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Wednesday, 16 June 1915

Mr ARCHIBALD (HindmarshMinister of Home Affairs) . - I do not intend to speak at very much length, because I think that already too much time has been spent over these Estimates, and I have no desire to resort to the wellknown practice of " stone-walling." The honorable member for Darling Downs is only pursuing the practice of the legal profession. I do not often bother my head very much about that profession, but when I have strolled into a Court, 1 have always noticed that the lawyers are a remarkably able body of men. Their first act is to assume false premises, and, having done that, the ingenuity of their arguments is marvellous. If the premises of a speaker are false, his conclusions are likewise; the public do not, as a rule, recognise that, otherwise, I suppose, they would not have so much special pleading to pay for. I think honorable members have a perfect right to the information which is desired by the last speaker. The principle laid down by the Department is "preference to unionists, other things being equal." I do not propose to discuss whether it was a sound proceeding to convulse the whole of Australia on such a great and important subject, in the interests of the Empire, to decide the fate of the Parliament of this country ; but our honorable friends on the other side thought that it was, and the country went against them. Whatever we may think of the value of this principle in the abstract, we are compelled to carry out the verdict of the country.

Mr Richard Foster - It will go to the country again.

Mr ARCHIBALD - Assuming that my honorable friend is perfectly correct in his statement that it is the most absurd thing in the world, why on earth should you convulse the country on an absurd proposition? Now let us get to the facts. There are two classes of employment which are dealt with. One class is me chanics and labourers, and the other practically is clerks. With regard to the former class, if a building is going on, and twenty men are wanted on the following Monday, there is an intimation posted on the building, or somewhere near it, that twenty men will be required on a certain day. An intimation is also given to the union secretaries, who are the persons who should know who are unemployed. The men, when picked, are picked as unionists.

Mr Groom - By whom?

Mr ARCHIBALD - If my honorable friend were building a house, who would pick the labourers employed on it ? Would he pick them himself, or would his builder pick them, or would it be left to the builder's foreman to do so? The man in charge of a particular work generally picks the labour required for it. What do I or my officers, except perhaps the engineers, know abouta matter of this kind ?

Mr Groom - Do the unions supply the labour ?

Mr ARCHIBALD - The unions have an opportunity to do so, but persons other than unionists have the right to apply. Otherwise what meaning would there be in the words " other things being equal " ?

Mr Richard Foster - We shall tell the Minister of some cases in which nonunionists were turned down.

Mr ARCHIBALD - Just now, unfortunately, things are very dull, and there are more than enough unionists to carry on the work of the country ; but, if things were now as they were before the war, when there was a scarcity of labour, would not the fact that there were not enough unionists available compel us to employ non-unionists as well, whether we liked it or not?

Mr Sampson - The Government give exclusive employment to unionists, not preference.

Mr ARCHIBALD - That is not so; but I shall not argue the point.

Mr Fenton - It has been argued before the constituencies, and they have given their decision on it.

Mr ARCHIBALD - With regard to temporary clerical labour, such as that employed in the Electoral Department, unfortunately here, as in the Old Country, there is any quantity available.

Mr Groom - The Minister refers to clerks employed to do ordinary clerical work?

Mr ARCHIBALD - Yes ; not to persons appointed to positions where there is responsibility for the conduct of an election. A register is kept by the Public Service Commissioner, and an applicant for employment is asked to state whether he is a unionist. If the man is a unionist, and his services are required, he is appointed. If there are not enough unionists applying, non-unionists are also appointed.

Mr Pigott - And then comes a strike.

Mr ARCHIBALD - I am not going into that. The country has determined this matter. I deny that the Home Affairs Department, or any other Department, is under responsibility to any trades hall in Australia in connexion with its labour.

Mr Joseph Cook - But it is, notwithstanding the denial.

Mr ARCHIBALD - It is for honorable members to prove that.

Mr Riley - Well, suppose it is?

Mr Groom - The Minister admits that the unions supply his Department with labour.

Mr ARCHIBALD - I do not admit that.

Mr Groom - Then who supplies it?

Mr ARCHIBALD - Anybody.

Mr Richard Foster - And who gets the work?

Mr ARCHIBALD - That depends upon the state of the labour market. Were I to speak for two hours, I should not convince honorable members opposite.

Mr Joseph Cook - Because the Minister's facts are all wrong.

Mr ARCHIBALD - To turn to another matter of more immediate importance - because the question of preference to unionists was threshed out in the constituencies during the months which preceded the last general election - I refer to the resumption of land by the Home Affairs Department. A great deal of land has been resumed of late years for sites for drill halls and other buildings, and there will be big resumptions for naval bases. I admit that the, departmental procedure is not perfect, but I resent the implication that my officers have any other desire than to act justly and fairly. Where the compensation claimed amounts to only a few hundred pounds, and the claimants are poor, I do my utmost to prevent litigation, because it is nothing short of cruelty to force a poor man or woman into Court. I am not so much concerned about the large landowners, who can protect their own interests, though I try, where possible, to effect settlements.

Mr Riley - The Minister settled very promptly and justly some cases that I brought before him.

Mr ARCHIBALD - I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that there is a weakness in our methods of valuation, and I have promised the Committee to look into the proposed resumption of a property in the neighbourhood of his residence. Land-holders in the Federal Capital Territory have this advantage over many in other parts of Australia, that I repeatedly send back reports to the Administrator, telling him to arrive at a satisfactory settlement if he can. That policy has been pursued with marked success. But in many other places it is difficult to get the right person to act for the Government. Except in South Australia, many of the valuations that the Department receives are astounding.

Mr Pigott - How does the Minister account for that?

Mr ARCHIBALD - Apparently the South Australian valuators know the values of property better than do those in the other States.

Mr Groom - The same principles apply throughout Australia.

Mr ARCHIBALD - Yes ; but, in regard to property that I know in South Australia, the valuations have been remarkably close to a fair price, whereas in other States valuations have differed astonishingly; and I speak of the valuations of, not second and third rate men, but men of recognised capacity. This difference between valuations creates difficulties for the Department. I am not in favour of the application of arbitration methods to the settlement of disputesregarding resumptions. When a valuable property is concerned, the expenses of arbitration are often tremendous, especially when lawyers are employed, and in the end the arbitrators generally come to a decision by dining together, and resolving to split the difference between what is asked and what is offered. 1 am not prepared to recommend my colleagues to adopt that system. However, I do not contend that there has not been just cause for complaint in some cases, and I shall see what can be done to improve our methods. I believe that it will be necessary to alter the law, though on that point I must have the advice of the law officers of the Crown. Certainly our system is capable of improvement, and I shall see what can be done to improve it.

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