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Tuesday, 31 August 1920

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister for Works and Railways) . - I desire to make a few observations on the amendment moved by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory). It looks very much as if this Federal Parliament, whose !duty it is to legislate within the powers it possesses under the Constitution, is being asked in this case to give a decision upon a matter that has been a subject of .contention in the Arbitration Court. In 1917 the Australian Workers Union were claimants in the Court, They asked the Judge .to decide -

That all shed hands shall be signed on at the advertised time of roll-call, and all vacant positions shall be ballotted for.

They asked that that condition should be inserted in the award by the Court. The Court turned down the application, and would not allow that condition to be put into the award. Then the organization made a rule of their own, which, as I am informed, is contained in the 1918 issue, to this effect -

Members may forward deposits for pens, but shall not sign agreement prior to rollcall. Members employed in the pastoral industry must sign the award agreement before commencing work at any shed, a duplicate of which they must retain in their possession. Members failing to comply with this rule shall be fined £2.

That is a rule which they agreed to amongst themselves, binding the members of their organization. Organizations have perfect liberty under the law to make rules and regulations to control their affairs. An application was made on behalf of the pastoralists for the cancellation of the registration of the Aus- tralian Workers Union as an industrial organization. The pastoralists did not really desire the deregistration of the union, but they were anxious that the Judge of the Arbitration Court should order this rule, which they regarded as objectionable, to be struck out of the rules of the organization, or that otherwise the organization should be deregistered. The application was to deregister, so as to compel the organization that made the rule to repeal it. The Judge refused that application on the ground that the rule was not contrary to law or to the requirements of the Act. That was an industrial dispute between two organizations to decide whether or not a particular thing should be done.

Mr Gregory - The Judge said to the organization, " I will not give you what you ask." And the organization then said, " We will take it."

Mr GROOM - Yes; but they took it in accordance with the powers they possessed under the law. They did nothing illegal in passing the rule objected to. This appears to have been an industrial dispute between two organizations, and now it seems to me that this Parliament is being appealed to to give a decision in this case. I have tried to look at the matter fairly, and from a non-party point of view. An appeal is made to this Parliament to do something which a Judge of the Arbitration Court refused to entertain. I say that this Parliament should not be made a Court of Appeal from an industrial tribunal.

Mr Gregory - And we ought not to amend the law?

Mr Richard Foster - Though we are doing it all the time.

Mr GROOM - We are being asked to do something which, notwithstanding the opinion of counsel, it is doubtful whether we possess the power to do. We have the power to pass 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 a State. But we have not the power in this Parliament, by direct legislation, to settle disputes.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Or even to inquire into them.

Mr GROOM - Or even to inquire into them. That is the difficulty I see in connexion with the amendment.

Mr Richard Foster - But we have power to amend the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Mr GROOM - We have; but only within our powers under the Constitution. We have not the power, by an amendment of the Act, to settle a dispute.

Mr Richard Foster - Will the Minister say that Parliament could not do something to provide for a common-sense business agreement?

Mr GROOM - So long as we direct our attention to conciliation and arbitration, we are within our powers. We can constitute Courts for that purpose.

Mr Richard Foster - We have not the power to deal fairly with both sides.

Mr GROOM - Yes, we have, by setting up a tribunal for the purpose. It is the function and duty of the Arbitration Court to settle a dispute; but that is not the function of this Parliament. If honorable members desire that we should have the power of regulation in industrial matters, they must bring about an amendment of the Constitution.

Mr Gregory - The honorable gentleman does not contend that we have not the constitutional power to do what I ask?

Mr GROOM - I say that it is a matter of grave doubt whether we have that power. The honorable member must realize that the matter with which he desires to deal has been the subject of an industrial dispute in the Arbitration Court. He should know that the Judge of the Court refused to insert in his award the condition to which I have referred, because he did not think it right to do so, and also refused to de-register the organization. That was distinctly for the Court to decide.

Mr Ryan - The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) must have known that when he was speaking, and suppressed it.

Mr GROOM - I am sure the honorable member for Dampier did not know anything of the sort. From what I know of him, that would not be in accord with his methods or tactics. I listened to him carefully, and I am sure that he put hit casefairly.

Mr Ryan - Then he put it without a full knowledge of the facts.

Mr GROOM - The honorable member may not have known all the facts. I suggest to the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) that in this chamber we shall get on very much better if we do not impute motives to each other.

This appears to have been an industrial dispute in the Court, and the Court is the proper authority to decide it. We cannot do by legislation indirectly what we have not the power to do by a direct Act of this Parliament. That is the legal difficulty which arises in connexion with the amendment, and about which doubts have been expressed, and I therefore ask the honorable member for Dampier not to press it.

Mr Richard Foster - Then the honorable gentleman contends that, under the Constitution, this Parliament has nothing to do with what an industrial organization does.

Mr GROOM - The honorable member must not put the matter in that way. I say that where it is a matter of an industrial dispute which comes within the cognisance and the authority of a Judge of the Arbitration Court to decide, this Parliament should not be appealed to to make the decision. It is the intention of the Constitution to give this Parliament the power to pass laws to enable such a matter to be the subject of conciliation and arbitration, and not to give us the power to give a decision which should be given by a conciliation tribunal.

Mr Richard Foster - I hope that the Minister will look into the matter carefully, because a very important question is involved.

Mr GROOM - I shall look into it carefully. Much that the honorable member for Dampier said appealed to me. I was impressed by his suggestion that there should be as much freedom as possible given to men to take up employment so long as they do not violate an award. The shearing industry is a very important one, and as shearing is carried on in different places, it is very desirable that it should be possible to organize the labour available so as to secure the best results. But a consideration of the merits of any industrial matter in dispute between organizations is not a duty for this Parliament to undertake. In the circumstances, I ask the honorable member not to press his amendment, as it seems to me that it is doubtful whether we have the power to give it effect. The question has been looked into carefully by the law officers of the Commonwealth, but I give honorable members the assurance that I shall have it further considered.

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