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Wednesday, 20 April 1904

Mr LONSDALE (New England) - This is a question of the very gravest importance, because it will affect all the industrial operations of the Commonwealth. We are told that the measure has been introduced to prevent' strikes and locks-out, and to assist as far as possible to assure proper conditions tq those who are engaged in production. I am quite the reverse of a capitalist ; but I regard this class of legislation as altogether opposed to the best interests of the working classes. I realize that large numbers of persons support it in the belief that industrial disputes, if referred to an

Arbitration Court, will be settled favorably to the masses. I hold strongly, however, that no system of this kind for settling the conditions under which trade shall be conducted can be attended with satisfactory results or assist those who, as far as possible, should be helped. We have had an Arbitration Act in operation in New South Wales for about two years, and experience has shown that instead of preventing disputes it has created them.

Mr Hughes - What nonsense !

Mr LONSDALE - The honorable and learned member says " What nonsense !" but I am quite satisfied that the great bulk of the so-called disputes which have been referred to the Court would never have existed had there not been an Arbitration Act. I believe that after an experience of that Act for four or five years the great majority of the working classes would, before the end of that term, desire to have it repealed. It has been reported that in New Zealand the Arbitration Act has conferred immense benefits. But those who read the history of New Zealand during the last four or five years must see that the prosperous condition of the masses in that country is not attributable to that legislation. Of course, the Arbitration Act can be read into New Zealand history, but those who view the circumstances free from prejudice will discover that the prosperity of the working classes has been due to the progress of New Zealand step by step- :

Mr Webster - Under protection.

Mr LONSDALE - Not under protection, as the honorable member interjects, because the principal advance made by New Zealand industries has been in the direction of a development of the export trade. Will any one suggest that the operation of protective duties in that country has resulted in the development of the system of dredging for gold, which has been adopted there? I have no desire to import the fiscal question into this discussion, but if the Committee desires me to do so, I am quite prepared to debate it. I wish, further, to point out that the value of agricultural crops in New Zealand last year exceeded that of the agricultural crops of Victoria, with its infinitely larger population. Hence, New Zealand affords no criterion of the success of the Arbitration Act as applied to the masses. I note that this Bill contains many clauses of a character similar to the provisions of the New South Wales Act. In this connexion, I would invite the attention of honorable members to the fact that awards have been given by the Arbitration Court in that State, which the Judge himself afterwards found worked out in a direction entirely opposite to that which he had intended. For instance, in the case of a dispute in one of the collieries on the south coast, he gave an award which actually resulted in a reduction of the hewing rate, with which the masters did not desire to interfere. Subsequently an arrangement had to be arrived at between the masters and men to prevent any alteration in this rate,, in accordance with the desires of the former. Then, in the case of the dispute at Newcastle, the miners contended that the award given by the Court was not an equitable one. A third instance which I recall occurred in Sydney the other day. It had reference to trie breadcarters, who were actually forbidden to enter into business for themselves within a period of twelve months within a certain distance of the place where they had been employed. Two of their number, because they refused to sign an agreement to serve their masters for that term, were each fined j£$. The award of the Court practically compelled them to remain in the employ of their masters for twelve months, irrespective of whether they desired to do so or :not.

Mr Watkins - Where was that? Mr. LONSDALE. - I am referring to the award which was given against the breadcarters in Sydney the other day. Injunctions were served upon two of them with the object of preventing them from entering into business for themselves within five miles of the place where they had been employed. Putting the best possible construction upon the operation of this class of legislation, I hold that it advantages only a few, whilst it injures the many. In New South Wales recently it was found necessary to appoint a commission to investigate the declining birthrate. Under the operation of the Arbitration Court awards a man cannot employ, his own son in a small business. Indeed, it is significant that laws of this character never strike at the large business man, but always hit the small man. For example, the individual who does not conduct a business which is sufficiently large to employ, three men, cannot engage an apprentice. Further, if he employs his son in his establishment, he immediately becomes liable to a penalty. Not very long ago, a man desired to send his son, who had been working with him for some years, to Sydney, in order that he might obtain a larger measure of experience. He found, however, that under the beautiful system of arbitration which is operative there, he could not afford to part with him, because if he did so he would be required to engage an apprentice to take his place, and under the award he could not. So far as the country districts of New South Wales are concerned, the Arbitration Act has undoubtedly made the conditions of life harder for the workers. We all know that during the winter the demand for labour is not so great as it is during the summer. But in many districts it has been customary for the employers to retain their hands throughout the year on the understanding that the latter would work overtime in the brisk season to compensate for the slack period. Consequently they have consistently earned good wages. The Arbitration Act, however, now steps in, and declares that these men must be paid for working overtime. It prohibits them from making up the losses incurred during the slack season by working a few extra hours during the busy season.

Mr Frazer - What relevance have these remarks to the proposal to bring public servants under the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill?

Mr LONSDALE - I admit that they have no relevance. The fact is, I was not present when the second reading of the Bill was under discussion, and I was endeavouring, as far as possible, to get in what I had intended to say then.

Mr McColl - The honorable member's remarks are quite as much to the point as are those of a great many other honorable members.

Mr LONSDALE - I was quite aware that I was out of order, and I have no desire to violate any of the forms of the House. I may say at once that, in my opinion, the party from which the proposal to include the public servants emanates, have entirely given away their position. What is the attitude which they take up? They desire the extension of State employment I in every direction. They wish the State to employ everybody as far as it possibly can.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear.

Mr LONSDALE - They desire to create an inferior body to control the public servants of the Commonwealth and of the States. Does any one mean to suggest that the proposed Arbitration Court will be superior to Parliament? Undoubtedly it will be an inferior tribunal to the Legislature, notwithstanding which we are asked to establish it on the ground that we cannot trust Parliament to provide employment under equitable conditions.

Mr Frazer - Is this Parliament an investigating Chamber ?

Mr LONSDALE - We have to investigate proposals of this kind. This Parliament is the tribunal which should control our public servants throughout. I was rather amused at one statement which was made by the honorable member for Melbourne last evening. From my point of view it was a somewhat comical one. He declared that he would not trust his case to the High Court - that he would very much prefer to submit it to the representatives of the people in this Chamber.

Mr Hutchison - That was on account of the expense that would be involved.

Mr LONSDALE - The honorable member is content to trust every ramification of the public service to a Court which will be called upon to determine the conditions which shall obtain throughout all departments of the State, although he will not submit his own personal affairs to the decision of the High Court. That is a remarkable position.

Mr Deakin - The point is a good one.

Mr LONSDALE - What is the general complaint against Parliaments? It is not that they deal harshly with public servants, but rather the reverse.

Mr Ronald - From the honorable member's point of view.

Mr LONSDALE - The honorable member knows that this is so. It is said that the Parliaments of the States are too generous in their treatment of public servants; that they do not keep them up to the mark ; that, having regard to the work to be performed, too many persons are employed in the service, and that the salaries paid are more than commensurate with the duties devolving upon the officers. It is singular that those who say they wish to improve the position of the public servants, should seek to make them subject to a tribunal which will take into consideration the work that they perform, the hours during which they are employed, and other details, with the result that, if the general complaint be true, their position, instead of being improved, will be made a great deal worse.

Mr Frazer - We propose that every case should stand upon its merits.

Mr LONSDALE - The object of the honorable member and those who share his view is to make the position of the public servants worse than it is.

Mr Frazer - It is not.

Mr LONSDALE - I repeat that it is. I wish it to go forth to the public servants of Australia, that that is the position taken up by those who support this amendment. The object of the honorable member's party is to gain additional support at the elections. They say that they wish to improve the position of public servants, and yet it is evident that, if the public servants' case be fairly dealt with by the tribunal proposed to be appointed, their position will not- be as good as it is to-day.

Mr Fowler - The honorable member a few minutes ago protested against the imputation of motives. What is he now doing ?

Mr LONSDALE - I admit that I did impute motives, but my action was due to the interjection made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.

Mr Fowler - The honorable membeis endeavouring to fasten his own opinion upon another honorable member.

Mr LONSDALE - That is not so.

Mr Poynton - Does the honorable member believe that the public servants of Australia are too well paid?

Mr LONSDALE - Some are too well paid, while others do not receive sufficient. It would be utterly impossible for the Court to deal with the public servants on a uniform basis, and to go into each case as they would require to do in order to deal fairly with them. We know of the large number of Departments in the States, and of the varying conditions under which public servants work in town and country districts. The conditions of public servants in different localities in New South Wales vanvery considerably, and it would be exceedingly difficult for the Court to lay down any general rule in regard to them. Why should we, by means of any Court, interfere between the States and their servants ?

Mr Ronald - Or with any one else.

Mr LONSDALE - Quite so; but why should we interfere more particularly between the States and their public servants. The reason given for the proposed interference with private employers is that owing to competition they have to cut things so fine that they are led in some cases to reduce the emoluments of their employes. They have a personal interest in seeking to obtain the best possible result from the labour of their workmen, and, therefore, I can see some reason for the proposal to appoint a tribunal that will remedy this state of affairs. The same cannot be said of the position of public servants.

Mr Fowler - What about the Railway Commissioners ?

Mr LONSDALE - They have no personal interest in the fixing of wages. When the dispute occurred in New South Wales in reference to the observance of the eight hours' system in the Railway Department, the Commissioners said in effect to the men, " It does not matter to us whether you work eight hours or ten hours a day. If Parliament will vote the money necessary to enable the reform to be effected we shall be quite willing to concede the principle."

Mr Fowler - Does the honorable member mean to say that the Railway Commissioners are indifferent as to the state of their profit and loss account ?

Mr LONSDALE - Certainly not; but the point which I wish to emphasize is that they have no personal interest to serve. It is immaterial to them whether the railways show a profit of 3 per cent, or 4 per cent.

Mr Fowler - On the contrary, it is a matter of the greatest concern to them.

Mr LONSDALE - In their case the personal element is removed. They have to consider only the public interest. I admit, of course, that it is necessary for them to conduct their business on commercial lines, but they have no personal object to serve in reducing the wages of the railway employes with a view to increase the profits of the railway system. If they make any profit, they distribute it again by way of reduced rates to the producer. I would have no objection to a Bill of this kind if I thought that it would operate successfully, and that it would have no other ill effects ; but I feel certain that in the end it must bring about troubles and difficulties so far as the working classes themselves are concerned. It is because pf this feeling, that I take up an attitude of hostility to the measure. Honorable members will recognise that I have no personal interest to serve. It was said last night that there were men of humanitarian principles and altruistic ideas in this House, and I claim to be among the foremost of them. If I could do anything to benefit the masses I should be prepared to take action at once ; but I do not intend to make a pretence of helping them by supporting the introduction of a system which I feel must ultimately tend to their injury. All wages are fixed by production. It is impossible to say that as the result of the operation of a measure of this kind production would be increased.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member say that wages are fixed by production?


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They are fixed by competition.

Mr LONSDALE - I admit that is a factor ; but if production is limited, and the returns from that production have to be divided among a large number of people, wages must necessarily be low. If, on the other hand, production is increased, while there is no corresponding increase in the number of people to be served, wages must be raised.

Mr McColl - The wage-fund is affected ?

Mr LONSDALE - I do not altogether believe in the wage-fund. If the party which desires to benefit the masses would take action in another direction, and adopt a course that would lead to increased production, together with an increased distribution of the profits amongst those engaged in that production - not by means of an Arbitration Bill, but by giving every man better opportunities than he now possesses - they would do something that would be of genuine assistance to the class they represent. It is only in that way that they can benefit the masses.

Mr Poynton - A single tax.

Mr LONSDALE - That is quite right. I have made it perfectly clear that I am opposed to legislation of this kind. I would wreck the Bill to-morrow if I could do so. I have seen the ill-effects of similar legislation in New South Wales. I have read of a man who was fined for a benevolent act. An old friend who was in difficulties was employed by him at a wage higher than was- necessary under the rules, but, because he was a non-unionist, the master was fined for employing him.

An Honorable Member. - Quite right, too.

Mr LONSDALE - I do not think it is.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member who interjects belongs to the humanitarian party.

Mr LONSDALE - Quite so. Holding the views which I have enunciated, I am prepared to adopt any course that will tend to wreck the Bill. My position is a strong one. Even if the Bill be passed. I do not think we shall be able to interfere under it with the railway servants of the States. That appears to be out of our power, unless you can get these disputes to cross the border of any one State. I am not a lawyer, and therefore I am not going to argue the constitutional question. I opposed the acceptance of the draft Constitution with all the strength I possessed, largely because it gave equal representation in the Senate to the States, but also for other reasons. That equal representation, however, was given for the protection of State rights. I am sure that no one will say that if it had been plainly provided in the draft Constitution that the railway and other public servants of the States should be under the control of the Federal Parliament, any of the Stateswould have accepted the measure.

Mr Kennedy - We should have had no Federal Parliament in that case.

Mr LONSDALE - That is so; every one knows it. If that is the spirit in which the States entered the Union, we should not now adopt any course which will violate the compact. The Prime Minister made a great deal of the contention that every man who voted for the amendment would be declaring himself a unificationist. He tried to make that a line of division between parties. I shall not allow that argument to deter me from doing what I intend to do. I am not a unificationist, and it may seem strange to honorable members that, whilst I am opposed to the Bill, I shall vote with the Labour Party on this amendment. But if that party get into office, and re-introduce the ' measure I shall vote against it again. I am here to wreck the Bill in any way I can.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And to wreck the Government.

Mr LONSDALE - Yes, and to wreck the Government.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member is a most reckless man.

Mr LONSDALE - In this matter I am a wrecker. I hold that Bills of this kind will not benefit the class which they are intended to assist. I may be looked upon as inconsistent, but it is my desire that a measure of this kind shall never see the light of day, and if the amendment is carried, the Bill now before us will be put under the table. But I give the party which may come into' power fair warning that I shall do all I can to wreck the Bill if they re-introduce it. I am against all these attempts to interfere with ti;ade and commerce by protective measures. What surprises me is that men who believe in protection are opposed to the Bill. The man who wishes for a law to increase the price of his wheat by a shilling per bushel has no right to object to the working man having his wages made higher by Act of Parliament. I cannot understand such an attitude. My own position, however, ;s consistent. I do not like any of these methods o.f interfering with trade and commerce, and, consequently, I am taking an action which I think will destroy the Bill.

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