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Wednesday, 13 April 1904


Mr EWING (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The question for our consideration is not only how this Bill would affect the employers or the employes, but how the resources of the country can be best developed. It should be our endeavour to prevent any interference with the progress of the community, whilst securing reasonable consideration for all classes. I take it for granted that the great majority of the people are in favour of the principle of conciliation and arbitration. Although doubts upon this point are expressed by some honorable members, there are very few men who do not believe in the principle and who would not like to see it applied. I now come to the very important question, whether the public servants of the States should be brought within the scope of the measure. There is not a single member of the House who does not entertain the most serious doubt as to whether any attempt which may be made in this direction can succeed. A vast majority believe that no such effort can be successful. No doubt to-morrow evening we shall have dissertations from the lawyers upon the matter; but how does the proposal strike a layman? First of all, the States have entered into a federation - not a unification. To prevent friction arising between the Federal and the State authorities it was laid down that certain departments should be transferred to Commonwealth control. In regard to those departments the Federal authority is supreme ; but in regard to the other departments, the States possess sovereign power. I repeat that we have entered into a federation, not a unification. If this Parliament interferes with the departments which are under the control of the States it will create that friction which federation was specially intended to avoid. It is specifically laid down in the Constitution that the acquisition or construction of railways can be entered upon only with the consent of the States. The reply of every honorable member who was asked during the referendum periods anvthinp in regard to the Works, Lands, or Railway Departments was that the Commonwealth Parliament had nothing whatever to do with those Departments. The States alone are concerned with them. Moreover, a vast majority of the public servants of the States do not desire to be brought under the provisions of this Bill. It appears, therefore, that we are endeavouring to seize powers of which no one suspected we were ever possessed. Nobody imagines that this Parliament has anything to do with Departments which remain under the control of the States. Some honorable member may say, " Suppose that a civil servant is a citizen of New South Wales. Surely he has a right to go to the Arbitration Court of that State for redress of his grievances."


Mr Brown - But he is also a citizen of the Commonwealth.


Mr EWING - Exactly. The argument was used last session, that a citizen of New South Wales should receive all that the State could give him. But let honorable members imagine a judgment being given by the New South Wales Arbitration Court in reference to the amount of money which shall be paid to our servants, either in the Defence Force, or in the Post-office. What would happen? We should probably tell the Court that we had a perfect right to manage our own affairs in our own way, and we should refuse to pay any attention to Its decision. In the same way, the States will disregard any action of the Commonwealth in this direction. Honorable members know that there is a vast amount of work before this Parliament. But instead of doing that work, we are asked to turn aside to undertake duties which unquestionably belong to the States. What will be the result ? Is it not perfectly clear that the Commonwealth Parliament is not too popular in many parts of Australia ?


Mr Higgins - Does that affect the hon-. orable member's vote?


Mr EWING - Nothing affects my vote except rectitude and party responsibility. Although we are not affected by it, there is no doubt that Federation is not so popular as it might have been. Why ? Because it was established at a time of great stress, when nature refused to yield to labour a fair return for farming operations. This Parliament is temporarily unpopular, because it has governed in time of drought. Now we are invited to seize the opportunity to fling our gauntlet in the face of the States. We are asked to tell them that they are not competent to manage their own affairs, and that since we left their legislative halls, there is nobody left who is fit to govern them, or to


Mr Thomas - Does the honorable member believe that?


Mr EWING - No; but I believe quite a number of things of the honorable member to which politeness forbids me to give expression. .We are neglecting -work that we ought to be performing, for the sake of protecting the public servants of the States, who desire no protection, and who have the best masters in the world, namely, the people themselves. I have been in parliamentary life for a considerable number of years, and I have seen Parliaments do some thoughtless and inconsiderate things, but I never knew them to do an unjust thing-


Mr Mauger - What about depriving the public servants of the franchise?


Mr EWING - I have even known freetraders to destroy an industry, but in their ignorance they imagined that they were doing right. Similarly, no Parliament wittingly acts unjustly. If the Railway Commissioners of New South Wales wanted the services, of 10,000 men to-morrow, they could easily get them from the very flower of our population.


Mr Mauger - The people could get plenty of members of Parliament for £300 a year.


Mr EWING - It is a pity that we have some honorable members at £400 a year. Any one who has noticed the individuals who are engaged upon the trams in Sydney, for example, must know that they are not inferior men. But they have the best of. masters in the world, every arrangement is made for them which Parliament can make, and they have Parliament itself as a final Court of Appeal to redress any legitimate grievances.


Mr Fisher - Does the honorable mern. ber think that Parliament is a competent Court to deal with the intricacies of business ?


Mr EWING - It is competent to express an opinion on the merits of a concrete case. One other allegory to explain my position. A great divine to whom I listened some years ago pointed out that the human family was wallowing in a great morass, and that the best one could do was to assist in pulling a few of his fellows out of it. It appears to me that we have reached the edge of a morass, in which there are a vast number of sheep. The matters which are specifically delegated to this Parliament, under the Constitution represent the sheep, and they are nearly all in the morass at present. Instead of attending to them, we are asked to attend to sheep in the fold of somebody else, and which are fairly comfortable. That is the position of the public servants of the State. They are satisfied to remain where they are, and surely there is no need for us to interfere with them. As it is the Commonwealth Parliament will never finish its work, because there is no plateau upon which a nation can rest. There is no point at which a nation can remain century after century - there is only an Avernus below. We have plenty of work to do, but instead of doing it we are asked to turn aside from what is legitimately our duty and to perform work which belongs to others.


Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How did the honorable member vote upon the Arbitration Bill in New South Wales, which is applicable to the railway servants?


Mr EWING - Perhaps the honorable member can supply the information?


Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is very amusing.


Mr EWING - There are some things which are worse than amusing, and to be absurd is one of them.* The honorable member must see that to put one's own servants under an Arbitration Bill is a very different matter from making the measure applicable to other people's servants. We may be told that the provisions of the New Zealand Act extend to its public servants. It does not with the exception of the railway men. We can see at once that the statesmen of New Zealand did hot view with satisfaction the principle of bringing public servants under the Act; but that the railway men were so strong that they succeeded in winning their point. It was expedient, and they were- brought under the Bill. It is necessary at times to do expedient things in order that more inexpedient things may not occur.


Mr Wilks - That is what we propose to do next week.


Mr EWING - A Government doing much good is justified in doing many things to keep in office in order that an Opposition that can do no good shall not take its place.


Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the previous convictions of the honorable member?


Mr EWING - A progressive man, like a progressive nation, is not to remain for ever in swaddling clothes.


Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But it is only a short time since those convictions were expressed.


Mr EWING - I have already explained, and as I wish to conclude my remarks I shall not make further reference to it. I would, however, ask honorable members to bear in mind the wide distinction between placing our own officers under the Bill and bringing those of the States under it.


Mr Fisher - Will the honorable member support the bringing of officers of the Commonwealth under this Bill?


Mr EWING - I would not have so much objecion to that proposal. When the Public Service Bill was under consideration in this House not one reference was made to this matter. The proposition in regard to the Public Service is a new one, and has sprung out of the troubles of Victoria. I wish to say a word or two of advice and caution, which honorable members will, I am sure, accept in the friendly spirit in which they are given. A party of reform should be broad enough, and reasonable and temperate enough, to embrace all classes of opinion, provided the members of the party set their faces in the right direction. A reform party, whether it be called the A or the B party, or by any other name, that does not carry on its work in accordance with those definite general principles which I have enumerated, is bound to fail. This Parliament is divided into three parties,, and only two parties are required to govern. The party of reform should be broad-minded, and should embrace all reformers. But we are now' confronted by an unreasonable party, which seeks to snatch the public servants of the States from the local authorities to place them under the control of the Federal Government, and so to break the compact we made with the States 'to leave them in absolute control of certain departments. Imagine a man standing under a red flag in a park, and delivering an address. What is the result of his utterances? His ideas of reform may be serious. He may be only in advance of his times ; but, because of that fact, and his unreasonableness, he alienates the sympathy of every one who desires to march with him. The police walk past him, and shrug their shoulders. The people simply look at him and pass on. He is nothing more' than a Christy minstrel entertainer. The Government of no country trouble about any one who speaks under a red flag in the park. Such men are unreasonable, and can secure no support. But when men are resolute and reasonable, and when they are determined to carry out certain principles in accordance with temperate ideas, the position is different. If honorable members endeavour to do impossible^ things, and so alienate the sympathies of all reasonable men, they injure not the evil-doers, but those whom they honestly desire to assist.







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