11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir . Littleton
Groom) took the chair, at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Instructions to Australian Delegation
– A paragraph has appeared in the newspapers stating that the HonorableC. W.C. Marr, a member of the Australian Delegation to the 10th Assembly of the League of Nations, has cabled for certain instructions. Can the Prime Minister tell us what instructions have been Bent to him?
– As soon as advice has been received that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has addressed the Assembly - he may- already have done so, but we have not been officially informed to’ that effect - I shall explain the position. (Vide page 548).
– Will the Prime
Minister state whether it is intended to alter the sitting days of the House?
– Some little while ago, I said that the Government was prepared to meet the convenience of honorable members, if they preferred the House should sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, instead of on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, in each week. It has been difficult, however, to obtain a clear indication of their wishes. There . seems to be much difference of opinion as to which arrangement of our time is the more desirable, and in the absence of a definite expression of opinion on the subject, it is intended to adhere to the arrangement now provided for by sessional order. But, in view of the considerable volume of business that has to be transacted, it may be necessary to add to the number of our sitting days. I hope that the need to do so may not arise in the immediate future, except in regard to the consideration of the Maritime Industries Bill, the secondreading debate on which, we hope, may be completed by Friday next. We propose that the House shall meet on Tuesday of next week, and then commence the committee stage of the measure. That is advisable, because some honorable members will be absent from Canberra for some time while attending the centenary celebrations of the State of Western Australia, and during their absence no controversial measures will be discussed. It may be necessary to ask honorable members to sit on Tuesday week also. It is not proposed, however, to make Tuesday n regular sitting day for at least some little time.
Profits of Owners
– On Friday last, I requested the Prime Minister to consider the amending of the terms of reference to the Coal Industry Royal Commission, to compel it to inquire publicly into coal production costs, because the mineworkers had indicated that they would not consider themselves bound by the findings of the commission if it continued to take evidence in camera. That was a decision of the rank and file, and the reason for it was that the profits of the owners and their costs were not disclosed to the representatives of the miners. The right honorable gentleman requested that I should confer with the Miners Federation, with a view to inducing them to accept the findings of the commission, because these would be authoritative. I held that conference during the week-end, and the decision arrived at was that the executive was prepared to recommend to the rank and file the acceptance of the commission’s finding provided that income tax was excluded in the determining of costs. I was instructed to bring before the Prime Minister the following letter, addressed to the Premier of New South Wales : -
Honorable T. R. Bavin, M.L.A.,
New South Wales Government,
Union’s attitude to Commission’s Findings:
Pursuant to our conversation of the 23rd instant. The Council of the Combined Unions which met this day, instructed me to write advising you of their decision, and enclosing copies of our previous letters, to which answers arc still awaited.
The unions have always sought to end this lockout by the owners and, notwithstanding the “ tra camera proceedings,” which they regard as a distinct breach of the promises of an open and full inquiry, are willing to accept the Commission’s finding of facts, with regard to the accounts, as accurate.
Income tax was never included in the statement of expenses chargeable against coal profits submitted to the unions by the State Treasurer, and the alleged 2s. 3½d. per ton profit quoted by the Government distinctly excluded income tax.
If the Government will abide by the statement of the Honorable the State Treasurer, quoted inHansard 10, page 526, viz.: - “… the cost, including depreciation and overhead expenses, at 17s. 7½d. per ton leaves a margin of 2s.3½d. per ton (exclusive of Workers Compensation, Child Endowment, and Federal and State taxes ) . “ the unions are still willing to accept the findings of the royal commission on that basis. Accordingly, if that margin reaches or exceeds 3s. 3½d. per ton, there shall be no reduction in wages, and if that margin be less than 3s. 3½d. per ton a corresponding reduction shall be made in wages cost, totalling not more than 1s. per ton.
This obviates all dispute as to income tax, and the unions are willing to accept the Commission’s findings on the basis thus advanced by the Government - and to which they, in turn, look to the Government to adhere.
General Secretary, and Secretary to the Council of Combined Unions.
In view of that definite undertaking of the Miners Federation to accept the findings of the royal commission, so far as they relate to the profits of the companies, exclusive of income tax, and to agree to an adjustment of their wages on that basis, will the Prime Minister intimate whether he considers that a satisfactory undertaking has been given?
– It is not for me to indicate my opinions upon any matter in replying to a question in -this House. I am not prepared to answer any question relating to policy.
– I wish to ask a question of the Postmaster-General, but by way of explanation let me first read the following paragraph, which appeared in yesterday’s Argus -
Isolated by Murray Waters. no telephone or proper roads.
WODONGA, Monday.- The isolation of residents in the Bethanga-Talgarno Valley of the Murray has now been completed. Information was received this afternoon that the telephone and telegraph lines running across the low-lying Mitta flats between Ebden and Bethanga had become unworkable, as the water had either washed out or covered the lines. For some few weeks the area referred to has been cut off through the main road having been submerged by many feet of water. The traffic and trade to and from the Upper Murray and Wodonga have been diverted to the punt between the new bridge above the weir wall and the old Hawkesview bridge, the approaches to which are permanently under water.
Residents of a large and valuable tract of country are now without telephone, telegraph, and road communication other than the punt, which is inadequate and’ not capable of catering for stock traffic, which is the principal business transacted in the border towns. As a consequence there is considerable loss of trade to Wodonga, the residents of which are annoyed at the position which has developed without any real warning. It is contended that some remedial action should be taken.
I have also received a telegram from the Hon. H. Beardmore, Victorian State member for that district, embodying the following telegram which he had received from Mr. H. J. Mitchell, of Bethanga - “ Telephone communication cut off to-day submerged area. Act quickly.” As the residents of the Bethanga Talgarno Valley are isolated because the telephone and telegraph lines in the flooded area are out of commission, will the Postmaster-General take immediate steps to have this deplorable and most unsatisfactory state of affairs remedied at the earliest possible moment?
– The paragraph to which the . honorable member refers has been brought under my notice. I find that four small exchanges were out of action for a time, but the whole of the communications have now been restored.
– The Prime Minister said, a few minutes ago, that he hoped to have the second reading of the Maritime Industries Bill disposed of by Friday, a hope which I consider not unreasonable; but might I ask the right honorable gentleman whether the normal sitting hours are to be adhered to, and what will happen if the debate has not concluded by Friday? Does he intend to use the
Standing Orders to bring the second reading debate to an end then, or will he allow each honorable member who wishes to discuss the bill to speak on the second reading ?
– I appreciate the fact that the honorable member shares with me the view that a reasonable time should be given to the discussion of the measure, and that by Friday it would be reasonable to end the debate.
– I said that it was not an unreasonable hope that the debate might conclude by Friday.
– Any action that the Government may take in regard to the debate will depend to a great extent upon the House itself. There have been under consideration by the Standing Orders Committee certain amendments of the Standing Orders, and while it is impossible to forecast what will happen to those amendments when they have been proposed, I think that the House generally agrees that there should be some shorter period for speeches than is now allowed. The Government has given an indication that the debate will end on Friday afternoon, in the hope that the House may apply a self-denying ordinance, and that honorable members may keep their speeches within reasonable limits. I repeat that the action to be taken by the Government will depend entirely upon the circumstances which arise.
– I regret that the Prime Minister did not see fit to reply to the request of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), that he should have certain phases of the coal industry investigated. The commission that is inquiring into the industry has selected ten collieries for the purpose of investigating their profits. I find that one of those collieries, for some considerable time, has been worked out. Another colliery is working at what was about one quarter of its capacity of a few years ago.
– One. colliery has been closed down for fully seven years.
– Until hearing the honorable member’s question, I was under the impression that the selected collieries were regarded as suitable, because typical of the industry as a whole, and that, by considering the conditions of a limited number of collieries, it would be possible to complete the investigation within a reasonable time, the desire being to arrive at definite facts in respect of the coal industry.
– I notice by the press that, since the adjournment of the House on Friday last, Lysaght’s, of Newcastle, have closed down a portion of their works, which involves the dismissal of 400 men. I wish to know whether the Prime Minister will institute action against , the coal-owners for having violated the law and brought about the circumstances that now exist in the industry ?
– This question has been raised and answered so often that I do not think it necessary to add anything to what I have already said.
– In view of the recent statement of the Treasurer that the Labour party is affected with tetanus germs, and the statement of the Minister for Home Affairs last night about the existence of fangless snakes and political rats in this chamber, will you, Mr. Speaker, consider the advisability-
– The honorable member is not entitled, in framing a question, to use terms regarded as unparliamentary.
– I should like to ask which particular term is unparliamentary ?
– It is not necessary for me to specify the unparliamentary terms, because the honorable member is aware of them.
– In view of the phraseology used by certain Ministers, do you, sir, not consider it necessary to issue prophylactics to protect honorable members against such poisonous references?
– The honorable member’s question is not in order.
Consideration in Senate.
– I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to the fact that in another place is being debated a bill in which reference is made to the “ Judge of the Maritime Industries Court,” the assumption being that a highly controversial measure now under discussion in this chamber will be passed. I ask whether the right honorable gentleman considers it proper thus to pre-judge this issue ?
– I consider the course taken to be perfectly proper. It is for the other chamber to guard itself from any infringement of its prerogatives. I do not share the honorable member’s feeling of danger respecting the course that has been adopted. Knowing the good sense of this House, I am perfectly certain that the measure to which he referred will be carried.
– I have heard it said in this chamber, and it has been repeatedly published in the press, that a certain Cabinet document was stolen. Because of that, the action of the Government in various matters has been criticised in the press and elsewhere. I ask the Attorney-General whether any proceedings have been taken or are contemplated against any person for having stolen such a document; whether there are facts within his knowledge upon which such proceedings could be taken ; whether we are to take as being correct the comments of the newspaper which has circulated in its columns the contents of the document; and whether the facts establish theft on the part of some person who has allegedly stolen the document?
– It is not proposed to announce, in advance, for the benefit of possible defendants, what proceedings will or may be taken. I, therefore, have no further statement to make in reply to the question of the honorable member.
– Has the Minister read in to-day’s press that a great margarine merger has been effected in the Old
Country, and does he realize that such a merger is likely to have a serious effect upon the butter industry of Australia and that of another dominion? Is he prepared to take action at once to counteract that influence by getting into touch with our overseas representatives to ensure action being taken to thwart any attempt to injure the Australian butter industry?
– I have not read the article referred to, but I shall do so at the earliest moment.
– Has the Minister observed the fact that it has been reported that there is a potential merger of great dimensions taking place?
– With a capital of £150,000,000.
– There is one corporation with a capital of £72,000,000. This is a serious matter. Australia has : a large exportable surplus of butter, and this is ever increasing. We have established an Australian organization to deal with the export of butter, the Australian Dairy Council. Will the Minister take steps to preserve this only real federal organization, instead of allowing it to be discharged by the States?
– About a week ago the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), asked a question about the Australian Dairy Council, and I invited him to put it on the notice-paper. The fact that he has not done so yet disposes of the suggestion that the matter is one of extreme urgency.
.- I lay on the table of the House -
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board - Annual Report for 1928-29, together with Schedule of Recommendations. and move -
That the report be printed.
In respect of the board’s recommendations in connexion with the by-law items of the tariff, and other matters apart from tariff revision, the action taken is set out in the schedules to the report in respect of each recommendation, and all such bylaws made have been duly published in the Government Gazette.
A number of summaries containing the board’s- specific recommendations on the tariff have not yet been considered by the Government. When these have been dealt with they will be laid on the table.
In view of the fact that all the by-laws made have been duly published in the Government Gazette, it is not proposed to print the papers annexed to the report.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Roads - Workmen’s Cottages - Housing
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
With reference to his reply to the question by the honorable member for Melbourne on the 22nd August last (Hansard, page 215), that 277 miles of roadway have been built in the Federal Capital Territory at ‘ a cost of £810,000, will he state how many additional miles of road are estimated to be built during 1929-30, and what will be the approximate cost of same?
– Approximately 13¼ miles, at an estimated cost of £50,000. This includes completion of works commenced last financial year.
On the 29th August, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked me certain questions regarding the number, &c, of cottages and cubicles for married and single men respectively in the Federal Capital Territory.
I am now in a position to advise him as follows: - (a)1. 301 cottages have been erected for the accommodation of workmen.
To all the rentals shown above ls. per week is added to cover lighting, water supply, sewerage and garbage collection services.
Rentals include electric light, firewood, water and sewerage and garbage collection service. No rates are paid.
On the 29th August, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to advise him as follows: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Mr.FENTON asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What price was paid for each of the “ A “ class broadcasting stations ?
Was any sum of money paid for goodwill to the broadcasting companies; if so, how much ?
Will he give the House full particulars of the transactions?
– The onlystations purchased by the department were 6WF, 2BL and 3AR, the price being £7,000, £7,500 and £8,500 respectively. No payments have been made for goodwill.
Supervision of Trainees - Military Stores
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Proposed Dismissal of Returned Soldiers
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Is it a fact that there is a movement afoot to displace a number of returned soldiers employed in thecentral costing section of the City South Exchange, Castlereagh-strect, Sydney, andsupplant them with girls?
– No proposals have yet been considered for replacing returned soldiers by girls in the City South Exchange at Castlereagh-street, Sydney.
– On the 31st of August the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked if one, Colonel Munro, of Sydney, had any existence in any military capacity. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that Lieutenant-Colonel E. J. Munro, D.S.O., V.D., is an officer of the Citizen Military Forces in command of the Australian Army Service Corps, 1st Division, in Sydney.
– On the 30th
August the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) asked the following questions : -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
“JACK’S DAY” FUND.
– On the 30th August the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Perkins) asked the following questions: -
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
Of the 20 per cent, allotted to the Royal Australian Navy Relief Fund, £15,000 was actually paid to that fund, while £17,652 was given to the New South Wales Navy League Royal Australian Navy Claims Committee for distribution amongst ratings or their dependants whose death or disability was the immediate outcome of the war.
– On the 30th August the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) requested me to inform him how much money had been spent on the site for the National War Memorial, and for what purpose such money had been spent. I promised the honorable member that the information would be obtained. The details are as follow: -
Tariff Board’s Report
– On the 22nd August, 1929, the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) asked the following question, upon notice -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 29th August, 1929, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) addressed to me the following questions: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 29th August, 1929, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) addressed to me the following questions: -
I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 30th
August, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) asked the following questions : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– On the 22nd August, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) asked the following questions, upon notice -
The desired information has now been obtained, and is as follows: -
Practically all these migrants were settled pursuant to agreements which were made prior to the date of the £34,000,000 agreement, i.e., 8th April, 1925, but have been merged in the latter.
Up to date, £8,979,236 has been authorized under the £34,000,000 agreement for land settlement and public works schemes. It must be remembered that the agreement makes provision for the expenditure- of loan money on public works, in addition to land settlement. For some time past, the Development and Migration Commission, and the States authorities have been concentrating upon schemes involving the expenditure of money on public works. These public works projects, which comprise irrigation, railways, roads and water conservation, will promote the development of Australia, directly or indirectly, and provide increasing opportunities for settlement.
– On the 30th August, the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Long) asked the following questions, upon notice -
Replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
– On the 22nd August, the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) asked the following questions, upon notice -
I am now in a position to furnish the following reply: -
The amounts shown under the heading “ Travelling Expenses Paid to Commissioners,” include travelling allowance and incidental expenses, such as certain motor car hire, but do not include train and steamer fares. To obtain details of the cost of train and steamer fares provided in connexion with each Commissioner would entail considerable work in dissecting particulars contained in numerous vouchers, and it is considered that the expense which would be involved in the compilation of the information would not be justified.
– On the 28th August, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked if it would be possible to arrange for the H.M.A.S. Canberra to call at Broome during its visit to Western Australian ports, in order that the residents might have an opportunity of visiting the vessel.
As promised, I have discussed the matter with the Minister for Defence, and arrangements have been made for the vessel to call at Roebuck Bay (Broome), while on the trip from Darwin to Geraldton during this month.
– On the 29th August, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) inquired whether arrangements could be made for one of the new submarines in the Royal Australian Navy to accompany H.M.A.S. Canberra on its visit to Western Australia in connexion with that State’s centenary celebrations.
I have consulted with the Minister for Defence, as promised, but regret that it will not be practicable to make arrangements in the direction suggested by the honorable member.
– On the 23rd August, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) asked me the following questions, upon notice -
I now desire to inform the honorable member that I have given consideration to the matter mentioned by him, but that I am unable to see my way toinstitute an inquiry on the lines he suggests.
– On the 30th August, the honorable member for Coot (Mr. C. Riley) asked the following questions : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are set out in the following statement : -
Statement showing -
Revenue of the Commonwealth.
Expenditure from revenue,
Part 1. Departments and services - other than business undertakings and Territories of the Commonwealth.
Part 2. Business undertakings.
Part 3. Territories of the Commonwealth.
Part 4. Payments to or for the States.
– On the 30th August, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) asked the following questions : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1. (a) The profits of the Commonwealth Bank and the Commonwealth Savings Bank to 30th June, 1929, together total £7,514,935 19s. 4d., of which £5,477,87811s.1d. represents profits of the Commonwealth Bank and £2,037,057 8s. 3d. profits of the Savings Bank. The profits of the Bank include Rural Credit Department profits totalling £109,928 5s. 6d.
Of the amount credited to Redemption fund and Reserve Fund, £4,000,000 has been transferred to the Capital Account of the Bank, and £1,075,298 5s. 9d. to the Reserve Fund of the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia. Of the amount credited to the Rural Credits Department Development Fund, £5.500 has been expended.
The following papers were presented : -
Federal Capital Commission - Report for quarter ended 30th June, 1929.
Transport in Australia - Report on Coordination of Transport by the Commonwealth Transport Committee, dated 9th May, 1929, together with Summary.
Tariff Board Act - Tariff Board - Annual Report for 1928-29, together with Schedule of Recommendations.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1929 -
No. 11 - Expropriation.
No. 12 - Administrator’s Powers (No. 2).
Northern Australia Act - North Australia Commission - Second Annual Report, for period 1st July, 1927, to 31st December, 1928.
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1929, No. 91.
– I move -
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1913-21, the following proposed work be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report : -
The proposal is to erect a building on a site which has been acquired at the corner of Bridge-street and Railwayparade, Hurstville, and to install therein an automatic telephone switching system having an initial equipment for 1,400 subscribers’ lines and an ultimate capacity of approximately 5,000 subscribers’ lines. It is proposed that the initial equipment shall be capable of extension to the ultimate capacity named, and thus enable requirements in the proposed automatic exchange area to be met for twenty years after the proposed date of opening. The area which will be served by the proposed Hurstville automatic telephone exchange comprises the south-western portion of the present Kogarah exchange area, which includes the populous and rapidly developing areas of Hurstville, Blakehurst, Penshurst, Mortdale and Oatley. The exchange is necessary in order to meet the rapid development in these areas, which cannot be catered for economically in the future in the existing Kogarah exchange, and to obviate unnecessarily high expenditure on external plant. The installation of the proposed exchange will enable the department to provide a cheaper and more efficient service to subscribers in the extreme limits of the areas mentioned. The estimated immediate cost of the work is : -
The amount of revenue received from the existing exchange for the year ended 31st December, 1928, was £26,837. The estimated annual revenue for the new exchange as at April, 1931, the date of opening, is £11,950. I lay upon the table the plans and specifications in connexion with this work.
.- I do not intend to oppose the motion, but I suggest that automatic telephones are necessary in other places than the capital city of Australia. The PostmasterGeneral seems to forget that there are other centres of population than the metropolitan areas of the States. It is time that both he and the Cabinet took a broader outlook. Some of the big cities of Australia are larger than some of these areas and deserve more consideration than they are getting. I hope that the Government will remember this.
.- I have unsuccessfully endeavoured on several occasions to get the PostmasterGeneral to state clearly to honorable members the policy followed in connexion with the installation of automatic telephones. *We all recognize that automatic telephones have added tremendously to the facility with which public and private business may be conducted, and the people appreciate this. But we desire to know the lines upon which the departmental policy is laid down. Is a certain proportion of the money voted for automatic telephones each year allocated for expenditure in the cities and a certain proportion for the country ? If so, we should be told what the proportions are. We should like to know also whether the installations are recommended in accordance with priority of application.
– Fifty-four per cent of the money voted for this purpose has been spent in the country and forty-six per cent, in the cities.
– That may be so, but upon what basis is the expenditure allocated? Some years ago, when I held a Cabinet portfolio, I had to determine the relative claims of the city and the country in connexion with the building of soldiers’ homes. It was decided at that time to allocate the money available in definite proportions for the city and the country. This action was greatly appreciated by the people. I respectfully suggest that the Government should come to a similar decision in relation to the construction of automatic telephone exchanges. I have been agitating for a considerable time for the installation of an automatic exchange at Warrnambool, and I have no doubt that honorable members who represent other country constituencies have endeavoured to get the Government to agree to the installation of automatic telephones in the principal towns in their electorates. The Government should make a definite statement of its policy in connexion with this work. We should be told how the decisions are reached; what proportion of money is available for expenditure in the country as against the cities, and whether population and priority of application are important considerations. Some well thought out plan should be laid down.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Bruce) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 30th August (vide page 475), on motion by Mr. Bruce -
That the bill bc now read a second time.
.- The pro-‘ position I was submitting to honorable members on Friday afternoon when the debate was adjourned was that the time was inopportune for the alteration of the present system of industrial control, because so far it had been tried only on a rising market. Some of the recent troubles which have led to the introduction of this heroic proposal to sweep the decks clear of all arbitration legislation had their origin in the reversal of economic conditions which has occurred lately. We have found ourselves face to face with a falling instead of a rising market. The recognition of this fact brought about at least one recent big and prolonged strike. It seems to me to be not only unfair, but unwise, to condemn a system which has been tried under only one set of economic conditions.
Before proceeding with any fresh matter I wish to refer to an interjection made by the Attorney-General on Friday in reply to my inquiry as to what wouldhappen if the Board of Judicial Review disagreed with any of the recommendations made to it by the Maritime Council. I said that I did not know what would happen. The Attorney-General replied that if I had read the bill and his speech I ought to know. I have since perused once more both the bill- and the speech of the honorable gentleman, and have not been able to find a satisfactory answer to my question. It is true that a course of action is laid down in the bill; but what would result from following it no one can tell. The position is that if a decision of a maritime council is not unanimous, and is referred by the chairman of it, who is a judge, to the Board Of Judicial Review, the board may disagree with all the findings of the council; it may accept some of them and alter others; or it may issue an entirely new determination. In the event of it taking the last-mentioned course, its determination would have exactly the same force as an award of the present Arbitration Court. If any one of the parties concerned resisted that determination it would be liable to a penalty. So that in the final analysis the process laid down in the bill would bring us to exactly the same position that we are in at present.
– Or worse.
– It might even be worse. In the event of the employers causing a lockout or the employees a strike - and there is nothing to prevent either party from taking such a course - no penalty could be imposed.
– Except the penalties provided against the workers under the Crimes Act.
– Although there may be laid down in the bill a perfectly symmetrical and faultless legal course, no one can say what would happen if it were followed.
One other grave objection to the abolition of the Arbitration Court at present seems to have been overlooked entirely by honorable members who have previously spoken during this debate. Yet it i3 an objection which deserves very careful consideration. We all know that there has crept into the Labour movement of Australia in recent years what is known as the communist or “ red “ element. I have sufficient knowledge of and sufficient confidence in the genuine trade unionists of Australia to believe that they bitterly resent this parasitic growth upon their movement, and would like to see it removed. If we believe that the communist element is dominant in the Labour movement of our country we do not under- - stand the situation. One of the principal obstacles to the spread of communism in trade union ranks in Australia is the Arbitration Court. We all know perfectly well that the communists have made no secret of their desire to see the whole of our arbitration machinery abandoned, for they know that if that occurred the biggest obstacle to the spread of their movement here would have been removed, and that they would then be able to go ahead with their policy of direct action in industry. This is a very serious aspect of the subject. If we remove the Arbitration Court, I submit that we shall remove the biggest restraining influence there is upon communism, and we shall make it possible for this pernicious doctrine to spread far and wide.
The sectional bargaining which appears to be favoured by the sponsors of the bill is an extreme danger to the community as a whole, and may lead to the sacrifice of the interests of the general body of citizens. Some time ago a strike occurred in the shipping industry. The workers had broken an award of the court, and the owners insisted that they should return to the jurisdiction of the court. When the men refused to do this, the ship-owners applied for and secured the de-registration of the union. Then the owners entered into negotiations with the men, which led to an agreement imposing practically the same conditions as had been awarded by the court. The two parties had united to draw up terms beyond the control and supervision of the court, and those terms have to be met by the public without any safeguard. The majority of agreements which have been arrived at, and which are supposed to ensure peace in industry, would not have been made but for the fact that the Arbitration Act was in existence, and the court was behind the parties. Often they would never have been brought to an agreement if they had not known that an appeal to the court might impose upon them conditions less favorable. I have good ground to fear that once the Arbitration Court is abolished it will be still more difficult tobring about agreements between the opposing parties in industry. Amongst the organizations that are governed by agreement under the Arbitration Act are. some that are not regarded as trade unions in the ordinary sense of the term. I have in mind the Insurance Staffs Association and the Bank Officers Association, both of which are working under agreements registered before the court. In the Melbourne Age of the 9th August appeared this statement.
Under the present award of the Federal
Arbitration Court covering insurance officers the companies must review the salaries of members half yearly, said Mr. T. Strangman. general secretary of the Australian Insurance Staffs Federation, yesterday. It was usual to do that during the month of June. Since the pronouncement of the Federal Ministry of its intention to abolish the court that adjustment of salaries had not been observed by several companies. All sorts of excuses had been given as to why that had not been done. His federation contended, however, that the companies concerned were waiting to know the fate of the bill to repeal the Federal Arbitration Act before making payments due to members under the present salary scale. In other cases, where annual leave had been due to members in June, they had been asked to hold it over, the excuse being that the companies could not spare them at present. Young men reaching the age of 21 years normally received an increase of salary from £160 to £225. Instances could be given where young men had been informed that the company could not pay them the basic rate of £225 a year, and that if they wished to retain their positions they must be prepared to accept less. These were instances of what might be expected if the federal arbitration system was abandoned. They were virtually being de-registered, and thrown to the mercy of the insurance companies. The results of years of effort and expense would be swept away, and then there would be a reversion to the disgraceful conditions of the old days. With the abandonment of the federal principle there would be no machinery to deal with insurance officers in Victoria. The old ‘factory legislation precluded banking, trustee and insurance staffs from approaching wages boards.
That is a clear statement of what is already happening in some circles as a result of the provisions contained in the bill. That policy is likely to extend, and if the Arbitration Act is repealed, the end at which the measure professedly aims, namely, the increase of mutual agreements, will not be achieved because the fear of the Arbitration Court, which at present impels parties to come to terms, will have been removed.
The Prime Minister, when moving the second reading of the bill, quite seriously expressed the hope that party politics would not be allowed to intrude into the discussion. A few days later, when speaking at Wesley Church, Melbourne, he deplored, almost with a sob in his voice, the influence of party politics in national affairs. His remarks indicate a lack of appreciation of the fundamental principles of our parliamentary system, and they came strangely from one who, two days previously, had been endeavouring to apply party pressure in a manner unprecedented in Australian politics. If his statement in this House meant anything, it was designed to encourage members of the Opposition to vote away from their party if they thought that the bill was good. Presumably, it implied also permission to Ministerialists to vote away from their party if they thought the bill was bad. If it meant the first, it must have meant the second. We must not mislead ourselves with pretences of that sort; let us be genuine and sincere. I venture to say to honorable members on the Government side that they have no need to ask for such special permission to vote in opposition to their leader. The question they have to ask’ themselves is whether they are bound by the- platform of the party to which they belong. Even a mandate from the people - if it existed - could hardly be regarded before a permanent plank in the party platform which they are pledged to carry out. At least three major proposals of the Government have been submitted to the House in direct opposition to the party platform which the Prime Minister is supposed to honour, and I remind honorable members on the Ministerial side that the duty to carry out the planks of the platform to which they have pledged themselves before the electors, transcends any obligation to their immediate leader when he tells them to cast the party platform aside.
– The Main Roads Act, which was declared by the AttorneyGeneral before he became a Minister to be an unconstitutional invasion of State rights, and as such opposed to the Nationalist programme; the. Financial Agreement Act, which was directly opposed to the party platform; and this Mil to abolish the arbitration system which finds a prominent part in the programme of the Nationalist party. I have said enough to show in regard to this proposal, that we have not to follow the dictum of any individual. But it is necessary that we should understand that, having pledged ourselves to carry out a programme deliberately drawn up in conference after long consideration, we are not at liberty to cast our pledge to the wind at the behest of the Prime Minister. For all the reasons that I have set forth this bill should not receive the approval of the House.
.- I intend to oppose the bill because I do not approve of the proposal to abolish the Federal Arbitration Court. During the debate references have been made to unions that were said to have broken away from that tribunal. Both the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General said that the Queensland branch of the Australian Workers Union had withdrawn from the Federal Arbitration Court for the purpose of getting a better award from the State court. I see nothing wrong in that; the branch may have believed that it could get better treatment from the State court, but it was still loyal to the arbitration system. In fact the union’s loyalty to the principle of arbitration will stand the closest examination. Of the 160,000 members of the Australian Workers Union only 50,000 are in Queensland ; the remainder throughout the Commonwealth have been working loyally under awards of the Federal Arbitration Court. I was closely associated with the Queensland branch at the time when it approached the- State Arbitration Court. We were not averse from getting from any tribunal as much as it would give. That is not peculiar to unionists; even honorable members opposite are always ready to get as much as they can and pay as little as possible for the services rendered to them. But in approaching the State court the union was influenced by something more than the possibility of getting a higher weekly wage or a better rate for shearing sheep. We were attracted by the ability of the State court to police its awards. Last year the secretary of the Pastoralists Association endeavoured to induce the pastoralists and graziers of Queensland to transfer to the jurisdiction of the Federal court with a view to getting a reduction in the cost of shearing, but the answer given to that gentleman was that it would be better for the pastoralists to- pay under a State award 5s. extra per hundred sheep and have the machinery of the court to police the award and preserve industrial peace, than to get from the Federal Arbitration Court a more favorable award, but without the machinery for its enforcement. That has always been a fault of the federal court. During the recent industrial upheaval on the waterfront the Queensland branch of the Waterside Workers Federation was brought within the ambit of the federal court, not because that was the wish of its members, but at the instigation of the employers and of a certain section, of the officials who, for reasons best known to themselves, were satisfied that it was the right thing to do. What was the result? To-day that union is smashed all over the Commonwealth, one section calling another vicious names, frequently undeserved. The machinery of the Queensland court is such that the employers in that State are content to continue to work under it. I am satisfied that if a vote were taken of the employers in Queensland that would be their verdict, even though the wages fixed may be a little higher than are those of the federal court. The reason is that, whenever a dispute threatens, all that the secretary of either the employers’ or the employees’ organization has to do is to make a statement to that effect to the industrial magistrate, who promptly visits the locality concerned and holds a conference with the parties, thus averting a strike. There are small disputes from time to time, but they do not develop into strikes.
The Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) and some honorable members who sit opposite have stated that they have no wish to abolish arbitration. Other honor- able members opposite, however, have stated even more emphatically that that course should be adopted. The Hon. W. Brooks, M.L.C., in New South Wales, in an address which he delivered during a visit to Queensland last year, said, “ What they wanted was to abolish arbitration.” Mr. Elphinstone, a member of the National party and ex-member for Oxley in the Queensland Parliament, has stated that “ The two things needed in the interests of industry are the introduction of half a million migrants and the wiping aside of the artificial barriers created by the Arbitration Court.” The Brisbane Courier, on the 10th October last, published the following article under the heading “Back to the Jungle “ : -
In one of his great essays on Roman history Lord Acton tells us that the old and famous aristocracy of Rome made a stubborn resistance to democratic reforms, but it knew the art of yielding. The trouble, he adds, came through the newer and more selfish aristocracy that could not, and would not, learn when to yield. That statement seems remarkably applicable to the address which was delivered yesterday by the Hon. William Brooks, M.L.C., of New South Wales, at a meeting in Brisbane of the Central Council of Employers of Australia. Mr.. Brooks regards arbitration as a failure; much more than that, he blames it for “ the industrial turmoil.” It is true that arbitration has not been a complete success, but because a few militant unionists have repudiated the court and the law of the country it is surely a sweeping statement to condemn a system under which at least a million workers throughout the Commonwealth are working in peace and contentment. Mr. Brooks finds it comparatively easy to thunder out denunciations of arbitration and of the industrial courts. But what docs he offer to put in their place? Nothing that would be effective. Stripped of verbiage he offers us the old law of the jungle, where men would fight for jobs and rewards, as they did half a century ago. It is curious to find the Communists and the president of the Central Council of the Employers of Australia at one on this question of tearing down the system of arbitration; but whatever support Mr. Brooks might get in Sydney for this reactionary proposal, it is fairly safe to say that he will get little sympathy in Queensland, unless he can find a better system to put in the -place of that which he would abolish.
A great deal has been said by honorable members opposite, and the press which supports them, regarding round-table conferences and gentlemen’s agreements between employers and employees. I have had personal contact with that system, and know what were the possibilities of. securing an agreement of any description prior to the advent of the Arbitration Court in Queensland. Even under the old Industrial Peace Act in that State agreements could not be obtained. The Pastoralists Association, the sugar barons, and other large employers of labour prepared a schedule of conditions headed, “ This agreement, entered into this …. day of………. between………… of the one part, and……………. of the other part,” and so on. It was an agreement only in name. It reminds me of the story of three men who arrived at a road-side inn one evening, and, when seated at the table, were asked by the landlord, “Gentlemen, what will you have? There is corn-beef.” The employer took the stand, “ These are my conditions; accept them or go on the track.” In either 1911 or 1912 the judge before whom was placed the Fairymead agreement - allegedly a legal agreement entered into between the employer and the employees said, “No doubt it is a very fine agreement for the employer, but in equity will not stand investigation.”
Last week, when it was suggested from this side that the bill we are now considering meant the abolition of effective arbitration, some honorable members opposite laughed and jeered. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), however, has plainly stated where lie stands. In July of this year he delivered ‘ in Brisbane an address on the 30th of that month, which was reported by the Brisbane Courier in the following terms : -
Touching on the decision of the Commonwealth Government to evacuate the field of compulsory arbitration, Mr. Gullett said there seemed to be pretty general agreement that tlie dual occupancy of the one field was a great handicap to industry, and that the withdrawal of the Commonwealth Government was a first demonstration that, in the opinion of the Federal Government, that burden on industry should be removed. “We wish this to be a starting point in the great campaign, which is essential to reduce costs ‘ in this country,” he said. “We are not going to touch wages or conditions of living, but we say this overlapping is an expensive burden, and should be removed.” The Minister said there appeared to be some apprehension on both sides as to what was going to happen when the court had gone. To that he would ask how other countries had got on without such a court. In no country in the world were industrial conditions settled on a continental basis. Local agreements were the rule. During the transition period, however, the awards would stand. While lie believed, with reservations, iri the principle of arbitration on a State basis, he still considered the solution of industrial troubles lay on individual employment unit basis. When they had the individual employer dealing with his own individual men the best results were likely to accrue.
Doubtless, from the view-point of the Minister, that is correct; but I say that the employee will have merely the option of accepting the terms offered or going on the track. The Courier was so satisfied with the honorable gentleman’s statement that it made the following observations concerning it : -
There never was more work waiting to be done, but so long as it is a national crime to engage men to do it at less than the basic wage a great deal of it will remain undone.
A Queensland supporter of the National party, the present State member for Oxley (Mr. Nimmo), published in the same paper the suggestion that employment at less than award rates would help to relieve unemployment. He is a shareholder in the Ipswich Woollen Company, and no doubt was helping his own cause.
Action of a vicious nature was taken by certain honorable members opposite when it was suggested that there is in the Government’s ranks a feeling that wages ought to be reduced. The suggestion was characterized as “monstrous,” and the assertion was made that no member of the Government party would suggest such a thing. Yet, according to the press in Western Australia the following statement was made by Senator Sir George Pearce at a meeting of the Consultative Council of the National party -
There is no other way, and you recognize it. Wages must come down. We have discarded the Federal Arbitration Court and have instituted another system.
– He has since denied having made that statement.
– I do not doubt that he has denied having made many statements with which he has been credited; but such denials are generally withheld until some person gets on the track of those who make the statements.
It has also been suggested by honorable members opposite that unionists will not keep faith with the court. The strike in the ranks of the timber workers has been given as an example. The timber workers are quite prepared to work under the award, which was made by Judge “Webb after a close investigation, and a complete study of the whole industry. Because they refused to accept the award of Judge Lukin, their organization was fined; and, notwithstanding the fact that many members of the union continued at work under that award, they had to pay their contribution towards the fine. The Government was responsible for that fine being imposed ; yet, when it came to dealing with the coal barons in New South Wales, they appointed a royal commission to take evidence, in camera, and withdrew a prosecution instituted against one of the offending employers. The workers observe more rigidly than the employers their obligations under the awards of the court. The first industrial bushranger was the McKay Harvester Company, which refused to obey an award of the court. Many years ago the late Honorable C. C. Kingston said-
It has been objected that in spite of legal liability men would repudiate an agreement if a large number were interested and dissatisfied. I do not hold this view. I have some knowledge of the mode in which workers regard legal responsibilities even at times of the greatest excitement. Their general resolve is undoubtedly to obey all legal requirements. They obey the law because it is the law, though if it were not for its provisions discontent might induce different action. The great majority of men will carry out agreements at all times, and particularly when, as proposed, their failure to do so would entail legal consequences.
Tlie history of arbitration during the last 25 years has proved the correctness of that statement. When an award of the court affects individual employers adversely they repudiate “it by closing down their works, on the plea that they are unable to carry on. To a certain extent that practice is adopted also by employees. Often times it is somewhat difficult to discipline a body of men because of the action of a few who, at the instigation of the capitalist press and of the Government, seize the opportunity to smash organized labour in this country.
Prom whatever angle this matter is viewed, the Government has not the Bligh test justification for abolishing theArbitration Court. It has been suggested that the States will arrive at a common agreement to ensure a set of circumstances that will lead to the preservation of industrial peace. Surely the Prime Minister must regard as children, without a sense of proportion and without intelligence, those who sit on this side and the general public outside. According to the Melbourne press of Monday last, the Premier of Victoria, Sir William McPherson, has said that he is taking up with the Prime Minister the question of postponing the operation of this legislation if it should be carried, so as to allow the existing awards to continue until at least the 31st December, 1930, to give the States the necessary time to make other arrangements. He has also stated emphatically that, so far as his Government is concerned, Victoria will have no Arbitration Court. Any ‘attempt to maintain industrial peace will be farcical if we have six tribunals functioning in this country. They will have conflicting opinions and will differentiate in the conditions they prescribe, with consequent disruption of industry. The passage of this bill’ means that in some of the States there will be no arbitration courts, and in those States which have them, there will be no power to make awards for certain callings. The first .pastoral award for station hands was made possible only after eight or nine months of organized work on the part of the_ union’s representatives. We are told that Queensland left the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court to come under that of the State court. What happened respecting the first shearing award that dealt with the wool shed section was that only 80 employers in Queensland were cited and bound by the award, with the result that the employees on stations outside the Court’s jurisdiction became discontented and unsettled because of their inferior conditions of work. _ The only tribunal that can. make satisfactory awards in the shearing industry is undoubtedly the Federal Arbitration Court. State arbitration, if reverted to, must bring about the conditions which prevailed in the good old days. Nothing but that will satisfy the greed of the interests that honorable members opposite represent. Their aim now is to lower the wages and conditions of the working classes. We have heard something about the overlapping of Federal and State awards. When making an award in Queensland the court would not embody conditions conflicting with a federal award. The Attorney-General, when speaking on this bill, quoting from the Labour Daily of the 24th May of this year, dealt with some remarks of Mr. T. McAlister, of the Australian Railways Union, and he endeavoured to lead the people of this country to believe that what Mr. McAlister said had the approval of the conference attended by him. Had the Attorney-General read further he would have found that the conference defeated the motion of Mr. McAlister, and let me say that that gentleman had as much right to make the statement to which the Attorney-General referred, as he himself had to issue a summons against John Brown, and as the Prime Minister had to withdraw it. This Government is setting out to accomplish something by subterranean methods which it is not game to attempt by direct means.
The Attorney-General said that we have to consider the economic aspect; that the courts forget that. Let me say that if the Attorney-General appeared as an advocate before the Federal Arbitration Court, on an application for better conditions and higher wages for workmen, the judge would ask him whether he had considered the economic effect of his claims upon the industry concerned. When the Queensland Arbitration Court was presided over by the late Chief Justice McCauley, it was my privilege to appear frequently before him as a union advocate, and I know that I was always asked when submitting my claim to the court, whether I had considered what would be its economic effect upon industry. Judge Dethridge, of the Federal Arbitration Court, when hearing his first case under the present arbitration system, made it particularly plain that, unless the advocates had considered the economic effect of their claim upon industry, it could not be granted. Most of our judges adopt that practice. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), when speaking on this bill, said that the question whether men obeyed the awards was one which deserved the consideration of this House. If the honorable member had studied the history of the industrial awards of this country he would know that the number of men who do not obey them is very small. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), an alleged authority on industrial matters, said that the unions insisted on certain judges investigating their claims. I cannot imagine such a position. The practice in this country is for the unions to apply to the president of the Arbitration Court for the hearing of a claim, and they are later notified that their case is set down for hearing on a certain date before a certain judge. It is evident that the statement of the honorable member has no foundation. He also said that the representatives of organized labour were parasites and a charge upon industry ; but does he not consider that the real parasites are those he represents - the large companies that have watered their stock and whose shareholders are drawing enormous dividends? Those are the parasites that are taking the profits out of industry without contributing in any way towards it. The Government claims that it does not believe in the repudiation of arbitration, and says that there is no suggestion of that in the bill, but have we not had a clear demonstration of the repudiation of an award which the Attorney-General said was not allowed because the Government thought that the Public Service Arbitrator had made a mistake. Apparently the Government thinks that, in this instance, the Arbitration Court judges have made mistakes, and that the workers are now to be given an opportunity of returning to the jurisdiction of State courts and wages board. As the previous speaker said, there is no provision under the law of Victoria for the covering of certain grades of service. There is no provision under the laws of the other States to cover industries such as the rural industry. In Queensland there are, covered by State awards, some thousands of workers who could not be brought under the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court, simply because the cost of citing their employers before the court would be too great. The union has not sufficient funds to enable it to send its representatives throughout that State to organize the workers. These men would be working under a federal award if the power to make a common rule were given to the Federal Arbitration Court. That is what is wanted. With one or two exceptions, the Arbitration Court judges throughout the Commonwealth have invariably tried to do the right thing. I am satisfied that they are prepared to deal more fairly with the workers than are honorable members supporting the Government. The following is an extract from A New Province for Law and Order, which was written by the late Mr. Justice Higgins. Chapter 5 of that work deals with the future of industrial tribunals, and from page 150 to page 152 it reads: -
Who knows but that some day workers may not employ capital, instead of capitalists employing the workers; or that Mr. Webb’s idea of a social parliament in addition to a political parliament may not be carried out? But in the meantime, even as the extension of the King’s peace over the land led to the suppression of private wars among the barons and great men of feudal times, so the extension of the nation’s power to. industrial conflicts will suppress, we may hope, the private wars between great employers and great unions. The King’s writ must run within the factory as well as without, and as to any injurious treatment of the King’s subjects engaged in industry. Just as employers have to obey regulations prescribing a minimum of safety, a minimum of ventilation, a minimum of sanitary arrangements, and whether the regulations interfere with profits or not, so they will’ have to obey laws which prescribe a minimum of sustenance for the human lives under their control, and a maximum of hours and fait conditions.
But how is the minimum of sustenance to be settled? It cannot be settled either by the party who use’s the labour or by the party who labours; nor can it be settled by both, as both may combine (as they have sometimes combined) against the consuming public. It must be settled by or under a neutral authority. It seems that whatever scheme of social policy we may favour, we are compelled to ascertain the proper remuneration. Even guild socialists, such as Mr. G. D. H. Cole, who favour the abolition of “ wagery”, and the substitution of guilds of producers of given commodities, have to come back to the problem: What is proper remuneration? When it is pointed out that such a guild, with its monopoly, could exploit the consumers, could raise the price of the commodity at its will, the answer of Mr. Cole is that anything demanded by the guild over and above what is necessary to pay a proper remuneration to its members should be taken in taxation for the benefit of the whole community. To ascertain what is proper remuneration for each worker, or each kind of worker, there must be some machinery organized; and those who work the machinery must be independent of both sides: - “Neither beg nor fear
Their favour nor their hate “.
Inasmuch as I am now relieved of the responsibility for the further doings of the Commonwealth Court, I feel that I may now speak more freely than as President; and the public of Australia are entitled to know my opinions and to attribute such value to them as they think fit. I should like it to be distinctly understood that my resignation is not in any way due to any lack of faith in the utility of the Court to the public. I Bay deliberately, and after much thought, that, in ray opinion, the system of conciliation and arbitration under the Commonwealth act is, in essence, sound and beneficial to the community; and that with proper amendments (including amendments of the Constitution), and if the Government and Parliament act with common sense, it can be made to yield even richer results. Where two great bodies of men differ and will not yield one to the other, and yet do not want to resort to force, there is no device that I know better than that of the impartial arbitrator. This the Commonwealth act gives.
And, again, on page 154 of his book, Mr. Justice Higgins says -
Under the circumstances, the experiment of industrial tribunals is not likely to be abandoned. The fact that until near the close of 1916 there was not any general strike or stoppage of work in aid of any dispute with which “the Court was competent to deal ; the fact that the strike of 1916 was the strike of the coal-miners - essentially a political strike, because the Government waa urging conscription for the war; the fact that the seaman’s strike of 1919 was due to the revolutionary dogmas of a few non-Australian leaders, and that the other seafaring strikes were duc to the mishandling of the seamen’s strike by the Government; the fact that nearly all the unions crave the assistance of the Court, and urge the extension of its powers; the fact that standards have been created and principles established on which the industries needed by the community are carried on without stoppages; the fact that no industry (so far as is known) has ceased because of any award; the fact that none of the three parties in the Commonwealth puts forward in its programme the abolition of arbitration; the fact that the Court is more than ever in request after the fiery ordeal of war, and notwithstanding the world unrest in industrial matters - these facts point to the conclusion that the Court is meeting a real public need, and will continue.
No one can deny the good work done in the industrial sphere by the late Mr. Justice Higgins, nor his wonderful knowledge of social conditions and economics. Like the late Mr. Justice McCawley, when he accepted his position he determined to, qualify himself so as to give the greatest satisfaction, not only to the parties before the court, but to the consuming public as well. He studied from every angle the problems with which he was confronted and made his awards accordingly. On page 156 of this publication Mr. Justice Higgins says -
Industrial subjects cannot be permanently excluded from the purview of free men engaged in the industry. The industry cannot be carried on without capital (I do not say capitalists, but capital) ; nor can it be carried on without labour. The capitalist has his capital at stake; the employee has his life at stake. I do not mean by his life merely his food, clothing, and shelter. ‘ I include the whole mass of his life’s powers and activities. As artists select their subjects and the mode’ of treating their subjects, and passionately repudiate dictation, so do workmen in their own degree. … If the directors and the committee of the union could only be present at the discussion, much friction, as well as evidence and argument, could often be saved; but it is too much to expect them to be present, [f they could see their way to give their advocate full powers, could make him their plenipotentiary, it would be a great gain.
The Queensland Arbitration Act makes provision for that, and there is no reason why legal quibbling, and the intrusion of unnecessary technicalities should be allowed in the federal court any more than in the Queensland court. Lawyers are kept out of the Queensland Arbitration Court, and it is a good thing, too. Except when the judge himself requires evidence upon some fine, technical point, the case is entirely argued by the advocate on each side. Fully 95 per cent, of the matters which come before the court there are settled by agreement, the remainder being determined by an award of the court. Conferences are always held between the parties, not necessarily because they desire it, but because the judge orders it. At these conferences the parties agree upon such matters as they are able to settle between themselves, and those upon which they cannot agree are determined by the court, generally in a way which satisfies neither party, which shows that the awards are just.
The International Labour Review quotes the late Mr. Justice McCawley as saying :-
Fully 80 per cent, of the employees in commerce, transport, and industry in the State have their wages and conditions of labour regu lated by industrial awards and determinations; on 31st March, 1921, this number was roughly 100,000.
From page 3S7 of the Review I take the following passage: -
In 1890, Sir Samuel Griffith (afterwards Chief Justice of Australia) introduced into the Queensland Parliament a remarkable measure laying down “ the natural law relating to the acquisition of property.” This curious bill ia worthy of perusal by social students; it is referred to here only because of clauses 21 and 28, which provide -
The natural and proper measure of wages is such a sum as is a fair immediate recompense for the labour for which they are paid, having regard to its character and duration; but it can never be taken at a less sum than such as is sufficient to maintain the labourer and his family in a state of health and reasonable comfort.
It is the duty of the State to make provision by positive law for securing the proper distribution of the net products of labour in accordance with the principles hereby declared.
That was written by Sir Samuel Griffiths in 1890, when Australia was passing through a period of industrial turmoil, such as honorable members opposite, apparently, wish to bring again. The conditions which the workers enjoy today will not be given up quietly, even though this Government, through stupidity or worse, elects to get rid of the Federal Arbitration Court. That is the only judicial body which can deal with interstate disputes, or lay down an effective basic wage as was done in the Harvester judgment. The Queensland wage of £A 5s. is not a basic wage; but the amount which the court considers an ordinary business can pay in times of average prosperity.
– The basic wage is a minimum payment based on the workers’ absolute needs.
– That is so. On page 407 of the International Labour Review, the article continues -
It is worthy of note that in Queensland employees who ordinarily are associated neither with unions nor with arbitration courts have taken advantage of the provisions of the Queensland acts, and have derived very considerable benefits from the awards. Among the latest who have sought the protection of the Court are nurses, clerks, bank officers, teachers in primary and secondary schools, and architectural draughtsmen. Most of these employees were forced to have recourse to the Court, being unable, without the aid of the Court, to have their salaries increased so as to compensate for the diminished purchasing power of money. Before the establishment of the Arbitration Court, they were for the most part not organized into unions and unable and indisposed to take direct action. There is little doubt that, but for the help of the Arbitration Court, their wages would not have increased in accordance with the cost of living.
On the following page it is stated -
Although arbitration is from time to time attacked, now by dissatisfied employers, again by dissatisfied employees, it is almost certain that, whatever variations may be made in the constitution, personnel, and powers of industrial tribunals, arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes has come to stay (11). It seems inevitable that eventually a wide power of regulating industrial matters must be handed to the Commonwealth Parliament (12).
Every judge on every court bench throughout Australia is saying the same thing, because all realize the wisdom of having uniform judgments dealing with Industrial matters. If the Commonwealth Arbitration Act had been amended so ‘as to bring it more into conformity with the Queensland act, that would have been immeasurably to the benefit of Australia. Much industrial friction would have been avoided if there had been a central Federal court, with complete powers, to which the State courts were subsidiary, as the industrial magistrates are subsidiary to the Arbitration Court of Queensland. Because legal advocates who receive big fees are allowed to plead in the Federal Arbitration Court, cases are protracted beyond all reason, so that claims made in 1927 have sometimes not been heard until 1929. Then, when an award is made, conditions, are often entirely and vitally different from what they were when the claims were lodged. As has been suggested by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) a claim may be made when conditions are good, and when wages and prices are on the upgrade. It may not be heard, however, until eighteen months or two years later. By that time, perhaps, depression has set in, and the claim for better conditions is not granted. In this way the workers are prevented from sharing in the prosperity of industry while it lasted, because of the slow procedure in the court, and the congestion of work. This leads to a great deal of dissatisfaction .among the workers.
– When a claim is granted after long delay, the increases in pay are often made retrospective, and this occasions hardship to the employers.
– I do not know whether the Federal Arbitration Court grants retrospective increases, but the Queensland court does not, because it is recognized that that would not be just. The court there will not grant retrospective increases to any date prior to that upon which the claim was served on the employers. In the Queensland court never more than three or four months elapse between the lodging of the claim and its hearing. The case which resulted in the making of the Dickson award occupied only between three and four months, although evidence had to be taken in every sugar-growing district from Mossman to the southern border. That was the award, by the way, which caused the growers and millers to go on strike. I do not blame them so much for that, because they said that they could not afford to crush the cane under the conditions imposed. They said that they believed in arbitration, and so they do, when they are getting their own way ; but when an award goes against them they are as ready to defy the court as are the members of any industrial union. Because of the lockout instituted on that occasion, the workers lost a great deal in wages. The point I wish to make, however, is that if highly paid legal men had been engaged in the hearing of that dispute, it would have been before the court a great deal longer than it was. At first, advocates before the Arbitration Court in Queensland were allowed fees, but this did not last long, and now fees are payable only in special cases. Advocates do not waste the time of the court by re-hashing old arguments; they must bring forward something new in order to get a hearing. The court is addressed by representatives of the employers, who generally understand the needs of the industry, and by the employees’ representatives, who are thoroughly familiar with its working conditions. After hearing the addresses, and such evidence as is called, the judge is able to make an award which will be fair both to’ the parties concerned, and to the public as well.
The abolition of the Arbitration Court would be an absolutely retrograde step, the taking of which I am sure would not be favoured by the people of Australia., I believe that the majority of -fair-minded employers, as well as the great majority of employees, would vote for the retention of the court if they were given the opportunity to do so. It is true that a few “ red “ employers, some of whom have been mentioned in the debate, would favour the abolition of everything that even suggested arbitration. In that regard they may be compared with the communists, whose allies they really are. The vast majority of our citizens, however, realize that only along reasonable lines can we hope to achieve substantial success and lasting prosperity. It is not possible to settle a dispute satisfactorily by the strike method. I do not believe that the settlement of the timber dispute will be effective for very long. Recent happenings in that industry have only engendered bitter feeling among the parties. Had the system of industrial control which prevails in Queensland been adopted by the Commonwealth, the timber strike would never have occurred. The Queensland system makes it possible for the court to bring about the settlement of a dispute in quick time by bringing the parties together in an atmosphere which makes practicable a thorough and speedy consideration of the points at issue. I trust that the majority of members of this House will vote against the second reading of this bill.
.- It fell to the lot of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore) to reply to the speech made by the Prime Minister in introducing this bill, and one could not help feeling that it was a pity that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) was not here to discharge that duty. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition pleaded for the taking of another referendum on the question of industrial powers; .but, apart from that, the main purpose of his speech seemed to be to fasten upon the Government the lowest and most suspicious motive he could imagine for the introduction of the bill. It is unfortunate that the honorable gentleman seems to be unable to get away from an atmosphere of suspicion and intrigue. An important measure like this should have been debated purely on its merits and demerits. Most honorable members have realized this; but the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, to some extent at any rate, brought the debate down to the gutter level.
The main issue which confronts us is whether it is practicable for us to continue the dual system of industrial control which we have had for so many years. If we decide that it is not practicable, it remains for us to determine whether Commonwealth or State control is preferable. It has been said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that, by introducing this measure, the Government has made a deliberate attempt to bring down wages. He also charged honorable members who support the Government with advocating that policy. He remarked, further, that if the bill were passed, the workers would be “ thrown to the wolves.” By “ wolves “ he meant the State governments. The honorable gentleman seems to be under the impression that we have two entirely different types of citizens in Australia. One type, that is the Commonwealth citizen, is everything that is good ; but the other, the State citizen, is a despicable and altogether undesirable fellow. That is a most extraordinary stand to take, for the same citizens control both the Federal and State spheres of operation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may rest assured that the welfare of the workers of this country is just as safe in the hands of the States as it is in the hands of the Commonwealth.
Honorable members seem to agree that the present system of dual control must cease, though they cannot agree as to which authority should assume control. But the people of Australia have been asked to declare their mind on this subject on no fewer than four occasions, and have indicated in no uncertain way their objection to the continuance of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Referendums under which extended powers over trade and commerce were sought for the Commonwealth were taken in 1911, 1913, 1919, and 1926. The referendum of 1911 which was submitted to the people by the Fisher Labour Government was defeated, in so far as it related to industrial powers, by 259,348 votes. The majorities against the proposals submitted in 1913 and 1919 were greatly reduced. But the decisive test came in 1926, when the present Government asked the people for extended powers. On that occasion the proposal was rejected by a majority of 372,569 votes, the largest adverse majority ever given in a constitutional referendum in Australia. On that occasion’ the people showed that, although they had the utmost confidence in the Government, they were not prepared to allow it to extend its activities in the sphere of industrial arbitration.
Of what use would it be, then, to agree to the principal proposal of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that another referendum should be taken? It is competent, however, to ask what attitude the honorable gentleman adopted when the referendum proposals of 1926 were before the people? As everybody knows, he was dumb. It is equally competent for us to inquire what attitude honorable members of the Opposition generally assumed on the same occasion? With the exception of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), and the former Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), I cannot recall the name of a single member of the Opposition who advocated, either in this House or outside of it, an affirmative vote on this issue.
– Then the honorable member is very poorly informed on the subject.
– If any of them made speeches in support of the proposal, their views received very little publicity.
– The speeches were broadcast in South Australia.
– One recalls distinctly the attitude adopted by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) when the division was about to be taken on the proposals of the Government which were the basis of the 1926 referendum. The honorable member was seen slinking out of the chamber. He was afraid to vote.
– Order! The honorable member is not in order in saying that the honorable member for Reid was “ seen slinking out of the chamber.” He must withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw it. The honorable member for Reid was seel walking out of the chamber in a peculiar manner. He watched the taking of the subsequent division through a crack in the door. He wanted to see which way the cat jumped. When he saw which way it jumped in New South Wales - I am speaking now of his own party - he, like the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), was dumb. He got through that referendum campaign, . as he did through other campaigns, without firing a shot. What help did any member of the Opposition, apart from the three whom I have mentioned, give the Government in securing an affirmative vote on the 1926 proposals? They gave none whatever.
It is pertinent to ask at this stage what happened to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) subsequent to his declaration on the issues submitted to the people in 1926? He is not now a member of this House, and one is forced to the conclusion that on account of his. courageous stand on that occasion - he took an attitude unfavorable to the powers which control the Labour movement of New South Wales - his health was found to be in such a state that it was wise for him to resign. He did so a short time afterwards.
– That is a cowardly statement. He was a sick man.
– This is a favorable opportunity for me to direct attention to the number of trade union officials at present thronging this building. It is almost impossible to move without running against them. I have been informed that these gentlemen are here with the object of putting their case to the members of this Parliament. If that is so, it is being done in an extraordinary way. It is pertinent for me to ask what attitude these persons adopted in connexion with the referendum of 1926? Did they support the Government’s proposals? They did not. One is forced to the conclusion that the members of the Opposition will always do as they are told by certain persons outside this Parliament. If the persons who are to-day sitting on the back benches in this chamber support federal arbitration, the members of the Opposition will support it ; if, on the’ other hand, they declare against it, the members of the Opposition may be relied upon to do- the same. In these circumstances, one is rather surprised to hear honorable members opposite talk so much about their freedom.
It is clear to everybody that our Commonwealth system of conciliation and arbitration is on its final trial. One may therefore be pardoned for spending a little time in outlining the history of it since its introduction in 1903. In that year, Mr. Deakin submitted the first Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Bill to Parliament, in a spirit of high enthusiasm and great hope. In the course of his speech, he said -
We now substitute a new regime for the reign of violence, by endowing the State - which in itself possesses a strength greater than that of either or both of the contestants - with power to impose within the limits of reason, justice and constitutional government, its deliberate will upon the parties to industrial disputes. It marks the beginning of a new era in industrial matters, not only because of its main object, the prohibition of strikes and lockouts, but because it brings into play a new force - the force of an impartial tribunal with the State behind it.
It is somewhat melancholy to contrast actual experience with the prophecies of Mr. Deakin. Although the first Arbitration Bill was introduced with great expectations, the High Court of Australia has declared that the’ Commonwealth does not possess the constitutional authority to clothe it with the power it was then thought possible to give it. Four different efforts have been made to obtain additional constitutional power, but they have been futile. Our efforts to apply legal provisions to industry, as we do to crime, have lamentably failed.
A perusal of the record of industrial disturbances in Australia under the existing system of industrial control is enlightening. Unfortunately, we have no official record for the period prior to 1913, but since that year no fewer than 6,601 strikes have been reported. It would be no exaggeration to say that since the introduction of industrial arbitration in 1903, Australia has experienced more than 10,000 strikes. In these circumstances, one is justified in quoting some apt remarks made by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) in 1914, when, as the Attorney-General of the day, he introduced an amendment of the Arbitration Act. The right honorable member said -
No legislation has had a more chequered history. In none is there such a melancholy contrast between, conditions which were to exist under it, and the conditions which did. The Arbitration Court has been likened to a ship which, leaking heavily, goes into port continuously for repairs, and being repaired, goes out to sea again only to find herself buffeted by fresh gales, and becoming mon unseaworthy than ever. This has gone so far that the ship is now past hope of repair. I do not wish to disguise from honorable members that this measure is not introduced in the vain hope of making the ship seaworthy, but of merely patching it up until it can get into port. I am profoundly convinced that nothing short of an amendment of the Constitution will do what is necessary.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition quoted comparative statistics regarding strikes in Canada and Australia, and it seemed to me remarkable that his information was not more recent than 1925, although statistics up to the year 1927 were available for both countries. Upon referring to the figures, I realized that it would not have suited the honorable gentleman’s case to quote the statistics’ for the years 1926 and 1927. According to the Labour Gazette, published under the authority of the Canadian Minister for Labour, the number of working days lost in the Dominion through strikes dropped from 1,743,996 in 1925 to 296,811 in 1926 and 165,288 in 1927. The comment of that journal upon those statistics was -
The time lost in working days in Canada during 1027 was less than in any year since Che record was begun in 1901, except in 1902 and 1915, while the number of employees involved was less than in any year since 1915, and less than in most of the years since 1901. The year was marked- by the absence of disputes of great magnitude either in number of employees involved or in lost time.
Yet the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) suggested that the com. parison was slightly in favour of Australia. He refrained from mentioning the larger population of Canada, and the much greater number of actual disputes that had occurred in Australia. In 1927, when the population of Canada was 9,500,000, the total number of strikes and lockouts was 79, directly involving 22,683 working people, and a loss of 165,288 working days. In Australia, in the same ° year, with a population of 6,250,000, the strikes and lockouts numbered 441, and involved directly 157,581 working people, and, indirectly, 43,176 working people, and the loss of 1,713,581 working days. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition distorted the facts by refraining from mentioning that there are nearly three times as many unionists in Australia as in Canada. He merely divided the number of unionists in each country into the number of working days lost each year. But it is interesting to note that in the United States trade unionists represent 7 per cent, of the total adult male population, in Canada 5.5 per cent., and in Australia 28.6 per cent.
– If the Minister wishes to be fair to Australia why does he not tell us something about Great Britain.
– I am examining some statistics quoted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, and am comparing two dominions of approximately the same development which he also compared. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether arbitration, as a means of settling strikes, has been a success. One is regretfully forced to - admit that it has not. According to a return supplied by the Federal Statistician, Commonwealth and State industrial tribunals in 1927 settled 51 strikes out of 441,- or 12 per cent. In 1928 the percentage settled was only 8 per cent. In the first six months of 1929 there were 141 strikes, involving 55,000 work people, and a loss of 2,700,000 working days. The number of those strikes settled by Federal or State industrial tribunals was only 3 per cent. Surely, those figures prove that arbitration has not been successful.
Speaking on the 13th November, 1915, on a proposed amendment of the Arbitration Act, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) said -
It has been said that three parties have, at various times, given their approval to this legislation; and I think it may be said, without exaggeration, that three parties have at different times condemned it. The idea underlying the statute was, in itself, redolent of the best spirit of progress. Mr. Deakin, in introducing the original bill, spoke of it in glowing terms as the excursion of law into the last sphere of human activity. He kindled in our plastic minds a most delightful vision of industrial contentment, a vision of a land from which strife would be absent, o in which all difficulties would be smoothed away, and in which all warring factions would find a haven of perfect peace in the most expeditious and pleasing way. In the honor- able gentleman’s panegyric nothing waa wanting to create an industrial Eden; but since then, however, many serpents have entered it, and it is now a wilderness. This measure has been amended, I think, five times.
To date the act has been amended twelve, times, and still it fails to achieve industrial peace. Four times have the people been asked to amend the Constitution in order to give this Parliament greater power in industrial matters, and four times have they refused.
– The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was referring to one of the fangless snakes mentioned by the Minister.
– It is interesting to recall what the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said on a former occasion -
The secret of the present trouble is that the parties to the dispute, having had their troubles settled by the court, have gone back upon the award.
Mr. Justice Powers said that the Arbitration Court was not a court, but a legislature, and that it had to beg the people to obey its awards. That is an impossible state of affairs. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) said on the 20th August, 1920-
I was a member of the House when the original Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed. There was not a member of the three parties of which the House was then composed who did not honestly and conscientiously believe that that measure would go a long way to prevent industrial strife, and all three parties supported it unanimously. But to-day, after some fifteen years of operation, the act is seen to be a disastrous failure, and, during the past few” years at least, has done more to create than to prevent strikes, the position in the end becoming so bad that, before an organization could get a claim considered, it had to strike.
It must be admitted that Commonwealth arbitration has not fulfilled its purpose. It was expected to usher in a period of industrial peace, but it has failed to do so, owing to the limitations imposed by the Constitution and the failure of the parties to accept and to abide by the awards of the court. This flouting of the court has been the greatest factor in breaking down its prestige. The existence of a dual system of arbitration has led the workers to play with a two-headed penny. If the Commonwealth Arbitration Court suited them, they went to it; if the State Arbitration Court suited them better, they transferred their allegiance to it. The Australian Workers Union, whose potentates are sitting in the galleries this afternoon, urges the retention of the Federal Arbitration Court, but refused to come under its jurisdiction in Queensland. The Worker, the official organ of that union, urged the rejection of the referendum for increased Commonwealth powers in 1926. It is amazing to find that, whilst the Labour party submitted an appeal to the people by referendum in 1912 and 1915 for increased powers, it opposed almost identical references in 1919 and 1926. The bill is an attempt to save the principle of arbitration. There cannot be two scales of justice. The shearers cannot be allowed to come under the Federal Arbitration Court in five States and reject its jurisdiction in the sixth. That attitude has been an important factor in breaking down the federal arbitration system. If the principle of Commonweath arbitration is dead, the guilt lies at the door of the extremist. When have honorable members opposite had the courage to denounce the actions of the extremists? I quote for the information of honorable members an article published in the Sydney Bulletin of the 14th August last, regarding the Deputy Leader of the Opposition -
Possibly there are too many lawyers in Parliament, but an acquaintance with the law and with legal principles is. a very useful part of the equipment of a legislator. If E. G. Theodore knew anything about the laws he has for several years been assisting to make, he would have been saved from asking two very silly yet dangerous questions and making an equally silly yet dangerous assertion at a meeting in Sydney Town Hall. It was a meeting convened for the purpose of protesting against the prosecution of seven men who are alleged to be “ controlling “ an illegal strike - a strike that has produced several acts of violence and more than one conflict with massed bodies of police; and presumably, as on previous occasions, unionists were compelled to attend under threats of victimization. Here are a few extracts from Mr. Theodore’s oration as reported by the Labor Daily - “What have the timber workers done that they should be treated as criminals and badgered and hounded by the police? They are fighting a perfectly lawful battle for the maintenance of hardly-won industrial conditions….. Is there any law compelling workers to work under conditions that they consider unjust? If there was, a man would not be a free agent. He would be a slave.”
The timber workers have come in conflict with the police, as even Mr. Theodore should be aware, not because they will not work themselves, but because they have shown a disposition to assemble in small or large numbers for the quite illegal purpose of abusing and assaulting men who, desiring to work, have dared to seek employment under a federal award. But apart from that, so far have they been from “fighting a perfectly lawful battle” that their whole “battle” is unlawful. Every Arbitration Act, State or Federal, contains provisions which seek to compel parties to an award to obey it, and there is’ no dispensation in any of those Acts allowing either party to disobey an award, either by a strike or a lockout, because it considers the provisions of the award unjust.
The timber workers and their advisers - who are not timber workers- have been looking for trouble, and they have found it. Were it not for the constitutional inability of the Federal Government under the Bruce-Page regime, to enforce the authority of its industrial courts, they would have found a lot more. Apparently what Mr. Theodore, who talks about “ fighting a battle,” is pleading for is the immunity from the law of any person who might be expected to give Mr. Theodore’s party a vote.
I shall deal now with statements that have been made by union secretaries, who undoubtedly hold very responsible positions in the Labour movement. In August, 1926, the Brisbane Standard sought the views of various union officials with respect to arbitration. It published a very interesting article headed “Has Arbitration Served Its Time “, and among other views given were these: -
Mr. H. G. Carrigan (Seamens Union). ; If a ballot is taken, and the workers decide to retain the Arbitration Court, which has outlived its usefulness, then the onus will be upon the workers.
Mr. G. Rymer (Australian Railway Union). ; The court has stood in the way of the workers attaining a greater share of the wealth their labour creates, too long. Let it die as peacefully, and with as little grace, as is left.
We have witnessed the spectacle of men who hold high and responsible positions in the Labour movement criticising the usefulness of the Arbitration Court, endeavouring to hamper it, and undoubtedly lowering its prestige.
It has been stated that many unions have worked peacefully and without strife under awards of the court. That is so. The decent citizens, who comprise the” majority of the members of those unions, would work quite as peacefully under the awards of any other fair tribunal. Only a few militant unions have been guilty of actions that have demonstrated the inability of the present system to ensure industrial peace.
I have quoted many figures regarding strikes, and have drawn comparisons between Australia and the dominion -of Canada to show that, while the workers in that country carry on their occupations peacefully, the actions of certain sections here have been greatly to the detriment of not only trade unionists, but also of the whole people of Australia. I ask honorable members to weigh these matters carefully, and to realize that they have the opportunity to do that which will improve the prosperity of Australia. Therefore, in all sincerity, I urge them to support the bill.
.- The Prime Minister this afternoon appeared to be a little more reassured than he was last week regarding the outcome of this debate. One wonders whether his week-end speeches, with his threat of an early election and his claim that he alone can govern this country and control this Parliament, have had the effect he probably intended, and he has whipped into subjection . those members of his party who were exhibiting signs of rebelliousness.
The speech that has just been delivered by the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Abbott) was rather amusing. The honorable gentleman, in his opening remarks, accused honorable members who sit on this side of having dragged the debate into the gutter; and he then proceeded to show how much more effectively he could cover it with the slime of the gutter. His utterances, both inside and outside of this chamber, prove that he is preeminent in gutter politics.
Last week the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) caused amuse- . ment by his references to the attitude of members of this party towards the principle of the referendum. It was the Labour party which educated public opinion .to a recognition of the necessity for adherence to that principle; but until recently it has been bitterly opposed by honorable members opposite and the interests which they represent. The honorable . member for Warringah would have the people believe that the trade union movement was responsible for the defeat of the referendum held in 1926. Yet some of the biggest vested interests were opposed to that referendum, and it is well known that any person who was prepared to use his motor car to convey “ No “ voters to the poll could get free of charge whatever supplies he required of motor spirit sold by the Vacuum Oil Company. Every attempt to broaden the Constitution, and to educate public opinion to think nationally and to realize that we are one people with one destiny, has been made by members of the Labour party. This is, and always has been, a part of the platform of that party. I am satisfied that the referendum would have been carried in 1926 but for the instinctive aversion of the people to granting this Government wider powers. The honorable member for Warringah endeavoured to contrast the attitude towards the referendum of the Fisher Labour Government and that of the Labour party in later years. That government had to contend against the most bitter opposition imaginable from vested interests and their representatives in this Parliament. The honorable member also flogged himself into a state of indignation over the assertion of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Theodore), that if this legislation were passed the workers of Australia would be at the mercy of sweaters and potential sweaters. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition on that occasion was asked if he referred to State Governments, and replied “Yes, where Nationalists are in control.” He was perfectly correct. The Government claim that their object in abandoning Commonwealth arbitration is to enable the States to undertake it; yet the Premier of the State which contains nearly half of the organized workers in Australia, has distinctly said that he proposes to scrap the State arbitration machinery immediately this legislation is passed. I quote from the Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday last, the following account of an interview which that journal had with Mr. Bavin: -
He sincerely hoped to see the Federal Parliament recognizing the necessity of carrying Mr.
Bruce’s industrial arbitration proposals. The matter was critical for the States. The ability of the States to deal effectively with the industrial situation, and to restore something like sanity and common sense to the system of industrial regulation -
The way in which Mr. Bavin considers that sanity and common sense should be displayed is evident from his treatment of the coal-miners. He would reduce the wages of the workers to a slave standard - depended entirely on the policy of Mr. Bruce being carried out. Up to the present no State Parliament had been able to deal effectively with the industrial situation., nor had the States any effective control over their own expenditure. Nine-tenths of the State’s industrial difficulties and the stringency of public fi nance were due entirely to the existence of the federal jurisdiction.
Later on he said : -
The Government proposes to scrap the present system. The Industrial Commission, of which Mr. Justice Piddington is chairman, is to be abolished. Committees or councils of employers and employees will be set up to decide independently and directly the conditions of industry.
The men will ‘ have to accept what the employers offer, or be unemployed. Not one public servant in New South “Wales or in any other State will be secure when this legislation has been passed. Mr. Bavin has hinted as much. He has said that the State governments have no control over their own instrumentalities. Only the other day, under an award of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the school teachers in New South Wales were granted increases amounting to £70,000. They will lose not only those increases but also a great deal more, because the government will retrench in the Education department just as it is doing throughout the railways service. The sufferers will be not the high salaried officials, but every public servant whom it will be possible to do without, and others who are receiving a comparatively low salary.
Honorable members opposite have attempted to sidetrack the issue by stating that they are not opposed to arbitration, but that they wish to abolish overlapping and to bring about something approaching uniformity.
– Hear, hear!
– I hope that the honorable member for Moreton (Mr.
– It has a mandate from the people.
– When was it given ?
– At the last election.
– The Government was returned to support the principle of arbitration and to establish it upon a firmer and sounder basis. If this Ministry had in its make-up a vestige of self-respect or political honour it would ask the Governor-General to grant a dissolution and allow a general election to take place on this issue. The bill aims at the infringement of the rights of hundreds of thousands of workers. The organized bodies of workers have spent huge sums in establishing their position in industry, but now their efforts are to be frustrated. The Government is acting treacherously by going behind the backs of the electors. It has no justification for its action. The right thing for it to do is to take its political life in its hands, to appeal to the electors, and to abide by the result. Much has been said about the overlapping of Federal and State awards, but whatever overlapping there may have been in the past there is little of it to-day. It was rife when the arbitration system was first instituted ; but every award made since has tended to lessen the difficulty. The gradual linking up of the various industrial organizations throughout the States has reduced to a great extent the overlapping of awards. This iniquitous proposal, if given effect, will undoubtedly be a retrograde step. Strong as the Government thinks itself to be, and arrogant as it has always been, it- yet condescends to give reasons for its action. The Prime Minister’s speech was full of gloom and pessimism and he conveyed to me the impression of a man suffering from a bad liver. His liver seemed to be operating instead of his brain. At any rate his little grey cells were not operating properly. That is shown by his proposal to balance the budget as a result of the passage of this measure. The AttorneyGeneral was asked how much this legislation would save the country, and I think he said about £10,000. The Prime Minister, with £10,000 at his disposal, believes that he can ‘wipe off a deficit of nearly £5,000,000. If he intends to balance the budget by the abolition of the Federal Arbitration Court, the wherewithal must be taken out of the sweating bodies of the workers of this country. The Prime Minister enunciated his policy at the last Premiers Conference. He told the State Premiers- that there was something wrong somewhere; that is as far as he got at that stage. Later, he proposed to right something that was wrong, by making the fullest inroads into the workers’ economic standard. His speech, boiled down, was that wages must be reduced so that industry should pay a little more to this extravagant Government, which came into power on two occasions on industrial issues, claiming that it would uphold the Arbitration Law to the bitter end. Its volte face is as startling as a premature explosion, with .this difference, that while it is oftentimes difficult to trace the reason for a premature explosion, the reason for the action of this Government is crystal clear. Not long ago the Government took action to prosecute the workers and their organizations, and enforce rigidly penalties under the Arbitration Law. In fact, frame-ups were actually instituted, and the workers suffered unfairly in consequence. To-day we have the spectacle of open rebellion against this law. It has been broken by an employer, but nothing has been done to impose a penalty upon him. I am satisfied that in taking this course the Government is acting in the interests of the big employers.
The anti-Labour forces of this country have never wanted arbitration. No matter how much they may appear to accept the principle, and to tolerate the law, they have always been restive under it. Quotations have been made in this House of extracts from speeches of industrialists who at one time spoke, I admit, against the system, but not the principle, of arbitration. Their action in appearing before the court, submitting to its decisions, and working, as the Attorney-General has admitted, peacefully under federal awards, shows clearly that they favour arbitration. On the other hand, the employers have always been restive under the system. The boss loves the open shop and the open “go.” He knows that under the capitalist system of production there is always unemployment. It becomes less acute in prosperous times, and is aggravated in adverse times, such as we are experiencing to-day. He wants to be able to say to his employees, “ Take the job or leave it,” knowing full well that if the employee leaves his service there will be plenty of others to fill his place. So this Government, wholly class-conscious, set out at the behest of vested interests to destroy arbitration. One can trace, in logical sequence, every move by which it hoped to accomplish this. It commenced by declaring that it was out to police awards and to enforce the decisions of the court. The High Court ruled that that could not be done unless the judges making the awards were granted life tenure. The Government immediately appointed judges with life tenure. Since then, nearly every award has been detrimental to the worker, and has fomented industrial trouble, The Beeby ‘ award for the waterside workers and the
Lukin award for the timber workers led to industrial strife and chaos. The Government then introduced coercive legislation, hoping by swinging the big stick to induce the industrialists to have nothing to do with arbitration. It was a political frame-up. The arbitration system has been attacked by the unionists only because they wanted to amend and improve it.
I favour this legislation to the extent that it will repeal the present arbitration system, but I am against it because no better system is to be substituted. Even before this Government meddled with arbitration, there were many things in it that caused irritation and discontent. The system has always been one-sided and in favour of the employers, and I have looked forward to the time when Labour would take office and make it more equitable and workable. The employers are allowed under every system of arbitration in operation to raise prices immediately an award is given, because they say the award has added to the cost of production. The fact is, of course, that the award was given on the basis of prices and costs ruling at a particular time, the wage fixed being considered a proper one in view of those prices and costs. Actually, the awards do not operate as intended by the court, because immediately they are made prices increase. The profiteer gets to work at once. There is never an inquiry as. to whether an industry can pay the increased wages demanded without putting up prices. Arbitration has been consistently used by vested interests as a profiteering weapon. Accordingly, there is growing up a school of thought opposed to arbitration as it is, and I candidly admit that I belong to it. For the system to operate justly either in the State or Federal sphere, there should be some provision for preserving the status quo regarding prices at the time an award is given. Arbitration has not helped the employees, but has created restiveness among the workers by leaving the control of economic conditions still in the hands of the employers. The employees see that, though they handle a little more money, their conditions have not improved. They see profits piling up, and capitalized reserves increasing until eventually they become watered stock. They see vested interests able to spread further and further, and the capitalistic system becoming stronger and stronger.
The Prime Minister and other honorable members on that side have spoken about the high cost of arbitration. Has it ever struck them that it is not the increases of wages granted by the court that have piled up costs, but the repeated increases in prices brought about by the avariciousness of vested interests ? Wages rise only when prices rise; the rake-off by the capitalists takes place first, as was demonstrated during the war. As a result, the cost of living rises and the worker must receive an increase in his wages in order to meet that increased cost. As soon as he gets that increase, however, living conditions are made still worse by a further increase in prices. Still another award becomes necessary. The Prime Minister should not lay the blame for high costs upon arbitration, but upon the greed of the vested interests which he and those associated with him represent.
The Prime Minister spoke about the need for reducing the cost of production, and said that one way of doing this was to produce still more. We have frequently heard in this chamber references to the immutable economic law of supply and demand. As a matter of fact, that law is not immutable, as was demonstrated recently when supplies of potatoes were held back from the market, and the law ceased to function within five minutes. There is,- however, one immutable economic law, and that is the law of increasing and diminishing return. When the Prime Minister speaks pf the need for more production he does not realize that the saturation point has been reached, that the limit of world production has been reached. Wool has fallen in price, not because people do not want to buy wool or because of the competition of artificial silk, but because the world’s purse has been restricted, and the old purchasing power is not there. Yet the Prime Minister says “produce more, and our economic problems will be solved.” If that is all that is necessary, why cannot industry in Australia absorb the tens of thousands of men who are out of work to-day? They are ready to work - why not set them to producing more? The Prime Minister says that we must produce more, and export the surplus. He forgets that the present economic depression does not apply only to Australia, but is being felt all over the world. He wants the workers of Australia to toil harder and to produce more, so that we may send the surplus to Britain or elsewhere. In Britain the workers are being told to produce more, so that the surplus may be sent to Australia. The same sort of economic “ tripe “ is being talked in every country in Europe. Each country must produce more, and export the surplus somewhere else.* As I understand that the Prime Minister has a statement to make to the House, I ask leave to continue my speech when this debate is resumed.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
– (By leave). - For some months the Governments of the Empire have had under consideration and discussion the question of their acceptance of the optional clause of article 36 of the statute of the Court of International Justice. Certain countries have accepted this optional clause, but others have not. Eighteen countries have signed and ratified their acceptance, while nine have signed, but have not yet ratified. Practically all these countries have signed with reservations in regard to particular points. The result of the discussions between the Governments of the Empire, which have had to be conducted by cabled communications, is that all these governments are now of opinion that the time has arrived when they should accept the optional clause. Accordingly the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, at the meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations yesterday, after consultation with the other Governments of the Empire made the following statement. Speaking for His Majesty’s Government of Great Britain, he said -
My Government has decided to sign the optional clause, and the form of our declaration is now being prepared. It will be completed and signed during the present Assembly. I have consulted His Majesty’s Governments of the other members of the British Commonwealth, who are also members of the League of Nations, and I find that each of them has instructed its representatives at the Assembly to sign the clause during the Assembly. They will make their own statements on the subject.
During the present meetings of the Assembly, each of His Majesty’s Governments will affix its signature to the optional clause through its representatives at the Assembly, and this signing will be subject to the necessary reservations. What the reservations will be is now the subject of discussion between the representatives in Geneva, of the United Kingdom and the Dominions who are in constant touch with their respective governments. As the discussions are still proceeding, it is not desirable that we should have at this stage any debate on the subject in this Parliament. While the signature of Australia’s representative will be affixed with the authority of the Executive, with such reservations as may be determined upon, the formal act of ratification which constitutes the real adherence to the statute will not be taken by this Government until Parliament has had an opportunity of discussing the matter. .Of those countries which have already accepted the clause and have affixed their signatures, the only great power is France, but even she has not yet ratified.
– What is the reservation in that instance?
– The reservations vary.
– Was it not one of the reservations made by France that Great Britain should also sign?
– No; but it has been stated that France has delayed ratification until Great Britain accepted the clause.
– Is the ratification that is required a ratification by Parliament?
– The matter is at the discretion of each Government concerned, and what is done may vary according to special- circumstances. It is not imperative that the matter should be submitted to this Parliament for ratification; but, it is not proposed formally to ratify our acceptance of the clause until Parliament has had an opportunity of considering the matter. The ordinary and normal procedure is signature with subsequent ratification. The formal act of signing will occur during the present meetings of the Assembly, and will, subject to such reservations as may be considered necessary, affirm the adherence of the British Empire to the optional clause. Subsequent ratification will be the final act.
Sitting suspended from 6.17 to8 p.m.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. Stung by an answer given to a question I asked this afternoon regarding the street lighting of Canberra, I applied to the Minister for Home Affairs an expression which I very much regret.
– The Minister was very rude.
– The rudeness was on my part. The Minister behaved as chivalrously as any honorable member of the House could be expected to behave in the circumstances. Upon reading the answer, I realized that the Minister’s answer was merely a statement which had been supplied to him. If the Federal Capital Commissioners framed that answer, it was in keeping with their disgraceful methods.
– Order ! The honorable member may not, under cover of a personal explanation, make an attack upon other persons.
- Sir, I shall be pleased to bring to your notice a passage in May which makes it clear that a member may attack any person who attacks him.
– The honorable member may do so at the proper time, but he may not take improper advantage of the opportunity afforded him by the House to make a personal explanation.
Debate resumed from page 548.
.- The unfair application of the system of arbitration has caused many persons engaged in the industrial movement to express their dissatisfaction with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. If the Government would do the decent thing in regard to arbitration, it could not only achieve industrial peace, but could also confer lasting benefits on the worker, the producer and the consumer. Men cannot help resenting a system which compels them to explain to the court the smallest detail of their expenditure, and their womenfolk to state, amid the laughter and cheap jibes of persons in the courthouse, the material used in their most intimate garments, and the costs of such material. Hundreds of times has that occurred; but the court does” not strip bare the financial structure of private enterprise, and declare that, in the interests of the community, the secrets of business shall be disclosed in order to satisfy the judge whether the profits are sufficient to enable the workers to enjoy a fair wage and decent conditions without imposing additional burdens on the community. If the -court cannot bring to the light of day the secrets of watered stock and over capitalization, and the attempt to make the workers earn interest on money that has never been invested, nothing but opposition can be expected from them. The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) that the magnates of industry would disclose to the employees in secret conclave all the facts of their business was too childish and naive to be accepted from one so steeped in guile. Imagine the man who exploits the worker by making him work long hours for low wages, and compels the consumer to pay high prices, saying to his employees, “Yes, comrades, here are the statements of our profits; from them you will see that the business is able to pay you better wages !” The worker sees, in contrast to his own economic insecurity, the piled-up reserves of undistributed profits and the dividends paid on watered stock. Inequalities of this kind will continue to breed discontent amongst organized and intelligent men and women. If it is to have the confidence of the workers and to achieve real good for the community, the Arbitration Court must have the right to investigate the finances of industry and declare that the profits are sufficient to enable the payment of higher wages without, by increasing the prices to the consumer, restricting the purchasing power of the earner. It is a brutal fact that every other feature of industry is considered before the human equation. If an invention is submitted to an industrial magnate his first consideration is not how much benefit it will confer upon the community by enabling him to produce and sell his goods more cheaply, but how many men it will enable him to throw upon the scrap-heap. Because the human element has never received as much consideration as even the machinery in the factory the Labour movement will continue to foment and bring into existence organizations to fight for the elimination of an unjust system.
The Prime Minister said that industry must return to piece-work with proper safeguards. Thereby he showed woeful ignorance of the conditions and practices of the capitalistic system. The honorable gentleman has been engaged merely in selling and not in production, and he has the simplicity to tell us that piecework will produce peace in industry! The miners are the only workers employed in a wholesale fashion on the contract system, and when they asked this Government to interfere to check the rapacity of the exploiters who are trying to force them back to the conditions of 1914, the only answer they received was that they were always on strike.
– Are not the shearers paid at piece-work rates?
– Yes, and the president of the Graziers Association has declared that until the federal arbitration system came into existence the pastoral industry had little peace.
– The Queensland shearers seem to be getting on all right without the aid of the Federal Arbitration Court.
– Yes, and the only big trouble caused by the shearers working under awards of the Commonwealth court was when the men- in New South
Wales struck to get the same conditions as their comrades in Queensland had obtained from the State court. The effect of piece-work is a speeding up, not by the bosses, but by the men. The object of the bosses is to bring into operation a system which will compel the men to speed up in order to earn more money, and so bring back the evils which characterized the contract system in earlier years. I am prepared to fight to the bitter end alongside the workers against a general reintroduction of that system. The Labour movement, unlike the parties represented by honorable members opposite, cannot consider even arbitration solely as a means of achieving peace in industry. Peace, though desirable, is not the one aim of the Labour movement, which had its genesis in organized opposition to the economic and social- injustices of the present industrial system. The .Australian Labour Party and the trade unions cannot accept arbitration merely as a means of maintaining peace in industry under a capitalistic system which enables the employer to earn, greater dividends from his watered stock. Honorable members opposite accept the present economic system as the perfection of achievement in human progress; ignoring the contradictions inherent in that system they endeavour to reconcile the irreconcilable. The Labour party, on the other hand, admits frankly that there can be no solution of these anomalies under capitalism, and we do our best in our day and generation to organize for evolutionary progress towards the abolition of that system. That is the only justification for Labour being in politics. That is the clear line of demarcation between the Labour movement and all others. In the advance towards the goal divergent views are bound to be taken, even in our own ranks.
The acceptance of Commonwealth arbitration by the industrial organizations stands out crystal clear. Many of them are registered in the court and, generally speaking, are observing its awards. Decisions of the court have been disobeyed and will be disobeyed again by bosses and employees. But because crimes continue we do not withdraw the police from the footpath. After a long period of peace between the nations we do not abolish armies and navies. Honorable members opposite speak of the need for reducing the cost of production. Similar cant and humbug was addressed to the workers of Europe. Five years ago the British miners were told that the coal-mining industry must recover its lost trade. Germany was producing coal at a certain price, and Java, utilizing colored labour at a wage of Id. per day, was producing even more cheaply. And so the British miner was told that if he would accept a lower rate of pay he would get more work and thus his wages would be increased. To their sorrow the miners accepted the assurance and immediately the wages of the German miners were reduced even lower. The miners in Germany were told that they had to take a little less, because those in Great Britain were approaching their level. When that was brought about, the British miners were reduced’ still further. That will continue to be the policy until the workers are reduced to the “bread and fat “ standard. It is inevitable under the operation of uncontrolled world competition. Here the Government desires to scrap the arbitration system, so that there may be an “ open go,” and the employers may be able to say, “ These are my terms ; take them or leave them.”
The most sinister feature of the bill is that it will make possible the exercise of political control. Clause 12 stipulates that the initiative in the summoning of a Maritime Industries Committee can be taken only by the Minister. In another place, the bill lays it down that if a committee makes an award, and it runs the gauntlet of the Court of Review, it can remain in existence for three years, and that then the Minister can take the despotic action of prolonging it for a further three years. Under the arbitration, system, as it at present exists, the worker has the right to approach the court of his own volition, and the court may decide whether or not it shall hear him. How can this Government, which has shown its partisanship in the withdrawal of the prosecution against John Brown, or the Nationalist Government in New South Wales, which hauled the Sydney Labour Daily before the Court for contempt, and allowed the Sydney Morning Herald to go free, be trusted to initiate action to prevent an industrial dispute? This is an emulation of the most corrupt features of American politics, and cannot be tolerated. No organization will be able to enlist the services of a Conciliation Commissioner, except with the consent of the Minister. If there should be industrial trouble, the Ministry will say, “ Go back to work, or you will get nothing”; but should the employers desire the intervention of a Conciliation Commissioner, the reply will be, “Yes, sir; thank you, sir.” That is the attitude which this Government has adopted in the past; and it will not act differently in the future. I would not trust a Nationalist Minister to administer this or any other law under which a line of demarcation could be drawn between workers and employers.
Another provision is that sittings must be held in secret. Everything concerning the employers is kept secret in these days. But if some poor devil has to face a law court, in which some unsavoury feature of his private life may be dragged out for the press to broadcast, no action is taken to prevent it. Any proceedings that may disclose to the public the bushranging methods of the mine-owner and his like must be held behind closed doors. Both the Ministry and the courts practise the doctrine that trade secrets are so sacred that the public must not be made aware of them. If the public knew to what extent robbery is being practised in trade circles, many businesses would cease to exist, and a better day would dawn for society generally. Is it to be wondered at, that organized labour is restive, when governments that have grown arrogant because of the power they have wielded for so long, deliberately adopt a partisan attitude? This Government should remember that it is dealing, not with a gang of coolies, but with intelligent men, who will not submit to these things.
The sole arbiter in any dispute will be one of the present Arbitration Court judges, under whose awards and findings all the industrial trouble that exists today has occurred.
Reference has been made to the production of books and documents, The bill provides that they may be produced only if the judge decides that no trade secrets shall he disclosed, and that the financial position of the person concerned shall not be interfered with in any way. Is it seriously contended that a judge will do otherwise? No books or documents will ever be produced, because it will be argued that the business stability or the standing of the person concerned is likely to be detrimentally affected.
The bill is designed for one purpose. Two or three years ago the Government set out to police their awards. They were told in a High Court judgment that they could not do so unless the judges were appointed for life. They took action, and now have on their hands four such judges with whom they do not know what to do. This measure is an elaborate excuse for retaining the services of four judges to do work that is not sufficient to keep one fully occupied. The interests behind the Government are clamouring for longer working days and less pay for the worker. If I were a gambler, which I am not, I should be prepared to wager a considerable sum that Judge Piddington will not be retained long in New South Wales.
This attempt to abolish the federal arbitration system is a step more retrograde than anyone can realize at the present time. It will mark fittingly the end of the Government’s re-actionary career. The doleful picture of the condition of society which has been drawn by the Prime Minister constitutes a greater condemnation of the ineptitude of his Government than it is possible for me to utter. It is a sorry admission for a statesman who, during the week end, said “ The country cannot do without me. If you displace me you cannot put any one in my place “. If that is so, God help Australia.
.- In common, I think, with every honorable member of this House, I feel the supreme importance of the question we have now to consider.. This is one of the most important measures that ‘ has occupied the attention of this House for very many years. I was delighted’ to hear the Prime Minister, in his second-reading speech, appeal to honorable members on both sides to approach the consideration of the matter in a non-party spirit, and to be animated by one desire, the good of the nation. I accept that invitation. But the satisfaction which I derived from it has been somewhat impaired by the utterance of a member of the Cabinet in Canberra on Monday evening. From my place in this House, I resent with all the vehemence of which I am capable, what I regard as the colossal political impertinence of the Minister for Home Affairs (Mr. Abbott) in suggesting that any member of the Government party who, in the exercise of his independent judgment, arrives at a conclusion which is at variance from that of the Government, is either a traitor or a rebel. Every honorable member of this House has laid upon him in a matter of this kind the duty to exercise his independent judgment, and to voice the conclusion at which he arrives, whether it be in consonance with, or opposed to, the decision of the Government. That is what I intend to do.
It appears to me that the question whether the Conciliation and Arbitration Act should be scrapped, and the Government should vacate the field of conciliation and arbitration, is capable of being very simply stated. I shall now deal with the contention of the Prime Minister that the people had given the Government a mandate to scrap federal industrial legislation. I join issue with him on that point. At the outset, I desire to say - and I think honorable members will appreciate my position - that it is no pleasure for me to find myself at variance with my leader and the majority of the members of my party, but I am driven to the position which I take up by what I regard as the logic of the situation. If the Government ha3 no mandate, we have no right to make the drastic change proposed under the bill. Its proposals may be meritorious, but, involving as they do a drastic change, we have no right to bring it about without consulting the people to ascertain their views on such an important departure.
How does the Government arrive at the conclusion that it has a mandate for these far-reaching proposals? Let us examine critically, and step by step, the attitude of the Government to the Conciliation and Arbitration Act since 1927. We must remember that our industrial legislation has evolved by degrees. The original bill was introduced in 1904, and it has since been amended from time to time. We know that no human legislation is perfect. It must have its weaknesses and shortcomings. No one is suggesting that the act that we are now asked to scrap is in any sense perfect. We admit that there are weaknesses in it, and that a change is advisable and necessary, but that is not the question now. Let me deal first with the attitude of the Government to this act in 1927. In that year the Attorney-General brought down a series of amendments to the act, and in introducing them he delivered one of the ablest speeches that he has made in this House. I thought so at the time, and I still think so. The Attorney-General claimed that the amendments would remove certain of the weaknesses which experience had shown to exist in the act. The action of the Government, in deliberately setting out to amend the act, must have involved a . most careful and exhaustive consideration of the act itself, and in framing amendments the Attorney-General had in mind the inherent weaknesses of the act. These amendments were designed to correct those weaknesses.
– So far as the Constitution permitted.
– I thank the honorable member for his interjection. These amendments were designed to correct weaknesses so far as the Constitution would permit; but the Attorney-General, in bringing down the amending legislation, discussed, first of all, the subject of the general regulation of industry. He reminded the House that it was too late in the day to say that there should be no regulation of industry. He said, “We know that there are some people who would end the Arbitration Court and wipe out industrial legislation altogether, but that cannot be done; by wiping out the Arbitration Court we shall solve no problem, and in the removal we would create other problems without providing means for solving them.” The AttorneyGeneral explained the various amendments, and showed how they would meet particular weaknesses, such as overlapping, the inability of the rank and file of the unionists to control their own affairs, inconsistencies in awards and, above all, the lack of power to enforce obedience to awards. The Attorney-General, having discussed these various amendments, said, “ To those who claim that the Arbitration Act should be scrapped, this amending act is the Government’s answer.” He submitted to the House the act as amended as an efficient instrument for securing industrial peace. That was the attitude of- the Government in December, 1927. At that time, there was no suggestion on its part that an impossible state of things existed, and that it was impossible to administer the act. The bill was deliberately introduced on the eve of a recess, so that the suggested amendments might be carefully considered by all those interested in them. For months they were so considered, and then, after a considerable period had elapsed, the Government returned to this House with the bill embodying the proposed amendments. After a thorough discussion during which the Attorney-General, who was in charge of the bill, gave never a hint that he thought that the measure was futile, or that the situation was impossible, so far as conciliation and arbitration were concerned, the House accepted the bill at the AttorneyGeneral’s valuation as an efficient instrument for securing industrial peace. That happened during last year.
– Practically twelve months ago.
– That is so. The Government, in 1926, had appealed to the people for full power to deal with industrial matters. This the people refused. The Government then accepted the inevitable, and set about the task of regulating industry; as the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) has interjected, so far as the limited powers possessed under the Constitution would allow. Then we come to the eve of the election, and the Government is faced with the task of framing a policy. I ask honorable members whether there was in the policy speech a request for a mandate from the people to scrap federal arbitration? Could any one find in it a suggestion of the intention of the Government, in any contingency, to wipe out the Arbitration Act and to cease to exercise its federal powers for the settling of industrial disputes? I have gone carefully through the speech again to refresh my memory. “What the Prime Minister did in that speech was to point out to the people that for the past three years the Government had stood loyally for the observance of arbitration awards, had been true to that principle, and had introduced amendments into the act which would enable it to enforce obedience to awards. The Prime Minister certainly did say that if it were found that organized labour or capital was defying the court, it might then have to take other means, but that statement is not capable of the construction that it was an intimation to the electors that in a certain event the Government would scrap the Arbitration Act. That meaning might be tortured into the Prime Minister’s speech, but that meaning would not otherwise attach to them. I have said repeatedly on the public platform in my constituency, after mentioning the various occasions on which i had deemed it my duty to disagree with the Government, and to vote against it, that I would stand absolutely behind the Government in taking any step that it considered necessary to ensure strict obedience to the law and strict observance of federal awards. There was not a hint or suggestion that the workers were to be denied the protection of the Arbitration Court, The next thing that occurred was the meeting of Parliament after the election, and the task of the Government was to put into the hands of the Governor-General a speech the object of which was to convey to the House the details of the measures which the Government intended to bring before Parliament and of its future activities in various directions. On the 6th February last, the Government intimated, through the Governor-General, that it was its intention to call the Premiers of the various States together with a view to taking counsel on matters affecting their common interests. I have carefully read the list of subjects regarding which . the Government had expressed its intention of conferring with the State Premiers, and that of Federal or State
Mr. Maxwell. y control of industry is conspicuous by its absence. There is not a suggestion in the Governor-General’s speech that at the meeting of the Premiers of various States to discuss matters of common interest, the Commonwealth Government had any intention of bringing forward the matter upon which we are now engaged. The Prime Minister’s policy speech had been delivered on the 8th October previously. The timber workers’ strike had been in full progress up to March, and during two or three months of the time when Parliament was sitting. Not only was the Timber Workers Union acting in defiance of an award of the court, but that defiance had been endorsed by the industrial and political leaders of Labour throughout Australia. That was the position facing the Government. In spite of that, and although I met my leaders and the members of my party at meetings at which we discussed matters of interest to the party and to the country, there was no suggestion that it was in the minds of the Government to make this drastic change. There was not even a hint of it. We went into recess with a situation facing the Government almost exactly similar to that existing at the present day.
The next point I wish to make is this: On the very day that the Prime Minister announced to the Premiers’ Conference his intention to evacuate the field of federal control of industry, every member of my party received an urgent telegram from the Prime Minister apprising him of the fact. So far as I was concerned it came like a bolt from the blue. There had been no previous intimation whatever. I had been elected by the electors of Fawkner on the tacit understanding that I was behind the Government in its administration of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and with no suggestion that it was nearing its end. Therefore, to say that the Government received a mandate for this action is not true, and I cannot admit it. So far as I am concerned - seeing that there is no urgency in the matter - even if the purpose of the Government were per se meritorious, the mere fact that this is stealing a march, as it were, upon the electors of the Commonwealth, would prevent me from being a party to it, and therefore I cannot support it.
So much for the mandate. I now come, in the natural sequence of events, to the Prime Minister’s defence of his proposal. I listened most carefully to his second reading speech, expecting that the strongest possible case would have been made out by the Prime Minister who is primarily responsible for the Government’s policy. I expected to hear a strong defence, and I confess that I was grievously disappointed. My attitude on this matter has been interpreted as one of weakness. When I was approached by trade unionists in my constituency I made it clear that I took a serious view of the Government’s proposal. I stated, however, that I had not heard the full strength of the Government’s case, and I reserved to myself the right of modifying or changing -my opinion if I saw reason to do so after hearing the Government’s explanation. Before doing so, however, I would call them together again, and discuss the matter with them. Because I adopted this attitude I was accused of weakness. It was said, “Maxwell has left himself a way out.” I deny the charge of weakness, and state that I adopted the only possible course to avoid being placed in an untenable position. I listened with much interest to the Prime Minister’s speech and, when he had finished, I not only felt that he had failed to justify the Government’s proposal, but was confirmed in the attitude of antagonism that I had previously seen fit to adopt. Since the Prime Minister delivered his speech, I have carefully read it in Hansard. I have not only read it, but I have analyzed it as critically as I could. I. have studied the different points, and the more it is examined,- the more unconvincing it appears. In the beginning the Prime Minister deals with the existing financial and economic stress, and he points out that it is necessary, in order to meet the situation, which cannot be cured as in the past by a recurrence of good seasons, that some drastic action should be taken. He says that experience has shown that industrial legislation has imposed on industry burdens too grievous to be borne; that these must be relieved, and that the only way to do this is by abolishing what he calls the dual control of industry. These are the Prime Minister’s words as nearly as I can recall them : “ One of the main considerations which induced the Government to introduce the present bill was the necessity for having in Australia one authority with full power to deal with industrial matters. Unless we can set up in Australia such a paramount, and final authority the impossibility will continue of bringing the parties to industry into closer touch, which is essential to the solution of our industrial problems.” The Prime Minister insists on the necessity of one paramount final authority in industrial matters in the Commonwealth. Are we going to achieve this end by the passage of this bill which involves the vacation of the field of industrial control by the Commonwealth, and the leaving of it wholly to the States ? That seems to me to be an extraordinary contention. Instead of one paramount and final authority, we shall now have six, for every State in the Commonwealth is a sovereign State. Each State will be a supreme authority in industrial matters. A significant fact to my mind, and one that must be kept “ clearly in view when discussing this subject, is that industry in this country is becoming more and more federal in character every day. Under the law as it exists, and under the Constitution as it has been interpreted by the High Court, industry, as it has a perfect right to do, has set about federating itself, so that it may enjoy the privilege of coming within the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court. What will be the position of affairs if tomorrow we wipe out the federal court, and cast the responsibility for the regulation of industry back upon the States? A federal industry is one which has a federal executive, and is one throughout the Commonwealth. Instead of being subject to one paramount and final authority, such an industry will be subject to six such authorities - the very thing which the Prime Minister is anxious to avoid.
Mr.Prowse. - It is subject to seven now.
– If it is subject to seven authorities now, what better off will it be when we reduce the number to six? Is the bill going to effect such a radical change as the Prime Minister seems to expect? In considering this subject, we must keep in mind the expressed object of the Government. The Government’s object is to achieve industrial peace, and it desired to do this by placing the control of industry in the hands of one paramount and final authority. The Prime Minister has said, “I believe that the Federal Government should have full power of industrial control.” That is what he believes, and he would be consistent if he had added, “ and I shall never rest until I persuade the people to hand over the power that I feel we ought to possess, and without which it is impossible for us to control industry as it ought to be controlled.” That, however, is not the course which he lias chosen to follow. Although he believes that there should be one paramount authority he has now decided that the Government shall vacate the field of federal control. By this means he hopes to overcome the problems arising out of dual control.
– Hear, hear.
– I am not quite sure who interjected, “ Hear, hear,” and for the sake of my opinion of his intelligence, it is perhaps just as well. I do not know who it was, and I do not want to know, because I can now answer the interjection in an absolutely impersonal way. This measure will not remove divided control. Take bootmaking, or the woollen and basil workers’ industry, which operates in six States. Such an industry is subject to dual control at present. In interstate disputes the Federal Arbitration Court has jurisdiction, and in intrastate disputes the State court has jurisdiction. If this measure were agreed to, we should remove the federal control, but that would not secure unified control.
– Yes it would, in every place where the industry is carried on.
– With all due respect to the Attorney-General, I do not think that that is a fair statement of the position. Our industries are federated. Complete control by six authorities in the six different States would lead to a most undesirable state of affairs. Instead of dual control we should have sextuple control. There can be no escape from that position.
In discussing the general subject of the control of industry, the Attorney-General pointed out that it was essential that there should be some supervising authority. He said that, even with the best of employers, there would be many different conditions applying to any one industry unless there was some coordinating authority. This would undoubtedly lead to discontent among the employees. Does it not strike the Attorney-General that if this would be so in the case of individual employers, it must be still more so if six different tribunals in different parts of the Commonwealth prescribe wages and conditions in a given industry ? It appears to me that if the principle underlying this measure became operative there could be no possibility of preventing the discontent which the Attorney-General says he desires to prevent. With six tribunals operating there must inevitably be a variety of conditions in an industry, and the result would be that as soon as the employees of an industry in one State obtained an advantage, the employees in the other States would begin an agitation for similar conditions. So much for the position taken up by the AttorneyGeneral on that branch of the subject.
I return now to the Prime Minister’s statement of the case. He outlined what he conceived to be the situation that faced the country. But the situation now is identical with that which prevailed when he delivered “ his policy speech, prepared the speech of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, and allowed this House to go into recess last March. To-day the Prime Minister asks, “What are the alternatives? How can the Government possibly meet the situation?” He first mentioned the referendum as a possible way out, but dismissed it in what seemed to me to be a very airy manner. His argument may bc stated in this way : “ We have asked the people of the Commonwealth on several occasions to grant us greater powers, and they have refused to do so. Of what use would it be for us to appeal to them again? To do so would cost probably £100,000 and waste a great deal of time. The matter is too urgent for that. It is improbable that the people would give us the power that they have so often refused. If we went back to the people again it would be tantamount to saying to them ‘ We are faced with a grave situation; we cannot meet it and we throw the responsibility of doing so on you.’ “. To ref use to make another application to the people for increased powers is, I suggest, tantamount to “ throwing up the sponge.” The Government should go to the people and say, “ We are faced with a grave industrial situation. We have a scheme for solving the difficulty, but we have not sufficient constitutional power to put it into operation. We urge you to make us a grant of additional power”. That seems to me to be the laudable course to pursue. The mere fact that power has been refused previously is no reason for declining to ask for it again. The Prime Minister would not apply that reasoning to, let us say, the situation of the Opposition. To my knowledge the Opposition has, on five or six occasions, tried to persuade the people that all wisdom resides in it, and it should be trusted with the reins of government. The people of the Commonwealth have consistently refused to be persuaded that that is so. Would the Prime Minister, therefore, say to the Opposition “ Of what use is it for you fellows to ask the people to return you to power? They have refused to do so on five or six occasions. You should throw up the sponge.” Of course the Opposition could not be expected to accept that kind of reasoning. My honorable friends opposite labour under the extraordinary hallucination that they are the people who should govern the Commonwealth. They honestly believe this to be so, and consequently they are not likely to accept one or two rebuffs. They will continue to ask the people to trust them. They will do it until seventy times seven if necessary. Seeing that the Prime Minister is just as firm in his belief that the power to control industry should reside in one central authority, as the Opposition in its belief that it should be entrusted with the reins, of government, he should not quietly accept the previous refusals of the people to grant the power that ho feels to be so necessary.
The right honorable member has said that in the present financial position of the country, the Government would not be justified in incurring an expense of upwards of £100,000 on the referendum. Is that so? I am under the impression that the Prime Minister, in his recent utterances, has suggested that if I and other honorable members do not vote for this bill, there will be a dissolution of Parliament. What would be the cost of a referendum compared with the cost of a dissolution of Parliament? It would be a mere flea bite. It appears to me that from every point of view the Prime Minister has failed to substantiate his argument that another referendum is not justified.
One alternative .to the taking of a referendum, the Prime Minister said, was the voluntary handing over by the States of the powers required by the Commonwealth. We were informed that the States had been asked to surrender these powers, but had refused to do so. I wonder whether they were given reasonable notice of the request, or whether the’ suggestion was made without any warning whatever. Unless the State Premiers had due notice of this proposition, they were placed in an unfair position. Such a grave matter could not be settled on the spur of the moment.
The third alternative suggested by the Prime Minister was the present proposals. But he mentioned a fourth alternative. He said he would not spend much time upon it, because it was unthinkable. What was it? It was the continuance of the present state of affairs. Why was that unthinkable? Let us review the situation. We were faced with the existing conditions before the last election, and we were still faced with them when the Prime Minister delivered his policy speech, and also when the speech of his Excellency the Governor-General was prepared. The situation was also very carefully considered prior to the recess which has just concluded. It was considered to be quite thinkable then. There was not a suggestion of changing it. What, then, has happened in two or three short months to make it unthinkable that it should continue? The Prime Minister has said that the situation is such that urgent measures are demanded, and that we cannot wait for eighteen months or two years, which would need to elapse lief ore a referendum could he determined simultaneously with an election. I can find no argument to support that proposition.
The Prime Minister undoubtedly favours the setting up of one paramount and final authority to deal with industrial matters. He has also made it clear that he thinks that this power should rest in the hands of the National Government. But, because he cannot see that it can be obtained by either a referendum or the surrender of power by the States, he is prepared to abandon even the measure of authority that he at present possesses. But, if this measure be agreed to, we shall still have divided control in industry. Consequently, the bill seems to me to be the negation of the very principle for which the Prime Minister stands.
– Is the honorable member serious in saying that?
– Very serious, indeed. We could consider the position of any federated industry, and quite easily picture what would happen if federal control were abandoned. The industry would be handed over to the tender mercies of the six different States, each of which would have paramount and final authority. I do not see any escape from that position. If there is an alternative to it, I should like to have it put to me The onus rests upon the Government of proving that the proposals embodied in the bill, if adopted, will achieve the object for which they are designed. In my opinion, the Government has failed to discharge that onus. To those Ministers who have spoken during this debate I have listened with the respect that is due to men occuping their positions, particularly in a Government which I generally support, but I candidly confess that I am chary of accepting their prophecy that the bill will achieve the objects they have stated to the House. I have to ask myself what confidence I can repose in the Government’s judgment, and I look back upon my experience of its judgment in similar matters. Its prophecies in regard to industrial matters have not always come true. I draw attention to the significant fact that the act which we are now asked incontinently to repeal was introduced by the Attorney-General in December, 1927, and, after very careful consideration, he submitted to us certain amendments with his assurance that they would render the Arbitration Act an efficient instrument for securing industrial peace.
– I said that it was subject to one condition.
– I am glad that the Attorney-General has reminded me of that condition. I agree with him that the success of any system of arbitration depends on the loyal observance by both parties of awards.
– Not only the success., but the continuance of the system.
– The AttorneyGeneral said that if both parties or either party to an award disregarded the judgment of the court, the Government would have to consider whether it would maintain the arbitration system. Does the honorable gentleman suggest that that statement would convey to the mind of anybody that, in the event of a union or a number of unions defying an award, the Government would have to consider whether it would scrap the whole act? After dealing seriatim with the amendments to the bill of 1927, the AttorneyGeneral commended them to the House. Never did he suggest that if the amendments were adopted, the act would not be an efficient instrument of government. On the contrary, he said that the act as amended was the Government’s answer to those critics who said that the court should be abolished. What are we to think of the Government’s confession now that when it commended those amendments to us it was commending what later experience has shown to be an utter futility, and that the act is useless to deal with » situation, the continuation of which is, according to the Prime Minister, unthinkable? Having enthusiastically supported the Government in the passage of the amending legislation, ‘ having on its platform enthusiastically commended the Government for those amendments and its determination to enforce the awards of the court, my feelings can be well understood when the Government now declares that it was entirely mistaken in all that it said in December, 1927, and last year. T may he unreasonable, but that experience shakes my faith in the soundness of the Government’s judgment in industrial matters. I am hound to have regard, also, to what has followed the withdrawal of the prosecution of Mr. John Brown. Confronted by a difficult situation the Prime Minister considered the taking of a step which he knew might be misconstrued and affect, detrimentally, the political future of the party supporting him. But he judged that by withdrawing the prosecution he would pave the way for the immediate opening of the mines. He relied upon that probability as the justification for his action. Not only were the mines not opened on the following Tuesday, but they are still closed. . There, again, the head of the Government committed an error of judgment. His forecast was wrong.
– So was that of the miners.
– That does not improve the Government’s position. The Prime Minister offered as justification for the withdrawal of the prosecution the almost certainty that the mines would be opened within a few days. He was out in his reckoning. What guarantee is there that in the drastic proposal he is now asking me to endorse he will not be again out in his reckoning as to its effects.
I turn now to the provisions of the bill itself. The Government says that if this Parliament had full power to deal with other industries as it is able to deal with the maritime industry, the existing difficulties could be overcome in a reasonable way. It says that the fault of the present system is that it is encumbered by legalities and judges, and that if we had the constitutional power to do so these would be eliminated and the parties in industry would be brought more closely into touch. A mere cursory examination of the bill shows that judges and officials will continue to be largely in evidence. There appears to be little or no room for spontaneity of action by the parties. The chief judge is to appoint the chairmen of the committees, and with’ few exceptions he will choose a judge, or one of three classes of departmental officials. The committees are to be officially and judicially controlled. Who is to call the committees together? The Minister. Who is to prescribe what matters shall be considered and determined by a committee? The Minister. ‘ A judge who is chairman of a committee, with a casting vote only, need not unless he pleases send on the determinations of the committee to the Judicial Board of Review, which is to be composed of judges only. But the unfortunate committee that has not the advantage of a judge as chairman, must send every determination before the board of judges, and no determination can be operative until it has been accepted by them. In other words, experts who know their industry from A to Z may make a determination, but unless it receives the endorsement of the judges it will be worthless. Do honorable members think that the determinations of committees appointed in thi3 way, sitting in secret and considering only written evidence, will be accepted by those whom they represent? The proposed system is just as open to criticism as is the existing Arbitration Court. It is to be legalistic and formal, and I can find none of that element of spontaneity that is so essential if men are to be brought into sympathetic touch, and by mutual give-and-take reach a determination that will commend itself to those who are most interested. I had intended to deal with another aspect of the matter, but I have not the time.
Honorable Members. - Ask for an extension.
– I had hoped to say a word or two regarding the moral and spiritual aspect of this matter, without the consideration of which we shall never arrive at any real solution of our industrial problems; but it would not be fair to take advantage of the generous offer to grant me an extension of time.
I have given reasons for having found it absolutely impossible to follow my leader in this matter. We are often told that the darkest hour is that which precedes the dawn. It has just struck me that it is possible that the dark hour through which we in Australia are passing in our industrial development may be that which precedes the dawn of a new day, a day of better understanding and of heartier co-operation between the great forces of capital and labour. It is because I am convinced that the drastic proposals of the Government which are embodied in this measure would, if given effect, retard and not hasten the coming of that new day, that I shall with regret, but without hesitation or misgiving, cast my vote against the motion for the second reading of the bill.
– I, too, feel that this measure is one of the most important with which the mass of the people of this country, who have to work for their own living, have been confronted since the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was established. The abolition of that court may not particularly worry those unions which have a substantial economic standing in the community. History teaches us that reforms are accomplished only by organization and continual struggle. The membership of those unions, however, is not very great compared with the large body of workers who are covered by the different awards of the court throughout the Commonwealth. It is in their interests that I shall do all I can to prevent the passage of this bill.
The Government proposes to continue to regulate the maritime industries. Doubtless they believe that the legislation passed recently providing for the operation of a licensing system on the waterfront will be the means of forcing the maritime unions to accept any conditions that may be imposed upon them by the tribunals they propose to sot up. Any success that may have already crowned their efforts in that direction, however, is merely transient and is due to the economic circumstances in which those men find themselves. When the economic situation changes, and they find themselves strong enough to resist unjust conditions the Government will realize that they have been sadly mistaken.
Large bodies of workers should be consulted before any legislation that vitally affects their interests is brought forward. I am confident that that practice is adopted when the interests of capital are involved. The discussion of the Life Insurance Bill in another place has been postponed so that the interests which are affected by it may have an opportunity to advise the Government of the course they should take. No consultation was held with the maritime unions to obtain their point of view, before this measure was drawn up. A proof of that is the manner in which it has been denounced at different conferences of employees in this particular industry. These workers generally realize that certain “ scab “ organizations in that industry are to be given recognition. The Government believe that by giving them representation on the committees that are to be established, they will be able to force the bona fide unionists to accept any conditions which the ship-owners may feel disposed to dictate. From the point of view of the maritime unionists men, the bill is both brutal and offensive; and, in common with other measures of a similar nature, time alone will determine the extent to which the Government can enforce it. It is clear to most people that behind the Government in this matter, like most others, are the large employers and financial interests, particularly those that are outside Australia. From time to time the Government has ignored local interests, especially small manufacturers, who have sought assistan.ee to enable them to carry on. In 1926 I had the opportunity of meeting many employers from different parts of the world. I found in many cases that their interests were largely bound up with those of financial institutions in both London and New York. In discussing matters concerning the ‘workers of different countries they took advantage of every opportunity to urge that unionism in Australia had developed to such a stage that steps should be taken to retard its progress. The Government policy is directed from such sources, and there is no reason to doubt the origin of the present attack. They feel that the unions exercise a considerable influence in determining the conditions which shall prevail in industry, and that if they are allowed to continue to develop their demands will have to be recognized by the present existing tribunals. They therefore feel that if they can abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court they will strike “a vital blow at unionism on an Australian-wide basis. So long as the workers can be divided into small groups within the borders of one State, or even within the confines of one industry, it will be much easier to accomplish the purpose of the employers, to keep wages and conditions as low as possible. An Australian-wide organization is a force to be reckoned with, even under a craft union system, and anything which prevents its growth has the approval of the Government. Ministers feel that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has assisted greatly in consolidating the force of unionism along these lines, and that its abolition will enable them more easily to lower existing standards.
Honorable members on both sides have referred to many prominent politicians who in the past have voiced the need for some such institution as the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Ever since the establishment of the court the unions have had to battle hard, and to spend large sums, not only in fighting their cases before the court, but also in training advocates to present those cases in such a way that they must obtain acceptance by an impartial tribunal. In the early days of the court the unions were not very strong financially; but on the other hand the employing classes, which after all control the destiny of this country, have always had the necessary finance to oppose in any and every way the demands of the unions. Even after awards were made they have applied to the High Court and other tribunals to declare them unconstitutional, and thus prevent the workers from receiving what justly belongs to them. In many cases they have been responsible for a large number of workers being robbed of their just dues for considerable periods. Prior to the establishment of the court the economic position of a number of workers did not permit of their going on strike. In most cases other persons were always ready to take their places if a strike was declared, and as the nature of the work required no skill or training it was extremely difficult for them to succeed. The condition of the women workers particularly was a disgrace to civilization. Yet there was no means of meeting the situation. On the other hand, others, by making threats to a large extent, and in some cases going on strike, were able to extract more favorable conditions from their employers. The establishment of the court cleared the position consider- ably, and that large body of workers who prior to its introduction’ were being unmercifully sweated received a measure of protection from their employers. Along those lines, the unions continued to break down the barriers erected by the employers, until the court generally came to recognize a common procedure in relation to the conditions of industry.
Much has been said by the members of the Government regarding the attitude of a number of unions towards the Federal Arbitration Court. I do not deny thai resolutions have been passed by various bodies in condemnation of the court; but they were never regarded as serious until the Government tampered with the act in 1927. Up to that time the decisions of the court were largely accepted, and little industrial trouble existed. When the Government amended the act at the request of the employers, and as a result recent unjust decisions were arrived at, the workers lost confidence in the court, and from that time on resolutions have been passed condemning the court ; but it was still maintained that there must be one central federal authority to regulate the wages and conditions of labour. As to what form that federal body should take, still remains “a difference of opinion. No government or institution created by it can last once it has lost the confidence of the people, and it might be said that their amendments to the act foreshadowed the present Government intention. When the law becomes unjust in its operation, the people are forced to find drastic means of showing their resentment. The Labour party’s existence is largely due to the efforts of various Tory governments to impose inequitable laws upon the people, and the time is not far distant when the ‘6116013 of these unjust laws will force the people to reject this Government and to place the members of this side of the House upon the treasury benches. The Arbitration Act was amended to make it a coercive and penal law. Various, penalties were imposed with a view to forcing the unions to accept unfavorable decisions of the court. The Attorney-General contended at that time that the amendment would give the Government power to deal with lookouts as well as strikes, but it has since been clearly shown by a recent happening that that law was altered solely to persecute the workers. The Attorney-General must have been alive to that fact when the amendment was made, although he stated that the law would apply equally to both employers and employees. He, therefore, deliberately misled this House, his object being to introduce machinery that would appear to effect both sides in industry, but really in time to lower the standard of living of the workers. These tactics of obscuring the real intention of the Government are not unusual; they apply similar methods at election time, their intention always being to prevent the issues at stake being determined upon their merits. When introducing the amendments to the act, he said that he was determined at all costs to enforce the law, irrespective of whether the offender was employer or employee, but as I have already stated time has determined the truth of such statement. It was an unjust and coercive measure when applied to the workers, but in the case of the timber workers, with the full backing of the Government up to date it has failed miserably. Instead of goodwill and conciliation prevailing in that industry, a system of intimidation, with threat of gaol, has’ been introduced.
The unions know that, no matter how just their cause, owing to recent decisions, the Arbitration Court, due to the amendments referred to, will decide against them. Once that tribunal has been tampered with, it cannot command respect from the workers. It is unnecessary for me to detail the different penalties that may be imposed upon the unions for not honoring the decisions of this newly-constituted court, but as an illustration in the case of the waterside workers a fine of £1,000 was imposed, even though the efforts that were being made to bring the dispute to an end were likely to succeed. How different to the coal-mining situation! That shows clearly that the object of the Government was at all costs to force the unions to obey the decisions of the court, while with the employers it was a different matter. In 1925 the
Prime Minister went to the country and he talked glibly about giving the rank and file the control of their own unions. He argued that the unions were run by individuals who were tainted by foreign doctrines and whose operations and outlook were not in the best interests of the country. He spoke at some length about the taking of ballots. I have a keen recollection of a secret ballot in 1926 which resulted in my candidature for a certain position being endorsed, but when my nomination was submitted to the Prime Minister, he refused to accept it. Yet in 1925 he proposed under a system of ballot to secure to the rank and file of the unionists the control of their own affairs; but in my case when the decision did not suit him he endeavoured to find methods to overcome a system he urged should be adopted.
– Which they have always had.
– That is so. At that time the Prime Minister was ignorant of the ramifications of trade unionism, of the procedure for the election of officers, and of the general conduct of its affairs. That slogan was introduced by the Government at that time in order to try and discredit trade unionism, and at the same time mislead the people in regard to the issues confronting them. The Government made further inroads into the liberty of the workers inside their trade unions in the clause which dealt with the expulsion, from unions, of members who failed to stand loyally by decisions and those which deprived the unions of the right to conduct their business in their own way. It also provided for the holding of secret ballots among members on matters concerning which there was a dispute, and it even reduced the thing to such a fine point that twelve members of a union might make secret application to the Registrar, and have a ballot taken. By this means it sought to sap the enthusiasm of the workers in any attempt they might make to defend their working conditions by creating a delay in the taking of a ballot. In the section dealing with strikes and lockouts the Government made it easier for the employers to control their workers, by inserting a provision to the effect that application might be made to the court for a declaration that a strike existed in an industry, even though only a section of the workers in that industry was engaged in a dispute. In this way it was hoped that the employers might be able to bring economic pressure to bear on the whole of the workers in that industry and thereby endeavour to force the section in dispute to return to work. As a result of theseharsh measures the great mass of the trade unionists lost confidence in the Government and the institutions with which it tampered, and refused to obey the law. Now, so bankrupt is the Government in statesmanship that its only remedy for the trouble which it has itself brought about is to evacuate the field of industrial arbitration altogether, and allow the States to straighten out the mess. We on this side assert that the situation will become still more chaotic. This decision of the Government will, no doubt, meet the wishes of many employers, because large sections of the workers whose finances will not permit of the adoption of direct action will then not be protected by any legal enactments at all, and their standard of living will be more easily forced down to the lowest possible level. In the recent amending legislation of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act provision is made for the appointment of conciliation commissioners, this, I suppose, being designed as a set-off to the more vicious features of the act in an endeavour to make it appear that the Government is conciliatory in the matter. Nevertheless, only one conciliation commissioner was ever appointed under the act, which shows that the Government never really intended that the system should be given a proper trial. It wanted applications for awards and industrial disputes to be so conducted that the full force of the law should be directed against the workers through its appointees upon the Arbitration Court .Bench.
As I have already stated, the Federal Arbitration Court has frequently been criticized by Labour organizations. In 1922^ an all-Australian Trade Union Congress was held, at which the court was discussed and criticized, but the criticism was mainly directed against the failure of the court to keep pace with changing conditions. It is obvious that a scheme inaugurated in 1904, however well it served its purpose then, and for a period after, must need amendment from time to time if it is to remain effective. The needs of the workers are constantly changing; their rights are being more seriously threatened from day to day, and they are forced to take greater measures to protect themselves. The Government is deserving of the severest criticism, because it has failed to take heed of these changing conditions, and because it seems to lack all knowledge of the modern trend of industrial affairs. In framing its industrial legislation the Government should have been guided by past events, and should have taken into consideration the present needs of the workers as well as what modern though’t is planning for the future. The Government in its present action is taking a retrograde step. It has simply thrown the whole arbitration scheme overboard, and, as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) pointed out, it does not seem to know how the situation is likely to develop, nor what are the intentions of the State Premiers regarding the industrial legislation which the State Parliaments will have to pass to take the place of the existing federal legislation. It is true that various State Premiers have made statements from time to time about federal arbitration and its effect upon State instrumentalities, but no agreement has ever been come to between the State and the Commonwealth Governments as to what should take the place of federal arbitration if it was relinquished by the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister seemed to know that the States would not agree to this proposal for increased federal power, ar”1 > went to the Premiers Conference with the intention of throwing the whole scheme overboard, without considering for a moment its effect or what the different States had in existence to take its place.
– The Victorian Government is now asking for the postponement of this proposal for twelve months so that it may have time to frame new industrial legislation.
– It is evident that the Prime Minister gave the Premiers attending the conference no opportunity to agree to any proposal for increased Commonwealth powers.
– The Prime Minister’s action in this matter is in line with his withdrawal of the John Brown prosecution. In that case he withdrew the prosecution without having any assurance that the conference would be a success. In the present case it proposes to withdraw from the field of federal arbitration without having the slightest idea of what the States propose to substitute for the present federal legislation. So far as Victoria is concerned, it is God help the workers if they are left to the mercy of any of the wage-fixing tribunals which exist in that State at the present time.
The old law of supply and demand does not operate now as it did prior to the war. To-day industry is organized along the lines of trusts and combines, and as a result it can, to a large extent, control supply and thus influence demand. Big business interests in their race to achieve supremacy, frequently find themselves in conflict with their smaller competitors and their workers, and, at times, with the general public as well. Their one object is profit. A striking instance of this is furnished by the timber dispute. It has been shown that a price cutting war was in progress between the firms in the timber combine and the smaller independent firms outside. The price of timber was reduced below the landed cost for the purpose of squeezing out the small, unassociated competitors. The members of the combine approached the Federal Arbitration Court and, it is alleged, submitted their books to an examination, stating that their profits, were not more than 2.2 per cent., and sought the help of the court to lower the workers’ standard of living by contending that the industry could not pay, when all the time the reason for the alleged small return was due to the price-cutting war which had been going on for some time. Then, having bound the workers to a lower standard for a number of years, they would be able to raise prices and recoup themselves for the profits they had sacrificed while eliminating competitors. The workers have noted these things, and have arrived at the conclusion that the time has arrived when they should enjoy a larger share of control in industry. Their livelihood is involved in industry. Their product is their labour. They are dependent upon it in every sense of the word. Honorable members who support the Government are fond of saying that the two factors in industry, capital and labour, are essential to the maintenance and prosperity of the nation. If this be so, surely the time has arrived to grant to the workers a larger share of the wealth that they produce and a greater share in the control of the industry in which they are employed. “With the introduction of new laboursaving machinery in many industrial concerns after the declaration of peace the tide of unemployment rose considerably. Although the position of Australia may be slightly better than that of many other countries, our workers are, nevertheless, iri a state of turmoil and unrest. The struggle to live under existing conditions is becoming more intense, therefore they feel that any attempt to reduce their wages or extend their hours of work, must be resisted at all costs. The Government is aware of this, and it should have taken proper steps to consult the workers before embarking upon the present policy, which is of a wage slashing nature and is totally subversive of the best interests of the people of this country. It appears to me that the only persons consulted were those to whom the Government is chiefly indebted and to whom I have already referred, and who I have no doubt find the funds with which it fights its elections. I do not believe that it consulted the rank and file of its own supporters. It has been dominated by a group of people outside who have big financial interests in the country, and carry on industry on a fairly large scale. These people are keen to do all they can to reduce the wages and conditions of the workers in Australia, and the Government, in introducing this measure, is obeying their orders. I am not able, accurately, to forecast the results which would follow the passing of this bill, but I am prepared to say that anything may, happen.
One has only to walk the streets of our capital cities and larger country towns to realize how much unemployment there is. We find the stores stuffed full of merchandise of all kinds, but the workers have no money to buy what they require. I do not need to stress this aspect of the subject. Every honorable member must agree that it is deplorable that such a state of affairs exists in this young country, I remember a Minister of the Crown in New South “Wales stating that the action of his Government in amending the Fair Rents Act was justified because there was now plenty of empty houses about, meaning, of course, that having lifted certain restrictions in regard to rents, investors had built more homes than previously. The position actually is that the workers have been reduced to a position which makes it impossible for them to pay the rents demanded by the landlords or even to pay any rent at all! I daresay that in some cases the landlords left people in occupation of their houses as long as they could. But eventually they were forced out and to-day the workers are being herded together under most unfortunate conditions. In many industrial centres it is a common thing for several families to be living under one roof. It needs very little thought to convince one that the mental state and general living conditions of these people are in a very bad condition. While they are forced to live under these deplorable conditions they know that other people, more favorably situated than themselves, a re able to satisfy almost every whim that they have. This state of affairs, not being the fault of the workers, is a disgrace and should not be tolerated in Australia. With these conditions prevailing the Government, no doubt, considers that with the removal of legal barriers which the court has set up, the task will be much easier for the employers to make their attack upon existing wages and conditions in this country.
It is creditable to some supporters of the Government that they have resisted the effort that is being made by means of this measure to lower wages and lengthen the hours of work. In our opinion the maritime industry has been left under Commonwealth jurisdiction because the waterside workers and seamen have been reduced to such a condition by the economic stress of the times, that they have been forced to accept unjust conditions which have recently been imposed on them. In our opinion certain employers feel that if, by one stroke of the pen, which this bill provides they can remove all legal barriers to a general attack upon wages and conditions, the standard of living of the people will be reduced. It is gratifying to find that some honorable members opposite realize that, as this life is of brief duration when, at its longest, it is only a fair and just thing that people should be given the right to live and work under decent conditions. They feel that, irrespective of their differing mental and physical capacity, there is a common right inherent in human kind. to live in accordance with the accepted standards of the nation. Taking this christian view, call it that if you may, a .few honorable members opposite have indicated that they intend to resist any effort to reduce wages or lower the conditions of life in this country. We are better off in some respects in Australia than the people in other countries, but signs are not wanting that a bitter struggle is in front of the working class of this country if they are to hold the advantages that they have won through so much sacrifice. I trust that sufficient honorable members, opposite will assist us to make it impossible for the reactionary forces that have compelled the Government to introduce this bill, to give effect to their unworthy desires. Some employers of the sweating type would like to swoop down upon the workers and beat them into utter, ‘.subjection.
Surely an attitude of that kind will not be tolerated by (this national parliament. There should be enough of us here to make it impossible for an assault of this kind to succeed. We should say in no uncertain voice : “ We intend to stand for the great mass of the people. We have only a short while to live upon the earth and we intend to do our best to make life worth while for all those who are now among us and others who, in their turn, will follow on.”
A good deal has been said during this debate about the 44-hour principle. One honorable member opposite observed that if sufficient could be produced in 40 hours to maintain life at a decent standard, he would favour a 40-hour week. Let me therefore refer to the party agitation on this question. The granting of a 44-hour week to industry was a live issue in the Arbitration Court as long ago as 1920. In that year, the late Mr. Justice Higgins made an exhaustive inquiry into the subject. Strangely enough the Timber Workers Union was one of the main organizations concerned in the inquiry, which was regarded as a test case by the trade union movement. Evidence was collected from all parts of the world, and it was shown conclusively that the tendency in all countries was to reduce the hours of work. In some countries the weekly hours had been reduced from 56 to 50, and in others from 50 to 48. It will be remembered also that at the first International Labour Conference held in Washington in 1919, close attention was paid to the hours of work in different countries. It was felt by the delegates, who represented 56 nations, that something should be done to make the lot of the workers in all countries more congenial on this important matter. It is significant that the first subject listed for consideration by the great majority of these countries was “hours of labour.” The conference passed a convention which affirmed the desirableness of establishing a universal 48-hour working week throughout the world. This represented a tremendous advance in some of the more backward countries. It was stated at the conference that some of these countries had a regular working week of 70 hours, others varying in lesser number. The various nations which signed the Peace Treaty were recommended to adopt the 48-hour convention. The British Government of the day failed to meet its obligations in that respect; but I am pleased to say that one of the first acts of the new British Labour Government was to inform the International Labour Office that it intended to honour the convention. That is in keeping with the attitude of the present Labour Government in Great Britain to other matters. It recognizes that the signature of Great Britain is as binding when it affects the workers as when it concerns the other nations of the world on matters concerning treaties. Great Britain has always professed to honour its treaty obligations, but hitherto its governments have been lax in meeting their obligations to their own people. I am pleased to say that the advent of a Labour Government has brought about a change of policy. Referring again to 1920, Mr. Justice Higgins, in the timber workers’ case, made a very significant remark which is worth repeating -
Tlie workers had a very strong case for the reduction of hours, with tlie enormously increased production under machinery. Why should all the working hours have to be devoted to the getting of food and the essentials of life? He admitted that it was becoming more and more recognized that inventions are a social product, a product of the many, not of one. The employer is not the inventor, and yet he gets the benefit of any great profit. Why should not the employee share in the benefit by getting some diminution in his hours of work?
In other words, with the onward march of science and invention, the production of industry has increased enormously, with the result that in some industries, in which unemployment is most serious, the stores are overflowing with goods produced by the workers, yet in many cases they are unable to purchase them, even though they or their dependants may be starving. Mr. Justice Higgins pointed out that the employers are receiving the whole of the benefits from the developments of science and invention. I infer that he argued that the increase of wages did not enter into cons’” deration, because with the advance in the cost of living, the workers wore little better off than they were before the increases were granted. The only real benefit they could obtain was by a reduction of the hours of labour, and he contended that the time had arrived when they should be given that advantage. Therefore he proposed that the hours of labour should be reduced to 44. No honorable member will say that the world has retrogressed since 1920. Science and invention have continued to advance. Every day new developments are arising, and it is admitted that the workers have been responsible for many new discoveries which have made possible savings of time and money. Statistics from various countries, particularly the United States of America, show that through the application of invention to industry production has inoreased enormously, but unemployment bus grown to an appalling extent even in America, which is often referred to as a model of industrial development.
This bill is of vital importance to the workers, and the whole community is watching very closely its fate. The presence of representatives of the trade unions in the galleries of this Parliament has been criticized, but it must be obvious to honorable members that those gentlemen have at heart the interests of the workers. Their positions are not sinecures. If they are sincere and conscientious, union officials have a big responsibility in resisting the attacks that are made from time to time upon the rights and privileges of organized labour, and those who are at present in this building are here only because they know the seriousness of these proposals and their menace to thousands of workers. I therefore appeal to honorable members to realize that this legislation means throwing the workers to the wolves, and to take thatcourse which their consciences must surely dictate by preventing its passage through this House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. G. Francis) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Gibson) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- On Friday last, I received the following telegram : -
Your persistent silence suggests you deliberately ignore vested interests, whose life and livelihood is at stake. Unless intimation received your return immediately, our representative leaves by plane to demand you take action.
I have not replied to that communication, but I have sent to the press a letter which states, after giving the context of the telegram -
Who this gentleman is, I know not, but he is evidently very confused in his ideas as to my character. I was elected as federal representative for the division of Angas at the lost federal elections, and personally, and on behalf of my constituents, I resent the terms of suoh a telegram. This sort of thing might come off if a man was a white-livered individual, and it may be the practice in the United States of America, but in this enlightened democracy, it is entirely out of place. As I am the representative of the division of Angas in the Federal Parliament, it is my duty to weigh every matter that comes before theHouse, and give my vote, after mature consideration, in the best interests of the community as a whole, having first taken into careful consideration the interests of my particular district. I am certainly not in Parliament representative of any particular vested interests. ‘ The extravagant language of this telegram is ludicrous in tha extreme, and if these wealthy vested interests can send their representatives flying hither and thither by aeroplane, they are at liberty to do so, but the representative willseek for me in vain, for Ishall not grant an interview until this gentleman, the author of the wire, withdraws the. remarks contained in this telegram. I contrast this wire with letters which I have received recently from the drought-stricken areas of my electorate, where people are in real trouble, and who ore facing the third year - a complete failure. I will conclude by giving on extract from a letter I have received recently from the drought-stricken Mallee portions of my electorate: - “Iam trying to forget that it will not rain, and that the poor sheep and cattle are starving for the want of feed. Everybody is broken, and feeling very worried. Of course, there are a few growlers, but no one takes any notice of them.” I am out to help these people in any direction I possibly can - for upon them depends the prosperity of the country.
A telegram couched in such terms as that which I received from the person signing himself Jepson can have been sent with no other object than to browbeat and bully me into taking a certain course, regardless of whether I consider it to be in the interest of the public.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.42 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 September 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290904_reps_11_121/>.