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Wednesday, 15 June 1904

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The discussion on this clause has revealed one of the great defects of this measure, which has been pointed out time after time. It is this - that the Bill seems to have been drafted with the intention of providing, first, a Federal Arbitration Court for cases extending beyond a State ; and, secondly, of providing a complete State Arbitration Bill for dealing with every question - not merely overflow disputes - in every State throughout Australia; while in the remaining provisions ingenious methods are inserted to evade the Constitution, and make it possible for the Federal Government to take under its control all the industries of Australia. I agree with the honorable member for Perth - at least, I agree with what his remarks would lead me to think are his conclusions - that we should, so far from centralization, have determined on decentralization as the best principle for controlling the industries of Australia. Local Courts ought to be far better able than a Federal Court to consider local circumstances. And with the honorable member for Perth I believe that there would be very grave danger - whether or not the Constitution demands equality - in placing all control in a central body, which cannot give due weight to local conditions. The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Angas is, in my opinion, a sufficient extension or the powers of the Court, at any rate at the earlier stages of a Federal law of this nature. The amendment gets rid of some of those dangers to which the honorable member for Perth has alluded, dangers which would certainly prove to be serious in the administration of ' this measure. A central Court cannot give that full consideration which is desirable to all the local circumstances which affect the rates of wages in different States and different portions of the States; and for that reason 1 believe it much safer to follow the course suggested by the honorable and learned member for Angas than to adopt the more extensive and more dangerous proposal of the Government. The Prime Minister has said that all the honorable member for Perth suggested is provided for in the Bill.

Mr Watson - I say that power is given to the Court by sub-clause g to meet all varving conditions.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What I am pointing out is that 'the system adopted in the Bill is one of centralization ; that is, presuming all the industries of the different States can be brought under that system. If those industries cannot be brought under the system, then the suggestion of the honorable and learned member for Angas is a good one.

Mr Watson - But the amendment does not go so far as the honorable and learned member for Angas indicated in his speech. With the amendment the clause could not be applied to other than the individuals immediately concerned as parties in the case.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not mean as to individual members. I do not know that the honorable and learned member intended to go so far.

Mr Watson - The honorable and. learned member said so.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we are able to deal only with disputes extending beyond the limits of a State, then the proposal by the honorable and learned member for Angas is a good one; and many honorable members have declared that these are the only disputes with which we can deal. If, on the other hand, we are to deal with all disputes that may arise in any industry anywhere in the States, one Court, under this system of centralization, will have to take into consideration a multiplicity of differences in conditions, which would be far better dealt with by local Courts. There has to be considered the differences in attitude towards rates of wages. Some of the higher wages given in parts of Australia are only partly due to different climatic conditions and cost of living ; they may be due to a different attitude towards rates of wages in a place which is doing exceedingly well, such as Western Australia, where the mine-owners and others are making large fortunes. There higher wages are, for instance, given than in Queensland, where, in some parts, the conditions are not so good. Undoubtedly a Court that has to do with all Australia will not take into consideration this varying attitude together with the other climaticand social conditions. There should be decentralization, so that the body dealing, with an industry may be in close touch with the conditions and attitude of employers in a particular State, and keep in view the degree of prosperity those employers are experiencing, so that the wages in that State may be settled on local conditions. For that reason it would havebeen much wiser to adopt a different systemin the drafting of the Bill. The Federal power should have been left to deal withdisputes extending beyond the limits of anyone State, and the States authorities left todeal with local matters, of which they must have a better knowledge than could anycentral Court.

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