Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 22 June 1926

Senator NEWLANDS (South Australia) . - I have no desire to give a silent vote upon such an important and far-reaching measure. I listened with a considerable degree of interest to the speech which was delivered by Senator Barnes on Friday, and again to-day. He is well worth listening to when he undertakes the task of advising the Senate as to what he considers the best course to adopt. On this bill he has raised two very important points. The most important argument which he advanced was that the Government would take over the control of cur industrial affairs to the extent of issuing directions to the authorities that are to be appointed as to the manner in which they should discharge their functions. That, to my mind, would be most undesirable. My understanding of the position is that it is intended to remove this matter altogether from the realm of party politics, so that it shall not be affected by the party struggles that frequently characterize the debates in the national Parliament. The Government will not be able to take any action for the appointment of authorities before bringing down legislation for the consideration of this Parliament, which, in its wisdom, will decide whether or not the authorities appointed under the act shall be allowed to carry 'on their work in the way that is desired by the majority of the people of Australia. Senator Barnes also argued that this Parliament would not have sufficient power to take whatever action might be thought desirable. If the proposals which the bill contains were advanced separately, I feel sure that the whole of the labour organizations would support one portion, and the capitalistic organizations the other. Their inclusion in the one measure has led to the amalgamation of those forces. Our experience of industrial and commercial affairs, since the termination of the war, must have convinced every reasonable man that drastic alterations are necessary in connexion with industrial organizations and combinations of capital. I do not believe that this Parliament would outrage the feelings of the community in any legislation that it might pass. I am pleased at the absence of ill-feeling from this debate. It has been conducted in a most friendly manner, the views of each side having been stated in the frankest spirit. That augurs well for the success of the campaign when these questions are submitted to the people. The proper angle from which to approach the question is, in what way will Australia be affected ? It is admitted, on every hand, that industrialism is not at present upon a satisfactory basis. Since the termination of the war, there has been so much interruption of industry as the result of strikes, that every reasonable citizen must agree that it is the duty of the Government to endeavour to improve the position without delay. We have very little knowledge of the combines that are operating in our midst, but it is the general belief that they are not working in the best interests of Australia. It would be an almost criminal act for a government to introduce legislation affecting labour organizations, if it did not concurrently introduce other legislation dealing with trusts and combines. I believe that if the people would adopt these proposals we should be able to do a great deal to improve our present unsatisfactory methods of dealing with industrial disputes. Notwithstanding the pessimistic views expressed by some honorable senators, it would be to the undoubted advantage of the community if this national Parliament had complete authority over matters affecting industry and commerce. I am quite prepared to admit that wages boards, round-table conferences, and other similar means of adjusting differences between employees and employers have been used with advantage to the general public, but I do not imagine, as opponents of these proposals have said, that their use will be dispensed with if the people sanction these constitutional alterations; for we have been told quite definitely that the Government intends to maintain them. The chief object in introducing this bill is to get power to prevent overlapping. At present some factories have to comply with the terms of anything from 20 to 50 different awards, and have to employ special highly-trained officers to keep track of all the determinations by industrial tribunals which might affect their business. That is making a comic opera of industrial arbitration. These proposals have been designed to remedy that, and to bring about a better understanding between employers and employees. Every one who is interested in the welfare of our great Commonwealth must regret that capital and labour are at present in antagonistic camps, and that instead of sympathy, there is a feeling akin to hatred between them. That must be altered before this country can prosper in the highest sense; and I feel that any move this Parliament may make to alter it will be welcomed by the great" bulk of the people. It is unreasonable to expect workers to wait patiently for twelve months, or even two years, for a settlement of their claims, as they are obliged to do now in some cases. The long delays that occur have considerably increased the irritation of all parties concerned. Personally I have no doubt whatever that that state of affairs will be remedied speedily if the people approve of these proposals : and that henceforth industry and commerce will go hand in hand to the advantage of the Commonwealth. It has been urged that this is a clumsy and costly method of trying to bring a spirit of greater harmony into our industrial relations; but it has been shown quite definitely in the course of the debate that an amendment of the Constitution is necessary before we can do very much to improve the present position. This plan for amending the Constitution is provided in the Constitution itself, and Parliament has simply to take it and use it. In my. opinion we should make greater headway if those who spend their time complaining and fault-finding would, with a willing spirit, advocate these proposed amendments. It is not at all likely that this, or any other government, in this democratic community, would attempt, in the exercise of larger powers, to introduce legislation that would victimize a section of the community, for it would know very well that it would soon get its deserts. We should have a more reasonable and rational method of determining industrial disputes, and the adoption of these proposals will, in my opinion, give it to us. I regret that so much publicity is given overseas to the statement that Australia is the land of strikes, but such excellent speeches as that delivered by Senator DrakeBrockman will do a great deal to remove those unwarranted aspersions on our industrial community. Australia, of course, has her industrial troubles just as every other civilized country has; but they are fewer and of less magnitude here than in a good many other countries. Before people will come and settle here, we shall have to remove these unjust suspicions, which, it appears to me, are circulated by those who are opposed to our arbitration methods for the settlement of industrial disputes. Possibly the guilty persons are afraid that similar arbitration courts may be established in their country. It is wicked and cruel that in most countries only the arbitrament of hunger is used to settle industrial disputes. It is unthinkable that Australia should go back to that sorry condition. For 25 years we have been trying to build up an effective industrial arbitration system, and I believe the adoption of these proposals by the people would be a step in the direction of making our efforts something more than a .by- word. Notwithstanding the comparative failure of the system so far, I believe that no one in Australia would wish to go back to the methods that existed before its introduction. I am astonished at the opposition to this bill. One section of the community thi ,11:E that it goes too far, and another that it does not go far enough. It is strange t.> see a small section of the community - the wealthy men who will be affected by the commerce provisions of the bill - in league with extremists in the Labour movement.

Senator Thompson - Does the honorable senator think that only a small section of commercial men is opposed to this legislation ?

Senator NEWLANDS - I think so, because of the noise they are making. As a rule, the smaller the numbers, the bigger the noise. When these opposing factions are found to be in agreement, one is justified in believing that reforms are sometimes opposed merely because they have been introduced by a certain political party. Unfortunately, that is often the case; but I hope that, in considering this bill,' and in dealing with the referendum proposals on the public platform, we shall forget our petty political differences and deal with the Government's proposals from the point of view of their effect upon Australia. If the electors will consider the future of their country, rather than a temporary gain to any political party, these proposals will be carried by a large majority. The bill has my wholehearted support. During the last election campaign, I found that feeling ran high, and that it was necessary for me to declare my attitude towards certain questions then agitating the public mind. I made my position abundantly clear. I told the people of South Australia that, if the existing laws were not broad enough to deal effectively with industrial matters, I was prepared to support the Government in any action it took to remedy that state of affairs. On each occasion my remarks were applauded by the majority of those present. I do not think that the people of Australia have altered their opinion since that time, and I, therefore, feel confident that these proposals will receive their support. I do not agree with those who say that this legislation has been brought before us with undue haste. The electors have known for many months that legislation of this nature has been contemplated. If consideration of this bill were postponed, or the referendum proposals were not submitted to the electors for another year, I do not see that any benefit would accrue. The electors of Australia are not so stupid as some would have us believe. Most of them are anxious that the country shall be free from a repetition of the industrial upheavals from which it has suffered during recent years. I shall have pleasure in supporting these referendum proposals before the people, and shall do my best to convince them of the desirability of an alteration of the Constitution in order to deal with industrial disputes and those combines and organizations which, unquestionably, operate to the detriment of the people. No section of the community which is not acting detrimentally to the interests of the people as a whole, or disobeying the country's laws, need fear this legislation. I stand always for the supremacy of the country's laws, and, therefore, I shall support this bill.

Suggest corrections