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Tuesday, 14 June 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - I propose to deal only with the question of the practicability or otherwise of the amendment submitted bv the honorable and learnid member for Angas. I feel thoroughly satisfied that he has not given it mature consideration. The effect of its adoption would be to render it absolutely impossible for the Shearers' Union to obtain access to the Arbitration Court.

Mr Glynn - I am sorry to hear that.

Mr SPENCE - The honorable a'nd learned member proposes that, before an industrial dispute can be submitted to that Court, it shall be necessary to obtain the concurrence of a majority of the members engaged in the industry. I defy any person to determine how many shearers there are in the Commonwealth today. These men, it must be remembered, are employed only for a portion of the year, usually from July to December, and the number engaged in the industry depends to a large extent upon the weather conditions and the demand for labour. The employers themselves do not engage the same 'men year after year. If the former were asked to supply tha names of their employes they could not do so. I would further point' out that many men are engaged in the industry for one season only. As the representative of an organization of eighteen years' standing, and, as an officer of a trade's union with a quarter of a century's experience, I claim that the proposal is absolutely impracticable. Therefore, I ask the honorable and learned member to withdraw it. When Mr. B. R. Wise framed the New South Wales Arbitration Act I had an opportunity of perusing it before it was submitted to Parliament. On my suggestion one of the clauses was amended to bring the Shearers' and Seamen's Unions within the scope of the Bill, Mr. Wise recognised that it would be impossible, whenever a dispute arose, to secure a representative meeting of the shearers of Australia, because their addresses are not known. I remember one individual who, upon being asked his address, gave the expressive reply, " Ask a crow where his tree is." Shearers are a nomadic class, with no fixed place of abode. It is impossible to secure a vote of the members of the organization itself.

Mr Conroy - Does the honorable member mean to say that a majority of the members of the Shearers' Union are so situated?

Mr SPENCE - I did not make any such statement. The New South Wales Arbitration Act was amended to enable the Shearers' Union to take advantage of the peculiar circumstances of that organization being recognised. When I say that it is impossible to secure a majority vote of its members, of course I refer to the greater portion of the year.

Mr Kelly - Is a dispute likely to arise when the men are not employed?

Mr SPENCE - It is impossible to secure the vote of a majority of those engaged in the industry, because no one can tell how many are so employed. Surely the honorable and learned member for Angas must realize that his proposal involves a great deal more than he foresaw. If the proposal be carried, the Bill may as well be thrown into the waste-paper basket. Moreover, the honorable and learned member . will require to define whether those over twenty - one years of age alone shall possess the voting power, because there are a great number of bovs connected with the Shearers' Union. Who is to superintend the taking of the vote?

Mr Conroy - Who is to go to the Court ?

Mr SPENCE - The honorable and learned member belongs to a school the members of which believe in the policv of non-interference. I appeal to the honorable and learned member for Angas and the honorable and learned member for Werriwa to adhere to their principles, and not to interfere with the internal working of an organization which admittedly knows how to manage its own affairs. The shearers' organization allows nobody to act for it without its authority. We consult its members as widely as it is possible to do so whilst the shearing season is in progress. But in the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Angas, the question of a majority vote of that organization is involved. It would be impossible to secure a majority vote during the off season, because the addresses of its members are unknown. It is impossible to ascertain the number of persons engaged in the pastoral industry from the very nature of their employment, which is of an intermittent character. For instance, there were 63,000,000 of sheep in New South Wales a few years ago, but owing to the drought the number was reduced to 30,000,000. It necessarily follows that less labour is required to shear 30,000,000 sheep than was needed to shear 63,000,000.

Mr Conroy - Does the honorable member believe in the application of the " common rule"?

Mr SPENCE - I trust that we shall deal with one matter at a time. I am pointing out the impracticability of this proposal. Its effect will be to render the Court inaccessible to some of the very organizations to which the Bill was specially intended to apply.

Mr Conroy - If the honorable member did not wish the trades unions to force their opinions upon others, I could understand his position.

Mr SPENCE - The number of men employed in the pastoral industry outside the shearers' organization is not worth counting.

Mr Conroy - I am thinking of the nonunionists.

Mr SPENCE - I am not discussing that question. I am confining my attention to the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Angas, which, if given effect to, will render the Court utterly inaccessible to the Shearers' Union. Can the honorable and learned member for Werriwa, with his marvellous ability, inform the Committee how many wharf labourers there are in the Commonwealth? Of course, he cannot. The number is regulated by the amount of shipping. Nobody carries round the brand of a wharf labourer or of a shearer upon his back.

Mr Hughes - There are plenty of members of the Shearers' Union who belong to the organization to which I belong.

Mr SPENCE - Exactly. That is another difficulty which confronts the honorable and learned member for Angas. If his proposal is adopted, it will be necessary to define, by regulation, the society in which these men shall vote. The amendment is entirely unnecessary. The honorable member for North Sydney seemed to think that a minority might decide the matter. Unions have very decided views as to majority rule, and do not do their business bv the action of minorities. This Bill is based on a recognition of existing conditions, and some' of those conditions, which are regarded by certain persons as dangerous in connexion with unions, have been met by bringing unions under law, and making- them collectively responsible. The honorable and learned member for Corinella put the case very clearly ; and it is recognised that there | is no other way of dealing with industrial disputes. No body of men can express their opinions except by resolution at general meetings or by referendum; no other way. has yet been discovered by humanity. Unions are responsible under penalties to the Court, and have to provide for all these matters in their rules, which, according to the schedule of the Bill, must be drawn up in proper form before there can be registration. The amendment places a bar in .the way ; and with a quarter of a century's experience, particularly in connexion with Inter-State bodies, I say that it would be utterly impracticable to carry on under this amendment. In my opinion, such a provision is unnecessary, seeing that alt safeguards are already provided. I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.

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