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Wednesday, 23 May 1928

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) . - I rise to support the measure before the House, believing that it will assist us to attain the all important objective - industrial peace on a sound and . lasting basis. If I" thought for one moment that the amendments of the principal act for which it provides would in any way affect injuriously trade unionists in Australia, it must be obvious to any honorable member that it would be an act of political suicide for me to support it, because it is my proud privilege to represent an important industrial constituency, which is comparable in that respect with those of some of my honorable friends who sit on this side and many honorable members who sit opposite. I am quite sure in my own mind that when it is placed upon the statute-book this bill will not have that effect. In fact, I believe that it will help to attain industrial peace and to improve the conditions of the workers generally in this country.

I listened this afternoon with keen interest to the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers), who delivered a most eloquent and impressive address. He stated quite definitely that he believed that the central compulsory arbitration system in Australia had utterly failed. He also maintained that the Arbitration Court had not succeeded in any way in securing industrial peace, and apparently agreed with those who have stated that the court has tended to promote the organization of conflicting parties and interests in opposite camps. Probably there are other honorable members who hold similar views, but they may not be prepared to state them so definitely. I remind the honorable member for Wannon, however, that it is 24 years since compulsory arbitration was established in this country. If we had had then all the knowledge that we now possess, probably we should have endeavoured to secure some other method of bringing about industrial peace. However, there are to-day tens of thousands of workers in Australia who are satisfied with the existing system, and are abiding by the awards of the court. After all, only a few unions - important ones, undoubtedly - come into conflict with those awards. I certainly think - and I am sure the honorable member for Wannon will agree with me - that a system which for the last 24 years has been working satisfactorily from the point of view of tens of thousands of workers must be continued, and that the main duty of those who believe in arbitration is to try to improve it wherever that can be done. I have no knowledge of the intentions of the Government, but I personally think that this should be regarded as the last attempt to place that system on a sound basis; and should it fail I do not think that any one would cavil at the Government if it endeavoured to find some other means of obtaining industrial peace in this country.

Honorable members of all shades of political opinion agree that it is the duty of every man who plays a part, however humble, in the public life of this country, to strive by every means in his power to bring about satisfactory conditions and peace in industry. No one would be foolish enough to believe or to maintain that this bill is going to cure all the evils and troubles which at the present time are associated with our industrial system. It would be absurd to imagine that that is likely to be the result. I, however, share with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) the belief that it will be a big step forward towards that goal; that it will improve the conditions for both employers and employees; and that, therefore, it will benefit the community at large. That there is an urgent need for amendment I do not think any honorable member has denied during the course of this debate. For a long time industry in this as well as in other countries has laboured under very difficult, almost intolerable, conditions. That has been due in Australia, I think, to the overlapping of Federal and State awards, and also in many instances to the incompatibility of the decisions of the court with economic realities, as well as to the irresponsible activities of a few persons who, if they had set out to do it, could not. have had greater success in the direction of wrecking our ship of progress. Really the main object of this bill is to do something towards modifying those conditions, short of removing them altogether.

I should like to refer briefly to that provision in the bill which aims at making the awards of the court recognize in some way the economic facts with which Australia is faced. I have listened very carefully to the speeches of honorable members who sit opposite, and it has appeared to me that that is the feature of the bill to which they take the strongest exception. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) strenuously opposed the provision. Apparently, he sees in it a sinister motive and a desire on the part of the Government to upset the principle of a basic wage. I entirely disagree with the honorable gentleman. I am quite sure that nothing is further from the mind of the Government. In fact the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has definitely made that statement. I do not believe that any honorable member on this side of the House would support any move in the direction of upsetting the principle of a basic wage in this country.

Mr Brennan - Is not that the necessary implication?

Mr D CAMERON (BRISBANE. QLD) - I cannot see that it is. To me this is one of the most important provisions in the whole measure. Some persons believe that behind the shelter of our tariff protection we can go on piling up the costs of production. Nothing could be more harmful to our progress than such a policy. The Tariff Board, in a report which it presented to Parliament last October, uttered a warning to which, I think, every person in this country must pay heed. It was of the utmost importance, and I take this opportunity of reminding honorable members of its purport. Said the board - .

There is a danger of the tariff being used to bolster up an ever-increasing cost of production, irrespective of any consideration as to the ever-widening gaps between the standard maintained within the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom. It is obvious that the increased duties imposed on certain industries have failed to afford any increased protection. In other words, in some industries it is apparent that protection is failing to protect. Increased duties have largely failed to achieve their objective. Instead of expansion of manufacture the figures rather revealed stagnation, notwithstanding that stimulation of Australian industry was aimed at.

The board went on to express its regret at being obliged to place on record its conclusion that there is in the Commonwealth a tendency to abuse the protective system, and by forcing the pace under disadvantageous conditions to endanger its efficiency. The board also expressed its profound conviction that if Australian industry is to be maintained and safeguarded it is essential that the leaders of our industrial life should recognize the serious menace of the rising costs of production. The situation was regarded by the board as being too critical to waste time on trumped up charges of bias. The serious attention of all parties to this matter was requested by the board, and it stated definitely that, if that is not given, we can look forward to nothing but disaster. Those remarks from an authority the impartiality of which I do not think any one has ever questioned must be regarded as a warning to us.

We have been told that, if an industry cannot concede the hours and wages that are demanded in Australia it does not deserve to exist. I entirely agree with that contention. But if, when we refer to industry, we include in our observation only capital and management, we do not really speak of industry; for, after all, the duty of the employees in regard to advancing the interests and making n success of an industry is as great as that of the employers. I say quite definitely that I am not one of those who would be a party to lowering the standard of living of the wage-earner in Australia. That is the last thing I should like to see done. But it must be admitted that there is a vast difference between maintaining a reasonable standard of living and following a policy that must lead to the annihilation of industry in Australia. That, I think, is the choice which confronts the people of the Commonwealth to-day. We must choose between reasonable comfort and a reasonable standard of living on the one hand, and stagnation, unemployment and impoverishment on the other. Obviously itis in the interests of the wage-earner, as much as anybody else, that Australia should make steady progress along the road to national greatness inwealth and power, built upon a "vast network of flourishing industries. If this bill helps to bring about a realization that economic facts must be considered, it will justify its introduction on that score alone.

With the other provisions of the measure aiming at doing away with the tyranny sometimes exercised by union officials, the placing of responsibility for the conduct of union officials directly on the organizations that they represent; and requiring the taking of secret ballots to enable the members of unions to control their own organizations, I am heartily in accord. Honorable members opposite cannot advance any definite reason why they should prove injurious to trade unionism or why the Government and its supporters would try to do injury to the trade unions or to the unionists themselves.

A definite mandate was given by the people to the Prime Minister in November, 1925, to do all he could to suppress industrial disorder and unrest, and the bill under discussion represents' as near an approach as possible to meeting the demands of the electors. The Prime Minister, in discussing the bill, stated that the Government was merely carrying out the pledge that it gave to the people at the last election. He explained that the Nationalist party asked the people for a definite mandate on certain matters, and he reminded the House what some of those matters were. He. and I think every honorable . member who sits behind him, promised to take definite action against that section of the community, few in number though they were, who were endeavouring to subvert constitutional institutions, and to hinder the external and internal commerce of the country. We also promised the people that we would take action against those who were endeavouring to foment industrial strife, class war, and direct action. We said further that we would do everything in our power to overcome the chaotic industrial conditions due to the overlapping and duplication of Commonwealth and State awards, and would give trade unionists full power to deal with their own affairs, conferring upon them the benefit of the secret ballot. Those were the definite assurances on which the Government and its supporters went to the country, and on them the Government was returned with an increased majority.

There is no sinister motive whatever in the minds of the Government or its followers in introducing this bill. We believe that arbitration is an effective instrument for maintaining the industrial peace of the country, and for controlling industrial conditions. The Leader of the Opposition, and those who sit behind him, hold the same opinion; but it cannot be denied that some people - admittedly not a great number - openly state that their objective is to smash arbitration. Surely those of us who believe in arbitration and conciliation, no matter on which side of the House we sit, should join forces in order to amend our legislation and make our arbitration laws as effective as possible in assisting to maintain industrial peace.

I propose to read two pamphlets that have come into my possession. They were issued by the Central Executive of the Communist Party of Australia, and printed by the Proletarian Press, of 52 Trafalgar-street, Annandale. One of the pamphlets reads as follows -

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