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Wednesday, 1 June 1904

Mr LONSDALE - That is so. But nobody can possibly misunderstand my position. I am always prepared to vote for amendments which will make the Labour Party " toe the mark." I should like to see its members compelled to do so upon every possible occasion, in order that we might ascertain whether, when they are in office, they are prepared to carry out what they advocate when they are out of office. I wish to force men to stand by their principles.

Mr Hughes - What are the honorable member's principles in this connexion ?

Mr LONSDALE - I am opposed to the Bill, and to the Government. A union rr railway servants in my district wrote to me some time ago asking me to support this proposal. I replied that, in their interests, I did not think it wise for them to be brought under the provisions of the measure, and that, in the interests of the country, I could not support such a proposal. I put my answer in writing, so that they can use it against me at election time if they choose. This amendment has been supported by the honorable member for Fremantle, and I understand that the railway servants of the State from which he comes receive higher rates of pay than are given in any of the other States. In these circumstances, I inquired, whilst he was speaking, whether he wished the railway servants of Western

Australia to suffer a reduction of pay. If the Conciliation and Arbitration Court is given power to deal with railway servants, thew ages of those who are receiving the higher rates of pay will be reduced, while the remuneration of those receiving lower wages will be correspondingly raised.

Mr Batchelor - That is mere speculation.

Mr LONSDALE - That is the system generally followed in New South Wales. There the Arbitration Court usually determines a dispute by splitting the difference.

Mr Hughes - How does the honorable member arrive at that conclusion ?

Mr LONSDALE - By the evidence.

Mr Hughes - Has the honorable member read the evidence given in any one case ?

Mr LONSDALE - So far as this particular point is concerned, I cannot say that I have ; but I know that when a certain rate of pay has been sought by the workers, whilst the masters have offered to give a lower rate, the Court has usually fixed an amount between the two.

Mr Hughes - Is the honorable member able, to definitely make that statement?'

Mr LONSDALE - Yes. I shall be able to refer the honorable and learned gentleman to decisions given by the Court.

Mr Hughes - The statement is not in accordance with facts.

Mr LONSDALE - I repeat that it is. Cases have occurred in which men have been awarded less than the rate for which they applied.

Mr Hughes - Perhaps they did not deserve anv increase.

Mr LONSDALE - That may be. But will the honorable an'd learned gentleman tell the railway servants of the States that they must accept this measure with the distinct understanding that as a result of the creation of the Court their wages will probably be reduced? Do not those who support this class of legislation frequently tell men that the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Court will improve their conditions ?

Mr Hughes - They do not.

Mr LONSDALE - The honorable and learned gentleman, in the ' course of a speech delivered at the Protestant Hall. Svdney. spoke of there being a likelihood of " bloodshed and chaos " if this Bill; or some Other measure, were not passed. ' At that meeting a railway employe complained that men who had worked as engine-drivers until their sight failed were given employment in a lower grade of the service, and that their wages were lowered. He urged that it was unfair to reduce their wages, but no one corrected his apparent belief that this state of affairs would be remedied by a Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

Mr Hughes - What has that matter to do with the question now before us?

Mr LONSDALE - It has much to do with it. At this meeting the Minister talked about bloodshed and chaos, but did not believe that anything of the kind would occur.

Mr Hughes - I did not say that.

Mr LONSDALE - The Minister simply desired to rouse some feeling on the part of those who were present ; he did not believe one word that he said.

Mr Hughes - That assertion is distinctly out of order. An honorable member definitely asked me whether I had made such a statement as that to which the honorable member for New England has referred, and I told him that I had not. I repeat now that I never made the statement in that connexion. To sav that I made a statement in which I did not believe, is to say something contrary to parliamentary usuage.

Mr Bamford - Hear, hear ; I was present, at the meeting, and heard what the Minister said.

The CHAIRMAN - Does the honorable member for New England withdraw the statement of which the honorable and learned gentleman complains.

Mr LONSDALE - If the Minister says that he did not make the statement that I attributed to him, I must certainly withdraw the remark. I can only say that he was reported in the press to have given utterance to those words, and that I saw no contradiction of that report.

Mr Hughes - If the honorable member consults another honorable member opposite he will obtain the true version, as I gave it to him. I am sure that he will accept my denial.

Mr LONSDALE - I do. I should not have referred to the matter, but for the interjections. The Minister has asked what bearing the complaint made by the railway man at the meeting in question has upon the issue now before us. I contend that it has a very important bearing upon it. The object of this Bill is to fix the conditions of' labour.

Mr Hughes - And stop strikes.

Mr LONSDALE - Strikes cannot be prevented unless the conditions of labour are fixed. If this Bill is not designed to allow conditions of labour to be fixed by the Court, what is its object ?

Mr Hughes - That is its object.

Mr LONSDALE - Then do not let us have any quibbling. I have disabused the minds of many railway men of the belief that this measure will, if passed, improve their conditions. I have told the men in my own district that if they accept the Bill, they will have to take certain risks. In some cases it may possibly improve the conditions under which they are employed; but in others it will make them worse. In view of the satisfactory returns obtained from the Western Austraiian railways-

Mr Frazer - We had two strikes in two years in Western Australia.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And there is a Conciliation and Arbitration Act in operation in that State?

Mr Frazer - Yes.

Mr LONSDALE - Good returns have been obtained from the Western Australian railways, and the wages given to those employed on them are high. If the conditions of the railway employes of all the States came before the Conciliation and" Arbitration Court, the question of whether the railways of any State are paying will be one of the matters that 1 will govern the decision. Evidence will be given as to paying or non-paying railway services, and the position of the men employed, and the Court will then arrive at its decision. In my opinion, it is improbable that the wages of the whole of the railway servants will be raised to the Western Australian standard. It is much more likely that that standard will be reduced. The complaint made by the worker at the meeting to which I have referred was that enginedrivers who, because of some physical failure, were unable to follow their ordinary occupation had been put to other work by the Commissioners, who desired to do the best they could for them, and that their pay, instead of being retained at its former level, had been reduced. The Commissioners said, in effect, to them - " You were receiving 15s. a day as engine-drivers; but yow cannot expect to receive the same rate of pay for the' less important work allotted to you. If you will not take the lower rate, you must leave the service." I contend that ¬Ľo Arbitration Court would say that a man employed, for example, as a luggage porter, should receive 15s ; and those who consider that the state "of affairs of which this individual complained will be remedied by the passage of this Bill, must be disappointed.

When steam was replaced by electricity, as the motive power for the tramway system of New South Wales, many of the enginedrivers were no longer required ; but the Commissioners, wishing- to appoint them to the best posts available, engaged them at reduced wages to drive the electric cars. There was a great outcry against, the reduction ; but would any Conciliation and Arbitration Court say that, in such circumstances, engine-drivers should continue to receive. the old rates of pay? No change would be made in this respect by any Arbitration Court. My complaint is that the men are not told of what will be the probable effect of the creation of this Court. If they were, many of them would not be t.0 anxious as they are to secure the passing of this measure.

Mr Spence - They are not children, who require to be taught.

Mr LONSDALE - I do not say that they are ; but, in matters of this kind, many men do not like to take up a position of antagonism to others. If a man begins to oppose certain proposals made by the union, of which he is a member, he is called a blackleg.

Mr Frazer - No.

Mr Watson - Is the honorable member for New England speaking from . experiene ?


Mr Watson - I have had personal experience of the working of a union, and can say that the honorable member's suggestion is not correct.

Mr Spence - And after thirty years' experience, I can also deny the statement made by the honorable member.

Mr LONSDALE - I am afraid that if I were to join a union, I should in ten minutes be shown the door.

Mr Watson - No; I think that the unions would tolerate even the honorable member.

Mr Wilks - The Prime Minister was for years in a minority, so far as many fights in his union were concerned ; but no exception was taken to his actions..

Mr Watson - Hear, hear.

Mr LONSDALE - If the Government really desire that all classes of public servants should be included, they should have adopted the amendment first proposed by the present Minister of Trade and Customs. Whether we agree with honorable members opposite ornot, we must admire them for their consistent adherence to the principles they profess. But since coming into office their desire to find another way out of this difficulty has. induced them to water down their proposal. Instead of boldly standing out for that which led to their occupancy of the Treasury benches, they have thrown it overboard. When this matter was before us prior to the defeat of the late Government, I spoke in terms similar to those to which I have just given utterance, and honorable members of tha Labour Party severely criticised my statement, that, notwithstanding that I held these opinions, I intended to vote against the Government. The honorable member for Gwydir, who represents a constituency which adjoins my own, was especially severe in his criticism, and whilst he was speaking, I interjected - Is this amendment a sham? Do you not want it carried ? Why do you object to my voting with you?" We have now proof that it was a sham- that the Labour Party did not want it to be carried. It was their desire to pose as a party anxious to do something for these men, but they wished the House to defeat the amendment, and would have accepted their defeat.

Mr Watson - We fear the Greeks when they bring gifts.

Mr LONSDALE - I am against this proposal, and I have informed a number of railway men in my electorate that I oppose the Bill because I do not think it would improve their conditions. It is because of' this belief that I am going to vote against the amendment. The honorable member for Darling has said that some honorable members favour low wages. I do not think that there is any occasion for me to reply to that statement, save to say that I pay as high wages to men in my employ as does any member of the Labour Party. I have always paid high wages, and believe in the principle. I admit that if men who are worthy of them are paid high wages they will do better work, and prove more profitable to their employers, than if they were paid low wages. I am not in favour of paying low wages. The taunt is always hurled against men like myself that we favour the paying of starvation wages. I have always believed in high wages, and I shall do what I can to keep up rates of payment. If I believed that the provision now before the Committee would do no injury to the community, and. especially to the working classes, I should vote for it, and do all I could to secure its adoption ; but, as I hold that it would have the contrary effect,- I should be recreant to the trust imposed upon me if I supported it.

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