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Wednesday, 1 June 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) - I move -

That the amendment be amended by the omission of the following words - " in industries carried on by or "

My object is to bring the whole of the public servants of the States within the scope of the measure.

Mr Watson - The honorable member voted against that proposal.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am opposed to any States servants being included in the Bill, but I contend that, if we include any of the States servants, we should not discriminate between those who work with their hands, and who bunch their votes, and those who work with their pen, and do not exercise such great political power. With all deference to those honorable and learned members who have given us their opinions upon the constitutional aspect of this question, I hold the view that the Commonweal tii Has no power to enforce an award against any State which declines to carry out its wishes. In reading an interesting history of America, I came across a paragraph which, I think, is particularly applicable to the present case. It reads as follows: -

When an individual defies the law you can lock him up in gaol, or levy an execution upon his property. The immense force of the community is arrayed against him, and he is helpless as a straw on the billows of the ocean. He cannot raise a militia to protect himself. But whenthe law is defied by a State, it is quite otherwise. You cannot put the State into gaol, nor seize its goods; you can only make war on it, and if you try that expedient you will find that the State is not quite helpless. Its local pride and prejudices are aroused against you, and its militia will turn out in full force to uphold the infringement of the law.

I 'would ask honorable members what would be the position of the Commonwealth if a State refused to comply with an award of the Arbitration Court? We all know that the railway trouble which recently occurred in Victoria, and which has not been entirely disposed of. is at the bottom of the provi sion which it is now sought to insert in the Bill.

Mr Watson - What would happen if a State Government refused to comply with the judgment of any Federal Court ? '

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am not in the witness box : but I think that the Prime Minister will recognise that the fourteenth amendment of the Constitution of the United States was carried because the Federal Government found itself powerless to enforce its decisions against the States.

Mr Watson - Except by the last resort.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Would the Prime Minister be prepared to adopt that last resort ?

Mr Watson - I should, if the occasion arose.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It is well that we should know where we stand. We have a railway trouble right upon us. . and there is no use blinking the fact. Three different rates of wages are paid in the States of Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales respectively. The wages paid in New South Wales are higher - considerably higher - than those ruling in the other States referred to. Suppose that a question, arose with regard to wages, and the Arbitration Court decided, as they probably would do, that the same wages should be paid in New South Wales and Victoria, where the conditions are somewhat similar. Would the Court have the power to compel the New South Wales railway authorities to reduce their wages to the rates paid in Victoria?

Mr Watson - No one would be compelled to reduce wages under any award ; thev could give as much more as thev liked.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Then would the High Court be bound to accept the highest standard prevailing in any one of these States, and level up the rates in all the States ?

Mr Watson - No, but any State could pay as much as it liked beyond the amounts fixed by the Court. I know of employers in New South Wales who. are paying to some of their hands wages onethird higher than the rates fixed by the award of the Arbitration Court.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Suppose then that the Arbitration Court decided that the wages paid to the Victorian employes should be increased, and the State authorities refused to comply with their award. Do I understand the Prime Minister to say that he would adopt the last resort and call out the military ?

Mr Lonsdale - He would have a lively time if he did.

Mr Watson - We do not contemplate anything of that kind.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The Prime Minister may safely assume that the States will not be prepared to surrender the control of their servants without a very considerable struggle. It is proposed to take from them the power to frame their own Estimates, and no State will surrender that right . without a severe struggle. I would point out, further, that if the operation of this Bill is to be confined, so far as emplovés of the States are concerned, to those who are engaged on the railways, a gross injustice will be done to those States servants who are placed beyond the operation of the measure. In Tasmania the rates of pay are necessarily lower than those prevailing in the larger States.- If the Arbitration Court decided that the wages of the Railway and Post Office employes in that State should be considerably raised, that change would be brought about at the expense of those public servants to whom the benefits of the Act were denied. The increase of salaries in Tasmania in the Post Office and Customs Departments, which has resulted from the transfer of those Departments to the Commonwealth control, has caused the other public servants in Tasmania to be deprived of their annual increments, and has created a Public Service aristocracy. There is already an outcry in some of the States that the cost of the Public Service is too heavy. It is becoming recognised that the community is divided into two classes, namely, the tax-payers and the tax-eaters, and that the tax-eaters are getting too large a slice of the public revenue.

Mr Watson - The proper course to adopt is to get rid of the unnecessary men, and not to reduce the wages.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not think we have many unnecessary men in the Tasmanian service, because the injurious political influences which have operated in the other States have not been exerted there. I think that there are very few bees in the . Tasmanian hive that are not making honey, and in some cases the salaries paid to public servants are too low.

Mr Watkins - Then the honorable member ought to vote for the amendment, which will bring public servants within the scope of the Bill.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am endeavouring to enlarge the scope of the amendment in order to embrace all classes of public servants, and I am going to put to the test those honorable members who have expressed the desire that all classes of the community shall share in the benefits of this measure.

Mr Hughes - Who are excluded under our amendment ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - If the Ministerhad been in the House and heard the explanation of the Attorney-General he would know what class of officers would be excluded under the amendment proposed by the Prime Minister. If the honorable and learned member will, not attend, it is not right for him to ask. me to repeat the opinions of his colleague. I intend to press the proposal that there shall be no distinction, so far as this House is concerned, between public servants. If the High Court likes to differentiate, let it do so. But it is not for us here, as representing the whole of the people,, and not any one class of the people, to take such a step. I represent the public servant as much as I do the taxpayer generally, but I represent the Public Service as a whole, and not any chosen body. So far as my vote is concerned, I shall not allow, without protest,, one class of public servants to be brought under the Bill by our special choice and' decision - for that is the point - and' another class to be excluded.

Mr WATSON - With regard to thesuggestion put forward by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, I do not see any greater difficulty for the Court in defining those who are to come under thisparticular provision, if carried, than would in any case arise in attempting to definewhich amongst the employes of any largefirm should come under the definition of " industrial." In large iron works, for example, such as Mort's Dock, in Sydney, and' similar concerns in Melbourne, a great number of people are employed in different departments and branches, including a great number of clerical hands, or men not engaged directly in industrial employment. Yet it seems to me that, generally speaking, these latter men are engaged indirectly in the industry ; they assist the machinery to goround, and consequently may, I think-, be held to be engaged in an " industrial " concern. Such men are just as necessary at oner end of the business as is the manual labourer, mechanic, or artisan at the otherConsequently, it would be just as difficult for the Court to define which of the employes of a private firm shall, if there is to be a distinction drawn, come within the definition in this Bill; as to make the distinction mentioned by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat in connexion with my immediate amendment. I do not see that we are imposing any greater task on the Court in this relation than we are in any other part of the Bill. The Court has cast on it the duty of first registering an organization ; and I may point out that the definition of " organization " in the Bill is that, in the case of employes, it shall consist of not less than 100 members. Therefore, the Court would not have before it any case of Government employes unless at least 100 persons were concerned. I understand the honorable and learned member for Ballarat to be fearful that one or two men might be able to move the Court.

Mr Deakin - I mean one or two men here, and one or two men there.

Mr WATSON - Scattered men?

Mr Deakin - Yes.

Mr WATSON - And the honorable and learned . member thinks that if these men aggregated 100 they might be able to move the Court?

Mr Deakin - Yes.

Mr WATSON - I do not think we run any greater risk in that connexion amongst the public servants than we do amongst the employes of any private individual. I admit the fair spirit in which the suggestion has-been made, and for that reason will give it every consideration.

Mr Deakin - That is all I ask.

Mr WATSON - I do not at present see that the suggestion really affects the amendment as I have proposed it; but I may be able later to recognise the difficulty in the mind of my honorable and learned friend. As to the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin, I may sav that all through this sitting - although I have not previously referred to the matter - I have been somewhat touched . by the anxiety exhibited by all our opponents to load us up with gifts in this connexion. Those who are determined that by no vote, so far as they are concerned, shall the Bill provide for Government employes, are anxious to load the measure with provisions, which, if adopted, will make it unworkable.

Mr Mcwilliams - It is the Prime Minister's own proposal.

Mr WATSON - Coming from ourselves, the proposal might have been accepted with some degree of confidence, because, to begin with, we are admittedly in favour of the measure, and of extending its benefits to as many public servants as is practicable under the Constitution. But coming from the other side, who are admittedly out of sympathy with the proposal - who are bitterly opposed to including any 'of the public servants within the provisions of the Bill - the suggestion has to be regarded with some degree of suspicion. So far as I am concerned, I plead guilty to no alteration o± policy or attitude on this point. Right through I have expressed a doubt as to whether we have the power to include all public servants within the scope of the measure.

Mr Mcwilliams - Did the Prime Minister not advocate including all public servant's, and allowing the High Court to decide the constitutional question?

Mr WATSON - I said I was quite prepared to vote for such a proposal, because I did not want, at that stage, any misconception to arise as to what my own desires were. But now we, who are in favour of the measure, have the advantage of a definition of the constitutional position by the learned Attorney-General, who is, as we know, in sympathy with our desires ; and I am willing to defer to him as to the actual language the clause should contain. After all, it is- very difficult to say how far the term "industrial " carries us. The right honorable member for East Sydney speaking just after my statement of the Government policy a fortnight ago, said that in his opinion - I suppose he put the opinion forward hurriedly - there was no limit to the number of persons who might be covered by the term "industrial," so long as they were in employment.

Mr Robinson - That is the view put forward by the Minister of External Affairs this afternoon.

Mr WATSON - And it was put forward only a fortnight ago by the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney. This shows how difficult it is to define clearly and distinctly what the meaning of the Constitution is. We are assured, at any rate, by the Attorney-Gensral that the provision follows as nearly as practicable the language of the Constitution; and it does not seem to me that we can carry the matter any further. If the provision follows the terms of the Constitution, it goes as far as the Constitution allows, and that ; s all

I have contended for right along. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat will remember that when he, as Prime Minister, first introduced the Bill six. or seven months ago, I asked that the language of the Constitution should be employed in regard to the provisions affecting shipping. The honorable and learned member had included in the first Bill a provision which excluded all foreign shipping from the operation of the measure, and I then asked that the terms of the Constitution should be inserted in lieu of that provision, so that, at any rate, we would be taken at least so far as the Constitution itself takes us. That is the contention I have followed out in other regards also - for instance, in regard to the actual terms of sub-section xxxv. There, again, I think that we should rely on the words of the Constitution themselves, so that we may not even inadvertently do less than the Constitution will permit us to do. That is the consistent ground which I have taken up right through, and as my present amendment is practically a paraphrase of the Constitution, I think we are going quite as far as we can go, and that our action is consistent with the attitude we assumed some time ago.

Mr. LONSDALE(New England).- The Prime Minister has tried to explain how it is that he and his party have changed their front on this matter. But so far as I can see there has been no real explanation. They themselves, on a former occasion, forced this matter to an issue. The exPrime Minister refused to accept the amendment which honorable members opposite desired that he should make in the Bill.

Mr Watson - It was known that the exPrime Minister would accept no proposal to include any State Government employé.

Mr LONSDALE - There was no such statement.

Mr Watson - He made the statement several times.

Mr LONSDALE - There was only one amendment before us, and that was the amendment of the present Minister of Trade and Customs, which included the public servants of the States without any reference to industrial pursuits.

Mr Watson - It was stated by the then Prime Minister that his Government would not accept the inclusion of any public servants.

Mr LONSDALE - It does not matter what they said they would accept; my point is what they did. In forcing that amendment honorable members opposite defeated the late Government. I fully take my share of the responsibility for what occurred. If honorable members opposite do not know where they are, I know where I am. They got into power by defeating the late Government upon that point.

Mr Watson - The honorable member helped us.

Mr LONSDALE - I admit that, but I am not going to help the honorable gentleman and his Government now. I have made it perfectly clear that I am against their proposal. If they desire to show their devotion to principle they should stick to the amendment on which they won their present position. They were determined to include every public servant. Now, however, they want to include only a very few ; because they fear that any Court would decide that very few industrial occupations are being carried on by the States.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member's leader thinks otherwise.

Mr LONSDALE - I think for myself. I do not allow any one else to think for me. I have some admiration for honorable members opposite, but I should have a larger admiration for them if they stood to their principles. The Prime Minister regards the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin as coming from an enemy, and, therefore, he says he intends to oppose it. The amendment puts the Government to the test once more. The honorable member for Franklin urges that if one State public servant is included all should be included. The Prime Minister gives the whole case away when he says that if some friend of the Ministry had proposed the amendment he would have accepted it. Because it is proposed from this side of the Chamber he will not do so. Apparently, it is a good thing to accept an amendment from a friend, but a bad thing to accept the same" amendment from an 'opponent. I am against including any State public servant, but once more, to show my devotion to principle, I am prepared to call for a division, on the amendment of the honorable member for Franklin. I wish to make it clear that I do not believe in seeking to take from the States their right to control their servants. Further, if we insert such a provision, we cannot compel the States to carry out what ' the Court may decide. If a State says that it is prepared to accept what the Commonwealth Court lays down, everything will go smoothly ; but if a State refuses to do so, there is no power to compel it to obey the order of the- Court. If the effect of the order of the Court is to raise salaries and wages, there is no method of compelling a State Parliament to increase its estimates to that extent - unless, of course, the military are called out. The Prime Minister said something about being willing to go to the last resort, but afterwards he backed down.

Mr Watson - Not a bit ; I do not back down.

Mr Watkins - We will put the honorable member in the first rank.

Mr LONSDALE - I shall not allow myself to be 'in the first rank in a dispute of that kind, unless it is on the side of the State concerned. I believe in being on the side of right, but I do not believe in throwing dust in the eyes of the people. That is what the Government are doing. I repeat that if nobody else assists the honorable member for Franklin in calling for a division I shall do so, because I like to see every one toe the scratch.

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