26 JULY 1919, Page 16


SIR CHARLES WADE, formerly Prime Minister of New South Wales and now Agent-General for the State, has written an instructive book on Australian problems. The chapters dealing with labour questions are of special interest. We have long been accustomed to look to Australia for bold experiments in the industrial sphere, and it is useful to have a moderate and cautious review of the results so far attained. The author lays stress on the fact that Australia's political institutions are "perhaps the freest and most democratic in the world." "There is no privileged class, either of birth or wealth, which can bar the individual's advance in life, and there is no post or position to which the humblest may not rise, provided merit and perse- verance are manifested." Nevertheless the new democracy of Australia is denounced as bitterly by revolutionary organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World as if it were a com- paratively old-fashioned democracy like that of Great Britain, or France, or America. We may infer that the Bolsheviks' real aim is to destroy democracy and substitute for it a class domi- nation far more odious than that of the Middle Ages. In Australia, at any rate, the most generous measures have not appeased those whose object in life is to stir up discontent. Sir Charles Wade reviews the discouraging history of the Industrial Arbitration Act in New South Wales. The Court which was to settle trade disputes in a judicial spirit broke down under the weight of its responsibilities. Its decision that it was bound to give preference to Unionists over non- Unionists swelled the ranks of the Trade Unions, which com- pelled their members, en pain of expulsion, to support the political Labour Party. In other respeets, the Industrial Arbitration Act seems to have had no lasting consequences. It was found impossible to enforce awards against workmen, though employers could be brought to book. Wages Boards were then tried, on the Victorian model. Employers and employed were represented on the Board in each industry, with a neutral Chairman upon whose courage and influence the success of the Board mainly depended. The author, however, says that the militant Union leaders, after gaining all that they could from the Wages Beard, were accustomed to strike for something more in the hope that the Government would • A wtrolia : Problems and Prospeets. ))37 Sir Charles G. Wade. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press. 14s. net.1

intervene and give them what they asked for the sake of peace. "The- penalty imposed for firmness on the part of the Govern- ment was severe, and it was easier and less distasteful to political supporters if the Government bent their heads to the storm of opposition and condoned the frequency of strikes and con- temptuous disregard of the law." This kind of thing is not confined to New South Wales.

Australia has a far larger experience of State undertakings than we have had. The main task of developing the interior by means of railways necessarily fell upon the State Govern- ments, which now own and control nearly all the railway lines.

It is well to note that Australia has found it desirable to vest the management of the railways and other public services in "bodies of commissioners, varying from one to three, who are appointed for a long term of years and can only be removed by a vote of both Houses of Parliament." Experience has shown that the New South Wales Railway Commission, for example, is an efficient employer. But attempts to carry out public works under direct Government control have not been successful :—

" The success of this new system, of course, depended upon the efficiency of the supervision, but the authority of the super- visors became undermined through political pressure. Men were placed in employment who were unsuitable in the first instance, and those who had been discharged through unfitness were reinstated against the wish of the supervisor through political influence. In this way discipline failed, inefficiency sprang up, and the cost of construction advanced by leaps and bounds.'

Between 1911 and 1917 the New South Wales Government made sixteen experiments in brick-making and other industries and lost 00,000 on them:—

" Experience shows that if a strike does take place in a Govern- ment establishment Ministerial intervention is enforced and a concession made to the striker. The Government position is always difficult. If the Ministry resist the demands, votes may be imperilled ; if they yield, discipline may be threatened Where the State is the largest employer of labour and the franchise is adult, any action a the Government which displeases the employee might be resisted not only through the weapon of the strike immediately, but punished at the ballot-box when the general election takes place. Hence, while the State should be prompt to supply machinery for the regulation of industrial conditions in all branches of employment, the Executive should, as far as possible, leave the responsibility of actual administration to trusted bodies outside the area of political pressure."

Sir Charles Wade warns us that similar tactics will be tried by militant Labour men here if we widen the area of State employ-

ment. The policy of a fixed daily wage, irrespective of output, and of a limited production or "en' canny" is to be enforced

by political pressure on the State employer. As Sir Charles Wade says, "it is very certain that if it became effective the incentive to hard work would be destroyed, the ambition of the zealous man would be stifled, laziness would be encouraged, and the general standard of efficiency fatally undermined." On the whole, then, Australian experience does not strengthen the case for nationalization, and contradicts flatly the comfortable assumption that there would be no more strikes and no more wilful limitation of output if, say, the mines Were nationalized. The strike fever is endemic in Australia, as the telegrams show.

Sir Charles Wade discusses the proposed amendment of the Federal Constitution, land settlement, and migration, and concludes with a thoughtful chapter on "The Future." The time is not ripe, he thinks, for Imperial Federation. But he urges that the United Kingdom should send its surplus population to the under-peopled Dominions, whose illimitable resources cannot be utilized for lack of men. The British and Dominion Governments should, he says, help ex-soldier settlers not only with free passages, but also with loans to be repaid as their farms become profitable. The Australian Governments are, for

the time being, fully occupied in settling their own returned

soldiers. Moreover, they cannot open new areas of productive land until they have completed new railways, which have been delayed throughout the war for want of money. Sir Charles Wade seems to think that the British Government might give facilities for raising such loans as Australia needs. Now that the Victory Loan has been so largely subscribed, Australia will probably find the British investor ready to respond, if the Commonwealth and the States can come to some agreement about their respective proposals for new loans. It would be a grave misfortune, certainly, if the present opportunity for promoting migration to the Dominions were missed on account of financial difficulties.

Bit Charles Wade is inclined to blame the " obsolete " machinery of the Colonial Office for the seeming hesitation of the Govern- ments concerned. But he underrates the influence of Australia, for example, with the British Government and the British people. Any well-considered scheme that Australia or another Dominion cared to put forward for encouraging migration would, we are sure, prove acceptable to the Mother Country.