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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden) (Monaro) . - I should very much prefer, before speaking on this question, to hear any explanation the Minister (Mr. Groom) has to give.

Mr Groom - I explained the clauses fully last night.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Then I must be very dense, because I could not understand the honorable member's explanation. We have had a surprise sprung on us this morning. A little while ago our grievance against the Minister was that he would not appoint sufficient Judges. A large number of industries were clamouring for the settlement of their disputes, and we had to make a noise in the House before we could induce, the Government to take action to relieve the congestion. Now we have this extraordinary proposal put before us, which will have the effect, seeing "that the question of wages and* hours are intermixed in every dispute, of sending every one of these industrial troubles before a Bench of three Judges. An important amendment of that kind is thrown on the table without any explanation, or, at least, with.OUt any explanation that satisfies me. I have no strong feeling in the matter, except that I cannot help hearing the rumours that go around about the likelihood of great industrial' trouble. We are told by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), who 'has inside knowledge, that it is very probable that the Government, unless they walk warily, will bring about the very thing we wish to avoid. The Government should be very apprehensive of doing anything to precipitate an industrial conflict, because we have had enough of that sort of trouble. It would be dreadful if a big strike were caused by some action of the Ministry in this Chamber. We had a very moderate and explanatory speech from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), and I fully expected to hear the Minister answer it. The honorable member for Hunter put to the Minister a number of queries, which seemed to me to be unanswerable. Probably the Minister will be able to answer them, but if he. cannot I shall vote with the honorable member for Hunter, because he made out a very good case. I know that a number of other honorable members are in the same boat as myself. We are seeking for information. I do not mind attending here for morning sittings ; but we have . certainly made a bad start this morning,- because most of the extra time has been devoted by honorable members to begging the Government to give some explanation and information about their new proposals. The fact that there seems to be a constant feud between Ministers and the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) does not interest us in this corner except that we would like to see them go outside and settle it among themselves. The honorable member for West Sydney seems to raise contentious questions here, and the Government appear to resent it, and refuse to give honorable members generally the information to which they are entitled. The honorable member for Hunter asked the Minister across the table whether anybody had suggested this amendment, and what the reason was for bringing it down. Surely those are questions which ought to be answered. We all know the rumours that are going round about the President of the Arbitration. Court, and the friction that exists. We have also heard the statement that this amendment is meant as a blow at him. The Government, by asking us to vote for it, are asking us to take sides on something on which we think there should be no sides at all. It is a calamity that the Minister should be so obstinate after being appealed to all round. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell), who is a strong Government supporter, and tries to take a judicial attitude in all these matters, pressed the Minister and the. Government this morning to give him some information. We know that the Minister is a great authority on legal questions, and that the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has had practical experience of industrial matters. Why, then, have we to stand up one after the other and beg them to give reasons that ought to have been given at the very commencement? I am getting very tired of it. I say unhesitatingly that the honorable member for Hunter made out a very good case, and I cannot bring myself to give a vote that will probably have the effect, as we are told by the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), of precipitating great industrial trouble. We have had enough of that already, and I urge .the Minister, even at this late hour, to accede to the requests that have been made to him. Why was not this amendment thought of before? This is hasty legislation, if ever anything was. Unless measures are, before being tabled, better thought out : than this one has been, we shall have to introduce a proper system of appointing committees to go into them before they are introduced, especially when they deal with technical matters. What do a lot of us know about coal mining? What is the use of trying to compare the conditions of the dairymen and the pastoral' employees in my district, men who, a* one honorable .member said, get too much of the open air- and sunshine, with the conditions of the coal miners, who hardly ever seen the sun?

Mr Gregory - The honorable member ought to- read the recent report of Mr. Campbell on the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. It will give him a very different idea of the conditions of the coal miners.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I prefer to take the statement of the honorable member opposite, who has had practical experience.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.80 p.m.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I regret very much that the Minister in charge of the Bill has not seen fit to throw a little more light on this matter. I shall listen with interest to what the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has to say on the subject, since his practical experience should enable him to give us some valuable information. As one who has not a thorough knowledge of mining, and one or two other industries more particularly involved, I was much impressed by the speech made by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), especially having regard to the electorate that he represents. Although honorable members may smile at the suggestion that a member's judgment and views are 'influenced by the interests of his electorate, I think that it is rightly and properly so. The honorable member for Hunter represents a big farming as well as a mining constituency, and he must have regard to the interests of the farmers as well as to those of the miners. I wish, if possible, to avoid the conflict which the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) suggested would take place if this proposal were agreed to. Owners of large factories and foundries controlling a great number of employees are under the. impression that a working week of five days is better in the long run than a sixday week, as the few hours worked on Saturday are not altogether satisfactory. While that may be so in so far as such industries are concerned, lie making of a common rule for a working week of five days would prejudicially affect the primary producers. For that reason I regret very much that the Ministers, to whom we look for guidance in this matter, have not answered the strong case put up by the honorable member for Hunter, who certainly appears to have had the best of the argument. I do not know why we should not follow.the lead he has given us. He has pointed out the danger of this proposal, and, in doing so, has been supported by the honorable member for South Sydney, who has a wide knowledge of industrial matters, and who assures us that the addition of this new clause to the Bill would probably result in an immediate crisis. X am sure Ministers, in common with honorable members generally, desire to avoid anything of the kind. The Minister in charge of the Bill must have at his fingers' ends all the information we desire, and by supplying it to us he would shorten the debate. I would strongly object to any common rule in regard to the shortening of hours. It is not so much the number of hours worked as the actual work done with which we are concerned. It is the "go-slow'' policy that causes trouble.

Mr Prowse - What about piece-work for all industries?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Piecework is better for both the employer and the employee in many cases, but the principle could not be applied to all industries. The Labour party have a deeprooted objection to the system.

Mr Fenton - Not in respect to every trade. In the printing trade, for instance, piece-work prevails to a very considerable extent.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I think the majority of the workers would prefer piece-work, but it is not possible in all avocations. I should object to a common rule.

Mr Groom - The Court has no power to make a common rule.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Why did not the Minister comply with the request made by the honorable member for Hunter, that the information at his di?posal should be placed before 'the Committee ? The questions asked by the honorable member are both difficult and important, and should be answered before we proceed to a vote. The honorable member has made out a case which, in the absence of further information, wiE compel men like myself, with open minds, to vote with him.

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