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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister for Works and Railways) . - During the debate a good deal of matter, although not altogether irrelevant, has been introduced, in such a way as to cloud the real issue. The suggestion that there is a sinister motive behind the proposal of the Government is absolutely without any foundation, because the decision of Cabinet was arrived at only after careful review of the operation of the Act, and the position occupied by the President of the Court in regard to the leading industries of the Commonwealth. This is not a question of party politics. I ask honorable members not to approach it with a desire to legislate in any direction which might indicate favour to one party or another. Honorable members opposite have pressed the Government very hard to appoint more Deputy Presidents of the Arbitration Court, to sit concurrentlv and deal with the existing congestion of cases. The Government have appointed one Deputy, and have taken power to appoint others. We may have three Justices presiding over arbitration cases in which there may be points common to all. There is quite a number of matters peculiar to the pastoral industry, and it is possible for one Judge to deal with them. A hundred and one conditions may affect solely the saw-milling industry, and they may require the concentration of one mind on them. Again, there are details peculiarly applicable to the agricultural industry. But all the awards of Arbitration Courts operate over a whole continent, and we can easily see that there may be in them important matters common to all.For instance, there are two important matters common to all awards, namely, the basic wage to be paid and the hours of labour to be worked, and, in relation to these two matters, it is highly desirable that a conflict of decisions by the Judges adjudicating in different Tribunals should be avoided. Conflicting decisions have been given in awards affecting the Public Service, and have created a difficulty in the administration of the Service.

Mr Riley - How is it proposed to overcome that difficulty?

Mr GROOM - By appointing one Arbitrator, whose sole function will be to deal with the Public Service.

Mr Riley - Quite so, but why not follow the same principle in regard to the Arbitration Court?

Mr GROOM - The Public Service Arbitrator will be dealing with one particular service, but the Arbitration Court awards apply to industries extending over the whole of the continent. I want honorable members to disabuse their minds of the suggestion that the Government are looking at this matter from any party point of view. There is no hint or suggestion in anything contained in this Bill that a Judge must give his decision one way or another. Honorable members persist in claiming that the Government's proposal is to block any reduction in the hours of labour.

Mr Lavelle - So it is.

Mr GROOM - The honorable member repeats the statement, not caring whether it is true or false, and only knowing that the slander may stick. That is not the way in which debates should be conducted in this House. This provision is not intended to operate so as to cause either an increase or a reduction of hours. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Wienholt), who proclaims himself an advocate of the shortening of hours of labour, and says he will vote against the Government's proposal, misconceives the purpose of the provision. It is not intended to prevent the shortening of hours. The only point at issue is whether the decision is to be left to one man, or two, or three, and we propose to leave the decision to a majority of three Justices presiding in the Arbitration Court. There is not an honorable member who wants any man to work a minute longer than it is right for him to work. But we are not concerned with that aspect of the matter. All we are concerned with is that where decisions are given affecting the whole length and breadth of the continent, and every industry in it, they should not be given by one individual.

Mr Riley - Then, why not accept my amendment, which suggested the appointment of two assessors?

Mr GROOM - Last week the honorable member proposed the appointment of two assessors. He does not think these matters should be left to the decision of one man.

Mr Riley - I want to know why the Government opposed my proposal forthe appointment of two assessors, and yet bring forward this proposal?

Mr GROOM - The honorable member's proposal was to appoint two assessors, with a knowledge of the particular calling in which they were engaged; but, asI pointed out to him, they would be asked to give decisions on matters affecting the whole of the industries of Australia.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The honorable member knows that he was at one time an assessor in an Arbitration Court, and that the system broke down.

Mr Riley - Yes, because of High Court decisions.

Mr GROOM - Even if the system did break down it is provided for in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Section 35 provides -

The Court shall on the application of any original party to an industrial dispute, and may without such application, at any stageof the dispute, appoint two assessors for the purpose of advising it in relation to the dispute, and the assessor shall discharge such duties as are directed by the Court or as are prescribed.

The Court has not made use of that provision, and the parties have not applied for the appointment of assessors. The question before us is whether on certain mattersof a far-reaching character the decision should be left to one individual. Some honorable members have said that this' is a matter which the Federal Parliament should decide, and that in respect to the laying down of conditions affecting the whole of the community, such as shortening the hours of work, nothing should be done without the consent of Parliament. But as a legislative body, although we can make laws for the settlement of industrial disputes by conciliation and arbitration, we cannot give a Judge power to introduce in an award anything like a common rule.

Mr Charlton - We cannot introduce a common rule.

Mr GROOM - No. Some honorable members evidently entertain the idea that the Government are proposing it in this Bill, but such is not the case. This Parliament has not power to introduce a common rule. All it can do is to appoint Judges to adjudicate on the matter of conciliation and arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of one State. The one point at issue is whether the question of hours should be left to one Judge, or whether more than one should participate in the decision. The question of whether the hours of labour should be increased or decreased ought to be decided by a majority of the Judges on the Bench. An honorable member has asked, by way of interjection, why, if it is necessary to have the question of hours dealt with by a Bench of three Judges, the Government do not think it necessary to have questions as to rates of wages dealt with by more than one Judge. The answer is that at the present time a Royal Commission, appointed by the Government, is taking evidence in regard to the basic wage question, and that the whole matter will have to come up for consideration.Both are important considerations, and the appointment of a Commission to take evidence as to the basic wage is a recognition of its fundamental bearing on every industry. This is not a questionof party politics. The proposal made by us is as much in the interests of the workers as of any one else.

Mr Ryan - In what way?

Mr GROOM - Because the facts as to the lengthening or shortening of the hours of employment ought to be carefully sifted, in order that a true opinion may be arrived at.

Mr Riley - Does the honorable gentleman suggest that justice has not been done in the case of allawards made by the Court?

Mr GROOM - Not for one moment. The honorable member knows very well that it is a general practice on the part of the whole community to bring collective wisdom to bear on any question of importance.

Mr Ryan - Who is the third proposed Deputy whose collective wisdom the Government wish to secure ?

Mr GROOM - He will be either a Justice of the High Court, or a State Supreme Court Judge. "

Mr Ryan - Has not the honorable gentleman got him in mind ?

Mr GROOM - I have not. We are asked why we desire that applications to the Court with regard to hours of labour shall be dealt with by three Judges. My reply is that it is a matter that cuts both ways. There might be an application for an increase as well as an application for a reductionof the hours of employment.

Mr Riley - There will be no increase in the hours of labour in Australia.

Mr GROOM - We hope there will not be; but we do not know. what lies ahead of us. History tells us of disasters that have arisen from circumstances beyond our control, and we desire so to frame our laws as to be able to meet whatever may be. the conditions with which we are confronted. The regulation of the hours of labour is of common interest to all industries, although the particular conditions of an industry may determine what should be the hours worked by those employed in it.

Mr Charlton - The position is the same in regard to wages.

Mr GROOM - i have already said so. There is also the further consideration that a reduction of the hours of labour in one industry might affect the operations of another.

Mr Ryan - Can the honorable member instance any Commonwealth Statute that has interfered with the hearing of a case during its progress?

Mr GROOM - This will not prevent the hearing of the case now in progress.

Mr Ryan - It will.

Mr GROOM - We .are merely providing that the jurisdiction of the Court on a certain point shall be exercised by three Judges.

Mr Riley - Will it affect a case already before the Court?

Mr GROOM -- The Bill will begin to operate as soon as it is passed, but it cannot do an injustice to any one. There is nothing in this proposal to support the sinister suggestion that has been made.

Mr Ryan - If the suggestion were put that the Government were carrying out some one else's behest in order to defeat the decision of the President of the Court, would this not be an apt way of doing that?

Mr GROOM - That suggestion is absolutely without foundation, and is made deliberately in or.der that it may go out to the country. It is unfair, improper, and quite unworthy of the honorable member. The honorable member is aware that on a former occasion where a plaint had been issued, and a case was absolutely pending, this House amended an Act to enable certain proceedings to be affected.

Mr Cunningham - But the hearing of that case had not commenced-.

Mr GROOM - It was about to start, and the amendment of the Act was deliberately made to assist one of the parties. When that action on the part of the Government then in power was being criticised in the House some of the present members of the Labour party prevented its further discussion by taking the point of order that the case was sub judice. There is absolutely nothing to support the suggestion that this proposed new clause is designed to prevent a reduc-tion of the hours of employment. It is merely intended to prevent either the lengthening or the reduction of the hours of employment except upon a judgment delivered by a bench of three Judges.

Mr Charlton - The application of the proposal to any attempt to extend the hours of employment has only a secondary consideration on the part of the Government.

Mr GROOM - That is not so. How will this provision operate? It has been suggested by the Opposition that it will tend to delay the hearing of cases. I differ from that view. If on the hearing of a plaint the presiding Judge finds that one of the matters at issue is a proposal to increase the hours of labour he will immediately call in two of his fellowJudges so that that point may be decided. A decision having been arrived at, he may then proceed to deal with the remaining issues, and base his award upon the judgment of the three Judges as to the hours of labour. It . is not proposed that in every case that comes before the Court three Judges shall hear the whole plaint from A to Z.

Mr Charlton - How long does the honorable gentleman think it would take the Court to deal with a question of hours?

Mr GROOM - It should not take very long.

Mr Gibson - Will these additional Judges be temporarily or permanently appointed?

Mr GROOM - The tenure of office is set out in the Act. The Justices of the High Court who are called on to act under this clause will not receive a penny more than they are now paid. If one of the Judges of the High Court is not available a State Supreme Court Judge may be appointed.

Sitting suspended from 6.29 to 8 p.m.

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