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Thursday, 2 September 1920

The CHAIRMAN (Hon J M Chanter (RIVERINA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the facts are as stated by the honorable member for Hunter, the honorable member for Dampier will not be in order in continuing the quotation.

Mr GREGORY - The point raised by the honorable member for Hunter may be open to debate, but lest any animosity should be created, I do not propose to proceed further with the quotation. I cannot help remarking, however, that time after time honorable members opposite have discussed this question, and expressed their own views upon it. I hope that, if the proposed new clause is carried, the Government will adopt the suggestion to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question of hours of labour. It is not just that a matter of such transcendent importance should be left to the decision of one man.

Mr Ryan - Would the honorable member interfere with the inquiry which is now in progress under the presidency of Mr. Justice Higgins?

Mr GREGORY - I have a grave objection to legislation for particular instances, because, as a rule, legislation of that character is not as good as laws made under more deliberate and normal circumstances. But the subject-matter of this amendment is of such importance to the future of the country that I feel bound to support it. The decision upon the question of working hours may lead to the destruction of many of our industries. Enormous protective duties are being imposed in order to promote the establishment of secondary industries - over £2,100,000 was collected in Customs revenue during August - and if anything is done to destroy those young industries the consequences to the country will be serious.

Mr West - This is a peculiar argument on the part of a Free Trader.

Mr GREGORY - I do not know that I am a Free Trader; I never said so; but I certainly do not believe in high duties. I hope that all honorable members who have serious regard for the future of the country will vote with the Government on this occasion, and that the Government will grant the inquiry I have suggested. I realize that it is not possible for the House to legislate as to the number of hours that should be worked in any industry. For instance, although a forty-four-hour week obtains in the mines, I remember ascertaining on a visit to Bendigo, five or six years ago, that the conditions in some mines were such that the inspectors would not permit the men to work there for more than thirty or thirty-six hours per week:

Mr Charlton - I think the honorable member will agree that it is very doubtful as to whether men should be permitted to work at all under those conditions.

Mr GREGORY - That may be so, but that is a question which Parliament cannot determine. I know that in a wellventilated mine the conditions are better than in many surface avocations.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - I do not believe it.

Mr GREGORY - I know that to be a fact, and I have had more experience of mining than has the honorable member.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - No medical man would agree that it is healthier to work in a mine than above ground. The honorable member would say anything.

Mr GREGORY - One has only to see the men who are. employed in wellventilated and regulated mines to know that my statement is a fact. I again commend to the Government the suggestion I have made, that a full inquiry should be held into this vitally important question.

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