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Thursday, 2 September 1920

Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .It is not usual for the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) toinvite me to speak upon a question, but I might say at the outset that I cannot imagine a more disingenuousproposition than thatof the honorable member far Kooyong (Sir Robert Best). He suggests that there might be some modification of the proposal of the Government regarding cases now pending before the Court, and, in particular, with respect to an inquiry which has to do with the question of fixing the hours to be worked in a particular industry. He suggests that there should be an appeal allowed in such cases to the full Bench, which would have the effect of excluding from the full Bench the President of the Arbitration Court, who is now actually hearing a case upon the question of hours.

Sir Robert Best - On the contrary, I said that he would form one of the Bench.

Mr RYAN - Then the effect would be exactly the same as the amendment seeks to bring about, because it would place upon that Tribunal of reference or appeal the new Deputies who, it is suggested, shall be appointed.

I have listened with considerable interest to the debate from its beginning, and I differ from the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) in respect of one point; that is to say, I have heard reasons from the other side concerning why the amendment should be inserted. I have heard reasons advanced by quite a number of honorable members, and by the Prime Minister himself; but I know that they are mot the real reasons for the presentationof the proposal. The Prime Minister informed honorable members, in the course of remarks in which he carefully avoided the issue, that industrial disputes are the same in their nature as legal disputesand, consequently, that they shouldbe decided somewhat in the same manner. The Prime Minister said that, despite that for the past twenty years he has been arguing utterly to the contrary. Daring the past month we have heard honorable members opposite telling us that industrial disputes are entirely different from legal disputes; that the hearing of industrial disputes should not take place in Courts at all; that there should not be Judges or lawyer's engaged. I agree with all that, but I mention it in order to show how inconsistent is the Prime Minister this evening. He has been acting as a special pleader for the capitalistic interests, which are behind the movement for the insertion of the amendment. He has also suggested that there shouldbe appeals, although he must know that the Labour party - of which he wasonce a member, and its leader - has always stood for finality with regard to adjudication of industrial disputes; has always held that there should not be an appeal from one Court to another, with consequent piling up of expenses, so that they fetter the opportunities which ought to be afforded industrial organizations for bringing disputes before a Court for speedy settlement. Yet the Prime Minister now turns round and adopts arguments entirely contrary to those which he employed when he was a member of this party.

The Prime Minister has referred to the necessity for increased production. No one disputes the need for efficiency, and for the greatest possible production. The whole of the Prime Minister's arguments have been directed to the shortening of hours.

Mr Livingston - A good' lawyer can always argue both sides of a case.

Mr RYAN - Yes, and so also, sometimes, can a bad lawyer. Almost the whole of the argument of the Prime Minister was devoted to matters which are irrelevant, and centred upon the question of the shortening of hours.. It was a demonstration of reasons why hours should not be shortened. He used that argument in support of the amendment. I would draw his attention to some other subjects. True, there is need of efficiency and enhanced production if we are to meet our liabilities. But, in addition to the need for greater production as the result of the war, and as an outcome of administration which has not provided for a full return to the producer for his product, conditions have been allowed to arise which have led to great industrial unrest. There is a grave suspicion on the part of the workers to-day regarding any alterations that may be made in the law, particularly by capitalistic Governments. Some people suspect - and, I think, with justification - that the present Government is a capitalistic Government. We know that at this moment industrial unrest has increased by the fact that profiteering has been allowed to flourish without the Government' raising a hand against it. Yet, in these circumstances, the Government comes down with a proposition which has never been before the electors. The Prime Minister launches the proposal at a time when the properlyconstituted Tribunal is dealing with the very question of hours to be worked in a particular industry. And, as for that awful catastrophe which has been foreshadowed as being imminent to Australia, if the amendment is not inserted, surely the Government must have perceived that it was impending when the Bill was introduced. At that stage, however, the subject-matter of the amendment had never been mentioned. This Arbitration Court, which for sixteen years has had full power to decide on the question of hours, as well as of wages, is now to have its power in that respect suddenly taken away.

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