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Friday, 8 December 1911

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I have already stated my opposition to this Bill. I am opposed to the principle of endeavouring to settle industrial disputes by means of an Arbitration Court. Many attempts have been made in* this direction, but none has been absolutely successful, or anything like it.

Senator Story - What about the Broken Hill strike; was not that successfully settled ?

Senator VARDON - No. I do not think it was. There were rumours of a strike almost directly after the decision of the Court had been given.

Senator Story - But it did not occur, and it has not occurred yet.

Senator VARDON - Even though that one case were successful, one swallow does not make a summer, and I could name very many cases where strikes have followed the decision of an Arbitration Court. I think it was New Zealand that commenced this business of arbitration, and from the time that it was begun some alteration of the law has been made almost every year, whilst to-day the feeling against the principle is so strong that many people in the Dominion are desirous of sweeping the whole thing out of existence. It has failed to produce industrial peace and rest in that Dominion. There have been many strikes since the establishment of the principle there.

Senator Barker - They have been very trivial affairs.

Senator VARDON - Then we will say that the principle has not been absolutely successful, even there.

Senator McGregor - Have the Ten Commandments been absolutely successful?

Senator VARDON - The principle of the Ten Commandments is absolutely right, while the principle of the Arbitration Court is not right, The experience of New South Wales has, I think, not been any better than that of New Zealand. The New South Wales Arbitration Act was supposed to be a most perfect piece of legislation, and under it strikes and lock-outs were to become an absolute impossibility. Yet I think that within twelve months of the establishment of the New South Wales Arbitration Court, the statement was made that it had two years' work ahead of it, and would never be able to overtake it. Certainly, it cannot be said that there have been no strikes in New South Wales. When we come to consider the position in Western

Australia, I may say that about a year ago I read that one of the Judges of the Arbitration Court there wanted to know whether persons appealing to the Court desired to continue playing a comic opera part in connexion with the State Arbitration Act.

Senator Needham - The fault was in the Act, and not in the men who came under it.

Senator VARDON - The fault was always somewhere. The Judge of the Western Australian Court said that if the Court gave a decision which suited the parties it was all right, and they went to work, but if it did not suit them there was immediately a strike. I think he was dealing with the tramway strike at the time. He said, in effect, " If our decision does not suit, there will be another strike. I want to know whether you are going to continue playing this game of comic opera." That was the testimony of the Western Australian arbitration Judge as to the value of the arbitration principle as applied in that State. I oppose it, because I think that the principle is bad. It never has succeded, and' I think it never will. It has never prevented strikes, and I think it never will. There is no way of forcing the decisions of the Court on both sides. Provision is made in this Bill that the Judge of the Arbitration Court may impose penalties up to £to for a breach of an award, but, if there were an association of 200 civil servants and they refused to accept an award of the Court, I do not believe that this Government, or any other, would attempt to drag those 200 people before the Court with the object of getting them fined £10 or less each. This Parliament has no right to hand over any of its powers or functions to any Court whatever.

Senator Henderson - -Why hand them over to a Public Service Commissioner?

Senator McGregor - We are always handing our powers over ; we could not carry on the administration of the country otherwise.

Senator VARDON - Under this Bill it is proposed that Parliament shall hand over to the Arbitration Court duties which it ought to perform itself. When it is said that we handed over our powers to a Public Service Commissioner, let me reply that there is an appeal from that official to Parliament, and there is going to be an appeal from this Court to Parliament. That being so, what is the use of putting the Arbitration Court between the public servants and Parliament? The public servants may and do approach members of Parliament. I do not know why they should not. I have had a number of them come to me with their grievances, and I say that if a member of the Public Service considers that he has not been fairly treated, he has a perfect right to come to a member of this Parliament, and lay his case before him.

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator dare not make use of their grievances.

Senator VARDON - I stated them here.

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator dare not go with them, to the Public Service Commissioner, or else out would walk the men.

Senator VARDON - I went to see the Public Service Commissioner, and laid before him the case submitted to me and the reasons why I thought the men concerned should receive consideration.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Was the honorable senator not breaking the law ? I dare not do that.

Senator VARDON - I am sorry that Senator W. Russell has not the courage to do what is right. Personally, I believed it to be the right thing to do, and I went to the Minister and to the Public Service Commissioner, and presented the case of these men to them. I would do the same thing again. I remind honorable senators that a number of South Australian public servants have issued a reply, in pamphlet form, to the memorandum of the Public Service Commissioner on the report of the Postal Commission! I do not think that any language more emphatic could be used in condemnation of the memorandum of the Public Service Commissioner than is used in that pamphlet, but I have never heard that the persons responsible for it have been penalized because of its publication.

Senator Henderson - Has the honorable senator heard that their grievances have been redressed?

Senator VARDON - The only way in which their grievances can be redressed is by the aid of this Parliament. I am sorry that no Minister has seen fit to take up their case with a view to securing justice for them.

Senator Givens - How is Parliament to arrive at what is just?

Senator VARDON - I think that it could arrive at what is just.

Senator Givens - It will be in a better position to do so after their claims have been stated before a judicial tribunal.

Senator VARDON - If these men had a claim, which was highly moral, even though it might not have been perfectly legal, I do not think that it should have been set aside by the Court on a mere technicality.

Senator Givens - The Arbitration Court does not determine cases upon technicalities, but upon considerations of equity and good conscience.

Senator VARDON - The appeal of which I speak was made to . the High Court, which placed a certain interpretation upon our Constitution, and which, if it did not do a legal wrong to these men, certainly did them a moral wrong. This Bill is an attempt to enable members of Parliament to shirk their responsibilities, especially in relation to our civil servants. After all, it is a permissive measure. In clause 4 it is provided that certain officers of our Public Service may form an organization, and may register under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But there is no provision in the Bill that they shall form an organization and register. As the Vice-P.resident of the Executive Council has pointed out, even the heads of Departments may form an association, and if three-fifths of their number choose to apply to the Arbitration. Court for an increase of their salaries, there is nothing to prevent them doing so. But if the Arbitration Court ought to settle the claims of our public servants, why is not a reference to that tribunal made compulsory ? But sub-clause 2 of clause 5 reads -

The Public Service Commissioner and the Minister of any Department of State affected by the claim shall be entitled to be represented before the Court, either jointly or separately, in the hearing and determination of the claim.

Who will represent them?

Senator McGregor - One of their own number.

Senator VARDON - If the Public Service Commissioner, or the Minister of any Department is to appear in person, the clause does not seem to be quite clear. Then clause 12 provides -

No organization or person shall in any proceeding under this Act be represented by counsel or solicitor.

Senator McGregor - But a person may appear himself.

Senator VARDON - The Bill will give him an opportunity to allow somebody else to appear for him, although such a course of procedure is apparently forbidden by clause 12. Then clause 6 vests in the Court power to impose all sorts of penalties. It reads -

The Court shall, as regards any claim of which it has cognisance under this Act, have power -

(c)   tofix maximum penalties, not exceeding Ten pounds, for any breach or nonobservance, by any member or an organization bound by an award or order, of any term of the award or order.

But if any organization refuses to obey an award, I do not think that anybody will bring the individual members of it before the Court for the purpose of enforcing the penalties provided. Then clause 7 gives the Court power to delegate its powers. Instead of hearing any claim it may refer such claim to a Judge of a State Court, or a police stipendiary or special magistrate of the Commonwealth or of a State, or other person authorized by the Governor-General.

Senator McGregor - That procedure has been adopted for the sake of convenience.

Senator VARDON - Exactly. When a claimant is not satisfied with the decision thus given, this clause provides that "an appeal from the award shall lie to the Court, at the instance of a claimant organization, or of the Public Service Com? missioner, or of the Minister of a Department affected by the award." So that if the verdict of a Judge of a State Court, or of a police stipendiary or special magistrate, be not regarded as satisfactory, an appeal will lie to the Federal Arbitration Court itself. Thus there will be no finality reached. Clause 9 appears to be a most peculiar one. It reads -

The Court may exercise any of its powers under this Act on its own motion, or on the application of a claimant organization, or of a Minister of State or the Public Service Commissioner.

So that the President of the Arbitration Court is to exercise a' paternal oversight over Commonwealth public servants.

Senator McGregor - Senator Gould found fault with the Bill because it did not make provision for that.

Senator VARDON - I am not concerned with Senator Gould, 'but with an endeavour to find what :>the Bill actually means.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator object to that provision?

Senator VARDON - Yes. I object to the whole of the Bill.

Senator Story - It was that power which enabled the President of the Arbitration Court to settle the trouble at Renmark recently, because he compelled the parties to appear before him.

Senator VARDON - This time one of the parties appeared before him because it was obliged to do so. Twelve months ago it declined to appear before him.

Senator Givens - We do not want our Public Service to be capsized as the result of a strike.

Senator VARDON - There ought not to be any such possibility while there is a Parliament to do justice to that service. If the award of the Court be not deemed to be satisfactory, the claimant can then appeal to Parliament.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator object to that?

Senator VARDON - No, but it need not have been affirmed in the Bill. That power is inherent in Parliament, and consequently we do not require legislation of this character. Clause 15 is a most extraordinary one, seeing that it confers legislative powers upon the President of the Arbitration Court. It vests him with power to make an award contrary to the law. In other words, he will exercise legislative functions, notwithstanding that, as a rule, his duties are confined to the interpretation of the law. Sub-clause 5 of that clause provides for the Parliamentary veto, and reads -

If, in the case of an award accompanied by such a statement of the President, or opinion of the Attorney-General, as is above referred to, either- House of the Parliament, within thirty days after the award with the statement or opinion has been laid before both Houses, passes a resolution disapproving the award, the award shall not come into operation.

Let us take the case of an award which does not satisfy a claimant organization. What will happen? Members of Parliament will be immediately besieged with applications to upset it. Thus we come back to my dictum that Parliament must be the supreme authority. I dp not see that the Bill will accomplish any good whatever. But I notice that it provides for the creation of a new office - that of Industrial Registrar - at £600 a year, and with a maximum salary of £800 per annum. To my mind,. this is a piece of extravagance which is entirely unwarranted. I object to the Bill from beginning to end, and I shall not support it in any way. I recognise that I have not the power to dot an " i " or cross a " t " in it, but I have entered my protest against it, and I believe that in the near future the electors of the Commonwealth will agree with me that it is a piece of mischievous and useless legislation.

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