CHAPTER XXIV. DEMOCRACY AT WORK
The growth of manufacturing industries naturally brought into existence a number of laws regulating factories. Much attention was directed to legal methods of settling disputes between employers and workmen. The Victorian Wages Board system did not, however, originate from a desire to prevent strikes, though it has been used for that purpose, but as a means of suppressing 'sweating' in certain industries. Under cover of protective duties trades had sprung up in which there was fierce competition to supply a very limited market, and the inquiries of a Commission showed that the remuneration of labour in them was miserably low. In 1896, therefore, Alexander Peacock, the minister responsible for factory inspection in the Ministry of Sir George Turner, devised the plan of giving power to the Government to appoint a wages board for any industry in which it appeared desirable that wages should be fixed by such an agency. A Wages Board consisted of an equal number of members representing employers and employed - 'a jury of trade experts' - presided over by a chairman who was not interested in the industry affected. It might fix wages, hours of labour, and piecework rates, and lay down rules for the conduct of the industry; and its determinations had the force of law. The system proved successful in the 'sweated' industries, and has since been greatly extended; so that in 1939 there were 194 Wages Boards operating in Victoria. These boards regulated wages and conditions for over 250,000 employees. The alternative to the Wages Board method of regulating wages and conditions of labour is the Arbitration Court method, which has been preferred by some States. These methods have been adopted since the rise of the Labour Party as a political force.
Education in Australia virtually has no history till after constitutional government was inaugurated. There were of course schools before then, and there were inquiries and experiments, but no real educational policy. The convict schoolmaster was at first in charge. His advertisements may be read in early Sydney newspapers: an excellent education offered at moderate fees; classics extra! Robert Lowe directed attention to the need for an improvement in 1844, when a committee under his presidency reported that more than half the children in New South Wales received no education whatever. The establishment of a Board of National Education in 1848 brought about a substantial improvement. But it was Henry Parkes, by his Public Schools Act of 1867, who set in operation the system which continued to satisfy the demands of the country till recent times, when fresh impulses were given to educational effort by a radical improvement of method, a clearer perception of aim, and a sounder system for training teachers.
The strenuous souls who fought for protection, land reform, the ballot, and manhood suffrage in the stormy years after 1855, had an educational ideal likewise. The educational system of the State must be 'free, compulsory, and secular.' In Victoria their policy was embodied in a bill introduced by Wilberforce Stephen in 1872. It set up a Department of Public Instruction, it made school attendance obligatory, it provided for opening schools throughout the country, and it prohibited teachers from giving other than secular instruction to the scholars. The Act, which came into force in 1873, has had many assailants, and the educational system of Victoria has in later years been very greatly improved, but fundamentally it remains as it was established under Wilberforce Stephen's measure. In all the Australian States there is provided a possibility of continuous education for the studious youth from the State school to the University.
Not the least of good reasons for holding the name of Wentworth in remembrance is that he was the initiator of the movement for the founding of the first Australian University, that of Sydney. He brought the subject before the Legislative Council in 1849, and three years later had the satisfaction to witness the opening of the institution. The University of Melbourne (1853) came into being owing to the suggestion of Childers, whose first official post was that of Inspector of Schools, and whose work in that capacity convinced him that the corner-stone of any scheme for raising the standard of learning in the country must be a University. Latrobe, the Lieutenant-Governor, gave his cordial support, and when the scheme reached fruition the first Chancellor, Redmond Barry, watched over the early fortunes of the University of Melbourne with paternal devotion. The University of Adelaide (1874) was the third to arise, that of Tasmania (1890) the fourth. The Universities of Queensland (1910) and Western Australia (1911) were the latest-born seats of the higher learning to be founded. All of them admit women to their degrees, following the example set by Melbourne, which took this step at the instance of the distinguished historian Charles Henry Pearson. In 1879, Pearson, while Minister of Education in Victoria, introduced a bill which provided that the degrees and diplomas granted by the University should be available to both sexes. As the bill did not pass in that year, owing to pressure of parliamentary business, the Council of the University forthwith decided to admit women to degree courses. Pearson's bill was introduced again in 1880 in order to remove any doubt as to the legality of the University's action, and was passed by the legislature. Legislation for a similar purpose was passed in respect to the University of Adelaide in 1880.