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Friday, 22 May 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [3.1]. - by leave - The desirability of the introduction into Australia of reduced working hours has received the fullest consideration of the Government. It had originally proposed to convene a conference, but, in the absence of representatives of labour, has decided not to proceed with the arrangements for that gathering.

The subject is regarded as of such importance that some method alternative to the proposed conference must be adopted to enable the whole subject to be fully considered. A consultation has been held with His Honour, Chief Judge Dethridge, of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, as to the best method of having the matter investigated from the point of view of all the interests concerned, and the conclusion has been reached, that, if a plaint were filed in the Arbitration Court, in which the claim, or one of the claims was for a shorter working week, the effect on Australian industry of the introduction of a shorter working week could be fully inquired into.

In the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act, there is provision for the full consideration by the court of the standard hours in industry, if that matter is the subject of a plaint filed in the court. In such cases the act permits any person or organization, or association of employers or employees, to apply to the court for liberty to be heard, and to examine and cross-examine witnesses. In order that, if any such hearing takes place, it should be thoroughly comprehensive, the Commonwealth Government would welcome the application to the court by all organizations interested.

Such a plaint, it is realized, could be filed only on the application by one or more organizations registered under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. If a plaint is filed, the Government will do everything in its power to facilitate the proceedings and the presentation to the court of all revelant evidence.

It is necessary that the Full Bench of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration should hear the plaint. In the absence abroad of Mr. Justice Beeby, who is at present on leave, the case could not be dealt with until towards the end of the year. The Prime Minister has, however, been assured by Chief Judge Dethridge that the hearing should not occupy more than six weeks.

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