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Wednesday, 4 August 1920

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The House has already decided that point.

Mr BLAKELEY - If the Prime Minister expects the hearty co-operation of the representatives of Labour in this House, he is going a peculiar way about getting it. If the industrial leaders of Australia attack this Bill, as no doubt many of them will do in its present stage, it will have so bad an effect upon tie measure that it will never do effective work as an Act, except in its application to small industries. I hope that that is not the sole desire of the Government. I hope that they are sincere in their endeavour to bring about true industrial peace. Their first effort in this direction apparently is an extraordinary document to set up four separate tribunals, council?, boards, or committees without giving those concerned the opportunity of discussing the proposal. There has hardly been a Bill introduced in this House since 1917 affecting the rights of employers and vested interests in regard to which those concerned have not been consulted. In 1917 the Pastoralists Union met with due solemnity and decided that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act should be amended. In fact, they drafted a Bill for the purpose, and forwarded it to the Government. That was the first attempt made to get rid of Mr. Justice Higgins, but apparently because of the outcry of honorable members on this side of the House the thing was too hot to hold, and now, instead of brutally saying to Mr. Justice Higgins, " We are dissolving your Court and superseding your Act by another measure. Go back to the High Court ; your job as President of the Arbitration Court is abolished " - instead of following that course a more roundabout method is adopted. Of course, the Prime Minister says very naively that this Bill will merely supplement the Arbitration Court; but I venture to say that immediately an award of that Court is superseded by a decision of a council or tribunal, we shall have the spectacle of an indignant President of the Arbitration Court wanting to know what his position is. In the past four years Mr. Justice Higgins has stood a good deal more than most men would have stood, and I can quite conceive what he would think of his position if a tribunal or council appointed with a Government nominee as chairman, and with representatives of organizations on it, gave a decision superseding an award made by the Court a few months previously. Of course, the President of the Court would resign, and thus all the strategy and planning of the past four years to get rid of his presence in the industrial arena will succeed. In 1917, resolutions poured in from all parts of Australia - from Chambers of Commerce, Chambers of Manufactures, farmers and settlers' organizations, Employers' Federations, and so forth - asking for the immediate removal of Mr. Justice Higgins from the Arbitration Court, and in this House the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Livingston) and the then honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Sinclair) submitted questions antagonistic to that Justice. As a consequence, honorable members of the Opposition were obliged to take a course to counteract this agitation, and extracted the promise that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act would be amended. During the last four years we have moved in this direction no less than four or five times. I myself moved the adjournment of the House twice to deal with the matter, and in 1918, because of a High Court judgment which prevented the Arbitration Court from enforcing its awards, we asked the Prime Minister to amend the Act. It was not done. We also asked that the President of the Court should be given the power to compel the payment of fines, but the National Government would not give us that amendment. We were promised on several occasions by the Prime Minister that the Act would be amended, and on one or two occasions by the then Acting Prima

Minister (Mr. Watt). But the promise has not been fulfilled. Apparently the Government did not intend to carry out its promises. In his second-reading speech upon this Bill the Prime Minister said that the Arbitration Court was too costly and so cumbersome and slow that it might be regarded as having completed its life's work. So far as he was concerned, he said that he could not give it any help. He mentioned that fortytwo unions are now awaiting the hearing of their claims. Whose fault is it? It is the fault of the Government. When I moved the adjournment of the House a few months ago on this very question of congestion in the Arbitration Court we were promised by the Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) that a Deputy President of the Court would be appointed. Mr. Justice Starke was appointed to the Court, and has heard a couple of cases; but there is only he and the President to transact the business, Mr. Justice Powers having gone away. Those two Justices cannot hear all the cases that have been listed, and the Government has done nothing to give them assistance, although some of the cases have been awaiting a hearing for nine months. The Prime Minister says that the machinery of the Court is too cumbersome, and will not work; yet under this Bill only the same powers are given as can be exercised under the existing Act; no new power is conferred.

Mr Maxwell - To what powers do you refer?

Mr BLAKELEY - I am speaking of the powers conferred by virtue of the definition of industrial matters.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The problem is not so much one of powers as of facilities.

Mr.BLAKELEY. - The definition in the Bill reads as follows: - "Industrial matters" includes all matters relating to work, pay, wages, reward, hours, privileges, rights, or duties of- employers or employees, or the mode, terms and conditions of employment or non-employment; and in particular, but without limiting the general scope of this definition, includes all matters pertaining to the relations of employers and employees, and the employment, preferential employment, dismissal, or non-employment of any particular persons, or of persons of any particular sex or age, or being or not being members of any organization, association, or body, and any claim arising under an industrial agreement, and includes all questions of what is fair and right in relation to any in dustrial matter having regard to the interests of the persons immediately concerned and of society as a whole.

The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) and the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) say that that definition is proof positive that everything necessary is provided to enable costs of production, selling prices, and similar necessary information to be obtained. As a matter of fact, it has beencopied word for word, and comma for comma from the existing Act, and according to the High Court there is not now the power to do whatis necessary, although those honorable members claim that it can be done under the Industrial Peace Bill. While the Government were copying from the existing arbitration legislation, they might well have copied those provisions which provide for the representation of organizations. They should not have provided a loop-hole for bogus organizations to get in and crowd out bona fide organizations. Bogus organizations are constantly springing up in this country. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned some of them. They are the tools of the employing class. There was the Machine Shearers Union, which was organized, subsidized, and carried on by the pastoralists in order to break up the Australian Workers Union; and it failed signally. Then there was Packer's Union here, and a bogus union connected with the Brisbane tramways. Scab organizations are even now in existence in some parts of Australia. We had members of this Chamber and of the Senate - ex-Labour men - going round organizing a scab union of waterside workers. There are scab unions in New South Wales to-day, and there were recently scab unions in Western Australia. Under the Bill these organizations, though patently subsidized and kept going by the employers, may get preference over bond fide organizations. It is not necessary even to create a bogus organization to crowd out the bona fide organization. It is possible for the Government, through its nominee, the Chairman, to say who shall be called. At the present time there is a strike in the pastoral industry, and under the Bill some of the tools of the pastoralists could be called before the tribunal. Of course, the workers would not acknowledge the decisions of the tribunal; but it is a fact that the Australian Workers

Union could be disregarded by the tribunal, and unrepresentative persons allowed to pretend to speak for the industry.

Mr Considine - That would not shear the sheep.

Mr BLAKELEY - No ; and it should not be allowed. Had the arbitration law been amended as was promised on halfadozen occasions by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and by Mr. Watt, when Acting Prime Minister, the present strike would not be in progress. My organization, the Australian Workers Union, is fighting - and will win, because it is fighting for a dear principle - to secure a forty-four hours' week. The pastoralists of Victoria, of SouthernRiverina, which is a fairly big slice of New South Wales, and those of West Darling, and of South Australia, have agreed to the forty-four hours' week, with Queensland rates of pay - £2 per 100, and so on; buta few of the pastoralists of New South Wales - I should say less than 30 per cent. of all the pastoralists affected by the new conditions - have allowed themselves to be used by the Chambers of Commerce and Manufactures and the vested interests generally, and are putting up a fight. However, there will be no shearing upon conditions other than those laid' down by the Australian Workers Union, to which practically the whole pastoral industry of Australia has agreed. The Bill provides for councils, tribunals, and Boards. There is to be the Commonwealth Council, consisting of three representatives of the employers and three representatives of the employees, who will not necessarily represent organizations. It is necessary that that should be made clear. I intend to move in Committee that no person shall be allowed to go before these bodies unless representing an organization. There is no industry in Australia that is not covered now by a bond fide organization. To allow the "rag-tag " of the industrial world to pretend to represent the trade unionists, the genuine workers, will not tend to industrial peace. The chairman of the Commonwealth Council is to be appointed by the Government. I am not certain that that is a good thing, though if the Labour party werein power I would say that the provision was a sound one. I am quite frank in that statement. The worker creates all wealth, and, therefore, should have the greatest say as to its disposition. Again, there are district councils, to be nominated by the Government, and to consist of an equal number of employers and employees; on which, again, persons who do not represent organizations may have seats. That is not proper. Only representatives of bona fide organizations should be appointed. Then there are the special tribunals, the chairmen of which are to be elected by the parties if they can agree, failing which, the Government is to make the appointments. I think that the provision relating to the appointment of the chairman of a special tribunal should apply also to the appointment of the chairmen of the Commonwealth Council and of district councils. If it is a good enough provision for the special tribunals which are to be created to meet crises, it is a good enough provision for the other two bodies. Then there are to be local Boards, whose chairmen are to be appointed "as prescribed." I object, as I have done before, to legislating by prescription, or regulation. To provide that the Governor-General in Council may prescribe the manner of appointing the chairmen of local Boards is practically to provide that the Government may nominate them. A local Board is to consist of its chairman, and an employer and an employee, and here again there need be no representation of organizations. It is an extraordinary coincidence that the scheme of this Bill - the various bodies to be created were given different names - was recently given publicity by a body calling itself the " People's Federation of Returned Soldiers and Citizens" of which Mr. Pimentel is president. I do not know whether it is a wing of the National party, though from his speeches I should think that it is.

Mr Jowett - How many wings has the Nationalist party got?

Mr BLAKELEY - The honorable member belongs to one of them. So interesting is the coincidence, that I intend to read Mr. Pimentel's proposals : -

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