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Thursday, 4 October 1906

The PRESIDENT - The two Bills would have been one had it not been for the provisions of the Constitution, and, therefore, I have treated them as one Bill for the purposes of debate.

Senator CLEMONS - What took place was that Senator Symon, in Committee, moved an amendment. The Temporary Chairman said that he could not accept an amendment, but that Senator Symon must move what he desired in the form of a request. I dissented from the Temporary Chairman's ruling, which was referred to the President, who did not uphold it. The President supported my contention that an amendment might be moved. Of course if it could be assumed that the measure had come up to us in such a state of perfection that it would be almost impious forus to try to improve it, I do not suppose that any one would think about either requests or amendments. But such is not the case. . What are we to do? We all know what will happen if an amendment is carried.

Senator Millen - Ought we to consider what will happen?

Senator CLEMONS - Well, I try to be occasionally - at rare intervals, perhaps - a practical man in matters of legislation.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator does not seem to be successful in his efforts.

Senator CLEMONS - Let me submit a point for the consideration of Senator Playford. The Bill provides that it is not to come into operation until the 1st January, 1907. Why has that date been fixed ?

Senator Playford - It is to come into operation after certain facts relating to manufacture have been obtained.

Senator CLEMONS - I am afraid that the date is not fair to all concerned. If it is desirable to impose Excise duties, and to restrain their operation for nearly three months,why would it not be fair in imposing Customs duties to do the same?

Senator Playford -But look at the difference in the effect. If Customs duties were not to be imposed at once, the importers would clear their goods, and revenue would be lost.

Senator CLEMONS - Surely that argument applies equally to Excise duties.

Senator Playford - No; the Excise in this Bill refers to fair wages.

Senator CLEMONS - That is precisely the point I am going to make. I challenge Senator Playford to produce any Excise Tariff Bill the operation of which has been postponed in this way.

Senator Playford - I challenge the honorable senator to produce an Excise Tariff Bill on the same lines.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playfordis quite safe there. If it is intended, by this Bill, to impose Excise duties as a means of revenue, and of doing a number of other things, it is unfair to postpone its operation.

Senator Playford - We are not doing this for the purpose of obtaining revenue.

Senator CLEMONS - Then it is a most extraordinary Excise Bill. It is not intended to produce revenue, and is not to come into operation until some future time. Are these goods to be taken out of bond freely from the 7th or 8th October until the 1st January, 1907 ?

Senator Playford - The goods are not in bond ; they have to be dealt with under certain conditions.

Senator CLEMONS - This Bill is either illusory, or it is based on unfair conditions. There was no postponement in the case of the Customs duties, which 1 suppose were imposed before we saw the Bill. This Bill does not provide for fair treatment, or it is a sham, or, as another alternative, it is not expected that the Minister will ever discover that the conditions are not reasonable. What is the connexion between the 1st day of January and the 31st March ?

Senator Dobson - Is the latter date not intended to apply to machines partly constructed now?

Senator CLEMONS - We are told that the 1st January refers to such machines. I earnestly urge Senator Playford to clear up this point. As the result of a hard day's search, I have been able to discover what happened after the 31st day of March. I suppose that some one will be able to give the definition of " standard conditions at the place of manufacture," but no words could have been selected which would more successfully conceal the real meaning. Such extremely vague words ought not- to be in a serious Bil! purporting to affect the whole conditions of an industry. Various alternatives are suggested as proper and safe means of ascertaining the conditions of labour, with which this Bill, though an Excise Bill, is almost exclusively concerned ; and I find that the real determination is left entirely to the discretion of the Minister. If there are alternatives, as in this Bill, for ascertaining whether conditions are fair and reasonable, those alternatives should be regarded as all that are necessary; and in a case where the profits of an enormous industry mav largely depend on the conditions of labour, we ought to join unanimously in an effort to remove from any Minister in an\ Department such an extraordinary power as this Bill purports to give. Translate it into money, and what dees it mean? Do we consider it right to place in the hands of a Minister of the Crown such an enormous power over the financial concerns of any industry in the Commonwealth? The decision of the Minister that wages in a factory, which may not be in existence at the present time, are not fair and reasonable would have the immediate effect under this Bill of imposing an Excise duty of £6 per machine on every stripper-harvester which it turned out. We know that one manufacturer in the Commonwealth turns out 2,000 of these machines a year. I hope the day will come when we shall have more than one factory turning out 10,000 machines if there is a demand for them. But let us take the case of a factory turning out 5,000 machines, and then remember that the ipse dixit of the Minister will be sufficient to impose upon the proprietor of that factory an Excise duty of £fi per machine. It is essentially wrong to give any such power to a Minister, and I intend to test the opinion of the Senate on the question. I can do so without injury to the Bill, because the decision of the Minister is only one of many, alternatives provided for. We are dealing With conditions as to the remuneration of labour, and under paragraph a, a provision is made for a declaration that they are fair and reasonable by resolution of both Houses of Parliament. When the reference is made to it Parliament may not be in session, and so other alternatives are provided. Under paragraph b the Bill is not to apply if the conditions are in accordance with an industrial award under the Conciliation and . Arbitration Act. I admit that to give effect to that alternative the Commonwealth Arbitration. Court must be moved, but we do not consider that a serious obstacle in ordinary cases.

Senator Henderson - Who does the honorable senator think will be the complainant?

Senator CLEMONS - Some person who has the interest of the employes at heart.

Senator Henderson - To whom would he be most likely to apply?

Senator CLEMONS -I should say to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

Senator Henderson -So should I.

Senator CLEMONS - Then why make provision for a reference to the Minister?

Senator Henderson - There is: no harm in having that alternative, and there is no fear that workmen will resort to it.

Senator Guthrie - It is a question of freedom of contract.

Senator CLEMONS - It is. a question of preserving the purity of our political institutions and of preventing the American example from finding followers here.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator knows that a man belonging to an organization can always appeal to it, but who is to help the man who belongs to no organization ?

Senator CLEMONS - Will Senator Guthrie contend that any man should in the circumstances be invited to go to the Minister of Trade and Customs?

Senator Henderson - A unionist would not do so, but a non-unionist might be compelled to do so.

Senator CLEMONS - Does Senator Henderson approve of a provision in our legislation which would induce any man to go to the Minister of Trade and Customs with a complaint that his employer was not treating him fairly? The alternative in paragraph c is on the same lines as. that in paragraph b.

Senator Dobson - These alternatives enable the worker to appeal from the Arbitration Court to the Minister or to Parliament.

Senator CLEMONS - Of course they do. I am pointing out that there are alternatives provided which, are far preferable to that contained in paragraph d, and it is on that account that I propose to move an amendment to leave out the refer ence to the Minister. The alternative in paragraph e is that the conditions -

Are, on an application made for the purpose to the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, declared to be fair and reasonable by him -

That is a reasonable reference, to which no one could object. The paragraph continues - or by a Judge of the Supreme Court of a State or any person or persons who compose a State industrial authority to whom he may refer the matter.

Senator Dobson - That is an absolutelynew tribunal.

Senator CLEMONS - No, it is not a new tribunal, but a tribunal which is established on firm grounds, and has my hearty approval. I am trying to show that these alternatives render any reference to the Minister unnecessary. The alternative in paragraphf has reference to the date, about which there is some difference of opinion, and continues - are either as advantageous to the workers as the standard conditions at the place of manufacture or are declared by the President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, or by a Judge of the Supreme Court of the State in which the goods are manufactured - and then follow the words which damn the whole value of this Bill, and which constitutes a blemish and blot upon it which, in my opinion, ought to be removed - or by the Minister to be fair and reasonable.

Apparently, we are going to train up workmen to go to the Minister with an appeal if they think they have any grievance in connexion with their industry. We all object to lobbying, but I think there is nothing to which weobjectmorethantofind persons going to a Minister to induce him to do something to their advantage. The Ministermay be sought in secret, and - I hesitate to say it - may be sought with some kind of consideration, hardly disguised, affecting his political position.

Senator Henderson - Could the Minister remedy the case of a man who came to him in secret, in the way suggested, when he would have to administer the Act publicly ?

Senator CLEMONS - Undoubtedly he could. I do not think that the honorable senator quite recognises the position. What is proposed is that some workmen, or some half-dozen workmen, may approach the Minister if they think that the conditions under which, they are working are not up to the standard conditions at the place of manufacture, or are not fair and reasonable. If such workmen satisfy the Minister that the conditions of labour are not fair and reasonable, a verv heavy penalty - an Excise duty of £6 per machine - will be inflicted upon their employer.

Senator Henderson - Can the honorable senator conceive of a Minister who would take the word of half-a-dozen men and inflict a penalty, without having made an independent investigation ?

Senator Millen - If in a Customs matter we have had a Minister who has taken the word of one man, why not also in an Excise matter?

Senator Henderson - I have had too much experience of industrial matters to entertain such a view.

Senator Dobson - But the honorable senator has not had much experience of Ministers.

Senator CLEMONS - The Bill simply provides that the conditions of labour shall be determined there and then, if in the opinion of the Minister they are not fair and reasonable. There is nothing which indicates what he is to do in order to inform his mind or what evidence it will be necessary for him to take.

Senator Henderson - He will not give a judgment on a one-sided statement.

Senator CLEMONS - Is it not possible that, under ordinary circumstances, the Minister, having given, an attentive hearing to the representations made, may say, in an absolutely honest way, " I am convinced that the men have- established a good case, and I shall tell the employer that, inasmuch as he has failed to observe proper conditions, the Excise duty must be collected on his harvesters." I am satisfied that Senator Henderson has met with a Minister who would be prepared to take up that position, and bold enough to give practcal effect to his opinion. Is it extraordinary to conceive that such a thing is likely to happen ?

Senator Henderson - Most extraordinary.

Senator CLEMONS - If I have failed to convince Senator Henderson on that point, I ought not to fail to convince any reasonable man.

Senator Guthrie - After the Minister has formed that opinion, he will have to make minutes and be responsible to Parliament.

Senator CLEMONS - Surely Senator Guthrie must see that the power placed in the Minister is absolute ! Can he not recollect a Minister whom we both admired, but for different reasons, and who, right or wrong, had the strength of his convictions, and did what an honorable man ought to do. even if, unfortunately, he happened to be wrong? That gentleman stands out in the history of the Commonwealth as a signal example of a high-minded and courageous Minister. It is a pity that Senator Henderson, in the course of his political wanderings, has not come across a man whom we could all join in admiring. If he had, he would know that if Mr. Kingston were intrusted with the administration of this Bill, there would te no question as to what' he would do if half-a-dozen men waited upon him and satisfied him that their conditions of labour were not fair and reasonable. He would say to the manufacturer straight away, " £6 on every one of your machines."

Senator Millen - The test of the honorable senator's argument is, whether the supporters of the Bill would have as much confidence in the administration of one Minister as in that of another.

Senator CLEMONS - Precisely. I recognise what will happen if the Bill should pass. I pity any Minister who may te. called upon to. administer its provisions. He will occupy a. most invidious position. Whether he decides to intervene or not, it is quite certain that he will be applied to, unless, of course, we are to assume that for ever and ever the conditions of labour in this industry are going to be fair and reasonable, and that there will be no question of a manufacturer trying to increase his profits, as one has teen known to do, by reducing the wages of his men. Undoubtedly, at some time or other, the Minister will te pressed by men to put the law into active operation. I have endeavoured to discharge my duty in criticising a Bill which, for different reasons, we seem powerless to improve.

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