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Thursday, 11 August 1904

Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) - Mr. Speaker.

Mr Reid - Bridge-builder number two !

Mr GROOM - Bill-wrecker number one ! Not only is there a desire to prevent the Bill from going into Committee for the discussion of this clause, but there has been a wilful abstention on the part of some honorable members from the discussion of the merits of the proposal of the Government, and when an honorable member wishes to discuss it a taunt is hurled at him the moment he rises to speak. This is done by the members of the party who claim to give fair play to all. I think that in this matter the Government are not receiving fair play from the Opposition, and particularly from those who are not desirous of having the principle of compulsory arbitration placed on the statute-book of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister has treated the House in this matter with a degree of fairness which has never been surpassed in this Parliament. The position he has taken up in regard to the Bill is that there are certain provisions in it which are vital, and other provisions which may be modified. One of the vital provisions is that which gives preference to unionists. But the honorable gentleman has allowed modifications which were never even hinted at during the secondreading debate. The leader of the Opposition has expressed himself as a firm believer in compulsory arbitration. He is not going to his constituency as an opponent of that principle. He does not believe in voluntary submission to a self-constituted board. He stands before the public of Australia as a believer in the principle of compulsory arbitration. He is also pledged to a coalition with the party led by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who is also a supporter of compulsory arbitration. Therefore, should we go to the country, there will be no misunderstanding as to the issue. It will be not whether there shall or shall not be compulsory arbitration, but whether there shall or shall not be fair discussion. That is the sole issue now. It is not a question of preference or no preference to unionists. The House has affirmed the principle of preference to unionists, and the question is now whether a small modification shall be made, and whether we shall have in the Bill a proviso which is workable or a proviso which is not workable. What position has the Prime Minister taken up in respect to the clause? The Bill was first introduced by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, as Attorney-General in the Barton Government, and on each occasion on which the Bill has been before the House it has embodied the principle of preference to unionists, unmodified, and in exactly the sameterms that are adopted in the New South. Wales.. Western Australian, and New Zealand Acts.

Sir John Forrest - There is no provision for preference in the Western Australian Act.

Mr GROOM - Perhaps the terms are not the same, but the effect is the same.

Sir John Forrest - The Court has refused to grant preference.

Mr GROOM - Yes; the Court, in the exercise of its discretion, has refused to grant preference, but it has the power to give it all the same. The right honorable member has all along supported the principle of the Bill, and I respect him for it. He has always been a liberal man, and he is not in his right place among the Conservatives.

Sir John Forrest - I never intended to give preference to unionists.

Mr GROOM - I am sorry to hear it. There is no doubt that the clause, as introduced by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, contained provision for preference, without any modification whatever, and, further, the honorable and learnedmember recommended the Bill to the House on two occasions. It is also well known that the right honorable member for East Sydneysupported the Bill, and never asked for any modification of the preference clause. The measure was not attacked by any responsible member of the Opposition on the ground that it contained provision for preference to unionists ; but when the Bill was considered in detail, after the defeat of the Deakin Ministry, honorable members attacked the principle. A great many of those who opposed it desired simply to knock out the Bill, whilst others, like the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who throughout has been a conscientious and consistent believer in the Bill, honestly desired some modification. I do not for one moment question the motives of my honorable friend, because I know he is still a firm believer in the Bill.

Mr Watson - He is not a believer in his own Bill.

Mr Deakin - I am not a believer in the Bill of the present Ministry.

Mr Watson - 'Nor in the Bill as first introduced, either.

Mr GROOM - When the Bill was discussed in Committee/ the Prime Minister showed that he was prepared to accept certain amendments. He agreed to a proviso that before any preference was granted notice must be given to all those engaged in the industry affected, so that any persons interested might appear before the Arbitration Court, and raise objections. That was absolutely a new provision that was not to be found in any existing Statute, and yet the Prime Minister was prepared to accept it. Again, it was urged that men might be forced to join unions with objects repugnant to them, and the Prime Minister expressed himself as willing to accept an amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, to enable the Court to suspend its award in cases where it had directed that preference should be given, and review the rules of the unions concerned. At the instance of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, a provision was made that if any rules of an organization proved to be oppressive or obnoxious, the person aggrieved could make application to have them cancelled. That was the third modification accepted by the Prime Minister. It was urged by honorable members . that some of the unions were political organizations, and that men might be compelled to join those bodies against their inclinations. Again, the Prime Minister was prepared to meet the objection in a fair and reasonable way. He accepted an amendment to the effect that, before preference could be granted, the Court must be satisfied that the rules of the applicant union were of a non-political character. I contend that he has treated the Committee with the utmost fairness. Even at this moment, he says, "I am willing to go a still further stage, and to provide that before any preference can be given, the Court shall be satisfied that the organization applying for it substantially represents the majority of the persons affected, both as to numbers and competency." Let us compare the state of the clause as introduced by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, and the provision as it now stands with the modifications agreed to by the Prime Minister. It contains no less than six conditions, and all that the Prime Minister asks is that at least the House shall do him the courtesy of considering the justice of his proposal.

Mr Kelly - What is the proposal ?

Mr GROOM - The honorable member must know it.

Mr Kelly - Yes; but what does " substantially represents " mean?

Mr Isaacs - That is a matter to be considered in Committee.

Mr GROOM - If if is only a mere question as to the particular words to be employed, let us consider the clause in Committee, and adopt the right phraseology. I am sure that the Prime Minister will not take up too rigid an attitude with regard to that. If other words would have the same effect as those which he proposes, they could be substituted. I think that the Prime Minister has treated the Committee with every courtesy and respect, and that he is perfectly justified in asking that honorable members shall have an opportunity to consider a proviso which was inserted as the result of a snatch vote, and without proper consideration.

Mr McCay - That is not correct.

Mr GROOM - The amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Corinella is nothing more nor less than a subterfuge. It is a want of confidence motion in disguise, and is being supported by honorable members who are not prepared to attack the Government upon the weakness of their administration. I am not appearing here as a defender of the Government, but I claim that every honorable member should receive fair play, and be afforded a fair opportunity to consider the clause. The Opposition have taken up the position that those honorable members who have not already expressed their opinions shall not have an opportunity to do so in Committee, and shall not be permitted to consider the rival proposals, or to suggest any other amendments. They are practically applying the closure. They have the majority, and they are going to exercise their power for the purpose of wrecking the Bill. There is a desire on the part of honorable members, whose policy is antagonistic to the feelings of the great majority of the electors, to take possession of the Treasury benches; and, unfortunately, under the cover of the present motion, they are carrying with them men who do not sympathize either with their principles or with their methods. I feel that this is an occasion upon which -we are justified in expressing our opinions, and that we are entitled to know the true reasons which are actuating honorable members in voting against the Government. It is not fair to attack the Government under cover of a motion of this description. If the merits of the rival proposals were considered, it would be found that the provision in the Bill would not compare with the amendment suggested by the Prime Minister. Even if the clause were passed in its original form, there would not be any valid reason for throwing the Bill on one side, because it would simply make provision for the principle which has been adopted in the States Acts, under which the Courts are exercising a reasonable discretion. They do not give mere arbitrary rulings, but in each case require that evidence shall be given which would justify them in granting a preference. They act according to intelligible principles. They do not grant a preference unless it is shown that the organization applying substantially represents those engaged in the industry affected. Judge Edwards, in giving judgment in the New Zealand Court, in one case refused preference on the ground that the union . did not really represent the greater number of persons employed in the trade. I have looked up the decisions of the New South Wales Court, and I find that Judge Cohen practically acts on the same principle. The Prime Minister says that the States Acts have been in operation for some time, and that the Judges have acted ' upon certain definite principles which he is prepared to embody in the Bill in black and white.

Mr Watson - We already have a practice established.

Mr GROOM - Yes, and we know that Judges will be prepared to follow the precedents already laid down. There has been a great deal of press criticism with regard to the granting of preference, and Judge Cohen has directed attention to it, and has stated that persons who were affected by the awards should have come to the Court and represented their case before the award was given, instead of complaining afterwards.

Mr Watson - He has also stated that if there is any complaint it should now be made to the Court.

Mr GROOM - Exactly. The Court canalways vary its award, and the Prime Ministerhas anticipated many objections by accepting a provision under which notice must be given to the persons likely to be affected by an award, so that they may have an opportunity of representing their case before preference is granted. Therefore, every safeguard as being provided. We should make it perfectly clear that in this Bill the granting of preference is to be purely discretionary. Several articles have appeared in the newspapers, and several speeches have been made at banquets and elsewhere, from which it would appear that preference to unionists is to be made compulsory. That is an absolute misrepresentation. I should not like to see preference unduly given or granted without discrimination.

Mr Conroy - The honorable and learned member said that he would vote for absolute preference. Why has he not the courage of his opinions?

Mr McDonald - The honorable and learned member for Werriwa has not the courage of his opinions. He sits like a dumb dog.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! Interjections are disorderly, but conversations across the chamber are grossly disorderly, and I must ask honorable members not to further offend against the rules of the House.

Mr McDonald - I apologize, Mr. Speaker.

Mr GROOM - I was pointing out that the granting of preferences was to be purely optional, and that the Court would not act until a full investigation had been made. The discretion to grant preferences is to be given to a Judge who is to be selected on account of his integrity, ability, and learning, and also because of the confidence which he will command from all classes of the community. Further than that, we shall know that he cannot be removed from his high office unless for some proved misconduct. Therefore, the discretion will be exercised by a reliable and responsible person, to whom we may fairly look for fair and impartial decisions. Some of the greatest strikes have arisen owing to unionists being called upon to work with non-unionists, and some honorable members desire to take away from the Court the means of disposing of one of the most fruitful sources of trouble. It is desirable that we should proceed to a division as soon as possible, and also that the attitude of honorable members upon a principle which has been approved by the whole of the constituencies of the Com.monwealth should be fully understood. Our constituencies sent us here to pass an Act dealing with compulsory arbitration. That measure has been before us upon two occasions, and, with the exception of one amendment, it has been fully discussed. But at this stage honorable members who desire to do what is fair and just are blocked by an intrigue to displace the Ministry. I shall not lend myself to such a proceeding, and, therefore, I shall vote for the recommittal of the clause.

Motion (by Mr. McDonald) proposed -

That the debate be now adjourned.

Mi. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).I should like to know when the Government propose to conclude this discussion. The Opposition have no desire to avoid fair debate. On the contrary, we wish to do everything to facilitate discussion.

Mr Batchelor - The Opposition have a peculiar method of showing it.

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