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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - A great deal of the criticism which has been directed against the Bill has come from those who have made no secret of the fact that they are opposed to it. I wish to criticise it as one who strongly believes in the principle which it sets forth. As honorable senators are aware, I claim to be a straight-out free-trader, but I recognise that if protection is to be the policy of the Commonwealth we should devise some means by which the benefit of the protection afforded would not be annexed entirely by the manufacturers, but be passed on in some proportion to those whom they employ. Taking that view of the Bill, and as a friend of the object it seeks to attain, I shall submit some points for the consideration of honorable senators who are members of the Labour Party. I can quite understand the irritation which they have sometimes displayed when it hats been suggested that the course which they proposed to follow, although it appeared to them to be the shortest, would in the end be likely to prove the longest. I suggest to them now that they will not achieve their object as rapidly by faulty methods and wrong roads as they will by following sound constitutional ways. Has it occurred to Senator Pearce to consider what the position would be if the Court should ultimately decide that the provision regarding conditions of labour was in contravention of section 55 of the Constitution ? The provision as to the conditions of labour would disappear, and the provision for Excise duties would remain in full force and effect. It has been said by Senator Pearce that the Courts have never dealt with certain Acts which it has been alleged contained extraneous matter. That is true, simply because the Courts have not been asked to give a decision. But in this case there is every reason why an appeal should be made, because there are actively interested parties who would immediately feel the necessity of asking for a legal interpretation. In clause 2 several sets of conditions of labour are laid down. We know, unfortunately, that employers and employes do not always see eye to eye, and are not always in agreement as to what constitutes fair conditions of labour. As I read the Bill, it seems to me possible for varying decisions to be given. Take, for instance, paragraph a -

Are declared by resolution by both Houses to bc fair and reasonable.

Suppose that the Parliament declared that certain conditions were not fair and reasonable, and that an Arbitration Court had declared them to be fair and reasonable. Which authority is to prevail?

Senator McGregor - Parliament, of course.

Senator MILLEN - The interjection shows at once the possibilities of there being two distinct declarations as to what constitutes fair conditions of employment.

Senator Findley - That is not likely to eventuate where Arbitration Courts are in existence.

Senator MILLEN - Probably the honorable senator may be right. But we ought to so perfect our legislation as to prevent the possibility, or even the probability, of that danger arising. Under paragraph d the Minister would havethe power to determine what were fair and reasonable conditions.; Suppose, as has happened, that an Arbitration Court had given an award lengthening the hours of labour and reducing the rate of wages. The Minister could say. " It is true that the Arbitration Court has decided that the reduced wages ought to apply to the industry, but I do not think they should, and therefore I decide that the conditions are not fair." Is not that probable? Of course, in each case thedecision would depend to some extent . upon the nature of the evidence presented, and the manner of its presentment. It is clear that where there were two tribunals there would always be the possibility of a conflict arising.

Senator Findley - Suppose that there are no Arbitration Courts in existence. Must they not appeal to the Minister or the Court?

Senator MILLEN - The correct course is to leave the decision absolutely with the Minister, and to strike out the other bodies. To provide for alternative bodies seems to me to open the door to, say, the employer going to the Minister and the employes to the Court.

Senator Findley - So far, all the objections from the other side have been against the power being vested in the Minister.

Senator MILLEN - I am not now arguing as to which course should be followed, but merely pointing out that there ought to be some provision to prevent the possibility of a conflict of opinion arising, otherwise the legislation must break down and bring the principle we all seek to further into general contempt. I am favorable to the principle of giving the workmen a share of the protection, but do not wish to see the Bill rendered a nullity and laughingstock by what appears to me to be obvious defects. I should like, if the opportunity werefavourable,toaddressmyselftoother points, but in view of the lateness of the hour I content myself with suggesting two points which I think invite, not merely criticism, but serious Ministerial consideration.

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