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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

In the early days of Federation, Parliament thought it had power to bring railway disputes under the Arbitration Court. In 1904 an amendment on the Arbitration Bill was carried, bringing railway disputes under the Arbitration Court. The High Court, however, two years later, decided that Parliament could not deal with railway servants.

Parliament should, however, have this power. All citizens of the Commonwealth are vitally concerned in keeping the wheels going. If a dispute happens on the railways of any State, it affects not only that State and its people, but other States and their peoples. Every one might suffer because the people of the State immediately concerned could not keep the wheels running.

The railways are the veins and arteries of the system of land defence of Australia. Unless those veins and arteries are kept unclogged by industrial disputes, the system of land defence may be dangerously impaired.

The Federal Court will in this matter supplement, not destroy, the work of those State Courts which have power to deal with railway disputes. Those Courts will not be interfered with. But not all States have such Courts. Victoria has none, and we all know that this led to the Victorian railway strike.

The Commonwealth is not asking for a wide general power to regulate the conditions of employment in the railways. It does not seek, as some foolish people say it does, to fix fares on the railways. It wants nothing more than the power to keep the wheels going. It wants to be able to protect the whole people from suffering through a purely local dispute.

I find that the Treasurer on that occasion pointed out, in reply, that Australia was engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and that during such a time we should not indulge in attempts at constitutional amendments. He also urged that the High Court ought to be appealed to, instead of submitting debatable questions to the electors.Now the High Court, after mature thought and consideration, has delivered itself of a judgment in which the highly qualified gentleman who was appointed by the present Government to succeed the late Sir Samuel Griffith as Chief Justice, acquiesced.We ought to take the earliest opportunity to include State railway and tramway servants within the operation of the Act, now that the barrier has been removed. Whether we accept this new clause or not, it is my opinion that the railway men will speedily appeal to the Court for redress of their grievances. The Government would be wise, if they cannot see their way to accept the proposed amendment, to postpone the further consideration of this measure until, say, next week, so that we may have an opportunity to see the full text of the judgments given.







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