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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - I do not intend to traverse the constitutional arguments advanced by other honorable senators. Like Senator Pearce, I gladly welcome the provision made in this Bill for the protection of the workers. This, is a new departure which I think marks a distinct stage in the progress of protectionist legislation. I do not anticipate that the administration will be attended by the difficulties predicted by Senators Clemons and Dobson. Protectionist legislation has hitherto failed to provide for the protection of the workers. Capitalists ate always well able to look after themselves, and our special object should be not to protect the employer but to confer as much benefit as possible upon the workers. I recognise that an attempt is now being made to protect our industries in a scientific and legitimate manner, and I trust that further measures will be adopted to improve the unsatisfactory conditions under which workers are employed in some highly-protected industries. I do not see that any danger can arise from adopting the provisions which are intended to impose special conditions upon the manufacturers of harvesters. Senator Dobson must know that one thousand and one industrial cases are likely to arise in the States to which the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act cannot possibly be applied. That Act cannot, as he contends, override the States laws dealing with industrial difficulties. It would be absolutely impossible for the employés in many industries throughout the Commonwealth to approach the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court. It may be said that the Minister is really the medium through whom any application to those sources must be made : in fact, Senator Dobson said that the Minister must refer any cases to one of those authorities. It may be that I am dense, and, if so, probably that is the reason why I have not been able to discover that such a provision is made in the Bill.

Senator Clemons - Senator Dobson withdrew that almost as soon as he mentioned it.

Senator HENDERSON - I did not hear the withdrawal, but I am willing to accept the honorable senator's assurance.

Senator Clemons - So far as I understood Senator Dobson, lie certainly did withdraw it.

Senator HENDERSON - That disposes of the argument which I was about to develop. I see no danger in allowing the Minister to exercise the function which is to be assigned to him in the clause. I have had a good deal to do with industrial disputes of one kind and another. I suppose I have been connected with as many voluntary conciliation cases in the States as have most persons, and I have not yet met an organized body of men who would for a moment attempt to do the acts which Senator Clemons assumed might be committed under this measure. He spoke of the possibility of a number of men, five or six, resorting to lobbying, and getting the Minister, probably in an unguarded moment, to take action on the strength of their evidence which would practically ruin an industry. I am convinced that for the welfare of industrial operatives it is necessary to retain intact the provision as ta the Minister. I can conceive of a position when it would be a very useful power for him to possess. Five or six, or more, employes in a factory, might be in a place where it would be quite impossible for them by the power or force of organization to do anything to assist themselves, or the employers of a small number of men might terrorize them, and prevent combinations within their works. I admit candidly that the evidence which came out before the Tariff Commission in respect of the position of the men at the Sunshine Harvester Works was such as would undoubtedly have made me consider very carefully what I should do had it not been for my knowledge of the provisions in this Bill. It is easy to conceive of organized bodies of .men approaching an Arbitration Court, and also of organized labour having a case heard and decided before a Wages Board. But it is just as easy to conceive of a small number of men or women engaged in a factory who dare not, except at the risk of losing their means of livelihood, attempt to organize. In these circumstances, I think that the provision to allow such, persons ' to approach the Minister is a very wise one. I believe that in its operation it would be conducive to the welfare of some of our industrial operatives. I sin cerely trust that the Senate will see its way to pass the Bill as it stands.

Sitting suspended from -12.10 to 12.45 a.m. (Friday).

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