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Thursday, 16 June 1904

Mr WATSON - -I must say that I am rather afraid that the adoption of the amendment in its present shape would go even further than the honorable and learned member for Corinella at present intends. The mere fact of putting an indication in the clause that competition is to be the keynote of the common rule - because I think that that is what it would amount to - would incline the Court to look for substantial competition.

Mr Deakin - Real competition.

Mr WATSON - I think that the Court would carry that as far as language would allow it to be carried, because it might reasonably be argued that the intention of Parliament, in inserting the words, was that, before the common rule should be extended, competition should be absolutely proved, as affecting conditions of employment.

Mr McCay - The word " substantial " was in the first draft of my amendment, but I crossed it out.

Mr WATSON - The honorable and learned member argued that there is some form of competition in the production of wool, inasmuch as it is all sent, to London, so that when there is an immense oversupply prices fall, whilst when there is a shortage they rise; but that might not operate sufficiently in the minds of the Judge to merit it being regarded as substantial competition. In that case, the shearers, to deal with whom the Bill was admittedly introduced, would be left out of account altogether.

Mr McCay - No ; but they would be left out of the application of the common rule.

Mr Kelly - Cannot the Prime Minister trust the Court?

Mr WATSON - Certainly, if the Court is not bound by language which goes even further perhaps than the Committee contemplate. It is the honorable member for Corinella who is not trusting the Court. I am prepared to trust it by leaving out all restrictions upon the application of the common rule.

Mr McCay - Then the Bill might consist of one clause, saying that a Court shall arbitrate.

Mr WATSON - Sooner than restrict the Court in this way, I would give it absolute freedom of action.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If arbitration were to be confined to disputes extending beyond a State, a Bill of six clauses would do.

Mr WATSON - Possibly. As a layman, it at first seemed to me that a much simpler Bill than that drafted would have met the case, except in regard to the extension to oversea ships, to deal with which I have given notice of amendments to-night. The amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella seems capable of being construed in a very restrictive sense indeed, and to an extent that would almost abolish the common rule as a feature of the Bill. It does not give that consideration to industries connected with transportation indicated by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat.

Mr McCay - I explained my reasons for submitting the amendment in its present form, leaving it capable of the expansion referred to, if the Committee thought fit.

Mr WATSON - The honorable and learned member for_ Ballarat referred to the bringing in by common rule of States other than those disturbed by the original dispute. I admit that that is one of the features of the common rule. Of course there is in the minds of every person who has not seen a great deal of the working of this kind of legislation, a natural alarm as to how far it may go.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And a greater alarm in the minds of many who have seen the working of it. =

Mr WATSON - I do not think that there is any real danger to justify fear, so far as the New South Wales experience is concerned. What I wish to point out in regard to the argument of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is that the common rule will have a value apart from any question of its extension to States, other than those originally concerned.

Mr Deakin - Practically there will always be competition between the two States concerned.

Mr WATSON - It will depend upon the industry. But a dispute extending from New South Wales into Victoria may affect only a portion of an industry in each State. The organizations of employes bringing it before the Court may not represent all those employed- in the industry in the two States affected, while the employers cited may not include all the employers. Therefore, in respect to either employes or employers application may very properly be made to the Court to extend the award by way of common rule to others engaged in the industry in those States.

Mr McCay - - There practically must be competition in such a case.

Mr WATSON - Not in all .instances. For instance, the gold-mining industry might be concerned.

Mr Deakin - In that case there would be competition amongst the workmen.

Mr WATSON - In the absence of restrictive legislation, or of the restriction created by trades unions, there would be competition. The ordinary law of supply and demand would apply, so that the greater the number of workmen offering the smaller would be the remuneration, and vice versa. But would that be a form of competition which the Court would hold In be real and substantial, assuming that my original idea as to the construction which the Court would put upon the proviso is correct ?

Mr Deakin - - That depends upon the phrasing of it.

Mr WATSON - I admit that it can be modified to get rid of these doubts.

Mr Deakin - Why not take until tomorrow to think the matter over? It is important.

Mr WATSON - I admit its importance. Perhaps it is worth thinking over. It must be remembered that it was to get over a verv real difficulty that, this was introduced in New Zealand.

Mr McCay - The reason for its introduction is not so obvious here.

Mr WATSON - If the honorable and learned member had heard what was told to me, he no doubt would .appreciate my feeling in the matter. In New Zealand they had four separate industrial districts, and there was an unwillingness to depart from that plan. But it was shown clearly that there was competition between the products of one district and those of another, and the acceptance of competition as the criterion or key-note of the common rule was the only practicable method under the circumstances of getting over the difficulty, and, at the same time, maintaining the original districts. It is not necessary to prove, to secure the application of a common rule within an industrial district, that there is competition there. The idea of insuring that competition shall be proved before a common rule can be extended beyond the boundaries of the industrial district to which it was originally applied was adopted in New Zealand by way 'of compromise. It was a compromise between the representatives of the Auckland district, which, from the point of view of the other districts, had been recalcitrant, and the other members of the House, who were urging that a general common rule should be applied over the whole of the Colony. Therefore, it was not in the nature of a well-thought-out proposal from the point of view of those who wished to make the Act effective, so much as the best scheme that could be adopted under the circumstances.

Mr Deakin - It has worked very well for three years, and has been availed of in several cases.

Mr WATSON - Quite so, and as compared with the previous state of affairs, and from the stand-point of those who desired to see something approaching equal conditions of industry, it was very valuable. At the same time, being a compromise, it does not afford "the same example to us as it would have done if it had been adopted as the best solution of the difficulty apart from the special circumstances. I do not say that these circumstances preclude us from considering the scheme, but it is certainly less valuable than it otherwise might have been. Perhaps, it would be as well to allow a little time for consideration, and I am quite willing to report progress at this stage.

Progress reported.

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