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Wednesday, 1 September 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - I support the amendment, and congratulate the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) on having taken the earliest opportunity, after the delivery of the High Court judgment, to provide for thousands of railway employees to have access to the Commonwealth Court of Arbitration for the redress of their grievances. These men have suffered for many years on account of their inability to approach the Court, and we are disappointed that the Government have not accepted the amendment. The fundamental idea of Federation was to create uniformity of conditions for all citizens throughout the Commonwealth. In consonance with that policy, there should be uniformity in the rates paid to railway employees in the different systems, instead of continuing the existing anomaly of men on one side of a border working for less than is paid to railway servants of an adjoining .State. The Labour party has always contended that the Commonwealth has constitutional power to confer the benefits of the Federal Arbitration Act upon State employees. The Labour party prides itself on its consistency. It stands always for what it considers right, and for broad principles. It is not shaken by every passing breeze, as .are those honorable members who have deserted their old principles and are 'to-day sitting in Nationalist company. Former members of the Labour party find themselves in a very awkward position, and the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Bamford) confesses that he is "in the soup." That is because he has deserted his old principles and deserted the party to which he once belonged.

Mr Bamford - I was expelled from the party.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - The honorable member may have been expelled from the party, but he deserted his principles. Now he and some of his colleagues have to choose between adherence to their former principles and loyalty to the party to which they now belong. The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) at one time held very definite views in regard to the position of railway employees in relation to the Federal Arbitra tion Act. In 1904 the then Deputy Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Andrew Fisher) moved an amendment to the Arbitration Bill to provide for the inclusion of employees of .State railways, .and I propose to quote to the Committee what was said on that occasion by the present.

Prime Minister in supporting the amendment. At page 1089 of Hansard, vol. XV,III: 1904, Mr. Hughes is reported to have said -

I doubt whether it oan be shown to the satisfaction of the Court that it was the direct intention of the Convention to exclude the public servants of the States.

We support the amendment, because at this particular time the extension of the functions of the State in various directions is one of the cardinal principles in which the party to whom I and the honorable member who submitted the amendment are attached, believe. If it he declared that the Constitution does not permit of a law to adjust disputes which may, and in time must, occur between a State and its employees, all I have to say is that it will not be very long before the public servants of Australia will be such an appreciable number of the whole population that to allow them to remain outside the operation of a tribunal of this sort would be neither more nor less than an outrage, and would be, I believe, a fitting subject for indignant protest by those private employers who would be compelled to abide by the decisions of such a tribunal.

As to whether we have the power to do what is proposed, I am rather inclined to adopt the attitude of the honorable member for Bland, and say that that is a matter entirely within the province of the High Court.

The High Court gave its decision yesterday, and to-day the Labour party is endeavouring to give legislative effect to that decision, in order to do justice to thousands of railway workers throughout the 'Commonwealth. Further on Mr. Hughes said -

We come here having appealed to the people on this particular point. In some of the States other points were raised as well; but every one of us had to toe the scratch in regard to this particular matter. I myself was asked definitely, " Are you, or are you not, in favour of this?" I think every candidate Was asked that question, and many a one who was asked it wishes to-night that he had given another answer. Those who propose to conciliate their consciences by elaborate argument ami by ingenious references to difficulties, constitutional or otherwise, which exist or do not exist, cannot deny that the people were appealed to, and that every candidate was asked by the railway associations of Australia, "Are you, or are you not, in favour of the railway servants being included in the Arbitration Act?" Every candidate replied "Yes" or "No," because those who did not answer in the affirmative were understood from the terms of the letter sent to them to answer in the negative. Therefore, every one of us is directly pledged upon this question. A species of referendum has thus been taken. How, under these circumstances, can we be told that a grievous wrong is to be inflicted upon the citizens of Australia because we propose to compel the Parliaments of the States to do something of which the people have by an overwhelming- majority declared themselves in favour ?

Yet it is said that we contemplate a grievous wrong to Australian Democracy by compelling the Parliaments of the States to vote money to do justice to their employees. Any one would imagine that the Federal Arbitration Court is to perpetuate some dire wrong, to inflict upon the States some unprovoked indignity, whereas it is being created to right a wrong. It is to require only that which justice indicates should be done; and ought not that to be approved and adopted by every Parliament in Australia?

We shall do no wrong to that charter of government by making this measure applicable alike to private employees and to the railway employees of the States. If we fail to do so, and a strike ensues, I shall hold that the right honorable gentleman has done his share towards committing one of the most grievous wrongs that any citizen can commit.

Mr WATKINS (NEWCASTLE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We should still have to interfere.

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