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Wednesday, 4 August 1920

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) : - I regret the circumstances in which this Bill was introduced; it resembles very much an infant strangled at its birth. There was some hope of a successful outcome for it if the Government had proved their willingness to meet that body of the community which is directly concerned in the merits and - demerits of this legislation. But the door was practically slammed in the face of the organized forces of labour, and it will be found that they will show great reluctance' to knock again. If the Government had a sincere desire to overcome the difficulties that confront us in the industrial sphere, they would have been only too pleased to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded them here this afternoon. I have been in consultation with leading representatives of organized labour in Melbourne, and I can verify the statement of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), that up till this afternoon they had rather an open mind as to the possibilities of this Bill, although they recognised that its terms are very vague and indefinite, and will require considerable amendment before they will be satisfactory to the great forces of labour. After the experience of this afternoon, however, I am afraid there will exist an atmosphere of suspicion which will render the success of the Bill almost impossible. I have an honest and sincere desire to discover some solution for the very perplexing problem of industrial unrest, but I recognise that the cause of the trouble is . deeply rooted in the present economic ' system. Until such time as we adopt a system which will do greater justice to all parties, and observe the principles of equity to a greater extent than does the present system, and which will prevent avarice and greed taking- advantage of the misfortune of the humbler sections of society, we shall not achieve . that social and economic condition that we are so desirous of inaugurSting. Organized labour must not be regarded as simply a decreasingly important adjunct to the industrial machine, but as a council among councils, with rights and responsibilities. This afternoon, however, there was, practically, an intimation from the Government that it did not recognise that organized labour is entitled to claim any voice in respect to its responsibilities and rights. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) has said that the promotion of strikes is largely attributable to the agitator. If that is the impression of the honorable member, he certainly does not do credit to the working classes. I have been closely connected with industrial organizations since it has been my duty, as a unit of the working classes, to have to shoulder the responsibilities of providing for myself and later those dependent upon me; and I have recognised that the worker is not always prepared to accept the dictum of those who may be regarded, or spoken of, as alleged agitators. Very often the worker is apt to take rather a conservative view, and is very careful in taking any forward steps.In the organization to which I happen to belong, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, before we can take the extreme step which requires the leaving of employment, it is necessary to have a secret ballot, so that the rank and file may be able, without any influence of an undue character, to voice their opinions ; and that principle is observed in the majority of industrial organizations. Industrial unrest is not the consequence of the agitation, or - shall I say ? - the action of what are regarded as alleged - irresponsible individuals, but the consequence of a feeling within the heart and mind of the worker that he 13 subject to conditions that are unjust. We know what the circumstances and conditions of the working classes have been throughout the ages; and those classes recognise that there has been a tightening of the economic conditions under which they labour. They wish to be- free of the conditions which to-day are preventing them from enjoying the higher opportunities and privileges of life. Are there those who still think that the working man cannot appreciate the good things of life as well as can any other person? He does not, however, have the opportunity, nor do his wife and dependants, to avail themselves of these good things. These are among the causes of industrial unrest. It is not because a few 'of advanced ideas speak to a "body of men and get them to follow blindly; it is because the working classes realize that they have been, and are, subject to great imposition - that they are the unfortunate victims of the greed and avarice of the financial and commercial institutions of this and other countries - that they are dissatisfied.

As to the Bill. I would not like to say there are not some redeeming features in it, but its indefinite nature makes it unacceptable to any honorable member on this side, without amendments, to amply protect organized labour.

Mr Austin Chapman - What amendments do you desire?

Mr MAKIN - A number has- been suggested in the course of the discussion. In my opinion, the appointment of the chairmen of the various tribunals, councils, and Boards should be free from any political influence; but the Bill practically gives to the Government the power to select those who are to be the judges in the cases that come forward. We need not endeavour to fool ourselves; we must know well that there are two factions in every community, more materially concerned in legislation of this nature .; there are those who represent the financial and commercial interests, and there are those who represent the workers.

Mr Atkinson - They are not necessarily enemies.

Mr MAKIN - There is a growing feeling that their interests are .diametrically opposed - and' it will require every provision of candour on the part of employers, to bridge that difficulty that has been created. In the political life of the country, there are the representatives of the working classes, the great forces of organized labour, and there are those who are opposed to Labour, and the latter are those who at the present time hold the reins of administration in this country - the Government of to-day. I believe there are men on both sides of the House who have a desire to honorably find a way out of our industrial difficulties ; but I feel that, consciously or unconsciously, the appointments made by these persons will give one side an advantage over the other. That being so, the Bill in this respect is not acceptable to the forces of organized labour.

Mr Austin Chapman - Who should make the appointments?

Mr MAKIN - It would not do any harm if such important appointments were made by the people - if these chairmen were elected just as we are elected to this House.

Mr Jowett - This Government claims to represent the people, because it is the Government in office.

Mr MAKIN - If the members of the Country party had done what might have been reasonably expected of them, the present Government would not now be in a position to claim that they represent anything like the opinions of the people of the country.

Mr Austin Chapman - Would you have trusted their successors to make the appointments ?

Mr MAKIN - Prom what we have seen since the inception of this particular Parliament, I am afraid that the Country party is almost impossible, and that we on this side, and those whom we represent, can look for little from them, so far as concerns the conservation and preservation of the interests of the working classes.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - That is only your opinion.

Mr MAKIN - It is not only my opinion, but the opinion of the great bulk of the community whom we represent; indeed, it almost appears as if there is some honorable understanding between the Government and the Country party when it comes to a vital issue.

Mr Jowett - Do you say "honorable?"

Mr MAKIN - It would be distinctly unparliamentary for me to suggest any other term. A similar Bill to this was introduced in New Zealand just recently with a view to overcoming some trouble that was threatening in the coal industry there; but I believe that it has not provided the desired industrial balm. Then, again, the idea suggested in the Bill is not a new one, seeing that President Wilson introduced a somewhat similar measure in the United States of America during the period of the war; and we know how hopeless things became in America from an industrial stand-point. What is required is some means by which the prices of commodities and the necessaries of life can be fixed at the same time as are wages and conditions. It has been proved that no sooner does the working man obtain an improvement in his wages and conditions, than the advantage is taken away from him owing to the manner in which the cost of living is increased by the commercial institutions of the country.

Mr Jowett - The employer passes it on?

Mr MAKIN - Absolutely, and adds more for himself; and the position thus becomes more acute. The Prime Minister has given us the assurance that this Bill is introduced with the idea of supplementing the Arbitration Court, but clause 17 is a provision for superseding that Court. It reads as follows: -

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.

We ought to be able to establish a medium whereby there will not be so much overlapping.

Mr Fenton - The Arbitration Court should have been given that power long ago.

Mr MAKIN - That is quite correct. If it had been given that power it could have dealt more effectively with the claims before it. The trouble is that there is so much duplication of evidence, which has to be given over and over again when one set ought to be sufficient to enable an award to be made in respect to several claims. The consequence is that it is sometimes two years before an award is given. The organization of which I am a member has had its case prepared for some considerable time past, but has not been able to submit it to the Court, and the possibility is that when it does reach the Court eventually a new set of circumstances may prevail. If we had concentrated our efforts on making the present forms of arbitration more effective by expediting the hearing of and the giving of awards, by enabling the Court to make its decisions more effective by controlling the cost of living, and by eliminating some of the great cost involved in approaching the Court, we would have achieved a greater measure of industrial peace than we have had in recent years.

Mr Austin Chapman - This Bill is intended to avoid a lot of that.

Mr MAKIN - In addition to the great amount of duplication in the hearing of cases, there are so many opportunities for appeal that the continual use of the power to appeal causes awards to be held in abeyance, and the maintenance of this power may be the means of creating greater industrial unrest than we have at the present time. The present position is that arbitration may be regarded as an economic fallacy, because we are endeavouring to smooth out industrial difficulties without removing the causes.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Hear, hear ! We have here a Bill which says, " Come and let us reason together."

Mr MAKIN - But this afternoon the right honorable gentleman was not prepared to give an opportunity for that reasoning. He would not allow organized labour to meet the Government and give them the benefit of their advice and assistance. When we find that at the very inception the Government are not prepared to accept the advice and assistance of the workers, we have cause to doubt their anxiety to find a solution for industrial unrest, and may have cause to believe that there is something behind this Bill which may have the opposite effect. For a long time past the employers in Australia have not been too pleased with compulsory arbitration. I have with me a report of a lecture given by Mr. H. Y. Braddon on compulsory arbitration, in which he was any thing but favorable to the principle. A copy of the lecture was forwarded to honorable members, and the covering letter put forward the statement that " in view of the unsatisfactory experience of compulsory arbitration some alternative method more likely to set up satisfactory relations between capital and labour should be evolved " ; and the Government was urged to call a convention representative of employers and employees. I have come to the belief that this legislation now before us is the outcome very largely of that feeling of dissatisfaction which prevails among Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Manufacturers in the Commonwealth. At a conference held in April last. Mr. H. V. McKay repeated certain words used by the Prime Minister to the effect that the Arbitration Act was perhaps the most unfortunate and futile effort that had ever come out of the laboratory of any industrial workshop, and said the time had arrived for the absolute abolition of the Act.

Mr Blundell - Many tribunals would indorse that opinion, foolishly, I think.

Mr MAKIN - That may be so in regard to arbitration as we have it to-day, because of the congestion at the Court.

Mr Blundell - No, they would indorse it in respect to the principle generally.

Mr MAKIN - I believe that there is a big section of the working community who favour the principle of arbitration, but that alone will not give us a complete solution of our industrial difficulties. Nothing but a change of those circumstances which allow one section of the people to take advantage of the other section, and to impose on them such exactions as merely help to satisfy their greed, will ever give satisfaction to those who have advanced thoughts upon industrial and economic matters.

Mr Jowett - Do you not think a change of spirit will go a long way?

Mr MAKIN - There will need to be a great change, both of mind and heart, on the part of the employers. The working man is the person who has been subjected to grave injustice for many years.

Mr Jowett - There must be a change of spirit on both sides.

Mr MAKIN - Sins of commission are more apparent on the side of the employers and the capitalistic forces generally of this and other countries, than of those whom I represent.

It appears that there is some desire to supersede the Arbitration Court. A feeling of dissatisfaction has prevailed among the employing section with many of the judgments given by Mr. Justice Higgins, and they think this is a favorable opportunity to rid themselves of one who has at least endeavoured to do his part in meting out justice to all sections of the community. This Bill could be made to do a great amount of good if it contained provisions safeguarding the rights of organized labour; but I want honorable members to recognise that it will not overcome all the industrial unrest that prevails, nor do I think it will minimize it to the extent that some honorable members opposite think it will. It gives a splendid opportunity to the one who is charged with administering it to determine its influence either for good on for evil. No doubt the Prime Minister himself will have a great say in the administration of the Act, but opinions have been expressed regarding him which do not fill us with confidence in the success of the measure if he has to administer it. His dictatorial manner does not give us assurance of his success in this capacity. Mr. O. C. Beale, speaking at the same conference of manufacturers as I mentioned earlier, said, " They would agree that all the wisdom of the ages was not contained in William Morris Hughes."

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - What a fearful thing for him to say!

Mr MAKIN - I have no doubt that at one time the honorable member would have agreed with Mr. Beale, and even expressed himself in a more pronounced manner.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I subscribe to every word of that sentence.

Mr MAKIN - The skeleton nature of this Bill is very unsatisfactory. It is certainly the skeleton in the industrial cupboard. The Bill will give little or no opportunity to establish industrial peace, unless it is considerably amended. Those who are to act on the various Judiciaries must be strictly nonpartisan, and free from political influences if they are to command the entire confidence of both sides, and of the public as a whole. Only by these means, and by safeguarding the rights of organized labour, will we have any guarantee of freedom in the future from the conditions which create industrial unrest, uncertainty, and dissatisfaction, most of which arises from the knowledge that justice is not done to those to whom justice is due.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Atkinson) adjourned.

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