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Thursday, 4 April 1946

Mr CALWELL - Such legislation could be passed by State parliaments under their existing power.

Mr WHITE - Last night the Minister's colleague, the honorable member for Robertson (Mir. Williams) said that the Labour party wanted these powers to legislate for the shorter working week. I admire him for his straightforwardness in the matter. He said, definitely, that the Government would legislate for a 40-hour week if it had the power to do so. I have no quarrel over high wages, but the Arbitration Court is the proper authority to say what wages and conditions should apply in industry. Wages should be as high as industry can afford to pay, but the rates should not be determined by demagogues here or in caucus. Such individuals should not have the power to alter the whole basis of our national economy. That is what would happen if this new industrial power were vested in the Parliament.

I can well imagine the caucus scene when these alterations were suggested to the Constitution. No, doubt the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), who has learned that the slogans of the Domain do not " go down " in this Parliament, said to his colleagues, " Well, the coal-miners and the 1 Commos ','suoh as Wells and others, are coming to demand a 40-hour week, and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions has voted in favour of it. What are we going to do about it ? " The Minister for Transport then said, "Well, last week in the Domain a chap who stood with me called for a 35-hour week. You must do something about it ". The Minister for' Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) then probably said, " Well, let's agree on a 40-hour week ". The Attorney-General, no doubt, then said, Well, we shall have to alter the Constitution to do it by legislation ".

Mr Calwell - The , Minister for Labour and National Service in .the Menzies Government introduced a 6s. war loading for the workers under the National Security Regulations without reference to the Arbitration Court;

Mr WHITE - That may be so. My point is that the Arbitration Court was established to enable employers and employees to submit their cases, through expert advocates, if necessary, to a learned judge. In such an atmosphere a reasonable decision can be reached which will bear some relation to economic conditions. Statistical information and other relevant factors can be .considered. The Arbitration Court has operated in that way, and it has fixed a basic wage which varies according to the varying circumstances of different States. Does any honorable gentleman opposite suggest that a uniform basic wage for the whole of Australia would be equitable?

Mr Beazley - I know that a diet which includes only potatoes and onions as vegetables is not adequate.

Mr WHITE - Here we have a young economist who has recently entered this Parliament putting forward his opinions. Gould he, or any one of us for that matter, decide what should be the basic wage in Queensland, for example ? No member of this Parliament is competent to determine the basic .wage for all parts of Australia. Yet we are being calmly asked to accept this dangerous industrial bill in the same way as we are being asked to accept a harmless Constitution alteration measure. This whole procedure is reminiscent of the declining days of the Roman Empire, when free bread, free circuses and free services generally were offered to the people. We could go back farther to the days when Aristotle said that " the insolence of demagogues was the .ruin of democracy ". During our 46 years of federation we have had in operate an excellent system of judicial arbitrament in relation to industrial affairs, but this Government is now yielding to the clamour of the demagogues inside and outside of this Parliament that the Arbitration Court should be set aside. This would be a seriously retrograde step which would take us back to the days of scrambling for whatever could be got. If the Constitution were amended in the manner now suggested we should have political parties competing at election, time with promises of shorter working hours, higher wages and the like when, in fact, {he urgent need of this country is not shorter hours and higher wages but honest work to increase production. Mr. Attlee, the Prime Minister of Great Britain-

Mr Calwell - A good man !

Mr WHITE - I happen to know him. He is a. good man. He said that what is wanted to-day is more, not less, work. Honorable gentlemen opposite are trying to deprive this country of the economic safety valve which it at present possesses in the Arbitration Court. The proposal is being put forward cunningly. The Arbitration Court is not to be abolished; it is simply to be put into the discard and become an empty tenement. When an issue arises which the Government would not desire to determine, it would be able to say in effect, " Let us refer this matter to- the Arbitration Court. It need not reach a decision for a year or even two years They could then do that, instead of referring it to, say, Mr. Barry, Mr. Alderman, or Mr. Sugerman. That would be an easy way out of any difficulties that arose. That is the manner in which the Government is proposing to by-pass the Arbitration Court.. I do not think that any honorable gentleman opposite will deny that that is the intention of this bill. It is being suggested in a subtle quiet way that this particular proposed amendment of the Constitution would bc something for the good of the workers. The honorable member for Bourke has told us that all the workers on the water front desire is the right to live. I remind the honorable gentleman that not all the workers are on the waterfront. In fact it seems to me sometimes that the workers are less represented there than in almost any other place. Nor are all the workers to be found on the coalfields.

We are possibly the most fortunate people in the world. Providence has placed us, geographically, away from the danger points in the world, and has endowed us with magnificent resources. Instead of agitating for a 40-hour week our people should be gladly working three shifts a day in order to produce food, building materials, and other commodities which are in such great demand. Instead of advocating such a programme, the Government and its supporters are calling upon the National Parliament to agree to submit to the people a proposed alteration of the Constitution which, we all know, is designed to secure a reduction of working hours in a general "go slow ".

These bills should never have been introduced. That is not my opinion only. Honorable gentlemen opposite could go almost anywhere beyond the precincts of this House and discover that even the workers are not interested in this subject. But this Government and the Labour party does not represent the workers; it is a trade union body. I believe that the workers throughout Australia would be glad to do their utmost, under proper leadership, to help the starving people of Europe and, particularly, the people of Great Britain who to-day are receiving rationed finance from the United States of America, -and rationed gratitude from Russia. We should be exerting all our energy to produce more food. The great food-producing capacity of the Commonwealth should be employed to the fullest possible extent in these days. Let mo bring to the notice of honorable members the opinion of Mr. Burton, lecturer in economics at the University of Melbourne. This gentleman, who will be known to the honorable member for Fremantle, delivered a lecture this week to a branch of the United Nations Association in Melbourne. Speaking on the 40-hour week, he said -

So long as we had a shortage of supplies in Australia, we had to admit some .doubt whether the time was ripe for a. 40-hour standard, and we had to consider what the effect of such a reduction would be in a world where starvation was rampant and where the prospects of shortening the working week to the same extent must be remote.

That is the opinion of a man who can be placed in the academic category and could not be termed conservative. After all, are we to be guided by a Government that is actuated more by its political beliefs and the opinions of militant trade unions than by the opinion of the mass of the people? I warn it in all seriousness that what it is doing is dangerous. I refer again to Quick and Garran -

Where a community is founded on a political compact it is only fair, and reasonable that that compact should be protected, not only against the designs -of those who wish to disturb it by introducing revolutionary projects, but also against the risk of thoughtless tinkering and theoretical experiments. The Constitution of the Commonwealth has provided a safety-valve in the shape of a section defining the method by which its amplification and modification may be effected, but its use is shielded with precautions, the wisdom and propriety of which claim favourable consideration from every reflecting mind. *

If honorable members opposite, as citizens of Australia, want this country to progress, surely they will not attempt to curtail in any way our productive capacity or our political or industrial development! What they are contemplating is definitely retrogressive. I believe that, in cairn moments, if they could escape from some of the influences that have forced this issue upon them, they would admit the truth of that statement.

I believe that I can say definitely that no law for an alteration of the Constitution has been passed unless the two principal political parties have been in agreement in regard to it. That condition existed in respect of the Financial Agreement that was accepted by the people in 1927. Two years ago, when referendum proposals were brought forward in this House, I warned the Government that they could not be passed into law except by reasoning and if, in the language of Sir John Quick and Sir Robert Garran, who had a hand in writing the Constitution, they were desirable, irresistible and inevitable; to which I add that the support of the main political parties is essential. Therefore, this proposed law will not be accepted by the people even though the Government submits it in conjunction with a general election. Honorable members opposite take credit to themselves on that account ; they claim that the expenditure which would be involved in having a separate vote will thereby be saved. That is not the real reason. The Minister for Information admitted that £50,000, good money of the taxpayers, was expended by the Government on propaganda when the last referendum was taken. When the Auditor-General criticized that expenditure, the honorable gentleman informed, us that it was for post-war education.

Mr Calwell - That is correct. I am- sorry. that it did not have the effect that it should have had.

Mr WHITE - The Auditor-General reported that the expenditure was unwarranted.

Mr Calwell - He did not.

Mr WHITE - He was critical of it.

Mr Holt - He said that there should have been parliamentary authority for it.

Mr WHITE - The Auditor-General said that the expenditure did not appear in the estimates ; therefore, it should not have been incurred. Yet the Government now claims to be acting virtuously by holding the referendum at the time of a general election and thus saving the expense of a separate vote. The idea is a little more subtle than appears on the surface. We, being old in political experience, view it in the correct light, but the public will not have that advantage. The intention is to ' promise a 40-hour week, because of pressure by Communists and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions. I should have no quarrel with a particular industry being awarded even a £ 0-hour week by the Arbitration Court, because that tribunal is the only body that is competent to make a determination in respect of such a matter. The Minister for Information cannot say what number of hours should be worked or what the rate of pay should be in any industry.

Mr Calwell - The number of hours ought not to be more than 40.

Mr WHITE - What magic is there in the figure "40"? Would not 39 be better? The Government is attempting to alter the Constitution by means of three bills. The proposals relating to Social services and organized marketing do not matter, but the proposal relating to employment is fundamental to Australia's progress, and. if it be translated into law. we shall retrogress and have more mid more trouble on the waterfront and' elsewhere. The Government has run away from its obligation to prosecute trouble-makers and strike-promoters, who have the audacity -to tell it week after week what it must do. If the Government regards, advice from this side, of the House as being worth anything, I shall tell it what it should do and what we shall do when we are returned to power. It should prosecute Thornton, Wells, and other trouble-makers. They should be dealt with as the law demands, and as other people are dealt with if they transgress against the law. There would then be more peace in industry, and an absence of the shibboleths and catch-cries which honorable members Opposite use in order to raise a few cheers and gain- a few votes. The third proposal is definitely an appeal for complete political control of industry, so that compulsory unionism can be introduced and the hours of labour shortened by this Parliament. Such action would wreck any industry; because, however well-intentioned honorable members may be, they are not competent to pass judgment in such matters and Parliament would become an industrial bargain counter. The proposal is dangerous, and should be rejected. It cannot' be rejected in this House, because the Government is numerically strong enough to pass it, but it definitely will be rejected by the people. Every honorable member who sits on this side of the House should pledge himself to oppose it as strongly as he can, with a view to ensuring its rejection.

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