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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) .- Campaigns have been carried on in the press for a considerable time with respect to the great industrial subject, of arbitration. ' The matter has also been introduced in this House frequently. Among the occasions which I have in mind are those- on which the subject was raised by the questions by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell) and by the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond). And now the House has witnessed the belated effort of the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley). All these parties have, more or less convincingly, put forward proposals for the improvement of the arbitration system. It is a subject in respect to which there has been ample time for our consideration and digestion. It is one which goes, perhaps, more deeply than anything else to the foundation of civil life. Australia has frequently proclaimed her discovery of a nostrum for all industrial troubles. She has claimed to have discovered the final remedy for all disputes in connexion with industry. Yet, what are the facts? It is refreshing to listen to the effort of the honorable member for Darling, which, I hope, may be taken as an indication of the renewal, or revival, of confidence among the workers in the principle of arbitration. We cannot forget that this country was held up, only a little while ago, by direct action. When the seamen's strike was being carried on, we saw its leaders, Walsh and Le Cornu, take command of affairs ; yet not one honorable member on the opposite side of the House was game to stand up and declare for arbitration.

Mr Riley - That is not true; stick to the truth.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - There was not one honorable member on that side who arose.

Mr Riley - Yes, there was.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Not a man arose to champion arbitration. If it be the intention of the Government now to bring about a bona fide confidence with respect to the subject, I trust that the representatives of the Labour party in this Chamber will regard themselves as sponsors in advance for the outside delegates to the Conference, and will publicly utter their confidence in conciliation and arbitration.

Mr Tudor - Would the honorable member ask us to bind the delegates hand and foot?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No; but honorable members opposite might indicate that they really believe in arbitration.

Mr Tudor - I have said so a thousand times.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I am aware that that is the case with respect to the hon orable member; but what of his colleagues ? Why did not the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) and those sitting beside him publicly state their confidence in arbitration at that dark period when direct action was holding up the country ? Why did they not then give a lead to their people? When Walsh and Le Cornu were defying laws, and trying to ruin Australia, the Leader of the Opposition was silent; and the honorable member for Darling was silent. But when the latter honorable member now sees an. opportunity to embarrass the Prime Minister in regard to what I personally believe to be an unseemly dispute with the President of the Arbitration Court, . the opportunity is swiftly taken to make capital of the situation in this Chamber. It is time we definitely declared for or against arbitration. The Court has been degraded, and to-day it is either a question of placing arbitration on a sound foundation or of abrogating the principle. I am not inclined to the proposition of having one Judge as the supreme arbiter in all industry, even though he should be supported by one or two, or more, deputies. I would prefer to see a tribunal which commanded the confidence of the whole country. Let there be a Court presided over by a Judge, but associated with a council consisting of employees' representatives, who understand the conditions of work in industry, and delegates of employers. A Judge may have the master mind for the examination of conditions appertaining to an industry, but he can have no first-hand knowledge orexperience. The idea of one man - even though assisted by deputies - wielding supreme authority is a false view of arbitration and conciliation. There is very little complaint heard to-day respecting the activities of Wages Boards. Surely this Parliament can devise a better, speedier, and more intelligent system than that which now rules in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. If arbitration is to be judged by the disagreements aroused thereby, and by the attacks launched against it, it must be written down as practically a failure. The Court has not had that support from the people which it should have been given. The principle of arbitration has not had a fair chance. It was launched as the supreme creation for the control of Federal industrial disputes; but the unhappy fact is that it has also fostered and helped to create trouble. What is required is that a tribunal shall be created which will command the confidence of both sides to every dispute, or that a return shall be made to the State system of handling industrial troubles, or that employers and employees shall be authorized to get together in their own councils and arrange their own affairs. I have no ill-will against the President of the Arbitration Court. Mr. Justice Higgins has worked tremendously hard to cope with the great task in his hands. I cannot conceive that a Deputy Judge, less informed than the President himself, would be better able to discharge his duties. Lastly, I repeat that to make one Judge the sole master of industrial affairs throughout the Commonwealth is not only wrong, but impracticable.

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