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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Min ister and Attorney-General) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

I need hardly remind honorable members that the industrial problem, which has been a very considerable one during these many years, has been intensified as a result of the great world war. The problem is world-wide. It manifests itself in every country. In essence it is the same everywhere, though in different countries it is manifested in different ways. In this Commonwealth where Labour has, owing to organization, political and industrial, been able to exercise considerable influence, it has been a problem which has engaged the attention of the Commonwealth and State Legislatures for very many years. By general consent at the present time it is recognised as a problem which imperatively demands the attention of all citizens, and, if possible, some solution.

There was a time when, with others, I thought that industrial unrest could be, I will not say swept away, but rendered comparatively innocuous by recourse to those remedies which this and other Legislatures have tried. But we have been chastened by experience, and have come to see that industrial unrest is at once the price that the world is paying for progress, and the punishment from which the world is suffering as the fruits of a system which in the past failed utterly to recognise the basic factors of production.

I am not going to trouble the House with many more generalities, but I have always held that production was not a matter which concerns the individual only. It is primarily a collective function. Society is vitally concerned in production, both in its capacity as a producer and a consumer, and. it is not proper that individuals - whether they be employers or employees is immaterial - should carry on production without regard to the welfare of the community as a whole.

Honorable members are well aware that we have had on the statute-book of the Commonwealth for many years an Act for the settlement of industrial disputes by means of a Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. They know very well what our constitutional power is in regard to industrial matters. In the early days of this Commonwealth' members of this Parliament were under the impression that our powers were much wider than the High Court has since decided them to be. It is now quite clear that the powers of the Commonwealth in relation to industrial matters are covered entirelyby the words of paragraph xxxv. of section 51 of the Constitution, which reads as follows: -

Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.

I need not remind honorable members that this power is a very restricted and unsatisfactory one. Very many attempts have been made to widen it, but unsuccessfully. Even at the present time the High Court, in considering a case, has delivered important dicta which seem likely to materially affect our powers under this section. These dicta, as far as I have been able to gather, widen our power.

Mr Ryan - Very much.

Mr HUGHES - They widen our power so far as it has relation to State instrumentalities. We need not consider this phase of the matter further at this juncture, but it is proper, I think, that passing reference should be made to it in order that honorable members may clearly understand both the foundation on which our power rests and its limitations.

Under the power given to the Commonwealth by paragraph xxxv. of section 51 of the Constitution, we have created an Arbitration Court with a President and a Deputy. This Court has done excellent work; but the present position of the Court is one of great congestion. The methods of the Court are now, and always have been, cumbrous in the extreme. Normally the procedure is, first of all, for the organization concerned to file a plaint. This, in some cases, means that hundreds of employers have to be served throughout the Commonwealth. The Builders' Labourers case is a glaring example of how far this can go. After the plaint has been filed, and the other party or parties notified, the case is then set down for hearing. The case may not come before the Court for many months. The present position of the Court is that there are forty-two cases on the list, and that despite the fact that two Judges have been sitting almost continuously. As honorable members are aware, unions have had to wait for very many months before securing a hearing of their case. In some cases from the time the plaint is filed until the case is decided a year and more may elapse. The hearing of cases is often very protracted. There are many reasons for this. Oneis that the Judge is necessarily unfamiliar with the trade or industry whose conditions he is called upon to settle. All this delay, it is very obvious, makes for industrial unrest.

There are two ways of settling industrial disputes. One is direct action - that is the strike; the other, recourse to some form of peaceful adjustment by agreement between the parties, or by arbitration. In the Commonwealth we have hitherto had recourse to the machinery provided by the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, with which honorable members are familiar. We should be doing the Arbitration Court a grievous wrong to say that it has not done great service to this country; but no one will deny that experience has shown that for many reasons it is not the ideal instrument for the settlement of disputes. Now, -if honorable members contrast this cumbrous procedure of the Court, its ineffective and expensive methods of settling disputes, with the expeditious methods of such a body as the shipbuilding tribunal, they must admit - if they bring an impartial mind to bear on the matter - that Parliament would be wrong if it did not indicate in the plainest manner possible that it was of the opinion that industrial unrest was more likely to be allayed and disputes settled by such tribunals than by the Court. The tribunal in question has been in existence for about two and a half years, and has given about 286 decisions. That is to say, it has settled 286 disputes. And it has not only settled all disputes arising in the industry, but has maintained unbroken industrial peace in the industry. It has done this in the face of certain conditions to which a great number of unionists were very much opposed. The basic conditions of the . shipbuilding agreement were continuity of employment, piece-work, and dilution of labour. Honorable members know how strongly organized labour opposed the introduction of piece-work and the dilution of labour. Yet looking back over the two and a half years that have gone, we see that industrial peace has been maintained. For all practical purposes, there has been no break in the continuity of employment. And having had two and a half years' experience of the tribunal the unions, now that the period is approaching when this agreement will expire, have requested that it shall be renewed. Sufficient has been said, then, to show that the tribunal has done most excellent work. Its record speaks for itself. But not only does the Arbitration .Court suffer by comparison with the tribunal 'by its failure to deal with cases expeditiously and economically, but also for the reason that it has been unable to settle some disputes at all. We have to face the fact that, despite every effort .that may be made to preserve industrial peace, strikes may occur. It is true that, these may not be strikes within the meaning of the Act. The public, however, are not concerned with names, but with things; not with shadows, but with realities. The Arbitration 'Court has failed to settle some very serious strikes which have paralyzed this community. This was particularly shown in the seamen's dispute. The men made certain demands, and, as they were not conceded, they went on strike. A compulsory conference was called by the President of the Court. No agreement was arrived at. The President has laid it down that unions cannot have strikes and arbitration, and that he will not deal with a dispute until the men involved have returned to work. I am not going to criticise .that attitude; it is very logical and very -proper. But it leaves the community in a most unfortunate position, because when the President of the Arbitration Court says, "I shall not hear you until you get back to work," and the men say, " We will not go back to work until you hear us " - for that is, in effect, what they do say - the strike goes on and the community suffers. As I have said, and as honorable members well know, the Arbitration Court failed to settle this dispute. A conference was called by the Government, and an agreement was arrived at after a stoppage covering some five months. Then, in the coal miners' case, the machinery of the Arbitration Court failed to bring about industrial peace, and another tribunal had to be provided. This was, in . one of its aspects, at any rate, under the War Precautions Act ; and the coal-miners to-day are working under an agreement arrived at as the result of a round-table conference. That agreement is enforced by a regulation under the War Precautions Act which precludes the employers from increasing the price of coal without the consent of the Commonwealth Government. During the past three or four weeks I have had no fewer than three conferences with the coal-miners and the mine-owners. The miners desire an alteration of existing conditions. The agreement itself expires, I think, in October or November this year. But the conditions of some of the lower paid day wage men are such that, with the high cost of living, it is, they contend, impossible for them to live on the wage they now receive under the existing agreement. They demand redress. When referred to the Arbitration Court they decline to go. I express no opinion about their attitude. I deal with the facts. They want a tribunal, and are willing to attorn to a tribunal subject to certain conditions, and to submit all their grievances thereto, including that which relates to the lower paid wage men. This Bill will enable us to appoint a tribunal clothed with all the powers possessed by the Commonwealth.

Another instance may be cited wherein the Arbitration Court failed to settle a de facto strike; I refer to the dispute between the marine engineers and their employers. The men would not go to the Arbitration Court. There was no machinery, other than that provided. by the War Precautions Act by which a tribunal could be created. Honorable members know that for six or eight weeks the shipping of this country was dislocated, and many industries were most seriously affected, because there were no legal means by which the parties could be brought together. No decision binding on the parties could be given by any tribunal appointed under the powers of the Commonwealth under the Constitution. That dispute was settled as the outcome of conferences and by the action of the Government. During the war the Government was able to exercise powers given to it under the War Precautions Act to deal with many disputes and with many matters which, ordinarily, it could not touch. This War Precautions Act, about the genesis and exodus pf which-

Mr Tudor - There has been no exodus.

Mr HUGHES - There will be an exodus: This Act, concerning the genesis and exodus of which diverse opinions have been expressed in this Chamber, will ultimately disappear. Many times I have said, and I say it again, that, in my opinion, any regulations relating to matters which are not clearly the aftermath of war and necessary to give effect to acts done during the war, but which could not be completed while the war continued, would be held by the Courts to be ultra vires. However, I put that aside. We are desirous of creating machinery about the legality and constitutionality of which there shall be no dispute. We are faced now with a position which demands action. ' It is useless denouncing direct action and urging men to seek legal redress for their industrial grievances unless the means of redress are ready to hand speedily and economically. In. .the case of the coalmining industry a tribunal has been promised to the men. Whether the men will accept the kind of tribunal that the powers of this Commonwealth, will give them is another matter; hut certainly they will not attorn to the jurisdiction of the Court. Then the agreement with the unions engaged in shipbuilding is about to come to an end. The Commonwealth is faced with the position that unless it has power to create a tribunal which will exercise the functions of the present tribunal, the shipbuilding industry cannot proceed. The men will not work unless that tribunal, or one similar to it, is continued. That is one of the vital conditions which the unionists demand. In these circumstances, if there were no other reasons for introducing the Bill at the present juncture than the position which obtains in the coal-mining and shipbuilding industries, the Government would be amply justified in bringing it forward. But, in my opinion, our experience of the shipbuilding tribunal warrants an extension of this principle to other industries. I believe that tribunals of this kind, flexible, convenient, expeditious, and economical,. are much more likely to promote industrial peace,' and prevent industrial turmoil, than is the. Arbitration Court as it exists to-day. I shall return to these tribunals presently ; but when I ask honorable members to consider the general position of the industrial world they will recognise that something more is required than the power to appoint industrial tribunals to deal with industrial disputes if we are to bring about industrial peace. It has been said that what is really necessary is that the parties to industrial disputes should get together. I think that that is a very wise saying. At present the machinery for bringing them together is inadequate. The parties naturally view each other with suspicion, and they have a perfect right to do so. The employers sometimes think that the causes of industrial unrest He with the men. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The causes of industrial unrest are inherent in_ society. The honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) mentioned that fact the other, evening. If I may say soy the causes of industrial unrest are inherent - in something even more permanent than society - they are inherent in human nature.

Mr Considine - And human nature is the product of society.

Mr HUGHES - Human nature is a very curious and wonderful thing. The inability of men to recognise that any cause but their own is founded upon justice has been a distinguishing trait of mankind from the beginning. It may be said, therefore, with safety that one of the best methods of allaying suspicion, and of promoting harmony, is to bring the opposing parties together. For all sensible men must recognise the fact that without the hearty co-operation of labour it is impossible to secure industrial peace. Further, we must realize that labour, not only in Australia, but in other countries, has now reached a point where it will demand that recognition. But as things stand now, suitable machinery for bringing the parties together and for recognising the status of labour as a full partner in production does not exist. This Bill creates this machinery. Provision is made for the establishment of a central and of district councils, composed of an equal number of representatives of employers and employees. The functions of these councils will be of an advisory character. Their purview will cover the whole industrial sphere. They will consider the causes of industrial unrest, they will suggest remedies, and they will endeavour, either by joint or several action, to promote the peaceful settlement of existing disputes. Let me take a case which will serve to illustrate the usefulness of councils such as those of which I speak. There is connected with the Melbourne Trades Hall a body which has been in existence for some time, and which is called the Industrial Disputes Committee. That committee has done very good, indeed excellent, work. It is composed of men who, for the most part, are not directly concerned in the disputes which they attempt to settle. Their function is to endeavour to bring the parties to any dispute together. They do not preach industrial turmoil, but strive to bring about peaceful settlements. But they have no legal status. The law does not recognise them, and they are unable to approach the Legislature direct with their advice. Under this Bill it is proposed to make use of such a body as that, and by adding to it a similar number of employers' representatives, to create a council - by whose influence and aids the warring parties shall be brought together, their differences adjusted, and the wheels of industry kept moving, or, if arrested, put in motion again. This measure, then, provides for two things quite distinct in their nature. The first is the establishment of Councils of Industry, whose business is to survey the whole industrial sphere, to consider what are the basic causes of industrial unrest, and to suggest remedies to the appropriate body. Where a tribunal is necessary to settle a dispute, this Council may suggest one. Where a round-table conference is desirable, the Council may recommend one, and the Governor-General will thereupon call it together. There will be one Grand Council for the Commonwealth and one District Council' for each State, composed in each instance of an equal number of the representatives of organized labour and of organized capital or of employers. They will be given legal status. They will receive fees. Their business will be to advise the Government and the parties as to what ought to be dome. That is the first objective which the Bill seeks to attain. Its second aim is to create machinery by which special tribunals may be appointed to settle de facto disputes, to prevent disputes occurring, and to call compulsory or round-table conferences between the parties concerned. These special tribunals will have a chairman mutually agreed upon, or, if the parties fail to agree upon his selection, appointed by the Government. At the present moment the Broken Hill dispute is, I hope, in a fair way to be settled by a tribunal which, in essence does not differ from those proposed in this Bill, The tribunal to which I have referred is composed of an equal number of representatives of both parties, and of a chairman selected by the Premier of New South Wales and myself. The machinery provided in the Bill for the establishment of these tribunals is -very elastic, and is adaptable to all the circumstances of industrial troubles. Take an industry in which, perhaps, there are more possibilities of unrest than are to be found in any other - I refer to the coal-mining industry. It is obvious that it is vital to the community that there shall be industrial peace in the coal-mining industry. It is abundantly clear that industrial peace cannot be assured in this industry by the Arbitration Court alone. A tribunal which is composed of an equal number of representatives of both parties, with an impartial chairman, is much more likely to bring about an agreement which will be mutually acceptable than is the Arbitration Court. Honorable members, I am sure, appreciate the advantages of a tribunal upon which the parties who are charged .with the' discussion of a dispute understand matters first hand. Such a tribunal attached to the coal-mining industry will be a step in the right direction. But, obviously, one tribunal will not be sufficient to deal with the whole industry. In this Bill, therefore, provision is made for the appointment of local tribunals, whose function it will be to attach themselves to districts, or even to mines, for the purpose of dealing with local disputes as they arise. It frequently happens that disputes occur consequent upon the action of wheelers or. of boys in a mine, with the result that the whole of the employees in it become idle, and there is no tribunal on the spot to deal with the trouble. In the .shipbuilding industry, in which there are endless possibilities of disputes owing to demarcation troubles, the tribunal is at hand and deals with the trouble right away. I commend this measure to honorable members because it is one which by reason of its "elasticity, the expeditious way in which it will permit disputes to be dealt with, the personnel of the tribunals which are to be established, and of all the attendant circumstances, is much more likely to promote industrial peace than is our present arbitration system. No doubt these tribunals will, to a certain extent, overlap the Arbitration Court, but their jurisdiction is limited by the proviso to clause 15 -

Provided that no dispute as to which a plaint is pending in the Court, and the hearing has commenced, shall be referred to a special tribunal.

All other disputes- are referable to special tribunals. But clause .17 provides -

Notwithstanding anything in this Act, if a special tribunal is satisfied that abnormal circumstances have arisen which affect the fundamental justice of any terms of an award made by the Court, the tribunal .may set aside or vary any terms so affected.

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