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Friday, 26 February 1932


Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) (Assistant Treasurer) . - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has raised the matter of the representation of Australia at the next session of the International Labour Conference. I regret that, consequent on the change of government, so late a decision was given in this regard, but as it was made known on the 5th February, it must be admitted that Ministers acted with considerable promptitude.

In these times the greatest care has to be taken to ensure that any proposal for expenditure is warranted. The honorable member has stated that the cost of the representation of the Commonwealth at the next International Labour Conference would be about £500; but the information in my possession indicates that it would more nearly approach £1,300.


Mr Holloway - For one delegate?


Mr BRUCE (FLINDERS, VICTORIA) - No. If any delegate were sent, it would be necessary to provide for the full delegation, as in the past. In the circumstances, the Government feels that the expense is not warranted.

The honorable member referred to the subjects that will be dealt with at the next conference, the first being the abolition of fee-charging employment agencies. At this conference that subject will be discussed for the first time, and no finality will be reached until the second discussion at the next conference, when the matter is completed. The same remarks apply to the subject of invalidity, old-age, and widows and orphans insurance. The age of admission of children to employment in non-industrial occupations will be discussed for the second time, and the subject is of importance; but as it concerns the States, the Commonwealth Government has communicated with them about it, so that their views may be obtained and forwarded to the International Labour Office. The fourth item for discussion is the revision in part of the convention concerning the protection against accidents of workers employed in loading or unloading ships. The views of the Commonwealth Government on this matter have been communicated to the International Labour Office and will come before the conference. As two of the three main items of the agenda will be the subject of preliminary discussion only, the Government does not consider that it would be warranted in sending a delegation, at considerable expense, in the hope that Australia would be able to contribute any valuable assistance to the deliberations.

We are faced with the further fact that the delegates of both the employers and the employees to the last session of the International Labour Conference have reported that the International Labour Office is not carrying out the work hoped for, and that it is not desirable that Australia should continue to send delegates. A joint telegram from Mr. Eady and Mr. Taylor, despatched to the Government on the 17 th June, 1931, reads -

We have watched closely working conference, examined carefully results of past ten years' work, and, closely scrutinized finance of this organization. We are of opinion that, particularly in view of foregoing and Australia's financial position, the Government should take steps to bring about -

(   1 ) reduction of Australia's contribution to International Labour Office; and

(2)   an immediate curtailment of general expenditure of this organization.

These delegates go on to deal with the achievements of the past, and their conclusion is that very little has been done, and that the number of conventions that have been subscribed to cannot be accepted as a measure of accomplishment by the International Labour Office. The report says -

An examination of the ratifications referred to, however, indicates that these mere figures are not indicative of any general change in world legislation. As an instance, I would point out that a number of Maritime Conventions which have been brought into effect have gained considerable support in being ratified by countries without a seaboard.

It is obvious that such ratification means nothing at all. The employers' repre sentative gives his considered opinion in these terms: -

My considered opinion is that our country has little, ifanything, to gain from continued membership of the International Labour Office, or participation in the work of its annual conferences.

The employees' representative, after dealing fully with the facts, states that unless we send a very large delegation, with substantially the same personnel each year, there is very little hope, with the existing organization of the International Labour Office, of achieving anything. He says that the whole business has got into the hands of certain groups in Europe.

It is dominated by them, and he was told by one representative that there was very little hope of the Australian Labour delegates taking a prominent part in the work of the conference unless they joined up with the Amsterdam group. His statement is as follows: -

In conclusion,I would say that I was extremely disappointed by the attitude of those in authority and by the whole procedure of the conference. The workers have nothing to give;the employers are determined not to give anything; and the Government delegates, in most cases, are merely the mouthpiece of whatever party may be in office in their respective country. The cost to the country of the Australian Delegation is very heavy, and since, in my opinion, we do not derive any benefit from the conference, as it is at present constituted, I would recommend that representation by Australia be stopped. This matter is for the Government to decide, and whatever decision they arrive at I am sure will be in the best interest of the people, but I feel that I would not he doing my duty to those who sent me to Geneva if I did not express plainly my thoughts on the matter.I think that before the International Labour Office will Accomplish anything beneficial to the workers, it will require complete re-organizntion along different lines.

In view of the report by the representatives, both of employers and employees, and of the great cost involved, the Government has quite definitely come to the conclusion that, in the circumstances, it would not be justified in sending a delegation. I can hold out little hope that that decision will be altered.







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