11th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Littleton Groom) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– A letter posted by me in Canberra on the 11th inst., has not, up to the present, reached Melbourne ; another letter posted on the 14th inst. had not reached Melbourne up to the 19th inst.; and a telegram handed in at the General Post Office, Melbourne, at 2.30 p.m. on Sunday was received at the Canberra telegraph office at 2.30 p.m. on Monday, and delivered to me at 2.50 p.m. Has the Postmaster-General received reports that mail bags have gone astray between Canberra and Melbourne, or has there been any other occurrence which would account for the miscarriage of mails? Will he also inquire into the reason for the delay of 24 hours in the delivery of a telegram?
– I shall make inquiries into these matters , but I remind the honorable member that annually 4,000,000 letters are posted which are not correctly addressed, and about 39,000 letters bear no address at all. Possibly those of the honorable member are included in one of these two classes.
– I have been informed that several telegraphists who have been employed at the Sydney General Post Office, but not on the permanent staff, have been given notice of dismissal to make room for ex-soldier telegraphists from Brisbane. Some of the men about to be dismissed have had up to fifteen years’ service, and are married, with families. As neither the competency nor character of these men is challenged, will the PostmasterGeneral endeavour to avoid their dismissal from the service ?
– -I shall look into the matter. In reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Hume a few days ago I stated that in the four months, October to January, 104 more returned soldiers had been employed than had been dismissed.
Charge Against Ms. M. L. Shepherd
– Some days ago I asked the Prime Minister whether he would lay upon the table of the House the report of the Board of Inquiry appointed to consider the charges against Mr. M. L. Shepherd, Secretary to the Defence Department. My question was directed to that portion of the report which had not been made public. The right honorable gentleman promised to inquire whether the full report could be made available. Has he made the inquiry, and, if so, does he propose to lay the report upon the table?
– The full report was laid upon the table during last week.
– Has the Treasurer noticed the report of the Auditor-General that certain firms, taking advantage of the concessions offered to returned soldiers in connexion with the acquisition of expropriated properties in New Guinea, are dummying many of the leases? Does the honorable gentleman propose to take any action to check this abuse?
– When tenders were called for the purchase of expropriated properties in New Guinea, special conditions to prevent dummying were imposed, and subsequent ordinances by the administration of the Territory were passed to provide additional safeguards, have no information whether these conditions have been circumvented.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether, when negotiating for a better steamer and mail service to the Pacific Islands, the claims of Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island will be borne in mind? Will he also promise that the contract with the steamer Makambo will not be extended?
– The matter of subsidizing a new steamship service to the Mandated Territories and the Pacific Islands has been receiving the consideration of the Government during the last few weeks. Negotiations are almost complete, and I hope to be able to make an announcement on the subject at an early date.
– Has the Minister for Trade and Customs received a request that the Tariff Board shall investigate the desirability of a reduction in the duty on bananas? If so, what reply did he make?
– I have received no such request.
– On the 14th inst. I addressed a questionto the Prime Minister regarding the number and names of Federal commissions and boards still in existence, and the number of reports from such bodies that have been acted upon during the last six years. The right honorable gentleman referred me to a reply given in this House in Septemberlast. I notice that the Age of the 19th inst. published some illuminating figures and data regarding royal commissions. As the answer furnished in September is now out of date, can the Prime Minister supply me with further information on the subject ?
– If the honorable member will place a question on the notice paper, I shall endeavour to supply him with up-to-date information.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice–.
– The replies to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
As H.M.A.S. Sydney is now being broken up, will consideration be given to the requests of certain organizations that they may be granted souvenirs from the ship?
– Tes ; but the consideration, of all such requests is subject to, amongst other things, the obligation im posed upon the Shipping Board of realizing as much value as possible from the arisings from the breaking up of the vessel.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What action is the Government taking with regard to the recommendation of the Development and Migration Commission to assist the gold-mining industry, in reference to their first recommendation in regard to customs duties ?
– This matter has been engaging the earnest attention of the Government, but no decision has yet been arrived at.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the fact that Australian artisans particularly boilermakers, engineers, moulders, and all other metal trade workers in the iron and steel industry, have proved themselves second to none in the world from the point of view of efficiency, will the Government encourage this industry by more effective tariff protection, and thus build up a great national asset ?
– The honorable member’s inquiry relates to a matter of policy, which cannot be dealt with in reply to a question.
German Import Duties
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Has his attention been drawn to the fact that the duty on Australian apples imported into Germany is 2s.9d. per bushel, whilst the duty on apples imported into Germany from New Zealand and from the United States of America is1s. 3d. per bushel?
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– There is no secrecy concerning the policy of the Government in regard to broadcasting. The new policy was publicly announced in the press, and is to the effect that at the termination of the existing licences the Government will own and operate the “ A “ class stations, a company providing the programmes. “ B “ class stations will remain as private stations. The proposals of the Wireless Advisory Committee were as follow: -
– On the 14th Feb ruary the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– On the 14th February the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) asked the following questions, upon notice . -
What is the value of (a) imports, and (5) exports for the financial year ended 30th June, 1928, to and from -
What are the figures for the half-year ended31st December, 1928?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
– (By leave.) - Having given the closest and fullest consideration to the question for several years past, the Commonwealth Government has reached the conclusion that the time is now ripe for an Australian expedition to proceed to that part of the Antarctic which lies immediately to the south of Australia. It has therefore decided to organize and equip such an expedition, which, it is at present contemplated, will leave Australia towards the end of this year. In view of his great experience and knowledge of Antarctic conditions, and his world-wide reputation in scientific circles, we have approached Sir Douglas Mawson and asked him to lead the expedition. Sir Douglas has informed us that he will be prepared to do so.
The special interest of the Commonwealth in the Antarctic region lying south of Australia, extending from theRoss Sea in the east to Enderby Land in the west, which is generally known as the Australian sector, has been often affirmed in the past. Of the various expeditions to this region, the richest so far in scientific and other achievement was Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition of 1911-14. The expedition that the Commonwealth
Government has decided to organize this year will, it is hoped, complete and crown this previous Australian effort.
His Majesty’s Government in Great Britain has generously placed the Discovery at the disposal of the expedition, free of charge. This vessel is at present in the service of the Falkland Islands Dependency, and has been specially constructed for work in the ice. It is the best ship at present afloat for the purposes of the expedition. The New Zealand Government has been invited to co-operate in the expedition, and the Commonwealth Government would earnestly welcome its co-operation. The British Government has been invited to include representatives in the scientific personnel and it is hoped that New Zealand will bc able to see its way to co-operate in the same manner. The forthcoming expedition, therefore, whilst being predominantly Australian in character, and led by a distinguished Australian scientist and explorer, will thus enjoy the advantage of the active co-operation of other parts of the British Empire.
The forthcoming expedition will seek to effect a variety of objects, mostly of a scientific nature. The exploration and mapping out of that part of the coastline which could not be completed by the Mawson expedition in 1911 will be undertaken, scientific and meteorological work will be carried out, investigations into the economic resources of the region will be made.
The exact location . of the coastline of this sector of the Antarctic in which Australia is interested is of material importance. The expedition will therefore carry out hydrographic survey work, comprising the correct location and charting of coasts, islands, rocks and shoals. It is proposed to equip the expedition with aeroplanes so that inland surveys may be made. The study of meteorological conditions which will be made will enable the relationship between these conditions and the climate and weather of Australia to be determined more adequately than at present. A further important part of the expedition’s work will be to carry out investigations regarding the fauna, notably whales and seals, of the region explored. Whaling in various parts of the Antarctic, notably south of the Falkland Islands, New Zealand and South Africa has now assumed considerable importance, and the Government feels that it is most desirable that investigations should be made in the near future to determine the economic and commercial value of the waters of the Australian sector in this respect. This information will obviously be of very great value if Australian enterprise is effectively to tap this source of wealth. Furthermore, accurate information concerning whales, together with the location of their food supplies, iB fast becoming indispensable so that the Government may be in a position to determine what measures of control may be needed to conserve them as a permanent source of wealth. The Commonwealth Government is also convinced that the expedition, whilst contributing generally to the world’s-store of scientific knowledge concerning the Antarctic, will be of great value both in training Australian scientists and in raising the level of Australian science in this particular field to the highest point. But if an expedition is postponed for very much longer the result will be that the special personal experience and scientific knowledge of Antarctic matters acquired by the men who were associated in the Mawson expedition of 1911 will cease to be available. If the work already begun is to be successfully continued this would not only be a positive real loss; it would also inevitably mean that an expedition despatched at a later date, in order to secure substantially the same results as it is hoped to obtain now, would be more costly than that now proposed. All these considerations have convinced us that the present moment is most opportune for an expedition.
It is contemplated that the expeditionwill be able to complete its work in the Antarctic summer season, between November, 1929, and March, 1930.
It will be recalled that the Commonwealth Government contributed £10,000’ towards the Mawson expedition of 1911- 14; the Governments of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania £7,000, £6,000, £5,000 and £500 respectively; the British Government £3,000; and private contributions amounted to £14,385.
In view of the fact that the British Government has placed the Discovery at the disposal of the expedition without charge, the cost, so far as Australia is concerned, will be mainly in connexion with equipment. The expenditure necessary to carry out work for the period from the middle of November to the middle of March is estimated at £16,000. We feel that a number of Australian citizens and institutions may be desirous to associate themselves directly with such an expedition, either by financial support or by the presentation of scientific material, as they did in the case of the Mawson expedition of 1911, and an opportunity will be afforded them of doing so.
In deciding to organize this expedition the Government has been fully conscious that it will further Australian interests in a region that is so close to our shores, and will at the same time promote Australian science in a domain in which Australian citizens have already performed such signal work. Acting in this way in the fulfilment of what they conceive to be a national obligation, the Government is convinced that the people of Australia will unanimously support the expedition.
– I suggest that the Prime Minister might move that the paper be printed, so that honorable members may have time to examine his statement. It certainly contains an important proposition, and I am sure that no honorable member would wish to make any comment in favour of or against it until he had had time to digest the contents of the Prime Minister’s statement.
– There are hundreds and thousands of pounds worth of oil taken by foreign whalers in that portion of the Antarctic.
– The honorable member’s interjection rather supports the attitude that I am taking, because this project opens up a wide and important question. Public money is to be expended, and I suggest to the Prime Minister that the proper course for him to pursue is to move that the paper be printed, so that this House may say whether it approves of the Government’s action. It would be far better for the members of the expedition to know whether their project had the approval of Parliament, than for them to remain in the dark as to the opinion of this House regarding the project.
– I merely wished to make a statement, so that Parliament would be informed of what the Govern- ment intended to do. It was necessary, under the arrangement with the British Government, which, as I have pointed out, is loaning the Discovery, that an announcement should be made in Australia of what it is proposed to do. As possibly it may be difficult later to find an opportunity for discussing this subject, I shall give honorable members that opportunity by moving -
That the paper be printed.
With the further indulgence of the House, I should like to say that I have just received the following telegram from the Prime Minister of New Zealand -
The New Zealand Government are prepared to join with the Discovery expedition to the extent previously stated, namely £2,500, and see no objection to your stating this fact in your announcement.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Scullin) adjourned.
DEATH OF THE HONORABLE JAMES HIERS McCOLL.
– I move - (By leave.) -
That this House records its sincere regret in the death of the Honorable J. H. McColl, who was a member of the House of Representatives, and this House expresses its appreciation of the enthusiasm and zeal with which he devoted himself to his public duties, and tenders its profound sympathy to his wife and family in their great sorrow.
The late Honorable James Hiers McColl was a member of the first Federal Parliament, having been elected in 1901 to the House of Representatives as the member for Echuca, in the State of Victoria. In 1906, he became a senator, and held his seat until the general election of 1914. He was VicePresident of the Federal Executive Council for fifteen months - from 1913 to 1914 - in the Government which was led by Sir Joseph Cook. The late Mr. McColl also had a distinguished career in Victorian politics. He first entered the legislature of Victoria in 1886, and was a Minister of the Grown in the PattersonMcLean Government. He was the first Minister in that State to purchase, on behalf of the Crown, land for closer settlement purposes. Few of those who now sit in this Parliament remember the late honorable gentleman ; but from those who were acquainted with him I have learned that he held the regard and high esteem of the members with whom he was associated in the early days of federation. I feel sure that the House will desire also to express its sympathy with the widow and five children who survive.
.- I second the motion that has been moved by the right honorable the Prime Minister expressing the regret of this House at the death of the late Honorable J. H. McColl, and its sympathy with his widow and family. The father of the late honorable gentleman was probably the first man in Australia to suggest the need for the irrigation of our agricultural areas; and the work which he began was carried on by his son during the many years that he held a high place in the public life of Australia. In that period he did a great deal to advance the cause of irrigation and development, particularly in the State of Victoria. He was a man of very wide experience and strong political convictions, but withal he possessed a most genial personality. Every honorable member who was privileged to know him - and I had that privilege during the time that he was a member of the Senate - esteemed him for his personal qualities, and admired the splendid public work that he did during his lifetime.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Motion (by Mr. Bbuce) agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit to Mrs. McColl the foregoing resolution, and a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.
Motion (by Mr. Latham) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend section 214 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918-1928.
Bill presented by Mr. Latham, and read a first time.
Suspension of Standing Orders.
. - I move -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the remaining stages to be passed without delay.
I take this action because the bill has been brought in to deal specifically with a difficulty that now arises under our existing electoral law. The honorable member for the Northern Territory was declared elected on the 12th February last, but, in the present state of the law, he is unable to take his seat in this House until the writ bearing the endorsement of the returning officer is actually in the hands of Mr. Speaker or the Clerk of the House. The object of this measure is to make it possible for the honorable member to take his seat, and to deal with cases of a similar nature which may arise in the future. Unless it is passed speedily it obviously will be of little value.
– The motion has been carried by an absolute majority of honorable members.
Question resolved in the affirmative; Standing Orders suspended.
. - I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
I have already indicated the particular circumstances that render it advisable and proper to introduce this bill at the present stage. The practice of Parliament has always been that an honorable member may take his seat only upon the production of the writ, with a return endorsed upon it which shows that the individual who “attends to be sworn in is the person who has been elected. Obviously, certain risks would follow if that practice were lightly altered. By section 214, theElectoral Act already makes certain provision for the telegraphic advice of electoral matter in cases in which the use of the postal service would involve undue delay. That section, however, has no application to the production of a writ to this House. The bill, therefore, has been designed to deal not only with the present state of facts, but also with a similar state of facts that may arise at any time in the case of a by-election in a distant State. It is proposed that a new section shall be added to the act. Care has been taken to surround the new provisions with proper precautions, so as to ensure that only he who is properly entitled to take a seat in this House shall be sworn in. The new section will operate only after the result of an election has been declared and the returning officer has certified, by a telegram addressed to the Chief Electoral Officer -
When those conditions have been fulfilled the Chief Electoral Officer may endorse upon a copy of the writ a certified copy of the telegram so received by him. When that has been done the copy of the writ, so endorsed, shall have the same force and effect as if it were the original writ, returned by the Returning Officer. To provide against error or any similar circumstance there is a proviso that if, upon the return of the original writ to the Governor-General in the case of a general election, or to Mr. Speaker in the case of a by-election, it appears that there is disconformity between the original writ and the copy of the writ in respect of the names of the candidates, then the copy of the writ shall thereupon cease to have force and effect and the original writ alone will be the basis of any action that can be taken.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
– I move-
That the paper (laid on the table on the 20th instant), viz.: Papers relating to the coal industry - be printed.
The Government has adopted this course, so that a day might be allotted to honorable members to discuss the present condition of this vital industry, which no one can regard as satisfactory. This paper sets out what has been done by the New South Wales Government and the Federal Government during the past few months in their attempt to effect a reduction of at least 5s. a ton in the price of coal. It contains a long statement prepared by the Government of New South Wales, and also a statement which I made in this Parliament at the time the Federal Government agreed to the payment of the bounty of1s. per ton on coal exported out of Australia and to other States. It also contains a communication from the Premier of New South Wales, intimating to me, as Prime Minister, that it had been found impossible to bring about by voluntary agreement of the interests concerned, a reduction of 5s. a ton in the price of coal, consequently the offer of the State Government had been withdrawn, and the offer of the Commonwealth Government to pay a bounty of1s. a ton was considered as having lapsed.
To-day I wish to explain to this House, and to the country, just what is the attitude of this Government, and of the Government of New South Wales, towards the coal industry. Everybody will recognize the importance of the coal-mining industry to the people of Australia as a whole, and it is now clear to all that the industry is in a most serious plight.
– The situation is tragic.
– I agree that it borders on the tragic. We must remember that Australia is not alone in experiencing trouble with its coal industry. Much the same thing is happening in practically every coal-producing country of the world, and in most of those countries action has been taken in the way of government intervention in an endeavour to assist the industry. The one notable exception is the United States of America, where nothing has been done in this way, but the industry there also is in a very serious position.
To understand the position of the coal industry in Australia it is necessary to trace its history during the last few years
In 1914 we had an export trade of 2,500,000 tons. The figures I am quoting are for New South Wales, but they may be taken as the Australian figures, because practically all the coal exported from Australia and carried interstate came from the Newcastle and Maitland coal-fields. In 1925, the coal production for New South Wales was 11,396,000 tons, but the volume of export had fallen to 1,769,000 tons.
– What was the production for 1914?
– I have not got the exact production figures for that year. For the year 1928, the figures are not quite complete, but an estimate which may be taken as fairly accurate has been prepared. Production has fallen from 11,396,000 tons in 1925, to 9,447,000 tons in 1928, while the exportation has fallen from 1,769,000 tons in 1925, to 1,136,000 tons.
At one time we had a very large export trade with South America, and shipments to that continent made up a large proportion of the 2,500,000 tons of coal which we exported in 1914. During the war that trade was almost entirely lost, and we have never been able to regain it. The main difficulty has been the high price of coal in Australia, which resulted from the general increase in cost occasioned by the war. We have also lost to a great extent our Pacific trade and also our trade with the East. This has been lost for two reasons : first, the high price of our coal, and, secondly, the uncertainty of delivery. With the second point I propose to deal a little later. A great deal of the coal produced in New South Wales was exported to other States, no less than 3,000,000 tons having been disposed of in this way in 1925. In 1928, however, this trade had fallen to 2,200,000 tons, a reduction of 800,000 tons. Victoria and South Australia took 2,000,000 tons, but we have all become familiar during the last few weeks with the possibility of very large orders - one alone of 800,000 tons - being lost to Australia because of the high price of Australian, coal. Honorable members from States other than New South Wales may not agree with me in this, but there does not seem to me to be any doubt that the high price of the coal produced ‘in that State has been the cause of inferior coal resources being opened up in other States, and a class of coal being produced for which there would never have been any demand had reasonable prices been charged for the Maitland and Newcastle coal. In New South Wales the production of coal in 1925 was 11,396,000 tons, while the domestic consumption was 6,625,000 tons. In 1928, the production was 9,447,000 tons, and the domestic consumption had fallen approximately to 6,000,000 tons. That is significant. It is perfectly true that the electrification of railways, the more general use of power and the utilization of oil have, to some extent, cut into the market that the coal industry used to supply; but unquestionably that interference is not the cause of the diminution in the home consumption of New South Wales, to which I have referred. As Australia should be a progressive country, with expanding industries and an increasing demand for an adequate and cheap supply of coal, there is something seriously wrong. We find that in a period of three years there has been n diminution in the home consumption of New South ‘ Wales of something over 600,000 tons. This has had a very serious effect on the coal-mining industry and, of course, on the coal miners themselves. In 1927 the gross wages paid amounted to £6,515,000, and in 1928 the estimated wages were £5,500,000, a decrease in twelve months of approximately £1,000,000. The actual figures with regard to employment show that in 1927 24,500 men were employed in the field, and the average number of days worked was 190 per employee. In 1928 it is estimated that the number engaged in the industry was 21,500, and the average number of working days had been reduced to 170 per employee. The estimate of the number of man-days lost through slackness of trade owing to the more intermittent employment of the miners is for 1927, 780,000, and for 1928 between 1,400,000 and 1,900,000. There was an increase. of something like 100 per cent, in the number of man-days not worked owing, not to lack of coal, but lack of outlet for the product of the industry. Considering that there has been a falling off in the demand since 1925 of something like 2,000,000 tons, this represents a stoppage of the avenues of employment for 4,000 men, and at the present time, in the light of the investigation that has been made by the Premier of New South Wales, it appears to be clear that of the 10,000 men working in this area alone, a large proportion are not receiving the basic wage,- because of the intermittent nature of their employment.
In the coal industry the wages paid in comparison with those in other industries are high, but to a great extent that is discounted by the intermittent character of the employment, the men getting only a few days’ work a fortnight. Only a fortunate few have regular and constant employment. Because of the conditions which have come about in the northern coal-fields, the Government of New South Wales is providing relief at the rate of £60,000 per annum.
I have given these figures to show how serious is the position that has now arisen. It affects not only the employees in the coal industry, but also the State of New South Wales, and the whole Commonwealth, because of the dependence of our industries upon coal for transport and public utilities, such as gas and electricity. Dearness of coal is detrimental to the industries of Australia - detrimental directly to those that depend on coal for their processes of manufacture, and indirectly to the primary industries, which are dependent upon cheap and efficient transport for the marketing of their produce at the best possible price. To give one example, the Broken Hill Steel Works at Newcastle, in June last, were employing 1,000 men fewer than twelve months previously, and they were using 250,000 tons of coal less than a year before, while they were working up to only three-fourths of their capacity. That was due greatly to the high price of coal, which is a necessary requirement of their activities. I may mention that, for the production of 1 ton of steel, 3 tons of coal are needed. What is applicable to Newcastle and to the steel works there is also applicable to industries generally throughout Australia, coal being a basic requirement and one upon which practically all our industries depend. When the price of coal is high, the costs of production are high, and that makes it very difficult for us to cope with overseas competition, and leads to the cry for the further increasing of our tariff to protect our Australian industries. If we can place the coal industry in New South Wales on a sounder basis and reduce the price of coal, it will be of the greatest benefit to every State, and it will mean the beginning of a new era for Australia, because it will be the first definite step towards the reduction of production costs.
– What class of coal do the steel works buy?
– They want high-class coal.
– I thought they bought small coal.
– They require both kinds. The fact that the Commonwealth Government . took action in this matter at all has been the subject of considerable criticism in some of the States. I can definitely vouch for the fact that the Government’s attitude has been the subject of criticism, because the Wonthaggi coal-field, one of the biggest- coal districts of Victoria, is in my electorate. At the recent election this matter was put before me very strongly, and I stated the position on that occasion as I am pre pared to state it to the whole of the people. I said that if we could solve the problem of the reduction in the price of coal in the Maitland and Newcastle areas it would be of inestimable value to Australia. That is why the Commonwealth took action in the matter, believing one of the basic factors for progress and prosperity in the Commonwealth to be an ample supply of cheap and first-class coal.
Let me refer to the proposal in which the Commonwealth co-operated. The Government of New South Wales negotiated for a considerable time with both the mine-owners and the coal-miners, and, as the result of those negotiations, formulated and submitted to the interested parties in both New South Wales and Victoria proposals which they had also discussed with the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth agreed to render a measure of assistance to the industry and to the State of New South Wales. The proposed arrangement provided that the price of coal should be reduced immediately. I stress that point. The immediate reduction of price was the most important factor in it. Every week the position of the industry was becoming worse, and it was threatened with the loss of further great slices of the export trade, which had been gradually slipping from its grasp. It was impossible, however, to determine exactly the basis upon which a reduction of costs could be effected. Possibly the profits of the owners were too great; it might be that the wages paid to the miners were too high, or that the charges levied by the State were excessive, or that the whole industry was organized on a wrong basis, and that a reduction of costs could be brought about best by closing the less efficient pits and drawing the whole of the output from those which could be most economically worked. Nobody could decide which would be the most effective form of reduction. The only means of getting an immediate reduction was with the consent of the parties concerned, without any preliminary examination of the equities of the situation and without any pretence that any temporary expedient that might be adopted was the most just method that could be devised. It was necessary to formulate some scheme that appeared to do reasonable justice to all parties, so that by an immediate reduction the further retrogression of the industry might be prevented. Having saved the situation, we might then proceed as rapidly as possible to a full investigation of the industry, with a view to its complete reorganization. To this end, it was proposed that the State Government should relieve the industry to the extent of 2s. a ton by a reduction of railway freights, wharfage and craneage charges, and many other small levies, which, in the aggregate, add appreciably to the price to be paid by the ordinary consumer.
– What is the ordinary f.o.b. price?
– It is 25s. a ton, and the purpose of the negotiations was to reduce it to £1. The mine-owners were asked to consent to a reduction of their profits by ls. per ton, and the miners to accept a similar reduction in wages, the exact manner of the decrease to be arranged by negotiation between the mineowners and the representatives of the men. Subject to a reduction of 4s. per ton in the cost of coal sold in New South Wales for internal consumption, the Commonwealth Government offered a bounty of ls. per ton for coal exported or sold to other States. The object of the bounty was to retain the remnant of the export trade and recover some of that which had been lost; particularly were we anxious to prevent the letting overseas of great contracts for coal, tenders for which were’ being called at that time by the Government of South Australia, and subsequently by the Government of Victoria.
– Would that include bunker coal on vessels trading interstate ?
– Not bunker coal, but coal exported to other States.
– To whom was the ls. sacrificed by the miners to be paid?
– To the mine-owners, who were to reduce their price from 25s. to 20s., and be recouped 4s. by the ls. reduction of wage costs, the 2s. concession by the State Governments, and the ls. bounty offered by the Commonwealth.
– Was the bunker coal to be included in the export trade?
– Yes; but not in the coastal trade. The probable effects of the cheapening of coal were investigated. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company stated that the reduction of the price of coal by 5s. would enable the employment of an extra 1,000 hands in the steel works at Newcastle, and increase the company’s coal consumption by 300,000 tons a year, which, of course, would provide a great deal more work in the mines. This reduction also would strengthen considerably the Australian steel industry against foreign competition; it would be tantamount to an increase of protection because, as I mentioned before, three tons of coal are required for the production of one ton of steel, and the saving of 4s. per ton would mean a material decrease in the cost of production. The management undertook that the whole of this saving would be passed on to the users of steel.
– To what extent is the Broken Hill Proprietary Company engaged in coal production?
– The interest of that company in the coal mines does not affect the proposal. The company would provide more employment in connexion with its own steel works, whether the coal came from its own mines or from those owned by other companies. More coal would be used by the company and that would mean more employment in either its own mines or Other mines. Other manufacturers, including Lysaght Bros, and Rylands, indicated they also would be able to extend their employment, and reduce the price of fencing wire and other products. There is no possibility of doubt that a 20 per cent, reduction in the price of coal would be of tremendous help to the manufacturing industries. “When these proposals were first submitted, the Victorian Minister for Railways said that a decrease of 5s. in the price of coal would make practicable a reduction of railway freights and possibly fares also. A careful calculation revealed that the running costs of the Victorian railway system would be lowered by such a saving by approximately £200,000 per annum.
– What is the estimated obligation of the Commonwealth?
– About £300,000 per annum if the basis we have in mind is adopted. When the proposals were submitted to the parties, the mine-owners agreed to accept a reduction of ls. per ton, but the representatives of the miners rejected the scheme and unfortunately the negotiations collapsed. It is worth while to analyse the attitude of the miners. One can appreciate the difficulties which confronted their representatives; to tell the men that having studied the problem they recommended the acceptance of the scheme as beneficial to them would have required very great courage. The Premier of New South Wales, in conference with the representatives of the miners, pointed out that an increase of unemployment in the Newcastle and Maitland districts was inevitable, that work would become more intermittent, with a resultant reduction in the weekly earnings of individual men; some mines would have to close down and the miners would have to face great hardships. On the other hand, a lower selling price would mean the continuance of operations in mines that otherwise would have to be closed, a larger wages fund, and four or five days, instead of only two or three days work fortnightly. For those reasons he considered that the acceptance, temporarily, of a wages reduction of ls. per ton would eventually benefit the miners. However, after full consideration of the scheme, their representatives intimated that they could not agree to it. I received a large deputation from. them on Thursday last, and they put their case fully. They realize, as everybody does, the desirability of lowering the price of coal, but they say that the miners should not be asked to accept a cut of their wages until all possibilities of economy have been fully explored. If time were not the essence of the contract that contention would be logical. But a full investigation of the industry, and the formulation and adoption of plans for its re-organization, could not take place inside twelve months, during which its position would become infinitely worse than it is to-day, and the problem to be solved at the end of that period, would be correspondingly more difficult. The procedure proposed by the miners is logical, but it ignores the urgency of the situation. If we were undertaking the reorganization of the industry and time did not matter, the obvious course, before asking the State to make a concession, the owners to forego some of their profits, and the miners to accept a reduction in wages, would be to hold a complete investigation, and after the facts had been ascertained, to ask all the parties to take a share of the burden of reconstruction. But there is not time to do that.
The alternative suggestion of the miners is that the price of coal should be reduced 4s., and not 5s. per ton, the amount to be made up as follows: - ls. from the Commonwealth Government; 2s. from the State Government; and ls. from the coal-owners. In effect, the miners’ representatives say, “Although 5s. is said to be the minimum reduction necessary to enable the industry to carry on, let us try 4s., which would mean that we would not have to contribute our ls.” That suggestion is not acceptable, for the reason that any effort to stabilize the industry along these lines must be made by mutual agreement, and there cannot be a mutual agreement unless the miners are willing to contribute their ls. per ton.
Gould the Commonwealth be expected, under these circumstances, to contribute its ls. per ton? We have to remember that practically the whole of the Commonwealth assistance under this scheme will go to New South Wales, for very little coal is exported overseas or interstate except from New South Wales. I do not think that many honorable members of this Parliament, except perhaps those who represent coal districts, would say that the Commonwealth should contribute ls. per ton to a fund to enable the coal industry to be tided over a temporary period of difficulty if any of the parties benefited is unwilling to contribute its share. Honorable members who represent the coal districts have the seriousness ‘of the position always before them; but it would be difficult for honorable members who represent other, districts to justify a Commonwealth contribution to this fund if the miners who would benefit by the scheme were not prepared also to make some contribution.
Could the New South Wales Government be expected to contribute its 2s. per ton to the fund if the miners withheld their contribution? I cannot speak authoritatively for the New South Wales Government, but the idea is that its contribution to the fund should represent the amount which the State may be charging for the railway and other services which it is rendering to the industry above what those services actually cost. As no exact calculation has been made of the cost of those services, no one can say whether a contribution of 2s. per ton of coal handled would be a fair one to make. But I think that -the New South Wales Government holds the view that as the coal industry is vital to the welfare of the Commonwealth it should provide railway and other services for it at the exact cost of those services. To determine whether the railway freights are too high would, so I am informed, require a most complicated and exact analysis of the railway accounts. That would take a considerable time. If the effort to tide the industry over a period of investigation is to be made, it must be made by all the parties interested, and the State Government, having in mind the interests of the general body of taxpayers, may not be willing to pay its quota of 2s. to the proposed fund unless the miners pay their ls.
Let us now take the position of the coal-owners. This subject is invariably discussed by some persons on the assumption that the only people who have any interest in coal or the coal-mines are certain coal barons, who are said to own not only the mines but also the shipping services and the distributing businesses which handle the coal which is mined. But it should be remembered that in addition to the persons who hold these big interests in the industry there are thousands of small shareholders who have invested their savings in it. Would it be a fair thing to say that in order to enable an inquiry to be made into the whole situation these small shareholders should have their dividends cut in half, but that the miners should not suffer any disability? No one can say positively’ that the coal-owners should be called upon to bear the greater part of the burden of making this inquiry. The only fact that we know for certain is that at the suggestion of the Bavin Government an investigation was made by expert accountants into the books of the various coal-owners, and that their inquiry showed that the difference between the cost of producing coal and the selling price of it was 2s. ‘per ton. I understand that all the coal-owners with one exception made their books and accounts available to the investigation officers. This inquiry had nothing to do with the amount of capital involved in the industry or with over-capitalization. In these circumstances -would it be reasonable to expect the coal-owners to accept a reduction of half the difference between the cost of producing the coal and the price of selling it, while the miners contributed nothing to the scheme? I repeat that the vital principle underlying the proposed inquiry is that it should be made by mutual arrangement. A tremendous amount of ground will have to covered before the true facts of the situation can be revealed. At present both the mine-owners and the miners are busy saying things about each other, but no one among them or among honorable members in this chamber can say exactly what the true position is.
I come now to the position of the miners. It has been said that they are not prepared to contribute a farthing towards the cost of investigating the disabilities under which the industry is suffering. They say that all the trouble is due to the over-capitalization of the mines; the watering of stock; the making of excessive profits; and above all to the fact that the mine-owners are also the shipowners and the proprietors of the businesses which distribute the coal. These circumstances, we have been told, are responsible for the unsatisfactory position of the industry. If they could be altered, it is said, everything would be all right. I do not know how much justification there is for these statements. It is to ascertain the true facts in relation to them that we need the inquiry. To make the inquiry possible the Commonwealth Government is prepared to contribute1s. per ton ; the New South Wales Government 2s. per ton; and the coalowners1s. per ton to a fund to enable the price of coal to be reduced by 5s. per ton, provided that the miners are prepared to contribute the other1s. It is hoped that after such an inquiry has been made it will be possible to re-organize the industry and put it on a firm basis.
– What is the estimated cost of the Commonwealth contribution?
– £350,000. I dare say that a good deal more will be said about the miners’ view of the case before this discussion is concluded. It will doubtless also be pointed out that the mine-owners altogether disagree with the views of the miners. They allege that the stagnant condition of the industry is due to the constant stoppages of work that have occurred. They say that this has resulted in a reduced output per man and in a general condition of unrest and uncertainty that makes it impossible for them to carry on.
It will be realized from what I have said that the position from every point of view is complicated. This is clearly set out by Mr. R. F. E. Mauldon in his
Study of Social Economics - The Hunter River Valley from which I quote the following : -
The diminution in the overseas trade is undoubtedly to be attributed chiefly to the uncertainty felt by overseas buyers in securing cargoes without loss of time (which means money) when sending ships to Newcastle. It not infrequently happens that ships that have come on long voyages cannot get cargoes for weeks, because of sectional strikes on the coalfields, and the consequent losses to their owners, who have to pay idle crews, harborage dues, &c, have meant that sources of more regular supply have thereafter been sought. The ship-owners seek to secure themselves by demanding in their contracts with the coal vendors demurrage at so much per day, after so many “ lay-days “ (eight days for steamers and 28 days for sailing ships) have expired, and the acceptance of strike clauses which will compensate the buyers. The coal-owners find themselves compelled to accept these conditions if they are to do overseas business. A recent unwillingness to take the risk with a very strict strike clause led to the loss of an order for 600,000 tons of coal, which went to Japan, although the purchasers would have preferred New South Wales coal.
The owners say that this state of affairs has led to the loss of trade from which they are suffering. The uncertainty of being able to maintain regular supplies has made it impossible for them to agree to a stringent strike clause in their contract, and consequently they have suffered terrific losses. On the other hand, the men say that that is not the cause of the trouble at all, but that it is due to the interlocking of various interests - the shipping companies, the mine-owners, and the distributors - and also to the excessive profits made to over-capitalization, and the tremendously watered capital on which interest has to be earned. I defy anybody to say which of those two sets of causes is contributing the more to the disastrous position in which the coal industry finds itself. Doubtles both are contributing to it to some extent, and only after a full investigation can a decision be come to. On Tuesday last I saw the Premier of New South Wales at Canberra, and we had a long discussion.
– When did the Prime Minister see the mine-owners?
– I have not seen any of the mine-owners. As a result of our discussion we came to the conclusion that-, notwithstanding the two letters to the contrary appearing in the paper which has been printed, it was essential to leave the offer open, at all events for a short period, so as to give the men an opportunity to again consider whether they would be prepared to share in the general handling of the situation, which, we all admit, is an extraordinarily difficult one. If they refuse to do that the consequences will be serious for the miners throughout the whole of the coal-mining areas. We have seen indications already that the industry is tottering. Several of the mine-owners are already taking steps to close down some of the mines. Honorable gentlemen opposite will have a great deal to say on that subject, but let me first say that if the mine-owners take any action which infringes the law of this country, the Commonwealth Government will proceed against them just as it will against any one else in the community who breaks the law. Rut it has to be remembered that some of the, mines cannot continue at present, and that there is no law in this country to compel a man who is losing money, and whose capital is fast disappearing, to continue to carry on his business. Thus there will inevitably be reduced days of working for the miners. There will be a decreased demand for coal, and it will become more and more difficult for the mines to keep working at a profit. Application will be made by the mine-owners for a. reduction in wages, and because of the economic circumstances it must eventually prevail. If we do not grapple with the position immediately and come to a decision, we shall be faced with a protracted struggle, which can have only one result.
It has been suggested that the action which is being taken in connexion with the waterside dispute, the timber dispute and the coal dispute is part of a concerted plan to reduce the wages and the living conditions of our workers. It has also been suggested that there is a conspiracy between, if not the British Government, then certainly the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of Victoria and South Australia to break down the working conditions of the miners in the Newcastle and Maitland areas. There is no support for such a suggestion. The present position in industry has come about because of economic circumstances prevailing throughout the world, and it is essential that in Australia we should begin to recognize that. It has been said that the Government apparently arranged with the ship-owners for cheap freights on coal brought to Australia, so that coal might be landed here at a price prohibiting competition. This Government has nothing whatever to do with the peculiar circumstances surrounding freightage to and from Australia. Apparently, in some cases, coal has been brought here at low freights. When a vessel is proceeding to Australia to pick up a cargo of wheat, instead of merely carrying ballast it frequently takes a cargo of coal, and brings it to Australia at low freights. That is an economic position with which we cannot interfere. It is beyond the control of the Government, and industry must be prepared to face it. Another charge against the Government is that coal is being dumped into Australia. I was informed the other day that British coal selling for Australia at 14s. was being sold for home consumption at 28s. a ton. We have cabled to Great Britain asking for investigations to be made, but we have not yet been able to obtain any evidence to support that information. We have analysed one specific case, in which 8,065 tons of Northumberland large screened coal were imported into South Australia. That coal was invoiced at 33s. a ton c.i.f., which included 19s. a ton for freight, leaving a balance of 14s. a ton. Deducting sea insurance, estimated at 2d. a ton, the f.o.b. value of this consignment would be 13s. lOd. a ton. The domestic selling price of similar coal at the time of this shipment, as ascertained by cable, was 13s. a ton at the pit mouth, freight and f.o.b. charges by the United Kingdom amounted to ls. 8d. a ton, making a total of 14s. 8d. a ton. The difference between the fair market value and export selling price is therefore lOd. a ton. Our customs officers in Great Britain are trying to find evidence of coal being sold for export at a lower price than that charged for home consumption. I hope that honorable gentlemen opposite will not pursue the extraordinary course of suggesting that the Government does not wish to make inquiries. That is the responsibility, not of the Government, but of officers of the Customs Department, and I think that honorable members have sufficient confidence in the public servants of this country to feel that none of them would give false information, or suppress any information that might be of value to this House. It has been said that bunker coal, taken in at .South Africa, and on which a bounty of 9s. a ton is paid, is brought here, thus decreasing our bunker trade. From inquiries I find that there are no records of the amount of bunker coal taken in at South Africa by vessels that come here. One reason why the shipping companies will not take much of that coal is that the more coal they bring here the more they reduce their cargo space, which, after all, is of much more value to them than the saving in bunker coal. We cannot find evidence of any considerable quantity of bunker coal coming to Australia in vessels doing the round trip from South Africa.
Since the war, coal prices in Australia have risen, whilst prices for all other commodities have fallen. In New South Wales, the State with which we are mainly dealing, the wholesale price index was in 1911, 1,000; in 1921, 1,956; and in 1927, 1,840. The pit head value of coal was, in 1921, 16s. lOd. a ton, and, in 1927, 17s. 6d. a ton. In other countries the prices of coal and general commodities have fallen considerably. The tendency of Australian industry is to increase prices, and that has to be recognized when the suggestion is permeating the minds of the people that there is some conspiracy, some concerted action being taken to reduce the standard of living and the wages of the men employed in our industries. There is no such conspiracy. The economic tendency, the world over, is to bring about a reduction in costs. We have to meet the position in this country by improving efficiency in industry. I believe that, after a full investigation of the coal-mining industry, we shall be able to bring about a permanent and lasting reduction in the price of coal. The real problem is how to continue the industry during the period that must elapse before we can make a complete inquiry and decide upon what action must be taken.
– For what period does the Government’s offer stand?
– It is limited distinctly to twelve months to enable the inquiry to take place. This industry has, since the days of the war, somewhat departed from the economic standards which obtain in other industries, and which we desire to see in all our industries. Let me take the example to which I referred the other day. There is little doubt that the increase in the selling price of coal in 1916, and again in 1920, was more than sufficient to meet the increase in wages. [Extension of time granted.] - I am obliged to the House for the courtesy it has shown to me. It is desirable that I should indicate the action which the Government proposes to take. The increases which were made in the price of coal in 1916 and 1920 certainly exceeded what the industry required to enable it to pay the higher wages that were granted; but, because of the circumstances that have since intervened, that difference has now probably disappeared entirely, and therefore cannot be used as a basis for the contention that it is unnecessary to take action with respect to the wages of the miners.
I have endeavoured to make it clear that the Government believes the industry can be saved from disaster only by an immediate reduction in the price of coal ; but it “is also necessary to have a thorough investigation to determine what is the wisest course to pursue to place the industry upon a proper basis. I have discussed the matter with the Premier of New South Wales, and have agreed to renew the offer which was formerly made by the Commonwealth Government. We sincerely hope that the men will agree to co-operate voluntarily in an effort to effect a reduction in the price of coal; but whether they accept or decline our offer, a full inquiry into the industry is inevitable. The Premier of New- South Wales has agreed that, because of thI vitally important part that coal plays in relation to our transport systems and the whole of our industries, that inquiry must proceed, irrespective of whether there is an acceptance or a rejection of the conditions we have laid down to bring about an immediate reduction by mutual consent. The subjects that will have to be inquired into are necessarily very wide. It will have to be determined whether it is economical to continue to work the existing number of mines, or whether it would be better to concentrate upon a smaller number of pits, which could be worked more cheaply and more efficiently.. The profits of the mines will have to be ascertained, and a decision arrived at as to whether there has been over-capitalization and a watering of stock. There are also questions that relate to the freights that are charged for the carriage of coal, and the manner of its distribution. But more important than probably the whole of those, is the question whether our coal resources are being utilized most effectively in the interests of the country, and also the possibility of utilizing byproducts, establishing subsidiary industries, and generating power at the pit mouth. The Premier of New South Wales agrees with us that no really effective inquiry can be made by either his Government or the Commonwealth Government alone, and that it is essential for each of those Governments to endow it with full powers. Consequently, it is proposed to constitute a royal commission which will be given full powers by both Governments. Its personnel, and the exact terms of reference, are at present under consideration.
The Government of New South Wales and the Government of the Commonwealth view this as one of the most serious questions that has to be dealt with in Australia to-day. The appointment of a royal commission will not immediately solve the troubles of the industry. It is essential that the price of coal shall be reduced in the immediate future by 5s. per ton. I remind the House that the Commonwealth is concerned in this matter because it appointed the tribunal which regulates the wages and conditions of the -men who are employed in the industry. Therefore I, as the representative of the Commonwealth Government, propose to invite two representatives of the coal-owners and two representatives of the coal-miners to meet me and a Minister of the State Government in Canberra next Monday to see if an agreement can be arrived at, under which all parties will contribute towards what we consider is essential, a reduction in the price of coal. We shall be quite prepared to discuss any alternative method to achieve the object that we have in view; but it must be recognized that if the Commonwealth and the State are to assist, and if the owners are to reduce their profits, some ^contribution must be made by the miners. I cannot believe that a conference such as I have suggested will fail to find some means to overcome the difficulty.
I apologize for having delayed the House. My excuse is that the matter is so vital and urgent1 that this Parliament should give full consideration to it.
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Notice of Motion No. 2 (coal-mining industry) from taking precedence over the remaining business.
.- The right honorable the Prime Minister, in a lengthy and informative review, has stated what is the present attitude of the Government towards the coal-mining industry, and has concluded by indicating a proposed line of action that was not hinted at either in the earlier part Of his speech or prior to to-day’s proceedings. His agreement with the policy that was urged upon him last week by representatives of the coal-miners has somewhat altered the position, and possibly has obviated the necessity for me to move an amendment to his motion.
Last week a most influential deputation, which consisted of representatives of the coal-miners and Federal members who represent coal-mining constituencies, asked the right honorable gentleman to institute ari inquiry such as that which he has now promised. He then refused point blank to do so, unless the miners should first agree to a reduction of their wages. Evidently the visit to Canberra of the representatives of the miners, and the decision of the Opposition to move in the matter this afternoon, have produced good results. So far as the decision of the Government to, appoint a royal commission will lead to a thorough investigation of the industry being made, and bring to light many facts which have a bearing upon the cost of production and other aspects, it is satisfactory. I should like to be informed whether it is proposed that the suggested royal commission shall commence its investigations at an early date?
– Irrespective of what may happen on the fields, or of what may be the result of the negotiations next Monday, this investigation should be proceeded with.
– It will be.
– In that case there is no need for me to move the amendment which I had intended to place before the House. But I shall state it, because its subject-matter might be embodied in the terms of reference of the royal commission, or of whatever authority is appointed to conduct the investigation. The amendment which I proposed to move is as follows : -
That the following words be added to the motion : - “ And that the Government be directed to institute forthwith an inquiry into the problems of the coal industry, particularly into matters bearing upon: -
Costs of production.
Capital charges and overhead costs.
Selling prices and methods.
Over-capitalization of colliery companies.
Inadequacy or obsolescence of colliery equipment.
Efficiency or otherwise of management.
The keeping open of high-cost collieries.
Rail and sea freights as affecting the selling price of coal.
Bounty-aided coal from South Africa.
Utilization of coal by-products.”
Some of these suggestions have been already mentioned by the Prime Minister as likely to be included in the terms of reference of the royal commission. If the motion contains others that it was not proposed to include, the AttorneyGeneral might consider the wisdom of embodying them. The Prime Minister dealt fairly enough with the situation of the coal industry as it exists at present, and no one wishes to dispute what he said about the falling off in production, the diminution of our export trade, and the consumption of coal in New South Wales. The coal industry in Australia is facing a crisis, and is, therefore, deserving of the most serious consideration by this and the State Parliament concerned Neither this Government, nor the Government of New South Wales has dealt wisely or adequately with the situation.
Both the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister have adopted a wrong attitude. The subject has been discussed for months in consultation with the governments concerned, and the representatives of the Miners’ Federation have placed their case before the governmental authorities, and asked for an investigation. This has happened, not merely within the last few weeks, but has been going on for some months.
– That is true. An inquiry should be held so that all the facts may be brought out, and. justice done to all parties. Yet the Prims Minister has been saying all along that the miners must first accept a decrease in wages of1s. a ton. That, he maintained, was essential to the salvation of the industry. The miners must agree to sacrifice part of their wages, just as the other interests concerned must agree to a proportionate reduction of their profits. Such reduction, he said, could not be deferred until a royal commission had completed its inquiries, because that might delay action for twelve months. The same argumentwas used by Mr. Bavin, Premier of New South Wales, in a speech which he delivered in the New South Wales Parliament, and which is printed in the paper that forms the subject-matter of the motion now before the House. Mr. Bavin also insisted upon an immediate reduction in wages so as to avoid delay. My point is, however, that he made the speech six months ago, and the inquiry could have been completed by now, and the report presented. No fair-minded person will say that it would take more than six months to hold an inquiry into the essential phases of the coal industry. It is true that the high price of coal has an. important bearing on industry, and seriously affects the consumers and the community, but complete stoppage of production would have a still more serious effect, and that is what the industry is faced with in New South Wales. It is threatened with a complete hold-up, because the Colliery Owners Association has given notice of its intention to close down all associated mines from the 2nd March next.
– It is a most precipitate action.
– It is precipitate action, andhas evidently been taken for the purpose of forcing the miners to agree to a course of action which they consider unjust. If the mine-owners persist in their intention, it will have a most disastrous effect upon Australia. Apparently the Prime Minister has not, up to now,’ realized the gravity of the situation. Hitherto both the Premier of New South Wales and the Prime Minister have been seeking to force a reduction of wages upon the miners before any preliminary inquiry was held. Now the Prime Minister has come round to the view taken by honorable members on this side of the House, namely, that an inquiry is essential before any reduction of wages takes place. A reduction of wages for the miners in New South “Wales would involve a lowering of the standard of living for a large body of men. Further, because of the reaction following such a step, it would probably also involve the lowering of the standard of living for a great number of persons outside the coalmining industry. Such a serious step should not be taken except after the fullest inquiry. The proposals placed before the miners’ representatives at the various conferences convened by the Premier of New South Wales contained these definite references to a proposed reduction in the cost of coal -
The Premier, in reply to a question by the representatives of the coal-miners, said that he proposed to distribute the wage reduction in a manner that would work out at 121/2 per cent, reduction for the men working on contracts, and1s. a day for those on day work. The case put forward by the coal-miners is quite a reasonable one. They submitted it to the Premier of New South Wales, and it was subsequently placed before the Prime Minister. They asked that before their wages were reduced to what might be something below a living wage, it should be shown that such a reduction was necessary to allow the industry to carry on. The miners have publicly stated their opinion that a very considerable reduction in the selling price of coal can be effected without attacking wages at all. It is not alleged that the coal-miners’ representatives have dealt with this matter in any wrong-headed or obstinate way. The Premier of New South Wales said at the conclusion of the conference that he would like to acknowledge at once the courtesy, frankness, and fairness with which the miners’ representatives had met him all through the discussion. Honorable members should remember that when they are dealing with this matter. What the coal-miners have been asking for, and what the Opposition members in this debate are also supporting, is that a searching inquiry should be made, with the intention of finding out first of all what are the facts associated with this problem, and, secondly, to what extent costs can be cut without attacking wages and conditions established under industrial tribunals, which ought not to be tampered with except in the last resort.
The Government has asserted that a reduction of wages should be the first move ; we assert that it should be the last. The cutting down of wages, and the consequent tampering with the standard of living, is too serious a step to be taken in an arbitrary manner, either at the behest of governments, or at the dictation of the Collieries Association. The Prime Minister mentioned the possibility of a royal commission being appointed, and I believe that, as a result of its investigations, it will be found that a reduction of 5s. a ton can be made in the price of coal without encroaching upon the wages now paid to miners. It is generally acknowledged that the State Government must also appoint whoever is to act in the inquiry as a royal commissioner for the State as well. There are many limitations placed upon a purely Commonwealth royal commission in such an inquiry as this, and the best way is to have those entrusted with the investigation appointed a royal commission by both the Federal and State Governments.
The Prime Minister spent considerable time endeavouring to prove that the collieries could not carry on unless the men agreed to make a substantial sacrifice. He furnished no facts that supported that contention. He quoted opinions and arrived at certain deductions, but these are matters that ought to be the subject of inquiry by the royal commission before any decision is arrived at.
– It is only a temporary expedient.
– But it would be asking too much to require a large body of workers to agree, even as a temporary expedient, to a reduction in wages that would affect their standard of living. It is unnecessary to adopt that course. The inquiry could be concluded in six months, and probably in less time than that if the Governments concerned wished to expedite it. Naturally, there has been a great deal of controversy in the newspapers upon this important matter. The labour Daily, a few days ago, referring to the labour cost involved in winning a ton of coal, gave certain figures, and stated that they were compiled by the manager of one of the largest collieries on the northern fields. It is evidently a large colliery because, on the authority of that newspaper, it produces 2,100 tons of coal per day. In 1926, it cost 12s. 10.97d. to win a ton of coal from this particular colliery. In 1927, the labour cost had fallen to 12s. 5.75d. ; and last year it had dropped still further to lis. 8..95d. That is the cost of winning a ton of coal and placing it at the pit’s month. The newspaper whose figures I have quoted points out that, in addition to this cost, allowance must be made for mine stores and timber, freight from mine to ship, royalty, rates and taxes and so on. The cost of stores per ton of coal is given as 6d. The cost of timber is thought to be over-estimated when it is put down at 4£d. per ton of coal. The actual freight is 3s. 7d. ; the royalty 6d. ; and the rates and taxes would be at the most 6d. per ton of coal. If the labour cost is lis. 9d., and the other miscellaneous charges, which are inevitable, work out at 5s. 5 1/2 d. in that particular colliery, it brings the total cost to 17s. 2 1/2 d. at the ship’s side. No allowance is made so far for the capital charges or profits, but that colliery sells for 25s. 6d. at the ship’s side. The difference gives 8s. 3 1/2 d. to cover capital charges, depreciation, replacement and profits to the company. That seems to me to be a wide margin.
– It is approximately 50 per cent.
– Yes ; practically 50 per cent, gross profit. It is true that the newspaper statement which I have read is an ex parte one, and applies only to the particular colliery concerned. That may not be the average experience, and since nobody knows what the average experience is, the inquiry is indispensable. Mr. Bavin said that he had had an investigation made as to the overhead costs, but the facts were not disclosed to one of the parties vitally interested - the miners’ representatives. Mr. Bavin said that they must accept his word. I suppose they would not challenge his bona fides, but no party, situated as the coal-miners’ representatives were, could agree to so vital a proposal as a reduction of wages in circumstances such as those. Before they could agree to that, they would want to know what the cost of production was, and what the collieryowners’ profits were, and they were entitled to demand that information. But Mr. Bavin said, “You must accept my word for it that the profits of the collieries are moderate profits, and that the net return to the investors is only moderate.” I say that the miners’ representatives have a right to the fullest possible information, and so have the public.
The Prime Minister glossed over, in a very scant reference, the arrangements for selling coal, the commission paid to the selling agents, and the methods by which those agencies are carried on, but it is well known, at any rate to those engaged in. the industry, that some of the principal selling agencies in Sydney are controlled by the colliery companies, and it may be possible, indeed it may be quite in accord with the ordinary methods of business, that the colliery-owners sell to the selling agents at a nominal rate far below the proper value, or, at any rate, at a price which leaves a very large margin between what the selling agents pay for the coal and the amount that it realizes on the open market.
– That has been proved.
– The matter has been alluded to, and it is one of common knowledge. The shareholders’ list of one well-known agency, B. Byrnes Limited, which acts for a number of coal producers, shows that it is practically owned by the coal companies. It has a nominal capital of £100,000, on which £32,000 is paid up. The shareholders are the Southern Coal-Owners’ Agency, ten shares; the Lithgow Coal Association, 15,995 shares; the Mount Kembla Collieries, 4,941 shares; S. Vickery & Sons Limited, 2,469 shares ; the Mount Pleasant Coal and Iron Manufacturing Company Limited, 2,469 shares; Coal Cliff collieries Limited, 1,165 shares; Metropolitan Coal Company Limited, 4,941 shares; and ten individuals with one share each. If it can be shown - and it is a proper matter for investigation by the royal commission - that the coal is sold at a nominal price to the agency, and re-sold at a rate 8s. or 9s. higher, the real selling price is much higher than the apparent price, and the gross profit may be much higher than that which is disclosed by any figures shown to Mr. Bavin.
The Prime Minister referred to the matter of freights, and, of course, that ought to be inquired into. There have been successive increases in the railway freights charged to the colliery companies. Bitter complaints have been made by Mr. C. M. McDonald on behalf of the Northern Collieries Association against what he described as the extortionate charges made by the New South “Wales Railway Commissioners upon the companies. He has complained that the percentage increase in the freight against coal was so much greater than the increase in the freight against wool as to represent a most unfair impost upon the colliery companies. Mr. Bavin, on behalf of the New South Wales Government, offers to forego 2s. per ton in the freight in order to bring down the price of coal; but the foregoing of 2s. per ton may be not more than giving up part of the increase recently imposed.
– Still, it is a giving up.
– Yes, but only of part of the increase recently made. The coal-miners, on the other hand, are being asked to give up, not something recently granted to them but something which has been enjoyed by them for years, and which now only provides a bare subsistence. What the New South Wales Government is prepared to forgo may be something that it would, in any case, be forced to give up because it is an exceptional charge. It imposed a crane charge of lOd. per ton. The colliery-owners were most indignant about that, and offered to take over the handling of the cranes and to pay the railways commissioners a fair charge for the use of the cranes and plant.
– When was that charge put on?
– I cannot answer the question off-hand.
– It was imposed in 1920 by the Dooley- Government.
– If so, it was continued in 1923 by the Fuller Government, and in 1927 by the Bavin Government.
The Prime Minister recognizes that over-capitalization is a proper subject of inquiry by the royal commission, but he does not say that there has been tremendous over-capitalization in the coal industry. He mentioned the possibly unjustifiable increase of 3s. per ton in the selling price of coal, owing to Mr. Justice Edmunds’ award, but the benefit gained by the colliery-owners in 1916-17, he said, had all been absorbed since in higher costs, and probably the companies now derived no actual benefit from it. That is a rather quaint way of excusing the colliery companies for the extortion that they have practised for many years. Let me quote a comment upon this matter by Mr. H. M. Murphy, Secretary to the Department of Labour, Melbourne, who has published a book entitled Wages and Prices in Australia. He makes allusion to Judge Edmunds’ inquiry into the coal dispute of 1916, and states -
Mr Justice Edmunds was appointed, with very wide powers, under the War Precautions Act, to inquire into the facts and’ effect a settlement. In his judgment he granted the mon a 15 per cent, rise in wages, and at the same time allowed the employers to pass it on by raising the fixed price of coal 3s. pelton.
The number of coal-miners was 15,000. Their aggregate wages were £2,000,000 per annum. The 15 per cent, increase amounted to £3(10,000. Over 9,000,000 tons of coal are used in Australia each year. Three shillings per ton on that would amount to £1,350,000. The difference between these sums in favour of the coal-owners is £060,000.
Under his powers as a tribunal, Judge Edmunds granted an increase to the miners; but to enable the collieryowners to meet it he allowed them to pass on what the owners claimed was necessary to cover the extra wages cost. They said it would require 3s. per ton to meet this extra cost under the award. But, apparently, an- increase of only ls. per ton was needed to cover the extra wages awarded by the tribunal, and the owners continued for years to pocket an extra 2s. per ton. The Prime Minister now excuses their action on the ground that subsequent increases in costs have absorbed the balance, so that the benefits they enjoyed for ten years they enjoy no longer.
– Were not additional charges imposed by the railways?
– Yes, but I was dealing with a specific increase of 3s. per ton; the owners have enjoyed numerous others since. By that one increase they filched from the pockets of the coal consumers nearly £1,000,000 per annum to which they had no right. Because of the profiteering propensities of the colliery companies at that period, coal shares became a highly remunerative investment; nearly all the companies inflated their capital by issuing bonus shares, and this enabled them further to bleed the public. The figures I shall quote regarding typical big companies operating on the northern coal-fields of New South Wales indicate the results of that policy. The Newcastle-Wallsend Company made a net profit in 1924 of £25,000; in 1925, £31,000; in 1926, £31,000, and in 1928, £25,000. In addition it added each year large sums to its reserve. The dividends in the four years mentioned were from 10 per cent to 12£ per cent. At present the reserve capital amounts to £235,000. Originally, the paid-up capital was £100,000, but in the seventies £60,000 of capital was returned to shareholders, reducing the paid capital to £40,000. In 1914, £60,000 worth of bonus shares was issued to shareholders, thus restoring the nominal capital to £100,000. Later in the same year the capital was doubled by capitalizing £100,000 worth of surplus profits. In 1920, the capital was increased to the present amount of £250,000 by the issue of 5,000 £10 shares at par. Thus, of the present capital of £250,000, only £90,000 was actually invested by the shareholders. Taking this into consideration, the dividends for the last five years work out at 27.6 per cent., 34.7 per cent., 34.7 per cent., and 27.6 per cent., although on the nominal capital the dividends were 10 per cent.
– For years the company paid dividends of over 100 per cent.
– I am dealing with only the last four years, the most critical and unremunerative in the history of the industry.
The Abermain-Seaham Collieries Limited has a paid-up capital of £1,200,000. The profits for the last five years have been:- 1924, £150,416; 1925,” £120,256; 1926, £121,677 ; 1927, £152,593 ; and 1928, £90,465. Prior to the amalgamation in 1921 the two companies - Abermain Collieries Limited and Seaham Collieries Limited - trebled their paid capital by each issuing £400,000 worth of bonus shares.
– What is the honorable member’s authority for these figures ?
– I am quoting from tables prepared for the Miners’ Federation from whose officials I have received them. I hope the honorable member is not questioning the authenticity of the figures.
– Not at all; in any case they can be easily checked.
– They cannot bc very easily checked except with the assistance of the companies, but it will be one of the responsibilities of the royal commission to check them. By the amalgamation, the capital of Abermain Collieries Limited was further inflated by £200,000, and the capital of Seaham Collieries Limited was reduced by a similar amount. Consequently, the present capital of the combined companies includes £500,000 that was not invested by the shareholders.
– But it was earned capital.
– It may have been, but I am showing that most of these profits which have been used to inflate the capital of the companies are the result of the increase of 3s. per ton improperly charged by the colliery-owners in 1916. This extortion enabled them to make abnormal profits, which were distributed in the form of bonus issues to shareholders. Now the companies claim a return upon this fictitious capital.
– That argument is all right, so far as it applies to those who Lave been shareholders always, and have benefited by the distribution of bonus shares.
– Yes, and no doubt the honorable member was about to add that those who have bought the stock on the market in recent years may not have fared so well. The royal commission will, I hope, ascertain how many of the widows and orphans of whom the Prime Minister spoke, are still shareholders in these companies. I imagine that the shares in all the highly remunerative companies have been held by the same people for many years. Mr. Bavin said that, having investigated the figures, he was convinced that what the colliery-owners said regarding the unremunerative nature of their investments, was correct. But the employees’ representatives also have investigated the figures, with the result that these investments appear to them to have been highly remunerative.
– Does not that apply to only two or three companies? Are there not many others in a different category?
– I am instancing only a few, but there are many others in similar circumstances. The Cessnock Collieries Limited, formerly the Wickham and Bullock Island Company Limited, has a paid-up capital of £275,000. Its net profits in 1924 were £13,557; in 1925, £20,983; in 1926, £11,500, and in 1927, £19,072. The dividends ranged from 12£ per cent, to 15 per cent. Apparently, the directors considered that that rate was too high for propaganda purposes; therefore, the company was re constructed. Assets were written up by £110,304, and with the addition of £54,696 taken from the reserve fund, £165,000 was transferred to capital. Thus the capital of £110,000 was miraculously increased to £275,000, without one additional penny being contributed by the shareholders. These figures are typical of the finances of a certain class of companies on the northern fields, -represented by Mr. C. -M. McDonald, who is the principal agitator for a reduction of wages, and who uses the newspaper press to misrepresent the miners. He is constantly engaged in propaganda in the press, especially the Sydney Morning Herald, to discount the case of the miners, to make their attitude appear unjustifiable, and to delude the public into the belief that what the proprietors are proposing is in the interests of the workers. As chairman of the northern collieries he receives £3,000 a year and other emoluments. He is also chairman of the Employers Federation, and he is the most virulent agitator in New South Wales to-day.
I have emphasized one aspect of the coal companies’ finances. First, there was the illegitimate retention by the collieryowners of the 3s. per ton when an increase of ls. would have covered the higher wages awarded by Judge Edmunds. I have mentioned instances of the over-capitalization, upon which were based the unreliable figures placed before Mr. Bavin, and apparently accepted by him.
– Did the honorable member refer .to the abolition of the sliding scale by Judge Edmunds at the same time?
– No ; that was included in a later award. The Prime Minister has emphasized that it is essential to the prosperity of the. coal-mining industry and other industries which are large users of coal that the miners shall accept a reduction of wages. Was not the same argument advanced by the Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1926 ? At that time the position of the coalmining industry in England was critical. Trade was being lost, scores of thousands of men were unemployed, and the outlook of the coal industry was desperate. The Government thought that the only and inevitable solution of the difficulty was a reduction of wages and an extension of working hours in order to lower the cost of production. The miners resisted this injustice, as their fellows in New South Wales are doing to-day. There was a calamitous industrial upheaval, and eventually the mine-owners, backed by the sympathy and power of the Government, won. The miners were forced to accept a wages reduction of from 10 to 15 per cent., and an increase of the working shift by one hour. But did that solve the coal problem in England? Has it brought about prosperity in the mining industry? The recent visit of the Prince of Wales to the northern mining fields focussed the attention of the whole world upon the ghastly misery existing there, the starvation and unemployment, and the desperate straits to which hundreds of thousands of miners and their wives and families are reduced. Is there any assurance that, if the miners of New South Wales voluntarily, or under duress, accept a reduction of wages, the situation of the coalmining industry in Australia will be improved and the results expected by the Prime Minister realized?
– Was not the reduction of wages in England brought about as the result of a special inquiry?
– Inquiries were held by the Sankey Commission, and subsequently by the Samuels Commission. One recommended nationalization of the mines as the only solution of the problem, and the other recommended many reforms which the Government did not adopt. Neither tribunal proposed an arbitrary reduction of wages. The royal commission may make recommendations which are not acceptable. That is what happened in England. For that reason the miners should be warned not to agree to a reduction in wages in anticipation of recommendations by a royal commission which the Government may not heed. The conditions of the miners have heretofore been regulated by a properly authorized tribunal and the men should not be asked to accept an arbitrary reduction of their wages prior to the making of an investigation into the industry.
I do not subscribe* to the view that the coal industry is at the end of its tether. Some people say that it is dying, and that, with the increase of the use of oil and other fuels, it will ultimately completely vanish. There is no justification for this view. I believe that for decades to come we shall have to rely upon coal as our main fuel. Coal is one of the most useful raw materials that nature has provided for the use of man. New South Wales, and indeed the Commonwealth as a whole, has been richly endowed with coal-fields, and we should be most foolish if, because of certain mechanical and other developments in industry, we allowed a disturbance in the economics of the coal industry unduly to distress us. In the future as in the past, coal will be a most necessary industrial requirement, and our vast resources of it should be developed to the greatest possible extent. The problems responsible for the present state of the industry, are capable of solution without attacking the wages of the miners.
In a recent publication President Baker, an American authority on coal, said -
Coal will remain the chief source of energy for generations to come. It is the foundation of our industrial fabric.
An article published recently in the Philadelphia Public Ledger stated -
Some superficial ‘observers say that the age of coal is coming to an end. They think, of course, in terms of oil. Mcn of science, on the other hand, assert that the age of coal has not yet actually begun.
It is as a source of power that both anthracite and bituminous coal must gain in value and importance, with the shift from steam to electricity in general industry. We have been hearing a great hubbub in and out of politics over the subject of water power facilities. Yet if all the natural water power resources of the land were to be at once developed to their full capacity they could deliver only about 25 per cent, of the electrical energy that will be required when present plans for the electrification of railways and farms are carried through.
We must not get it into our heads that the end of our coal industry is threatened by the crisis into which it has been allowed to drift by the inaction of the Government; rather should Ave recognize clearly that our future progress and prosperity as a nation depend very largely upon it. It has taken twelve months to get the Government to agree to the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the industry.
– I think the honorable member will admit that I said definitely more than six months ago in this House that an inquiry into this industry should be held.
– But the Prime Minister was willing at that time to grant an inquiry only if the miners would agree to a reduction of wages. There is no justification for the reduction of wages at present. Only an exhaustive inquiry can show whether a reduction is necessary. Had an inquiry been granted when it was first asked for by the miners, the report would have been available now.
I do not know whether the collieryowners intend to carry out their ultimatum and dismiss some 12,000 employees on the 2nd March unless a reduction of wages is agreed to. Perhaps the Prime Minister has some information on that point. But it will be most distressing if the threat is carried out. The speech of the Leader of the Government this afternoon was academic in character, and I believe that the request for a royal commission was agreed to only because the Prime Minister realized that honorable members would force an inquiry if he did not voluntarily grant one.
A conference is to be called on Monday next. I trust that the miners’ representatives will attend it, and have no doubt that they will do so, for they have never refused to meet either the Prime Minister or the Premier of New South Wales to discuss the affairs of the industry. But I hope the Prime Minister will not take the opportunity which the conference will provide of endeavouring to force the miners to accept a drastic reduction in wages, and consequently a serious lowering of their standard of living, before an inquiry has shown the necessity for it. The right honorable gentleman has confessed that no one can say at present whether a reduction of wages is necessary. A decision on that point should therefore be left until the proposed royal commission has made its investigation. I believe that it will be shown that a substantial reduction of possibly more than 5s. per ton can be made in the price of coal without touching the wages of the men. The Prime Minister cannot know the net earnings of some of the coalminers, or he would never have suggested a reduction in their wages, which must necessarily oblige them and their families to live in a state of penury and misery, if not of utter starvation.
Seeing that the Government has decided to appoint a royal commission I shall not move the amendment which I have drafted, but I again exhort the Prime Minister not to add to the pressure which the colliery proprietors have already placed upon the miners to get them to accept a reduction in wages which cannot be shown to be necessary or the reverse until after the report of the royal commission has been presented.
– Although the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has admitted that the Government, in announcing the appointment of a royal commission without insisting ‘upon any preliminary reduction in the price of coal, has gone farther than he anticipated, he churlishly delivered the speech that he intended to deliver before he knew that a royal commission would be granted, and read his amendment asking for that commission.
– I assure the Treasurer that he is quite wrong. -
– The Government has made it clear for a long while and explicitly stated in its proposals last September that it has realized the necessity for the appointment of a royal commission to investigate the position of the coal industry. Notwithstanding that the honorable member for Dalley has accused it of not appreciating the seriousness of the crisis. Honorable members opposite have themselves not appreciated the true position or they would have helped us to rehabilitate the industry. The coal industry may be likened to a man who has been knocked down and injured ‘in an accident. The first thing to do in such a case is to apply necessary restoratives to maintain life and then give the appropriate treatment.
– Surely the first thing necessary is to diagnose the trouble.
– The Government, recognizing the serious plight of the coal industry, has been endeavouring to provide it with immediate temporary relief as a preliminary to conducting a full investigation into ways and means of placing it upon a permanently satisfactory basis. If the proposal to bring about a reduction in the price of coal by each of the interested parties making a sacrifice to that end had been agreed to, the inquiry into the industry could have been made under much better conditions for those engaged in it than would otherwise be possible. Everybody admits that the industry is languishing, but honorable members opposite seem quite prepared to allow it to continue to languish until the inquiry has been completed and possibly to collapse. An exhaustive investigation cannot be concluded in anything less than one year. The most comprehensive inquiry that has been made in recent years into the New South Wales coal industry was conducted in 1919-20 by Mr. Justice Campbell. It was thought at first that that inquiry could be completed in six months; but it was found necessary to extend the time. Ultimately two reports were presented, the last one of which was dated the 31st July, 1920. The inquiry began in April, 1919, so that fifteen months were necessary to complete it. At least twelve months would be required to make this inquiry, and it is regrettable that honorable members opposite should be prepared to allow the industry to languish all that time when an immediate reduction of price by mutual agreement can give it a decided stimulus. It is appalling that in a young country like Australia its coal industry probably with as valuable and accessible measures as those in any part of the world, should be in a sick and ailing condition. If the Australian coal industry were strong and vigorous and able to supply coal at a competitive rate, it would be our greatest national asset; but a sick and ailing industry, which needs State assistance to enable it to bt carried on, and which, because the price of coal is higher in Australia than in most other countries, causes an increase in prices generally and in the cost of manufacturing and transport, becomes a great national liability. In examining this basic industry we should divorce from our minds the petty and party consi derations which have been so evident during this discussion. The Government has put forward an honest proposal to permit this industry to stand by itself and be for Australia a great foundation upon which to build the whole of its other industries, and surely we should be able to discuss it in an atmosphere different from that which surrounds it at present. No purpose is being served by the unfair suggestion that the Government is acting in conjunction with the mine-owners simply for the purpose of forcing down wages. This question is too important to be dragged down to a petty and party level. The right thing is while, steps to permanently re-organize the. industry are being taken first to make it possible for the coal industry in Australia to retain and maintain its hold on the interstate trade at any rate, during the period of the inquiry, and possibly to regain some of the oversea trade, and at the same time to bring about that stimulation of industry which the reports of the conversations which Mr. Bavin has had with the heads of the various big industries in Australia, indicate is certain to follow the stabilization of the coal industry. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company has said that it will include any concessions that it receives in the price of its products. The. shipping companies have said that they will reduce freights to the extent of any immediate benefit that they get. McKay’s agricultural implement company has said that every concession that it receives will be made available to the public in the form of a reduction in prices. All the big manufacturers have said that so soon as the price of coal is reduced there will be an immediate reduction in the price of their products. The gas companies have said that they will reduce the price of gas for lighting and cooking purposes. Nearly all of the residents of the big cities are users of gas, and for that reason alone this discussion should be above petty and party considerations.
What is the cause of the decline in the coal industry of Australia? That it is declining is evident to all. Some of the causes of its decline require scientific investigation, but during the period of the inquiry there are certain causes which are so manifest that they should be dealt “with immediately by the people of Australia and by those associated with the coal industry. What is the present position? The outstanding fact is that, though there has since 1913, the last normal year before the war, been an increase in the population of Australia of some 1,500,000 people, an increase of 30 per cent., our coal output has remained stationary. In 1913 the output was 10,414,000 tons and in 1927, 11,127,000 tons. In 1913 there were 18,000 employees engaged in the industry, whereas in 1927 there were 24,000, an increase of 30 per cent, employed without an increase in total output. There has been, an actual decline in the output per man-day from 2.73 tons in 1917 to 2.38 tons in 1927. Let us examine other countries with which we have to compete in the markets of the world for the sale of our coal - and, it almost seems, in the markets of Australia. Although we have had an increase in population of 30 per cent, in fifteen years, there has been stagnation in the production of coal. We find that other countries which have not increased their population have, during those fifteen years, enormously increased their output of ‘coal. Germany has doubled its production, as has Holland. Prance has increased its production by three and a half times, although its population has remained the same. The United States of America has quadrupled its output since 1913, and although its population has increased during the fifteen years, it has not increased proportionally to ours. It is stated in every technical text book and in all expert opinions on this subject that the increase in the production of coal throughout the world has been due largely to the adoption of modern methods of production, handling, distribution, and utilization of coal. The countries that I have referred to are seeking to supply both the home and overseas markets, and to develop them to the greatest extent. In France there has, since the war, been a wonderful increase in the use of water power for certain industries, but that has in turn stimulated the use of coal in other industries and increased the total consumption. The same is true of Canada.
In that country there has been put into operation during the last fifteen years water power equivalent to 2,000,000 horse power, and that has stimulated industry to such an extent that Canada is using more of its own coal to-day than ever before. The adoption of modern methods of production, the proper utilization of by-products, the stimulation, development and establishment of new industries can be brought about only by the production of coal at a cost which is competitive with that of other countries. No one can deny that the coal-fields of Australia are as accessible and as valuable as those of other countries.
– Has the Treasurer any figures showing the output of coal per man in the different countries?
– No, but I shall in a few moments give the prices of coal in the various countries. Why has this industry remained stagnant in Australia ‘? One reason is that the average output per employee engaged in the industry has been greatly lessened. The second and most potent reason is that since 1913 there has been an increase in price in the coal industry of 140 per cent., whereas the general average of the wholesale prices has increased by only 70 per cent. Taken on a pre-war basis, the price of coal is out of all proportion to that of other commodities. As a result we find ourselves faced not only with almost the entire loss of our overseas trade, but also with the great bulk of our interstate trade. This is due to two reasons, first the high price that we are asking in Australia for our coal, and, secondly, the uncertainty of supplies. In 1913 the exports of coal were 3,469,000 tons, including both cargo and bunker coal. In. 1928, the exports had dwindled to 1,387,000 tons, including 800,000 tons’ of bunker coal.
– Do those figures include interstate trade?
– No. Since 1913 our population has increased by 30 per cent., yet our interstate trade has remained stationary, despite the fact that there has been a big development of manufacturing activities throughout Australia. In 1913, the total interstate trade was 2,345,000 tons, and in 1928, 2,456,000 tons.
– Has the Treasurer any figures showing bunker export and cargo export trade separately?
– In 1928, the export trade was 1,387,000 tons, of which 800,000 tons was bunker coal. The following are the prices of coal per ton at Newcastle: -
There has been a steady and continuous increase in the price of coal. In nearly every other country there was a peak price, either during the war or immediately afterwards, followed by a continual decline. In Great Britain, the average price of coal per ton, taking large and small together - the proportion being two to one - was, in 1913, 10s. lid.; in 1920, 34s. 7d.; and in 1924, 18s. lOd. In the United States of America, the average price of coal was, in 1913, 5s. 6d. ; in 1920, 22s. lid.; and in 1924, lis. Id. In France the average price of coal was, in 1913, 13s. 6£d. ; in 1919, 35s. lid. ; and in 1922, 28s. 2d, The figures for Natal are -
at which price coal stands there to-day. The average price, taking large and small together in proportion sold in New South Wales, has increased to the extent shown” by the following table : -
Three causes have contributed to the raising of the price of coal. First of all, as the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) has pointed out, there has been an increase in the charges levied by the State of New South Wales. In 1916 the New South Wales Government increased its charges as a consequence of Judge Edmunds agreeing that there should be an increase in the price of coal. Ever since, there have been higher haulage and freight charges on the New South
Wales railways. In 1917 those charges were increased by 16 per cent., and in 1918 by 7 per cent. There was also an increase in 1927. In the second place it is undeniable that the owners have not hesitated to avail themselves fully of any opportunity to raise the price of their product. Judge Campbell, who sat as a royal commissioner to inquire into the industry in 1919-1920, reported that in many cases the owners had advanced the price to a much greater extent than was necessary to enable them to meet the increased cost of production. I very much doubt, however, whether those increases amount to anything like the exorbitant figure suggested by the honorable member for Dalley. Judge Campbell examined exhaustively the books of all the collieries in New South Wales, and came to the conclusion that although in some individual cases very big profits had been made during the five years which preceded his inquiry, yet the average profit was only about 13 per cent., which he did not consider exorbitant owing to the wasting nature of the asset. But whatever profits may have been made, the coalowners are now willing to reduce the price by ls. a ton; and Mr. Bavin, who has had an opportunity to investigate the accounts of the various companies, has stated that on an average their profits are approximately 2s. a ton. The commission which was entrusted to Judge Campbell contained very extensive terms of reference, including sanitation, housing, methods of organization, profits, &c. ; but although he repeatedly invited the Coal Miners’ Federation to give him the benefit of their advice and knowledge, and made special appointments so that Mr. Willis and other members of the executive could attend before him, it is significant that he was obliged to point out in his report that those gentlemen were not willing to give him that advice and knowledge, and consequently he hadto rely on a personal investigation of the accounts of the collieries. The point I wish to stress is that the owners now agree to forgo profits to the extent of ls. a ton, although according to their contention they are making only 2s. a ton, which agrees roughly with the findings of Judge Campbell.
Another fact that emerged from Judge Campbell’s royal commission was that the capital necessary to work a coal-field approximately corresponds in pounds to the number of tons of coal mined in each year, so that a profit of 2s. per ton would be approximately 10 per cent.
The third cause of the higher price is the greater amount that is now paid to the men in wages. There were gradual increases in the early days of the war. In 1916 Judge Edmunds was appointed a royal commissioner, and was responsible for the existing rates being increased by 15 per cent. In 1919 a further 15 per cent, was added, consequent upon an announcement by Mr. Watt, then Acting Prime Minister. Mr. Hibble was appointed chairman of the Industrial Peace Tribunal in 1920, and he fixed the hewing rate at a figure 17i per cent, higher than that which then obtained. There has been no increase in the hewing rate since he made his award, which has stood at 55 per cent, above .1.916 rates. In 1925, an increase in offhand rates from 16s. 6d. to 1Ss. per day was made.
But there are other factors in addition to awards that have materially increased the price pf coal. Since 1920 the hewing rate has not been altered, yet in the intervening period the colliery-owners, because of State legislation or action, have raised the price on three occasions, from 21s. 9d. to 25s. The first occasion was in 1927, when railway freights were raised by the Government of New South Wales; the second was in consequence of the passage of workmen’s compensation legislation by the Lang Government in (hat State; and the third was when that Government initiated a scheme of childhood endowment. Unquestionably, how.ever, another considerable factor has been -he intermittency with which the worker has engaged in Ms calling, and the prevalence of absenteeism in the case of those working on contract. During the last ten or fifteen years the three-shift system has been abolished, and now only one shift is worked. The result of all these factors is that expenditure for maintenance and upon staffs which must work throughout the whole year and th& whole 24 hours lias been much greater than it should relatively be.
– The Treasurer has been primed by Mr. McDonald.
– I resent that statement, and ask that the honorable member be made to withdraw it. I have never met Mr. McDonald.
– It is the practice for an honorable member to withdraw a statement that is regarded as offensive. If the Treasurer so regards the statement of the honorable member for Werriwa that honorable member must withdraw it.
– I withdraw; but I say that the Treasurer is using Mr. McDonald’s arguments.
– The second important factor in the loss of trade has been the uncertainty of supply, due largely to the industrial disputes that have occurred in sections of the industry despite the fact that there has been a general and continuous improvement in the wages and conditions of the employees. The industry in Australia is unique in that this is the only country in which the wages and conditions are better than those which existed prior to the outbreak of the war. Yet there has been a greater number of sectional disputes, and more time lost in consequence, than has ever been the case previously. From 1913 to 1927 the 32,000 men who were engaged in mining operations were responsible for industrial disputes which led to the loss of 11,203,663 working days, which represented 70 per cent, of the total number of working days. During the same period the 850,000 men who were engaged in all other occupations lost only 4,882,972 days. The coal-miners were responsible for five-sevenths of the days lost in connexion with mining operations. In New South Wales the number of. working days lost in the mining industry was 60 times as great per man employed as in all non-mining industries. If we look through the list in the New South Wales Industrial Gazette we shall see that many of these dislocations were for the most trivial causes. During the four years from 1919 to 1923 there were eight stoppages involving 13,400 men, and a loss of 396,277 days. Two of the stoppages were caused by strikes against work on idle days, 531 men being involved and 1,647 working days lost. Two further strikes occurred for work on idle days, and 703 men were involved, and 665 days lost. Three industrial dislocations were caused by disputes over award rates, 13,616 men being involved, and 114,572 working days lost.
If we are to have an improvement in the conditions of industry, and especially in the coal-mining industry, a better spirit in regard to dislocations over trivial causes must prevail while this inquiry is in progress. Although there have been continued improvements in the coal-miners’ conditions of labour, all sorts of industrial disputes are allowed to continually arise over trivial causes. That is not a new discovery; it has been commented on repeatedly by royal commissions which have inquired into the industry. They have stated that this is one of the most important reasons for the loss of export trade, apart altogether from general increases in the cost of production, and the price of coal. I do not agree that a reduction of1s. a ton in the wages of the workers need necessarily involve any reduction in the money received by them. A reduction of working costs, and a consequent reduction of the price of coal, would bring about a greatly increased demand for coal. This would provide employment for more men, and more continuous employment for those already working. Moreover, there is indisputable proof that the miners, if they so desired, could considerably increase their output. At least half the miners are paid on a tonnage basis, and by increasing their output they could add to their wages. Incontestable evidence indicates that the contract or piece men have always something in hand. There is a considerable margin within which the individual output of the miner can be increased without undue exertion when it appears desirable or necessary. A reduction in the price of coal would stimulate the demand for it, so that instead of some men working on day wages only two or three days a fortnight, as now, they would be employed for a much greater part of their time. Four days work a week at 17s. per day brings more money into the home than three days at 18s. per day. Thus there would really be more money coming into the miner’s home than now. But, in my opinion, there should be no need for any reduction of the wages of men now earning small money. At the present time there is a great disparity between the wages earned by the miners engaged on different fields. On the Maitland field, out of a total of 2,622 miners working, no fewer than 631 earned for the year ended 30th June, 1928, over £416, or more than £8 a week; 127 men earned over £396; 155 over £364; 162 more than £338; and186 more than £312. Moreover, the wheelers and others besides the miners are also making fairly big wages. Conditions are very different in the Newcastle mines. There, out of 1,550 men employed only four earned more than £416 per year during the period under review, while most of them earned less than £6 a week.
– What is the reason for this disparity?
– In some mines it is easier to win coal than in others. In Maitland the seams are bigger, and the quality of the coal better. The point I wish to make is this : If the miners themselves will recognize the desperate situation in which the industry finds itself, and the need for reducing the price of coal so that Australian industry may be stimulated, the workers on the Maitland fields may be prepared to accept a reduction of rates sufficient to enable those on the poorer fields to carry on without any reduction being made. In this way the matter might be adjusted without any hardship being inflicted at all. It would be merely an amicable arrangement between the representatives of the men themselves. Here is an opportunity for practical co-operation on socialistic principles that the miners say they stand for and no one heed suffer any hardship by it. Whilst this investigation is being made the spirit of co-operation to secure freedom from disputes should be preached by the leaders of the miners. I have only raised this side of the question to show its importance and the necessity for the cessation of disputes during the inquiry. The agreement suggested would be of wonderful assistance to industry generally, and would provide thousands of men now out of work with continuous and profitable employment. It would provide many families now destitute with the ordinary necessaries of life, and would permit of the expansion of existing, and the establishment of new industries in the country. The benefits which must flow from a reduction of the price of coal would go on increasing and expanding to a surprising extent. For instance, it takes three tons of raw material to produce one ton of raw steel, and three tons of steel to make one ton of agricultural implements. What is asked for now is a slight sacrifice from the men, the owners, and the Government, who directly benefit as a result. It is not fair to ask the Commonwealth Government, which gets no direct benefit for its expenditure, to provide a bounty on New South Wales coal if those directly concerned will not make any sacrifice. We have no interest in the matter beyond a desire to promote industrial peace, and build up industry. I appeal to honorable members to approach this matter with open minds and a desire to put forward constructive proposals, instead of delivering hostile speeches prepared beforehand in a partisan spirit and designed to engender class conflict. The energy of every one should be directedtowards finding a solution of our difficulties in the interests of the community as a whole.
Sitting suspended from 6.10 to8 p.m.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Bruce) read a first time.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Bill presented by Mr. Bruce and read a first time.
.- The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) this evening has somewhat taken the wind out of my sails in regard to the coal industry, but I am pleased that he has at last “seen the light.” It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. It is apparent to me that the rebels in the
Nationalist party and the rebels in the owners’ section of the coal-mining industry are not a happy family, and the miners are to receive what they have been asking for. Judging by the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, they were not favorable to an inquiry by a royal commission, but some pressure has evidently been brought to bear upon them. I do not know whether the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) is responsible for the attitude that the Government has adopted. He is no doubt well acquainted with the conditionsin the coal industry. The miners certainly have him to thank for the boards of inquiry that were instituted during the war period, and for the present Coal Board under which the miners are registered, and by which the industry has been governed since 1915. The colliery proprietors themselves, together with the miners’ organization, sought federal jurisdiction at that time. There was considerable agitation on the part of the Miners Federation even during the regime of the right honorable member for North Sydney as Prime Minister, because the miners were never satisfied regarding the increase in the price of coal. They contended that they were not getting a fair cut out of the industry, even under the sliding scale which has since been abolished, but which operated for a considerable number of years, and even before I worked in the mines. The scale that operated under the Federal Coal Board, on the selling price of coal in 1916, gave an increase or decrease of 4d. per ton to the miner for every shilling increase or decrease in the price of coal. If the miners had continued to receive payment according to that scale, to-day when the selling price of coal has gone from 12s. to 25s. per ton, instead of 4s. 4d. per ton - 4d. in the1s. - which was what they got on the 1916 selling price of 13s., they would be getting 10s. per ton whereas they receive only 7s. 6d. in those collieries that are filling round coal. Only one or two collieries are filling on the round coal basis and the Old Lambton is one of them. The men engaged in producing slack coal, or filling by the shovel or consolidated basis were paid on the basis of 3s. 4d. per ton in 1916 on a selling price of 12s. a ton. According to the scale then they got 3d. in the1s. on the consolidated basis, and 4d. in the1s. on the round coal. I may mention for the information of honorable members who may not be intimately acquainted with conditions of the coalmining industry that slack coal is small coal. The wage to-day on the 25s. selling price would be 6s. 7d., but what is the hewing rate on the consolidated basis? It ranges from 4s.1d. to 5s. 9d. per ton. Where is the money going? That is what the miners want to know. On the Maitland field the price paid to the men was 4d. less than on the Newcastle field - 3s. per ton on the consolidated basis. Therefore, they would have been receiving 6s. 3d. per ton to-day whereas in many instances they are getting under 4s., and up to 4s.8d. In some cases they have gone up to 4s. 9d. This is a matter that should be included in the terms of reference of the royal commission proposed by the Prime Minister. I am not speaking, like some honorable members opposite, of what has been told them by others who are priming them; but I am speaking from practical experience. I worked in coal mines from the time when I was thirteen years of age until the 17th November last, when I was elected to this House; therefore ray remarks are not based on hearsay.
Another question that should be taken into consideration by the royal commission is the fact that the sliding scale was abolished when an increase of 3s. per ton was granted by the Goal Board on the selling price of coal. As I said before, we objected to that because we did not get a fair cut. I am going to be candid now. When we found that we could not obtain a fair cut, we decided to expose those who were robbing the public. We tried to do it, but nobody was prepared to assist us. We have been agitating for a considerable number of years, as the right honorable member for North Sydney knows, for an inquiry into the whole ramifications of the industry.
Coming to recent years, let us recall what occurred in 1925 when an agitation was instituted by those members of the miners’ organization who were termed offhand labourers, or shift men, for an increase in their wages. The Federal Coal Board considered the matter and granted them an increase of1s. 6d. a day - no other employees in the industry benefited. The Prime Minister said that 1925 was a normal average year. That happened to be the year in which the off-hand labourer received the increase of1s. 6d. a day, and in that year 11,396,199 tons of coal were produced by 24,049 men employed in the industry. In that year, each man produced on the average 474 tons of coal per annum. Taking an average working fortnight of eight days - and here I am giving the proprietors a fair go, because in the whole history of coal mining in Australia the mines have never worked eight days a fortnight or 208 days a year - we find that that gives an increase in his annual income of £15 12s. But when, we reckon the 474 tons that he produces in a year at1s. 6d. per ton, it amounts to £3511s. Deducting from that amount the £15 12s. paid to the miner, we find that the owner makes a net annual profit of £19 19s. on each of the 24,049 men employed. That is on the assumption that the increase was given to every miner, but I have already explained that it applied to only the off-hand labour which comprises 50 per cent, of the workers in the industry. If the owners paid the increase to all of them, their net profits would have amounted to £479,77711s.; but as they paid only half of them, their net profits from the increased payment to the off-hand labour amounted to £719,666. Thus were the consumers of coal robbed and our secondary industries crippled. We are told that these figures are fictitious and that the slack and the coal given to the miners are not taken into consideration. Before I was born slack showed a margin of profit and the miners enjoyed the benefit of getting a load of slack coal once a month. This being a Federal industry, other States participated in the increase of1s. 6d. per day. The Queensland Labour Government caused an inquiry to be held as to whether the extra charge of1s. 6d. a ton was justified. It was declared to be excessive, and the Queensland owners were allowed to add only 6d. per ton to cover the increase. Not a penny more should have been allowed in New South Wales. The Commonwealth Government sent Colonel Lynn to conduct the inquiry in Queensland, and I am not sure that the
Railway Commissioners of that State were satisfied with the holding of it in camera to meet the wishes of the proprietors. The wages paid to the miners are made known to the public and it is high time that the public knew the profits of the mine-owners. The miners do not favour inquiries in camera, but when they ask for a public investigation the owners object that it might cause the divulging of trade secrets. Following the passage of the Workers Compensation Act at the instance of the Lang Government in New South Wales, a further1s. per ton was added to the price charged to the users of coal. On an average annual output of 11,396,199 tons, this increase would produce over £500,000 to insure 24,049 employees. The rate quoted by the State Insurance Company for mining workers is 140s. per cent, in the southern districts and 116s. per cent, in the northern districts where 80 per cent, of the coal of Australia is produced; for surface workers the rate is only 64s. per cent. The coal-mining proprietors have their own insurance schemes and as the clerks in the colliery offices administer these funds as part of their ordinary work, the overhead charges are not as great as are those borne by the State Insurance Company.
I am said to have a suspicious nature, but if the terms of reference to the royal commission are submitted by the Government to this chamber for approval, I shall withhold some of the criticism I had intended to offer. I feel impelled to say, however, that having regard to the army of unemployed throughout Australia for the last couple of years, I cannot help suspecting a conspiracy to lower the standards of living. The employers want to keep in existence a large number of unemployed maintained on the dole untilthe time is ripe for a general onslaught upon wages and working conditions; then the dole will be withdrawn and the hungry and desperate unemployed will be told that there is work for them in the mines and in other industries. The migration system appears to be part of this scheme. I am told that the Commonwealth Government brings to Australia only such migrants as are requisitioned by the State Governments from time to time ; but I call the attention of honorable members to the following ad vertisement published in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser of 27th October, 1928 : -
For Australia 68 families with not more than two children under working age.
That is a warning that migrants are not wanted if they have half a dozen kiddies who are not able to work - 18 School teachers for New South Wales. Work guaranteed. 1 Cabinet-maker, married. Must be thoroughly competent. Experienced in high grade work. 4 Domestics for Henty, New South Wales. Commencing wage 25s. per week. 15 Domestics for Victoria Colac Caledonian Society. Experienced girls 30s. to 35s. week; inexperienced £1 per week. 1 Scotch domestic, Victoria, age 22-25 years, able to milk. Wage to commence 25s. and 30s. after three months. 1 boy, Victoria, wanted for New Year. Mechanical experience.
The folly of advertising for one boy to go from Scotland to Australia, when thousands in my own electorate are unable to get work ! That advertisment is signed by the “ Melville’s Shipping Agency, 50 South Bridge-street, Airdrie.” The Sydney Sun, referring to the visit of the Prince of Wales to the coal-mining areas in the north of England, said: -
First, he visited the bleak village of Blaydon, and stopped before the Labour Exchange windows, which were plastered with advertisements emphasizing the Dominions’ want of men and women.
Outside the exchange a miner, who has been unemployed for four years, to whom the Prince spoke, declared that he would sooner work in his own country than emigrate.
These facts point to a conspiracy to maintain an army of unemployed for the one purpose of attacking the wages and conditions of the worker. For years I have been a student of the coal-mining industry, and I read carefully the report of the New South Wales royal commission on safety in mines. One of the witnesses before the commission was Mr. Joshua Jeffries, who had been manager of the South Maitland coal-fields, a new development and probably the richest in Australia, having a wide seam of coal of high calorific value. Mr. Jeffries warned the commission in these words -
If something is not done with regard to the extraction of coal on the Maitland fields, that seam will be done in the course of 25 or 30 years..
I use his words to warn the people of Australia. Mr. Jeffries knew what he was speaking about, and I know what I am speaking about. They are not getting 35 per cent, of the coal out of that rich seam, because of their antiquated methods df extraction. Unless we improve our methods those who follow us will not be grumbling about an increase in the price of coal of £1, or even £2, per ton, for coal will be sold on Chinese gold scales. It is sad to think that our coalfields are being ruined. I was speaking the day before yesterday to a man who had been in Germany. He described to me the hydraulic stowing method of extraction, by which the Germans extract 95 per cent, of the coal in a seam. Unless we improve our methods posterity will curse us, and we shall deserve to be cursed. I have worked in one of the richest mines in the Maitland coal-field, and have seen pillars of coal coped over and crushed out owing to pressure. That coal has been lost to the nation for all time. It will never be possible to extract it because of danger from the roof. The royal commission should give serious consideration to the methods by which the coal-owners are extracting this valuable product.
Another subject to which it should pay some regard .is the over-development of our coal-fields. Too many leases have been granted. The coal-owners have no care for anything but profits. The welfare of their employees is a secondary consideration with them, although it should be a matter of primary importance. The workers may sweat and 1 abour and their bodies may be mangled and crushed to win wealth for the coal-owners, and all the reward they may expect is an inadequate wage, which is begrudged them.
The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) referred to the balance-sheets of certain coal-mining companies. I have balance-sheets which go back from the period to which the honorable member took us. All I shall say of them is that they also demonstrate that stock has been watered and huge dividends have been paid. The royal commission should give attention to this aspect of the problem. Incidentally, it should inquire into the relations of the coal barons and the shipping companies. A good deal has been said about coal from Great Britain coming into successful competition with locally-produced coal. This would be utterly impossible if it were not for the alliance between the colliery-owners and the shipping companies. It costs 12s. 6d. per ton to ship coal from Newcastle to Adelaide, and 10s. per ton to ship it from Newcastle to Melbourne. For the purpose of a simple calculation we shall assume that Adelaide is 2,000 miles from Newcastle, although it is not that distance. Great Britain is 12,000 miles distant. If coal from Great Britain were charged at the same rate of freight as coal from Newcastle, it would cost £3 15s. per ton to bring it to Adelaide. If the lowest grade of coal produced in England at 13s. 6d. per ton were shipped to Australia under those conditions, it could not successfully compete with our local coal. There is no doubt whatever that the coalowners have conspired with the shipping companies with the object of lowering the standard of living of the Australian workers.
I wonder why the Prime Minister has shown such a sudden change of front in regard to this matter? I asked him, while he was speaking, when he had last seen the coal-owners, and he replied that he had never seen them. I did not also ask him when he had last seen their agents; but to-day I saw Mr. McDonald and Mr. Jonas in Canberra. Are they here for a health trip ? I am glad that the Prime Minister showed a change of front, even though he only repeated what Mr. Bavin had previously said, and Mr. Bavin in his turn only repeated what the coal-owners had said in relation to the loss of the oversea coal trade which we formerly had. We lost this trade, not for the reasons given by these gentlemen, but for other reasons. During the war a restriction was placed upon the export of coal, with the result that we lost our contracts with Burmah, India, Chili and Peru. These countries were forced to search for fresh coal supplies, and they have discovered coal deposits in their own land. The consequence is that to-day they not only compete successfully with us for any trade that is offering, but also obtain business at the expense of European countries. They are able to do this, because they do not pay white men’s wages. Their coal is hewn by coolies. It appears to me that some people would like to see the Australian workers reduced to the status of coolies. Even if we were able to recapture some of our former business, we should find that these lowwage countries would reduce their already pitiably small wages, with the object of defeating us.
The moral of all this is that the vicious system of production for profit must stop. The unfortunate worker should not for ever be called upon to suffer, in order that the coal barons might become wealthy. The whole system is rotten to the core. I know that men who make statements like this are accused of receiving Russian gold, but the statements are none the less true. It is well known that the Melbourne Gas Company has never paid a dividend of less than 15 per cent. It is paying that dividend to-day with coal at its present price. I am not opposed to a reduction in the price of coal. I am thoroughly convinced that its price could be reduced, but the reduction should not be made at the expense of the workers. I believe that we shall be able to prove to the satisfaction of the commission that is to be appointed that the coal-owners are fleecing the public. Today, the Prime Minister made some reference to the Broken Hill Proprietary Company’s steel works at Newcastle. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman knows that this company has two well-equipped coal mines in the course of development, and will soon be independent of the Coal Vend. It has been fleeced by the coal barons for long enough.
Honorable members should not be surprised that the coal miners have refused to accept the Bavin scheme for lowering the price of coal. The miners were being paid on a sliding scale, under which one-third of any increase in the price of coal went to them and two-thirds went to the owners.
– Because they discovered that they were being robbed under it, just as they are being robbed under the percentage scheme. When the selling price of coal fell, the men agreed t<T a reduction of one-third of their wages.
What is the present proposal of Mr. Bavin? The proprietor is to accept a reduction of ls. a ton and the poor unfortunate worker has to suffer to the same extent. The honorable member for Warringah asked why did not the men work under the sliding scale. At the time that system operated the selling price of coal could not be ascertained unless one proprietor “squeaked” on the others. It was only then that the men were able to get their dues. Under the sliding, scale the miners had a fair deal, but in order to lift their unfortunate lower-paid comrades out of the rut, they agreed to abolish the sliding scale. While that alteration conferred a benefit upon the underpaid men it was nothing in comparison with the impetus given to the mine-owners’ profits, which soared higher than ever.
The proposed cut in wages will not in any way stimulate the sale of- coal. It will not give the miners any more work, because it is impossible for us to compete with the Home collieries. One has only to ascertain the price of coal in the Old Country to realize the conditions under which the miners are working there. It has been asserted that if the price of coal were reduced in Australia there would be more work for the miners. Surely honorable members do not wish the day wage worker or the contract worker to be paid below the basic wage ? If that happened the result would be, not the stimulation of the sale of coal, but rather the lowering of the conditions of the workers and their consequent degradation. Some of the mine managers themselves, some of the rebels to whom I have referred, have admitted that there is no market to be captured overseas. There will never be an increased demand ‘ for coal; for several reasons: countries that were at one time customers of ours have developed their own resources, and there has been a development of other sources of power, such as oil burning boilers, combustion engines, and hydro-electricity. All of these things are militating against the sale of coal. Then, the coal-mining industry throughout the world is over-developed. There are to* many men engaged in it and sooner or later they must be absorbed in other vocations. That is the main problem facing us to-day.
The following is a list of most of the collieries - most of them in my electorate -in the Newcastle and Maitland coalfields, with the approximate number of men employed and tonnage which could be produced by working a five-day week for fifty weeks a year: -
The example of the coal proprietors of England in decreasing wages has been copied by the coal proprietors of Australia. They have informed Mr. Bavin of it and he in turn has informed the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, who has now informed this House, that if the men accept a reduction in wages there will be a greater demand for coal. A reduction in the wages of the coal-miners would mean nothing but a further shrinkage in the already small income of these impoverished people, and an increase in the profits of the mine-owners.
– “What would be the weekly earnings of a miner working at full time on piece-work?
– I shall come to that later. This experiment was tried in England. The men were told that if they accepted a reduction in wages more coal would be sold. The Prime Minister is telling the people of Australia to-day that a cut in the wages of the miners would mean more work for them, but that theory does not work out in practice. In England the miners were suffering the pangs of starvation because of intermittent work. To provide for their wives and children they agreed to accept a reduction in wages. Unfortunately for the miners, there has been no more work offering. The Prince of Wales recently visited the coal-fields of England, and last week the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) desired to congratulate him on his courage in inspecting those poverty stricken areas and seeing for himself the starvation, degradation and death that has been brought about because of the greed and avarice of the coal-mine owners of Great Britain. Do honorable members supporting the Government desire to see this sunny land of Australia in a like predicament? If they do, then I can only say that they are adopting a very short-sighted policy.. The miners and their executive resent any intrusion on their rights and conditions of living. During the election campaign, after I had addressed a meeting in my electorate, the ex-manager of the largest mine in Australia came to me and said “I must congratulate you, Bowley, on the excellent case that you have put up, but you have been too fair regarding the owners’ profits.” I said “ Yes “. He then said “ I have documents in my home that show conclusively that the proprietors could easily afford to accept a reduction not of 4s. a ton, but of 5s. a ton without interfering at all with the men’s wages “. I asked him if I could make use of that information and he replied “ Yes ; my sympathies are with the miners, because I’ have been a miner. I am an independent man to-day, and I shall never want a job in a mine again “. There are many mine managers who, had they the courage to go against the wishes of the coal proprietors, would give evidence in favour of the miners, but they dare not, because they fear that they would be victimized in consequence. One mine manager dared to give a job to a trade union official and three months later his services were dispensed with. He does not now bother about mines; he is a successful hotel-keeper. Certain figures were submitted to Mr. Hibble, of the Coal Tribunal, in 1923, on the last occasion when the coal proprietors tried to obtain a reduction in the men’s wages. I ask leave to have the table inserted in Hansard without reading the whole of it. - (Leave granted.) - It is as follows: -
Since the above figures were submitted the men have had granted to them an extra ls. 6d. a day, which, if they average eightdays a fortnight, or 208 days a year, is equal to £15 12s. per annum. It has been asserted that the owners are unable to make a profit. I could name a mine that is situated in the Greta district; at which coal can be landed on the surface for 10s. a ton. If we allow for a profit of 4s. a ton, and a royalty of 2s. a ton, it will be seen that that coal could be sold for 16s. a ton. Yet some of the mine-owners on the South Maitland field are charging 22s. a ton. As the freight to Newcastle is approximately 3s. 4 1/2 d. a ton, their price in. that city is 25s. 4 1/2 d. although it is possible for others to sell their output at 19s. 4£d. a ton. It is facts such as these which impelled the miners tq ask for an investigation of the industry in the following terms: -
That the Federal Government appoint a commission of inquiry with all necessary powers and authorities to conduct a full and comprehensive inquiry into the coal, shale and coke industry.
That such commission shall have all the powers of the Supreme Court of Victoria with respect to compelling the attendance of witnesses, the production of books, documents, reports, balance-sheets, papers and writings, the obtaining and adduction of evidence and the administration of oaths, and all necessary powers and authority for the purpose of making a full and comprehensive inquiry into the coal, shale and coke industries of the Commonwealth, and the sale, carriage and distribution to the consumers of snr.Ii products and their industrial by-products.
That such commission be composed of representatives of employers, employees and the general public, and be open to the press a.nd the public.
That the commission bc appointed forthwith.
Such a commission should extend its investigations to include the bribery department of the coal-mining industry. Agents have approached an official of the miners’ organization and paid him sums ranging up to £600 to induce him to keep the mines working. These parasitical agents should be abolished; there is no need for them. Many of the troubles that now beset the industry would be removed if the Government were to take over the mines and work them. The present wasteful method of extraction should be replaced by one which would conserve the coal resources of this country, and some means to handle the by-products, thus providing work for many more men, should be devised. Recently a German firm applied for permission to install a byproduct plant in this country. I have noticed in the press that companies in other parts of the world also are interested in the development of these plants for the purpose oi” extracting oil from coal. This is a matter which should receive immediate attention. I was informed only yesterday by a most reliable man, who has been in Germany and has seen the work which that country is doing, that within ten years she will be extracting from her coal all the oil she requires, thus making herself independent of the United States of America. This Government should direct its attention to the re-organization of the mines throughout the Commonwealth. The solution of the problem which confronts us is not to be found in a lowering of the standard of living, but to a large extent in the re-organization of the industry, so that wastage will be obviated and obsolete plants replaced by modern machinery. I am convinced that a solution of this matter can be found, and I firmly believe that all sides of the community would welcome a condition of affairs that would bring more contentment into the homes of the people who have to extract this mineral, in preference to a system that will bring to them starvation.
-The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. West) proposed -
That the honorable member be granted an extension of time in which to complete his speech.
– In view of the limited amount of time available for this discussion, and the fact that a large number of members wish to speak, the Government cannot agree to the proposed extension.
– What hypocritical humbug!
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to withdraw that expression.
– I withdraw it; but I cannot help expressing my very strong feeling in this matter.
.- It was gratifying to hear the representative of such a great coal-mining district as that which the electorate of Hunter embraces say that the statement made this afternoon by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) had entirely taken the wind out of his sails. The inference drawn by me from that statement was that that honorable member is satisfied with the promise of the Prime Minister to appoint a royal commission and to confer on Monday with representatives of the employers and employees relative to a proposal they have previously had submitted to them.
I offer my congratulations to the Prime Minister upon his very able speech, during the course of which he dealt extensively with a very big and most important basic industry, and made a valuable contribution to the suggestions that have been advanced for solving the problems with which the industry is faced. Those problems have not developed recently, but are the result of a long process of compromise between the mineowners and their employees. This policy has resulted in a rapid advance in the price of coal, and has steadily developed an artificial and uneconomic condition in the industry. Strikes and an atmosphere of suspicion have also been contributing factors. Unless the trade can be completely re-organized there is no prospect of it being placed upon a satisfactory basis. All sections of the industry must make what contribution they nan, and there must be co-operation by both State and Commonwealth Governments. Remedies must be applied without delay, otherwise the industry will fall into a chaotic condition from which it will be almost impossible to reclaim it. As a result of disorganization in the coal-fields of New South Wales and Queensland the mines have been developed beyond the requirements of the industry. The number of miners engaged in this industry has increased out of all proportion to the power of the industry to employ them. Consequently there seems no possibility of their getting sufficient work to enable them to maintain a satisfactory standard of living. The great extension of electrical power has had an important influence on the demand for coal, as also has the growth of hydro-electric works, oil-driven machinery, and motor transport. The position in New South Wales is chaotic, but in the other States it is not quite so bad. In Queensland there has been a very definite decline in the output of coal, the production figures for recent years being as follows: -
The figures for 1928 are not yet complete, but it is estimated that the output will show a further falling off. In my district alone, which produces about 66 per cent, of the coal mined in Queensland, the production has fallen from 718,205 tons in 1914 to 612,888 tons in 1927. While this substantial decrease in output has taken place, the number of collieries in my electorate has increased from 26 in 1919 to 41 in 1927, and the total number of men employed in all Queensland collieries has risen from 2,259 in the year 1919 to 2,842 in 1927. The’ position in New South Wales is worse, and about 5,000 miners in excess of requirements are at present trying to eke out an existence doing casual work a few days each fortnight. It is the function of the State Government to tackle the problem of obtaining new and profitable employment for them. No mine-owner, or association of miners, can undertake this. It should be done by the State Governments, and should the help of the Federal Government be wanted, it should be readily given. Present conditions are entailing much suffering and hardship on the surplus miners and their wives and families. I am sure that all their savings must have gone, and they cannot move afield in search of work if it were available. Concerning this industry. Sir Arthur Duckham, chairman of the British Economic Mission, said that coalmining in New South Wales would have to come back along the path it had followed to artificial prosperity. His investigations showed that mine* were started before their time, and costs were so high that now it was impossible to carry on. Production costs would have to be substantially reduced. How that was to be brought about was a problem which those engaged in the industry alone could solve.
The coal-mining industry is now paying the penalty for its departure from simple economic principles, on which all sound business depends. The present crisis is mainly due to inflated prices. Whatever increase in wages or improvement in conditions has been demanded has invariably been granted, and the cost passed on to the consumer. In some cases more than the increased costs have been passed on by the mineowners.
In an interview on this subject, some remarkable statements were made by a prominent Newcastle mine manager. If his figures are correct, the coal-owners have been having the very happy experience of receiving increases in selling prices which have more than compensated them for increases in wages agreed to by the Coal Tribunal. He states: -
The sliding scale operated until 1916, when Mr. Justice Edmunds, appointed by the Commonwealth Government, increased contract rates by 15 per cent., and day labour by 17$ per cent. The price of coal, on the recommendation of his Honour, was increased by 3s. per ton. Although not definitely laid down, it seemed to be understood that it was to recoup owners for increased wages, and, as the country was at war, the assumption was a reasonable one. At any decently managed mine the increased cost of wages would be under ls. 6d. per ton. In 1919 wages were increased by another 15 per cent., and the selling price by 2s. 9<L for best quality coal in the northern district. The 15 per cent, on wages would not exceed ls. 9d. in the cost of production. In 1920 another increase of 174 per cent, was awarded by the coal tribunal, and the selling price was increased by 4s. The added cost would not exceed 2s. per ton. Selling prices were, therefore, increased by 9s. Od. per ton, as against a probable increase of 5s. 3d. in productive costs.
The gentleman who made that statement is the manager of one of the large southern companies. There must surely be some explanation of the disparity between the increases in the wages and the selling price. The position needs to be cleared up if full co-operation between employers and employees is to be expected. It cannot be doubted that many people with industrial interests dependent upon coal are thinking very seriously about the present position. They are beginning to ask whether the present selling price is justified. If it is a fact that the price of coal has been increased out of proportion to the increase in wages, and if there u no explanation other than increased profits to account for it, public opinion will inevitably be ranged against the coal proprietors. It must not be forgotten that coal is a key commodity. If its price is unreasonably high that will cause an unreasonable increase in production costs in other industries. In Queensland a little more than half the increases approved by the Coal Tribunal have been put on. to the price of coal by the proprietors of the mines. In 1916, the Queensland industry made an increase of ls. 9d. a ton instead of 3s. per ton as laid down by Judge Edmunds. Another increase of 15 per cent, to the miners followed in 1919. When the increase in the price of coal in New South Wales was 2s. 9d. a ton, Queensland increased the price by only ls. 6d. a ton. In 1920, another increase of 17^ per cent, was given the miners, when the increase in New South Wales was 4s. a ton, while Queensland prices advanced by only 2s. 5d. to 2s. 6d. a ton. Another increase to daymen of ls. to ls. 6d. was made in 1928 by the board. The increase covering that rate in Queensland was only 6d. a ton, while the southern owners increased the price by ls. per ton. Too much stress cannot be placed on the need for peace in the industry. The New South Wales coal-fields particularly have suffered a great deal from industrial ferment. There have been repeated stoppages of work, and all of them have contributed to present difficulties. Despite continual improvement in conditions in the mining industry in New South Wales, it has more disputes to discredit it than any other industry. From 1924 to 1927 strikes in the industry were responsible for 69.6 per cent, of the working days lost, the remaining 30.4 per cent, were due to strikes in the transport, building, manufacturing, labouring and other trades. While dislocations in the mining industry caused a loss of 11,203,663 working days in thirteen years, non-mining industries accounted only for 4,882,972. Thus 32,000 mining employees caused sixty times as much dislocation as the 850,000 non-mining employees.
Speaking at Ipswich recently, the President of the Queensland Colliery Employees’ Union used these words -
Unionists in Queensland -nail have to see that something is going wrong with their unionism - that the policy of holding up industries at the behest of a few is not the best way of doing things.
The position in the New South Wales collieries has been infinitely worse as I have shown. To this must be added the frequent long holds-up owing to industrial trouble on the waterfront.
Twenty years ago the New South Wales coal-fields exported annually 3,300,000 tons of coal; last year the figures had fallen to 1,600,000 tons. Meantime, other States - New Zealand and foreign countries - weary of depending on erratic and costly supplies, had developed their own inferior fuel resources, and ceased to import New South Wales coal. In addition to huge losses in interstate trade, Chile, which in 1923 purchased from us 110,000 tons, in 1927 took only 800 tons. In 1921 Java took 404,000 tons of our coal, and last year took only 70,000 tons. In five years, the Philippine Islands trade with us declined from 160,000 to 72,000 tons. The trade with the United States of America fell from 181,000 tons in 1922 to 29,000 in 1927. Shippers to and from Australia have also arranged to coal at other than Australian ports for the same reasons.
Mr. Bavin, speaking in the New South Wales Parliament recently, said -
The oversea trade, which absorbed one-third of the output, or 3,500,000 tons, in 1913, has declined “heavily, especially in the last two years, and now takes only 1,500,000 tons, or one-seventh of the production. Interstate trade has also dwindled, and the action of the Premier of South Australia (Mr. Butler) in ordering coal from England has given a vivid illustration of the possibilities of the future. Under conditions now existing in the industry, there seems to be little hope of retaining the external trade which we now have, much less of recovering any which we have lost. In 1913 we exported nearly 500,000 tons to the East Indies, British Malaya and India, but to-day that trade is less than 100,000 tons.
Mr. Bavin went on to explain that in 1913 we had 115 mines operating, producing 10,400,000 tons of coal; at an average output of 553 tons per employee; while in 1927, with 147 mines operating, the output was still about 11,000,000 tons, the number of employees had increased to 24,494, and the average output per employee had been reduced from 553 tons to 457 tons. The almost total loss of export trade in New South Wales must be attributed to inflated prices and continued industrial trouble. However, I believe that there are serious faults on both sides in this industry in New South
Wales. I am pleased to say the difficulties are not so acute in Queensland. We are suffering there chiefly because of the serious set back to the coal industry in New South Wales, which is reflected in our trade. If prosperity can be restored to the industry in New South Wales, our industry will also move forward to greater prosperity than now obtains. No one can contribute more to restoration of prosperity in the industry than the mine proprietors and the miners themselves, if they agree to mutual co-operation. What is required is a proper investigation,, involving the whole economic basis of the industry, and a report that would point to safe and sane reconstruction measures. The miners in New South Wales have every right to be suspicious of the proprietors, who were authorized to increase their price for coal by 5s. 3d., and increased it by 9s. 9d., while in Queensland the increase was only half that actually made in New South Wales. Those matters, and many others, have to be cleaned up before we can have the goodwill and co-operation that the industry needs.
The reduction of the miners’ wages should not be conditional upon the granting of the royal commission. I have not yet joined those who claim that the only way to reduce the cost of production in any industry is to begin by reducing the wages of the workmen, nor does the Prime Minister hold that view ; I have frequently heard him say so on the public platform. ‘ The increasing of our manufacturing industries so that more coal could be consumed is a matter to which the commission might devote its attention. Many of the miners who are now out of work would then be able to find new avenues of employment. The improvement in the efficiency of many of our mines, the appointment of some more satisfactory tribunal than the present coal tribunal, which has more than outlived its usefulness, and the general reorganization of the industry so far as possible to eliminate waste, are important questions that must also be investigated.
The industry in New South Wales was inquired into by Mr. Campbell, K.C., as a Royal Commissioner in 1919-20, and some of the findings then arrived at apply as strongly to-day as when they were presented to Parliament.
One of that Royal Commissioner’s observations was as follows:-
It cannot be said that the conditions of the coal-mining industry or of the coal trade are satisfactory from the point of view of the State, or of the general public, and although the mines are the subject of what is termed private property and are worked by means of contract labour and the trade is in the hands of private individuals or private trading companies, not even the most bigoted advocate of individualism could deny that the interests of the State and the public are vitally involved in the management both of the industry and the trade. Every one must- recognize that any waste associated with a product and industry of such fundamental importance as that of coal is deplorable, and, apart from any question of ultimate national injury, the State and public are immediately and directly concerned with the effect “of waste on cost and price. That such waste exists, both in the material and in the functions of the industry, and in the organization or want of organization of the trade, appears incontestable, and calls imperatively for consideration and remedy.
The Commissioner also said -
One of the most urgent of the problems presenting themselves in connexion with the coal industry is the need of arresting the flood of waste in which it is, under existing conditions, involved, and one of the most obviously wasteful factors is the consumption of coal in all its various utilities within the State, without systematic regard to economy of material or the conservation of essential values. The extraction of by-products of coal is confined to a few gas companies, and the quantities produced may be considered negligible.
One of the functions of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research should be the discovery of means of oh taining a greater number of by-products from coal. In another section of the report the Commissioner stated -
It has been observed that the popular view is that coal is something to be burned, while the scientific view is exactly the opposite. It is that coal is too valuable to be burned; that the by-products of coal are of greater moment than the coal itself; and that not until these by-products have been extracted should the residuum be used for industrial or domestic purposes. . . .
Commenting on this statement a special corespondent of The Age writes as follows from Sydney: -
It is the realization of this economic truth which has led to the installation at the works of the Australian Gaslight Company, Mortlake, Sydney, of a number of specially constructed, sub-stations for the recovery from the coal used in gas manufacture by the company of such valuable commodities as ammonium sulphate, benzol, tar, liquid fuel, motor spirit, and a dozen or two others. These sub-stations, which have been only erected two years, are the nucleus of what is destined in the very near future to be a huge industrial concern, performing an important national duty by pioneering a new form of enterprise, which, owing to its assured revenue-earning capacity, combined with the elimination of waste, cannot but be of the utmost value, to the country and the community. .« . .
Each year the Australian Gaslight Company draws from the Maitland coal-fields 400,000 tons of coal with which to manufacture gas to supply Sydney and suburbs. That coal is not burned. If one may use the phrase in a descriptive sense, it is “ merely roasted.” By this process the coal is divided into three constituents - gas for heating and illuminating purposes; coke, and a liquid compound of crude tar and ammoniacal liquor. The coke is retailed as fuel, and from the liquid come all the useful and valuable by-products of the coal. . . .
The by-products of coal are being recovered by the company to date in the comparatively small by-product works, which it has cost but £40,000 to erect. These works are able to deal with only the crude tar recovered from 200.000 tons of the 400,000 tons of coal used at the gasworks each year. But they bring in revenue - according to the company’s published balance-sheets - to the extent of £130,637 a year for the by-products they recover, and as these works are extended to deal with more coal they will correspondingly increase that revenue. The present recovery of by-products from 200,000 tons of coal a year is - benzine and toluine, 30,000 gallons (being converted into motor spirit). Ten or fifteen times this amount of benzine and toluine could be secured from the coal if the State Gas Act permitted calorific instead of illuminative value to bo the standard on which gas is to he supplied: - Sulphate of ammonia, 4,000 tons; Duratar asphalt, 3,000,000 gallons; solvent naptha, 15,000 gallons; pyridene, 2,000 gallons; middle oils for disinfectant manufacture, 150,000 gallons; crude napthalene, 30 tons; liquid fuel, 400,000 to 500,000 gallons.
Obviously before this work of by-product extraction was undertaken twice all this array Of valuable products were wasted by the crude coal tar being either burned or thrown away. Even to-day, owing to the incapacity of the plant to deal with the full 400,000 tons of coal used each year for gas-making purposes, just as great a quantity of by-products is being lost as is being gained out of this 400,000 tons of coal. But what is being gained is bringing in £139,027 a year revenue. . . .
I am glad that this discussion has helped to show some of the problems with which the industry is faced. I am particularly glad that the Prime Minister has seen fit to have the industry made the subject of a complete investigation by a royal commission, which will be given full powers by the Commonwealth and by New South Wales. The problems to be investigated are not confined to Australia, but are to be met with in other parts of the world as well. The importance of this basic industry need not be stressed by me, but I appeal to both sides to give every possible assistance to the Commonwealth and the State Governments who wish to help the industry to help itself. If the experience of Mr. Campbell K.C., in 1919 and 1920 is repeated - the president of the Colliery Employees’ Union in New South Wales, Mr. Willis, refused to render assistance^ - the commission cannot accomplish the object in view. But since the royal commission has been asked for by the miners’ representatives, they will no doubt realize that their responsibility is to render every assistance in their power. Only by co-operation - not by preaching class m consciousness, class hatred and other objectionable doctrines of that nature - can peace and prosperity be restored to the industry. Representing, as I do, a large coal-mining district, and having the welfare of the men engaged in the industry seriously at heart, I hope that the commission’s investigation will be made as speedily as possible and its report received, and that the industry will speedily be restored to that condition of prosperity which we all desire for it.
.- Although I have no desire to take up the time of the House unduly, I wish to comment on one or two points that have been raised in this debate. I may say, in the first place, that I reserve any expression of enthusiasm on my part regarding the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint a royal commission until other things have become apparent. Whoever is appointed chairman of the commission should be a man of experience, and one likely to inspire confidence in the minds of the workers and of the public. The appointment of royal commissions to investigate industrial troubles is, after all, futile if they have not sufficiently wide powers to deal with every aspect of the industries into which they inquire. One fact that causes me uneasiness is that throughout the discussion the mind of the Federal Government and of the Prime Minister, has been influenced to a large degree by the thoughts and actions of the Premier of New South Wales. I felt the other day that the Prime Minister, in his reply to a deputation, was marking time, pending an opportunity to discuss with Mr. Bavin what his decision ought to be. When the Premier of New South Wales was discussing this matter with the Miners’ Federation, he showed very great reluctance to agree to anything in the nature of an inquiry into the history of the coal-mining industry. If the miners are to have the inquiry that they desire, the whole ramifications of the industry and the actions of the colliery companies and the companies, associated with them will have to be fully inquired into. I hope, therefore, that the terms of reference to the commission will not be restricted in any way. It has been most surprising to me to find that honorable members on the other side have avoided making any reference to the most reasonable attitude adopted by the miners during the negotiations. Honorable members opposite have said at other times that the industrialists are prone to fly to direct action when their interests are likely to be interfered with. In this instance the inquiry emanated from sources around which there has always been a suspicion of partisanship. The proposal first came under my notice through the brutal remark of Mr. John Brown, one of the coal barons, that “ whether striking or working the miners will have to go back to the conditions of 1914.” This is one of the gentlemen from whom the proposal for a reduction of the miners’- wages first emanated. Subsequently, the Premier of New South
Wales, inspired by certain political or commercial friends, suggested a reduction of wages in conjunction with other adjustments which would reduce the cost of production. The miners had not contributed to the crisis that had arisen in the industry. They were working under the award of the tribunal appointed in accordance with legislation passed by this Parliament on the initiative of a right honorable gentleman who is nominally, if not always actively, a supporter of the present Government, and the proposal sponsored by Mr. Bavin was a deliberate attempt to evade the jurisdiction of that tribunal. The men would have been more than justified in expressing violent resentment of these tactics and refusing to take part in the discussion of any proposal to make the conditions under which they were working worse than they are at present. But honorable members opposite might, in justice to the miners’ tt organization, admit that the miners acted in & most reasonable manner by adopting all constitutional measures to have the . crisis in the industry settled.
When the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) was quoting this afternoon statistics regarding the capitalization and profits of the colliery companies, the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Bowden) questioned their accuracy. I assure the House that those statistics were taken from the report of the Registrar-General and the balance-sheets of the companies mentioned. The honorable member for Dalley stated that the capital of the Caledonian Collieries was watered. Of the 1,191,695 £1 shares in this company, which controls five collieries on the northern fields, 932,934 are held by the Howard Smith Steamship Company. This proves that one important group of collieries is almost wholly controlled by the shipping company, and, using the word that the honorable member for Barton employed humorously a few nights ago, there is a good deal of “correlation” between the shipping companies, the selling agencies, and the mine-owners. The watering of coal stock in this particular case was dealt with by Mr. Campbell, K.C., during his inquiry into the industry and he said -
In the circumstances it can only be inferred that the originally-issued share capital represented a considerable inflation of the actual capital value of the interests conveyed to the Caledonian Collieries Limited by Howard Smith Limited, who was, and continued to be, the predominant and controlling shareholder. There being no evidence available upon which to determine what proportion of the originally-issued share capital represented actual capital viewed in relation to tangible assets, the estimate that has been made of capital employed in production, in connexion with these collieries in the tables, has had to start with an inflated and, in. one sense, an artificial figure of £842,500, against which the average net profit measures as an apparently, low percentage of return on capital.
I have quoted that statement only for the purpose of correcting any impression that the figures given hy the honorable member for Dalley were not accurate.
One aspect of this problem that has not been discussed to-day is the importation of coal by the South Australian Government. The suggestions that were made in New South Wales for a reduction of wages are partly the outcome of the threat by the Premier of South Australia to import coal from abroad. He stated that English coal could be landed in that State for 35s. 6d. per ton, whereas New South Wales coal cost 42s. 6d. per ton. If those figures are correct, it must be apparent that Australian collieries could not compete against coal from England, even if our miners worked for nothing. In regard to the importation of coal into South Australia, there is a sinister combination of circumstances that is strongly suggestive of a policy of dumping. Coal for export to Australia is sold in England at 14s. per ton f.o.b., although the same coal is selling in England for ordinary commercial use at from 24s. to 28s. per ton. The Prime Minister stated that he has not been able yet to verify those figures, but I assure honorable members that this information was obtained from O’Connel’s Coal and Ii on News, an old-established and reliable English journal. I do not wish honorable members to think that any figures quoted by honorable members who are speaking on behalf of the miners are intended to mislead the House. On the coal that is sold for 14s. a ton f.o.b., a rebate is allowed by the English railways. In addition the shipping companies are carrying the coal at a lower rate than they are prepared to accept for the same cargo to any other part of the world. For instance, the freight on coal from England to the River Plate is 14s. 9d. a ton and from Cardiff to the River Plate 15s. 3d. a ton. Those freights are approximately 100 per cent, dearer than the charges to Australia. The facts that the English collieries are selling the coal at 14s. f.o.b. as compared with 24s. to 28s. for local consumption, that the railway companies are allowing rebates, and that the shipping companies are accepting lower rates than are charged to other countries or on other cargoes, justifies a strong suspicion of dumping.
The Premier of South Australia in an endeavour to cover up the bad administration of Conservative administrations, stated that the increase in the cost of the South Australian railway system was mainly due to the higher price of coal bought from New South Wales. The inaccuracy of that allegation can be proved by comparative statistics. In 1922 the South Australian Government bought from New South Wales 159,004 tons of coal at an average price of 42s. 7d. per ton. Subsequent to that year a Conservative administration decided to reorganize the railway system and to import from America a large number of new locomotives which were expected to make possible more economical running. In 1927, when the re-organization of the system was complete and the new locomotives were at work, South Australia bought 267,666 tons of New South Wales coal at a price 4d. per ton less than the average in 1922. It is true that the coal bill of the railways showed an increase of £226,957, but that was due to the uneconomical imported locomotives. - Yet the Premier tried to cloak the faulty administration of his own party by alleging that the increased cost of railway running had been caused by a rise in the price of coal. I do not know whether the Government intends that the investigation by the proposed royal commission shall cover also the importation of coal, but it is the duty of this Parliament, regardless of the view of the South Australian Premier, to see that the Australian coal industry is supported. Some criticism has been directed against Mr. Chas. McDonald of the Northern Collieries, but it is pleasing to be able to quote him. with approval for once. He said -
As to the South Australian Premier’s threat to cease purchasing New South Wales coal in favour of imported coal, the only possible comment is that through the failure of our governments to support one of the greatest of our industries we are already driven from foreign markets which we formerly held. It will not add to the political or patriotic prestige of the South Australian Government to purchase sweated or coolie-produced coal against the products of New South Wales fields.
I agree with that, and I add that this Parliament will not add to its patriotic or political prestige if it allows the South
Australian. Government to continue to give preference to imported coal. It is apparent to any one who . studies the situation that it is impossible for the Australian coal-owners to recover a good deal of the trade that has been lost in recent years. This loss is due in some instances to the action of other governments, such as the South African Government, which has been paying a bounty of 8s. or 9s. a ton on coal produced for export. It is impossible for Australian coal to be profitably produced in competition with countries where cheap, sweated labour is employed. One way in which we can provide additional markets is by building up our own industries, but that is a subject on which I am not permitted to enlarge in discussing this motion. In view of all the circumstances, I do not think that there is much prospect of finding additional use for Australian coal under present conditions, except in our industries.
Another aspect which is worthy of the closest consideration in the proposed deduction of ls. from the men’s earnings, which some persons say is a matter of minor importance. The proposal is that New South Wales shall contribute 2s., and the Commonwealth Government ls. a ton, making 3s. a ton which would be taken from the taxpayers, and to this the miners, in common with other members of the community, would contribute. The ls. which it is proposed to take from the coal-owners will be paid out of past and prospective profits, but if ls. is contributed by the miners it will mean that their wives and families who have now insufficient bread and butter will then have even less.
I have not time to comment upon this subject at greater length, as there are at least two other honorable members representing coal-mining constituencies who wish to contribute to the debate. I am not particularly concerned as to who will receive political kudos for the appointment of a royal commission. It certainly should have been granted six months ago, and I trust that the Prime Minister will not in any way attempt to restrict the scope of its inquiries.
– I congratulate the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Chifley) upon his reasonable and courteous presentation of the case for the coal-miners in his maiden speech in this House. He spoke with a knowledge of the subject, and presented his facts in a most interesting manner, and differed very considerably from his colleague thu honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). This subject has been very fully debated, but there are one or two observations which I wish to make. Although the coal industry is probably the most important in the Commonwealth, as upon it many other industries are dependent, it is an industry in which there have been more troubles during recent years than in all the others combined.
There are two reasons for the industrial troubles which have occurred, the decline in production and the increased competition. The reduced output of Australia* coal is due largely to the expansion of coal-mining operations in South Africa, Japan, Chili, Peru and other countries.
I wish to quote some interesting statistics published by the League of Nations which show that the production of coal in 1913 was 1,213,000,000 metric tons, whilst in 1925 it was 1,188,000,000 metric tons. The tendency since then has been in the direction of a further reduction, which is largely due to the use of oil in internalcombustion engines, for firing boilers, and for similar purposes. In 1914, the gross tonnage of motor ships was only 234,000, whilst in 1927 it had increased to 4,271,000. In the same period the tonnage of vessels equipped for burning either coal or oil increased from 310,000 tons to 18,482,000 tons. From these figures it will be seen that the use of oil is responsible for a marked reduction in the use of coal.
What has occurred in Australia in this industry during the past ten or fifteen years ? Most of the increases in the hewing price of coal were granted during the war period, when the selling price was also increased. In addition the sliding scale to which I referred when the honorable member for Dalley’ (Mr. Theodore) was speaking was, at the instance of the miners, inserted in the award by Mr. Justice Edmunds in 1916, when he granted eight hours from bank to bank. When the wages were increased from 15 to 20 per cent, the sliding scale wap abolished. Much of the trouble that hap occurred in the coal industry has been due to the abolition of the sliding scale; The increased wages paid1 to the coalminers, when higher prices were also received by the coal-owners and when consumers had to pay a higher rate, prevailed during the war period, and although costs of production in other industries have been reduced, those in the coal industry have remained the same. I now refer to the allegations made by Mr. Bondy Hoare, a union official who said that money had been paid to other officers of the coal-miners’ union to assist in keeping the miners at work, so that those requiring coal could get an uninterrupted supply. He admits the receipt of £536, and alleges that others in the industry have received similar sums. If an investigation is made into the industry, it should not be confined to the actions of the coal-owners. I have before me a report of the conference of employers and employees convened by the Government of New South Wales, and held on Thursday, 1st March, in which it is stated by the same gentleman to whom I have referred, Mr. Hoare.
Wo ask, Mr. Chairman, that the Government should cause a searching inquiry to be held into the operations of the coal-mining industry from 1920 up to the present time, on the questions of rebates, commissions, secret service money, juggling with cheques of the bank which we say did go on, and which we have every reason to believe still goes on.
The readiness with which the Prime Minister granted the request for a royal commission, shows that the Government earnestly desires to do all that can be done to rehabilitate the coal-mining industry. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) endeavoured to show this afternoon that the coal-owners had for a long time past made enormous profits, and were still making them. I find it difficult to believe that this is really the case, for Mr. Justice Campbell, who reported on the industry in 1920, inquired into what capital was employed in the various mines in the production and sale of coal, and found that the mineowners were not making exorbitant profits. He stated that their return amounted to only about 2s. a ton. If the information which the honorable member has placed before us this afternoon had bean placed before Mr. Justice Campbell, and had been found i& be reliable, attention would have been drawn to it in the report. Other impartial1 tribunals have inquired into this’ industry at different times,, and none of them has been able to obtain evidence to support the charge that unreasonably high profits have, been made.
I agree with the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), that the Premier of New South Wales (Mr. Bavin) is entitled to the best thanks of the community for his strenuous and disinterested efforts to keep the coal industry in operation. Mr. Bavin realized that an exhaustive inquiry such as is necessary could not be made in less than twelve or fifteen months, and he wished to evolve a scheme under which the industry could1 be maintained in the meantime. If his proposal had been adopted it would not have meant the impoverishment of the workers. He suggested that the hewing rate should be reduced by ls. a ton. This would not have meant ls. per ton to all the miners; but fractional decreases as the impost would have been spread over the whole industry. The adoption of the scheme would have ensured continuity of employment for 24,000 miners; it would have avoided the necessity of the general public contributing £5,000 per month in charity; it would have protected the manufacturing industries of the nation, and would have reduced the price of coal and gas to the consumers. It would also have reduced railway freights by keeping the rolling stock in continuous service, and would have been of material benefit to the whole community. It is regrettable, therefore, that the scheme has been so strongly resisted.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mi>. James), who spoke from an intimate knowledge of the coal-mining industry, pointed out that one of our troubles is inefficient methods of working. Of course, the honorable member was in a better position that some of his fellow coal-miners, for he was employed at the Pelaw Main Colliery and earned more than £2 for every shift that he worked, which was a great deal more than some of his unfortunate companions earned in other mines. The honorable member rightly pointed out that the industry needs reorganizing. The mine-owners should not be allowed to pick the eyes out of the coal seams and then leave them, if they are doing it. This would mean that the cost of extracting the remaining coal subsequently would be much greater than it need be. In the last ten or fifteen years very little has been done to reorganize this industry, although the need for it has been great. The mineowners might reasonably have taken some steps to deal with the altered conditions. The royal commission should inquire into this subject.
Attention was drawn by the honorable member for Blunter to an advertisement which appeared some time ago in a Scottish newspaper. The honorable member was not able to fasten the responsibility for the advertisement upon anybody. It seemed to have been inserted by some unauthorized British firm. But reprehensible as that was, it was not to be compared with the action of the exMinister for Labour and Industry and Minister in charge of immigration in New South Wales, Mr. Baddeley, who during his term of office allowed 1,500 migrant coal-miners to enter the Newcastle and Hunter River districts. This made the already bad state of affairs very much worse. That statement can be verified by consulting the records of the Labour and Industry Department of that State. The fault does not rest entirely with the coal-owners. Before the industry can be said to be working in the interests of the general public, the faults to which I have referred must also be remedied.
I regret that the appointment of this commission merely postpones for a time the settlement of this question. The consuming public, as well as the miners, want an immediate solution of the whole matter; but not one suggestion has come from the leaders of the Labour party to assist in that solution. The only effort that has been made to meet the situation and find employment has come from the Nationalist Premier of New South Wales and his Government. Mr. Bavin, who has made strenuous efforts to settle the trouble, acknowledges the cordial cooperation of the industrialists engaged in the industry. Apparently, some influence is at work which prevents effect from being given to the statesmanlike proposal which has been made. I hope that the inquiry will be speedily set in motion, that its field of investigation will be wide, and that the difficulties with which the industry is confronted will be solved. I suggest that a different policy be pursued from that followed in the case of Mr. Justice Campbell’s inquiry, when certain sections refrained from giving evidence. All the cards should be placed upon the table, so that a settlement .fair to the miners, the owners, and the consuming public may be reached. Unlike the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) I have no miners in my constituency1; but included among my constituents are numbers of consumers of coal, who are vitally, interested in all that affects the coal-mining industry. Many of them are men with large families, who, like the miners, find it difficult to pay their way. Any reduction in the price of coal would benefit them materially. I hope that the inquiry will result in justice being done to all the parties concerned.
– Seeing that the Prime Minister has agreed to the holding of an inquiry, and is willing to meet a deputation representative of both sides to the dispute, I do not think, it would be wise for me to go into matters that will be the subject of inquiry; but certain statements. made by the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page) and others call for an answer, and, having spent the whole of my life in the coalmining industry, I feel that I can speak with some authority on these matters. A good deal has been said about the enormous increase in the price of coal during and since the war period. That is admitted. The price of coal in Australia to-day is higher than is necessary to carry on the industry; but the miners have not participated to any great extent in that increase. It may be assumed that,, prior to the war, the mining companies were making fair profits. Owing to war conditions the price of coal was increased, first, by 3s. a ton, out of which the proprietors, to meet overhead and other expenses, would have to pay about 8d. per ton. Later, there was a further increase of 4s. per ton, although the expenses of the owners had increased in the meantime by only, about ls. per ton. Apart altogether from two further increases of ls. 6d. and ls. per ton respectively, it will be seen that the owners have already benefited by more than the amount by which it is now proposed to reduce the price of coal, a reduction which the general public and the miners are asked to share. In the past various shipping companies entered into contracts to supply coal to the other States. No matter how the price of coal varied at Newcastle, there was little fluctuation in the price they charged for it. These shipping companies became rich out of Newcastle coal, and to-day they are virtually the owners of the Newcastle mines. It is difficult to ascertain what proportion of their expenses is debited to the mines and what proportion their shipping activities have to bear. A good deal has been said regarding the output of Australian miners as compared with that of miners in other countries. It has been argued that in Australia the output per miner has decreased because of the shortness of the working hours, but the fact is that the Australian miner, so far as output is concerned, is second only to the miner of America, in which country the conditions of work are far more favorable than they are here.. Some of the American mines are mere open cuts. The miners have not participated in the increases in the price of coal during the last fifteen years to the extent that the coal-owners have done, and it is not right to ask them to bear a burden equal to that to be imposed on the owners.
I have shown that the coal-owners during the war made clear profits which should now enable them to meet a reduction in the price of coal without interfering at all with the wages of the miners. I join with those honorable members who contend that the coal industry of the world is undergoing a great change. Last year the world’s coal supply exceeded the demand by 40,000,000 tons, due, mainly, to the displacement of coal as a fuel by various other sources of power. That does not mean that coal will cease to be the* basic industry of this country, because it has been shown that in other countries the utilization of various sources of power has considerably increased the demand for coal. The Treasurer compared the production of coal in Germany, France and the United States of America with that in Australia, and he tried to show that we were lagging behind other countries. What is the real position? The output per miner in Germany to-day is 191 tons as against an output per man in Australia of 452 tons. In upper Silesia the output per man is 408 tons and in Belgium 204 tons. All the talk about the Australian miner not producing sufficient coal is ridiculous, because, as I have said before, he stands second only to the miner of America.
The Maitland field is one of the finest coal-fields in the world, but, unfortunately, it is not being properly worked. It has been said by experts that under the present method of operating its mined, not more than 35 per cent, of the coal will be recovered. The remainder will be left behind. It is of a bituminous character, and if at some future date it ignites, it will bring about an inferno for our children to look upon and wonder why such a sinful waste of coal took place. I am glad that an inquiry into the coal industry is to be made, and I venture to say that when it is held, the miners’ representatives will justify the stand that the miners have taken.
– Is there any possibility of the miners’ representatives reconsidering their decision in regard to the Government’s proposal?
– I have no authority to give any information to the honorable member on that subject. I do not know whether he was here when I pointed out that the increased profits gained by the mine-owners during the war left a margin of more than 5s. a ton with which to meet any reduction in the price of coal without interfering at all with the wages of the men. It is, therefore, useless, prior to the inquiry taking place, to ask the men to accept a reduction in wages equal to the loss to be sustained by the coal owners. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) made reference to the fact that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) had earned £2 a day as a coal miner. It is possible that the pay tickets of some miners may show gross earnings of £2 a day, but from that amount must be deducted the cost of explosives and other expenses which are necessary to enable them to perform contract work. I remind honorable members that, notwithstanding stoppages necessitated by various causes, the industry was kept sufficiently active to enable it to supply the demand for coal.
– Will the honorable member advise those men to accept the proposal of the Government?
– Certainly not; nor would I advise the honorable member, if he were in trouble, to accept the verdict of a judge before the latter had inquired into the merits of the case. I am glad that the Government has decided to appoint a royal commission of inquiry into the coal industry, and that within a day or two the Prime Minister will meet a delegation representing the owners and the miners. I hope that by the deliberations of that conference, a way will be found whereby the price of coal may be reduced, and that the industry will continue active while the commission makes its inquiries. I believe that the price of coal may be reduced without necessarily involving a reduction of wages. The inquiry will prove that what I say is correct.
– Many figures have been quoted during this debate, some of which have been challenged. I shall briefly outline the position of the coal industry since 1916, and detail the conditions which have obtained ‘since the abolition of the sliding scale system of wages. The figures which I shall quote are authentic and unchallengable, and are substantiated by the Miners Federation. In 1916, the coal tribunal awarded an increase of wages which involved an additional £390,000. Immediately the coal-owners raised the price of coal from 12s. to 15s. a ton, which returned them a profit of £1,010,000 over and above the wage increase. In 1917 wages were again increased by approximately ls. 9d. a ton, and the coal-owners increased the price of their product by 2s. 9d. a ton, which gave them an additional profit over all costs of production of £500,000. In 1920, wages were again increased by approximately 17 per cent., or 3s. a ton. The coal-owners, in defiance of the decision of the tribunal that the price of coal should not be raised more than 3s. a ton, immediately imposed an increase of 4s. a ton, and no action was taken against them by the tribunal or the Government for breaking their contract. Over and above the increase in the cost of productioin occasioned by increases of wages, they benefited to the extent of £1,000,000 in 1916, of £1,500,000 in 1917, 1918, 1919, and 1920, and of £2,000,000 in 1921 and 1922. The total profit made by the owners from the increases in the price of coal from the year 1916 to the year 1922 reached the stupendous figure of £11,000,000. Yet the owners have persistently tried to beat the miners into accepting conditions similar to those which operate in Europe. The coal barons indulged in “ snyde “ practices and commercial vandalism throughout the period of the great war while the workers were dying on the battlefield. One shipping company, with huge coal interests, had an original capital of £780,000. In 1920, it revalued its assets, and the company was reconstructed with a capital of £3,000,000, each of its shareholders receiving a present of three shares for every one that he held. In three years it paid dividends equal to 150 per cent, on its original capital. Another company, during the years 1918 to 1922, made a profit of £1,718,000, or £200,000 more than its capital. In 1920, another company was reconstructed with an authorized capital of £1,000,000. Its original capital in 1908 was £200,000. Still another company, which fourteen years previously had a registered capital of £11,000, was reconstructed for the second time in 1920, and disclosed a surplus of £150,000. It presented each of its shareholders with six shares for every one held, and on this inflated capital, paid 15 per cent, per annum, or 105 per cent, on its original capital. The following tabulation, which discloses the extent to which stock is watered, is illuminating: -
The owners of the last-named company are the men who, with their experts, went into the court-house at Wollongong and swore that there was no gas in their mine. Even while their perjured evidence was being given, the court-house was rocked by an explosion of gas from that very mine ! I believe that 70 or 80 lives were sacrificed when that explosion took place. The figures in relation to other companies are as follow : -
It is contended that the profit made by the coal-owners is not greater than 2s. a ton. Their books may show that only 2s. a ton is made at the pit mouth; but it must be remembered that they sell the coal to a registered company, of which they are the shareholders, and that that company supplies it to a shipping company whose shareholders are practically identical and which charges excessive freights. Therefore, what they lose on the swings they make up on the roundabouts. Only an exhaustive inquiry will disclose these facts.
For years the miners have been endeavouring to secure the appointment of a commission such as that which is now proposed. Five years ago I moved in this Parliament for the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the coal industry from the time the coal was produced until it reached the consumer. The last member for Hunter, Mr. Charlton, on two occasions during the period I have been in this Parliament, sought to have such an inquiry held. The Prime Minister has been approached on at least twenty occasions. I was a member of a deputation that waited upon him in Sydney. He then said that he was sorry for the little children whose weight was only 3 lb. when born because of the malnutrition of their mothers, and had every sympathy for the distressed miners, but that the Government could not divert trade from its proper channel. In the first speech that he made as Prime Minister, the right honorable gentleman said that that Government governs best which governs least. He had not been Prime Minister for twelve months when be fathered a bill to divert wine from its natural channel, so that it would flow from Australia to England instead of from Spain and Portugal to England. A few weeks later his Government gave a bounty to the meat industry so that the trade with England could be diverted from its natural channel - the Argentine - and flow from Australia. A bounty was given also to the fruit industry with a similar object. Whenever any section, except the workers, approaches this Government with the request that the instrumentalities of government shall be put into force for their benefit, trade is diverted into unnatural channels; but immediately it is asked to assist the miners by eliciting proof of the rapacity of the coal-owners, the reply is that trade cannot be diverted from its natural economic channel. It is well known that the expense incurred in the upkeep of racing establishments and of producing prize roosters and fowls is by some mysterious process of bookkeeping added by Baron Brown to the cost of producing his coal. For years it has been contended that the miners were receiving high wages and that they were always going on strike. Thus, throughout Australia, but particularly in the southern States, a psychology was created against them which led to the belief that they were responsible for the condition in which the coal industry found itself. The miner merely asks that the searchlight of publicity should be turned upon the industry. If that is done the present psychology will be destroyed, and public opinion will force this Government and the Government of New South Wales to revive the industry without lowering the conditions of the workers.
Would anybody outside a lunatic asylum argue that a reduction of wages means more employment and better economic conditions? Any person who possesses even an elementary knowledge of economics knows that that country is backward in which the working conditions are poor and the wages low. Yet it is argued that if the workers agree to their wages being reduced, more work will be provided. “Why is there such a large amount of unemployment in Great Britain and Europe today? “Why are not the mines of Great Britain working at high pressure, if a reduction of wages will bring about more employment? This is the dope that was handed out to the miners in Great Britain. They accepted it, and what is their condition to-day? It is comparable with that of the workers in the Elizabethan age. The British Government has expended £100,000,000 in subsidizing the wages of the miners. Their wages, were reduced so that it would be possible to compete with European countries. Immediately the wages in those countries were lowered, and a further reduction had to be made in Great Britain. The statistics show clearly that with every reduction the economic standard of the workers is further lowered. I have a copy of the pay’ docket of William Seath, a miner in the Fife Coal Company in Scotland, in which the Governor-General of Australia and his relatives are the principal shareholders. This man worked four and a half days for £1 10s. 10s. The company deducted from that sum the following amounts: - House rent, 14s. Id.; rates, 8s. 9d. ; medical fees, 9d. ; health insurance, 9d. ; unemployment insurance, 6d. ; destitute homes fee, Id.; and ambulance fee, Id. - a total of £1 5s. He had
I should not occupy the time of -honorable members further, but that I wish to emphasize the fact that the Prime Minister, at the meeting to which I have referred, said that there must be a reduction in the wages of the miners before any action could be taken. In his concluding remarks this afternoon, although he promised that in any case he would have an investigation made by a royal commission, he repeated the statement that there would have to be a reduction in wages. Like other honorable members who have spoken on this subject I shall not be satis- fied until I have seen- the terms of reference to the royal commission and the conditions under which the proposed inquiry will be made.
Another aspect of the industry to which I desire to refer is what I may describe as the reprehensible vandalism evidenced in the manufacture of coke under the present old and antiquated system. Throughout the south coast district one may see numberless beehive coke ovens belching forth dense volumes of foul smoke and gases which poison vegetation around them. They are exceedingly expensive to maintain and the cost of the - coke produced in them is anything from 18s. to 25s. per ton. But the worst feature about this out-of-date system is the loss of the most valuable by-products, which go up in smoke. It is little wonder that the German iron and steel industry has made such rapid strides in recent years. The modern coke ovens in that country turn out a high grade coke and the iron and steel manufacturers, employing up-to-date methods of production, are able to extract from the coal about 2,000 different kinds of by-products including dyes, perfumes and the chemical constituent of T.N.T., the most effective high explosive known to science, as well as benzine and other oils.
This Government has had many opportunities since 1921 to investigate the position of the coal industry in Australia. Had it taken action to cancel certain clauses of the Versailles Treaty it would have been possible for at least £5,000,000 of German capital to secure profitable investment in the coal and allied industries of Australia. Other allied Governments lifted this embargo on the investment of German capital many years ago.. But for the fact that the former member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) and I repeatedly brought this matter before the Government, I question whether the Ministry would have done anything even now. Last year Germany, employing the liquefaction process, produced 100,000 tons of motor spirit from the brown coal mines in that country, and expects to double this huge output in 1929. As showing the possibilities of coal from the point of view of oil production, I may state that investigations made in England not long ago showed that a ton of British coal would yield 19 gallons of oil, a ton of American coal 40 gallons, and the result of an Australian test for eight hours treatment gave 41 gallons, with a possibility of 50 gallons to the ton. These results were obtained from a quantity of coal which Mr. Baddeley sent to Great Britain whilst he was Secretary for Mines and Minister for Labour and Industry in the Lang Government, and that gentleman was in England when the tests were made. Unhappily, Australia is now at the mercy of the oil combine. If, during a war this country became isolated, we. should be entirely without supplies of petrol, although we have in the bowels of the earth immense seams of coal which with intelligent treatment, would supply the whole of our requirements in petrol and oil. The following appeared in the Labour Daily of the 9th inst.: - “Of the millions of pounds spent in petrol in this State, it may be safely said that onehal i of the amount constitutes that surplus value which in business proper is regarded as parasitical,” remarked Mr. H. R. Bowles, State Director of Industrial Adjustment League, yesterday. “That is to say,” he added, “It is diverted from the natural business cycle, and therefore does not run its natural course in reproducing toward re-employing. In this way petrol, or the price of it, is at the present time the greatest economic tapeworm with which this State has to contend. The margin between the cost of petrol production and the price at the bowser is approximately 800 per cent, above production cost. The oil companies’ profits are bulging almost to bursting point. In this connexion, one of the oil companies in Australia recently, increased its registered capital to £0,500,000.
That is a clear statement by a responsible authority of the impossible position that Australia has reached with regard to oil supplies. If we are to become economically efficient, we must develop these byproducts. The wholesale warehouses and the retail establishments in all our capital cities are bursting with foreign commodities, including goods made in Germany. It is anomalous, to put it mildly, to permit the introduction of German goods to Australia and at the same time to retain the embargo upon the investment of German capital in Australia for the employment of Australian workmen and the development of Australian natural resources.
A good deal has been said, in the course of this debate, about the importation of coal. Australian manufacturers are only too ready to squeal for more protection of their industries, and they see to it that their representatives state their case for protection to all honorable members; but they have nothing to say in support of an import duty on coal produced, as has been shown, under sweated labour conditions in Europe. We all know that this Government would not dare to impose a duty on coal, because it would then be up against the manufacturing interests. This Government has no time for that form of protection, though it has been amply proved, in the course of the debate to-day, that coal, more than any other commodity, is being dumped in Australia. Honorable members supporting the Government have had a good deal to say about the necessity for cheaper coal for our industrial concerns. Let me tell them that the coal-owners in Great Britain are just as rapacious as are the coal mineowners in this country. British industry pays from 34s. to 37s. 8d. per ton for the higher grade coal, and for other coal 24s. to 33s. per ton, and yet this coal is quoted f.o.b. Newcastle, England, for shipment to Australia at 14s. to 14s. 6d., and 14s. and 15s. a ton respectively. As the ordinary freight charges from Great Britain to Australia range from 60s. to 120s. per ton, it is clear that the coal is being dumped in Australia. The lowest freight rates obtainable are for cement, and on that commodity the rate is 25s. a ton. Yet coal is being carried 11,000 miles from Cardiff to Australia, and being sold here at 29s. a ton. The freight on coal from Cardiff to the River Plate, a distance of. 6,300 miles, is 18s. a ton, and even if it could be carried profitably over the 11,000 miles to Adelaide for the same figure, the actual price of the coal itself would be only lis. a ton, a price at which it cannot possibly be produced in Great Britain. The freight on coal from Newcastle to Melbourne is 12s. a ton, and from Newcastle to Adelaide 26s., or twice the freight from Cardiff to
Melbourne. The freight on coal from Newcastle to Fremantle is 38s. a ton.
One of the chief troubles in the coal industry to-day is the working of uneconomic mines, and the stupid, antiquated methods of the mine-owners. In some mines to-day the men have to walkthree or four miles underground in a cramped position to the working face carrying picks, tucker tins and explosives. Sometimes it takes more than an hour to reach their work, and another hour to get back to the mouth of the pit. The miners say that they would rather work one and a half hours on the face than walk that distance. Most of these are tunnel mines on the south coast. If they were fitted with trolleys on which the men could be hauled to their work, it would save the owners’ money and the’ miners’ energy. The price of coal is, to a large extent, determined by the cost of production in the uneconomic mines. The mine-owners tell us of the small profits which are made in these mines, but they never say anything about the huge returns which they receive from the better-paying mines. They deliberately keep the low-grade mines working so that they can point to the high cost of production in them, and those are the only figures they will quote. Mr. McDonald said on one occasion that the mine-owners did not want government intervention. All he wanted was freedom from Arbitration Court awards so that they could compete with the world in overseas markets. As a matter of fact, we shall never be able to compete in the overseas markets of the world. Coal is being cut in Borneo to-day by convict labour for Id. a day. Does Mr. McDonald want convicts to work in Australian mines for Id. a day. Does he want to compete with the Japanese mines, where the women and little children still work underground ? If the coal industry in Australia is to depend upon the introduction of such conditions, then, valuable as the industry is, I, for one, am prepared to allow it to close down. The general trend, not only in this, but in other capitalistic countries of the world, is to depress the economic standard of the workers. To-day the attack is made on the coal miners ; to-morrow on the timber workers; and so it goes on. I hope that ifr. Lazzarini when this inquiry takes place there will be no side-tracking of important issues, and that the terms of reference will be wide enough to embrace every feature of industry from the point of production to the point of consumption. I do not wish to impute ill motives to any one, but like other honorable members on this side, I cannot help feeling somewhat suspicious when the Prime Minister makes a complete somersault in the course of a few days. If this inquiry is carried out fully and impartially, I am sure that there will be only one request from the public, and that will be for the nationalization of the whole industry. They will demand that this industry, which is being carried on in a way that is a disgrace to the country, shall be taken out of the hands of the pirates who have held it for so long, and controlled by the Government in the national interests.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motions (by Mr. Bruce) - By leave - agreed to -
That Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Chairman of Committees, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bowden, Mr. Hurry, Mr. Earle Page, and Mr. Theodore be Members of the Standing Orders Committee; three to form a quorum.
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Beasley, Mr. Bernard Corser, Mr. Culley, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Mackay, Mr. Perkins, and Mr. E. C. Riley be Members of the House Committee; three to form a quorum.
That Mr. Donald Cameron, Mr. Curtin, Mr. Lister, Mr. Mann, Mr. Parsons, Mr. Price, and Mr. Edward Riley be Members of the Printing Committee; three to form a quorum, with power to confer with a similar Committee of the Senate.
That Mr. Speaker, Mr. Blakeley, Mr. Bowden, Mr. Brennan, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Parkhill, Mr. Thompson, and Mr. Tully be Members of the Library Committee; three to form a quorum.
House adjourned at 11.20 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 February 1929, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1929/19290221_reps_11_120/>.