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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr HIGGINS (Northern MelbourneAttorneyGeneral) (Attorney-General) - The Committee has discussed this amendment very carefully, and very thoroughly, and it would, therefore, be a pity if, after all, we should divide upon it under a misunderstanding. There may be, however, a difference of opinion as to its effect, as well as to its principle. We all wish to vote for one principle or another, and should not like to be told later on that we had voted for something for which we did not mean to vote. It is my duty to prevent, so far as lies in my power, any fiasco of that kind. I can, of course, only, say what, after a careful reading of the words it is proposed to insert, I take them to mean, and it will be open to any member of the Committee to show that my view is incorrect, The theory of the meaning of the amendment upon which the Government are acting is that if it were carried in its present form, and afterwards_a dispute came before the Court in which the wharf labourers and their employers in Sydney and Melbourne were concerned, it would, under any circumstances, be impossible to apply the award as a common rule to wharf labourers and their employers in Brisbane, Adelaide, or Fremantle. That may, or may not. be a right thing to enact; but if honorable members will look, carefully at the amendment, I think that they will see that that is what it means. I should like to know how it can be argued that the wharf labourers of Brisbane enter into competition with the wharf -labourers of Sydnev. How can it be said that the wharf labourers of Fremantle enter into competition with those of Melbourne? The amendment is absolutely absurd when we come to reduce it to simple terms. So also is the inclusion of the word "persons," and the reference to the products of their labour. In the case of the wharf labourers' industry, there is no tangible product which can be handled or touched. I hope that honorable members will vote on this proposal, with a full knowledge of what would be its effect. It is couched in plain language, is very well expressed, and is less open to ambiguity than was the amendment in its original form. Most certainly the products of the wharf labourers' industry do not enter into competition with one another.

Mr Poynton - The products of gold, silver, or lead mines cannot come into competition with one another.

Mr HIGGINS - I am speaking of one particular case. I repeat that the persons whom the common rule will bind - the wharf labourers of Sydney and Brisbane - do not compete with each other. I think that this discussion might fairly be reduced to a test vote upon the question - " Ave we in favour of applying the common rule to wharf labourers in other ports, when only two or more ports are interested in a dispute? " So far as I am concerned, I need hardly say that I support that view.

Mr Mcwilliams - That is not the only branch of industry which will be brought under the operation of the common rule.

Mr Watson - The honorable member will restrict all branches if he restricts one.

Mr HIGGINS - Under the amendment we could not apply the common rule to a dispute which had excited much friction and worked much damage in Sydney and Melbourne, even though we recognised that it was bound to extend to Brisbane. The result would be that though an award might be made, which was binding in Sydney and Melbourne, it would not be binding in Brisbane. What would follow ? There would be a ferment in Brisbane. If the employes there saw that their fellows in Sydney and Melbourne had obtained good terms under an award they would certainly work up an agitation. Thus we should have two disputes where otherwise one only would have existed.

Mr Mcwilliams - The result might be that the men would accept the award.

Mr HIGGINS - Then what harm can result from applying the common rule? I think that the honorable member for Franklin has adopted a consistent attitude throughout the entire discussion on this Bill. He is opposed to it tooth and nail.

Mr McColl - That is very unfair, because he has denied the statement several times.

Mr HIGGINS - I beg the honorable member's pardon. I was not aware of it. I should be very sorry to do the honorable member an injustice, and, I am sure; that the honorable member for Echuca was unduly warm in interjecting as he did. I think that I have made the position clear, and I hope that the division will be limited to the one . issue - " Are we in favour of allowing the common rule to apply to ports which are not affected by disputes?"

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