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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- I do not propose to allow this amendment to go to division without again asking the Minister (Mr. Groom) to give it favorable consideration. I care not whether permanent assessors or assessors in respect of each particular section of the Service bringing a dispute before the Court are appointed, but in the interests of the future working of this measure I think we should endeavour to make it as attractive as possible to those who will come within its jurisdiction. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said that he thought assessors ought to be appointed, and that the period of seven years during which the Bill provides the Arbitrator shall hold office should be extended. The Arbitrator, whoever he may be, and no matter how high his qualifications, could not be expected to have the knowledge of a practical man. He might be an excellent man for dealing with the law and the facts as presented to him, but he could not possibly have a grip of all technicalities relating to the postal and other branches of the Public Service.

Sir Robert Best - How is it that the power to call in assessors has never been used by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court Judge?

Mr CHARLTON - As to that, I should like to refer to a case which came before the Court in New South Wales many years ago. The late Mr. Curley and I appeared before Mr. Justice Cohen, a very distinguished Judge.' on behalf of a claim made by the coal-miners. Legal men appeared on the other side, and, although the learned Judge gripped the facts, he framed his award in such a manner that it was impossible to put it into operation in the working of a coal mine. The trouble was that the learned Judge had not some one on the Bench to advise him as to the technical details of the industry. The result was that representatives of the employees and the mine-owners had to meet and to go through the case from end to end. They did not depart from the Judge's findings except to make the award a workable one, and the result of their efforts was that the award ran for something like ten years.

Sir Robert Best - Mr. Justice Higgins has dealt with dozens of cases. What are known as "minutes" are discussed with the learned Judge before they are finally embodied in the award. In that way the Court is able to deal with technicalities without the assistance of assessors.

Mr CHARLTON - I do not know whether this Bill provides for such a practice.

Mr Groom - That is the usual practice.

Mr CHARLTON - What we desire above all things is that those who will come within the scope of this measure shall have confidence in the Tribunal for which it provides. I am convinced that the men will have more confidence in it if they know that the Arbitrator will be assisted by an assessor familiar with the details of their calling or profession. The presence of such a man on the Bench would be helpful to the Arbitrator himself. If the Arbitrator has no one to assist him on the Bench the proceedings will be longer than they would otherwise be, since it will be necessary to call additional evidence to enlighten him as to technicalities. This delay could be obviated by appointing a practical man representing the particular section of the Service whose claim is before the Tribunal to act as an assessor. The appointment of assessors representing the Government and the public servants would not involve much additional expense; and if, as a result of it, we were able to secure the settlement of disputes byarbitration, the money would be well spent. No one can estimate the loss which a strike entails on the whole community.

Mr Laird Smith - We could not have arbitration and direct action as well.

Mr CHARLTON - I have just been urging that in order to avoid direct action we should make the Tribunal as effective as possible. The Arbitrator, no matter what his qualifications, might bo unconsciously biased.He might believe he was doing right, but very often a man's view is warped by reason of his environment, and he has not that broadness of vision so essential to the proper adjudication of matters brought before a Court. That is another reason why assessors should be appointed. I do not think the Minister would be badly advised if he consented to something in the way of the scheme for which this amendment provides. The House has agreed to the second reading of the Bill, and we are endeavouring now so to improve it as to give public servants every reasonable facility to approach the Tribunal, and have their cases fairly dealt with by it. It has been said that it would be unwise to appoint permanent assessors, since they could not be cognisant of the details of all the various sections of the Service. There is, however, no reason why power should not be given to any section of the Service submitting a claim to the Tribunal to appoint an assessor to assist the Judge, the Government having power also to 'appoint an assessor to represent them. I urge the Minister to give this matter consideration, and to try to meet what is the evident wish of the Committee.

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