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Friday, 8 June 1928

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) .- While the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) was speaking the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) interjected that this matter does not affect coal mines. If that is so, it is remarkable that the representative of the Coal Owners' Association has displayed a lively interest in the measure ever since it was first introduced. He lias missed hardly any of the debate, and no doubt has been in collaboration with members of the Government during its passage through committee. The coal mining industry will be affected by this bill, because the measure will give the owners what they want. The Industrial Peace Act will be scrapped and the coal-mining industry will be governed by the Arbitration Act. The representatives of the coal mineowners and the owners themselves have frequently declared that wages must be pressed down; and that employers associations generally want this particular provision in the bill is amply demonstrated by the circular issued by the Metal Trade Employers Federation. Frequent reference has been made to this circular during the course of this debate. Although the Attorney-General proposes to add the proviso that there must be no interference with the basic wage, he makes no provision for maintaining the margin of skill, and the demand of the controllers of industry to-day is not so much to reduce the basic wage as it is to take away the margin for skill and press the skilled man down to the basic wage. The speech delivered by Mr. J ohn Heine, President of the Metal Trade Employers Federation, was so pleasing to the federation, that it has gone to the expense of having it printed and circulated. Speaking of the conditions of industry Mr. Heine said -

The result is that there is a great deal of unemployment in the metal trades - unemployment for which the manufacturers refuse to take any particle of blame. The employers have told both the arbitration judges and the unions that there can be no expansion in the metal trades industry while it is shackled to old-fashioned ideas and the fetish that all machinery and metal parts must be " made " by a skilled mechanic in opposition to tho " manufacturing " methods adopted by Australia's competitors beyond the seas.

That statement bears out my assertion that a demand is being made that the Arbitration Court shall not treat many branches of the metal trade as skilled labour. The passing of the bill now bofore us will not only have the effect of depressing the basic wage; it will also bring the skilled labourer closer and closer to the basic wage, by depriving him of the margin now allowed to him. Honorable members opposite have had a great deal to say about economic soundness. But we want a better definition than we hara had from them of what they mean. One would think after hearing the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. DuncanHughes), that economics are an exact science which can lay down definite standards. As a matter of fact economic conditions are defined according to conflicting schools of thought. What I may think is economic soundness, the honorable member for Boothby may regard as economic lunacy. Coal-mining is an industry that the honorable member would claim is likely to go out of existence because of the economic unsoundness of the wages now being paid to coal-miners. The coalmining industry of Australia cannot be brought into a position which will enable it to compete with the product of other countries by reducing the wages of the miners. How could we reduce the wages of our miners to enable them to compete with Dutch convicts, who are hewing coal in Borneo at Id. a day, or with coalminers in other countries who hew it for ls. a day? How could we even reduce the wages of our miners to enable our coal to compete with South African coal which is subsidized by the South African government at the rate of 8s. 6d. a ton? If we were to try to bring about economic equality in wage conditions we should need to reduce the wages of our coal-miners to the extent I have indicated; but even then we should not succeed in enabling our coal to compete with the output of other countries. According to the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. G. Francis) it is better for our miners to have half a loaf instead of the whole loaf. When the honorable member was talking of the economic unsoundness of the mining industry to-day he did not remind us of what the mine-owners have done in the past. He did not tell us how they kept the miners on a bare pittance and made enormous profits on millions of pounds of fictitious capital.

Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - Mining has never paid.

Mr LAZZARINI - I have previously given figures showing the enorous profits that have been made by mining companies. They are in Hansard.

I am sorry that I have not them with me to-day. But I can call to mind dozens of mining companies that have made enormous profits. There was one company which had a capital of a few thousand pounds in 1908. Between that year and 1920 it was reconstructed four times, until to-day it has a capital of £2,000,000, although not a single penny of additional capital has been taken in since 1908. That company still wants its miners to work at a living wage to earn profits on a capital of £2,000,000, which has been earned by the industry itself. Honorable members who talk about economic soundness should base their arguments on concrete facts. There is not an industry in Australia to-day that is economically sound from a capital point of view. Every company is over-capitalized. Six million people are expected to carry industries with huge capitals, stock being superimposed on stock until each concern is economically unsound. Take the position of the coal-mining industry once more to show how economically unsound it is through over-capitalization and not because of the wages paid to the workers. If the miners worked for nothing our coal could not be sold in the markets of the world to enable a profit to be made on the huge amounts of capital on which dividends have to be paid. The reduction in cost that would be brought about if the miners worked for nothing would not exceed more than 3s. or 4s. a ton, whereas to enable our coal to compete with the coal produced by the cheap labour in other countries to which I have already referred, the cost of production would have to be lowered by 10s. or 12s. a ton. "Women and children still work in the coal mines of Japan. Do the honorable members for Boothby and Kennedy want our women and children to work in our coal mines? Do they want the conditions that apply in Borneo to apply in Australia? Yet if they want our industries to attain that economic soundness to which they have referred, those conditions would need to apply in our coal-mining industry, and in many other industries. If economics were an exact science, they would teach us that if the human being is to be enabled to support himself and propagate, the huge profits now made by capital must come down. It is absurd for the honorable member for Kennedy to talk about half a loaf being better than the whole loaf in a country like this, which ought to be providing comfortable means of living for tens of millions instead of 6,000,000 people. That its population is not greater than it is to-day is due to the stupid " economic soundness " the honorable member would have continue. We are told that if the basic wage does not come down, industries in this country must go out of existence. The same cry that industries would go out of existence was raised when Wilberforce tried to have slavery abolished. The indignation was great when the demand was made in Great Britain, that little children should no longer be harnessed like donkeys to wagons in coal mines, or strapped to machinery in factories and flogged by brutal bosses to keep them awake, or douched with water if through exhaustion they fell asleep. The cry was raised that it would be economically unsound to take the women and children out of the coal mines and factories of Great Britain. When the people of India were dying like flies from famine and a humanitarian member of the House of Commons asked the British Government to send corn to its starving subjects, the Prime Minister of that day said that it would be against the laws of political economy to do so, and that the Government must not interfere with the rights of the merchants trading with India. Those are the presentday economics of the honorable members for Boothby and Kennedy. Is it a state of affairs they would like to see in Australia? If we are to deal with this matter on those lines, on the ground of sound economics, I say " Devil take them. We do not want them in Australia." I support the full judgment of Mr. Justice Higgins, when he said that if an industry could not pay a progressive and living wage, it could not justify its existence. What are we considering in this matter? Is this a national Parliament, concerned with the well-being of the people as a whole, or are we like benighted savages worrying ourselves about things which really do not matter ? The one thing that really matters in Australia is the welfare of our people. Are we going to make the man a slave to the machine? Are we going to build up- national wealth by the labour of half -fed workers? If that is the result of the economics preached by honorable members opposite, it is worse than paganism, because' under paganism the slaves were at least fed properly. This clause reverses the whole process of arbitration in Australia, and is directly contrary to what people have come to expect of the arbitration system.

Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - What about the Queensland act?

Mr LAZZARINI - Let the honorable member forget about Queensland; we are discussing Australia now. Even honorable members opposite will admit that the arbitration system was introduced as a protest against the revolting conditions which had existed in industry. The industrial organizations throughout the country accepted arbitration, and registered under the court, because they knew that no matter how searching or objectionable might be the inquiries made into their mode of living, there was at least the certainty that if it were established that £4 10s. a week was necessary to enable a man to live in decency, that amount would be given to him. That principle was observed in the judgment of Mr. Justice Higgins, and in the awards of the wages boards, and has been regarded as sacred up to the present time. If the workers had not believed that their rights in this direction were secure, they would never have accepted the arbitration system at all. The principle will be destroyed, however, if sub-section 25d becomes law. If this provision becomes Jaw, arbitration can be made an instrument to re-introduce into this country the same terrible conditions which it was designed to remedy. It is absurd to say that these provisions will not, or cannot, affect the basic wage. In New South Wales the basic wage has been fixed at a figure which will provide a bare living for a man and his wife; in some of the other States it is designed to provide a living for a man, his wife, and two children. In order to provide for the children in a home, the system of child endowment was introduced in New South Wales.

Mr Ley - May not other matters than the basic wage come up for consideration under this provision? An application might be made for a reduction of the working week to 36 hours. Such a reduction of hours might mean the destruction of an industry. Is that not a fact which might be taken into consideration without in any way interfering with the basic wage ?

Mr LAZZARINI -.- If it is only proposed to deal with hours under this provision, why not say so? The honorable member for Barton must remember that under this clause the court may deal with wages as well as working hours. In any case, there is very little chance that the court, as at present constituted, would entertain any application to reduce the working week to 36 hours.

Mr Ley - But surely the honorable member would not object to such a matter being considered by the court?

Mr LAZZARINI - A judge dealing with wages would not be empowered to deal with hours. When any alteration in the length of the working week is under consideration, the matter must be dealt with by three judges. Under this clause the court may, in considering the basic wage, take as its guide the wage fixed in New South Wales, which, as I have said, has been based on the needs of a man and his wife only. If the basic wage in another State has been fixed on the needs of four people as against two in New South Wales, it stands to reason that it will probably be higher than that in New South Wales. Therefore, this clause can, and does, make provision for the basic wage in other States than New South Wales being reduced. The proviso says -

Providing this section shall not affect the practice of the court in fixing the basic wage.

In all seriousness I ask honorable members opposite, who prate so much about the need for immigration, do they propose to support a piece of legislation which may have the effect of putting a premium on race suicide ? If the basic wage fixed makes no provision in the Australian home for the Australian baby, it is placing a premium on race suicide, and making it an economic necessity for the working man. That is not a desirable thing. Perhaps honorable members opposite may consider it sound economics, but I do not. I am voicing the opinion of 99 per cent, of the industrial workers of this country, whether they belong to what is called the " reds, " or to any other section, when I say that arbitration, if this clause becomes law, will be merely a sham, a delusion, and a snare, and the workers will have nothing to do with it. I recognize what arbitration has done for the workers in the past, but I believe that they will be better off without any arbitration at all than the sort we shall have if this provision becomes law. In saying that the country will be better off without arbitration, I believe I am also expressing the opinion of many honorable members opposite. For instance, Mr. Archdale Parkhill, in a pamphlet which he issued in 1922, said that the fundamental difference between the Nationalist and Country parties was that the Country party stood for the abolition of all law as between the workers and the employers. I believe that this clause has been designed in order to bring about what the members of the Country paTty want, and I hope that it will be defeated.

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