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Wednesday, 3 April 1946

Mr FALSTEIN (Watson) .- So far the second-reading debate on these three constitution alteration measures, which has lasted for three hours,has not indicated to us where any honorable gentleman opposite stands. We do not know whether opposition members intend to support the bill? or to oppose them. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) was the most perfect piece of political humbug that has been uttered in this House for a long time. The right honorable gentleman said that he desired an elective popular convention to consider amendments of the Constitution. I believe that the fathers of this Constitution intended that the Parliament, which is an elected body fullyrepresentative of the whole community, should consider what proposals for the amendment of the Constitution should be submittedto the people. Honorable gentlemen opposite have complained first that the Government is seeking too little power and next that it is seeking too much. I venture to say that if any of the proposals foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition should be agreed to at the committee stages of these bills the right honorable gentleman would be the most disappointed man in the House. The Opposition, as a. matter of fact, wants to have " a little both ways ". If Opposition members had any political conscience whatsoever they would declare clearly where they stand in regard to these proposals. Unless they do so they will reveal to the people their utter insincerity. So far as I can gather, the main complaint of honorable members opposite is that these proposals are to be submitted to the people on election day. They appear to object not to the substance of the bills but to the plan to seek the- mind of the people on election clay. The Leader of the Opposition asserted that the Government was bringing the matter forward in this fashion because it believed that the social services issue would be an election winner. He said that to submit these questions to the people at the general election would cause a conflict of political programmes. Surely there is a conflict of political programmes on every election day. I cannot imagine an election campaign involving different political parties which does not require the people to make a determination as between conflicting political programmes. The Leader of the Opposition and his followers are inviting the House to defer consideration of this subject, or to approach the matter by some different method, or to delay action until what they call an elective popular convention can consider it. They are also suggesting that certain of the objects of the Government could beachieved by amending this placitum or that, in preference to the alterations that, have been, suggested by' the Government. In- fact, it would, appear that anything would be better than the. programme which the Government has submitted. In respect of certain social services,' such as the provision of free medical and dental treatment, the difference between the policies of the Government and the Opposition is that instead of introducing and passing legislation to provide for a national health and pensions insurance scheme and then dropping it, as the parties now in opposition did, the Labour party believes in putting its legislation into operation. I remind the House that when the present Leader of the Opposition resigned his position- as AttorneyGeneral in the Lyons Government he said that he. would stand or fall by the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act. When he became Prime Minister a few months later he had ample opportunity to give effect to his declared intention. He claims that that legislation was not supported by the Labour party. If that be so, it Avas because the measure, when compared' with what was later placed on the statute-book when a Labour government was in office, was not worthy of support. The referendum of 1944, to which the right honorable gentleman referred, was entirely different from that which is now proposed. It contained a number of points which were originally agreed to, by the State Premiers at a nominated convention. Despite the fact that they agreed to certain proposals, some of the Premiers openly opposed the granting of powers to the Commonwealth when the proposals were submitted to the people. In 1944 no one could say how long the war in either Europe or the Pacific would last. Honorable members will recall that on the occasion of the 1944 referendum a transfer pf powers to the Commonwealth for the period of the war and five years thereafter was sought. On this occasion the Government aims at ensuring that the policy which it will present, to the electors at the next elections' can be implemented. It does not wish to make promises to the people as, for instance, the introduction of a 40-hour week and certain social security guarantees, unless it has the power to give effect to its promises. It, therefore, proposes to ask., the people not only to endorse its policy but also- to empower it to give effect to that policy.. Referring to the 1936 referendum on marketing, the Leader of the Opposition said that that was a- proposal for joint control by .the Commonwealth and the States in contrast to control by the Commonwealth as is proposed on this occasion. 1 remind the right honorable gentleman that the position to-day is entirely differ ent from what it was in 1936. He is using to-day the arguments used by him more than a decade ago. The practice of clinging to the arguments and methods of years gone by is not favoured by the Labour party. If I were asked to explain the difference between the arguments and action of the Government and those of the Opposition I would say that the former represent progress and the latter reaction. However much the Opposition tries to cloud the issue, it is clear that' its real desire is to prevent the Labour party from making progress with its policy.

I shall deal first with the bill to1 enable the Parliament to make laws with respect to terms and conditions of employment in industry. In order to ensure a maximum war effort it was found necessary to promulgate a number of regulations under the ' National Security Act covering the whole of industry. The- Leader of the . Opposition -.mentioned the National Security (Industrial Peace) Regulations as well as those relating to employment of women,, employment in the coal-mining industry, and economic organization. In peace-time the power of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is limited by the nature and subjectmatter of the dispute. The court is unable to make a common rule. By section 19 of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act the court can only take cognizance of .disputes when they arise in certain ways. It is the desire of the Labour party to streamline the arbitration system, so that whenever a dispute arises, or it is considered necessary to terminate, a possible cause of unrest, the matter may be brought speedily before the court. Under the powers now sought- it will be possible for the Commonwealth to do that. In addition, it is provided by the Minister administering the industrial peace regulations, who, in peace-time, may be either the Attorney-General or the Minister for Labour and [National Service, may certify a particular matter as being one for the proper consideration of the court. That provision has been of greater assistance in getting various matters settled quickly, and it is most desirable that it shall be retained in the peace-time organization. That is one of the things which it would be possible to provide . under the new powers now sought. It is common knowledge that under the economic organization, regulations, wages were pegged at the rates ruling on the 10th February, 1942. That is one of the things which are causing unrest in industry to-day, because the cost of living has risen far more than is indicated by the Statistician's figures. Consequently, there should be an adjustment of wages. The Leader of the Opposition said that this Parliament would not have the special knowledge necessary to fix an Australian standard of living, but I claim that it ought to do so. That is to say, it should fix a minimum standard, leaving to the courts the adjustment of margins and such other loadings as it may think proper.

Another important matter which the Commonwealth should cover by legislation under the proposed new placitum is the employment of women". Hp to the time when the war became serious, women had rot been employed extensively in industry ; but, due to the exigencies of the war situation, it was commonplace for women to perform in a large number of industries tasks which previously were thought to be beyond their capacity. The Commonwealth, under the regulations relating to the employment of women, made a determination of wages which it considered covered the needs of single women. That was not the position under the different State awards. In at least one State, an arbitrary figure had been fixed, such as 54 per cent., of the male rate, which was considered adequate remuneration for a woman employed' in the industry concerned. The need for special conciliation and arbitration machinery in an industry 'so important to the progress of the Commoner. Falstein. wealth, and certainly to the prosecution of the war, as the coal-mining industry, was obvious. That industry was depressed. The provisions that were made by means of National Security regulations were implemented and subsequently were extended by the Coal Production ("Wartime) Act, which empowered the Commonwealth to take control of mines and to do certain things in regard to the industry which had not been contemplated previously. This action had the effect of enabling Australia to do much better than many of its allies in the war. Certainly, it enabled us to make the maximum war effort of which this country was capable.

I come now to the matter- raised by the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the interpretation of placitum (xxxv.), read in conjunction with the proposed placitum (xxxiv.A.), the subject of the bill.- I do not agree with the opinion expressed by the right honorable gentleman. I have indicated privately the view I hold in regard to the argument that he used to holster up his opinion. Lt is ridiculous to argue that the inclusion in the Constitution of the proposed r,ew placitum (xxxiv.A.) would have the effect of narrowing the jurisdiction of the Arbitration Court under placitum (xxxv.), so that it would be able to deal only with matters not covered by placitum (xxxiv.A.) Most of the members of the profession to which the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), the Leader of the Opposition, and I belong would subscribe to that view. The rule most commonly applied in the interpretation of documents is that a document shall be read as a whole, or that such parts of it as are relevant to a particular matter shall be read together. If. os I suggest, proposed placitum (xxxiv.A.), after insertion in the Constitution, be read together with placitum (xxxv.), it will be possible for the Parliament to legislate to provide for standard hours; for example, 40 hours, or a less number if that is possible. Under placitum (xxxv.), the court might decide whether those standard hours should be worked in a five or a five and a half day week. The Parliament might determine by legislation, how much annual leave should be enjoyed by workers in industry, and on the other hand the matter of sick leave might be left to the court to decide. The Parliament, as 1 have already stated, ought to provide for a minimum basic wage, leaving to the court the determination of margins and loadings. There is a very wide field in industry which can be covered by the Court under placitum (xxxv.). ' These reiate, for example, to trade dilution, apprenticeship, and matters affecting industries which may have a special need for a .close investigation, such as the maritime industry, in respect of which special National Security regulations were gazetted during the war.

I now come to the subject of organized marketing. The Leader of the Opposition has questioned whether it is desirable that the proposed alteration should be embodied in the Constitution in its present form. lie argued that " primary products " are words which require definition. The Attorney-General stated quite clearly in his second-reading speech that those are words of common usage and understanding.

Dr Evatt - They are used in the plat-' form of the Australian Country party - " Butter and other primary products ". The members of that party now say that butter is not a primary product. In their platform, they also use the expression " organized marketing", yet they now suspect the use of that phrase and regard it as very sinister.

Mr FALSTEIN - I said at the outset of my remarks that there is clear evidence that the' arguments advanced by members of the Opposition are the sheerest humbug. They have not shown themselves to be really sincere in making a contribution that will ensure the progress of the Commonwealth.

The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) expressed a desire for an expansion of trade on the basis of merchant to merchant. I wish to place on record that I favour the conduct of extra-territorial trade by Australia on a government to government basis. If we could have a useful contribution by the Opposition in respect of these most important matters, we should do a good deal more for the people than was done in the past years when honorable gentlemen who now sit opposite occupied the

Government benches. They frittered away time, thwarted the progress of the country, and made such a muddle of affairs that during the depression the nation was brought practically to its knees. In regard to the organized marketing of primary products, the AttorneyGeneral has taken cognizance of the fact that section 51 of the Constitution begins by saying, " The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government . . . ". Perhaps the right honorable gentleman might consider the desirability of making provision for a separate section, so as to avoid a little of what I may describe as sloppiness in drafting. In the beginning of the section there is a provision that the Parliament shall make laws subject to :he Constitution, but in a later part of the same section there is a reservation that- the Parliament shall have power to make laws which are not subject to the Constitution.

Large powers are sought in the social services provisions. Despite the statements made by honorable members opposite there can be no doubt as to what is meant by these provisions. Although the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said that nobody has questioned the validity of widows' pensions or that the continuance of the payment of child endowment is in doubt, I am quite sure that the honorable member does not understand the .implications of the decision reached by the High Court iri the Pharmaceutical Benefits case which, placed in jeopardy .the whole power of appropriation for purposes such as this. If the honorable member wants elucidation of the term "family allowances" it might be said by the Attorney-General that it might cover, say, assistance for mothers in the home, or for the care of children in those cases where the mother is not able adequately to care for them herself, or is forced through economic circumstances to place them in the charge of the State while she earns her living.

It is the firm intention of the Government '.o ensure that the people of the Commonwealth shall receive at the earliest .possible date free medical and dental treatment. The provision of the powers in the proposed social services placitum will not only guarantee the continuance of benefits enjoyed by the peopleto-day, but also provide sufficient scope for the Government to round off its plan for the social security of the people by extending it, on the one hand, to cover certain matters not yet provided for by legislation, and, on the other hand, filling in the little deficiencies which manifest themselves from day to day. I am disappointed indeed that the Opposition has made no useful contribution to the debate on the bills before the House, and I emphasize again that they have not yet declared to the country or to the Parliament where they stand in regard to them. They should do so now and indicate clearly whether the amendments they propose to move in committee are genuine or not.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Barnard) adjourned.

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