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Friday, 3 June 1904

Mr RONALD (Southern Melbourne) - I have listened, as- 1 am sure we always do, with great pleasure to the honorable member for Grampians, and, although he has certainly advanced some very trite sayings, they are nevertheless of great importance so far as the proposal to bring agricultural labourers under this Bill is concerned. I would point out to the honorable member that he relies upon what is really a fallacy in a quotation from Shakespeare -

.   . the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done.

The conservative class generally accept that as their maxim, and quite forget the converse -

.   . the sight of means to do good deeds Makes good deeds done - which must also hold true. This is the great fallacy on which the opposition to the clause now before us and the Bill generally is based. Honorable members who oppose the measure regard compulsory arbitration as a means of creating industrial strife, whereas it is the desire of those who support the measure, and, indeed, of all the advocates of compulsory arbitration of whom I have ever heard, that disputes shall be settled in an amicable way, rather than by the barbarous method of striking. In connexion with this debate we find a number of honorable members alternating between two extremes. The hon orable member for Grampians has tried to paint agricultural life as an Arcadia and all employers therein as ideal employers. He, at the same time, twitted the Prime Minister and others with having described rural life as a pandemonium or purgatory. The truth is to be found between these extremes. The fact is that there are hardships connected with country life which cannot be removed by the operation of a law of this kind. But there are many troubles common to all forms of employment which may be removed, and many common conditions which may be regulated, to the advantage of the whole community. Honorable members say that the Bill will handicap those engaged in agricultural pursuits by interfering with them in the conduct of their operations. Nothing of the kind. Our intention is merely to endeavour to settle existing disputes, and to prevent others from occurring. The Bill provides a substitute for .the barbarous, inhuman, and antiquated method of settlement known as a strike.

Mr Skene - There have been no strikes in connexion with the farming industry.

Mr RONALD - There have been strikes of shearers in the' pastoral industry, which is cognate to those mentioned in the amendment, and I remember to have heard of strikes among the rural workers of the old country. Our aim is to make strikes a thing of the past. At first sight it may seem a difficult matter to apply the provisions of a Bill of this kind to rural industries, but there are no reasons why it should not be applied to such industries which do not equally affect its application to manufacturing and other city industries. Those who know the history of arbitration law know that the prophecies of evil which were made in connexion with it's application have not been verified. It was said that the Arbitration Courts would interfere with industry by preventing employers from making the most favorable arrangements they could for the conduct of their businesses, and that thus private enterprise would be crippled. The gospel of laissez faire has been preached. We have been told that we should leave everything to the good feeling and good sense of the employers. The fallacy that this measure will hamper the good employers, the men who have the good will of their employe's, and who stand in a friendly relation towards them, ran through the speech of the honorable member for Grampians. It cannot be too often repented that the good employer will not be affected by a Bill of this character. Having been brought up on a farm, I know that the men' are dependent upon the farmer almost as his children are.

Mr McLean - I am afraid that the honorable member did not rise very early when he was farming.

Mr RONALD - I have always been an early riser, because, unfortunately, I am a bad sleeper. I have no hesitation in saying, from a large experience of agricultural life, that the relations between farmers and their hands are generally of the happiest kind. In many places the farmer and his employes practically make up a family. But there are exceptions to every rule, and this law provides, not for the good employer, but for the bad employer. In Victoria children of tender .age are sometimes employed on farms to the detriment of the welfare of the community. In many places the school holidays occur during the period of harvesting or of fruit picking, and- the children, instead of being allowed to enjoy themselves, are compelled to work in the orchards and on the fields, and thus their lives are cramped.

Mr McLean - Children look forward as the event of the year to hop picking or any employment of that kind. They regard it as a picnic.

Mr RONALD - Yes, but it is a hardship to them to be employed during their holidays, and is detrimental to their welfare.

Mr Lee - But they are the farmers' own children.

Mr RONALD - The honorable member seems to think that a father should be able to do with his children as the Irishman claimed to do with his wife.

Mr Lee - Does the honorable member propose that children shall bring actions against their parents?

Mr RONALD - That, of course, is absurd. The Bill, however, will enable parents to protect their children. I wish honorable members who are opposed to the measure to understand that its object is, not to create strikes, but to settle disputes. Do they believe in law and order, or in the settlement of disputes by force? If they' are in favour of the adoption of rational methods of settlement, they will make the measure as comprehensive as possible. I claim that we have no right to leave any man at the mercy of a bad employer. Probably in no industry is there a happier relationship between men and masters than in the farming industry, but, nevertheless, there are farmers who are bad employers, and their men should be protected. Reference has been made to the exodus of young men from the country to the city, and it has been stated that we are offering every inducement to men to leave rural pursuits to come to the cities. Surely if we bring all but agricultural workers under the Bill, we shall be offering them an inducement to leave agricultural pursuits and become railway employe's, or tram conductors, or to engage in other city pursuits. If, on the other hand, we apply the measure to all, there will not be this inducement. In my opinion, if one part of the argument holds good, so does the other. It has been argued that the measure will not be taken advantage of. No doubt the know-' ledge that a fair, rational, and equitable means of settling disputes exists will often bring about peaceful settlements without reference to the Court. It is generally admitted, however, that the claims of the shearers to come under the Bill cannot be ' overlooked, because of the strikes, and troubles which have occurred in the pastoral industry, and there seems no reason why we should overlook the claims of other rural industries. I hope that the Committee will see that all are given the right to appeal to the Arbitration Court, and that the measure will bring about a time when strikes and the ill-feeling engendered by them shall be matters of the past, and we shall be able to work out our destiny in peace' and harmony.

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