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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- I have a good deal of sympathy with the various Ministers who have been called upon to defend these regulations in this chamber to-day. Until I heard the last two speakers, I was charitable enough to assume that one member of the Ministry, and not the whole nineteen members, was; responsible for what I regard as one of the worst administrative acts in the history of the Commonwealth. I say quite deliberately that a Minister of the Crown who exercises his vast war-time powers in the manner in which the powers provided for in these regulations have been exercised, is not fit to hold the King's Commission and perform the very responsible duties of a Minister. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) emphasized the fact that this board is a very important tribunal engaged in the performance of a task of great importance to the community. I accept that statement, and I accept it as one reason why great care should have been exercised in the appointment of the personnel of the tribunal in which these powers are invested. The Minister cannot have it both ways. Truly, it ia a matter of great importance, but it is equally important that the greatest caution should have been exercised in selecting the personnel of the tribunal.

Senator Collings - It was.

Senator SPICER - I cannot believe that the Minister who was responsible for the appointment of Miss Cashman as the special representative of the employers had even read the regulations, because either he did not know what the regulations contained, or, alternatively, he promulgated the regulations intending them to be a mere travesty and a piece of window-dressing under cover of which he could carry out some party political project of his own. Let us examine the regulations. I believe that the draftsman who was responsible for them must have had some idea of what was going to happen, and that he was a bit of a humorist. It is provided that the board shall include a special representative of the employers. The Government has certainly chosen a special representative, but never in my life have I heard itsuggested by any one that it was a bona fide exercise of power of this kind to appoint, an employee to represent employers. It is a travesty of justice. I wonder what the Minister for Trade and Customs would have said if a regulation like this were being administered by honorable senators on this side of the chamber and they appointed as a representative of the employees the general manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited? No government supported by honorable senators on this side of the chamber has ever done anything to equal the iniquity of this action. There would be as much justification for appointing Mr. Essington Lewis to a wages board as a representative of the employees, as there is for appointing Miss Cashman to represent the employers on this board. It has been argued that, as the Common'wealth Government is an employer and as Miss Cashman has been appointed by the Commonwealth Government, therefore she represents the employers. It may as well be argued, in the case which I have suggested, that Mr. Essington Lewis is an employee of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and therefore is a proper person to be appointed to a wages board as a representative of employees. There would be as much justification for such an appointment as there is for the appointment as an employers' representative on this board of some one who obviously is concerned only with the interests of employees. Actually, the position is even worse than that. What are these regulations intended to achieve?

Senator Large - Peace in industry!

Senator SPICER - Then the Government is going a curious way about it. What does the Government mean when it provides in these regulations that the special representative of the employers shall be appointed after the Minister has consulted with the appropriate employers' organization ?

Senator Large - Which he did.

Senator SPICER - And then disregarded entirely the advice which he received. Is that what is intended by the regulations? Are we to assume that the Government passed these regulations as meaningless words ; that the Minister is directed to go through the travesty of consulting with the employers' organization and then to take no notice of the representations that are made to him by that organization? Technically, the Minister did comply with the regulations; he consulted the employers' organization, namely, the Employers Council of Australia, and the council nominated its representative.

Senator Cameron - There is nothing in the regulations which says that the Minister must accept the recommendations of the employers' organization.

Senator SPICER - Of course not, but that was intended, unless these regulations are mere waste paper. If they be just a scrap of paper, let the Government say so; personally, I believe that they are a scrap of paper, and were never intended to be anything else. This provision in the regulations is a cover for the Minister to say, " Yes, I appointed an employers' representative after consulting with the employers' organizations; but, of course, I took no notice of what the employers' organizations had to say ". Did the Minister have any objection on personal grounds to the representative whom the employers themselves nominated?

Senator Cameron - Possibly he did, for very good reasons.

Senator SPICER - If he did, why did he not say to the employers' organizations : " We do not like the man whom you have selected. Select another one ". There was no reason for him to go through this farce of appointing, as an employers' representative, somebody who obviously represents the interests of employees. I contest the suggestion of the Minister for Trade and Customs that every government has done this sort of thing. I say that no government in Australia, prior to the present one, ever did anything like this.

Senator Cameron - One government appointed employee's representatives to attend the meetings of the International Labour Office at Geneva without consulting the employees.

Senator SPICER - I challenge any Minister to inform me of a single case in which any government on our side of politics in any part of Australia has ever appointed an employer to a wages hoard as an employees' representative. There has never been such a case. The members of the present Government would have been the first to cry out in wrath at any suggestion that an appointment of that kind should be made. The conduct of the Minister in appointing this board is sufficient in itself to justify the disallowance of this statutory rule. But it should be disallowed on a wider ground than that. His conduct and the form of the regulations indicate a deliberate policy on the part of the Government to override the Arbitration Court and the other industrial tribunals which it has always claimed to support. In other words, when the decisions of a tribunal are not likely to be what the Labour party wants, the Government decides to create another tribunal to override the properly constituted authority. That is why this statutory rule has been promulgated. If it be a fact that the Arbitration Court is too busy to deal with this matter, the Government could appoint more judges. 11 is not necessary to destroy the whole system for lack of judges. The Government could also appoint conciliation tribunals within the ambit of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. There is no reason to go outside the arbitration system in order to determine what policy shall bo adopted in relation to this matter, unless it be that what the Government really desires is to give effect to a particular political policy. If the Government wants to make sure that the policy of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions shall be implemented in this matter, then it must appoint a tribunal - I was going to say a tribunal loaded against the employers, but that would not be strictly accurate because the employers are not represented at all on this board. The Government has created a tribunal which is solely representative of employees, and it has vested in that body the power to override the decisions of all the independent tribunals in the country. This is a travesty of justice. No statutory rule has ever been attacked in this Senate with more justification than the rule which we are now discussing.

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