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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) .- The discussion of this clause has centered a good deal round the question of a reduction of the working hours of people in employment in Australia. As I sec it, that has nothing to do with the particular amendment before the House. But as the question has been raised, I think that one ought to more or less make clear the position one takes up. I believe very strongly in the reduction of hours as far as it is reasonably possible, because we get better results in the end. It is no use members telling us now that if we reduce the working hours by four a week we shall reduce production to the same extent. We have' seen time and again, particularly in England, that nothing of the sort has happened. Last year, when I was there, I saw many instances in which, with the hours reduced to a reasonable basis for men who have to do a hard but fair day's work, the results were better than formerly. But that is not the question we have to consider; the question is whether one mind or more shall determine a matter which is of terrific importance to Australia to-day. The question is, What is a reasonable period to work in order to obtain a maximum production? The way to get that result is not necessarily by working longer hours. If we leave the determination of such a question to one man it seems to me we are running a grave danger. There are two dangers we have to face - there is the danger that we may get a man who will reduce the hours beyond a reasonable limit, and thus decrease production beyond what we have a right to expect, and this at the very hour when we are faced with a tremendous burden that can be lifted only if we have the fullest and best production possible. The other danger we are faced with is that the question may be determined by the mind of a man who acts on the simple rule that the more the hours of work the more the production. We might then have a determination which would result in squandering the manhood and womanhood of the country by working them beyond a period they can bear with benefit to themselves and the community. We have to determine what kind of mind is to decide what is the best period of work in the interests of the individual, and, above all, in the interests of Australia as a whole. Personally, I think it is too great a responsibility to throw on any one man. The proposal of the Government suggests three men ; hut, though I am not satisfied with that, it is better than leaving it fo only one man. My own view is that this is a matter that should be considered fully, and determined by Parliament, as a great national question. I hope in the future we may have the power to do this - that it will become one of the great tasks of this Parliament to determine what is best in the interests of the nation as a whole. Taking that view, I am going to vote for the proposal of the Government, and I am going a bit further than I think some others will go. There appears to me to have been a certain amount of "hedging" on the question of what is going to happen to the present inquiry. I say, deliberately, that I should be glad if that inquiry did not terminate on the decision of one man only, for the decision is one which will have far-reaching effects from one end of Australia to the other at n most critical hour in our history.

Mr Charlton - In what position will this amendment place all the awards which have been given by one Judge providing less hours than forty-eight?

Mr BRUCE - This amendment is not retrospective.

Mr Charlton - I do not know what it will prove to be when there is an appeal made.

Mr BRUCE - I should say that the amendment is not retrospective, but if there is any possibility that it might be so, the matter could be put right with three words. As I understand the amendment it will apply only to the future.

Mr Charlton - If, in the past, we have had satisfaction from the present method of conducting industrial inquiries, and if awards have been given which have not interfered with the welfare of the community, why should we make u departure now ?

Mr BRUCE - The honorable member will agree that a great body of public 01)111101' in this country to-day favours a substantial reduction in hours of employment. I do not wish to say now whether, in my opinion, that view is right or wrong; but it has become a great question, which must be dealt with specifically and broadly, and not in any isolated fashion. In view of that fact, I maintain that the old principle should be adhered to meanwhile.

Mr Charlton - The same point of view has been advocated for years past.

Mr BRUCE - If the honorable member will consider the circumstances existing to-day, not only in Australia, but all over the world, he must agree that the question is much more vital at this moment than ever in the past.

Mr Fenton - This whole subjectmatter is now contained in a reference to the Court, and the case must go to a finish. Why not let it do so, and permit a decision to be given ?

Mr BRUCE - The honorable' member says that the matter is to go through to a finish, but I have not heard any clear and authoritative statement that such is the case. If Parliament now passes a law to the effect that a decision upon the matter of hours cannot be given by one Judge, then I should say that the present inquiry cannot go through to a decision.

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