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Wednesday, 1 June 1904

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) - The honorable member for Fremantle made one remark that struck me very forcibly. He said, " We are not here to conserve States rights."

Mr Carpenter - Not specially,

Mr McCOLL - It seems to me that the Constitution, which is a bargain between the States and the Commonwealth, defines the powers that each of those bodies conserves to itself. It is a sacred trust, and it lies with us to see that justice is done to both sides. Any one who says that we are not here to conserve' States rights, has a very unfair and untrue idea of what his duties are as a member of the Federal Parliament. We are here just as much to conserve the rights which the States have retained as to exercise the rights that we believe to have been transferred to us.

Mr Carpenter - I meant that we are not here to conserve States rights as against Federal rights.

Mr McCOLL - The honorable member also said that, " By passing this Bill, and bringing the employes of the States Governments under the jurisdiction of the Federal Arbitration Court, we shall not be depriving the States of any control over their servants." I cannot understand how the honorable member comes to -that conclusion. In the introductory portion of the Bill, we are told that one of the objects of the measure is -

To enable States to refer industrial disputes to the Court, and to permit the working of the Court and of State industrial authorities in aid of each other.

Then, in clause 4, we are told that - " Industrial matters " includes all matters relating to work, pay, wages, reward, hours, privileges, rights, or duties of employers or employes, or the mode, terms, and conditions of employment or non-employment; and in particular, but without limiting the general" scope of this definition, includes all matters pertaining to the relations of employers and employes, and the employment, preferential employment, dismissal, or non-employment of any particular persons, or of persons of any particular sex or age, or being or not being members of any organization, association, or body.

How any honorable member can say that we do not interfere with the control by the States of their railways employes, in the face of provisions of that kind, passes my comprehension. We interfere with them in every direction, as the Bill actually says. I join with two of the previous speakers in regretting that the Government have not seen their way to issue the amendments which they propose to make in the Bill in the convenient form in which I have always seen such propositions put before Parliament in a case of this kind. The custom usually is to insert in the old Bill the changes made, representing the words proposed to be omitted by printing them with a line drawn through them, and printing words proposed to be inserted in raised type ; so that anyone taking up the Bill can see at once the changes which it is proposed to make, and how they will affect the drafting of the measure. Even at this late hour I would ask the Government to have the Bill printed in that style.

Mr Batchelor - The honorable member should know that the last Government discontinued that practice.

Mr McCOLL - Then they discontinued a very good practice.

Mr Mahon - If is a very expensive practice.

Mr McCOLL - I venture to say that what I recommended will save honorable members in trouble fifty times the expense of printing copies of the Bill in that manner. I do not propose to speak at length, but I do not desire that the clause should pass without voicing my objection to it. I regret that so much valuable time has been lost upon this subject, which I conceive to be of very small importance. It practically broke up the work of the last session, and it has occupied the greater part of the last three months. . It has caused changes, which are only beginning, and of which one cannot see the end - and all over a matter, the ultimate legality and utility of which are very much in doubt ! Any stranger coming here, studying our work closely, and seeing the enormous amount of time we have devoted to . this proposal, would have a very poor idea of our wisdom, and of the care we exercise in regard to the affairs of this great Commonwealth. He would think that we are doing our work in a careless and wasteful fashion. This appears to be a matter of playing at politics, because the provision which it is now sought to make may never come into force. It is intended to ward off a danger which has never threatened us in the past, which does not at present menace us, and which members themselves admit will probably never overtake us. The waste of time that is now involved in the discussion of a matter of no immediate importance is really intolerable. I am strongly opposed to any intermeddling with the States. They ought to be left to manage their own affairs in their own way, and we have no right to encroach upon them in the manner proposed. If it had been desired to extend to the railway employes of Victoria benefits similar to those now enjoyed by the railway employe's in New South Wales under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act of that State, how is it that that wish has never been expressed during the whole of the electoral campaign which is being brought to a close to-day Honorable members who are supporting this Bill iri the main, but opposing this provision, are not opposed to legislation by the State in the direction of conciliation and arbitration. They say that that is a State business, and that the State should manage its own affairs. I have not seen any demand made that a Bill should be introduced into the Victorian Parliament to provide conciliation and arbitration for the benefit of the employes of the State,, yet this Parliament is being asked now to pass with that object a measure which may not become operative for years and years. The position is anomalous, and the desire of those who are seeking to push ' this measure through is not based upon solid ground. If they had desired to do justice to the State employes of Victoria, and give them the benefit of provisions such as those in force in New South Wales, they would have brought pressure to bear upon the State Parliament. I cannot believe in the sincerity of honorable members who are endeavouring to push the authority of the Commonwealth to an extreme in this matter. The real object of the Bill appears to be the glorification of trades unions. We have had one or two indications recently that the trades unions are becoming a menace to the State. I have always been a trades unionist, and I have always supported the unionists in their endeavours to secure proper conditions from their employers. But when the unions attempt to take command of the politics of the State when they dictate to the permanent heads pf the States Departments, and bring influence to bear upon Ministers, and when Ministers tamely succumb to that influence, and visit reproach and disgrace upon good servants of the State, I can no longer support them. I am opposed to that development of trades unionism, because such influence is exerted in the interests " of only a few people, the great mass of the taxpayers, who have to find bread and butter for such persons, and who have to contribute the funds which keep them in employment, being entirely ignored. The Government proposal is in the nature of merely sentimental legislation, and to my mind it borders very closely upon the ridiculous. When we remember the high hopes that were entertained with regard to

Federation at the outset, and when, as the honorable member for South Sydney has stated, we see that those hopes have not been fulfilled, we are entitled to ask why ? The answer is to be found in the fact that we are wasting our time in the consideration of wretched subjects, such as that now before us, instead of attending to the more pressing requirements of this great country. No regard is paid in the labour platforms to the interests of the community as a whole. The Prime Minister told us that tha employes of the States could obtain no redress from the States Parliaments. My experience, however, which extends over a good many years, is that, in no place do the grievances of, public servants obtain such a ready hearing as in the States Parliaments. I have known honorable members to fill the business-paper, day. after day, and week after week, with questions and motions relating to the petty grievances of some post-office officials or other Government servants. These honorable members seemed to live for nothing else, and they allowed the interests of the country to suffer whilst their attention was absorbed by trivialities. The Attorney-General said that the Ministry did not wish to rob the States Governments or the RailwayCommissioners, of the benefits that would be conferred by the Bill. I do not, however, think that the States Governments or the Railway Commissioners desire to be brought under its provisions. All the Parliaments of Australia have taken special care, by means of special Acts, to place the Commissioners and their employes beyond the reach of an arbitrary demand by Parliament, at the instance of a chance majority, and have safeguarded the interests of the railway and other Government servants in every possible way against the operation of injustice and unfairness. Why, then, should we devote valuable time to the discussion of a measure which is so little needed at the present time ? Honorable members opposite have said that there has been no change of front on the part- of the Government, but I think there has been a decided change. The Prime Minister, when he announced the formation of his Government, stated that he had never deemed it necessary that the clerical branches of the Public Services of the States should be brought within the scope of the Bill ; but other honorable members said that the Prime Minister himself did not know how much the word " industrial " would cover. They said - "Wait until the High Court deals with the subject, and then you will see what is meant by 'industrial.'" Is that the way to legislate? My feeling is that we should say what we mean. If we are to bring the whole of the States public servants within the scope of this Bill, let us say so in so many words. The present method of legislation - by which we imply something but do not say what we mean - is nothing more nor less than political thimblerigging. When we ask what thimble the pea is under, no one can tell us ; but we are enjoined to wait until the High Court decides the question. I am glad to say that the chances are that before this Bill is passed there will be many surprises. My experience of Government Departments is that, fifteen years ago, before agitators came to the front, the public servants were much better off than they are to-day. They had better pay, shorter hours, and fairer conditions in every way. Legislation of this kind does not provide a royal way' of improving the position of the public servants. The States, by their own enactment, can render our legislation nugatory. The only way in which .we can improve the conditions for the public servants is by lifting up the country - by developing our resources, and making more work for the railways and 'for all classes of the community. If we wander away amongst legislative mazes, where no light can be thrown upon our proceedings, we shall only proceed from one folly to another, and disaster will ultimately overtake us. The great industries of the country require to be developed before we can bring about that general prosperity which we all desire, and in which the public servants will participate in common with the rest of the community .

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