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Thursday, 2 September 1920


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) . - I cannot promise to become excited over this question, as the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) has just shown himself to be. What occurred to me as of great interest in the honorable member's speech was that he made it quite clear that he believed the amendment moved by the Government is designed to achieve longer hours of employment.


Mr Richard Foster - I did not suggest anything of the kind.


Mr BRENNAN - It is impossible to draw any other conclusion fromthe whole tenor of the honorable member's argument. That fact supports the strong suspicion entertained by honorable members of the Opposition in regard to the motives that impel the Government and the objects they have in viewin submitting this proposal. The proposed new clause is objectionable, both as to its subject-matter, and because of the time and circumstances in which it is introduced. It is not only objectionable, but indecent, especially as it was not foreshadowed in any way in the speech made by the Minister when introducing the Bill. It is brought forward at a time when a Tribunal, constituted for that purpose, is actually hearing evidence from all over Australia on the very question of a possible or probable reduction in the hours of labour. Does it not appear to the Committee that this move on the part of the Government is deliberately intended to anticipate a decision adverse to their policy in that regard ? I cannot imagine any other reason why this amendment of the Act, which the Minister has declared to be most important, should have been introduced at the last moment after we have dealt with the whole principle of the Bill, and with everyprinciple involved in the subsequent amendments. The question of substance here is whether one Judge or. three Judges should deal with this special matter of longer or shorter hours in connexion with the Arbitration Court. It has always been intended that the policy of arbitration shall be characterized by cheapness, simplicity, and expedition. The Government propose, however, in this exceptional way to constitute a Court of three Judges-


Mr Richard Foster - Only to deal with the question of hours.


Mr BRENNAN - It is deliberately intended to anticipate the decision of the Tribunal now sitting in regard to that matter. Whereas this Parliament has passed a law declaring that the decisions of the presiding Judge in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court shall be final, binding, and, so far as possible, without appeal to another Tribunal, in this case the Government say to the Court, " If you are going to reduce the burden of labour, we must take some further action." The possibility of any increase of the hours of labour may be altogether disregarded so far as this proposal is concerned. The Government do not perhaps contemplate increase in the standard hours of labour. They have in contemplation only the very live question which is now agitating the public mind as to a reduction of the hours of labour in certain cases. Honorable members opposite admit that in many cases the hours of labour are excessive; but I am not conscious of their having agitated in their places in Parliament for a reduction or for the constitution of a Tribunal that would have jurisdiction to reduce the hours of employment. They admit that this is a very proper matter for judicial investigation and determination; but they propose that it shall be decided in anticipation of the Court. They propose, if we may judge by the opinions expressed by the honorable member for Wakefield, to decide here and now that any reduction of hours is objectionable except in unspecified and very exceptional cases. The effect of this proposal will be to prolong and complicate proceedings. It will be necessary to get a full Bench, and there will consequently be a lengthened and more intricate argument on the subject, not to mention additional expense. It will also be necessary to have a majority of two to one before a reduction in the hours of labour can be secured. In other words, those who claim a reduction of hours in any occupation will have a harder row to hoe, and a bigger task to face, than they have in establishing any other point in connexion with arbitration proceedings. Although it is admittedly a matter for determination by a Court, we propose to put in the way of the workers anxious to secure a reduction of hours difficulties such as we have not raised in connexion with the settlement of any other industrial matter. I invite the Minister to give any other reason why this special matter should he taken out of the discretion of the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court and vested in an elaborate Tribunal that will be foreign to the whole Act. "We are driven back to the view that there are political considerations at the bottom of this movement. I repeat that it is indecent to bring forward this proposal at the present time, and that the proposal itself is improper in that it represents a movement on the part of the Government - despite the probable action of the President of the Court - to drag away from the Court one particular phase of industrialism, and to encumber it in a way that does not apply to any other industrial matter in Australia.







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