18th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) . took the chair at 3 p.m. and read prayers.
– AsChairman I present the fifteenth report of the Broadcasting Committee, relating to the financing of the national broadcasting system.
Ordered to be printed.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say when the wheatgrowers can expect another payment in addition to the payment of 5s. 2d. a bushel, less freight and charges, that has been paid on last season’s crop?
– I have not the information to hand, but I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the. notice of the Minister.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the Government intends to use the factories established in Tasmania to dehydrate potatoes to provide food for Britain? Does the Government intend to let contracts for the growing of potatoes this year as it did in previous years ? Will the Government make its intention in this matter known at an early date so as to enable farmers to prepare land for an early crop ?
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Minister.
– In the absence of the Postmaster-General, I ask the Leader of the Senate what progress has been made by the Government with respect to the report presented by the
Broadcasting Committee in relationto frequency modulation?
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s question to the notice of the Postmaster-General.
– Has the Minister read a statement in the West Australian of the 2nd May to the effect that he informed me on Wednesday last that the second channel between Adelaide and Perth to- permit of broadcasting relays to national stations in Western Australia would be available within two weeks unless unforeseen difficulties arose? As this statement is incorrect, will the Minister draw the attention of the newspaper to his exact statement, viz., that the equipment will be available within about two weeks, and that, unless unforeseen difficulties arise, the second channel will be provided as originally forecast at the end of June?
– Misstatements frequently appear in the press, but I am not responsible for mistakes made by newspapers. Replying to the honorable senator’s original question, on the 30th April, I said, “ The equipment will be available within about two weeks. Unless there are unforeseen difficulties the original forecast for the end of June will be met”. I hope that the newspaper concerned will note the correction.
– Will the Leader of the Senate confer with the Treasurer with respect to the urgent necessity for removing the means test when assessing pensions payable to dependent parents whose sons were killed in the recent war? Instead of impoverishing these dependants could not the Government immediately apply to them the modified means test now applied in respect of invalid and old-age pensions?Many dependent parents who lost sons during the recent war are in the same category economically as old-age pensioners, but are ineligible for the old-age pension.
– I shall bring the honorable senator’s request to the notice of the Treasurer. Recently, the Government increased war pension benefits and modified the conditions applicable to them. It is notalways possible to obviate anomalies, but I assure the honorable senator that the Government will give urgent consideration to the matter he has i fi i seel .
– Has the Leader of the Senate read the report in last night’s Sydney Sun and other newspapers that housewives were warned officially last Saturday ‘to prepare themselves against the shock of new price rises in the near future unless the Government continued present subsidies, or subsidized the increased cost of importing, or manufacturing, a range of about 500 articles? If so, is it a fact that the main items affected are tea, jute, potatoes and phosphates? Will the Minister inform the Senate whether the facts are as stated in the press? Is he able to give to the Australian people any assurance that unduly high prices of these essential commodities will not result from any action on the part of. the Government?
– I have seen some reference in the press to alleged impending increases of prices. There has also been a suggestion that Australian housewives should be prepared for a shock: but if the people of this country were to take notice of everything that is printed in the newspapers, they would all have to be provided with shock absorbers. The Government has no intention to do anything that will increase the prices of commodities in Australia. Possibly the honorable senator refers to the abolition of certain subsidies. The party to which he belongs has always contended that the payment, of subsidies is improper when such payments increase the cost of commodities. However, as the war is over, and there is plenty of money in the community for the purchase of hitherto subsidized commodities, I regret that any change of. Government policy in this regard should be the subject of adverse comment.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether there is any reason for the long delay in fixing prices which occurs in the case of applications for increase of prices because of increased costs of production? Lately I have received several reports that delay extend,? into weeks and some times into months before decisions can be obtained. If the delay is caused by shortage of staff in the Prices Branch, will the Minister see that the staff is augmented or organized so as to permit of more expeditious decisions being made?
– I am not surprised at the honorable senator’s question, but in fairness to the Prices Branch E must say that my department has received many letters commending the branch for its promptitude in dealing with the many matters which come before it for decision. Taking all things into consideration, and- having regard to the great importance of controlling the prices of commodities, I think that honorable senators will agree that a good job U being done by the Prices Branch. I admit that delays do occur, but they are not always the fault of the Prices Branch. For example, the other day there was a press statement to the effect that delivery could not be taken of a. consignment of goods which had arrived on a wharf because the Prices Commissioner had not determined the prices at which the goods could be sold. .That was entirely false, and there was nothing whatever to prevent the people concerned from taking delivery of the goods. I can assure the honorable senator that the personnel of the Prices Branch are working very hard and doing their utmost to expedite price fixation.
Contract with GREAT Britain.
– Before Easter I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether he would make available to the Senate the British contract prices for Australian beef and mutton. He promised to do so, but I have not yet had a reply to my question. When may I expect it?
– I directed the question asked by Senator Gibson to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. If a reply has not yet been made, I shall remind the Minister of the matter and ensure that the honorable senator shall be furnished with the information that he seeks.
Effect of Increase on Commodity Prices.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate of the increases that have been permitted of the prices of various commodities as the result of the increases of the basic wage which became operative last December?
– The question of permitting price increases is constantly under consideration by the Government. Increased costs, of course, must inevitably be passed on in some way, but a constant endeavour is made to adjust prices in a manner satisfactory to all parties. Undoubtedly costs generally are increasing. It is the policy of the Government gradually to eliminate the subsidies that are now paid on a number of commodities. The Government fully appreciates the importance to the economy of the country of the whole question of price control and the matter is receiving constant attention.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs obtain from the Commonwealth Statistician, or from some other authority a list of basic wage regimen commodities, increased prices for which have been permitted directly as the result of the increase of the basic wage last December?
– I shall obtain the information that the honorable senator desires.
– As several returned soldier lawyers and barristers are available for appointment as conciliation commissioners, I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether there is any truth in the report circulating this week that no legal men will be appointed to these positions.
– No such decision has been made by the Government, and I do not know the origin of the report to which the Leader of the Opposition has referred; but I should say that the fact that an applicant has legal qualifications would certainly not disentitle him to appointment. No applications have yet been called, but many hundreds have been received. I can assure the honorable gentleman that due regard will be paid to all of the qualifications of all of the applicants.
– I ask the Minister for Munitions what progress has been made in the manufacture of an allAustralian motor car to be sold at a price within the purchasing capacity of the people of this country generally? When is such a car likely to he placed on the market, and at what price will it be sold?
– Great progress has been made in the development of an all-Australian car. Already three hand-made automobiles are undergoing extensive testsunder Australian road conditions. These models have been fabricated in America in accordance with the very latest advice fromthis country. They embody features quite different from those found in American and British cars to-day. The clearance has been increased for Australian conditions, and the shape and size are also different. It is expected that one model - a 25 horse-power vehicle developing 50 horse-power - will be marketed at between £400 and £500, although earlier estimates were less than that figure. It is hoped that mass production will be commenced about the end of next year.
Visit of Field Marshal Lord Montgomery
– Some time ago 1 asked the Leader of the Senatewhether the Government would consider arranging a secret meeting of both Houses of Parliament during the visit to this country of Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, in order that a discussion of the future defence policy of the Empire may take place. Is the Minister in a position to say whether a decision has been reached on this matter ?
– No decision has been reached but I shall endeavour to give the Leader of the Opposition some information on the matter within the next few days.
– Has the Minister for Supply and Shipping read & statement in this morning’s press that in the guided weapons experiments to be held shortly, atomic projectiles are to be .used? Can the Minister assure the Senate that this is only another inaccuracy of the press ?
– I have not read the statement, but I shall have it investigated and shall supply an answer to the honorable senator.
– Many superannution schemes throughout Australia? government, semi-government and private, were based originally on an estimated return from capital invested of about 4^ per cent. In view of the difficulties in which such schemes may eventually become involved, I ask the Minister for Social Services whether the Government has given any consideration to the creation of a national superannuation fund?
– It is a fact that some superannuation schemes are in difficulties over the low rate of interest that is available for the investment of their funds; The Government’s policy has been the gradual elimination of the means test in relation to retiring allowances, with a view to its ultimate abolition. The Government is now .investigating the possibility of creating a national superannuation scheme that will have universal application in Australia. The completion of this investigation will take some time and, until the facts are established, the Government will not reach any conclusions. It is well aware of the difficulties that arise, in relation to both Commonwealth and State superannuation funds, from the fact that a means test pension is available. This position is being investigated separately. I make clear that the investigation into a Commonwealth national superannuation scheme should’ not be confused with an investigation that is now proceeding into the operations of the Commonwealth Public Service Superannuation Fund. The two matters are inter-connected to a degree, but I take this opportunity to state that, whatever may be done regarding a national superannuation scheme, nothing will be done that would have the effect of worsening the position of any existing superannuation funds, whether they be Commonwealth, State, or private.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the Prices Commission’ has recently authorized any increases of the retail prices of new furniture. If the answer is “ yes “, what was the date when such increased prices c,ame into operation? What were the amounts of such increases ?
– The retail prices of furniture are determined in accordance with prices orders which specify that prices shall be based on cost plus a certain percentage margin. There has not been any recent variation of this margin. However, increases of retail prices may have taken place as a consequence of higher manufacturing costs arising from increased costs of materials and labour and the lifting of restrictions on furniture specifications. It is understood, however, that many units in the manufacturing portion, of the trade were required to carry the whole, or part, of the 7s. a week increase of the basic wage.
– Has the Minister for Supply and Shipping read newspaper reports that, on Monday, the Sydney waterfront was 4,000 men short of requirements, and that the shortage of men on that day also held up the loading or unloading of many of the 37 ships docked in Melbourne? If so, will the Minister, in view of the urgent need to keep ships moving and to facilitate the transport of food to Britain, inform the Senate what action he intends to take to rectify this serious man-power shortage?
– I have not read the reports mentioned by the honorable gentleman, but, from week to week and month to month, coal-miners and waterside workers are condemned in the press of Australia. Only a few weeks ago, arrangements were made for 500 additional men to be admitted to the waterside industry in New South Wales. Steps are now being taken for the enrolment of these men. In the course of investigating complaints about work on the waterfront, 1 have visited wharfs in Sydney. About two weeks ago, I visited the Sydney wharfs during wet weather and discovered that about 30,000 man-hours had been lost in one week owing to weather conditions. We read of no complaints regarding that loss of time, which adversely affected the turn-round of ships, and the calculation of the amount of work done per hour on the wharfs, with the result that a very bad impression is gained of the work of the waterside workers. On another occasion when I visited a wharf, men were sitting down waiting for work at 10 o’clock in the morning. Although the ship-owners had requisitioned labour, 25 or more men had to wait about until the wool which they were supposed to be loading on to the ship arrived at the wharf. When everything is taken into consideration, it can be seen that there is more than one side to disputes about work on the waterfront. I ask Senator Cooper not to be misled by continuous propaganda against the waterside workers. I assure him that I and officials of my department are doing everything possible to ensure that ships are turned around as speedily as possible. Unfortunately, we are not receiving the full co-operation of the ship-owners in this respect.
– Some weeks ago, I referred to the shortage of fruit packing cases, the effect of which may become serious unless something has been done in the meantime to overcome supply difficulties. I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs to consult the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and ascertain whether it would . be possible to import timber for fruit cases. In view of the possibility of heavy crops this year and of increased export trade, I now ask the Minister whether anything has been done to ensure that the requirements of fruitgrowers shall be satisfied?
– I have taken up this matter with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. The subject of the honorable senator’s question is now under consideration,- and I shall endeavour to bring about finality as soon as possible.
– A cargo of timber was landed in Sydney recently from New Zealand. Can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether the Government has made arrangements for any further cargoes, either from New Zealand ‘ or other Dominions, to be landed in Australia?
– The importation of timber is going on continuously and large quantities are being taken into use in the building trade and other industries where timber is urgently needed.
– In view of the interest of primary producers in the international conference on trade and employment at Geneva, can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate whether it is a fact that Australia has had to forgo its preferential tariff?
– I am sure the honorable senator appreciates that I am unable to supply the information he requests, but I can say that the Government is fully seised of the implications of the discussions and that everything possible will be done to conserve the interests, not only of primary producers, but of. all other Australian industries likely to be affected.
– In drafting the proposed new social service legislation will provision be made for adequate medical attention to be given to the native population of this country and reasonable remuneration provided for the doctors engaged in such important and necessary work? By way of explanation, the present schedule provides for a fee of only one guinea for a doctor who attends a native woman at her confinement. Will the Minister confer with the State departments administering native affairs ‘ in order to improve the present unsatisfactory situation?
– The present social service legislation covers native people in cases where they receive certificates of exemption from the State authorities controlling aborigines. In that way maternity benefits, child endowment payments, and even old-age pensions are available to them. The matter of providing medical services to aborigines has not been the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to date. However, it may well become so in the near future. I am not familiar with the professional fees provided in the schedule mentioned by the honorable senator, nor have I inquired into the matter of whether the fees should be supplemented. Apart from the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Government has no direct jurisdiction over aborigines; in fact, it is expressly debarred from exercising any control by the Commonwealth Constitution. However, I shall investigate the matters raised by the honorable senator, and if any effective action can be taken I shall confer with the authorities she mentioned.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Customs say whether his attention has been drawn to a report that several ex-servicemen who have entered into business have been unable to secure import licences because they did not have a licence prior to or during the war? Is it a fact that ex-servicemen who have started in business since the recent war are not” entitled to a quota because they were not importers before the war?
– Any exserviceman who had any association with the particular line of business for which he now seeks a quota receives consideration in that regard. However, that consideration cannot be extended to all exservicenien. It is obvious, that only a certain quantity of goods can.be imported into this country at present, and that quantity is determined on a quota basis. The policy of the Government to date has been to adhere to the arrangements made in the earlier stages of the war. However, I oan assure the honorable senator that ex-servicemen will be given every consideration in this regard but at present it is impossible to grant a quota to everybody who applies for one.
– In view of the difficulties of obtaining sufficient raw material from the United States of America because of import licensing and dollar restrictions, can the Minister for Trade and Customs inform me whether it is a fact that recently when a government department had been given permission to import materials from America another government department refused to provide the necessary dollar exchange?
– The facts stated by the honorable senator are not correct. Before an import licence is granted, all relevant matters are considered. If the honorable senator can. give me details of a specific case where an import licence was granted but the goods could not be imported because of financial or other restrictions, I shall investigate the matter.
– Is the Minister for Supply and Shipping aware of the parlous condition because of the shortage of tinplate in this country? Has he read press reports that Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has sent officials to America to investigate the matter of buying cold rolling mills for the manufacture of tinplate in Australia ? Have those officials of the company been sent to America, with the knowledge of the Commonwealth Government? If they recommend the establishment of the industry in Australia, will the Government give them every facility, even to the extent of allowing machinery to be imported free of customs duty? Is . the Minister anxious to see the tiplate industry established in Australia ?
– I am aware of the movement that is taking place for the establishment of the tinplate industry in Australia. Information that I have received is to the effect that the establishment of the industry will take approximately two years. To-day I received a cablegram notifying that as the result of representations made by the mission now in Great Britain, 10,000 tons of tinplate will be available to Australia. I assure the honorable senator that the Australianminded Government now in office will do all possible to foster this industry.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has furnished the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Does the plan for Indian independence next year involve the relinquishing.-by the King of the title of Emperor of India, or will a “de cision on that point await determination by India regarding its future association, if any, with the British Empire?
– The Minister for External Affairs has supplied the following answer : -
Mr. Attlee’s statement of the 20th February, 1947, with- regard to the United Kingdom Government’s intention to take the necessary steps to effect the transference of power inco responsible Indian hands not later than June, 1048, did not deal with the question, of the relinquishing by His Majesty the King of the title of Emperor of India.
I am not aware of any subsequent statement on this question by the United Kingdom Government or the Interim Government of India. In my statement to the House I expressed the hope that India would remain in the British- Commonwealth.
Any alteration of His Majesty’s title will, depend, upon the nature of the future relations of India with the British Commonwealth of Nations, and alteration is subject to the concurrence of all members of the British Commonwealth as provided for in paragraph 2 of the Preamble to the Statute of Westminster. 1931.
Debate resumed from 1st May (via”? page 1797), on motion by Senator McKenna -
That the bill, be now read a second time.
Senator COOPER (Queensland) [3.47 I. - In. my second-reading speech I shall not deal at great length with the details and technicalities of this bill, which seeks to amend the Commonwealth Conciliation, and Arbitration Act 1904-46.. Thi? Australian system of dealing with industrial matters by conciliation and arbitration was inaugurated over 40 years ago and, with amendments, it has “been in operation ever since. During that period it has played a prominent and important part in the economic life of the nation,, and has contributed a great deal to a sense of justice and contentment among employers and employees alike. Despite adverse criticism, the Australian system has done much good, and. for that th? able judges of the Arbitration Court have been largely responsible. The principle of industrial conciliation and arbitration has been accepted by the people of Australia as a whole, and has become part and parcel of our .domestic set up. With all its faults it has come to stay. The main requisites for the smooth working, of the. arbitration system are that those who make ‘decisions shall be respected, that matters for determination shall be dealt with expeditiously, that decisions of the court shall be obeyed, and that machinery shall be available for the enforcement of those decisions. Unfortunately, during the last 20 months the decisions of the court have not been obeyed, or enforced. During that period numerous serious industrial upheavals have taken place throughout the Commonwealth. Strike has followed strike, and during that time there was hardly any appreciable period when the country was completely free from major industrial troubles. Only last Saturday a tentative settlement was reached’ in the industrial dispute which commenced in Victoria in November last. That was one of the gravest disputes in the history of this country. However, its settlement vindicated the principles of arbitration and the value of the existing system. It is significant that the more serious disputes which have occurred during the last 20 months were not between employees and private employers but arose from the fact that employees refused to abide by decisions of the arbitration authority. In many cases men went on strike because they refused to accept awards of the Arbitration Court, notwithstanding the fact that such awards were made only after the most careful inquiry and consideration by the court. At the same time, the Commonwealth State Governments which, with one exception, were, Labour governments, refused to take action to enforce the decisions pi’ the Arbitration Court. They allowed matters to drift; and it was not surprising that that long series of industrial disputes should have culminated in the very grave upheaval in Victoria when practically every industry and public utility in the City of Melbourne was brought to a standstill because powerful industrial unions refused to obey the law of tie land and endeavoured to gain their demands by force in defiance of the court. Finally, -those unions, after causing so . much loss and suffering to the community,, decided to ask the court to reconsider their original claims.
Under this bill, it is proposed to substitute for the present industrial conciliation and arbitration an entirely new system. During the last 40 years various amendments have been made to the principal act in order to meet changing conditions in our industrial advancement. Nevertheless, the original framework of our arbitration system has remained unaltered. Now, however, it is proposed to change the basis upon, which awards have been made in the past. Previously, awards were made by the Arbitration Court after considering all of the relevant facts. Those facts were examined and adjudicated upon by judges trained to sift and weigh evidence, and assess the effect of their decisions on the general economy of the country. At present, the court can delegate duties to a single judge and certain other duties, to conciliation commissioners, of whom, there, are already six. It is now proposed to abandon that system entirely. The court is to be stripped of all its existing authority except that if will retain power to fix the basic wage, standard hours of labour, minimum rates of pay for female employees and annual leave. In future, its principal function will be. to. deal with purely legal matters. The. remainder of its present functions, involving such controversial issues as the fixation of marginal rates of pay, are to be transferred to conciliation commissioners. The measure provides for their appointment and
Ave have been told that there- will be at least fifteen of them.’ It also provides that laymen may be appointed to such positions. The actual appointees may have been trained to sift and weigh, evidence, but1 the probability is that the majority of them will not have had any training at all in that direction or in respect of technical matters. Furthermore, the conciliation commissioners will be. empowered to work independently of each other in making awards for particular industries, or groups of industries. Obviously, the success of this legislation will depend very largely upon the capabilities cf appointees. It is not easy to meet that condition, but one naturally .concludes that the present Government will yield to pressure which is certain to be brought to bear upon it by powerful unions for the appointment of’ certain men as conciliation commissioners. There are sure lo be many men now prominent in trade union circles who believe that, in return for the work they have done for the Labour movement, they are entitled to appointment to one of these positions. There are sure to be men whom we can best describe as place seekers who will expect to receive preference in the making of these appointments. Undoubtedly, the larger trade unions will strenuously object should the Government fail to appoint men of their choice to these positions. One of the first requisites of appointees must be impartiality. Conciliation commissioners must be entirely unbiased. Will the Government be able to choose impartial men? That is most unlikely. It is far more probable that the Government will choose men who have been advocates for industrial unions and who have continually, fought on the side of labour. That is but a natural conclusion. Such men will believe that they have a claim to these positions. But we inust look at the facts as we know them. If nien of that class are appointed they will find themselves in a very difficult position, because as conciliation commissioners they will be called upon to pass judgment on the claims of workers for whom, only a short time previously, they were advocates. In such circumstances they will necessarily favour the party with which they have been closely associated in the past.
– The honorable senator apparently forgets that to qualify for appointment as judges of the Arbitration Court the present members of the court were required to have special qualifications; but no qualifications are prescribed in respect of conciliation commissioners. Although these appointments are most important,- they are not to be made by the Parliament. The bill provides for the appointment of the conciliation commissioners by the GovernorGeneral. That means of course that the appointments will be made on the recommendation of the Attorney-General, which in turn, means that the appointments will be decisions of Labour caucus. The Minister will be the mouthpiece, but undoubtedly the choice will lie with caucus.
The Parliament will not -be able to alter this measure in any way. The Labour Government has an overwhelming majority in both Houses, and the bill in its present form has been approved by caucus. It will he passed regardless of anything that the Opposition may say. We may discuss the bill and offer our opinions as to its merits or demerits, but that is all we can do. I suggest to the Minister that a better method of appoint-‘ ing the conciliation commissioners would be by the full Arbitration Court. At least, a panel of names should be submitted to the Full Court for consideration and recommendation. That would ensure that the individuals chosen for appointment would have the backing of men with life long experience in the work of the Arbitration Court. Such a method would create far more confidence in the impartiality of the Commissioners, than the present proposal. I ask the Minister to give consideration to this suggestion.
The bill does not contain any provision for disqualifying anybody from appointment as a conciliation commissioner. Generally, in providing for appointments to such high offices, conditions that constitute ineligibility are specified ; but under this measure no provision is made for differentiation between those who have qualifications and those who have not. The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act specifies the qualifications necessary for appointment as a judge of the Arbitration Court, but no such conditions are laid down in this measure in regard, to the appointment of concilliation commissioners.
Let us examine fully the proposed function of the conciliation commissioners. Fifteen are to be appointed and, I assume, they will all be laymen. They are to have unlimited powers. They will have authority to act immediately in any situation in which it appears to them that an industrial dispute is likely to occur. They may act whether they have been notified or not of the possibility of a dispute: One can readily imagine . a conciliation commissioner assuming that a dispute is likely to spread to other States before it actually does spread, and taking action to intervene. “What effect would such action be likely to have on the States which are working under their own industrial awards? The intrusion of a conciliation commissioner into spheres now under the control of State industrial authorities might provoke a legal battle between the Commonwealth and the State as to the validity of some of the actions taken by the conciliation commissioner. There is no principle laid down for the conciliation commissioners to follow. Each will be empowered to make watertight awards without regard to the effect that these awards may have on other industries. The scope of the conciliation commissioners is unlimited. Their awards cannot be challenged or questioned, and finally, there can be no appeal from their decisions. This is truly the setting up of an industrial dictator.ship. It is more than an amendment of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is designed to take away the major functions of the Arbitration Court, and to place unlimited power over industrial matters in the hands of fifteen unlinked and unassociated individuals who are to be given freedom to make their own decisions from which there can be no appeal. It as said that the provisions of this bill will bring contentment to industry; but it appears to me rather that the measure will provide a fruitful field for far more discontent in industry than we have had up to the present. Many factors are essential to the maintenance of maximum production and the smooth functioning of industry. One of these is contentment amongst employers and employees. It is also necessary to provide an adequate reward for labour. Fairness in conditions of employment is also essential. Further, it is necessary that employees shall be satisfied that they are getting a fair deal in relation to the wages paid to fellow workers in other industries. There can be little contentment if there is unequal balance in the rates payable in various industries ; but the system under which it is proposed to put these conciliation commissioners to work will produce a state of unbalance.
On the other hand, under the present arbitration system the court is supreme.
It lays down basic rates of pay and hours of labour. There are delegated authorities of the courts - single judges and conciliation commissioners - who adjudicate on matters such as marginal -rates of pay and the interpretation of awards. These individuals work within the court and under the general principles laid down by the court. Under this system, the unequal position that I visualized under the Government’s present proposals cannot arise. Are we to throw overboard all the known advantages of the present system to obtain the problematical advantage of quicker decisions? That is one of the main points that the Minister made in his second-reading speech. He said that the measure would do away with complicated legalisms and facilitate a quick approach to the court and the making of quick decisions. I voice the strongest criticism on this point. I consider .that by abandoning the present system the Government is taking a backward step. It is changing from a system which to a substantial degree has given satisfaction for the last 40 years. Under the new proposals we are to have fifteen conciliation commissioners, presumably laymen; working in watertight compartments, sitting independently, and making decisions that will not be subject to appeal except in regard to questions of law. On questions of law an appeal may be made to the Arbitration Court, and I contend that there should be provision for appeals against what are thought to be an unjustifiable decision of conciliation commissioners. To my -mind, this will result in industrial dislocation far greater than prevails to-day. For example, a conciliation commissioner may be asked to deal with marginal rates of pay in a prosperous luxury industry which can shelter behind heavy tariff walls. Following the formula prescribed for assessing rates df pay, namely, the capacity of the industry to pay, the conciliation commissioner may consider that a higher award should be made. This may suit the employers as well as the employees, because it will give them an opportunity to choose the best la’bour that is available, end also to provide a continuity of work, thus reducing overhead charges. Further, the industry, like many secondary industries, may be able to pass on to the community the added cost of production resulting from a ‘higher award. Such an award would probably be given without regard to the effects that it would have on other industries which might not be in such a fortunate position. Another conciliation commissioner might be dealing with a primary industry. Admittedly primary industries are now enjoying a period of reasonably good prices, but this will not always be so. We have found that primary industries experience alternating waves of good prices and low prices. In dealing with a primary industry the commissioner would be governed more or less by the capacity of the industry to pay high wages. I presume that he would not make an award providing for wages which could not be economically sustained by the industry. Therefore, the rates awarded for this industry would be on a lower scale than those awarded for the prosperous secondary industry. Furthermore, the high wages in the secondary industry would cause higher costs of production, which would bc passed on to the community by means of higher prices. This would cause a state of unbalance between the two industries and discontent would arise in the industry which could not afford high wages. This sort of thing could not happen1 under the present arbitration system, because the court would take all aspects of the case into consideration.
– Does the honorable senator say that it would not happen under the existing arbitration system?
– It would not be liable to happen. I have shown how it would be liable to happen under the system provided for in the bill now before the Senate. Under this system we shall have fifteen commissioners working independently and not subject to the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. They will be able to give independent awards, which may not bc in the interests of the smooth working of industry throughout the Commonwealth.
– Does the honorable senator claim that that does not happen under the present system?
– It cannot happen to the same degree, because conditions in all industries are taken into consideration by the court. The greater the number of independent authorities that we have, the greater will be the disparity between awards given, by them.
– The honorable senator is making out a specious case.
– We must considerall aspects of the proposal contained in the bill. It is useless to accept the bill as it stands and say that the things which I have mentioned cannot happen. Honorable senators opposite have often said, “ This’ cannot happen “, but they have been proved to be wrong. Therefore, we must consider everything that might happen under the new system.
Discontent in industry is desired by the Communist element in the large trade unions. This leads me to the conclusion that the bil! has been sponsored by the Communists ,and forced on the Government by those extremists whose avowed policy is the abandonment of the arbitration system. The bill will substitute, for Our present arbitration organization fifteen lay conciliation commissioners, who will deal, not with industry as a whole, but with separate blocks of employees without regard to the effects of their decisions on other industries and, particularly, on the well-being of the Australian public. What will be the effects of this legislation on the Government’s anti-inflationary ‘ programme? Since hostilities ceased, the Government, by means of price-fixing, wage-pegging, rationing, restrictions on capital issues, and other controls, has endeavoured to avoid inflation and economic chaos. It has been severely criticized on account of some of the measures tha.t it has taken. In spite of all of these precautions, it now proposes, to hand over to a group of independent arbitrators the power to fix marginal rates of pay. The decisions of these arbitrators will not be subject toappeals. This will provide an opportunity for inflation to break loose. The commissioners will not have the knowledge find experience that is possessed by the Treasury officials who have super.vized our anti-inflationary measures up to the present. Therefore, they will not be able to guard against inflation.
-That has nothing to do with the matter. The Arbitration
Court will continue to determine the basic wage.
– That is true, but I am not talking about the basic wage. The marginal rates of pay above the basic wage may lead to inflation. They represent extra money distributed amongst employees in industry. Increased marginal rates will increase the spending power of the people. The commissioners, who will be empowered to grant this extra spending power, will not have any knowledge of the effects of increased margins on the economy of the country. I am sure that the Minister for Social Services (Senator McKenna) will agree that, if wages are increased without due consideration being given to the economic effects of the increase, costs of production must also rise. Then, if costs of production rise, it will be necessary for wages to be increased again in order to meet those costs. Thus a vicious economic spiral will be set in train. Increased costs have been avoided to a great degree up to the present, but it is difficult to foresee what will happen to costs when fifteen laymen are given a free hand in industry. Employees in some of the protected industries will be encouraged to apply for higher marginal rates of pay, and the commissioners will have difficulty in withstanding their demands, because, presumably, many of them will have been brought up in the traditions of the labour movement.
– Does the honorable senator think that they will grant unfair rates?
– I do not say that they will award unfair rates, but they may fix uneconomic rates, which is a different matter altogether - rates which the economy of the country cannot bear, and which will cause higher costs of production.
– Does the honorable senator argue that an industry should exist if it can pay only a sweated wage to its employees?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - Order!
- Senator Sheehan is going on in his same old way-
– I am seeking information.
– -He does not ask for information. He tries to put words in one’s mouth.. As I have said, the commissioners will have difficulty in withstanding the demands of employees in protected industries. Under such conditions awards will be given without any uniformity. Admittedly, awards made under the existing system are not entirely uniform. However, certain basic factors govern all awards and no section of employees gains an undue advantage over other sections merely by reason of the prosperity of the industry in which they are employed.
The law, to be fair, must be just. Its application must be uniform . to those who are subject to it. The provisions of the bill are not conducive to the conditions which I have named. Experience has taught us that the expeditious handling of disputes is essential. . In fact, the chief argument used in support of the bill is that it makes provision for more expeditious settlement of disputes. It is true that the number of adjudicators will be increased. Nevertheless, could not the Government have attained the same . end by increasing the numbers of Arbitration Court judges and of those who function in subordinate positions under the present system? By this means it could have maintained intact the existing framework of arbitration, which, in my opinion, is the most valuable part of the structure. Under the present system, the greatest freedom for the settlement of industrial disputes has been given over the years, and many benefits and valuable rights have been granted to employees. There is no doubt that conditions have improved enormously since the arbitration system was founded over 40 years ago not only in regard to rates of pay, but also in regard to standard hours and amenities. Without doubt, further improvements can be made. But there have been great improvements made over the years and these improvements in turn place upon the employees certain obligations. Employees have the responsibility of seeing that the awards made are adhered to: indeed, the first obligation a system of arbitration imposes upon them is one of loyalty to that system and prompt obedience to its awards.. No system of arbitration can work if the parties are prepared to accept its decisions only when they are favorable to them. Unfortunately, over the last eighteen months we have seen many instances where employees, whose hopes have not been ful- filled in awards of the court, have disregarded awards and defied the courts. That certainly does not promote the prosperity of the country, because many of these strikes have occurred in key industries and the result has been great deprivation not only to the community but to other related industries. In consequence the community is much poorer to-day and the individual employees who took part in the strikes are much worse off. Because an essential condition for the successful working of a system of arbitration is that awards, whether favorable or unfavorable to the parties, shall be accepted by them and. faithfully observed, there should be penalties for breaches of the law and some means whereby these penalties can be effectively imposed. Penalties were provided in the original measure, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904, but they have been considerably diminished over the. ensuing years and the Government now’ proposes to abolish them altogether. I contend that passage of this bill will not create peace in industry as the Government believes. On the contrary, it has in it all the elements to further industrial discontent and it must inevitably produce disequilibrium. I realize that although I register my disapproval and that of the Opposition to this measure, it can make no difference because the Government has already decided that the bill is to become law, and it will simply brush aside any improvements or amendment which honorable members on this side of the Senate seek to make.
Sitting suspended from k-hl to 8 p.m.
– Having listened to Senator Cooper’s criticism of the bill I cannot but think that either he has been asleep or has been living among the fairies, because his remarks sounded like a fairy tale. Some of the things which he said would apply to the conciliation commissioners to be appointed under this legislation now apply to the judges of the
Arbitration Court. For instance, he said that conciliation commissioners may make awards which differ from one another. Apparently, the .honorable senator does not know that one purpose of this legislation is to prevent a repetition of the varying awards which are made under the existing system. I have in mind an instance of a prosperity loading awarded by the Arbitration Court some years ago. It provided that in Victoria and New South “Wales the loading would be 6s., whereas in’ South Australia it was fixed at only 4s. Those differential rates still apply.
Another criticism by the honorable senator was that the conciliation commissioners would be laymen. That may be, but even so, their decisions could not be worse. than some that have been made under the existing system. Highly skilled tradesmen doing the same work are awarded differential rates in the several States, and even in different industries within a State. One purpose of this bill is to get greater uniformity in these matters, and I hope that in time there will be complete uniformity throughout Australia. The last judgment given by the Arbitration Court in respect of weekend work constitutes an anomaly. For instance, railway workers in Victoria are paid at the rate of time and a half for Sunday work whereas in .South Australia Sunday work is paid for at the rate of time and a quarter. I emphasize that those anomalies are the result of awards given. by judges of the Arbitration Court. They justify a change in the arbitration system. The honorable senator complained that laymen acting as conciliation commissioners would not possess the qualifications necessary to deal with the matters that would come before him. The functions which the conciliation commissioners will perform will be different from those of judges of the Arbitration Court. The judges will deal with legal matters as well as with arbitration. Under this bill the legal aspects will be divorced from the conciliation and arbitration aspects, so that a layman of average intelligence should be able to do what is required of a conciliation commissioner. I emphasise that an industrial dispute should be dealt with by someone who understands the industry affected, and is not bound by precedent, such, as decisions of the Arbitration Court. Under this bill, concilation commissioners will exercise powers wide enough to allow them to take into consideration everything associated with a dispute, or a pending dispute. Under the existing legislation, the Arbitration Court can take action, when notified of a dispute or a pending dispute, but in practice the delays in dealing with disputes have been so great that, at times, the men have resorted to direct action in order to get the machinery of the court into motion. Immediately’ they take direct action the court, following some precedent, decides that they must go back to work before their case will be dealt with. In my opinion that is entirely wrong. If the dispute had been attended to promptly when it first arose, there would probably have been no dislocation of the industry, and no direct action. A conciliation commissioner will not be bound to follow any precedent, but he will be required to do everything possible to settle disputes. I hope that in dealing with the cases that will come before them the commissioners will not be influenced too much by precedent. We must be realists, and face the fact that production is possible only by the application of labour to raw materials. A conciliation commissioner will be expected to take into consideration all factors associated with a dispute, and it will be his job to settle the dispute as quickly as possible, preferably by amicable means, but, failing that, by the making of an award. The system will get men back to work more quickly than is likely under the present set-up.
– That did not apply to the Mooney award.
– Of course not. The Mooney award was entirely different from what will occur under this legislation. Commissioner Mooney was empowered to do a certain job. He had to take certain precedents into consideration. For that I do not blame him, or the judges who gave the decision by which he was bound. The facts are, however, that he could not go outside his terms of reference; he could not adopt other methods, or apply to the case in dispute knowledge he had gained concerning the industry.
– He had to keep to a formula.
– Yes. I do not wish to discuss the case, as it may still be sub judice and I do not want to say anything which may cause further trouble. Under the existing act a. conciliation commissioner cannot act of his own accord. He must refer the matter in dispute’ to the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, who will direct the commissioner what he must do in order to bring about a settlement of the dispute. The first thing that the commissioner will be instructed to do is to tell the men that they must resume work.
– Is not that good advice?
– Of course it is, but would it not be better to settle the dispute first? Why not come to an amicable arrangement, under which the men will go back to work in a happier frame of mind than if they resume work only because they have been ordered to do so? It is a remarkable thing that immediately the workers approached the court for a review of the basic wage, an interim award, granting them an additional 7s. a week, was made. My point is that that interim award recognized that prices had been rising, and therefore we must consider how long the men had suffered disabilities before getting even an interim increase of pay? According to Senator Cooper’s own statement, many workers in industry have suffered injustices for some time. It is true that those injustices arose out of the war but, even so, the fact remains that they have suffered. For years I have argued that the margins for skill have not been sufficient. In the case that I have mentioned the men have my sympathy when seeking greater margins. In the future, conciliation commissioners will have more power than ever before. The Government believes in attempts at conciliation as apreliminary to the making of any order.
– The Minister in charge of the bill says that the conciliation commissioners may not be laymen, because lawyers will have the right to seek appointments.
– At the moment; I am not concerned about the views of the Minister. I am dealing with the remarks of Senator Cooper,, who said, that the conciliation commissioners would be laymen, probably men connected with the Labour movement. I do not care whether they are laymen or solicitors, “ calathumpians “ or parsons. The point I emphasize is that under these wider powers conciliation commissioners will be enabled to act on their own initiative and, consequently, apply the method of conciliation to a greater degree than is possible under the existing system. As a matter, of fact, at present, the Arbitration Court itself is restricted. It is not always able to move on its own initiative. Under this legislation, conciliation commissioners will not be obliged to wait until a dispute actually occurs before they take action. The moment they learn that a dispute is pending; and they can be informed to that effect by either employees or employers, or. as the result of reports published in the press, they can immediately make inquiries with the object of preventing any dislocation of industry.. At present, the court itself, or any of its officers,, cannot act with such expedition. Consequently, Senator Cooper is a littler.confused about the real effect of this measure when he says that we should not alter the present system. At the same time, however, the Commonwealth can go only a certain distance in the direction I have indicated, because, unfortunately, the people refuse to alter the Constitution to provide greater powers in respect of “ :the prevention and settlement of disputes by conciliation and arbitration. The’-Commonwealth arbitration authority can deal only with disputes which extend to two or more States.
– Why not extend the wages board system?
– That can be done only by the States.
– The Commonwealth can dp it.
– Only in respect of disputes which extend to two or more States. What would be the use of setting up wages boards in those circum-stances? Under this bill, the Common wealth is going to the limit of its constitutional power in its endeavour to improve the existing arbitration system. The principles set out in the principal act, with respect to the making of decisions, are not being altered. It. is still provided that decisions shall be made in equity and good conscience, and each conciliation commissioner must observe that principle. ‘That fact should answer Senator Cooper’s objection that confusion will result because conciliation commissioners will function independently of each other in making awards for- particular industries or groups of industries: The sole purpose of this bill is to improve the existing arbitration system. I do not suggest for one moment that this legislation will remedy all of the defects of the present system. Nevertheless, the fears expressed by honorable . senators opposite and the interests- which they represent are unfounded. Those fears are raised simply for party political purposes. Honorable , senators opposite are playing upon the fears of the people with the object of bringing about the defeat of the Government. The Opposition parties seek to swing innocent people in behind their banner, and have even gone so far as. to endeavour to persuade religious denominations to identify themselves with opposition to the Government. They are endeavouring to; frighten good religious folk by saying that the Government is allowing- itself to he dominated by some “‘ism”. Not so long ago, in debates in this chamber, honorable senators opposite were saying that the Communists were trying to smash the existing conciliation and arbitration system; but to-day they say that the Communists have dictated this legislation. The. explanation of the tactics of. the opposition parties is that they fear the changes that are taking place in our order of society. They know that our economy is’ changing. They know, also, that but for the recent war that trend would have been much stronger than it is to-day. They know that the working man has not received a fair deal in either Australia or any other country.
The workers, in their onward march to a freer and better life, are seeking a way out by a process of gradual reform of our economic machinery. The present arbitration system, which has been in. existence for 40 years, must now be reformed. in order to keep pace with changing circumstances. Proof of the inadequacy of the existing system has been supplied in the prevailing industrial unrest. New men and new measures are required in order -to implement essential reforms. Honorable senators opposite must realize that it is useless for them to whistle- in the graveyard. The workers, who are the real producers, are determined to get a better deal than they have ever had before. We know that obstinate associations of employers will not yield an inch until they are absolutely obliged to do so. That is the explanation for the pin-pricking that has been going on in industry. The tactics of such employers are designed to goad the workers into taking direct action in order to obtain redress of just grievances. That is why the Labour party is in office to-day in this Parliament. That is why the Government has introduced legislation of this kind, which will facilitate the settlement of industrial disputes’. We do not suggest that these reforms will obviate all industrial trouble. We know that that will not be the case, because there are hotheads on both sides. Stubborn employers will not concede anything at all without a determined struggle ; and they do not care who suffers as the result of their attitude so long as they have a chance of coming out on top. For teo -long have the workers of this country been forced, by either lockouts or strikes, to suffer when they have attempted to have their grievances redressed. To-day, because the workers are showing a greater degree of solidarity than ever before, we hear these “ squeals “ from honorable senators opposite and’ their supporters. Thus, honorable senators opposite are driven to play upon the fears of the people in order to defeat the present Labour Government. The opposition parties, as I have said, have even gone to the extent of playing- upon the’ fear3 of religious denominations for the same purpose. In this they receive a ready response from fanatics’. Honorable senators opposite forget Christian principles in this matter. All that we. are trying to do under this measure is to. apply Christian principles to industrial, relations. That is a tremendous job. Many pious souls, who think that they are good Christians, are guilty of robbing the working people five days a week. I know socalled Christian men in commerce who sell their goods at exorbitant profits; and 1 know of honest workers who are pilloried by people who are carrying on black marketing. Under this legislation, we are endeavouring to apply Christian principles to the relations between employers and employees. We seek to. implement the principle of conciliation in order to bring about goodwill in’ industry. 1 know of no sounder Christian principle that- could be applied to industry.
I assure honorable senators opposite that they will witness still more remarkable changes in the industrial advancement of this country. They will witness reformswhich they have been opposing all these years. The Labour party has” never advocated revolutionary methods. . It believes in evolutionary reforms. * That is the policy of -the Labour movement; yet the opposition parties seek to label ministerial supporters as revolutionaries, and to link the Government with- revolutionary elements.. This is progressive legislation; and I have no doubt that this bill will, be followed by other equally progressive measures. That will be necessary only;, if the new system does not work smoothly. During the- many years in which the present system has been in operation, considerable industrial dislocation has occurred, and I have no doubt that some dislocation will occur after the passing of this measure. For instance State industrial matters will still be. under the jurisdiction of the States. This bill gives to the conciliation commissioners power to Consult with State, tribunals with the. object of overcoming any difficulties that may arise; but problems are bound to occur. There is no provision for consultation with State arbitration- authorities under the act as it now stands, and this provision represents what I hope will be a big step towards greater control of the entire industrial welfare of the -Commonwealth. A measure of consultation between Commonwealth and States industrial authorities was carried out under the National Security Regulations and it has worked very well. This measure now places that activity upon a permanent basis.
The bill embodies many departures from the existing arbitration system. Its objects are prescribed in proposed new section 2 of the act, which provides that one of. the objects shall be -
To establish an expeditious system for preventing unci settling industrial disputes by the methods of conciliation and arbitration.
The important feature of that object is that it includes provision not only for the settling of disputes, but also for the prevention of them. The second chief object of this measure is stated in paragraph h as follows: - . . to promote goodwill in industry and to encourage the continued’ and amicable operation of orders and awards made in settlement of industrial disputes.
That too represents a departure from the principal act under which the application of awards or orders made by the court was left to another authority. Under this bill, too, a conciliation commissioner will have power to delegate authority in regard to inspections. Additional government inspectors will also be appointed. Generally speaking, this innovation will have a marked effect upon the amicable working of awards. Many disputes occur because of what are regarded by one party or the other as wrong interpretations of awards. When a dispute of this nature has occurred in the pa,st, the whole process of arbitration has had to be invoked to reach a settlement. In some cases, proceedings have had to be taken through reference boards, and there has also been a right of appeal from decisions of the lesser tribunals to the Arbitration Court itself. Usually while this has been going on the award in dispute has been in suspension, and because of that there has been industrial dislocation. Another object of the bill is - . . to provide means whereby a Conciliation Commissioner may promptly and effectively, whether of his own motion or otherwise, prevent and settle threatened impending, probable or existing industrial disputes.
There again we have the intrusion of the word . “ prevent “. Therefore, a conciliation commissioner will not have’ to wait until a dispute has actually occurred before taking conciliatory action. He may, of his own volition, deal with, “ threatened, impending, probable or existing industrial disputes “.
That represents a considerable widening of arbitration powers, and one from which I think great benefits will flow.
The bill relates to two distinct sections of our arbitration machinery. The first embodies the Arbitration Court itself, for which certain powers are prescribed, and the second embodies the conciliation commissioners, whose authority is also defined. The court itself will have exclusive appellate jurisdiction in matters of law and. limited jurisdiction in relation to industrial disputes. A distinction is drawn there. There can be no appeal from any decision by the court. Therefore, there will not be a repetition of the spectacle of matters of industrial law being taken to the High Court on appeal, as Happened during the war when certain individuals in the community believed that wrong action had been taken.
– Has the honorable senator no faith in or regard for the High Court?
– I have more faith than the Leader of the Opposition ever knew. I have faith in all men, although, of course, some would try my faith occasionally. In the past, the High Court has been used mainly by employers in an endeavour to upset arbitration proceedings.
Another object of the bill is - . . to encourage the organization of representative bodies of employers and of employees and their registration under this Act.
I should like honorable senators to note the word “ encourage “. Such organizations were not encouraged previously. Provision was made for their registration, but the authority derived from registration did not mean very much. It meant only that a union could prosecute for membership dues in the ordinary civil courts, but even a favorable verdict in such proceedings did not always mean that the money could be collected if the individual concerned did not want to pay. All these objects to which I have referred .represent a considerable widening of the scope of our arbitration system. We find that in proposed new section 4 of the principal act the widened jurisdiction indicated in the object of the measure is implemented. For instance,’ the new definition of an “ industrial dispute “ is -
In the same proposed new section,” industrial matters “ is defined as meaning - . . all matters pertaining to the relations of employers and employees and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes -
The definition in the existing legislation is much narrower than that. Under the present act, an organization can approach the court only after work had been resumed. This measure, however, makes provision for the application of an award before work actually has been resumed, so that any dispute that might threaten will be prevented. The definition of “ industrial matters “ also includes -
I shall not go through the whole bill drawing attention to the many improvements that are made. It is sufficient for me to say that the widened scope indicated in the parts of the measure to which I have referred is a feature of the entire bill. One of the most important features of the measure is that it gives absolute power over industrial matters to the Arbitration Court and the conciliation commissioner.No provision is made for an appeal from any decision that is made. If a conciliation commissioner is doubtful on a point of law he may refer it to the court itself. And here is another innovation : While a case involving a point of industrial law is being heard by the court - a hearing may occupy some weeks - the conciliation commissioner concerned can still make an award, and if the decision of the court is that the award is not applicable within the law, the commissioner has only to make that award apply within the meaning of the act. That has not been possible before. Under the old system an award remained in abeyance pending an appeal to some higher authority. I hope that the commissioners will use their powers to make awards so that the men may return to work without having to wait for decisions of the court on any matters referred to it. Questions of law can be determinedby the court without delaying the enactment of orders made by the commissioners.
Objections to this bill have been expressed by honorable senators who have had no experience of Arbitration Court procedure. They have spoken only from hearsay, and some of them, such as Senator Cooper, have spoken from “ the land of nod “. Their ideas are mere dreams. I have had experience with Commonwealth and State arbitration courts, wages boards, conciliation committees, and hoards of reference, and I believe that this measure represents a genuine attempt to overcome difficulties which have existed for many years and which have culminated in the industrial turmoil that has occurred in recent years. It has been prepared free of influence from any political body except the Australian Labour party, of which we on this side of the Senate are members. The bill will be a means of effecting some of the reforms that are needed in industry. I hope that the employees, as the result of the encouragement given to them by this legislation, will gradually amalgamate their old craft unions into large industrial organizations or groups of organizations so that they may act in concert in order to attain, by means of the new conciliation system, redress of the wrongs from which workers have suffered over the years. I hope that they will extend their influence from groups” of unions within individual industries through the trades and labour councils of the States, and the central authority in the Commonwealth sphere, so as to approach the conciliation commissioners on industrial matters of major national importance. I hope also that the employers of Australia will not be so obstinate as they have been in the past and will realize that, no matter what they may do, the methods of the past must be improved in order to keep pace with inevitable economic and social changes. They must be prepared to yield to the advance of progress and to discontinue the making of enormous profits at the cost of suffering to others. I hope that all parties in industry will take advantage of the conciliation machinery that will be created by this bill so that there will be an end to industrial turmoil which, in the past, has arisen from the actions of both employers and employees.
– This bill is another one of many attempts that have been made by the Government to bring about peace in industry. Senator O’Flaherty spoke, amongst other things, of the need for a more Christian spirit in order to overcome differences between employers and employees. If any speech in this Senate was ever liable to inflame the minds of the people it was the speech made by Senator O’Flaherty. He harped on the theme ofclass hatred between employers and employees, and he gave no evidence of any desire for the goodwill which he mentioned. His remarks indicated that honorable senators on this side of the chamber had always shown an utter disregard of the interests and well-being of employees. The honorable senator knows that that is contrary to the facts. He talked about industrial legislation. Where did most of the industrial legislation of Australia, both Commonwealth and State, originate? It was prepared and enacted by the parties represented on this side of the. Senate, not by the Labour party. The basic principles of goodwill expressed in that legislation were established by anti-Labour parties. It is idle for the honorable senator to say that the goodwill whichought to exist between captains of industry and employees can be brought about and cultivated by speeches such as he has just made.
– Does the honorable senator mean that the present industrial situation is the result of the efforts of Opposition parties?
– I will not allow the honorable senator to put words into my mouth. I have known a few political summers, and I will not allow the honorable senator to mis-state or misconstrue any remark that I have made. I did not say, nor did I imply, what he said.
I assume that the Government believes that this bill will cure all our industrial troubles. Let us look at the position calmly and reason this matter out together.
What is there in the bill that would lead: anybody to believe for one moment that it will cure all our industrial ills? How much, in basic principles, does it differ from legislation which is already on the statute-book? There are differences in. some details, but otherwise it is similar to the existing Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is only an experiment, even though the Government may be tryingit with the utmost goodwill. The existing act has been in operation for about 40 years. It was designed to accomplish thevery thing that Senator O’Flaherty claims that this bill will accomplish. The act is framed for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes, and it provides for conciliation and arbitration. It further provides that strikes are illegal and that the Arbitration Court shall not arbitrate in any case while the men involved in the dispute are on strike. In addition, arbitration commissioners have already been appointed. What greater power will be vested in the commissioners to be appointed under this bill than is already vested in arbitration commissioners who have been appointed under the present law? Of course, the bill provides that the decisions of the conciliation commissioners shall be final. Up to what point will they be final? They will be final except when questions of law are involved. As Senator O’Flaherty has said, when questions of law are raised, as must happen from time to time, they will be referred to the Arbitration Court. Who is to say what points of law will be raised? Senator O’Flaherty also claimed that a great advantage arising from this bill will be that’ when a conciliation commissioner has made a determination in a dispute the men will return to work. What provision is there in the bill which will force the men to return to work if they wish to remain on strike? In handling disputes the commissioners will have to hear both sides of every case: There is no suggestion that the employers will not be allowed to state their case. How much does that differ from the present law? There is nothing in this bill which will preventworkers from remaining on strike until such time as a commissioner makes an award that will satisfy their demands. What penalties are provided in the bill, and who will inflict such penalties ? There is nothing in the. bill which will give employers or employees any reason’ to have greater faith in the conciliation commissioners than they have in the existing arbitration authorities. We do not know what the qualifications of these men will be. Is there any reason to believe that they will give more justice, more serious consideration, or more impartial decisions than are given by judges under the present system? We have.no reason to be less confident in the judges of the Arbitration Court than we are in the judges of our civil courts. I do not accept, for one moment, the belief that the judges appointed under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act are. less unbiased or worthy of our confidence than are the judges of our civil courts. If a plaintiff brings an action in a civil court the matter is decided by a judge or magistrate, and the parties have a right of appeal. But under’ this bill there is to be no appeal against the decision of these conciliation commissioners. This is a matter of serious concern, and I am greatly agitated by it. If honorable senators hold strong views on these matters they should speak out fearlessly, all the time keeping in mind the best interests of the country.
J.” suppose we can accept as correct the figure of fifteen mentioned by members of the Government as the number of commissioners to be appointed. That number will, in all probability, be a minimum. In dealing with industrial unrest, I think that the Arbitration Court has done ‘remarkably well, and if we recall the major industrial upheavals that have taken place we remember that they have been confined to only a few major industries, the key industries of this country. In three of the seven States of Australia, namely, Tasmania, Western Australia, and Queensland, there has been almost continuous industrial peace for years past. In each of those States there are industrial tribunals, established to deal with industrial unrest, and industry has been carried on with contentment and goodwill between employers and employees. Therefore, I ask the Minister- for Supply and Shipping whether this measure is not an overloading of present industrial legislation? In the. light of our experience, we know that undoubtedly amendments could be made to improve our arbitration system, but does the Minister suggest that the present .system would not operate successfully if the parties were honestly prepared to have their cases fairly decided, and to abide by the decisions of the courts? The Minister talked about the prevention of disputes, but I do not see any such provision in this bill which does not exist in the present act. Much could be done to prevent disputes, and much of the misunderstanding and illwill between employer and employees in our major industries could be removed if honorable senators opposite played their part. How seldom is it that a government supporter comes forward in an industrial dispute like the recent one in
Melbourne and advises the men- ‘
– In this case, perhaps the least said the soonest mended.
– I agree with the honorable senator that there are times when it is inadvisable to say much about a dispute in progress, but somebody should have advised the people responsible for this disturbance-. Honorable senators opposite have been, almost without exception, trades union officials, and. as such have been in close touch with the industrial movement-
– That is why we know how essential this, bill is.
– The honorable senator may be claiming just a little too much; but surely honorable senators opposite could speak to these men and advise them to return to work while the judges of the Arbitration Court consider the position. It is idle to suggest that the employees who are losing their wages and destroying the industry of this country, to say nothing of the inconvenience and privation occasioned to the unfortunate public, are anxious to remain on strike. The public turns its face towards this Parliament for leadership ‘in such a crisis, and this Parliament has provided a means of settlement of these disputes. It appointed judges and arbitrators to decide these matters. .But, I repeat, I have never heard one honorable senator opposite say that these men have no right to hold the country to ransom.
– Does the honorable senator take away the right to strike?
– Yes; in the light of what has happened in this country, and in view of the fact that the employer enjoys no right to strike.
– What about the grocers’ strike?
– What about the butchers’ strike?
– Employers are bound by the law of this country and if they break that law they must pay the penalty. In the case of an employer who is penalized there is no question of his being able to “freeze his funds”; he must pay. There have been cases when employers have been responsible for industrial stoppages and they have been adjudged responsible by the courts and compelled to pay the appropriate penalty. But an employer is less likely to break the industrial law with impunity because his employees know the awards under which they are working, and in any event an employer is compelled by law to place copies of the relevant awards in a prominent position bo that his employees may read them. If lie commits a breach of those awards he does so under the vigilant eyes of his employees.
– What about the lockouts?
– I have never contended that employees have not on occasions had cause to apply for increased wages. I do not say so now ; undoubtedly there are circumstances under which employees are entitled to a variation of their wage. They are entitled to the best conditions the country can afford, and I have yet to believe that amongst the employers in this country there is any general desire to do anything hut the right thing by their employees. One has only to visit the factories and workshops of this country to find major industries which have been carried on for many years in which the utmost goodwill prevails between employers and employees. Furthermore, I ‘believe that much good might be done with regard to managment if a representative of the employees were appointed to the board of management in many of the larger concerns. I do npt see that any harm could be done, but, on the other hand, I think many of the difficulties confronting management would be revealed to the employees through their representatives. Adverting to the recent industrial upheaval in Victoria, I believe this has now been settled happily for everyone concerned. The dispute originated in a handful of people, and if the employees who made demands for an increase of £1 in their wages and adjustment of marginal rates had approached the matter in a reasonable way the dispute could have :been settled long ago.
– Does the honorable senator know the origin of the dispute?
– The origin of the dispute is immaterial because the honorable senator may hold one view on it a.nd other honorable senators may take an entirely different view. The fact is that the employees concerned asked for a £1 increase and although the dispute developed to tragic proportions it was not settled by the conciliation commissioners.
– But that was not the origin of the dispute; will the honorable senator tell us what was the origin?
– It is now admitted that these men were entitled to an increase of wages and better conditions. Had their claim been considered immediately it was made the trouble could have been settled long ago. Comparatively few men caused the dispute, but thousands of workers were eventually drawn into it.
– What has that to do with the bill?
– It has a lot to do with the bill, because so comprehensive a measure ought to deal with matters such as that which caused the recent dispute in Victoria before the situation gets out, of hand. It is admitted that this legislation is ‘an experiment, but I cannot see in the bill before us anything which justifies the claim that it is more likely to prevent disputes, or to settle disputes more quickly than is possible under the present legislation, which provides for the exercise of conciliation and arbitration by arbitration courts, wages boards or other tribunals.
The appointment of the conciliation commissioners, for which this bill makes, provision, will be entirely in the hands of the Government. In many quarters it is stated that a necessary qualification for appointment will be close association with Australian industries.
– Is that not a good thing ?
– Yes ; there is much to recommend it. I sincerely hope, however, that no undue preference will be given to men associated with industrial organizations who have shown partisanship in the past. It has been said that many workers in industry have no faith in arbitration court judges whose history shows that at some period they have expressed strong political views. Honorable senators opposite who have spoken in that way will need to be careful in the future, because the conciliation commissioners to be appointed under this legislation will have wide powers, and may be able to do untold harm to Australian industries.
It has been pointed out that questions of law will still be dealt with by the judges of the Arbitration Court. I should like to know what the position would be if a conciliation commissioner made an award, and later some question of law. was raised and was referred to the Arbitration Court. Should there be any delay in determining that question of law, or should it be found that the award conflicted with the Constitution, what would happen? That is an important point, because if conciliation commissioners are to be empowered to make awards against which there can be no appeal, while at the same time questions of law will bo decided by the judges, a state of confusion could arise. No one will claim that all is well in Australian industries, and therefore I hope that this attempt on the part of the Government to ensure peace in industry will be successful. Australia has just emerged from a terrible war, but I believe there is a ‘ golden opportunity to develop its industries. There are great possibilities ahead, provided there is harmony in the industrial sphere. In the immediate future there will be opportunities to develop an export trade in manufactured goods, and there fore it is sad to reflect that instead of production being at its peak, there h;is been a great .deal of industrial unrest, resulting in diminished production, during the last twelve months. A great responsibility rests on the leaders of trade unions to ensure that nothing shall be done to disrupt Australian industry, and that jio dislocation shall take place without just cause. Whenever an industrial dispute occurs some of the best citizens of Australia, whose one desire is to live in peace with their fellows, become involved. Therefore, I urge union leaders and industrialists generally to realize their responsibility to the country, and to act accordingly.
.- I have much pleasure in supporting the bill, which, I believe, is a sincere and honest attempt on the part of the Government to overcome the difficulties associated with industry to-day. Every one will agree with the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) who, in his secondreading speech, said - .
Tin; adjustment of terms and conditions of employment are not merely matters of local or private concern, hut are matters of vital concern to the community as a whole.
For over 40 years Australia has had in operation a system of conciliation and arbitration that has ‘determined the living standards of its people. The worker does not gain much if, having been granted an increase of wages, he finds that within a’ short time the prices of essential commodities rise so greatly as practically to nullify the benefits he has gained. Therefore, if the arbitration system is to be a success provision must be made to regulate profits. If a worker in industry has to approach the court for the regulation of his wages and conditions of employment, it is only just that the profits made by his employer should also be regulated by the court. That is only common social justice. In my opinion, the court should regulate not only the wages of the workers, but also the prices of the necessaries of life, such as clothing, food and shelter. Like Senator O’flaherty, I have had considerable experience with the Arbitration .Court. I believe that the failure of the arbitration system is due to the’ emphasis placed on legal procedure. I have never been in favour of lawyers being appointed as judges of the Arbitration Court. My view is that such positions should be filled by engineers - men who understand industry generally, and have had at least ten years’ working experience in one or more of the major industries of the nation. Such men would understand the industries with which they would be called upon to deal and also the economic consequences of their awards. I am confident that the proposals in the bill for the appointment’ of conciliation commisi on ers will -be satisfactory.
No honorable senator opposite who has spoken has told the Senate how the arbitration- system works. Generally, a union representing a number of employees makes application to the court for .a hearing, or for an award covering terms and condition’s of employment in a certain industry. Previously it was necessary to create an interstate dispute before the court could deal with the claim. T recall that in the big railway case heard by Sir John Quick the unions concerned had to create interstate disputes not only in each industry involved but also in each section of those particular industries. On that occasion I made a visit to Guildford on the west coast of Tasmania m order to get the 1(mal postmaster to join my union in order to enable it to obtain an award. How ridiculous ! Under the existing system parties must supply evidence in advance to the court and copies of such evidence must be made available not only to the, judge but also to the advocates for the opposing parties, the industrial registrar, and the various union advocates.- One can readily imagine the expense involved in the preparation of evidence in that way. In court, after the evidence is read, or presented orally, witnesses are cross-examined, and hearings drag on indefinitely. I contend that a competent engineer, as an adjudicator, would not require written, or oral evidence, but would be able to’ inspect the industrial processes at first hand, and with the exercise of common sense would be able to determine the appropriate rate to be payable in respect of any particular job. That is all that is needed in industry to-day. The workers do not need the legalism associated with the existing procedures. All they ask for is an award based upon common sense. Such an award can best be given by a competent engineer. Under existing conditions the court takes too long to make awards. I am certain that a competent engineer would reach a determination in considerably less time than it now takes the court to come to its decisions. At present the Arbitration Court opens its daily hearings at 10 a.m. and at 12 noon a court official announces, “ His Majesty’s Conciliation and Industrial Arbitration Court stands down until 2 p.m.”. The court reassembles at the latter hour, and then adjourns at 4 p.m. until 10 a.m. the following day. If the workers were on duty for only four hours a day the boss would growl, but he does not growl when the court sits only four hours a. day because under such conditions it takes the workers a long time to obtain an award. A competent engineer, acting as an adjudicator, could lay down as a basis the rates to be paid in respect of the more highly skilled trades, and from his own observations assess, in relation to those base rates, the rates to be paid in respect of other trades. If the right class of men are appointed as conciliation commissioners they will be able to apply that principle justly and effectively. If they understand industry, they will be able to decide, without hearing evidence, the appropriate wage rates that should be paid in respect of specific jobs. Senator Cooper said that only men who had legal training were able to make such decisions. That is all rot. I know some very fine lawyers, but I also know that all lawyers are not competent. A story which I heard recently may be aptly applied in this connexion. “ Old Nick “ had just bought a new car and was trying it out up and down the golden pathway. When turning around, he ran into the pearly gates and damaged them ‘considerably. St. Peter came out, and seeing the damage, engaged in an argument with “ Old Nick “ as to who should pay for repairing the gates. Eventually St. Peter said, “ I will sue you for the money if you do not pay for the damage “, and to this Old Nick replied, “ Go ahead. Where are you going to get your lawyer from ? “ . If a conciliation commissioner is entrusted with determining conditions and wages in particular industries he will. keep -in close touch with those industries, and will ‘know exactly how things are going. From his personal knowledge of those industries he can adjust conditions, or wages, as is required, and thus prevent any dispute.
I compliment the Government upon providing that all plaints shall be heard within at least 28 days after lodgment. I. believe .that those entrusted with administering our arbitration machinery should be kept up to their job. With respect to the interpretation of awards, legal advocates have asked my opinion, or sought from me the opinion of the trade unions concerned, or the Trades and Labour Council; yet those lawyers have subsequently charged the unions involved for the advice they tendered in such matters. I have -never been able to under.sl and why an industrial .union should not be able to appeal direct in writing to a judge of the court for the court’s interpretation of any provision in an award. 1 am also -pleased to note that under the bill it is proposed to set up a Bureau of Research and Statistics. All of us know the difficulties which have beset union advocates with regard to the computation of house rentals as an item in the cost of Jiving. When union advocates have taken i.ip that matter with the Commonwealth Statistician they have been informed that the figures in respect of house rentals included in the quarterly summary, are not intended to be measures of values, but are given merely for the purpose of showing variations in house rentals from quarter to quarter. .It is about time that such figures were computed and submitted to the court as measures of values. I say definitely that through manipulation of house rental figures the workers are being deprived ,of at least 7s. or 8s. a week in wages. Whenever trade union officials take up this matter of the computation of house rentals with the Commonwealth Statistician they find themselves up against a brick wall. Let me quote some significant figures in this respect. In 1931 the house rental figure for Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, was shown at 18s. 6d. a week. That was set down as the base rate for house rentals in that year; but to-day, sixteen years later, that figure is shown at only 21s. a week. The Commonwealth Statistician has the audacity to tell us that house rentals in the ‘capital of Tasmania have increased by only 2s. 6d. during the .last sixteen years. Our common sense tells us that that computation is: ridiculous.
Senator .Herbert Hays .said that ihe would ‘do his best to prevent the workers from going on strike. I remind him that the right to strike is recognized in the industrial law of Great Britain and the United States of America. I believe that under the present system of. adjusting wages on the basis of the cost of living, strikes are stupid, because whatever increase of wages may be won by direct action, the workers are no better off, .seeing that the cost <of living soon rises proportionately. Any one who believes that employees can be forced back1 to work by coercive measures is 5.00 years behind the , times. If we are to adopt that policy we might as well arm every -employer with .a big stick. ‘ Senator Herbert. Hays also urged the’’ extension of the wages board system. He said that in Tasmania ‘those boards worked satisfactorily. They may work satisfactorily from the bosses’ .point of view, but, certainly, not from the point of view of the workers. In Tasmania no trade union .advocate can appear before wages boards or sit oh those tribunals. The wages ;still paid in some industries in Tasmania, particularly in rural industries, are scandalous. Some employees receive only £2 16s. a week, whilst I know of one man who receives only £2 10s. a week. I admit that the latter employee is provided with ,a cottage. However, his ‘employer was a<ble to make a -very generous subscription to a testimonial to His Majesty the King, yet lie would .not pay his workers a fair and decent wage. I have often heard it said in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and before wages boards in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, that lower wage rates are prescribed in those States simply because the workers in those States are less militant than those in the other States. To-day, workers in Tasmania receive ‘less war loading .and other loadings than are paid in Victoria and New South Wales. I support the bill because I believe that it is a sincere and honest attempt to do the right thing by those people who keep the wheels of industry moving. I trust that the Government will implement the measure in its entirety, t also repeat the hope that competent engineers will be appointed as conciliation commissioners.
– Senator Herbert Hays said that everything provided for under this measure is already contained in the principal act; and he asked Senator
O’Flaherty in what respect the bill differed from the principal act.
– I also asked how the conciliation commissioners were going to enforce their decisions.
– I shall deal with that point later. On the matters to which I have referred, I draw the honorable senator’s attention to the objects of this measure. This is a bill “ for the establishment of an expeditious system of preventing and settling industrial disputes “. I emphasize the word “ expeditious “. That word is not found in the principal act, but it is of tremendous significance. I have studied the principal act and the amending acts, in order to -ascertain the motives which actuated the legislature in the past in framing that law. The principal act was passed in 1904. In the intervening period we have witnessed many happenings in the industrial field. Whilst some have proved of benefit to the community, others have proved disastrous. In answer to Senator Herbert Hays’s question as to the difference .between, this measure and the principal act, I refer him to a statement made by Mr. Alfred Deakin in this Parliament on the 13th June, 1903, which appears on page 2S65, volume 15 of Hansard. Speaking on the second reading of a measure similar to the one now under discussion, Mr. Deakin said -
There will be no endeavour to settle disputes in anticipation. In this case, as in the time of civil justice, particular disputes will he settled as they arise between particular parties.
What Mr. Deakin said, in effect, in 1903 has been, more or less, the attitude of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration over the years. There was no suggestion that there should be an expeditious method of settling industrial disputes, nor was it urged that efforts should be made to settle impending disputes. Therefore, the claim by Senator
Herbert Hays that the existing act provides all that Senator O’Flaherty says this bill will do, shows a lack of appreciation of the real intentions of this measure. I find also that Mr. Deakin said at that time that the chief object of the- act was to prevent lockouts and strikes. Severe penalties were provided for infringements of. the provisions of the act but that did not prevent strikes and lockouts taking place. Amongst the propaganda that has been used against this measure has been criticism of the action of workers who have had the temerity to go on strike. We all know, of course, that this ‘propaganda was designed primarily for political ends. It was hoped that it -would be sufficient to bring about the defeat of the Labour Government at the recent New South Wales and Queensland State elections. Fortunately, the majority of the people of this country are not so easily misled.
Listening to honorable senators opposite speaking on this measure, one would think that industrial disputes were a recent development in this country. The fact is, however, that during the last 40 odd years, Australia has been subject to many industrial disturbances. A cursory examination of records, mainly the Commonwealth Year-Boole, has yielded the following interesting figures: - In 1900, the Commonwealth of Australia had a population of 3,765,339. In the following year, the trade union movement had 66,218 members. By 1920, membership had increased to 6S4,450, and in that year the number of days lost due to industrial disputes was 1,872,065. In 1923, working days lost totalled 1,145.977, and two years later 1,128,570. The peak seems to have been reached in 1929, when the number of days lost owing to industrial disputes was 4,461,478. I come now to more recent times. In 1940, when the population of Australia had reached approximately 7,000,000, and there were 915,470 members of the trade union movement - that, incidentally, was just prior to the advent of the Labour Government in the federal sphere - working days lost as the result of industrial disputes totalled 1,507,252. I draw particular attention to the years 1941 and 1942- the latest for which figures are available: In 1941, 984,174 working days were lost as the result of industrial disputes. That was quite a low figure compared with the figures running into millions that I have already cited. By 1942 membership of the trade union movement had increased to 1,182,417, and in that year (he number of working days lost was only 378,195. I cite these figures so that we may gauge the true value of certain statements that have been made in regard to industrial disputes. Despite all the publicity that has been given to industrial unrest, the number of working days lost in 1941 and 1942 was much less than it had been in the previous years that I mentioned. Incidentally, in most of those years anti-Labour governments were in office in this Parliament. Therefore, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act has not achieved the success that some people would have us believe. The lesson that we have learned is that drastic penalties will not stop industrial disputation, in this country or in any other country. In the Commonwealth Year-Booh No. 8, 1901- 1014, at page 927, the following statement appears: -
Strikes have not altogether ceased, even in those States where legislation, by stringent enactment, forbids them . . . The prohibiting clauses have not always been enforced by the executive. . . .
Wc> have been told that we should imprison, deport, or fine certain individuals thai have been associated with industrial disputation in this country; yet as far back as 1914 wc were told that the prohibiting clauses of our arbitration legislation had not always been enforced by the executive. The Tear-Booh further states -
The decision of the Arbitration Court, ordering the Newcastle coal trimmers to return to work was upset hy the Supreme Court of New South Wales on the ground ‘that the Arbitration Court did not have power to make men work if they did not wish to do so.
That, I emphasize, is not my opinion, but that of a. lawfully constituted authority, the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
This measure represents a genuine effort on the part of the Government to do something by legislative enactment that will help materially a diminution of industrial disputes. We do not claim that it will completely cure this evil, if it bo an evil. I do not believe that any legislation could do that. Legislation can only create machinery that will assist us to bring about a certain state of affairs by executive action. Therefore, this measure represents something quite new. As one who has had long experience of industrial life in Western Australia, I know that one of the greatest difficulties associated with arbitration has been the undue delays that have taken place in having references filed before the courts brought up for hearing. When an application is filed with the court in accordance with the regulations the union concerned expects to have its case heard promptly, and it is the interminable delays that have occurred in the past that have led to industrial unrest. Delay in the hearing of a case can only have a detrimental effect upon people who are smarting under injustices relating perhaps to industrial conditions, wages, or marginal rates. Another practice of the Arbitration Court that has provoked dissension is that of insisting that -before any action can be taken to settle a dispute the men must return to work. This measure makes no such stipulation, lt merely sets out that every endeavour shall be made by the officials, who are to be known as conciliation commissioners, to get as quickly as possible to the root of a disturbance. If a conciliation commissioner knows that an industrial dispute is pending he may take immediate action to’ prevent it. There will be none of the delay which has been a feature of our arbitration procedure over the years. Furthermore, a great deal of unnecessary legal manoeuvring will be eliminated. We know that as the arbitration system developed in the Commonwealth and the State spheres involved legal practices also developed. Opponents of this bill have directed smart jibes at laymen who endeavour to carry out duties of a judicial character. They would have us believe that, unless people have a certain amount of legal training, their minds cannot be sufficiently developed to enable them to make equitable and just decisions. I entirely disagree with arguments of that, sort. In times of stress it has been necessary to appoint lay tribunals of all sorts in this country. The fact that laymen have1 had experience of industries in winch disputes have occurred has often enabled them to assess the arguments submitted to them and to give satisfactory determinations. Under this hill conciliate i commissioners will have a great deal of authority However, they will not be able to make orders or awards altering standard hours of employment, the basic wage or the principles on which the basic wage is computed, the periods to be granted as annual leave with pay, and the rninimum rate of remuneration for adult females in an industry. These matters will be subject only to the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court. That is a very wise provision, because- these subjects may he regarded as the uniform requirements of industrial legislation. This overcomes the objection of one honorable senator that, because there will be fifteen individual commissioners, there will be fifteen sets of differing decisions which could cause uncomfortable repercussions in industry. Each commissioner, having in mind the fact that he has no power to alter in any way the standards which I have mentioned, will be able to intervene whenever an industrial dispute is impending and take such steps as ho thinks fit for the prompt settlement of the matter by conciliation or arbitration. First of all, his job will be to know the industrial situation within his field of jurisdiction. Whenever there is likelihood of trouble arising in an industry he must ascertain the parties involved and the subject matter of the dispute- and endeavour to effect a peaceable settlement. If he cannot do so by bringing the parties together and employing methods of conciliation, he will be authorized to make an award or an order, whichever may be necessary, which will have the full effect of law. Therefore, I submit that the bill represents a great step towards the ‘creation of industrial peace.
We are all aware of the constitutional limitations on arbitration within the Commonwealth sphere. The law requires that a dispute must extend beyond the borders of any one State before it can become the subject of Commonwealth arbitration. However, industrial disputes are brought to the cognizance of the court in many ways. For instance, if railway men in New South Wales wish to approach the Arbitration Court in connexion with a certain matter they may secure the support of railwaymen in Western Australia, on the same subject, whereupon the matter may be brought before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. That is a common procedure. The bill covers a tremendous field of activity in the industrial sphere. In fact, it is an attempt to revolutionize the industrial laws of the Commonwealth. Some honorable senators opposite apparently have the idea that it is an attempt by the Government to subjugate the Arbitration. Court to a number of “ subsidiary “ conciliation commissioners. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the court .will retain the power that it has always had to determine industrial dis.putation. It will be able to sit as a court of three judges. However, while unions may still go before the court and secure determinations, other unions may at the same time apply to conciliation commissioners, who will be able to make orders or awards. A very important consideration is that the bill will enable many of the irritating delays associated with arbitration procedure to be eliminated. Under the present system a union must first prepare a case for submission to the court. Then it files a reference, which must take its turn according to its number on the court’s list. A union may have to wait for 50 other references to be disposed of by the court before its application can be heard. This slow procedure has caused a great deal of criticism, and dissatisfaction. The appointment of fifteen, commissioners avj.11 do away with such delays.’
Another important feature of the bill is that, whereas . in 1903 the objects of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act were to prevent strikes and lockouts - nothing more and nothing less - this measure envisages a great extension of the scope of arbitration activities. Various Commonwealth and State industrial laws over the years since the Arbitration Court was established have provided for improvements in conditions of employment. For instance, they have provided for workers’ compensation and such other matters as health and safety regulations in industry. Under this bill the court and the commissioners will have to take into consideration the provision? of. amy laws relating, to safety, health, and the . welfare^ of employees, including children. This will be a departure from the present system.. Another important aspect of the bill deals with the vexed problem of preference in employment. There has been a great deal, of argument over the years, as to whether preference in employment can. be granted. The bill provides* that the court or a conciliation commissioner may grant preference to members: of an organization. It expressly provides that the granting of such preference shall not be. prejudicial to the interests of any ex-servicemen. I have heard it argued that this vexed problem could not be determined by any court of law: Nevertheless) the Arbitration Court has agreed, on occasions j to the insertion in awards and orders, of clauses- dealing with- the granting of. preference in employment to members of- organizations. The bill also provides for the recovery of arrears of wages. This has been a difficult problem in the arbitration field for many years. Under the existing law, a claim cannot be sustained for a period of more, than nine months. The bill will provide for the recovery of arrears under the terms that- are provided in the State law of Western Australia, namely, over a period of twelve months. This will be of considerable. advantage to many workers who have not received money to which they are entitled. Perhaps one of the most important features of the bill is that which requires the establishment of an office of economic and industrial research. Such an organization is essential. Arbitration courts throughout Australia have libraries in which industrial laws may be examined. However, the bill will provide for the establishment of an office which will make such material available to interested, persons and organizations.
The bill will be of great benefit to Australia: It is not a “ cure-all “, but we hope to accomplish something constructive by means of its enactment. We do not want to hear talk about penalties. We. are endeavouring to create machinery which- will make possible, the anticipation of- industrial disputes with a view to settlement, if not by conciliation, then by, arbitration.. I believe that, when the working-class movement of Australia thoroughly appreciates the provisions of the. bill, they will, give their wholehearted support to it. Honorable senators, opposite have said that the Government hasnever instructed strikers to return to work.. We on this, side of the chamber believe in arbitration, which is a part of the Labour party’s policy. We shall maintain that policy, but we want to ensure that arbitration shall work fairly both ways.. I do not believe that it wouldbe humanly possible for any government of- any political colour, to enact legislation: which, by penalties or some other means, could prevent men from exercising their- right not to sell their labour.
. I shall not delay the Senate, because I realize that this measure- can be dealt with, very effectively in committee. It contains many contentious provisions which, of course, will be thoroughly thrashed out when it is- at that interesting stage. The? fact that an amending arbitration bil] is before the Commonwealth Parliament is not in any way unusual. As has been- pointed out by the Minister for Health (Senator MeKenna), since arbitration became the accepted policy foi- the settlement of “ industrial disputes, and since the first act was promulgated in 1904, it has been necessary to amend the law on no fewer than fifteen occasions. After that long period it has now been found necessary to introduce an amending bill to meet the developments that have taken place in industry. I was most interested to hear the remarks of honorable senators opposite criticizing, the Government for introducing this measure, and the criticisms of Opposition members of the House of Representatives when it. was. debated in, that chamber. Listening to the critics of the bill, one could be pardoned for thinking, that we were going back to the year. 1904. Any one who knows anything of the history of industrial arbitration in. this- country knows that when itwas first suggested, following a series of major industrial upheavals, ‘ that, we should abandon the old law of the tooth and the claw,, the most, vehement, protests were- made by. the captains of industry and! their, representatives. They said : “ Why this interference in industry ? ‘ Why should a. judge interfere, in the adjudication of disputes? We have been able to conduct our affairs according to our own code of ethics and we have been able to keep the workers within subjection to a certain degree. We believe in the old law of supply and demand. What right has. a court to come into industry and order that a certain wage shall be paid to our employees ? “ Those were the arguments advanced in those days when it was suggested that arbitration should become the rule in this country. To-day the opponents of arbitration say the same thing but express it in different language.
The two main objections raised against this measure have been directed at the Government’s proposal to appoint industrial commissioners to determine industrial issues, and the provision that there is to be no appeal against the decisions of those commissioners. Almost identical sentiments were expressed in the first days of arbitration. Originally there was only one judge and there was no appeal from his determinations. In fact, a single judge sitting alone determined the basic wage system in this country, and the formula which he then laid down with certain amplifications became the accepted principle which has been .applied ever since. When Mr. Justice Higgins determined the historic Harvester case he was not actually engaged in determining whether there should be a basic wage or precisely what that wage should be; he was merely deciding whether the rate paid by the Sunshine Harvester Company to its employees was sufficiently fair and equitable to enable the company to par- ticipate in the benefits of the “ New Protection” introduced at that time. The u new protection “ legislation was designed to promote the development of industry and manufacture in this country, and it provided that where an employer could show that he was unable to compete in price with goods imported from abroad and that he was paying fair and reasonable wages to his employees, he- could be given the benefit of a pro- tective tariff. As’ the result of his inquiry the judge delivered what is now known as the “ Harvester Judgment “, and on the principles enunciated in that judgment wages have since been determined. I remind honorable senators that in doing so a single judge introduced what was at that time a revolutionary principle in the industrial economy of this country ; and loud was the condemnation ! But we have progressed since then and to-day the community appreciates arbitration. Arbitration is now recognized as the usual means of settling disputes in this country, although it must be admitted that arbitration has not been entirely successful in the settlement of industrial disputes. But why has it failed to settle industrial disputes? Simply because of the technicalities that have surrounded the court. Judge Higgins at one time described his court as being submerged in a Serbonian bog of . technicality. It might be argued by some that he was’ himself responsible for that because, he was a very technical man, but the fact remains that ever since the introduction of arbitration its operation has been hampered and hedged about with legal technicalities
I was pleased to hear the excellent speech delivered by Senator Lamp, who has had some opportunity of seeing the arbitration system at work. He explained to us to-night some of the difficulties which beset industrial organizations in having their cases heard by the courts. For instance, in order to prove that an industrial dispute is one “ extending beyond the boundaries of any’ one State “ unions have had to resort to all kinds of subterfuge. That has been necessary to comply with the technicalities of our arbitration la.w. The fact that to-day there are unions with membership extending all over Australia is due in large measure to the technicalities of the Arbitration Act. It, became necessary for the unions to go -into other States and recruit members from men engaged in similar types of work in order to create a federal union so that they could bring themselves within the .jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. All those conditions have existed. Because’ of them, industrial unheavals have occurred from time to time. I think it was Senator Herbert Hays who interjected to-night, when Senator O’Flaherty was speaking, about sending men back to work. Surely if, we are to set up an instrument of conciliation or arbitration, there is a time when it should operate before the cessation of work. That is what this bill is designed to ensure. It is designed to enable the system to function before work is actually stopped. Any one with experience of the Arbitration Court or industrial matters knows that once men have ceased work it is most difficult to get them back. Any one who has paid attention to the industrial history of this country knows that it is only in the final analysis that men cease work. One would think, from the remarks made, that the workers enjoy cutting themselves off the pay-roll and walking the streets out of- work, and strike in a spirit of caprice. I assure any one who thinks that way that they do not know the feelings of the workers when faced with the possibility of ceasing work in order to win a point. Like Senator Lamp, I would not advocate abolition of the right to strike. It is the final weapon in the hands of the worker. The right to refuse to sell his labour is the last weapon that he can use when a dispute is on.
Consider the recent industrial dispute in Victoria. A lot has been made of the dislocation of industry that took place. The workers in that industrial turmoil have been roundly condemned. Recently the Victorian public was held to ransom by the suppliers of an essential commodity, meat. The meat producers decided to refrain from sending their produce to the market. They said that the people could “ go hang “ for all they cared. That was nothing but a strike against the Victorian people. They withheld from the markets the products of their labour. “When the workers withhold from the market their labour power they are doing nothing more than was done by the meat producers; but no leading articles appeared in the press condemning them, and talking about revolution and so on when they took action. Yet, when the workers refuse to sell their labour, it is a different matter. That is a relic of the old days, when the worker had no rights at all, and could be hired and fired at the whim of the boss. “When jobs were scarce, and there were plenty of hands available, the workers had to take what was offered. It seems that there are many people in the community who, although they boast of our civilization, and talk about a new order, allow their old prejudices to arise and say, when the workers demand some share of the increased wealth that they are producing, “ You have no right to it “. Some one . has said that there should be the right of appeal from awards made by conciliation commissioners. No right qf appeal has been allowed from awards made by the judges of the Arbitration Court.
In Victoria we have had in operation since years before I took an active part in industrial matters, the wages board system. That system has been praised by many people. I heard Senator Herbert Hays say tonight, “ Why can’t we have the wages board ‘system? “ In Victoria.. under the wages board system, representatives of the employers and employees, with an independent chairman, sit’ around the table and discuss matter?. Decisions are reached. We have also had the Court of Industrial Appeal. The wages board decisions were not final. Employers dissatisfied with an award of a wages board appealed to the industrial courts. It was presided over by acounty court judge. It is true that there were also on that court assessors, ons> representing the employers and one the employees; but the county court judge had the casting vote, and the history of the appeals to the industrial court in Victoria is indeed sorry. The unions were outdistanced by the ability of the employers to exploit legalisms. Generally the awards of wages boards were cast aside. Legalisms were introduced at wages boards, too, when their jurisdiction was questioned. So when I hear objections raised to the lack of right of appeal from decisions of conciliation commissioners, I say that if the objectors would turn to the example of the Victorian system, they would see a good ground for the provision in this bill against appeals. Another objection taken is that conciliation commissioners may be laymen. Senator Lamp gave . a fine description of what takes place. It has been my duty to be associated with judges when they have been on tours of inspection, examining the work undertaken by various grades of men. They certainly look wise when making the inspections, but to say that they possess any technical knowledge of the operations in producing a commodity or article would be far from fact. The objectors to conciliation commissioners ought to be reminded that the most important phases of arbitration remain’ within the court.. The court will fix the basic wage and determine standard hours ‘of industry. As the result of war, female labour has ‘been introduced to a greater degree than ever before. ‘Consequently women work in a section of industry .that was thought sacred to men, but, owing to skill and natural attributes women are able to undertake fine work. So conflict arises on what they should be paid. Determination of the margin between the rate for men and the rate for women is left to the Arbitration Court presided over by legal .gentlemen. The other features of industry are left to the conciliation commissioners.
A judge from his. school-days lives in a secluded atmosphere. He has gone to college and later to the University, where he has taken a degree - perhaps a bachelor or arts or a master of arts degree–and then he decides to study law. First, he serves his articles and, later, he goes into practice. After many years at the bar he is elevated to the position of a county court judge or a judge of the Supreme Court. As a judge, it is almost infra dig for him to associate with the man in the street. He is practically forced to lead a secluded life. Imagine a man with that training and background going down into the bowels of the earth to determine the rates of pay for a coal-miner! Imagine him -being called upon to decide the rates of pay for men who work up to their knees in water, mud, or slus’h ! A man who ‘has been separated from the rest of the community by virtue of ‘his high office is not qualified to determine such things. Yet it is to such a man ‘that many people turn in the belief that he is best qualified to decide the margins to be -paid ‘to workers who ‘claim a disability allowance, a dirt allowance, or an allowance for working .under wet conditions. 00s it “not more reasonable to say that a man .who has had experience in the industry should decide what a’mount should be ;added to the basic wage to ‘meet varying conditions? During my career as a union organizer I -found that the one matter which more than any other caused ind.us- trial unrest and ‘dissatisfaction was the conditions under which men laboured. Those conditions, .rather than the amount of the .basic wage, or the margin to be paid for;skill, were -frequent .grounds of dissatisfaction. Let us put -ourselves in the place of a .carpenter whose normal work at the bench is ‘clean, but is called upon to undertake duties which entail working under dirty conditions. Such men are ‘.usually more .distressed when called .upon to wouk under ‘such conditions than .when engaged on -clean work <at the bench. These are matters which are best dealt with by a man with a .knowledge of the industry. The -very fact that honorable senators opposite .claim that >a judge is the only .person -able satisfactorily -to decide these matters shows how little ‘knowledge they have of the .ramifications of industry. The recent industrial dispute in Victoria, which happily has ended, was the result of ‘an argument sin relation to margins for skill. An eminent judge of the Arbitration Court, Judge Powers, when dealing with a case affecting engineers some years ago bluntly told the applicants that engineers were fast becoming merely machine attendants. He .said that craftsmanship had disappeared from the engineering industry, and that no longer was it .necessary .for an engineer to possess that high degree of skill which men .of earlier generations required. We ‘all .know that what may have been lost in one direction by the present .generation .of .engineers has been compensated for .by the necessity for them to acquire new .technical skill so that, far from engineers being .merely machine .attendants, they must possess greater skill than ever. They require a higher .standard .of -technical :education because of the new precision tools with which they have to work. In addition, .the metallurgist has come to stay in industry.; to-day no foundry worthy .of the name is without -its own metallurgist. Different types of .metals have to be dealt with, and the engineer must be .acquainted with them all. The recent engineers’ strike ‘in Melbourne -was the aftermath of the reduction .of the margins for .skill in the highly skilled trade of engineering made by Judge .Powers. A man who understands the ramifications of industry and is notimmersedinlegalismswould not havemadethemistakethathe made.
TheGovernment is tobecommended onhaving introducedthese proposals. These are other phases of this measure withwhich Idesire todeal, but as the hourislate I ask leave tocontinueany remarksat a laterd ate.
Leave granted ;debate adjourned.
The following papers werepresented : -
Arbitration (PublicService) ActDeterminationsby the Arbitrator, &c. -1947 - No. 23 - Non-Official Postmasters’ Association.
No. 24- Australian ThirdDivision Telegraphists’and Postal Clerks’ Union.
No. 25 - Fourth.DivisionPostmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists’ Union.
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department ofPost-war Reconstruction - C. H. B. Norman.
Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act -
National Security (Industrial Property ). Regulations-Orders-Inventions and Designs(109).
National Security (Maritime Industry) Regulations - Order - No . 61.
NationalSecurity (Prices)RegulationsOrders Nos. 2869-2933.
National Security(ShippingCoordination) Regulations - Orders -Nos. 10-20.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1947, No. 46.
Lands Acquisition Act - Landacquiredfor Commonwealth purposes - Sydenham, New South Wales.
Re-establishmentand Employment Act - Statutory Rules 1947, Nos. 51, 52.
Senate adjourned at10.43 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 May 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1947/19470507_senate_18_191/>.