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Thursday, 21 April 1904

Mr STORRER (Bass) - I regret exceedingly that the Government have taken their present action in regard- to the Bill before the Committee. I quite agree with the measure, but it is the duty and right of the Committee to amend it as, in their wisdom, they think fit, and the Government should not, on such an occasion, adopt a " stand and deliver " attitude. I shall not detain the Committee at any great length. It is a pity that the position of the Government should depend on a question of interpretation, which gives rise to so much difficulty and doubt in the minds of, not only the lay members, but of the legal members of the House. It would have been better had the fate of the Ministry depended on a whole measure instead of merely on part of a measure. In view of the different legal opinions expressed, it is, in my opinion, a great mistake for lay members to consider the matter in its legal aspect. I find myself in the position of having to consider the measure for myself, apart altogether from legal opinions which have been expressed, and, having done so carefully, I intend to support the Government in the exclusion of public servants. When I was a candidate for election to this House, I stated, in answer to a question, that I was in favour of the principle of arbitration, and of its extension to the Public Service of the States. But subsequently, having given careful consideration to the provisions of the Constitution, I arrived at the conclusion that this principle could not be extended to public servants other than railway employes. I hold that the Bill can be extended to railway employes, because- they are employed in an industrial department, but not to public servants generally. It is, therefore, my intention to vote against the amendment now before the Committee, but I shall support an amendment, subsequently to be moved, to extend the Bill to the railway employes of the States. I favour the general extension of the principle of conciliation and arbitration to all' persons, but I am not one of those who are prepared to vote for a provision which I believe to be unconstitutional. I was among those who opposed the Commonwealth Bill. I disapproved of several of its provisions, and did my best to induce the people of Tasmania to reject it. At the time of the Federal referendum, I was rather disposed to favour the principle of unification, but I resent the assertion made by the Prime Minister, that those who vote for the extension of this Bill to the railway employes of the States will cast a vote for unification. In my opinion, we have the power to extend the Bill to the railway servants of the States, and should give effect to it. If we desire to bring about unification, or to secure any other amendment of the Constitution, there is a constitutional means by which we may seek to give effect to our wishes, and we should not attempt, by a mere side wind, to secure any departure from the Constitution under which we live. It has been adopted by the people, and until it is amended I, for one, shall endeavour to the best of my ability, to carry out every provision which it contains. I should regret very much to see the present Ministry defeated. It has been said by some honorable members that if this amendment be carried it will be tantamount to a vote of want .of confidence in the Government, but in my opinion that assertion is incorrect. I believe in the ability of the Government to properly direct the affairs of the Commonwealth, and I should be sorry by any vote of mine to assist to put them out of office. I have, nevertheless, a public duty to perform, and I intend to discharge it. Many honorable members have emphasized the privileges of the State as compared with those of private individuals. I could understand their attitude if it were considered that we should infringe the rights of a British subject by declaring what wages should be paid to public servants in Australia. But whilst I believe in Government control over any class of employment, and consider that it would be a good thing for Australia if we had more industrial regulations, I fail to see why a State as an employer of labour should occupy a position different from that of a private individual or company. We are told that a Government always deals justly with its servants; that public servants can always appeal to the High Court of Parliament for justice. We know, however, that if an official is placed in charge of a Railway Department, a Defence Department, or some other branch of a State service, he from time to time advises the responsible Minister, and that in most cases his advice or recommendation is accepted. In this way the head of a department has full control of the persons under his charge. It is said that it is to the advantage of a private employer to oppress his servants, and the same remark will apply to a Commissioner of Railways 'or to the head of any other department. I know of cases in which the salaries of railway commissioners have been increased because they have succeeded in reducing the cost ofthe railway system controlled by them. They have brought about that result by cutting down the wages of the workmen, by increasing the general charges, and, in short, by making the public pay ; but they have, nevertheless, obtained the credit of reducing the cost of the system, and as the result of their efforts have secured increases of salary.It will thus be seen that if, as has been asserted, .it is to the advantage of a private employer to reduce the pay of his workmen, and so to compel them to suffer hard- , ships, it- is equally to the advantage of a Railway Commissioner to do so. I did not speak on the second-reading debate, and I may, therefore, be permitted to state that I am in favour of the principle of arbitration, and that while I approve of nearly all the provisions in this Bill, there are some which I do not favour. I voted for the motion that the Bill be read a second time," and refrained from speaking at that stage because I saw that there was practically no opposition to the motion, and that the measure could be dealt with in Committee. It seems to me that the Government should have taken up the position that if the Labour Party, or any other section of the Committee desired that the Bill should be amended it was unnecessary to make the question a party one. The Government might very well give way, so far as the proposal to extend the Bill to railway employes is concerned, even although they insist that it shall not extend to all classes of public servants. It is true that the Prime Minister raises a constitutional objection to the amendment now before us, as well as to the proposal to extend the Bill to railway servants, but if we, as a House, believe that we possess the power to extend the Bill to railway employes - and I feel convinced that we do - we should give effect to that power, leaving it to the States if they feel aggrieved to appeal to the High Court The States Parliaments, as a whole, are as reasonable as is the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and I think that they would abide by the decision of the Court. It has been said that by extending the operation of the Bill to railway servants we shall inflict a hardship on the States - that rates will be increased, and a heavy burden imposed upon the States Governments. But if the States deal honestly with their railway employes - if they pay them a fair day's wage for a fair day's work - there will be no occasion for any increase of pay. On the other hand, if they are not doing so, we have surely a right to declare that it is time for the Public Service of Australia to receive full justice. I trust that some way out of the difficulty, so far as the political situation is concerned, will be found, for I should be sorry to see the Government go out of office. If we make a change the position will not be improved. As a matter pf fact we shall be in a worse position than at present, because I believe that many honorable members who will vote against the Government on this amendment are not sin- / cere in their support of the party which, has pressed it forward.' I am not a member of the Labour Party, and I am a supporter. of the Government only so far as I feel that I am justified in giving them my assistance. That is the position which I told my constituents I should take up. I feel, however, that the Labour Party will be in danger if there is an amalgamation of other parties in the House with a view to defeat them. In the future they may find that they will not be able to obtain concessions, such as they have hitherto secured, as the result of having in power a Government imbued with democratic ideas. I am exceedingly sorry that the personal element has been imported into a discussion of this character. I like to credit others with being equally sincere with myself, and therefore I regret that motives have been imputed to some honorable members. We should recollect that we are here in the capacity of representatives of Australia, and that in speaking disrespectfully of one another we are reflecting upon the people of the Commonwealth, whose servants we are. I shall support the Ministry upon the first division, but upon the second I shall vote foi the inclusion of .the State railway servants within the four corners of this Bill.

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