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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (EdenMonaro) . - In my opinion, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has left the matter in a most unsatisfactory position.

Mr Blakeley - The Minister has , really confirmed the statements I made as to Government inactivity.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The Minister is asked a plain, straightforward question, and a statement of fact has been made here. It is admitted that there is great congestion in the Arbitration Court, showing the necessity for more Judges, and the Minister is asked what the Government intend to do. The Minister, however, leaves the matter to the Prime Minister, and we are not informed what the Prime Minister himself intends to do: I am not in accord with some of the statements made by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), but he made out a case. He told us that there are forty-two listed cases awaiting settlement. One of the Judges is going on what is, no doubt, a well-earned holiday, but the Minister is asked why the Government do not appoint another Judge in his place. What will be the effect of this policy of consideration as outlined by the Minister? More postponements.

Mr Gregory - One person from Western Australia, interested in a case to come before the Court, has been hanging about Melbourne for two months.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - There are people from all over Australia waiting in Melbourne for cases to come on. I am getting a little sick of these promises of conferences and so forth. The honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) says that there is very dangerous congestion in the Court; and this congestion can only lead to strikes and other forms of direct action. If there are forty-two cases listed, we may take it that there are forty or fifty other cases which have not been brought to Court simply because of the waiting there must be for their decision. The people interested in disputes will consider that it is useless to take their cases to Court with any hope of prompt settlement, and will resort to strikes. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has made a clever little speech defending Judge Higgins, who, however, is, I dare say, very well able to defend himself. A " Judge, no matter what his decision may be, and especially in arbitration cases, is bound to offend somebody or other. I do not agree with the statement made by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), that the Prime Minister has been striving to get rid of Justice Higgins.

Mr Gregory - It is absurd.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - It _ is. With the power possessed by the Prime Minister, he could, if he so desired, get rid of a Judge, or anybody else, and to that end could make matters much more uncomfortable for any such official than he has for Justice Higgins. I commend the Prime Minister for going to the proper arena in which to defend himself and the Government. It is the Prime Minister's duty, if he thinks a Judge is " off the track," to. criticise that Judge. After all, the Prime Minister is the man to whom we look to safeguard our rights and interests, especially when, a person in high position, like that of a Judge, is concerned.

The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) has failed miserably in answering the statements made here this afternoon. Why should there not be another Judge appointed? I dare say there is a number of men able and willing to take the position; indeed, I think I could nominate one or two members of this House who would probably do as much good for the country on the Bench as they do here. Without attempting to be a carping critic, I must express my regret at the failure of the Minister to answer direct statements made. It is tiresome to be continually hearing that the Government will consider this or that question, and call this or that conference. If the Judges are overworked, or cannot make a quorum, it is our duty to appoint more Judges. Is it not important that these great industrial organizations, who feel that they are being badly used, should be given an opportunity to have their cases settled? Industrial arbitration has been much vaunted in the past; indeed, we' heard it was to be the remedy for all industrial evils. Now, however, somebody or something seems to be standing in the way. The appointment of more Judges cannot be objected to on the score of expense, for it is more economical to appoint Judges than to keep large numbers of people in a state of uncertainty and unrest for weeks and months. The Minister has given us a diplomatic little speech which really means nothing. God knows what we should do if the Prime Minister were very ill, as the Government do not seem to be able to get on without him! I urge the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) to say that the present state of things will be remedied at once, and thus avoid long discussions and much uncertainty. Personally, I do not think a conference is needed, but rather some action on the part of the Government.

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