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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) - When this subject was under discussion before, I expressed the opinion that, even if we had the power, it would not be advisable for us to interfere with the States' servants at present. It is impossible for us to ignore the fact that it was never even suggested at thi Federal Convention that the power of the Commonwealth in regard to conciliation and arbitration, would extend to the public servants of the States. It may be said that the High Court has nothing to do with the intentions of those who framed the Constitution, but has to be guided by a strict reading of its provisions; but we, as a Parliament, have to be guided by the spirit, as well as the letter, of the Constitution. The records of the Federal 'Convention show that not one word was expressed during its debates that would convey the impression that sub-section xxxv. of section 51 of the Constitution was intended to embrace the public servants of the States. I regard the Attorney-General as one of the most able, and also one of the most straightforward members in this Chamber, and I cannot believe that he proposed the amendment now embodied in sub-section xxxv., with the knowledge that the powers of the Com monwealth would extend to the public servants of the States, and that he deliberately withheld this fact from his fellow-members of the Convention. It cannot be pretended that the States knowingly surrendered to us the right to control their public servants. 1 make bold to say that if the members of the Convention had declared prior to the referendum that the States were asked to surrender to a Federal Court the right to control the relations between them and their public servants, not one State would have accepted the Commonwealth Bill.

Mr Hutchison - The general opinion was that the Commonwealth tribunal would have the power to deal with all disputes.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I question very much whether the honorable member could show me that any advocate of the Commonwealth Bill pointed out that amongst- its provisions was one which would enable a Federal tribunal to decide all questions between the States and their servants with regard to wages, hours, and other conditions of labour. As the editor of a newspaper at the time of the Federal referendum, it was my duty to closely watch the course of events, and I did not notice any reference to this particular point in any of the speeches, either at the Convention or outside. Even if it were within our power to extend the provisions of the measure now before us to the public servants of the States, it would not be expedient for the Commonwealth to insist on a full exercise of its authority at the present stage. In the early days of all Federations, a certain amount of friction has taken place between the Federal and the States Governments, and I am afraid that if we show an undue desire to exercise our authority in this and other matters we shall make Federation even more unpopular than it is at present. It is idle for us to close our eyes to the fact that Federation is not so much admired, at least in some of the States, as it was when the referendum took place for the adoption of the Commonwealth Bill.

Mr Hutchison - It is as well thought of by the masses of the people.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I think I am correct in saying that if the Constitution were now submitted for acceptance by the people we should not be able to secure a majority, in at least some of the States, in favour of Federation. Therefore, I ask honorable members whether it is wise to push this matter to extremes? If the States have surrendered their right to fully control their own servants, there is no doubt that such surrender was unintentional. I supported the late Government when this question was before us on a former occasion, because I thought they were constitutionally right, and because I approved of their attitude on the ground of expediency. That brings us to the amendment; and, despite what the honorable member for Hume has said, I have never seen so sudden a change of front as has been shown by the present Ministers and their supporters on this question. I shall not occupy time in quoting Hansard - that has already been done. by the honorable and learned member for Corio - but the Minister of Trade and Customs delivered a thoroughly honest speech. His position was, as he said, just as consistent as my own. I believe that no State servants. should come within the operation of the Bill, while he contended that all public servants should be included. Then there was the speech of the honorable member for Maranoa, whom we all regard as one of the most outspoken members in this House. That honorable member said that his constituents told him that if all public servants were not included they did not want the Bill, and that he must vote against it.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member for Maranoa did not vote to-night.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I think very much less of a man who refuses to vote when he-

Mr Tudor - The honorable member for Maranoa had left the House when the division -was taken.

Mr Watson - The honorable member for Maranoa did not expect a division.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is not like the honorable member for Maranoa to refuse to vote. There is no man in the House who has a higher opinion of him, or, I might say, a greater personal liking for him, than myself. The Minister of External Affairs voted, and he was as pronounced as the honorable member for Maranoa in the contention that there should be no aristocracy of labour. Mr. Hyndman, one of the ablest writers on Socialism, has denounced, as an outcome of the aristocracy of labour, the preference of members of trades unions tlo ordinary workers. So long as I am a member of this House I shall object to any distinction being drawn between the man who works with his hands and the man who works with his brains. In a community such as this we are all workers; and the man. who drives the engine is no more entitled to the sympathy and support of 'this House than is the man who drives the quill. But Ministers, in giving, or attempting to give, an explanation of their change of front tonight, have certainly not been happy in their expressions. There has been a distinct change of front, as compared with the position put forward when the Labour Party were ramming home the amendment of the present Minister of Trade and Commerce, an amendment which was clear in itself.

Mr Fowler - We all regarded that amendment as quite inconsequential.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is not possible to regard an amendment as inconsequential when there depends on it the very life of the Government - when Ministers say that if it be carried they will not continue in office, because they cannot pass a Bill which, in their opinion, ought to become law.

Mr Fisher - The late Government would have been defeated on the question of the inclusion of the railway servants.

Mr Kelly - Then why not have waited for an amendment to include railway servants ?

Mr Fisher - The supporters of the amendment were not allowed to wait.

Mr Fowler - There is no doubt the late Government would have been defeated on the next amendment.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am quite confident that the amendment was earnestly put forward by the present Minister of Trade and Customs, and it was accepted by the late Prime Minister as a motion of want of confidence. In that light the amendment was dealt with, and some honorable members voted for it because of the very fact that it was accepted as a motion of want of confidence. It is idle to say that it was an inconsequential amendment, and that honorable members did not care whether it was carried or not. I do not believe that that amendment was pressed with the deliberate intention of defeating the late Government.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear !

Mr McWILLIAMS - But the amendment was thought of sufficient importance to press home, although the late Prime Minister said that if it was carried the Government would resign. We cannot take into consideration what was the intention of honorable members as to any subsequent amendment ; we can only take the intention as deliberately expressed. The present

Ministry and their supporters, even at the risk of defeating the late Government to which. they had very often given most loyal assistance, regarded the amendment as one of sufficient importance on which to insist. But now we are told that it is an utterly inconsequential amendment. The position requires a much more lucid explanation than has hitherto been given. All this, however, deals with what, to my mind, is a secondary question. I opposed the inclusion of the States public servants, firstly, because I accepted the authority of those who are, in my opinion, the ablest leaders on constitutional matters, and who hold that the inclusion of the States public servants is ' unconstitutional ; secondly, because there is the much broader view that on the strength of something placed unintentionally in an Act, we are seeking to deprive the States Governments of the absolute control of their own public servants.

Mr Hutchison - It might be said that half of the Constitution is unintentional.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I believe there was no section in the Constitution to which less attention was given at the Federal Convention than this.

Mr Hutchison - There were the sections dealing with the water question.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The water queston was threshed out over and over again.

Mr Hutchison - We do not yet know what the sections dealing with the water question mean.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The water question was threshed out by the best men in the Convention, who, as a result, arrived at a deliberate determination. Will the honorable member say that the section we are now discussing was debated at the same length ?

Mr Hutchison - I say that nobody knows what is the meaning of the sections dealing with the water question. Tell us what thev mean.

Mr McWILLIAMS - In the first place, I am not an authority on the water question, and, in the second place, I am quite certain that if I attempted to wander from the question before the Committee, I should very properly be called to order. I say, deliberately, 'that there is no comparison whatever between the consideration given to the water question and that given to the section of the Constitution now under discussion. I challenge any honorable member to show me any deliberate intention on the part of any member of the Convention, or of any one who supported the

Constitution Bill before the electors, to hand over to the Federal Government the control of any public servants, except those who were transferred with the Customs, Defence, Post and Telegraph, and other Departments. To my mind, an attempt is being made to deliberately take advantage of the States in a way that was never intended by the Constitution; and, further, it is inexpedient at the present time to force on the inevitable conflict between the . States and the Commonwealth. If that be the position, I must vote against the inclusion of any portion of the States public servants in the operation of the Bill. But if we do include any branch of the Public Service, I shall vote for any amendment which will have the effect of including the whole. I take that attitude, not with any intention of killing the Bill ; because that is not my way of attaining such an object. If I desired to kill a Bill, I should take the very pronounced step which, under the circumstances, ought to be taken. If I had been responsible for the management of affairs, the whole of last week would not have been wasted, as it was, in this House. When it is desired to kill a Bill or Government, the proper way is to do the killing straight out. When,, therefore, I say that, under certain circumstances, I am prepared to vote for the inclusion of the whole of the . public servants, I do so, not with any intention - I am sure honorable members will acquit me of that - to kill the Bill, but because I believe, speaking in a purely democratic spirit, that there should be one law throughout all the States for all the people. I shall be no party to picking out any particular branch of the service, especially if it be the branch that can carry most votes to the pollThat is not the section of the Public Service whichwe need to protect. The public servants who need this protection are not those who are protected by their trades unions, and carry a huge bunch of votes at election time ; but rather those who have no political power, and are not bound by unions. They are the public servants who should receive, if anything, the greatest consideration of the Committee. I repeat that, if this amendment be carried, I shall support any proposal that will refuse to allow any Act passed by this . Legislature to be degraded by drawing any class distinction between any section of State pr otherservants.

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