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Thursday, 14 April 1904

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - It is not my intention to make a lengthy speech, or to traverse the ground which I covered when dealing with the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill introduced last session. I, with other honorable members, have listened with pleasure to the remarks by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, and who always supplies the House with much food for thought. His speeches invariably give evidence of careful inquiry, and exhibit a degree of research that deserves our warmest commendation. .1 heartily concur with the opinion which the . honorable member has expressed on many details, of this Bill, and agree with him . that the machinery provisions are too involved to deal with the issues that are likely to foe submitted to the decision of a Commonwealth Court qf Arbitration. The honorable member has 2 l referred to the possibility of bringing about a system of barter or compromise between the parties to a dispute; but I do not consider that it would be successful in practice. Nothing has occurred since the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was before us last session to make legislation of this kind more acceptable to those who on that occasion opposed it; on the contrary^ those who then expressed themselves in favour of the principle must recognise that the establishment of the New South Wales Court has led to considerable irritation and much conflict of opinion between employers and employed. Some of the decisions of that Court have not been received with complete satisfaction by either side, and certainly, in one or two cases, they have not been satisfactory to the workers. The experience of New Zealand is that legislation of this description must be amended from time to time. Year after year amending acts' have been passed by the Legislature of the Colony.

Mr Watkins - The sooner we begin our experiments the sooner shall Ave reach perfection.

Mr KNOX - We are building up something which is altogether unnecessary. The Government manifestly expect that a very large amount of business for the Arbitration Court will be created by the Bill. This measure is being foisted upon the Com- monwealth heedless of the fact that it will cause great irritation, and bring about industrial trouble in all the States. The Prime Minister has qualified his previous views as to the class of disputes which could be brought within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. He has admitted, and I think it is now generally held, that a merely sympathetic dispute would not justify Commonwealth interference. Before the Commonwealth Court can take action, a dispute must occur in one State, and a dispute similar in all particulars occur in another State. It is manifest that under those circumstances there might be a serious, conflict between the decisions of States Courts and the decisions of the Common-. wealth Court, and a serious interference Avith States rights and policy. But the modification of the Prime Minister makes an elaborate measure unnecessary. Every honorable member who heard it - whether' he does or does not' agree Avith the views expressed- must admit that the Prime Minister gave us a most eloquent address when moving the second reading. He stated, however, that there is an urgent and burning need for this legislation.. I hope to show that there is no such need.. I have found upon inquiry from honorable members who are deeply interested in the passing of this legislation, that there are only threelarge industrial organizations which in the near future may be affected by its operation - the seamen, the shearers, and the water-side workers.

Mr Deakin - Not the miners?

Mr KNOX - No; I think there is no prospect of the miners coming under its operation. It is only in connexion with disputes occurring in both Victoria and Tasmania, where the Amalgamated Miners' Assotion operates, that the mining industry might be involved.

Mr Watkins - There may be another miners' confederation.

Mr KNOX - I hope that the Bill is a measure, not for the creation of difficulties, but for the ending of those which exist. The honorable member for Darling has disabused my mind in regard to the recent conferences of shearing organizations which took place in Melbourne. I understand that only Victoria was affected.

Mr Poynton - In New South Wales the pastoralists would not meet the men.

Mr KNOX - I understand that that was due to the operation of the New South Wales Conciliation and Arbitration Act. In Victoria and Queensland the shearers and pastoralists have voluntarily come to an amicable arrangement.

Mr Spence - Only in Victoria.

Mr KNOX - In Victoria an amicable arrangement has been brought about without this elaborate legislation, and, therefore, there is no urgent and burning need for it, so far as the shearers are concerned. I think there is also no need for it so far as the seamen are concerned. I have made it my business to ascertain, from those who know, what is going on in regard to shipping matters, and I understand that there is at present in existence an agreement between the seamen and ship-owners, which is working satisfactorily, and is terminable on the giving of six months' notice. It seems to me that, when that agreement is terminated, there will be another voluntary agreement arrived at. I am not in a position to say what the position of the water-side workers is, but they have not made any demand for the creation of a Commonwealth tribunal to settle their disputes. So, in regards to neither the shearers, the seamen, nor the water-side workers is there any burning necessity for , the Bill. Thus we are driven to the position, that what is proposed is a complicated piece of machinery which is uncalled for, and at the present time unnecessary. I hold, and the honorable member for South Sydney occupied the same ground, that the machinery,' provided for in the Bill is, wholly disproportionate to the necessities of the present and the probable necessities of the future. I. had to take a part in some of the larger strikes which have occurred in the past, and have a full knowledge 'of the distress and suffering which they caused, and I am, therefore, of opinion that it is desirable to have some means for compulsorily settling strikes and locks-out where voluntary methods have failed. A Court might be appointed consisting of a Judge and a representative of each of the parties to the dispute, and the Commonwealth Cabinet might justly intervene when it felt that the public interest and welfare demanded interference, and compel disputants who would not voluntarily come to terms to submit their case to adjudication.

Mr Poynton - Then the honorable member differs from us only in degree, not in principle. What he proposes is compulsory arbitration.

Mr KNOX - I am aware that ultimately, when other methods fail, compulsory arbitration must be resorted to. But any dispute in which any of the three organizations to which I have referred is concerned must be a very large one, and each I submit would be sufficient to engage attention on its own merits. It is not necessary to create machinery to deal with an immense number of trivial and small disputes. For instance, in my judgment, the principle of the common rule should not apply in regard to Commonwealth disputes. Each dispute should be dealt with on its merits, putting other matters aside. Why should the Commonwealth legislate for matters which can be dealt with by the States? There is a considerable difference between disputes which could be naturally dealt with under a State Act, and those which could be fittingly brought within the jurisdiction of a Federal tribunal. An effort is being made by the Government to introduce the most complex machinery, and an invitation is issued to disputants to bring the most trivial questions before the Commonwealth Court. Surely this is not desirable. The Commonwealth jurisdiction should not apply to any disputes except those of a farreaching character, which involve large interests. All small matters might be very well left to the State tribunals. The country is waiting for us to enter the fighting ground upon which we shall have to decide who is to rule this country. I am sure that honorable members must have been gratified to hear the Prime Minister say that so far as the Government were concerned- everything would be done straightforwardly. If a coalition is to be brought about I hope that it will assume the character of a straight-out combination of the forces on both sides of the House, and that everything will be done in the full light of day. Such a coalition would be very desirable, and might very easily be effected. The electors are entitled to call upon us to determine the question as to who is to control the Legislature of the Commonwealth. If the Labour Party are to carry through legislation of the character now before us, just as they may desire, by all means let them occupy the Treasury benches, and the sooner the better. The country wishes to know what our intentions are, and, therefore, I feel that I shall best conserve the interests of the community oy refraining from protracting this debate.

Mr. HIGGINS(Northern Melbourne).I think that honorable members in all parts of the House must regret extremely the absence of that great and strenuous politician who has so prominently identified himself with measures of this nature for some years, past.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

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