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Saturday, 9 June 1928

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) .- Few honorable members are likely to oppose this clause. In my opinion, it is a step in the right direction. For a long time I have been endeavouring to include such a provision in the Industrial Peace Act. It is a very necessary clause, although, I submit, the Minister might have gone a little further than he has. The honorable member for Riverina stated, in support of his proposed amendments, that I had said, during the course of ray second-reading speech, that I preferred conciliation committees to arbitration. That is perfectly true; but the honorable member should not draw from that the inference that I am against compulsory arbitration altogether. Chat is quite a different thing. I believe in settling all disputes that may arise, if at all possible, by conciliation. I have always advocated that, but I do not wish my position to be misunderstood. I have repeatedly informed this committee that if some of the clauses of the bill are given effect, they will assuredly destroy compulsory arbitration; so honorable members must realize from that statement that the honorable member for Riverina has gained a wrong impression of my attitude. The amendment foreshadowed by the Attorney-General is important. If conciliation committees are to be a success we must allow the parties to a dispute to decide, if possible, who shall be the chairman. If they fail to agree, then, of course, the appointment must be left to the discretion of the Chief Judge. Before the system of compulsory arbitration was introduced, the parties to a dispute appointed their representatives to meet in conference, and on one or two occasions in my district I was so appointed. When a chairman could not be agreed upon, some prominent person in the community, a judge or a Minister of the Crown, was asked to recommend someone for the position. In that respect the amendment foreshadowed by the AttorneyGeneral is satisfactory.

Mr Scullin - That is the procedure in connexion with the Victorian Wages Board.

Mr CHARLTON - It was the procedure before compulsory arbitration was introduced. In one instance, the late James Curley and myself represented the workers. We could not agree with the other representatives as to the chairman to be appointed, and one was appointed by ait outside authority. That chairman decided against us; and let me say that we found no fault with his decision, although it was against us. A similar provision to that foreshadowed by the Attorney-General should be included in the Industrial Peace Act. The great trouble in connexion with disputes, especially in the mining industry, is that there is no v means by which immediate steps may be taken to deal with them as they arise. Although a special tribunal may be appointed to deal with disputes, it is impossible for it to deal with all the disputes that may arise throughout Australia. By the appointment of committees an/l boards, disputes can be dealt with on the spot, and this procedure, in many cases, would prevent the extension of disputes.

Mr Gregory - Would not a decision in one State affect other States?

Mr CHARLTON - I am coming to that point. If a dispute were dealt with on the spot by a committee of conciliation, there might be no stoppage of work at all. May I recite my own experience in support of what I am saying? The last mine at which I was employed, was the South Waratah. At that time, Mr. McGeaghie was the general manager. He had under him a number of mine managers. I regularly represented the men. He used to say to me, "If there is any trouble, do not bring about a stoppage; send for me. If I am not available immediately, I shall return as soon as possible. Even if it should take me a week to get back to the mine, I shall come. " The result was that we kept the mine working even at those times when we could not agree with the mine manager. As soon as Mr. McGeaghie arrived he would send for me, and we would discuss the matter with the under manager and the manager. When we presented a good case to him, he yielded to our representations; but when we found that he had right on his side, we always accepted the position. There was never any trouble. During the whole of the time that I was there, although it was the dirtiest mine in the district, all our differences were settled in that manner, and we did not have one day of idleness. That is why I advocate so strongly the voluntary settlement of disputes.

My chief reason for rising was to draw attention to another aspect. The new sub-section 2 reads -

A conciliation committee may be appointed in relation to industrial disputes in an industry, or in a branch or section of an industry defined by reference to locality or otherwise.

I am doubtful as to how far we can go in that direction. As the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has pointed out by way of interjection, an industry may extend beyond the limits of a State. It must do so before the Commonwealth has power under the Constitution to deal with it. A conciliation committee may be appointed to deal with a branch or section of an industry. Any agreement arrived at must be forwarded to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court for its ratification. Supposing some person outside the particular State in which the agreement is come to considers that the decision affects him, will it be valid even though it has the approval of both the parties to it? I am not sure that it will.

Mr Maxwell - Is not the right reserved to any person who is interested to intervene and show cause why the recommendation should not be accepted by the court?

Mr CHARLTON - It is. If there should be such an intervention and the court should find itself compelled to disallow the agreement on account of the limitation placed upon its constitutional powers, the honorable member must see that the work of these conciliation committees would be nullified. That is the sole difficulty that I apprehend. If some person should intervene and claim that the conciliation committee did not have the power to do this thing, even though the two parties had agreed to it, the court would be placed in the position of having to come to a decision according to its constitutional powers. I have doubts as to whether this can really be done; but I am not a legal man. The Attorney-General knows that I have advocated this principle in private conference with him. I had thought it would be possible to bind these committees legally so long as they were made subordinate to the Industrial Peace Tribunal or the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The whole question is, whether that can or cannot be done.. I have no objection whatever to the proposed new sub-section; I believe that it is a step in the right direction if it can be carried out constitutionally. The Attorney-General probably considers that it is within the constitutional power of the Commonwealth to enact it. If it is, I should like him to extend the principle to the mining industry so as to avoid, as far as possible, even those small troubles that from time to time cause a stoppage of operations for only a week or two. There has not been one hold-up in the coal-mining industry since the Industrial Peace Tribunal was appointed, some years ago. That is a fact that we should not forget. Practically all the troubles in the coal-mining industry are sectional in character, and if this principle were adopted, they would be fewer in ' the future than they are to-day. If action along those lines is possible under this measure, I see no reason why it should not be taken.

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