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Tuesday, 14 June 1904


Mr WILKS (Dalley) - The importance of the amendment foreshadowed by the Minister of External Affairs cannot be too much emphasized. The Government have realized the disadvantage of allowing organizations to become close corporations. The public will realize that they have materially altered the idea of Arbitration Acts as hitherto known. It is clear that the experience of New South Wales has been of value to the Government. We are now told that the measure is not to be restricted to the organizations. The Government intend to make the Court free and open to all. Boiled down, the position now is that one common rule will apply to one workshop.


Mr Hughes - I put it that one rule would apply to one organization.


Mr WILKS - I understand that in a workshop where unionists and non-unionists work together, after an application has been made to the Court for an award, it will apply to that particular workshop and that particular set of employes.


Mr Hughes - The organization might embrace three or four workshops.


Mr WILKS - But the common rule will in the future apply to one set of employes, and those who do not belong to that set of employes will have a right to appeal against it.


Mr Hughes - They will have an opportunity of protesting or objecting.


Mr WILKS - That is a wonderful improvement in the Bill ; and if the Government had only intimated in the earlier stages of the discussion that it was their intention to move such an amendment a week's struggle would have been saved. I do not know whether the Government were not prepared with their amendment last week, or whether they were not sufficiently acquainted with the measure, which of course was introduced by the late Government. Whatever may have been the reason for keeping the amendment in the dark, and springing it upon the Committee at this stage, I must say that T am very pleased that they have foreshadowed a' proposal of this character, the usefulness of which will be recognised not only amongst the employers, but also the employes throughout Australia. It will be found that the greatest objections which have been raised to the New South Wales Arbitration Act have been absolutely removed. The honorable member for North Sydney has given the illustration of 300 unionists working with 700 non-unionists, and has said that it would be unfair for the 300 to apply to the Court, and to obtain a decision which would affect the 700. But I doubt whether it would be possible to find 300 unionists who were working together in a workshop with 1,000 non-unionists, especially in the iron trade, the members of which in every part of the world form most powerful organizations. But under the proposal of the Government, while the 300 unionists would have the right to apply to the Court for a decision, it would not prevent the 700 non-unionists from appealing against it. I would point out that the argument of the honorable member for North Sydney would apply to all joint stock companies. The shareholders of a bank are not called together every time the directors - who are practically their delegates - make a change in the working of the institution. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa has complained because the Government did not introduce their amendment earlier. Apparently they have had it up their sleeve for some time. If so, it would have been well for them to have introduced it so as to save the time of the Committee. Although I support the Bill, I must say that in my opinion, the less employers and employes use .the Court the better it will be for them. As in the case of other Courts of law, the less we use them the better we like them, and the more we are compelled to use them the less we like them. But an Arbitration Act will stand as the guardian of the rights of the people, whether employers or employes, against the exacting employer on the one hand, and the agitating employe on the other. I think that the Prime Minister, from his acquaintance with industrial concerns, will admit that the less the Court is appealed to the better it will be for all parties. But the honorable gentleman seeks to bring into operation certain machinery, so that, in the event of the employers or employes becoming too exacting, the public shall not be disturbed by their disputes. The amendment foreshadowed liberalizes the arbitration law as we have known it in the past, and will show that the Parliaments of Australia, the land of legislative experiments, has learned something from the experience of New Zealand and New South Wales. We are not fighting for close corporations or an aristocracy of labour, but so that every man, no matter whether he belongs to a union or not, will have power to appeal to the Court. I feel certain that the amendment will remove very many of the objections raised to the measure.







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