, I believe, influence the people of Australia in regard to constitutional changes.
– Will the honorable gentleman guarantee that the Commonwealth authorities will fix uniform rates throughout Australia?
– I shall deal with that in two or three moments. The difference between the Government’s proposals and the Labour amendment is really that the Labour amendment would give practically unlimited power to the Commonwealth Parliament to deal with the whole of industry in any way it thinks fit. That is to say, under it Parliament itself would undertake the consideration of questions of hours, wages, and conditions, and thresh them out here to the exclusion of everything else. The Government’s proposal with respect to industry, though wide-sweeping, would place the power to deal with details in the hands of authorities created by the Parliament. I differ entirely from the view expressed by the right honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) with regard to the power of the proposed authorities to be created. Full power must always reside in the hands of the Parliament of the people of Australia, as the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) rightly said. The purpose of the people of Australia cannot ultimately be defeated; but we can prevent this Parliament from becoming the cockpit of industrial discussion and industrial legislation to the exclusion practically of everything else, as it would under the Labour amendment. There is other important work which this Parliament must perform in connexion with defence, development, and imperial and external relations. If we bring about a condition of affairs in which this Parliament will be a cockpit for industrial legislation and trouble, we shall not be able to achieve the national destiny of the Commonwealth. In America, the policy of the trade unions has always been ‘ to keep as far from politics as they can. Despite the tremendous immigration to that country of people who could not speak English, and who might reasonably be looked upon as a source of cheap labour, the American trade unions, sticking exclusively to their job, have succeeded, by the organization of various trades and assisting to increase the output of industries, in increasing the purchasing power of the wages of the workers of America, beyond those of any other country in the world. In 1924, I notice, the effective wages in various countries were given by the Financial Times at 100 for London, 144 for Sydney, and 221 for Philadelphia. In June, 1925, according to a bulletin of the Federal Reserve Bank, the figures for effective wages were - London 45, Sydney 77, and Philadelphia 100. That condition of affairs in the United States of America was brought about, not by political action and agitation, but by organizations carrying on the work of the country without making the Parliament at Washington a place in which nothing but industrial legislation could be discussed. What are the essentials of a system for the regulation of industry? According to the way in which the proposals of the Government or those of the Leader of the Opposition fulfil these essentials, the House and the people should be able to judge which of them to accept. The most important and vital of all is that the decision arrived at by any tribunal dealing with wages shall be final,” decisive, and certain. Three or four years ago the Leader of the Opposition claimed, in a speech, that the value of arbitration was that it brought about finality of decision, so that men could go on with their work certain that wages would be paid according to arbitration awards. We are in sufficient trouble already because of the duplication of awards of the Federal and State courts. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that it is of no use to paint the face of a leper and pretend that he is all right; but neither is it of any use to inject him with the virus of some other disease and then think that he is all right. That is what the Leader of the Opposition would do to the industrial system of Australia. Finality in decisions regarding wages and conditions of labour is much more likely to be assured by the verdicts of tribunals created by this Parliament, but outside it altogether, than by verdicts- of the Parliament itself, which, by reason of the nature of its election, must be a partisan body. It looks to the electors for their support, and must be influenced, unconsciously possibly, but still truly, in its votes. The next essential, it seems to me, of a system for the regulation of industry, is that the decisions arrived at must be universally recognized as impartial. Although I have every respect for decisions arrived at in this Parliament, I do not think any one will claim that they are absolutely impartial. These decisions are frequently arrived at through preconceived ideas or prejudice, or perhaps, because of the omission of those opposing them to put the whole of the case. At any rate they ari not impartial decisions, and, therefore, on industrial questions would make no appeal to the mass of the workers as such. Under the Government’s proposals the workers would be able to rely entirely upon an impartial decision, because questions requiring important decisions would be outside the control of Parliament. It may be suggested that this is a thing to be feared, but the Victorian Parliament has never attempted to interfere with its own system of arbitration or wage fixing. Unfortunately the New South Wales Parliament within ‘he last few months has tried to decide the question of hours without any evidence or inquiry, simply because it says that it has a mandate from the people of that State. In appointing the Commonwealth Arbitration Court we should endeavour to maintain the prestige and traditions of British and our own law courts. No matter what the political predilections of a judge may have been, he always recognizes that he must maintain a high standard of impartiality, and base his verdicts on the evidence given before the court. We should try to maintain that standard in connexion with any new method of dealing with industrial matters. The aim of the Government is that the court in fixing the wages and conditions of labour in industries, would take cognisance of local conditions - a proper decentralized system of jurisdiction could be set up. The most important factor that has to be decided in connexion with the regulation of industry, is the determining of the conditions and hours of labour so as to ensure the good health of the workers. If we give the worker decent working conditions, so that he may preserve his natural spring, he will become a more and more productive citizen and a member of a happy and contented community. But how are we to determine the hours and conditions of labour? Are we to determine them in the same way as tariff increases and reductions are determined after a discussion in this House ? No one would suggest that alterations to the tariff are made without partisanship. The hours and conditions of labour should be properly regulated and dealt with by an impartial tribunal, which is continually investigating industrial matters, and collecting data associated with industry generally. At the beginning of ‘-the war the workers of England, in a patriotic spirit, consented to work 70 hours a week, to produce munitions, but it was found that they did more work in 60 hours a week and more work than that in 50 hours a week. It was ascertained that a certain number of hours must be worked to produce the maximum output. We can determine these conditions only actual experiment, by taking advantage of physiological and psychological tests made by an independent body. These matters should not be left entirely to the decision of lawyers. The Munition Workers’ Commission and the Fatigue Research Commission were appointed during the war, and, of eight members, five were members of the medical profession and one a member of the Royal Society of England. That is the type of assistance that we must have behind any authority that we set up to determine hours and conditions of labour,, if we desire to ensure perfect health. In any system of regulation that we determine upon, we must provide a standard of wages which will enable our workers to remain healthy and to enjoy good conditions. During the last i50 years increased production has brought about a continual invention and improvement of methods. It is of no use to increase nominal wages if the ultimate effect is to reduce the effective purchasing power of those wages. That has actually happened. The Statistician’s report to the New South Wales Board of Trade issued in .1922 contains a statement by the Statistician that the vicious ciTole created by rising prices has been such that, though the basic wage was £4 5s. as compared with the Harvester award of £2 2s. in 1907, the Harvester award rate, if it were brought up to the present ratio, would show thatthe worker to-day is really 3s. per week worse off than he was in 1907. We have to ensure, first of all, the optimum hours of labour, that frequently are not long hours. Many of these matters would probably be determined by agreement. In Rowntree’s cocoa works at York, the girls work 44 hours a week of five days to secure the maximum output. They have found by experiment that by this number of hours they get both the greatest efficiency and health, as well as output. It is of no use to increase nominal wages and at the same time decrease effective wages. Wages cannot be increased unless the industry concerned is able to bear the burden. If industry cannot afford to pay wages, men are thrown out of employment, and other industries are detrimentally affected. A proper solution of this problem involves an independent tribunal that will continually gather information to enable it to arrive at just conclusions. It is very important that we should, in fixing wages, consider the relationship of secondary and primary industries.
– That is not the work of an arbitration court.
– The . time has come, when we should be able to fix the living wage for the wheat and dairy farmers, but, to do this, if we are fixing a living wage in secondary industries, we must have at our disposal data showing tlie correlation of the whole of the industries. This cannot be determined satisfactorily by Parliament. If the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition were accepted, and if his proposals were carried by the people, the tendency would be for industrial questions to be driven more and more into this Parliament. This would be a calamity from the point of view of industry and the workers generally.
– Does the Treasurer say that that scheme could be undertaken by an arbitration court consisting of three judges?
– I do not suggest that for a moment. I say that if additional powers were given to the Commonwealth, we should be able to carry out scientific investigation, and use the results in whatever tribunals wo create. The workers should look not to legislation for a millennium or improved conditions, but to the handling of their own problems in conference with employers. ‘ We shall then be able to have a practical arbitration system, such as exists in many parts of the world, without the necessity for reference to the Arbitration Court at all. The cardinal reason for these proposals is to create a new outlook among the workers and the people of Australia in regard to industry generally. We desire to encourage, by every possible means, the development of the proper selfgovernment of industry. Modern industry has developed practically in the last 100 years. It grew quicker than its method of control, and a tremendous amount of industrial unrest and disturbance has resulted. A proper system of self-government of industry by co-operative methods, to ensure equitable distribution of profits of industry, will come about only as a result of the application of the workers to their own problem. That is our object. The Constitution is a vital instrument of government, and embodies the fundamental principles on which the nation is governed. In amending it, we need to ensure that the progress of the country shall be along proper lines. Unfortunately, politicians are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and we must encourage men to depend for their salvation upon their own resources, initiative, and enterprise, and to grapple with their own problems, rather than be always leaning on governments and governmental agencies. Only by such a policy can this country achieve the greatness of which we all believe it capable.
– Most honorable members who have participated in this debate have said that they approached the bill free from party bias, but the speech of the Treasurer was tinged throughout with party politics, and he did not lose one opportunity of criticizing the action of State Governments. To-night he appeared in a new role, that of an advocate of direct action. His concluding remarks are typical of those of gentlemen whom the Treasurer and his supporters designate direct actionists. Those men declare frankly that they wish to work out their own salvation in the industrial field, and do not want the assistance of parliaments and politicians. For preaching that doctrine, which the Treasurer has to-night repeated, the Government would deport them. If the only advice which the Treasurer can give to industrialists is to rely upon their own resources, and not look to Parliament, the honorable gentleman should join the communists and revolutionists on the soap-box in advocating the abolition of parliaments. Evolutionary development is possible only by parliamentary action.
– I did not suggest any but constitutional action.
– The honorable gentleman said that the workers must, look to themselves and not to Parliament. Those are the very sentiments of the communists, who no doubt will welcome the. Treasurer into the ranks of the revolutionary army. At one stage the honorable gentleman, when discussing the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, spoke in a conciliatory tone, and practically offered to confer with the Leader of the Opposition, but when the latter was about to acquiesce in the proposal, the Treasurer commenced to raise obstacles, and concluded ‘ by declaring that negotiation would be possible, only upon the basis of a complete acceptance of the Government proposals, and the. withdrawal of the amendment. The Treasurer also said that because the New South Wales Parliament had by statute established a 44-hour week in conflict with the Federal award of 48 hours, an alteration of the Constitution to make the Commonwealth power paramount was needed. I remind the honorable gentleman that the Storey Government introduced the 44-hour week, which was in operation while that Government was in office. Not until the Lang Government re-established that principle did the employers think of appealing to the High Court. When they did appeal, and won a victory over the workers, this Commonwealth Government discovered the need for an amendment of the Constitution. It is strange that for some years that necessity was not apparent. It seems to me that that argument was put forward by the Treasurer only for the purpose of combating our contention that, in asking for extended industrial powers for the Commonwealth, we are not advocating that all details for the regulation and control of industries shall be threshed out on the floor of this Parliament. We are told that there is a fundamental difference between the proposals of the Government and the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. I can see no difference in principle between the two. The amendment proposes merely an extension of a principle embodied in the bill. We say that the Government’s proposal does not go far enough, that it will put the country to the expense of a referendum in order to obtain for this Parliament powers that will be found insufficient, and that later we shall have to duplicate expense by appealing for a grant of extended powers. The Treasurer said that whereas the Government proposes that hours of labour and conditions of industry shall be regulated by an independent tribunal, the Opposition desires that all these matters shall be decided in Parliament itself. That is not so. All we ask is that these powers shall be given direct to this Parliament without the condition that the exercise of them shall be delegated to any other authority. No person is so foolish as to believe that all the ramifications of industry can be investigated on the floor of this House, but Parliament could prescribe a minimum wage and a maximum working week, and delegate to a tribunal the responsibility for fixing wages above and hours below the statutory limits. Parliament’s decision would be based upon statistics and other information obtained after full inquiry, and no tribunal should be able to set it aside.
– Would the honorable member be satisfied if this Parliament fixed a working week of fortyeight hours?
– I would not support such a proposal, but if that were Parliament’s decision I should have to be satisfied until the people in their wisdom altered the personnel of Parliament and the decision was reversed. The people of New South Wales have to accept the 44-hour week established by the State legislature, and similarly we should have to accept for the time being any decision of this Parliament. In the ups and downs of politics different parties come into power. I am a good enough loser to take a beating without complaining, and to submit to the law. It is of no use for any honorable member opposite to argue that honorable members on this side wish all industrial questions to be decided by a vote of this House. Both sides in industry would oppose that. But I see no reason why this Parliament should not have power to fix hours. With other honorable members on this side, I contend that this Parliament will have that power. Something has been said about the undesirability of making the Parliament the cockpit for industrial disputes; but, although the State parliaments have sovereign powers, and can legislate according to the policy of the party in power, none of them has become a cockpit for industrial disputes. The honorable the Treasurer has evidently discovered a formula for industrial research ; he claims to have discovered that, just as he claimed some time ago to have discovered the principle of a sinking fund. All the things he advocated are being done in the States, and in most other countries. All the information which, according to him, will have to be obtained, can be obtained by this Parliament to-day. I agree with him that the information, if obtained, would be useless in the absence of the power to give effect to it. Most of these things will be investigated by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, unless it fails to fulfil the purpose for which it is to be created. When the honorable the Leader of the Opposition stated that this Parliament would have ample powers under these proposals, he created something like consternation among honorable members opposite, and the right honorable member- for Balaclava (Mr. Watt) interjected, “ If that is so we ought to have a further investigation into the matter.” All honorable members on this side have put forward the same contention, and recently it was shown who was right when the famous deportation case was before the court. Every member on this side said that the Deportation Act was unconstitutional, and the High Court decided that the laymen on this side were better able to interpret the Constitution than the lawyers on the other side.
– Honorable members of the Opposition are all constitutional lawyers !
– It is a matter only of exercising common sense. The supporters of the Government allowed passion to blind them in their desire to win the election.
– And we were successful.
– The people may be fooled like that once, but they will become wiser some day. The Minister evidently admits that it was done to win the election. If the Prime Minister goes to the High Court again he will receive as severe a jolt as he received in regard to the Deportation Act. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that honorable members of the Opposition wished to eliminate from the Government’s proposals control of trade unions. I cannot see why any honorable member should contend that. The amendment says definitely and clearly, “ The rights and obligations of employers and employees,” and the Government’s proposal says, “ The rights and duties of employers and employees.” If everything contained in the one proposal is not also in the other my reading of them is at fault. Similar proposals have been put forward by Labour governments in the past, and it has never been contended that they did not contain that power. The honorable member also spoke of the socialization of industry; but the amendment does not seek to give the Parliament power to bring that about. All the State Parliaments have that power, and the Commonwealth Parliament could give effect to it to-morrow in many indirect, if not direct, ways. The honorable member for Swan said the Government had been forced by the manufacturers concerned in the 44-hour dispute to submit these proposals. That is as bold an admission as he made when he said that if these proposals had been brought forward by the Labour party, every Ministerialist would have opposed them. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) missed the motive of the Government when he was dealing with the proposal to delegate powers to authorities. The Prime Minister thinks that his proposals will hamper future Parliaments, and that is the reason for submitting them in this form. It is not that he is afraid of this Parliament becoming a cockpit for industrial disputes, and not because he thinks that other means than the establishment of courts of investigation, and the appointment of boards of conciliation will be used; but because he is drunk with power to-day and fearful of tomorrow that he wants to shackle future Parliaments. The remarks of the honorable member for Swan, to a large extent, support that view. The right honorable member for North Sydney referred to the creating of Soviets. He made me wonder whether some one, perhaps a nationalist senator, had been in communication with the shades of Lenin, and had received a direction from him to introduce the Russian system here. Honorable members opposite had better beware. The cries of “ Disruption,” “ Revolution,” and “ Law and Order “ have not so much force since the election. When a Labour government comes into office, these ‘powers may be handed over to authorities outside Parliament. The present Government is forging the weapon, and will be blamed for the consequences. The honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) said that only two industries in this country, shipping and coal-mining, were of a Federal character. He said nothing about the waterside workers and the shearers. Whether an industry is carried on in one or more States, the conditions in it have an effect on the whole of Australia, for Australia is an economic entity. The conditions for industry should be the same throughout the Commonwealth. There is ground for the suspicion that the Government has selected one or two powers which, if agreed to by the people, will give it greater stability. It is notsincere regarding the proposed alteration of the Constitution. It is useless for honorable members to say that this is not a party question. They have made it such. One wonders whether the fact that in five States of the Commonwealth Labour Governments are in office has had anything to do with the attitude which has been adopted. Honorable members opposite have referred to the treatment which it will be possible to give to industrial organizations should the proposals be agreed to by the people. During a speech lasting one and threequarter hours, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) devoted only two and a quarter minutes - and I timed him by the clock - to trusts and combines. That suggests that these additional powers are asked for to enable the Government to deal with one particular section of the community only. Trusts and combines have been introduced only as a smoke-screen. Why has not the manner in which it is proposed to deal with trusts and combines been stated clearly? The bill refers to restraint of trade. Unless trusts and combines do something to restrain trade they will not be interfered with. There will be no inquiry into their profits, and how they are made; their bankbooks and ledgers will be sacred. But the worker may be dragged before the courts. Girls employed in factories have already been dragged to give evidence regarding the price- they pay for their stockings and underwear. There is reason for suspicion regarding the Government’s intentions. If it were sincere in its desire to achieve industrial peace, it would accept the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) - a suggestion supported by two members sitting behind the Government - and withdraw the bill. An honest attempt should be made to get the powers considered necessary, without the issue being clouded. These proposals are incomplete, and therefore they should not. be placed before the people at this stage. I hope that I shall yet have the opportunity to advocate from the public platform a supreme Commonwealth Parliament which will have power to delegate certain functions to minor bodies. I suggest something very different from State Parliaments with the sovereign rights they now possess. Some honorable members may not agree with my idea of a supreme Commonwealth Parliament. The Labour party in its present proposals does not ask for that; but it asks that all sections of the community shall be dealt with equitably. Mention has been made of a constitutional session of Parliament. This has been promised for a long time. The Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) has for seven years advocated the creation of new States, and the alteration of the Constitution ; but nothing has been done. After the constitutional session a conference is suggested, and then the proposals are to be placed before the people at the next election. Proposals of this nature should not be submitted to the people at a general election. They should be removed from the atmosphere of party politics and submitted to the people for decision in accordance with Australian sentiment. It is significant that these proposals should be introduced just now. ‘ The Government, as we all know, has been endeavouring for some time to deal with trade unions. It introduced an ineffective measure last year with the object of securing industrial peace. This year Ave have passed an amending Crimes Act, but the Attorney-General admitted here a few nights ago that it also is ineffective. Seeing that, in introducing this bill, the Prime Minister dealt almost wholly with trade unions, it is not surprising that there is a feeling abroad that the Government’s intention is to deal only with trade unions. I hope that that is not so. If the Government met the wishes of the Labour party, and refrained its proposals in such a way that we could support them, no one would think that a party victory had been scored, On a matter like this, we should put party feeling aside. 1 was hopeful, in view of the course the debate took this afternoon, that an agreement would be possible, but the Treasurer’s speech to-night seems to have closed the door against negotiation. The Government appears to be absolutely determined to persist in these specific proposals. If it does so, and the people refuse to approve of them, it will have itself to blame. If, on the other hand, it is willing to meet the wishes of honorable members on this side of the House, nobody will be more pleased than I am, and nobody will be more anxious to see the proposals adopted.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Stewart) adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.59 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 June 1926, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1926/19260603_reps_10_113/>.