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Wednesday, 23 July 1930

Senator COOPER (Queensland) . - There has probably been more controversy over our Commonwealth arbitration law than any other legislation passed by this Parliament. After nearly 30 years' experience an arbitration system has not yet been devised to prevent or to effectively settle industrial disputes. Notwithstanding our arbitration system industrial disputes have actually increased during the past five or six years. This is due to a great extent to dual control and to the cumbersome methods employed in the administration of our conciliation and arbitration act. The conditions in Australia are in every way suitable for the successful control of our primary and secondary industries. Those in authority possess business ability and common sense; there is a multitude of intelligent and capable workmen, and our natural resources surpass those of any other country. In these circumstances it is very difficult to understand why our industries should be in such an unsatisfactory state. On the one hand we are faced with the fact which is now becoming patent to everyone that our primary industries which are well organized are being conducted at a loss or are showing only a small margin of profit. Out secondary industries are also efficiently organized. .

Senator Guthrie - Some of them are.

Senator COOPER - Generally speaking they are well managed. They are staffed by capable administrators, and they employ highly skilled workmen. Although everything appears to be in our favour the products of our secondary industries, which compare favorably with similar goods manufactured in other countries, cannot successfully compete in the overseas markets. Although adequate tariff protection has been given for many years to assist in the establishment of new industries and to encourage those already in existence, still higher duties are being imposed, and unemployment is increasing monthly. All" this makes it appear that industrially something is wrong.

During recent years many attempts have been made to simplify our arbitration system. The Bruce-Page Government was defeated when it attempted , to vitally, amend the present Arbitration Act, in order to secure peace in industry. The Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) in his policy speech, which was delivered last October, referred to the restrictions imposed under the present system. He. said that he would do all in his power to remove the entangling legalisms of our arbitration system, and to introduce more conciliatory provisions than those at present in operation. On that occasion he said that he was in favour of the Arbitration Court being made more easily accessible; but the present amending measure does not offer any solution of the difficulty. In a great many instances the restrictions are to be increased. This will place additional burdens upon industry. Under the existing act an industrial dispute must extend beyond the limits of one State before the Commonwealth arbitration law becomes operative. The present system has, un- fortunately, engendered feelings of hostility between employers and employees. Each side suspects that the other is, trying to take undue advantage of the other. This has resulted in an absence of mutual trust and understanding between the parties. It is absolutely essential to establish a feeling of mutual trust between the parties to a dispute before an agreement acceptable to both can be reached. Instead of encouraging mutual trust and a friendly partnership, this bill will aggravate the distrust which has been so apparent in the past. In 1920 and 1922, and again in 1925 and 1926, Australia enjoyed almost unparalleled prosperity. During that period, employees approached the Arbitration

Court on numerous . occasions with applications for higher wages, shorter working hours and improved conditions, which, it was contended, the prosperity of industry amply warranted, and the court, in almost every instance, granted awards in accordance with the claims advanced. This upward trend in wages was noted particularly in the pastoral industry, concerning which Senator Dunn had so much to say. The court indicated that, owing to the prosperous condition of that industry, it was justified in granting the higher rates. I think I am right in saying that, during the periods mentioned, no protests were heard and certainly there were no strikes against the awards of the court.

Senator Guthrie - That was because the rates of pay were going higher and higher.

Senator COOPER - As the honorable senator has remarked, the workers were obtaining higher rates of pay from year to year. As far as I know the employers did not refuse to obey the court, although the pastoral industry for some years previously had experienced a somewhat lean time. Now- that prices for our primary products have fallen in most instances to an unremunerative level, action is being taken in certain industries to approach the court with a request that the workers should share some portion of the higher cost of production. It is only when this position arises that we realize that the arbitration system has signally failed. When awards do not suit the members of industrial organizations, they decline to obey them. We are forced to realize now that the wages which can be paid in. an industry, and the hours worked in it, depend entirely upon the economic condition of the country. The principal act provides penalties for the nonobservance of Arbitration Court awards, and this bill seeks to delete them. The only course open to those who believe in obedience to the law is to permit those persons who are willing to abide by awards of the court to work at the rates prescribed. But this bill is- designed to. prevent any such action. If it is passed in its present form, it will not be possible for those who wish to obey the court te take the place of others who' decline to observe its awards. In Queensland last year, owing to the high cost of production in primary industries, thiState rural industries award was abolished. As a result there has been a marked increase in employment, and farmers have been enabled to increase greatly the productivity of their land. At the present time the percentage of unemployment in Queensland is lower than' in any other State.

Senator Daly - So it ought to be.

Senator COOPER - I am glad to hear the Minister say that. The present position in Queensland, as compared with that in the other States, is due to the recognition of the .inability of rural industries to carry the burdens which have been inflicted on them by arbitration awards.

A careful study of the bill now before the Senate will show that it has been designed to benefit one section in industry only. Certainly it will greatly benefitrade union officials. It is not designed to improve the machinery of the court for the settlement of industrial disputes, nor is it likely to simplify arbitration procedure. It proposes to transfer powers now vested in a judge of the Arbitration Court to appointees of the Government, to be designated conciliation commissioners.

Senator Daly - The honorable senator approved of that provision in the Cotton Industries Bounty Bill.

Senator COOPER - It is not quite the same. The Minister will remember also that I strongly disapproved of the proposal to appoint an authority to determine wages and conditions of employment in that industry, but said I intended to vote for the bill because I thought itf benefits outweighed its disadvantages.

Senator Daly - The honorable senator voted for that particular provision.

Senator COOPER - I voted for the bill; but I mentioned, particularly in my second-reading speech, that I was opposed to the provision relating to the appointment of a board to deal with industrial matters. lu the Cotton Industries Bounty Bill, the Minister has powerto set up a tribunal to fix wages only after al! other avenues have failed. TheArbitration Court and States' WagesBoard would he consulted first. Thiprovisions in this bill affect the whole of the people, and to a much greater extent than will similar sections in the Cotton Industries Bounty Bill. The proposed conciliation commissioners and committees will have priority over all other courts. There is reason to believe that these clauses were inserted in this bill as the result of representations by the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, and there appears to be no doubt that the Conciliation Commissioners will be appointed from the ranks of trade union officials. The principal difference between the appointment of conciliation committees under the principal act and under this bill is that, under the former the chairman, a conciliation commissioner, was appointed by the Chief Judge of the Arbitration Court, and the functions of a conciliation commissioner were limited to bringing together the parties involved in a dispute in an endeavour to effect an agreement. If such efforts met with success the resultant agreement was certified to by a judge of the Arbitration Court and recorded by the Industrial Registrar. It then became binding on the parties to the dispute. Another difference between the old and new law is that previously the chairman of a conciliation committee had no vote. This bill provides that conciliation commissioners are to be appointed by the Governor-General in Council, which means the Government of the day, and that when acting as chairman of conciliation committees they shall have a casting vote. That will tend to make any conference between parties to a dispute, a very one-sided matter, as it is practically certain that if conciliation commissioners are appointed by the Government they will be biased towards the policy of that Government.

Senator Daly - That was not the experience under the wages board system.

Senator COOPER - I am giving my opinion, and I believe that the general public will also consider that if a partisan were appointed his vote would be biased. Why should not the appointments be made on non-party lines, and the issue determined accordingly.

Senator Daly - I can give the honorable senator an assurance that this Government will not appoint partisans.

Senator COOPER - Later I shall deal with the appointment of conciliation com missioners under the Lang regime in New South Wales. As the appointments are to be made by the Government of the day it appears inevitable that any casting vote recorded by a chairman will favour the cause of the industrialists. Conciliation committees may make awards without reference to a judge, and those awards will be binding, irrespective of whether the parties to the dispute agree or disagree with them. That supports my objection to giving a casting vote to a partisan chairman. Although the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Daly) declares that no political appointments will be made, it appears assured that trade union officials will be appointed as conciliation commissioners, thereby creating still more, unproductive jobs for Labour supporters.

The appointment of a judge of the Arbitration court is for life; that of a conciliation commissioner for only five years. Five years is but a short time and leads one to infer that these commissioners will remain under the influence of the Government that appointed them. It is but reasonable to assume that if a man is appointed to a position having a tenure of five years, with the possibility of renewal, he will more or less adapt himself to the views of the authority holding power of re-appointment. Naturally he will endeavour to make his future assured.

Senator Daly - There is no guarantee that the same government will be in power at the end of that period.

Senator COOPER - These appointees will have to take that risk. Why not give them a greater security of tenure by lengthening the term of their appointment? These commissioners will conclude that if they do not please their masters they will be cast out at the end of five years, and so will do everything within their power to conform to the policy of the Government which appointed them.

Senator Daly - The honorable senator assumes that we shall be in power at the end of five years.

Senator COOPER - I do not. Irrespective of the government that may be in power, an appointment of that nature is not a wise one, and' it must influence the judgment of the party concerned. I am unable to find any provision in the bill stipulating the amount of remuneration to be paid- to these conciliation commissioners. Apparently, it is to be dependent upon good behaviour during their term - of office.

We must regard the innovation from the view-point of the parties concerned. I believe that, under the new order of things, employers will enter into negotiations with a certain amount of distrust. They will be predisposed to the opinion that the dice are loaded against them. It should be our endeavour to dispel the atmosphere of distrust. There is to be no appeal against the decision of a conciliation commissioner. That is a very arbitrary arrangement. I know of cases were similar decisions have been biased, and prejudicial to the best interests of industry.

Senator Barnes - There is no appeal from the decision of a judge at the present time.

Senator COOPER - The position is different. The training of a judge enables him to view the matter dispassionately^ to sift and weigh the evidence adduced, and to arrive at a fair decision. That cannot be done by any industrialist not trained in legal procedure. The present Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration is one of the most learned and capable men in the Commonwealth. It is reasonable to assume that no conciliation commissioner appointed by this Government will have qualifications similar to his.

Senator McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A judge of the Arbitration Court must previously have been a barrister or solicitor of the High Court or a Supreme Court of a State for not less than five years.

Senator COOPER - That is so. Because of the unreasonable bickerings of the extremist elements of certain unions, there has been a great deal of quarrelling against the decisions of the Arbitration Court. That court was able, during prosperous times, to make awards that were highly satisfying to the trade unions. Now a time of depression has arrived, and awards must be determined accordingly. Senator Dunn treated us to" a tirade against the award recently promulgated by Chief Judge Dethridge for the pastoral industry. He declared that it was a terrible thing that that award should reduce wages by 20 per cent. f remind the honorable senator that for the past three years pastoralists have loyally obeyed the old award, made when the industry was enjoying the greatest prosperity-

Senator Daly - The honorable senator knows that the employers asked that the award should be made for five years.

Senator COOPER - I am referring specifically to the award for Queensland. It was adhered to loyally by the pastoralists even during times of drought, and when they received appallingly low prices for their wool. Surely both employee and employer should obey awards. The arguments advanced by Senator Dunn have merely strengthened my contention that the bill is one-sided. Undoubtedly, it favours the employees. The other side of industry, which has not only to pay these wages but also to find the wherewithal to pay them in competition with the rest of the world, is given no consideration. Senator Dunn referred to the big pastoral holdings beyond Cloncurry. The pastoralists there have made no considerable profits during the last three years. Indeed, the majority of them have made heavy losses. There is, at present, no indication that they will again experience the prosperous times they enjoyed in "1924, 1925, and 1926. Is it fair that wages which were granted at the peak period of prosperity in the pastoral industry should continue now that that industry has reached the depths of depression? I am glad that the majority of the members of the Australian Workers Union, realizing the difficulties confronting the pastoralists, are content to accept the wages provided in the new award. Senator Dunn may not know that many of the' pastoralists of Western Queensland realized only 9d. or 9£d. a lb. for their wool at the last Brisbanesales. If from that amount the cost of shearing, freight, and other expenses, amounting to about 3d. a lb., are deducted, there is only 6d. a lb. left to pay rent, general expenses, and interest on overdraft to say nothing of providing a reserve for depreciation of plant.

Senator Guthrie - There is no chance of providing for depreciation with wool at 9d. a lb.

Senator COOPER - It isnot just that one side of the industry should have to carry the whole burden. I hope that the federal executive of the Australian Workers Union will follow the example of the Queensland branch and, instead of trying to create discord, do its best to put this important industry once more on a profitable basis.

Reference has been made to the possibility of partisans being appointed as conciliation commissioners. In this connexion I wish to remind honorable senators of what occurred in New South Wales when the Lang Government was in office. That Government appointed a number of conciliation commissioners, similar to those proposed to be appointed under this bill. Without exception, those commissioners were trade union officials. One of them was a professional pugilist. I doubt whether he had any working knowledge of the conditions of industry.

Senator Dunn - He is a well-educated man.

Senator COOPER - I have nothing to say against him personally. I was merely pointing out that there are grounds for fearing that conciliation commissioners might be appointed, not because of their fitness for the position, but because of their adherence to a particular political party. Hitherto it has been the practice to select judges from the best trained minds in the legal profession, but under this bill persons with no qualifications for the office could be appointed as commissioners. No unqualified man should be placed in charge of committees which have to deal with problems affecting the industrial life of the community. Even with all their training, arbitration judges frequently have to admit their lack of knowledge of the conditions -operating in industries with which they are required to deal. If men are appointed as conciliation commissioners without regard to their qualifications for the position, such instances are likely to be much more numerous. The present act provides for conciliation commissioners.

Senator Daly - Who might even be pugilists !

Senator Dunn - They might be squatters.

Senator COOPER - A squatter would at least have some knowledge of the pastoral industry.

Senator Daly - In this bill the Government is not asking for greater powers than now exist as regards the appointment of conciliation commissioners.

Senator COOPER - In dealing with a case affecting metal trade workers, Judge Beeby found the matters before him so intricate that he decided to call the parties together with a view to settling their differences at a conference. In that instance we have an example of conciliation under the existing act. Clause 33 repeals section 38d of the existing act, which deals with the cancellation of awards in the event of strikes or lockouts. It is rather a pernicious clause to insert in a bill.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - It is not usual to refer to a clause as pernicious. The honorable senator may say that it embodies a pernicious principle.

Senator COOPER - I withdraw the remark. If section 38d of the existing act is repealed, the effect will be farreaching.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Senator COOPER - In the event of a strike or alockout taking place in defiance of an award of the Arbitration Court, the court now has power to cancel the award. It is one of the most important provisions in the act, and its retention is essential to the smooth working of industry. Hitherto it has had a very steadying influence upon the extreme elements in the unions. Had it not been in operation during the waterside workers' trouble in 1928, it would have been impossible for volunteers totake the place of the waterside workers, and thousands oftons of primary produce, on the sale of which primary producers all over Australia depended for their means of livelihood, would have rotted on the waterfront. Produce which represented months of work accumulated on the wharfs between the time when the waterside workers went out on strike and the time when the volunteers got into full swing, and it would have all gone for nothing had this power to cancel an award not been in the act.

Work by volunteer labour was also rendered possible during the timber workers' strike. The removal of this provision from the act will certainly have a damaging effect on industry generally. This bill seeks to restore the principle of preference to unionists. I think that unions are very fine institutions, and I have nothing against them, but the adoption of the principle of preference to unionists will make it impossible for any one but a unionist to be employed. I know numerous instances in which it has been impossible for workers to become members of unions, even if work has been offered to them; the books of the unions have been closed to them.

Senator Barnes - I do not think that applies among the unions now.

Senator COOPER - The effect of the preference to unionists principle is that men who are offered work may not be able to take it because they cannot become members of a particular union. The door is opened to the victimization of workers who, in the past, may have chosen to work under an award disobeyed by other workers. It will be impossible for the marked man to get work. One who has been marked down for something he' has done, or who has displeased the union officials, will never be able to get a job.

Senator Dunn - Do the employers victimize?

Senator COOPER - We are dealing with the bill as it is before us. If there were a bill before us giving associations of employers the same opportunity to victimize, I should strongly oppose it. The preference to unionists principle gives men no opportunity to display independence of spirit. It puts them entirely under the domination of the unions. If they are not prepared to do what the unions dictate, they are marked men for life.[Extension of time granted.] At the recent election, the present Government, I admit, received a mandate to continue the Federal arbitration system against the system of control by the States which was put forward by the Bruce-Page Government. But the proposals now before the Senate, if put in operation, would greatly increase unemployment, further handicap and restrict industry, increase friction between employer and employee, and have the very opposite effect to bringing about that feeling of goodwill and conciliation emphasized in the forefront of the bill. Honorable senators would be lacking in their duty to the country and to the workers if they did not strongly protest against the objectionable provisions contained in this bill.

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