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Thursday, 21 August 1902

Mr HIGGINS - Where he can get cheap labour, and will be under no restraint. The brush makers of Victoria, who pay honest and fair wages will, however, still have to compete with the brush makers in other States, who sweat their employes, which is unfair to them, and to all engaged in the industry. The circumstances of these States are so similar that one set of industrial conditions should govern all of them. I admit, of course, that under the circumstances it is impossible for the Federal Government to introduce legislation dealing with factories and wages ; but I should like to- know if Ministers intend to introduce a measure providing for courts of conciliation and arbitration for the settlement of labour disputes affecting more than one State. Although we cannot pass factory legislation until the subject is voluntarily delegated to us by the States, we have power, under the Constitution, to provide legislation for the settlement of disputes affecting more than one State. While such legislation will be insufficient, and, to a great extent, inefficient for the object which we desire to attain, it will enable us to deal with the most urgent cases, and to interfere between employers and employed who are at odds, as the police can now interfere between two bruisers who are disturbing the peace in the street. We cannot afford to allow these .people to fight to the detriment of the whole community. The Government will place the public under a debt of gratitude if they take the first opportunity of pressing on legislation in this direction. None of us wish to see any particular State offer facilities to sweaters to carry on their nefarious operations to the detriment of workers in all the other States. Such a condition of affairs would be very unfair to the employers who are placed under stringent conditions as to wages and hours of labour. There is one matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. There is a small corps of engineers, numbering, I think, 33 men, in Victoria. These men, who are trained mechanics, have a very difficult work to perform, but I understand that their numbers are to be reduced by six. I have had an opportunity of witnessing the work in which these men engage, and of studying the consequences of the reduction in their number. I admit that we should be guided by experts in matters of this kind, and I should be the last to interfere with them, but I am informed that Major Hannay and Major Reynolds, both skilled engineers, reported sometime ago that the number of engineers required for the purpose of controlling the defences of Hobsons Bay ought to be increased rather than reduced. The present commandant of the Commonwealth military forces is a linesman, he having been connected with the 60th rifles, and he has no sympathy with the work done by the engineer corps. He has reported that there is no need for so many engineers, and that the efficiency of the corps would not be impaired by a reduction in their number. If it is true that, on the other hand, experts who understand engineering work have reported that the number of engineers ought to be increased, how are we to act 1 I feel that when this House determined that the expenditure upon defences should be reduced honorable members did not intend that the efficiency of our forces should be in any way impaired. In the efforts which have been made at retrenchment the pressure has been applied in the wrong places. We are now finding out the extent of the expenditure involved in the maintenance of the military staff. We are also becoming aware that the retrenchment is not being exercised in those quarters in which it was desired that expenses should be reduced, but that its effects are falling upon the men who are the most useful, and who occupy the humblest positions. ' The policy seems to be to cut down everything but the salaries of the highly-paid officers. I have no special branch of the defence forces in my constituency, so that I can speak upon this matter with perfect disinterestedness. I am strongly in favour of cutting down the defence expenditure, which amounted last year to nearly £1,000,000. It is absurd for us, whilst we have to depend upon borrowing to pay our way, to spend £1,000,000 annually upon defences, and the pruning knife should be so applied as to cut down all expenditure upon unnecessary padding and gold lace. We want to maintain an efficient force at a reduced expenditure.

We are willing to provide all the money that is necessary for a force sufficient to defend our shores, and we do not wish the brunt of the reductions to fall upon those who ought not to bear it. If I understand the temper of honorable members they will not be satisfied to leave the whole of the defence retrenchment to be carried out by the expert officers in the employment of the Government.

Mr Crouch - The officers look after their own saleries, and cut down all other expenses.

Mr HIGGINS - I should not go so far as to say that ; but we wish the Government to formulate a defence policy. We have been drifting for a year and eight months and nothing has been done towards carrying out any scheme of reorganization. 'Retrenchment is being effected by the reduction of small corps like the engineers, but we find that captains are being converted into majors, and majors into colonels, and that promotion is going on rapidly amongst the officers. I hope that the Minister representing the Minister for Defence will recognise that honorable members are anxiously awaiting the statement of the Ministerial policy in regard to defence matters.

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