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Thursday, 16 June 1904

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - There is one aspect of the common rule which 1 view with some alarm. At the present time there are many industries, such" as the mining industry, for example, in which men can earn much more by going to outoftheway parts of the Commonwealth than by staying near centres of civilization. Mr. Hutchison. - Can the mining industry come under the Bill?

Mr McLEAN - The miners, the seamen, and similar large bodies of men are those most affected. A case of this kind might arise. Many miners have left Victoria and gone to Western Australia or Queensland, and there earn much more than they could earn here.

Mr Page - They were very wise.

Mr McLEAN - But shall we be wise in preventing them from continuing to do so ?

Mr Watson - Under the next clause, the Court has power to make any exceptions in view of local conditions which it may think fit.

Mr McLEAN - No doubt, the Court could take into consideration the difference between the cost of living in two places, but it would not take into consideration the circumstances which justify the payment of £2 or £3 a week in excess of the cost of living to one man and of only £1 to another. That being so, men will lose the advantages which they have hitherto obtained by going to distant places, and submitting to many hardships in order to earn higher wages.

Mr Watson -There is no limitation on the discretion of the Court. Mr. McLEAN. - Does the Prime Minister think that a Judge of the High Court would feel justified in saying-" I shall allow a man in Western- Australia to earn £4 a week over and above his living expenses, but a man in Ballarat is not to earn more than 30s. a week above his living expenses "?

Mr Higgins - He would have full power to do that.

Mr McLEAN - I am satisfied ' that no Judge would differentiate further than between the cost of living in any two places. If we asked him to do more than that, where would his work end? Is it reasonable to expect him to say how much a man in Western Australia or in some distant part of Queensland should earn clear of expenses, and how much a man similarly employed in a more settled State should earn? No doubt a Judge, as a reasonable man, - would allow larger wages in places where the cost of living was high than he would allow where the cost of living was low ; but' he would not differentiate further than that, and allow one man to earn perhaps two or three times as much, clear of living expenses, as was earned by another. That being so, the application of a common rule would kill all enterprise and reduce everything in an industry like mining to the dead, dull level which prevails in the larger centres of population, such as Ballarat and Bendigo, where all the comforts of life are obtainable, and, where, therefore, men are satisfied to work for lower wages ?

Mr Isaacs - Has the honorable member read the next paragraph ?

Mr McLEAN - I am going beyond this Bill to the Constitution, and I should like to have my honorable and learned friend's opinion on the point ; because . there is no one whose opinion on a constitutional matter I value so highly. 'Does my honorable friend think that a Judge would differentiate to the extent of saying that he would allow a man to earn £4 a week, clear of all expenses, in Western Australia, and only 30s. a week, clear of expenses, in New South Wales or Victoria ? I am sure that my honorable and learned friend will agree that a Judge would not do so. If he would, the conditions to which I have referred would prevail. A number of men who have left this State have been sending money to their families here, out of their large earnings in other States, notably Western Australia. If the common rule were applied to the extent of cutting, clown the clear profits made by these men, over and above their living expenses, we should inflict great injury upon them. I would ask honorable members to consider this matter carefully. I do not think that the Attorney-General will contend that, under a common rule, one man in Western Australia would be permitted to earn £4 or £5 clear of his expenses, whilst another was able to save only 30s. per week in Victoria.

Mr Watson - Will the honorable member yield if the Attorney-General says he is wrong?

Mr McLEAN - I do not think he will say so, because he is most consistent. I have heard him arguing on similar questions before, and I do not think that the fact that he now occupies a seat on the Treasury benches will induce him to take up an attitude different from that which he has previously assumed. I would ask honorable members to seriously consider the aspect of the case which I have presented.

Mr. HUGHES(West Sydney- Minister of External Affairs). - I think that the honorable member, who has just resumed his seat, has omitted to consider that a Judge, in determining his award, would have regard to all those circumstances which determine rates of wages. Now, the wages paid in connexion with the mining industry at Ballarat, are determined, first of all, by the number of miners and the cost of living, and, secondly, by the comforts of civilization. Precisely the same factors operate in Western Australia. It is notorious - as the honorable member really admitted, in the course of his argument, although, perhaps he was not aware of the fact - that in new countries, with few of the advantages of civilization, the wages are higher than in older communities, because of the hardships which have to be endured.

Sir John Forrest - Food is dearer.

Mr HUGHES - Precisely. The honorable member for Gippsland made that point. In addition to that - I am not going to say that it is unhealthy in Kalgoorlie - any man might readily prefer to accept £2 pet week, in Melbourne or Ballarat, rather than work at Kalgoorlie at a wage of £4 per week. It might pay him better to remain here. That most people do prefer to remain here is proved by the fact that, in spite of the higher wages paid at Kalgoorlie, there is not an inordinately large number of people there, but only a comparatively few men of a specially enterprising and energetic character. I think that that is generally admitted. These are the circumstances which now determine the different rates of wages. We find that in Europe, for instance, the wages are lowe* than in new countries like America or Australia. In the older countries there is more competition, and a different standard of living, and the people possess advantages which we do not enjoy. The Judge would have regard to all these circumstances. My honorable friend says that the Judge would not make any greater difference in the rate of wages as between Western Australia and Ballarat than would be marked by the difference in the cost of living. But he is supposing that the Judge would lose sight of all those other factors which cause rates to vary at present. Besides the difference in the cost of living, there are the discomforts which naturally attend the pursuit of one's livelihood in districts where the benefits of civilization are not so ready to hand as they are here. For instance, if I went to one of what are called the inside districts of New South Wales, and found employment on a station, I might be able to earn £1 per week and my rations. If I went further out, I should probably be able to command 25s, per week, and if I went still further back, close to the border of South Australia, I should, if other things were equal, probably receive still more. Therefore, the Judge would take into account the difference in locality, climate, and circumstances generally. He certainly ought to do so.

Mr Kelly - Would the honorable and learned member propose to divide the Commonwealth into industrial districts?


Mr McLean - How could a Judge determine all those matters ?

Mr HUGHES - The honorable member who seizes on that objection as if it were a sheet-anchor forgets that he acknowledged that the Judge would be able to ascertain accurately the difference in the cost of living in various places.

Mr McLean - He could ascertain that easily enough.

Mr HUGHES - I contend" that the other conditions are susceptible of investigation by precisely the same means. They are, in point of fact, indicated by the existing differences in the rates of wages.

Mr Kelly - Could the Minister conceive of a man working in the back country perhaps because the climate benefited his health? How could the Judge take that into account?

Mr HUGHES - If it were suggested to the honorable member that it would benefit his health to live up to his waist in mud, would he go to New Zealand, or to Moree, in New South Wales, where, there are hot springs, and act as a tank-sinker without pay?

Mr Kelly - No.

Mr HUGHES - We may very well put all cases of that kind on one side. The honorable member may have come here for the benefit of his health, although not . for the benefit of ours, so far as I am aware. Should we ask him to hand back a portion of his honorarium because his presence here will benefit his health? The Judge would take into consideration all the factors I have mentioned, which would be as readily ascertainable as is the cost of living. Any Judge who would not do so is certainly not likely to be called upon to adjudicate in these matters.

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