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Tuesday, 14 June 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) (Treasurer) .- I move -

That the words " industrial dispute," line 3, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " dispute in relation to industrial matters if it extends or is likely to- extend beyond the limits of that State."

This proposal involves the interpretation of sub-section xxxv. of section '51 of the Constitution, and raises the question of whether disputes which have not yet extended beyond the boundaries of any one State, should come within the cognisance of the Court. Ever since the Constitution was framed I have entertained the opinion that the words " prevention of " - if they have any meaning at all - certainly permit of the Court interfering before a dispute has actually assumed an Inter-State character. Otherwise it seems to me that the phraseology of the Constitution is to some extent meaningless. The language used in sub-section xxxv. is " for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the boundaries of any one State." It appears, therefore, that if the words '' Prevention of " are to be construed at all in relation to those which follow, " prevention " must include the power of the Court to intervene before a dispute has actually extended to another State, the assumption being that if the trouble be not corrected it will so extend, and may, in that event, inflict much injury upon the Commonwealth. It seems desirable, therefore, that this Parliament should insert in the Bill some machinery which will permit of the Court interposing where it is likely that an industrial dispute will extend beyond the limits of any one State. In other words, the Court should prevent an anticipated extension of an industrial trouble. Except from the purely legal standpoint, there does not seem to be a great deal of room for argument upon this question. I do not think there is any honorable member who does "not believe that, if the Court is to achieve what we desire, it must work rather in the direction of preventing than of remedying disputes. In other words, it will provide' against industrial troubles developing into strikes, rather than settle disputes after strikes have worked large injury to the community generally.

Mr McLean - Who is to decide when a . dispute is likely to extend beyond the limits of any one State?

Mr WATSON - The Court. In my judgment, no other body could decide that question. Under clause' 30 of this Bill, if the registrar thinks that a prima facie case has been established that a dispute is likely to extend beyond the limits of any one State, the duty is cast upon him of bringing it before the Court, which immediately has cognisance of it. Nevertheless, the Court has power to decide that a dispute is not likely to extend, and to ignore it. I admit that the interpretation of this constitutional provision is a matter for the High Court eventually to determine.

Mr Groom - Is the interpretation which the Prime Minister is placing upon the Constitution to be confined to clause 27?

Mr WATSON - No. We do not desire to confine it in that way. We wish to leave the Court free to say what is the exact interpretation of the phraseology of the Constitution.

Mr Groom - But the Prime Minister is placing his interpretation of sub-section xxxv. of section 51 of the Constitution in one portion of the Bill only. '

Mr WATSON - If the proposal of the Government be agreed to, we can afterwards reconsider the interpretation clause.

Mr Higgins - Look at clause 26.

Mr WATSON - Yes. That clause states -

The Court shall have jurisdiction to prevent and settle, pursuant to this Act, all industrial disputes.

Mr Groom - But the Government now propose to go further. They are more specific.

Mr WATSON - Certainly we are more specific, but we do not propose to go further. After all, the question involved is, "What is the interpretation of subsection XXXV. of clause 51 of the Constitution ?" We contend that the words " prevention and settlement " include more than the settlement of a dispute. If a disptue must have already extended beyond the limits of a State before the Court can step in, then, certainly while there may be settlement there is not prevention. If, on the other, the Court has power to step in, and if - it must always be remembered - the Court desires to exercise that power before the dispute has already extended, then the intention of the Constitution in regard to prevention is being carried out. No one can, I think, say that we go beyond the simple proposition that in our view the Constitution contemplates the right of 'the Court to step in, with a view to prevention ; we have no right to minimise or to limit the power of the Court, nor would it be wise to do so even if we had the right. My own view is that the best attitude for th.-i community to take up wherever possible is that of securing the prevention of industrial troubles rather than their settlement after an acute phase has been reached. On these grounds I submit the amendment.

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