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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr PROWSE (.Swan) .- This is a matter that needs full and weighty consideration, because it is npt one that concerns only unionists and working men, but the community as a whole. What the amendment asks, as intimated by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), is that some special consideration shall be given, apart from that generally given by the Arbitration Court, because of the importance of the matter; and therefore it is contended that the minds of three Judges should be engaged. The utterances of the honorable member for Maribymong (Mr. Fenton) took me back twenty-five years, when there was a similar cry for eight hours a day"Eight hours' work: eight hours' play; eight hours' sleep." That standard was . set up, and at the present time we have an annual celebration of the event, and in this city there are monuments commemorating it. During the life-time of every member of this Parliament the eight-hour day has been in vogue, and now, almost suddenly, a determined attempt is made at a reduction. Why ? I should have thought that any attempt to alter the hours o£ labour would have been in the direction of increasing them, in view of the tremendous debt that the war has laid on the people of Australia. It would have been different if it could be urged that there is too little work in proportion to the people prepared to do it, and that a little should be given to each; but the trouble is that in Australia we have not enough people to do the work that is necessary. Let me not be misunderstood. I believe that an efficient Tribunal should consider, and come to a conclusion, to be afterwards ratified by Parliament, as to which forms of employment are detrimental to health on an eight-hour basis. There are some employments in which eight hours a day would be detrimental to health, and therefore they should be reduced to a point at which a given industry can be carried on with safety. I wish honorable members opposite to recognise that there is another view to be taken of this important question. Particularly from the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) has come the cry of the high cost of living, and the demand that the Government shall deal with profiteering. Taking a rough estimate, a reduction of four hours a week in Australia, at ls. 3d. per hour, would mean a loss of £16,000,000; but I understand that those who advocate the shorter day also advocate that the workers should receive the same wages as at present.

Mr Fenton - .Side by side with the shortening of hours there have been increases of wages.

Mr PROWSE - Just so. Do all honorable members consider that honest when we, as .1 people, are financially so "up against it." Then, again, I have heard, chiefly from honorable members opposite, the suggestion made that consumers should be supplied at lower prices at the cost of the primary producer. But how is that going to work out? Has the primary producer to keep on working twelve hours a day, and sometimes longer, in order to provide cheaper living for those who are claiming the right to work for less than eight hours"? The primary producer has to pay a high Protective duty on his machinery; and yet he is called upon to provide cheap food for those who work in factories for only fortyfour hours a week. Can it be expected that the primary producer, after labouring twelve hours a day, will give his produce at a cheaper rate than it can be sold at outside of Australia ? The whole thing is inequitable, unreasonable, and unfair. If I am asked to help the consumer of Australia, I have a right to reason with him when he suggests the review of his working hours, and show that he does not play the same part in the community that I do. If an occupation be not an unhealthy one, why not, at a time like this, work the full eight hours and produce as much as possible? The honorable member for Cowper, in the incident he quoted, referred to women workers in England, under the great stress of war, who were pressed to do work almost beyond human strength. Under such circumstances I can quite understand that the results were as he described; but he went on to sKy that the point at which we could- expect the maximum production was forty-seven hours. Well, for ordinary work in Australia, forty-eight hours is not far from that central point. At the present time we owe £S00,000,000, and how can we get cheaper living by reducing the hours, and at the same time increasing the wages? While I am not altogether wedded to the suggested amendment of the Government, I should like some Special Tribunal, Committee,' or Commission to take expert evidence, on which Parliament might decide; and I do not care whether that body consists of one Judge or half-a-dozen.

Mr Fenton - That investigation is going »on now.

Mr PROWSE - And when it is completed, and Parliament is properly informed, it may fix the hours. I hope that honorable members at all times will have regard to the position in which Australia is to-day. Before the war, when we were able to meet our obligations more easily, we might have reduced working hours, but now it is not sane to make such a suggestion.

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