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Wednesday, 25 August 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - In view of the lack of explanation from the Minister (Mr. Groom) and the very unsatisfactory way in which the information asked for by honorable members on this side has been denied, and in view also of the reticence of the Minister in regard to the suggestions which he says have been made by the President of the Arbitration Court, I move -

That further consideration of the clause be postponed for the purpose of obtaining a report from the President of the Arbitration Court suggesting desirable amendments, with a view to Parliament considering the same, and, if necessary, inserting them in the Bill.

The amendments prepared by the Government have been presented to the Committee in such a. way as to suggest a Chinese puzzle. The statement recently made by the Minister is not in conformity with the statement made by the President of the Court. It would be well if we could avail ourselves of the wide\ experience of the President of the Court. A statement made by him was published in the Evening News of 6th August, and, as it has not been altered in any way since, I can only assume that His Honour has been correctly reported. Mr. Justice Higgins said -

Neither my late colleague, Mr. Justice Powers, nor myself, has been shown the Bill on this and cognate subjects, or asked for suggestions or comments; although an experience of seven years in the one case, and. of thirteen years in the other, might have been made fruitful of advantage to the public.

That is a very definite statement. In His Honour's opinion, it should not be left to the Government to decide how the Act should be amended, and the experience we have had of the Government does not give us confidence in their handling of such a question.

Mr Hector Lamond - That is an impudent statement for a Judge to make.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - I have no doubt that the Judge made it with a full knowledge of the facts. The present Government endeavoured to appoint a certain Judge to a tribunal, and first instructed him what to do.

Mr. JusticeHiggins continued

The Prime Minister says "The hearing of cases is often very protracted. . . . one reason is that the Judge is necessarily unfamiliar with the trade or industry whose conditions he is called on to settle." ... I challenge the Prime Minister to show that any case has been protracted for that reason. Contrary to my own expectations cases hardly ever turn on expert knowledge of this sort; but if, and as far as they do, the outsiders are generally more likely to be impartial.

The statement that the hearing of cases had often been protracted was the Prime Minister's excuse for introducing the Industrial Peace Bill, which Bill, in my opinion, will tend to create industrial strife in this country, if only for the reason that it fails to deal with the main cause of industrial unrest, namely, the profiteering which has been unchecked by the Government, who are in power through the instrumentality of the profiteers. The industrial - legislation brought forward by the Government has been introduced for the purpose of bringing about a crisis in the Arbitration Court, thus verifying the prediction made some months ago by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley), and other honorable members of this party, that before long the President of the Court would be unable, on account of the action of the Government, to hon.orably continue to hold his position. His Honour pointed out that the delays of the Court were not due to any fault of the Court itself, but to Parliament itself, and he went on to illustrate how the Court has been beneficial in preventing industrial disputes. That statement shows that his opinion differs from that of the Government, and that the amendments which have been submitted to Parliament were not suggested by him, but, in all probability, are in direct opposition to his considered views. The discussion this evening has proved that the amendments are not designed for the preservation of industrial peace, but rather for the purpose of giving unscrupulous employers the weapon with which to cow their employees who endeavour to improve the conditions of their fellow workers and themselves. These are pernicious amendments which are designed to foment industrial trouble through the victimization of men who are termed agitators.' Mr. Justice Higgins continued -

Apart from these particular strikes the fact is ignored that the Court has preserved the country from many strikes which would have occurred but for the Court's influence. The public know only what they have suffered; they do not know what suffering they have been saved. There are no statistics as to the number of strikes averted by the knowledge that the Court gives fair play; but the number is great. Perhaps we can get some idea from certain statisticians' figures quoted by Mr. Watt last year. (I think that the Prime Minister was away from Australia at the time. )

It appeared that, in the years 1914-15-16-17, there were in all 1,647 strikes in Australia; for the war created much industrial unrest. Of these 1,647 strikes there" can be found only three ('at the most) in disputes that could possibly come under the jurisdiction' of the Court. The Court could not touch the dispute in the great strike of 1917, because it was a dispute between State Railway employees and the State Government.

I say nothing as' to the propriety of the measures proposed, for that is a matter for Parliament, and I am not asked for my opinion. I say nothing as to the constitutionality of the measures, for that is a matter for the High) Court; and I want to leave my mind open for any discussion. In this statement I confine my self to a few of the misunderstandings as to the Court, expressed by the Prime Minister; and I should keep silent, even as to. these if the Court had the benefit of a constitutional protector.

And in the Evening News of the 24th August, this statement appeared -

Mr. JusticeHiggins appears to take the same view as some of the members of Parliament on the Industrial Peace Bill, and, to-day, in the Arbitration Court, he gave some hint of retiring from the position of President. After the luncheon adjournment Mr. Barker, on behalf of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, asked Eis Honour if he could give an indication as to when the case might come on.

Mr. JusticeHiggins replied that he could not. It was possible that he might be compelled to resign from his office as President. It was better, he said, to let his successor make his own arrangements. As the Bill was only now before Parliament, it was not seemly for him to make any further _ statement. He could not make any arrangement as to new cases, and would not give any undertaking as regards the order of business.

That clearly indicates that the President of the Court has not been asked to suggest amendments to existing legislation with a view to making the Act more beneficial to the people of Australia as a whole. We, on this side of the House, can fairly claim to be representative of the great body of workers, and I submit that the President should have been asked for a report for consideration, not only by the Government, but by the people and their representatives in Parliament. Unless we secure the good will and confidence of the great body of industrialists, we cannot have industrial peace, or that atmosphere which is necessary before there can be immunity from strikes. There is every need for a comprehensive report by the President of the Court to be submitted to Parliament. Nobody is better able to give an opinion upon arbitration questions. No man has had more to do with arbitration in Australia. Mr. Justice Higgins has dealt with cases of widely divergent character. I do not think that there is any man in Australia whom the workers would more confidently trust to furnish an impartial report. They have to rely on the Judge presiding over the Arbitration Court for decisions that vitally affect their means of living. It is all very well for the Government to wave aside the criticism 'that they are not giving the workers a square deal, but we know the history of their administration, and an impartial person can come to no other conclusion than that they are not. here in the interests of the workers. The funds which financed their election campaign were not supplied by the workers, but by the profiteers, whose interests lie in the Heeding of the workers and in making it harder for them to strike for better industrial conditions. There is not an honorable member on this side who has not been penalized because he has agitated for better conditions. We all know what it is to be black-balled and branded as pariahs because we have fought for those who have been working in bad circumstances like ourselves. We know that there are unscrupulous employers who, through representatives in this Parliament, are ready to stoop to anything in order to prevent the representatives of the workers from lifting their voices in the cause of better industrial conditions. Every honorable member should be able to go back and tell his constituents that he asked the Government for a report from the President of the Arbitration Court. I want to be able to inform my electors that in voting for this measure I had before me the suggestions of the President of the Court, in order that I might be able to assist in bringing about the better working of the Court, and so prevent industrial trouble. But, so long as we have a Government representative of the profiteers there will continue to be industrial unrest, because they will not deal with fundamental causes but will only tinker with industrial legislation, and thus, aggravate the whole position. They can hope to achieve nothing, because they will not deal with principles.

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