Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 5 August 1920


Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- We are discussing a motion for the second reading of a Bill for securing industrial peace; but the honorable member for the Barrier (Mr. Considine) has made it painfully clear that, no matter what our efforts may be, no matter what provision we may place upon the statute-book, there will not be industrial peace, so far as he is concerned - and I suppose there are many who think with him - until the whole of the economic conditions of the world have been changed, and our present social system is destroyed. If that were so, no legislation, however mature, could hope to be effective, and we should be wasting our time in discussing the Bill. Our experience of the Commonwealth arbitration laws, it seems to me - and there are many thinking people of the same opinion - is that they have not been a success. When arbitration was first proposed in Australia, we were told that it would bring about industrial peace, because it would provide an opportunity for the parties to disputes to come together, and by arbitration avert strikes; but that has not been the result. In the administrationof the Commonwealth arbitration laws many constitutional difficulties have arisen, and the trouble thus caused has been accentuated by the endeavour to bring before the Federal Arbitration Court dispntes which could not be said, except by a great stretch of imagination, to extend beyond the limits of a State. Notwithstanding that there have been arbitration courts in most of the States, created by State legislation, the industrialists have insisted on going to the Federal Arbitration Court, which has been more expensive and more difficult to approach than any of the State courts. When the Labour party was in power in Western Australia, it set up what it declared to be the best Arbitration Court in the world, and it was satisfied that a panacea for industrial troubles had been found. Yet the industrialists of that State, following the example of those of Queensland and other States, have endeavoured to drag their cases before the Federal Arbitration Court. This has made for expense, and has caused a considerable over-lapping of jurisdiction between the Federal, and State Courts.


Mr Gabb - I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.']


Mr GREGORY - The processes of the Federal Arbitration Court were soon found to be burdensome, and there was considerable delay in obtaining decisions from it. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has told us that in some instances the bringing of cases before the Federal Court has meant that hundreds of employees throughout the Commonwealth have had to be served with summonses, and he cited the Builders' Labourers case as a glaring example of how far this evil went. I know that when the Wharf Labourers case was before the Court witnesses were brought from every part of Australia, with the result that the costs of one party to the dispute came to over £20,000. Of course, it is the public which in the long run has to pay for this expensive litigation. In my opinion, the Bill will accentuate the constitutional difficulties. It is provided that-

This Act shall be read and construed subject to the Constitution and so as not to exceed the legislative power of the Commonwealth, to the intent that where any enactment thereof would, but for this section, have been construed as being in excess of that power, it shall nevertheless be a valid enactment to the extent to which it is not in excess of that power.

That provision reads like an invitation to disputants to bring cases which might be heard by a State Court before the Federal Court. I do not like the Bill. One feature of it which seems to me bad is the introduction of political influence. For example, the chairmen of the boards are to be appointed by the Governor-General, which means the Government of the day. I have no sympathy with that provision. In my opinion, all the tribunals established for the settlement of industrial disputes should be placed as far as possible outside the political arena.


Mr Austin Chapman - Who should make the appointments?


Mr GREGORY - The Chief Justice, or the President of the Arbitration Court.


Mr Austin Chapman - How are they appointed ?


Mr GREGORY - Their appointment is a different matter. A gentleman holding the position of President of the Arbitration Court must realize that that position is one of great responsibility.


Mr Austin Chapman - So is that of a Minister.


Mr GREGORY - But the first «are of the Minister is to please Parliament and the public. I hope that in Committee the Bill will bc amended in such a way that these appointments shall not be political. Nearly two years ago we were promised an amendment of the arbitration law which, as was then patent to all, had been largely a failure. Arbitration has done some good, but to my mind the Court, as constituted, is largely responsible for the industrial discontent of the day. I am a believer in an Arbitration Court constituted on the lines of the Wages Board system, and I am glad that honorable members opposite are beginning to think with me on that matter.


Mr Hughes - Who appoints the chairmen of the Wages Boards?


Mr GREGORY - I think that the only State in which there are Wages Boards is Victoria. '


Mr Bell - There are Wages Boards in Tasmania.


Mr Riley - And in New South Wales. There we have both arbitration and a Wages Board system.


Mr GREGORY - The Wages Board system, has always appealed to me. I think that the chairmen of such Boards should be appointed by a Court rather than by a Government. Although an Arbitration Act was in force in Western Australia, there was not until some few years ago an appeal to the Court by the miners of Kalgoorlie, because industrial agreements had been made between them and the mine-owners, and had been registered in the Court as industrial agreements between worker and employer.


Mr Mathews - Under that system, disputes are settled with one employer, but left unsettled elsewhere.


Mr GREGORY - The United States Government has at various times sent Commissioners throughout the world to inquire into and report on social economic, and industrial matters. Ten or twelve years ago a Special Commissioner was sent to Great Britain and to. Germany.. His report contained a long account of the industrial conditions prevailing among, the miners of Durham. It was pointed out that,, although there was no law regulating those conditions, a central council had been formed, on which there was an equal number of employers and employees, and that there were similarlyconstituted district councils. A dispute was referred in the first instance to a district council, and matters on which the district council couldnot agree were referred to the central council. If the central council could not agree, its points of difference were referred to a Justice of the High Court of England, who was specially appointed by those connected with the mining industry of Durham, and on every occasion his decision was accepted; so that there had not been a strike or lockout in the industry for over twenty years. I think that the Durham system was the basis ofthe Wages Board system of Victoria.


Mr Mathews - We had a Wages Board system here twenty years ago.


Mr GREGORY - The system I have been describing was being followed fifteen years before. The Prime Minister said the public were not concerned with names but with things, not with shadows but with realities. It is with that fact in view that I wish to speak to-day, for I want to deal with realities. It is my intention to move, later, to the effect that this Bill shall have a life of only twelve months. At the conclusion of that period Parliament should be in a position to review the Act in. order to ascertain how it. has. worked ; and, if it is concluded that the Statute has not proved effective, honorable members should demand an amendment of the Arbitration Act - which, in any case, is absolutely essential. I cannot understand why there has not been a conference between the employersand employees. I believe the Prime Minister has done his best to get the parties to come together.


Mr Hughes - I invited them to meet; but, if they will not come together, I cannot help it, or do anything further in that direction.


Mr GREGORY - At the same time, I feel satisfied that the Prime Minister has had proposals from both parties.


Mr Hughes - I have not.


Mr GREGORY - I have been given to understand so, at any rate. And I am convinced that the Prime Minister has had proposals from the Employers Federation for the amendment of the Act.


Mr Hughes - Oh, yes !


Mr Riley - That is very interesting.


Mr Hughes - The honorable member for Dampier referred to proposals from both parties. I have not had proposals from both sides.


Mr GREGORY - Surely it is rights and urgently right, that some means shall be adopted in order to secure, if possible, a measure of industrial peace.


Mr Hughes - This is, the measure.


Mr GREGORY - The Federal Arbitration Act, has built up industrial unrest.


Mr Riley - Nonsense ! All that is in the Bill has been taken from the Arbitration Act itself.


Mr GREGORY - I would remind honorable members that after the Scottish Commissioners had visited Australia they reported that they had never seen, in any country of the world, such animosity displayed between employers and employees, as in Australia.


Mr Hughes - If the Scottish people were first to put the Clyde in order they would be better qualified to speak.


Mr GREGORY - That may be so.. I merely remind honorable members of the criticism. I am pleased that so many honorable members, including the Prime Minister himself, who foryears have been voicing their belief in the Arbitration Court, are now coming round to a belief in the method of round-table conferences - in other words, the Wages Boards system. That is what the Prime Minister now believes in; but it is not what he advocated some years ago.


Mr Hughes - The Arbitration Act was brought in by a. Liberal Government, when I was on the Opposition side of the House.


Mr GREGORY - The fact remains that the great majority of those who formerly supported the Arbitration Court have now swung round to favour the Wages Boards system.


Mr Lazzarini - Will not the honorable member admit that the only failure of the Arbitration Court has been in regard to its congestion ?


Mr GREGORY - Not a bit of it ! I have to make a far more drastic criticism, namely, 'that after an organization 'has secured . an award it can 'turn round - if that award does not suit it - rand tell the Court" Go, . hang ! "I . maintain that if one section -of the community is to render itself . liable for . disobedience of an award lof the Arbitration . Court, the other isection -should ibe treated similarly. . As . matters stand, however, the wliole /position is -monstrous.


Mr Hughes - How is the honorable gentleman going to do all this . that he . is advocating ? If . the miners . come out on strike, what would he propose to do with them?

Mr.GREGORY. - If any . organization, no . -matter swhether it -represents emjployeror employee, has been , given the fright . to go before the Arbitration Court to secure an award, it should be made compulsory for that body to abide iby . the decision . of the 'Court.


Mr Hughes - But suppose that the organization refuses ito do so.


Mr GREGORY - Why . should an obligation be placed upon one . side only,?


Mr Hughes -There is no more . compulsion placed upon ione side than upon the other.

Mr.GREGORY. - That is absurd and incorrect, and the actual position is grossly 'unfair.


Mr Lazzarini - Have not unions Ibeen frequently penalized iby way of heavy fines for disobeying awards of the Court-?

Mr.GREGORY.- The honorable member knows just how much notice is taken 'of an 'award if a union is dissatisfied with it. It is preposterous for honoratfbTe --members opposite to imagine 'tha't they are the sole representatives of labour, and . that honorable members on this side do not represent labour at all. "We attend the National Parliament with -a keen desire" to try 'to improve the conditions of the workers. If we give to any body the right to secure benefit under the Arbitration Act, we should also provide, and insist on, obligations.


Mr Hughes - Well, there are certain o'bligations to-day; and, so far as the law can 'enforce them, we -shall see that those obligations are honoured. 'We cannot go beyond that. We -cannot kill any one who 'refuses to obey an award.


Mr GREGORY - The fact remains that, if -a section of -the community is 'dissatisfied with its conditions of la'bour it can appeal, first, to . a iState Arbitration '.Court; if it is not : ccmtent with the 'award of that Court, it can state a case before the Federal Arhitration Court; then, if the union as still dissatisfied, it can go before a 'Special tribunal. The trouble is that, . even then, the body . concerned -need not comply . with the award of the tribunal. And, moreover, there are no penalties provided for disobedience.

Mr.Hughes. - That is not an accurate presentation of the position, but J would remind . the honorable member that this Bill does not provide . anything "such as -he suggests.

Mr.GREGORY.- Let 'us take, as an -example, -.the case of a certain . union which . has the right to go before a State Arbitration Court. It 'does so, font is diissatisfied wilh the award. What is . there to prevent -that . body from going -before the Federal Court?

Mr.Hughes. - Such a situation exists to-day.


Mr GREGORY - The Prime Minister has referred to the builders' labourers. The organization controlling those -employees has now arranged to appeal to the Federal Arbitration '-Court. When the Constitution was framed, it was never considered that cases of that ikind would come before the Federal Court. It was only in regard to . shipping, /and to 'Other matters absolutely Inter-State in their incidence, that the Federal Court -was expected to he . made available. Such an organization as the builders' labourers was never -dreamed 'of ; as having right of access. What is urgently required is an amendment 'of the Federal Arbitration Act ; "and that is what the Prime Minister promised. T : know, of course, that he has had an arduous "time.


Mr Hughes -The honorable member's reference to my promise is quite in1 accordance with fact. The Bill will be introduced as soon as an opportunity is afforded.

Mr.Riley. - Meanwhile, what does the honorable member suggest?


Mr GREGORY - That we get right down to bedrock. Let us try to convene a conference between representatives of organized labour and of the employers' organizations. Let us see if it is not possible to get down to the groundwork of some measure which will prove satisfactory to all parties. Of course, it is not to be expected that these representatives, coming together around a table, will be able to agree on all points. I am justified in saying that every honorable member opposite, when assisting to place legislation upon the statute-book, does so with a view to being strictly fair to every section of the community.


Mr Riley - Suppose that the honorable member calls his conference, and that the delegates do not agree.


Mr GREGORY - Then, at any rate, something will have been secured. The conference will have deliberated ; its members will have stated their views. Then, it should be for members of this Parliament to come together as arbitrators and place something on the statute-book, as an outcome of those deliberations, which will prove of some service, at any rate, in the direction of industrial peace.


Mr Austin Chapman - The honorable member, really, is strongly in favour of this Bill.


Mr GREGORY - Nothing of the kind. I intend to vote against it.


Mr Austin Chapman - But the honorable member is advocating what this Bill proposes to do.


Mr GREGORY - That is not so. I have studied the measure carefully, and I feel dubious of its outcome. I do not see how it is going to help. It may possibly enable certain present difficulties to be overcome, but I have no sympathy with methods recently adopted by the Government in connexion with industrial disputes, and I do not like legislation being brought forward which does not attempt to redress an admittedly bad Act. I do not think it behoves the Government to interfere except by way of taking legislative action, in any industrial matter. I object to the Government appointing boards and tribunals to deal with industrial troubles as they arise. It should not be forgotten that everything done in this direction creates a precedent; and goodness knows what the result of these precedents may be under another Administration .


Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member must admit that the Arbitration Act has been a failure.


Mr GREGORY - I certainly do ! An examination of figures furnished by Mr.

Knibbs reveals ah alarming growth of industrial trouble during the past few years. Honorable members should not forget that the enormous losses in wages do not begin and end with the wage-earners, but are harmfully reflected upon the whole community. It is time that a very special effort was made to put an end to the presci t state of affairs.


Mr Hughes - It was in 1915 that .1 brought this same matter before some of my colleagues. We discussed it, and it was considered quite a good idea. I discussed it, moreover, with some of the unions at that time. I say that the scheme set forth in the Bill is the best I know of. The honorable member says there is some better scheme. Will he let the House know what it is? Then we can proceed to knock the inside out of this Bill and graft his scheme into it.


Mr GREGORY - That sounds ail very well.


Mr Hughes - The honorable member knows full well that there is now a possibility of a coal strike. The miners have said that they Will not go before the Federal Arbitration Court. The honorable member cannot make them go there. The miners will not attorn to any tribunal unless it be a special kind of tribunal. I want to prevent a strike.


Mr GREGORY - On the other hand, there have been several disquieting instances of interference by the Government. These things have been patent to the Prime Minister for the last two years; and the action he took on those occasions has accentuated industrial unrest. What we have to consider is whether it is wise to try to bolster up the Arbitration Act in this way, or whether it would not be better to bring forward an amending measure giving the Court different powers and a wider scope. I favour a review of the Arbitration Act; I know that it has been a failure. No matter who is appointed President it will be impossible for him to grasp the conditions obtaining in industries throughout the Commonwealth. A Judge sitting on the Bench knows nothing about an industry, and has to base his award on the evidence submitted to him. Each side has special paid organizers collecting the evidence for -two or three years in advance of the hearing of a claim, and each case costs the country an i enormous amount of money, because the costs -of each, hearing are passed on to the people. As the Judge has to rely entirely upon the evidence he hears, those "who swear the hardest and strongest get the best deal.


Mr Hughes - Yet the honorable member suggests that we should continue such a system.


Mr GREGORY - No; I suggest an. amendment of the Arbitration Act


Mr Hughes - How will that alter the system?


Mr GREGORY - My proposal is that Wages Boards shall be created within the Arbitration Act.


Mr Hughes - This Bill practically provides for Wages Boards.


Mr Nicholls - The honorable member is speaking on behalf of the Country party.


Mr GREGORY - I am speaking on behalf of myself. If the honorable member could do the same I would have a great deal more respect for him; but I know that he is not permitted to do so. My desire is that the Arbitration Act itself shall be brought before Parliament and amended, placing full and complete obligations on every party who appeals to it.







Suggest corrections