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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr DEAKIN (BALLAARAT, VICTORIA) - If my honorable friends were more impartial they would. In New Zealand and New South Wales, where Arbitration Courts have been employed, we have not found any diminution of capital or employment. On the contrary, we have found in both countries a gratifying advance.

Mr Watson - With preference.

Mr HUGHES - Yes. The honorable and learned member continued -

The experience is short, I admit - it is not final - but so far as it goes it is entirely in our favour.

After eulogizing the principle of preference which Mr. B. R. Wise introduced in the New South Wales Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, and which he asked this House, through the Government, to adopt, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, the advocate of fair play, the believer in the principle, the new Messiah who was going to lead us into the land of Canaan, is now against it. He favours the honorable and learned member for Corinella's amendment, which, in nine cases out of ten, would, prevent a preference being granted, and, at the same time, he would hopelessly strangle any opportunity to discuss it. What is the meaning of the words " substantially represents," and in what respect do they differ from the words "a majority," which are embodied in the clause as amended? A majority is a definite fixed quantity, and in very many cases is practically incapable of proof. It leaves no discretion to the Court, whereas the words " substantially represents " would give a discretion to it. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat says that we are. to trust the Court. It was he who originated that phrase, yet he now proposes to hedge about the action of the Court with this iron bond of restriction, and says that this is an evidence of his giving the Government and the Bill fair play. It has been asserted that our proposal would be insufficient from the point of view of the unions, and the right honorable member for East Sydney has said that we have sold the unions. Such an accusation, coming from the leader of such a party, is at any rate robbed of any significance which it might otherwise have. The members of that party have sold their souls and abandoned all their principles, and yet ask that the unionists should rely upon them. I shall content myself by reading some remarks made on this question by Mr. Justice Cohen, who, I assert most emphatically, is an impartial expert, and an authority on whom we may place every reliance. In dealing with a complaint made by the Hotel Club Caterers' and Restaurant Employers' Union against one W. J. Adams, he said -

J have no leaning one way or the other, but in the public interests it would be far better, if the preference clause is being unduly used as a means of oppressing or harassing employers, that the Court should be assisted by evidence of that. I am not saying in this particular case, because I do not know ; but from general statements I see in the press that this preference clause is the means of harassing the employer and placing him in an unfair position of working his business, I say it would be much better if the Court were enlightened by evidence of these things. . . . I know from my own knowledge what I rea'd, time after time, of actions attributed to this Court which the Court has never performed. ... I will not be guided by what I see in the public press. These general statements are made, and if you put the statements to the proof, in almost all cases they will fail. I do not expect any clause we lay down will work with perfect harmony and satisfaction to every one. All the wisdom of the Legislature has not formulated a law to which some objection could not be taken.

The facts are these: that in New South Wales, preference to unionists, without qualification, other than that which the Court has imposed, has worked satisfactorily ; and that the qualification which the Court has imposed is that which we seek to provide for in this Bill, namely, that preference shall be given when a union substantially represents an industry. I come now to the question whether unionists do substantially represent those trades in which unionism can operate, and propose to quote some figures, taken from Coghlan's Statistical Register, which, I think, effectually dispose of the statement that in New South Wales the unionists are in a minority. They show that the total number of workers in New South Wales in 1903 was 423,592, and that in callings 7 f 2 where no unions are to be found there are 301,660 persons engaged. That leaves a balance of 121,932 persons who can come within the operation of this clause. The registered unions under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act of New South Wales represent 62,384, leaving 59,548 persons outside unions in callings where unions exist. These figures conclusively show that the unionists substantially represent those persons engaged in callings in which unionism exists in New South Wales.

Mr Kelly - If the unions have a majority in New South Wales, there can be no objection to the clause as it stands.

Mr Watson - How could the possession of a majority be proved?

Mr Kelly - The honorable and learned member has just proved it.

Mr Watson - But how could it be proved to the satisfaction of the Court ?

Mr HUGHES - Some unions may contain not only a majority of the employes who are engaged in a particular industry, but the whole of them, whilst others may comprise only a minority. By no twist of imagination can it be said that a minority of employes " substantially represents " any industry, except where it operates within a district. For example, a number of workmen in a particular industry may constitute a majority of those so engaged within a district, but they will constitute a minority within a State. That is what occurred in the case of the Saddlers' Union, which was cited by the honorable and learned member for Wannon. He declared that the Union in question represented only a minority of those engaged in the industry. As a matter of fact, the award of the Court was in favour of the saddlers who represented a majority of those engaged in the trade within, the district in which the award was made operative. These constituted a minority of the employes engaged in that industry within the State, but a majority within that particular district. The use of the words "substantially represents" would vest the Court with some discretion,' whereas the employment of the. words " a majority " would confer upon it no discretion. Further, it would be practically impossible to demonstrate that even within a small area an organization represented a majority of the employes in any particular industry, but within the extended area, which would be covered by a Federal Arbitration Act, it would be doubly so. I do not know that I need say any more. I am satisfied to have placed before this House and the country the position taken up by. a number of honorable members who support the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella. Those who declare that they are in favour of this Bill, and who are yet committed to a course of action which is diametrically opposed to their professions - In many cases to their actions - will sooner or later have to answer to the electors, whom they have deceived. Those honorable members who are determined not to give this Government an opportunity to defend itself, and to justify its existence by permitting a discussion upon the merits of its policy or administration, will sooner or later reap the reward of their own narrow-minded and underhanded methods. I venture to think that before many weeks have passed those who adopt such a course of action will bitterly regret that they did not face this question fairly and as men. The blow which they strike to-day will - if it be effective-^ prove their undoing. They propose to strike with the stiletto of the bravo, instead of coming out and fighting with the broadsword of the soldier. They intend to do something which they are incapable and undesirous of justifying. I venture to assert that when they are sitting upon the Ministerial side of the House they will bitterly regret having introduced into this Parliament, where decent politics and decent behaviour have hitherto been the rule, methods which are unworthy of a parish vestry, unworthy of any body of public men in the Empire, and which have never been resorted to in the great mother of Parliaments. In spite of all the provocation, in spite of all the fury of animosity which has been lashed to the wildest heights in the House of Commons, that body has never descended to the contemptible depths to which honorable members opposite have resorted. They have inaugurated a new era. It is the singular fortune of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that, after having covered himself with temporary glory by resigning his position as Prime Minister when defeated upon a detail of this Bill, he should have lent himself to a base, treacherous, and indefensible action.

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