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Friday, 17 June 1904

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) - It seems to me to be an extraordinary thing that so much objection should be taken to this amendment. We find that the same provision exists substantially in the New Zealand Act. An amending Bill was introduced into the New Zealand Parliament last year. I have read the debates with reference to that Bill, and I find that no exception was taken to this section, nor was any attempt made to alter it. Those who are inclined to criticise this Bill, or to suggest amendments in it which they think should be made, are charged by honorable members opposite with being against the Bill altogether, and with endeavouring to defeat it. I have no doubt that when honorable members opposite get into their pulpits to deliver pleasant Sunday afternoon addresses next Sunday, those honorable members upon this side of the chamber who support the amendment will be held up as being against the principle of the measure. That, however, is far .from being the case. It is true that two or three honorable members on this side of the chamber have boldy and straightforwardly said that they are against the Bill. But I have never known of any measure of similar importance to this one - which gives rise to so much scope for consideration and disagreement - which has been received so sympathetically by a Parliament as this Bill has been received. I desire to see the principle of it enacted, but enacted on grave and cautious lines at first, because in no country yet - not even in New Zealand - has it been fairly and properly tried. In New South Wales there is a Conciliation and Arbitration Act in operation, but it is strange that most of the honorable members who are against this Bill come from the State where that Act is working, and are convinced that it is not proving anything like the benefit that its friends thought it would be. In New Zealand the results accruing from the Conciliation and Arbitration Act have not yet been determined. We do not know whether it is going to be a success or not. Only the other day the New Zealand correspondent of a newspaper, which is certainly favorable to this description of legislation, writes in very strong terms with regard to the effects of the Act in New Zealand. In the Age of the 7th of this month, I find the following -

The Arbitration Court continues to be busily engaged. The tramway employes failed in most of their claims, but trades go on making demands and telling the same story of increasing cost of living and increasing rents.

The awards of the Court continue to be made the excuse for high prices. Though wheat this week was a shade under Australian prices at Dunedin, the 41b. loaf ranges, in the North Island, from 6d. in the few places where there is competition, .to- from 7d. to rod. where there is no competition. The combines of millers and of bakers pocket the difference, and blame the awards of the Arbitration Court. The dangers to the community from unions of employers are great and increasing. Already they have robbed the workers of the benefits of increased wages, and the only remedy the worker sees is the further increasing of wages. There must be a reversion to competition, and that would mean competition in labour "as in other things, or trade must be regulated by law.

The correspondent goes on to use the following very pregnant words -

New Zealand for the next few years will be an object lesson to political economists. She is making experiments for the whole world, but in the main I am convinced she is doing it in ablind way. The. enormous increase of the export trade, which has- nothing to do with arbitration awards, has given her prosperity, and, therefore, the ability to bear the burden of social experiments.

Mr Spence - Will the honorable member read the paragraph concerning New Zealand prosperity in the same article?

Mr McCOLL - I will deal with that directly. The effects of the Act are not set down as a relief, but a burden. This correspondent says that the Act has noi contributed to the prosperity of New Zealand, but that production has enabled New Zealand to bear the burden of this legislation. He continues -

Industrial arbitration has affected every class, every phase of life. An award in one trade increases the cost of living in all the others. There is a perpetual enhancement of values. A dragon has been set loose in the land, because it was thought to be harmless, but he is gaining strength, and will devour the people unless they manage to chain him. Who is going to chain him? Not Mr. Seddon, who thinks it is right that he should roam at large, and for ever. It was not foreseen-that an artificial value placed on labour would result in artificial values being -placed on everything else.

I wish to be cautious in- this matter. I would not trust a Judge more than another individual in a matter pf this kind. We have the opinion of the Chief Justice of New South Wales as to the working of the Arbitration Act of that State, and it is not a very favorable one. I think that we should limit the powers of the Court in the first instance, and afterwards extend them if we find it necessary to do so.

Mr. McCAY(Corinella).- The matters about which we are disputing seem to have been reduced to the question whether the amendment would exclude those connected with the business of transportation and shearers.

Mr Isaacs - And miners, too.

Mr McCAY - I am prepared to meet the Government by providing that the common rule shall be capable of application :to . those engaged in the business of transportation or incidental industries, and to shearers and their employers, although the products of .their industry may not technically be regarded as coming into competition.

Mr Isaacs - Why not mention the miners, too ?

Mr McCAY - Because I think they should be subject to the general rule. No special reason has been given for making an exception of them. I think that, in view of what the Prime ^Minister has said more than once to-day in connexion with this matter, the compromise I .offer should be accepted, and my amendment, amended as I suggest, agreed to.

Mr WATSON - I admit that the honorable and learned member is, from his own point of view, taking up a very reasonable attitude. He believes that competition should be the determining factor in the application of the common rule, but the Government do not take that view. While we regard competition as a large factor, we do not consider it the only factor.

Mr Isaacs - Leave it to the Court.

Mr WATSON - We take the view that it should be left to the Court. I am willing to amend the paragraph by inserting a provision - as an indication, not as a mandatory direction - to the effect that in the application of the common rule the Court shall pay proper regard to the aspect of competition and the surrounding conditions generally. For these reasons I am constrained to oppose the amendment ; but if it is carried we must endeavour to make it as acceptable as we can. In the interests of the Bill we think that the Court should be free from anything in the nature of a tie or improper hindrance in the application of the common rule.

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