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Thursday, 31 July 1930

Senator O'HALLORAN (South Australia) . - The debate on the proposed new section and the amendments moved by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) should, I think, clarify the position, and indicate the viewpoints of honorable senators on both sides. The measure has, up to the present, suffered many vicissitudes. It has been severely mangled in committee, but we have now reached the stage at which we must decide whether its vital principles shall be accepted in such a form as to prove workable and satisfactory, or whether their effect shall be nullified by provisos and impediments which will prevent the act from functioning effectively. They disclose the real opinion of honorable senators opposite on the subject of conciliation. Their attitude was clearly demonstrated by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), when he said that they do not see any necessity to appoint conciliation commissioners. Of course they do not. They do not believe in arbitration, and if they did they would say, as they did not very long ago, that there is no necessity for a federal arbitration system. Itis not very long ago that honorable senators opposite said - and although they are not prepared to say it now, they still believe it - that had they the power they would abolish the federal arbitration system tomorrow. To that extent they are consistent; but they ought to recognize the will of the people of this country. The Labour party did not make federal conciliation and arbitration an issue at the last general election. Honorable senators opposite and their colleagues in another place did, and the people gave a verdict. The result is that the present Government occupies the treasury benches, and with an undoubted mandate from the people to improve the machinery for the settlement of industrial disputes. For many years the Labour party has been firmly convinced that conciliation is the most effective means of settling industrial disputes. Therefore, prominence has been given in this measure to conciliation.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Where?

Senator O'HALLORAN - In clauses 9, 26, and in others. Conciliationis placed before arbitration. The Leader of the Opposition objects that the conciliation commissioners have too much power.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Too much arbitral power.

Senator O'HALLORAN - Senator Lawson mentioned cases in ordinary litigation where judges were able, by means of conferences, to effect settlements of long drawn-out disputes without recourse to the courts. Those conferences were successful because of the knowledge that the judge had the power to make an award in the event of the conference not coming to a decision. If conciliation is to succeed it will be because the person who occupies the position of an umpire, and decides between the two sections, has some power to insist that the views that he puts before them shall be respected.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Such a person is an arbitrator, and not a conciliator.

Senator O'HALLORAN - It does not matter by what name he is known. Even admitting that he is an arbitrator, is not a decision of an arbitrator likely to be more acceptable than a decision of a judge of the Arbitration Court,in which the Leader of the Opposition professes to believe? The representatives of the employers and employees can meet in conference, and the balance of the power be held by a conciliator, who makes his decision or suggestions and answers both parties as to the justification of such decisions. At present such conditions do not exist. Although the parties have their counsel or representatives to plead their case before the Arbitration Court, the judge after hearing the evidence retires to the austere silence of his chambers and without the assistance of the parties or their representatives propounds his judgment which has a far-reaching effect on the industrial and communal life of the country. It may be that the Leader of the Opposition is correct and that the conciliation commissioners have arbitral powers. If they have, such powers are more likely to achieve industrial peace, which we believe is possible of achievement, than the efforts of a judge working under conditions such as I have mentioned. We were informed that, if the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition giving the right of appeal was accepted, the appointment of conciliation commissioners would be acceptable to the Opposition. Conciliation will be acceptable to the Opposition only if the commissioners are deprived of every modicum of the power which they should possess. If the amendment is carried, the conciliation commissioners as a means of promoting industrial peace, will cease to operate. Let us examine the division of power between the two parties, which will operate in the interests of industrial peace. If this bill is passed the Arbitration Court will still determine such nation-wide questions as the basic wage and the standard hours of industry; conciliation commissioners or committees will then determine the marginal differences for skill and other conditions of employment in order to ensure peace in industry. Their powers are strictly limited because the great question of arbitration standards are beyond their jurisdiction. The commissioners having dealt with the matters that come within their purview, to the satisfaction of both parties, the court extends the right of appeal. The Leader of the Opposition wants more thancorrectional appeal. He wishes the right of appeal to be given in any question substantially prejudicial to the interests of the employers or employees in any industry. If we' are to accept that principle we might as well abolish conciliation commissioners. The Leader of the Opposition wishes to make an absolute certainty that at an appeal will be made against every decision of the conciliation committee. The amendment reads - " After section thirty-one a of the principal act the following section is inserted: - 3 Lab. ( 1 ) An award or order of a conciliation commissioner or a conciliation committee shall, unless an appeal against any provision of the award or order has been made, have effect upon the expiration of the time within which such appeal may be made.

(2)   Where any such appeal is made, the award or order shall not come into effect pending the determination of the appeal by the court, or by the conciliation commissioner or conciliation committee, as the case may be, after reconsideration.

In 'making their awards, the commissioners will either alter conditions in favour of the workers or the employees.

The right of appeal then operates. Is it not obvious that one or other of the parties will appeal? Owing to a reduction in the cost of living, and other circumstances, a conciliation commissioner may reduce wages by ls. a day. The representatives of the workers, knowing that the old award will apply pending the hearing of the appeal, will naturally appeal to the court against the decision of a commissioner. On the other hand, if an award is made which the employers consider to be prejudicial to their interests they also will appeal.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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