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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) - I regard this question as one of very great importance to the Commonwealth, and I agree with all that has fallen from the lips of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. The whole of the States are looking to this Parliament in order to ascertain what is going to be done in the matter of conciliation and arbitration. There is a great deal of difference of opinion amongst legal authorities as to whether the proposal to include States public servants or railway servants is or is not constitutional. It is contended that the question should be settled eventually by the High Court; but, as a layman, I conceive that it is not for the High Court to determine what were the intentions of Parliament. A great deal has been said by honorable members about the desire of railway servants to be included in the operation of the Bill; but there is, by no means, unanimity of opinion amongst those public servants on the point. A great many railway servants, not only in Victoria, but also, to my knowledgein New South Wales, do not want to come under the Bill. Employes in the railway services have written and spoken to honorable members to the effect that in their unions and at union meetings they have a certain fear of expressing their, opinions in opposition to the Bill - that they run a danger of being called opprobrious names, which I do not wish to mention, because these are always, to my mind, very unpleasant.

Mr Spence - Surely the honorable member does not swallow that tale?

Mr WILSON - I rely on what I have been told directly by railway servants in Victoria.

Mr Hutchison - Mere rumour !

Mr WILSON - It is not rumour, because I had the information direct from a railway servant.

Mr Chapman - We do not want that, sort of thing to go on.

Mr WILSON - I find I am supported in my remarks by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro ; and I know that other honorable members have received letters from railway men dealing with this particular matter. There have been private conversations with railway men, who, because of a certain holy fear imposed on members of this particular class' of union, do not care to express their opinions at the meetings to which I have referred.

Mr Hughes - That would seem to indicate that the majority of the members are in favour of being included.

Mr WILSON - lt may be as the Minister of External Affairs suggests. But there is a fear amongst railway servants in New South Wales that, if they are compulsorily. brought under the operation of this Bill, their wages may be reduced to the Victorian level, which, I understand, is somewhat lower than that in the adjoining State.

Mr Spence - The railway men of New South Wales are at present under an Arbitration Act, and they do not object.

Mr WILSON - But there is a great difference between being under an Act of the State Parliament, and being under an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament. This brings us to the main point, that the Commonwealth Parliament is attempting to override the States in this matter.

Mr Chapman - We in New South Wales are not prepared to bring the wages down to the level, of other States.

Mr WILSON - That is another point on which I receive assistance from the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who informs us that the Conciliation Board in New South Wales is not prepared to bring down the wages level to that of any other State or to raise the level - the desire is to keep the wages to the New South Wales standard. The amendment proposed by the Prime Minister is one which will be resented by every State throughout the Commonwealth; and each State has already attempted to make its influence felt. Another and very important question has been raised in relation to the Appropriation Bills in the States Parliaments. Each, as we are well aware, is a sovereign State; and how can we, as a Federal Parliament, attempt to dictate to the States in what way their Appropriation Bills shall be arranged? The raising of the wages of public servants would, of course, seriously interfere with these financial measures. If the wages were lowered under such a Bill as that now before us, it would simply give to some States a larger surplus, which I do not suppose would be objected to by any except the railway employes.

Mr Chapman - If wages are raised under a Commonwealth law, how can the States be compelled to pay?

Mr WILSON - I only wish that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, instead of myself, were addressing the Committee ; and I again ask the Prime Minister to report progress. I wish to be allowed to continue my speech to-morrow.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member must know that he can speak as often as he chooses in Committee.

Mr Crouch - Not if a division is taken to-night.

Mr Hughes - I shall offer no objection to the request to report progress, although it is rather extraordinary that tha honorable member, having started with such a good head of steam, should now apparently not be ready to go on.

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