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Tuesday, 13 September 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have listened to the honorable member for South Sydney during a part of his address with a great deal of interest and with a desire to bring my mind to support his proposal; but I candidly confess that while there is much to be said in favour of the amendment, I do not think, on the whole, that the balance of the argument is in favour of it. For instance, one of his contentions is that this proposal will do away with the congestion of business which exists in the Courts as at present conducted. I do not think there is any analogy between the Courts as at present conducted and the Court proposed to be established by this legislation. We are proposing to set up, for the first time, a Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court. I venture to say that that Court will deal with and settle many matters which now go to the Arbitration Courts as at present constituted. Speaking with a great amount of practical experience on this subject, I do not think that a proposal of this kind would shorten the operation of such cases by one minute. I rather think that it would have a tendency to lengthen them. It often happens that a compromise is hit upon through sheer exhaustion or through disgust at the way in which the Court is spinning matters out. But if the alternative were to accept one proposal or the other, the issue would be fought out to the bitter end, particularly if there were a margin between the two offers which might make it worth while to conduct the argument with strenuousness, and at length. Therefore, the amendment would not save time, but would rather tend to lengthen proceedings before the Court. Neither would the honorable member's proposal do away with the splitting of the difference about which so much has been heard. Remember that in all these cases proposals will emanate from both- sides before the matter goes before the Court at all. It is only after failure to agree that they will go to the Court for a final verdict. If the parties do make minimum offers to the Court, it would be a splitting of the difference on their own part, as compared with their previous offers to each other. Because, if thev could agree upon a basis of settlement themselves, there would be no necessity to go to the Court. It is only when they have made offers to each' other and have failed to agree that they go to the Court and ask the Judge to split their differences for them, or to settle the case in any way he chooses. If they make fresh minimum offers to the Court, it will simply be doing . what the honorable member has been deprecating - splitting the differences themselves prior to their being argued in Court. But to my mind the Conciliation Court will unmistakably tend to promote good feeling as between the combatants. That is my experience of conciliation. It is different from arbitration. It often happens, as a result of splitting the difference and coming to an agreement around a table, that a good feeling is brought about between the parties. I fear that under a proposal of this kind good feeling would not be the result. Rather I should imagine that the party whose claim has not been accepted would leave the Court with a very bitter taste in its mouth. I do not think that in this respect the proposal of the honorable member has much to commend it. In view of the fact that we are setting up a Conciliation Court, I do not think that what he proposes (would be any better than the Court proposed to be set up.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the honorable member show me anv provisions for conciliation in this Bill?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the intention of the Bill, although it may have been carried out clumsily. The intention is to preserve and promote good feeling between the combatants. The very process of splitting the difference settles a great many more strikes than it provokes, and it does more than anything else I can think of at the moment to promote that good feeling which we all desire to see between employer and employé. On the whole, therefore, I think we had better stick to the proposal of the Bill, which leaves the matter to the discretion of the Court, and allows the President to step between the combatants and to reach the point of justice, no matter how difficult it may be.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My clause also leaves it to the discretion of the Court. I trust the Court fully.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Only in cases where special reasons appear. Ordinary cases would not be within the discretion of the Court. I have no doubt that the Judge would often, in any case in which he desired to step in, find special reasons. It is an easy matter to say that certain reasons are special. But that phrase itself is very vague, as applied to industrial disputes. What does the honorable member' mean by " special reasons " ?

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I can show the honorable member much more vague expressions in othelr parts of the Bill. What, for instance, is a " substantial majority " ? .

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not carping at the honorable member's drafting. Personally, I cannot see what special reasons he is alluding to. I fancy the honorable member had something in his mind when he was drafting this proposal.' But I fear that it would lead to the protracting of cases, and to more! strenuous and bitter argument, while it would not be provocative of that good feeling which the Bill aims at promoting.

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