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Thursday, 15 October 1914


Mr GLYNN - We left you an elaborate report of nearly 200 pages of foolscap in regard to the Beef Trust.


Mr ARCHIBALD - I have not had time to read it, and I do not hold out any hope that I shall read it at the present time. We know that the Beef Trust came here as business men to make money. Well, let them make money, but it is our business as a Parliament to see that we have power to control them. Take another matter of great urgency; what is the position we are placed in to-day with regard to the transcontinental railway? We want a great quantity of steel rails, and what must we do to get them? Before the war broke out we had practically to accept any terms dictated to us by the steel combine. The great Commonwealth .of Australia and the States, too, were at the absolute mercy of the steel combine. Now we are at war with. Germany, and for some reason or other German steel is of very high quality. But that source of supply is lost, and there is a difficulty in getting material from the other side of the world. What is our obvious common-sense duty? If we consulted half-a-dozen commonsense men from any part of Australia would they not say - "Why do you not manufacture for yourselves?" What is our answer ? That we have not the power to manufacture steel rails for ourselves. We shall be told that we shall be able to buy them at Newcastle. But for how long ? When the war is over there will not be a steel manufacturer in Australia who will not be in the combine. They must enter it, or they will be choked out of existence. The great democracy of Australia, when it wants material for the construction of its railways, must go cap in hand to the Steel Trust and say, " Please give us a quotation and do not rob us too much." Honorable members may say that we have a certain amount of power to engage in manufacture, but we have no right to go into an enterprise such as this unless we are sure of our ground. We cannot afford the luxury of playing with the vital questions of Australia. I am not a lawyer, and there is an element of doubt in my mind. But, assuming, for the sake of argument, that we have power to manufacture steel rails, the fact remains that we have not power to sell to the people a pound of any commodity which we manufacture. The* only way to make manufacture profitable is by having the right to sell to the people of Australia our surplus and by-products, so that the taxpayers will not be losing on the enterprise. I might elaborate this case all day long, but I am confining myself to a practical forcible argument, and by reason of the office I have the honour to occupy at the present time, I know what the position is. I do not wish the country to think that, so far as the Home Affairs Department is concerned, there is a shortage of commodities, but I have often felt anxiety as to whether there might not possibly be a danger in that direction.


Mr Joseph Cook - And you want fundamental changes made because of a " might possibly " ?


Mr ARCHIBALD - Those changes are an absolute necessity. We might have a repetition of the trouble in regard to the war and other things, although I hope not. I have always contended that public life is merely the application of common sense. If a common-sense individual in his private capacity is cornered, through circumstances which he is unable to control, he makes provision to insure that he will not be cornered in the same way again. But in public life, we are cornered again and again, because we must not have any change ; vested interests say that change is not desirable.


Mr Joseph Cook - Thank goodness, we have a reformer at last !


Mr ARCHIBALD - I do not know that I am a reformer; I have not the power to do anything. I am only suggesting that the people ought to have the opportunity of deciding these matters for themselves. My quarrel with the right honorable member is that he prevented the people from having the opportunity.


Mr Joseph Cook - Somehow or other, my common sense did not suggest that they should have it.


Mr ARCHIBALD - Now we come to another phase of the question. We are continually told about the sacred rights of the Constitution. It is a wonderful affair, reared up and voted on by the people of the country ; it. is a sacred compact between the States and the people of the Commonwealth, and must not be touched. But that was not the opinion of the men who framed it. The framers of the Constitution had two objects in view, " Let us come to an agreement; let us patch the Constitution up, and get it before the people; time will alter it." What did Mr. Deakin say? "We are building up the skeleton of a great edifice which the people of the country will perfect from generation to generation." There was no1 public man of the front rank engaged in the framing of that Constitution who did not take that view of it. They recognised that they were merely making a beginning, and if there had not been the referendum clause, giving to the people the right to alter the Constitution, they would never have accepted it at all. The Australian men and women are not so foolish as that. They may have their shortcomings, but they know too much of Conservatism and vested interests, and the history of the combinations against thepeople of the Motherland. Who are the objectors to an alteration of the Constitution ? The States. And who in the States: object? There are two parties in the States who object on every occasion. The first are the comic-opera statesmen who fear the weakening of their authority and power as representatives of the sovereign States, and the second are the Legislative Councils. They will have no referendum; they will never vote "Yes." They belong to the grand historical party - the party which the people swept away at the polling booth.


Mr Joseph Cook - The Upper Houses which your party has been strengthening in the various States.


Mr ARCHIBALD - I am surprised that the honorable member does not know the reason why he was displaced at the last election.


Mr Page - Public opinion swung back to her old moorings.


Mr ARCHIBALD - It was not that. A young country has its aspirations, and it has no time for a party that does nothing but say "No." Eternal negation! What is that party going to do? "We will do nothing, and do it well." There lies the difference between the two parties in Federal politics to-day. We on this side are not perfect. We have made mistakes, and we may make them again. But what are we going to do P We are going to try. We have faith in the country, in the Almighty, and in ourselves. I am not stupid enough to believe that there is no room for a Conservative party in Australia.


Mr Joseph Cook - There is one in office to-day.


Mr ARCHIBALD - There is an old Tory party in existence in Australia, which was recently displaced from office because it had only one policy, consisting of "No, no, no." Another case in point is the interest bill we have to pay to-day.


Mr Joseph Cook - Will you repeat that- that " No, no, no " ?


Mr ARCHIBALD - I leave the mat- ter to the verdict of the country. I think it would be their view. I believe that a Conservative party will arise in Australia that will say " Yes," though it may not be prepared to go as far as we are; but in that day politics will be in a different position. At the present time we are confronted by a party that says " No." But I contend that they had no right to stand between His Excellency the Governor-General and the people, and prevent the electors from having an opportunity, if they so desired it, of turning down the referenda proposals.


Mr Joseph Cook - Your contention is that the party that is in power to-day is living on the demerits of our party.


Mr ARCHIBALD - I am not prepared to agree to that assertion. No doubt the right honorable gentleman is a man of great versatile ability.


Mr Joseph Cook - But it is what you say.


Mr ARCHIBALD - I have said what I have said, and I leave it at that. The present Government propose to amend the law in relation to arbitration. Here, again, we have the same argument from the right honorable gentleman. He says, "What have you done? There is no more industrial peace in the country than formerly. The Arbitration Court is congested, and you have brought about no satisfaction."


Mr Joseph Cook - That is what your Attorney-General said.


Mr ARCHIBALD - The right honorable gentleman opposite has said that we have got no good out of the Arbitration Act, and that we are on the wrong track. I have no desire to be a resurrectionist, and rake up the speeches of the right honorable gentleman ; but every one knows bis line of argument. There may be some truth in what he says - that we may fail in attaining what we seek by means of the Arbitration Act; nevertheless, we shall try. We hold the view that a strike is to the industrial world what war is to the general community, namely, the last resource; and a Parliament that cannot create some method to prevent such occurrences is not worth its salt. " We shall fail," the right honorable gentleman says. Well, better to fail than never to try. However, I do not think that we shall fail; because, in spite of occasional disappointments, there is growing up a strong feeling on the part of the people that these industrial disputes can and should be settled. But the position to-day in regard to the Arbitration Court is not what it should be. Costly law suits are what the workers get when they seek the aid of the Court. On every occasion there is an appeal to the High Court.


Mr Finlayson - With delays for years.


Mr Joseph Cook - That is right. Always blame other people for your own incapacity.


Mr ARCHIBALD - What is the policy of the Opposition in regard to the settlement of industrial disputes!


Mr Joseph Cook - " No, no, no," you say it is.


Mr ARCHIBALD - I need only refer to one proposal for a few moments to show that my. right honorable friend must have had his tongue in his cheek when he made it. He said, " I do not believe in your Arbitration Court."


Mr Joseph Cook - Who said that?


Mr ARCHIBALD - The right honorable gentleman said it in his speech at Parramatta. He said that he believed in Wages Boards. He wanted a superior sort of Wages Board on top, which was to deal with appeals from Wages Boards in the various States. And he was to get six Legislative Councils to agree to it ! Could anything be more shallow than the possibility of getting even two of those Legislative Councils, much less six, to agree to that scheme ? I am in favour of everything that will promote industrial peace, but I cannot favour Wages Boards. What is there in having a Wages Board? There are three employers and three employes, and the Government get a safe man as Chairman - every time they get a safe man - and their power is simply that of wrangling and coming to some sort of agreement. What is the nature of this wrangling? The employer says, "If you want this increase of . wages, or these improved conditions, you will ruin my business; I shall be utterly ruined." I have known men to make that statement over and over again who to-day are in possession of princely fortunes.


Mr Joseph Cook - They have passed the increases on.


Mr ARCHIBALD - Why do honorable members opposite love Wages Boards and hate the Arbitration Court? It is because the Arbitration Court has the power, when these poor, suffering, starving employers, who are about to be ruined, appear before it, to say, " Come along and show us your books." That is why honorable members so hate the Arbitration Court, and would crush it to-morrow. On the other hand, it is the safeguard for the future, because the industrial people in this country rightly believe that when they appear before an Arbitration Court they will get a fair deal. I do not say that Wages Boards will not give them a fair deal, but they are constituted on a stupid and ridiculous principle, and not on the principle of justice and equity, and there can be no lasting peace except on the basis of justice and equity. If the working people are not prepared to accept the principle of arbitration, it is a matter to be regretted; but I do not agree with that view of the question, and I maintain that there is room for further amendment in relation to the Arbitration Act. I admit that it is experimental legislation, but I would rather spend my days on this side of the House attempting experimental legislation of that character than join with my friends opposite who say, " You will never do any good. You are on the wrong track, and, therefore, will have to retrace your steps." Time will show us who is right. The Arbitration Act has done good, at least up to the outbreak of the war. Like other things, it must be affected by the present circumstances, and the true position is difficult to estimate. I hope that at an early date the referenda proposals will be again submitted to the people, and that we will be in a position to go on with those steps that are necessary to enable us to grapple with the unfortunate circumstances in which we are placed to-day, and keep the wheels of "industry going. The responsibility lies, not only on this Parliament and on the present Government, but also upon the States, and must be equally shared by the financial institutions and by employers of labour throughout the Commonwealth.







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