Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr POYNTON (Grey) - There is a well recognised rule amongst parliamentarians that, if it is impossible to defeat a measure on the motion for the second reading, the next best course for its opponents to pursue is to mutilate it in Committee to such an extent that it will become unworkable. Attempts in this direction on the part of those who have previously expressed themselves as being altogether opposed to legislation of this kind, cannot be condemned on the ground of inconsistency; but I cannot understand the attitude of those who, whilst professing to sympathize with the objects of the Bill, make themselves parties to a proposal that must eventually convert it into so much waste paper. The honorable member for New England has made it-clear since his election to this House that he is opposed to legislation of this kind, in any shape or form.

Mr Lonsdale - No ; I say that we should test the question by the experience of others before we take action.

Mr POYNTON - At an earlier stage the honorable member emphatically declared his opposition to legislation of this description, and, therefore, he is quite consistent in supporting an amendment that, if carried, would make the Bill useless.

Mr McCay - The honorable member is the only one who thinks that the amendment would have that effect.

Mr POYNTON - There are other honorable members who share my opinion. I have already said that it would be unwise to declare to what particular industries the Bill shall apply, and I do not intend to support any proposal that would have the effect of limiting its operation. If I had not believed that the Bill was a good one I should have opposed the motion for the second reading, and have followed the course adopted by others who have contested practically every clause. But believing as I do that it is calculated to accomplish much good - that it will benefit not only the employes, but all humane employers and the community generally - I give the measure my heartiest approval. I have always held that legislation designed to prevent the cessation of work because of any trade dispute - and that is the object of this Bill - is worthy of support. Under this Bill it would be impossible for a strike to occur. If a dispute arose in any industry, not a day would be lost, but the matter would be settled, according to evidence, by persons who had no axe to grind. If the Bill be mutilated, as it would be by the adoption of this and other proposed amendments, all the time that we have devoted to its consideration would have been wasted. What is a common rule? The honorable member for Gippsland has informed us that, as Premier of Victoria, he administered the Factories Act, and appointed more Wages Boards than did any of his predecessors.

Mr Tudor - Out of a total of twentynine appointed, the honorable member created twenty-three.

Mr POYNTON - Quite so. We see the application of the common rule in the operation of those boards. I am prepared to admit that their decisions apply only to industries within the metropolitan area, but the honorable member for Gippsland admits that they have done much good, and we hope that this measure will be attended with equally satisfactory results. What is the good that it will achieve ?

Mr Wilson - That is what we want to know.

Mr McColl - Do not " stone-wall " the Bill ; let us get to a division.

Mr POYNTON - The honorable member does not care whether the Bill is mutilated or not.

Mr Tudor - He is anxious that it should be mutilated.

Mr McColl - The honorable member knows nothing about the matter. I wish to see the Bill passed.

Mr POYNTON - That being so, the honorable member should vote against the amendment. Let us pass a measure that will be worthy of a place on our statutebook. Those who are seeking to mutilate the Bill by supporting the amendment would have adopted a much more manly course had they voted against the motion for the second reading. How will1 it be possible to bring the shearers under the operation of the Bill if this amendment be carried? It cannot be said that shearers employed in the back-blocks of Queensland come into competition with those engaged in Victoria and in South Australia.

Mr McCay - Do not the products of the industry in the different States come into competition ?

Mr POYNTON - Not at all, and certainly not in the sense in which competition would be interpreted by the Court. If an award is made increasing rates in a certain place in the bootmaking trade, I can well understand that it might be held that the persons affected are in competition with boot manufacturers in other places, and that the increased rates would, therefore, be unfair, unless they were made general. I have always contended that, as far as possible, we should secure uniformity of conditions by our industrial legislation. T hold, for instance, that in connexion with Inter-State free-trade, it is essential that every industry in the Commonwealth should, as nearly as possible, be placed on an equal footing ; but if the amendment is accepted, the whole object of this Bill will, as regards securing equality of conditions, be defeated. I venture to say to the honorable member for Gippsland that if the awards of the Wages Boards, which he established, applied only to the persons concerned in the special cases brought before them, and not to all persons engaged in similar industries, they would have been only so much waste paper. In the same way honorable members would make waste paper of this Bill, unless we are verycareful. The honorable member for Corangamite supports the amendment, but he is consistent in that, because he is an avowed opponent of the Bill. The honorable member is opposed to this kind of legislation, but he is inconsistent in that, inasmuch as he has no objection to its application to the profession to which he belongs. Members of the honorable member's profession refuse to work with non-unionists. It is undoubted that members of the profession to which the honorable member for Corangamite belongs refuse to recognise non-unionists. It is a matter of surprise to me that persons who constitute a guild of their own, which it is almost impossible to enter, -should always be opposed to this legislation, in the interests of other persons.

The CHAIRMAN - I think the honorable member's remarks are not applicable to the question of a common rule.

Mr POYNTON - I say that there are rules connected with the association to which the honorable member for Corangamite belongs which apply to every individual in that association in Australia.

Mr Kelly - Their rules do not fix the payment which each shall extract from those who employ them.

Mr POYNTON - They provide that they shall not work with non-unionists. We had a very striking illustration of that some years ago in Adelaide, in the hospital dispute which occurred there.

The CHAIRMAN - I remind the honorable member that I do not consider his remarks relevant to the question. The Committee is dealing with common rules which are to be orders of the Court. I do not think that the rules to which the honorable member refers are orders of any Court.

Mr POYNTON - It is objected that the President of the Court will be some person unknown. I find that an amusing objection, in view of the fact that honorable members are aware that it has been decided that a Justice of the High Court shall be President of the Arbitration Court.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - None of them would take the position.

Mr POYNTON - Is that the excuse now? The Bill we are discussing provides that a Justice of the High Court shall preside over the Arbitration Court, and yet some honorable members infer that the Court will be constituted of inferior men who cannot be entrusted with the administration of this law. To my mind, that is a verv grave reflection upon the gentlemen whom we have appointed Justices of th". High Court. It is most creditable to the working classes of Australia that they should be prepared to hand over their weaponsof war - the right to cease work whenever they thinkfit - to the discretion of the proposed Court.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They retain the right under this Bill, with a week's notice, if they are engaged by the week.

Mr POYNTON - They cannot strike under this Bill.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They can stop work at the end. of a week.

Mr POYNTON - They cannot strike under this Bill, and it is of no use for the honorable member to endeavour to lead me off the track in that way. The whole object of this Bill is to prevent strikes.


Mr POYNTON - It has been urged against the passing of the Bill that in the United Kingdom, in America, and on the Continent of Europe the labouring classes have not been prepared to trust their case to an Arbitration Court. I say that it speaks volumes to the credit of the labouring classes of Australia that they should be prepared to repose such confidence in a Justice of the High Court as to hand over to him all their interests, and depend upon him to mete out justice in their disputes. Honorable members are opposing the imposition of a common rule on the ground that men carrying on mining at Coolgardie will be affected by a decision in a case affecting the mining industry at Ballarat. The President of the Court under this Bill will be a man, I believe, not only of common sense but with a fine sense of honour. I believe that he will conscientiously inquire into every case brought before him, and to suggest that he will give a decision in a particular case and then makehis award applicable over the whole continent of Australia, is not very complimentary to the person who will be appointed to this position.

Mr Knox - He will have the ordinary limitations of human nature.

Mr POYNTON - Does the honorable member for Kooyong believe that the Justice of the High Court, who will be President of the Arbitration Court, will give a decision in a mining case at Ballarat, and make his award a common rule affecting miners in Kalgoorlie? Does he believe that the mining industry of Broken Hill will be affected by such an award? I ask honorable members to consider the coal-mining industry. Will not those engaged in that industry come under the amendment? Do not products of their industry come into competition with the products of the same industry in other places that may not be before the Court? The more the amendment is looked into, the better honorable members will see the extent of the trouble to which it would give rise. I cannot see how the products of silver, lead, or gold mining industries will come into competition in any way. There is no doubt in my mind that this amendment would have the effect of excluding those engaged in them from the operation of the Bill, and that it would also absolutely exclude shearers and seamen. I ask any honorable member present to place himself in the position of a delegate appearing before the Arbitration Court, and try to prove that seamen and waterside workers in one place are brought into competition with those in another. It is clear that we must leave wide discretionary powers to the Court. We have appointed as Justices of the High Court able men, who from day to day are trusted to deal with matters of the very greatest importance, and it is not very complimentary to them for honorable members to suggest now that we should not, without imposing limitations which will stultify the principle of the Bill, have sufficient confidence in them to give them the administration of this law. I tell honorable members candidly that, if this amendment be agreed to, they can have the Bill for my part.

Mr Cameron - We do not want it.

Mr POYNTON - I desire that this Bill should be passed, or I should not be so strongly opposed to the amendment. I view the whole question seriously, because in my experience, of over twenty years in connexion with labour affairs, I have known the disasters that arise in connexion with strikes. That is why 1 am so strong an advocate of this measure. It is contended that it is an experiment to a great extent, and that we do not know what results may follow from it. We have the experience of New Zealand to show that this legislation has operated there to the great advantage of employers and employes, and of the country in general. I invite honorable members to consider the case of the coal miners' dispute at Outtrim. Should not the experience in that case be sufficient to convince them that almost any method at all would have been better for the settlement of that dispute than the strike which occurred ? If this or a similar measure had been law in Victoria, we should not now be reading articles in the newspapers about starving wives and families in that district. In my own experience, I have known the most heartrending sufferings to be inflicted by the refusal of a particular section to confer with another. The amendment, so far" as I can see, in the cases in which it will apply, would tend to bring about a repetition of our past experience. Seeing that we are prepared to take the great step of handing over to this Court all our weapons of war - a step the wisdom of which is doubted in some parts of the world - I ask those who are insisting on this amendment to be prepared to act in the same way on behalf of the employers. In Austrafia the great mass of the workers have Sufficient confidence in the Judge who will be at the head of this Court to believe that, after hearing evidence on both sides, he will return verdicts that are substantially fair - such as will do injustice to no section of the community. This legislation will not have the effect of harassing industries and creating disturbances, such as we have known in the past, nor will it have the effect of driving capital out of the country, but will, on the other hand, tend to progress and prosperity. The measure will :jive security to capital invested, and insure that, at any rate, during the period of war, there will be no danger of men ceasing work to the injury of any industry within the area affected. In that way the interest of the employers will be promoted. I appeal to honorable members who are in sympathy with legislation of this character to follow the example of those who represent the employes, and leave the decision to the Judge without any restriction. I do not make this appeal to those who want to kill the measure. There is a well-known, but unwritten axiom, that if we desire to kill a measure, and cannot do so by one process, we are justified in killing it by another.

Mr Kelly - I do not think that that applies to the supporters of this amendment.

Mr POYNTON - The process generally adopted is to mutilate a measure so as to render it unworkable.

Mr Wilson - This amendment does not mean mutilation.

Mr Kelly - The amendment would aid the measure.

Mr POYNTON - The amendment would mutilate the measure to such an extent that I am afraid that the result would be to render it unworkable.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member must recollect that the "amendment is moved by an honorable and learned member who is in sympathy with, the Bill.'

Mr POYNTON - All I know is that for some days past other honorable members, who are not in sympathy with the Bill, have been moving in the same direction; and very clever tactics may have been brought to bear in order to induce some one in sympathy with the Bill to submit this amendment.

Mr Robinson - The amendment was submitted by the honorable and learned member for Corinella entirely on his own initiative.

Mr POYNTON - As I say, we have practically handed over to this Court all the weapons of warfare which, for many years past, have been in the hands of the working classes, who are prepared to trust their destinies to this Court.

Mr Chapman - This is not a measure for war, but a measure for peace.

Mr POYNTON - Exactly ; and that is shown in' the fact that the working classes are prepared to deliberately hand over all the weapons which have been in their hands during the whole historical period of organized industry, All we ask, in common fairness, is that the other side shall display the same confidence. The working classes are really doing more than they are asking the employers to do, seeing that the Judge will be a man whose environment, training, and whole life have been entirely apart from the sphere in which he will have to act.

Mr Wilson - Who is the man?

Mr POYNTON - A Judge of the High Court. We have deliberately removed the two assistants which the Bill first proposed, and left the decision absolutely to the judge; and if he is a fit and proper person to be a Judge of the High Court, surely he can be trusted, as we are prepared to trust him, in the administration of this Bill.

Suggest corrections