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Friday, 3 June 1904

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - Like the honorable member for Grey, I have listened in silence to this debate for ' 3 z 2 two days. If so many honorable members opposite had not so strongly denounced the action of the Government, I should not have addressed the . Committee at this stage. The attitude which has been taken up, and the language which has been used by the advocates of the amendment, are absolutely ridiculous. They urge that this legislation, so far as it will apply to rural industries, will prove inoperative, because those whom it will affect enjoy such good conditions as to render it extremely unlikely that an appeal to the Arbitration Court would result in their improvement. If that be so, I do not understand the logic of their position. Of course I could understand it if the charges that have been made in connexion with the dairying industry in particular, were true; but the advocates of the amendment declare that they have no foundation in fact. What, then, is the reason of their anxiety to embody the amendment in this Bill ? In Victoria recently there has been what I may term an "epidemic" of burglary. Let us suppose that, as a result, the State Parliament submitted a very drastic measure dealing with burglars and burglary. What would the general public think if the Young Men's Christian Association petitioned the Legislature to insert a special provision in the Act, exempting its members from the operation of that Statute ? It would certainly be very absurd. We know that members of the Young Men's Christian Association are not likely to commit burglary, and the authorities would, therefore, probably reply that the "Act was intended to operate generally, and that it would be called into requisition only where offences were actually committed. The honorable member for Flinders was very emphatic in his statements as to the effect of the operation of this Bill in his own district. Yet I believe that at the recent Teachers Conference which was held in this city, representatives from that district entered a most vigorous protest against the conditions that exist in the dairying industry there. They told of children who have to milk a number of cows each morning before going to school, and who are afterwards too sleepy and too mentally inactive to acquire the education to which they are entitled. Does the honorable member believe in the .employment of child labour in the dairying industry If he does not he ought to assist us in preventing the infliction of so great an injustice upon children whose parents put gain before the health of their offspring.

Mr McCay - If that condition of affairs does exist, how can this Bill alter it? The relation between father and child is not an industrial- relation.

Mr FOWLER - If a fanner engaged in the dairying industry has a child which is subjected to improper treatment in connexion with the industry this Bill can certainly be brought into operation to insure consideration being extended to it. The other aspect of this question has reference to the employment of farm labourers. What is the objection to the Bill being made applicable to them? Is it because their wages are too low? Surely the honorable member for Flinders believes in paying a man a fair day's wage for a fair day's work? This Bill does not go further than that. I do not suppose that its effect will be to establish the munificent average of £2 per week, which was the sum mentioned by one of the advocates of the amendment. But would the payment of such a wage ruin the dairying industry? Is the honorable member for Flinders aware that in that portion of Great Britain where farming is most prosperous the highest wages are paid?

Mr Gibb - The farm labourers here are quite satisfied with, their present wages.

Mr FOWLER - If those wages are reasonable there will be no interference with them under the operation of this Bill. I have met farm labourers, however, who have informed me of the wages that they receive, and who are anything but satisfied with their conditions. I protest strongly against the political capital which honorable members opposite have attempted to make out of the position taken up by the Government. In one breath they assure us that the Bill will prove absolutely inoperative, and in another they indulge in a wild denunciation of the Government, and in equally reckless prophecies of what will happen if the amendment be not adopted. The term " agitators " has been applied to those who it is thought may interfere with the dairy employes in this matter. As a student of history, I believe that all the good which we at present enjoy, politically and socially, is due to the efforts of agitators. The honorable member who used the term in a somewhat offensive way belongs to a race which owes all of which it has a right to be proud to the fact that its common people and their leaders were always prepared, not merely to agitate, but to fight for justice, and for what they believed to be their rights. Therefore, he should hesitate before using the term " agi.tator ". in an opprobrious fashion.

Mr O'Malley - I am an agitator.

Mr FOWLER - We are all agitators more or less, and when the term is used legitimately I am proud of it. It is notorious that- many honorable members had fathers or grandfathers who were driven out of their own country by the operation of injustices which agitators tried to remedy, and they should be the last to turn round in their days of prosperity and gird against the class to which they ought to belong in sympathy as they do in birth.

Mr. LONSDALE(New England).This debate brings me back to my very early days, I do not know how long ago, when I drove bullocks at the plough. My father was a farmer, and I know the conditions under which farming populations work, and consequently sympathize with those engaged in- that employment. Nevertheless, I am opposed to the application of the Bill to agricultural labourers. Even the honorable member for Grey must admit that I am consistent in this attitude. I am not 'sure that he always means quite what he says. We are all alike in this respect, that we put our worst side foremost. No doubt honorable members often imagine that I feel antagonistic to them personally, and am rather spiteful, and the honorable member for Grey gives me that impression at times. I do not think that he is really spiteful. I believe him to be as kindly at heart as most of us are. Of course, it is natural, when motives are imputed, to retaliate by imputing similar motives to those by whom we are taunted. Consequently when honorable members who have spoken for the farmers have been told that they have been making electioneering speeches, they have retaliated by saying that those who are opposed to the amendment take that stand merely so that, later on, they may be able to tell the agricultural labourers in the various districts that they fought for their interests,; and tried to help them, notwithstanding the opposition of the honorable and learned member for Wannon and others. I maintain that we ought not to place on the statute-book legislation to assist only one section of the community. In my opinion, the legislation we pass should apply equally to all. I know that some of those who are supporting the amendment, and opposing the application of the Bill to agricultural labourers, voted for its application to railway employes. To me, however, it seems that if it was right to apply the Bill to railway employes, it is right to apply it to agricultural labourers. As a matter of fact, I think it should apply to neither section of the community. The railway servants are in a much better position than are agricultural labourers. They, by reason of their numbers and organization, can always stand up for themselves, whereas the agri:cultural labourers are scattered and disorganized. Of course, my present remarks are a criticism rather of the action of the members of the party with which I am associated than of the action of the Labour Party, and show that I am at least impartial. I am, however, consistent in objecting to the inclusion of both railway servants and agricultural labourers. I have travelled through a large part of New South Wales, and I know the difficulties under which the farming population . works. It has been said that the Bill, if passed, will be inoperative. Certainly the New South Wales Act has been inoperative, so far as the farmers of that State are concerned. I believe that there has yet been no dispute in the agricultural industry in New South Wales for the settlement of which the intervention of the Arbitration Court has been sought. Honorable members opposite contend that, as the Bill is not likely to be used, its application to the farming industry will do no harm. But -

How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done !

It is quite true, as the Prime Minister has admitted, that no disputes in which the farming industry has been concerned have come before the New South Wales Arbitration Court; but four-fifths of the disputes which now congest that Court have been created by the passing of the Arbitration Act. They would never have been heard of if the Act had not been passed. I admit the truth of what the honorable member for Perth Kas said about agitators. I am an agitator, and have been one for years. My desire is to uplift the masses. I am not a sweater, nor do I love the sweater, notwithstanding the suggestion of the honorable member for Grey. I have as much sympathy with the man who is toiling as has the honorable member himself. I wish to assist the workers in every way, and Would do all I could to improve their conditions. But I hold that the passing of this measure will not do anything in that direction. Something has been said about the single tax. If the principle referred to was put into force the probability is that some men would not be quite so1 well off as they are, while a very large number would be better off. I recognise the difficulty of doing anything in that connexion in Federal politics ; but speaking to State constituencies I have always favoured such action. My idea is that we should eradicate the source of the evil. It is of no use to lop off the branches of a tree to cure it of the blight.

Mr Poynton - But would the honorable member allow a roof to be spoiled for the want of a shingle?

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