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Thursday, 17 May 1928

Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) . - This bill deals with a question of immense importance, and one which presents almost insuperable difficulties. Some of these difficulties, indeed, are insuperable; but that is not a reason why we should not make an honest attempt to find some solution for what is generally admitted, to be the greatest problem confronting modern civilization. The ramifications of this question are infinite. There is no phase of social, economic or financial life that is not conditioned by it.

The industrial question is not new. Industrial unrest is as old as society itself ; it has existed under every form of society. It was known in the ancient world even with slave labour, and at times took a form that was not unlike our general strike. In at least one instance what occurred amounted to a civil war, which was protracted for months, and no doubt caused infinite distress and harm to the society of that day. But while industrial unrest created disturbances in a simpler state of society, they were unimportant compared with the difficulties that it causes in the complex society in which we live to-day. The modern world, by adopting what are called machine methods, has become habituated to a condition of labour which makes an individual dependent upon others, some of whom may be half the world away from him. It happens therefore that disturbances in England may have a disastrous effect upon the people of Australia and vice versa. In our own community each person goes his individual way, relying on other individuals to perform those duties which by chance or choice have been allotted to them. We are dependent upon those who are engaged in producing food to provide the means of carrying on our avocations, whatever they may be, and every one is dependent on the transport services, which are vital. Commerce, of course, is a phase of industry, and as the world progresses the dependence upon transport increases. Transport and fuel are as it were the pillars of the industrial, indeed of the national temple. In the modern world the wheels will not revolve unless we have fuel for the various processes by which society is supplied with the things that it requires, and the supply of fuel is dependent upon transport. By the refusal of individuals to work, the whole community is thrown into confusion.

There are two main methods of dealing with industrial unrest when it reaches the acute stage of a lock-out or a strike - by force or passive resistance, and by arbitration. Australia and New Zealand are perhaps the only countries that have adopted arbitration, and have steadily adhered to its principles. I venture to say - and here I am entirely with the Leader of the Opposition - that the records of this country relating to industrial unrest compare favorably with those of any other. It is perfectly true that a great deal of unrest has occurred in Australia, and is present to-day; but industrial unrest, as the Attorney-General himself said, is a world-wide phenomenon. It assumes in different countries the colour of its environment, but in essence is everywhere the same. The root causes are everywhere the- same, and are not to be solved. We may apply emollients, which may reduce the smart and the soreness, hu* when one man has something to sei) that another wishes to buy there must be conflict. I am sure we all were sorry to read a denunication of arbitration that appeared in the press a few days ago. Those responsible for it can hardly have surveyed the subject with that wide outlook that it demands.

It is impossible in a second-reading speech to cover the almost infinite phases of this great subject; I must confine myself to a few that are relevant to the bill before us. This is a progressive ana democratic country, and industrial unrest must be regarded as the price we pay for democracy and progress. Broadly speaking, this unrest is due to -the efforts of the individual to adjust himself to a changing environment, and the more frequently . the . environment changes, that is to say the greater the rate of progress, the more acute and widespread must industrial unrest be. We know from experiencethat the obverse of wages is prices, and in the complex society in which we live, where one set of 'individuals controls prices, and the others, constituting the vast -majority of mankind, are grouped under the heading of wageearners, any alteration of prices must have its . effect on wages, and any alteration of wages a corresponding effect on prices. There is no authorityand apparently it is hopeless to expect one - with sufficient wisdom and power to control both so completely that there shall be no movement of the one without a corresponding movement of the other, nor is any authority able to foretell the effect of an increase in wages in this or that industry not only upon other industries but upon prices, finance, and the general economic and social life of the community.

Having some experience of industrial matters, I am profoundly convinced that their adherence to arbitration is the most convincing evidence of the wisdom of the people of this country. In Australia, arbitration legislation came about as a result of a great upheaval, when there had been an appeal to force and the unions were broken, beaten and driven from the field, where they had been unfairly defeated. I say unfairly, because the law and all its powers were in the hands of one party. The State machinery was controlled by their opponents; the great mass of the people having no voice in its control, took to politics. They realized that the law was all powerful, and that the people of this country believe that the settlement of disputes by law is the better way to adjust the differences between employer and employee - " adjust " is the proper word, for there can be no final settlement - is the greatest assurance that Australia will continue a law-abiding community.

There are shorter ways of dealing with industrial disputes thanby arbitration, and they have their merits. I am not likely to forget what I was told by a member of the Empire Press Association that visited this Capital City last year. The party comprised representatives from various parts of the Empire, and among them were representatives from South Africa. One of the latter spoke to me about industrial affairs, and said, " We settle strikes in South Africa in a very different way from that which you adopt." I asked, " How do you settle them?" He replied that they did not adopt the cumbersome and unwieldly procedure of arbitration, with an appeal to a judge who was not versed in the technicalities of industry, and had been neither an employer nor an employee. The powers of the community were exerted, he said, and in the end it was better for all parties. A colleague, who did not see things from exactly the same angle, remarked, "Yes, General Smuts settled the great strikes on the Rand. Do you know how he did it?" I replied, "No; how did he do it?" He said, "Well, he killed 400 white men." Yetwe are able to say - and I think very few countries in the world can say it - that during the 30 years in which arbitration laws have figured in the statute-books of some of the States nobody has been killed in Australia in the settlement of a strike. Our record in this respect compares more than favorably with that of any other country. Arbitration in any case is infinitely to be preferred to brute force. It leaves no sting behind. The parties go before a court and plead their cause. If the court's award is a practical one, they can go on working; but, in no case is there the bitterness of defeat which is felt by men who are driven by circumstances to accept conditions which they know to be unfair; nor that which follows the settlement of strikes by such means as I am informed are used in America. I ask leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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