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Thursday, 4 October 1906


The PRESIDENT - Has this to do with the Bill?


Senator DOBSON - I am pointing out that the tribunals to whichI have referred have been created to see that the workmen get fair treatment, and that it is, therefore, unnecessary to provide in our Excise legislation that they shall get their share of the benefits given to the harvester industry by the imposition of a duty of £12 on imported machines. Would not an Arbitration Court, when hearing a dispute, take into account the existence of a duty, and the absence of competition ? No doubt the constitutional point that has been raised is of great interest and importance. I am still of the opinion that the provision in the Customs Tariff Bill relating to the prices of stripper-harvesters is not a tack, but is necessary to carry out the intention of certain legislators in regard to the adjustment of the duties. But the case is different when we come to the Bill now before us. There is no direct relation between the rates of Excise duties in the schedule, and the so-called extraneous provisions, which, in my opinion, are wholly and absolutely unconstitutional. For instance, are not the provisions of paragraph d quite foreign to the purposes of the Bill ? Up to within the last few days, the members of the Labour Party, and of other parties, have recognised that the settlement of industrial disputes within the States is entirely a matter for State legislation, and, one after another, have advocated fromthe public platform the amendment of the Constitution to empower this Parliament to pass industrial laws. It has never been contended that we have that power, though the point has been raised that particular amendments, such as that of bringing the railway servants within the scope of the Commonwealth Arbitration Bill, violated the constitutional provision that industrial legislation is a matter for the States. Tonight, however, Senator Pearce, in an excited, speech, said that he welcomes this new method of taking advantage of fiscal legislation to interfere in industrial matters.I think that the point raisedby Senator Mulcahy. and clearly and lucidly dealt withby Senator Drake, is an admirable one. If it is right topass legislation of this kind, what is to prevent the Federal Parliament from attaching similar provisions to every item in the Tariff? Next year we can propose higher duties on boots, hats, articles of apparel, and everything else, not with the intention that they shall be collected, but in order to make certain provisions as to the wages to be paid and the conditions to be observed in their manufacture. No honorable senator who honestly desires to carry out the provisions of the Consti-. tution will contend that that can be done. I noticed the language and tone in which Senator Pearce said that he would welcome this new departure, but I believe that the honorable senator knew and felt that it was more than a departure; that it was a gross violation of the Constitution. The honorable senator welcomes the measure because he thinks it will bring about what we all believe can not be brought about by any legislation of the Commonwealth Parliament. It appears to me that we are confronted with the most important question we have ever had to face, as if we have the power to pass a Bill to levy duties of Excise that we have no desire to collect, and merely in order to bring about something which has no relation whatever to Excise duties, we can apply the same principle to every item in the Tariff. I should like to ask the Minister of Defence whether the term " industrial authority " in paragraph e of clause 2 includes Wages Boards ?


Senator Playford - Undoubtedly it does. An industrial authority includes any special Board constituted under any State Act relating to factories.


Senator DOBSON - Then the Bill will place the Wages Boards of Victoria in an inferior position, because, whilst the Commonwealth Arbitration Court can act in this matter on its own initiative, these questions can only go to the industrial authority through theMinister, and he might not refer any dispute to a Victorian Wages Board.


Senator Playford - The reference to the industrial authority will not be through the Minister.

SenatorDOBSON.- I take it that the reference in paragraphf to goods manufactured before 31st March, 1907, will apply to goods being manufactured at that time. I do not know any other reason for the provision, but it has not been sufficiently explained. It appears to me that this Bill will allow of an appeal from the Arbitration Court to Parliament or to the Minister. Is that wise? I can quite understand that in a Parliament in which the members of a certain party preponderated, applicants would prefer to run the gauntlet of both Houses to going before an Arbitration Court where they would get a judicial decision according to the weight of evidence. Parliament is the worst tribunal that could be constituted a court of appeal. Very few members would take the trouble to make themselves fully acquainted with the facts. They would be subject to be earwigged by the persons specially interested, and could not be expected to arrive at anything in the nature of a judicial decision. Suppose that the harvester manufacturing industry were established in Tasmania, and that the machines were sold at prices slightly lower than those ruling in other States. If our manufacturers applied for a certificate to the effect that they were paying reasonable rates of remuneration and were observing fair conditions, of labour, some of the manufacturers in the other States who desired to put an end to their competition, might allege behind their backs that the conditions under which their operations were carried on were unfair. It might, for instance, be urged that the wages in Tasmania were lower than elsewhere. But taking into consideration the lower rentals, and cheaper living expenses, the rate of remuneration might be relatively higher than that prevailing in other States. Therefore, the greatest confusion might arise. An absolutely new tribunal, for which there is no constitutional authority, is being set up by this, Bill. A Judge of the Supreme Court could toe authorised to inquire into the conditions under which the harvester manufacturing industry was carried on in Tasmania, and might go to the length of refusing to grant the certificate necessary to entitle the manufacturers to the full measure of the protection provided for under the Bill. He might decide that the wages were not fair and reasonable. Suppose that such an inquiry were made, and such a decision were given after the Legislature of Tasmania had refused to pass an Arbitration Bill for the settlement of disputes. Would it not then become clear that we were going far beyond the powers granted to us under the Constitution, and that under cover of an Excise Bill Ave were endeavouring to interfere with industrial matters which were strictly within the domain of the State.







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