Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 9 July 1920

Mr HECTOR LAMOND (Illawarra) . - I make no apology for asking the attention of the House to a matter which is of vital importance to all the industries of the Commonwealth. It is within the knowledge of those honorable gentlemen who are now trying to prevent me from speaking that at the present moment the coal-mining industry of Australia is threatened with an upheaval which would involve the country in immense loss.

Honorable members interjecting -

Mr SPEAKER - I direct the attention of the House to the concerted interruption of the speech of the honorable member for Illawarra, and I ask that it may cease. It is impossible for me to hear a word of what the honorable member is saying. Honorable members should observe the Standing Orders, and allow the speech to be heard in silence.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - It is the freedomofspeech party that is interrupting.

Mr SPEAKER - There has grown up in this House a practice of interjecting immediately after Mr. Speaker has called the House to order. Such an interjection is not only gravely discourteous to the Chair, but is also a breach of the Standing Orders, and an insult to the assembly itself. I ask honorable members to discontinue the practice.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - Under the Standing Orders, only a brief time is allowed me for placing this matter before the House, and I have the right to expect that the members of the Opposition, who particularly claim to represent the working classes, will allow me to speak without interruption. It is known to them, and to all who take an interest in the industrial welfare of the country, that there is the gravest reason to apprehend industrial trouble in the near future, unless prompt steps be taken to provide means . for settling disputes without resort to strikes. The history of the coal-mining industry is full of warnings. I have always' been, as- 1 am now, a firm believer in the wisdom of settling industrial troubles before they have advanced to a stage at which they are beyond control. As every trade unionist knows the majority of industrial troubles are due to the failure of the parties to-

Mr Blakeley - I rise to order, my point being that the honorable member is anticipating a motion already on the business-paper, which provides for the discussion, among other things, of the Government's failure to take steps to deal with the causes of industrial unrest, of which the unrest in the coal-mining industry is part.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is quite in order. His motion, which relates to a specific matter, viz., "the coalmining industry," and is not general in its terms, covering any other matters, does not anticipate any other of which notice has been given.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - I find it somewhat difficult to place before the House in their proper sequence the facts to which I wish to draw attention, because of the attitude of some honorable members toward me. I wish to draw attention more particularly to the dangers arising in the coal-mining industry, as in others, from the congestion of the Arbitration Court. Some, at least, of the most serious disputes that have occurred in thi? country recently have been due to the failure of the Court to settle speedily the issues between the parties.

Honorable members interjecting -

Mr SPEAKER - I am reluctant to take extreme step3, but if these interruptions continue I shall be obliged to take serious notice of them.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - Some of the most serious disputes that have occurred in the Commonwealth of late have been due to the natural and justifiable feeling of trade unionists that the Arbitration Court does not afford' that speedy means of settling disputes thatwas intended when the Court was set up. I do not blame the Justices of the Court for this, because I recognise the difficulties under which they labour on account of the limitation of their powers by the Constitution. As we have- failed to secure from the people the right to extend the powers of the Col,rt. it seems to, me that those- who seek to- promote industrial peace must now look for some other means of settling disputes.

Mr Blakeley - The honorable member is doing some fine dirty work for the Government by staving off the motion of censure '.

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member for Darling to withdraw that remark.

Mr Blakeley - Then, I shall say that he has been put up for the especial purpose of preventing the discussion of the censure motion of which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has given notice.

Mr SPEAKER - I ask the honorable member to withdraw the expression to which exception was taken.

Mr Blakeley - I withdraw it, but I would rather have the censure motion, proceeded with.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - All. students of our industrial legislation must have the greatest sympathy with the Court because of the limitation of its powers, . but it is manifest that under present conditions some more speedy means of dealing with industrial troubles is needed to prevent them from reaching' the stage when they are beyond control'. It would have been well for the Commonwealth if, in the days when honorable gentlemen opposite administered its affairs, they had provided means for the speedy settlement of industrial disputes.

Mr Blakeley - I wonder if the prize is to be a seat in the Ministry!

Mr SPEAKER - I ask .the honorable member not to interject.

Mr HECTOR LAMOND - It will be remembered that a, special tribunal was set up to deal with disputes in the coa>lmining industry in 1915. Every one who regards the results of that departure from established custom must admit that it was for the benefit of the whole of the people of this country. On. a subsequent date, when the then Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer (Mr. Watt) intervened in similar circumstances with a view to preventing Australia being thrown into the turmoil of a great industrial dispute during the war, there were considerable criticisms of his action; but I think time has shown that he did a service to the Commonwealth. I am not so much concerned with the methods by which these things are done as with the results achieved when they are done. I stand by the action that the then Acting Prime Minister took when he met the miners in conference and settled that dispute, and so prevented others from being diverted from the work of prosecuting the war, which was then of supreme importance.

To-day we see on every hand evidence that, unless some such effective action is taken by the Government, outside of any action which is possible to .the Arbitration Court in the present congested state of its business, and with its- limited powers, this country may at any day be plunged into another of those great industrial upheavals which cost the people such immense sums of money. It is impossible to overestimate the losses to the working people of the Commonwealth due to industrial troubles that could have been cured had they been taken in hand at the proper time and in the proper way. Speaking with a long experience of these matters, I say it is the imperative duty of the Government immediately to take such steps as will enable the disaffected coal miners to place their case before an independent tribunal which has power to take the . steps necessary to effect a just and reasonable settlement of the questions at issue between the parties.

I am reluctant to discuss the matter as it affects the Arbitration Court to-day at any great length, nor is it necessary that I should do so, but I do ask that the Government may, at the earliest possible moment, provide for this industry a continuing tribunal which shall be able to take notice of troubles in their early stages, before they develop into the serious issues which they so rapidly become, and which shall be able to keep an oversight of' the industry continuously, occupying, as it were, the position of conciliators, trying to 'bring the parties to agreement in the early stages of the conflict. That, it. seems to me, is the principal work of arbitration. We thought when the Conciliation and Arbitration Court was established that conciliation would form tie principal part of its work, but we have lived to see that, owing to the legal technicalities with which the Court is surrounded, and the limited powers it possesses, most of its time is devoted- to matters remote from the issues that cause industrial disputes. So I hope that at this period the Ministry will immediately take into consideration a method of setting up a conciliation tribunal to deal with the coal-mining industry, and that, when that is dealt with, the principle may be extended to other of the larger industries of the Commonwealth, whose welfare- is inextricably bound up with the industrial and commercial life 'of tho community.

Suggest corrections