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Wednesday, 26 June 1946

Mr BRYSON (Bourke) .-I have often listened to honorable members opposite demanding that the Government should remove war-time restrictions so that private enterprise might have a free hand. They assured us that if this were done most of our production problems would be solved. I now draw their attention to the fact that since the war ended most of the restrictions on' industry, including those on the employment of labour, have been relaxed. Employers are now free to engage labour how and where they like, and they may engage in any form of production they like. Nevertheless, honorable members opposite, who were always telling us that once those restrictions were lifted private enterprise would deliver the goods, are now admitting the utter failure of private enterprise to do anything of the kind. Honorable members have criticized the Government because of the shortage of houses, and they blame the Government for it. Most of us know quite well why there is a scarcity of houses, and that it is because private enterprise always demanded its pound of flesh. Private speculators required the person who took over the house to pay the full cost, plus something more, plus a substantial interest bill, and the country is still suffering the results of that policy. For months past, private enterprise has had an. opportunity to show what it could do in the way of building houses. The timber merchant is free to hire his labour where he likes, and there are no restrictions on the production of timber; yet, when a building is actually commenced, its construction is held up because there is a shortage of weather boards or floor boards. The brick manufacturers of Melbourne have admitted that 50 per cent, of their kilns are idle because, they sa-vthey cannot get labour, although there is nothing to prevent them from hiring labour. The tile manufacturers say that their plants are producing only 50 per cent, of their capacity, and they, too> say that they cannot get labour. Buildings in course of construction remain unfinished because it is impossible to get baths and sinks and materials necessary for plumbing. The provision of all these commodities is in the hands of private enterprise, but private enterprise is failing lamentably. Now members of the Opposition, who claimed that private enterprise, if given the opportunity, could do the job, are demanding that the Government shall do something to hasten the construction of houses. If they were honest they would ask frankly that the Government should take charge so that the job may be done. So bad has the position become in Victoria that the State Government is considering setting up a government-owned saw-mill, and operating its own brick kilns so as to overtake the shortage of building materials. This afternoon, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) painted a gloomy picture of conditions in Victoria. I agree with- him that conditions are bad, but I do not agree that the present situation is wholly due to the shortage of coal. We know that there is a shortage of coal in Victoria as well as in every other State. We know that there are not so many miners working in industry now as there were before the war, but in spite of this more coal is being produced now than ever before. I remind honorable members opposite that a vast majority of the coal mines in Australia are owned and controlled by private enterprise, and here, again, private enterprise has failed. The demand for coal exists, but the owners of the mines, are not delivering the coal. Members of the Opposition say that the miners will not work; but the coal-miners are not running the show. They are simply cogs on the wheel, and they are, in fact, producing as much coal as ever before. But the owners will not make provision to supply the f,ul needs of industry. In short, the miners are doing their job, but the owners are not.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said that, because of high taxation, many of the big manuf acturers are, in effect, deliberately going slow. They will not work their plants to capacity because they do not want to pay the taxes which would be levied upon the profits they would make by doing so. This amounts to restriction of production, yet the honorable member . for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) tells us that we must increase production. The employees are working as hard as they are allowed to work, but the employers, on the admission of the Leader of the Opposition himself, are deliberately going slow. In spite nf thi?, honorable members opposite claim that the workers are going slow, and they talk about bricklayers who lay only 250 or 300 bricks a day. When we investigate the matter, however, we find that, once more, the employers, this time the builders themselves, are responsible. For instance, if eight bricklayers are employed on a. job they are supplied each day with- only enough bricks to enable each one of them to lay 250 or 300 bricks. If they lay all the bricks by noon they are sent home with half a days' pay. If they take until 5 o'clock to lay them they go home with a full day's pay. Thus, once more, tin.' employers, and not the employees, arc responsible for going slow. We. have been told that there is a shortage of -labour .in all sections of the building industry, yet 450,000 persons have been demobilized since the end of the war, and they have either gone back to work or are available to go back. During the same period, an equal number of men and women have been released from war industries. Yet, the employers who were able to carry on and supply our requirements during the war years now tell us that these shortages of various kinds arise because of lack of man-power. As a necessary measure during the war a rationing system was applied in respect of the manufacture and sale to distributors of tobacco and cigarettes. Now, however, all restrictions on the manufacture and sale of tobacco and cigarettes have been lifted, yet the shortage of these commodities is greater than it was at any time during the war period. The manufacturers claim that this shortage is due, not to insufficient quantities of the raw material, but to man-power shortages. It is difficult to understand this claim, as man-power must have become available to the industry in increasing strength since last October. A great deal of dissatisfaction exists amongst smokers to-day because of the shortage of cigarette papers. The cigarette paper manufacturers in Melbourne have told us through the press that there is no. shortage of paper suitable for processing and that the whole problem has arisen through inadequate man-power. Yet. during the war years, when every able-bodied- man was drafted into the services or essential industries, cigarette papers were in abundant supply. 'These tall stories will not be accepted by the people without question. We are forced to look for other reasons to explain these unaccountable shortages, and I have no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition (Mi-. Menzies) in his speech during this debate has pin-pointed one of the principal reasons, namely, that some unscrupulous employers will not produce to capacity because of the high taxes imposed on the community and on industrial enterprise generally. This, allegation demands the strictest investigation by the Government. If private enterprise is falling down, on ite job and is retarding .production for that purpose the Government will have to consider utilizing such powers as it possesses under our out-dated Constitution to control such industries and- conduct them for the benefit of the people. Ministers will have to heed the cry voiced by some honorable members opposite that the Government should extricate private enterprise from the mess into which it has got itself during the last few months. That cry on the part of honorable members opposite constitutes a. very refreshing reversal of form and, though the admission may be unpalatable, is tantamount to an advocacy of the nationalization of the means of production.

During this debate honorable members opposite have devoted a lot of time to the vilification of the organized industrial movement in this country.

As soon a:s workers band together and commence to agitate for reasonable wages and conditions the organization is vilified by honorable members opposite, who believe that the workers should be content to accept whatever the "boss" is willing to give them, that they should be grateful for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. When coal is in short supply the coal-miners are blamed; when some trouble arises on the waterfront the waterside workers are vilified as enemies of the country. .Honorable members opposite look no further than to the workers when they seek the cause of all the ills that beset the community, particularly those that affect the people whose interest they represent in this Parliament. During this debate one honorable member opposite, referring to the doubledumping of wool, stated that there wa-s no reason why the waterside workers should raise objection to handling doubledump wool bales as such bales had been handled by waterside workers for the last 40 years. Is there any reason why the bad labour conditions of the past should be continued? Over 100 years ago certain workers in England who organized to obtain better working conditions were convicted on a charge of being members of an unlawful organization and transported as convicts to Australia. The same uncompromising attitude is adopted to-day by those who sit in opposition to the Government. One' has only to go to the waterfront to see the great number of men whose Hvp.5 have been jeopardized and whose health has been .broken down through labouring under bad conditions for many years. Many of them have been disabled through handling not only double-dump wool bales but also other cargo beyond the limits of their strength. The maximum number of men -who can handle a doubledump wool bale is four, and even if three extra men are put in the gang they are of no use. The workers of Australia may proudly boast that their achievements during the six years of war were not bettered by any other section of the community in Australia or in the world at large. They accepted excessive hours and bad conditions as necessary concomitants of a state of war; but the superhuman efforts then required of them are no longer necessary to-day and they rightfully demand some share of the new order that has been so much talked about by honorable members opposite. The workers of Australia rightly demand two of the freedoms included hi the Atlantic Charter - freedom from fear and freedom from want - and they are prepared to fight for them despite the attempts of employers to disrupt the industries in which they are engaged.

One of the matters now engaging the attention of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court is the claim for a universal 40-hour week. The workers have been demanding this improvement of their working conditions for many years. As far back as 1937 Commonwealth public servants through their respective unions applied to the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator for a uniform 40-hour week in the Commonwealth Service. In his determination the Arbitrator said that whilst, as an individual, he believed that there should be a 40-hour maximum working week in the Commonwealth Public Service, he believed that the matter was one for the Parliament itself, rather than an arbitration tribunal to determine. A copy of that determination remained on the table of this House for 30 days without challenge; but the Government of the day did nothing about it. There was no question as to its authority to bring about such a change, but unfortunately for the public servants the Government of the day was of a political complexion different from that of the present government and was opposed to any improvement of the conditions of the workers. By the time a Labour government had assumed office the war was already upon us and the public servants waived, for the duration of the war, their claim for a 40-hour week. Now they expect the Government to give effect to the advice tendered to it by the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator in 1937. The workers of this country are obliged under the industrial laws to approach the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court when they desire to obtain any amelioration of their working conditions. They have filed a claim with the court asking for the fixation of a 40-hour week. Unfortunately, however, there is too much delay in the hearing of cases brought before the court. The only qualification required of a judge of the Arbitration Court is legal experience, not experience in the industrial matters that he is called upon to decide. So, instead of having a court' of men who understand industrial conditions sitting around a table to arrive at a decision in the 40-hour week ease, we have five legal men on the bench and another dozen or so in the body of the court raising all sorts of legal points. The method is hopelessly out of date. The case has been dragging on for months and at the present rate of progressit will drag on for months to come. Meanwhile, the Australian workers are becoming discontented, for a very good reason.. They have been 'demanding this reform for many years. They held their hand for the six years of the war. Now, when< they attempt, under the laws of the Commonwealth, to achieve a 40-hour week,. months and months of legal argument will elapse before a decision can be given.. The 40-hour week must be instituted inAustralia. Industry can carry it. In theimmediate future we must improve theconciliation and arbitration system sothat we shall have men experienced in industry deciding industrial matters. We should not depend on members of thelegal profession to decide them. They are brilliant in their own field, no doubt, but generally they have no knowledge of industry and are incapable of decidingconditions of employment in industry. 1 hope the day is not far distant when thisParliament will amend the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act- in order to simplify the procedure by removing the legal forms and formalities that clutter it up. I look for a system that will allow quick decisions on industrial matters by experts in the industries concerned. Until that is brought about we shall have recurring disputes. The majority of disputes occur, not because the organized workers are opposed to confiliation, and arbitration, but because, when they file claims with the court, they sometimes have to wait for years before getting a decision. The court must be modernized and freed, from the formalities that hamper it. The Commonwealth Public Service Arbitration Act, which was passed by an administration opposed to Labour, provides, not that the arbitrator shall be legally qualified, but that he shall understand public service conditions and that cases shall be argued without legal assistance. I have found from experience that that system is quicker and more effective than is the Arbitration Court.

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