17th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Statement by Mr. E. J. Ward, M.P. - -Notice op Motion of Want of Confidence.
– On Friday last, the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) asked rae a question concerning certain remarks made by the Minister for Transport and External Territories (Mr. Ward) on Thursday night. I now inform the House that I have discussed the matter with that Minister, from whom I have received the following letter, dated the 15th February, 1944 :-r
My dear Prime Minister:
Following on our conversation of this morning, I am surprised, and regret, that any one has misconstrued the meaning intended to be conveyed by me, but as such has happened I can assure you that it was not my intention to reflect adversely in any way whatever upon the Governments either of Great Britain or any other Allied country.
So far from wishing to reflect on the United Kingdom and our other Allies in this war, 1 have only the warmest admiration for the tremendous sacrifices being made by these peoples and the heroism of their fighting services in the common struggle to defeat the Axis powers.
Yours sincerely, (Signed) B. J. Ward
I regard that letter as having removed any grounds there might have been for any assumption that the Minister for Transport and External Territories either reflected or intended to reflect upon the Government of either Great Britain or any other Allied country.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether or not the honorable member for East Sydney is still a member of the Cabinet?
– No changes have been made in the Cabinet as announced to the Parliament; therefore, the Minister for
Transport and External Territories is the honorable member for East Sydney.
Mr. MENZIES (Kooyong- Leader of the Opposition). - Then I give notice that to-morrow I shall move -
That this House strongly disapproves of the statements made by the honorable the Minister for Transport and Externa) Territories on Thursday, 10th February, 1944, gravely reflecting upon the policy and administration of Great Britain, and offensive to others of the United Nations; and is of opinion that the continued occupancy of a scat in the Cabinet by a member guilty of such statements (disavowed by the right honorable the Prime Minister), not only constitutes a grave departure from the established principles of responsible government but also brings discredit upon Australia.
Mr. CURTIN (Fremantle - Prime Minister). - We are at war, and there is urgent business to be done. The usual practice, when a motion of the nature of that of which the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has given notice is placed on the businesspalmer, is for the Prime Minister to take a certain course, but I am quite ready, if the right honorable gentleman is agreeable, to take a different course, and to suspend the Standing Orders, or so much of them as would prevent the House from dealing with the motion forthwith.
– I have given notice of my motion for to-morrow, and I shall move it to-morrow.
Statement by Mr. E. J. Ward, M.P. : Notice of Motion of Want of Confidence ; Censorship - Bush Firbs in Victoria - Coal-mining Industry.
– I have said that, in normal circumstances, a motion of thi* description would have warranted, indeed it would have necessitated, my taking a certain course of action which, m honorable gentlemen know, involves the business of the House. I have also said that the country is at war, and that there is urgent business to be done. I thought fit to make a suggestion which I considered would be acceptable to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). As the right honorable gentleman is not prepared to accept that suggestion, I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I had intended to address a question to the Prime Minister, but the motion to adjourn the House precludes me from following that course. I hope that it may be possible to secure an answer by raising the matter at this stage.
– This is unprecedented.
– It is related to the circumstances with which we are concerned.
– Order! The honorable gentleman understands that he is speaking on the motion for the adjournment of ‘the House ?
– I quite understand that, sir. I propose, in the course of my remarks, to address to ‘the Prime Minister a question that I would have addressed to ‘him during question time had events not shaped themselves as they have. I have reason to believe that the speech which the Minister for Transport and External Territories (Mr. Ward) made in this House last -week - to which reference has been made - has been the object of a censorship embargo, the effect of which is to prevent the transmission overseas of any portion of that speech. I desire to ask-
-Order! Does the honorable gentleman wish to discuss the statement of the Minister?
- No, Mr. Speaker; the matter that I desire to raise concerns the censorship. I ask the Prime Minister whether or not, as the result of a censorship instruction, no portion of the speech which the Minister for Transport and External Territories made in this House last week has been permitted to be transmitted abroad. If the answer be in the affirmative, then I ask the right honorable gentleman whether or not he will give an explanation of the imposition of censorship upon a speech by one of his Ministers?
– I point out to the House that an honorable member is quite in order in discussing, on the motion for the adjournment, any matter other than the subject concerning which notice of motion has been given.
.- The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has told honorable members that there is urgent business for this House to transact. That statement will have the concurrence of every responsible member. The present attempt to deprive the House of time for discussion which would otherwise be available to it, is not only a piece of arrant humbug, but also, quite definitely–
– Order ! The honorable gentleman must address the House in temperate language.
– I appreciate the fact that the Prime Minister is taking the view that this is a motion of censure and that it is usual in such circumstances for the House to adjourn. I also appreciate the fact that he challenged the Leader of the Opposition to proceed immediately with the discussion of this matter.
– I did not challenge him ; I invited him to do so.
– I accept the amendment.
– The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) should know that the question before the Chair at the moment is the motion for the adjournment of the House. He may not,’ when speaking to that motion, discuss anything which took place in the House earlier this afternoon.
– Parliament has before it business of an urgent nature which brooks of no delay. I have just come from Victoria where industry is, at the moment, almost completely paralysed.
– If any people are responsible for what has happened in Victoria they are the honorable member and his political friends in that State.
– I suggest that the Minister lor Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini) should be very careful what he says on this subject. The industry that is threatened in Victoria is a vital one which would certainly have been the target for enemy attack had the course of the war in the Pacific not changed; yet this industry, upon which so many other industries in the State depend for power, was left without adequate fire protection. Perhaps the Minister will take advantage of this motion for the adjournment of the House to tell honorable members why it is that, although it was the duty of his department to see that such an industry was properly safeguarded, no precautions were taken.
Perhaps honorable members are not aware that many vital industries in Victoria are at the moment paralysed, and it is difficult to say just how far the damage will extend. Perhaps the Prime Minister could devote some time, which would otherwise have been devoted to the business of the House, to making a statement, either in the House or outside, upon what emergency action the Government proposes to take to ensure that Victorian industries shall be set going again. It is a piece of bitter irony that on this day he should give notice of another motion dealing with the control nf the coal industry.
-The honorable member may not refer to anything which occurred in the House before the motion now before the Chair.
– It was suggested last week that the name should be altered from coal-miners to code-miners because the industry has become completely entangled in codes of one kind or another. As I said, it is a piece of bitter irony that, at the very time of this disastrous outbreak of fire in Victoria which threatens the supply of coal and power in that State, all the southern coal mines in New South Wales should be idle because of a dispute which this Government apparently can do nothing to settle. A few days ago, the Prime Minister told the House quite frankly that the measure of the country’s war effort during the next few months, and perhaps the whole of this year would be the quantity of coal which could be produced. Then he waved his arms, and said that he wished some one could tell him how to get more coal. As a matter of fact, we do not need to tell him, because he told the House on the 14th October, when he outlined a carefully prepared policy for coal conservation and increased production. He told us of the measures which the Government proposed to enforce, and we were so im pressed by, them that, in spite of our concern over the dangerously low level of coal stocks, and over the fact .that industry would necessarily be interfered with owing to the shortage of coal, we raised no objection to his proposals. In fact, we approved of them. His policy seemed to be eminently satisfactory and sound. Here are some of the features of the Prime Minister’s scheme: He proposed to bring into the industry 600 exminers; he proposed to weed out the undesirable element from among the miners by an examination of their attendance records; he was going to mechanize many of the mines. Because of the critical position that has developed in Victoria, because responsible men in charge of industry and in control of public utilities in New South Wales have declared that stocks are dangerously low, and because war production is being hampered, we are entitled to expect from the Prime Minister something more than a gesture of helplessness. If that is the best he can do it is time this country had another government.
It is significant that the Government has had to admit that production has seriously declined during the last twelve months, although during this period the Government has had a full measure of electoral support. It could not complain that its parliamentary position weakened its capacity to deal with the problem, yet during this very period production, instead of increasing, has declined. In spite of all the concessions that have been made to the miners, in spite of the tribunals that have been set up to deal with their claims and disputes, production has declined.
The people of Victoria are vitally concerned in this matter. They have discovered almost overnight in what measure the successful conduct of commercial operations in that State defends upon the production of coal either m Victoria or elsewhere. I remind the Government that the coal is here to be won, and we have the men here to do the job. Does the Prime Minister propose to allow this condition of anarchy to continue, or is he going to give those States which are so drastically affected by the present coal shortage some idea of what emergency action he proposes to take?
– I desire to add something to what has been said by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt). Since the House is to adjourn, and as it is not proposed to proceed with the important business of which the Prime Minister has spoken, I suggest that he might, in the interval between the adjournment of the House and the resumption of the debate tomorrow, look into that code which says that men who cause strikes in coal mines may be called up for military service or for work with the Allied Works Council. I ask the Prime Minister whether any one has yet been called up under that provision? I do not think that any one has. These miners, who can earn from £7 to £15 a week - with a minimum amount of labour a man can earn £7 a week in the coal mines - might well be called up, and men who have served for three or four years in the Army might be released to take- their places. The present position is acute. Munitions f actories have closed down, and others will close shortly. It is high time that action was taken along the lines which I suggest.
– I wish to identify myself with some of the remarks made by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt). The coalmining industry is in a position of absolute chaos and anarchy, and something should be done about it immediately. It might be as well to state the facts concerning the dispute on the southern coalfields of New South Wales, the facts which precipitated this extraordinary strike. The trouble at Coalcliff seems to have developed out of a feud between the president of the miners’ federation and the owner of one of the mines, the men concerned being Mr. Louden and Mr. Vickery. For the last fifteen years, what is known as the three-lift system has been in operation in the south coast mines. It is efficient and has proved to be iri every way satisfactory. The scraper loader has modernized the three-lift system, and it is because it is desired to introduce a two-lift system - incidentally, Mr. Willis has agreed to it - that this strike has occurred. The pillar workings at Coalcliff are the deepest in New South Wales, with from 1,500 to 1,600 feet of cover.
Honorable members will understand that the health of the miners and the safety of the mines are the responsibility of the Government of New South Wales. It has been found that the safest way of working the pillars is by means of the scraper loader. Between 40,000 and 50,000 tons was taken out by the scraper loader without the slightest accident over a period of three years. Then, on representations being made by the miners, who thought that their jobs were endangered, the Minister for Mines, Mr. Baddeley, had the act amended in order to- compel the removal of the scraper loaders. I remind honorable members that Mr. Baddeley represents Cessnock and is, therefore, dependent upon the miners for his seat in the State Parliament. The miners continued working the three-lift system with picks, and it was found that the time factor in taking pillars was the main factor to be considered. The quicker the pillar was taken out, the more coal was saved. The miners know that they cannot control the roof with two men on the pillars and yet they object to a threeman lift. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and Mr. Louden approached the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). The Attorney-General will correct me if I am wrong, but my information is that he gave specific instructions to the chairman of the Central Coal Authority to stop it.
– To stop what?
– To stop the method of working that had been the custom.
– Nothing of the kind.
– The right honorable member will have an opportunity to make his statement later. Mr. Willis, of course, did as he was ordered. The threelift system was to be discontinued on instructions given to him by the AttorneyGeneral.
– That is incorrect.
– All right. Only two men were -to be employed on the pillars. That order was given to the company by the Chairman of the Central Coal Authority and it carried the order out, although the manager said: “I cannot take the responsibility of two men working a pillar because I know it to be unsafe. I have proved it to be unsafe.” He could take no responsibility for instructions given to him by Mr. Willis on the order of a member of the Ministry.
– The honorable member is repeating a statement which has been denied.
– I am challenging the AttorneyGeneral
– He has told you.
– He can make his own statement. Possibly we shall be able to prove that what I say has taken place. The short facts are that the manager, who knows that it is totally unsafe to work two men on the pillar, ha3 ‘been ‘forced by Mr. Willis to adopt that particular system. It is necessary for the House to understand the true position about this particular hold-up and that the country should know the general conditions which obtain in the coal-mining industry. I have a question to ask the Prime Minister and I think that he should answer it, because, if the answer is in the affirmative, it is time that action was taken by the country to see that this humbug about the winning of coal was done away with and the facts were brought to light. I ask the Prime Minister whether he proposes to appoint the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner as the supreme authority in the coal-mining industry and that Mr. A. C. Willis is to he his industrial officer? Will the right honorable gentleman inform the House whether the Government or any member of the Government has issued or proposes to issue instructions to the . Coal Commissioner that he must: (1) refrain from allowing the employment of free labour in the mines; (2) if the miners threaten a general stoppage at any time, give way to their demands ? I charged Mr. Willis last week with being completely biased. I declare now that he has taken instructions from Commonwealth Ministers in regard to the coal-mining industry.
– That is not true.
– The Prime Minister must give a clear-cut answer.
– in reply - Do I understand that the honorable member for
Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) says that I have issued instructions to the Coal Commissioner as to whom he shall employ?
– I am asking the right honorable gentleman whether he has.
– The honorable gentleman said that I had done so.
– I asked whether the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, had issued, or proposed- to issue, such instructions.
– Before you reply-
– I am going to reply. We are debating a motion for the adjournment of the House. It was moved by me because I believe that, when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) moves a censure upon the Government, that matter must be decided before the Government can confidently continue public administration. That is the invariable practice of all parliaments and has been the practice of this Parliament. 1 did endeavour to find a way in which the notice of motion could be debated with a minimum of delay in the conduct of public business, but the right honorable gentleman, no doubt for reasons that he thinks proper, and which are not for me to question, desires that the matter shall be dealt with to-morrow. Therefore, unless I was prepared to do what I would never do, namely, treat the views of the Leader of the Opposition with disrespect, I had only this choice - either to continue the public administration and the business of this House as though the motion were not seriously intended and could have no possible effect, assumptions which I am not prepared to make, or move the adjournment of the House. Honor aWe gentlemen sitting behind the right honorable gentleman desire to treat his motion with far less respect than I have treated it. They have treated it as though it were an intrusion into matters which they deem more urgent or more vital. That is their business. But I have a duty to the authority of Parliament. I endeavour to respect it. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition, next to myself, has not only a duty to Parliament, but also rights in Parliament, which even the head of the Government cannot claim. Therefore, out of respect for him, but more so out of respect for this great institution of Parliament, I have invited the House to adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Acting Minis ter for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Minister for the Army, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1 and 2. This matter has received the constant attention of Timber Control in Queensland and every effort is being made to relieve the position which is acute in varying degrees in the fruit industry generally.
Coal-mining Industry : Man-power Releases; Cost of Press Campaign; Prosecutions of Miners.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of recent statements by the Deputy Director-General of Man Power in New South Wales, will the Prime Minister make available information as to the number of employees “ released “ as a disciplinary measure from the coal -mining industry in New South Wales?
– During the past year the number of men released by manpower authorities from the coal-mining industry for various reasons was approximately 130.
Mr.Hutchinson asked the Acting Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
t. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Losses from absenteeism disclosed above cover those resulting from both avoidable and unavoidable absenteeism. It is estimated that at least 50 per cent, are due to unavoidable causes.
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
What arrangement, if any, has been entered into between the Attorney-General and the miners’ federation with respect to prosecutions for offences against the National Security (Coal Control) Regulations?
t. - No arrangement has been entered into between the AttorneyGeneral and the miners’ federation at any time with respect to prosecutions for contraventions of the National Security (Coal Control) Regulations. As to contraventions of any National Security Regulations committed prior to the 1st November last, an amnesty was granted by the Government as a result of the conference held in October last. Since that time there has been a substantial number of prosecutions for absenteeism.
asked the Minister for War Organization of Industry, upon notice -
n. - I desire to advise the honorable member as follows : -
asked the Minister for War Organization of Industry, upon notice -
n. - Under present conditions it is not practicable to provide the labour and other resources that would be required if the present limitations on men’s suits were abolished.
Tasmanian Shipping SERVICE
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
n. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Theanswers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 February 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440216_reps_17_177/>.