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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - After the remarkable speech by the honorable member for Gippsland, one might readily be excused for asking whether he is the same gentleman who assisted in placing on the statute-book of Victoria a set of laws which, in my opinion, does credit to himself and the Parliament of which he was then a member. Why should such heat be introduced into this discussion? The object of the Victorian legislation was the relief of employes, who are under-paid and sweated, and who live under conditions far from just and equitable ; and I cannot understand how the honorable member for Gippsland can now condemn a provision which has exactly the same end in view. I cannot see that the amendment is very important, or can be very effective.

Mr McCay - Then accept it.

Mr WEBSTER - I suppose that the honorable and learned member for Corinella, like, many legal gentlemen, implies that it is impossible for a layman to see anything ?

Mr McCay - I am merely asking why you do not accept the amendment, if it be. such as you describe.

Mr WEBSTER - It is not necessary te introduce an amendment, which only makes the clause more confusing than it was originally.

Mr Wilson - The amendment modifies, the clause.

Mr WEBSTER - That is not so; and I shall show the position as it appears to me. The clause deals with the application of an award to the industries affected ; and honorable members of the Opposition, who talk so much about placing too much confidence in the Judge, seem to lose sight of the fact that our whole system of jurisprudence implies confidence in our Judiciary.

Mr Mcwilliams - But there is no appeal from this Court.

Mr WEBSTER - I know there is no appeal in the ordinary sense of the term, but the Judge may apply to the High Court as to points of law about which he is in doubt.

Mr McCay - There is no appeal in the proper sense of the term.

Mr WEBSTER - I know there is no appeal according to the usual methods. I have no hesitation in giving the Judge the power proposed, because the Court has the right to review any award on the production of new evidence that the award is operating unjustly or hardly on any section of employers or employed. There may- be no right of appeal, but this Court can do what other Courts cannot do, viz., review' cases in the light of new evidence. The amendment indicates that the honorable and learned member for Corinella is afraid that, under the clause as it stands, the Court, iri applying the common rule, may be inclined! to extend that rule all over the Commonwealth, without regard to common-sense or reason. I have seen the common rule in. operation in New South Wales, and remember the discussion which took place on the clause in the Parliament of that State; and the object of such legislation is to bring into line competing industries, one section of which has appealed to the Court and obtained an award. The Court would never think for a moment or reducing wages which, in the same industry in another State, were higher than those fixed by an award. That would be no part of the business of the Court. The very fact that in a certain industry - in, s»ay, Western Australia - wageswere higher than in some of the other States would be clear proof that the conditions were different, and the Judge, as a. man of common-sense, would realize the position disclosed by the evidence. Under such circumstances there could be no danger of the application of a common rule ; the only result would be the raising of lower wages to the level of the rate fixed by the award.

Mr Kelly - Is - it not natural to suppose that the higher rate of wages would come down to the minimum ?

Mr WEBSTER - That has not been the experience where a similar law is in operation.

Mr Kelly - Does the honorable member think that an employer wishes for charity's sake to pay higher wages than he need?

Mr WEBSTER - I do not quite catch the question. The honorable member seems to have a habit of ruminating on a discussion, and of putting little puzzling, questions at inopportune times. I happen to be in a position different from that occupied by the honorable member, inasmuch as I have had experience both as an employer and as anemploye1; and I, therefore, .possess knowledge which, owing to his environment, he cannot have obtained. Honorable members on this side have not only had experience as employes, but have had as keen an association with employers and their interests as has the honorable member or any of those who taught him what he knows.

Mr Kelly - -We are not considering the interests of employers, but the interests of the country.

Mr WEBSTER - I arn discussing the point raised by the honorable member's irrelevant interjection.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Gwydir need not notice interjections.

Mr WEBSTER - I realize that fact, Mr. Chairman, and I also realize that if the practice of interjecting had not been indulged in so largely, this discussion would have been shortened to a very material degree. Personally, I prefer neither to interject nor to notice interjections. The opponents of the clause have a fear that the Court will bring down the higher wages paid in States other than that in which the award is given - that wages will be reduced to the level of the award. Such an idea is ridiculous on the face of it. How does the honorable and learned member for Corinella propose to define where competition begins and where competition ends?

Mr McCay - I am going to trust the Court.

Mr Watson - We want to trust the Court, but the honorable member for Corinella does not. - Mr. WEBSTER. - I want to trust the Court in matters affected by this clause; and, after all, the Court has to be trusted in much more critical matters. Take the case of an industry in which an award has raised the wages, by, say, as. per week. Although the product of a similar industry in an adjoining State may not hitherto have been in competition, it comes into competition immediately the award is given, because it is produced under cheaper conditions. That seems clear enough. The amendment certainly does not improve the clause, but leaves even more complicated questions to be dealt with by the Judge. However, I do not think the amendment would make a great deal of difference, seeing that it is simply explanatory, or an instruction to a Judge as to the limits within which the award shall apply.

Mr Mcwilliams - That is just exactly what we want.

Mr Watson - That is, honorable members are not prepared to trust the Judge.

Mr WEBSTER - There is no necessity for the amendment, because the Judge will not apply an award except where it is necessary. By the amendment a position is created which will make it verv difficult for any Judge - even the intelligent Judge such as has been indicated by the honorable member for Gippsland - to ascertain what the legislation means; whether it means competition at the time an award is given, or competition which is likely when the conditions are altered in- a particular industry in a State. These are matters of moment. I certainly think the Committee would do well to consider, not only the wording of the amendment, but its application. I am surprised to hear the honorable member for Gippsland attributing to legislation of this kind the fact that population and capital are leaving the country. So far as Victoria is concerned, I dare say that to some extent the honorable member's statement is correct ; but any man who has studied the Federal Constitution, must have realized that when once Federation was go£ into working order and a uniform Tariff imposed, capital must naturally leave Victoria for New South Wales, where industries will ultimately be developed. Under the strictly protective Tariff which previously prevailed in Victoria, industries were developed in that State, but immediately the conditions were altered under the Federal regime, attention was directed to fields which are greener in New South Wales, and where the possibilities are greater.

Mr McLean - I spoke of capital that I know to have been withdrawn from industries from fear of the effects of legislation of this kind.

Mr WEBSTER - If that is so, the honorable member has not been happy in setting the example he did as a statesman in the Victorian Legislature. After leading the people up to the stage of believing that the operation of. the Victorian law - which the honorable member did so much to pass, and which has done so much for so many poor people in this State - would improve their lot, the honorable member condemns us because we want to apply a law of a similar character to the Commonwealth.

Mr McLean - I stated that I thought that people were alarmed and that there was not proper justification. But notwithstanding they were alarmed, and did withdraw capital.

Mr WEBSTER - This idea about the withdrawal of capital is a nightmare. The honorable member for Wentworth laughs. Of course I know that he understands all about these matters. It cannot be expected that to a gentleman of such attainments, such questions would be wrapt in mystery. There are, of course, no doubts in his mind. The statistics of New South Wales pi, Ki >!:)>' with regard to the amount of capital which has been spent in that State in the development of industries since the Labour Party came into existence, and since this so-called socialistic legislation has been in operation, show that the. hue and cry about the withdrawal of capital is entirely unwarranted.

Mr Kelly - Let us have those statistics.

Mr WEBSTER - More money has been invested in New South Wales during the last four years than in any period in the history of the State. I shall be out of order in entering into questions which are foreign to the amendment, but I think it necessary to say that all this talk about the effect of such legislation as we are now passing upon the future of Australia is absolutely groundless. In my opinion the future will show - as has been the case in New Zealand - that this legislation will tend, not to drive capital from the country but to bring it to Australia; not to retard progress, but to assist in development ; not to degrade the people, but to lift them to a higher level where they can live as human beings. The whole' trend of this legislation is to elevate humanity instead of keeping them where our opponents desire to keep them, under the heel of capital, so that the capitalists can live on them to their heart's content.

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