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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr POLLARD - Hear, hear!

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - There is no question as to where the honorable members opposite stand.'

Mr Pollard - If that policy be good in respect of wheat, it is also good in respect of wages.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - The matter is not one which can be determined very easily in this Parliament. Not many of us would essay to establish ourselves as judges on such a matter. It can be determined only by properly constituted tribunals .which are vested with full authority to make an investigation of the different factors concerned, and of the effect of certain judgments on industry generally, if given effect. The Attorney-General also said -

You cannot secure and sustain increased production unless yo.u can secure terms and conditions upon which employers and employees alike are willing to work. Broadly, this is what the war-time national powers achieved.

A willingness to work is one of the outstanding deficiencies in Australian industry to-day. There is a distinct unwillingness on the part of many persons to engage in the occupation which they seem to contend is theirs by some special right. The coal-miners, for example, maintain that nobody else is entitled to mine coal. They may go on strike whenever, they like, for no reason, or for any excuse that they can think of on the spur of the moment, notwithstanding that they may dislocate the services of a whole city, as they did last Christmas. No industrial arrangements can be carried on satisfactorily under such con:ditions. Whatever the Attorney-General may say about establishing in Australia conditions which will attract immigrants to this country and improve the prospects of new businesses being started, the first essential is a real approach to industrial peace; and I consider that that will not be attainable until there is a distinct exhibition of willingness on the part of those engaged in industry, whether employees or employers, to abide by the decisions of the Arbitration Courts. There is to-day too much of a tendency to depart from those decisions. I cannot see how we shall improve the prospects of industrial peace by getting farther away from the arbitration courts, as this proposed alteration must take us, and making rates of wages - for example, the basic wage - a political issue in the Commonwealth Parliament. I have heard honorable members opposite, as well as on my own side, deplore quite sincerely on more than one occasion that certain industries had become, to use their own expression, a " political football " in the Parliament. If you make the basic wage and the conditions of industry generally a " political football " for all time, I shudder to think what will be the industrial conditions under which our economic life will have to be carried on. The time has arrived for a thorough overhaul of the Australian Constitution. I am not one of those who say that the Constitution as drafted in 1899 is sacrosanct and must not he questioned or altered. But I do believe, from the experience of referendums that have been submitted, that the general temper of the people demands that any proposed alterations shall be agreed upon at a properly constituted national convention, at which each of the six States will be equally represented.

Mr.Calwell. - There is no provision in the Constitution for another convention.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - There is no provision in the Constitution, or in any law, for conferences of Commonwealth and State Ministers, yet they are held in this chamber time and again, and are among the most useful gatherings that take place in the Commonwealth. Consequently, it does not follow that what I have suggested should not be done. That is a most reactionary view for any Minister to take.

Mr CALWELL (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - I thought that the honorable gentleman believed in governing by the law.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I certainly believe in government by the law. But this is a question not of the law but of making the law, of devising means under which a properly constituted body may calmly and dispassionately consider what are the defects of the Australian Constitution as it stands to-day, and what alterations of it have been made necessary by the lapse of the time and the new conditions that have arisen, partly as the result of our growth, partly as the result of the disparity of increase in the three big States compared with the three small States, and partly as the result of the impact of two great wars on the economic and social life of Australia. Those are matters which require calm, dispassionate consideration by men who, perhaps, are not very closely connected with politics, but have a fair knowledge and experience which will enable them to say how the Constitution ought to be framed in order to allow the political and economic life of the country to be restored to that healthy condition which I believe to be necessary, but which most certainly will not be achieved even if these proposed alterations are agreed to by the people.

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