Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 20 July 1906

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I shall oppose the Bill, because 1 submit that sufficient reasons have not been advanced for the appointment of two additional Justices. If, in the first instance, we had appointed five Justices, at least two of them would have had little or nothing to do for the greater part of their time. According to the statement of the Chief Justice, only one case, apart from the business of the Arbitration Court, is really awaiting decision. His Honour states that, under ordinary circumstances, the Court will be able to finish up its work by the end of the year. If it can, by working nine months in the vear, transact the whole of the business that is brought before it, there should be no necessity to strengthen the Bench. It would not be fair, under such circumstances, to increase the burdens of the taxpayers. It is almost ludicrous for honorable members to talk about the health of the Justices being impaired bv the excessive strain to whir they are subjected. It is desirable that we should always speak with the highest respect of the Justices of the High Court, 1because we should do nothing to in an\ way weaken the dignity of the tribunal or the esteem in which it is held by the gene' ral public. When, however, we know that their Honours sit only a few hours a day, and that (heir work does not occupy them for more than nine months in the year, it is ridiculous to speak of their being overworked.

Mr Fowler - It must be remembered that the Justices do a great deal of work outside the Court.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I am well aware of that. They might reasonably be ex pected to do so, when we consider that they sit in Court' for only four or five hours a day upon four or five days per week, and that their judicial duties do not occupy them for more than nine months in the year. The taxpayers are certainly not prepared to pay .£3,000 per annum and upwards to any men for work which extends over only four or five hours per day. I quite believe that one member of the Bench has been working at high pressure.

Mr Isaacs - The whole of the Justices have been doing so. I hope that the honorable member will not draw any distinction between them.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The AttorneyGeneral forces me to say that the general impression throughout Australia is that there is a great deal of " I concur " about the Court.

Mr Isaacs - I do not think that is fair.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - There is a very general impression that the greater portion of the work of the Court has been done by one Justice. When the Arbitration Act was passed, it was generally considered that during the first year or two there would probably be a considerable pressure of work upon the Arbitration Court, but that afterwards, when employers and employes were induced to take a more common-sense view of the matters affecting them, the business would slacken off very materially. However that mav be, it is plainly apparent that there was very serious objection on the part of the Justices of the High Court to undertake the work of the Arbitration Court. If, as the Chief Justice says, the present Justices are able to cope with the ordinary work-

Mr Isaacs - He says the very reverse.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - According to my reading of the statement, he expected that the whole of the work of the Court would be cleared up before the end of the year.

Mr Isaacs - No; the honorable member should read paragraphs 6 and 7 of his letter.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The AttorneyGeneral is doing what members of his profession are apt to do, namely, selecting those portions of the letter that square with his contentions. The Chief Justice states that the ordinary work of the Court will probably be cleared up bv the end of the year, but that he expects there will be a congestion of work in the Arbitration Court. The difficulty anticipated might be met by appointing an acting Judge to preside over the Arbitration Court. There are in Australia a number of men who could perform thatwork as efficiently as could a Justice of the High Court. The matters which will come before the Arbitration Court will call for the exercise of commonsense and honesty, rather than for a knowledge of abstract law, on the part of the President.

Mr Isaacs - Would the honorable member propose to make the decisions of the acting Judge subject to appeal to the High Court, or make them final ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I would allow the Act to stand as at present, without any provision for an appeal. The decisions of a Justice of the High Court, as President of the Arbitration 'Court, would not fee one whit more fair or logical than those of an acting Judge.

Mr Isaacs - It is the permanence of the position of the Justice of the High Court which gives the people confidence.

Mr McWILLIAMS -I differ entirely from the Attorney-General on that point.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I find that for the half-year ended 30th June last the full Bench of the High Court sat for ninety days, and that the Justices in their individual capacity sat for thirty-three days, or eleven days each, making a total of 10 1 sitting days. I do not think it can be urged for a moment that to require a Justice to sit for 101 days in a half-year is likely to produce the terrible results pictured by the Attorney -General. I regret that there seems to be a disposition on the part of the Government to continue to make all sorts of fresh appointments, which involve increased expenditure, in the belief that the States will make corresponding reductions in their expenditure. So far, however, practically nothing has been done by the High Court which would have the effect of reducing the work which the States Supreme Court Judges are called upon to perform. Very few appeals have been made direct from the decision of a single Judge of any of our States Supreme Courts to the High Court.

Mr Isaacs - It is within, the power of the States to economize very much.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I would remind the Attorney-General that it ought to be within the power of the Commonwealth to economize. Throughout the whole of Australia there is a growing feeling against the appointment of these highly-paid offi cials, who are required to do only a very limited amount of work. When we contrast the labours of the taxpayers with those of the tax-eaters - as I might term them - the balance is all in favour of the former. Believing that no case has been made out for the appointment of two additional Justices to the High Court Bench, I shall vote against the second reading of the Bill, and if it reaches Committee I shall endeavour to limit its application to the appointment of one extra Justice. There is nothing to show - even in the light of the statement of the Attorney-General - that an additional Justice would not be sufficient to enable the Court to cope with the business coming before it. There is, I repeat, a growing feeling in the States that this Parliament is enacting unnecessary laws, which can only have the effect of creating work, and that it is then appointing highly-paid Officials to perform that work. I do hope that in making any additional appointments to the High Court Bench, serious consideration will be given to the claims of those who have had practical experience as Supreme Court Judges. The mere fact of translating a man to the Judicial Bench does not add to his abilities one iota. Indeed, there have been cases in which persons appointed to the Bench have proved absolute failures. I hold that in making any additional appointments to the High Court Bench, the Commonwealth would do well to confine its selection to the States Supreme Court Judges who have proved their capacity. From one end of Australia to the other there is a unanimous opinion that the choice of the present Chief Justice of the High Court was an exceedingly wise and fortunate one. He has brought to the discharge of his duties an exceedingly well-trained and balanced mind, and the Commonwealth is undoubtedly reaping a great advantage from his presence upon the Bench. It is sometimes exceedingly unwise to take a man from the hurly-burly of party politics, and place him upon the Bench. As far as possible, he should be absolutely removed from party politics. Seeing that there are men upon the Supreme Court Benches of the various States who possess a longjudicial training. I hold that, instead of looking round the political arena with a view to placating a friend, or of getting rid of an enemy, the Government would be well advised if they limited their selection of any additional High Court Justices to the

Supreme Court Benches of the different States. 1 shall vote against the second reading of the Bill.

Suggest corrections