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Friday, 3 June 1904

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) - Of all the important matters which may be considered in connexion with the Bill, none is more important than that which engaged the attention of the Committee yesterday, and will engage its attention again to-day. We are dealing now with the most important section of the community. In an extremity we could, perhaps, do without other sections, but we could not do without the body of men who are settled upon the land, and whose interests we are now considering. I think that the Prime Minister is unwise in opposing the amendment, and if he persists in his opposition to it he will find himself in danger of wrecking the Bill.

Mr Batchelor - We cannot go back upon the provisions drafted by the late Government.

Mr McCOLL - It is useless to say that the Bill is that of the late Government.

Mr Watson - We take full responsibility for it.

Mr McCOLL - During- the second reading debate the honorable member for Gippsland and others took strong objection to the application of its provisions to farmers and dairymen, and indicated that they would oppose it to the bitter end. In my opinion, if the Deakin Administration had continued in charge of the measure, they would not have maintained the extreme attitude which' is now being maintained by the honorable member for Bland.

Sir John Forrest - Hear, hear.

Mr Batchelor - Why, the- provision was in the Bill as introduced by the Government of which the right honorable member was a Minister !

Mr McCOLL - My contention is borne out by the interjection of the right honorable member for Swan, and the statements made by the honorable member for Hume last night. I think that the Prime Minister will find that on this occasion he has struck a snag.

Mr McLean - The Bill was made applicable to farmers only that there might be something to give away.

Mr McCOLL - Yes. For years past the farmers have had one restriction after another placed upon them. Government inspectors have been appointed to supervise the destruction of noxious weeds and of Vermin, and to see that dairying and other industries are carried on strictly in accordance with the law. 'I do not say that the appointment of such inspectors was not necessary in the interests, not only of the community at large, but of the farmers and dairymen themselves, but many of the inspectors carry out their duties in such a way as to considerably harass the farming and dairying industries. Now that it is proposed to bring those industries within the provisions of this measure, the cup of bitterness will be filled to the brim, and .our farming population will be prepared to take' the strongest measures to oppose it. Did the members of the Labour Party, when before their constituents last December, inform the farmers of their intention to apply its provisions to them? I venture to say that no labour member who represents a farming community did so.

Mr Watson - I told the farmers of my constituency that I would make the provisions of the measure apply all round.

Mr Batchelor - So did I.

Mr McCOLL - When a general statement of this kind is made to a large meeting the people do not grasp it as they would if they were told that the Bill would apply to them. Honorable members did not tell their farming constituents that. But the farmers should know what is intended, and how their interests will be affected. Under the measure all conditions of labour on a farm may be regulated by the Court. No matter what the exigencies of the situation, or what the season, the Court' may interfere with the management of the farmer's business in every detail. He will not be at liberty to make such arrangements as he chooses with those who wish to work for him on the share system, or to pay such wages as those who are ready to become his employes are willing to accept. Then, the hours of labour will be fixed by law, and the farmer's control of the work done on his farm will be taken entirely out of his hands. He will not be able even to select his own employes. He may find that instead of being able to employ a man in whom he has confidence, because he knows he will do his work well, he will have to take some other man merely because the latter happens to be a member of a union. All matters between himself and his men will be regulated for him, and he will have to carry on his business as the Court may determine. If I have not stated the case correctly, I shall be very glad to be set right. So far as I can understand the Bill, that is what it means.

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