Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 April 1946

Mr BRYSON (Bourke) . - I listened with interest to the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Adermann), because I was very anxious to learn his attitude towards the Government's proposals. However, his utterances were so confused that I do not know whether he favours them or opposes them. He said he believed that the Commonwealth Par:liament should have power in regard to social services, but proceeded to give a good many reasons why the Commonwealth Parliament should do nothing about the matter. Apparently he is ako an ardent supporter of orderly marketing, but he seems to be concerned about the marketing of Queensland peanuts more than about any other of Australia's primary products. In regard to the third measure, relating to terms and conditions of employment in industry, he became so confused that he forgot to say whether he was for or against the Government's proposal. However, he did say that he was a great believer in the- principle of conciliation and arbitration and in the existing arbitration system. If he believes in the arbitration system as a federal instrumentality, he should also believe in granting to the Commonwealth Government power to implement a proper system of conciliation and arbitration. If the honorable member had made any study of the arbitration system under Commonwealth legislation, he would realize that it leaves much to be desired. In order that nobody will be confused about my attitude towards these bills, I say unequivocally that I strongly support all of them. They are necessary. Furthermore, I do not support them for any narrow parochial reasons such as that which motivates the honorable member for Maranoa, who is so closely interested in the .peanut industry. I look upon the matter from an Australian standpoint.

In many ways the Commonwealth Constitution is hopelessly out of date, and we must do something to modernize it. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) started the ball rolling from the Opposition side of the .House by "having a few shillings each way on each of the three measures. He. is rather uncertain as to whether his employers outside Parliament will tell him to support the pro- posals or oppose them, and so he is leaving nothing to chance. He did say that the referendum should not be held in conjunction with the general elections because the real issues at the elections might be clouded. I agree with him to a degree in that regard, because, whilst I recognize the necessity for- granting increased powers to the Commonwealth under the Constitution, I recognize also that, when this Government goes to the country at election time, it does not want any clouding of issues. The Government can point with pride to a legislative programme second to none in the history of the Commonwealth. It was elected to do a job, and it can be proud of the job that it has done. It carried out its duties in regard to the prosecution of the war very successfully. Since then it has been, successful in its plans for demobilizing the armed services and rehabilitating ex-servicemen. It has replaced the Commonwealth Bank in its proper position in the financial world and restored to Parliament control over the finances of the Commonwealth. It has enacted social service legislation which is of great benefit 'to the people. Such legislation was needed for many years, but preceding non-Labour governments were not prepared to enact it. The Government has a record of work completed second to none. Therefore, it does not require to cloud any issues at the elections. That is why I would prefer the referendum to be held at another time. I am afraid 'that the Opposition will endeavour to cloud the real issues. The Government's proposals are clearly and simply stated. The social services proposition is set out in the bill now before the House, and it distinctly states what social services shall be covered by the power proposed to be granted. It has been generally recognized for some time that the duty of the National' Parliament is to provide social services for the benefit of the people. The State Parliaments should not, be left free to hand out what they consider to be. right, or as little as they think the people are prepared to accept. Under -State social services legislation, different sets of conditions obtain in each State. It depends on the luck of the individual, when he is stricken with, illness or loses his job, as to the measure of assistance he will receive under the laws of hisState. Because of this lop-sided system of social services, I believe that the people have come to recognize that the provision of such benefits is the duty of the Commonwealth Parliament. This Government has acknowledged that duty and has legislated accordingly. Under our outmoded Constitution, we have experienced trouble with the High Court, which interprets the Constitution. The decision of the High Court in the Pharmaceutical Benefits case, and the opinions of leading King's Counsel in regard to other items of our social services legislation, make it essential that the people should pronounce, at a referendum, that the Commonwealth Parliament shall havethe powers which the Government seeks. The Commonwealth Parliament has implemented child endowment, widows' pensions, maternity allowances, sickness and unemployment benefits, and other benefits. It is necessary to ensure that the High Court shall not be able to take these benefits from the people. The only one way to do that is to secure the approval of the people for the necessary alterations of the Constitution. The suggestion has been made that the powers should be obtained from the State Parliaments, but we have had experience of such dealings with the States in recent years. Six Premiers agreed that certain alterations to the Commonwealth Constitution were required and promised that they would ask their respective Parliaments to refer to the Commonwealth the powers that are necessary for the successful functioning of the Commonwealth Government.What happened? Some of the Premiers succeeded in getting the legislation passed, but we still find it necessary to hold a referendum to obtain the powers that we need. Furthermore, two of the Premiers who wholeheartedly supported the transfer of powers to the Commonwealth changed their minds and completely somersaulted, opposing the transfer when a referendum was held. It is well-nigh impossible to achieve the desired result by a reference from the State Parliaments. Therefore, we must have recourse to theonly other method of securing the powers, namely, by holding a referendum. I would like honorable members opposite to come out into the open and state their honest views in regard to these bills. I challenged the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) to state whether he supported the proposals or opposed them, but I could not obtain a definite reply. The honorable gentleman talked at random about the basic wage, collective bargaining, communism, and the like, but he definitely refused to state whether he supported or opposed any of the three proposals.

Mr Fuller - He is waiting for instructions.

Mr BRYSON - Yes. He is waiting until he receives orders from Collins House.When those orders arrive, he will know whether he supports or opposes the proposals. Until then he will merely beat the air and talk about unessential things which do not apply directly to the questions before the House. He said that the proposal concerning control of wages and conditions in industry was a subterfuge to kill the arbitration system. He said that the Government had received instructions from the Communist party to alter the Constitution in order to doaway with arbitration and introduce a system of collective bargaining. To my mind, there could not be a sillier interpretation of this bill. The bill proposes to grant to the Commonwealth Parliament, in addition to the powers of conciliation and arbitration which it already possesses, control over wages and conditions of employment. Yet the honorable member states that this is a means of destroying the arbitration system. He has been talking about arbitration for many years, and he should know by now that any organization of workers to-day can decide in favour of collective bargaining in preference to arbitration. Organizations are not compelled to register under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They may please themselves; if they do not like arbitration they can resort to collective bargaining. Certain unions have done that and risked deregistration. So the honorable member's statement is really too silly to be placed before a deliberative assembly. Nothing could be farther from the mark.

I do not desire to deal-at length with control of marketing. Like the honorable member for Maranoa, I support the proposal, because I believe it is necessary that this Parliament should have a measure of control over marketing. The honorable member for Maranoa said, " We must have grower control. The pools in Queensland controlled by the growers have been successful." I have no experience as a grower, but I have fis a consumer, and it is the consumer who eventually pays the price. Grower controls are satisfactory in good times when the growers receive reasonable prices for their commodities, but, when they are unable to get what they consider to be a fair price, they no longer say, " We do not want anything from the Government", but, cap in hand, they come to the Government, and say, " Notwithstanding that we want grower control and all the profits in good times, we demand a. 'hand-out' in these bad times so that we shall have a good profit now as well. Although our crops have failed, our income must be maintained, and we demand a subsidy from the Government." It is a case of " Good old Government ! " in those circumstances. But, if the Government has to pay up good money to primary producers in bad seasons, it must have a measure of control of the marketing of their products. I do not want the Government to confiscate their produce or to take . all the control of marketing from them.

Mr Bowden - That is one go'od point.

Mr BRYSON - Yes. What I demand is that if the Government is to pay subsidies on primary products, the producers must accept a measure of control of the marketing of those products. I believe that that is a perfectly fair and reasonable proposition. If the producers are not prepared to accept it they ought not to ask for subsidies to offset losses.

Mr Bowden - There is always a government member on marketing boards.

Mr BRYSON - Yes. Without a measure of government control, orderly marketing is impossible. It is not just a matter of high prices for commodities this week and losses next week. Country party members particularly advocate the stabilization of the prices of primary products so that the producers shall receive an adequate return npt only in one year, but in every year. I, too, believe in stabilization of the prices of primary products, but if that stabilization is uneconomic the cost comes back to the Government and eventually, of course, to the consumer, who has no say whatever in the control of marketing. It is essential, therefore, that the people should be represented on the marketing boards through government nominees.

I return to the proposal that the Commonwealth Parliament shall be empowered to make laws with respect to terms and conditions of employment in industry. That is a necessary power to be vested in this Parliament. I direct the attention of honorable members to the proviso that that power shall not be exercised so as to authorize any form of industrial conscription. That is an essential safeguard, not when the Labour party is in office, but in the event of anti-Labour forming ia, government in the far distant future.

Mr Fuller - In 50 years' time.

Mr BRYSON - It may be longer than that, but there will always be the risk of the anti-Labour parties being returned to power, and that is why the workers need that protection. In Australia to-day the Commonwealth Parliament has certain powers under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and many organizations- of workers and employers take advantage of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in order to have their differences settled. However, the Commonwealth powers in that respect are limited. For instance, under the Constitution, before the court can take cognizance of an industrial dispute, it is necessary that the dispute shall extend beyond' one State. Ten thousand or 15,000 men might be locked out or on strike in Victoria, but because men in similar occupations in other States stay at work, the dispute exists in only one State, and in normal times the court cannot intervene, and those affected have to depend on the State system of arbitration for settlement of the dispute. In every State a different system of arbitration operates. Wages . and conditions in Queensland under the State arbitration system differ, from those of New South Wales, which, in turn, differ from the Victorian.. So it goes on. Confusion reigns. The honorable member for Maranoa has told us that three different basic wages operate in Queensland. That is necessary because of the varying conditions existing in different parts of the State. However, the basic wage in Queensland is fixed on a basis entirely different from that oh which' the basic wage in New South Wales is fixed and the latter basis, in turn, is different from that on which the basic wage in Victoria is fixed. All the State systems are different from that adopted by the Commonwealth court. So, in regard to that one condition of employment, the basic wage, confusion exists as between the States themselves and as between the Commonwealth and the States. It is time that we ended that confusion by adopting the common-sense course of setting up a nation-wide arbitration system under which all people will receive similar treatment, regardless of State boundaries. But under existing conditions that is utterly impossible. In New South Wales and Queensland, the people are better off as regards the State basic wage than are people of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, but, as I have pointed out in this House before, honorable members opposite ought to think of themselves not as representatives of States attending a parliament in a foreign country but as representatives of Australian electorates in a national parliament. As such they should have an Australian outlook and recognize that the' people in the north are entitled to the same treatment as is given to the people in the south. If they' can get that idea into their heads they will realize that the system of conciliation and arbitration, which, they have been lauding to the skies in recent year3, is incomplete, that its joints creak, that it requires many alterations and. that the court itself must have additional powers before it can operate as it should. If they will realize that and live up to the statements that they have made at various times in. support of the Commonwealth Court of Concilia- tion and Arbitration, they will support the proposal to give to the court the powers that it ought to have. Yet we have heard honorable gentlemen opposite say that if the Commonwealth Parliament does get this power, a lot of people ignorant of industrial conditions will get together and fix a maximum working week and a standard basic wage for Australia. That ridiculous statement is a reflection on their ability to represent the people of Australia. They have gone before the electorate and asked to be elected to this Parliament as members of a great political party. They have said, " If you elect us we will govern you in the best possible way. We will give you everything that is fair and reasonable ". Yet when they are asked in this Parliament to face the position and say whether it is necessary that this Parliament should have additional powers, they run away from the question and say, " We are net able to say. We have not the knowledge or ability to decide whether this Parliament should have additional powers. We are sent here only to retard progress " - that is what it amounts to - " and, if you ask us whether the Constitution should be ' altered we have not the brains to give ari opinion ". The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said, " We cannot submit these questions to the people. That is not the correct procedure. This Parliament is not capable of deciding the matter. We should have a convention ". His office boy, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), said the same thing, " We will have to an elected convention ". What else but an elected convention is this Parliament? We were elected to this Parliament .to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth. That applies equally to honorable gentlemen opposite. Yet, when the problem whether the Parliament should be given greater powers in order to accomplish that purpose is put to them, the Leader of the Opposition and his supporters say, "We are not capable of deciding. We have not the ability to recommend to the people what is necessary for the good government of this country., We will pass our responsibility on to some one else. Have an elected convention. It will decide whether the.

Constitution needs amending or otherwise "

Mr Archie Cameron - -If the honorable gentleman's imagination ran in other ways he would be another Edison.

Mr BRYSON - The honorable member for Barker, as a supporter of the Leader of the Opposition, must accept his full share of the responsibility. He has admitted that be is too stupid to give a decision on whether or not the Constitution should be altered. He agrees that the question should be passed to some other body, which is to be elected by the people in the same manner as that in which he was elected. If he is not prepared to stand up to his responsibilities as a member of Parliament, he should go back to his constituents and say honestly to them, " Certain proposals were put before us, the wisdom of which I was not game or intelligent enough to, decide. I ask you. therefore bo elect a different body of men to go into the matter and make up my mind for me. Then you can send me back to the House if you like. But I will not take the responsibility of saying whether it is necessary or not to alter the Constitution ". This Parliament, I repeat, -is the elected convention of the people. A member of this Parliament who is not prepared to say whether these proposals should be put to the people or not should not remain here, but should go back to his constituents and admit, as honorable members have admitted inferentially, that he has failed them by not having been prepared to give a decision on problems that have been placed before him in Parliament. I shall not try to pass the responsibility to someone else. That may be all right for the man in the street, but honorable members have a job to do and must face their responsibilities.

Mr Archie Cameron - The honorable member recognizes that the referendum passes the responsibility from this Parliament to the people?

Mr BRYSON - The honorable member for Barker knows perfectly well the methods by which the Constitution may be altered - he has told the House about them on many occasions. The Government is, adopting the only possible course, and I take the responsibility of support ing its proposals. When they are submitted to the people, I shall recommend that these powers be conferred upon the Commonwealth Parliament, because they are necessary to the good government of the country. Members of the Australian Country party support the principle of orderly marketing because they consider that it will give the small section of the community which they represent some little advantage compared with the conditions to which they have been accustomed in the past. The Constitution Alteration (Industrial Employment) Bill relates to wages and conditions of employment, and is most important to the little section represented ,by the Australian Country party. Unless honorable members opposite support the referendum proposals, primary producers will sooner or later encounter grave industrial troubles.

Mr Archie Cameron - Is that a promise or a. threat?

Mr BRYSON - It will be a natural development. The employees of primary producers endured bad conditions for many years, but now the workers have organized, and are greatly improving their conditions. They will continue to organize until primary producers give to their employees the same rates of wages and conditions as those which apply in other industries. If the primary industries do not improve their standards of employment, we must find new people to engage in them. The primary producer must realize that' fact. He cannot forever employ men under bad conditions j. and expect high prices for his commodities. He must pay to his employees a fair rate of remuneration and grant them proper conditions. Certainly, we have improved the position, but, as usual, the Government provided a subsidy to meet the additional cost, and I suppose that the primary producer will continue to apply for additional subsidies and the Government will accede to their, requests. That assistance will enable the primary producers to pay quarterly or half-yearly their interest charges to the private financial institutions. We must recognize that the Arbitration Court must be clothed with adequate powers. Honorable members opposite have extolled the advantages of the arbitration system over the years, but have howled and squealed whenever a strike has occurred. They have declared that the workers were not" pulling their weight", and should approach the arbitration court for a settlement of their differences. That argument is valid, provided we have an arbitration count which can settle their differences, and not one which has been hamstrung as the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been throughout its existence. If we give to the court the powers which it should possess, peace in industry will be more enduring than it has been for years. The worker does not like strikes. He does not like to starve because he has no wages. But he demands and is entitled to get adequate recompense for his services, and proper conditions of employment. Under our outmoded system of arbitration, we cannot get those things. Consequently, we must ask the people to grant additional powers to this Parliament. I should like the referendum proposals to go a good deal farther than they do. For example, I should like to make certain that the Commonwealth Parliament possessed all the powers that it might require at any time.

Mr Archie Cameron - Will not the present proposals give to this Parliament those powers?

Mr.BRYSON.-The present proposals, if adopted by the people, will give to this Parliament some, but not all, of the powers which it may require. These proposals will definitely improve the position, and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court will possess considerably more power than it hasnow. It will certainly give to the Parliament, if the Parliament is willing to accept its full responsibility, the right to declare what the maximum working week in industry shall be. As a member of this Parliament, I am quite prepared to take my share of the responsibility in making that declaration. If any honorable member is not prepared to record a vote in determining the maximum working week for employees in industry, he is not fit to represent the people. The same comment applies to the standard basic wage. This Parliament is capable of determining the minimum standard of living for the worker, and any honorable member who is not prepared to accept that responsibility is not fit to be here. We are a civilized community. We profess to believe that the whole of the people should receive just treatment, and that human beings should be allowed to live in reasonable comfort. Honorable members opposite have talked a great deal in recent timesabout the " four freedoms " declared in the Atlantic Charter. One of them is freedom from want. Although honorable members opposite mouth platitudes about freedom from want, they do not agree that this Parliament should determine the minimum standard of living. If they are in favour of the principle of freedom from want, they should also be in favour of this Parliament declaring that no person in this country shall be expected to live below a certain minimium standard.

Mr White - Has not that minimum standard been determined by arbitration courts and wages boards in all States?

Mr BRYSON - In spite of arbitration courts and wages boards, has not the honorable member been obliged to put his hand in his pocket at various times for a few shillings so that some unfortunate person would not starve? Victoria has never made reasonable provision to protect its citizens from want. In fact, none of the States has done so. On this occasion, the Commonwealth Parliament has an opportunity to take a big step forward by removing from the people of Australia fear of want, but as soon as honorable members opposite are faced with that, they say, " No, we cannot do that. We shall have an elected convention in the dim and distant future to tackle the problem". The truth is that they are afraid that the basic wage will be increased, that the conditions of the basic wage-earners will be improved, and that some of the. profits of the big industrial bosses will be taken from them. Honorable members opposite do not desire to remove the fear of want. Their only fear is that some of the big profits will be taken from the people who have already derived more profit than they require. They represent that section and speak on their behalf. It is because some of the profits may be diverted to the workers, who earn them, that the Opposition now says, "No, this referendum should not be held ". Consequently, honorable members opposite are trying to convince the people that they should oppose the referendum. I hope that the referendum will be held, that the people will refuse to be gulled by the Opposition as they were on a previous occasion, and that these necessary powers will be transferred to the Commonwealth, so that the workers of Australia may look forward to a better and brighter future.

Suggest corrections