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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) . - I do not intend to discuss the merits of the question at all. I take other objections to the proposal. Inthe first place, it appears to me to be a motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission to sit on the work of the Arbitration Court.

Mr Considine - That ought not to be an objection from the point of view of the Government, seeing that several times recently the Government has appointed tribunals to settle industrial disputes.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Quitetrue; but it is not a good plan, is it? We have set up Arbitration Courts which, in my opinion, ought to be obeyed, at any rate, until they are differently constituted. If to-day they are working clumsily and are not securing the ends of justice with expedition; if equity and good conscience are not being administered in these Courts, then their original intention is being departed from. My own opinion is that the Arbitration Courts to-day are not carrying out the original intention. They have become Law Courts. That is the trouble with them. They are no longer Arbitration Courts. They are so beset by rule and regulation that it is impossibleto get through the network in order to take any by-and-large common-sense view of our difficulties as they arise from time to time. I well remember when the first Arbitration Court was set up in New South Wales. I took part, with all zest, in the proceedings having that end in view. I believed that such a Court would be good for the workers of the community, and would tend to bring the two factors of industry more closely together. I regret that the result has been quite the reverse of my anticipations. The Courts have acted, indeed, as a wedge, which has driven the two parties still further apart; and it all emanates from the element of technicality which has crept into the Courts, and which dominates them to-day.

Mr Considine - That is a very good argument in favour of carrying my motion.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I think not; and, in a few minutes, I will say why not. There are always contending parties. As soon as one group has settled its immediate 'trouble another trouble arises. One verdict becomes the jumpingoff point for a fresh demand. That is inevitable, of course, to some extent, in progressive community. But the Courts are multiplying troubles in their very efforts to settle disputes along the lines on which they are proceeding at present. These remarks, however, are not a condemnation of arbitration, but- a criticism of the machinery for carrying out the arbitral principle. The first Arbitration Courts in New South "Wales were presided over by laymen, and not by Judges at all. Any honorable member who knows the Newcastle coalfields will bear me out in that remark. In those days the men who presided were possessed of good common sense, and had an aptitude for looking upon a question in the light of its local surroundings; they were men who were able to settle troubles on the spot, imbued, as they were, by a knowledge of the local and immediate conditions. , They were able to end disputes before the rancorous spirit, so noticeable nowadays, could rear its head. The Courts to-day are too cumbersome. They do not attempt to address themselves to a difficulty at the moment of its occurrence, and On the spot. They do not endeavour to consider a trouble in the light of local surroundings and in the spirit of its imdiate atmosphere. Months elapse before a dispute can come before a Court, during which intervening period, perhaps, the whole cause of the actual dispute has been done away with. Nearly every industrial difficulty nowadays arises from some purely local circumstances. In mining, that is peculiarly the case. It may be that affairs are normal one day and abnormal the next, and then again normal a few days after. ' But upon that day in which matters are abnormal some trouble arises. What is the use of addressing a Court hundreds of miles away from the scene of dispute, and days and months after it has broken out? There should be a Board on the spot to settle all troubles forthwith. Some method such as that would be worth all our Arbitration Courts - lumbering, cumbersome, ponderous as they are.

I do not know, however, that a Royal Commission would be much more speedy or competent. Royal Commissions without number have been appointed to consider various disputes. One, in 1914, was appointed by the Government of New South Wales in respect of a mining trouble. It was presided over by Mr. B. R. Wise, and those who knew that gentleman must be aware that his -sympathies' were with the working classes. Mr. Wise was assisted by a representative of the workmen involved, and of the employers. The three inquired into many of the things set out in the terms of the motion before thi* Chamber. What that Royal Commission did not inquire into, an Arbitration Court has inquired into time and again.

Mr Considine - Has the Arbitration Court ever inquired into output, into the health of those engaged in the industry, into the selling processes, and the conditions surrounding sale and output?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I said that what the Commission had not inquired into the Arbitration Court has inquired into. The Commission inquired into health matters; and there have been inquiries into the same subject since, as the honorable member for Barrier well knows.

Mr Considine - The Minister knows that, while- I have never disputed that there is a technical Commission at present engaged in dealing with the health of the miners, my motion goes a good deal further, and would supplement the work of the Commission.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Not in relation to health. The very verbiage of the hon'orable member's motion, so far as it relates to health, is the precise language of the terms of the Commission which made its inquiry at the time I have indicated.

Mr Considine - No!

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member will find, the words " undermining of health " in the terms of appointment of that Commission, just as he employs them in his motion.

Tn the first place, therefore. I want to point out that there is to-day the Arbitration Court, with which the men ;H Broken Hill will have nothing to do.

I do not think that we are entitled to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the case of men who refuse absolutely to go to the Court in the setting up of which they had more to do than any other section of the community. From time to time in this House and in the State Parliaments these Arbitration Courts have been adjusted and re-arranged almost out of recognition. The persons chiefly responsible for all these adjustments and rearrangements have been the representatives of these men in the various Houses of Legislature. There is no getting away from that fact, and, therefore, these men and their representatives should not ask us to deliberately set aside the Courts which they have themselves shaped.

Mr Considine - I thought the honorable gentleman said "shaken."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No; I said "shaped." I mean that the legislation which is responsible for the present Arbitration Court is the work in this House of Labour Governments. No one who has been here for any time will deny that statement. On the other side of this chamber some of us have been the critics of that legislation. We have said that it was not likely to work, but our advice was ignored. All my life I have contended for the local settlement of local disputes, and there will never be industrial peace in this community until we get back to that fundamental principle. A local dispute arises out of some local peculiarity, and should be followed up swiftly, and settled at the place where it occurs by some facile mode of inquiry. There are questions affecting industry as a whole which must be left to other tribunals to review. Such questions as rates of wages and hours of labour, which affect industry as a whole, require to be dealt with perhaps at greater length and by other than local tribunals, but I should say that 99 out of every 100 disputes occurring on mining fields arise because of some local peculiarity or circumstance, and should be dealt with as I have suggested.

What the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) is asking us to do is to set up a Court of Inquiry to sit on the Commonwealth Arbitration Court - for that is what his motion means. He wants the cost of metals inquired into, and also the profits made in the industry, the wages paid, the hours of labour, and the prices of the products.

Mr Considine - In fact, he wants all that he asks for in his motion.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - And a bit more, too, I have no doubt. May I suggest that all these matters - costs, profits, wages, hours, and prices - all come within the purview of the Arbitration Courts, an'l are investigated almost every day in those Courts, and necessarily so, because they are correlated; it is impossible, for instance, to settle the question of costs without reference to prices, profits, wages, and hours a( labour ? The question of costs -involves the consideration of all these other questions.

Mr Considine - The Minister knows full well that the companies' representatives have on every occasion refused to permit any investigation of these matters.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I say that under our arbitration laws the Judge of the Arbitration Court has the right to require the production of books, to have them examined by experts, and to satisfy himself as to the whole of the conditions, under which any industry is carried on.

Mr Considine - No. When the matter' was last before the Arbitration Court, the representatives of the companies said that they did not question the fact that they were able to pay the wages, and, consequently, no investigation was made. I can make that statement confidently, because I was there.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The company conceded the point as to their ability to pay the wages without investigation ?

Mr Considine - Yes, and thereby evaded an inquiry into the industry.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Why should the honorable member want an inquiry if the point was conceded ? If the company say they can afford to pay good wages, why does the honorable member want an inquiry into their capacity to do so ?

Mr Considine - Why does Mr. Courtney refuse to have any investigation into the profits?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It is not for Mr. Courtney to say. That is a matter for the Judge to decide, and not Mr. Courtney.

Mr Considine - The Prime Minister told me, in this House, that if the company would agree to this investigation, he would grant the Royal Commission. The honorable gentleman will find that in Hansard.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I do not know what the Prime Minister, Mr. Courtney, or anybody else has to do with the matter. I am speaking of a law which permits the Judge of the Arbitration Court to make an investigation whenever, in his opinion, it is necessary to do so. The honorable member asks for a Royal Commission to sit on the Arbitration Court, and all the machinery set up from time to time chiefly through the instrumentality of the section of the community which, he tells us, he specially represents.

There is a further objection to this motion, and it is that it is an attempt to interfere with a State industry. It refers to a State industry. It is of no use to say one thing and mean another, and in my judgment we have no legal right to inquire into this industry in the way the honorable member proposes. What right have we to inquire into the health conditions, for instance, under which a State industry is carried on?

Mr Considine - What jurisdiction has the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to inquire into the industry?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Surely such an inquiry is a State function. In this Parliament we have nothing to do with the health of the community as such except in the most incidental and indirect way. All these matters are reserved under the Constitution to the State authorities. We do a good many things which perhaps we ought not to do, and the State authorities do not like us to meddle with their concerns. Here we have a proposal to meddle with one of the vital industries of a State over which the authorities of the State have absolute and unqualified jurisdiction. I think it would be wrong for us to do so. .We have no constitutional right to do so.

Mr Considine - Have we not made the Federal Arbitration Court deal with the matter?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I am not speaking of arbitration, but of conducting an investigation into the health conditions of a State industry.

Mr Makin - The ultimate consequence lias an Inter-State effect,

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It is not a question of the ultimate consequence, but of the cold, hard lines of the Constitution, which sketch for us a line of demarkation, and we are told to keep on one side of it, while the States are told to keep on the other side. On the States' side of this line is the mining industry at Broken Hill, which is carried on in the State of New South Wales.

Leaving that and coming to another point, I suggest to the honorable member for Barrier that he should not persevere with his motion at the present time, for a reason which I dare say he knows, and that is that I understand that the New South Wales Minister for Mines at the present time is a member of a Labour Government. I' refer to Mr. George Cann, an old-time and .very much respected member of this House. He went to the State Parliament, and has done very much better for himself there, and I say, good luck to him. He is now in office as a member of the Government of the State of New South Wales. If any man has sympathy with the conditions under which miners have to work, that man is Mr. George Cann. I remind the honorable member that there is also in the New South Wales Government Mr. John Estell, a miner from the Newcastle district, a much-respected and levelheaded man. Surely th.,se gentlemen can be trusted to take charge of this matter, and see that the fullest measure of justice is done to the miners of Broken Hill.

Mr Considine - That is no excuse for shouldering our responsibilities on to some one else.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I emphatically deny that they are our responsibilities. They are primarily the responsibilities of the men in charge of affairs in the State in which this industry is carried on, and I understand that at the present moment those men are taking steps to discharge their responsibilities in this regard. I understand that they are going to inquire into this matter by means of a compulsory conference or some such method, and I suggest to the honorable member for Barrier that, in the circumstances, he had better leave the matter alone.

Mr Considine - I wish the honorable member would be serious.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I was never more serious in my life. Does the honorable member say i am joking when I suggest that the two Labour Ministers in New South Wales to whom I have referred will give these men at Broken Hill a measure of justice? Is that what the honorable member calls joking?

Mr Considine - The honorable gentleman evidently cannot understand hip own humour.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Does the honorablemember not see the implication of his statements ? It is that these men cannot possibly give the miners justice. I do not take that view at all.

Mr Considine - I take the other view.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member takes the other view against his own Labour confreres in the State of New South Wales, in which this dispute particularly resides. I suggest to the honorable member now that he should leave this matter to the jurisdiction of the gentlemen to whom I have referred. They are interested in it. They admit their responsibility clearly and definitely, and as I say, they are taking steps to discharge it. Why not leave the matter to them? Why begin tinkering with the matter in this Parliament at the same time that they are dealing with it in their own sphere.

Mr Considine - I propose to ask this House to shoulder its responsibility.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - And I suggest that the House should not accept a responsibility which does not belong to it, and should leave the State Government of New South Wales to shoulder- its own responsibility. I apprehend that honorable members generally will show their good sense by adopting that course. I appeal to the honorable member for Barrier not to take the settlement of this matter out of its proper sphere, and out of the sympathetic hands in which it rests at the present time in the State of New South Wales.

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