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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr CUNNINGHAM (Gwydir) . - In the Arbitration Court mistakes have been made by Judges because they hay© not possessed an intimate knowledge of the industries into the ramifications of which they are inquiring. I do not think there is oneman in Australia who will be competent to sit as an Arbitrator, delivering judgments in connexion with the working conditions of the whole of the Public Service, and avoid making mistakes.

Mr Hector Lamond - The power given to the President of the Arbitration Court to appoint assessors, if both parties to a dispute desire it, has never been utilized.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - It has not been used because the organizations have not found it necessary; but I know at least one case in which assessors with a knowledge of the pastoral industry would have been in a position to prevent the President of the Arbitration Court from making a serious mistake in delivering his award. In 1911, in the dispute between the Australian Workers Union and the pastoralists, the Court was asked to increase the rates paid to wool-pressers; but the Judge refused the application, and made some rather caustic comments against the union for daring to prefer such a request. As a matter of fact, owing to the manner in which the evidence had been given by the pastoralists, he reduced the rate payable to wool-pressers. But obviously, it was a mistake on his part, because I have not met a pastoralist yet who has availed himself of the opportunity to pay the reduced rate. The way in which the evidence was brought forward misled the Judge into believing that the earnings of these men were very much more than they really were.

Mr Groom - The Judge may consider that he was not misled.

Mr CUNNINGHAM - In order to get the wool out of the way at shearing time, wool pressers are sometimes obliged to work fifteen and sixteen hours a day, so that, although they might earn £20 a week, it represents, perhaps, eighty or ninety hours work in a week, and not the ordinary forty-eight hours. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) has pointed out that when he was an assessor in the New South Wales Arbitration Court, glaring mistakes might have been made if it had not been for the fact that the Judge in formulating his awards had the assistance of assessors. I think the Public Service Arbitrator ought to be able to get the assistance of assessors appointed by the organizations appearing before him. If he is dealing with the postal sorters' claim a representative of the sorters should sit on the bench helping him to avoid mistakes. If he is hearing the claim of the linemen their representative should sit on the bench with him. Each division of the Service should be entitled to appoint its own assessors to sit on the bench with the Arbitrator. Thus he would avail himself of the advice of men with an intimate knowledge of each branch of the Service, not in the heated atmosphere of the room in which the arbitration proceedings are conducted, but when the award is being formulated. In this way glaring mistakes which might occur through the ignorance of the Arbitrator as to the conditions which apply in the Service could be avoided. We ought to make the appointment of assessors compulsory. The Conciliation and Arbitration Act allows the President of the Arbitration Court to inform his mind by expert advice through the appointment of assessors, but the Public Service Arbitrator may not choose to avail himself of the advice of experts. He may bet of opinion that he knows all about every matter. If assessors are appointed, there is no doubt the mind of the Arbitrator will be thoroughly well informed on every matter that comes before him before any award is given. I support the amendment.

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