Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 20 August 1920

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I believe that the Bill which was passed last week will do more to secure industrial peace than any other that has become law in Australia, The amendments that were made strengthen it, and render it more popular with the industrial organizations, and I am very hopeful of good results. I was a member of the House when the original Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed. There was not a member of the three parties of which the House was then composed who did not honestly and conscientiously believe that that measure would go a long way to prevent industrial strife, and all three parties supported it unanimously. But to-day, after some fifteen years of operation, the Act is seen to be a disastrous failure, and, during the past few years at least, has done more to create than to prevent strikes, the position in the end becoming so bad that be- fore an organization could get a claim considered it had to strike. When Mr. Justice Higgins declared that, no (matter what verdict might be given by the Court, men could not be compelled to work, or to obey the order of the Court, the usefulness of the measure departed. There cannot be arbitration of any advantage to the community unless both sides to a case are compelled to accept the verdict, whether it be in their favour or against them, or a compromise. The Arbitration Court has outlived its usefulness, and to-day is rather a barrier to industrial peace than the means of securing it. The President of the Court has been asked to do the impossible. He has been asked to determine the conditions of all kinds of industries. Some of the Court's decisions have been positively ludicrous: Never was a more insane and stupid decision given by any Court than that of the President that the salary of the members of the Merchant Officers Guild must depend on the size of the ship on which they were employed. Consequently, the master of a collier of 5,000 tons, carrying a crew only, which is tied up. for more than half of its, time, gets more than the master of the Loongana, a vessel of much smaller dimensions, which carries on an average, all told, 400 passengers and crew, and during the summer season clears Port Phillip and Low Heads once every day. The master of the Loongana has ten times the responsibility of the master of the collier. Then, on the light passenger boats, with high-powered engines, the engineers in many cases receive more than the captains.

Mr Riley - That is due to better organization.

Mr Mcwilliams - No; it is due to the stupidity of the decision which I am criticising, which is as absurd as it would be to handicap horses entered for the Melbourne Cup according to their size' and weight. No one who had to appoint two men, one to be captain of the Loongana, and the other to be the captain of a large collier, would ,put the better man on the collier.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The Loongana is only a money-making vessel, upon which the accommodation is abominable.-

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I have done my best to assist the honorable member in getting the accommodation improved, and I have done as much as any man in this House to secure better accommodation for the seamen.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - You have done more.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Thank you. It is impossible for any one man to determine properly what conditions should prevail in the shearing, engineering, shipping, and all other industries. The congestion in the Arbitration Court became so bad that in many cases plaints remained eighteen months unheard, and a direct incentive to strike was offered by reason of the fact that when an organization that had a plaint before the Court struck, its case was moved, perhaps from the bottom' of the list, to the top, and heard before those of the organization that remained quiet.

Mr Riley - That was not the fault of the Act.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - It was the fault of the Act, because the Act required a Judge to do more than it was humanly possible for one man to do. Organization after organization has refused to go before the Court. I have said here and elsewhere that the present system should be amended or ended. The measure passed last week entirely supersedes the Arbitration Court, and I fail to see a reason for continuing to expend money on it uselessly. The organizations are certain to prefer the methods of arbitration for which we provided last week. Why, then, should we duplicate machinery and staffs, as has been done before and so often? That is a thing against which I have protested time after time. No reasonable expense would be too great for the securing of industrial peace. I heard it said that the Bill passed last week would be costly because of the number of Boards created. But my reply was that a big strike of .coal miners, shearers, seamen, or others would cost more than would be spent under the Act during a period of ten years. I cannot understand any body of workmen preferring the present Court to a Tribunal on which they will have three representatives, who will confer across a table with three repr esentatives of the employers. I know the feeling of the House is that the Arbitration Court, which, to mv mind, is inept, ineffectual, and an excrescence on our industrial life, should be continued. I urge the Government to give tha new measure every chance., and to allow the organizations of employees and the employers to settle their difficulties by means of the new procedure rather than the Arbitration Court.- If that be done, I think that it -will be found next year that the Court has ceased to be of use. I think that it reached that stage long ago, and I hope that Parliament will not hesitate to sweep away the whole of the paraphernalia of the Court. It has been ineffectual, and a source of discord for the last three years. Instead of preventing strikes during that time, it has been a breeder of strikes, because men have had to strike in order to have their cases dealt with by it. Organizations whose plaints were at the bottom of the list have struck, with the result that their cases have been dealt with in advance of others which have been awaiting a hearing for months, and in some cases for a year. Organizations which have loyally obeyed the behests of the Court - which have declined to strike - and have been waiting for months to have their cases dealt with, have thus been penalized.

I do not desire to be too severely critical of the decisions of the Court; but many of them have been quite useless. Quite a number of them have been absurd, and the whole procedure of the Court- for the last three years has tended to create rather than to prevent strikes. I hope the day is now at hand when the Court, with all the expenditure it involves, will be swept away, and the employers 'and employees will take advantage of the Industrial Peace Bill, which we passed last week. By transferring the decision of grievances to the employers and employees - to the men actually concerned - as is provided for in the Industrial Peace Bill, we shall do a thousand times more than the Court can do to put 'an end to the industrial strife which at the present time is a serious menace to the peace, progress, and prosperity of Australia.

Suggest corrections