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Saturday, 9 June 1928

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) (Attorney General) .- -The object of the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) is, I understand, to introduce into the Arbitration Act some provisions corresponding with the Canadian industrial legislation which has been in operation for many years. The Canadian system is complete in itself, and under it, it is possible for any party to refer a dispute to a board representing employers and employees. The parties may agree in advance that the recommendation of the board, whatever it may be, shall be binding upon them. If, however, they do not so agree, the recommendations of the board, majority and minority, are made public, and the matter is left to the arbitrament of public opinion.

Mr Gregory - The Minister may also issue instructions calling the board together.

Mr LATHAM - That is so. Nothing is binding upon the parties unless they agree to be bound ; therefore, it is a voluntary system. The amendments of the honorable member for Riverina do not propose a voluntary system, because in the first place, they provide that an application may be made for the appointment of a conciliation committee, that notice shall be given to the parties, and that the committee shall be appointed and may make recommendations for the settlement of a dispute. In addition the recommendations of the committee may be available to the organizations concerned and to the newspapers for publication. But the honorable member leaves standing the rest of the clause which provides that the committee's recommendations may be brought before the court in the form of a proposed award, and that the court may make an award after hearing the parties concerned.

Mr Killen - That is the only course open to me under the bill as introduced.

Mr LATHAM - The amendment is plainly a mere variation of the preliminary procedure proposed under the clause, but in the end it is still compulsory.

Mr Killen - That is so, unfortunately.

Mr LATHAM - That is, unless there is an agreement between the parties. Therefore the question which arises is whether the procedure proposed by the honorable member is preferable to that proposed under the clause. Let me say that there are many industrial disputes which at present are adjusted by negotiations between the parties concerned, and it is a very good thing that that is so. It would indeed be unfortunate if on every occasion that an industrial dispute arose, the aid of the court, or even of the official conciliation machinery had to be invoked, and there is nothing in the bill which limits the opportunities for dealing with disputes by direct conferences between the parties concerned. There are certain portions of the amendments proposed by the honorable member for Riverina which I am quite prepared to accept, and I shall move amendments incorporating them. In the first place the honorable member proposes that an organization or person which or who is a party to an industrial dispute may apply in the prescribed manner to the Chief Judge for the establishment of a conciliation committee. The clause under consideration merely provides that the Chief Judge may appoint conciliation committees. The honorable member's proposal is that a party to a dispute may apply for the appointment of a concilation committee.

Mr Killen - My amendment makes it mandatory.

Mr LATHAM - I shall deal with that aspect in a moment. The honorable member proposes that a party to a dispute shall have an opportunity of applying for the apointment of a conciliation committee. That, I agree, is a desirable improvement. As the clause stands at present it leaves it entirely to the initiative of the Chief Judge. I have no objection at all to adopting the substance of the first sub-clause of the honorable member's amendment. I shall, therefore, move that instead of an application being made to the Chief Judge, which suggests the trouble of making application in the court and the like, the application be made to the Industrial Registrar in which case there would be no need for the party concerned to appear in the court to make the application. Unless the honorable member's amendment is carried by the committee, I shall later move a new subclause as follows providing that -

An application for the appointment of a conciliation committee may be made in the prescribed manner to the Industrial Registrar by any party to an industrial dispute.

I have included the words " in the prescribed manner " so that the details may be prescribed.

Mr Gregory - How will the Chief Judge be notified ?

Mr LATHAM - That can be prescribed by regulation. The second subclause of the honorable member's amendment proposes that the appointment of a conciliation committee shall be mandatory - to use his own words - whenever an application is made. I suggest that it would be a mistake to adopt such a provision. I would remind the honorable member of the examples that I have frequently given in this chamber, of thousands of employers being parties to an industrial dispute. If the honorable member's amendment were carried, any one of those employers might force the appointment of a conciliation committee, although the other employersconcerned were out of sympathy with him and desired the dispute to be dealt with by a compulsory conference or in the ordinary course by the Arbitration Court.

Mr Killen - Only if the judge agreed that an industrial dispute existed?

Mr LATHAM - In one dispute which was dealt with by the court, 11,000 respondents were cited. How would it be possible to administer a system giving to each of thoserespondents the right to have a conciliation committee appointed at any stage of the dispute, perhaps after it had been partly heard in the court, or partly settled by a compulsory conference? If the right were conferred upon either party to an industrial dispute, independent of the discretion of the Chief Judge, to secure the appointment of a conciliation committee, we might have several agencies working on the same dispute at the same time. That wouid complicate the procedure, and the system would be capable of ready abuse. I am, therefore, unable to accept the suggestion that a party to a dispute should be able to compel the appointment of a conciliation committee. It is far better to leave that to the discretion of the Chief Judge, after he has taken all the circumstances of the case into consideration.

The third sub-clause of the amendment moved by the honorable member for Riverina, provides that the Registrar shall, upon the making of an order under the last preceding sub-clause, forthwith cause a copyof the order to be served on each party to the dispute. Subclause 6c of the amendment provides that the Registrar shall notify the parties to the dispute of the names of the members and chairman of the committee, and sub-clause 6f provides that a copy of any recommendation shall be supplied to each organization or person party to the dispute, and to the representative of any newspaper. That procedure involves, on three separate occasions, notification of certain facts to all parties to the dispute. Take the case of a dispute in which thousands of respondents are concerned. It would cost hundreds of pounds to send three separate notifications to each of them. In addition, that portion of the clause which the honorable member proposes to leave unchanged, may entail a further notification to each of the parties concerned. If this amendment were carried, the procedure would be very expensive and complicated, and might be liable to be challenged if there were a slight discrepancy in carrying it out. It would certainly be a complicated procedure, and the clause, as it stands, proposes a much simpler, speedier and cheaper procedure.

Then the honorable member proposes to confine the membership of a conciliation committee to three. I suggest that the Chief Judge, after receiving recommendations from the parties concerned, should determine the membership of the committee. If the parties require more than one representative each, as in complex industries they are almost bound to do, why not allow them to have more ? Take, for example, a mining dispute, involving miners, engineers, men working on the surface, in fact, all of those engaged in the large number of separate occupations which are associated with a mine. Those concerned in the dispute would naturally desire individuals who understood the separate functions common to mining to be their representatives. It is seldom that one representative can satisfactorily handle all the elements of an industry, and I suggest that it would be a mistake to confine the membership of a committee to three. There are other difficulties associated with the honorable member's amendment. For example, he stipulates periods of fifteen days and five days. I suggest that it would be better to leave these matters flexible. It must be remembered that we are dealing with interstate disputes, which may be on an all-Australian scale, and to provide a period of five days for the appointment of a chairman would prevent the appointment if a suitable man could not be found within five days. In the same way a time limit of fifteen days would be too rigid.

Mr Killen - We want these disputes to be settled promptly.

Mr LATHAM - To require the Chief Judge to appoint within fifteen days re,presentatives to a committee is imposing upon him an onerous duty, and this handicap might lead to the defeat of the whole procedure. It is important that the persons appointed to a committee should be genuinely representative, and it might be such men could not be found within a period of fifteen days.

I am prepared to adopt the first part of the honorable member's amendment that either party to a dispute may apply for the appointment of a conciliation committee, and I shall later move an amendment to provide that if the parties to the dispute concur in nominating a person as chairman, the Chief Judge shall appoint that person as such. Honorable members must agree that it would be undesirable to allow the 'majority of the representatives to appoint the chairman of a conciliation committee. As the clause stands at present it provides only that the judge shall appoint the chairman. I propose to move a proviso to the effect that if the members of the committee concur in nominating any person as chairman, the Chief Judge shall appoint that person as chairman.

Mr Gregory - It must be a unanimous decision.

Mr LATHAM - Yes. I am prepared to accept certain portions of the honorable member's amendment, but I submit that the adoption of the whole of it would introduce a degree of complication that would defeat the very object that the honorable member has in view.

Mr Killen - Does not the AttorneyGeneral consider that there should be a time limit to the appointment of a committee ?

Mr LATHAM - I propose to leave that to the discretion of the Chief Judge. It is of no use to fix an arbitrary time limit; it might defeat the object of the honorable member altogether, because of the difficulty of finding suitable men within the time prescribed. If a time limit were imposed it might even lead to the appointment of an unsuitable committee.

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