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Friday, 6 August 1920

Mr GABB (Angas) .- It is my intention to vote against th© second reading of the Bill, and as I proceed I shall state my reasons for so doing. A Labour member, confronted with such a measure introduced by a non-Labour Governmnent, must naturally be suspicious. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) said that there seemed to be a good deal of suspicion and many imaginings on the part of some honorable members. I remind the House that we have cause for suspicion. As a Labour mau, I do not forget that the Government which introduced this Bill is the same Government which, under the War Precautions Act, interfered with the marine engineers when on strike to the extent of preventing them from operating upon their own banking account. That action, added to many others of the kind, is enough to make us suspicious. I took i the Bill home with me to Adelaide last week, and the first thing I asked myself was whether it represented a genuine effort on the part of the Government to bring about industrial peace. I asked myself whether it was likely that the Prime Minister was bringing to bear his past experience and knowledge of industrial affairs with the sincere object of doing justice to both sides. Then I remembered a statement he made at Bendigo during the recent by-election campaign - a very unwise utterance on the part of the head of the Government. He was reported by the Adelaide press as having said at Bendigo that a Bill was to be brought down - I am convinced that it was this Bill - which would be through the House by last Saturday, " despite all that their friends, the Opposition, could do to stop it." That was the spirit in which the Leader of the Government heralded this measure. Last Saturday has gone by, and the Bill is not through the House yet, nor will it be through the House by next Saturday in spite of all that the Prime Minister threatened to do. I have been wondering whether we have to thank our friends of the Country party for the fact that the Bill was not put through the House by last Saturday. The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), when he was chided for having voted for the urgency motion, said that he knew that the Bill was to be passed within a certain time. From that I inferred that the Country party had a knowledge of the Government's intentions, and I wondered whether feelers had been put cut to ascertain if the Country party would support the Government in disposing of the Bill last week. From the evidence before me, I conclude that we are indebted to the Country party for even this limited opportunity of considering the Bill. The statement made by the Prime Minister at Bendigo was unwise and uncalled-for, especially in connexion with a Bill which is designed to bring about industrial peace. It made one wonder whether there is a sincere intention behind, the introduction of the Bill. How can a man who represents the lower -paid sections of the community help being suspicious of the capitalistic interests and the Government which is behind them ? We know too well that the people we are here to represent particularly have had the worst end of the stick in the past. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) said last night that America today is upon the edge of a Vesuvius, and that prior to the war the workers of England were not given a dog's chance. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) stated that the Prince of Wales, after looking into the residential conditions of some of the workers in England, exclaimed, " It is a damn shame." I believe that if the Prince discovered undesirable conditions he would have pluck enough to express himself in that way. I could relate my own experiences when I had to battle for a living. There are other causes connected with the Bill itself which make us suspicious. I remind honorable members that the advantages which the wage-earners are enjoying to-day - if they can be called advantages - have been dearly won, and they cannot blame Labour members if we are anxious that any benefits now enjoyed by the workers shall not , be lost. Statements have been made which lead us to believe that, in respect of certain provisions in this Bill, trade unions are to receive as much consideration as they have had in the past. We cannot be blamed, however, for desiring to have that clearly set out in the Bill. We have no guarantee that, in respect of the Commonwealth Council and the District Councils, trade union organizations will secure recognition similar to that given them under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. The statement made to-day by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) should have been made much earlier. It has certainly removed some of our fears by giving us to understand that trade union organizations will have, under the Bill, all the privileges they enjoy under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Ministerial supporters have condemned us for desiring that the trade unions should be consulted. Instead of being condemned, we should be commended for this desire, since we are anxious to make doubly sure that industrial peace will be brought about. The Labour party can speak, no doubt, for the rank and file in the trade union movement, but in a multitude of counsellors there is wisdom, and there should be no complaint in regard to the suggested conference.

I object to this Bill because its administration will be extremely costly. I recognise that if, as the result of it, industrial peace were secured, the expenditure which it involved would be money well spent. But will it do away with industrial unrest ? We are to have a Commonwealth Council, and also a District Council for each State, and one honorable member has suggested that members of these Councils should receive a salary of not less than £1,000 a year. There will be a Chairman and six ' members of each of these seven tribunals, so that if they received £1,000 per annum, their salaries alone would amount to £49,000 a year. If there is to be a Special Tribunal for every industry and calling, the fees and expenses will quickly amount to another £50,000 per annum.' For a much less amount the Government could appoint several additional Deputy Presidents of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

If that were done, and the Act improved, it would go a long way towards removing industrial unrest. The President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court receives £3,000 per annum, so that the projectedoutlay on the Commonwealth and District Councils would provide for six or seven additional Deputy Presidents of the Court, and leave something to spare.

I stand here to-day as one who is still in favour of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) compared industrial conditions prevailing here with those ruling in America, and showed that the advantage was with us. There are no compulsory arbitration laws in the United States of America, so that his comparison is but another argument in favour of our Arbitration Court. The same may be said of his comparison of the industrial position in Great Britain with that in Australia. And this despite the fact that the Government have not done all that the Commonwealth Court has asked. I understand that, under the amending Bill, the Court will at "last have power to vary its awards. It is remarkable that, although it has for years been asking for this wider power, it is to be granted only concurrently with the passing of this Bill. I may be somewhat suspicious, but I am wondering whether the giving of additional powers to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court at this juncture is not mere camouflage designed to disguise the real objective of this Bill, whch is to undermine the Court, and to remove from the Bench one of its members.

Has Mr. Justice Higgins, Mr. Justice Powers, Mr. Justice Starke, or any of the registrars of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court been consulted in regard to this measure? Were they invited to assist in drafting a Bill calculated to bring about industrial peace? The Bill does not suggest that they have had any part in its framing.

Mr Brennan - They may have been consulted, but if they were, I do not think their views were adopted.

Mr.GABB. - I do not think that any of these learned gentlemen, despite their long experience of the working of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, have been consulted. There is underlying this Bill a determination on the part of the

Government to undermine the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. When that objective was suggested while the Prime Minister was speaking, the right honorable gentleman merely smiled. A smile is sometimes more eloquent than the spoken word, and that smile on the part of the Prime Minister convinced me that one of the objects of this Bill is ultimately to do away with the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. As a representative of trade union interests, I feel that it would not be wise to vote for this Bill, since it provides for the creation of special tribunals, which will be the mere handiwork of the Government of the day. These special tribunals are to be appointed by the Governor-General, and it is obvious to me that their members - both the representatives of the employers and the representatives" of the employees - will be the chosen of the Government. I am aware that my view is not indorsed by some honorable members; but I wish to have it clearly stated in the Bill that the representatives of the employees on the councils and special tribunals will be elected by the trade union organizations. I am not prepared to act on mere supposition. Some members of my party will vote for the second reading of the Bill, believing, as I do, that the members of the councils and tribunals for which it provides, will be selected by the Government of the day; hut I am not prepared to do so. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) said yesterday that there could be no objection to such a system if the Labour party were in power. While it might be very convenient for a Labour Government to have that power, it would not be fair, and, therefore, would not tend to industrial rest. The Bill gives plenty of scope for political appointments, and if a Labour Government made such appointments to these tribunals, the other side would naturally complain. Again, I am not prepared to vote for a Bill which will vest such very wide powers in any one man. It has been said that the powers for which the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides are in the hands of one man - the President of the Court. With whom will rest the balance of power in connexion with these tribunals? We are to have on each council and special tribunal an equal number of representatives of employers and employees, and where they are unable to agree, the Chairman - who will have been selected, no doubt, by the Government - will be the deciding factor. We shall, therefore, get back to the position ruling in connexion with our arbitration laws today. I cannot vote for the second reading of the Bill; but if it be amended in certain directions, I may feel justified in voting for the third reading. I am not prepared to give up any right or privilege which the trade union organizations enjoy to-day. I am not ready to take one backward step. The movement of the world to-day is in the direction of giving those who produce the wealth a fair share of that wealth. It is in the direction of giving the workers a greater measure of justice than they have hitherto received, and any step taken by us that may be contrary to that tendency will not lead to industrial peace.

In statements made across the table to day, the Prime Minister conveyed the impression that organized labour would be protected under this Bill. But neither his word nor that of any other man is sufficient for me in regard to this matter. I want to see that undertaking put in black and white. I want it to be in the Bill itself. Deep down in the heart of the Prime Minister there may be some feeling of sympathy for the ranks from which he sprang; but he is not always going to be at the head of the Government. There are in this House some outandout Conservatives, any one of whom may be at some time at the head of the Government of the Commonwealth, and their sympathies have never been with unionists and unionism. If the unions will be as fully recognised under the provisions of the Bill as they are now under the Arbitration Act, this should be made clear and put beyond doubt. According to the Prime Minister, if there were in an industry a genuine union and a bogus union - I am not using his language in employing these terms - and trouble were to arise in the genuine union, that union would elect three representatives to a tribunal to investigate the dispute, and the bogus union would have the right to be represented by counsel. I hope that representation by lawyers is not intended, though I do not see in the Bill anything to prevent the appearance of lawyers before the tribunals for which it provides, should the employers wish for them, and obtain from the chairmen the' right to make use of their services. On the other hand, should the trouble arise with the bogus union, it would appoint representatives to the tribunal, and the genuine union would be represented by counsel. Such an arrangement, it seems to me, would cause a great number of bogus unions to spring into existence, and if their representatives were brought into a case the genuine unionists would turn their backs on the tribunal adjudicating upon it. Some one has said - I think, the honorable .member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) - that the genesis of the Bill was to be found in a proposal by some New South Wales organization.

Mr Jowett - No; in a proposal of an organization of Victorian returned soldiers.

Mr GABB - I do not know where the Genesis of it is to be found, but I know that the Revelations of it will be with the trade unionists of this country. ,

Mr Brennan - And the Exodus with the Government.

Mr GABB - If the Government and those who vote for the Bill are the alpha of this matter, the omega of it will be the rank and file of the industrial unions, whom it is useless to flout. I hope that in Committee the Bill [may be amended so that no trade union shall lose under it any right that it now possesses under the Arbitration Act. If that and other similar alterations are made, probably many of us who must ' vote against the second reading may be able to vote for the third reading of the measure.

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