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


Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) . - The honorable member for Newcastle has put to me a question concerning a matter in regard to which both the employers and employees have had several conferences with me in Sydney; and I ought not to leave the miners any more than the mineowners and the general public in any doubt as to what the Government propose to do. I had not the advantage of hearing the whole of the remarks of the honorable member who moved the adjournment of the House. I am sorry that neither the occasion nor the scope of the motion permits one to deal with the question of remedial industrial legislation as fully as it deserves. It is, in my opinion now, as it always has been, the first question, the great question ; all others are subordinate. It is very evident that, unless production goes on smoothly, neither the financial, political, nor general circumstances of the Commonwealth can be satisfactory.

Honorable members know my views in regard to arbitration. I speak as onewho has had some experience in the Arbitration Court, and has had direct relations, as had the honorable members for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) and Hunter (Mr. Charlton), with the. unions themselves; and I say deliberately, as a result of that long experience, that I am moro than ever convinced that the present arbitration machinery is quite inadequate; and, indeed, unsuited for the purposes of many industries. Further, I cannot see how any alteration of the present machinery of the Arbitration Court - sweeping away this or that obstacle - can enable it . to grapple with the circumstances of an industry of this kind. I am sorry that the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond) has moved the adjournment of the House just at this moment; but, since he has done so I will avail myself of the opportunity to say what I think upon this matter; because every act that I have taken 'in the direction of dealing with disputes which have arisen has been the subject of very severe criticism, not only by the press, but by the President of the Arbitration Court. Now, as practical men, we have to deal with things as they are. Strikes occur. No doubt they ought not to occur ; but, as a fact, they do. And we have to deal with facts as they are. It is no good saying that when there ;is a strike we should sit down and do nothing. Strikes must be dealt with. When I was the leader of great unions I did exactly as I do now. I endeavoured to deal with facts as they existed. It is no good saying to the unions - any more than Canute to the on-coming tide - " Thus far, and no further." We have to deal with facts; and the great fact of the industrial world is industrial unrest, which sometimes, despite every effort at prevention, manifests itself in strikes. We say to the unions, " Here is the Arbitration Court. Enter here; attorn to this jurisdiction; seek remedy for your grievances in a Court where, perhaps, if you are fortunate, you may get ail award in twelve months' time." I repeat what I have already said here. When I was leading tho transport workers, after having tried every other means to secure more speedy redress, and having failed, it became absolutely necessary to strike in. order to get into the Court. The union struck accordingly. And I would act again in the same manner if I were placed in the same position to-day. But if the coal miners were to strike, and remain on strike, what would be the position? They would immediately put themselves out of Court; for the Court, quite properly, has said, " You cannot have strikes and arbitration too." That is true, but one of the reasons for the precipitation of strikes i9 that arbitration is so tardy, the approaches to the Court are so tortuous, the pitfalls so numerous, and the expenses so huge. Conditions may change completely between the date of approaching the Court and the time of securing an award. A union may apply for an award to-day and get no relief until eighteen months' time. Meanwhile, conditions may have drastically changed ; but the union cannot get an award adapted to thenewconditions for the reason that it is limited by its claim. In past instances I have appointed special tribunals to deal with specific cases, and for such actions I have been censured by the press and by His Honour. I do not deserve this censure, because surely it is the duty of a Government to endeavour to, find some means of reconciling industrial parties, and, if existing machinery does not afford such means, then the machinery must be created.


Mr Considine - That is what I wanted you to do the other day, in the matter of the Broken Hill trouble, but you would not do so.


Mr HUGHES - If the honorable member will consent to wait patiently, he will find that I have a general remedy to expound. As matters are now, the coal miners are working under awards or orders made under the War Precautions Act. A special tribunal was appointed under that Statute. The orders regulate the price of coal, the wages to be paid to the miners, and, indeed, all the circumstances of the industry. It was a convenient and flexible tribunal, always ready at the moment when it was wanted. I established this tribunal originally in 1916; and when I was away overseas Mr. Watt dealt further with the matter, and the miners are working under these orders or awards to-day. I am not touching on the merits of the case, but it is now said that circumstances have changed. It is stated, for example, that the lower-paid wageearners, who are receiving the 13s. 6d. rate, cannot make sufficient in. an elevendays' fortnight upon which to live. That is the main point. They cannot get redress in the Arbitration Court for that principal grievance. There is no tribunal but the tribunal created under the War Precautions Act. The latter, however, will shortly expire, and, directly it does-


Mr Ryan - When, will it expire?


Mr HUGHES - I remind the honorable member that I am not responsible for the war in Turkey. I am a Christian. I am making war against the infidel with all my mind and heart ; and if the infidel is not yet finished with, I am very sorry I have no power to accelerate or retard by one day the moment at which the Wax Precautions Act will cease to exist. But, - when it does cease to exist, all the awards dependent on it will also fall to the ground.


Mr Ryan -Is that so ?


Mr HUGHES - Does the honorable member deny it?


Mr Ryan - I do.


Mr HUGHES - Well, the honorable member will remember what Peter did. The fact is so obvious as to require no argument at all. When an award has been made under a Statute, and that Statute has ceased to exist, then the award made thereunder must also come to its end.

Honorable members interjecting,


Mr HUGHES - My time is limited, and I am not going to have it taken up with irrelevant interjections. If the honorable member for West Sydney is not satisfied with my assertion, and persists in his denial, I invite him to go and settle the subsequent procedure with Peter himself.


Mr Considine - Why does not the Prime Minister go and do like that other chap, and make use of a piece of good rope?


Mr Ryan - Yes; what did Judas do?


Mr HUGHES - I do not want to have anything to do with him or with his modern associates. I am trying to expound a point which, I feel sure - whatever honorable members' attitudes maybe on other questions - will be admitted as being appropriate for consideration in and by this Chamber. In my opinion, the coal trade cannot be dealt with by existing legal machinery for the settlement of industrial disputes. It musthave machinery set up which will be flexible, suited to all the circumstances of the industry, and ready at any and every moment to deal with every passing phase of unrest. ' That hypothesis involves the establishment of a special tribunal. It means, amongst other things, the appointment of a tribunal specifically to settle disputes and interpret awards or agreements in and for the coal trade only. Why not? Is there any good reason why there should not be such a tribunal? None whatever! The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) stated that the coal-mining industry was a basic industry. If we had no coal there would be an end to all manufactures, an end to the commercial and industrial activities of the country. And, therefore, it is worth while for us to endeavour, as far as possible, to bring about for that industry complete and lasting industrial peace.

Let me describe for honorable members the kind of tribunal which I believe in; and I wish them to think the matter over, because a Bill will be introduced next week to give effect to these ideas. I believe in a tribunal based somewhat on the lines of the shipbuilding tribunal. There is a body on which both sides are represented; and there is a chairman also. I do notsay for one moment that, in addition to a tribunal to deal with the coalmining industry as a whole, subordinate tribunals should not be appointed to deal with various parts of the New South Wales coal fields and, indeed, the scattered coal centres, no matter in what part of Australia. But I am speaking of the general principle. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The tribunal which deals with the shipbuilding industry frequently issues two and three awards in one week. As they come before me I read these decisions of my friend, Mr. Connington, with the greatest pleasure.They are models of what judgments in industrial matters ought to be. And, after all, the objective of all such legislation is to get and keep an industry going, and the outstanding fact is that the shipbuilding tribunal has kept the industry going ; which is the very best commendation one could utter.


Mr West - Does the Prime Minister know the reason why it is successful ? It is because the "devil's brigade" - the lawyers - are kept out.


Mr HUGHES - I do not think that is the only reason. There are others, but it is not proposed that lawyers shall have access to the tribunals which I intend to create. I must say this on behalf of my much maligned profession, however, that I havefound, when lawyers have been excluded from the Court's, that there has arisen a class of men, with regard to whom I am bound to associate the phrase cacocthes loquendi. They talk and talk and talk; and I am sure that no lawyer on earth could talk more fully or fervently. There is one such individual in particular whom I have in mind. He attends the Arbitration Courts in New South Wales. He is not a lawyer; but let anybody endure him, as I have had to do, for an hour, two hours, and three hours; and - well, Patrick Henry said, " Give me liberty or give me death." The American patriot did not know that there was a third alternative, namely that of having to suffer' the eloquence of gentlemen such as these. [Extension of time granted on motion byMr. Watkins.]


Mr HUGHES - I shall conclude in a very few words. The Government proposes next week to bring in a Bill for the creation of special tribunals for the control of different industries. These tribunals will comprise an equal number of employers and employees, presided over by a chairman. They will have jurisdiction over disputes and over the circumstances of particular industries. They may partake of the form of the shipping tribunal which is always available, so that, in the case, for instance, of the mining industry, if any dispute occur and a stoppage of work be threatened, there will always be ready to hand a tribunal! to which the miners and the mine-owners may turn. The shipping tribunal does settle in this way disputes such as demarcation troubles, the question as to which trade shall do this work or that work, and other similar differences. They thread their way through troubles which would puzzle a Philadelphian lawyer, and they keep the industry going. This legislation will be introduced next week, in order to enable me to give effect to my promise to the coal miners if they agree to the terms put forward by me for the appointment and jurisdiction of this special tribunal.


Mr Considine - Will this be compulsory!


Mr HUGHES - The tribunal may be clothed with all the powers necessary to make its decisions effective, and so far as the calling of the parties together -


Mr Considine - Doyou intend to follow the lines of the Arbitration Act ?


Mr HUGHES - It is not fair to ask me at this stage to deal with this matter other than in general terms. It is the intention of the Government to introduce this measure next week, so that I may keep faith with the miners and do all that is possible to prevent strikes, because that is the problem which we are up against. The War Precautions Act might go out any day. Certainly it will soon cease to be operative, so that if no other provision be made the miners will be left in mid-air again. Nobody will pretend that there is not something about coal raining that breeds a good deal of discontent. And that is only natural. I suspect that if I were a coal miner myself I should be at the head of all this agitation. I am notifying honorable members generally, and particularly the representatives of the coal-mining industries, the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond), the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), of the intentions of the Government to create special tribunals to deal with all disputes that cannot be, or are not, dealt with by the Arbitration Court. This should not be regarded as a reflection on the Arbitration Court at all. That Court has . done excellent work, but, in my opinion, it is not flexible, speedy, or economical enough to serve the varying circumstances of many industries in this country.







Suggest corrections