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Wednesday, 15 June 1904

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) - I listened with considerable attention, and, I trust, with some profit, to the speech made by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and I agree with him that the points raised are of very great importance, and deserve the very fullest consideration. There is grave doubt as to whether the Constitution gives us power to enact that a Court of Arbitration may declare a common rule that will bind all persons engaged in an industry, whether they be represented before the Court or not. I give expression to my opinions on this matter with some hesitation, because the subject is a most abstruse one; but I am inclined to think that the amendment is certainly within the limits of the Constitution, and is a safe one. As I understand its purport, it is that if, for example, a dispute arose between the owners of, and the workers in, a mine at Broken Hill, and simultaneously a like dispute occurred between the Mount Lyell Company and its miners, the award of the Court in relation to it would be binding on all workmen, unionists or non-unionists, engaged in those two mines. The honorable and learned member for Angas takes exception to the proposition that in such a case the award of the Court should be made applicable to, say, the mine-owners and miners at Rutherglen, Ballarat, Chillagoe, Mount Morgan, Tarcoola, and other places. His contention is sound in equity, and hasgrave considerations of constitutional law to support it. I do not see any grounds, in equity why in such a case the award should be made applicable to the minersnot represented before the Court. The Government have informed us that they propose that industrial organizations of employers and employes, other than those participating in a case before the Court, shall be given an opportunity to be present at any attempt on the part of the Court to fix a common rule. A perusal of the Government amendment which has just been circulated shows, in my opinion, that it would go no distance towards effecting that result. It is proposed that notice shall be given in the Commonwealth Government Gazette. That would be of no advantage. I have been a member of 'this House since 16th December last; but, although I regularly attend the sittings of the House, I have never seen a copy of the Commonwealth Gazette; nor have I met an individual outside 'this Chamber who has- A large number of business men take the Victorian Government Gazette, because of the notices which appear in it from time to time ; but I have never met a business man who takes the Commonwealth Gazette. It, therefore, seems to me that the Government proposition that notice shall be given by means of advertisement in the Gazette is a farcical one. Such a notification would not in any way assist persons who might be affected If the Government amendment were accepted, its effect would be, to use the illustration I have previously given, that a dispute at Mount Lyell and Broken Hill could be settled by the Commonwealth Court of Arbitration; but that, if it were sought to prescribe a common rule, the mine-owners and mining representatives from all other parts of the Commonwealth would be compelled to attend the Court in order to safeguard their interests, and to produce their books, and go through the whole formula of having their case tried, although they might not wish to do so. The Government proposition would increase the work of the Court, without giving any sufficient return.

Mr Watson - What. else can the honorable and learned member suggest to effect the object in view?

Mr ROBINSON - I think that the amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Angas is the correct one.

Mr Watson - That would not permit of a common rule.

Mr ROBINSON - I have the gravest doubt whether the Constitution gives us power to authorize the Court to prescribe a common rule. Notwithstanding what has been said, if the Court declares that the wages at Ballarat should be at a certain rate, at Broken Hill another, at Chillagoe another, and in Mount Morgan yet another, such a rule could not be called common or general.

Mr Watson - That is not a constitutional point ; it is merely a matter of terms.

Mr ROBINSON - It is a question of law whether such a rule could be called common.

Mr Watson - We may call it what we please, as long as we make our meaning clear.

Mr ROBINSON - If such a rule were made, we should have the Court going beyond its constitutional powers to interfere with a dispute that had overflown beyond one State, by fixing the wages, conditions, and hours of employment generally, in industries within the boundaries of any or all of the States, although a dispute might not have arisen in some of them. By this attempt to bring about a common rule we are proposing to allow the Court to interfere in matters which are not in dispute in certain States. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs holds that the Constitution . gives us this power, because it' refers to the "prevention" of industrial disputes; but I agree with the view expressed yesterday by a number of the legal members of the House that the word "prevention" is practically ejusdem generis with the word "settlement," and that we must take it in conjunction with that word. I think that the use of the word " prevention " does not give us wider power than we should possess if we had simply the right to " settle " industrial disputes. The question is of very great importance, and the proposition to provide for the establishment of a common rule is open to so many constitutional objections that it deserves further consideration. I presume that even if we pass the clause as it stands, a further opportunity to consider the question will be given when we are called upon to deal with clause 46. I am not at present satisfied that the Constitution gives us power to establish a common rule, and I shall require very sound arguments to convince me of the correctness of the contention that the High Court would uphold a Statute that empowered the Arbitration Court, in a dispute which had arisen in two States, to fix the conditions of employment in three or four of the other ' States in which no dispute had occurred, and from which no dispute had been referred to the Court. Such a proposition would require much justification before the High Court, and I have notyet heard any arguments dealing seriously with the proposition raised by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. That being so, it seems to me that the safe course for us to pursue will be to vote for the amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Angas. Under it an award would be binding upon, all persons, whether unionists or non-unionists, interested in the dispute in question ; it would enable a dispute arising simultaneously in Broken Hill and Mount Lyell to be effectually settled, and it would also enable the Court to do that which is its duty, and not to interfere with matters which had not been brought before it in the prescribed way.

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