Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 21 June 1904

Mr EWING (Richmond) - I move-

That after the word. " direct," line 4, the words "with. due regard to local circumstances," be inserted.

This amendment deals with what is really the difficulty underlying our consideration of the Bill. The varying conditions of Australia are at the root of all our troubles, and will probably render nugatory everything that we are doing in this direction. It is specifically provided in sub-section xxxv. of section 51 of the Constitution that our power to legislate with respect to this subject is to provide for -

Conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State.

When the Constitution Bill was before the people, it was not believed that in the course of two or three years the Federal Parliament would be availing itself of this provision to legislate in the way now proposed. The people regarded it from a national stand-point. They could view it only in that way for the reason that most of the States had already passed legislation dealing with conciliation and arbitration, and that all matters not expressly handed over to the Federal Parliament were to remain under the control of the States Legislatures. It was felt, however, that strikes or disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State might possibly occur, and that it was therefore necessary to give the Federal Parliament this power. They knew what had happened in the United States and other unions where States had not been sufficiently powerful or perhaps sufficiently loyal to deal with disputes between employers and ' employes, and it was felt that on rare occasions there might be reasonable opportunity for the exercise of this power by the Commonwealth. But in what way is this Constitutional provision now regarded? I appeal to the Prime Minister to say whether it has not been made clear by almost every speech made by Honorable members opposite, as well as by the apprehensions expressed by honorable members on this side of the House, that the object of the Government is to bring the control of almost every industry in Australia under the Federal Parliament. We are agreed as to the necessity to provide for the application of a common rule, because it would be practically impossible for a Federal Arbitration Act to work effectively in the absence of such a principle ; but the power is a dangerous one. I would ask honorable members representing the distant States to consider for a moment how the principle of the common rule is likely to affect their constituents. Every speech made by honorable members opposite points to the desire on the part of the Government that there shall be uniformity of control in- regard to all industries, and that that control shall be exercised by the Federal Arbitration Court.

Mr Watson - What does the honorable member mean by uniformity - a uniform method of treatment?

Mr EWING - Uniformity as far as will be permissible, having regard to local conditions. Instead of dealing with this question in abroad way, so /that the Court would be called upon to deal only with disputes so far-reaching in their effects that they could not possibly be dealt with by a State Arbitration Court, it is proposed to give the Court power to deal with such questions as the way in which a man shall work at Marble Bar, hop-picking in Tasmania, or rearing calves in Gippsland. All these matters have been referred to during the debate as being of vital importance. It was never intended by the framers of the Constitution, nor was it believed by the people when they approved of the Bill, that such matters should be dealt with by the Federal Court, and I trust that honorable members will make the provision in regard to the common rule as wide as possible. I have already directed the special attention of the Committee to this matter, and I trust that when clause 46 is recommitted, it will be dealt with drastically. We all must realize the serious consequences that would follow the placing of the intelligence, industry, and vigour of the country in shackles; the Government doubtless do not desire that such shall be the effect of the Bill. Honorable members- opposite recognise as fully as I do the wisdom of preserving, as far as possible, to the persons concerned, all the inducements and rewards of enterprise and industry. But what do the Government propose ? We are to have a common rule applying probably to Western Australia and Tasmania, and honorable, members from the first -named State, as well as those others who represent the workers in the outlying portions of the Commonwealth, should beware of the pitfall before them. The whole labour movement is apparently under the control of labour organizations, which, while giving fair consideration to questions closely identified with city workers, overlook the work which men have to perform in rural districts. The specific troubles and necessities of these workers have never received the special consideration of the labour movement as we know it. Workers in outlying districts are, however, represented here, and, although I have that interest in labour which every honorable member must possess, because without labour we can do nothing, I feel convinced that, if we employ the ' word 1 ' industry 1 ' in its broadest sense, so as to cover outlying portions of the Continent, we shall have a serious awakening. I will offer a simple example. Take the two States of Western Australia and Tasmania. Let us imagine three above-ground miners in the State of Tasmania discussing the question of wages and working conditions. The following is what may happen : - I will suppose that the three miners are named Smith, Robinson, and Conroy. In Tasmania the wages of an above-ground miner are £1 16s. a week. Suppose that Smith is satisfied with those conditions. He works eight hours a day, has plenty of time to go to meetings and to vote 1 he party ticket at election times, has opportunities to smoke, and is generally quite comfortable. But Conroy and Robinson, though ho better workmen than is Smith, are strong individualists, and desire to devote their strength and ability to the purposes for which they were given to them - for the good of their country and the betterment of their own- condition. Robinson says that he understands that the wages paid to a miner in Western Australia are £4 per week. Therefore, while Smith resolves to slay- where he is, Conroy and Robinson determine to go to Western Australia. Accordingly, they go. After a lapse of two or three years, a letter comes to the little township in Tasmania where Smith is still residing. The letter is from Robinson, who, amongst other things, tells him that wages are still £4 per week where he is working ; but he also describes the dreadful conditions under which men have to work in some parts of that State. Probably some honorable members are familiar with the conditions that, prevail in Western Australia. The right honorable member for Swan knows all about them, because he created the State, I understand ! Some distance away from the ocean, even the eucalyptus dies out. and then there is nothing but the great Western Australian deserts stretching eastwards. Conroy and Robinson, according to the letter of the latter, went out into the desert, carrying their swags. Eventually, Conroy dies at a soak - a large granite outcrop surrounded bv sand. The water which collects on this granite outcrop sinks into the sand alongside and there is generally water to be found there under all circumstances. Conroy expires bv the side of a soak very far from the beautiful streams of Tasmania; and as this brave individualist is dying, his imagination brings back to him visions of the bosky dells and rivulets, and the cool southern winds that blew upon him in his native State. He dies.

Mr Glynn - The " common rule "

Mr EWING - Yes, and there is no appeal against it. Western Australia is littered by the bones of brave pioneers. The great gold-fields of that State were not discovered by- men who believed that patriotism is limited by faith in a union, or that the only thing worth considering in a country is what the Government will do for a man. Smith, learning that Robinson is earning £4 a week, says to himself, " This man is doing exactly the same kind of work as I am doing, and is getting £4 a week for it, while T am getting only 16s. I shall have to look into this matter.." But he forgets that all through tha letter Robinson speaks about the dust-storms and the hot air of Western Australia. The dust-storms in some parts of that State are so severe that it is impossible to tell a unionist from a nonunionist 50 yards away ! We will suppose that Smith, being dissatisfied at this difference in wage, asks an official to work up a dispute. Here we come to the point. We have in Australia one man working for £1 1 6s. a week, and another man doing similar work for £4 a week.

Sir John Forrest - Those are ordinary miners' wages ; I think that above ground men get a little less.

Mr EWING - No, I am informed that at Kimberley, and at times at Coolgardie, wages go up to £4 a week. I am taking the statistics furnished to me by the statist. Evidently some factor has to be taken into consideration when there are such differences between wages. What is that factor? Do, honorable members think that the Judge of the Arbitration Court will take into account the question of temperature? Will he consider whether a miner perspires in Tasmania, or lathers in Western Australia? Will he consider whether the heat of the sun is greater at one place than at another? I have heard honorable members say that the Judge will consider only what is a living wage in one part of Australia, as compared with what is a living wage in another part. I believe that this is all the difference in conditions which any Judge can consider.

Mr Page - But what- of climatic conditions ?

Mr EWING - They cannot enter into consideration, because one man may like a hot place, whilst another may prefer a cold place. I believe I have heard the Prime Minister state that his idea in reference to varying circumstances and conditions is that the question of the living wage in the various places where men are employed should be considered. Beyond that it is impossible to go. I will, by means of a few figures, show what will happen, find would ask honorable members who represent country districts to remember that it is not possible to ascertain the cost of articles in all portions of a State. It is sufficient to ascertain the cost in the capital city. If we add on railway freight, we shall find approximately what is the cost of articles at any place in that State. For instance, in the' case of Tasmania, we can take the cost of articles at Launceston and Hobart, and by adding the cost of freight to any part of the island, ascertain fairly well what would be the cost of those articles at those places. In the case of Western Australia, take the cost at Perth, . and by a similar calculation ascertain what is likely to be the cost at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie, Southern Cross, or Bulong.

Mr Page - It is possible to buy goods at some places in Queensland cheaper than they can be bought at Brisbane.

Mr EWING - I cannot discuss a ques-: tion of this kind in all its details. It is sufficient to say. that the cost of any article - certainly of food - in any part of any community, may reasonably be taken to be the price of that commodity in the capital, plus the freight to any place where the goods are consumed-

Mr Page - Foodstuffs and drapery are cheaper in Charters Towers than in Brisbane.

Mr EWING - Then somebody has made a mistake.

Mr Page - We conduct our affairs on business lines in Queensland, just as people do in New South Wales.

Mr EWING - It is curious if it pays a man to go from Brisbane to Charters Towers to buy a shirt. That illustrationwill convey to the honorable member's mind the absurdity of the statement. It is absurd to suppose that goods could be conveyed from Brisbane to Charters Towers and be purchased cheaper at the end of the journey.

Mr Page - Goods are imported direct into Townsville.

Mr EWING - I was perhaps mixing up the varioustermini ; but I will now take Townsville as an example. Does the honorable member say that if an article is produced at A, and freight is paid to B, the article ought to be purchased at the same price at B as at A ?

Mr Page - I will give an instance; goods can be sent, to Townsville from Sydney as cheaply, as from Sydney to Brisbane.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The exception proves the rule.

Mr EWING - As the honorable member for North Sydney says, " the exception proves the rule."

Mr Page - Tell the truth.

Mr EWING - The truth in broad principles is at all times essential, but it is not always essential to go into details; in other words, the point is not worth arguing. But to come back to the contrasted wages of £1 1 6s. and £4. I instance beef, mutton, bacon, and butter, in order to be absolutely fair, having regard to the fact that the difference in the price of these articles will be as great as a difference can be ; tea, calico, and articles of that kind would not, by reason of the freight, be subject to the same variation in price. I find that in Perth the 2 -lb. loaf is 3½d., whilst in Launceston and Hobart it is 3d. In Perth, beef is 7d. to 9d. per lb, as against 5d. per lb. in Launceston and Hobart.

Mr Cameron - The honorable member is quoting wholesale prices. .

Mr EWING - I am quoting figures from the statistical record. Honorable members may argue with me, but I am sure they will not argue with Coghlan - that, of course, is impossible. Mutton, in Perth, is 6d. to 8d. per lb. ;,how much would it be in Tasmania?

Mr Cameron - Retail mutton is 5d. or 6d. per lb.

Mr EWING - In Perth bacon is1s. to 1s. 2d., as against lod. in Tasmania. . In Perth butter is1s.1d. to1s. 8d.. a lb., as against is. in Tasmania. Honorable mem bers will see that I instance perishable articles in order to give them the full benefit. If we investigate these figures we find that the difference amounts collectively to about 17 per cent. ; and a Judge sitting in an Arbitration Court would say to the man who was receiving £1 16s. per week - " You ought to be getting 7 s. per week more, or £2 3s." Here we have the case of a man who, having taken into full consideration the cost of living, works for £2 3 s. a week, while other men elsewhere receive for the same work,£4 per week. Obviously, what must happen? If there be a common rule, it is clear that the man who receives£4 a week must suffer a considerable reduction in wages. The Western Australian would suddenly discover . that his representatives, instead of fairly representing him, have absolutely sold him - I do not use the word harshly - to the organizations on the eastern seaboard. All men who are doing work in the outlying parts will find themselves within the iron grasp of the common rule, and wages in Western Australia and Northern Queensland must be forced down.

Mr Thomas - Does the honorable member really believe that?

Mr EWING - Unless there was something behind democracy - a good deal more intelligence than we are accustomed to contemplate in some portions of this House - I should believe it. The country is not living on legislation and trades unions, hut on its resources - on what the people can do with those resources. Every other country in the world is stimulating industry and invigorating ability ; giving rewards to men who, with their lives in their hands, go exploring, either practically or in the field of science. In the Commonwealth we seek to bind the whole of the people down to one common rule.

Mr Mauger - Who says that ?

Mr EWING - This legislation says so.

Mr Mauger - Nothing of the kind.

Mr EWING - And it is what the honorable member will say if he votes for this clause.

Mr Mauger - It is the honorable member's own imagination.

Mr EWING - The honorable member for the Barrier asked me whether I believe what I say. There are a few things we believe; we believe that everything in the world worth doing is done by men who use all the ability and strength Providence has bestowed upon them. People who live in comfoit are enabled to do so because of the enterprise and industrv of those men.

Mr Mauger - Since the honorable member changed his seat he has turned a regular Tory.

Mr EWING - No, I have not.

Mr Thomas - The honorable member used to speak quite differently.

Mr EWING - I have not altered my principles in the very least. I believe in arbitration; but the best course for us is to legislate wisely. Honorable members seem to wonder that we should be interested in seeing that men who work in the country receive full return for their labour'; but let us try to imagine the establishment of a common rule in England or Canada. Men go to the Klondyke for what they can get ; they throw into the scale their strength and match themselves against nature, with the result that some succeed and others fail. These are the men who make a country ; and it is just the same in South Africa and Western Australia. The men who developed Western Australia were far away from any common rule; the Government could do nothing for them, and there was no hope of the Government doing anything. The result in Western Australia is one in which we are all interested, seeing that there has been found the richest mile for gold in any country in the world. We hear a great deal about labour, but there is a greater and much rarer thing than labour, and that is ability.

Mr Mauger - That is what Mallock says.

Mr EWING - And I think that Mallock is frequently right. I guarantee that if the honorable member had two sons, one broad-backed and thick-headed, and another who was of keen intellect, he would value the latter most. And so, all through life, it is ability which is valued every time.

Mr Watson - I accept the amendment.

Mr EWING - Is the honorable member for Perth aware that railway porters iri Western Australia get 14s. per week more than is paid to railway porters- in Tasmania, and that the wages of signalmen in Western Australia are 15s. per week higher?

Mr Fowler - I am aware that the wages in Western Australia are much higher than elsewhere.

Mr EWING - I am endeavouring to make it clear that, in almost every industry in outlying places, high wages are paid, miners in Western Australia receiving nearly three times as much as do miners in Tasmania. Through you, Mr. Chairman, T ask the honorable member for Perth how he, as a representative of the Western Australian miners, can support a common rule, made for the benefit of men on the eastern seaboard and the big cities, if, by so doing, he sacrifices his own constituents ?

Mr Fowler - I have already spoken against the indiscriminate application of the common rule.

Mr EWING - And voted for it. '

Mr Fowler - No.

Mr EWING - I think the honorable member will find that a number of us who are in. favour of arbitration, .and believe that no arbitration is possible without a common rule, are on right lines when we argue that these matters ought to be left to the States. The inhabitants of the States are not savages. Before we entered this Parliament many of us were representatives in the States, and the men we have left behind may be as competent as we are. Let us- leave fo Western Australia or to Tasmania the wages which shall be paid to the men in those States. We have set out on the work of Federation with an evident desire to stick our lingers into everything, and honorable members representing .outlying places will find that the unions. of the eastern seaboard will dominate their constituents, and that the common rule will work out badly in country districts. When I visited Western Australia the right honorable member for Swan offered to do what he could in order to make my trip as- pleasant as possible. But-I did not go there for pleasure; I went to see the country and what sort of men were there. No man visiting Western Australia can fail to be struck with the types of vigorous manhood whom he meets - square-chinned, sinewy, able men, who have gone there, not for trades union purposes or for scenery, air, or exercise-

Mr Thomas - The amendment has bien accepted.

Mr EWING - I know. The men. of whom I speak went to Western Australia to better themselves bv means of higher wages ; and now, after the great, work thev have done - after thousands have died, and after misery of every description has been experienced - Ave propose to bring them under the trades unions of the eastern seaboard, and to bring down their wages to the eastern level.

Mr Thomas - It is strange that those men are asking for this legislation.

Sir John Forrest - They do not know what they are asking for.

Mr EWING - I have heard before today of men asking for bread, and receiving a stone. The honorable member for the Barrier knows that when it is made clear to the Western Australian miners that the common rule is full of danger, the question will have to be reconsidered. If honorable members think that these men are so enamoured of the new democracy that they will accept anything that the, party decrees, I ask what happened in the case of the ships trading from Fremantle to Adelaide. It was found that when the principle interfered with comfort it was departed from; and no principle is worth consideration' unless it brings comfort or its equivalent to individuals. If we bring down the wages of men in outlying districts to the level of Tasmanian wages - to the level of men who travel, not on a camel pad, but by motor-car and cable-car - then God help the development of our country ! This is no idle matter. The de'struction of the incentive to people to go to outlying districts to work under great discomfort and trouble, and to hazard their health, and perhaps their lives, is a matter to be taken into grave consideration. The common rule should be made to press as lightly as possible. The States, to the authorities of which the conditions are known better than we can possibly know them, ought to manage these affairs, and only on rare occasions, when a quarrel does extend beyond the limits of one State, should the Federal Parliament interfere. As the honorable member for North Sydney said, a Bill of five clauses would have met all requirements; yet we have been making ourselves ridiculous for the last two or three months with a Bill, in the details of which nobody believes, and which nobody wants in this form, and which is pregnant with evil and disaster, especially to working men.

Suggest corrections