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Wednesday, 15 June 1904

Mr FOWLER (Perth) - When the honorable member for Richmond was speaking, in looking round for some case by which he could emphasize his arguments, he lighted with his usual nimbleness on Western Australia. He was very anxious to accuse the representatives of that State in this House of some little inconsistency, in asking that the exceptional conditions of that State should be recognised by the Government :in connexion with this and other measures.

Mr Ewing - I said not " inconsistency, " but "variation."-

Mr FOWLER - The honorable member accused us of an inconsistent departure from the principle of democracy. I think that in looking round for an illustration of inconsistency, he need not have gone further than the honorable member for Richmond himself. We admire his versatility, and particularly his ability to get up and on any text give us an interesting discourse - of which inconsistency as a rule is the prominent characteristic. I do not object to that in the least degree. I think that the whole of the members of this House would be sorry, indeed, if the honorable member for Richmond became so entirely logical that his inconsistencies disappeared. I, for one, - apart from my characteristic racial love of reason and logic - should be very sorry to see any such change. It would, I think, be damaging to the honorable member. The subject which we are discussing, as contained in the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas, is undoubtedly one that causes a good deal of anxiety to the Western Australian representatives. I have listened very carefully to the discussion, and I cannot help coming to the conclusion that the Government in this and in other matters are running a grave danger of riding a very good principle to death. So far as the common rule is concerned, I am anxious to see it applied to the utmost extent, consistent with the varying conditions that exist throughout the Commonwealth. But before I can support the Government in this particular matter, I want to be perfectly certain that any award given under this measure will be one that can be varied in accordance with local conditions. The honorable and learned member for Werriwa raised an important point, which he referred to the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. In order to obtain the opinion of that honorable and learned member, in a more definite form than he gave it by way of interjection, I spoke to him privately, and put to him a possible case. I asked if he thought that a Court constituted under this Bill could vary its judgments in respect to the local conditions of my own State. He admitted that there was very ' grave doubt indeed whether such a tribunal would have a power of that kind under the Constitution. If the Court would- not have that power, then I, for one, emphatically refuse to follow the lead of the Government on this matter. Unless I have a distinct pledge from them, that they will take measures to insure that the award can be varied, I shall support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas. The conditions in the State of Western Australia vary to a very considerable degree. In the first place, they vary as compared with the conditions prevailing in the other States to a very large extent. Take the mining industry. The wages paid in Western Australia are, in some instances, more than -double the wages that prevail in Victoria.

Mr Wilson - Justly so, too.

Mr FOWLER - Justly so; in fact, the special conditions that exist .in Western Australia are not sufficiently recognised even in the wages paid there. In connexion with that matter, I am of opinion that the tendency of any Arbitration Court will be to achieve as much uniformity as possible. I doubt, therefore, whether the very peculiar conditions of Western Aus? tralia would have that consideration from the Court to which they are entitled. But that is not the particular matter to which I wish consideration to be directed. It is this : that even within the Stale of Western Australia, and on one particular gold-field, the conditions vary, so far as the cost of living is concerned, within a distance of, say, twenty miles, as much as 50 per cent. In other words, if a township is on a railway line, the cost of living is much more reasonable than is the case at a mining camp some twenty miles away, where the cost of carrying provisions along a track by waggon increases their price in some instances by 50 per cent. I want to know whether this Court, in considering a dispute, say, in connexion with the mining industry, would be able to differentiate in Western Australia between two such places as I have indicated?

Mr Spence - Why should it not?

Mr FOWLER - I want to know, because I have the opinion of one of the best constitutional authorities in this House, that the decision of the Court must necessarily apply to the whole State. Mr. Watson. - Not at all ; we have specially provided against that.

Mr Kelly - It must be so under section 92 of the Constitution.

Mr FOWLER - Are the Government going to take up such a position as will enable them to save this situation, if they find that they are putting what appear to be unconstitutional clauses into the Bill ?

Mr Watson - We have already stated that the Bill contains sufficient provision to insure that each application to extend the common rule shall be considered on its merits, and we are amending the provisions in that regard by an amendment, of which I have given notice to-day.

Mr FOWLER - I have no doubt that the Government consider that thev occupy good ground in reference to the point. But we have equally good constitutional authority to indicate that there is a likelihood - a very grave likelihood - that the Court cannot vary the conditions, even in a minute degree.

Mr Watson - But they can. If the honorable member looks at paragraph g of clause 46 he will see that every power is given there; and we are modifying that bv an addition to paragraph /.

Mr FOWLER - The power may be given in the Bill. I want to know whether the power that is so conferred by the Bill does not go beyond the power conferred by the Constitution. It is a very important point indeed, and I am sorry that the Government have not given us very much information on that aspect of the subject. They take it for granted that they are acting within the Constitution. But I have, as I say, authority of considerable weight-

Mr Watson - So have we.

Mr FOWLER - Indicating that, possibly, the Government are entirely wrong upon the question.

M!r. Watson. - There is authority of equal weight on the other side.

Mir. FOWLER. - When a question of that kind arises, I am going to be on the safe side; and, until I am absolutely certain, I am going to take no step that might possibly amount to a disastrous condition of things in my own State. As I have already said, I am afraid that the Government, in some respects, are carrying what appears to me to be, and what I believe to be, a good principle, just a little bit too far.

Mr Watson - We are modifying it. Mr. FOWLER.- No.

Mr Batchelor - The honorable member should not say " No," because we are.

Mr FOWLER - It may be so.

Mr Batchelor - It is so; it is not a matter of opinion, but of fact.

Mr FOWLER - I want to say this in conclusion - that I. am not satisfied that the position taken up by the Government is entirely a sound one ; and, until I am so satisfied, I intend to be on the safe side, and, failing the assurance that I have been asking for, shall support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas.

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