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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr J H CATTS (Cook) .- By the judgment of the High Court, the railway and tramway men of Australia have now had restored to them rights of which they have been robbed for the last ten or more years.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Who says that ?

Mr J H CATTS - There is no doubt that Australian railway and tramway men, numbering over 100,000, are extremely anxious to have the right of appeal to the Federal Arbitration Court. Their organizations applied to probably the whole of the then candidates for the then Federal Parliament, asking to be given the same rights as other workers, and it was only because of what we now find to have been a wrongful decision of the High Court that they were deprived of their constitutional rights. A wiser High Court Bench has reversed the old decision. We are now informed by the gentlemen from whom we must take our law, that the railway and tramway men have the right to come within the operation of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act - that is the effect of the judgment. The question now is whether we, as members of Parliament, will grant the men their rights.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Is it for this Parliament to do so?

Mr J H CATTS - It is for every member to say whether he is prepared to grant the rights of these men.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The people of the country have said half-a-dozen times that we must not do this thing.

Mr J H CATTS - They have done nothing of the kind. Proposals for the amendment of the Constitution have been submitted, along with other questions, confused and entangled with other matters of party politics.

Mr Ryan - And with limitations of all sorts that were not acceptable.

Mr J H CATTS - Quite so. At any rate, I submit that it is for every member of the House to say whether he is prepared to vote so as to enable these railway and tramway men to exercise their rights. If any member is satisfied to go to his constituency, and explain to the railway and tramway men there that he does not think they should have the right that the High Court judgment gives, he must take the consequences. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) said that if we have the right to fix the conditions of the employees we can virtually also fix freights and fares.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I said, in effect, that we could create such conditions as would practically determine freights and fares.

Mr J H CATTS - Just so. At present we are exercising the power of taxation over railway employees, of interfering with their remuneration by taking so much of their pay for Commonwealth purposes. Further, through our Customs Act, we are taxing the Railway Departments in the matter of material used in construction. There is no difference in principle. If we may not increase the rates of pay of railway servants, we have no right to exercise our Customs Act in respect of material used in the railway services, or to invoke our taxation laws with regard to the income of railway employees. The Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Groom) says be has not so far seen the text of the judgment of the High Court. If he desires to peruse it before taking action, there is nothing to prevent him from securing the postponement of this measure; but if honorable members lose the present opportunity to stand' up for the rights of the railway men and tramway men of Australia, we shall probably have no other chance to do so. And what would the railway servants say if, after all these years of endeavouring to secure the advantages of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration legislation, their representatives in Parliament were now to fail to rise to the occasion? At any rate, the opportunity should not be lost of placing responsibility upon every individual member concerning the question whether or not the railway and tramway employees of Australia shall be given their just right of coming under our arbitration legislation. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) believes there is a sinister move behind the proposal to include the railway employees.What would he say if honorable members were to fail to seize the opportunity? "Would he not subsequently accuse us of being hypocrites? We can hear him saying, " Why did you not exercise your rights and privileges when you had the opportunity to do so?" The matter has been threshed out in this Legislature time and again, year after year.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Hear, hear! And the people have pronounced upon it. The people have said that we should not have this power.

Mr Fenton - While the High Court now says that we have the power.

Mr J H CATTS - I have been closely interested in this matter for longer than most other honorable members, and I feel that now that the opportunity has been suddenly presented, we should seize it. The railway men and tramway men of Australia are as good and deserving citizens as any other section of the workers, and they are as fully entitled to all the advantages conferable under the Constitution. Hitherto 'they have made strenuous, but unsuccessful, efforts to secure those advantages in respect of our conciliation and arbitration legislation.

In Tasmania, for example, there is little opportunity afforded for the railway men to have their rights and conditions fixed by the Courts. Here is the opportunity to enable railway men all over Australia to assist each other in the preparation and submission of their case, and in the securing of a uniform set of conditions based upon those most favorably existing in any of the States. The conferring of this advantage will now depend specifically upon the individual votes of honorable members, and I hope that those honorable members who have railway men among their constituents will not overlook the important fact.

Mr Ryan - It should not be forgotten, either, that the conferring of this additional advantage will not prevent them from still going to the State Tribunals if they so wish.

Mr J H CATTS - Certainly not; this privilege will be additional, and I trust that the railway men, at this late hour - after having been for so long deprived of their undoubted rights - will at last be given justice. ,

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