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Wednesday, 13 April 1904

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) - I had' hoped that when the House resumed after the Easter recess all the big guns of the Parliament would be here to fire off their heavy shot, either for or against this measure, and that the small shot would be discharged some time next week. Such, however, is not the case, and I have therefore a few small shot which I now desire to fire against the Bill. The speech just delivered by the honorable member! for Richmond is, so far as most of its points are concerned, the best I have yet heard in opposition to this Bill. Most of the points which the honorable member made in support of it were certainly points which might have been urged by opponents of the measure. The honorable member has referred to the Reign of Terror as having occurred prior to the actual French Revolution, and it seems to be fitting, when one comes to think of it, tEat as we are living in the antipodes' things should be upside, down. The Reign of Terror that we have in Australia and particularly in regard to matters relating to the Federal Parliament, is that the masses are on top and endeavouring to guillotine the classes.

Mr Wilks - Are the Government going to retain or lose their position ?

Mr WILSON - That is a question with which I am not particularly concerned. I do not think it will be a very serious matter for Australia if there is a change of Government. I am satisfied that the resources of Australia, if not of this Parliament, are sufficient to produce a new Government in due course, which will carry out wise legislation for the benefit of the Commonwealth. In moving the second reading of the Bill, the Prime Minister towards the close of his speech said he looked upon it as "the introduction of a noble principle more than a completed plan." I am quite sure that in his 'hands the noble principles of arbitration and conciliation would be perfectly safe, but we have to remember that those principles, noble as they are, will not long remain in his hands - and that when they pass to others they may not be properly used. On the contrary, they may be considerably abused. We have to remember that this Bill, by the free introduction of the principle of compulsion, apart from the grand principles of conciliation and arbitration becomes neither more nor less than a coercion Bill. Instead of being known as a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill it should be entitled " A Bill for an Act to be called the Industrial Coercion Act " ; or " A Bill for an Act to promote unsettled conditions in all industries to which it can be applied " ; or " A Bill for an Act to create discord and strife between master and man."

Mr Spence - That is only the honorable member's opinion.

Mr WILSON - Quite so. I spent some time during the Easter adjournment in reading some of the very admirable speeches delivered on this question by the Prime Minister, when Attorney-General, as well as by the honorable member for Bland, and the leader of the Opposition.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member's reading has been attended with very bad results.

Mr WILSON - I have read other speeches on the subject, and so far as I am concerned they have had, as the honorable member says, very bad results. I have failed to find in any one of those speeches, or in any one of the speeches that I have heard in this House, one single reason why this Bill should be brought before Parliament at the present time. Every honorable member who has spoken to this question has admitted that this is distinctly experimental legislation.

Mr Poynton - In this case we have for instance, of all legislation.

Mr WILSON - It may be so of initiatory legislation.

Mr Poynton - In this case we have for our guidance ten years' experience of the working of similar legislation in a neighbouring Colony.

Mr WILSON - I shall refer later on to our experience of the results of that legislation. We have greater Parliaments and older countries from which we might learn a lesson, and thus avoid falling into a very serious error. We find that the leaders of (he great labour parties in America and Great Britain will have nothing to do with compulsory arbitration and conciliation. I am aware . that the reasons for this feeling on their part is that labour has not sufficient representation in Parliament. At the same time we have the broad fact that they will have nothing to do with compulsory conciliation and arbitration. They are in favour of voluntary conciliation and arbitration, which I believe to be the panacea for all industrial ills in this or any other part of the world. We desire a proper feeling to exist between master and man. That feeling has of late disappeared, or at all events it does not exist as it did in former times. We want to see the master considering the man, and the man considering the master. That feeling used to prevail both here and in England in the olden days; but unfortunately strife and discord have been introduced, and now we are floundering in a sea of industrial chaos. In order to show that there is no necessity for this measure at the present time, I should like to point out that we have adequate industrial 'legislation in Victoria to wisely control- such matters as the wages, the hours, and the sanitary appointments provided for employes.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member is against this form of State legislation.

Mr WILSON - I am not. I 'believe that it is very wise for us to have State industrial" legislation of this kind to deal with tyrannical masters who are unfit to occupy that position, and who grind down their employes. I have no sympathy with such persons. We have such an industrial system in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia, and also to some extent in South Australia. But this Parliament has nothing whatever to do with the legislation of New Zealand, to which such frequent reference has been made in this House. We are aware that a Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been in force for some years in that Colony. It seems to me. however, that it would be better for the Commonwealth to wait for a few years and see what is likely to be the result of this admittedly experimental industrial legislation in the States which have adopted it. The hand of time has been forced, so to speak, by the Government, who have brought forward this measure to placate the party which contains the main body of their supporters in ' this House. The Minister for Home Affairs admitted, when speaking on the Address in Reply that the section in the Constitution which enables us to legislate in this direction should not have been passed, and that he had unwittingly assisted in embodying it in the Act.

Sir John Forrest - I only said that I voted for the provision. I did not place it in the Constitution. .

Mr WILSON - The right honorable gentleman supported the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, and he has told the House that he would not have done so if he could have foreseen what has since happened.

Sir John Forrest - Certainly.

Mr WILSON - Surely we have had quite enough experimental Federal legislation. Is there no sound, practical legislation which the Constitution empowers us to pass, that we may eventually make Federation a success? The honorable member for Dalley, speaking upon the second reading of the Bill introduced last Parliament, said that if it was passed there would be no further use for the paid agitator. I disagree with him. My experience of the industrial conditions of Australia during the past few years, and what I have read of the conditions prevailing in America and England, leads me to believe that there will be an increasing use for the agitator, and that the Trades Hall party will see that he is kept at work in heating the furnace of discontent, until the discord is seven times greater than it has ever been in our history before. The Bill at present exempts from its operation persons engaged in domestic service ; but it is proposed to make it apply to the public servants of the States. This latter proposal I regard as an unconstitutional attempt by the Labour Party to override the powers of the States, and although I am not an adept lawyer, I feel certain it will be inoperative. My own opinion is that it is an evidence of the vindictiveness of those who rule Parliament from Lygon and Sussex streets. They are attempting to control the State Parliaments because they were not able to interfere in the unfortunate railway strike that took place in Victoria last year. The Bill is altogether too wide in its application. I agree with the right honorable member for Adelaide that it might be made to apply to serious maritime disputes, such as that which took place in 1890 or 1891. It might also apply to mining disputes.

Mr Deakin - And to shearing disputes.

Mr WILSON - Yes. But why should it apply to other disputes which are covered by the industrial legislation of the States? I was sent here to represent particularly the agricultural and dairying industries, and I shall support the honorable member for Gippsland in any amendment to exempt those industries .from the operation of the measure. There is no need to apply such legislation to them, because there has never been any strike or strife among those engaged in such callings.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would take a good man to strike successfully against ai cow.

Mr WILSON - A measure of this kind' could apply successfully to the dairying industry only if it were possible to prevent by Act of Parliament cows from giving' their milk more than once a day during the week and altogether on Sundays. It would not be at all a good thing for the cow if that were tried. Last Parliament an Act. was passed to restrict immigration, but in the Governor- General's Speech we were promised a measure to encourage desirableimmigrants to come here. Before that, measure is introduced, I would suggest tothe Government that. if this Bill is passed, they should have carefully annotated, copies of it given to the High Commissioner, for distribution through the agricultural counties of England, so that those who intend immigrating here may know to what a desirable country they are coming, and under what magnificent conditions they will have to carry out their work. As a matter of fact, if the measure is pushed' to extrernes, it will force employers to* emigrate from Australia. I have not much to say in regard to the common rule, exceptthat I agree with the honorable member for North Sydney that it will operate very dangerously, and will create a great deaf of trouble throughout the Commonwealth. We have heard something of the tyranny of the masters, but, under clause 48, which, provides for compulsory unionism, we shall have a new kind of tyranny. The Trades Hall party profess to represent labourAs a matter of fact, they represent only about one-seventh of those who work, yet they propose that the other sixseventhsshall be compelled to join the ranks of unionists. I know men who will have nothing- to do with the militant unionism of to-day. Yet, under the Bill, if it be pushed to extremes - and' the party which has taken it in hand will push everythingto extremes - they will be forced into the ranks of unionists. They will be compelled to pay their dues, and to give three months'' notice before leaving a union, and orders of Court may be made against them, sothat if their dues are not paid their furniture can be sold.

Mr Poynton - Are there any non-union doctors ?

Mr WILSON - I thank the honorable member for the interjection, because it provides me with an opportune occasion to remark that the Prime Minister has proposed nothing to assist the poor unfortunate lodge doctor whose case is now being discussed in the newspapers.

Mr Thomas - They will be able to form a. union under the Bill.

Mr WILSON - I should like to read a letter which I have received from a New Zealand employer, a Mr. John Henry Cook, of Nelson, who says -

I am full of business here, and it is not all going smoothly. In fact, under great activity generally, and undoubted prosperity among our farming and pastoral community, there is much trouble and profitlessness in many of our industries, and there is no doubt in my mind that the dinning for twelve or fourteen years of the present Government into the artisans' ears of the fallacy that " Jack's as good as his master, or better," is responsible for a very unruly spirit among our trade workers, coupled with thriftlessness and incessant demands for more money and more leisure. You must bear in mind that all this pother is fomented among, say, 20,000 organized workers out of, say, 150,000 total workers in this colony, mainly because of their value as a block vote at the poll. There is the main underlying trouble. Signs are not wanting of the employers and general workers definitely opposing the 20,000 continuing to get more than-'their fair slice of the wages cake. It cannot be gainsaid that the Labour Acts in New Zealand have enabled certain bodies of workmen taking advantage of this legislation to force themselves into a better position as to wages, hours, and conditions of labour, but I feel sure it has been at the expense of the other sections of the community, and therefore, if the thing spreads much further, it must of necessity break down, leaving an after-crop of acute labour troubles. The main argument in favour of the Acts is that they are believed to have prevented the wastefulness of strikes, and that is a large point, so long as it holds good. Our Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration are practically a lower and upper Court, there being no appeal from the Arbitration Court on these trade matters. The Conciliation Boards or Courts have so fallen into public contempt from their decisions, few of which are accepted, that there is talk of leaving ' only the Arbitration Court in existence, and many disputants apply and remove their case at once to the Arbitration Court (for which there is provision) without wasting time in the Conciliation Court. This riled the labour agitators, many of whom have seats in the lower Court, and frequent guineas per day to be earned when they can get cases on. Moreover, they do not like the contemptuous ignoring of their existence. Our Acts set forth the desirability of encouragng the formation of Trades Unions, and provide for unions of employers, as well

That is the opinion of a gentleman in New Zealand who has had very considerable experience in business, and who has worked himself up from the very lowest rung of the ladder. I now desire to refer to the position of affairs in New South Wales, by directing the attention of honorable members to the following statement that was published in one of the newspapers some time ago, with reference to the Arbitration Court : -

Of this tribunal it may be said that it is every day growing more unpopular. Officials in unionist and labour ranks are still enamoured of it. They want the Act amended, and Mr. Wise is willing to oblige them, if he gets the opportunity. But a strong current of public feeling is setting in against it, while the repugnance of the employing class is rapidly growing. More damaging to the Act than anything that is being experienced by employers is its own logical operation as affecting the rank and file of .working unionists themselves. Owing to the growing scarcity of employment, many members of trades unions are unable to pay up their fees. The law is being invoked to compel them.

And' so on, in condemnation of the operation of the Act in New South Wales. No valid reason has been given why this Bill should be introduced at this stage, and therefore I shall oppose it.

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