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Thursday, 11 August 1904

Mr POYNTON (Grey) - I think I might appropriately refer to the principal amendments that have been made in the Bill. The measure was not the creation of the present Ministry, but was left on the stocks by the Deakin Administration. It then contained a clause which provided for preference to unionists, and the exercise of untrammelled discretion by the Judge. Some honorable members have stumped the country, and have denounced the present Administration for attempting to ruin the primary industries of the Commonwealth. They have never had the manliness to say that the preference clause originated with the Deakin Ministry, and that it was left as a legacy to the present Administration. I have always considered that the Bill does not go far enough, but I am anxious to carry out the pledge which I gave to. my constituents, and to place upon the statutebook a measure which, although it may not be perfect, will, at least, form the ground work of the legislation that is desired for the peaceful settlement of industrial disputes. I venture to say that, at the last general election, the great majority of the electors expressed themselves in favour of conciliation and arbitration. The honorable member for Dalley told me that I should vote against the Bill, because it did not entirely meet with my approval ; but I am anxious to do all I can to bring about the reform which every honorable member professes to desire. The honorable and learned member for Corinella succeeded in securing the adoption of an amendment which, I venture to say, would prove absolutely unworkable. Under the common rule an award might apply to the whole of the workmen in a particular industry in the Commonwealth, and it would be impracticable to furnish the Court with information that would satisfy it that an application for preference was indorsed by a majority of those affected. Tate the case of the shearers. What man could tell how many shearers would be affected by an award of the Court? Any one with a practical knowledge of shearing work knows that during seasons when the harvests fail, many hundreds or thousands of men resort to shearing work, who, at other times, would find employment in the agricultural districts. Men may go out as shearers one year, and not shear the next. Still they would be affected by the award of the Court, because they might obtain a run of sheds for the following season. Therefore, no one could tell how many men would be affected by an award of the Court. Then, in the case of miners, a man may follow mining for a time, and then resort to other means of livelihood ; but he may return to work as a miner at any time. No one knows better than does the honorable and learned member for Corinella that it would be impossible to demonstrate to the Court that the majority of the persons affected by an award approved of the application for preference.

Mr McCay - I do not know it. I think that the proviso is workable, or I should not support it.

Mr POYNTON - The honorable and learned member failed to produce any evidence in proof of the soundness of his view. When I asked him to afford such proof he sneered at me.

Mr McCay - I did not.

Mr POYNTON - The honorable and learned member seemed to think tha't, because he knew a little about Castlemaine, he was fully acquainted with the conditions of the mining industry. I might tell him, however, that I was working down a mine before he was born. I think, therefore, that I can claim to know something about miners.

Mr McCay - I admit that freely.

Mr POYNTON - The honorable member for Wentworth professed to know everything about the aspirations and requirements of the working classes, and he treated my interjections with contempt. Let me tell the honorable member that it is fortunate for him that he has never been under the necessity of making himself acquainted with the wants of the working classes. He came into the world with a silver spoon in his mouth, and his path in life has been made so easy that it is impossible for him to understand the difficulties that would be experienced in complying with the condition laid down in the proviso adopted at the instance of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. The honorable member for Dalley has declared that he will vote against the clause in the Bill which is intended to confer a preference upon unionists, on the ground that it does not go far enough. There is an old saying, that any excuse is better than none ; and I certainly think that that remark is applicable to the lamentable attempt of the honorable member to justify his action in this connexion. He even ref uses to allow the Bill to be taken into Committee, with a view to securing an amendment of . the clause in the direction which he desires. He affirms that he can see no distinction between the proposal of the Government and the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. Can his chief see no difference between the two? Does the honorable and learned member for Corinella see no difference? Is there not a vast distinction between requiring an organization to secure the approval of a majority of those affected by an award, and requiring it to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Court that it substantially represents the interests of those engaged in any particular industry ?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has said that there is a difference, but he has not explained what it is.

Mr POYNTON - In quite a number of cases an organization might be able to satisfy the Arbitration Court that it substantially represents the interests of the employes engaged in any industry.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But. the Prime Minister declares that the words " substantially represents " are equivalent to saying that the organization consists of a majority of the workers in a particular industry.

Mr POYNTON - They do not mean a majority.


Mr POYNTON - If the members of this House were required to represent a majority of the electors, very few could claim their seats. If the individuals who are employed as seamen or shearers to-day, but are not so engaged to-morrow, are to be used to block the desire of. those who wish to obtain a preference under this Bill, it will be impossible for the members of any organization to obtain a preference award. In connexion with municipal arrangements, has it not been repeatedly provided that a certain vote must be polled ?

Mr Conroy - This is not a question of voting, but of working.

Mr POYNTON - It has been said, during the course of the debate upon this Bill, that there is only a limited number of trades unionists in Australia. We have been assured that the number of nonunionists far exceeds that of the unionists. Is that a fair way of stating the facts of the case? Does not the honorable and learned member for Werriwa know that the nonunionists include thousands who are engaged in localities where there are no trades organizations which they could join?

Mr Conroy - We ought to consider the interests of men who cannot afford to employ a lawyer to represent them before the Court.

Mr POYNTON - I have as much consideration for those individuals who are not members of unions - with the exception of some who are resident in places where such organizations exist - as has the honorable and learned member. I would remind him that the profession with which he is associated has a pretty tight union of its own. I wish to show why, other things being equal, a preference should be extended to unionists.

Sir John Forrest - In the Western Australian Act no preference is given to them.

Mr POYNTON - In the first place, this Bill does not recognise individuals. It is based upon organizations, in contradistinction from individuals. It was framed upon these lines for the express purpose of enabling the Court to give effect to an award. The organizations are intended to assist in giving effect to the awards of the Court. The individual is not considered at all. A strike occurred in New South Wales recently. The unionists did not strike, although the press of Australia endeavoured to convey the impression that they did. As a matte.: of fact, however, it was only the non-unionists - the members engaged in that particular industry who did not belong to organizations - who struck. They refused to be bound by the award of the Court. But the trades unionists gave effect to that award. I congratulate the Government upon making an honest effort to secure \n Arbitration Bill, which would at least be workable. It would be a standing disgrace to them if, for the purpose of remaining upon the Treasury benches, they allowed this Bill to pass in its present form - a disgrace which no time could obliterate. They wish to obtain a recommittal of certain clauses, in order that we may secure a measure, which, if not perfect, will at least be of some utility. I commend them for their action in staking their Ministerial existence upon this particular provision. Personally, I am indifferent as to where I sit in this Chamber, but I am anxious that those engaged in industrial pursuits in the Commonwealth shall secure a workable measure in connexion with the important question of conciliation and arbitration. In my judgment, even the proposal of the Government does not go far enough, but I believe that under its operation there is a possibility of an organization being able to satisfy the Court that it substantially represents the employes in the particular industry affected by an award. That, however, would be quite impossible under the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. I cannot help remarking that since the present Government assumed office, there has been continuous underground engineering.

Mr Henry Willis - Because they have not a majority behind them.

Mr POYNTON - A continuous attempt has been made to overthrow them. Why ? They do not occupy their present positions as the result of self-seeking? Will any honorable member assert that they attempted to secure possession of the Treasury benches by underground tactics?

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