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Thursday, 2 August 1906
Page: 2262

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) . - I hold that the reasons given by the honorable member for Bass in support of his intention to vote against the motion will be found, upon examination, to be insufficient. It is true that the States Legislatures are competent to db all that is necessary from their own point of view, but the honorable member has failed to keep in, mind the very important fact that it is this Legislature which determines the degree of protectionnecessary to enable an industry to prosper.

Thus under the conditions at present prevailing, six separate authorities deal with the question of the wages to be paid in industries which may be brought into existence or wiped out of existence by an Act of this Parliament. One of the States Legislatures might decide to protect employes by fixing rates of pay considerably below the average prevailing in the other five States. The inevitable result of that would be unfair competition of the very worst kind. When an anomaly of that kind can exist, and does exist, it is a matter for serious consideration whether, having the power to impose protective duties, this Parliament is not the very best authority to declare what the industrial conditions shall be, and particularly what shall be the remuneration paid in certain industries. That is a logical position to take up. I am not here to say that the States Parliaments, with their local knowledge, -may not foe ;ab.le, by means of WA,GEE Boards, to do better work than the Commonwealth can do by passing certain laws. But the larger issue confronts us, and will continue to confront us as long as we avail ourselves of the power to give facilities for the creation of new industries. I shall support this motion the more cheerfully, because I find that in a speech delivered recently at Adelaide, the Prime Minister declared that the policy of the present Government in the future would be of such a character as would enable fair industrial conditions - and I presume fair wages - to prevail throughout the Commonwealth. I took occasion, in making reference to that speech on the following morning, to say that, while the idea of the Prime Minister was a fair one, in my opinion, this Parliament has not, under the Constitution, the powers necessary to enable it to secure to the workmen in protected industries their fair share of the results of protection. We may increase duties as much as we please, but we have no power to declare that those engaged in protected industries shall be fairly remunerated. That being so, I think that the Government, if thev sincerely hold the views enunciated by their leader, must support the motion. In my opinion, it is inevitable that this power will be given to the Commonwealth. In this Parliament there is a fuller and broader representation of the people than there is in the Parliaments of the States, because there is not uniformity of representation throughout Australia, and some of the State Legislatures are, from a radical point of view, not as truly representative of the popular mind as it is 'desirable that they should be. Every adult in Australia, however, has a right to cast a vote for candidates to this Parliament, and it is by this body that I hope to see passed the measures necessary to ameliorate the conditions, and to assist the labours, of those whose industry is the back-bone of our national welfare. I do not agree with the honorable member for Bass that we should confine ourselves to the exercise of the powers we possess under the Constitution. It may be a fair argument to saythat the time has not yet arrived when we should seek to 'deal with this question.

Mr Storrer - I say that we have not yet dealt with man,v of the matters with which we have been specially empowered to deal.

Mr FISHER - .No doubt that is so; but, when we have dealt fully with all the matters referred to us by the Constitution, we shall have largely exhausted our usefulness, and there will not be much left for us to do but to' pass Supply ; and no doubt the demands upon the Commonwealth exchequer will go on increasing. The fact that we had not exercised many of our powers woul'd not prevent us, if a crisis arose, from asking for power to deal with it. The honorable member for Bass is one of the most sensible men in the House, and, if a crisis arose with which the Parliament had no constitutional power to deal, he would be one of the first to say that we should appeal to the people for the power required for the protection of the public interest.

Mr Storrer - Let us deal with the crisis when it comes.

Mr FISHER - That is well enough in its way ; but it is better to provide machinery which will prevent the happening of crises, to the national injury. It is not proposed that the States shall be asked to hand over their powers to a foreign authority. It is merely suggested that they should transfer them to a Parliament elected on the widest suffrage by the people of the States, so that we may so frame our legislation that the manufacturer in one State may not have an undue advantage over manufacturers in other States. The just, honest, and respectable manufacturer or producer is always anxious for laws which will prevent competitors from unfair dealing, for which opportunity is given by the cutting-down of wages. Right laws, honestly administered, are for the protection of the upright and the just. It is not wise to leave to six separate authorities the passing of laws relating to wages, when the adjustment of the whole matter can better be transferred to one authority, and that the Commonwealth.

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