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Thursday, 17 June 1926

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - It was evident to me, and I am sure that it must have been to others who took part in the last election campaign, that the industrial legislation which the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) then announced in his policy speech, would include proposals for granting to the Com monwealth Parliament these increased powers under the Constitution. Therefore, I am prepared for this bill, and have no hesitancy in supporting it. In Macbeth's words, I say -

If ... 't is done, then 't were well

It were done quickly.

That, I think, is a reply to the remarks about haste that were made by Senator Needham. These proposals have been before the public for a great many years, and I do not think it is desirable to delay any longer their submission to the electors. They should be put fairly and squarely before them, and thepeople should be invited now to give their ultimatum, " Yes " or "No." I was hoping that other questions would be remitted to the people at the same time. It is well known that I am an advocate of the creation of new States when the time is ripe and opportunity offers, and I had hoped that that matter would be included among the proposals upon which the people would be asked to vote. However, I am looking forward to the constitutional session at Canberra next year, when that subject and others of importance will, I trust, be considered. No doubt, proper attention will then be given to the whole question of the amendment of the Constitution, and it will be necessary to hold another referendum. I believe that the framers of the Constitution expected that frequent alterations would be necessary, and so they inserted the necessary machinery for that purpose. I admit, with Senator Needham, that it is difficult to get the people to consent to these constitutional amendments, but still I think it is our duty to submit them to the electors. It has been suggested that the members of this chamber, being the custodians of State rights, should be careful how they vote on the bill. To me it does not seem that anything is being taken away from the States by these proposed amendments, which seek only an extension or amplification of powers already vested in the Commonwealth. The bill does not propose to interfere with the sovereignty of the States. Therefore, I shall have no hesitation in supporting it. It has been urged, also, that these proposals are in the direction of unification. Being myself a " new-stater," unification is anathema to me. I should be the last to support the measure if I thought its acceptance by the people would have any tendency in the direction of unification, which embodies all the dangers of centralization, and certainly would not be counselled by me for a moment. Coming to the bill itself, clause 2 provides for the creation, regulation, control, and dissolution of corporations. As a business mau I welcome this, because it will make a uniform company law possible. I am sure that the framers of the Constitution intended that the Commonwealth should legislate in respect of companies, bankruptcy, and banking : but Parliament, according to the High Court, has not the power under the Constitution to pass a companies law. I interjected the other day when the Minister (Senator Pearce) was moving the second reading of the bill, that certain of the decisions of the High Court were difficult to follow, and that if some of the cases were submitted to the High Court as at present constituted, possibly entirely different decisions might be given. However, I believe that the Government is acting wisely, in putting the matter beyond dispute by asking the people for full power to legislate with respect to certain matters, including a uniform companies law. Some time ago it was suggested by a mimber of the business people that, in order to get the benefit of a uniform companies law, the States should surrender their existing rights. I was one of a deputation that, waited, on the Prime Minister (Mr. Brace) last year to ask him if he would approach the States in this matter. The right honorable gentleman gave the deputation a sympathetic hearing, but he very properly pointed out how difficult it would be to get the six State Governments to surrender their rights in respect of company law, or to agree to a uniform law being passed by each Parliament, for that is really what would have to be done.

Senator McLachlan - A draft bill was prepared, but no two States would agree to it.

Senator THOMPSON - I could easily imagine that would happen, and for that reason I welcome this bill, which will make it possible for the Commonwealth to legislate in the direction indicated. I agree, also, with its other provisions to increase the powers of the Commonwealth in conciliation and arbitration matters. In recent years there has been much overlapping, so action in this direction is absolutely essential. Many years ago, in Queensland, we were working under a carters' award made by the Federal Arbitration Court in Melbourne. It was obtained at very great expense to us, because we had to send our delegates all the way from Queensland. After it had been in operation for some time, an award more favorable to the men was made by the Queensland court, with the result that they at once took advantage of it. "We all know also that Queensland shearers, under the State award-, are in a much better position than are shearers in the other States under the Federal award. Naturally, the shearers in Queensland took advantage of the State award. I think the framers of the Constitution intended that the Federal Arbitration Court should deal only with the shipping industry. It has been suggested that they had in mind the shearing industry also, but shearing is really a State industry, in much the same position as other industrial occupations, whereas shipping unquestionably is interstate in character. However, to-day practically every industry may appear before the Commonwealth court, and if they are all brought under Federal jurisdiction it should be possible- to do away with much overlapping in awards. Since our experience of the wages board system in Queensland was not at all satisfactory, I was surprised to learn that it was functioning so well in Victoria. We had three representatives each of the employers and employees on a board, but our trouble was to get. a satisfactory chairman. We endeavoured to secure an impartial .man, but invariably he was regarded as partial by the side which he did not favour. The system proved so unsatisfactory that we welcomed the establishment by the Liberal party of the industrial court. Its first president, under a. subsequent Labour Government, was Judge McCawley. At the outset, his decisions were not satisfactory to employers, but they were viewed with favour by employees1. Later, I am glad to say, his decisions were acceptable to both parties, but unfortunately he died, and we lost a very promising industrial judge. At present we have a tribunal known as the Board of Trade which, from the employers' standpoint, is unsatisfactory, because it is composed entirely of nominees of the Labour party. The president was SolicitorGeneral in a Labour Government

Mr. Gilliesis an exLabour Premier, and Mr. Dunstan, the third member, was the general secretary of the Australian Workers Union in Queensland. Naturally enough, the employers feel that they are not getting fair treatment from this tribunal. Therefore, I favour the proposal in this bill to establish independent authorities, and I agree with the principle of appointments for life at a good salary, because men charged with that responsibility should be placed beyond temptation. I am not particularly keen about the appointment of lawyers. Some years ago, before industrial laws were passed in Queensland, the Chambers of Commerce throughout the State were asked to consider the matter, and the Rockhampton chamber expressed the view that the ideal men for the position would be persons of wide commercial training, of marked probity, and equipped with a, judicial mind.

Senator Drake-Brockman - That combination is not found very often in business.

Senator THOMPSON - I admit that it is difficult to get commercial men with all those qualifications, and if they were unobtainable I should then favour the appointment of men belonging to the legal fraternity.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What particular advantage is likely to follow from the appointment of lawyers!

Senator THOMPSON - No particular advantage as far as I can see, but if we cannot get men of wide commercial training and with judicial minds, then - I hope my legal friends will hot feel offended - I should prefer the appointment of men from the ranks of the legal profession.

Senator Foll - They should be able to analyse evidence.

Senator THOMPSON - I agree with the honorable senator, and I should not like them to be influenced overmuch by precedent which, I think, can be carried too far in industrial matters. It is undesirable also that legal gentlemen should be employed in arguing cases before these industrial tribunals. We should have men who are familiar with the industries concerned. I think this method would be less expensive and more satisfactory.

Senator Drake-Brockman - I doubt if it would be more satisfactory.

Senator THOMPSON - I am quite certain it would. The cases should be presented, by men with a complete knowledge of the industry concerned. Under sub-paragraph xli. of paragraph c, it is proposed to invest State authorities with certain powers. I hope that the State tribunals will be allowed to continue, or that the Commonwealth will establish tribunals in each State, because obviously it is impossible for awards affecting Queensland and Western Australia, States of immense distances, to be made in Melbourne or Canberra. Our experience in Queensland is that the present Federal system is expensive and unsatisfactory, and I should like, therefore, to impress on the Government the desirability of establishing tribunals in each State.

Senator Foll - They are already in existence.

Senator THOMPSON - I mean that we should utilize the tribunals already in existence. I am anxious to know if the Attorney-General can intervene on behalf of the public, because it is the people who are very often most affected.

Senator Drake-Brockman - That is the whole purpose of the proposed amendment.

Senator THOMPSON - Who is to cause the Attorney-General to act ? Everybody's business is nobody's business. The consumers represent an important section. If the Attorney-General is to intervene, who will take up the matter?

Senator Reid - Any organized body may do so.

Senator THOMPSON - When the Minister (Senator Pearce) replies, I should like him to clear up that point, which is an important one. At present I am somewhat in doubt as to the practicability of giving effect to it. It is right that the Government should have power to control trusts and combines which are not carrying on their undertakings in a proper manner. If it is found that they are exploiting the public - that is the term so frequently used - they must, in common with others, expect their operations to come under review. During the many years I have been a member of merchants' associations and employers' federations, I have never known nor supported any action detrimental to the public interest.

The operations of trade unions, which were frequently referred to during the election campaign, should also be under supervision. I do not suggest that they should be under the control of the Government; they will be controlled, as at present, from within by their own members. The Government is seeking power to exercise only healthy supervision over their rules and funds, which, I think, will be in the interests of the trade unionists themselves. Employers' associations must also expect to be under supervision, but so long as they are not acting to the detriment of the public, both will, of course, be allowed to carry on as at present. It is only a matter of supervision, such as has been most beneficial in connexion with friendly societies, and which in the direction proposed should have a similarly good effect. I trust the bill will pass the Senate, and that when the proposals are submitted to the- electors they will give an unmistakeable vote in their favour.

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