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Friday, 18 June 1926

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- The Senate appreciates very much the speech that has. just been delivered by Senator Drake-Brockman, and I trust that when the forthcoming campaign on the referendum proposals is launched those who are interested in having the amendments carried will consider the advisability of circulating as widely as possible views such as those expressed by the honorable senator in the course of his speech. As a legal man he has had a unique opportunity of discovering many of the flaws that exist in our industrial legislation. The opinions that he, as well as other members of the legal fraternity, can offer with regard to the chaotic condition of our industrial laws are a revelation to those who are less fortunately situated than they are, and do not see the ill effects that follow when conflict and overlapping take place between State and Federal activities. It was an education to hear Senator Drake-Brockman explain how difficult it is to carry on our industrial laws with two courts sometimes at variance, and with the limited powers of the Federal court.

Senator Thompson - Some of us have (had that education through practical experience.

Senator FOLL - I know that this condition of affairs has been brought home to some honorable senators in their business activities. Much of the ground that I intended to cover has been traversed more ably by Senator Drake-Brockman than I could hope to do, but I should like to emphasize his criticism of the scathing and mischievous statements made by Senator Barwell last night in regard to the industrial position in Australia.

Senator Needham - They were intemperate.

Senator FOLL - I think they were also mischievous because of the far-reaching effects they may have on the good name of Australia in other parts of the world.

Senator Lynch - It does no harm to tell the truth sometimes.

Senator FOLL - I do not admit that some of the statements of Senator Barwell were a correct representation of the position in Australia.

Senator Lynch - Some of them were.

Senator FOLL - There may be exceptional cases where difficulties have arisen, but, generally speaking, the worker in Australia is no more anxious to go on strike 'and lose his bread money than any other member of the community who has to earn a livelihood. To hear Senator Barwell one would imagine- that it is a pleasure for a mau to be earning no money through being on strike, and that he deliberately deprives himself, of the opportunity of earning the wherewithal to keep himself and his family in food and clothing. One would also imagine that Australia from one end to the other waa seething with discontent and industrial upheaval every day in the year.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - We are never free from strikes.

Senator FOLL - During the nine years it has been my privilege to be a member of this Parliament I have never heard a more dismal word-picture of Australia and its future than I heard last night from the honorable senator. He told us that on a population basis there were more industrial unrest and upheavals in Australia than in any other country. I asked him at the time to produce comparative figures to substantiate his assertion, but he did not do so. The onus is on the honorable senator to produce those figures in order to show that the state of affairs he depicted docs actually exist. Senator Drake-Brock- ' man has compared the industrial unrest in Australia with that of other countries, and has pointed out that the trouble in Australia has been mainly associated with two big industrial organizations. The unions whose members are engaged on the water front and iu the coal-mining industry have been responsible for most of the losses in wages through industrial disturbances.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - There has been no end of strikes in all industries. I notice that there is now an irritation strike in the Post Office in Sydney.

Senator FOLL - The speech by Senator Drake-Brockman was a complete answer to the statements by Senator Barwell. The former mentioned the number of industrial disturbances that had oc curred in the last few years, and showed that, considering the total number of employees engaged in industries in Australia, and the total output of those industries, the amount lost in wages was small compared with that in other countries. ' It was demonstrated that Australia compared more than favorably with most other countries so far as industrial turmoil was concerned.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Is there one day in the year when Australia is free from a strike?

Senator FOLL - It stands .to reason that in every country there will at any time be found some industry in which an industrial dispute is in progress.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - But Australia has provided machinery for doing away with strikes, while other countries have not. Does the honorable senator think that the compulsory system of arbitration has resulted in fewer strikes than would otherwise have occurred ?

Senator FOLL - Yes. It is generally admitted, by employers and employees alike - by all sections of the community - that arbitration has led to the settlement of countless disputes. "When the late Mr. Justice McCawley, an exceptionally brilliant man, was first appointed to the Industrial Arbitration Court of Queensland, a good deal of criticism was levelled against his decisions, particularly by employers of labour.

Senator Thompson - And justly so, too.

Senator FOLL - There may have been grounds for that criticism at' first ; but, on account of the tactful way in which he controlled the machinery of the court, he earned the commendation of both sections in the industrial sphere.

Senator Thompson - Later, he was very successful.

Senator FOLL - Yes. Both sides were desirous of having their cases heard by him in preference to any other judge. Obviously, if we have the right man on the Bench, it is possible for him to do much to bring about a better feeling between the opposing parties. The system of round-table conferences, which is largely availed of at the present time, has the blessing of the arbitration courts. In my own State, the judges commonly get the parties to confer, and they often arrive at an agreement, -which is gazetted.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - If it were not for the court, that would be the method generally adopted.

Senator FOLL - But if these conferences fail, the parties can go to the court and obtain an award. I think that Senator Barwell stated that, unless the unions got everything they desired they could not be relied upon to abide by the awards. That may be so in odd cases, but of the total number of awards made by the various arbitration courts, a large proportion have been observed honorably. Senator Barwell endeavoured to make us believe that Australia was seething with industrial discontent. I remind him, however, that in many industries one can find men who have worked in one factory for 20 or 30 years, and are perfectly satisfied with their conditions.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - They are frequently pulled out on strike against their will.

Senator FOLL - Will this bill not assist to overcome that trouble?

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Does the honorable senator think that the judge of the court should have all the power outlined by the Minister? Should he have the right to legislate for the whole realm of industry, practically to the exclusion of this Parliament?

Senator FOLL - Parliament is always supreme, because the power that is given can be taken away. The honorable senator might just as reasonably object to the power conferred upon judges of the High Court to administer the laws passed by this Parliament. Even the State arbitration courts are in practically a similar position.

Senator McLachlan - The powers exist somewhere to-day.

Senator FOLL - Yes. It is not suggested that the' Federal court should have greater powers than those actually held by the State courts at the present time. There is urgent need in Australia for a uniform company law. The difficulties encountered, and the expense suffered, by business people on account of tho varying State laws have been brought under my notice many times. In Queensland there is a law compelling life insurance companies to deposit with the Treasury a large sum as a guarantee that the policy-holders shall have adequate protection in the event of an unusually. heavy list of claims being submitted, and the amount of the deposit required is increased as the company's business grows. New South Wales, I suppose, has the most unsatisfactory company law in Australia, and during the last few years it has been the happy hunting ground for those desirous of launching bogus insurance companies. All they are required to do is to register a company, take an office in some imposing building, put the name-plate on the door and send men throughout the country inviting people to take out policies. Possibly the company circulates literature in which is displayed a photograph of a big city building, in which it only rents office accommodation, and oily-tongued canvassers do the rest. Many people have an idea that when they take out a policy with a life insurance company, they are making adequate provision . for their dependants. They do not take the trouble to inquire into the bona fides of the company in which they are insured, lt may have no standing. Honorable senators representing New South Wales will, I think, bear me out when I say that that State has been the happy hunting ground for people who set out to float new companies of the kind referred to. These insurance companies are in a category entirely different from that of the ordinary business venture. They should be controlled by Federal legislation, and required to furnish guarantees of financial stability.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Do not all the States require some such guarantee?

Senator FOLL - Not all of them. The State of South Australia, of which the honorable member was Premier for some years, legislated recently with regard to this class of business. An amendment of the law there has brought accident insurance companies under the provisions that apply to companies transacting other classes of insurance business. The deposit required has been materially increased. I wish it to be clearly understood that my remarks do not apply to all insurance companies in Australia. Many of them are most reputable concerns, and are conducting their business on sound financial lines.

Senator McLachlan - This Parliament has power to legislate with regard to insurance companies.

SenatorFOLL. - I always understood it had; but not long ago a deputation waited upon the Prime Minister with a request that action be taken to pass legislation to deal with insurance companies in one of the States because, so I understand, existing legislation had been declared to be ultra vires-

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Commonwealth power is at present over all insurance companies other than State insurance schemes within a State.

SenatorFOLL. - Even if the Commonwealth has this power, I hope that my remarks, so far as they may have any direct bearing on the question at issue, will influence the Government in the direction indicated, because there is urgent need in Australia for legislation to control the class of companies that I have mentioned. Ref erring again to the statement made by Senator Barwell, about industrial unrest in Australia, I gather from the CommonwealthYear-Book that, in 1923-24, the last year for which figures are available, the loss in wages, owing to industrial disputes amounted to just under £1,000,000.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - It has been much greater since then.

Senator FOLL - I agree that, owing to the maritime strike in 1924-25, the loss in wages due to this cause was probably greater than in 1923-24, but the position this year is somewhat better. The congestion in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has been responsible for much of the industrial discontent. In many cases members of organizations have had claims pending for months. Naturally, they become restless, and sometimes are induced to take direct action.

Senator Andrew - There are 105 cases before the court now.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Much of the delay is due to the fact that the judges have no knowledge of industry.

Senator FOLL - If a judge has no knowledge of an industry that has lodged a claim, he has power to call in expert assessors with a knowledge of the industry to guide him. The fact that there is congestion in the Arbitration Court is, in my opinion, an argument why we should increase the personnel of the court so as to dispose of the cases. A few years ago the position became so acute that the Government appointed Mr. Atlee Hunt as

Public Service Arbitrator, because 75 per cent. of the cases then set down for hearing before the Arbitration Court represented claims by members of Public Service organizations. Much of the dissatisfaction that may exist with regard to the operation of the system of industrial arbitration is due, I believe, to the congestion of the court. I disagree entirely with Senator Barwell's view that the system has failed. I invite that honorable senator to read the able speech delivered by Senator McLachlan, who, in my opinion, furnished a complete answer to the charges made by Senator Barwell.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.

Senator FOLL - One of the arguments adduced by certain opponents of this measure is that some of the advanced industrial extremists claim that it is not in their interests to hand over to a Nationalist Government the powers which are being sought. On the other hand, there is another element of extremists . who say that if additional powers are granted to the Government in the direction proposed, action detrimental to their interests would most likely be taken in the event of the Labour party being returned to power. If such arguments could properly be advanced in opposition to this legislation, they would apply also to almost every other measure brought before this Parliament. It would be just as logical to say that when a Nationalist Government introduced an Income Tax Bill a Labour Government, on assuming office, would possibly increase the rates fourfold. During the period this Government has been in control of Commonwealth affairs, the difficulties which exist in consequence of the Government's limited powers in the matter of industrial legislation have been frequently mentioned. As there are overlapping and varying awards in certain industries, the Government is justified in asking the people to grant it additional legislative powers in order toremove the chaotic industrial conditions which exist in many parts of the Commonwealth. It is generally admitted that, not only from the view-point of the employers, but also from that of the employees, it is infinitely better for men engaged in the same class of work in the one industry to be working under one award than under varying awards which not only lead to discontent, but also have a marked effect on efficiency. When I visited the Cockatoo Island Dockyard a short time ago, I found that some of the employees were working under a State award and others under a Federal award. While the present industrial situation in New South Wales prevails, those under a .Federal award are working a 44-hour week for which they receive payment for the actual time worked, whereas those under the State award are being paid full rates for a 44-hour week. It is not competent for us to determine the number of hours which should be worked in any industry. For instance, the conditions prevailing in Victoria or Tasmania differ vastly from those in Queensland and the Northern Territory. During certain periods of the year, men in the northern parts of Queensland are engaged in cane-cutting, and it cannot be said that the wages paid there should be the same as those prevailing in industries, more favorably situated in the southern States. The climatic conditions and the class of work involved must be taken into consideration. It is admitted that the fixing of a working week of so many hours for the whole of a State, irrespective of industrial variations, has produced most unsatisfactory results, and has had a detrimental effect upon industry. I am not competent to judge whether a 44-hour week is too short or too long, but the tribunal which we hope to establish will be" quite competent to deal with the situation. The arguments of certain business men in Melbourne against the proposals, to which Senator Drake-Brockman referred, are very shallow, and an analysis discloses that they are those of persons actuated by purely selfish motives. These business men even went so far as to say that if the Commonwealth Parliament were granted power to control corporations the position would be bad enough while the Seat of Government was in Melbourne, but that it would be infinitely worse when it was transferred to Canberra, where the Government would be away from the influence of such newspapers as the Age and the Argus, which endeavour to mould public opinion. Arguments of that nature clearly indicate that those who are opposing these proposed amendments of the Constitution have a very weak case. The employees are sick and tired of the unsatisfactory industrial situation which exists owing to the overlapping of awards. One of the strongest opponents of these proposals is Mr. Jock Garden, who, naturally enough, does not want industrial peace. He realizes that immediately our arbitration machinery is working smoothly dissatisfaction will be eliminated, and Garden and others of his type will have little to do. Sane employers and employees .are anxious to see the Government's proposals adopted. More extensive powers in the direction proposed should be granted, to enable the Federal arbitration system to function efficiently. I sincerely trust that this measure will have the unanimous support of the Senate, and that the people will realize, when they are asked to vote, that they have a splendid opportunity to bring into operation a system which will be in the interests of all sections of the community.

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