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Friday, 26 February 1932

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I draw attention to the decision of the Government to refrain this year from sending a delegate to the International Labour Conference, which is held annually at Geneva. On all previous occasions, if I remember rightly, the Commonwealth Government has allowed a Labour representative to attend; in fact, the Government, the employers, and the employees have been represented at most of the previous conferences. This year, I understand, on the score of expense, no delegation is to be sent from Australia. Although no intimation of this decision was given to the industrial workers of this country, who total something like 500,000, the laborious process of selecting a delegate to represent the whole of Australia was gone through at considerable cost. The expense of sending a delegate to Geneva would be but trifling; I believe that the whole cost of the delegation would not exceed £500. The Government has made a great mis take, in my opinion, in coming to this decision. All delegates to previous conferences in the last few years have emphasized the fact that no great progress can be made on an international economic basis without international conferences, and the International Labour Office at Geneva provides the only international machinery in operation in the world for the discussion of economic, monetary and sociological problems. Most, if not all, international experts recognize that the most important report ever submitted to the conference was that dealing with unemployment, its causes, effects, and prevention. Expert committees had studied the subject for two years, luring which data concerning all phases of the unemployment problem throughout the world had been collected and tabulated, and on that information the director's report to the International Labour Conference last year was based. Because of the world-wide interest in the problem, the director went so deeply into if that some conservative governments criticized him for having given to it too much time, whilst other more progressive governments said that he should have pursued the subject further. The report was not fully digested last year, and although it is not on the agenda for the forthcoming conference it is bound to receive attention. If there is one problem more urgent than another to Australia and other countries it is unemployment; it overshadows all Hie other issues with which the world is confronted at the present time. But in addition to it, other matters in which Australia has a deep interest will be dealt with. There is no subject associated willi the economic problem that does not vitally concern us. The attitude of the Commonwealth Government is that Home proposals for industrial legislation are behind the stage which Australian legislation has already reached, and, therefore, we are not concerned in them. But one purpose of international co-operation at the Labour Conference is the elimination of the intense economic competition between nations. The immense gap between the highest standards and the lower standards must be narrowed. The mission of the International Labour Office is to raise the lower standards of living, and so make competition between the nations less keen. I had the privilege of attending the conference in Geneva when the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) was Prime Minister, and I heard Australia criticized by the representatives of other nations because it did not take a sufficiently keen interest in international labour problems. I answered, as the Commonwealth Government is answering to-day, that many of the proposals before the conference were transcended by the actual legislative achievements of Australia. They replied, " That is a selfish attitude. We desire the more advanced countries to help to lift the backward countries to their level ". The higher we raise the level of the backward countries the more easily shall we be able to maintain our own standards. Our duty is to attend these conferences regularly, and I hope it is not too late for the Government to re-consider its decision not to send a delegate this year. An interstate ballot for the appointment of a delegate has been taken by the Labour organizations, and a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, an old and powerful organization, has been chosen. He has made all arrangements to meet the necessary expenditure - not an easy matter for a poor man. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) and others have rightly stated that the Australian monetary system cannot be substantially altered except in conformity with an international plan, and that we cannot maintain our economic and industrial standards unless other countries are raised nearer to them. We should therefore be represented at the Labour Conference, and by helping to raise the standards of backward countries, facilitate the maintenance and improvement of our own. I appeal to the Government to allow Australia to be represented atGeneva. Australia's first participation in this conference was arranged by the Bruce-Page Government, and I have heard no complaints by delegates from other nations that our delegates did not hold their own there. We have associated ourselves with certain problems, and we are represented on committees; I was appointed to the International Executive Committee, and have maintained correspondence with it ever since. The farreaching problems with which the gathering deals cannot be disposed of in one year. Our interest in this work should be continuous. It is wrong to create a gap in the investigations and discussions for the sake of a mere £600. Surely the Commonwealth is not so unfinancial as to be unable to allow an Australian delegate to advance a further stage the work commenced in previous years!

Apart from the paramount subject of unemployment, the next conference will consider, amongst other things, the abolition of fee-charging employment agencies. I do not suggest that everybody associated with this business in Australia is immoral, but one of the "worst features associated with the supply of labour is the operation of private registry offices. Employers and employees alike are exploited and cheated by immoral practices of various kinds. That is a vital problem, in which we are interested, but it is not as big or as fundamental as that of unemployment. A great deal of misery and trouble occurs in Australia, especially during periods of depression, because of the immoral practices of private-employing agencies. Next there is the matter of invalidity, old-age, and widows and orphans insurance. Some years ago this Government instituted a far-reaching investigation into this subject, and elaborate reports on it may be seen in the Library. No doubt they are also pigeon-holed in our departments. The recommendations were not given effect. The investigation was costly, and many witnesses were examined. Surely, the subject, which is of international significance, should be further explored.

The age of admission of children to employment in non-industrial occupations is also a subject which deserves attention. We have suffered in the realm of international competition by reason of the employment of child labour. Surely our labour representatives should be at the conference to help to protect the workers of this country by urging the representatives of other countries to increase the age at which child labour could be employed. I have heard representatives of the Country party on numerous occasions allude to the difficulties that are experienced by those engaged in our primary industries through having to compete against countries which employ child and other cheap labour. The very reason why this organization was brought into existence was to raise international standards of labour, and make it possible for countries like ours to compete with some of the older countries.

The matters to which I have referred vitally concern Australia, and I hope that, as a result of my representations, further consideration will be given to them, and that a labour delegate will be sent to the next session of the International Labour Conference. The cost would be small. I hope that the condition of our finances will improve, so that there will be no further break in our representation at these conferences.

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