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Thursday, 12 August 1920

Mr ATKINSON (Wilmot) .- I move -

That the word "half," twice occurring in sub-clause 4, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word " third."

The object of my amendment is to provide for the representation of the general public as well as of employers and employees on the council. The public suffer because of industrial disputes, and they will have to " pay the piper " for all these tribunals which are designed to bring about industrial peace. The employee or the employer directly concerned in a dispute today may become to-morrow, in the case of another dispute, a member of the general public. The Committee will recognise that, apart from the direct parties to a dispute, something like 70 per cent. of the people suffer by reason of the dislocation of industry, and have no means of protecting themselves. It is time that we provided for the protection of the general public. When a dispute occurs between employers and employees in an industry, it is an easy matter for the parties to come to an agreement that there shall be an increase in wages, and that it shall be metby a rise in the price of the product of the industry. The increase is thus passed on to the public. The time is coming when this system of working round and round in a circle will have to stop, if there is not to be a snapping of the industrial affairs of the country. I am glad to learn from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that the coal-miners are beginning to recognise that something in this direction must be done. The honorable member has told us that the miners believe that inquiry by a Special Tribunal would show that their wages could be increased without necessarily involving an increase in the present price of coal.

Mr Riley - Who would elect the representatives of the general public on the Council?

Mr ATKINSON - They would be elected just as the other members of the council are to be elected. All sections of the community should have a fair deal, and I fear that the measure will not be of much avail unless we insert in it the provision I have outlined. From the 70 per cent. of the people who are not directly concerned with any industrial trouble reputable representatives may readily be selected. The representation of the general public on the council will be in the interests of the employers and employees themselves, because in some cases it may do away with the suspicion that the increase in the rates of wages paid in an industry is provided for by raising the cost of the article produced to the general public. If there were direct representatives of the general publicpresent at, a conference, who could subsequently inform the people that the best arrangement possible in the circumstances had beenmade, much would be achieved in the direction of allaying suspicion.

Mr Mahony - Does not the honorable member realize that these Councils will not deal with disputes at all ?

Mr ATKINSON - I am well aware of that, but I have already indicated that I do not propose to stop at the appointment of representatives of the public on the Councils. Similar representation must be given upon all the several bodies to be created by this measure.

Mr Ryan - Do not the words " employers " and "employees" cover the whole of the general public?

Mr ATKINSON - Not when there is a dispute. The great body of the people are neither employer nor employee in industrial troubles; yet their int erests are so involved that they are entitled to direct representation upon any form of tribunal which may be dealing with an issue. My proposition is not anew one; I have voiced these same views for years past. Until the general public are satisfied with any proposed settlement of an industrial crisis, there cannot be freedom from industrial unrest. For those who are interested parties in a. dispute to-day may be merged in the great general public when a dispute arises to-morrow ; and. vice versa, from among the disinterested general public to-day there may be directly involved parties to-morrow.

Mr McDonald - Why not give a Judge power to regulate the purchasing power of wages?

Mr ATKINSON - That is another question. It is sometimes easy for parties concerned in an industrial dispute to hold a conference and arrive at some decision, irrespective of the rights and interests of the general public.

Mr Considine - The honorable member says that parties to a dispute to-day may be ranked among the general public to-morrow. If that is so, and representatives of the public are appointed to all tribunals, there will be merely a multiplication of the representation of employers and employees.

Mr ATKINSON - A Special Tribunal will not always be composed of the same personnel. There will be, of course, different industries concerned in different disputes. If any good is to come of this legislation, it will be by reason of the fact that those selected to sit around the table will be actually acquainted with the subject-matter under review. It will be as easy for the Government to provide by regulation for two direct representatives of thepublic as to authorize the appointment of direct delegates from employees and employers. I am of opinion, personally, that these Councils could be done away with altogether. If my first proposed amendment is accepted there will be several consequential amendments, among the most important of which will be the insertion of the words " and one third representative of the general public apart from the direct parties interested in the dispute or threatened dispute."

Sitting suspended from 6.28 to 8 p.m.

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