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Friday, 27 August 1920

Mr FENTON (MARIBYRNONG, VICTORIA) - Even assuming that the arguments advanced by the Minister and by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Poster) are correct, I do not think that, under the proposal of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan), so much time will be wasted, and so much uncertainty created as will ensue if the amendment of the Minister be adopted. Under that amendment, I can foresee a great deal of confusion. The words " abnormal " and fundamental " will form texts for many hours' discussion in our Law Courts. The honorable member for West Sydney has suggested a simple method of dealing with this matter. He proposes that if the Judge thinks fit he may vary the terms of an award. We are remitting to the President of the Arbitration Court very important duties. Why not empower him to vary an award if he deems it right to do so? The language embodied in the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney is so simple that a layman can understand it, whereas that employed in the amendment of the Minister will lead to endless confusion. Had the Minister intimated that he was prepared to accept the former amendment the honorable member for Wakefield would have voted for it.

Mr Richard Foster - I would fight against both of them.

Mr FENTON - I think that the honorable member said that if he could be certain that there would be assessors-

Mr Richard Foster - I was then referring to the Minister's proposal, not to that of the honorable member for West Sydney.

Mr FENTON - The amendment of the latter is much simpler than is that of the Minister, which, if adopted, will serve only to protract industrial litigation. If there is one thing more than another which has tended to promote industrial inharmony, it has been the delays which have occurred in securing awards from the Arbitration Court. For instance, a great deal of time has been wasted in determining such questions as whether a dispute which was in existence was, in reality, a dispute. I would urge upon the Minister the desirableness of accepting the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney.

Mr Ryan - When the matter comes before the Court, who will decide the meaning of the term " fundamental " ?

Mr Groom - The Judge.

Mr FENTON - That is exactly the point which the honorable member for West Sydney desires to make clear.

Mr Groom - But he wishes to allow the Judge to vary an award upon any ground that he may think fit.

Mr FENTON - The Judge must decide the points which are at issue. Surely there is not much difference between the Minister's amendment and the proposal of the honorable member for West Sydney.

Mr Groom - Then let my proposal stand.

Mr FENTON - No matter what the Bill may contain, the Judge must decide the matter. I think that we ought to make the position perfectly plain. We do not want to feed a lot of lawyers. The honorable member for Wakefield himself has said that if a contract had been entered into under an award which was afterwards varied, the contractor would be placed in a very bad position. May I point out that in most contracts provision is made to meet any increase which may take place in the price of material during their currency, and also to cover any industrial dispute which may arise.

Mr Richard Foster - Only in private . contracts. Government contracts do not contain any such provision.

Mr FENTON - Then they should do so. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney.

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