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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister for Works and Railways) . - It is to be regretted that a question relating to the administration of justice should be introduced in an atmosphere of party politics. Last night this matter was mentioned in a quiet and proper manner by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond), who asked what was being done in connexion with the congestion of business in the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), however, has seen fit to impute to the Prime Minister and the Government, and to outside organizations, motives which, I am pleased to say, exist only in the fertile imagination of the honorable member.

Mr Blakeley - We shall see later on.

Mr GROOM - His suggestion that the Prime Minister has been engaged ever since 1917 in a campaignto get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins is absolutely without anyfoundation in fact. For a good deal of the time since 1917 the Prime Minister was overseas, and the honorable member and his colleagues were protesting to Parliament about the impropriety of the head of the Government being out of Australia, instead of being present in the House to attend to matters of local concern. The Prime Minister and the Government have taken no such action as the honorable member has alleged. On the contrary, our action--

Mr Austin Chapman - Inaction.

Mr GROOM - Our action all through has been to maintain the position of the Arbitration Court in the community. The suggestion in regard to the High Court blocking the business of the Arbitration Court is just as unfounded. The High Court has from time to time assisted in the administration of the law, and any difficulties that have arisen did not originate at that source.

Mr Tudor - Practically every Judge of the High Court has asked for an amendment of section 28.

Mr GROOM - And Governments have introduced from time to time many amendments of the Act. After all, Parliament has its rights and duties; and must take its responsibilities in connexion with the making and administration of laws. Our attention was drawn to the fact that the sections relating to the appointment of a Deputy President were not satisfactory, and in 1918 we induced the House to pass an amending Bill which enabled the appointment of the deputy to be made by the GovernorGeneral in Council instead of by. the President. That amendment was brought forward with the approval of the Court itself. Immediately that Bill became law, Mr. Justice Powers was appointed to assist in the administration of the Act, and he and Mr. Justice Higgins have been consistently carrying on the arbitration work. Admittedly during that period the cases have greatly increased, with the resultant congestion of business to which the honorable member for Darling referred. But I remind the House that the congestion has beento some extent due to the law, which enabled the public servants to have their disputes heardby this tribunal. Out of forty-two cases listed for hearing by the Arbitration Court, sixteen are connected with the

Public Service. Some of them, it is true, are not likely to occupy much time. The main cases have been heard, and the others are mostly applications for variations of awards and other minor matters. Therefore, the existing congestion may not continue for long. The two Judges have undoubtedly applied all possible time and energy to this work. In the case of Mr. Justice Powers, it has involved, to my personal knowledge, an immense strain upon him, particularly in connexion with the foundational cases relating to the Public Service, which threw upon him the responsibility of studying thoroughly the whole ramifications of the service. This arbitration work involves a very close attention to detail, in order to get an exact definement of the positions and duties of each of the various officers and their relations to each other. As a result of the strain of that work, the Justice has asked for leave of absence, to which he is justly entitled. He has been kept continuously employed, even during the vacation, I believe. For the time being, Mr. Justice Powers is on leave, and we are faced with the necessity for appointing another deputy.

Mr Blakeley - One will not be sufficient.

Mr GROOM - The Act gives us power to appoint one only. The SolicitorGeneral has been in touch with the Arbitration Court, and is in communication with the Chief Justice at the present time, and I hope to be able very shortly to make an announcement of the appointment ofa deputy. Honorable members will see that this matter has received the close attention of the Government.

Mr Blakeley - The Government are allowing the Court to fall to pieces.

Mr GROOM - That is a most unjust remark. This is a questionof giving economic justice to the community, and it ought to be placed above party politics. We are taking immediate steps to lessen the congestion of business. The SolicitorGeneral has been in consultation with the Judges, but there has been some difficulty in connexion with the administration of the work of the High Court. There are only seven Judges, and one is going on leave. There must be four Judges at least to give judgment upon constitutional issues. On two occasions acase had to be adjourned because the

Court did not consist of the statutory number of Judges required for the decision,. Mr. Justice Starke had to go to Sydney to sit in the High Court in order to constitute a tribunal which could give a decision upon the case. Four Judges at least are required to constitute the High Court when dealing with constitutional issues. Two others are required for the arbitration work. Then there is the Court of original jurisdiction in which a Judge has to sit to hear causes and applications. Honorable members will see that the High Court has had difficulty in arranging its work in order to carry out the duties imposed upon it by Parliament. We are taking every step possible to fill the existing vacancy, and to secure the discharge of the duties of the Court. I do not wish to make any further reference to what was said by the honorable member for Darling beyond assuring the House that his statements regarding the attitude of the Government are entirely without foundation. Mr. Justice Higginshas worked long and laboriously; he has earned the thanks of this country for the work he has performed, and nobody wishes to cast any aspersions upon him.

Mr Tudor - Hear, hear ! Notwithstanding the questions asked in this House with a view to getting rid of him.

Mr GROOM - He has to administer an Act in regard to which there is, of necessity, much diversity of opinion, and in connexion with' which a great deal of controversy must arise. But in regard to that administration we have abstained from anything in the way of interference, and allowed justice to take its course unimpaired.

Mr Gregory - Why do you not tell us what the Government intend to do to end the industrial unrest?

Mr GROOM - The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) clearly said yesterday--

Mr Austin Chapman - Tell us now.

Mr GROOM - I can only repeat what the Prime Minister said, namely, that he is calling a conference of those most interested, in order that the position may be completely considered.

Mr Tudor - He promised that two years ago.

Mr GROOM - The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) may ask his question at a later stage. In the meantime, it is not desirable to make any minor amendments in the law, pending the consideration of the position in relation to arbitration.

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