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Wednesday, 4 August 1920

Mr BLAKELEY (Darling) .- This may be a small measure, but it will probably prove to be the most important passed 'during this session. I do not know of any other foreshadowed, or likely to be introduced, which will be so farreaching as this Bill, which is intended practically to control the whole of the industries of Australia. It is of no use for any body to imagine that the Arbitration Court will remain in existence after this Bill, has been passed. There will be no such thing as' the Arbitration Court. No Judge in Australia will be prepared to give an award which will be liable to be superseded by an award made on the day following by a body which - by the way - will not be representative of the trade organizations. These tribunals will be a. motley collection, got together . by the Prime Minister himself. The Bill does not provide for the representation of trade union organizations. If there is a " scab " organization^ if there is a small body of men acting in conjunction with the employers, it will be called upon to appoint its representatives on the tribunal. But bond fide organizations will find themselves outside. One thing which may be said in favour of the Arbitration Act, at any rate, is that it provides for the bond fide trade union organizations. If this Bill is passed the safeguards contained in our arbitration legislation will have completely disappeared. The organizations will find themselves in the hands of the Prime Minister. The Government are about to kill the Arbitration Court. It will not be killed by its own defects, but by the Government who, after all, are out not so much to kill the Act itself as to settle the man behind it ; I refer to Mr. Justice Higgins. I warn the Government that unless they have the trade unionists behind them, in agreement upon this measure, it will never work. The Government may pass legislation - coercive or otherwise. They may pass Bills by the hundred, but such actions will get them nowhere. If this Bill is hurried through Parliament, without full and fair opportunity for discussion., iL will be wrecked by the weight of opposition outside. There are twenty-six honorable members in this Chamber directly representative of the great organizations of Australia. All could find,, in the Bill, subject matter sufficient for them to address the House for at least an hour each, and in that time each honorable member could furnish helpful suggestions. But the time to be allowed will not be sufficient to permit of re-drafting in any effective sense. The outcome of this measure will be that four distinct and separate bodies will be able to deal with a dispute. That, on the face of it, -must create confusion. As it now stands, the Bill indicates a desire to hurriedly create something which will bring about the end of the Federal Arbitration Court and substitute something else which will _ be under the control of the Prime Minister. The Arbitration Act, and the Court behind the Act, are to be killed, not because of their defects or demerits, but as an outcome of the Government having allowed as many as forty-two organizations to go before the Court, so congesting and choking it that it is bound to succumb to the very weight of work heaped upon it. If the Government will not provide a sufficient number of Judges to do the work awaiting the Arbitration Court, what is there by way of guarantee that they will not also p slow in the (matter of appointing their chairmen to the various tribunals under this Bill ? I repeat that unless the Government are prepared to fairly meet *' trade unionists of Australia, and to give them an opportunity to forward suggestions, and them to consider and accept those suggestions, the era of direct action will have commenced from the date of the passing of this Bill.

Mr Prowse - Does not the honorable member represent those trade unionists ?

Mr BLAKELEY - I have endeavoured to do so. I am the president of an organization numbering some 112,000 members.. We have been associated with the Arbitration. Court since its inception in 1907. We have done all in< our power to make that Court a workable institution.' Now our members are taking a vital vote - it will be conducted after the passage of this Bill - and I personally will be unable to recommend to them the method of conciliation and arbitration set forth in tue Bill, unless it is considerably amended. The Australian Workers Union may decide this year that they will have nothing more to do with arbitration. They will not accept the principles laid down in this measure. Thus, in one swoop, the Government will have practically compelled more than 112,000 trade unionists to resort to direct action. The coal miners, in their many thousands, have already practically decided upon that course. Then there are the waterside workers, numbering about 15,000. There is a danger that the large organizations may decide that they will have nothing to do with arbitration and conciliation as at present in force, or with this peculiar and cumbersome subterfuge to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins. If the Government are willing to take the responsibility of passing this Bill in a comparatively few hours, they must accept responsibility also for bringing about direct action in this country. In portions of New South Wales members of my organization are compelled, by the defects of the arbitration laws of this country, to take direct action to-day, and they will win a forty-four hour week. The Prime Minister and the members of the National and Country parties should pause before they impose a time limit to this Bill, which will prevent the representatives of industrial organizations discussing the proposals in all their bearings. Unless the workers, who have to live and work under the proposed legislation, are given an opportunity to consider it they will refuse to have anything to do with it. Then the position will be that the ArbitrationCourt will have been set aside, and the Government will have this extraordinary Bill, which could emanate only from the mind of such a man as the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), left on their hands, and nobody taking any notice of it. The Government should not attempt to pass this piece of legislation so quickly. If they insist on treating it as a matter of urgency, those who support them must accept responsibility for the consequences.

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