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Wednesday, 16 November 1910

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I cannot allow a measure of this importance to pass without saying a few words upon it. I wish particularly to refer to one aspect of the question which was dealt with by Senator Symon.. He seems to view the proposal which is contained in this Bill from a very narrow stand-point. In one breath he affirms that we are about to appeal to a superior power, the people,, and in the next he claims that the legislation which we are asking them to ratify, amounts to a revolution. What is the revolution which is proposed? We all know that some years ago a number of distinguished gentlemen met together for the purpose of framing a Commonwealth Constitution. They made rib provision whatever for safeguarding the interests of the men who are employed upon our State railways.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - For the reason that we were framing a Federal Constitution, and thought that the States should govern their own servants.

Senator GARDINER - Although the distinguished gentlemen who framed our Federal Constitution thought that the States should govern their own servants, they took very good care to insert in that Constitution a provision which empowers the Commonwealth to regulate trade and commerce upon the railways. Since then, there has been a revolution, and this Parliament is now represented by a majority of the people who had absolutely no representation in the Federal Convention.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Oh, yes; Mr. Trenwith was a member of the Convention.

Senator GARDINER - And he was one of our opponents at the recent elections. A majority of the people - even admitting that Mr. Trenwith ably represented Labour at that time - were not represented in the Federal Convention.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Mr. Kingston was also there, and the honorable senator's party could not have had a better representative than he was.

Senator GARDINER - I admit that. I hope that I shall never speak flippantly of the great men who have rendered distinguished service to the Commonwealth.

My point is that the interests which were represented at the Convention are not those which are represented in this Parliament. A majority of the members of this Parliament are present, not as the result of having consulted the State Parliaments, but as the result of having recently consulted their masters, the people. I would also remind Senator Symon that before the proposed amendments in the Constitution can be effected, we must again consult the electors. I hold that State railway servants ought to be able to ventilate their grievances, if they have any, before a properly-constituted Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration "Court. We have been told that under this Bill we shall be interfering with the sovereign rights of the States. My own impression is that many persons who voted for Federation would not have voted for it had they not thought that there would be a great interference by the Commonwealth with the sovereign rights of the States. The longer that the six States are permitted to legislate upon industrial questions the closer will this Parliament come into conflict with them. At the present time, I think that the people favour the curtailment of the sovereign powers of the States, or, at least, believe in endowing this Parliament with equal power to regulate industrial conditions. Under this Bill we do not ask for greater power than is possessed by any one of the States to-day. Surely if we are to have a sovereign Parliament with defined powers - and 1 am not going to worship the Constitution which was framed by the great intellects of twelve years ago--

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Hear, hear. Our Constitution is not by any means perfect.

Senator GARDINER - I recognise that this Bill embodies the first great extension of Federal power. I repeat that we are not asking for greater power than may be exercised by each of the States to-day. If honorable senators are anxious to preserve the sovereign rights of the States they should be equally anxious to empower the Commonwealth Parliament to deal with the industrial conditions which obtain in the different States. In New South Wales we know that Industrial Courts have been established . before which the conditions of employment which obtain in any industry may be fully ventilated. But in those States in which the workers cannot bring their grievances before a fairlyconstituted tribunal, we know that em- ployes occupy a much worse position. The proposal in this Bill to which most exception is taken, is that men who are employed by the States shall not be afforded an opportunity of appealing to a Federal tribunal to regulate the rate of wages which they shall be paid, and the labour conditions which shall be imposed upon them. Personally, I believe that if we could consult the State Parliaments, without appealing to political prejudice, there is scarcely one of them which would not welcome the establishment of an indepen- dent tribunal to determine these conditions.

Senator Millen - It is open to the States to set up such a tribunal.

Senator GARDINER - I believe that they would welcome the creation of a tribunal which* would regulate the wages of railway employes throughout the Commonwealth. If we were to consult the present Labour Government in New South Wales upon the question, the chances are that we should receive a reply favorable to the labour aspect of it. On the other hand, if we were to consult the Tory Governments of Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania, we should perhaps obtain an opposite reply. But seeing that we are about to consult their masters upon the question of whether these Bills shall be placed upon the statute-book, and that the issue will entirely depend upon their votes, we may very well dispense with the suggestion of Senator Symon, that we ought to approach the States cap-in-hand with a request that they should agree to an extension of the powers of this Parliament.

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