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Wednesday, 1 June 1904

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) - I do not propose to detain the Committee at any length. I merely wish to offer a few Observations upon certain matters in order to clearly define my attitude upon this question. The late Government proposed, under clause 4, that this Bill should not be applicable to a dispute relating to " employment in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State, or to employment by any public authority constituted under the Commonwealth or a State." The present Minister of Trade and Customs thereupon moved that the words " does not include " be omitted, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " and includes." At that time, therefore, the desire of honorable members opposite was that the measure should apply to disputes relating to employment in the Public Service cif the Commonwealth or of a State, or to employment by any public authority constituted under either of them. The late Government thoroughly understood what would be the result of the adoption of that amendment. It was exactly the reverse of what we ourselves desired. Now, however, what do we find ? Instead of a straightforward alternative, we are asked to affirm that the Bill shall be applicable only to disputes in which employes upon the States railways are involved, and to disputes in industries which are carried On by the Commonwealth or by a State, or by any authority constituted under them. In such circumstances, a question naturally arises as to the precise meaning of the term "industry." That will have to be decided by the High Court. Apart from the railway employes, we are left in a state of doubt as to the persons to whom the Government intend the Bill to be applicable. Should the High Court decide that the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State is an " industry," the public servants will come within the scope of the Bill, but not otherwise. The Ministry have only courage enough to say that the States railways constitute an industry.

Mr Spence - But there is a definition of " industry " contained in the Bill.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not think that that fact lessens the force of the argument which I am advancing. In speaking upon this measure upon the 19th April last, the Minister of Trade and Customs said -

We should endeavour to place the public servants upon such a footing that they will have no cause to fear vindictive or unfair treatment. Their rates of pay and conditions of labour should be determined not by Parliaments, which may be called upon to act in a time of political panic, but by a judicial body.

He also said at a later stage -

I appeal- to honorable members to say whether it would not be more dignified from a parliamentary point of view, and better for the Commonwealth and the States, if- the public servants were brought within the scope of this Bill.

Of course it is open to honorable members opposite to urge that some, if not all, public servants will be covered by the interpretation which will be placed upon the word " industry." Nevertheless, the fact remains that they have departed from that definiteness which characterized their utterances prior to their accession to office.

Mr Carpenter - The definition of the term " industry " is very comprehensive.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I must congratulate the Prime Minister upon having such loyal colleagues. They seem to be very willing to eat their own words.

Mr Watson - So far, they have not threatened to burst up "the Constitution.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Circumstances may arise which may even justify the adoption of 'that course. Persons who threaten to burst up Constitutions are usually suffering from some very great injustice.

Mr Hughes - The right honorable member will feel very much better in a week or two.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Minister of External Affairs seems to be very fond of making gross insinuations.

Mr Hughes - I made a plain, blunt statement.

Sir JOHN FORREST - But it is not an accurate one, nor is it justified by anything that I have said. I am dealing with this question without the slightest personal feeling. I do not think that the Minister of External Affairs has been accustomed to generous critics. I have no desire to be ungenerous ; I merely wish to be fair.

Mr Hughes - Very well, then ; I withdraw anything that the right honorable member mav regard as offensive.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Again, on the 20th April, the honorable member for Fremantle, in addressing the House upon this Bill, said -

It would be a calamity if it were established here and now that the Federal Arbitration Court could not esercise jurisdiction over the many thousands of Stale public servants.

He did not then limit his remarks to " employment in industries carried on by a State or the Commonwealth." ,

Mr Carpenter - The definition of " industry " will cover public servants.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member says so; -but why depart from the plain language previously proposed and advocated. He also said -

We are told that even if we had the power, it would not be expedient to bring States servants within the scope of this measure

The honorable" member was at that time apparently of opinion that all public servants should be brought within the scope of the measure, and that it should be left to the High Court to decide what sections of public servants should be excluded. He now desires that the position shall be absolutely reversed.

Mr Carpenter - There is no difference whatever.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I come now to the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Maranoa. I find that he said on a former occasion -

From our point of view it does not matter whether the railway employes and the States public servants wish to be included under this Bill or not. We as a party consider that they, and every one who works for his living, should be included. F.very member of our party has been returned on that principle.

Again, later on, he said -

Let me inform him - he was referring to the honorable member for Wannon - that at the elections, the people whom I represent, said to me, " Do not have the Bill at all unless all the workers are included under it." Every brain worker and every manual worker should be included in the Bill.

If I entertained these strong viewsI should take care to see that the Bill clearly provided for those I intended to be covered by it, and would leave it to the High Court to say whether or not they had been wrongly included. I should not pledge my faith in general terms. If I had declared that in my opinion all public servants . should be included I would have brought forward a proposal to give effect to that opinion, leaving it to the High Court to say whether any section of the Public Service had been wrongly included.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member has made no statement to the contrary.

S'ir JOHN FORREST.- I am wholly opposed to the inclusion of States servants, and I am simply showing that honorable members opposite are guilty of inconsistency.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member for Maranoa did not vote on the division taken last night. He was absent.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I presume that he has not changed his opinion.

Mr Tudor - No.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have heard some interjections which indicate that he has not, and I wish to show that there has been a lightning change on the part of the honorable member and others.

Mr Page - In what respect?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have already said that the honorable member plainly stated on a former occasion that he favoured the inclusion of all public servants - all or none, and pledged the Labour Party to that view.

Mr Page - Hear, hear.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member is now supporting a proposal which does not clearly set forth what sections of the public servants of the States shall be included, but leaves it to the High Court to determine the extent of its application. My only object in speaking at this stage is to show that, at all events, from my point of view, honorable members opposite have acted inconsistently, and not in accordance with their previous speeches and pledges at the general election, or more recently in this House.

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