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Wednesday, 23 November 1927

Mr ATKINSON (Wilmot) .- I have listened to a number of speeches during this debate, a great many of which were made by members who have attempted to castigate the Government for its alleged extravagance and failure to economize. When the critics come to the task of actually disclosing where the Government has erred, they fail, and resort to the accusation that Australia is obtaining too heavy a revenue from its tariff. The Treasurer, particularly, is held blameworthy. I believe that we protect some commodities which could better be left alone. We are endeavouring to foster a number of industries for which this country is not fitted, and are neglecting to apply our energies to others which should be developed. When the tariff comes before us for discussion, I shall endeavour to have fostered those industries for which we can supply the raw material. If a mau is conducting a business and (finds that certain lines pay well, he will give attention to those and discard unpayable lines.

This Government is lax in its attitude towards such activities as our timber industry. It should develop our natural resources to the full. If that were done, we should have so many suitable migrants coming to Australia that we could use our discretion and select the very best. So many of the older countries are in such a parlous condition as the aftermath of the war, that Australia should prove a veritable magnet to the enterprising people of the world. Instead of that, too few .suitable migrants are arriving, and far too great a proportion of undesirables. Every good Britisher and other suitable migrant who can be induced to come to Australia is a great asset, because he will be able to keep himself and thus supply employment for others and so develop the country. Some people deprecate the old custom of granting cheap land to migrants. It must be remembered that many of our pioneers underwent great ..privations, and deserve all credit for their success. Members of some of the finest families in Great Britain gravitated to Australia, lured by the inducement of cheap and attractive land. Later, when gold was discovered, there was a tremendous rush to Australia, and' the rush continued in a modified form for some years after, but during the last 30 years an insufficient number of migrants has arrived, and that must be remedied. The loan of £34,000,00 offered to Australia on such favorable terms by the British Government was too tempting to reject, but the expenditure of the money must be carefully supervised. I have no doubt that the members of the Development and Migration Commission are highly competent gentlemen; but the possibilities of development in Australia are so great, and the schemes that could be submitted so numerous, that I fear that, notwithstanding great care on the part of the commission, the least desirable propositions may be recommended and the best possibly overlooked. If that should happen, we should not reap the benefit that ought to accrue from the expenditure of this £34,000,000.

In my opinion our industrial arbitra ti on system is doing more harm to Australia than any other single thing tha I can name. We should be well advised to scrap it and adopt the Canadian con.ciliation method of dealing with industrial disputes. There is too much compulsion and too little conciliation in our system. Union secretaries or other advocates of the industrialists are really afraid to trust the settlement of the grievances of the men they represent to conciliation. They feel that if they did so they might lose their positions. I have no doubt whatever that better results would follow the adoption of conciliatory methods than have followed our expensive and dilatory court methods. Under the Canadian procedure public opinion is a big factor in the settlement of disputes that ai-ice: while in Australia ir is almost entirely disregarded by the parties immediately concerned. Inevitably there are always three parties to an industrial dislocation - the employers, the employees, and the general public; but the employers and employees carry on their negotiations as they please without, the slightest consideration for "the general community. That should be altered. We need a change of heart in this matter, as well as a change of methods. The employer has a duty to do his best for his employee, and the employee has a duty to do a fair day's work for the wages which he receives. I am not particularly concerned about how high wages rise, provided that the service rendered is worth the wage. I am nor an advocate of low wages.

Mr Coleman - Does tho honorable member suggest 'that the Arbitration Court does not award adequate wages?

Mr ATKINSON - I say that the whole system is ineffective. The parties to industrial disputes would very often be able to make much more satisfactory arrangements by meeting round a table and conferring than by going to court. A fundamental mistake was made at the inception of our arbitration system, when the court decided that industry must pay what is considers to be a living wage or cease to operate. Many mining ventures in Australia could be developed into profitable concerns if the miners and the mine owners w ere permitted to make arrangements between themselves as to the wages and working conditions which should be observed. Of what use is a wage of £5 a week to a man if he is only provided with intermittent work? He would be much better off with a regular wage of £'i or £4 a week. It has been said that industrial chaos would result were we to abolish our arbitration court machinery. I do not believe it. Employers and employees alike would soon settle down to the new conditions, and industry, would be stabilized.

We should be well advised to give a good deal more consideration to the adoption of profit-sharing methods in industry. But here again union secretaries and other union officials are a serious, difficulty. They know very well that whenever properly devised profit-sharing methods are adopted the participating employees cease to require his services, and will not go on strike. Their nature is, so to speak, transformed. Tt makes all the difference in the world when men have a personal interest in the success of the concern in which they are working. It is often said that profitsharing methods enable perfidious employers to filch from employees their fair share of the proceeds of an enterprise: but that could easily be guarded against in Australia. All profit-sharing agreements could be registered, and, to a certain extent, supervised. Public opinion would soon express itself in respect of dishonest employers, and disapprobation would need to be shown in only a few7 cases to put an end to such practices. I regret that I have not sufficient time at my disposal to reply specifically to charges made against the Government. The allegation of extravagance "is not justified. Some of the promises of financial reform made by the Leader of the Country party, before he became a Minister, may have been impossible of achievement; but the Treasurer has come through the ordeal of Ministerial responsibility well, and considering all the circumstances, he has effected substantial reductions in taxation. Taxation has increased only through the tariff, for which the Government is not entirely responsible. The reduction of income and land tax is most commendable. The ideal underlying the Constitution is for the Commonwealth to retire from the field of direct taxation as far as possible. Owing to the financial burdens caused by the war and other things, it has been impossible for the Common wealth to abandon that field entirely; but efforts are being made in that direction.

I commend the Government upon the arrangement made for the adjustment of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States. That agreement is the outstanding feature of the achievements of the Bruce-Page Government during its three years of office.

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