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Thursday, 24 October 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - There are some constitutional as well as some industrial questions, which are inseparably connected with this Bill, and which I think ought to be mentioned before it is returned to the other House. It may be taken as a reasonable certainty, by reason of the decision in Barger's case, that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has no power to determine the rates of wages in an industry under such circumstances as are contemplated by the Bill. It may also be gathered, too, that the Minister has no such power. The Bill contains provision for a reference to a Judge of a Supreme Court. I think it may also be taken as almost certain that the Supreme Court of a State can have no jurisdiction, except such as the State Parliament confers upon it, and that we can confer no jurisdiction by way of a reference, or anything else, upon that State Court. The same remarks apply equally to any industrial tribunal in a State. Any tribunal in a State dealing with industrial matters within the State is -subject to, and can be subject to no other jurisdiction than, the jurisdiction of the State Parliament. The Bill also contains a reference to the settlement of industrial disputes by agreements. These agreements can only, bind the parties directly concerned in them. It therefore follows more or less as a reasonable certainty that the Bill in most of its parts is unconstitutional. Now, let us take it in the reverse way. Let us assume that jurisdiction is constitutionally granted either by this Parliament or by the State Parliament, on these Courts. What follows? There are five tribunals mentioned in the Bill. During the whole of the discussion, neither the Minister in charge of the Bill, nor any honorable senator on the other side, who helped him in the debate, gave us the slightest light upon this important matter. "Which of these tribunals has original jurisdiction ?

Senator Pearce - You were absent when the Bill was being considered.

Senator ST LEDGER - The Minister will have a chance to reply to my speech. He might, while I want to deal briefly with these important points, allow me to speak without being interrupted. We generally extend that courtesy to the Minister, and when I am dealing with an important aspect of this Bill, which goes, as tie can see, almost to its very root, I expect that he will allow me to speak without interruption. Assuming that these various tribunals have conferred upon them jurisdiction, where it can be conferred upon them, what is the position? Which of them has the first jurisdiction, and which of them, having the first jurisdiction, has final jurisdiction? If any one' of these tribunals has original and first jurisdiction, is there an appeal from the Minister to any other tribunal? Not one syllable of explanation has been given on this matter. It may be said that the Minister will select one of the tribunals. That may be so. That is on the face of the Bill. I invited the Minister's attention on the second reading to this point, but he has never addressed himself to it. If to any one of these jurisdictions, the Minister appeals, or the parties in the industry appeal, we have never been told whether that decision is to be accepted as final. When a number of Courts or tribunals is being created, we ought to know, and the Minister ought to have told us, where the litigation or dispute is to be settled' - if it is to be settled - where it is to end, and how it will end there. The Bill constitutes a number of' tribunals, but when the decision of a tribunal is given, there is nothing in the Bill to prevent, but everything in the Bill to encourage, appeals from the various jurisdictions which are set up therein. We have not had a single ray of light thrown on that important question. Two views may be taken of this Bill. It may be held that many of its essential provisions are unconstitutional. If, on the other hand, it be admitted that the measure is constitutional, it will probably land us in a tangle between the various Courts provided for, and, as I said on the second reading, will only make confusion in the industry worse confounded.

I should like now to refer to another matter which I had not an opportunity to deal with before. In his speech on the second reading of the Bill, Senator Givens dealt in his characteristic way with a certain deputation which waited upon the then Minister of Trade and Customs, Mr. Austin Chapman, in connexion with this industry, which involves so many vexed questions. The honorable senator assailed the deputation in characteristic terms, and assaulted me-

Senator Givens - I assaulted the honorable senator, and he lives to tell the tale ?

Senator ST LEDGER - I was speaking metaphorically, and I say that the honorable senator assaulted me hip and thigh. When I read his attack I was very much in the position of Old Caspar. I could not very well make out what it was all about. When the honorable senator was speaking I challenged him to be more explicit in his charges, so far, at any rate, as they affected myself. But though I listened very carefully to him, and subsequently read his speech in Hansard, I find that he declined my challenge. I take advantage of this, the first opportunity I have had, in self-defence, to explain my position in regard to the deputation, and what I said upon it. I may say that I assumed, and had to assume at the deputation, the somewhat unusual role of a patient listener. I propose to quote from the official report, and a report which appeared in the Melbourne Herald on the evening of the day on which the deputation waited on the Minister. I noticed that honorable senators opposite listened with great pleasure to Senator Givens' attack upon myself. I ask that they shall give me the same attention while I make my reply. Addressing the deputation generally, the then Minister of Trade and Customs said -

If you contend that there should be no departure from the 22s. 66. rate, then the contention must be that 3s. gd. per day is sufficient.

I quote that statement from the official report. Up to that point I was a silent but interested spectator, but at that point I at once intervened, and, quoting again from trie official report, I find that I said -

That is hardly the question. The Act says that the rate of wages shall be determined on what is the standard of wages in the district.

It is not for us to contend what is sufficient.

I added other remarks, which I find were reported in substance, though not wholly, in the issue of the Melbourne Herald of 20th May, 1908, the date of the deputation. I now quote from the Herald report -

Senator St.Ledger said that the Act provided for the ruling rate of wages in the district. Personally, he thought 30s. would not be too much if the industry could bear it.

Senator Chataway - Thirty shillings per week and keep.

Senator ST LEDGER - Of course, it was understood that keep should be provided for as well. That was the first time I intervened at the deputation, and my remark was a suggestion to the Minister that if, consistently with consideration for the various interests involved in 'the industry, he could fix a rate of 30s. per week and found, it would not be too much. That any one should consider such a remark hostile to the men engaged in the industry is explainable only by a reference to the doctrine of original sin, which works so fiercely sometimes in some politicians.

Senator Chataway - The unions agreed later to a rate of 30s. a week and keep.

Senator ST LEDGER - My suggestion to the Minister was made later the basis of a demand by the men. It was a hint to the Minister that he should make the rate 30s. a week and keep if he found he could do so reasonably, in view of the various interests involved. No doubt Senator Givens was perfectly entitled to make his attack upon me from his own point of view, but when the honorable senator was speaking no member of the Senate was aware that I had made the remarks I have quoted. I take as much pleasure in pointing out what I said at the deputation as Senator Givens evidently had in making his attack upon me.

Senator Givens - What was the object of that deputation of which the honorable senator was a member?

Senator ST LEDGER - I have other remarks to make in connexion with the matter.

Senator Givens - The object was tomaintain a rate of 3s. od. per day as thestandard.

Senator ST LEDGER - Not at . all. What is written remains, and what I said remains, and the statements made on the other side are mere political kite-flying - an attempt to make political capital out of the difficulties connected with the settlement of the vexed questions involved in the sugar industry. It is significant that these questions are always raised immediately prior to an election. In the circumstances if is well that I took up the attitude I did at the deputation which has been referred to. If the official report be consulted it will be found that the members of the deputation backed up the idea I expressed, and afterwards throughout Queensland recommended the sugar-growers to adopt a standard rate of wages on the basis I suggested, and strongly supported the establishment of industrial tribunals: in the State as the best means of securing equitable wages for those engaged in the industry.

Senator Millen - Might not the honorable senator ask whether the Bill is designed to help the sugar industry or toinjure political opponents of the Government?

Senator ST LEDGER - I might very well ask that question. I am satisfied asto the reason for its introduction. I knew from past experience how often the sugar industry was made the tool of political* parties in the State, and I knew that it would be made the tool of political parties in the Commonwealth, and it was fortunate for myself and the members of thedeputation which has been referred tothat I possessed that information. What happened immediately after the deputation took place? Senator Chataway and myself went to Queensland, where thematter was being closely discussed, andwhen we met the representatives of thesugargrowers we strongly recommended them, for economical and other reasons, togive the worker all the consideration they could in the matter of wages, and we encouraged them to set up Wages Boards, which are the best tribunals that human wisdom in Australia has so far devised to* settle these vexed questions. The iniquities of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have nothing whatever to do withe this Bill. They are entirely irrelevant to it. The abolition of the Excise and bounty has nothing to do with it. These are merely side issues. The real question, after all, is one of wages. I did not go into the Bill closely, as I should have liked to have done on the second reading, because I preferred to hear the debate. After listening to the debate, and the remarks of the Minister in charge of the Bill; I am only the more strongly confirmed in my original opinion that it is a mere piece of political kite-flying. So far as any assistance to the sugar industry is concerned, to repeat an expression I used on the second reading, it is merely putting a mustard plaster on a wooden leg, rather than providing a live limb for the assistance of the industry. There are grave constitutional aspects of the question which the Government have never considered. It seems to be useless in the Senate, or in another place, to direct the attention of Ministers to constitutional questions involved in the legislation submitted. When in another place constitutional questions are raised by eminent constitutional lawyers, it is the custom of the Attorney-General to answer by a gibe from the latest jokebook.

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