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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) - The honorable member for Darling has furnished one of the strongest arguments which could be brought against the Bill, quite apart from this particular clause, and as this clause is the backbone of the measure, I think I shall be in order in replying briefly to a few of the statements which he advanced. He told us that there has been a large increase in the number of persons employed in factories in this State since the Victorian Factories Act was passed. I take his assurance to that effect ; but it proves only that that Act is an infinitely better measure than is the one under discussion. In New South Wales, where for the last three years an Arbitration Act has been in force, there has been an increase of only about thirty-one hands - speaking from memory - in the total factory population, and a decrease in the number of male hands, although, prior to the passing of the Act, there had been a steady yearly increase of something like 2,000 hands.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member is not in order.

Mr KELLY - I am making a brief reply to ' the statements of the honorable member for Darling.

The CHAIRMAN - I cannot allow that.

Mr KELLY - Then I apologize, Mr. Chairman. The honorable member for Gwydir is to be congratulated upon his new definition of the common rule, which the honorable member for Darling has supported. He says that rates of wages are to be levelled up to the highest paid by any employer, and the honorable member for Darling tells us the same thing. We are also informed that the Judge of the Arbitration Court will be an omniscient being. Now, an omniscient being would know that such a step would upset the economic conditions of the country, and bring ruin, first upon the employes, and afterwards upon the employers, who have the more staying power. The . Committee is, in my opinion,- rather too slavishly following the precedents set by State legislation. The application of common rules may be an excellent thing in the States, because it may prevent numerous petitions to the Court ; but the jurisdiction of the Federal Court will be different from that of a State Court, inasmuch as it will cover only disputes extending beyond the boundaries of any one State. A common rule applied under such circumstances would impose an obligation upon persons not concerned in the dispute within the cognisance of the Court, and would create fresh disputes by giving cause for appeals and petitions against its application. The application of common rules may be necessary under State legislation, though I do not say that it is, but it is absurd to consider it necessary in Federal legislation. The only effect of the application of common rules under Federal legislation will be to glut the Court with appeals against decisions, and to prevent bond fide cases of dispute from being heard. The rough difference between the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella and the proposal of the Government is that the former gives the direction to the Court that common rules shall be applied only in cases where injustice would occur if they were not applied, and the Government allow the unrestricted application of the principle of the common rule. Some such provision is the logical corollary of the arguments used by the Prime Minister in support of the principle of the common rule. He posed as the friend of the employer, and. said that it was to safeguard the honest employer that this- provision was inserted in the Bill. That being so, why does* he not go further, and say that the honest employer shall not be forced to appeal against common rules applied to him in connexion with disputes in which his branch of industry is in no way concerned ?. Last night the Government told us that the position of the shearers prevented them from accepting the amendment; but I think that the proposed amendment on it, inserting the words " labour or," meets that objection. The honorable and learned member for Corinella wishes to leave it to the Court to decide whit' is and what is not competition ; but the

Ministry tell us that the omniscient Judge whom they are going to appoint will be incapable of deciding so important a question. Yet he is to be asked to say what has prompted a man to live in any particular part of the country. The Minister of External Affairs told us the other night that a man living in the back-blocks deserves higher wages than a man living in the city, because all would live near the city if they could. But there are sometimes considerations of home and surroundings which make the distant back country more congenial than city life. Is the Judge to inquire into these personal considerations? To impose such a task upon him is to require more than the honorable and learned member for Corinella would wish. How is a Judge going to review all the varying conditions which prevail from the rolling downs of West Sydney, where all the discontented farm labourers live, to the back country of the Darling, where are to be found the only thoroughly contented domestic servants in Australia ? Under the Government proposal the Judge will require to take into consideration all these different conditions. The amendment submitted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella is in the nature of a suggestion to the Court regarding the direction in which Parliament desires the common rule to be applied. It is a fair application of that principle if it is wise to accept it at all. I shall support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella.

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