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Friday, 20 August 1920

Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .- No one will deny that arbitration has done a great deal of good in the maintenance of industrial peace in this country since the establishment of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. But no one will deny that it would have been much more successful if certain of the obstacles which were in its way had been removed earlier by the Legislature. We all know that the Legislature, at an earlier period than this, could have made certain amendments of the law, which would have prevented the delays that take place in the hearing of claims, and would have removed the Serbonian bog which blocks the approach to the Court. Although the Arbitration Court itself may do a great deal of good - and we must all admit that it has - still, in order to have it thoroughly effective, it is necessary that the other branches of government should co-operate with it, and simultaneously do their part, lt is quite impossible for the" Court to be a success if the Executive Government does not co-operate with it; and it is equally impossible if the legislature will not confer on the Court the necessary powers which it could confer. After all,

Ave must not shut our eyes to the facts of the case. No system of arbitration, and no tribunal set up for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes, can be successful until some means is found of seeing that the purchasing power of wages remains constant while a particular award is in force. If the cost of commodities can constantly rise after an award has been made, and there is no machinery for a corresponding increase in wages, the natural result must be industrial unrest and strikes. Governments which do not realize this fact and remove the evil fail in their duty; and the reason is not far to seek. Governments very often represent particular interests; they do not stand for the interests of the workers and wageearners, and, consequently, there is always a balance thrown into the scale against the workers. While that is so, it is impossible for any Arbitration Court or Tribunal to maintain industrial peace. We must .admit that there is sufficient production to enable a fair share to be given to all. The workers demand a " slice of the cake/' if I may so term it, and as they are entitled to a share, it is our clear duty to see that they get it. It is our duty as a Legislature to confer such powers on Courts of Arbitration and similar Tribunals a3 to insure that the wage-earners shall receive a fair and full share of the results of their labour in production. Unless we are able to do this, there is no system of arbitration, and no Tribunal, that can prevent industrial unrest and strikes. It is idle for us to talk about making this or that amendment unless we are prepared to face the real issue, and demand, at the same time, that the Legislature and the Executive Government shall each do its particular part. It is no use blaming the Court for industrial -unrest while we fail to insist upon all branches of government doing their duty. In short, we must have the co-operation of all the arms of government.

When I was speaking on a Bill which we recently passed with a view to setting up certain Tribunals for dealing with industrial unrest, I referred to the fact, which I may be permitted to refer to again, that this Parliament failed to base the power of the Tribunals on all the constitutional powers of this Parliament. The Tribunals in that measure were permitted to rest on a particular power of the Constitution given by section 51, sub-section xxxv., " to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Conciliation and Arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.'5 We could rest the power of the Tribunals on all the powers given to the Commonwealth under section 51, but Parliament has refused to exercise all the powers it possesses ; and while that is so, we invite the decisions of such Tribunals to be challenged on constitutional grounds. Under the circumstances, we cannot hope to see the Tribunals a complete success. I do not hesitate to say now that any Government that fails to exercise all its powers - fails to confer all the power it can on these Tribunals - fails to do its duty with regard to the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes and to the maintenance of industrial peace. And this the Government have refused to do. It would be very pleasant if I could rise here and pass compliments across to the other side, with an assurance that they are doing everything they can to bring about industrial peace; but I know that the Government are not using the instrumentalities and the powers they have. We should be failing in our duty to the great body of wage-earners and workers outside, who look to us, if we did not have the courage to stand up and tell the Government wherein they fail in their duty. There is far too much apologetic attitude to the Government in connexion with this matter.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr RYAN - Before the adjournment I was referring to the necessity, if we are to do. our best to maintain industrial peace, oT having a complete co-operation of all the arms of government; we must not throw the whole onus upon the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration or upon any other Tribunal. No one can deny that the Government have failed to give the Arbitration Court the assistance that is necessary, and until Parliament insists upon action in that direction we cannot hope to have complete success from any Tribunal established for the settlement of industrial disputes? A Tribunal must be clothed with the power to investigate from the point of -production to the consuming point, and authority must be given for a complete investigation of that character so that a proper distribution or apportionment to labour engaged in production may be made. The Government have utterly failed in the past, and are still failing to do anything to remove the most serious cause of industrial unrestrampant profiteering - and while that is allowed to continue we are sure to have industrial unrest. Instead of endeavouring to restrict profiteering the Government have deliberately set about repealing those regulations which gave them power over those who were charging excessive prices. I am prepared to go further and say that the Government by their action have encouraged profiteering, and in order to make any arbitration Tribunal successful it will be necessary to alter the policy which has been adopted in this country in that connexion during recent years. We must take every opportunity of bringing this before the members of this House and the people of the country, because unless they arouse themselves, and use the powers they possess, through their representatives in Parliament, the present position will continue. There has been a failure to co-operate in administering .the War Precautions Act, and that Act has been administered in such a way as to cause industrial unrest. I intend to quote instances where the administration of its provisions has caused industrial turmoil. Nothing has been done to repeal the War Precautions Act or to dispense with the tyrannical administration of the regulations framed under it. It is well to remember the manner in which the regulations under that Act were administered in connexion with the marine engineers' strike when the Government exercised their alleged powers by preventing the engineers from having access to their own funds in the bank.

Sir Robert Best - It proved very useful, did it not?

Mr RYAN - The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) says that it proved very useful. If honorable members hold views of that character it is evident that some are not facing the question in the manner they should. If we are to allow such tyrannical powers to be used we must look for something to counteract such action.

I wish also to refer to the general attitude of the Government towards the Arbitration Court. Insidious attempts have been made by the Prime Minister and others to undermine the authority and standing of that Court. Unless there is complete sympathy and co-operation whereby the Government will give assistance to that Tribunal its work cannot be as effective as it otherwise would. In view of the present circumstances I would like the Attorney-General to call for a complete report from the President of the Court embodying suggestions which he considers necessary to make that Tribunal as effective and efficient as possible in preventing and settling industrial upheavals.

Mr Fowler - Has not the President been consulted?

Mr RYAN - I understood the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) to intimate during his secondreading speech, that the President of the Court had made suggestions, but that he had not been requested to suggest any amendments or to make a general report for the assistance of members.

Mr Fowler - That is a strange omission.

Mr RYAN - It is. My request is one that should be insisted upon, because if the President is not consulted it shows a lack of co-operation, and of a desire to do something effective to deal with proposals of this kind.

Mr McWilliams - Was not a report received ?

Mr RYAN - Does the Minister for Works and Railways say that such is the case?

Mr Groom - Most of the amendments in the Bill were suggested by the President of the Court.

Mr RYAN - That may be so, but that is quite a different matter from asking him to make a complete report, and to set out how he considers the Act should be amended in toto, with a view to clothing the Court with additional authority. I read in the press recently a statement in which the President of the Arbitration Court found it necessary to comment from the Bench in Sydney on a certain measure. He specifically pointed out that he had not been consulted in regard to it, although he was in a position to snake useful suggestions. He also suggested that the AttorneyGeneral, who was 'the proper person to defend the Court in Parliament, had failed in his duty. How can we expect to have an effective arbitration Tribunal if the Attorney-General treats the Court in this manner? The Government deal with the Arbitration Court as if it were a hostile institution, and I trust Parliament, in the interests of the public - and this is a non-party matter - will insist on the President of the Court being asked to submit a report embodying his suggestions, with a view to making the Tribunal a thoroughly effective instrument for preserving industrial peace. I think it is generally admitted that the President of the Court, who has had a very long experience, is a capable judge, and that under his presidency a great deal has been done by the Court in maintaining industrial peace. The President has been hampered in his work to. a great extent by the Government, and it is on that account that I suggest that the Government should ask him and his colleagues to submit a report, setting out in what respects the Act . should be amended.

When the Bill is in Committee, I propose to move, in accordance with notice already given-

Mr Groom - What notice did the honorable member give?

Mr RYAN - I gave notice that I would move an amendment to confer on the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration jurisdiction to override any provisions of the War Precautions Act or regulations made thereunder., when in the opinion of the Court such over-riding was desirable or necessary for the purpose of preserving, or restoring, industrial. peace. Every reasonable man will admit that it "is time the War Precautions Act was repealed, and that no further regulations are issued under it. Much of the trouble we are experiencing to-day is directly traceable to the powers the Government have exercised under that Statute. The Government have used their authority in a most unreasonable way, and I can quote as an example-apart from the regulation relating to the marine engineers - a regulation passed the other day, which was laid on ' the table of this House, conferring on the Government the power to charge to Consolidated Revenue the losses incurred in connexion with the requisitioning of ships. When we remember that provision was made for the requisitioning of ships under the War Precautions Act, and that originally a regulation was framed which specifically prohibited the charging of any loss or expenditure incurredto Consolidated Revenue, we naturally wonder why it is now necessary for the Government, without coming to Parliament for authority, to charge such losses in the manner mentioned. I presume it was the seamen's dispute which led ' to the holding up of ships in different ports, and the Executive Government, under the War Precautions Act, have made this the expense of the taxpayers of Australia, and not of the shipping companies. The shipping companies apparently were allowed to go on making their profits, and the seamen were being fought with the taxpayers' money. The men were really fighting themselves. While that sort of thing is allowed to continue we cannot hope to have industrial peace, and we might as well face the position fairly and trace the trouble to its true source, which is the incapacity of the Government to remove the real causes of industrial unrest. Of course, I admit that they are confronted with difficulties, but this House can insist upon the Government conforming to its will, and the question is whether honorable members will see that the Government do conform to their will and to public opinion generally. It is useless to spend time in talking about the appointment of tribunals to inquire into industrial unrest, and making tiddlywinking amendments to legislation if we do not strike at the root cause of the trouble. The majority of honorable members seem afraid to do that, but until we do take such action we cannot have efficient legislation to bring about the industrial contentment that we all desire. We all wish for industrial peace, efficiency, and the maximum of production, so that we may be able to discharge our great financial obligations and responsibilities, but we do not all combine to remove the causes that are hampering us in the attainment of that end. I hope that either the Minister will of his own volition ask for the report I have suggested from the President of the Arbitration Court, than whom I know of nobody more qualified and more willing to give a report that will be helpful to the country, or, if - the Minister will not do that, that honorable members will join together and exert the power they undoubtedly possess to compel such a report to be obtained.

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