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Friday, 29 March 1946

Dr EVATT (Barton) (Attorney-General and 'Minister for External Affairs) .- I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

This bill is to make provision for the performance by the next senior judge of the duties of the Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in the event of his absence from office, or his inability to perform the duties of his office. In most statutes dealing with courts, including the High Court, under theJudiciary Act, and,I think, under all the statutes of the States, itis provided that, in the absence of the Chief Judge, or presiding officer of the court, his powers and duties may be exercised by the next senior judge. For some reason that provision was omitted from the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In some cases, where the Chief Judge of the court is unable to sit, the work of the court can go on without any hindrance; but in connexion with the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration there is a special provision that where the matter before the court relates to the determination of the standard hours of work in an industry, or the basic wage of an industry, or the principles upon which the basic wage is computed, the case must be heard before the Chief Judge. Hither to the necessity to meet sucha situation has not. arisen. During last week, however, the Chief Judge of the court, His Honour Chief Judge Piper, communicated with the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and myself, and I regret to say that he showed to us the substance of medical reports which had been furnished to him which make it impossible for His Honour to perform the duties of Chief Judge, at any rate for some considerable time. His Honour was at. first quite willing to relinquish his office altogether because of his fear that he would not be able to carry out the duties with the ability which had always marked His Honour's work, but, after discussion with us, we thought it better, and Cabinet, agreed, that His Honour should be entitled to take leave of absence because of the state of his health, in the hope that he will be restored to health, and be able again to perform the duties of his office. For that reason, it is intended, if this bill be passed, that he shall take leave, in which event it is essential that some other judge shall carry out his duties. The purpose of the bill, therefore, is to provide that the next senior judge on the list of the court shall perform the duties of Chief Judge during his absence from office or inability to perform the duties of his office. The matter is of course important, and of some urgency because the court is about to undertake the investigation of standard hours in the printing case. That will be a very heavy case, and, having regard to the medical advice received by the Chief Judge, it will be quite impossible for. him to take charge of it. Accordingly, it is proposed that the next senior judge should hear the case.

Mr McEwen - Is seniority deterinined on years of service?

Dr EVATT - There is no provision in the act for such a determination, but clause 3 proposes to insert a provision therein to the effect that judges should have seniority according to the dates of their commissions.

Mr Holt - There have been suggestions that the Government proposes substantial alterations of the act.

Dr EVATT - It is not intended in this bill to deal with more than the immediate problem caused by the illness of the Chief Judge and with One other matter. There is an apparent contradiction between two provisions of the principal act, one of which provides that the court, in hearing standard hours matters, should be constituted of the Chief Judge and not fewer than two other judges ; the second provision, which I shall ask the House to amend later, prescribes that in a hearing of the same matter, where the Attorney-General has intervened on behalf of the Commonwealth, the court consist of the Chief Judge and two other judges. This bill is urgent as the stage is almost set for the determination of the most important matter of standard hours, and the Chief Judge has drawn the attention of the Government to the fact that he will not be well enough to withstand the strain such an important .case might impose on him.

There is one further matter not covered by the bill. As the absence of the Chief Judge would mean that only four judges could be sitting, the total number at present being only five, the Chief Judge and four others - it is. the intention of the Government to appoint an additional judge to the court. The Government believes that it would not be right for a court hearing such an important matter as standard hours to consist of an even number of judges. It also has in mind the recommendation made in the Stevedoring Industry Commission's report which was received yesterday.

Mr Holt - "Will the right honorable gentleman give us an assurance that the standard hours case will have no bearing on the selection of a new judge?

Dr EVATT - The appointee will bean outstanding member of the bar. The appointment will have nothing to do with that case as distinguished from all other cases with which the Arbitration Court will have to deal. Members will agree that it would be most desirable to have a case of the dimensions of the standardhours case heard by a court constituted, not of four, .but of five judges, which was the intention of the Chief Judge. The Stevedoring Industry Commission's report recommended that a judge of the court should act as chairman of the new Stevedoring Commission to be established. Although that recommendation has not yet been finally dealt with, it is one of the factors which the Government has taken into account in arriving at its decision to appoint an additional judge to the court.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.

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