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Thursday, 24 May 1928

Mr PROWSE (Forrest) .- I commend the Government for bringing down this very necessary piece of legislation. Arbitration was brought into existence some years ago, with the object of ridding the country of the devastating effect of strikes and lockouts. But I ask honorable members whether our Arbitration Act has had that effect ? They know very well that because of the inefficiency of the act the loss of wages alone to the workers of Australia has been, and is still, appalling. It is true that some other countries have a greater number of strikes than we have; but that is not to be wondered at when we take into consideration Australian conditions, and the efforts that have been made by Australian legislatures to improve them. With the conditions that the Australian workers enjoy, the marvel is that there should be any industrial strife here. I have no desire to speak at any length on this question. A great deal of time can be wasted through the delivery of perorations such as that just read by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). Listening to the honorable member one would think we were living under conditions that prevailed 100 years ago, or that his speech had been prepared for him by Trotsky or Lenin. In a country like this, where the conditions of the workers are the best in the world, phrases such as those employed by the honorable member in his peroration are a degradation to Australia and to this Parliament. Honor able members of the Opposition have said, "Do not defame your own country." The speech of the honorable member for the Northern Territory has done more to defame Australia than any other speech I have heard in this Parliament. It- certainly' had no application to the bill under consideration.

The bill is a sincere effort on the part of the Government to make the Conciliation and Arbitration Act a means by which the industrial peace desired by the great majority of the people of Australia may be achieved. It is regrettable that those who represent Labour did not seize the opportunity afforded to them by the Leader of the Government to take part in a peaceful consideration of the whole issue. If a Government that has been returned to power by a majority of the people of this country voting under a democratic franchise asks the workers and employers to get together and tell it how legislation may be framed to enable work to be carried on with benefit to both, and with benefit to the country generally, why should the representatives of labour stand aloof, and afterwards come to this House and decry a bill that seeks to improve the law in regard to arbitration?

Honorable members opposite declare that they believe in arbitration. In what way do they believe in it? Is it not British justice that the law should apply equally to all sections of the community; but our arbitration law is one-sided. It has already been pointed out that 600,000 unionists may submit a case to the Arbitration Court, and there may be only two or three employers involved. The country can easily get at those two or three employers; but the other night we heard the declaration of despair of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), that we cannot deal with or punish 600,000 men. Is it that fact which has led the honorable members of the Opposition to be so boisterous or dogmatic in their attitude towards this bill? One can easily understand their attitude when one examines the history of the Arbitration Court and notes the way in which its awards have been disobeyed when they have not suited the workers. Such disobedience is the surest way to destroy the. whole fabric of our arbitration system. The bill is an honest attempt on the part of the Government to put the Arbitration Court on a basis that will stand, and enable it to carry out the functions for which it was originally established.

We have recently sold the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. If the seamen and those who control them had recognized the privileges that they were enjoying because of the action of this Parliament in passing the Navigation Act, they might have helped to make the Line a success. But they abused the privileges conferred upon them and consequently caused so much loss to the taxpayers of this country that the Line had to be sold, and the Navigation Act itself is in danger. The White Australia policy is also imperilled by the attitude taken up by honorable members opposite. If Australia is to remain white, it must be an efficient country. It must prove that a white country can be efficient. I remind honorable members opposite that we cannot take out of a thing more than is put into it. I believe in having a high wages standard, but we must show ourselves deserving of that standard. The figures relating to production quoted by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) were entirely misleading, but even if they were not they were no justification; for the honorable member's argument that it is of little use to produce more than can be sold, and that no harm would be done to production by having shorter working hours for the benefit of the workers. The honorable member's argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean the preposterous assertion that great production is a disadvantage to a country. The honorable member pointed out that statistics disclose that there has been an advance in production per head of population amounting to 5 per cent., the estimate being made on a value basis. That basis is extremely misleading. During the period covered by those statistics there has been an increase in values of the main commodities in Australia, but no credit is due to the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore), or even to this Parliament; it is due to world markets. Our progress should be judged on quantities, not values. The production of wheat in Australia has not increased to any appreciable extent for the last ten years.

Mr Fenton - That is not so in Western Australia.

Mr PROWSE - Western Australia is the only State that shows an increased wheat production, and that is due to the efforts of the men in that industry.

Mr Forde - There is a Labour Government in power in Western Australia.

Mr PROWSE - That same Government would almost have vomited had it heard some of the speeches that were made in this chamber to-day by honorable members opposite. The Labour Government of Western Australia realizes that true prosperity lies in the development of the country. There production is looked upon as an advantage - quite a different belief from the hopeless doctrine preached by the honorable member for Dalley.

If we are to maintain arbitration the awards of the court must be based on the ability of an industry to pay them, otherwise that industry must cease operation and cause unemployment. I believe that in the United States of America the system of round table conferences between employers and employees is greatly favoured, and the result is reflected in the prosperity of that country. It is for our employees to determine whether they will accept what an industry is capable of paying and continue to be employed, or demand more than industry can pay and be unemployed. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) got to the root of the matter when he spoke in this House yesterday. I believe that it is unsound for the Arbitration Court to base its awards on the cost of living. Increased awards add to the cost of production, and cause an advance in the cost of living. Soon the employee makes further demands for increased wages, and the whole process begins again. That has been clearly pointed out in the reports of the Tariff

Board, not in a casual manner, but as a well considered warning to this Parliament. This House should endeavour to deliberate upon the problem, uninfluenced by party considerations, and try to effect a solution. We should strive to introduce legislation of benefit to the whole of the people to which all parties can agree and abide by. Trade unionism is an excellent institution, but if it is to survive its leaders should advise their followers that they must obey the laws of the country. If they refuse to do so the labours of Parliament will be jettisoned and we shall retrogress instead of progress.

It has been said by honorable members opposite that arbitration is a good thing. When one has a good thing he should endeavour to retain it. The honorable member for Dalley admitted that there are defects in the system, and surely if he is entitled to recognize defects in it the Government, which has been elected by a majority of the people of Australia, is also entitled to recognize other defects and to endeavour to rectify them by well considered action. This bill must not be regarded in a flippant manner. I shall endeavour to give it logical consideration. Undoubtedly much ofour existing unemployment is due to the fact that the country is existing upon an uneconomic basis. Much has been said about the necessity to preserve our present standard of living. If wages were reduced the cost of living would be reduced; the reduced wages would have equal if not greater buying power; the country would be saved, and we should then be enabled to populate it and make the progress we ought to make. It is all very well for honorable members to mount the soap box, metaphorically speaking, and make startling speeches, but the people will soon discover that soap box oratory will not provide them with bread and butter. Governing economic factors must be considered, and when that is done it will be recognized that it is impossible to take more out of an industry than what is put into it. Instead of indulging in a prolonged and generalized debate on this bill, honorable members could better haveconstituted themselves a deliberative board of directors of the country, and endeavoured to assist the Attorney-General and the Government to provide an improved arbitration measure. I shall reserve my further remarks on the bill until it reaches the committee stage.

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