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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - It is very rarely, indeed, that debate in this House has altered my vote; but if anything could alter my vote it is a speech such as that to which I have just listened. The arguments of the honorable member, and the points in several of the speeches I have heard to-day have been in this direction, " We are sure that we are going to get a verdict in the present condition of things, and, therefore, we want them to continue as they are; but we are afraid that if some one else gets on the Bench, we shall not get a verdict, and, therefore, we do not want the Government's proposal."

Mr McGrath - We are afraid that the Bench might be " rigged."

Mr Mcwilliams -I hope that never will any Bench be ' ' rigged " by a National Parliament in Australia. I make bold to say that there are no purer Courts than are to be found in Australia.

Mr McGrath - The people are rapidly losing faith in them.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The great mass of the people of Australia believe that there are no purer Courts than are to be found in. Australia, and I hope that opinion will always prevail. I do not intend to vote for the proposed new clause. for sixteen years one Judge has carried on the work of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. During the last few weeks we have passed legislation which we hope will take from that Court nineteentwentieths of the work hitherto performed by it, and I fail to see, therefore, why we should be asked to agree to a proposal that three Judges shall sit in that Tribunal. The Court has not been a success. Practically all the big unions six months ago expressed dissatisfaction with it, and declared that they would have no more to do with it.

Mr Brennan - No, no ! Let us not have these wide generalities.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Leader after leader in the Labour movement made that public declaration. I have very great hopes of the success of the Industrial Peace Bill, under which representatives of the employers and the employees will be able to hold round-table conferences and discuss industrial troubles before a strike occurs. I am exceedingly hopeful that the operation of that measure will be so successful as to very materially reduce the work of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. For these reasons, therefore, I shall vote against the Government proposal. There could be no excuse for the passing of the Industrial Peace Bill, providing as it does for the appointment of a number of arbitrators, if we did not think that it would largely reduce the work of the Court. I do not begrudge the expense which that Bill will involve, because the cost of its administration over a period of ten years would not equal the loss inflicted upon Australia by a strike on the part of one of our large industrial organizations. We are now asked, long before it is possible to determine whether or not that measure will be a success, long before we can determine the extent to which it will reduce the work of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, to agree to a proposal for the appointment of additional Judges to the Arbitration Court Bench. The time has arrived when the Committee must deliberately set its face against all unnecessary appointments. We must avoid overlapping, and I certainly do not think that the Conciliation and Arbitration Court has proved such a success as to warrant the appointment of more Judges. For the last three or four years it has been impossible for an organization to get its plaint before the Court without resorting to a strike. If it takes a week for one Judge to make up his mind on any case that comes before him, how many weeks will it take a Bench of three Justices to come to a decision?

Mr Ryan - Probably three weeks.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It might take much longer. This is a most inopportune time for such a proposal as the Government have put before us. I shall, therefore, vote against it.

Those who travel know that as an, aftermath of the war industrial matters, not only in Australia, but in all parts of the world, are in a very uneven balance, and no public man should indulge in public utterances calculated to intensify the difficulty.

Mr McGrath - The honorable member should address those remarks to the Government.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Without any desire to preach, I am speaking to the Committee as a whole.

Mr Charlton - If the Committee would accept the honorable member's view, the country would probably avoid a disaster.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Probably. I urge honorable members, in discussing all these matters, not to say or do anything likely to precipitate industrial trouble. In some cases we know that the possibilities of an industrial crisis are far too real. If this new clause were necessary it should have appeared in the Bill as introduced, and by bringing it forward now the Government are only lending some colour to the charges which have been made.

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