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Thursday, 2 August 1906
Page: 2265

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) .- When the- honorable member for Melbourne Ports first brought forward a proposal of this kind, it was my privilege to second it, and I have very much pleasure in supporting him now. But whilst I thoroughly agree with the- motion, I am not insensible to some of the difficulties which will have to be overcome before it can be rendered effective. In the first place, we shall have to secure the support of a majority of the electors in a majority of the States before we can exercise the power indicated in the motion:. Seeing that this Legislature deals with Customs legislation which has an important bearing upon the industrial life of the country, I am .satisfied that the electors will not hesitate to hand over to us the responsibility of dealing with industrial legislation in order that it may be made uniform throughout the Commonwealth. It is true that efforts have already been made by means of an Arbitration Act to assist the workers to obtain fair wages and other conditions ; but it is necessary that we should have further powers than those now conferred upon us in order that we may give to the workers complete protection. From the commencement, we should have been in the position to pass all the laws necessary to insure the protection of the employe as well as of the manufacturer, and we should now seek to render our control over the industrial affairs of the Commonwealth as effective as possible. The honorable member for Yarra reminds me that representations were made to the States with a view to securing their consent to the transfer of the control of industrial matters to the Commonwealth. The replies received from them were not, however, of the most satisfactory character. Nevertheless, they were what might have been fairly expected at that early stage of our history as a Federation. Even now, the States authorities are more or less jealous of the power of this Parliament, and it is not unusual to hear State Premiers and other gentlemen complaining bitterly, but without reason, of our actions. In these circumstances. I do not know whether we should, even at this stage, obtain. a very much more satisfactory set of replies than were vouchsafed upon the former occasion. The unfavorable attitude of the States should not, however, deter us from doing what we conceive to be our clear duty, namely, to pass such legislation as is necessary for the welfare of all those who are engaged in industrial pursuits. It may be said, as was stated in pre-Federation days, that if we pass legislation such as that contemplated, all sorts of ruinous results will be brought about! I have heard statements of that kind so frequently that I no longer attach any credence to them. Honorable members opposite have said with regard to almost every measure submitted to the House, that it would bring about disaster and ruin. If we had believed them, we should never have enacted any legislation of a progressive character. But we did pass the measures, and the result is that we have become more prosperous than ever. In the Victorian Legislature, in the old days, it was stated by many honorable members that Wages Boards and factory laws would result in undue interference with industrial concerns, and bring ruin in their train. It was represented that money would leave the State, that the workers would be thrown out of employment, and that the most awful cataclysm would ensue. But none of these things happened. 0,rt the contrary,' from the very inception of these laws, a steady improvement took place, both in respect of the condition of the employes themselves, and that of the employers. Not one of the evil prophecies was fulfilled, but everybody was benefited. In Victoria the effect of such legislation was very good indeed, and from that fact, I am bound to argue that the 'result would be equally beneficial in the case of the Commonwealth. The competition which can at present ensue between State and State on account of a lack of uniform industrial laws is bound, sooner or later, to bring a certain amount of inconvenience, if not of suffering, in its train. Let me give a simple illustration : Prior to Federation, Victoria had established a considerable trade in boots and shoes, and she still does the bulk of that trade. The industry was built up by reason of the protection which the Victorian Parliament had given it.

Mr Reid - New South Wales built up a considerable trade in boots without the aid of a protective Tariff.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - But her trade was not nearly so large as was that of Victoria. To-day, however, the condition of things is changing. As we all know, Queensland is a State which deals largely in cattle.

Every year she exports an enormous quantity of tinned meat. All the hides which* come from beasts slaughtered for that purpose, could be converted into leather, andi when the Queenslanders realize that, they will turn them into leather, and will convert the leather into boots and shoes.. When that time comes - if the Queensland? manufacturers are not placed under the same or similar industrial conditions tothose existing in Victoria, more particularly with regard to Wages Boards - they will easily be able to command the market of the Commonwealth. If, for argument's sake, they are in a position toemploy operatives in the boot trade at £2 per week, whilst the average rate in the other States is £3 per week, they wilt enjoy a most decided' advantage. What istrue of that particular trade is equally trueof other industries which might be named. Consequently, the necessity exists for making our industrial laws uniform throughout the States. But when I speak of uniform laws, I do not say that they necessarily involve the payment of uniform rates of* wages. It is quite possible to have uniform* laws in respect of industrial pursuitswithout having uniform rates of wages. There are quite a number of things whichwill require to be taken into account indetermining the rates of wages. For instance, there are climatic conditions, the differences which exist between the rate* of interest payable upon capital borrowed, and the price of living in the various States. Everybody is aware that in Western Australia, money is dearer than it is in NewSouth Wales and Victoria; that rent ishigher, and that living costs more. Consequently, it is absolutely necessary, if weare to preserve an equilibrium - that therate of wages paid in that State should behigher than it is in Victoria or New SouthWales. These matters will need to be taken into account when we come to consider the question of uniform industrial' laws for the Commonwealth. I do not shut my eyes to the difficulties which surround that proposition, or to the dangerswhich will arise from any attempt to institute uniform laws for the Commonwealth .

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorablemember attempting to block the temperancemotion of the honorable member for Cowper?

Mr Kelly - Obviously. It is a great pity. I am surprised at the honorablemember.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I am surprised at the zeal which some honorable members display in advocating the cause of the honorable member for Cowper in his absence.

Mr Kelly - There is an. honorable member present who has received instructions from the honorable member for Cowper.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - No "doubt. In the meantime I have a right which I propose to exercise on behalf of my constituents, and I am not to. be drawn off the thread of my argument by the rude interruptions of the honorable member for Wentworth. It is more than probable that when we come to enact uniform industrial laws for the. Commonwealth, the Wages Board system will have to give way to the Arbitration Court. If that be so, we shall require to be very careful that the great advantages which have been won for the workers of Victoria are not wrested from them, and that the. benefits, which they enjoy are extended' to the whole of Australia. Of course, I am aware that there are other methods of settling this difficulty besides those provided by awards of the Arbitration Court or of Wages Boards. Upon a memorable occasion, the right honorable member for East Sydney told us how he would settle all the. industrial differences of the Commonwealth. His statement was that, " in the plentitude of time, when our millions of population have become tens of millions, we shall have a crop of misery which will solve the difficulty in regard to cheap manufactures." That is not the way in which we propose to settle the difficulty.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member call that a fair quotation?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - lt is an absolutely true one.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the way in which the honorable member puts it, it is absolutely untrue

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I call your attention, sir, to the fact that the honorable member has declared that my statement is untrue.

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