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Friday, 4 December 1914

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - Honorable senators seem to assume that there is a tendency on the part of the Government to reduce the standard of labour engaged in this work. Nothing could be further from the minds of the Government, who are a Labour Government, believing in highly skilled labour in all branches. Honorable senators seem to have gone back about a century for their definitions, for it is nearly a century since the term "ship's carpenter" came into vogue in connexion with British shipping. It is still a well recognised term. Mr. Frank T. Bullen, in his book, The Men of the Merchant Service - a work accepted by Mr. Justice Higgins in the seamen's case before the Arbitration Court - devotes some chapters to the carpenter, but none to the shipwright, showing that the two terms have evidently been exchanged at some period of our maritime history. I have here the rules of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, an or ganization extending throughout the world, and these deal with the qualifications of the members of that body going to sea, showing that ships' carpenters are recognised. For a number of years there have been a considerable number of men engaged as ships' carpenters, and not as shipwrights, on our vessels.

Senator McDougall - How many ?

Senator RUSSELL - A considerable number.

Senator McDougall - There are not a dozen in the whole of Australia.

Senator RUSSELL - The Government do not favour a man being taken as ship's carpenter simply because his labour is cheaper, if he is inefficient. They do not intend to tolerate that class of men being in or about the vessels at all. They are therefore inserting an amendment to provide that the carpenter must be " qualified." Surely if a man has been a ship's carpenter for fifteen or twenty years - an efficient tradesman with daily experience on vessels - even though he may not be able to produce credentials as a shipwright, there will be no desire on the part of the Shipwrights Association to exclude him. Rather, I take it, that they would ' be glad to work him into their organization. The intention of the Government in the first place is that a man, whether he is called a ship's carpenter or a shipwright, must, before he is allowed to take his place as a member of the crew, have certain qualifications, which will be clearly set out in the regulations, and those qualifications will certainly not set such an inefficient standard as to permit a sort of half-baked tradesman to be engaged purely and simply for the purpose of sweating competent labour. That is not the intention of the amendment.

Senator McDougall - But il gives the opportunity.

Senator RUSSELL - Unfortunately, this is not a dispute between union and union. It is bigger. It is a dispute between trade and trade. I have done all that is possible to bring the two trades together, and am hopeful that they will come to an agreement on this point.

Senator Guthrie - What if they do not? They will not, and the Minister knows it.

Senator RUSSELL - If they are not prepared to furnish us with an acceptable standard definition of " carpenter " and "shipwright," the responsibility will be cast on the Navigation Department of drawing up a suitable one. Surely there can be no harm in a Government which believe in unionism and a high standard of labour seeking the co-operation in a matter of this kindof the unions which are vitally interested, especially in these days when industrial organizations are universally recognised. Moreover, this is not the final word.

Senator Turley - It may, so far as the Senate is concerned.

Senator RUSSELL - No; because the qualifications have to be prescribed by regulation, and the regulation must be laid before the Senate. If the qualifications are not sufficiently high it will be the duty of the representatives of Labour in this chamber to veto the regulation, so compelling the Government to set a higher standard. I therefore ask honorable senators to let the clause go through in its present form, and in the meantime everything will be done by the Government and the Department in consultation with the unions to secure what may be accepted for all time as a standard definition.

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