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Friday, 29 April 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I can appreciate Senator Earle's motives . in submitting this amendment, and his enthusiasm for the protection of the interests of apprentices or persons serving under articles who may be dismissed by their employers because of the breach in their articles of apprenticeehip involved in service at the Front or in camps of training. Such enthusiasm is to be respected, but we should not allow enthusiasm to run away with discretion. Under Senator Earle's amendment all employees offending against the clause would be liable to the same penalty of six months' imprisonment.

Senator Earle - That would be the maximum.

Senator PAYNE - What I mean is that they would be liable to imprisonment instead of to a monetary penalty, no matter what extenuating circumstances they might be able to advance. If the honorable senator were to suggest that, in addition to the fine, there should be an alternative of imprisonment, that would give the authorities the opportunity to exercise their discretion, and deal with each case on ite merits. . It is quite possible that at the outbreak of hostilities an employer might be conducting a highly prosperous business, enabling him to employ a number of apprentices. Something might happen during the war period which would so diminish his business that at the close of the war it would be quite impossible for him to employ the same staff of apprentices as be had before the war. Senator Earle, by his amendment, proposes that such an employer should be imprisoned because he could not comply with the Act.

Senator Earle - That would be a very exceptional case.

Senator PAYNE - We have to provide for exceptional cases, and the provision should be made so elastic as to give the authorities the discretion necessary to mete out justice. I hold no brief for the employer who has taken advantage of the absence of an apprentice fighting for his country, in order to refuse to re- employ him on his return. It is my desire that every returned soldier should, on his return, secure as good, if not a better position, than that which he occupied before he went to the war. But I think it would be dangerous to accept so severe a penalty as that proposed by Senator Earle when in the case of some offenders against the clause there might be extenuating circumstances which would not justify the imposition of the penalty of imprisonment. The honorable senator wouldbe better advised if he proposed that provision should be made for a fine or for imprisonment, so that the merits of each case might be considered.

Senator Gardiner - To provide a fine or imprisonment would leave matters as they are, as only a fine would be imposed.

Senator PAYNE - Does the honorable senator desire to lay down a law that, no matter how mild an offence against the clause may be, the penalty imposed shall be imprisonment? To do so would be to do an injustice to citizens of Australia. I hope that discretion will be given to the authorities to treat every offence against the clause on its merits.

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