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Thursday, 5 August 1920

Mr BRUCE - That may be so; but surely the report I have mentioned is good enough for us. This problem has been carefully considered, and clear judgment given upon it already. That, judgment appears to me to be a very helpful one, and should assist us in our deliberations. There is, however, one point that stands out, and that is the question : Have we the power to do all of these things? Personally, I would sug-' gest to honorable members that we are not going to get very far if we spend our time trying to determine, in connexion with every provision, whether under the Constitution we have or have not the power to do all these things. The framers of the measure seem to have been suffering from a similarsuspicion, because they took the precaution in clause 2, subclause 2, to provide -

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.

It is obvious that we have some of these powers. We also know that a Convention is to be appointed, we all hope, in the near future, to consider this important aspect of Commonwealth authority; and I suggest to honorable members that it is our duty to devote our attention to this particular Bill, in order that we may frame a useful measure in the interests of Australia, hoping that anything we may do is within our constitutional powers, and, if not, furnishing good reasons why the proposed Convention should determine that the particular matter shall be within our legislative authority from the excellence of the measure we produce. That, I think, is the only reasonable attitude that we can take up with respect to this measure..

With regard to the Bill itself, there are one or two things to which I desire briefly to refer, particularly the powers of the proposed Commonwealth Council, referred to in clause 7.

Mr Brennan - This is interesting, but we cannot all now have sufficient time to debate this measure.

Mr BRUCE - I will give the honorable member a good sporting chance, at all events.

Mr Mahony - The honorable member is only endeavouring to prevent the industrialists from speaking.

Mr BRUCE - What is troubling my honorable friend on the front benches opposite ?

Mr Mahony - I will tell you directly.

Mr Poynton - He is saying that the object of your speech is to prevent the industrialists from having a chance of debating the Bill.

Mr BRUCE - Then for once in his long and carefully-considered political career the honorable member has made a mistake. The first principle of the Bill is that there shall be a Commonwealth i Council, which, apparently, will perform the same duties as the National Councils under the Whitley scheme, save that in the latter scheme each national council is for one industry only. I think we shall have to consider the position that will arise under this Bill, for apparently the Commonwealth Council will have to consider matters affecting all industries in which questions may have to be determined on a national -basis. This council will have to deal with matters relating to all industries, covering a wider field than the Arbitration Court, with one, and even two, High Court Judges, has been able to cover without intolerable delay; but if it confines itself to wide questions of national importance it may be possible for it to do the necessary

Work, operating in conjunction with the district councils and the special tribunals provided for. Thus it is not likely to be overloaded, as is the case with the Arbitration Court.

Mr Blakeley - Is it not true that delay in regard to Arbitration Court proceedings is due to the fact that the Government have not appointed sufficient Judges ?

Mr BRUCE - I agree with honorable members that the Arbitration Court has been hopelessly overloaded, though it has done a lot of valuable work, and obviously something must be done to relieve the present situation. I shall say something further about the Arbitration Court in a few moments. The great benefit which one can imagine to be the outcome of the scheme for a national council will be that employer and employee will meet together and then come to quick decisions ; but I am afraid this object will be defeated if men who are engaged, in a mining industry are called upon as members of the. council to deal with shipping troubles or any other dis putes in allied industries. I do not go so far as to say that it is a hopeless proposition, but I think it must be recognised that the work of this national council will, after all. be limited, though, as I have said, it may be possible for it to discharge its duties operating in conjunction with the district councils. The district councils, which are provided for in clause 9, appear to be analogous to the district councils under the Whitley scheme, save that here also the same set of representatives would have to consider questions bearing upon different industries, while the Whitley district councils are for one industry only. The powers' of the district councils are very wide, and therefore the danger of overloading seems to be apparent.

Mr Nicholls - The local Boards will act as district councils.

Mr BRUCE - No, the local Board will really be the child of the special tribunal, and I think the position of this special tribunal might be cleared up. As I read the Bill the special tribunal appears to be designed for the -purpose of dealing with major disputes, or for clearing up the stray ends of some other dispute that has been dealt with . by the district councils.

Mr Charlton - All the big questions will eventually go before the special tribunal.

Mr BRUCE - That is how I read the Bill. The point I want to emphasize is: Where is the machinery to deal with the little troubles; disputes in their infancy, which, if not corrected, may finally assume the magnitude of an industrial upheaval ?

Mr Charlton - Local Boards will handle those problems.

Mr BRUCE - That is a point on which I desire some light. If trouble is brewing in the coal trade the special tribunal will be brought into existence to deal with it.

Mr Charlton - The Local Boards will deal with any disputes that are likely to arise in any branch of the coal-mining industry; but the bigger problems must come before the special tribunal.

Mr BRUCE - I am entirely in accord with the honorable member. Suppose this Bill is passed, and we appoint a special tribunal for the coal trade, and that special tribunal continues to function indefinitely.

Mr Charlton - It is doubtful from the Bill whether it will be a permanent tribunal or not.

Mr BRUCE - And I want to have that matter cleared- up. If it- is to be a permanent tribunal, some of the difficulties I foresee" will be met.

There is another point to which I must direct attention, and, unless I can get some light on it, it seems to me that one cannot possibly vote for the Bill. This is the authority, contained in clause 17, for the special tribunal to vary an award of the Arbitration Court.

Mr West - Did you not deal with this matter in the Caucus?

Mr BRUCE - I may inform my honorable friend that this is my first flutter on the measure.

Mr Lavelle - Do you not think that the fact that you are in doubt justifies a longer discussion on the Bill ?

Mr BRUCE - I think we shall be able to clear away all the honorable member's doubts.

Mr Lavelle - But you say you are in doubt -about it yourself.

Mr BRUCE - Clause 17 is of considerable importance. It 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.

The Arbitration Court is "in the air," in a state of' suspension; and we do not know what . is going to happen. There is a Bill foreshadowed to deal with the Court, by which it may have the ground cut away from beneath it, or it may be glorified or magnified ; but we do not know what is to be proposed. In view .of this, and with, such a clause as I have read, it will not be possible to get a man of any standing .or any pride to take the position of Judge. If the Court is to remain a live thing, and to discharge any function that is to be of any value in the settling of industrial disputes - if this Court is to carry any weight or respect- it must be presided over by a man of considerable position and attainments. Under the circumstances, however, no .man with any self-respect could take the position. Until such time as. we know what is proposed in regard to the Court, I personally cannot vote for clause 17.

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