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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr RILEY (South Sydney) .- Is it worth while going on' with this debate in the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) ? The right honorable gentleman ought to be consulted in regard to this amendment. He believes in the principle embodied in it, has spoken and written in favour of it, and if he were present to-day would, I feel sure, support it. In what respect does a State railway or tramway employee differ from any other worker in the community ? Other workers are entitled to go to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court for justice, but by refusing to accept this amendment the Government are denying to employees of State activities the right to appeal to the Commonwealth Court for the settlement of their disputes. We were originally told that we had not the constitutional power to enact a provision of this kind. The party to which I have the honour to belong believed from the first that we had the power, and, led by Mr. Andrew Fisher and the present Prime Minister, we introduced a Bill in which the principle was embodied. ' The High Court subsequently held that we had not the power. That decision has now been reversed. We have always held that State railway servants have the same rights as have other sections of the community, and they are looking to us to-day to give them justice. This amendment will not, if carried, affect to any extent the New South Wales railway employees.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Does the honorable member suggest that they cannot get justice under the Premiership of Mr. John Storey ?

Mr RILEY - No. In New South Wales the men get a minimum of £3 17s. per week. I can quite appreciate the dilemma in which the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) finds himself, since he recognises that if this amendment were carried the railway employees of his State, in common with those of some of the other smaller States, would have to be paid higher wages. Railway employees in New South Wales, however, would not benefit to any extent, because, under the Labour Government there, £hey receive' a minimum wage of £3 17s., and are -able also to get justice from the State Arbitration Court. Why should not the Federal Parliament avail itself of every opportunity to bring all employees throughout the Commonwealth within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court? Why should not all employees be able, if they wish, to go to that Court? The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has been attending a State Railway Conference

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The greatest State Righters in the Conference were Labour members.

Mr RILEY - Is that so? The Commonwealth believes it to be in the interests of the people of Australia as a whole to bring about a uniform railway gauge.

Mr Groom - That is to be done by mutual arrangement.

Mr RILEY - But some people might say that we are interfering with State utilities in taking action to secure a uniform gauge. If there is a strike in any one State, should not the Commonwealth Parliament be the first to set up machinery to settle it ? The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Story), the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford), the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton), the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Laird Smith), and others now on the Government side of the House, as members of the Labour party, went to the country advocating the extension of our constitutional powers, so that State railway men might be brought within the scope of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Surely these honorable members have not changed their views ! I feel confident that the Prime Minister has not, and that he would, if present, accept this amendment. I certainly hope that the Government will withdraw their opposition to it.

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