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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr CHANTER (Riverina) - I desire to make a few remarks upon this question, which I regard as one of very great importance. This event will be recorded in history. As far as I can ascertain, it has no parallel in the history of British Parliaments. We are about to establish a precedent for which, from my stand-point, there is no justification. At this stage, I may be permitted to remark that the honorable member for Yarra misunderstood the observations of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, otherwise he would scarcely have credited him with an intention to cast any reflection upon the Ministry as a. whole. I followed the remarks of the honorable and learned member very closely, and I understood him to say that he had been very much influenced by the statements of the AttorneyGeneral, for whom he entertained the very highest respect. I am thoroughly satisfied that the honorable and learned member had no intention whatever of casting a slur upon the Attorney-General's Ministerial colleagues. Concerning the Bill under discussion, I regret that we are not permitted to debate it in detail. As one who was recently before the electors, ' I desire to say that I fully explained to them the objects of the Arbitration Bill introduced by the Deakin Government, and to which the present Ministry have sought to give effect. That Bill had my approval. I was prepared to support it when it was submitted by the Deakin Administration, and I am equally prepared to support it now. Upon the hustings, I pledged myself to the principle of compulsory conciliation and arbitration. I regard it as a cure f or a very grave evil. Various matters connected with this Bill have been dealt with in Committee and otherwise, but the particular question now engaging our attention has never received consideration, either in Committee or in the House. I have a very distinct recollection of the circumstances under which the amendment of the honorable and learned member, for Corinella was agreed to. A number of honorable members were anxiously watching the clock as the time approached for the departure of their trains to the capitals of New South Wales and South Australia. The amendment referred to was read from the Chair, so that honorable members did not have an opportunity of carefully considering it. I voted for that proposal, because I thought that it aimed at making a majority of the employes engaged in any industry privy to an application to the Court for the grant- ing of a preference to unionists. When I came to analyze it subsequently, I realized that it was absolutely impracticable, because it applied not only to those directly interested in an industrial dispute, but to all having interests in common, and to all affected by it. In other words, it applied to the whole community. I claim that it would be absolutely impossible to satisfy any Court that a majority of those employed in a particular industry desired that a preference should be granted to unionists.

Sir John Forrest - Does the honorable member mean to suggest that the Committee, did not understand what it was doing?

Mr CHANTER - I know that frequently words are inserted in Acts of Parliament with a deliberate intention, but when those words are interpreted by the Courts a very different construction is placed upon them. That fact has taught me that, as lawmakers, we should be extremely careful to employ in the Statutes of the country language which 5s so clear that its real meaning cannot be questioned. We have been assured by honorable members upon the Opposition side of the House that there is practically no difference whatever between the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella and the proposal of the Government.

Mr Wilks - The Prime Minister has admitted that.

Mr CHANTER - Then, I ask, " What justification have honorable members opposite for refusing to extend to the Government an opportunity to remedy a defect when it has made itself manifest"? This clause can be amended only in Committee. Every honorable member who has had any political experience is aware of that. In this debate we a re bound by the Standing Orders to confine our remarks to the question that is immediately before the Chair, though I am aware, sir, that, in discussing it, you have very generously permitted honorable members unusual latitude, because of the peculiar circumstances in which we are placed. I desire to know whether it is the intention df those! who are pressing this amendment to a division to defeat any Arbitration Act, or whether, by adopting a procedure which is absolutely without precedent, they wish to prevent honorable members who voted upon this matter rather hurriedly on a previous occasion, from reconsidering their position in the light of the further evidence that has been adduced ?

Mr Kennedy - They have had six weeks to reconsider the matter.

Mr CHANTER - The honorable member made a similar remark previously. I take it that we have not had six moments in which to reconsider it. Clause 48 cannot be reconsidered in the House. It is only in Committee that honorable members have an opportunity of remodelling it. I have no feeling whatever in this matter. I assisted the honorable and learned member for Corinella to carry his amendment ; but at the same time I desire to maintain the high ideals which have been set up in connexion with this Parliament. I have to answer to those who sent me here; and I pledged myself to do all I could to assist the passing of a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, in order to prevent industrial strikes, with all their dis-, astrous results, sometimes involving dire poverty, and even ruin, to so many innocent persons. It is my desire to see a measure of the kind placed on the statute-book as early as possible. I have not only to look at- the mere amendment, and consider how far it involves the existence of the Government; I have to look at the effect which the passing of -such an amendment will have on the prospects of a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. I have allied myself with honorable members who, every one, are pledged to do their utmost to promote legislation of the kind, and I hope to continue in that alliance. Certain honorable members, whom I need not indicate, but who are going to support the amendment, have declared themselves in the House as opposed to compulsory conciliation and arbitration, and I cannot therefore look to them to assist in promoting such a measure. On this occasion I regret to find myself severed from friends with whom I have been associated for many years ; but it appears to me that the consequences of the vote to-night are likely to be much more disastrous to the great Commonwealth of Australia than is at present realized. We have an object lesson in the United States, where, in the absence of remedial legislation of the kind, 100,000 workers have been locked out by the employers. It is an old saying that history repeats itself ; and in view of these events, we cannot be too careful what course we take. It is only in some of the

States of the Commonwealth that Conciliation and Arbitration Acts are in operation, . and unless the Commonwealth Parliament steps in apd fills the gap, there is nothing to prevent strikes of the most ruinous character. The absence of legislation of the kind may be a great temptation to both employers and employed to resort to the barbarous system of strikes or locks-out.

Mr Cameron - Can the States Parliaments not pass Conciliation and Arbitration Acts if they think fit?

Mr CHANTER - We have no power to compel the States Parliaments to pass laws of the kind. We are here as members of the Commonwealth Parliament, to promote the common weal -of Australia; and it is our duty, where necessary, to fill up gaps in necessary legislation. Can we hope that a Parliament, whether it be long-lived or short-lived, composed of and supported by those who are to-night opposing the present Government, will succeed in passing a Concilia-

I tion and Arbitration Bill? I am one who had the honour, pride, and privilege to follow the late Prime Minister, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. Although there was a time when circumstances prevented my taking my seat in this House, I kept myself well acquainted with what was taking place; and when I read what the late Prime Minister and his party had done, I felt that we were about to realize a higher ideal in our Federal parliamentary life. With others: of the party who followed the late Prime Minister, I pledged myself to give the present Government fair play, and, notwithstanding that I voted for the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella to include the present clause 48 in the Bill, I cannot in conscience now give what appears to me to be one of the foulest blows which one party in Parliament could give to another. To deny the right of the humblest member of the Chamber to recommit a clause of a Bill would in itself to a straining of parliamentary practice; but to deny that right to a Government, who are in charge not of their own Bill, but of the Bill of another Government - a right which it is sought to exercise to meet the Avishes, not only of Government supporters, but of members on this side of the House - appears to me to be straining the rules to breaking point, and establishing a precedent which may in the future render legislative progress almost impracticable. When we meet iri this House each day our opening prayer asks that we may not resort to petty and tricky political warfare, but may legislate for the benefit of the whole community. It is not for me to consider what the effect of the division may be; on that point I know nothing, except from general rumour. My duty is only to remember that the result may cause a stoppage of parliamentary work for a time; and, in my opinion, we ought to take a more honorable and dignified position, and assist the Government in transacting the business of the country. The moment we feel that the Government does not retain the confidence of the House, or of the country, let us challenge them in a straightforward, open way. This is a motion of want of confidence, without the privileges which honorable members ought to enjoy in connexion with such a proposal. After a political experience of twenty years, I can say that I never before saw an attempt of this kind; and I have been used to the political life of a State where a great many political tricks were indulged in. I never knew an occasion in that State where this method was resorted to in order to defeat a Government.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Methods twenty thousand times worse were resorted to.

Mr CHANTER - The honorable member's Ministerial experience was greater than mine. My Ministerial life was short. But I was allied in New South Wales with a very honorable gentleman, recently deceased, Sir George Dibbs, who would never resort to tricks in order to obtain his political ends. He was always open and straightforward in whatever he did. Whenever he had to attack a Government he always did it in a straightforward and honorable manner. Why should I be denied the privilege which could be exercised only in Committee of explaining the reason why, on a former occasion, voting in haste, I supported the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member can do that now.

Mr CHANTER - I cannot do it now without trespassing upon the generosity of Mr. Speaker, who, I may remark, has been exceedingly generous throughout this debate in allowing honorable members to enter into what were really second reading speeches, and to deal with all the ramifications of the question of preference. But the matter before us now is not that of preference. That- has already 1.,oen decided. This proposal is a direction to the Court. It is an attempt to tie the hands of the Court as to when it shall or shall not grant preference to members of organizations. I was perfectly prepared to leave that to the discretion of the Court. But we have got beyond that stage. It is now proposed to shackle the members of the Court. Who could be in a better position to deal with the granting of preference than the members of the tribunal to whom disputes are referred ? I can see serious danger from the amendment if carried in its present form. While I do not side with employers on the one side or employes on the other, still I must say that I have known cases where employers have deliberately engaged non-union men in order to create a dispute. That may happen again. If it should happen, is it not equitable and just that the Court, which is seized of all the circumstances of the case, should have the power to say to the employer - "You have done wrong, and have improperly discharged those .men, and we will give them preference as against others"? The matter is surrounded with so many difficulties that it behoves every honorable member to put on one side party feelings and to recognise, before it is too late to rectify it. that a mistake is being made. If we allow the Government to take the Bill into Committee, and if afterwards wo. find that they are conducting the proceedings improperly, it will be perfectly competent for the House to remove them from the Treasury benches. But this is not the proper method to adopt. I ask the Prime Minister to consider certain comments which have been made very widely in the press. We are asked whether it is not time we retired from the present position, in which the majority of the members of this House are dominated by six or seven members who happen to be Ministers of the day, with respect to amendments in legislation? Has not the House the right to say to Ministers - "We represent tlie Commonwealth of Australia, and whatever your views upon this matter may happen to be, we ask you to go on with the Bill, and to accept' the wish of the House in regard to amendments" ? That position is upheld by some of the " greatest jurists of the day. I urge the Government to consider that point, because at present we are absolutely shackled by the position in which we find ourselves.

Mr Watson - Surely the honorable member would not wish the Government to inflict that disappointment upon, honor - able members opposite.

Mr CHANTER - I am afraid that the Prime Minister misapprehends what I have said.

Mr Cameron - The Prime Minister is sarcastic.

Mr CHANTER - No, he is not sarcastic. I have had the privilege of knowing the Prime Minister for many years, not only as a Minister, but in other capacities. I have always looked upon him as one of the most earnest and sincere of our public men. This House is not the place for the mere display of sarcasm and wit. I know that some honorable members indulge themselves in that respect occasionally, but I am perfectly satisfied that any honorable member who stood on the platform, and told his constituents that he wished to get into the Commonwealth Parliament for the purpose of being sarcastic, would be told by them that they wished to send to Parliament serious men, who would attend to the business" of the country. It is in that light that I have always regarded legislation. I do not impute improper motives to those who are supporting the amendment. I believe that the honorable and learned member for Corinella, having carried the amendment which has been made in the Bill, is naturally anxious to see it maintained. I do not think that he is actuated by unworthy motives. But I must point out to him that the precedent which he has set on this occasion will be fraught with very great danger to Parliament in the future. It will be used against other Governments. It may be used to destroy Government after Government. Surely the reputation of the honorable and learned member in the politics of this country is too important for him to allow himself to be used by other honorable members for their own ends. I believe that he honestly and conscientiously desires to see passed into law a proper Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. But he ought to consider his present associates. Personally, I have no like or dislikes in politics, so long as I am satisfied that the political convictions of my associates are in accordance with mine. I urge the honorable and learned member to consider whether those who are supporting him are doing so to further the ends which he has in view. I voted for his amendment when he originally moved it. On this occasion I intend to vote in the contrary direction, in the in- 7 g 2 terests of justice, and in the interests of fair play to a Government who ought not to be condemned in this manner. I trust that honorable members will give them that fairplay to which they are entitled.

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