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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) . - I agree with the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) upon several of his leading points, and, particularly, with respect to the argument that it is dangerous to leave a question of such magnitude as the fixing of hours of employment to the determination of any one man.

Mr Gabb - Then, why did you grant sole powers to individuals in connexion with the Industrial Peace Bill?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I did nothing of the kind; it is the honorable member's left-handed logic which suggests such a thing. I have always taken the objection, in regard to the Arbitration Court, that too much power has been placed in the hands of one man. The vast interests of Australian industries for years past have been at the mercy of one person ; and that consideration has created more intense concern than any other in industrial spheres. I desire to refer to statements advanced by various honorable members, chiefly to the effect that a reduction of working hours does not imply a shrinkage of production, but may involve even an enhancement of production. In this regard, the reasoning of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) was altogether fallacious. The illustration he quoted was most unfortunate for his argument. He said that a reduction in the hours of the women who had been working out their very souls at munition making day and night, had led to an increased output, and claimed that this result, which was quite conceivable, would equally apply to men. But the long hours worked by these munition workers have no bearing on the question before the Committee to-day, which relates to conditions as different from those applying in England during the war period as daylight is from dark. The honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) is satisfied, from his own observations in the Old World, that shorter hours have led to increased output; but, here again, the conditions to which he referred are not at all analogous to those which apply in Australia. I have no doubt that when, many years since, an eight hours working day was established generally in Australia, it resulted in equal output. Conditions here, however, are not similar to those in the Old Country, and the facts of recent years are certainly against the claim that greater production results from reduced hours or increased pay.

Mr Riley - Give us the facts.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I need not waste time in doing so, because honorable members already know them, and have reason to know them. One honorable member opposite quoted the very excellent case of the employees of the Sunlight soap manufacturers. But that is an exception. If it were general, this debate would not have arisen. There are also, probably, exceptional cases in Australia which could be quoted, but let us refer to what is actually happening in Great Britain to-day, where a great coal strike is impending. Mr. Lloyd George has pointed out that although there were 100,000 more employees engaged in producing coal in Great Britain over a given week during twelve months, the output of the mines was considerably less than previously.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - He said that the output was 50,000,000 tons less.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Honorable members opposite know these things, but they do not speak about them, as in the interests of the public they should. Do they really believe that there has not been a gradual declining in the output, when members of their organizations publicly and vigorously advocate the slow-down business?

Mr Charlton - The coal miners of New South Wales are increasing their output.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I am delighted to know that they are increasing their output - at the present time.

Mr Riley - That, surely, is an answer to the honorable member.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - At present it is true. A Committee, of which I am a member, was inquiring into the matter the other day, and was delighted to receive evidence to the same effect. When we get such evidence we are only too glad to publish it.

Mr Riley - And the miners are working shorter hours from bank to bank.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - But they get better pay. I am not a " low pay " man. I believe in big pay for men who earn it. I would put men on piece-work, at which they could frequently earn double what they are paid under the day-work system. Australia is right up against trouble in regard to its financial liabilities. But the position would be all right if we were all prepared to repeat, in our industries and daily life, the spirit displayed by our men in the trenches at the Front. We should then shake off our responsibilities without any difficulty. With our output decreasing, the cost of living will not " slide down," as one honorable member said it is now doing. And certainly it will not if by any means a general decision to reduce the weekly hours of work by four hours or six is given.

Mr Maxwell - There is no power by which we can do that.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - That may be; but, if this Parliament does not do its duty, there is a great danger of its being 'done. The public will not blame the Arbitration Court, but will blame this Parliament, which does not include in our legislation safeguards against such a calamity. An alteration in the hours of labour, which it is quite likely may be brought about, would mean the loss of untold millions to the industries of this country, render it utterly impossible for the cost of living to " tumble down," and make the imposition of a high Tariff useless. I shall support the Government on this proposal.

Mr Riley - Of course you will.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Yes; and if they back down I will not support them, because I realize the menacing possibilities behind the rejection of the safeguard proposed.

Mr Tudor - Hamstring the Court and see what the Government will get.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I am sick of hearing honorable members opposite talking about the possibility of the Court failing to do its duty. If there is .such a possibility, let u3 face it and have done with it. No honorable member should be guilty of what has practically been done by one, namely, inciting the. Court to accept this proposal as a challenge. More time and energy have been devoted in the Parliaments of Australia during the last few years to industrial questions than have been given to the consideration of any other matter, however important to the interests of the country. I have quoted the case of the British workers in the coal mining industry. We have similar examples in America, and, unfortunately, in Australia, and we, who are representing the interests of the people of this Commonwealth, will -be recreant to the trust imposed on us if we do not look at the big possibilities ahead, and provide proper safeguards for the future. The proposal of the Government, although not all I hope will subsequently be found on our statute-book; is better than anything so far put forward as a temporary safeguard. The basic question of the limitation of hours of labour is one that ought to be covered by legislation, for which Parliament should accept the full responsibility.

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