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Wednesday, 5 May 1920

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson - Legislation passed by this House must not be reflected upon by honorable members. I ask the honorable member to withdraw his remark.

Mr GREGORY - I withdraw it. I had no desire to reflect in any way upon the members of this Parliament. My only object was to emphasize my protest in regard to the delay in dealing with cases brought before the Court. Undoubtedly this delay is urged by many as a reason for direct action, and must tend to destroy the influence of the Court. It is the duty of the Government to immediately make such additions to the Bench as will obviate such delays in the future. In connexion with the wharf labourers' dispute which came before the Court last year, representatives from Western Australia had to attend in Melbourne to give evidence, and they told me that their expenses alone amounted to over £20,000. When these grave expenses are incurred, not only by one side,but by both parties to an application to the Court, the public have to pay, and they must conduce greatly to the increased cost of living.

I wish also to protest against political interference with the work of the Court. This has occurred, not once or twice, but on many occasions. If we are to have a Conciliation and Arbitration Court, then every industrial dispute should be submitted to it, and there should be no political interference. ' In my opening remarks I spoke of the Act as enforcing obligations on one section and not upon another. In this connexion, I would refer to a strike which took place some time ago on the transcontinental railway, and in connexion with which we had a most disgraceful exhibition. A large number of passengers, some of them invalids, and others coming over here for the first time for a holiday, were taken out into the wilderness, and there the train was brought to a standstill with the result that the passengers had to return to their original starting points. I have read the papers relating to that dispute, and I find that the organization of workers concerned, many months before, had entered into an agreement with the Minister for Works and Railways that, subject to certain conditions, they would not strike, but would in every case go before the Court. They were prepared to enter into a bond to carry out that agreement, but were not asked to do so. Within twelve months of their case being submitted to the Court, these men went out on strike. An Act that permits that sort of thing should not be allowed to remain on the statute-book. We cannot continue an Act of Parliament which enables people to go to the Court anr allows them, when they cannot obtain all that they want, to go out on strike. The sooner we have from the Government an indication that legislation is to be submitted providing for either the amendment or the repeal of the Act the better. I would urge the repeal of the Act as it stands to-day, because it is unjust. Other means might be provided, but we should not in any circumstances have in operation an Act which enables the Court to make awards unless those awards are to be binding upon all parties.

Mr Riley - For all time?

Mr GREGORY - No ; I would not take away entirely from the workers the right to strike.

Mr Riley - But if they want a variation of an award they cannot have their claim heard.

Mr GREGORY - That should be provided for. After all, it is only one of the little pin-pricks associated with the working of the Act. Ever since the passing of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act we have had industrial turmoil. The Scottish Commissioners who visited Australia a few years ago said that in no other country had they found existing between employers and employees such animosity as prevailed in Australia. This feeling. I am convinced, is due wholly and solely to the working of the Act.

Mr Gabb - It is because of the independent spirit of Australians.

Mr GREGORY - Not at all. Some people have independence who are not worthy of it. No sooner had the Conciliation and Arbitration Act come into operation than it tended to create this spirit of animosity.

I am a firm believer in the Wages Board system. No one man, no matter what his qualifications, can efficiently determine what should be the conditions ope rating in all industries. It is preposterous to ask any .one man to attempt to do so. The Wages Board system is preferable. Reference has been made to the Adelaide builders' dispute, and it has been compared with a strike which it was said would probably take place in Brisbane. A strike in Perth would be of no concern to the people in Brisbane. The conditions prevailing in the two cities might be altogether dissimilar. My desire is that in each State industrial affairs should be controlled under the Wages Board system, with the right of appeal to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration .Court upon matters of law. I am convinced that while we have the present Act in force, with the incessant desire of Labour organizations generally to come within the jurisdiction of the Court, and with the difficulties of bringing witnesses to Melbourne from the different States, we are bound to have delays and congestion of business, no matter how many Justices may be appointed. I hope that as speedily as possible the Government will announce the action they intend to take with reference to industrial reform. There is nothing more urgent or important to Australia. Undoubtedly the congestion of business in the Court is lending to direct action. We are having in this country undue industrial trouble. It is, of course, all very well to be wise after the event. If, in the early stages of the war, when we began to realize the gradual but ever Increasing cost of living, w;e had created a Board in connexion with the Statistician's Department, with power to grant increased wages corresponding with the increase in the cost of living, we should have avoided a lot of trouble. Something may yet be done in that direction ; but, in any event, the Government should bring before Parliament at the first opportunity a Bill providing for an amendment of the Act and designed to mitigate, if not entirely to prevent, the industrial turmoil from which we are suffering to-day.

Mr.PARKER MOLONEY (Hume) T4.27]. - The time allowed under the Standing Orders for the consideration of this motion has almost expired, but I am anxious to refer to one or two points that ' are of importance. . I cannot help feeling, and I am sure the feeling will be shared by honorable members generally, that as long as the Government shut their eyes to the congestion of business in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, they must stand responsible for all the industrial unrest now existing. While this congestion of business goes on, and people are allowed to increase the cost of living, they must be condemned as primarily responsible for the trouble that has taken place. We have an excellent illustration of the position in connexion with what is taking place on the River Murray conservation works at the present time. The men on this side of the river are on strike because they are asked to work for 3s. or 4s. a day below the rate paid to those on. the New South Wales side. The latter are working under an award, but the men on this side have no Court to which they can appeal and have their case promptly determined. Although this is a work of a national character, the men engaged upon it on one side of the river are dependent upon an award of a State Arbitration. Court, while those on the other side have no such award to protect them. For that reason a great national work is being held up.

Debate interrupted under standing order119.

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