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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator McBRIDE (South Australia) . - I support the motion of my leader (Senator McLeay) for the disallowance of these regulations. In doing so, 1 wish to make it clear that, as a member of the late Government, I fully appreciate the difficulties of government at this time and the need for prompt action on many occasions. I realize, too, that some of the things that normally are done in times of peace have had to be overridden because of pressure of circumstances, when speed is of the essence of the contract. I do think, however, that these regulations cut across one of the fundamental principles of the industrial life of this country. I waited for the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) to inform us of some reason why ordinary channels of industrial conciliation and arbitration could not be used in this instance, instead of issuing the regulations that we have before us. I was entirely disappointed with the honorable gentleman's reply to the case presented by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Senate indulged in generalizations, many of whichwere inaccurate, but he did not state any reasons for the promulgation of these regulations.

Senator Collings - The reasons are self-evident.

Senator McBRIDE - The least that the Opposition had a right to expect from the Leader of the Senate was a reason, or reasons, for the issue of regulations which override the normal peace-time practice to which I have always subscribed.

Senator Collings - The method prescribed by the regulations is quicker.

Senator McBRIDE - The honorable gentleman did not give to us one good reason why the normal channels - the Arbitration Court and other industrial tribunals - could not be used in fixing the rates which under these regulations are to be fixed by either the Minister for Munitions or the Minister for Aircraft Production.

Senator Collings - The existing machinery is too slow in operation for present needs.

Senator Aylett -What rates of pay would be applied while a decision of the court was being awaited?

Senator McBRIDE - Some awards would naturally be applicable; and any adjustment in respect of different classes of work could be referred to the court, and a decision given quickly. During the last six months, we have had numerous instances of this Government blatantly overriding decisions of the Commonwealth ArbitrationCourt. In practically all of those cases the Government's action has been dictated by unions which have refused to abide by the court's awards. An instance of this kind was provided only recently in the coal-mining industry. Some time ago-, following a series of disturbances and stoppages in the industry, the Prime Minister (Mr. Cur tin) himself stated bluntly to the coal-miners that they must either produce coal or go into the army. That statement was received with approbation by the people as a whole. However, since the Prime Minister had made that very strong pronouncement, no action has been taken. The Government party claims credit for the establishment of our industrial arbitration system; but it does not itself attempt to ensure that the awards of the court are enforced. More recently still, a judge of the court, dealing with an application affecting the coal-mining industry, gave a decision allowing certain machines to be used for the development of coal seams, but the Prime Minister himself caused the postponement of the operation of that award. So far as I am aware it has not yet been put into operation. Honorable senators on this side naturally entertain grave doubts when a government which has done things such as I have described, confers on Ministers power to decide wages and conditions of labour.

Senator Collings - The matter re- quired immediate decision.

Senator McBRIDE - If the Minister had devoted part of his speech to that aspect of the matter which he now raises simply by interjection, honorable senators would be in a position to judge for themselves whether the matter required immediate attention. Had ho given a reasonable explanation I have no doubt that honorable senators on this side would have accepted it; but he devoted the whole of his speech to misrepresenting the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay). I, personally, have no hostility towards organized labour in this country as such; but my hostility is aroused when I find organized labour refusing to abide by awards of a properly constituted tribunal. Unfortunately, since the outbreak of war, we have had too many instances of organized labour using the present emergencyto bludgeon further concessions and benefits for itself. At the same time every body, we are told, should be willing to make some sacrifice in the common interest. I make no apology for my distrust of the Government's action in conferring this power upon any Minister under these regulations. I urge the Government to reconsider the regulations, and to realize the dangers inherent in them. It should realize that a large body of opinion in this country is fearful that organized labour is taking advantage of war conditions to extractfrom the Government concessions which it could not hope to obtain from a properly constituted tribunal. We should oppose the granting of this power to any Minister by any government regardless of its political colour. Decisions of this nature should be left to properly constituted tribunals. No government should resort to a regulation of this kind except in a case of extreme emergency, and only then in respect of that period for which an industry is obliged to await the decision of a properly constituted tribunal. Such a body will not be influenced by the hurlyburly of war emergency, but will calmly examine every application and arrive at a fair and considered decision. I hope that, the motion for the disallowance of this regulation will be carried.

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