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Tuesday, 19 April 1904

Mr McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - In any other case we know that a State Government would be obeying the decision of a tribunal of its own creation.

Mr Wilks - What about the High Court ?

Mr McLEAN - The High Court is the creation of the people of Australia, accepted in the Federal Constitution. But this Bill deals with questions that the people of Australia were told by the leading members of the Convention - in fact by every member of the Convention whom I heard speak or whose speeches I read-

Mr Thomas - In 'Gippsland the people only dealt with the stock tax.

Mr McLEAN - This is not a matter for indulgence in, I was going to say buffoonery ; but I would not apply that term to my honorable friend. It is a serious question, and should be dealt with in a serious manner. The people of Australia accepted the Constitution on the distinct understanding that the States Governments would have full control of every department not handed over to the Commonwealth. That, I think, will not be denied by any honorable member. The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne was, like myself, an opponent of the Convention Bill, believing, with me, that it had many serious defects. But had the honorable and learned member then believed that the Commonwealth would have the power to virtually take control of States Departments, he could have killed the Bill. That would have undoubtedly been the result had we been able to make the people of Victoria believe that such would be the case. There was no question on which the people felt so strongly as that of State rights ; but the honorable and learned member, in all the arguments he used against the Constitution Bill, never once told the people that they would be deprived of the control of departments which were not handed over to the Commonwealth.

Mr Higgins - It would have only made the Bill more popular as against my views.

Mr McLEAN - Had such a result been anticipated, it would have killed the Bill, because, as I say, there was no question on which the people felt so strongly, nor is there any question, I believe, on which they feel so strongly at the present time. I am convinced that if there is a conflict between the Federal Government and the States Governments on the question of States rights, the people of the Commonwealth will range themselves on the side of the State's, and not on the side of the aggressor.

Mr Fisher - What evidence is there of that?

Mr McLEAN - The evidence is that the people of the Commonwealth accepted the Constitution as explained to them by the framers.

Mr Wilks - Did the people not accept the Constitution on trust?

Mr McLEAN - The people did not consider they were accepting the Constitution on trust, because they were told emphatically that the Commonwealth could not interfere with the control of the States Departments.

Mr McDonald - What about the Melbourne election ?

Mr McLEAN - What, in the name of common sense, has the Melbourne election to do with the question?

Mr McDonald - In a constituency like Melbourne there was a majority of. 800 against the views the honorable member is now expressing.

Mr McLEAN - What has the Melbourne election to do with the question of a Federal Constitution?

Mr McDonald - The honorable member says that the people are against the Commonwealth exercising its power in this matter, whereas the result of the Melbourne election shows that such is not the fact.

Mr McLEAN - I say that the people are against interference by the Commonwealth in the control of States Departments.

Mr Maloney - Try the referendum, and see who is right.

Mr McLEAN - The honorable member for Melbourne knows that such an interference must necessarily kill the Federal Constitution as understood by the people at the present time. It would undoubtedly lead to one Government and Parliament for

Australia. What can a State Government or State Parliament do if it has not control of a single Department? How can' a State Government or Parliament carry on under such conditions? What residuum of power will be left to the States? The proposed interference strikes at the very root of Federation, so far as I understand the position. As to the question of expediency, I may say that I sat in the Victorian Parliament for nearly a quarter of a century, and during that time I think I demonstrated that I am a friend of the work- ing classes. I do not think that I ever recorded a vote against the interests of those classes, and the best proof is that I have always received their support at elections. I am still as much in sympathy with that section of the community as I ever was. I did as much as any one in the Victorian Parliament to secure them equal power as against those who contended for what I considered undue power for the propertied classes. I opposed plural voting from the very commencement, doing my best to give one vote, and one vote only, to every man and woman in the community. But if I see that that section of the community contemplate a step which, in my opinion, will be detrimental to their own interests, and injure them, perhaps, as. much as it will injure any section, I should not be worthy of the trust they have reposed in me if I did not act upon my honest convictions. I believe no section of the community will suffer more if this proposal be given effect to than will the public service of the different States. I ought to limit my remarks to the railway servants, and, perhaps, the employes of the Postal Department, who may possibly come within the definition of " industrial."

Sir George Turner - There are the Printing Departments.

Mr McLEAN - I am speaking of all who may come within the definition, but it is utterly impossible to carry on successfully a large industrial department, such as that of the railways of the States, under dual control - under control divided between the States and the Commonwealth. ' The public debt of Australia is largely- invested in the railways, and there is no question in which the Commonwealth is more deeply interested than that of the future welfare of the railway servants. I have not the slightest doubt that it would be fatal to the successful working of the railways to place them under dual control. Moreover, the State, as an employer, is in a very dif ferent position from that of a private employer, private firm, or private company. Private employers are personally interested in driving the hardest bargain with their employes, and in getting all they possibly can out of them. The Governments of the various States, on the other hand, reflect the will of the people, and have always been generous employers; at any rate, they have always been fair employers.

Mr Hutchison - There has been sweating by 'some State Governments.

Mr McLEAN - It is possible there may have been errors in individual cases. Does the honorable member say that this tribunal of three men will be endowed with such omniscient powers as will enable them to do justice to every industry throughout the Commonwealth? Does the honorable member think that this Court will not be liable to error? Has the honorable, member lost all confidence in the people, whom he, I believe, did his best to endow with supreme political power?

Mr Hutchison - I have confidence in all pur Law Courts.

Mi. McLEAN. - I believe that the people are more generous than the Law Courts. The Courts do only bare justice, whereas the people may deal, and I contend, have dealt, generously with the public service. I have administered a good many Departments in my time, and, so far as mv experience has gone, I have found States employes extremely contented. I know that when a man gets into the employment of a State it takes a great deal to induce him to leave his position. Further, I know that tens of thousands of people outside the public service are continually clamouring to get in ; and that is the best proof we can have that the States have ever been generous employers.

Mr Hutchison - Employment by the State is more certain.

Mr McLEAN - No doubt employment by the State is more certain. But if they did not approve of their pay and conditions of labour they would surely not be so anxious to remain in their employment, and there would not be much difficulty in inducing them to leave it. My honorable friends who are supporting this amendment are the very persons who, up to this time, have been clamouring to bring under State control as many industries as possible. They will admit that I am correct when I say that to a man they are advocates of what is called State socialism. I do not use the word " socialism " in any offensive sense, but as meaning the bringing under State control as many industries as possible. The honorable member for Wide Bay ' in the next breath tells me that nobody is more incapable of laying down the conditions of service than is a State Government or Parliament. How can he reconcile the two statements? How can he in one breath advocate the bringing of industries under the control of the State, and in the next contend -that the State is not capable of managing them successfully ? Does he wish to bring the industries of the Country to ruin? I am sure the honorable member does not wish anything of the kind.

Mr Fisher - It is for the same reason that Parliament has appointed judicial authorities to punish crime. It has not been left to Parliament, which would be an incompetent court to do it.

Mr McLEAN - My honorable friend is a man of common sense and extensive experience, and does he believe for one moment that these three men, though they should be the best men whom we could select in the whole of the Commonwealth, will be capable of dealing successfully, intelligently, and justly with every industry in the States?

Mr Fisher - Yes; because they can take time to secure expert evidence, and Parliament has no time to do any such thing.

Mr McLEAN - Then my honorable friend exhibits an amount of unsophisticaton and innocence I should never have given him credit for. Let us take the railway services, for instance. We pay big salaries, and send over the whole world to secure men of extended experience and business knowledge to manage our railways. In New South Wales and Victoria, the Chief Commissioners are paid ,£3,500 a year, and here it is proposed to put over them a man who is to be paid £700 a year, and to let him take the control out of their hands. If my honorable friend thinks that the railways can be successfully worked under those conditions, I cannot agree with him'.

Mr Spence - They do not interfere until the Commissioners fail.

Mr McLEAN - But who is to be the judge of failure?

Mr Spence - The men will make their complaints.

Mr McLEAN - The Commissioners are not dealing with their own money ; they are men of wide experience, and they know, as does every large employer of experience, | that if they .are to secure the best services which their employes can render, the men they employ must be fairly paid and well treated. Surely the Commissioners, having the public purse to draw upon, will not treat their men badly, when they know that such treatment would but result in a discontented service, and would render their management of the railways ineffective?

Mr Fisher - We know that private employers employ managers at £3,000 a year and upwards.

Mr McLEAN - I have pointed out the difference. The incentive of the private employer is to get his work done as cheaply as possible, seeing that he has to pay for it out of his own pocket.

Mr Fisher - He often employs a manager at £3,500 a year, which is as big a salary as is paid to a Commissioner of Railways.

Mr McLEAN - And he gives his manager instructions to get the work done as cheaply as possible.

Mr Fisher - States Governments give the same instructions to their Commissioners.

Mr McLEAN - My experience is that the majority of private employers deal fairly by their servants; it is only a minority who do not deal fairly by them.

Mr Fisher - Our Railway Commissioners are asked to do the same thing; they are asked to manage , the railways as cheaply and . efficiently as possible.

Mr McLEAN - I am sure that the honorable member, with his experience and good sense, must know perfectly well that if the railway employes can snap their fingers at the Commissioner, and those whom they are expected to obey, and can tell them that they can appeal to a Federal tribunal over their heads, a condition of things will be brought about which will utterly demoralize the service.

Mr Fisher - In my opinion what is here proposed will bind the railway employes more than they are bound now.

Mr McLEAN - Instead of leading to an extension of that State socialism of which the honorable member is such an ardent advocate, this proposal is very much more likely to lead to the sale of the railways. That would appear to be the only logical outcome of the situation which will be created.

Mr Conroy - Would that be such a bad thing ?

Mr McLEAN - I should not like to see it. I should like our railways to continue for a long time under the control of the

States Governments, because I believe it is necessary, in the interests of the public, and of the proper development of the country, that they should be under State control.

Mr Fuller - The railway servants in New South Wales can appeal to an Arbitration Court there.

Mr Deakin - Every one approves of that.

Mr McLEAN - That is a very different matter. My honorable and learned friend must see that that is an appeal to a Court which is a creation of the State Parliament. What is proposed in this Bill will be a Court, the creation of the Commonwealth Parliament, and over the heads of the States Governments.

Mr Fuller - But a Court dealing only with disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member is arguing all the time that this Arbitration Court will do something wrong.

Mr McLEAN - I am assuming that this Court will be composed of only three men, and that two of them will necessarily be men of ordinary capacity, and of no very great business experience, if they will accept a salary of £700 a year, because no man of extensive business knowledge need accept such a salary. I do not consider that the robes of office will give to these men any knowledge which they previously did not possess. I assume they will do their work honestly according to their lights, but I do not for a moment place them on a par with Railway Commissioners paid . £3,500 a year, men who have had extensive experience in other parts of the world. If ever there were a time when people might crave to be saved from their friends, I think it is on the present occasion. I feel sure there never was a time when the best interests of the public servants were more endangered than they will be from the movements of those who with every desire to do the best they can are proceeding upon erroneous lines. So far as the interests of the Commonwealth are concerned, do honorable members think that those interests can be properly conserved if all the services of the various States are to be conducted under a dual control ? It is opposed to reason and experience.

Mr Poynton - Would not that argument apply to dual control in private enterprise ?

Mr McLEAN - To what dual control does the honorable member refer ?

Mr Poynton - To the control of the Federal Parliament over private industry, and the control of the proprietor of the industry.

Mr McLEAN - I assume that the object of the Arbitration Court is merely to step in in the case of exceptional employers who will not do justice to their employes. I claim that I brought more trades under the operation of the Victorian Factories Act than did all the other Victorian Ministers combined, but I did not bring a single trade under the operation of that Act until I satisfied myself that there were a few in the trade - and the number was very few in every instance - who would not do justice to their employes. The great majority of the employers were entirely with me in the action I took, and signed petitions to be brought under the Act in order that they might be saved from the competition of men who would not act fairly by their employes.

Mr Watson - It will be only in isolated instances that the Arbitration Court will be brought into operation.

Mr McLEAN - In private employment we find that the great majority of employers act fairly by their employes; but there are some who will not act fairly by them, and a tribunal of this kind is very useful to prevent strikes, and to prevent the waste, expense, and heart-burnings involved in the settlement of an industrial dispute by brute force. In such cases I have no doubt that intervention under a Conciliation and Arbitration Act may do a great deal of good ; but it is only in cases in which such intervention is absolutely necessary that the provisions of such an Act should be applied. I have heard my honorable friend contend that if this is a good thing it should be extended to every case, to the public servants as well as to private employes; but I do not regard this in the way in which we regard our daily food. I regard it in the light of a necessary evil. If we could do without it so much the better.

Mr Watson - So is all law a necessary evil.

Mr McLEAN - That is so, and it is for that reason I am not an advocate for the extension of legal tribunals further than is necessary to deal with the absolute necessities of the community. I do not think we should go any further with our law courts, and certainly not with our Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration. We have never had a complaint to justify legislation of this kind. I have not met one public servant - and I have spoken to a good many since this. question was brought forward - who has not told me that he and his fellow employes were utterly opposed to the proposal. I cannot say that that indicates the real feeling of public servants; I can only speak from my own experience.

Mr Crouch - I have a letter conveying a resolution, arrived at by hundreds of public servants, in favour of the present proposal.

Mr McLEAN - That is not a very large number. There are 12,000 railway employes in Victoria, besides many hundreds of other public servants, and the honorable and learned member's statement, instead of strengthening his case, seems to me to weaken it. My main objection to the amendment is that it strikes at the root of the Federal principle. It would be utterly impossible to carry on Federation successfully if the amendment proved to be operative. I do not for a moment believe that it will, because I am confident the High Court will pronounce it to be ultra vires. If, however, the contrary should prove to be the case, a deathblow will be dealt at the Federation. That would lead to the abolition of the Federation, or to unification, and I am not an advocate of either.

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