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Friday, 1 November 1912

The CHAIRMAN - I am afraid that Senator Rae is going beyond, the amendment in discussing the question of the fitness or unfitnessof magistrates.

Senator RAE -I am connecting my remarks on that subject with the amendment, but I have no wish to travel over too wide a ground. I have referred to a feeling which is common amongst the working classes. It is for them that I am here to legislate. I do not care to be here for any other purpose, except, perhaps, to keep honorable senators opposite in their places.

Senator Fraser - The honorable senator is a partisan, then?

Senator RAE - I am, by heavens! I say. as a partisan, and as one who comes here to try to redress the grievances which the working classes have suffered from for generations, that my object is to improve their position as much as possible in the future. The other side are well able to take care of themselves.

Senator Fraser - The workers of last year are the bosses of this year ; the change in circumstances is so sudden.

Senator RAE - I say more power tothem. Much of the disinclination of people to bring actions before the Court isdue to distrust of the Courts. I say, from long experience, that that distrust is so amply justified, that we want, as far as possible, to remove the decision in these matters from the Courts.

Senator Millen - A very large prison population shares in that distrust.

Senator RAE - It is all very well for the honorable senator to talk about the prison population. It would be more to the point if he could say how many of those who are responsible for the prison population do not better deserve, because of their own criminal instincts, to be in prison themselves. It is impossible to draw a hard and fast line between the criminals who are in gaol and the criminals who ought to be there, but who have had sufficient cunning to escape gaol. In these cases, points might arise which could not be easily understood by persons without a personal knowledge of the shipping business, and the decision in such matters should be in the hands of persons who can at least understand what a seaman puts forward as the excuse for his action. Surely, the failure to join a ship should not, as is proposed, be penalized to anything like the same extent as desertion from a ship at any port of call, while she is on a voyage, when the difficulty of replacing the deserter might endanger the safe passage of the ship. Under this Bill, desertion is penalized to the extent of the forfeiture of a seaman's wages, or a fine up to £20, and failure or refusal to join theship is to be treated as an offence of similar gravity. That seems to me to be quite unreasonable. I think it was Senator Lynch who said that agreements would be quite useless, if they might be terminated at a few hours notice by either side. As a matter of fact, an agreement might be equally valuable if it were terminable at a moment's notice, because it would prescribe the conditions under which the employment is carried on, while it continues in force. The Minister of Defence made a reference to shearers, and said that a number of them require to join in a complaint to justify them in ceasing to work. I do not recollect anything of the kind in any shearing agreement that- I ever saw. But I do know that agreements with shearers are terminable at very short notice, and employers sometimes find no difficulty whatever in sacking men at a moment's notice, and they have not to consult anybody in doing so.

Senator St Ledger - Is that under the agreement ?

Senator RAE - In the practical carrying out of the agreement, there is no difficulty in a squatter or his agent getting rid of a shearer at a moment's notice, for the simple reason that, while the agreement technically protects the interest of the shearer, puts him on the same footing as the other man, yet, incidentally, through there being no standard of work fixed, he can allege that the work is not being done to his satisfaction, and the man has to go. While the shearer cannot leave without consent, the employer can discharge him without his consent or wish, in spite of all agreements or awards. Probably, under this Bill the big end of the stick will be in the hands of the employer, even although, technically, it gives the same rights to one side as to the other. If we are to have a penalty for failure to join a ship, we should have a more reasonable tribunal than an ordinary police magistrate to adjudicate. I mean somebody who is more in sympathy with and better understands the wants of the sailor. The penalty is out of all proportion to the offence, and, if it is not too late, I suggest that the amount should be considerably reduced.

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