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Wednesday, 15 June 1904


Mr SPENCE (Darling) - I hope that the Committee will reject the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas. He has indicated that he wishes to set a limit to the powers of the Court.

It would be unwise to limit the powers of the Court. The intention of the Bill is that disputes which the parties fail to settle between themselves shall be referred to the Court, and the honorable and learned member for Angas does not seem to appreciate the logical conclusion to which he would be driven if the principle which he advocates were fully applied. We must, in the verv nature of things, place absolute trust in the Court. The working classes risk very much more than do the employers by placing their reliance solely in the Court., because if there is any class bias on the part of the Court it is not likely to operate against the latter. As the question of the common rule has been referred to, I would point out that no such difficulties as those mentioned need be apprehended. It is not contemplated that the terms of an award shall be extended beyond the area to which it can be appropriately applied. The references which have been made to New Zealand in this connexion are scarcely applicable. That Colony has been divided into districts, which are very much in the nature of natural divisions. Owing to the special conditions of settlement there, and the fact that the only means of communication between many of the districts is by water, no parallel cases are to be found in Australia. The Honorable B. R. Wise, when he introduced the Arbitration Bill in New' South Wales, proposed to divide that State into districts, but he was afterwards persuaded to abandon the idea. No difficulty has been experienced in applying the awards of the Court to the State as a whole, because the terms in each case can be modified to suit varying local conditions. Speaking of the industry with which I am most familiar, I may point out that the employers and the employes in the pastoral industry have been able to clear the ground of technical difficulties, and to arrive at an agreement in regard to a number of details relating to shearing work. The pastoral industry is the largest, and the organizations connected with it are the most powerful, in the Commonwealth. Yet really only one issue is awaiting the decision of the Arbitration Court, and that is the question of the piecework rates to be paid to shearers, and the wages to be given to other employes engaged in attending upon them. When this matter comes before the Court, evidence will have to be given by both sides as to the price which should be paid in the different States. This price will vary according to custom and local conditions. In Victoria the practice followed is to pay shearers so much per hundred, and supply them with rations, whereas in New South Wales a certain rate per hundred is paid, and the men find themselves. There is no quarrel between the workers and their employers upon that point. The only question to be decided is as to what would be a sufficient rate to enable the shearers to earn what is called a fair wage. After the Court has heard the evidence, it will give its award, which will .probably partake of a fourfold character. Certain terms will have to be applied to New South Wales and Queensland. One form of award will probably suffice to cover both those States, .and will not be objected to by either side. Another award will embrace the whole of Victoria, except, perhaps, a small tract of country near the river Murray. In regard to South Australia, two awards would have to be given, one applying to the northern districts and the other to the south-eastern districts. The application of the common rule will be restricted by the terms of these differing awards, and there is not likely to be any difficulty in imposing conditions which will be reasonable and fair to both sides. There is a strong objection to requiring the Court to settle too many details, and honorable members apparently overlook the fact that they may push their arguments too far. In the pastoral industry we have disposed of a number of details by mutual agreement. The Court could not be expected to enter into all these small matters, but the agreement arrived at between the parties regarding them could be embodied in the award. Only the. more serious matters need be brought before the Court. We have to bear itf mind that we are providing first for conciliation, and afterwards for arbitrationThe Judge will, in effect, say to the parties, " Try and settle between yourselvesas many matters as possible, and then ask us to arbitrate with regard to the issuesupon which you cannot arrive at an agreement. Submit your evidence to us, and" we shall make an award in which we shall embody the terms upon which you havearrived at an understanding by mutual consent." Then provision would be madefor penalties for breaches of the award. I do not see the necessity for limiting the-

I powers of the Court. The Judges of our ordinary Courts of Justice are not limited as to their powers, except as to the nature and extent of the penalty to be inflicted. We rely upon them to administer justice according to the evidence, and we should repose the same trust in the Arbitration Court. It would be foolish for us, as a Parliament, to attempt to restrict the powers of the Court in the way now proposed. As I have" already pointed out, the organization .with which I am connected has arrived at a mutual -agreement with some sections of the employers upon a number of matters. The Victorian pastoralists, for instance, have come to terms as to wages and almost every other condition. Some of the pastoralists of New South Wales and Queensland have declined to meet us and discuss terms, but when they find that we can appeal to the Court, they may be disposed to arrive at some voluntary settlement. Honorable members need not fear that the Court will be called upon to deal with small disputes. Its authority will be exercised for the most part, if not wholly, in regard to disputes in which large Inter-State organizations are involved. In connexion with these large organizations, the checks against disputes are more effective than those which exist in connexion with the smaller unions. Every writer who has studied the internal management of labour organizations, agrees that the larger the organization the less chance there is of trouble arising. The Court will experience by far the greatest difficulty in dealing with the large manufacturing industries, in which machinery is so largely employed, and in which the equipment is being constantly changed. I believe in people settling their own differences as far as possible. I have been characterized as a firebrand, but that is only because I cannot help giving expression to my indignation whenever I can see that an injustice is being done. Every right-thinking person naturally experiences a feeling of indignation when he sees a section of the community subjected to injustice. I frankly admit that the best conditions under which an industry can be conducted are those which are laid down as the result of consultation between the parties who are chiefly concerned. I am satisfied that under the operation of this Bill many voluntary settlements of industrial disputes will be effected. I trust that the clause will be retained in its present form.







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