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Thursday, 5 July 1906

The CHAIRMAN - Is the honorable member going to connect his remarks with the question before the Chair?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am, as you will see in a moment, Mr. Chairman. Those arbitration boards, which were in existence for twenty or thirty years, were presided over by all kinds of men, including eminent barristers. I remember, for instance, that Sir Edmund Barton had a period of presidency. The experience of those boards - and in this I should be borne out by the honorable member for Newcastle, if he were present - was that the decisions of the laymen were always more satisfactory than those of the barristers and other professional men. That is not to the derogation of the professional men, who simply had not the actual outside business experience of which the laymen had had the advantage. Such courts as these are not law courts in the strict sense of the word ; their . duty is simply to inquire as to facts, and to act as courts of equity and good conscience. Under the Bill, a Judge. will be asked te investigate questions relating to the hours of labour, the disorganization of industries, and, in fact, all the ramifications of trade. Is there any guarantee that in all cases a Judge will be able to come to a determination with unerring accuracy ? In the conflict of opinion which operates in a House like this, representative of every section of the community, we are much more likely to get near the truth, as to actual industrial conditions than we should by any set process of law such as is laid down in the Bill. We ought not to surrender these industrial matters to any outside authority, but should keep them within the purview of Parliament; above all, we should keep in our own hands the regulation of our commerce. As. bearing on the impossibility of getting, at the actual facts of the position, I may say that Mr. Shackelton, one of the best mem in the. Labour Party of the House of Commons, recently visited America and Germany, as a member of the Commission appointed to inquire into certain industrial operations supposed to have a deleterious effect in the industry in which he was interested at home. When he returned, he reported that the British workman was better off than the workman in those countries, that his production was more efficient, and that there was nothing to fear from dumping from Germany, or from the supposed greater skill in the United States. Mr. Shackelton had satisfied himself by investigation on the spot as to the facts of the case as they affected his own industry. About a week ago we read that a similar Commission from Germany, consisting of what are known as Christian Trade Union - ists, had paid a visit to Great Britain, and that they had reported that, in their opinion, the conditions in Germany were much better than those in, Great Britain. Here were two Commissions investigating the same facts and conditions, and arriving at diametrically opposite opinions. If that is the result when investigations of the kind are handed over to an outside authority, I say that we are more likely to arrive at the actual facts regarding an industry -in a Chamber like this, where every section of the community, every kind of skill, and every point of view, is represented. The Bill would set a Judge an impossible task; at any rate, a task which he could not carry out with any satisfaction to himself, or to the community as a whole. I should not be making these statements if I did not believe that we are taking a radically wrong course. I appeal to honorable members, who have any respect for the authority, scope, and function of this Parliament, not to surrender these powers to any outside body. It would, I believe, be a departure made for the first time in any British community, to permit the ordinary competition in industrial enterprises of the country to be determined by a body altogether independent of Parliament. I do not know where we are going to land. We seem to be encircling the whole of our industrial and social life with the processes, sanctions, and penalties of law. For several hundred years we have been trying to g;et out of the meshes of the law, and attain greater individual freedom ; and now, as the result of further enlightenment, or experience, or whatever it may be, we seem to be once more creating laws which threaten to control every action and occupation in the community. The very disabilities which people in such countries as Russia are endeavouring to free themselves from, we are in danger of establishing by law in Australia. As to some of our modern conditions, such legislation may be necessary, but where that is the case let us proceed with the greatest circumspection and caution. Let us not rush into it pell-mell, as this Federal Parliament, above all other institutions in Australia, seems to be doing. Otherwise, we may wake up to find that it is too late to retrace our steps. I appeal to the AttomeyGeneral to consent to limit and circumscribe this clause, so as to cause the Bill to carry out the popular intention. No one will say the Attorney-General nay, so long, as he aims at repressing destructive monopolies ; but when he introduces a Bill to give Ministers power to regulate the competition of this country with other countries, he is undertaking a function which, from time immemorial, Parliament has always guarded as one of its most sacred privileges and rights, because of the greater degree of facility which Parliament has of disposing of such matters, with justice to the industrial community at large.

Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause - put.

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