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Thursday, 19 March 1931

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I am astounded at what I regard as this inhuman proposal to disallow the ordinances, simply because objection is taken to the manner in which they have been brought in. Senator Colebatch admitted that he did not have very much to offer by way of criticism of the regulations, but he objected to the manner in which the Government proposed to give effect to its policy. This, in my judgment, is not a sufficient reason for the disallowance of the ordinances. The Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley) has, I think, fully answered most of the points that were raised in the debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) indulged in a certain amount of sobstuff. The right honorable gentleman stated that those engaged in pioneering work in the Northern Territory could not hope to educate their children because of the long distance from any school. We all know that every mau who goes into that country expects to suffer a number of disabilities. He takes up his work with full knowledge of the hardships that he will have to endure, and with the hope that his energies will be amply rewarded by his future prosperity. Although I have been an employee for the greater part of my life, I was, at one time, an employer on a small scale, and I know that every employer is inspired by the hope that, as a result of his perseverance and energy he will, in time, attain a competence. A man engaged in pioneering work cheerfully faces the prospect of hardships for a number of years, because of the hope of future success; but he has no right to expect paid employees to suffer the same disabilities. If I were an owner of a station or farm property I would be willing to work longer hours, expend more energy, and experience greater hardship in building up a fortune than I could reasonably expect any employee to do. That is the point of view which honorable senators opposite and those whom they represent almost invariably fail to recognize. Although an employer may experience certain disabilities and take some risks, he possesses opportunities to improve his position. He is on a totally different basis from that of a daily or weekly employee who receives only a meagre wage for his services. Senator McLachlan and Senator Sir Hal Colebatch have, I suppose, spent their lives in proximity to such large cities as Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, but honorable senators on this side of the chamber, who have spent most of their time in the more remote portions of the different States, are more intimate with the conditions under which men there have to labour. I have not seen these regulations until to-day; but I cannot find anything unreasonable in them. There may. be few instances in which concessions might be made, but it is ridiculous to suggest that the future settlement of North or Central Australia is likely to be seriously imperilled, or that those engaged in industry in that portion of the Commonwealth are likely to be driven out of business by reason of these regulations. It is utterly absurd to make such a suggestion. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) referred to the difficulty in obtaining timber suitable for providing housing accommodation in those districts far removed from timbered country. We admit that. But how many men would be ruined by having to obtain the quantity of timber necessary to build a decent hut for a few men? Why should not decent housing accommodation be provided for men who are employed in the more remote parts of Australia 1 I see no reason why five men should not be as decently housed as 500 should be. Furthermore, is it suggested that only timber can be used in building these structures? In the tropical or semi-tropical districts there is nothing to prevent fibro plaster, which is a comparatively cheap material, from being used. Huts constructed of such material would be clean, cool and sanitary and the freightage on it would be less than on timber.

Senator Cooper - Timber framework would have to be obtained.

Senator RAE - I admit that some timber would be required. I am sure Senator Cooper will not dispute the fact that the number of employees required to be housed on the average station in Northern Australia is not so great as to necessitate the erection of large structures. The cost of the timber required for a hut to comply with these regulations would not seriously affect the annual expense of any station-owner. It is an absurdly exaggerated contention to suggest that the future settlement of

Northern Australia would be seriously imperilled if these regulations were not disallowed. It appears to me that nothing is too mean or too trivial for honorable senators opposite to base an attack upon the conditions under which the wage-earners shall live. On more than one occasion I have heard Senator Colebatch assert that the alleged high standard of living in Australia was not nearly high enough, and is merely sham and humbug. Shall we improve the standard of living by disallowing these regulations ? The honorable senator objects to the conditions under which they are framed ; but there is nothing in them that is likely to seriously affect the financial position of even the humblest stationowner in Northern Australia. Disregarding for the moment the position of those employed on the tablelands, where, owing to the altitude, the air is fresh and the temperature lower, it is fair to assume that most of the men affected by these regulations will be living in tropical country, where the heat is very pronounced, and where the summer lasts for the greater portion of the year. The conditions in that part of Australia are not so temperate as they are in Victoria, New South Wales, and the southern portion of Queensland. In these circumstances, additional air space is necessary. The Senate should devote its time to more serious problems instead of attacking the wage-earners of this country in such a paltry fashion. If these regulations are disallowed, the persons employed in the districts to which they apply, will be left without proper protection. I am aware of the regulations in operation in New South Wales referred to by Senator McLachlan, and recall the bitter fight put up by the friends of honorable senators opposite against the conditions imposed upon employers with respect to the provision of decent accommodation for their employees. Those who have toiled in country districts know that in some instances the most abominable accommodation was provided by some employers. It was far worse than that provided for a pet dog, and infinitely worse than the stables for a racehorse. Everything we have gained has been obtained in face of the most conservative and bitter opposition of those who are now trying to disallow these regulations. It would be a disgrace to the Senate to agree to the motion, because of the manner in which the regulations have been framed, since their disallowance would leave the employees at the tender mercies of the employers.

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