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Friday, 23 May 1930

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) : - I feel at a disadvantage in following Senator Sir Hal Colebatch, who has just concluded an able speech, but I think that I should give the Senate views drawn from my long experience as an employer. If these proposals are accepted we shall have the unfortunate spectacle of political parties' endeavouring to outbid one another as to the terms and conditions of labour they will provide if elected. Moreover the time of Parliament will be occupied to a great extent with details of wages, labour conditions, and similar considerations. The first result must be demoralizing to any people or Parliament; the second is impracticable. Senator O'Halloran said that, if these proposals are not accepted, we shall put back the hands of the clock thirty years. That is a ridiculous statement, for we have only to look to Canada and the United States of America to find countries which are prospering without any form of arbitration whatsoever. When I. was in those countries about two years ago, I had an opportunity to study industrial matters there, particularly in California. I found that disputes were settled by means of conferences between employers and employees. I also found that unionists and non-unionists worked amicably side by side and that there was an excellent feeling between employers and employees. I found, too, that the unionists in those countries recognized the economic aspect of industry and. rendered good service to their employers. They realized that, unless they acted fairly towards their employers, either there would be no employment for them, or what employment there was would he at lower wages than they were receiving. In the building trade especiallyI found wages were much higher than in Australia. Certainly the conditionsof living there are not lower than they are in this country. Moreover, it is not denied that their production per man is greatly in excess of that in Australia. I was also informed that the trade unions assisted employers by having vigilance officers in the various workshops to see that each man did a fair day's work. A great deal of the work in the United States of America is done on the piecework system, and where that principle does not operate, union organizers,

I was told,saw that every man did a fair average day's work. A man who did not do so was warned once, twice, or perhaps three times, after which if theman still failed to act fairly the union organizer recommended that he he dismissed, and thereupon he would be dismised. The result is that in both Canada and the United States of America the workers have obtained better conditions than the workers of Australia enjoy. In those countries the workers have no political aspirations-. I wish that were the case here. Samuel Gompers, the great American labour leader, declared that it was no part of the policy of unionism to interfere in political matters. The main purpose of the unions in the United States of America is to see that the workers get a fair deal. They recognize that such can be attained without political interference. In this country union organizers do their utmost to encourage class consciousness. They say that there can be no community of interest between employers and employees. During my many years connexion with the employing class I have seen many instances to the contrary. I remember, for example, that when the war broke out and the price of copper fell, the Mount Morgan Gold-Mining Company kept on working for about three months at a tremendous loss in order not to cause inconvenience to the workers at that difficult time. Years later, when the war had ended and the. company continued to make losses, due chiefly to labour troubles and the diminution of ore values, it continued working at a loss for four years mainly in the interests of the many men in its employ. I could mention numerous other instances to show that employers are not unmindful of the interests of the worker. Senator O'Halloran said that the framers of the Constitution desired federal arbitration.We have only to read the Constitution itself to come to an entirely opposite opinion. The Constitution contains clear evidence of a desire to keep clear of arbitration and to leave to the States the control of all industries with the exception of transport. Senator O'Halloran also said that employers frequently resisted the awards of the court. They have no chance of doing so. Should they attempt it,they can be haled before a court and fined large sums of money. On the other hand, the workers have defied the court time and time again. The honorable senator urged that the States wanted federal arbitration. I point out to him that in Queensland there are very few federal awards. The industrialists of that State, who work mostly under State awards, do not desire to be placed under federal control. Senator O'Halloran referred to the quality of the work performed by Australian industrialists. I admit that our workers are capable of better effort than the workers of any other land; but the methods of the union bosses prevent them from putting their best into their work. So far asI have been able to gather, production comparisons are unfavorable to the Australian workers. I read last week in one of the Sydney newspapers that the Argentine required 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 tons of coal. Certainly the price was low - £1 a ton f.o.b. - but if our employers and employees showed a sane and proper spirit, Australia could have secured that enormous contract. That £6,000,000 would have assisted to place our exchange position on a favorable basis. Instead of opening our coalmines on only half staff, the whole of the miners of the different districts could have been fully employed for five days a week for about nine months. All that was needed was a little give and take, to enable the collieries to quote a price that would capture that immense order. However, such a splendid opportunity will surely be lost, for it has been difficult enough to induce the miners to resume work under conditions which allow them to earn up to as high as £16 to £18 a week.

Senator O'Halloranalso made mention of the abolition of awards by Nationalist governments, and specifically to the rural awards of New South Wales and Queensland. I consider that the abolition of those awards was the best thing that could have happened for our country workers. It is impossible to pay in our rural industries wages approximating those ruling in the cities; therefore the work was simply not being done and hundreds of people were unemployed. Under the new conditions they are able to obtain work at reasonable rates of pay, and are perfectly satisfied.

State instrumentalities were also referred to, and it was claimed that they should be controlled federally. I do not believe in that. I consider that it would be an insult to any State if authority Over its own servants were taken out of its hands and placed under the control of the Federal Government. States have sovereign rights even greater than those of the Commonwealth, and I should not like to see State instrumentalities transferred to the control of this Parliament. This Senate has been rebuked for opposing the referendum proposals now before it on the ground that the people, who are, after all, the final arbiters in the matter, have the right to say whether they approve of the proposals or otherwise. Personally I feel it my bounden duty to oppose these measures, and I shall again do so on the hustings when they are before the people. If I thought for a moment that my vote would interfere with these proposals getting to the country I should not oppose them in the Senate, or make any effort to prevent their reaching the people. But as they will eventually go to the country I and my colleagues are justified in backing our opinions to the utmost of our ability.I intend to vote against this measure, and to oppose it when it goes to the country.

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