House of Representatives
6 May 1936

14th Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 1277


WarGraves - Extradition Convention : United Kingdom and Switzerland - Legal Proceedings : United King- domandczechoslovakiaarbitration Convention.

Treasurer · Corio · UAP

– I lay on the table copies of the following international agreements: -

Arbitration Convention of 25th October, 1905 - Renewal - Exchange of Notes between the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and the Government of Iceland; London, 10th October, 1935.

Extradition Convention (Supplementary) between the United Kingdom and Switzerland; signed at Berne, 19th December, 1934.

Legal Proceedings Convention (Supplementary) between the United Kingdom and Czechoslovakia; signed at Prague, 15th February, 1935.

War Graves - Agreement between the United’ Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India, and the German and French Governments; signed at Berlin, 20th December, 1935.

page 1277


The following papers were presented : -

Excise Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1936, No. 56.

Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Industrial Board Ordinance - Regulations (Election).

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Prime Minister · Wilmot · UAP

– I move-

That Government business shall take prece dence over general business to-morrow.

The object is to push on with the business that is before the House. Those honorable members who have notices of motion on the business paper may rest assured that, as is usual towards the end of sitting, there willbe occasions when this House will be obliged to await the return of business from the Senate. An opportunity will then be sought to restore to private business the time of which it will be deprived by the carrying of this motion.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

page 1277


Message recommending appropriation reported.

In committee. (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :

Motion (by Mr. Casey) agreed to -

That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue he made for the purposes of a bill for an act to consolidate and amend the law relating to the imposition, assessmentand collection of a tax upon incomes.

Resolution reported and adopted.

In committee (Consideration resumed from the 5th May, vide page 1244) :

Postponed clause 183 (Remuneration of members).

Treasurer · Corio · UAP

– The consideration of this clause was deferred by reason of the fact that the Governor-General’s message was not at the time ready for presentation to the House.’ It is a formal one, and makes no alteration of the law.

Clause agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with amendments; report - by leave - adopted.

Bill - by leave - read a third time.

page 1277



Motion of Censure


– I ask leave to move forthwith a motion of censure on the Government.

Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to.

That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Leader of the Opposition to move a motion without notice, and that such motion take precedence of all other business until disposed of.


.- I move -

That this House censures the Commonwealth Government for its failure to promote the adoption of a 40-hour week in Australia in accordance with public opinion of the Commonwealth and with the principle embodied in the draft convention adopted, with the support of the Commonwealth Government delegate, at the 1935 session of the International Labour Conference.

The subject of hours of labour is among the most acute and disturbing of all of those which are involved in what we know as the general body of industrial law. It has its roots in the relationship which exists between man and the means of production. Somewhere away back in the mists of time, man devised for himself aids to his personal nature and capacities, in order that he might be assisted to procure food, shelter and raiment.From the time when he first used the wheel as an aid to his own attributes, there has been a steady advance in his ability as an individual and as a member of society to obtain for himself and the community of which he formed a part those things which are essential to his subsistence, and which contribute to his increasing comfort and enjoyment. Although there have been many centuries of slow progress, none the less the chief purpose which has animated man in devising for himself means whereby he might augment his ability to produce the things that he needs is that he might avoid the necessity for undue personal exertion. The improvement of his own individual capacity to produce, and the advance made in the technical aids that augment that capacity, are valuable only insofar as they either give him an increasing standard of comfort, or make it unnecessary for him to work as hard as he formerly did. So, taking man as a member of the community in relation to the march of science and the mechanization of industry, the progress made in regard to the means of production must help him to live either better or more easily. If neither of these things results from the advance in industrial technique, then to the mass of the community that advance is of no value.

Over many years, man’s needs were in advance of his capability to meet them. He was anxious to get better food and housing, and more clothing, and also to enjoy the services which would improve his artistic and intellectual qualities. Thus it was not until the advent of the industrial revolution that it can be said that the problem of production, in its relation to the needs of man, was brought within measurable dimensions. It is almost a common-place remark to refer to the marvels of the nineteenth century, which witnessed the enormous development of the factory as distinct from the cottage workshop. It saw men leave their homes, wherein they had previously worked, and which were part of the land they tilled, in order to go into some other person’s employment, and to use the beginnings of machinery as a complicated auxiliary to their working powers. “With the advent of wage labour, as distinct from the old feudal system, there emerged a realignment of classes in society - the worker on the one hand, hired at so much a day or hour in the service of an employer, and the employer providing a certain amount of capital equipment and working material for turning out a given product, which remained the property of the employer. The worker had no proprietary interest whatever in the product of his labour ; he was divorced from the means of production. All he could do to share in the advantages of the increasing technical efficiency, or to be heir, as it were, to the heritage of the ages, was either to get more wages or to work fewer hours. If he could not get more wages, he could not command the things for the purchase of which money was required.

Thus, with the dawn Of the wage system, we had the advent of trade unionism. Throughout trade union history, it has been neither the practice, nor the experience, of the workers to get any improvement of the standard of living which they enjoy as the result of their wages, or of the amount of leisure they get as members of a society whose standards are continually progressing, unless they are successful in a fight which they wage for that improvement of standards. As a matter of fact, whenever they pointed to the enormous increase of the productive capacity of the community generally, and said that the time had arrived for some abridgment of the hours of labour, they were invariably met with the contention that industry could not stand the added cost which such reduction would involve. That argument was advanced during the era of the twelvehour day. It was similarly put forward when hours were reduced to 60 a week, and again when it was desired to reduce them to 54. It still remained the perpetual and unending argument of those who opposed the reduction of hours when the long, struggle for the 8-hour day was in progress, when the working week was reduced from 54 to 48 hours. Of course, it is an economic truism that, if society had not been possessed of that addition to man’s natural abilities which so increased his productive capacity in general as to maintain the then standard of living with fewer hours of labor, the reduction of the working week could not have been secured. Wherever an agitation for the reduction of working hours was conducted, upon either a limited or a more general scale, the immediate reaction of society at large, and the employers in particular, and also of the governments of the day, was to express hostility to the reform, frustrate its evolution and make it difficult for this concession to be enjoyed by the workers. They were at that time, as they are now, wage employees, their relation to industry being definitely linked to the medium of wages as a cash nexus. Nevertheless, progress was made, and although opposition had been staged and waged to every reduction of hours which was accomplished, when the hours were reduced the workers were proved right. It was shown that society could stand the reduced hours of labour. The employees were also proved right in saying that industry could carry on with fewer working hours. The workers were again shown to be justified in their opposition to the governments of that time who supported the employers in their objection to the reductions. Thus, all through the evolution of industry in the last 130 years, and in the contemporaneous evolution of trade unionism, the workers could dispose of the arguments used against them. I point to that long record, and say that, by and large, in the controversies over hours of labour that have characterized it, history vindicates the workers’ claim, and shows that those who opposed them were invariably wrong.

There are phases of our society that are definitely related to work and to industry, and, indeed, the data point to the fact that the great progress man has made is contemporaneous with the advent of machinery and technical advance either increasing man’s knowledge of natural resources and how to operate them or his knowledge of his own capacity when linked with that of his fellows in the winning of bread. When the world war occurred in 1914, we had almost covered the world with what is called industrialism. For the 50 years prior to that, developed countries had been exporting capital in order to settle undeveloped countries, which enabled those latter countries to reach a greater flush of development than otherwise might have been the case. They in turn became more or less industrialized, with the result that the world war, economically, was different from any war that had preceded it. First of all, it withdrew from industry 30,000,000 men. In any previous period of man’s history so tremendous a deprivation of labour power from production would have so impaired production as almost to have reduced the world to starvation. But that did not happen in the world war. As a matter of fact, the productive capacity of industry was accelerated by the pressure which the war exerted. All kinds of substitutions were devised in order to make good the missing man power in the factories. By and large it was made good by increased machine power, and this world for several years carried on deprived of the services of millions of men who normally would have been engaged in industrial production, but were at the time engaged in a dreadful struggle.


– They were replaced by millions of women.


– Only in part. In fact, the great majority of women who have gone into industry in the last de~ cade or two have gone into occupations which were not occupations for which previously the industrial structure had any demand.

We must look at our economic history with some precision in order to understand this problem, and the attitude the workers are taking towards it. The return of millions of men to civil life seeking avocations in which they had previously engaged, brought to them an amazing shock. They found for the most part, owing to a variety of reasons, that they or those like them had become superfluous in the industrial requirements of civilization. There emerged after the war a volume of unemployment which at its normal during the ten years after the war was greater than even the peak periods of unemployment which previous decades had known. It must have been apparent that this reorientation of the whole relationship of labour to industry would set up new problems. Its first effect was to increase pressure on the part of those seeking work to get work; and because the men whose labour was not required in industry were not earning anything, because they had no wages, the effective demand for consumer goods fell. But for the large expenditure for capital goods, for the restoration of Europe which had been battered by war, for the replacement of ships which had been sunk during the war, and for what might be called the rehabilitation of the physical capital of mankind, the post-war volume of unemployment on a large scale would have been much more apparent to mankind than was the case, and we would have heard about it much earlier than 1929. In any case, the advance of machinery has brought about an entirely new era, and it has resulted in the merging of industries which hitherto were competitors. Such action invariably reduces human labour and lessens the purchasing power of the people. As machinery is costly, too costly for small concerns, such mergers became necessary if plant of proper capacity was to be employed.

All this had two effects. First it made labour less and less necessary in the industrial machine, and secondly, because of this, the wage payments made to the workers by and large fell, and because they fell, the purchasing power of the people was depleted. This reacted on the demand for goods, with the result that we had two factors operating - an increasing power to produce on the one side, and a diminishing capacity to buy on the other. This evolution of the post-war industrial period led inevitably to the major crisis which we now know as the world depression in industry. One commentator says that “ man hours “ - tha t is the number of hours men work in a factory - “ have been fighting a losing battle since 191S.” Production did not reach its peak until 1929. Not only looking back on the last ten years, but also attempting some prognosis for the next decade, I say that the retreat of man hours in the face of the oncoming force of the automatic machine will not stop. Some of the most efficient production equipment has been installed since the start of the depression, and from the point of view of the producer, the manufacturer or the employer, that is a development which cannot be argued against. If the market necessitates that prices be reduced and that costs be reduced, machines can always produce more cheaply than human labor. More efficient equipment is the first means of cutting production costs, and with every reduction out goes human labour. Whiel is to win out in Australia, men or energy ? Under our existing price system, man hours have no chance in the world advance. Advanced technology has doomed human labour as a dominating factor in production. For the first time in history we have “ plenty alongside poverty,” whereas always previously we had poverty because we did not have plenty. We can produce far more than we have ever done. Under our presentday system, where the workers get the least consideration, we cannot find markets for this increased production. By cutting production costs we have also cut the domestic purchasing power. The Labour party was not the only party in the world examining this problem and arriving at substantially the same general conclusions upon the argument which I have now advanced. This party though - make no mistake about this - has been the only party in Australia, during the whole of its political history, which has fought steadily all the time for the workers having an increasing share, of leisure because of the advancing capacity of this country to maintain the workers.

I direct attention to a view expressed on this subject at the International Labour Conference four years ago, when the representative of this Government sat silent during the discussion of the relation of the workers to the hours of labour. The delegate in question said -

A now job cannot now bo created as fast as the machine tips a nian out of the old one. Accelerating unemployment is before us, and, unless something is done, and that quickly, a very heavy bill of social redemption, cast in terms of wretchedness and despair, will be a. feature of every future budget.

But the International Labour Conference did not deal with the subject on that occasion, for a majority of the government delegates did not realize the vital importance of it. In Australia neither this Government nor its representative had any local urge from their own political supporters to assist in securing a reduction of the hours of labour. The Australian workers have hitherto been pegged to the industrial arbitration wage standards which involve adjustments according to price levels. As price levels go up wages follow in consonance. It was therefore only as the result of a reduction of hours of labour that the workers of Australia could, under the Commonwealth Arbitration system, obtain any benefit from the increasing productive capacity of the country. The working week in Australia, in 1914, before this evolutionized age of machinery had made its onset, was 48 hours. It has since varied as follows: -

It will be’ seen, therefore, that the hours of labour in Australia have remained practically stationary for the last five years. But in that period the hours of labour in many other countries of the world have been reduced on an extensive scale. Formerly Australia was in the vanguard in respect of hours of labour, but to-day it is far behind countries which hitherto we have regarded as backward in labour, industrial, and social standards.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Name them?


– They will be named in due course.

Mr Archdale Parkhill:

– Do not forget to name them.


– The honorable gentleman may set his mind at rest. That point will not be forgotten during this: debate. But I need net rely on that consideration. A year ago at the International Labour Conference, at Geneva, the representative of this Government, Sir Frederick Stewart, after referring to the constitutional limitations of federal governments - and many federal governments were represented at the conference - said -

I am authorized to state that should the majority of nations be in favour of and adopt the 40-hour week, the Commonwealth will use its best endeavours to obtain agreement and concurrence on the part of the Australian States so that the ground may be cleared for ratification by the Commonwealth.

As that is an important statement made by the representative of this Government, I propose to examine it in some detail. Sir Frederick Stewart said -

Should the majority of nations be in favour of the 40-hour week.

The majority of government delegates at the conference voted for this reform so that condition was fulfilled. But the other stipulation was - “and adopt” thereform. In the evolution of reforms in hours of labour in every country some initial steps have been taken to promote, the application of the new order. In no country that I can point to, and certainly not in our own country, has it been the practice to provide that from, a given date a universal working day, or working week, of so many hours, shall be proclaimed. In Australia, the reform from a ten-hour to a nine-hour working day occurred first in a given district, and in a given industry; but once the start had been made, other industries, in other districts, adopted the reform, and so it became widespread. That also happened when the hours of labour were i educed from nine to eight a day. It happened again when the working week was reduced from 48 hours to 44 hours. Many Australian industries are to-day working under a 44-hour week, but not all of them.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Some are working less than 44 hours a week.


– The question that concerns this Government, and also this Parliament, is not whether the Government was obliged to adopt a 40-hour working week in its entirety, and proclaim it for every Australian industry, but whether it was obliged to promote the reform. My charge against the Government is that it did not carry out its undertaking to promote the application of this principle, as it agreed to do provided a majority of the governments represented at the International Labour Conference at Geneva, last year, would vote in favour of it, which, in fact, they did. What should be the procedure in connexion with the matter? The International Labour Conference adopted the general convention for a 40-hour week, and also arranged that Member States which ratified the convention - of which the Australian Commonwealth was one - should apply the principle “ to classes of employment in accordance with detailed provisions to be prescribed by such conventions as are ratified by that member “. As I have said, a majority of nations voted for the convention. The following governments were included in the list: -

Afghanistan ; Albania.-

I hear some honorable members opposite laughing, but I remind them that, only a few weeks ago, they told us that these very nations were included in the great system of collective security. Honorable members cannot have it both ways. The next name on the list is -

Belgium- an industrial country in competition with our own country, and, moreover, a country which is threatening our position in the markets of the world. The remaining countries on the list are as follows : -

Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Columbia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Prance, Guatemala, Irish Free State, Italy, Siberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Russia, The United States of America, Venezuela

What is the legal obligation of Australia in connexion with any International Labour Office Convention of this description?


– My colleagues who ‘ follow me in this debate will reply to the honorable member. No aspect of the subject will remain unconsidered. The constitution of the International Labour Organization lays down that -

Bach of the Members undertakes that it will, within the period of one year at most from the closing of the Session of the Conference, or if it is impossible, awing to exceptional circumstances, to do so within the period of one year, then at the earliest practicable moment, and in no case later than eighteen months from the closing of the Session of the Conference, bring the recommendation of draft convention before the authority or authorities within whose competence the matter lies, for the enactment of legislation or other action.

The constitution also states that -

In no case shall any Member be asked, or required, as a result of the adoption of any recommendation or draft convention by thu Conference, to lessen the protection afforded by its existing legislation to the workers concerned.

In short, the convention bad to be submitted to the competent authority or authorities in Australia - the Commonwealth Parliament is the competent authority - for ratification, and the Commonwealth Government was obliged to say whether it favoured or opposed the ratification of it. This Parliament should have had the matter submitted to it, but that has not been done. Another International Labour Conference is about to sit. The Government delegate has left Australia to attend the conference, and so has the workers’ delegate. The employers’ delegate, I understand, is almost at Geneva. Yet the draft convention adopted by last year’s conference, which is now almost old, has not been submitted to this Parliament, although this Parliament exercises the treatymaking power of the Commonwealth. There can be no gainsaying the fact that the Commonwealth Government was under an obligation to submit the convention to the “competent authority” in Australia, which is this Parliament. The fact that the Government delegate supported the principle of a 40-hour working week at the last conference made it all the more necessary that the convention should have been submitted to Parliament to ascertain what action it was proposed to take in Australia to give effect to it. But the Government has done nothing. How, then, could it have acted? It could have at least given a demonstration of what the Commonwealth could do to promote the adoption of a 40- hour week in Australia.

In an official Commonwealth communication addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on the 26th February, 1909, it was stated -

I may add for the information of the Secretary of State that the law advisers of the Government have expressed the view that under section 51 (xxxix) of the Constitution the Commonwealth Parliament has power to make such legislative provision as is necessary to secure the fulfilment of treaty obligations, and that accordingly the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament ;ire substantially identical with those of Canada.

Since International Labour Conventions are, in effect, international treaties, they can be ratified only by the authority which possesses the treaty-making power. In the case of federal countries, the power to deal with an international treaty rests with the federal authority. On the other hand, power to regulate labour conditions, which form the subject-matter of the international labour treaty, may fall within the competence of individual states or provinces. For a time it was assumed that, in such cases, the Commonwealth or Dominion Parliament would be unable to carry out its obligations under its treaty-making power. This was the belief held in Canada at one time, particularly regarding the convention adopted in 1919 for the 8-hour day; but Canada has now come to ‘ believe that the Dominion Parliament, in virtue of its constitutional power with respect to international treaties, is competent to ratify the convention, and to pass legislation giving it effect throughout the country. Formal ratification of the convention by Canada was registered in Geneva on the 21st March. 1935, and the requisite legislation has been submitted to the Dominion Parliament. The point I desire to make is that the power to ratify a 48-hour convention, is the same power that would be used to ratify a 40-hour convention. I am not blaming the Government for not having established a 40-hour week in Australia ; I am charging it with having failed to do anything to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week. It has done absolutely nothing.

To complete the evidence that the treaty-making authority of this Parliament is absolute and undoubted I refer honorable members to the opinion stated by Professor K. H. Bailey, as given in the volume entitled Proceedings of Australia and New Zealand Society of International Law, pages 120 and 1’21, and to an article written by Joseph Sharicoff Vinerian law scholar in the University of Oxford, and published in the International Labour Review. The concluding paragraph is as follows -

The legal position appears to be quite clear. The Commonwealth can no longer rest on the “discretion” in article 19 (0). It is of course free in case of practical difficulties to propose non-ratification, and the Federal Parliament will then no doubt act in strict conformity with the wishes of its Executive Government, but that Government mr.y not properly rely on legal considerations as an objection to more effective participation in the work of the International Labour Organization.

It is there specifically stated that the Commonwealth Government now has the constitutional capacity under its power in relation to external affairs to give effect to international labour conventions, [n spite of this, however, the Commonwealth Government has done nothing. It could have said that it would ratify the convention, or that it would not, or it could have said that it would postpone consideration of the matter; but it was certainly the duty of the Government to do one of those three things. That much it owed to this Parliament. The undertaking given by Sir Frederick Stewart at Geneva was that, if the convention were accepted by the other nations, the Commonwealth Government would take steps to have it translated into reality so far as Australia Teas concerned. He added that it would be necessary for the Commonwealth Government to confer with the States. We know that the States have no authority to negotiate with Geneva, and any matters relating to international’ affairs which come before them must originate with this Parliament. I now ask the Prime Minister what he proposes to do. Has he called the States into consultation in order to see how far they are prepared to go, and what they will do in order to give effect to the convention? It is evident that the Government has not done that, but it has, instead, proposed that an inquiry be held. On the 12th of February last, a letter was sent from the Prime Minister’s Department to the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, in which the following occurs: -

As 3’ou will doubtless have observed in the press, the Commonwealth Government has decided to convene a conference to inquire into, and report upon, the question whether any or what general reduction of working hours in Australia is desirable and/or practicable, having regard to the social, economic and national interests of Australia as a whole.

Those were the proposed terms of reference, and it is evident from them that the purpose of the conference was not to consider the principle of a 40-hour week convention, as adopted at Geneva, or to consider how we might give effect to it, but to examine the merits of. the question whether the number of working hours should be reduced or not. The Commonwealth Government, through its representative in Geneva, accepted the principle of the 40-hour week, its only condition being that other governments should also accept it. The practicability, or desirability, of the 40-hour week in Australia, was not, at Geneva, represented to be dependent upon the social or economic interests of Australia. It was to be dependent upon international agreement. In 1935, Australia’s delegate to the conference was directed to say that Australia would accept the convention if international agreement could be reached.

Mr Gregory:

– Would the Leader of the Opposition bind himself to that policy generally?


– I am quoting the text of the communication sent by the Government to the Council of Trade Unions. We were to have - a procrastinating investigation into hours of labour by and large, without any specific reference of 40 hours or any given number of hours. Thus, at one stroke, it would be obvious that the principle of the convention was not involved at all; 40 hours was not specifically mentioned in the letter. But this conference, which was to consider in this general way the vast and nebulous question as to what hours should be worked, was to consist of not less than seventeen persons. It was to be a miniature parliament! Let us look at the interests which those seventeen persons presumably were to represent. There were to be appointed the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court-


– ‘Does the honorable member object?


– One representative of State industrial tribunals-

Mr White:

– Does the honorable member object to that?


– The honorable member himself objected to that. Also five employers representing the primary industries and manufacturing and commercial interests, five representatives of labour, an economist, a medical man, a woman representing consuming interests, a Commonwealth Treasury official and a Customs officer. I submit that never before in the history of Australia has such a heterogeneous collection of presumed1 experts, been gathered ‘together to survey a problem of national importance. The incongruity of the whole thing is evidence that this was not a genuine desire to hold an inquiry to ascertain how a 40-hour week should be established.


– ‘Whom would the honorable member eliminate?


– The Government had an alternative proposal submitted to it. Arbitration tribunals in Australia have for years been dealing with the question of hours and wages. They have been empowered to call evidence from persons who know all there is to be known about this problem. Accordingly, the Government of Queensland submitted a proposal to the Commonwealth Government on the 13th February - it was repeated on the 22nd April - that, in place of the proposed personnel of seventeen, only seven should be engaged to survey this question, and that this seven should consist of the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and one representative of each of the State industrial tribunals. Does the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) say that, judicially, those persons are not competent to make such an inquiry? For over 25 years in Australia, week after week, these men have been engaged in this kind of inquiry. Does the honorable member not know that the Commonwealth arbitration law and the arbitration laws of the States have already vested in the tribunals, of which these seven persons are already members, authority to deal with the question of hours and labour? I am asked if other States were given the opportunity to deal with the personnel of the proposed inquiry. They were not, because the letter of the Acting Premier of Queensland was directed to the Prime Minister of Australia, ‘ who replied to the effect that he would not give up the form of inquiry which he had in mind. He preferred this gathering of seventeen persons, which would include persons who never previously exercised any judicial authority in regard to the determination of hours, and who, for all we know, could not be regarded, in themselves, as competent to represent the interests which they were selected to represent. The honorable member for Macquarie has asked whom I would eliminate? A woman was to be selected to represent that important section of the community, the consuming interests. I have the greatest respect for women, but no woman ever born, and for that matter, no man, could be -regarded as competent to speak for all- the consuming interests of Australia. How was the representative to be chosen? We know that the consuming interests of Australia are not organized, and are not capable of consulting or deliberating as to who would be a proper person to represent their interests. As a matter of fact, it is impracticable to appoint a person capable of representing the whole of the consuming interests of Australia. A.n economist was also to be appointed, yet we know that economists hold diverse opinions about this matter. In fact, we could select six economists, and, after consultation upon this or any other problem, probably they would give six different economic opinions or theories. I dispose of this aspect of the inquiry by saying with great respect that the intention of the Government was condemned all round Australia, not only by trade unions, ‘but also by the representative public press of the country. It was accepted for what it was - an endeavour entirely to sidestep government responsibility, a device to enable a stalemate to be reached in regard to this important matter. Furthermore, it violated the responsibility of this Parliament in respect of the action which this Parliament should or should not take in regard to the principle which was to be the subject of the inquiry. The action which the Government should have taken, before any other, was to submit to the Parliament a statement of what it proposed to do in respect of the obligations it had incurred by reason of Australia’s membership of the International Labour Office, and in- view of the convention adopted. But it did not do that. On the contrary, it proposed only to institute this vague and nebulous inquiry to be conducted by seventeen persons.- My answer to that is that a practicable inquiry, one that would not he destroyed by extraneous matters, and which would be conducted by persons who had already skill and training in dealing with this kind of problem, was availa.ble to the Prime Minister, but he rejected it. The right honorable gentleman refused to agree to competent industrial tribunals in Australia that have been dealing with this matter for years dealing with it now. He wanted to drag in a representative of the consumers, a customs officers and a medical man, to decide what the standard hours of work should be in Australia. I assert that the Government did all this because it did not desire to have the 40- hour week, as a principle, examined in Australia, with a view to its application, but merely wanted an excuse for a longwinded investigation which would enable it to approach as near as possible to a general election without a decision having been made. If that inquiry was not in its nature inherently designed to achieve procrastination, then all the other inquiries we have had have been no guide or lesson to us.

There has been a change of heart on the part of the Government since its delegate (Sir Frederick Stewart) returned from Geneva. I am unable to disconnect his severance from the Cabinet from the fact that the adoption of the 40-hour principle in Australia kas not had that active enthusiastic backing of the Government which he had the right to expect it would have in view of the instructions which were given to him.

Sir Frederick Stewart:

– That is not correct.


– I point out again that the purpose of the inquiry was, not to discover how or when the 40-hour week should be put into operation, but to re-open the whole question of its merit, and that had already been decided. 1 shall make a further charge to show that there has been a change of heart on the part of the Government. The matter of the application of a 40-hour week to specific industries is to be considered at this year’s conference of the International Labour Office. The other day I. asked the Prime Minister what replies he” had made to the questionnaires which had been issued. Eight matters have been listed for this year’s conference, and six of them are the subject of questions. The remaining two relate to the reduction of hours of work in the textile industry and to safety provisions for workers in building construction, with reference to scaffolding and hoisting machinery. It appears that the Commonwealth Government considers that, owing to constitutional limitations, it is not in a position to reply to the questions which relate to the reduction of the number of working hours. Apparently it has replied to only two questions, and has failed to reply to the remaining four. I have obtained from the Department of External Affairs, and have examined the documentation in regard to previous conferences. I find that this is the first occasion upon which the Commonwealth Government has declined to furnish replies to certain questionnaires on the ground of constitutional limitations. In some cases previously it has not sent replies, apparently without giving any reason, while in other cases it has simply communicated observations or information furnished by the Governments of ‘ the States. In this case, it has not done even that. In other cases, although sending replies, it has pointed out that competence in the matter is shared between the States and the Commonwealth. I submit that it is very probable that in this case the excuse of constitutional limitations has been invoked simply in order to avoid replying to these particular questions. Support for this view is to be found in the fact that the Government is replying to a question on holidays with pay, a subject to which constitutional limitations would apply if they apply to hours of labour. As far as I have been able to ascertain, no other federal country has ever taken this view in regard to the making of replies to questionnaires. ‘ Nor has this Government done so previously. It is difficult to understand how constitutional limitations can apply to certain of the questions in the questionnaires, such as those which ask for the opinion of the Government as to the desirability of the international regulation of th«.< Lours of labour. Surely the Government could have furnished a statement intimating its view even though it recognized that the matter is one in which the States are involved. If it felt so strongly about that, it should have communicated this questionnaire to the States and asked them to furnish replies. In having refused to answer these questions it not only has failed to reflect the state of public opinion in Australia, but has also denied expression to the views of those State Governments which favour the reduction of hours and have so informed the Commonwealth. Australia, which for some years led the way in answers to questions, has now little to say.

I conclude by saying that the Labour party believes that Australia must do its utmost to promote the adoption of a 40- hour week. It says that this is an essential adjustment of the hours of labour, in order to take up the slack of unemployment and to meet the problems of the times. It considers the reduction of the number of working hours not merely as a means for the diminution of unemployment, and the combating of the depression, but also as a medium for thu removal of the evils caused by mechanization and rationalization, which are not due to the depression but are permanent features of modern economic life. The workers are entitled to share in the benefits that result from an improved technique, by having their hours of labour reduced and their leisure hours increased.

The answer to the last question which I submitted to the Prime Minister upon this subject indicated that he was finished with it, his reply being to the effect that, as his proposition for an inquiry had resulted in disappointment to him, he had no other proposition to make. A government which has no proposition other than that of this preposterous contemplated inquiry, stands convicted of having failed to promote the adoption of a 40-hour week in Australia.

Debate interrupted.

page 1287


Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I desire to inform the House that His Excellency Colonel the Right Honorable Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E.,C.M.G., D.S.O., Governor of the State of Queensland, and formerly a member of the House of Commons, is within the precincts of the House. With the concurrence of honorable members, I propose to invite His Excellency to occupy a. distinguished stranger’s seat on the floor of the House beside the Speaker’s chair.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !

His Excellency thereupon entered the chamber, and was seated accordingly.

page 1287


Motion of Censure

Debate resumed.

Prime Minister · Wilmot · UAP

– In the past, when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has addressed the House, we have been accustomed to a fair presentation of any casehe has bad to present. I regret that to-day his speech has been marred by baseless charges, that are only in keeping with the distortion of the facts that we find embodied in the motion which he has moved.

My feeling towards the attitude of honorable members opposite is one of amazement. The Leader of the Opposition has made an eloquent plea in favour of action being taken in the direction of achieving either the 40-hour week to which he has referred, or some other shorter working week. The honorable gentleman has to-day allied himself with those who must take the responsibility of having frustrated the efforts of this Government in that direction. The Government has endeavoured to provide means by which this matter might be advanced. From the time when the Australian representative was selected in 1933, up to the departure of the representative who is now on his way to attend this year’s conference of the International Labour Office at Geneva, very extensive and serious consideration has been given to the problem by this Government. It has done all that it practically could do towards the furtherance of the proposal for a shorter working week. The failure of the Labour unions to provide the co-operation expected of them has made impossible at this stage the taking of any other step. This censure motion covers up a recognition of the folly of the policy which has been pursued, and provides an opportunity to promote an endeavour to place on other shoulders the responsibility which rests upon those of honorable members opposite and their supporters. This effort to retrieve the position is bound to fail. The attitude of the Government has been one of a recognition of all those things to which the Leader of the Opposition referred in his introductory remarks. Ithas endeavoured by sound and safe means to effect an improvement of the economic position as far as hours of labour are concerned. It has attempted to give some lead at Geneva, while at the same time recognizing the interests and the rights of the people of this country. It has realized the necessity to safeguard the interests of the producers of Australia whose products come into competition with those of the producers of other countries. When it instructed its representatives to support the principle, realising that there were difficulties peculiar to a federation, which might not exist in countries with other forms of government, it instructed them to point out these difficulties, to show the limited extent to which the Commonwealth Parliament and Government have complete control, and to indicate the field over which the Federal Arbitration Court has control, and that over which State tribunals have control. These are matters which have to be faced. If honorable members opposite are prepared blindly to advocate a particular policy without having its probable effects investigated, the Government is not. Having pointed out the difficulties, the Government has carried the matter a step further. In order to facilitate the provision of means by which the desired object might be achieved, if that were possible, the Government decided to set up a conference. It had a definite objective in proposing to setup a conference instead of a royal commission.

What has the Government done in regard to this matter ? The Leader of the Opposition has sought to ridicule the conference that was to have investigated it. He fears the matter would not have been adequately dealt with by that conference. After all, that objection to the form of it wasnot raised by the representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions or others. They objected because they were afraid there might be a majority on it who did not see eye to eye with them. The form of the conference has not been objected to until now. How was it to be constituted ? The Leader of the Opposition apparently objects to a customs official, without the right to vote, being present. He also objects to a representative of the Treasury and to other representatives. In the first place, it was intended that the conference should consist of five or six representatives of the employers, and a similar number from the employees’ side. In addition, there were to be the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, and a representative of one of the State industrial tribunals as a vicechairman, as well as a medical man, an economist and a woman who would represent the consumers. When certain suggestions were made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, members of the Government conferred with that body in Melbourne, and I discussed the matter with its representative in Canberra. We heard its representations, and did all we could to meet its objections, because our desire was to have the proposal investigated, not by a royal commission, but by a conference held in the appropriate atmosphere of a round-table discussion. We did. not look upon this as a party question; we hoped that the representatives would confer, and bring light and guidance both to the Commonwealth and the

States. In order to meet the objections of the trade unions, we finally proposed that the conference should comprise the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, six representatives of the employers, six representatives of the workers - who should nominate their own men - a woman who would represent the consumers of Australia, and be carefully selected by the Government-

Mr Ward:

– From the Nationalist party ?


– No, she was to be carefully chosen, and to be allied to no political party in Australia. She was to be a person who had long been dissociated from any political party. Are the consumers of this country not to be considered at all? What objection could be offered to putting forward a member of the conference to represent them? An economist was also to be chosen on the ground of his qualifications for the position. Do honorable members opposite suspect every economist of being an enemy of, the Labour movement? The woman representative and the economist were the only two who were to have a vote in the conference, apart from the chairman and the representatives of the workers and the employers. Through this House, I ask the people of this country whether any fairer proposal could have been made to deal with the problem that confronted us. The Government had hoped that it would not be necessary to take a vote on a matter of this kind. It was expected that the representatives of the various schools of thought in regard to the subject to be considered would exchange their views at the conference table, and that some good would result. Such a conference should not take the form of a meeting of two opposing armies, each reaching a separate decision in the end, instead of getting together and doing something in the direction all would desire. I cannot see how objection could be taken to a body so constituted.

Mr Baker:

– But it was.


– Because of the bias on the part of those who took exception to the constitution of the conference, and who were in line with the honorable member. The Leader of the Opposition has said that we refused to accept a body constituted of arbitration court officials - judges or presidents of the industrial courts or tribunals. I am told to-day that the Queensland Government proposed that that is how the conference should be constituted. My answer is that I tried to get from that Government one man, in order that he might be vice-president of the conference, but it declined to accede to the request on the ground that it could not make his services available. He was too busy! Then this Government is condemned because of its attitude.


– That is typical of this Government’s policy. It shifts the blame to somebody else.


– I am putting the responsibility back where it belongs. We were so anxious that a representative of a State tribunal should be on the conference that we tried in three States, but received the same reply from Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.

Mr Mahoney:

– Did you try Tasmania ?


– The honorable member knows that there is no arbitration court in that State.

I have no objection whatever to the ideas of the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the constitution of the conference. I tried to get one representative of the industrial tribunals, but was unable to do so because the courts were said to be too busy. If we could not secure one, how could we get six? The suggestion is made that objection was taken to the form of the inquiry. That question was not raised, but there was a fear on the part of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions that there might be too many government representatives, and that the conference might be overloaded from the Labour point of view. We had communicated with the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Workers Union, pointing out that we desired the representation to be as wide as possible, embracing country districts, and we had asked the Australian Workers Union also to nominate representatives; but the Australasian Council of Trade Unions objected to the Australian Workers Union having any representation, claiming that the Council represented all the workers of Australia, and desired to nominate all the men on the Labour side.

Mr Barnard:

– That is quite fair.

Mr Garden:

– That is a distortion, and the right honorable gentleman knows it.


– Is that remark in order ?


– I have several times called for order, and have asked a number of honorable members not to interject. If they offend again, I shall have to take action against them. I urge honorable members to hear the Prime Minister in silence.


– I informed the Australian Workers Union as to the attitude adopted by the Australasian Council of Trade Unions The former body objected, and, because of its opposition, the Government returned to its first proposal, asking the Australasian Council of Trade Unions to nominate four, and the Australian Workers Union, two, representatives. It was as far back as the 12th February when we first attempted to get representation from these bodies. From time to time honorable members, particularly on the Opposition side, have asked questions as to when the Government would be in a position to announce the personnel of the conference; but we were always disappointed, because we were unable to make the names known. We were being held up by those who refused to put forward their nominations. Therefore, the blame for the fact that no conference took place, and for the failure to enable another step to be taken in the direction of achieving the objective of honorable members opposite, is wholly attributable to the action of those who refused to nominate their representatives at the inquiry. Their action has not brought nearer a shorter working week. On the contrary it has retarded the further consideration of the proposal which the Government had hoped would bring about some result in the desired direction. I say, without hesitation, that the responsibility lies with those who failed to participate in the inquiry.

The Leader of the Opposition objects to a discussion of the merits of a 40-hour week. Are those who favour this change so wholeheartedly afraid that it has no merits, and are, therefore, unwilling to have it made the subject of an investigation? No forward policy of any kind will be advanced by the attitude of the Opposition.

YARRA, VICTORIA · ALP; FLP from 1931; ALP from 1936

– The Government brought the matter to the notice of the International Labour Conference.


– We put our position clearly before that conference; but the adoption of the convention regarding a 40-hour week did not commit Australia.

Mr Scullin:

– The Government was satisfied with that decision


– We made it clear that we should have to consider the interests of the Australian people. We pointed out the difficulties which this or any other Commonwealth Government would have to face in regard to the proposal, and we hoped that we were doing something of practical value by arranging a conference representative of every section entitled to representation. We desired adequate representation of the views of the workers and the employers. The claims of the workers and the employees in every part of Australia, including country districts, were to be considered. Therefore, I repeat that we put our proposition forward bona fide, believing that we were doing something which, it is suggested by the honorable member’s motion, we have not done. We still believe that before this country can adopt reduced hours of labour an Impartial investigation is required.

Mr Archdale Parkhill:

– Not only required, but also necessary.


– Yes, as the Minister has pointed out, it is necessary. In order to prove our bona fides, in spite of the criticism offered to the Government by the Leader of the Opposition, and although the unions have failed, up to the present, to co-operate, I make to the Leader of the Opposition and, through him, to the people he represents in this chamber, an offer to carry out this investigation. We would have the Chief Judge as chairman of the inquiry and give equal representation to workers and employers. We would also allow the representation of the consumers. Surely there can be no objection to the presence at the inquiry of an* economist. There could be no objection to the presence of a dozen advisers, so long as they did not have the right to vote. I have no desire to dodge any of the issues and I claim to be just as enthusiastic about this matter as those who are interjecting; but I have a desire to use a practical method of achieving the objective. I do not want to make party political capital out of it. If something can be done, I want to do it. I not only make that offer, but in addition, believing that this is a national question which should not be discussed on party political lines, I am prepared to confer with the Leader of the Opposition in order to obtain some satisfactory solution of the difficulty which presents itself, owing to the failure of the unions in Australia to co-operate in the effort to consider this question.


.- The right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said that his attitude P . one of amazement that the Opposition should find fault with the Government in regard to this question. If it were not a serious matter to a large number of people in Australia, his statement would be ludicrous. He undoubtedly expected a censure motion. The right honorable gentleman has failed to reply to the fine criticism levelled against the Government by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). But that is not unusual. Over the last five years, when the Prime Minister and his Government have come up against any problem of major importance, instead of tackling it, they have shelved it. The Government has always referred any major question to a timewasting royal commission, the reports of which have invariably been pigeon-holed. The Prime Minister has said that his Government stands for an inquiry, whilst the Opposition would, willy-nilly, support a 40-hour week. If we examine this matter impartially, we must come to the conclusion that this Government instructed its delegate to the International Labour Office Conference at Geneva last year to vote in favour of a 40-hour week. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), the representative of Australia, in the course of his speech at that conference said -

I am authorized to state that should the majority of nations he in favour of a 40-hour week, the Commonwealth will use its best endeavours to obtain agreement and concurrence on the part of the Australian States, so that the course may be clear for the ratification of the convention by the Commonwealth.

Evidently, the Commonwealth Government had made up its mind that the 40- hour week would be a very good thing when it instructed its representative to state that it would be put into operation if the majority of the nations favoured it. The majority of the delegates present at that conference did favour it. The voting, I think, was 79 to 30 in endorsement of the convention for general application of the 40-hour week. Now the Prime Minister says that it would be a good thing to hold an inquiry, and the terms of reference of the proposed inquiry show that it is to inquire into the merits of a 40-hour week. Evidently, when the Government instructed Sir Frederick Stewart to take the course he followed at Geneva, it believed that the majority of the nations of the world would not favour the 40-hour week, and that it would not be called upon to implement it. This year, the Commonwealth Government has selected a representative who probably will not be so independent as the last one, and will not go so far in advocacy of a 40-hour week as Sir Frederick Stewart did on his recent return to Australia.

Although the Government has at times indicated that it is in favour of the shorter working week, it has done everything possible to hamper and delay this long overdue reform. In other words it has done lip-service to the doctrine and has shelved its repsonsibilties Its desire is to have a time-wasting committee of seventeen representatives evidently to hold the matter up a year or so until the eve of another election. Notwithstanding the statements made by the Prime Minister on his return from abroad last year that his Government was going to bring about many reforms, Australia to-day is no nearer a shorter working week.

I have heard all parties say that they stand for universal peace, but I remind the Government that universal peace depends on the personal security of the individual. Australia to-day, instead of leading the world in social legislation, lags far behind, as was proved by tha Leader of the Opposition; and for apathy, indifference and procrastination on big national questions the present Government has had no equal since federation.

The question of a shorter working week is interwoven with the problem of unemployment, the dreadful spectre of which still haunts hundreds of thousands of people in Australia. According to the figures for the first quarter of 1936, issued by the Commonwealth Statistician, the number of unemployed in Australia is approximately 300,000, and from these figures, it can be taken that there are close on a million people in Australia who are dependent on charity in some form or another. Before they can be taken into lucrative employment, it will be necessary to bring about the long overdue reform of reduced hours of labour. Throughout the world to-day, there are 30,000,000 persons out of work, and 100,000,000 dependent on one form of charity or another. With the advent of labour-saving machinery it should bo obvious to every thinking person that the general application of a 40-hour week, or of an even shorter working week, is a social reform which has been long delayed. With the introduction of laboursaving machinery, the re-absorption into industry of 30,000,000 men and women is impossible, unless this reform is brought about. The great majority of employers are hostile to any reform in the direction of a shorter working week, although there are some notable examples of employers who favour a reduction of the hours of labour. I think that the honorable member for Parramatta was correct when he said -

Too often has industry been unwilling to make some reasonable concession to the workers.

He speaks with a first-hand knowledge of the outlook of that class of unyielding employers who are the bulwark of this Government.

In good times, private enterprise invests its surplus in more capital plant, and in bad times, it seeks to increase efficiency by installing new automatic machinery, thereby eliminating more man hours of labour. The obvious conclusion is that never again, or with less and less likelihood as our utilization of energy increases, will the existing unemployed be re-absorbed into profit-making industry, unless there be a substantial shortening of the working week, and an increase of the purchasing power of the community. A shorter working week, I believe, will never be put into general operation in this country until the Labour party has a majority in both Houses in the Commonwealth Parliament.

What is going to be done for the young people of the country? At the time the census was taken in 1933, there were 131,000 children of twelve years of age. They are now fifteen years old, and 75 per cent, of them have left school. Approximately 50,000 boys leave school annually in an endeavour to find employment. How are they going to be absorbed unless the purchasing power of the workers is increased and a 40-hour week is instituted ?

Before the last election the Prime Minister made all kinds of specious promises about what the party would do to solve the unemployment problem and give greater leisure to the mass of the people. The Government, however, has not come forward with any comprehensive policy to deal with this matter on a national basis, although some of the State governments have done a great deal. Just before the elections the Prime Minister said -

The return of the Ministry will mean that we will bc able to proceed with our plans for a great project of rural relief, which will bring a brighter outlook for every one associated with land. It will also mean that large sums of money will be raised for a great employment drive, which, at the same time, will mean construction nf reproductive development works such as unification of railway gauges, advances through State governments to municipalities for water and sewerage projects, and the initiation of housing and afforestation projects . . I do not promise these things for the sake of promising, I promise them because I know we can carry them out.

The statement is on a par with the statements on all national questions which this Government has made. Vested interests will not allow the Government to tackle these questions in a statesmanlike manner. Sir Frederick Stewart was appointed as Minister in charge of Employment, because it was realized that he was a man in industry. He had one great fault, he was too outspoken for the Government, and was relegated to the tip of the tail of Cabinet, and when he came back from abroad imbued with the idea of a 40-hour week, it was not long before he was pushed out of the Government’s deliberations. ‘ Now the Government, Micawberlike, is sitting back waiting for something to turn up, but blaming the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Workers Union and the State governments for its abject failure to implement the Geneva convention. The Government, instead of taking active steps to implement the decision as Geneva, proposed to appoint an unwieldy conference of seventeen delegates to consider the subject. This would have involved a great deal of time. The conference could not possibly have thrown any new light on the subject. All the information necessary to the Government was already available to it. The Australasian Council of Trade Unions represented to the Government that it was desirable that a smaller body consisting of two or three representatives of the employers and two or three representatives of the trade union movement, with voting power, and a representative of the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, and of the Customs Department, together with an accountant without voting power to act in an advisory capacity, should be authorized to make the inquiry. The Government proposed that six representatives of the employers and employees and a representative of the consumers plus a number of other persons should be appointed. It was manifest that in such a conference the preponderance of votes would definitely be against the representatives of organized labour. Unfortunately the Government would not move from the stand that it had taken, but persisted in its proposal to appoint this unwieldy and time-wasting body. The trade unions, thereupon becoming exasperated, declined to have anything to do with the inquiry, and urged the Government to get on with the job of implementing the 40-hour working week decided upon at Geneva. Evidently the Government has not been able to obtain the approval of its masters outside Parliament to the taking of any action, and it therefore is content to do nothing. This inaction has been condemned, not only by organized labour and the Labour press, but also by other sections of the press not usually favorable to the outlook of

Labour. A notable instance is the Melbourne Herald which, hitherto, has strongly supported the Lyons Government. In its leading article of the 28th April, 1936, the Melbourne Herald stated -

The Commonwealth Government has restored the futile royal commission system in its most extravagant form. Over £90,000 has been spent in the last three and a half years in addition to hundreds of thousands before that. Cartloads of the reports of able conscientious men have had little or no influence, nor under our party system was it likely that they could i,ave. The Cabinet has to make up its mind whether a proposed reform bc ready for serious attention. If it need economic, statistical or other information, or if it wants the guidance of experience elsewhere, it can apply directly to officials, economists or administrators, who are cither able to supply it or to compile it with reasonable promptitude.

The Government has dallied with other important subjects, as well as with the shorter working week. I refer particularly to national insurance.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– What has that to do with this subject?


– I mention it to indicate that the inaction of the Government in connexion, with the introduction of a shorter working week is symptomatic of its whole outlook. Its desire, apparently, is to . refer these important subjects to royal commissions. Such weak-kneed action has inevitably incurred the wrath of progressive people. An inquiry by a royal commission into a shorter working week would simply mean a delay of another twelve months. Organized Labour in Australia resents the possibility of such procrastination. The Government already has available to it qualified statisticians and economists, and if it wanted further information to enable it to implement the ‘Geneva decision in favour of a shorter working week it could easily obtain it.

There are at least four lines of action which the Government could pursue to adopt this convention. It could take direct action itself; endeavour to secure the concurrence of the States in Commonwealthwide action ; or refer the subject to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Unquestionably, it could introduce without delay a 40-hour working week in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Why did not the Scullin Government introduce a 40- hour working week?


– One reason was that the Labour Government, although in office did not have a majority in another place. The present Government has an overwhelming majority in both Houses of the Parliament.

Mr Scullin:

– Furthermore, there was not at that time a majority of delegates at Geneva in favour of a 40-hour working week.


– That is so. It was not until 19&5 that the delegates at Geneva approved of a 40-hour working week. The Government has fallen down on its job. It was frightened out of its wits when the 40-hour week convention was adopted at Geneva, and it has since seemed to be quite unable to do anything to implement the decision. If it had had a sincere desire to give effect to this Geneva convention, it could have convened a special Premiers conference to consider the subject. Its lack of sincerity is revealed to the world by the fact that, although it instructed Sir Frederick Stewart to vote for the 40-hour working week at Geneva, it has completely and dismally failed to implement the decision in Australia.

Certain international treaties have been approved by Australia. Under one of these, for example, the Government has issued regulations to control air navigation. This action was taken in conformity with an agreement reached at a world air convention. The regulations which were issued are now being contested in Sydney before the High Court, which authority, in making its decision, will have to deal with the general subject of the treaty-making power of the Commonwealth. Professor K. H. Bailey, professor of law at the Melbourne University, holds the opinion that the Commonwealth has power to deal with this subject. Other eminent lawyers are also of that opinion. An article in the International Labour Review of the 4th November, 1935, includes the legal opinion of Mr. Joseph Staricoff LL.B., D.C.L., Vinerian Law Scholar of the University of Oxford. The article is entitled,’ “ Australia and the Constitution of the International Labour Organization,” and concludes with the following words : -

In view of these considerations which I have enumerated, it is submitted that the Commonwealth has now full constitutional capacity under pi. xxix. to give effect to International Labour Conventions.

In Sydney_the Government is defending its power to implement an international treaty, while in Canberra, in this House, it is denying that it has such power! It seems to be blown this way or that by the prevailing wind at the moment.

The Government has asserted that it can do nothing to implement the shorter working week convention; but, even assuming that its contention that constitutional difficulties are in the way of effective legislative action, it unquestionably could have applied the principle of the 40-hour week to its own employees. The Commonwealth railway employees are, 1 understand, still obliged to work 48 hours a week, although the railway employees in the service of some of the States enjoy a 44-hour week. Apparently, the only action which the Government regards as possible is the appointment of a time-wasting and ineffective royal commission. Evidently, it is endeavouring to eclipse the record of the Bruce-Page Government in this connexion. That Government, in the course of six or seven years, spent £600,000 on 58 royal commissions and committees of one kind and another. This Government has so far spent more than £90,000 on royal commissions, the reports of which have either been pigeonholed or thrown into the waste-paper basket. Why should the Commonwealth railway employees be denied a 40-hour working week?

The treaty-making power vested in the Commonwealth Parliament could undoubtedly be used to implement the Geneva Convention for a shorter working week. If the Commonwealth Government oan ratify international labour treaties and legislate for the whole country as it has done, it could enact a complete and uniform social code for Australia. Conferences held at Geneva since 1919 have adopted nearly 50 conventions. Some of these are in operation in Australia today, although the Commonwealth has not formally ratified them.

The contention of some honorable members opposite that it would be dangerous for Australia to commit itself to the adoption of the decisions of the International Labour Conference, because it might mean, in some cases, an increase of hours and a reduction of wages, is unsound, for one clause of the constitution of the International Labour Office reads -

In no case shall any member be asked or required as a result of the adoption of any recommendation or draft convention by the Conference to lessen the protection afforded by its existing legislation, to the workers concerned.

The 40-hour working week has been adopted in many countries of the world, but, apparently, the Commonwealth Government is satisfied to talk and do nothing. The Government of Czechoslovakia has introduced a bill for a 40-hour working week without loss of pay, to apply to both public and private enterprises, and a 36-hour working week in exceptionally tiring, dangerous and unhealthy occupations. In 1935, under the Industrial Standards Act of Ontario, Canada, a schedule of hours and wages involving the 40-hour week was approved by order in council for the following occupations in the building trades : - Plumbers, steamfitters and gasfitters; electricians; bricklayers and masons, carpenters; lathers (wood and metal) ; painters ; decorators ; glaziers and paperhangers ; sheet metal workers in the construction industry and tile-setters in the Toronto zone; plumbers in Ottawa, Hamilton and district, and Port Arthur, Fort William and district: bricklayers and stonemasons, plasterers and carpenters and electricians in Windsor and district.- The 40-hour week was also applied in the millinery industry over the whole province.

The 40-hour week was introduced provisionally in Italy in 1934. In 1935, in consequence of the satisfactory results obtained from the point of view of reduction of unemployment, it was decided to introduce the shorter week permanently and to apply it wherever possible. It has been reported that 200,000 additional people have been provided with employment in Italy in consequence of the adoption of the 40-hour working week.

In January, 1935, 95 per cent, of all industrial employees in the United States of America were covered by 541 codes of fair competition in force, and 85 per cent, of the codes assured the main body of industrial workers a working week of 40 hours or less. The representative of the Government of the United States of America on the governing body of the International Labour Office stated in Geneva, in February, 1935, that, while the increase of employment in the United States of America could not be ascribed solely to the reduction of hours, but was also contributed to by the Government’s agricultural programme and policy of public works, it was nevertheless possible to measure the immediate effects of the individual codes as they came into operation. For example, for some time prior to the adoption of the code in the cotton textile industry, every possible yard of cloth had been produced in anticipation of the higher wage rate, and output had been almost as high as at the peak of prosperity. Nevertheless, the enforcement of the code limiting hours to 40 per week had resulted within one month in an 11 per cent, increase of employment. Again, in the iron and steel industry, the increase of employment was 13 per cent. The Government of the United States of America, said the delegate, looked with favour on the extension of the 40-hour week, which it considered not as an end in itself, but as a step to further reductions wherever practicable. Subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States of America on the constitutionality of certain sections of the National Industrial Recovery Acts have enabled employers to disregard the hours and wages provisions of the codes of fair competition, and it has not been possible to take proceedings against them. In certain industries, however, the employers’ associations have decided to continue working under the provisions of the codes. In other industries, agreements have been made providing for a 40-hour week, and even less in some cases. In June, 1935, at the Interstate Labour Conference at Spring Lake, New Jersey, sixteen States were represented. A committee was appointed to draw up detailed provisions for a compact on hours of labour which should meet, both the needs of industry and labour. A meeting of the Interstate Conference on Labour Compacts was held on the 19th and the 20th October, 1935, at Albany, United States of America, and the proposal for a 40-hour week was there adopted by delegates from thirteen States. In January, the delegates of governors of twelve southern States mert; at Nashville, Tennessee, for the Southern Regional Conference on State labour legislation and economic security. The conference adopted the following recommendation : -

Enactment by the States of laws fixing a maximum eight-hour day, a 40-hour week, and one day of rest in seven, for both men and women,

I could cite a number of instances of decisions by other countries to introduce a 40-hour working week, and of the benefits which followed its enactment in the direction of increased- employment and greater purchasing power. The Prime Minister deplores the action of the unions in refusing to participate in the farcical conference which he proposed, but, because of the type of inquiry he suggested, he has only himself to blame. I feel sure that the Prime Minister is not free to implement the Geneva decision in favour of a 40-hour working week. Recently he stated: -

If the principle of reducing working hours is more generally adopted and found to be advantageous and practicable, the Commonwealth Government would be prepared to do everything in its power to see that Australia does not lag behind the world in this matter.

Evidently the conference was to be merely a blind, as we have here a definite statement by the Prime Minister to the effect that the Government would be prepared to take action only if the principle of a 40-hour week were generally adopted throughout the world, and then only if it were found practicable and advantageous. I remind honorable members that Australia for many years led the world in social reforms. Why should not the Government, which has a majority in both Houses of Parliament, give a lead to the States, and to backward nations, in this matter? The Government evidently has made up its mind, and nothing may be expected from it unless and until every nation of the world adopts a 40-hour week. It will do nothing to facilitate or expedite the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia. It is evident, therefore, that the workers of Australia will have to throw their weight behind the Labour party in order to place it in power once more, so that this necessary reform may be brought about.

There are endless examples in every branch of industry of the displacement of labour by machinery. The dial telephone is taking an extremely heavy toll of human labour. The talking pictures have thrown thousands of musicians out of work. Electric refrigeration has put ice men out of work. Automatic engraving apparatus displaces hundreds of men in watch-case factories. In the textile industry, which is approaching that automatic state where man hours are near the zero line, one man can handle a 100 or more looms. By means of automatic, straight-line processes, the raw wool can be taken through the entire process into bolts ready for shipment without the touch of a human hand. Hardly a tabulating machine put out by business machine firms aims to throw less than one-third of the office girls out of work. Three machines, with four trained girls, can send out 9,000 bills a day. A tabulator of new type can displace seven girls in an office that formerly required fifteen. A new filing cabinet claims to be capable of replacing three record-keepers out of five. A new addressing machine can address 125 letters a minute, and the letters look as though they had been typed. New perpetual inventory machines are replacing hundreds of bookkeepers. In the production of tin cans in the United States of America, the figures changed in ten years from 1919 to 1929 as under: - 1910. - Production, 9,400,000,000; wageearners, 34,380; man hours, 103,000. 1929. - Production, 16,950,000,000 (oneeleventh of the entire steel production ) ; wage-earners, 31,497; man hours, 75,600.

The man hours had dropped from 01095 to .00447 a tin can.

Over the same period, in the meatpacking industry, the man hours dropped from 25.56 per 1,000 lb. of meat, to 17.86. New machines for the production of cigarettes produce cigarettes at the rate of 2,500 to 2,600 a minute, as compared with the previous maximum of 500 to 600 cigarettes a minute. In the production of electric globes, the Corning process increased the output a man by 9,000 times over the previous process - one machine in one plant doing in one hour what 9,000 men were formerly required to do in that time. In view of these facts, it is now the opinion of organized labour in Australia that the introduction of a 40-hour working week is long overdue. All of the necessary data is already in possession of the Government which could implement the Geneva convention at once if it were sincere. There can be no doubt that the Government is deserving of censure for having failed to do so before this.


.- In common with other honorable members I listened with interest to the historical and social survey of this problem made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), but it struck me at the outset that he was approaching the matter in the wrong way, inasmuch as he was debating the principle of the proposed reduction of hours. It is not necessary to debate that principle in this House while this Government is in office. The attitude of the Government in this regard has been- made abundantly clear, not only by the instruction to its delegate to the recentconferences held by the International Labour Office, but also by the steps it has taken to promote an inquiry into the subject. I do not think that there can be one honorable member in this House who would not agree that a progressive reduction of working hours, in consonance with the improvement of labour-saving devices and the development of machinery, i3 altogether desirable. The whole question is not one of the merits of the proposal - because the principle has been approved by the Government - but of the practicability of the immediate application of the scheme. I stress the fact that this Government has approved of the proposal in principle. If a Labour government were in office, and approved of the principle, it would have to adopt measures almost identical with those adopted by the present Government if it were not to fail in its duty as the custodian of the people’s rights. A Labour government could not immediately put into operation a 40-hour week throughout Australia, and speakers on the other side of the House have admitted as much. It would first be necessary to make an investigation similar to that which this Government proposes, and the only criticism that can honestly be levied against the Government must be in regard to the form which the inquiry should take. The Government, in suggesting the holding of an inquiry, is following in the footsteps of the International Labour Office. That organization realizes that many matters must be examined before this principle can be given general application. For instance, the Government must consider what would be its effect on employment; would it increase production costs; what would be the effect on consumption costs ; what constitutional steps would it be necessary for governments, both Federal and State, to take to put the scheme into effect; in what industries could the principle be effectively introduced; and could it be applied to rural as well as to metropolitan industries?

Those are only a few of the questions which any government, Labour, Country party or United Australia party, would have to consider before it could put the principle of a 40-hour working week into operation. The International Labour Office has recognized that once the principle is accepted the problem cannot be approached as a whole, but must be considered piece-meal. When the subject was due for consideration at Geneva, the agenda paper was drawn up in the following manner : -

Reduction of hours of work with special reference to -

public works undertaken or subsidized by governments;

glass bottle manufacture;

It is evident, therefore, that the Government should also consider this matter under its various branches, and to do this it is necessary that an impartial investigation be made.

Let us examine, in passing, the nature of the inquiry which the Government proposed to make. As the Prime’ Minister pointed out, he did not want to set up just another royal commission which might take a considerable time drafting its conclusions. He wanted to set up a body that would be representative of employers and employees, a body which, while representa tive of those two main parties, would, at the same time, have the expert advice necessary to show what would be the effect of the adoption of a 40-hour week throughout industry as a whole. The Government very properly proposed as advisers to the conference a representative from the Treasury, another from the Customs Department, a medical man who could give expert opinion regarding the possible effect of a shorter working week on the health of the people, and, in addition, an economist.

Mr Beasley:

– But if the Government has accepted the principle of the 40-hour week, what need is there for inquiry into those points?


– I can understand the reluctance of members of the Opposition to listen to a reply from Government supporters in view of the deliberate action of Labour organizations to prevent or delay the holding of the inquiry. Having suggested the appointment of an economic adviser and a representative of the consumers, the Government went even further, and said that, if the Labour interests were afraid that the board would be overloaded with employing interests, it would refuse votes to all except the representatives of the employers and employees, the economic adviser, the representative of the consumers, and the Chairman, who would be the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. A fairer proposition could scarcely be put forward by any government. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, no objection was raised by the unions to the actual terms of reference; objection was taken only to the personnel of the conference. The Government went as far as any independently-minded government could go in giving the unions a very definite voice in the personnel of the conference. To-day it has gone even further. The Prime Minister, pointing out that this is a great national, and not a party political question, has given an undertaking that he will not only give the unions a further opportunity to cooperate with the Government, but will also confer with the Leader of the Opposition, and give full consideration to any suggestions made by him. Some criticism was offered by way of interjection to the appointment of the Chief Judge of the

Commonwealth Arbitration Court as chairman of the tribunal. On this matter, I can speak from my experience of the learned gentleman, because I have personally appeared before him, and no sincere honorable gentleman opposite can say that there is the slightest trace of bias in his examination and adjudication of the questions placed before him. As a matter of fact, employer representatives have complained that he gives too much consideration to the employees. From my own personal experience, I would say that he examines every question impartially, and without prejudice or bias. In regard to the fear expressed that the conference may be overloaded by employer representatives, I can again speak from personal experience. Before my election to this Parliament, I was privileged to sit as an employer representative on a wages board in Victoria. During the whole of my association with that board, on no occasion was it necessary for the chairman to give a casting vote. Each question was examined on its merits, and employer and employee representatives decided each question ou its merits.

Mr Beasley:

– What board does the honorable member refer to?


– The Musicians Board.

Mr Beasley:

– Oh !

Mr Mahoney:

– Tin whistles and mouth organs!


– The musicians are just ss much entitled to form a union and to be represented on the Wages Boards as are any other groups of employees. If honorable members opposite wish to deride the fact that such skilled artisans have set up their own body for the determination of their industrial questions, no one can feel much sympathy for them.

Mr Beasley:

– It is a good union.

Mr Holloway:

– Why does not the honorable gentleman say that the Musicians Union got a federal award, and that all the Wages Board did was to adjust that award automatically?


– I was asked by the employee representatives to attend a special sitting of that board before my election, so that the very proposition which the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has suggested could be put through. If the honorable member likes to check it up, he will find that my statement is correct.

Mr Holloway:

– I say that it is correct.


– I have had experience on one board only, but the very fact that the system of wages board tribunals is supported by the Opposition shows that these boards are capable of bringing impartial minds to bear on all questions, and that’ the practice is not confined merely to those .questions affecting the entertainment industry. I have no desire to detain the House further. A lengthy examination of the historical aspect of this problem, or of the operation of the 40-hour week in overseas countries is beside the point. What this Parliament can and should do is to entrust this inquiry into the practicability of a 40-hour week to some expert body which should be called upon- to decide how that principle should be put into practical effect. But I suggest that the terms of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition do not correctly interpret the spirit of the House, and iu order to give honorable members a genuine opportunity to express their true feelings on this question, I move as an amendment -

That the words “ censures the Commonwealth Government for its failure “ be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ approves the action taken by the Commonwealth Government”. and that the following words be added to the motion : - “ It commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia and urges the trade -union movement to co-operate to that end “.

Sitting suspended from 4-55 to 8 p.m.

Mr Curtin:

– I rise to order. I submit that the amendment is irregular in form and cannot be put from the Chair, because it is in substance a negative and contemplates what is an expanded negative. I refer to May’s Parliamentary Practice, 10th edition, page 279, in justification of my objection. The essential part of the substantiality of the motion is, that this House censures the Commonwealth Government. Any proposal which would have the effect of lessening the censure, such as rebuking, reproaching, or expressing regret at the failure of the Government, would be relevant. I submit, however, that an entire violation of the substantial provision for the censure of the Government - the course contemplated by the amendment - is a direct negative, and consequently is out of order.

Mr Holt:

– I submit that the amendment is not a direct negative of the motion, and is therefore in order. Obviously, the reason for the ruling that a direct negative of a proposition is not in order, is, that it does not advance by one step the discussion of the matter before the Chair. I contend that an amendment which carries the discussion further than the actual terms of the motion cannot be construed as a direct negative of it. If we examine the motion and the amendment we shall find that both of them recite certain facts. The recital of the motion is -

The failure of the Commonwealth Government to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia, in accordance with public opinion of the Commonwealth and the principle embodied in the draft convention adopted with the support of .the Commonwealth Government delegate to the 1935 session, of the International Labour Conference.

Apart from the use of the term “ failure that is a mere recital of facts. The charge of “ failure “ is actually the gist of the motion. My amendment does not specifically deny failure. It says “ This House approves the action taken by the Commonwealth Government to promote the adoption of a 40-hour week in Australia,” and then continues in the language employed in the motion, with the addition of a commendation of the proposal for an inquiry into the application of the principle in Australia - a matter that is quite extraneous to the motion.

Mr Curtin:

– If it is extraneous, it is irrelevant.

Mr Holt:

– It is extraneous to the actual terms of the motion, but not, I submit, irrelevant, inasmuch as the major portion of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition covered the matter with which it deals. The latter part of my amendment goes further than the actual motion, as it includes the following words : “ urges the trade union movement to co-operate to that end.” If that were accepted it would be a definite expression of opinion by this House. Although it may be contended that the first portion of the amendment is actually a negative of the implication made by the motion, the latter part makes a substantial addition to the motion. On that point I cite a ruling given in the Senate, and recorded in Hansard at pages 5649-50 of volume 29, that an amendment which is a negation of only part of a motion, although it may be a most fundamental alteration, cannot be regarded as a direct negation of the whole motion. A similar attitude has been adopted by the House of Commons. I cite a case which appears in the Journals of the House of Commons for the 24th and 25th November, 1902, at page 492. The motion as moved read -

That this House approves the policy embodied in the convention relating to sugar signed at Brussels on the 5th day of March, 1902, and in the event of that convention receiving the ratification required to make it binding, is prepared to adopt the necessary measures to enable His Majesty to carry out the proposal.

The amendment, which proposed to leave out all the words after the word “ House “, with a view to the insertion of the words “ declines to approve of the convention relating to sugar signed at Brussels On the 5th day of March, 1902 “, was held to be in order. I submit that the amendment which I have moved carries the debate considerably further than it is carried by the terms of the motion, that it makes an addition to the subject-matter of the debate, and that, inasmuch as it does not merely constitute a direct negative of the motion, it is in order.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– In this matter the dictionary rather than the Standing Orders should be consulted. The Opposition saw fit this afternoon to move a motion censuring the Government for its failure to promote the adoption of a 40- hour week. There is quite a number of definitions of the word “ censure “, including “ to confirm or give a censure or opinion “, “ to estimate “, “ to judge of “, “ to pass judgment on “, “ to criticize “, “ to pronounce judicial sentence upon “, “ to sentence to a term of imprisonment “, and “to pronounce an adverse judgment on “. We come then to the word “failure”. The best definition of that term which I have been able to obtain is “ the- fact of failing to effect one’s purpose “. That brings us to a consideration of the position of the Government when faced with the problem of a 40-hour week.

It is admitted on all sides that the objective of the Government is to secure a 40- hour week in Australia. In order to secure it, the Government proceeded to a a plan which consisted of consultation by certain bodies with the object of producing a method upon which the Government could proceed to act. If the amendment of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is a direct negative of the motion, then the meaning of the word “ approve “ is the direct opposite of the meaning of the word “ censure “. In no dictionary will the Opposition find a definition of “ disapprove “ which coincides with that of “ censure “. The defininition of “ approve “ is “ to make good “, “ to assent to as good “ to pronounce to be good “, “ to try the goodness of “, “ to attest with authority “, “ to corroborate “, “ to confirm “ to confirm authoritatively “, “ to sanction “. Last, but not least, there is the practice which prevailed in a Parliament which is now defunct - the Parliament of Scotland - under which the word “ approve “ in parliamentary procedure had a distinct and separate meaning according to the Standing Orders which operated at the time. It was there a method for affirming or deciding in the affirmative by a vote of the House. The proposition of the Leader of the Opposition postulates that the Government has reached the end of its resources in its efforts to give effect to the principle of a 40-hour week.

Mr Curtin:

– The Prime Minister h?n said so.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– If the Government has reached the end of its resources, the word “ failure “ can properly be used. I submit, however, that that is not the case.


– Order ! That matter may not be argued upon the point of order raised.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– So far as we have gone, it is a question of whether an honorable member opposite can establish the contention that the word “ approve “ has a meaning the direct opposite of the meaning of the word “ censure “. I submit with very great deference that that is not possible.


– In order to ‘ sustain his objection, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) must show that one of these two phrases is the opposite, or a direct negation of the other. The words of the motion are “ censures the failure of the Government”, while those of the amendment are “ approves the action taken by the Government “. Let us take first the phrase “ approves the action taken by the Government “. I suggest that that phrase does not necessarily imply success. It is competent for the House to approve any action taken or any course adopted without implying thereby that the action is successful. If that be so, the phrase is not a direct negation of the words in the motion “ censures the Government for iti failure “. In support of my argument I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to a passage at page 270 of May’s Parliamentary Practice. The Leader of the Opposition discussed, this in general terms, but I suggest that specific examples quoted in May should be more enlightening, and give the House a better lead as to how the point should be decided. Towards the bottom of page 270, the following appears in May : -

On the 7th May, 1802, a motion was made in the Commons for an address “ expressing the thanks of the House to His Majesty for having been pleased to remove the Right Honorable; W. Pitt from his councils “ ; upon which an amendment was proposed and carried which left out all the words after the first and substituted others in direct opposition to them, by which the whole policy of Mr. Pitt was commended. Immediately afterwards, an address was moved in both Houses of Parliament condemning the Treaty of Amiens in a long statement of facts and! arguments, and in each House an amendment was substituted, whereby an address was resolved upon whiel justified the treaty. This practice has often been objected to as unfair, but the objection is unfounded, as the weaker party must always anticipate defeat in one form or another.

I suggest, therefore, that the majority of honorable members will agree with me in saying that I have cited an almost exactly analogous case to that now before the House, and that the attitude of the Opposition in this matter is merely one of evasion. It is adopting an attitude which will enable it to evade a true test of the feeling of the House on this subject. The Opposition will contend that the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is unfair, but the definitions quoted by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), the arguments put forward by the honorable member for Fawkner, and the specific examples which can be cited from May would establish most definitely that the amendment is in order and should be accepted.

Mr. SPEAKER. (Hon. G. J. Bell).The point of order raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is not in order because it is a direct negative of the motion, is based upon the fact that the motion is one to censure the Government for its failure to permit the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia, whilst the amendment seeks to omit the words “ censure the Commonwealth Government for its failure “, with a view to insert in their place the words “ approves the action taken by the Commonwealth Government”.. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has quoted dictionary definitions of the word “censure”, but in deciding whether the word “ approve “ i3 a direct negative of the word “ censure “, I think I am justified in taking the accepted parliamentary meaning of the word “ censure “ as applied to a government.

The honorable member for Fawkner also proposes to add to the motion the words -

It commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia, and urges the trade union movement to co-operate with the Government to that end.

From the debate as far as it has proceeded it appears that the Government proposed a certain method of inquiring into the question of the 40-hour week, but the essential points are that the mover of the motion seeks to censure the Government because of its failure to adopt the principles embodied in the draft convention in accordance with public opinion in Australia. “Whilst the amendment urges the House to approve what the Government has done, it is true that it also urges the trade-union movement to co-operate, the only other point on which, in the matter of construction, it differs from the motion, beyond the essential point to which I have already referred. In my opinion, the mere adding of words urging some one to take certain action does not put in order an amendment otherwise a direct negative. The Leader of the

Opposition has quoted from May, at page 279, that a former Speaker had ruled that an amendment that was merely an expanded negative, or otherwise irregular in form, could not be proposed from the Chair. That is important, and consistent with nearly all rulings given in this House, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain from inquiry and reading, is also consistent with rulings given upon similar points in the House of Commons. It will be admitted by experienced parliamentarians that censure motions have been submitted in such a form as to allow of amendments being moved and accepted that are, in effect, negatives, but are yet permitted because of the form in which they have been drafted, in order to evade certain important aspects of the motion. There are in the records of our own Parliament few precedents to help me to come to a decision, nor can I find any guidance in May upon the form in which censure motions are moved, or amendments moved thereon, but I have already said that the essential point is that the motion asks the House to censure the Government, whilst the amendment urges it to approve the Government’s action, and my opinion is that a motion that seeks to censure the Government should be met by a vote of “ Aye “ or “ No “ rather than by an amendment that is a negation of the motion. I therefore rule that the amendment is not in order.

West Sydney

– This debate appears to me to have taken a most unusual turn since the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has replied to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is one of the new members of the House, and is not in the Ministry, but he has set out to define the policy of the Government in regard to the decision of the International Labour Conference on the subject of a 40-hour week. Before the discussion proceeds further, a definite declaration should be made by a responsible Minister as to the Government’s real policy on this matter. Does it approve the principle of a 40-hour week for Australia? That is what the Opposition wants to know, and it is also what the trade unions and everybody else who is interested desires to know; but I do not think that the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is competent to announce the policy of the Government, unless he has been instructed to do so. If he was authorized to do it, it is remarkable that the Prime Minister gave no indication of it in his reply to the Leader of the Opposition. The procedure adopted is quite uncommon in this Parliament. In order that the Opposition may know where the Government stands, it expects that the doubt will be cleared up by an authoritative statement on behalf of the Ministry.

An honorable member of this House was sent to Geneva as the representative of the Government to attend the last International Labour Conference, and, before he left Australia, he received certain instructions, which are to be found in his own words as follows : -

I am authorized to state that, should the majority of nations be in favour of, and adopt, the 40-hour week, the Commonwealth will use its best endeavours to obtain agreement and concurrence on the part of the Australian States.

I take it that, if a majority of the nations represented at the Conference agreed to a motion signifying approval of a 40-hour week, the Government must necessarily approve that principle, and will take a stand, with the rest of the nations which supported the motion, to give practical effect to the decision. The delegate went to the conference with these instructions and in the course of his remarks - I take it that he was speaking on behalf of the Commonwealth Government - he said -

The simple fact is that the wonderful ingenuity of man in devising labour-saving arrangements has so revolutionized industrial practice and so diminished the necessity for human labour as entirely to change the relationship between the wage bill and ultimate production costs . . . Much as we may dislike making the confession, I am afraid that wo must admit that industry has been too unready to accord to its workers an equitable participation in the benefits resulting from the improved technique which has been such a feature of latter-day industrialism. In no previous agc had the ingenuity of man been so successfully applied to the creation of laboursaving devices resulting in a lessened, and I believe permanently lessened, requirement for human labour

Those remarks at any rate show that the delegate who spoke for this Government at the conference was aware of the necessity for these changed conditions in industry. To most people who give thought to industrial problems it is apparent that hours of labour should be reduced in all parts of the world. The Government’s delegate went on to say -

But let that benefit be equally distributed, and it is not so distributed if the financial gains are monopolized by patentees, by shareholders, and even by consumers, while the workers’ only participation takes the form of an increasing volume of unemployment . . .

This is one of the most important points; but I take it again that he spoke for the Government when he said that, apart from the questions of mechanization of industry, the fact remained that in all parts of the world it had become incumbent on governments to do something in the nature of reduction of hours to ease the unemployment problem. The speech continues -

I believe, however, that the industrial world is looking to this conference for a practical contribution towards the amelioration of unemployment.

The delegate went on to deal with what we had done in Australia in regard to the 8-hour day. There is no need for me to traverse what labour unions have done to that end in this country. They have placed us in the forefront of industrial reform. The delegate then continued -

I am afraid, however, that oft-times this result has been achieved by asking the wageearner to carry more than his fair share of the necessary sacrifice.

In conclusion he said -

By all means let us have all the benefits of mechanization and rationalization, but let the industrial worker collect his share of the benefits.

If that is the Government’s case, it should say so and endorse the references made by its delegate and the conclusions arrived at by the International Labour Conference, including the adoption of the principle of the 40-hour week. This was carried by 79 votes to 30, and I imagine that the Australian delegate, following his speech, must have been among the majority. The convention having been carried and the instructions given to the delegate having been carried out, that is say, the majority of the nations having supported the ideas incorporated in his speech, we call upon the Commonwealth Government to declare whether it accepts the decision as being in keeping with its instructions to its delegate, and thereby accepts the principle of a 40-hour week for Australia. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) said that the Government did accept the principle of a 40-hour week, and he was supported by a number of honorable members opposite. At any rate, their interjections seemed to indicate that they concurred in what he said. Why, then, has the Government not taken steps to implement it by the processes it has at its disposal? We want an answer to that question, not from the honorable member for Fawkner, but from the Prime Minister. Are the utterances by the honorable member for Fawkner an attempt to save a number of honorable members who recently had to face this question at a conference of their own party in Sydney? Did the honorable member for Fawkner speak in an attempt to overcome criticism from within the ranks of the United Australia party? It is an unusual thing for a private member to attempt to declare government policy on such an important matter as this. In fact, it is so unusual that it cannot be accepted by this side of the House as being bona fide. There is no doubt that there is a very strong surge against the Government on this matter.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Where?


– If the honorable member had attended the conference of the United Australia party in Sydney the other day he would have sufficient knowledge of it. The conference made things very uncomfortable for some honorable members who had hoped for the opposite. It carried the following motion, moved by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) : -

Believing that the increasing displacement of human effort ‘by labour-saving devices calls for an urgent review of the existing standard of working hours, this convention records its approval of the action of the Federal Government in instructing the Australian representatives at the 1935 International Labour Conference to support the principle of a universal 40-hour week, and asks that similar instructions be given to the 1936 delegation.

Were similar instructions given to the 1936 delegation? The Leader of the Opposition has shown to-day that the answers to the questionnaire which is usually sent from Geneva before the International Labour Conference assembles stated that there are constitutional difficulties in the way of any instructions being given to the delegates. The House should listen to some of the things said at the conference of the United Australia party. They make interesting reading. Here is one extract -

We have at last come to the conclusion that our parliamentary representatives have been merely wasting time and dodging responsibility for introducing legislation to deal with important social problems.

The conference said definitely that it wanted a 40-hour week - and also social insurance. In other words, it told its parliamentary representatives to get on with the job, and not to be dodging around corners by setting up expensive and useless inquiries. It was time, it said, that commissions and inquiries into every trivial problem, as well as big problems, were cut out. If legislators could not legislate it was time they made way for seme one who could.

These were the views of prominent supporters of the Government party, in New South Wales at least. The Prime Minister, in his answer to the Leader of the Opposition, endeavoured to besmirch the trade unions’ attitude, in order to overcome the utterances made by supporters of his own party. These people are not in the Parliament; they are associated with the industry and commerce of the country and, as a matter of fact, are better able to gauge the temperament of the people, and their feelings in regard to this most important matter, than honorable members opposite.

As far as I can judge - that is, if there is any sincerity on the question - the atmosphere in this House is one of general approval of the necessity for steps to be taken for the introduction of a 40-hour week, and there is no need to buttress up our case with the part machinery is playing in industry, to prove the necessity for a drastic change in regard to hours of labour. In view of the fact that the attitude of honorable members seems to be one in favour of this urgent reform, it is to be expected that the Government will make a clear pronouncement. “When this subject was first brought under notice, the trade unions understood that the Government desired to ascertain the specific industries to which the 40-hour week could be applied without delay. That was what the Labour movement was led to believe by the AttorneyGeneral (.Mr. Menzies). I regret that that honorable member is not here to speak for himself on the subject. It was not understood, at least in the early approaches of the Government to the trade unions, that the merits of the general principle of a 40-hour week was to be considered. The Government, it was thought, had already decided that point, and wished to ascertain the best way to introduce the principle. But, apparently, the ground has been entirely changed. I notice that the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (,Sir Henry Gullett) is indicating disapproval of my remarks. In the circumstances, I ask that a member of the Government declare where the Ministry stands on the subject. Does it desire an inquiry into the merits of the proposed 40-hour week, or does it wish to ascertain how the principle can be applied to Australian industry with the least degree of dislocation and delay? Even the Government’s strongest supporters have become restive in consequence of the unsatisfactory situation that has developed. The position could be clarified by a simple but authoritative statement on behalf of the Government.


– Is the Labour party afraid of an inquiry into the merits of the principle?


– ‘Certainly not; but surely the Government made all neces-sary inquiries into that aspect of the subject before it issued its instructions to the honorable member for Parramatta. The obvious deduction from the instructions given to that honorable member is that the Government had already satisfied itself as to the soundness of the general principle; otherwise, it surely would not have directed him to vote in favour of it. Every honorable member knows that subjects of this kind are inquired into before delegates are instructed how to vote. In any case, there is no need for a general inquiry into such a subject, for the working week has been the subject of almost continuous inquiries for many years. The view of the trade unions is that the general principle has been thoroughly investigated. It is for that reason, among others, that we cannot see any necessity for the appointment of an investigating body of seventeen persons to make an inquiry into the merits of the general issue. We shall wait with patience for a reply to the two issues that I have raised: First, whether the ‘Government is satisfied as to the soundness of the general principle of the 40-hour week; and secondly, whether it desires to ascertain the most effective means of introducing it to Australian industry. If it wishes to prove its bona fides, the Government will at once, introduce legislation to ratify the convention. The International Labour Office looks to the Commonwealth Parliament, and not to the State Parliaments, for action in this connexion. The State Parliaments are not represented at International Labour Conferences. We are, therefore, only asking a reasonable thing of the Government when we request that legislation be introduced immediately to ratify this convention.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Will the honorable member tell us what he would do, if his party were in power?


– I can tell the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties that if I had had the opportunity to visit numerous overseas countries, and discuss trade matters with the representatives of many nations, I would, at least, report to Parliament what I had done.

An inquiry into the general principle of a 40-hour working week could not possibly get us very far, for it would be almost inevitable that with the proposed personnel of the conference both majority and minority reports would be presented. What would the Government do in such circumstances? Would it accept either of the reports, or simply shelve the whole subject? Honorable gentlemen who support the Government would do well to ask themselves this question, for we have had demonstrated to us frequently that inaction is one of the main features of this Government. The manner in which the Government has shelved responsibility for this, that, and the other thing, chiefly by referring the subject at issue to a royal commission, or a board of inquiry, has disgusted the whole community. The Government should have the courage of its convictions - if it has any. The public generally has expressed unmistakeable disapproval of the policy of referring matters of vital public concern to commissions of inquiry.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– Who appointed the Petrol Commission?


– I could tell the Minister a good deal about that commission. The actions of this Government in regard to that particular inquiry wilt stand to its eternal disgrace.

The International Labour Office is ju3t as much a part of the League of Nations as any other branch of its activities - including even the League Council. It is remarkable that when decisions of the League or any of its auxiliaries affecting big business need to be made, the Government loses no time in making them. But now that a decision should be made in the interests of the working class, every possible obstacle is being put in the way to prevent finality from being reached. The Government has supported the League Council in every possible way. We have been told that it is necessary in the interests of collective security that action should be taken against aggressors through the League. The logical outcome of the Government’s attitude is therefore that the decisions of the League which affect industry should also be implemented - at least those of which the Government has approved by the vote of its representative at the 1935 International Labour Conference.

Mr Gregory:

– The Labour party opposed the Government when it set out to implement the decisions of the League Council.


– That is so, and recent happenings have shown that our attitude was sound. In the light of events of the last week or two we are entitled to say to the Government : “ We told you so “.

Unless the Government makes a definite declaration in favour of the general principle of a 40-hour working week, and takes the necessary steps to give effect to it, honorable gentlemen opposite will not be able to go back to their electorates and declare honestly that they favour the tak ing of effective steps to prevent thousands more people from being thrown on to the labour market through the mechanization of industry. They cannot, on the one hand, assert that they believe in a shorter working week and, on the other, countenance inaction of the Government in respect to the implementing of this convention. The backing and filling .of the Government on questions of this character has reached such a stage that even some of its leading supporters are speaking in the strongest condemnation of it. I do not wish to go into details, and I shall not do so, but the circumstances which attended the discussion of this subject at the recent United Australia party conference were such as to cause a good dea1 of alarm to the Government. I have no doubt that much more serious alarm will be felt before the problem is finally disposed of.

The Opposition requests the ‘Government to declare to-night without equivocation, whether it is favorable to the general principle of a 40-hour working week, and if so, to intimate that it will, without delay, introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to it, at least in respect of those services for which it is responsible. The Government should accept full responsibility for this reform in its own sphere of activity. The test of its sincerity will be its willingness to apply the principle to its own works and services. We should be told definitely whether the Ministry intends to stand by the instruction which it gave last year to the honorable member for Parramatta to vote for this principle at the Geneva Conference. I hope that before this debate is concluded an authoritative declaration will be made in favour of the 40-hour working week by a fully qualified representative of the Government, and that a promise will be given that the principle will be applied to Australian industry immediately.


– In considering the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), I find myself applying to it a twofold test. I ask myself first whether the Government’s action or inaction in this regard has been of such a nature as to warrant the claim that ir has lost the confidence of the House ; and. secondly, whether the adoption of the motion would be calculated to hasten what I consider to be a desirable reform. Before attempting to answer those questions I should like to make some observations regarding the general principle involved. I do so because it has been suggested that some of the things which I said at Geneva and elsewhere I am not prepared to repeat here. I desire to make it abundantly clear that no party or section in this House has a monopoly of the desire to ameliorate the conditions of the industrial workers. I do not retract one word of the speech I made at Geneva, which was quoted so extensively by the honorable member for West Sydney (.Mr. Beasley). Not often are my speeches quoted from the other side of the House with such evident approval and I must confess that this speech sounded quite well to me after the lapse of twelve months.

The proposal for the universal adoption of a 40-hour working week in Australia is not nearly so radical and revolutionary as some persons suggest. Many workers in Australia to-day already enjoy a 40-hour week or less. Quite a considerable number of the employees of the Commonwealth Government do not work as many as 40 hours a week. Many awards and industrial agreements current in the various States provide for a working week of 40 hours, and, in some cases, of 36 hours. During recent months, no fewer than 21 municipal councils in New South Wales have indicated their approval of the 40-hour principle, and some have actually applied the system.

I must confess that I have never been able to understand why there should be such a clear-cut divergence between the conditions of manual workers and those of office workers. I speak as one who, for twenty years, was an officer employed in the Railways Department of New South Wales. I could never understand why the clerk, engaged within the shelter of an office on work less arduous than that of the outside worker, should enjoy the shorter working week. The Industrial Commission of New South Wales was authorized two years ago to investigate the matter of standard hours of work in New South Wales, and, in the course of its report, it made the following observation: -

It is a matter of common knowledge, and was clearly established by evidence, that during that period of years, owing to the invention and introduction of new machines and new processes, the productive capacity of the community had been enormously increased; indeed no one disputes so obvious a fact.

It was claimed, and it seems to us with justice, that employees in industry were entitled to benefit, in the form of shorter working hours, from the introduction of laboursaving machines and processes.

It is hardly necessary for me to say that I thoroughly endorse that opinion. Indeed, I have done something more than talk about it; I have given evidence of my support of the principle by introducing the 40-hour week into the establishment which I control in. Sydney. 1 believe that many other employers would be willing to follow that lead only that they are somewhat timid of making the change, and would be very glad if the system1 were adopted universally. Only this morning I received a letter from the general manager of a large corporation with interstate interests, in which he expressed entire approval of the principle of a 40-hour working week, and the hope that it would be generally adopted. Opposition to the reform comes not from the employers themselves, but from the agents of the employers’ organizations, who feel that it is their traditional duty and obligation to oppose any reform likely to benefit the workers.

The reasons advanced at Geneva and elsewhere in justification of the 40-hour working week are, first, that it will assist in the alleviation of unemployment, and, secondly, that it is a measure of social justice to the workers by giving them a share in the benefits arising from improved industrial technique. I know that it is asserted in some quarters that a reduction of the number of working hours would not relieve unemployment. Some even go so far as to say that the introduction of the system, by increasing the cost of production, and therefore the price of commodities, would reduce the demand for goods, with the result that the volume of employment offering would be even less than is now the case. That opinion was advanced recently by the chairman of a Sydney company in the course of a published statement in which he commented upon some remarks which I had made on the subject. I .could have told him, had I been inclined to be provocative, that there would be no need to increase the cost of the commodity, as far as his own enterprise was concerned, if he would be content with a slight diminution of the dividend which his company paid ; and, as one who benefits from the distribution of that dividend, I am in a position to establish my case. If the shortening of the working week by four hours would have the deleterious effect which some people predict, it must be obvious that to increase the working week by four hours, or fourteen hours, should have a most beneficial effect. However, we do not hear any one advocating a reversion to the 12-hour working day which prevailed during the early part of the nineteenth century. It should not be necessary to give a multitude of illustrations to prove that the workers are entitled to benefit from the improved technique which is such a feature of present-day industrialism. The director of the International Labour Office, commenting on this subject, said that in the United States of America, out of a total of 1,357 boot and shoe factories, 200 could provide for the total requirements of the country, while 1,487 of the 6,057 coal mines could produce all the coal needed. Those figures provide abundant evidence that millions of workers have been displaced from industry by machines and intensive organization and rationalization. Some people may ask : “ “Why all this enthusiasm just now? Mechanization is nothing new; machines have been with us for a century.” That is true, but in pre-war times the development of machines was so gradual that the social structure was able to adjust itself more or less successfully to the change. During the war, however, there was a great concentration of inventive genius, stimulated by the needs of belligerent nations. After the armistice, the efforts of those inventors were diverted into industrial channels, and that is why, during the last ten or fifteen years, the volume of unemployment has so greatly increased. The Macmillan Committee, which investigated British commerce and industry at the behest of the Government of the United Kingdom, stated, in its report, that, over a five-year period covered by its investigation, the output per unit in British industry had increased in the major industries by from 15 per cent, to 27 per cent. This increase was attributed to the concentration of inventive genius during war time. Even more striking was the experience of some continental countries. When I was in the United States of America, the director of the Bureau of Industrial Statistics told me that there were still 11,000,000 .persons out of work in that country. I had an opportunity to inspect some of the larger industrial plants there, and I was not at all surprised to learn that so many workers had been displaced. There can be no doubt that there is a very close relationship between the high degree of mechanization in American industry, and the tragically large army of unemployed. This is undoubtedly what prompted Congress to pass the National Recovery Act, providing for the industrial codes under which the number of working hours inmajor industries was arbitrarily reduced to as low as 30 a week.


– And yet there are 11,000,000 persons unemployed.


– I am glad of that interjection. The industrial codes are not operating to-day, and the reason is that the legislation- in respect of them was invalidated. It was held by the Supreme Court of the United States that the federal authority had impinged on the prerogative of the States, and the National Recovery Act was voided. That was no evidence of demerit in the act itself. It was merely evidence that in a federation there can be too many sovereign authorities, and I know of a federation not so far away as the United States against which similar criticism might be directed.

We, in Australia, have not proceeded so far as the more important industrial countries in the direction of mechanization, but we have not been standing still. Statistics inform us that the average output of the Australian worker in industry has increased by 24 per cent, since 1913. and, to-day, we have 13.4 per cent, of unemployment. Yet it is suggested in some quarters that we are back to normal.

In to-day’s newspapers I read a cable to the effect that the Premier of New South “Wales, speaking in London, stated that Australia had returned to normal. Does that mean that 13.4 per cent, is to be regarded as a normal figure for Australian unemployment? Does it mean that we are to reconcile ourselves to the existence of a standing army of almost 250,000 unemployed persons? If it means that, then there is greater need than ever for even more radical measures than we have been considering. I know of no better contribution that we can make towards the solution of the unemployment problem than the reduction of the number of working hours. Of course, we shall be told that the displacement of workers by machinery is merely a transitory thing; that there must necessarily be a lag, but that sooner or later, and probably sooner, the displaced workers will be again absorbed in new industries. I admit that, during the last generation, there has been some absorption of displaced workers in the automobile industry, the cinema industry and the radio industry. Indeed, had it not been for this, we should be to-day in a much more serious position than we are. However, that pretty economic theory regarding the absorption of displaced workers cannot bear examination in the light of actual facts. If it were tenable, there would not be 11,000,000 persons unemployed in the United States of America Only on Monday last the chairman of the Sydney County Council, who is an advocate for the shorter working week, informed me that the council’s coal-handling plant at the Bunnerong power station is operated by eight men, whereas if that plant were not installed at least 50 men would be required to handle the coal required by the power plant. There are many people in Australia to-day who say that they are sincerely in accord with the suggestion that the worker is entitled to participate in the benefits of mechanization, but that it is impracticable unless it is done on an international basis; but many who declare that they would remove their objections if this matter were introduced on an international basis think that by making that condition they have settled the whole matter. Clearly it is their belief that universal action is impracticable. But they disregard the fact that in the realm of international industry, in connexion with the industries producing rubber, tea, metals, and oil, there are already international arrangements which are being observed in the letter and spirit. It is true that, for the most part, these arrangements are designed to protect the interests of invested capital and the payment of dividends, not necessarily an unworthy objective, but surely we are not asked to believe that international agreements are desirable when their objective is the protection of invested capital and are the idle dreams of impractical idealists when the objective is the conservation of the interests of the working community or the granting of some concession to it. Of course universal adoption of this reform is desirable and that is the task to which the International Labour Office has been directing its energies.

The International Labour Conference in 19’35 adopted a resolution affirming the principle of a 40- hour week, and the Leader of the Opposition in his opening address referred to the fact that that resolution was- only carried by the votes of governmental representatives. That is true; it would never have been carried but for the vote of the governmental representatives because the votes of the workers and of the employers would, very largely, have cancelled each other, although I want to say to their credit, that the employers’ representatives of the United States of America and Italy not only voted for this resolution but also worked very strenuously for its adoption.

Mr Beasley:

– The other employers tried to boycott it.


– Yes. The governments which voted for this resolution numbered 27. I have no desire at this stage to recapitulate the names of the countries which voted for the resolution, because the Leader of the Opposition has already done so, but he did not mention that only two governments opposed it - the Netherlands and Switzerland, neither of which looms very largely on the world’s industrial horizon. T know there are some people who think that the Austraiian Government representative ran amuck last year and it might not be out of place if, at this stage, I quoted what was said by the representatives of some of the other governments at that conference. Colonel Creswell, an ex-Minister of the Union of South Africa, said -

Recognizing that the feature which distinguishes our age from all past time is the increasing substitution of mechanical power for human energy, does it not seem reasonable that some measures should be taken to ensure that a lesser span of man’s life should be occupied in arduous toil and a greater opportunity bc afforded for satisfaction of the higher aspirations and faculties

Mr. Justin Goddart the representative of the French Government, and a former French Minister, said -

We are not considering the reduction of hours of work simply as a means for reducing unemployment and of combating the depression. We are also facing it from the standpoint of a remedy for the effects of mechanization and rationalization, which are not due to the depression, but are permanent features of modern economic life. We have stated that the workers are entitled to share in the benefits resulting from improved” technique by having a reduction of their labour and an increase in their leisure hours.

Professor Hamilton, representing the Government of the United States of America, said -

The delegates who represent th Government of my country are quite willing to support a convention that stands for a 40-hour week, hut we will do so with two distinct provisions. The first is that this is to be definitely regarded as a maximum and will not- stand in the way of fixing a shorter week by legislation, and the second is that it shall not be interpreted as interfering with ordinary process of bargaining.

I could go on quoting the opinions of government representatives of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and Sweden. These statements suggest that international action is npt nearly so visionary as some people would have us think. But what we have to consider specifically tonight is - need Australia wait for international action? Australia has not waited for international action in industrial matters in the past, particularly in respect of the regulation of working hours. As a matter of fact, Australia was the first country in the world to introduce in 18&6, a moiety of the compulsory eight-hour day work, and was among the earliest of the nations to introduce the 44-hour week. There are some people, and some honorable members in this House, who have said that though they recognize the equity of the claim put forward on behalf of the workers, it is impossible for industry to stand the cost; but this House has already passed laws to enable the producers engaged in the sugar, butter, wheat, and dried fruits industries to secure many more millions of pounds from the consumers of those products in Australia. ‘Why should not a seller of labour receive the same consideration as a seller of butter, wheat, sugar, or dried fruits?

Returning to the charge of culpable inactivity, contained in the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, and leaving aside the question of constitutional limitations, which is a matter for lawyers, and confining myself to the policy enunciated by the Government representative at Geneva, I want to say that there is a considerable amount of misapprehension as to the extent of the Government’s commitments following the Geneva decision. The mover, of the censure motion has already quoted, and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has repeated the exact terms of my commission on leaving for Geneva, but I went a good distance on my own behalf beyond the terms of my commission. Indeed, I should not have gone to Geneva had I not been free to express my own personal opinions in regard to. a matter on which I had very definite convictions before I .left Australia. Many of the utterances quoted here to-night - and I say this in the Government’s defence - are my own personal utterances, which, however, I hope are in accordance with the Government’s own point of view. Honorable members will remember that the resolution adopted at Geneva was merely an affirmation of the principle of the desirability of the universal application of a 40-hour week.

Mr Beasley:

– Did the honorable member not affirm that principle on behalf of the Commonwealth Government?


– Yes, and I do not think that the Government would be anxious to retract from that position. The convention was merely a reaffirmation of the principle. It is in June next that the application of the principle to specific industries is to be discussed, and after that, the responsibility of the several governments who joined in the deliberations at Geneva, will be confirmed or otherwise. At the June conference, the question of applying the principle of a 40-hour week to public works, mining, the iron and steel industry, the chemicals industry, the building industry, the textile and the book-binding industries, is to be considered.

Mr Beasley:

– The last conference dealt with some specific industries.


– With one, the glass bottle industry, which has very little application to Australia. I regret that the inquiry which the Government proposed was not able to be held before the delegate to the 1936 conference would take his seat at the conference table, for then he would have been in possession of specific information in respect of the matters to be discussed. Where the responsibility lies for the inability to give that specific instruction is not for me to say. My purpose in referring to the question of commitment is to establish that up to date the Government has not failed in its responsibilities so far as last year’s delegation at Geneva is concerned.

I sincerely regret the inability of the trade unions to co-operate with the Government in the investigation proposed. I believe that the case for the adoption of a 40-hour week is so clear and so convincing that I would gladly welcome any form of inquiry that would throw light on it. I do not share the fear of honorable members opposite that the voting power of the proposed personnel of the inquiry would be likely to operate to their detriment. One of the persons proposed to be appointed to the inquiry to whom exception has been taken is a woman representing the consumers. T should be prepared to submit the matter we are discussing to-night to most women in Australia, with no fear as to the result. Indeed, I could nominate a panel of very large employers in Australia to act in that capacity with full confidence that their decision would be quite satisfactory to my honorable friends opposite and the people they represent. . I plead with the Leader of,. the Opposition to avail himself of the offer made by the

Prime Minister to confer on this matter, so that the points of difference may be removed and thus the way may be cleared for action free from party bias which will hasten the advent of a reform which I believe to be as desirable as it is inevitable.

Melbourne Ports

– At the outset, I wish to say that I appreciate the seriousness of the subject with which we are now dealing, and I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), when he suggested that this is one of the most momentous questions discussed in this House for some considerable time. If there has been any unfortunate misunderstanding between the trade unions and the Government, it is not too late to rectify the mistake, but the unions know exactly where they stand. I desire particularly to refer to some of the statements made by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart).

I believe that there are some honorable members in this House who are opposed to any reform of this nature. I believe that, on the other hand, there are many others who, if they could follow their’ own judgment, are not. I have absolute faith in the honesty of the honorable member for Parramatta in all his transactions both inside and outside of this Parliament. I was very pleased to hear some of his remarks to-night. He has given us a truthful and well-considered interpretation of the history of what has taken place at Geneva, and has summed up the position which is operating there and in other countries of the world. I regret, however, that he has not made a definite personal pronouncement on what the Government ought to do. In fact, the very strong case which he has made out has placed the Government in a more guilty position than that which it occupied before he spoke. The honorable gentleman made it quite clear that he and many employers in this country, together with a large body of public opinion, including many women, whom he .could nominate, are in favour of this reform. He said that he would be prepared to place the matter before a panel of employers without fear of the result, and he proved his sincerity by introducing the 40-hour working week in his own factory. If that be the popular feeling in Australia and other parts of the world, surely there ought not to be any shadow of a doubt as to what the Government should do, and no likelihood of its being suggested that a further investigation is necessary! I have been a party to many investigations on the subject of the hours of labour, in Australia as well as at Geneva. I attended a conference held in London in 1924, which for three or four days concentrated upon this particular matter. I informed Labour leaders in London that the reason why we could not make more progress was that the Australian people believed that there was a wide margin between the industrial and economic conditions of Australian workers and those of the older countries of the world. I knew, of course, that that was not the case. The honorable member for Parramatta knows that it is not so. If I could sit at the conference table with him and other gentlemen, I am confident that he would agree that in the majority of the industrial countries of the world which compete against Australia, the social conditions are not worse, but are better, than ours.

Sir Frederick Stewart:

– That is right.


– Surely, then, it was necessary to move a motion of this character ! I have a copy of the Hansard of the British House of Commons, in which is reported the discussion which took place on this matter. In that Parliament, it was not necessary to move a motion of censure on the Government. All sections desired to discuss the matter, and no section took exception to the argument that the principle of a 40-hour week should be adopted, and that all necessary measures should be taken to give effect to it. According to my reading of the debate, the members of the Government showed themselves to be more progressive than the members of the Opposition. They argued that a careful examination of the convention would show that it might not suit the trade union movement of Australia. I appreciate that danger. But that does not detract from the fact that the Government should lend its aid in the fixing of a common rule so that the hours of labour might be reduced without resort to direct action and without injuring some employers in their competition with others, as has been the case in the past. The trade union movement merely wants the Government to adopt some constitutional method which will enable all employers to compete on equal terms. The reduction of hours is sought, not from any humane view-point, not from the viewpoint of justice,, not on the ground that men have to work too hard or too long, but because, all over the world, it has been proved to be necessary. It was such considerations which furnished one reason for the refusal of the trade union movement to accept the inquiry proposed. Why should a doctor be asked to inquire into the subject of the hours of labour ? When, twenty years ago, I placed before the late Mr. Justice Higgins a case for the reduction of hours, I submitted medical testimony in proof of my contention that too much fatigue was caused to men who had to work eight and three-quarter hours daily. The judge then stated that such evidence Was not necessary when fixing the maximum hours for normal industry. That was twenty years ago. We have progressed beyond that stage. Medical testimony is not now needed to prove how long a man can work on one day without making himself unfit to resume on the following morning. The problem to-day is purely an economic one. Fewer hours must be worked, and the work must be distributed over a larger number, so that the wage fund will be increased and there will be a greater demand for goods and services. It is on this point that the honorable member for Parramatta feels so strongly. He does not regard the matter from the view-point of humanity. He realizes, like all modern students of economics, that the whole of our social structure will fall to pieces if we allow markets to become frozen by putting men out of work. When I placed the case before the late Mr. Justice Higgins, a Nationalist government refused to allow him to make the practice universal. Surely these historic facts justify our having doubts as to what this Government really means ! We proved te Mr. Justice Higgins that the hours worked by men in all normal industries should be reduced. He begged me not t« press him with medical evidence showing that type-setting caused tuberculosis, or that the making of cigars was injurious to health. He said, “ What I want to ascertain is, how long men should work in normal industries.”* Ho did not want special evidence to show that it was too hot to work 3,000 feet below the surface, that the handling of pig-iron for a specified number of hours was too fatiguing, or that the lungs of coal-miners were filled with coal dust. He said, “ I do not want that evidence. I have to decide whether the number of hours should be reduced because industry can stand the reduction and business will be improved by a wider spread of the available work, and an augmentation of the spending power of the community.” The House of Commons is satisfied that the time has arrived for the reduction of the hours of labour. Some of the largest industries in Great Britain have already adopted the principle. The great network of chemists’ shops throughout Great Britain run by the Boots Pure Drug Company Limited has had it in operation for nearly a year. The results have been investigated, and the suggestion has been made that the practice should be extended to embrace all the chain stores. I have the right to examine the position and discuss what transpired between the union representatives and the Government, because I introduced to the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) a deputation on the subject. The honorable member for Parramatta was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Employment. He had investigated the problem of unemployment in this country, and was sent abroad to represent Australia in connexion with this particular matter. The speeches which he made at Geneva led us to believe that he would submit a valuable report to this Parliament upon his return. The officials of the central federation of the trade union movement of Australia requested me to ask the Prime Minister to consult with them as to the methods which should bc applied in giving effect to his report. They said, “Do not attempt to give effect to it unless you consult with us.” That was a request, not a demand. They wanted to show the Government the easiest way to obtain a common rule that would meet the objections of the employers. When I spoke to the Prime Minister, the right honorable gentleman said, “ The matter has been handed over to the Attorney-General; consult with him.” I did so. The Attorney-General said, “ The matter of fixing the number of hours is Mr. Stewart’s job, not mine. My job is a more difficult one than that; I have to draft a memorandum for submission to the Cabinet to show them how to give effect to it. How would you suggest that it should be done? I shall be glad to meet the representatives of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, either in Melbourne or here, and consult with them before I have finished my memorandum for the Cabinet, because it is a difficult job.” The Attorney-General stated frankly that he would be glad of our assistance, and in answer to his query I suggested that Parliament should deal with the matter directly. I said that that was the only way in which the reduction of hours might have a common application, and in which everybody might be brought into line practically simultaneously. The Attorney-General replied, “ That is the real way to do it; but we shall have to take a shorter cut than that, because it may mean an alteration of the Constitution. What would you suggest as an alternative?” I suggested that the Government should follow the example of a previous administration, by intervening in the Arbitration Court and allowing the full Bench to apply the principle to all organizations registered in the Court. I pointed out that State instrumentalities could then be made to apply it to organizations not registered in the Commonwealth Court. The trade union movement desired a small committee, which would quickly affirm the principle and discuss the means by which effect might be given to the report which, they anticipated, would come from Geneva. After the Attorney-General went abroad, the honorable member for Parramatta, in some way that is best known to himself, dissociated himself from the Cabinet, and the proposal fell completely to pieces. The Government then advanced this new proposal, that there should be a large, unwieldy, unscientific committee. From the very nature of the committee, it was evident that the Government intended to make a further investigation to decide whether the time had arrived for the reduction of the hours of labour, rather than give effect to the convention for which its delegate had voted at Geneva. Despite all the information collected at Geneva, and the fact that, in 1920, details of the working hours observed throughout the world were placed before the Arbitration Court, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), then Prime Minister and Attorney-General, or some member of the then Nationalist Government, sent a note to the President of the Court, intimating that he could not make a 44-hour week apply generally, but could apply it only to those organizations whose cases had been partly heard. The reply of the President of the Court was that he could no longer hold his position and retain his dignity as a man, because that was the first time in his experience that he had received such instructions or had his decisions vetoed. He resigned because of the Government’s interference, but the 44-hour week was granted to the six or seven large organizations whose cases were then before the court.

Objection was taken by the trade unions to the appointment of the large committee recently proposed by the Government, because it was suggested that it should include a medical man, and a lady to represent the consumers. Of course, the trade unions did not object to the representation of the consumers, upon such questions as the fixation of bread or sugar prices, but they considered - that this section would be adequately represented by the two parties directly concerned about working hours, namely, the employers and the employees. Eighty per cent, of the total population is comprised of wage-earners and salaried employees, and at least 10 per cent, is represented by the employers, so that 90 per cent, of the total population would have been represented. On the return from Geneva of the Norwegian delegate to the International Labour Conference, the Government of Norway decided to give effect to the decision of the conference, by ratifying the 40-hour week convention, and it appointed a small committee to report as to the best action to take. A pamphlet .issued by the International Labour ‘Office states -

It is announced that the Norwegian Ministry of Social Affairs has appointed a committee to inquire into the extent to which a general reduction of the working week in industry to 40 hours may be expected to reduce existing unemployment.

The committee is also to consider the probable financial effect of such a reduction for industry, it being assumed that the workers receive full wage compensation.

Two alternatives are to be considered: (a) a general reduction of hours throughout industry; (b) a reduction of hours in groups of industries with reference to decisions of the International Labour Conference.

The committee consists of three members, the State Conciliator of Labour Disputes, Mr. Clausen, as chairman; the Director of theEmployers Federation, and the President of theConfederation of Trade Unions.

The committee formed in Norway was representative of the two parties chiefly interested, and the governments of other countries which sent delegates to the conference took similar action. I am sure that the trade union movement in Australia would do the same. I do not know whether the honorable member for Fawkner was authorized to announce the policy of the Government on the subject of a 40-hour week. As a rule the members of the Young Nationalist’ party are sent out to steal the thunder of the Labour party by declaring that they stand for reforms which the public has been led to expect, but when they enter this Parliament they are not permitted to vote for those reforms. I believe that the honorable member for Fawkner and the honorable member for Parramatta favour a 40-hour week, but neither has authority to speak for the Government regarding the matter, . but, personally, not one member of the Ministry has declared where it stands. If the Government suggested the appointment of a small ^committee equally representative of the two parties to the dispute, with a representative of the Government as chairman to give effect to the principle, the Labour movement would accept such an inquiry to-morrow, but the first step must be to ratify the Geneva Convention.

In 1922, the Ruskin College and other schools of advanced thought asked for a return showing the standard hours of labour in Great Britain, and the following table was furnished : -

In 1922, the hours of labour, speaking generally, were fewer in Great Britain than they were in Australia, and the position in this country lias not changed since ““then. In 1934, a special inquiry was made by Chief Judge Dethridge, Judge Beeby and Judge DrakeBrockman, and in April, 1935, they fixed the basic wage as £3 5s. a week. Judge Beeby, dissenting from that decision, pointed out the false policy of reducing purchasing power by providing low wages and long hours of work, as increased production meant that fewer men and women would be employed. He showed that the workers’ were getting less and less of the share of profits of industry. From 1928 to 1934, the employers had increased their share by 4.P9 per cent, as against, and to the loss of, the employees. He considered that this decline of the workers’ share called for” a reorganization of the whole methods of wage fixation. He thought that the real wages of the workers, if raised, would contribute largely to restoration of business. Wages, he said, should be related to production. He added that the trend of economic thought- throughout the world was towards higher pay and shorter hours, and should be considered by a court having quasi-legislative powers or functions.

Reference has been .made by the honorable, member for Parramatta to the

Macmillan report, which drew attention to the fact that world production fell 20 per cent, between 1914 and 1924. In Great Britain, from 1929 to 1933, the productivity of all industries increased by 11 per cent., whilst in the United States of America the increase was 74 per cent. What we have to understand is whether the policy of reducing wages and lengthening hours, or of keeping hours at their present high level, in the face of the wonderful improvement of productivity is good or bad for business generally, for both employers and employees, or whether it is hastening another period of depression. All the economic inquiries which have taken place during the last decade have resulted in the same decision - that hours must be reduced and wages increased to stimulate demand for the goods produced. We must recognize that the fight for the right to live has been won.. There is no doubt about that; there is no government in the world which would ever attempt to take that right away from the people. The right to live has been accepted by the Commonwealth Government and by governments all over the world, and in pursuance of that we spend millions of pounds every year in relief, doles or charity of one sort or another to a greater extent than we ever dreamt of doing eight or nine years ago. But have we decided that we shall continue keeping hundreds of thousands of people out of work by giving them charity with no real results except the ruin of the moral standards of the people; or shall we be as progressive as the governments of other “ countries and reduce hours by the acceptance of this international dictum which is the result of five years’ study by the leading industrialists of the world? At least the majority of the nations have accepted that dictum, and if we are to wait for another 30 or 40 years to get all the nations simultaneously in agreement on the same problem, we might as well abandon hope. That unanimity of action by all countries is impossible of achievement has been proved in regard to disarmament. Some progressive nation must take the lead. Great Britain, the United States of America, Czechoslovakia and the Scandanavian States have all passed legislation for reduced working hours. We, who. used to boast that we were in the vanguard of progress, but have now drifted far behind, should in some constitutional way take action to reduce hours of labour. If the Government will not adopt this convention of the International Labour Office, and. will not call a conference of State Premiers and ask for power or, in the absence of power, an assurance that the States will not interfere until the . Constitution lias been altered to give the Commonwealth the necessary power to reduce working hours, as sure as I am nowstanding in this House, before this year is ended, there will be a general stoppage of work on the part of those engaged in technical trades to get by direct action what they cannot get by constitutional means.

Minister for Defence · Warringah · UAP

– I do not propose to add anything to what the Prime Minister (Mr: Lyons) has said in. announcing the views and policy of the Government in connexion with the shorter working week. The right honorable gentleman made that policy perfectly clear to most honorable members, and I do not propose to add anything except to read a statement to the press in which he had previously made it abundantly clear. He referred in course of that statement to what was taking place in the United States of America, and pointed out that although some of thi, codes in that country had been declared invalid by the Supreme Court, a great many of them were still applying a shorter working week. The Prime Minister went on to say -

With this evidence before us the Government realizes that a change is taking place in relation to working hours, and if the principle of reduced working hours is more generally adopted, and found to be advantageous and practicable, the Commonwealth Government would be prepared to do everything in its power to see that Australia does not lag behind the world in this matter. Australia lias rightly taken pride in its advanced social and industrial conditions, and the Government is determined to see that this’ country remains abreast of any generally adopted beneficial reforms. But we have already experienced enough difficulty in disposing of our surplus products, and it would be short-sighted policy oven with the best intentions in the world, to rush into the adoption of a principle which, in the absence o£’ fairly universal, adoption, might bring about results very different from $hose envisaged.

That is the .reason the Government proposed to convene a conference in’ Australia to inquire into and report upon the’ question whether any, and if so, what general reduction of working hours in Australia is desirable and practicable, having regard to the social, economic and national interests of Australia as a whole.

The Prime Minister’s statement is there for the world to read; its striking clarity enables any one to see what it means. But hot only did the Prime Minister make this statement. To show how earnest this Government was in its desire to do something - not merely to talk about it; not merely to exploit a sentiment and receive the admiration of the unthinking, the Prime Minister also invited the trade unionists of this country and the employers to meet in conference. That is what the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) says the Norwegian’ Government did, and he praised it for doing it, whilst the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) spent most of his time traducing the Government -for taking exactly similar action.-

The Government suggested a conference on fair and generous lines that would have investigated this matter. There was nothing to stop the setting before that conference of all points of view so that the Australian public would know what the respective sides desired. What possible objection can there be to. what the Government proposes? But so great ir, this boasted unity in the Labour movement that two wings of the trade union movement - the Australian Workers Union and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions - could not agree. They fought one another for the representation, and that was why the conference fell to the ground.

Mr Garden:

– That is wrong, it is a distortion of the truth.


– Order! The honorable member must not accuse a Minister of a distortion of the truth.


– It is an extraordinary thing that while these two bodies,- the Australian Workers Union, whi’ch at-“one time was the’-‘ most powerful union in Australia, even if it is not that to-day, and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions were not prepared to adopt the arrangement, and bickered and chaffered as to how many delegates they each should send, the employers were willing to accept it; they were willing to go into the inquiry and take their stand and express their views. What can the public think on this question when this clear, generous and decent proposal was made and incontinently rejected, not perhaps by the trade unionists themselves, but by the Trades Hall and by the crowd that dominates them and pretends to lead them ? It was proposed that there should be six on one side and six on the other side, and that the consumers should be represented. Why should the consumers not be represented in matters of this kind ? The man forgotten in this country to-day is the consumer. The interests of other sections of this country are discussed and voted for with most astounding regularity by my friends on the other side, but onn never hears them’ say a word for the great consuming public whose interests I think should receive some of the consideration that is given by them to other sections, many monopolistic in character. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports made a great show of the Hansard of the British House of Commons record of a debate concerning the proposal for a shorter working week. The unfortunate thing about it is that he had. not read it, although he stated that the British House of Commons was satisfied with the proposal. He lead this House to believe that the British House of Commons in the debate to which he referred was in favour of a shorter working week, a conclusion which is contrary to the actual fact. The debate referred to took place on Wednesday, the 18th March, on a private member’s motion to which an amendment was moved and carried, although the time elapsed before the motion was actually put, by 160 vote3 to 119. The effect of the amendment was that hours of labour should only be reduced where it was practicable to maintain existing earnings in the industries affected, and that since the draft convention of 1935 did not safeguard this principle the House did not approve of legis- lation based upon it. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour (Lieutenant-Colonel Muirhead), who submitted the amendment, said -

Obviously, the Government are not opposed to the idea of lessening the hours of work. The Government, of course, do not say that there are specific hours of work which are sacrosanct in perpetuity - nothing of the sort - but at the moment, taking the specific point which we are discussing, the Government refuse to legislate for the compulsory regulation of hours and for interfering with joint agreements in the industry formile purpose of supporting a particular draft convention which, io far from containing any protection for the wages and earnings of the workers in this country, is, I maintain, a menace to the conditions of the British workers.

That is the considered opinion of the British Government, and it is very different from the view that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports led us to believe it was. This indicates the interest of that government in the wages and conditions of the workers of Great Britain? The Labour party is not giving the same consideration to the wages and working hours of the people of this country. It is prepared, in the most extraordinary, thoughtless, and irresponsible manner, to plunge Australia into a shorter working week, without giving the slightest consideration to all the facts of the position. Honorable gentlemen opposite have advanced purely superficial and theoretical arguments in support of the 40-hour working week, without taking the trouble to ascertain the practical result of the institution of such a policy. It has been argued, for instance, that the introduction of a 40-hour working week would solve our unemployment problem, but what guarantee have we that this would be so? I have heard men applauded for making statements to that effect, but I have never yet heard any substantial case submitted to prove that that result would be achieved. The Government desires to investigate that very issue, but the trade unions have flatly declined to participate in Ohe inquiry. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart), on his return from the International Labour Conference last year, made his report to the Government, and honorable members opposite howled for that report day after day. But, after it was presented, they became strangely silent in regard to it.

Mr Curtin:

We were not allowed to discuss it.


– The Opposition did not seek an opportunity to discuss it. A death-like silence followed the tabling of the report.

Mr Curtin:

– That statement is unworthy of the Minister.


– It is true, and I do not withdraw it. Their silence was due to the fact that the report recommended that an inquiry be held into the application of a 40-hour working week to Australian industry. The Government tried to arrange for the inquiry to be held without delay. Provision was made for a representative investigating body to be set up, but the trade unions would have none of it. The Prime Minister made another appeal to the Opposition this afternoon to facilitate the holding of the inquiry. He made it clear that the proposal for the conference had proved abortive because of the attitude of the trade unions, but he made it clear that the Government intended to proceed with the inquiry. He challenged the Opposition to show its sincerity by assisting the Government to hold a non-party investigation into the issues involved, but Iris suggestion was received with guffaws from the brainless portion of the Opposition-


– I must ask the Minister to withdraw that remark, as it is unparliamentary.


– I withdraw, it. The Leader of the Opposition this afternoon recited matter which he had probably written as leading articles for the West Australian Worker, and one felt that, though it was an entertaining recital, it did not contribute anything to the elucidation of the problem. From that point of view, the honorable member’s speech ‘ was -worthless. Apparently, the Leader of the Opposition set out to make the position good for himself. At any rate, very little consideration was paid to the welfare of the workers. Before the honorable member became Leader of the Opposition, he used to make impressive speeches in this House; but since his elevation to the leadership of his party, he has apparently felt himself called upon to talk louder than the loudest of his followers, and to rant more than the greatest ranter who supports him.

Mr Makin:

– The Minister should *t least try to show a sense of responsibility.

Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Tonight I have been subjected to a good deal of interjection and I find it necessary to make a suitable reply ; I am giving a little of the same kind of coin in return. An examination of the Hansard report of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition will indicate that he’ made scarcely one constructive suggestion. It is true that he recommended that a demonstration be made, but a demonstration canbe made on any matter, and a meredemonstration usually gets nowhere.

If it could be indubitably shown that a 40-hour working week would substantially reduce unemployment, I, personally, and the Government as a whole, would favour the introduction of the principle. If by waving a fairy wand we could bring about a 30-hour week, and so remove unemployment, I should be quite favorable to that procedure; but unfortunately the problems which have to be faced cannot be solved in that easy fashion. A reduction of hours in industries in which labour costs are not very great in relation to the cost ..of the finished article, could easily be effected; but a reduction of hours in industries in which the labour costs represent a large part of the value of the finished article would present difficulties. In the agricultural industries it is calculated that about SO per cent, or 90 per cent, of the value of the product is represented by labour costs. The percentage in ship-building is slightly lower than that..- In some industries elaborate and costly machinery has to be operated, and if it is idle for any lengthy period a substantial increase is caused in the cost of the finished article. These are some of the considerations that have to be borne in mind. If we could introduce this principle in Australia without considering its effect on our overseas trader we could afford to proceed lightheartedly; but that is not the case. It must be borne in mind that, in relation, to some overseas countries with which we are in competition, a 44-hour working week in Australia is equivalent to a month’s ‘less work ina year for the same result, -and- a 40-hour working week is equivalent to ‘ two month’s’ less work a year.In all these circumstances it will be apparent that the fullest investigation . is : necessary before a major alteration of this kind can safely be. introduced. A reduction of the hours of labour would add tremendously to production costs in some industries - and particularly those industries’ which are chiefly concerned with ourexport trade.

Mr Curtin:

– The Minister is now arguing against the general principle ‘of the convention.


– That isnot so. I am simply stating certain inescapable implications of the proposal. Before introducing a 40-hour working week we ought to ascertain what the effect of it is likely to be on our consumers, and the workers in general. If it could be shown that the introduction of the principle would occasion no harm to either the workers or the consumers, I should warmly support it.

I have, already indicated the view of the British ‘Government on the proposed 40-hour working week. I now direct the attention of honorable members to the following remarks made in March, 1935, by M. Flandin, while he was Premier of France: -

The limitation of hours of work could not be applied as. a. general remedy. It was a partial solution of value. for individual industries, ‘but it gave rise to two problems. In the first place, if hours of work were limited without any simultaneous rise in hourly wages, the worker’s ultimate earnings, and consequently, hie purchasing power, were reduced. If, on the other hand, when hours ofwork were reduced and the weekly or monthly wage was maintained, this would amount to an increase in wages, and might lead to a disparity between prices in the different branches of production. Might it not be possible that the unrest which had recently been shown throughout the countryside emanated from a want of balance felt for several years between agricultural prices and industrial prices?

Great Britain and France, therefore, have so far declined to adopt the 40-hour working week. The political and industrial . leaders in those countries realize that a; thoughtless adoption of the principle would work great harm to the great mass of the community. As soon as it is demonstrated that the principle can be adopted in Australia without inflict ing injury on the community generally, the Government will adopt it. The Government has responsibility to conserve and safeguard the’ prosperity’ of this country. The Opposition assumes, no such responsibility. I believe that the attitude that the Government has adopted will be applauded by all thinking people in Australia. It is proceeding along sane, sound, and safe lines. It says quite definitely that, just as its predecessors in this Parliament led the movement years ago for fewer working hours before ever there was a Labour party in Australia, so those on this side of the House are now prepared to continue the fight for better conditions for the mass of the people. Members on this side of the House , yield to no one in their desire to improve the conditions of the workers, but they are not prepared to lead the workers into a cul de sac in which their last condition would be worse than their first.


. The debate on this subject, taken together with the answers given by Ministers to questions, reveals that the Government speaks with two voices - one for home consumption, and the other for export. The home-consumption position has been stated vigorously by the Minister who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Parkhill) ; the export position was expressed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) in answer to a question asked by myself on the 30th April, 1936. The Prime Minister then said-

Mr Archdale Parkhill:

– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member entitled to quote from the Hansard record of a current session of Parliament?

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member would not be in order in doing that.


– Very well, I shall give the answer from memory. The reply of the Prime Minister was to the effect that the Government’s delegate to the conference would be authorized to support the general application of a 40 - hour week, but would be. instructed to bring before the conference the constitutional limitations of the Commonwealth Parliament. Those positions are irreconcilable. If the Government is not convinced that the 40-hour week should be applied generally, it should not have given its delegate the authority which it gave this year or last year. I assume that when the Government gave that authority to the delegate, it expressed the opinion, not merely of the Minister who has just resumed his seat, but also of the whole Cabinet. The Prime Minister has, upon several occasions, definitely stated that the Government approves of the general adoption of the 40-hour week but is restrained from applying the principle by the constitutional limitations which it believes to exist. That statement reminds me of Professor Bailey’s remark that the plea of a constitutional limitation may. upon occasion, be a real political convenience. The Government is prepared to take credit for favouring a 40-hour week, as long as it can persuade the people that it cannot give effect to the principle. The Government, therefore, satisfies the advanced section of its party which wants the 40-hour week, and it satisfies the conservative party which does not want a 40- bour week. I propose to confine my remarks to an examination of the argument regarding constitutional limitation, and I think I shall be able to satisfy the House that the ever-growing consensus of opinion is that this Parliament has power to enact legislation providing for a 40-hour week, if it is provided for by international convention to which the Commonwealth is a party. The Government has failed in that, if it really desires to promote a 40-hour working week, it should have instructed its delegate to the International Labour Office conference to say that it would endeavour to give effect to the principle in Australia. Further, it should say that, if it cannot by legislation give effect to the principle, it will intervene in any hours case in the Arbitration Court, and direct the Attorney-General to support the introduction of a 40-hour week. However, I propose to submit reasons for believing that the Government has power to ratify an international convention for a 40-hour week, if one is made. I propose, as concisely and succinctly as I can. to trace the development of opinion in regard to this matter. The classic quotation that is used against the existence of this power is that contained in the late Sir Harrison Moore’s book on the Constitution, written in 1910. On page 462 of that book, he said, in effect, that the power over external affairs cannot be a power over internal affairs, and he went on to discuss the possibility of the Government attempting to apply International Labour conventions in Australia. He said that he did not think the Commonwealth Government could do so. That opinion was given at a time when constitution lawyers generally accepted the federal interpretation of the Constitution. That is to say, they believed that the powers of the Commonwealth must be so interpreted as not to trespass on the residuary powers of the States. The control of labour by direct legislation was regarded as such a ‘residuary power. Over and over again, the High Court said that powers conferred on the Commonwealth by section 51 of the Constitution must be so construed as not to trespass on the domain of the States which were in direct control of labour conditions.

The first step away from the position supported by Sir Harrison Moore was taken by Mr. Justice Higgins in the case of Roche v. Kronheimer, decided in 1920, and reported in 29 Commonwealth Reports, page 329. In that case, the competence of the Commonwealth Parliament to pass laws giving effect to the treaty of Versailles was questioned. The three judges said that the act could be justified under the defence powers of the Commonwealth, but Mr. Justice Higgins also contended that it would be justified under the external affairs power of the Commonwealth. He said -

It is difficult to see what limitations can be set on the power to legislate as to external affairs. There are none expressed.

That opinion is impliedly adopted by Sir John Latham in a book published in 1929, from which I shall quote later. The Commonwealth Parliament, nevertheless, was of the opinion that it could not, in ratification of treaties or conventions, enter what it regarded as a domain of State power, and when the Air Navigation Bill of 1920 was before Parliament, the Government intimated that it did not intend to proclaim the act until all the States had passed legislation adopting it. The Parliament of New South Wales has never passed; legislation . adopting the Air Navigation Act. Notwithstanding that, however, regulations have been made under the act controlling air navigation within a State, and there is now before the High Court a case in which this competency of the Commonwealth Parliament is raised. The matter was argued in October of last year, and judgment has been reserved. In that case the Commonwealth argued, as Sir Robert Garran did in 1920, that the external affairs power confers on the Commonwealth the power to ratify an international convention. It was the Engineers’ case in 1921 which overthrew the federal principle, for it was then decided that legislative powers conferred on the Commonwealth were to be given their full meaning, and should not be cut down to protect State powers. After that, the position obviously received further consideration, because, in the evidence given before the Royal Commission on the Constitution in 1927, some very interesting statements were made by Sir Robert Garran and Professor Bailey.Sir Robert Garran dealt with this matter expressly, and we know how cautiously and guardedly he usually is in the expression of an opinion. He said, as set out at page 85 of the report -

All these things are now very coon plicated by the fact that the world is becoming one whole, and, whilst governing ourselves, we are also entering into agreements with other countries as to what laws we shall pass for the purpose. And as to child labour laws, I am not at all sure that it might not be said to be for the peace, order, and good government of Australia with regard to external affairs that we should not only have power to enter into and ratify a convention with other nations as to child labour in Australia, but that we should be able to prohibit the introduction into Australia of articles made by child labour in other countries.

He there expressed his cautious opinion that the Commonwealth could, by ratifying an international convention, dealing with child labour, regulate the use of child labour in this country, although that would, nominally, be a matter falling within the domain of the States. Professor Bailey, in his evidence recorded on pages 1410-11, did not go so far as Sir Robert Garran, but I shall show presently how his opinion has definitely hardened until he now believes that the Commonwealth Government has this power. I referred a little while ago to a book published by Sir John Latham in 1929, called Australia and the British Commonwealth. In that book he refers, at page 54, to the judgment of Mr. Justice Higgins in the Roche v. Kronheimer case, and, on the following page, he says -

There can be little room for doubt after the Engineers’ case, that, under these powers, the Commonwealth Parliament could legislate in such a manner as. to vary rights which exist under State law.

At the time these opinions were being expressed, and before Sir John Latham had written his book, the opinion was stated by Arthur Berried ale Keith, in his book, Responsible Government in the Dominions, that, indubitably, the Commonwealth Government could not regulate labour conditions by enacting labour conventions. He expressed himself very strongly in support of the opinion of Professor Moore, but when he was faced with Sir John Latham’s book, he began to entertain doubts. In his review of the book, published in the Journal of Comparative Legislation, he said -

It may be so, but the power is very vague in comparison with the authority given to Canada, and there is, as yet, no judicial opinion in support of the evidence advanced by the author. in one of his later books - Constitutional Law of the British Dominions - published in 1933, at page 339, that Sir John Latham “holds that this power covers the right to conclude treaties and override State laws as in Canada, but this seems quite unsupported by authority.” He recedes from the position that, indubitably, the Commonwealth cannot do these things, and now says that it may do them, but that there is no authority establishing its right in that regard. I think it is impossible for anybody who has read the two Canadian cases, the Aeronautics case and the Radio Commission case, decided by the Privy Council in 1932, to draw distinction in this matter between the Canadian Constitution and our own. Under the Canadian law, there is power to take the opinion of the supreme authority on the constitutionality of any law, and the Supreme Court of Canada was, therefore, asked to advise upon the constitutionality of the laws regulating aerial navigation and radio transmission. The Supreme Court held in both cases that the dominion could not ratify conventions covering these matters, and thereby take control of them. Both cases were referred to the Privy Council, which dealt with them separately. In the Aeronautics case, the dominion resolution ratified a treaty made between Great Britain and other countries. . Section 132 of the Canadian Act, confers upon the Dominion Parliament the express power to ratify treaties made between Great Britain and other countries. But in the Radio case the position was different because the treaty was made, not between Great Britain and another country, but between Canada and another country, and in that case the Privy Council held that section 132 could not be relied on, but that the Dominion Parliament has a general power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the dominion in respect of matters not exclusively reserved to the States. In the Radio case their Lordships said -

It is Canada as a whole which is amenable to the other powers for the proper carrying out of the convention and to prevent individuals in Canada infringing the stipulations of the convention it is necessary that the dominion should pass legislation which should apply to all dwellers in Canada.

I would like to say that that decision aroused a great clamour in Canada, and that veteran constitutional controversialist, Mr. Ewart, K.C., said that such an idea had never occurred to any Canadian lawyer, and that English lawyers and judges put the idea into the heads of the Canadian lawyers and the words into their mouths.

Finally, I propose to refer as a last word, to what Professor Bailey has said. Professor Bailey ‘started by being very unwilling to believe that the Commonwealth Parliament had this power; but just as Berriedale Keith receded from the definite position he had taken up against this power, so Professor Bailey advanced from the indefinite opinion he had taken until in a paper which appears in Proceedings of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law, Vol. I., commencing at page 100, he said -

It follows that the Commonwealth Government was justified in claiming in 1902, that legislation to give the force of law to treaties binding on the Commonwealth is authorized by section 51 (xxix. ). It follows also that, on the true construction of the Commonwealth Constitution, Australia is not a country to which the last paragraph of article 405 of the Treaty of Versailles applies.

That means that Australia is not a federal country for the purposes of article 405. If it were, then the decision to refer the matter to the States would be right. But his opinion is that, just as the Dominion Parliament of Canada, by appropriate legislation and by ratifying a convention, may make a law in Canada, though in doing so it may trespass on the ordinary domain of the provinces, so the Australian Parliament may act. This question has been considered, not only in Canada, but also in the United States of America and Switzerland, and a position very similar to the one I am maintaining has been reached in the United States of America, not in relation to Labour conventions, but concerning other matters. The United States of America and Canada made a treaty relating to migratory birds. The legislature of the United States of America passed an act to protect migratory birds. That act obviously interfered with the power of the States, yet the Supreme Court of the United States of America, in the case Missouri v. Holland, held that it was valid.

Mr McCall:

– Is the honorable member in favour of the 40-hour week?


– I am certainly in favour of it. After listening to the speech of the Minister for Defence, and from some of the remarks made by the Prime Minister and honorable members opposite, I gathered that the Government was also in favour of it. I believe that the authority given to the delegate at the International Labour Conference, was not mere lip service to this principle, but was a re-endorsement of it. But I point out that it is not helping the 40-hour week at all for the Government to tell its. delegate and the world generally, that constitutional limitations in Australia prevent effect being given to the principle. The growing opinion is that the constitutional limitations in Australia do not prevent its being given effect. All sorts of things of much more doubtful validity are done. We have the Crimes Act and other legislation, which operates against the worker, the constitutionality of which is very much in doubt. All sorts of legislation, against the worker and against freedom is passed, the validity ‘ of which can be challenged in the High Court. Why is not the Government prepared to take the risk of accepting legislation on behalf of the worker being declared invalid? In these things what happens is that in constitution, the words remain the same in form, but they are capable of different construction. Nations grow -up : Canada and Australia have grown up, and have become members of the League of Nations, with power to make national commitments and power to implement them. Canada has adopted the Statute of Westminster, and I believe the Commonwealth Parliament is also about to adopt it. Australia has arrived at a state of nationhood not contemplated in 1901, and it may be said of Canada that it has arrived at a state not contemplated in 1S’6’7. Constitutional powers must adjust themselves to the needs of the people. That is the only way in which a constitution can be accepted. Words by themselves have no absolute and fixed meaning. The meaning of words is always that which is impressed upon them by the minds through which they pass. The permanence of words does not mean the permanence of the meaning.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– We have heard quite a lot this afternoon and this evening in regard to the manner in which certain decisions on the 40-hour week were arrived at at Geneva. Quite a lot has been said about the economic history of this matter, and about the powers possessed by the Commonwealth Government and the Dominion of Canada; but, so far, we have not heard a great deal on the question of why the present Government should be censured for not having placed on the statute-book the provisions contained in the Geneva agreement, the practicability of the legal application of which is challenged in certain quarters.

I may say at the outset that, before I resume my seat, it is my intention to move an amendment to the motion now before the Chair, because I feel that honorable members opposite would be rather sore if they were deprived of an opportunity to express an opinion on cer tain activities of what one might describe in a friendly fashion as the industrial wing of the Labour party in Australia.

The export industries are very greatly concerned in the application of this principle; but the House has heard nothing regarding them, except a few passing references by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill). I have heard no suggestion from honorable members opposite that, if the 40-hour week is to become the law of this country, the rate of wages will go down proportionately to the number of hours worked. I think the understanding of the Opposition is that, following the introduction of the shorter working week, a worker will continue to receive the present ruling wage for a working week eight hours shorter than the present one. The only conclusion that can be drawn from that is that, unless there is an increase of the output of each man, there must be an increase of the cost of each unit produced, and consequently, as the result of the application of the 40-hour week, an increase of the general price level inside the Commonwealth must follow. From the point of view of the export industries, whose interests I attempt to represent in this House, I say that we are not looking upon (that aspect of the question without some concern as to the way in which our power to compete in markets overseas will be affected by such an important and farreaching industrial change. No proposition has been advanced by honorable members opposite to show how the export industries are to overcome . this disability. We might also refer to one export industry, concerning the welfare of which we have heard quite a lot from at least one section of the Opposition, and that is the export coal industry, and the reason for its ceasing to be an export industry worthy of the name in Commonwealth economics. A few years ago the export coal industry yielded a considerable income in the State of New South Wales. ‘

I am not suggesting that the members of the party to which I belong are likely to adopt a doginthemanger attitude in regard to this question. We desire to see it investigated fairly, and by a competent authority. It is a very easy matter for honorable members opposite to castigate the Government for not having given immediate effect to a proposal of this description; but it is rather interesting to note that there is no alacrity on the part of the Opposition to give effect to other decisions arrived at at Geneva. Only late last year any one would think that, in relation to Geneva, nothing good could come out of Samaria at all. Now the boot is on the other foot, and, in this case, we are asked to believe that nothing but good can come out of Samaria. A matter of such magnitude and with such far-reaching potential effects is one which any government is bound to consider very carefully before deciding to apply to it. If honorable members opposite were in power to-day they would not dare to put a 40-hour week into operation without considering the possibilities from the view-point of the six State Governments, which would involve the consideration of the constitutional question, as well as from the view-point of the export industries of this country which provide the overseas trade balance that they consider is so necessary to the financial stability of the Commonwealth. It seems to me that arguments in regard to what can and cannot be done in Canada have no relation to the position in Australia. Anyone who has made even a perfunctory study of the Canadian Constitution knows that it is practically the direct opposite of the Australian Constitution. For example, all powers which are not expressly delegated to the provinces are exercisable by the Dominion Government, and the Constitution, being an act of the Parliament of Great Britain, can be changed only by that authority. The Opposition must consider the effects of the introduction of a 40-hour week from the. view-point first of the wool industry, secondly of the meat industry, thirdly of the wheat industry, fourthly of the mining industry, and fifthly, but not , by any means last, of the group of industries connected with the production of fresh and dried fruits and. wine. Those are five big industrial groups which provide credit balances overseas, the internal economy of which would be seriously affected by any drastic, unconsidered, ill-advised alteration of the industrial conditions of this country. I have not heard advanced from the Opposition any proposition which suggests that the principle of a 40-hour week can be applied to wheat-growing, woolgrowing or fruit-growing. I suppose that we shall next have a motion censuring the Government for not having arranged with the weather prophet that rain shall fall on certain days and not on others. There is an old saying that rain which falls at night and on Sundays is heavenly weather. Probably honorable members opposite would like an arrangement under which rain would fall only on Saturdays and Sundays, and at night. I think it can fairly be said that this motion is about 1 per cent. 40-hour week and 99 per cent, party politics. It is quite evident that the Labour party, after its recent achievement of a measure of unity - at least on the surface - in its own ranks, is now obliged to attempt a rather f difficult achievement, success in accomplishing which would redound greatly to its credit; that is, to bring into harmony the political and industrial wings of its movement. A better description than wings would be two horses hitched to the one cart, each wanting to go in a different direction. Consequently, it has to make some sort of an attack upon the Government. It knows that certain ministerial members are more or less definitely committed to the advocacy of a 40-hour week. I suggest with very great respect to one of those members, that the real intention of the Opposition is to try to establish a sort of Jacobite party on this side, and by that means secure the adoption of the ideas of the supporters of the House of Stewart. . With the experience that honorable members opposite have had in politics, they should have learned that the only rebellion which is ever justified, is a successful one. They have not particularly distinguished themselves by the manner in which they have conducted their own internal rebellions, the insurrectionists sooner or later slinking back to the kennel from which they emerged. The Opposition takes unto itself a considerable degree of responsibility when it attempts to censure this Government for having failed to give what it considers is the correct lead in connexion with a 40-hour week. Prior to last

Christmas, what member of it was prepared to say in public what attitude the seamen should adopt towards one of the worst strikes which the Commonwealth has ever experienced?

Mr Baker:

– On a point of order, I ask that the honorable member be called upon to explain the connexion between the seamen’s strike and a 40-hour week.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member had not proceeded sufficiently far to enable the Chair to judge as to the nature of the connexion. I expect him to connect his remarks with the question before the Chair ; otherwise he will not be in order.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– The motion which the House is considering proposes to censure -the Government for having failed to direct the industrial sections of this community in a certain way. When honorable members opposite arrogate to themselves the right to criticize members of the Government, I submit that we are entitled to inquire into their credentials as advisers and censors of political morals.


– Order ! There is” no question of political morals.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– I submit that the political leaders of labour in this Parliament, having remained as silent as death last December, while the seamen’s strike was in progress, and having allowed the Communist element to take control of it, have no right whatever to censure either this or any other Government in regard to its attitude towards the adoption of a 40-hour week.


– Order! It appears to the Chair that the remarks of the honorable member are hardly relevant.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– This Parliament has the right to inquire inr.o certain aspects of the enactment of a 40-hour week in Australia. It stands to reason that when an attempt is made to censure the Government for having failed to give effect to a 40-hour week, we have to examine the extent of that failure and ascertain what constitutes it. I have not heard from the treasury bench any pronouncement either stating or implying that the Government intends to dishonour the signature which it affixed to a certain Convention of the International Labour Conference at Geneva, but I have seen every indication, both publicly and in private, of its intention to do its utmost to place upon the statute-book of Australia, within the limitations imposed by the Constitution, the proposal for the adoption of a 40-hour week in this country to which it committed itself. I say with very great respect that honorable members opposite cannot expect such a far-reaching decision, which affects the whole of the industrial life of the community, and places our export industrial in an unknown position, to be given effect without the deepest and most earnest consideration by all the authorities concerned. If the Opposition desires that effect shall be given to a decision of this description, there is absolutely nothing to prevent its party from taking that action in the State of Queensland, where there is only one House, in which it has an overwhelming majority of members. It could also be done quite as easily in Western Australia and Tasmania, where that party has absolute power within certain limits, to do what it will. The Common wealth has been given no lead by those States. J Judging by the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) this afternoon, he did not receive very much consideration from Queensland. I put it to the House that we are entitled to expect that Labour governments, even in the States, are under an obligation to try to give effect to this policy which honorable members opposite say is of such overwhelming importance to the industrial welfare of Australia. Before he sat down, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) spoke of direct action being taken before this year closed if the Commonwealth Government did not do certain tilings. T hope that the Government will not be bluffed and browbeaten by threats of that description, which are unworthy of the honorable member. I believe that the Government will follow a fair and reasonable course, that within its constitutional limits, and according to. its capacity, it will explore means whereby effect may be given to this principle. If the proposition of honorable members opposite, that everything done at, Geneva has to be accepted without question, is adopted, we are likely to be led into a very serious state of affairs in other directions. Australia has only three representatives in a large assembly, and I am not prepared to place very great reliance upon a:i,y decision arrived at. Geneva is a sort of world, magnet for all sorts, types, and conditions. It is one thing to arrive at a decision at Geneva, but an entirely different matter to give effect to it in Australia. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin*) read a list of countries which have signified their adherence to the principle of a 40-hour week, at the head of which were Afghanistan and Albania. If this country is as tardy as those countries in giving effect to a 40-hour week, many years will elapse before anything of that description is in operation here. When we aTe told that we should accept a decision of this character without inquiring into its implications, wo are entitled to examine the nature of those who arrive at it. Considering the composition of the League of Nations, and the International Labour Conference, to which are sent the representatives of many small countries in Europe, Africa and South America, we are entitled to regard the decisions of such a motley crowd with grave suspicion.

Mr Makin:

– Is that the honorable member’s attitude to sanctions?

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– I have been an outspoken advocate in opposition to the League of Nations ever since I have had anything to do. with politics ; but, last year, this country was committed to a certain line of action, and had to decide between that and dishonour. This Government is in the same position in regard to the proposal for a 40-hour week as it was last year concerning the imposition of sanctions against Italy; it is trying to give effect to its international commitments. I desire to propose an amendment which actually amounts to three amendments. I wish to move to omi t the word “ censures “, with a view to insert “ notes the action taken by “ ; to omit the words, “for its failure”; and to add to the motion the following: - and commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia, and urges the trade union movement to co-operate with the Government to that end.

The motion would then read -

That this House notes the action taken by the Commonwealth Government to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia in accordance with public opinion of the Commonwealth and the principle embodied in the draft convention adopted with the support of the Commonwealth Government delegate at the 1935 session, of the International Labour Conference, and commend.’; the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia, and urges the trade union movement to co-operate with the Government lo that cud.

Earlier in the evening the Opposition had an opportunity, of which it apparently did not wish to avail itself, to force the Government and its supporters in this House to say that they approve the action which the Government has undoubtedly taken to give effect to this international obligation; but, for reasons best known to themselves, or possibly because of a merciful consideration for Government supporters, honorable members opposite do not desire to see us saddled with the load we are endeavouring to place on our own shoulders. Supporters of the Government cannot be blind to its endeavours to arrive at a satisfactory solution of a problem which involves a very deep and far-reaching change in the industrial life of the Commonwealth. Therefore, we on this side consider that the Government is not guilty of any omission which warrants censure. We say it is desirable that the House should place on record the fact that we support the action of the Government in endeavouring to give effect to the decision reached at Geneva. It stands to reason that, before anything in the nature of a 40-hour week in Australia could be adopted, it must be the political objective of the government in power, backed by the parties supporting it. The Opposition knows that the Government is committed to this principle, and, therefore, it is not in a position to go to the country and say that the Government has not accepted it as a political objective. The Government must have a plan for giving effect to the principle, but I ask honorable members opposite whether they have any such plan. They pretend to speak for the industrial section. What is their plan, and what is their method for putting it intooperation? Before submitting a censure motion such as that before the House, the Opposition should answer questions of this nature. It should give the House the benefit of its experience and reason- ing on this important issue, but not one word in that regard has it vouchsafed.

Mr Makin:

– That is not so. Has the honorable member not heard the argument advanced by the Opposition on the subject of trade treaties?

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– I am not likely to have missed any point of great importance. It seems to me that the aim of the Opposition is not to take- a short cut to the objective of a 40-hour week. It desires to create a difficult situation for the Government, and, particularly, for certain of its supporters who have been a little more outspoken than others in regard to this matter. A few of us may desire to, hear the proposal more fully explained before committing ourselves to it. That is my personal attitude. I represent a fairly large number of farmers and pastoralists1, and the Opposition should consider whether the adoption of the policy it now advocates will not detrimentally affect the agricultural, pastoral and mining industries, or the markets which they enjoy overseas. All the talk that has been indulged in by the Leader of the Opposition about the history of the struggle for a reduction of the hours of labour, and about the Canadian constitution, will not get us further ahead. We have to consider the position of affairs in Australia at the present time.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon: Gr. J, Bell).In the form in which the honorable member proposes to submit his amendment, it would have to be dealt with as three separate amendments, but I point out that it could be submitted as one amendment if he proposed to omit all the words after “ That this House “ and to insert the remaining words of the motion with the amendments which he desires.

BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · CP; LP from 1944; LCL from 1951; LP from 1954

– I accept your suggestion, Mr. Speaker, and move -

That. all the words after the word “House” he omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words: - “notes the action taken by the Commonwealth Government to promote the adoption of the 40-hour week in Australia, in accordance with public opinion of the Commonwealth and with the principle embodied in the draft convention adopted, with the support of the Commonwealth Government delegate, at the 1935 session of the International Labour Conference, and commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle to Australia and urges the trade union movement to co-operate with the Government to that end “.


– I second the amendment.

Mr Curtin:

– In what manner - does the Chair propose to put the proposed amendment ?


– The question is- “ That the words proposed ,to be omitted stand part of the motion.”


.- I desire to reply to the distortion of the facts committed by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and supplemented by the Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill), to the effect that there was fighting between the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Workers Union. The Commonwealth is a party to an international agreement that countries represented in the International Labour Office should be represented only by a delegate from one central labour organization. The present Government has tried to break that agreement, and it is the only government in the world that has tried to do so. On this occasion there has been no quarrel between the Australian Workers Union and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. The only quarrel has been with the Government about the breaking of the agreement by the Government. . The two labour organizations mentioned were in accord in condemning the breaking of that agreement, and also in regard to the number of representatives who should be at the conference. We have shown how many members of the Nationalist party are trying to “ get from under” regarding this question of a 40- hour week. The Government is aware that its own party is determined that a 40-hour week must become the policy of this country. The Nationalist Conference of New South Wales belaboured the Government for not doing the job and for hiding behind royal commissions, boards and the like. Commonwealth Ministers at the conference tried to justify the Government’s attitude, but the conference persisted in its condemnation. Honorable members on the Government side of the House are trying to save their face in this matter. One amendment has been ruled out of order, and a second amendment, moved by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie . Cameron), is designed to try to show to supporters of the party outside that the Government is doing something, whereas it is merely a further sabotage of the workers’ rights. Why should this matter be sidetracked to an inquiry, when it is really a responsibility for the Government? The great newspapers of the Commonwealth are opposed to the manner in which this Government is shelving its responsibilitiesThe Melbourne Herald concurred in the refusal of the labour organizations to be represented at the proposed inquiry. The Melbourne Age, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the Truth newspaper, Smith’s Weekly and the Labor Daily have also pilloried this Government for not having acted on. its own responsibility. Notwithstanding the fact that this Government, which instructed its delegate to the International Labour Conference, that it would support the policy of a 40-hour week, the Prime Minister said to-day that the Government did, not know whether it could Or could not institute shorter working hours, and proposed to set up a committee of inquiry on the matter. This reversal of policy was supported by the Minister for Defence, when he said that the Government was not sure that it now did agree with the policy of a 40-hour week. Moreover, the mover of the amendment before the House said that he is definitely opposed to a 40-hour week, thus demonstrating that his followers ave merely using the amendment as a smokescreen. The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) submitted a wonderful case in support of a 40-hour working week, and at the very end squibbed it, and said, “We had better have a committee of inquiry into it.” The attitude of several honorable members opposite can be summed up in these words : “ I believe in this, but for God’s sake don’t do it, because, if you do, it will put us in a hell of a hole.” The honorable member for Barker has submitted an amendment, in which he has no belief. The Government intends to pass a pious resolution congratulating itself, and showing the public that it intends *o do something in the sweet by and by. What have the countries concerned in the Geneva Convention done to put it into effect? Honorable members have heard from the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, the view taken by the British Government. The Norwegian Committee of Social Affairs has appointed a committee to inquire into the extent to which a general reduction of the working week in industry may be expected to reduce existing unemployment. The Minister of Social Affairs in a report submitted to the legislature on the 9th January, 1936, recommended that the ‘Convention of principle adopted by the International Labour Conference in 1935 ‘be ratified by Sweden.

The new Labour Government in New Zealand - this is the first Labour Government they have ever had in New Zealand ; we will have a new Labour Government in this country soon, and it will do the job also - has decided to apply a 40-hour week to employees on public works, and further intends to discuss with employers’ organizations the question of the general introduction of the principle.

Mr Lane:

– New Zealand proposes an inquiry.


– If this Ministry makes a declaration that it supports a 40-hour working week, and asks trade unions to meet it to see how it can be put into industry, this party will give it its support. It, however, has no intention of doing that. Not on your life! It is not game to make such a pronouncement. It “ wants more knowledge “ on the subject. Honorable members opposite could read all the information available from Geneva on this subject, and listen to everything they could be told about it by the honorable member for Parramatta, and still not know anything about it.

The employers of Great Britain are introducing a 40-hour working week for their own benefit and not for that of the working classes. They realize that the innovation will increase employment and expand the purchasing power of the people. One of the largest firms of the kind in Great Britain, British Ropes Limited, has reduced its working week from 47 hours to 30 hours since the shorter working week convention was agreed to at the International Labour Conference. Peglers Limited, smother

British firm employing more than 1,000 people, has reduced its working week from 47 hours to 41½ hours. In making a pronouncement to this effect it stated that the object was to meet the economic forces operating in Great Britain and not to provide the workers with more leisure. The move was taken in the interests of economic security and not of human welfare.

In the United States of America, a big move has occurred lately towards a shorter working week. In January, 1935, 95 per cent. of all industrial employees in the United States of America were covered by 541 codes of fair competition in force, and 85 per cent. of the codes assured the main body of industrial workers a working week of 40 hours or less. The representative of the Government of the United States of America on the governing body of the International Labour Office stated in Geneva, in Feburary, 1935, that while the increase of employment in the United States of America could not be ascribed solely to the reduction of hours, but was also contributed to by the government’s agricultural programme and policy of public works, . it was nevertheless possible to measure the immediate effects of the individual codes as they came into operation. For example, for some time prior to the adoption of the code in the cotton textile industry every possible yard of cloth had been produced in anticipation of the higher wage rate and the output had been almost as high as at the peak of prosperity. Nevertheless the enforcement of the code limiting hours to 40 a week had resulted in an increase of employment by 11 per cent. within one month. This result bears out the contentions that we have made for years past. To-night the honorable member for Barker and also the Minister for Defence used the same hoary arguments that have been advanced since 1856 in this country to resist every movement to reduce the hours of labour. We were told to-night, as we were told years ago when the working week was reduced from 56 hours to 52 hours, and, later-, when ‘ it was reduced from 52 hours to 48 hours, and later again, in 1927, when it was reduced from 48 hours to 44 hours, that industry would be ruined and that it would be impossible for us to compete in the world’s markets. As usual, the farmers wore dragged into thediscussion. But the argument was completely invalidated when the 44-hour week was introduced in New South Wales, for the output of factories actually increased by 14 per cent. It will be seen, therefore, that a shorter working week is not ruinous to the country. The report of the honorable member for Parramatta on this subject has been read, I am sure, by every union secretary in the Commonwealth.

Sir Frederick Stewart:

– I hope that they all noticed that I recommended the holding of a conference.


– I have no doubt that they did. The honorable member indicated in his reply that he realized the seriousness of the problem of employment and also that the only immediate means to afford relief to the people was a shorter working week. He suggested other methods of providing relief, which could not be immediately effective. In his report to the Government, the honorable member said -

The rise and fall of unemployment has been general throughout the world, and primary producers are affected by the fact that millions of potential customers throughout the world are unable, through loss of employment, to purchase the goods they produce.

He has since, unfortunately, gone back on the views he expressed in his report, and his speech to-night was very disappointing.

Sir Frederick Stewart:

– I am supporting the Government, which has adopted my recommendations.


– If the Government would intimate clearly this evening that it endorsed the proposal for a 40-hour working week, the trade union leaders would be willing to meet it next week to consider the whole subject. So far, however, the main proposal has been sidetracked. The amendment seeks to side-, track it still further. It seems to me that the Government is not “game” to give effect to this proposal, but is deluding the public into believing that it is in earnest.

Mr Paterson:

– On a point of order, I submit that the honorable member is not entitled to impute motives to the Government.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member for Cook may not impute motives.


– I believe that the amendment is simply an attempt to delude the people into believing that the Government intends to do something.


– Order !


– The proposal to appoint an investigating body of eleven Government representatives and six Labour representatives - I call the representatives of the employers Government representatives, as I should call the Labour representatives Government representatives if the Labour party were in power - indicates clearly that a decision acceptable to the Government would be reached. It is a case of “ ‘ Come into my parlour,’ said the spider to the fly.” If the Government had proposed to appoint a worker with a large family as the consumers’ representative, it would have been sensible, for such a person would understand the view of the consumers. But the Government proposed to appoint a woman who has not even a family, and she was supposed to be representative of the consumers because of her association with the Nationalist party. I have been a member of committees appointed by governments, and I know that the decision of such a committee, even though reached on the casting vote of the chairman, is accepted by the Government. The minority may also present a report, but of that the Government takes no notice. The Minister for Defence said that the Government of Queensland had refused to co-operate in this matter. I remind honorable members that the Government of Queensland wrote to the ‘Commonwealth Government as early as January last asking what it proposed to do, but it received no reply. Then, on the 26th April last, it sent a telegram putting forward certain proposals, but the Government refused to consider them.

I have already touched upon labour conditions in the United States of America, and here is a list of some of the more important industries, and the working hours which prevail in them - 40 hours - Coal, cotton, textile, wool textile, hosiery. 36 hours - Merchant ship building and ship repairing, electrical manufacturing, men’s clothing, petroleum’ (drilling, production) refining and pipe line operations. 35 hours - Automobile manufacturing and coal. 32 hours - Ship building and shipping (for the United States of America Government ) .

The Government of the United States of America has applied a working week of 32 hours to its own shipyards, and the Commonwealth Government could, if it liked, introduce the 40-hour week inits own service. The Government of New Zealand has had the courage to do this. In that country, all persons employed on public works have been given the benefit of a 40-hour week, and the Government has asked the employers to come together in an endeavour to arrive at a method by which the 40-hour week may be put into general operation throughout industry. A select committee was appointed by the Victorian Parliament to go into the subject of a shorter working week, and, in the course of its report, it states -

It is the power of ownership and control of industrial machinery that enables mechanization to be used as a wage-saving device ana this discriminatory displacement of manual labour in favour of machine power has had disastrous consequences to many thousands of citizens.

The ratio of man-power to Mechanical power as disclosed in evidence is, in some instances almost incredible, and it at least suggests that man’s creative genius will, in the course of a very few years, destroy all our present conceptions of what should be a reasonable standard of living.

Among the members of this committee were some of the “ Young Nationalists “ of Victoria, like the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt). These younger Nationalists have been shouting in all the Labour suburbs of Melbourne that they believe in a shorter working week, and increased purchasing power for the workers, but when it comes to action they are absent. The select committe was representative of the Country party, the Labour party, and the United Australia party, and it recommended that a shorter working week should be introduced immediately.

Mr McEwen:

– Its recommendation was not unanimous.


– No; but only the United Australia party members opposed it. The committee’s report continued - “ The establishment of a shorter working week, without reduction in pay, is a social and economic necessity “, and it urges upon the Commonwealth and State Governments that the International Labour Office Convention “establishing the principle of the 40-hour week “ be ratified.

The claim for a shorter working week is constantly gaining support, and the Victorian Parliamentary Select Committee deserves the highest praise for its constructive criticism and recommendation.

The representative of the conservative French Government, at the Conference of the International Labour Office, in discussing the subject of a shorter working week, stated -

We are not considering the reduction of hours of work simply as a means of reducing unemployment and of combating the depression. We are also facing it from the standpoint of a remedy for the effects of mechanizationand rationalization, which are not due to the depression, but are permanent features of modern economic life. We have stated that the workers are entitled to share in the benefits resulting from improved technique by having a reduction of their labour and an increase in their leisure hours.

The honorable member for Parrarnatta has stated that some of his colleagues accused him of having run amuck at Geneva, and we know that, since his return, Government supporters have been seeking a method to evade the responsibilities which the Government, through its representative at Geneva, has been called upon to assume. As the result there was a combination of the legal fraternity in the House, and the outcome was the amendment moved by the honorable member for Barker, the purpose being to sidetrack the honorable member for Parramatta, who, when a member of the Government displayed some constructive ability, and to evade the declaration made by him on behalf of the Government. Because the honorable gentleman has progressive ideas and in industrial matters is in line with modern thought, he was forced out of the Cabinet. The honorable member for Barker ridiculed the industrial conditions in South Africa, but knowing the honorable member as we do, his opinion car ries no weight. South Africa, the United States of America, France, Sweden and Norway are coming into alignment on the question of a 40-hour week. The honorable member for Barker now derides the 40 nations which he commended in his speech on sanctions a few weeks ago. This is the opinion of Colonel Cresswell, an ex-Minister of the Union of South Africa and Government representative at Geneva -

Recognizing that the feature which distinguishes our age from all past time is the increasing substitution of mechanical power for human energy, does it not seem reasonable that some measures should be taken to ensure that a lesser span of man’s life should be occupied in arduous toil and a greater opportunity be afforded for satisfaction of the higher aspirations and faculties?

Professor Hamilton, the representative of the Government of the United States of America at Geneva, stated -

The delegates who represent the Government of my country are quite willing to support a convention that stands for a 40-hour week, but we will do so with two distinct provisos. The first is that this is to be definitely regarded as a maximum and will not stand in the way of fixing a shorter week by legislation, and the second is that it shall not be interpreted as interfering with the ordinary processes of bargaining.

He pledged his country to the 40-hour working week, but would not allow the convention to hinder the industrialists whom he represented from agitating for shorter hours of labour.

Mr. Fred Henderson, in his Economic Consequences of Power Production, says -

Without any further increase in . our knowledge of power and of technical processes or of our available materials, we could multiply production ten times over . . .

It would not be a question of an8-hour day or a 6-day week, but more probably of a six months’ working year.

Mr. Ralph E. Flanders, a former president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, says -

If an engineer dictator over industry could be appointed and given complete control over raw materials, machinery and trained labour, he could flood, smother and bury the people under an avalanche of goods and services such as no Utopian dreamer ever imagined.


– The honorable member has exhausted his time.

Thursday, 7 May 1986


Mr. Speaker-

Motion (by Mr. Thompson) put -

That the question be now put.

The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)

AYES: 35

NOES: 22

Majority . . . . 13



Question so resolved in the affirmative.

Question - That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr. Archie Cameron’s amendment) stand part of the question - put. The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)

AYES: 21

NOES: 36

Majority . . . . 15



Question so resolved in the negative.


– The question now is : “ That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted.”

Debate (on motion by Mr. Paterson) adjourned.

page 1331


Censure Motion Debate - Japanese Sampans in Northern Waters.

Prime Minister · Wilmot · UAP

– I move-

That the House do now adjourn.

I regret that there has been some misunderstanding concerning the intention of the Government on the debate which has just been adjourned. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) intended to inform the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) that it was the desire of the Government to take a vote on the motion at midnight; but, as the honorable member was engaged when the

Minister called upon him, he was precluded from doing so. Before an opportunity was afforded, the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Garden) concluded his speech, and the closure was applied. I regret that the Leader of the Opposition was not notified, and, in view of the position which has arisen, the Minister for the Interior has moved the adjournment of the debate. It is the intention of the Government to conclude the debate on the motion before the dinner hour this day.


– Even had an intimation reached me that it was the intention of the Government to apply the closure to the debate, I should have been shocked and amazed by such procedure. As Leader of the Opposition, I have attempted in a number of ways to give the Government reasonable assistance in the conduct of public business; indeed, the manner in which this censure motion was tabled yesterday was dictated by a deep consideration for the convenience of the Government. Notice could have been given in the usual way any day this week; but, realizing the technical character of the Income Tax Assessment Bill, the attention which the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) has given to it, and the desire of honorable members to give it continuous consideration rather than have frequent interruptions, I consulted the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons). I feel certain that, up to some time yesterday, the right honorable gentleman was sympathetically disposed towards my view that a discussion on the subject of a 40-hour week should be unrestricted, so that honorable members on both sides of the House might have an opportunity to give the subject the consideration it deserves. The right honorable gentleman will admit that I even agreed to to-day’s proceedings being interrupted so that honorable members might participate in a social function. I assure the House that I would not have agreed to the sitting being suspended if I had not believed that the time necessary for the proper consideration of the motion of censure would have been allowed. Early last night a Minister, who has had a most serious task imposed upon him during the last few weeks, requested me personally to arrange a pair for him; I did that, but I should not have done so had I thought that the Government would so early terminate the debate on my motion.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– The Leader of the Opposition is apparently referring to me.


– I am not speaking of the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett), but of another Minister. The honorable member for Henty cannot accuse me of lacking consideration in the matter of pairs.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– I transferred the pair.


– That is all right, but there would have been no consideration in the matter of pairs in connexion with last night’s proceedings had I known that a vote was to be taken so soon. The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner) knows better than most honorable members opposite that on a crucial motion initiated by the Opposition we neither ask for nor grant pairs. The honorable member also knows that on other occasions when he has asked for a pair for any honorable member it has been given without demur; we have often gone to considerable trouble to arrange suitable pairs. I regret that the Government should have considered it necessary to terminate the debate on the motion I moved yesterday before honorable members on both sides of the House who desired to speak had had an opportunity to do so. It is reprehensible that an amendment which had been moved after hours of debate should have been gagged within half an hour after it had beenbrought before the House.


– I am still receiving communications from Northern Australia and northern Queensland concerning the presence of sampans: in coastal waters. Yesterday, the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson), in answer to a question which I asked, said that he had no knowledge of the presence of Japanese sampans or luggers in North Queensland waters. The Home Secretary in Queensland says that the report of’ such trespasses is greatly exaggerated. Is the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), the Minister for Defence (Mr. Archdale Parkhill), the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett), the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), or any other occupant of the front ministerial bench as ignorant as is the Minister for the Interior of thi? menace to the lives and property of the people of northern Australia and Worth Queensland waters? Will not the Minister for Defence agree that the Navy should perform some of its manoeuvres in northern waters, instead of in Sydney Harbour or the River Yarra? That might impose some restraint upon the menace which underlies the peaceful penetration of North Australia and Thursday Island. Notwithstanding the assurance that an aerial survey had disclosed no grounds for the allegations made in the report of Mr. Fraser, a few days later 30 Japanese were landed on Thursday Island from a wrecked lugger. Has any responsible Minister knowledge of the nature of the operations of Japanese sampans and luggers in the waters of North Australia ? Is their purpose the exploitation of the pearlshell industry, or are munition dumps being established? It is time that this matter was investigated by a responsible authority. Some considerable time has elapsed since it was first raised. This national Parliament is responsible for the policing of northern waters. The Queensland Government will see to the enforcement of State laws.

East Sydney

– I rise to protest against the action of the Government in limiting the debate upon the very important matter of the introduction of a 40-hour week in industry in Australia. Many honorable members on both sides of the House rose in .their places expecting to receive the call. What has been done is in direct conflict with the statement of many Government members that this Parliament would have the opportunity to discuss the matter adequately. During last week, no limit was placed upon the discussion of a measure designed to give relief to another section of the community. This will at least indicate to the workers of Australia the class nature of the present Government, and its unwillingness to do anything in their interests. The proposal rejected by the trade union movement and the Labour party-

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Gr. J. Bell).Order! The honorable member is now debating the merits of the question.


– I am protesting against the action of the Government, which only proves the accuracy of the Labour party’s judgment when it rejected the proposal to hold what was termed a conference to discuss this particular matter.


– Order ! The honorable member must realize that he is debating a question which was before the House this evening, and will again be considered at the next sitting.


– I am merely discussing the action of the Government in so limiting the debate that only certain selected speakers will have the opportunity to participate in it.


– Order ! The honorable member was referring to the refusal of certain organizations to be represented at a conference. That matter was debated at an earlier hour of the sitting.


– The Prime Minister has indicated the determination of the Government to conclude the debate at a certain hour. When that hour arrives, many honorable members will not have had the opportunity to express their opinions. During last week, many of us remained in this chamber listening to the discussion of provisions which concerned other interests in the community. When a matter affecting the section which they represent is submitted to this Parliament, Labour members are entitled to the opportunity to express their views. The action of the Government is despicable.


– Order ! The term “ despicable “ is unparliamentary and must not be used in debate.


– This should be a lesson to the Opposition. It should no longer be willing to barter with men who once belonged to the Labour party and sacrificed their principles because they could better themselves by becoming associated with another party. I .hope that honorable members who sit on this side will prove worthy of the trust reposed in them as representatives of the workers, by declining to give any quarter, agree to any pairs, or enter into any arrangements, with a Government that is not worthy of any consideration.

Minister without portfolio assisting the Minister for Commerce · Batman · UAP

– The Government might very well consider the desirability of extending the time which it proposes to make available for the discussion of this matter. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) mU.81 recognize that it is largely in the public mind at the present time. The Opposition has been very patient and helpful. It has endeavoured to aid the Government to transact its business, and to ameliorate the conditions of the rich squatters and others who support it. Those who represent big industrial constituencies, as I do, are most anxious to have something to say upon the subject of the hours of labour. For instance, 1 listened with very great pleasure to the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), and I would like to have had the opportunity of disabusing his mind of misapprehensions on many points. That is how one feels about many of the speeches which have been delivered. Although this motion originated from this party, a very lively interest in it was manifested by all sections of the House, and members rose alternately from each side to discuss it. Two technical amendments were raised; one of them was declared to be out of order, and we had no opportunity at all of appreciating the other. We did not have an opportunity to read it; it was merely stated; it could not be circulated; nevertheless, the House has now come to a decision upon it. When the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) moved the adjournment of the debate, I thought that members were to have ample opportunity to continue the discussion on the major aspect of the matter. No one can suggest that we have laboured the subject which is of vital interest to the nation. In any case, what is the need to hurry on this debate? I understand that it is proposed that the House should rise in a week or two. For what reason? None has as yet been suggested. An additional week might very well be devoted to the consideration of this important motion. Whatever may be the decision, it is very desirable that every honorable member should be- given an opportunity to have his ‘.speech recorded for the benefit of his constituents. Consequently, I ask the Prime Minister to reconsider his decision, and to extend the time for the discussion of this motion so that, at least, the majority of honorable members may have an opportunity to speak to it. I, for one, would like to have an opportunity to take part in this debate.

Sir Henry Gullett:

– -The honorable member is having’ that opportunity now.


– No. Mr. Speaker would not permit me, at this stage, to address myself to the motion. I have not discussed the merits of the matter at all. The Minister in charge of negotiations for trade treaties has not discussed its merits; I believe that if he listened long enough to speeches from members on this side of the chamber he might get an inspiration to say something on the matter. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Parkhill) took his full time, and delivered a speech about which I prefer not to say what I think; if I did so, I would not be in order. I hope that the time for this discussion will be extended. There is no good reason why the House should adjourn within a couple of weeks. Again, I suggest that it would not be too much to devote the remainder of this week to this important matter. .Subsequently, the Government could deal at its leisure with the taxation interests of its friends.


– I protest against the curtailment of this debate. We have been challenged by honorable members opposite that we have not stated our attitude on this matter. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) made a statement which I take with a grain of salt concerning the attitude of the Queensland Government on the subject. I have sought information by telegram from that Government, to satisfy myself of the truth or otherwise of the Prime Minister’s statement. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) also made a statement concerning the attitude of the Government of Queensland which I can very easily disprove. The action now taken by the Government will preclude me from stating my views. Honorable members on this side of the chamber are denied the opportunity to state the reasons for their attitude on a very important matter. I suggest that more time should be allowed for the discussion of the motion.


.- I support the protest of my colleagues against the action taken by the Government to-night. It must be obvious to every honorable member that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has just put over the most deliberate double-cross that has occurred in this Parliament for a considerable number of years.

Mr Lyons:

– I rise to a point of order. I take exception to the language used by the honorable member.


– I cannot decide whether or not the remark is offensive, because I am not aware of its meaning. But if the Prime Minister regards it as offensive it must be withdrawn.


– In the ordinary acceptance of the term, to “ double-cross “ is to put over something which the injured party had -no reason to expect. In a moment of weakness-


– Order ! Is the honorable member explaining that his remark was not intended to be offensive?


– ‘Certainly I did not intend it to be offensive. I say that the Prime Minister, by his action this evening has deliberately double-crossed the Opposition.

Sir HENRY Gullett:

– I rise to order. The term “ double-cross “ is recognized to have a sinister meaning; it means taking some one down. Frequently a criminal interpretation is placed upon it. As the remark is very offensive, and is so intended, I ask that it be withdrawn.

Mr Makin:

– Is not the honorable member who made the remark better able to indicate what he meant to convey than the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties? The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Baker) having clearly indicated his intention, I feel, Mr. Speaker, that in the exercise of your discretion you will accept his explanation.


– The honorable member for Griffith made use of a word which was objected to as being offensive to the Prime Minister. He gave what he considered to be its meaning and said that he did not regard it as offensive, and did not intend it to be so. That explanation would be accepted by the Prime Minister, but the honorable member should not repeat the word to which objection has been taken.


– I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I shall not use the word again in this speech. I am quite prepared to accept the criminal meaning applied to it by the Minister in charge of negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett). Had it not happened this evening, it would be almost unbelievable that a Government would deal with an Opposition in the unfair manner in which the present Ministry has acted towards honorable members on this side. In any discussion, of course, it is competent for an honorable member to move the adjournment of- the debate, but, in British parliaments certain unwritten rules are almost as binding as the written law. One of them is that the fullest opportunity should be given for the discussion of a censure motion. I heard references to a gentleman’s agreement. Unfortunately, we have now come to a stage at which members of the Opposition are unable to enter into gentlemen’s agreements with members on the Government side, because the latter do not adhere to such agreements and do not know the meaning of them. That is the reason why members of my party recognize that they cannot take the word of a Minister or of Government supporters. Such agreements have been made in the past, but it now seems that the words of members of the Government and particularly of the Prime Minister himself, are no longer their bond.


– I ask the honorable member to proceed without making personal reflections upon honorable members.

Mr Lane:

– “Why let him get away with that?


– It is a personal reflection upon honorable members to say that their word cannot be accepted, and the remark must not be repeated.

Motion (by Mr. John Lawson) negatived -

That the honorable member be not further heard.


– “We cannot trust the honorable members opposite to observe arrangements made under a gentlemen’s agreement.:!


– Order ! I shall not allow the honorable member to proceed on those lines. Such remarks constitute a personal reflection upon honorable members, and are therefore disorderly.


– There has been far too much cant, humbug and hypocrisy–


– Order ! The honorable member will withdraw that remark, and apologize to the Chair and the House.


– I do that.

Motion (by Mr. Archdale Parkhill) agreed to -

That the question be now put.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 12.58 a.m. (Thursday).

page 1336



The following answers to questions were circulated: -

Importsof Bitumen

What was the quantity and value of bitumen imported into Australia during the years 1932, 1933, 1934 and 1935, and what were the countries of origin?

New Zealand Perpetual Forests: Activities

  1. In view of his statement in Melbourne that he was in touch with New Zealand and State Cabinets concerning the recent activities of the New Zealand Perpetual Forests, and also his reply to a question by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports in this House, will he state whether the Government has obtained a report, or will again call for one, to ascertain if first-issue bondholders are being given the benefits stated in their original contracts, namely, the right to have their bonds redeemed at face value, plus 5 per cent. compound interest to date from purchase, by giving the requisite three months’ notice?
  2. Can any information be obtained as to whether this company has been hindering bondholders requesting the return of their capital ?
  3. At what price has the company been redeeming these bonds during the last three months, during which time many bondholders have concluded that their assets have been, seriously depreciated ?
  4. Is the New Zealand Perpetual Forests in any way connected with the trafficking of. the bonds and shares of any of their issues?
  5. In view of the enormous amount of money subscribed by Australians, resident in the federal territories and the States, mostly in small amounts by poor people, will the Government render the same assistance which it made available in connexion with the recent trust companies whose bonds and shares were being operated?
  6. In view of the great loss with which many of our most thrifty citizens arc being faced, will he follow up his statement made in Melbourne and in this House by action at an early date?
  7. Will the Government see that, in any inquiry which is held, representation will be provided for the bondholders?
  1. This matter has been the subject of correspondence between the Government of New

Zealand and the Commonwealth Government. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Savage, has intimated that the formation of the new company, viz., New Zealand Forests Products Limited, hud been formally approved by the Bondholders Incorporation Commission only after hearing lengthy arguments by representatives of the Australasian Forestry Bondholders Trust Company, acting for Australian bondholders. Mr. Savage added that if the Commonwealth Government was not satisfied that the Australasian Bondholders Trust Company had adequately represented Australian interests before the Bondholders Incorporation Commission, he would be pleased to arrange for the commission to review the matter. At the first statutory meeting of the new company, held on the 23rd March, three residents of Australia were elected on the directorate, namely, Sir Charles Marr and Mr. H. L. Smith, of Sydney, and Mr. B. D. Kennedy, of Brisbane. No information is in the possession of the Government as to whether the right of first-issue bondholders to have their bonds redeemed at face value, plus 5 per cent. compound interest, is being honoured generally, but an endeavour will be made to obtain information from the Prime Minister of New Zealand. 2, 3 and 4. The Government is not in a position to furnish replies to these questions, but will endeavour to obtain the information from the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

  1. The New Zealand Perpetual Forests Limited is not registered in the Federal Capital Territory, and, consequently, the Commonwealth Governmentcannot take the same action in regard to this company as it has taken in the cases of the trust companies referred to by the honorable member. The honorable member will appreciate the fact that, as this company is incorporated in New Zealand the Commonwealth Government can take action only through, and with the assistance of, the Government of that dominion.
  2. The Prime Minister of New Zealand will be communicated with at once.
  3. See answer to No. 1.

The representations of the honorable member will he brought under the notice of the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Canberra-Sydney Train Service

Has he received any reply to the representations which, in reply to a question by the honorable member for Reid, he undertook to make to the New South Wales Railways Department regarding the running of a train to Sydney from Canberra on Sunday nights.

Visit of Sir Isaac Isaacs to Great. Britain

Can he explain why the High Commissioner, Mr. Bruce, was not present to welcome the former Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, on his arrival in England from Australia last week ?

Export of Merino Sheep

Whether he will supply details as to the number of merino rams and ewes exported from Australia since the present Government took office, particularly with regard to the country of destination?

Australian Razor Blade Industry

  1. What tariff protection has been afforded Australian razor blades, and what was the rate of customs duty upon British and foreign blades from 1030 to 1935, inclusive?
  2. Has the Tariff Board completed its inquiry into this industry; if so, when is a report expected?

Proposed Removal offort Nelson.

  1. Is it a fact that, owing to the extension of residential areas in the locality of Fort Nelson, Hobart, the fortress battery has been unable to carry out target practice by night?
  2. If so, will he give instructions for the removal of the fort to another suitable locality ?
  1. The matter is under consideration.

Production of Oil in Australia.

Will the Government favorably consider the gran ting, for the production of power alcohol, the same considerations and concessions, and to the same limits, as it has announced regarding shale oil; if so, will the Government tiring under the notice of the distilling organization, which has made investigations and expended capital for the purpose of producing power alcohol from the by-products of the sugar industry, the fact that it is prepared to extend such consideration?

Increase of Commonwealth Powers

In view of the statement made on behalf of the Government by the Minister for Health on Friday last, that the Commonwealth Government had no power to deal with the question that had been raised, nor industrial matters generally, will the Government consider asking the people, by referendum, to give to the Federal Parliament that necessary power?

Soil Erosion

I am now in a position to inform him that, following on a decision of the Australian Agricultural Council at its meeting held in Canberra during May, 1935, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research appointed an officer to make observations in order to determine the factors responsible for soil drift. This officer has now completed his investigations, and it is expected that his report will be available at an early date. I will see that the honorable member is furnished with a copy of the report when it becomes available.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 May 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.