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Tuesday, 8 November 1910

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - It seems to me that the reluctance of the Minister in charge of the Bill to accept Senator Rae's amendment prevents the happy medium being attained. If we are going to vote this money to add to the profits of the Commonwealth Oil Corporation, it is just as well that we should not quibble about the conditions we impose. We have to bear in mind that the company, no matter what conditions we impose, will have full control over their men. I believe that the Minister who will administer 'this measure when it becomes an Act would certainly, if grave complaints were made about the wages, withhold the bounty until the grievances were rectified. But, in my opinion, we should make provision that, if there are some people engaged in the industry to whom an injustice is being done through the payment of a small wage, the Minister shall say : " Pay a good wage to these men or there shall be no bounty."

Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator has any doubt as to my probity in the matter I may reassure him by telling him that I shall not have the administration of the measure.

Senator GARDINER - If the Minister thinks that I am doubting him I can only say that I must judge him by his actions ; and I' must admit that he does not seem to be inclined to consider this matter in a reasonable frame of mind.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 -p.m.

Senator GARDINER - The extreme attitude of the Minister in charge of the Bill in refusing to give that consideration to the details of the clause and to Senator Rae's amendment, to which matters of such' importance are entitled, is inclined to make some honorable senators lose sight of something that may be of great consequence in the working of the measure.

Senator Pearce - Is the honorable senator justified in saying that I have refused to give consideration to the amendment? I do not think that he ought to say that.

Senator GARDINER - Perhaps I ought to touch my forelock when I say anything of which the Minister may disapprove. I do not think that he is justified in displaying temper about the matter. The Senate will lose its character as a deliberative aSsembly - as was said last week - if we are to go on like this. I have not said anything that was a reflection upon the Minister.

Senator Pearce - - It was a reflection.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister ought not to be so thin-skinned. The extreme reluctance with which he will even bend his great intellect to the consideration of any amendment -may prevent us from attaining that happy medium which would be of benefit in this Bill. I venture to say that if it fell to the lot of the Minister in charge of the Bill to have to pay out the bounty to shale companies working in Tasmania and in New South Wales, he would, have extreme difficulty in determining what were fair and reasonable wages in the former State. Evidence taken before a Royal Commission in Tasmania some time ago showed, if I remember rightly, that there are municipal employes in that State who are in receipt of as small a wage as 4s. 6d. per day. There is no wages board affecting such employes in Tasmania. A shale company working there might therefore contend that as municipal employes were paid as little as 4s. 6d. per day they were justified in paying their men no more than 4s. 6d. or 5s., although a company carrying on operations in New South Wales might pay its men 8s. or ps. a day.

Senator Pearce - I have solved a problem of that kind in connexion with my, own Department, and it did not require much consideration to enable me to do so.

Senator GARDINER - A company carrying on business in Tasmania might reasonably contend that it should not be called upon to pay a wage very much in excess of the ordinary wages paid in that State.

Senator Pearce - I will tell the honorable senator what 1 have done in connexion with defence contracts. I have said that contractors are to pay the wages laid down by the Wages Boards in Victoria.

Senator GARDINER -I' am glad to have that assurance. But if we had a Minister in charge who did not adopt that easy method of determining what wages should be paid in Tasmania, a company there might reasonably contend that it was not called upon to pay wages in excess of the rates paid to men doing similar work in the same State.

Senator Millen - I think the companies would be entitled to take up that attitude, in view of paragraph b.

Senator GARDINER - I think that paragraph b settles the question. Inasmuch as in the State where there are no wages boards, and where there are no industrial organizations to drive capital out of the country, workmen are more poorly paid than in any other State in the Commonwealth, it seems to me that if we leave this clause as it stands, the Minister may be impelled to pay out the bounty granted by the Commonwealth to companies paying their employes no more than 5s. or 6s. a day, notwithstanding that wages of 8s. or 9s. a day are paid in a similar industry in a State where there are wages boards. I regret very much that the Minister will not see that there is some reasonable justification for debating the clause at this stage.

Senator Pearce - The honorable semitor has no reason for saying that. I object to the honorable senator's reflections on my sense of justice. He can talk all night about the clause if he wants to.

Senator GARDINER - I am pleased that I have the Minister's kind permission to talk all night. His concession will prevent my doing so. The clause strikes me as being one which the most fair-minded Minister might experience difficulty in administering. While the Bill was at its second-reading stage, I indicated a dislike to handing over public money to companies for the augmentation of their own profits ; and I say now that we should make the clause so fast - " fast bind, fast find " is a safe axiom - that the people employed in the oil industry wilt be able to obtain wages at least sufficient to maintain themselves and their families in decent comfort. 1 am sure that the Minister in charge of the Bill has the same object. But he must remember that the Bill will probably form the basis of measures which other Governments will introduce in the future. 1 hope, therefore, that he will consent to make the clause more definite in the direction of securing fair wages to workmen.

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