Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 13 April 1904

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) - I had not intended to speak until I could tabulate my notes, and make 'a concise and full statement of my views upon this very important question. I find, however, that no other . honorable member is very keen to speak at this stage, and therefore I have to take time by the forelock! It seems to me that recent events have carried us beyond the original intention of the Bill, which is stated to have relation to conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. Now we find that the labour unions are amalgamating, or propose to amalgamate, upon a Federal basis. If a dispute occurred with a union in New South Wales which was amalgamated with a similar organization in Victoria, the dispute could be regarded as extending beyond the limits of any one State, and could therefore be brought within the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court. That is the way in which I read the Bill. Sup- . pose, for instance, that the Tailors' Union in Sydney were amalgamated with the Tailors' Union in Melbourne, and a dispute arose in Sydney, the employes there, if they were not satisfied with the award of the State Arbitration Court, might appeal to their Melbourne confreres to bring about a dispute covering a larger area, and thus afford them an opportunity to appeal to the Federal Arbitration Court.

Mr Deakin - The same grievance must exist in both States.

Mr KELLY - That could be arranged without much difficulty, and I believe that could happen under the provisions of the Bill. What is the position in the States with regard to conciliation and arbitration? We find that in three States the compulsory principle has been adopted, whereas in three other States the fact that it has not been adopted looks as if it is regarded with doubt or absolute hostility. These States have representative Government, and if it be right for us to interfere in the affairs of the Transvaal because that Colony does not possess selfgovernment, it seems to me clear that we should lack justification for interfering in the affairs of three of our own States which enjoy that privilege. If these States had desired, they might have adopted the principle which we now seek to force upon them. As they have not elected to do so, we should not interfere with their rights as States by bringing pressure to bear in the way proposed. My main objection to the principle of compulsory arbitration is that the application of the common rule appears to be absolutely essential to its easy working. The common rule and the minimum wage will operate with special harshness upon the small employers. Those managers of industry will gradually drop out and leave the field to the large employers only.

Mr Storrer - Why?

Mr KELLY - Because the small employer always feels most keenly the hardship attaching to new and restrictive conditions. Legislation of this character has had the effect of knocking out the smaller employers in New South Wales. I represent a constituency which contains perhaps as many shopkeepers as any in Australia, and I know that the effect of certain legislation in New South Wales has been to drive out of business a number of small shopkeepers.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member for Bourke stated that the effect of such legislation in Victoria had been to knock out the small employer.

Mr KELLY - The minimum wage, which is a vital principle of the Bill, practically becomes the maximum wage.

Mr Mauger - That is not borne out by Victorian experience.

Mr KELLY - The honorable member might wait until he hears my argument fully before he replies. The minimum wage principle, which practically means a maximum wage, has the effect of denying to the workmen the opportunity to rise from the ranks of labour and become commissioned officers. In other words, they have no chance of entering into business for themselves.

Mr Tudor - Where does that occcur?

Mr KELLY - It is occurring every day. Where have all our capitalists sprung from but from the ranks of labour?

Mr Tudor - Would an Arbitration Act prevent that?

Mr KELLY - The principle of the minimum wage levels up, but also levels down, and prevents workmen from rising above their fellows and becoming recruits to the ranks of employers. One of the principal safeguards of our present society is afforded by the constant change of the employe into the employer, and if we restrict the operation of natural laws in this respect we shall adopt a very dangerous course. Whilst under a restrictive system such as that now proposed, the employed cannot rise to the position of an employer,, there is nothing to prevent the incapable employer from being crushed out. Therefore, we shall gradually have fewer and fewer employers, until eventually there will be only the State left. I was very much amused on opening a letter to-day to find myself confronted with a question, printed in black type - " What is socialism?" That seemed to be very much in the nature of a puzzle, but I think that the enterprising journalist who prompted that question would soon find his answer if the Bill now before us were to be allowed to operate for a term of years. If the principles of the measure now before us were fully applied for a generation, we should, in those pleasant days, find that an honorable member's child would be born in the State hospital, and forthwith be handed over to the State matrons - because personal ownership in babies would no doubt be sternly discountenanced. The citizen would probably be wedded, if it were thought advisable, to a 'State wife, and he would go down the path of years until eventually he would be handed over to a State Board of Extermination, and undergo euthanasia in the State lethal chamber. That, would be a very happy age. To come back to the unhappy state of things existing to-day, the two principles of the common rule and the minimum wage would probably act in such a way that the State would eventually become the only manager of enterprise in the Commonwealth. We find that it is proposed to erect a Court upon practically the same lines as that which has been established in New South Wales, upon the bench of which there is a representative of labour and a representative of capital. In New South Wales we find that the Court is practically a ring in which two of its judges pound each other with 4-oz. gloves, whilst the other holds the sponge. There is nothing judicial about its proceedings. Two of its members are appointed for a period of five years, at the end of which time they present themselves for reelection. In such circumstances, they are constantly "barracking" for their own side. I do not think it is either creditable or useful to the community to have individuals able to sit upon the Bench in the capacity of partisans, rather than of Judges. If we must have this principle - and I suppose we must - we should insist that the Bench shall be kept free from all partisanship. I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that special representatives should be chosen in connexion with each dispute. I am almost inclined to go further, and to say that as far as possible, a man should be ineligible for re-election to a seat upon the Bench as the representative of any particular class.

Mr Spence - That would make the members of the Court still more partisan.

Mr KELLY - I do not think so. I believe that the Judge could be given power to object to any man whom he regarded as elected to act as a dishonest partisan. Of course there are a number who simply regard this Bill as a means of gaining further political influence for the leaders, of labour. Personally, I think there is more behind it than that. But whilst we have a trades union acting as an industrial union - as we have in New South Wales - I believe there is a great deal in that contention. A trades union is a voluntary organization. It can frame any rules that it chooses,' because the individuals who join it do so voluntarily. An industrial union, on the other hand, is one which the State compels ' individuals to join at the peril of their livelihood; consequently an industrial union should be kept absolutely free from anything in the nature of political propaganda work, whether it be by way of levying subscriptions for a political fund or of running newspapers. If we are to have industrial unions, not only ought we to schedule the rules which they shall have, but also the rules which they shall not have. If we are to compel persons to join industrial . unions, let us make perfectly sure that we do not sacrifice their political liberty as well as their individual industrial freedom.

Mr Tudor - Does not the honorable member think that they know what they are doing ?

Mr KELLY - I have no doubt upon that point, but it is evident that many persons do not wish to join, the trades unions, or thev would have done so years ago. This Bill, however, will compel them to join those organizations. The honorable member is aware of the litigation which has ensued for some time in New South Wales between two of the shearers' unions.

Mr Spence - Not between two shearers' unions.

Mr Robinson - Between two unions certified by the Court.

Mr KELLY - I will give the House a resume of what happened between those unions. The Pastoralists' Union and the Machine Shearers' Union held a conference to which delegates from the Australian Workers' Union were invited. The lastnamed refused to join in the movement. The Pastoralists' Union and the Machine Shearers' Union thereupon registered an agreement. Then the Australian Workers' Union applied for the cancellation of the registration of the Machine Shearers' Union, which application was first of all recommended by the Registrar. The Registrar's indorsement was, however, disregarded by the Court, on the ground that the rules of the Australian Workers' Union contained provisions which might reasonably, exclude members of the Machine Shearers' Union from joining it. Then the Australian Workers' Union again applied to the Registrar for the cancellation of the registration of the Machine Shearers' Union. That official once more refused the application, upon the ground that the rules of the Australian Workers' Union had not been altered. The Australian Workers' Union subsequently altered their rules, and renewed their application. By this time the Court entertained the opinion that the behaviour of that organization had not been such as to inspire confidence-

Mr Spence - When did the Court say that?

Mr KELLY - The Registrar said so, and, for all practical purposes, the Registrar, as the representative of the Court, was the Court in this case. The Registrar again refused the application.: because of what, to my mind, appeared to be gross misconduct on the part of the Australian Workers' Union. I quote this case with a view to showing the necessity of insisting that all these compulsory industrial unions should be absolutely free from political influence.

Mr Spence - And the employers' unions also.

An Honorable Member. - They should not petition Parliament.

Mr KELLY - Yes; I would treat them all in the same way. I do not think the employers should, as an industrial union, be permitted to petition Parliament. But I would point out to the honorable member for Darling that the employers' unions are not industrial organizations. That name is merely given to a number of persons who associate themselves together for political purposes.

Mr Hutchison - Why does not the honorable member tell the employers' unions that they ought to keep out of politics?

Mr KELLY - I have told them so, I said, upon the public platform, that I would no more accept the nomination of the Employers' Association than I would that of the party to which the honorable member belongs.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member was very wise in so doing.

Mr KELLY - It was not canniness that prompted my action. A revulsion of feeling is being experienced in my State which does not augur well for any of these class parties. Personally, I hate class discussion. I am debating this question absolutely from an impartial stand-point. I repeat that, as far as possible, we should see that these unions have a uniform constitution, excluding all objects other than those drawn up for the easy exercise of the Bill.

Mr Deakin - Under this measure we take power to control all their rules.

Mr KELLY - I do not know that the Bill does that. . It declares that the unions shall have certain rules, but it makes no provision as to what rules they shall not have.

Mr Deakin - But the rules may not be approved.

Mr KELLY - Another change that I should like to see is in the direction of enlarging the Registrar's powers, which have been expressly cut down in this measure. If it were not for the alteration that I think should be effected in the constitutions of industrial unions, I would not advocate giving the Registrar any extension of power. My idea, however, is that he should be the watch-dog of the Act, his duty being to see that neither employers' nor employes' industrial unions infringe its provisions. A clerk of the Court would also need to be appointed, as the duties of the Registrar would be too large to enable him to satisfactorily fill both positions. My own view of this Bill is that the principle of arbitration has not been given a sufficient trial in the other States to justify us in embarking upon legislation of this character at present. Some of us may think that the securing of industrial peace justifies almost any sacrifice. I quite agree that it does, but until we know that we shall secure industrial peace, and until we have ascertained definitely what our sacrifice is to be, we should act with the utmost caution.

Mr McDonald - We should wait another 100 years, I suppose.

Mr KELLY - No. I think that another three years might reasonably be allowed to elapse before we engage in this experiment. I can see signs of a falling market in the near future, and, after we have had experience of it under those conditions, we shall be able to speak definitely as to this principle. Until then, however, there is no necessity for this Parliament to do more than the States Parliaments have already done. I sincerely hope that some attention will be given to my suggestion regarding the constitution of industrial unions, and if I have directed the notice of abler men than myself to this very crucial point, I feel that I shall not have spoken in vain at such very short notice.

Mr Deakin - I think I shall be able to satisfy the honorable member that the provisions which he desires are contained in the Bill.

Suggest corrections