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Thursday, 7 June 1928

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Makin (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I would remind the honorable member that the committee is now considering clause 10.

Mr FOSTER - We are discussing penalties, and I am showing that if arbitration is to continue, and if the community is to benefit at all, there must be suitable penalties for any infringements of the law. Hitherto the unions of Australia have benefited little by arbitration. Everybody knows that, in the past, the Arbitration Court has been a farce, because the judges have not been able to enforce penalties under our Arbitration laws. In 1911 the average nominal adult wage in Australia was 51s. 3d. a week, and in 1926, 99s. 4d. a week. Is that the benefit that was expected to accrue to the workers? No. In regard to this increase of wages, the Commonwealth Statistician says -

This looks like a substantial improvement for the workers of the country, but is it so? ..... The improvement in purchasing power has been only 4.5 per cent.

Those figures are official, and cannot be disputed.

Mr Fenton - Surely the honorable member does not attribute that to the Arbitration Court?

Mr FOSTER - To what does the honorable member attribute it? Let me tell him something that will not be agreeable to his political soul. It is due to arbitration and to our outrageously high tariff. Does the honorable member wish to know more than that? That is the truth, and no one knows it better than the honorable member. Honorable members opposite are doing their best to wreck arbitration and the industrial life of the community, although they profess to have the interests of the workers at heart. Since 1911, our present system of arbitration has brought about nearly double wages, yet the improvement in the purchasing power of the effective wage has been only 4.5 per cent. Honorable members opposite say that there have been no serious industrial disturbances in Australia. It is arrant nonsense to say that. Honorable members opposite have compared the number of strikes that have taken place in Australia and America, but they forget that Australia has a population of 6,000,000 while that of America is 110,000,000. They have compared the number of strikes that have taken place in Australia and the Motherland, but they forget that we are living in a land flowing with milk and honey, whereas there are a million people in England who do not know whence their next meal is coming. Let us be honest about the industrial position of Australia. The Commonwealth Statistician has said that a lot of money has been lost to the community because of useless strikes. I agree with him. The community has suffered tremendous losses because of strikes. Take, for example, the maritime cooks' strike. Not one honorable member opposite has dared to express an opinion about it, but I am prepared to tell the truth to the whole world. Could there be a worse advertisement for Australia than that strike? Could there be a worse advertisement for us in the O.d Country, whose money-market we so often make use of, than the debate which has taken place in this Parliament during the. last three weeks. It cannot be denied that since 1911 wages in the Commonwealth have nearly doubled, yet the improvement in the purchasing power has been only 4.5 per cent. We must remember that production has to pay for strikes and inefficiency; but is it in a position to do so-? Australia has between 8,000 and 9,000 fewer farmers and 40,000 fewer farm labourers to-day than, she had a few years ago. We have not only to pay for the strikes that occur, but also to meet the interest upon a greatly increased national debt. Our national ledger shows £164,000,000 on the wrong side, and the States of the Commonwealth have increased their indebtedness during the last few years by £3,75,000,000. We cannot go on indefinitely borrowing and losing. The time will come when we must face the position.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.I point out to. the honorable member that the subject before the -Chair is " penalties payable out of organization funds."'

Mr FOSTER - Unless we can find? a means to prevent strikes we shall never b& able to pay our way; and unless we provide penalties, for those who go on strike we shall never be- able to prevent strikes. We are to-day giving Australia the worst advertisement that a country could have. Big business. men have come to Australia from Great Britain prepared to spend millions of pounds in establishing industries here, but they have gone away saying, " No investments in Australia because of her industrial conditions."

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have the best country in the world.

Mr FOSTER - That is so; but we have the worst industrial legislation in the world. We should set our house in order ; then we could expect to make some progress.

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