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Friday, 3 June 1904

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Kalgoorlie will proceed.

Mr FRAZER - It would be to the advantage of the House if more honorable members would read newspapers and refrain from holding conversations in the Opposition corner. I was endeavouring to point out, when the honorable member for Corangamite interrupted me, that the present attitude of honorable members opposite was wholly inconsistent with the position taken up by them a day or two ago. I recognise that the honorable and learned r-ember for Wannon has been consistent. He opposed the Bill on the second reading, and, not being able to defeat it, his policy is now, no doubt, to cripple it, if possible. I would point out that his amendment may have a wider effect than would at first appear. He proposes to exclude from the operation of the measure disputes relating to employment in the viticultural, agricultural, horticultural, and dairying industries, and has omitted pastoral pursuits. Now, it has been my experience in Victoria, and, to a small extent, in New South Wales, that there are very few stations devoted entirely to pastoral pursuits.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Seven hundred cows are milked on one station in my electorate.

Mr FRAZER - On most of the stations you will' find persons engaged in nearly all the pursuits mentioned in the amendment, and consequently the provision, if adopted, may be interpreted by the Court to mean the exclusion of persons whom all wish to bring under the Bill. For instance, a station might shear 1.0,000 sheep, have 5,000 or 6,000 acres under oats or barley, and be milking a large number of cows - -

Mr McColl - The honorable member knows that the intention is not to exclude shearers.

Mr FRAZER - We have nothing to do with intentions ; though during the last few weeks we have heard a great deal about the intentions of one and another, from those of the members of the Federal Convention, down to those of honorable gentlemen sitting in this chamber. What we are concerned with is, not the intentions of honorable members, but the meaning which the words we adopt will convey to the Judge who is engaged in interpreting them. I believe it is possible that an interpretation may be placed upon the amendment, if adopted, which would exclude from the operation of the Bill persons engaged in pastoral pursuits, though not exclusively so engaged.

Mr McLean - Shearers could not be taken to be dealt with in the amendment.

Mr FRAZER - The honorable member is not competent to determine the point. On many stations men are employed all the year round, ploughing during the ploughing season, harvesting at harvest time, and shearing at shearing time. Would a Judge say. if this provision were adopted, that they were engaged in pastoral pursuits when shearing, and in agricultural pursuits when ploughing or stripping? I do not think that he would, because such persons could not be taken as engaged wholly in either agricultural or pastoral pursuits. Consequently, I think the amendment as worded is dangerous.

Mr Skene - Then why not add the words " except shearers and shed hands " ? I have asked the mover of the amendment to do that.

Mr FRAZER - So that the honorable member admits that the interpretation which I speak of might be put upon the amendment ?

Mr Skene - I admit that there may be a difficulty where hands are employed continuously all the year round. I would exclude them ; but I think that shearers and shed hands should be included.

Mr FRAZER - During the debate considerable attention has been given to the position of the poor farmers. I agree with the honorable member for Echuca that the farmers are a very important section of the community, and I should be one of the last to try to place upon the statute-book any measure likely to seriously interfere with their undertakings, so long as they are carried out under reasonable conditions. But it is not the poor farmer who is chiefly aimed at. It will be found, as a rule, that the smaller farmers treat their employes better -than do the larger farmers. Many small farmers have but one employ!, and they share with him the conditions which they are willing to accept for themselvels. But on a big farm, where a number of men are employed, a distinction is made, and I think that the Bill will apply to the larger farmers with a little more severity than to the smaller farmers. There are occasions, however, when interference with the farming industry is not seriously objected to, even by honorable members opposite'. Now and again, owing to the occurrence of droughts, the Parliaments of the States have voted money to purchase seed wheat at the expense of the community, to supply deserving farmers who were not in a position to buy it for themselves. Those who represent the farming districts do not complain of interference of that kind. But when we propose to compel the farmers to treat their employes fairly and justly, we get addresses like those of the honorable member for Echuca - good electioneering speeches, but not worthy contributions to a debate of this kind.

Mr Chapman -t- Surely the honorable member does not. assume that the speech of the honorable member for Echuca was made for electioneering purposes ?

Mr FRAZER - I do not know what the honorable member's intention was, but that is the impression conveyed to my mind.

Mr McColl - I should like to see an election on this point to-morrow.

Mr FRAZER - Honorable members on this side are as anxious as any others to have the present position settled by an appeal to the people. Those who represent farming constituencies seem to think that they are the only members competent to say what are fair and reasonable conditions for the carrying on of farming operations. Apparently they are not prepared to let farmers go before an impartial tribunal, and have their cases dealt with on their merits. If they have nothing to fear, why do they act differently from the representatives of other sections of the community ? As a mining representative, I am not afraid to have disputes in which miners are concerned submitted to a fair and impartial court. If the evidence produced substantiates the claim for an increase of wages or better conditions, I am prepared to believe that the Court will grant it, and that if the Court decides against the claim, those interested will accept the decision. Why should the farmers object to this? Will not the Court be competent to deal with their cases? I have not heard honorable members say that the Court will act unfairly. Still, they object to bringing cases before it. We are told also that it is too early to bring forward provisions of this kind. But the policy of the present Government is, not to wait until disputes have arisen and then try to legislate to deal with them, but to make provision beforehand for the settling by an impartial tribunal of the disputes' of every citizen or body of citizens in Australia. To wait until trouble occurs is in keeping with the policy which has been adopted by some honorable gentlemen opposite throughout their political careers. Again, we are told that there is no organization of farming employes which could submit a case to the Court. But apparently honorable members fear that when the Bill is passed organizations will spring into existence.

Mr Lee - There is no such organization in New South Wales, although an Arbitration Act is in force there.

Mr Spence - They are moving in the direction of organizing. .

Mr FRAZER - I believe that it is only a matter of time when the farm labourers will be organized, and if the necessity arises, they will avail themselves of measures of this kind. Last night the honorable and learned member for Corinella placed a very wrong construction upon a remark of the Minister of External Affairs. He stated that the" Minister had made it appear that people are leaving Victoria because there is no Arbitration Act in force here. I do not think that the Minister made any such statement, or intended to convey such an impression. . The cause of the exodus of farmers from Victoria has been ex plained by the honorable member for Gippsland, and the honorable member for Echuca, who have stated that they have had to struggle hard in order to make a reasonably good living upon the land. I admit that \ but I ask why ? Is not the explanation to be found in the fact that the State Government has been putting settlers upon the wrong land? Large sums of money have been spent upon irrigation works in the dry districts of Victoria, whilst the most fertile lands have been used for the purpose of grazing sheep. The figures quoted by the honorable member for Darling, according to which 3,000,000 acres of choice land in- the western districts of Victoria are held by three companies, comprising only 125 individuals, are alone sufficient to condemn the policy pursued by the Victorian Government. If the farmers of Victoria were settled in those districts where the natural advantages are the greatest, they would be much more prosperous, and the community would derive greater benefit from their exertions. Only after having closely settled the most fertile districts could the Victorian Government fittingly engage in expensive irrigation enterprises with a view to settling the more arid tracts of country. An entirely wrong impression is being conveyed to the farmers of Victoria with' regard to the intentions of the Government. It is being represented to them that it is proposed' that their farm hands shall be allowed to work only from 8 o'clock in the morning till 4 o'clock in the afternoon - that the eight hours system will be immediately applied to their occupation. Those who have had experience of Arbitration Courts know that it is generally recognised to be impossible to bring about uniform conditions in all classes of industry. When the hotel and restaurant employes in Western Australia were brought under the control of the Arbitration Court, many people said that the Court would impose conditions that would prevent them from- getting their breakfast before 8 o'clock in the morning. Now, however, that the Court has given its decision, those who desire their breakfast at 6 o'clock can get it at that hour just as they did before the Court was brought into existence. All that the Court decreed was that the employes should work only a certain number of hours per. day, and should receive a certain rate of pay. If the Court proposed to be created were called upon to give a decision in regard to -the conditions which should prevail in the farming industry, thev would take into account all the surroundings, and the necessities of the case. If it were necessary, for instance, for dairying employes to start milking at 5 o'clock in the morning, provision could easily be made for such a case. I believe that the farmers would derive benefit from having the conditions of their industry controlled to a certain extent by a thoroughly impartial tribunal, and I trust that they will not be misled by statements which are now being made with regard to the probable effect of the measure.

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