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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- In supporting the amendment moved by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) I would point out that railway employees in South Australia - and I venture the opinion that the position is largely the same in some of the other States - have been deprived of the advantages of arbitration, and their wages and conditions of employment have depended to a large extent upon the pleasure of their respective Governments. Recently, South Australian railway employees have been made subject to the decisions of Wages Boards and the State Arbitration Court. That is the first opportunity they have had to secure the equivalent in wages of the private employees, with the exception of a Labour Government's decision in that State in 1916, but complete satisfaction has not been obtained from the awards of the State Arbitration Court and Wages Boards. Railway men have as much right to appeal to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court as have any other body of workmen. That view has been expressed by many prominent members of the present Ministerial party. As shown in Hansard, volume xix., page 1827, in 1904 the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom), the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Poynton), and the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) voted to bring State railway men within the scope of the Commonwealth Act, while the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) and the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler) were among the pairs in support of that proposal.

Mr Brennan - This is their first real opportunity to give effect to their aspirations.

Mr MAKIN - It is. In view of the decision given yesterday by the High Court these honorable members should show that they are consistent by embracing this opportunity to give legislative effect to a principle for which they have voted in years gone by. I understood the Treasurer to say that if the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court were given power to adjust the wages and working conditions of State railway employees it would also have power to determine rates and freights on the State railway lines. The right honorable gentleman inferred that this was indirectly a proposal that the Commonwealth should take a large share in the management of State railways. The same argument might be advanced in respect of the power of the State Arbitration Courtsto make awards relating to railway men. We do not put forward the view that, because railway men are able to apply to the State Arbitration Courts, those Courts really control the railway system. The right honorable gentleman's argument, therefore, has no force in it, and cannot be justified. We can show that independent Boards and Tribunals are to-day fixing the rates of pay and the conditions of employment of State railway servants. A railway system running through any particular State is the concern, not only of that State, but of the whole Commonwealth. South Australia, for instance, felt very severely the effect of the stoppage of the New South Wales railways in connexion with the strike that took place there in 1917. Because of that stoppage it was deprived of much-needed transit opportunities, suffered much inconvenience, and was subjected to dislo cation of its industries. In these circumstances, the Commonwealth has an undoubted interest in the State railway utilities, and the citizens of the Commonwealth are entitled through the medium of the .Commonwealth Judiciary to voice their opinions with respect to the wages and working conditions of the employees of those activities. In fact, I candidly express my opinion, and emphasize the fact, that all railway systems of this Continent should be unified, and controlled by the Commonwealth. The carrying of this amendment would not prevent State railway men from going before the State Courts. It is merely a proposal that they shall also have the right to go to the Commonwealth Court. Unfortunately, while on any of our State Governments are prepared to make laws relating to private employment, they are not always prepared to observe those laws in regard to their own employees. This most inconsistent attitude has been the method employed by Governments in South Australia, except when Labour was in office, during 1916, and now, as a death-bed repentance of a discredited Government. Whether a person is employed by a Government authority, or by private enterprise, he is entitled to enjoy the benefit of any legislation passed for the welfare of the people. In the early days of the Federation, it was generally believed that the Commonwealth possessed this power in regard to State employees, and many honorable members on both sides of the House have expressed a desire that provision should be made to allow railway employees access to the Federal Arbitration Court. To-night, those honorable members have an opportunity to give practical effect to the principle which they formerly advocated. I hope the Government will see their way clear to accept the amendment. The railway employees are just as deserving of good conditions as is any other section of the community. They have been deprived of their just dues for many years. The amendment proposes to place within their reach a right which should be enjoyed by every citizen of the Commonwealth.

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