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Friday, 23 May 1930

Senator BARNES (Victoria) (Assistant Minister) . - This is not the first time that a matter of this description has been brought before this chamber. Similar proposals have been discussed on many occasions. The desire for an amendment of the Constitution has not been the monopoly of any one party or of any one government. Every government that has endeavoured to carry on the affairs of Australia has found itself hampered to some extent by the limited powers conferred upon it under the Constitution. Actually the proposals of this Government are not going much further than thoseof the Bruce-Page Government. The purpose of this amending bill is to confer on the Commonwealth Parliament full control over industrial matters, including -

(a)   labour;

(b)   employment and unemployment;

(c)   terms and conditions of labour and employment in any trade, industry, profession, occupation or calling;

(d)   the rights and obligations of em ployers and employees;

(e)   strikes and lockouts;

(f)   the maintenance of industrial peace; and

(g)   the settlement of industrial disputes.

If this Government is given the power that it seeks, who is going to use that power? It has to be used by somebody, and as Parliament is the institution that gives the breath of life to the desires of the people, this is the only sane and organized method by which it can be done. If it could be otherwise effected no regulations would be needed for anything. Everybody could go along in his own tin-pot way and a state of chaos would result. The purpose of this bill is to give Parliament, not a party, the power to do something; to regulate the matters to which the bill refers. That does not appear to me to be asking toomuch of the people. It certainly does not seem tome to be too much for the people to place in the hands of this Parliament. In the event of the Senate rejecting this measure, and its being submitted to the people, after we comeback with full authority-

Senator Reid - There is no chance of that.

Senator BARNES - I am not so sure. I believe that the people realize that there is something wrong with the constitutional machinery at the disposal of: this Parliament to regulate industrial affairs. We have seen disastrous strikes occurring time after time, which have disorganized the affairs of the country, affecting people who were perfectly innocent, and had no desire to be embroiled in the trouble. That has all happened because no authority has been endowed with sufficient power to handle the matters responsible for the disturbance. If Parliament is granted the necessary power to handle such troubles, it will be Parliament's own fault if it does not initiate machinery effectively to deal with the situation, irrespective of the party responsible for the trouble.

Senator McLachlan - What could Parliament do?

Senator BARNES - A Parliament having sufficient authority and determination could do almost anything. It certainly would not allow any obstreperous individual or party of individuals to wantonly disturb the industrial peace and harmony of the country.

I shall quote very briefly from a speech made bythe present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Pearce) in 1926, in support of additional powers being granted to this Parliament. The honorable senator said -

Obviously, any enlarged powers provided for by an amendment of the Constitution are given, not to any particular party, but to the Parliament itself. The object of the powers sought in relation to industrial employment is to bring about material progress in industry and commerce, better relations between employers and employees, and, consequently, more contentment in the community generally.

That seems to me to state the case as it stands to-day. This Government is asking for precisely the powers advocated by Senator Pearce in 1926.

Senator Sir George Pearce - No. The Bruce-Page Government merely asked for the setting up of authorities,' not that Parliament should be given power to legislate in these matters.

Senator BARNES - I shall quote the right honorable senator further to show that the request of this Government is in no way new. During the same speech the right honorable gentleman said -

So far back as the 28th June, 1901; Mr. (now Mr. Justice) Higgins moved in the House of Representatives, the following motion: -

That in the opinion of this House it is expedient for the Parliament of the Commonwealth to acquire (if the State Parliaments see fit to grant it under section 61, sub-section xxvii. of the Constitution Act) full power to makelaws for Australia as to wages and hours and conditions of labour.

Those sentiments were voiced in the Commonwealth Parliament 30 years ago by one of the most eminent gentleman we have had in Australia.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator BARNES - Thirty years ago the late Mr. Justice Higgins declared that Australia required efficient industrial trial machinery for the settlement of its industrial problems. Since then the Commonwealth has established its arbitration system and in the realm of industrial legislation has blazed the trail for the rest of the world. Many years ago several members of this Parliament were closely identified with the industrial movement, either as employers of labour or workers. Realizing that the condi tions in industry were far from satisfactory they took steps to provide the remedy. Both sections became convinced that if progress was to be assured it was necessary to appoint a judicial tribunal to hear and determine all disputes. Accordingly the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Conciliation and Arbitration Act under which the Arbitration Court was established. It has been said that the industrialists of other countries, without the assistance of arbitration machinery or tribunals for the fixation of wages, have made better progress than have the workers of Australia. My experience of the conditions of employment in other countries is gained from my study of recognized authorities on industrial matters, and I am satisfied that, generally speaking, tie workers of Australia are enjoying better conditions than those of any other country.

Our purpose now is to perfect the machinery available to us so that ourconciliation and arbitration system may function efficiently to ensure peace in industry and the progress of the Commonwealth. Parliament reflects the opinion of the people and since members of this legislature are elected on the adult franchise, where is the harm in this proposal? What is wrong with this request that the people shall grant to this Parliament additional power to do what is considered desirable in the interests of the nation? We believe that if this grant of power is given, our conciliation and arbitration machinery will work more smoothly , and effectively. The person or party that persists in disturbing industrial harmony cannot expect much consideration from a Parliament representative, as this Parliament is, of the people its masters. Our duty now is to go back to them to ask for this additional power which experience has shown to be necessary. I say . quite frankly that if honorable senators opposite were in power, and if they were asking Parliament topass suchmeasures as those which are now before this chamber, I should have no hesitation in supporting them.

Senator Reid - The honorable senator's party objected to a similar proposal in 1926.

Senator BARNES - The electors are the masters of this Parliament. In my capacity as a citizen of the Commonwealth, I am privileged, on certain occasions, to sit in judgment upon its actions. There should be a close bond between the electors and their elected representatives, just as there is between the leaders in commerce and industry; whose word so often is their bond, irrespective of the magnitude of the interests involved.

When a similar proposal was being dehated in this chamber in 1926, I spoke in favour of it; but said that the then Government was not asking for sufficient power. Had the Bruce-Page Administration submitted proposals similar to those now before the Senate, it would have swept Australia, because the party which I represent in this Parliament would have been whole-heartedly behind the Government. The referendum in 1926 was defeated because the then Government was sr-eking extended powers not for the Parliament, but for a judicial tribunal created by the Government. The people rejected the proposal, not because they were afraid to trust Parliament, but because they feared to trust the judicial authority, members of which are not elected by themselves, but appointed for life subject to good behaviour. They declined to hand over to such an authority, the industrial destiny of the Common wealth .

The fear has been expressed by some honorable senators that if this amendment is accepted by the people, Parliament itself will be called upon to settle industrial disputes. The suggestion is ridiculous. It is ridiculous for any man permitted to grace this Parliament to suggest that as a reason why this power should not be granted to the Commonwealth Parliament. What would be the result if- these additional industrial powers were granted? During the recent political campaign the candidates and supporters of the party of which I am a member told the people that industrially something was wrong, and that if a Labour Government were returned to office, it would seek additional .power to overcome the' difficulties which now exist. We now propose to ask the people for' these additional powers to place us in a position to construct an effective industrial machine. This Parliament can only provide a means by which certain things can be done - we frame -the laws which the courts interpret. The courts do not legislate for Australia; they interpret the wishes of the people as expressed in the laws which Parliament passes. This power having been given to the Parliament, the next step is to frame legislation which, when interpreted by the judiciary, will effectively express the wishes of the people. Honorable senators are aware that, in some instances, when a case has been before -the criminal court the judge has. said, in effect, that if he were in a position to do as he really wished, he would punish the accused more severely than the law allowed. In such circumstances, he can express only his opinion - his decision must he based on the law. In a sense 'the people give up their power to Parliament, but it is the responsibility of Parliament to construct a machine to function effectively in preserving industrial peace. I am an industrialist, and have been all my life; but I know that I and those whom I represent have to conform to the laws of the country. We must necessarily do so to enable us to carry on. In order to control our men we form them into labour armies. We instruct them as did those distinguished honorable senators opposite who were entrusted with the training and control of our troops. There is no " beg your pardon " about army orders. What has to be done, must be done, or. severe penalties are inflicted. We have informed the members of the industrial army that a limitation is placed upon them, and that as citizens they are expected to obey the laws of the country.

Senator Herbert Hays - Is not that the position to-day under our arbitration system ?

Senator BARNES - Yes ; but I know of instances in which arbitration judges have done a grave injustice to a section of the people. A judge may, quite unintentionally, make a grave mistake, but, from his high pedestal, he will not reverse his decision. In consequence of such mistakes the workmen of this country .may lose. roughly, £2,000.000 in wages. ;

Senator Herbert Hays - But the judge may he right.

Senator BARNES - But in the case I have in mind he was wrong. I am not saying that he was wrong merely because I think he was wrong, but because he gave a decision onwrong premises. If he had reversed his decision, he would have exposed the error he had made. Some men have the courage to admit that they have made a mistake, but that was not so in this case. Had there been an opportunity an appeal would have been made to a higher authority, and I would have blown that gentleman out of the water on his own figures.

Senator Herbert Hays - That is lopsided arbitration.

Senator BARNES - Not at all. Provision should be made in our arbitration laws for a right of appeal to a higher tribunal, just as there is under other laws. There is no appeal from a decision of the Federal Arbitration Court.

Senator Crawford - Surely we could give appellate jurisdiction to the Full Court?

Senator BARNES - Yes, by legislation. At present there is no appeal against an award of the Arbitration Court. Only the other day an incident occurred in connexion with a case . connected with the Australian Workers Union. The act provides that a judge may take into Consideration the economic conditionsof the industry concerned, and in doing so can prescribe a wage below the basic rate. For eighteen years the male and female employees in the industry concerned had been receiving £411s. a week and in numerous awards made during that period a uniform rate for both men and women had been retained. The court was subsequently approached and an award made under which the rate paid to women was reduced from £411s. to £2 18s. a week. Is it any wonder that employeesin such circumstances become dissatisfied with conditions of labour? We are all human. Some need waking up more than others, but all are roused if the spur is driven in far enough. Notwithstanding the judge's decision in that case, the women employees have continued to receive the higher rate and there has been no industrial disturbance. The Government is now asking for power to legislate in a way to prevent incidents of that kind that are likely to lead to industrial trouble. I am naturally anxious that this country shall progress. All my life I have been accused of being an agitator. During the many years I have been associated with industrial organizations I have devoted all my energy and ability to preventing industrial trouble, and strikes have never benefited me, nor any other officer of the organization with which I am associated. It has often been said that while the members of an industrial organization are on strike, its principal officer is receiving his salary and consequently the duration of the struggle does not affect him. Of course, he is known to every " Bill Jim " of the organization, and, knowing that they are not working, he assists them financially from his own pocketwith the result that he is in no better position than the men who are out of work. Such men have not a feather to fly with, yet they are accused of being persons who stir up strikes for their own benefit. These officers do not encourage men to strike. That is the last thing they wish ; a strike means a hell on earth for them. Honorable senators opposite fear that if the Government possessed the power now sought it would do some grievous wrong to the people, but this Government has no desire to do anything detrimental to the people. We believe that if we are given the power for which we are asking we shall be able to do greater things than have previously been possible in the industrial arena. It is said that a man's love for his country counts for something, and probably it does. I am an Australian and I want to see my country blaze the track. Older countries have taught us much, but we have, if we like to avail ourselves of it, opportunity to teach them something. I think that, with confidence, the Government can say to the people, " Why do you fear us? We are Australians; we and our families and all our dependants have to live here. All we are asking for is power to enable us to bring forward legislation which we think will be of benefit to our country." I should not worry if my political opponents were handling the power which is now being sought to be obtained, so long as they were required to go back .to the. electors, and give an account of their stewardship. When .Labour was .previously , in power if did what it promised the electors it would do; and when,it went back to them to give an account of its stewardship it could honestly say, " We have carried out every promise we made."' The. things Labour did during, its period of office remain as monumental blessings to the people of Australia to-day.

Senator Crawford - Compulsory military training, for instance?

Senator BARNES - Compulsory military training was one of the things Labour thought necessary at that time, but since then tragic events that led to the sacrifice of millions of the flower of the earth's manhood, including 60,000 Australians, have caused men and women to ask, " What is the use of glory at such a frightful cost?" And now there is an agitation all over the world for disarmament. Times have changed. Thoughts have changed. The old piratic mind that one should profit by sporadic raids on the property of others has gone and facts, hard-driven into the hearts of the people of the world, have led them to ask, " What is the sense of it all " ? What does military training bring about? If the man next door sees' that I am training my son he asks himself why I am doing it, and, probably, comes to the conclusion that I am doing it so that they may be able to jump his fence and steal his fruit. He, thereupon, sets about training his own boys to prevent the raid upon his fruit. That is exactly what is happening among the nations. If one arms its people the others infer that it is doing so for some nasty purpose, and immediately proceed to arm their people. Labour brings a message of peace. Not only does it say, "We shall abolish compulsory military training-

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