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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- Shortly after my election to this Chamber in 1917 a quarrel occurred between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and Mr. Justice Higgins, of the Arbitration Court. At the same time - or almost coincident therewith - a campaign was launched throughout Australia, and hundreds of resolutions were sent from different organizations, such as the Employers Federations, the Pastoral Union, and branches of the Farmers and Settlers' Association, asking that the Arbitration Act be amended and requesting particularly that Mr. Justice Higgins be removed from the Arbitration Court. That was a wellplanned campaign to rid the Arbitration Court of Mr. Justice Higgins, but because of the protests of honorable members on this side of the House of Representatives the campaign broke down; it was a failure. It is deplorable that, owing to a personal quarrel between the parties mentioned things should happen to-day which certainly do not tend towards harmony and stable industrial conditions. The congestion in the Court is such as to arouse grave uneasiness concerning industrial peace in the future. Most honorable members have received a list from the Australian Journalists' Association, which contains the names of forty-two unions that have been waiting for varying periods, up to fifteen months, in order to go before the Arbitration Court.

Mr Austin Chapman - Why cannot they get there?

Mr BLAKELEY - Because the Prime Minister does not wantthem to get there; because the intention, probably, of the High Court itself and, at any rate, of this Government, or of its Leader, is to kill the Arbitration Court by permitting it to break down of its own weight. What are the Government doing? What does the High Court suggest to enable these cases to be dealt with? Nothing! Mr. Justice Powers who, until recently, was taking some of the cases, has been given six months' leave of absence. Early this month, when hearing the plaint of the Australian Society of Engineers, Mr. Justice Higgins said, "I have got to do all the work now; there is not even one deputy, and I havehad no intimation that the Court will have any relief at present. That means delay of public business." The Australian Workers Union, since January last, has had a case pending in connexion with station bands throughout Australia. It would require only one day, and probably less than a full day, to deal with the issue, yet it may be months before the Australian Workers Union can get before the Court. The Federated Shipwrights, Ship Constructors, &c, Union filed their case on the 2nd December, 1918,but it has not yet been dealt with. The dispute has been referred into Court, and the parties are now trying to secure an agreement. The Australian Timber Workers Union filed their plaint on the 3rd February last year. The matter was dealt with, I believe, only the day before yesterday, and has not yet been finalized. The Australian Tramway Employees Association filed their plaint on the 8th May, 1919. Their case has been partly settled by agreement, but not as an outcome of anything done in or by the Court. I have not the time to deal in detail with all the cases which have been listed; but, on the face of the facts, it does not redound to the credit either of the Government or of the High Court that such a congestion of public affairs should be permitted. Honorable members should compare the situation in the Arbitration Court with the facts surrounding a recent hearing in the High Court in Sydney. Having been given less than twenty-four hours' notice, the High Court sat and decided an important point which had been raised by a company running the totalisator in New South Wales. Such an organization could get before the highest Court in the land in about ten minutes, but a body of workers such as the Australian Workers Union, numbering 102,000 men, has to wait for many months before it can plead before the judiciary. That in itself shows something of the sham which isbeing perpetrated in connexion with arbitration matters in Australia. So far as I can learn, Chief Justice Knox does not think that any of the High Court Justices should preside over the Arbitration Court. At any rate, notwithstanding the fact of Mr. Justice Higgins in the Court vainly attempting to stem the tide of the cases which are coming in, although the High Court has the power to appoint deputies, it will not grant him any assistance. Apparently with the consent of the Government, the High Court is dominant in such matters. Hence the chaos we have in the industrial world of Australia. The campaign to which I was justreferring as having commenced in 1917, because of a quarrel between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the President of the Arbitration Court, has recently flared up again. We are aware that in 1917 and 1918 an attempt was made to repeal the Act and thereby get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, or to break down the whole machinery.

Mr Austin Chapman - Who made the attempt ?

Mr BLAKELEY - The Prime Minister, by his constant attacks on Mr. Justice Higgins and the employers'organizations which I have mentioned, which sent in resolutions in an attempt to break down the Court. However, the primary desire was to have Mr. Justice Higgins removed from the Arbitration Court bench. The attempt which was made in 1917 and 1918 is now being tried again with the intention of removing the Pre- sident of the Court. In this Chamber the Prime Minister recently attempted to criticise the actions of Mr. Justice Higgins, but was prevented by Mr. Speaker from doing so. However, he immediately took advantage of the columns of the press to bitterly attack the President of the Court. He has also convened a Conference which will, apparently, comprise a majority of delegates antagonistic to the Arbitration Court. I might mention that, although the Australian Workers Union has a membership of 102,000, it will have only one delegate at the Conference, whereas any small union represented on the Trades and Labour Councils of the different States will be represented at the Conference. The Australian Society of Engineers will be represented by one delegate. I can quite foresee that if the Conference will allow itself to be used merely as a tool to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, that step will be taken. When the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) asked the Prime Minister yesterday what he proposed to do to relieve the congestion in the Arbitration Court, the Prime Minister replied in pessimistic tones that all was lost; although the Act had been amended so many times it had failed, and nothing could be done; but while the Prime Minister stands here telling us this tale most dismally, he leaves Mr. Justice Higgins down inthe Court to grapple, as far as his powers will allow him, with the forty-two cases that await him. The right honorable gentleman should have told the House what his intentions are - whether it is his desire to give the President of the Court the necessary relief, or whether his object is to let the whole thing break down under its own weight. The opinion of those who are clamouring round the doors of the Court is that the desire is to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, to whose efforts we owe a great deal of the industrial peace we have had in Australia for a considerable number of years past. Apparently he is the only Justice of the High Court who knows something of the working classes and of the conditions under which they live. But it is certain that he does not satisfy the Prime Minister, and, therefore, he must go. It is to be hoped that no scheme to get rid of him succeeds. It will not, if the Aus tralian Workers Union have any say in the matter.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I rise to a point of order. I call attention to the fact that the honorable member for Darling has been indulging in a diatribe against the Prime Minister, declaring that he desires to remove Mr. Justice Higgins from the Bench. The other day the Prime Minister was called sharply to order when he was supposed to be replying to some observations made by that Justice. I suggest that the honorable member is entirely out of order in so frequently bringing in the name of Mr. Justice Higgins.

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