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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator O'KEEFE (Tasmania) . - I am not in love with late sittings, but, at the same time, I do not like to allow the second reading of this Bill to be passed without replying to some of the statements that have been made. I welcome the Bill because it entirely accords with my own idea of protection. 1 shall not deal with the constitutional aspect of the question. I admit that there are good grounds for a difference of opinion as to ihe constitutionality of the Bill. Excellent constitutional authorities have expressed views on both sides. Eminent lawyers who helped to frame the Constitution have expressed the opinion that the Bill is decidedly within its four corners. On the other hand, Senator Drake, Senator Clemons, and Senator Symon take the opposite view. A layman's opinion might be of very little value. But I welcome the Bill on its merits, because it embodies what I call the principle of the new protection. It has often been urged against members of the party to which I belong that some of them are illogical and inconsistent because, whilst advocating freetrade doctrines, thev talk protection for the workers. But the reason why those gentlemen are free-traders is that they know that many workers in Australia and America have to put up with conditions as miserable and as inhumane as can be found in afv free-trade country. They argue therefore that neither free-trade nor protection is a panacea for the grievances and evils which the working classes often have to endure. The term " new protection " has come into use in Australia within the last few years. Many of those who called themselves protectionists in the common meaning of the term have adopted the new designation. I subscribe to that doctrine myself, because I believe in giving protection, first, to the manufacturer in Australia against the competition of goods produced under miserable conditions of employment abroad, and, secondly, to the workers in insuring to them fewer hours of labour, better remuneration, and more reasonable conditions. This Bill complies with the requirements of the new protection. About eighteen months ago, when a conference of Inter- State delegates, representing the various labour organizations of Australia, was held in Melbourne, I moved a resolution to the effect that the new protection should obecome portion of the Labour Party's programme. The motion was defeated. I am pleased, however, that some protectionists, who hitherto. have not been much in accord with the ideas of the Labour Party, but who have shown their sincere desire for better conditions for the workers, are now inclining, to the new protection. I welcome this Bill as an instalment of a principle which may be extended almost indefinitely. I have no fear, in spite of the warning about State rights, that such a measure will do harm to any individual in any State. Some exception has been taken to the provision which makes the Minister of Trade and Customs one of the authorities to decide whether reasonable conditions of labour are observed; and I am not particular whether that provision be retained or not. Tt may be that it would be better if this clause were struck out, but I do not think it would do much harm if it were, allowed to remain. Much has been said about the tremendous powers which this provision places in the hands of the Minister : but those powers are not much greater than those bestowed by other measures on the political heads of Departments.

Senator McGregor - The Minister of Trade and Customs has much greater power under the Customs Act.

Senator O'KEEFE - That is so. The Ministerial head of every Department, whether of the Commonwealth or of a State, exercises powers quite as far-reaching as those proposed to be bestowed bv this Bill. I wish Senator Dobson were in the Chamber, because I desire to refer to some remarks he made.

Senator Findley - I beg to call attention to the state of the Senate. [Quorum formed.]

Senator O'KEEFE - I regret that the "call to arms " has not been answered by Senator Dobson, who laid before us a number of imaginary evils which, in his opinion, Tasmania will, under the Bill, suffer, owing to the fact that in that State there is no industrial authority to deal with such disputes as might arise over the question of what are reasonable wages conditions. Senator Dobson pictured the extremely peaceful relations between employers and employes in Tasmania. On other occasions the honorable senator has drawn attention to the fact that the absence of any industrial authority has never caused any inconvenience to the workers, or resulted in any injustice to the industrial classes. As one who has been brought intimately into touch with the industrial classes in that State, and who, probably. knows more of their inner lives than Senator Dobson does, i say that it would have been a good thing had there been such an industrial authority as a compulsory Arbitration Court. If, as Senator Dobson contemplates, the manufacture of stripper-harvesters, and other agricultural implements, is carried on in Tasmania in the future, and the establishment of that industry brings in its train a compulsory Arbitration Court or Wages Boards to compel fair conditions of labour, I, and thousands of others, will be highly gratified. At the present moment a Select Committee, appointed bv the Government of the State, is inquiring into alleged sweating in connexion with the general industrial life of the State. That Select 'Committee was appointed only a few weeks ago at the instigation of a member of the Labour Part\ - it usually is a member of the Labour Party - who failed about twelve months ago to have such an inquiry instituted, but who has succeeded on the present occasion. Some 400 witnesses have been examined by the Royal Commission, and, although the evidence has not yet been published, I feel satisfied that it will result in some rather startling revelations.

Senator Mulcahy - That is a matter for the State.

Senator O'KEEFE - I believe that Senator Mulcahy has, equally with me, an ardent and sincere desire to alter the present conditions; but we differ in our ideas as to the best method. I believe in the passing of a measure like this by the Federal Government, because I am perfectly satisfied that many years will elapse before it will be possible to induce the Parliament of cur State to institute an Arbitration Court or appoint Wages Boards on the lines which have been adopted in Victoria, New South Wales, and Western Australia.

Senator Mulcahy - I do not think there would be so much trouble in regard to Wages Boards.

Senator O'KEEFE - I can only judge of the future by experience of the past.

Senator Millen - Does the honorable senator mean that the people of Tasmania are opposed to such tribunals?

Senator O'KEEFE - I mean that, owing to the absurdly restricted franchise for the State Upper House-

The PRESIDENT - Surely that has nothing to do with the Bill now before us.

Senator O'KEEFE - I think I can connect my remarks with the Bill, because Senator Dobson, in his speech, contemplated a time in the near future when the manufacture of stripper-harvesters would be carried on in Tasmania. This is a Bill to impose Excise duties on stripperharvesters. Senator Dobson has spoken of the possibility of the future manufacture of harvesters in Tasmania, and has suggested that he would then be in favour of passing an Industrial Arbitration Act, though he appears to wish to surround it with impossible conditions. There are at present a number of small factories in Tasmania, although agricultural machinery such as that made by. Mr. McKay is not turned out by them. 1 hope, however, that Tasmania will in the future become a manufacturing State of more importance, and. as a. believer in the new protection, I think that, while assisting the manufacturers, we should also have regard to the interests of their employes. If, owing to the peculiar constitution of its Parliament, any State is not in a position to compel reasonable wages and conditions, the Federal Parliament will do well to step in, and, by legislation of this kind, supposing the provision to be constitutional, do what it can to improve the conditions of labour.

Senator de Largie - Has the honorable senator any doubts as to its constitutionality?

Senator O'KEEFE - Since the best legal talent is divided on the question, a layman can hardly speak with confidence in regard to it. But I am quite willing to allow it to be decided bv the High Court. Still, as the free-traders say that they welcome the principle, if they have the slightest doubt on the constitutional point, they should give the benefit of it to those who are fighting in the interests of humanity. During the discussions on the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, those who supported the measure were told that their object was to compel the workers to join unions, and to starve those who would not.

We heard a great deal about doing justice to the non-union worker. This measure will specially benefit the non-union worker in small factories, where there are too few to join a union, because it will compel ali employers in an industry to pay failrates of wages, and to observe reasonable hours and conditions of labour. Therefore I appeal to honorable members opposite to vote for the Bill for the sake of the non-union worker. I know of no other measure which has come before the Senate which is of equal importance to workmen who for one reason or another are not members of a union. As an instalment of the new protection which I hope is going to be extended indefinitely throughout Australia by means of our Federal legislation I welcome this Bill, and will vote for it.

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