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Wednesday, 6 June 1928


Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) .- The clause now under consideration is, perhaps, the most comprehensive and most important in the bill. One or two members on the Government side justified their support of the measure, while expressing their disagreement with certain clauses, by saying that the objectionable clauses could be amended in committee. Last night we heard the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) tear this clause to pieces. He is a man who, like many honorable members on this side of the chamber, has spent his life in directing industrial organizations, and he pointed out the utter futility of drafting legislation of this kind in the hope that it would lead to industrial peace. I wish to remind him, however, that since this Government has been in power, no private member has had a million to one chance of amending any particular clause in committee. We have heard so much in relation to this clause that I should think that the Minister ought, by this time, to be convinced that he is on the wrong track in seeking to bring about industrial peace by such legislation. This clause is the most provocative thing that I have ever seen embodied in any piece of proposed industrial legislation. It is altogether too one-sided. It will, enable the employers to punish the whole community if even a small section of their workmen happen to go on strike over some purely local dispute. It is altogether wrong that such power should be placed in the hands either ' of the employers or the workers. Mention has been made of a dispute that is now in progress. A paper published in the interests of certain sections of the employers, and sent to members of this House, in referring to that dispute welcomed this proposed legislation because, although it did not say so directly, it believed the measure would operate in the interest of the employers. I pointed out during the second-reading debate that this legislation has taken too legal a turn altogether. The parties are not allowed to settle a dispute between themselves even if they are willing, without obtaining the aid of the legal fraternity. Instead of seeking to facilitate the holding of round-table conferences, and the setttling of disputes by conciliation, the whole process of industrial bargaining is being so tied up that the parties are compelled to apply to the court before any matter can be determined. After all that has been said, the Minister should recognize that our objection to this clause is dictated by something more than the ordinary opposition of a party with political purposes to serve. "We speak as men who have seen arbitration at work from its inception, and have had to deal with the sort of cases proposed to be covered by this measure. The one thing which tends, more than anything else, to kill the spirit of conciliation is the knowledge that coercive power has been placed in the hands of one side, and that such power will be used in the event of an agreement not being arrived at. What right has any group of employers, because of a purely local dispute, to close up the whole coal or metalliferous mining industry of the country. How will that tend to bring about peace, or to draw the parties together so that they may settle their differences amicably? The fact that this clause gives the employers power to extend a dispute clearly shows the intention of the Government in bringing in this measure. It is a most remarkable thing that, while the bill is supposed to be framed with a .view 't'o settling disputes, this very clause legalizes the extension of industrial trouble. The whole thing is so ridiculous that it will not bear examination. If it is the intention of the Government to support the system of arbitration, which for many years we have endeavoured te perfect, it would be better to withdraw this legislation, and concentrate its efforts in an attempt to expedite the procedure of the courts. Many of the stoppages referred to during this debate have been caused by the long delays that occur in the hearing of industrial cases. Some employees have to wait for as long as two years before their cases are heard, and during that time industrial conditions might change entirely. Many such men have been compelled to take matters into their own hands in an endeavour to enforce their demands, or prevent the exploitation of workers by their employers. The Government might well inaugurate additional arbitration boards to hear disputes. Never during my career have I seen a clause drafted in such a form as this one. Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that any Government would encourage the extension of industrial unrest. The clause is diametrically opposed to the principle of arbitration. It is merely a law to break a law. I have no wish to digress as other honorable members have done, and generalize about industrial matters ; but I feel compelled to confess that there is a suspicion abroad that this measure in introduced with the intention of lowering the standard of living in Australia. I trust that, even at this eleventh hour, the Attorney-General will see the wisdom of withdrawing at least the objectionable clause with which we are dealing,' which, if it is carried, will increase industrial unrest in Australia.







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