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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr RILEY (South Sydney) .- I cannot understand the attitude of the

Government in regard to this Bill and the necessity for it. First we were told that with the object of relieving the congestion at the Arbitration Court, Boards would be appointed to deal with industrial disputes, and a Bill was passed through this House providing for the creation of those Boards, which the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) assured us would deal with at least 50 per cent, of the cases that now go before the Arbitration Court. Then we amended the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and gave the President of the Arbitration Court power to vary awards, thus obviating the necessity for submitting fresh plaints and creating further disputes. All that legislation has tended to relieve the pressure on the Arbitration Court.. The main reason given by the Government for the introduction of the Bill is that it will settle a "large number of cases concerning the Public Service now set down for hearing in the Arbitration Court, and give those concerned facilities to get a decision more promptly. In the circumstances' the Government might just as well wait for a time to see how the Arbitration Court works under the amended arbitration law, and to see also the effect of the new Tribunals to be created under the Industrial Peace Bill, before they force the public servants into a special Court.

Sir Robert Best - 'The Prime Minister said at the same time that the Tribunals were emergency bodies.

Mr RILEY - Yes, but they will relieve the pressure " on the Arbitration Court. If that is not the object of the Industrial Peace Bill, it is of no use at all. I am sure that it will relieve the Arbitration Court. The Government now propose to appoint a special Court to deal with the cases of Public Service employees. If they establish the principle that a special Court and a special Judge must deal with the employees of the Commonwealth, they must go a little further by establishing a special Court to deal with . each industry. The coal-miners have already taken the opportunity to come under a Tribunal on the lines of those to be created by the Industrial Peace Bill. If one man must be engaged wholly and solely on Public Service arbitration cases, I, as a member of the building trade, claim that that trade is important enough to justify the appointment of a special Judge to deal with it only. There are carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, plast- terers, and other sections of workers concerned in it. Let one man specialize in building trade matters, if the arguments of the Government are sound, because as much technical knowledge is required to deal with that trade as is necessary in the case of the Public Service, and even more, as any one knows who, like myself, has been in the trade, and realizes the various technicalities that must be mastered before an award can be drawn up. If it is right in the case of the Public Service, and if it may be right in the case of the building trade,why not appoint another special Judge to deal with all the branches of the leather industry, such as tanning, saddlery, and harness making, boot making, and other technical operations of that particular branch of industry? There are hundreds of different technical matters to be mastered in connexion with the leather industry. We should also have a special Judge to deal with the iron trade, including moulders, engineers, fitters, brass finishers, and brass moulders. Then there is the shipbuilding trade. Why not appoint a special Judge for every avenue of industry, if the principle of this Bill is right, and so make the whole thing ridiculous ? I do not say that the principle of the Bill is right. Why not have another special Judge or Arbitrator to deal with the clothing trade? Why should the Public Service be picked out for a special Judge and Court to deal with its cases only? There is some ulterior motive behind that we do not understand. What is the reason ?

Mr Groom - It is most improper of the honorable member to suggest an ulterior motive for the Bill.

Mr RILEY - I do suggest it. The Minister has no doubt read Mr. McLachlan's report. That will suggest it to him. Is that report the basis on which he has drawn up this Bill?

Mr Groom - We are introducing an Arbitration Bill for the Public Service. Is the honorable member against arbitration?

Mr RILEY - The Government are cutting the wings of the Public Service by preventing them from going to the proper Arbitration Court.

Mr Groom - Nothing of the sort. We are giving them a Court.

Mr RILEY - That is their impression, and the impression of the public, too.

Mr Groom - There is nothing to justify the honorable member in making an unfair and improper suggestion.

Mr RILEY - That is what is in my mind, and I have the right to express it. There must be some motive behind the Bill. If the Government want to give the employees of the Commonwealth a fair deal, and they are entitled to it, why not let them continue to go to the Arbitration Court proper?

Mr Groom - Under this Bill they will get the best and fairest deal possible.

Mr RILEY - Any Judge who sits in the Arbitration Court hears cases in all sorts of trades outside the Service, and his experience tends to broaden his views so far as industrial matters are concerned. He does not have to deal with cases only from a Public Service point of view. He is not in a narrow circle where he is compelled to decide a question from the point of view of its effect on the Public Service only. His eyes are not fixed only on the Service. He takes a broader view of things. He knows the conditions of industry outside. He is, therefore, a Judge with general knowledge, and the employees in the Public Service are far more likely to get a fair deal from him than from a man who is surrounded by red tape, and all. the time under the eye of the Government. Another objection is that if a separate Court is created, and a special Judge appointed to deal with the Public Service, it means building up another Department.

Mr Groom - W© are doing nothing of . the sort. This Bill does not provide machinery for any such purpose.

Mr RILEY - We all know what happens. If the Government appoint a separate Judge, he must have a tipstaff, a clerk, and a typist, and he will gradually gather a Department around him. I am 'afraid of these growing Departments. We all see that the Public Service is growing to an enormous extent. Every Bill we pass seems to multiply the number of Government employees, and I regret the tendency very much. Here is a simple way out of the difficulty. We have an Arbitration Act in operation, and an Arbitration Court at work. All that is necessary is for the Government to say, " We will allow one Judge to take all the Public Service Arbitration cases until he wipes out the lot of them."

Mr Groom - The honorable member has just argued that if we put one man on that job be will be narrow-minded, and not able to deal with the cases properly.

Mr RILEY - I said that the Judges of the Arbitration Court have to deal with other cases, and will know the circumstances outside the Service. When the Judge who is specially detailed to finish off the Public Service Arbitration cases has completed the work, he can go back to the hearing of cases affecting other branches of industry. If one man is set aside tohear Public Service cases only, as this Bill proposes, he will not be doing the best thing in the interests of the country. We should not look upon those employed in the Public Service as our servants. They are the employees of the Commonwealth Government, and they have a right to the same justice as outside employees have. They are entitled to be brought under the same law, and to gain the same advantages, as any other employees in the country. If it is a fact, as it is, that there are thirty-three arbitration cases affecting the employees of the Commonwealth awaiting a hearing, surely those concerned deserve better treatment than to be brought under a separate Court. They have been waiting all this time, with the cost of living going up, as it has been, and have shown great patience, and we ought to give them every consideration. They tell us that they do not want to come under any other Court than the Arbitration Court, and we certainly ought to pay attention to their views. They have the best knowledge of their own requirements and feelings. One big organization, representing over 30,000 Government employees, has sent a circular to all members protesting against the proposed change, and asking to be allowed to remain under the Arbitration Court. Surely we can give some consideration to the request of those who are most affected. Can the Government show me, or the House, any advantage that will be achieved by this Bill? All it will do will be to put the employees of the Commonwealth under a particular Judge, who will himself become a public servant, and who will not be called upon to discharge any other duties. In the circumstances, it is a mistake to press the Bill.

Mr RILEY - The appointment of two assessors to assist the Arbitrator would be an improvement. It is a dangerous principle to confer on one man, who will not have the same status as a Judge of the Arbitration Court, authority to decide all matters affecting the Public Service generally. I think I am right in saying that employees in the Public Service are against the measure, but if it must be passed, they would like to see two assessors, men from different branches of the Service, appointed to assist the Arbitrator. The Minister might concede this point to the Public Service.

There is another objection to the Bill. It is provided that a determination must lie on the table of the House for, I think, thirty days, and it might happen that the Parliament would not be in session.

Mr Groom - That principle is embodied in the 1911 Act.

Mr RILEY - That does not justify its inclusion in this measure, especially in view of the fact that an award made by the Arbitration Court in respect of matters outside the Public Service becomes operative immediately. Why should not members of the Public Service be on the same footing ? I see no justification for this provision.

Sir Robert Best - A determination may be made retrospective.

Mr Groom - Awards of the Arbitration Court may be made retrospective. What the honorable member is contending for is the law to-day.

Mr RILEY - I am glad of the Minister's assurance, because it removes one more objection to the Bill.

Mr Groom - That is the position today. I have before me a record of an award made by Mr. Justice Powers on 1st October, 1919, and made retrospective to 1st August, 1919.

Mr Nicholls - But the Minister's statement does not necessarily prove that all awards will be made retrospective.

Mr Groom - Every question must be decided on its merits. This is a matter which must be left to the Judge to decide.

MrRILEY. - The honorable member forParkes (Mr. Marr) said he was opposed to the appointment of two assessors from the Public Service because those in the Clerical Division might object to a nominee from the General Division or the mechanical branch. His objection really is groundless, because in New South Wales the State Arbitration Court has authority to deal with every industry in that State, and assessors are appointed by all the unions that have access to the Court. The first assessor was elected from the Seamen's Union, the second from the building trades, and so on. These men were required to assist in determining issues affecting the mining industry, carpenters, engineers, and many other trades. I have no fear about the result if employees in the Public Service will have the right to select representatives to sit as assessors with the Arbitrator, because while some may be engaged in the higher grades of the Service, all are wageearners. The measure should be referred to the Public Service to give its members an opportunity of indicating whether they approve of it or not. I shall oppose the second reading.

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