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Wednesday, 23 June 1926

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I do not wish to be unfair to the Minister, but I was under the impression yesterday, when he asked the Senate to suspend the Standing Orders, that the object of the bill was to enable the Government to re-appoint two deputy presidents to the Arbitration Court so that they could complete work which they had in hand. I find, however, that the bill does more than that. It contains provisions relating to the appointment of three judges of the Arbitration Court for life, and to the payment of pensions for judges. I am strongly in favour of the principle of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes, and I was sorry to read the serious reflections made last week by Senator Sir Henry Barwell upon the work of the court. Though arbitration has not done all that was expected of it, it has not entirely failed. I agree with much that was said by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham) concerning the irritating delays due to fighting over technicalities, for the purpose of prejudicing the principle in the eyes of employees. Many years ago I met the secretary of the Engine-drivers' Association in Broken Hill. He informed me that he had had great difficulty in persuading the members of his union to support arbitration, because for more than two years they had been unable to reach finality in claims which they had before, the court. It is- much to bo regretted that certain employers, instead of giving the system a fair trial, have, in the past, employed the ablest lawyers procurable - amongst them Sir Edward Mitchell, who is regarded as one of the greatest authorities on constitutional law in Australia - to raise technical objections to claims before the court. As to the value of the system itself there can be no doubt. Let me illustrate what I mean by relating an incident that occurred some years ago. Whilst on my way to Broken Hill, I met, on the Adelaide railway station, Judge Cohen, Mr. Samuel Smith, a representative of the employees, and another gentleman representing the employers, who were also on their way to Broken Hill to deal with an industrial dispute that had arisen there. On the platform I met also a prominent member of the State Government. As he was travelling north, I suggested that I should introduce him to Judge Cohen and the other gentlemen mentioned. When I told him of the object of their mission, he volunteered the statement that he was entirely opposed to the system of compulsory arbitration. To convince him of its value, I reminded him of the disastrous effect upon South Australian finances of an earlier dispute in Broken Hill. For the information of the Senate I may be permitted to relate what happened then. The late Sir Frederick Holder, asTreasurer of the State Government, had introduced the budget, and on the figures presented ' showed a small surplus. Shortly afterwards he was defeated, and the late Sir John Downer became Treasurer in the new administration.© meantime an industrial dispute developed at Broken Hill. It lasted for three months, during which time the railway traffic between Broken Hill and Port Pirie practically ceased. As that traffic to a large extent dominated South Australian finances, Sir John Downer, instead of being able to show a surplus at the end of the financial year, had to inform the people of South Australia that there was a deficit of £250,000, due entirely to the Broken Hill dispute. Having reminded the South Australian Minister of the unfortunate experience of his State during the earlier dispute at Broken Hill, I told him that Judge Cohen and the other gentlemen mentioned were on their way to Broken Hill to endeavour to settle what promised to be a much more serious matter, and I said that, in all probability, it would be settled without a single man at Broken Hill losing a day's work, and that, therefore, the South Australian revenue would not be jeopardized. I do not agree with the provision in the bill that the three judges of the Arbitration Court must necessarily be members of the legal profession. I am' quite prepared to concede that the chief judge should be a barrister, but there is no sound reason why the other judges should come from the legal profession. A layman should be more conversant with commercial and industrial problems. It does not necessarily follow that a lawyer is better fitted for the position than a layman. Lately I have been reading the Confessions of a Capitalist, an interesting book written by Mr. Benn, a large employer in England. Mr.' Benn,' I may add, is not a socialist. He has built up a big business. He states, and his opinion should be noted by those who favour the appointment of lawyers as judges of the Arbitration Court, that .the conservation of time is essential to the successful carrying on of any industry, and that he has never met but one lawyer who understands what time means. It is generally supposed that many barristers are in receipt of very large incomes, but I do not suppose there are a dozen in Australia who' receive more than £4,000 a year. A barrister receiving £3,000 a year is considered by members of the legal profession to be doing well, and a person appointed to a permanent position at that salary for a period of ten years would, I think, have his future assured. As it is the intention of the Government to submit certain proposals to the people by means of a referendum, an opportunity is provided of ascertaining whether in the opinion of the people of Australia judges should or should not be appointed for life.

Senator Lynch - In order to obtain the services of efficient men an attractive salary should be paid.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The future of a judge receiving a salary of £3,000 for even seven years, is fairly well assured. There are not many members of the legal profession who would refuse such an offer. In addition to the payment of high salaries the bill also provides that judges are to receive pensions on retirement. The intention is I presume to ensure that their decisions shall be absolutely impartial. The members of the Tariff Board deal with more important issues than are put before arbitration judges, but the amount they receive is much less than is proposed to be paid in this instance. They are not entitled to receive pensions.

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