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Friday, 13 August 1920


Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) .- When speaking on the second reading, and at subsequent Committee stages, I pointed out the limits of our power in regard to prices and profits. I said that once we established the fact that the evidence sought to be obtained is relevant to the dispute, I personally do not see that there -are any limits, because the Tribunal is created to prevent and settle disputes. The jurisdiction having been clearly established, the only question is whether the evidence desired is relevant to the dispute. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has taken a concrete case, and, after ali, we are dealing with concrete, and not hypothetical, cases. 'The honorable member says that there are men on piece-work, paid so much a ton for hewing coal, and that when the declared price is 17s. 9d. the hewing rate is so much. The men also say that nothing is more calculated to cause industrial unrest, and breed discontent, than a feeling that they are not getting a fair deal - that somebody is " having" them. It is said that a man will be more content, and less likely to create industrial unrest, if he is getting 3s., with the knowledge that he is being fairly dealt with, than if he is getting 3s. 6d., feeling that he is being "had" at the latter rate. That is quite true; and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) contends that all the evidence bearing on that phase should be brought out. I appreciate the necessity for such evidence where it is for the purposes of the dispute, and not for other purposes. I pointed out to the honorable member the other day that, recently, there have been made public statements by certain officials of the Coal Miners Federation for which the men are not necessarily responsible. These officials have said that the miners wish to own the mines; but that is not relevant to the present dispute. It is an aspiration of a section, an aspiration which may be good or bad, but the miners as a whole are not necessarily to be held responsible for it. Every man in the Coal Miners Federation has a perfect right to hold opinions on the point; one man may say that he believes in the mines for the miners; another that he believes in the mines for the people of New South Wales; a third, that they should belong to the people of all Australia; while another may say he believes in the present system. All these opinions are perfectly compatible with membership of the union. If a certain section propose to use such evidence "for the purpose of furthering their political purposes, to obtain information which may, perhaps, do us harm in our foreign trade with our foreign competitors, it will not do at all. Therefore, it must be clearly understood that the only evidence that will be permitted will be evidence relating to the dispute, and for the purpose of dealing with the dispute, which, of course, is a matter relating to the wages and conditions of labour. That being so, we have to ask ourselves how far the amendment is acceptable from the Government's point of view of the desire that is at the back of it, and how far it is constitutional.


Mr Charlton - lt does not go outside the limits of anything you have just said.


Mr HUGHES - I do not say it does. There are two points I should like to mention to the honorable member. A great deal of industrial unrest arises through a suspicion in the minds of the coal miners that there is much leakage between the shovel and the grate. It is not material whether that suspicion is true or not - the fact is the men believe it. The miners say one thing and the mine-owners another; and if the whole facts were brought out, the Tribunal would consider them, and give a decision fair to the community, in the matter of price - because it would have relation to price - and fair to the men. But it will not help the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) if we insert an amendment that the High Court will say is ultra vires; and, therefore, in order to make it perfectly clear what questions may be asked, I suggest that we strike out the words "pertaining to the industry," and provide that the Tribunal have power to inquire into all matters "relating to the dispute, from the point of production to the final disposal of the commodity." I have never been one to whittle down the powers of the Commonwealth, but have always upheld them. Once you establish the fact that the matter is relevant to the dispute, we have, in my opinion, the right to ask the questions, and, with the alteration I have suggested, the honorable member's amendment will be constitutional, and quite acceptable to me. There is one other point at which I wish the honorable member to look. He adds the proviso -

Provided that by request of either party the evidence relating to any trade secret shall be taken in camera and not be disclosed.

I do not think that goes far enough, because, in the coal-mining industry, there is no trade secret. There may be secrets in the chemical or engineering trade, but not in the coal trade, which has simply to do with getting the coal out, and there is an end of the matter.


Mr Charlton - Some of the proprietors say that there is a secret in regard to their business.


Mr HUGHES - I can tell you a story on that point. In the times when files were cut by hand the. process was regarded as a trade mystery - a secret - and was usually carried on in some cul-de-sac in Sheffield. The business brought great profit to the employers; but one day a donkey wandered into a cul-de-sac, saw through the window of a house a mau cutting files, and then came out into a Sheffield street and "hee-hawed." Thus the secret was " given away." What, I think, the proprietors have a right to expect is that their business shall not be disclosed either to their rivals in this country or their competitors in others, and therefore we ought to strike out the words " relating to any trade secret." Section 85 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides -

No evidence relating to any trade secret, or to the profits or financial position, of any witness or party shall be disclosed except to the Court or published without the consent of the person entitled to the trade secret or nondisclosure..... All such evidence shall, if the witness or party so requests, be taken in private.

I suggest to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) that he adopt that section. With that emendation I am prepared to agree to the amendment.







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