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Thursday, 12 August 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) seems to think that a bogus organization might be blocked by requiring registration, but the Bill makes no provision for that.

Mr BRucE - The Prime Minister offered to make the necessary amendments.

Mr Maxwell - It is a pity that he and the member now 'leading the Opposition could not confer.

Mr FENTON - There is at present a considerable amount of discontent, but no one desires strikes, because they mean an immense amount of suffering, especially for the wives and families of the strikers, and throw the community into turmoil. The Bill has been ill-considered by the Ministry and by the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman argued yesterday that it contained certain provisions, but afterwards he found that they were not there, and promised that he would insert them. He has referred over and over again to the shipping tribunal, which, he said, has so adjusted matters that "there has been no dispute in connexion with shipbuilding during three or four years. Honorable members opposite might not approve of the constitution of that tribunal, nor might they approve of all its decisions. From the first, the industrialists have had confidence in it, and all its decisions have been in' their favour.

Mr Gregory - When we come to compete with the world, that cannot continue.

Mr FENTON - To-day, and for some years past, we have been building ships more cheaply than we could get them built abroad. What we are now considering is legislation for the establishment of tribunals to deal with a variety of industries, and if we were rightly setting about the amendment of our industrial law, we would incorporate many of the provisions of the Bill in the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. This party stands for conciliation and for arbitration. The Prime Minister has spoken as though it were now for the first time proposed to establish round-table conferences, when, as a matter of fact, the President and the Registrar of the Arbitration Court have power to bring together the parties to an impending dispute ; and over and over again differences have thus been threshed out, and agreements have been come to which have been registered as awards of the Court. I consider that this piece-meal method of legislating will make confusion worse confounded. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has made it plain that the industrialists of this country view this measure with suspicion ; and, in my opinion, their attitude is justified. If honorable members earnestly desire to secure industrial peace, they should be prepared to give consideration to the claims of the 700,000 unionists of Australia. If the community were divided into classes, the organized industrialists and those who depended on them would be found to constitute the larger part of the population. They are the real producers. It is they who are doing the work which is making Australia progress.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Atkinson - The honorable member is going beyond the scope of the amendment.

Mr.FENT ON. -We complain that the proposed definition is altogether unsatisfactory, and too limited ; and I am afraid that, if it is agreed to, the Bill will notbe a success. The Prime Minister has evidently made up his mind to do nothing more for us: The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith) knows that he has no power to accept any suggestion from this side of the chamber. Only the Prime Minister can do that. As soon as he says " I am prepared to accept that suggestion " all the members on the Government side readily acquiesce.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why is not the Prime Minister here?

Mr FENTON - He has multifarious duties to perform,but this legislation is most important, and he, as the Minister in charge of it, is the only one who can assent to any proposition from this side. We had an experience of that yesterday. There were expressions of opposition from the Ministerial side to a suggestion from this side, but when the Prime Minister accepted it Ministerial supporters were unanimous in accepting it.

Mr Laird Smith - The Prime Minister explained this clause fully over and over again.

Mr FENTON - But the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has this afternoon put up an exceptionally strong case, as the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) will admit.

Mr Richard Foster - I know, and I know also that it has been replied to.

Mr FENTON - The fact remains that we are not meeting with the fair treatment that Ave ought to get in connexion with this measure. I am afraid that when it goes through this legislative mill it will be found to be such an immature, ill-considered piece of legislation that the unions will say, " Instead of being in a more, satisfactory position, we are in a worse position. We repudiate this legislation, and you are where you were before you started on it."

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