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Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator KEANE - In reply to the honorable senator I shall give an illustration. Say, for instance, I am a grocer and he is a wholesale supplier. I buy from him £100 worth of goods on which sales tax is charged, and I receive an invoice for £115. The additional £15 which goes into the Treasury, is passed on to my customers. It is no use blinding ourselves to facts. The delay in delivering a judgment of the Arbitration Court is amazing, more particularly when it is remembered that Chief Judge Beeby is a man of experience and is conversant with all shades of political opinion. Another member of the bench is a one-time member ofthis chamber, Judge

Drake-Brockman. What is that gentleman doing at the moment? He is chairman of' a coal tribunal, and he is also a judge of the Arbitration Court, iu which jurisdiction he has three important cases awaiting a hearing. The locomotive engine-men have had a case before that court since August of last year. Recently he met the representatives of the union in conference and had the audacity to say that he could give them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to hear the case. Judge Drake-Brockman also has a military job which he is endeavouring to carry out at the same time. A building dispute lias arisen in Melbourne and that also lias 'been placed on his list. So we find chaos, delay and humbug in one of the most important activities of this country. What this country requires urgently at the moment is direct Arbitration Court action without interference by lawyers and others who do not understand the claims of the workers. I go further and say that the appointment of every judge to this tribunal has been made by governments hostile to the Labour party. Imagine a government having the audacity to take a man from the role of advocate for the coal-owners and to place him on the Arbitration Court bench to decide how much workers should be paid. I am amazed that the action which we on this side are now taking has not been taken earlier. A protest against all this humbug is long overdue. The workers of this country are doing the biggest share of the job in time of war. What is wrong with the Government taking its courage in both hands and saying, "We shall not interfere with the Arbitration Court at the moment, but we shall take action under the National Security Act"? If I had my way that would be done immediately. Think of the support that would be forthcoming for the Government of this country at the moment if action were taken to depart from legislation which is grossly unfair to the workers. Imagine any honorable senator on this side or on the other side of the chamber going into the Arbitration Court to argue a case for the workers in favour of a higher basic wage and being asked to disclose most private details of expenditure, when the employers' case was being taken behind closed doors. The Arbitration Act is obsolete and totally inadequate. One section in the legislation which I believe all legal men will support, was inserted by the Bruce-Page Government. It is not surprising that there are threats of industrial trouble and that hold-ups are likely to occur at any time. This matter was raised in the House of Representatives and a reply was given by the Minister for Labour and National Service who said that the claim had been heard by men qualified in the jurisdiction by years of experience in handling evidence. I have been in the Arbitration Court and I know the worth of that. Imagine, for instance, a legal mind attempting to deal with three railway grades such as train examiners, undergear repairers and running-gear repairers. In New South Wales, for instance, those three grades have different names and in South Australia three other designations areemployed. I look forward to the day when a government of this country will say that there shall be an industrial tribunal on which there shall be an expert employees' representative and an expert employers' representative. It would not matter who was appointed chairman so long as he had an impartial mind. Such a court would eliminate the ridiculous farce that is going on at the moment. How can men on £3,000 a year determine a just living wage? They do not know the hardships of the workers. Whatever award they make will be scaled by the employers. At the first opportunity the verdict of the people should be sought by referendum on the question of the Commonwealth Parliament being given complete control over trade and commerce. Then the workers would be assured of getting the full benefit of awards of the court. Industry can now pass on wage increases granted by the court and consequently the workers get no 'real benefit. The Labour party will not abandon the fight for the rectification of the present situation. The trade union movement is insistent that a fair deal should be given to the workers. Senators belonging to the Labour party have been inundated with letters from organizations urging rectification. We attend meetings and explain the situation to the workers. They are not satisfied. They point out that we, as members of the Labour party, supported the passing of the National Security Act and they ask why the Government does not use the power it has under that act to give the workers an increase of the basic wage.

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