17th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Debate resumed from the 1st Septem ber (vide page 499), on motion by Mr. Menzies -
That the Government’s failure to maintain adequate supplies of coal impairs the national war effort; seriously dislocates employment, production and transport; imposes unnecessary hardships upon the community; and deserves the censure of this House.
. - Honorable gentlemen opposite have demonstrated that they know nothing about the coalmining industry; and if their speeches may be taken as a guide to the depth of their interest, their only concern is as to the means which should be employed in order to overcome the shortage of coal in Australia to-day. They have felt impelled to offer opinions as to how this should be achieved. Some of them have suggested that the coal-miners ought to be put in gaol, whilst others have said that they ought to be put into the Army. One honorable gentleman said that they ought to be deprived of the franchise ; and another honorable gentleman, who obviously has a queer sadistic strain in his mental composition, said that it would not be a bad idea if some flying bombs were exploded over the coal-fields, so that with their women and children maimed the miners might be encouraged to produce more coal. Those who proffer such opinions have forgotten several important facta. The first is, that coal-mining is a decaying industry, and that the situation which confronts Australia to-day is a legacy from nearly a century of mismanagement and maladministration in every country in which the English language is spoken. Several honorable gentlemen opposite have merely scratched the surface of the matter. They have overlooked the fact that in the last war the importance of coal to the economy of this nation was made manifest. The lesson was then taught that the coalminers bad to be treated reasonably and fairly. The Prime Minister during those war years set up a special tribunal, under the presidency of Mr. Hibble, for the determination of wages and conditions in the industry. In the post-war years, the importance of coal-mining to the general welfare of Australia, and the problems of the coal-miner, were forgotten by everybody except the coal-miner himself. He, alone, was concerned about employment in the mines, the productivity of the mines, mechanization, and monopoly control.Since the outbreak of the war with Japan, the Australian nation has again become conscious of its obligations to the coal-miners, and of the total dependency of the war effort upon the output of coal. During the depression years, only the miners were concerned about employment and unemployment in the industry. There is a grave discrepancy between the figures in relation to employment in 1924 and 1925, and’ those of to-day. It is true that the number of men employed in the industry to-day is a few hundred more than it was a few years ago; but the figures are not bo significant as to justify the charge that the individual output of coal ought to be higher than it is. That output has risen considerably over the years; and it would have been even higher had previous State and Federal governments applied themselves to the mechanization of mines, and allowed the miner to profit from the application of scientific methods, by enabling him to win coal more easily and to participate in whatever benefits might accrue from man’s inventive genius. The coal-miner has always been in favour of the mechanization of the mines. Whatever disputes have arisen, had their origin in the efforts of the owners to secure for themselves the whole of the profits derivable from improved methods of winning coal, and to deny to the miner the opportunity to raise his income. Honorable members opposite have stressed the view that the miners are well paid. The truth is, that on an average they are not a very well paid body of workers. Figures issued by the Government Statistician in New South Wales show that the average wage of a man engaged in coal-mining is approximately £289 a year, which falls far short of the £400 and £500 a year mentioned by some of his critics. Until trouble arises in the mines, honorable members opposite are not worried about the miner or his problems. Those problems are world-wide. Royal commissions have inquired into the industry in England, and similar investigations have been made in Australia ; yet cognizance of the problems associated with coal-mining is taken by the political representatives of the mine-owners only when industrial trouble occurs.
In the course of his violent attack on the coal-miners,the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) mentioned the word “ appeasement “ six times, and spoke of the Government’s surrender to the miners at least twice. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) also mentioned the word “ appeasement “ twice. Reference to appeasement by these two gentlemen is rather significant, because they are the two members of this Parliament who are best qualified to discuss the subject. As war-time Prime Ministers, before Japan came into the war, they did their utmost to appease the Japanese nation. The Leader of the Opposition was primarily responsible for the closing of the Burma Road, and the Leader of the Australian Country party, as his deputy, aided and abetted him in all that he did with a view to appeasing Japan. Of all persons, they are two who ought to refrain from mentioning the matter or awakening memories of the past. I shall say no more about the Leader of the Australian Country party, because the most effective criticism that has been offered of him come from his predecessor in the leadership of his party, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who, about twelve months ago, tellingly referred to him as the “Lady Jane Grey of Australian politics “. The word “ appeasement “ has a nasty ring about it, yet honorable members, who were prepared to appease the enemies of this country, have the temerity to taunt the Government with the charge of appeasing the miners, when it approaches the problems of the industry sympathetically and with a desire to understand the grievances of those engaged in it.
The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. McEwen) has had something to say about the coal mines, but he knows nothing about coal mining or anything else.
– He knows all about the Minister.
– He thinks that he knows something about me, but I know a great deal more about him and other members of the Australian Country party, who failed Australia in its time of direst need, and are in Opposition today in consequence of that fact.
– The pathetic thing about the Minister is that he believes what he is saying.
– The people of Australia believed that at the general elections last year, and still believe it. Despite Opposition references to the results of the recent referendum, the servicemen of Australia still have confidence in the Australian Government.
I do not propose to spend much time upon that lovable character, the honorable member for Indi, who never enters this House unless armed with a brick in one hand and a bottle of sulphuric acid in the other. In all of his speeches, that honorable member exudes the fragrance of his own peculiar personality and reminds me of what O’Connell once said of Disraeli -
He wears a beautiful smile. It is like sunlight on a dead man’s grave.
– Will the Minister return to the subject-matter of the motion ?
– Having satisfactorily dealt with the honorable member for Indi, I shall. There are other criticisms of the coal-miners to which I intend to refer. For instance, there are those of that gargantuan figure, the rabble-rouser from Wentworth, who is the political mouthpiece of the mine-owners’ federation. This is the honorable member who reads speeches in this chamber written for him by Mr. Gregory Forster, and who speaks for people who are, to-day, attempting to incite a state of anarchy on the coalfields of this country. If ever there was a class of fifth columnists in Australia they are to be found, at present among those who are preparing and disseminating the propaganda appearing in the daily press in opposition to the miners’ federation.
– The honorable member has disseminated some of the Japanese propaganda.
– I have never been pro-Japanese, as the honorable member has been.
– The Minister disseminated their propaganda, and used a department of State to do it.
– Order !
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister said that he had never been pro-Japanese, as I had been.
-Sit down, you squealer !
SirFrederick Stewart. - Go down the manhole, where you belong!
– Order ! There has been much talk about lack of discipline among the coal-miners. I should be sorry to hear that pit-top meetings are more disorderly than the conduct in this chamber to-day. I desire honorable members on both sides to understand that, if this conduct continues, I shall name somebody.
– The Minister’s statement that I have been pro-Japanese is both untrue and offensive to me, and I request that it be withdrawn.
– As the honorable member considers the statement offensive, I ask the Minister to withdraw it.
– I withdraw it. When I was rudely interrupted by the honorable member for Indi, I was saying that a great deal of fifth-column propaganda was being disseminated amongst coal-miners. A special article was published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Wednesday last, and, significantly enough, it was anonymous, although the origin is obvious. It came either from a member of the Opposition in this Parliament or a representative of the coalmine owners’ federation. The article has already been quoted fully by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), but it is right that I should draw the attention of the House to the fact that a categorical list of methods by which the coal-miners could be made to work is given. The article is more calculated to incite a disregard for the war effort and reduce coal production, than to increase it. The list of suggestions begins in this way -
Only Government toughness can get more coal now. If the Government still doesn’t know how to be tough, here’s a plan -
The first item in the plan was that all main coal-fields should be placed immediately under martial law and cordoned off, soldiers being called in to control the areas with rigid discipline. The second proposal was that no one, apart from Army personnel, should be permitted to enter or leave those military zones. And so the list proceeded. Ten matters were indicated for government attention. That article was followed up by the following statement in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, published to-day under the heading, “ Defeatist Attitude “ -
An Associated Chambers of Manufactures bulletin issued yesterday stated that if the Federal Government had taken a firm stand while coal stocks were strong, it could have challenged the unions to a general strike by freezing their funds and placing the industry under military control. “ This would have ended coal troubles for the term of the war,” the bulletin added. “ Introduction of rationing was an endorsement of a flagrantly defeatist attitude. “ If the Government were to take firm measures now to bring the rebels to heel by insisting on the second shift, and on the cessation of frivolous strikes and absenteeism, the whole nation would support it. “ A general strike, if it came at all, would be short lived.”
I suggest that the author of that statement is probably the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), because those are his identical words.
– They do not resemble my literary style.
– They may not, but the statement conforms with the general sentiments of the right honorable gentleman when moving this censure and with his views when, as Prime Minister, he failed to get as much coal for the war effort as the present Government has obtained. The maximum production when he was in office was 9,000,000 tons a year, whereas the maximum production during the term of the Curtin Government has been 12,000,000 tons a year. If there were fewer attacks on the coalminers by members of the Opposition and fewer insulting articles of the kind to which I have just referred, the miners probably would not ‘be so irritated as they naturally and rightly are by such viciousness. The Australian coal-miners, taken by and large, are better Australians than those who condemn them. They have done as well in this war as have the people in any other industry, but we are so dependent on coal that we notice any shortcomings amongst them. A great deal of absenteeism occurs in other industries besides coal production. Many bosses absent themselves from work in order to play golf, and many lawyers are not doing so well as they should for the war effort. Others, like honorable members opposite, instead of doing the dirty work of the mineowners’ federation in trying to incite general strikes, should devote themselves to a study of the problems of the coalmining industry. The chief critics of the miners among honorable members opposite have <been four lawyers, anaccountant and two mystery men, who probably have never done an honest day’s work in their lives. Australian miners are certainly better Australians than the silkskinned sybarites inside this Parliament and out of it who have been trying to represent them as both traitorous and unpatriotic. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) had something to say on the subject last week. He is noted both for his bovine mental outlook and his bovine expression. If there is any one in this House whose looks do not belie him it is the honorable member for New England. It is quite true, as the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) said of him once, “ There he sits, as stolid as an ox, and with the vacant stare of centuries upon his brow “. No’ wonder he is known to his fellow members of the Australian Country party as the “New England Bull”.
What suggestions have been put forward to meet the coal shortage, beside the ones. I have mentioned?’ None that strikes at the root of the trouble, none that deals with the problems of the industry. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) let himself go, and talked airily and irrelevantly about many things. For instance, he said -
Indeed, one could wish that a flying bomb would land in Canberra or on the coal-fields.
Apparently the honorable member wants to see the mangled bodies- of women and’ children strewn about the countryside as they are about England, as an encouragement to the miners to- win- more coal. Typical of his mentality is this further1 expression of opinion by the honorable member -
Of course, no one would wish to witness casualties; but I suggest that reverberating explosions such as are caused by flying bombs would produce that unity among the coalminers, and among our people generally, about which we hear so much to-day.
The second statement is, in effect, an attempted qualification of the- first, but he makes himself doubly ridiculous because his view really boils down tosomething like this: “We ought to let off a few crackers in order to frighten away the evil spirits “. The honorable member went on -
It might be a little late but a trifle of hearty drill by a hearty sergeant major would do them a lot of good.
The truth is that the miners had as good a record in the last war as any other section of the community, and their record in this war is no less good. But the. honorable member for Balaclava continued -
Many young men who have had no opportunity of being apprenticed to a trade would rush the chance of getting into the coalmining industry . . .
remind, honorable members that in Great Britain to-day, when boys attain- the age of eighteen years, they are given the choice of entering the armed forces or working in the coal mines.
That is true, and out of 20,000 young men who were offered that choice in Great Britain during the last few months only 200 chose to- enter the mines. That makes it clear that coal-mining is not an attractive industry.
– Five miners were killed1 on the Australian fields during the last eight days.
– It is clear that coalmining is a dangerous occupation. Certainly, there are associated with it dangers that do not exist in the legal’ profession, for instance. So well known are the dangers and disabilities associated! with coal-mining that most people do not want to have anything to do with it. Very few coal-miners want to see their sons working in, the mines under conditions with which their fathers are only too familiar. There is ample evidence that the accident rate in coal-mining is very high. I have here a book only recently published and entitled Britain’s Coal, by Margot Heinmann. in which she quotes the following extract from a report of a royal commission on the coal-mining industry in Great Britain: -
If we assume a working life of 50 years, then on the average out of 100 miners entering the pit at fourteen, six or seven will be killed in the pit and twenty very seriously injured. The average miner may expect to be injured fairly seriously once every five years during his working life.
The accident rate in Australia is even higher than in Great Britain. Not only that, but the mechanization of coal mines has proceeded much faster in Great Britain than in Australia, so that the risks are proportionately greater here. The following extract is from Chapter 4 of the book, entitled Productivity of Mines -
The British coal industry, taken as a whole, is still comparatively backward from a technical and scientific point of view. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why boys do not want to go into the mines. In a world transformed by power, they rightly see no future in a pick-and-shovel industry. And this backwardness lies at the root of the present output problems.
If that applies in Great Britain, it applies with even greater force here. The following table shows the output of machine-cut coal per man-shift in various countries in 1936 : -
Great Britain was obviously the most backward of European countries, and yet Great Britain is ahead of Australia in the matter of mechanization. The facts which I have cited should answer conclusively the contention of honorable members opposite that if the Government were to call for free labour for the mines thousands of men would rush the work. Neither is there any truth in the suggestion that there is available in the country suitable labour which the Government might divert to the coal mines. The truth is that coal mining is an occupation for which men must be trained, and for which they can gain the necessary experience only through working at the coal face. It is a skilled occupation.
The miners have been and are being continually misrepresented in this Parliament. They have been attacked most viciously, both here and in the press. They have been denounced as traitors when, in fact, their record is better than that of their critics. They have been stigmatized as unpatriotic when their actions, if they cannot always be defended, can at any rate be explained by the legacy of the exploitation by the coal-owners and neglect by successive governments in the past. Honorable members opposite are probably annoyed and disappointed at the turn of events. They expected that when they launched this attack in Parliament to discredit the miners and the Government - in association with the press propaganda about which they were probably well informed beforehand - the miners would succumb to the provocation and do what the owners and the Opposition wanted them to do - declare a general strike. However, the miners were far too wise to be inveigled into such a course of action by those who hate them. Probably, members of the Opposition are tc-day even more annoyed than are the owners that the mines are in full production, and have been producing fully for several days. Should the present rate of production continue, the yield for the twelve months may be beyond the country’s requirements.
– Provided sufficient manpower is provided to replace men who are killed.
– An output of 15,000,000 tons a year is possible if the mines be kept in continuous operation. During the last week or so the miners have shown a great deal of sagacity and political acumen. They realize that if they were to strike for frivolous reasons they would be helping neither their country nor themselves, and would justify the sobriquet of “ Menzies’ stooges “. Any man who organized a strike in a coalmining industry to-day, would merely be playing into the hands of the Leader of the Opposition who does not want coal to be produced, his primary concern in submitting this motion being to discredit, and possibly destroy, the Government. I tell him that the Government will not be destroyed by action on the part of the coal-miners; the miners -will see that that does not occur. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) gave some figures relating to accidents in Australian coal mines, and I have already quoted a report of a British Royal Commission dealing with the accident rate in the coal mines of Great Britain. I have here some figures that show that between 1926 and 1938, 242 miners were killed in coal mines in New South Wales, whilst eighteen men were killed in the first six months of this year. In 1939 fifteen deaths occurred among nien working in Kew South Wales coal mines. In the following year the deaths numbered twenty; in 1941, there were 28; in 1942, 23 men were killed; and in 1943 nineteen lives were lost. Unfortunately, the figures for this year show a worsening tendency. The 800 men employed at Richmond Main, which is the largest coal mine in Australia suffered 1,320 major and minor injuries last year. That represents an average of 1.6 injuries to each man. It is true that some of those injuries were of a minor nature, but all of them required treatment. A good deal depends on the definition of “ accident “. For statistical purposes, the New South Wales Department of Mines regards as a major injury any which renders a man unfit for work for fourteen days. Between 1922 and 1937, 244 coal-miners were killed outright in New South Wales mines. During the same period the per capita output of coal increased steadily; it rose from 2.41 tons a day in 1925 to 3.51 tons in 1938. The per capita output of the New South Wales mines in 1931 was the highest in the world, although in many countries coal-mining was, and still is, a more highly mechanized industry than in that State. During the five years 1933- 1937 the yearly accident rate in Great Britain was 1.11 accidents to each man, compared with 1.14 in Australia. Those persons who try to compare the output of the British miner with that of the Australian miner in this war - always to the detriment of the latter - deliberately ignore a number of facts. There have been strikes by British coal-miners as well as by Australian miners, yet honorable members opposite appear to have forgotten them. There was a serious strike in Great Britain in November of last year. That strike was so serious that it filled many columns of the newspapers. On the 27 th November, 1943, nearly all Australian newspapers had treble column headlines relating to the grave coal crisis in Great Britain. They stated that the causes of the crisis were both complex and deep rooted ; but no honorable member opposite has been prepared to admit that the causes of the troubles in the coal-mining industry of this country have been either complex or deep-rooted. They merely urge Draconian severity in dealing with each situation that arises in the vain hope that it will solve all problems. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), who advocated the disfranchisement of miners who go on strike would do well to consider his proposal further. If there is one set of persons who ought not to talk about depriving citizens of their suffrage for the crime’ of having failed the nation, it is that set comprising Ministers in either the Menzies Government or the Fadden Government. The honorable member for Warringah was Minister for the Army in a government that did not provide arms for the Army, and expected men to fight without rifles.
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks have nothing to do with the motion before the chair.
– I was about to say, Mr. Speaker, that coal is necessary in order to produce rifles, and that the honorable member for Warringah was a Minister in a government which produced neither coal nor rifles, but sent Australians into battle inadequately armed. If the honorable member’s suggestion that miners who fail to produce coal should be deprived of the franchise be adopted, 1 submit that he and his ministerial colleagues who failed to make provision for this country’s defence had better reconcile themselves to the loss of their citizen rights for at least ten years. [Extension of time granted^ I have digressed somewhat from the point that I was developing, namely, that in Great Britain as well as in Australia there have been strikes in the coal-mining industry in war-time. In March of this year there was a strike among the coalminers there, and on the 9 th March a spokesman for the coal-owners of Britain said the pits affected numbered 156, and employed 80,000 of the total of 100,000 men concerned. One coal-miner in the Rhondda Valley, where a general paralysis of industry was threatened because of the strike, said -
I know people are saying we are letting down the soldiers, but we are righting for improved conditions for them when they return.
The reason for much of the trouble in the coal-mining industry in Australia is not mainly the wages paid to the miners. The wages may seem good, but amenities in coal-mining districts generally are- bad ; for instance, the showers provided for the men are often primitive, yet no effort is made by the coal-owners to make their workers contented by improving them. In a newspaper article relating to the strike in the coal mines of. Wales it was stated -
It is agreed that the present troubles in no way reflect oil tile miners’ patriotism; they are the culmination of differences generations old, which, unfortunately, have come to a head in a big way at one of the most awkward of all moments.
Had it not been that the Avar in Europe is approaching its final stages, and- the war in the Pacific has yet to be won, it is probable that the fact that the coal-miners of Australia are not producing more than 10,000,000 tons of coal a year would have passed unnoticed. because our peace-time requirements of coal are much less. Only because larger quantities of coal are needed for war purposes has so much attention been directed to troubles on the coal-field’s. Some mine-owners are not doing their best to increase the output of the mines. The miners have done their very utmost to encourage- the owners to mechanize their mines in various ways. For instance, three weeks ago, the employees at Hebburn No. 1 colliery made a proposal to the management which would have increased production by 300 tons a week. The men in Kirk’s section have to bore sixteen holes a day. This is hard work. They asked the management to install power-boring machines, which would make it ‘possible for them to fill two extra skips to every pair of miners, and said that they were willing to accept 6d. a ton reduction of their hewing rates. The management refused to install the machines unless the men were willing to accept a reduction of ls. 6d. a ton. That is the answer to those honorable gentlemen opposite who urge mechanization of the mines regardless of the rights of the men, and allege that the miners are opposed to mechanization. What happened at Hebburn No. 1 ‘Colliery is true of almost every effort which the miners’ federation or the miners’ lodges have made to have installed the latest power-boring machines and other mechanical aids to mining. The mine-owners are just anxious for quick profits. All they are concerned about is tearing out the most, easily accessible coal and making the biggest profit they can in the shortest possible time. The mines are not Australianowned. They are all operated by big interests whose roots are overseas. The shipping lines have complete control of some. ‘ The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited owns its section. All the pits, are tied up with international rings,, cartels,, combines and monopolies, and final say as to what is to be done with them is not with this Government, the miners’ federation, or those whom we call the mine-owners. The dictum has to come from abroad. Orders have to come from outside this country. The sooner we answer the question as to the ownership and control of the coal mines the better. It has been suggested that nationalization is the only answer to the problems of the coal-mining industry in Great Britain. That is probably right. Nationalization may be the only way in which to effect final improvement of the conditions of Australian miners. But nationalization at the moment is out of the question. Nevertheless, control of the mines is very much a subject for discussion, and this Government has given earnest consideration to that matter in order to encourage the production of coal. This Government has not failed Australia. It has devoted all its efforts to trying, to obtain increased production. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) has worn himself out by devotion to the duties of his office during these terrible years, and coal is one of the problems that have made him ill. No man could have worked harder or longer. During his absence in theUnited States of America, where he well represented Australia at the International Labour Office conference, his place was taken, as Acting Minister for Supply and Shipping, by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), who, too, did his utmost to bring about peace in the industry and obtain increased production. At the same time as the Attorney-General handled the problem, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) gave his best attention to assisting to find a solution, and his predecessor as Minister for Labour and National Service, the present Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), did his utmost to increase coal production. At least it is to be said to his credit that, while he was Minister for Labour and National Service, Australia had, in 1942, its record coal production. Every member of thisGovernment and this party is anxious that there shall he the maximum coal production so that we shall wage a successful war against our enemies in order to hasten peace and lay the foundations for post-war prosperity in Australia. We shall always need coal. It may be hewn in different ways and used in different ways. We may introduce a much better way to obtain coal than with picks and shovels or even powerdriven machines. We may adopt the method used in Victoria in winning brown coal; we may bite it out with machines, 70 tons at a time. All that is for the future.If this Government could get more machinery, it would do even better than it has done. It is continuously trying to get more and more machinery. All the sordid attempts to discredit the Government and the Labour party upon this issue have failed miser ably. The miners have not been led into the trap, and I have not the slightest doubt that the present rate of production will continue. The miners have confidence in their Government and realize that now more than ever, in the final stages of this struggle, coal must be won in ever-increasing quantities in order that the war in the Pacific may be shortened and so enable the return to civil life at the earliest possible date of the 750,000 young Australians in the armed services. The charges laid by the Opposition against the Government in connexion with winning coal and the methods suggested for overcoming the difficulties have been sadistic in some senses and frivolous in most other senses ; they have not been the result of consideration or study of the industry, but have beensuggestions prepared by people outside Parliament for use in conjunction with what has already appeared in the daily press. That propaganda is directed to the destruction of this Government; but those who spread it misread the referendum figures, and make this move in the hope of striking the Government down by the creation of industrial turmoil. They have not succeeded in either destroying or discrediting the Government. The Government is stronger today than ever, and the miners are stronger to-day than ever. The winning of coal by the miners in the months ahead will be a final and fitting answer to the little Australians and the antiAustralians who have tried to brand them so falsely as both traitorous and unpatriotic.
.- The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) and other honorable gentlemen opposite, Ministers and private members alike, who have spoken in this debate have entirely repudiated their own leader. Many of them have spoken in such a way as would make this House believe, if there were not evidence to the contrary, that there was nothing wrong in the actions of the coal-miners in New South Wales.
– There is nothing wrong in their actions.
– In order to answer the honorable member’s interjection I need only repeat what the Prime Minister (Mr . Curtin) has said in condemnation of the miners. For months the right honorable gentleman has been trying to induce the coal-miners to bring coal from the pits, but honorable gentlemen opposite have spoken in such a way in this debate as to encourage them to continue to defy him. More than half the seats in this House are occupied by members of the Labour party and not one of them has publicly supported his leader. Many, by their silence, have led the. coal-miners to believe that their actions are right and that they should sabotage the war effort, should not produce coal, and should continue to do all the evil things they have done in the last few years. That outlook on the part of the miners is not in the best interests of either the nation or the miners themselves. On this point the Prime Minister himself stated only a few days ago -
The strikes and the resultant loss of coal production involves gross sabotage of the nation’s war effort, and the members of the federation engaging therein are contemptuous of the policy of the union, the war exigencies of Australia, and the welfare and security of our people.
No supporter of the Government has referred to those facts. The Minister for Information, who has just resumed his seat, did not condemn the miners in any respect whatever. Continuing, the Prime Minister said -
Strikes also occurred because of the action of youths employed as clippers or wheelers. These youths seem particularly difficult to control and offer the most flimsy excuses for throwing a mine out of production.
But the “ other industrial reasons “ mentioned above cover such matters as pit-top meetings extending beyond the normal commencing time of work, men leaving before the normal time of ceasing work, tonnage lost because of decreased output per manshift worked.
It is clear that a section of the miners in New South Wales are contemptuous of the requirements of the country and the orders and directions of the Government. Furthermore, they are hostile to the authority of their unions and their officials and are determined to be a law unto themselves.
Despite these unequivocal statements by the Prime Minister, no supporter of the Government has voiced any protest whatever against the actions of the miners; yet, as their leader has said, the miners in many instances are contemptuous of the orders and directions of the Government. The Prime Minister also said -
Only in the case of safety or alleged danger can ‘ a body of men be excused from duty. But the number of “ safety “ matters were relatively few in the period in question and played an almost negligible part in production.
That statement is a complete answer to the speech just made by the Minister for Information. The Prime Minister went on - “Frivolous” causes of strikes include: Protest against a report made by the miners’ own check inspector; milner claims that his drill -was not properly sharpened; wheelers were reprimanded for coming out early; water placed in the boots of a clipper; bathroom attendant not being on duty; wheeler’s horse “too fast”.
Many more frivolous reasons why the coal-miners have gone on strike could be quoted from other statements of the Prime Minister ; but no supporter of the Government has denounced the miners on those grounds. The. miners must be condemned for refusing to produce sufficient coal to meet the needs of the nation in its present crisis. Of course, the objective of honorable members opposite is to try to create the impression that the miners are doing a good job, and that the mine-owners are wholly responsible for trouble on the coal-fields. Let us see what the Prime Minister has said on this point -
As a result of inquiries which I have had made, it is the opinion of the Government that the removal of minority malcontents and irresponsibles in the industry will go a long way towards maintaining increased coal production.
In the main, the irresponsibles comprise youths of military age and men engaged in other occupations as well as mining - taxidrivers, starting-price bookmakers, billiardroom proprietors, dog trainers, and the like. These men have engaged as miners in order to obtain protection. Generally, they readily agree to strike, sometimes themselves openly addressing the men, or making the first move from the mine, thus bringing on a general exodus because of the miners’ traditional policy of “ one out, all out “. The malcontents and irresponsibles are indicated by bad attendance records.
The Minister for Information has made no protest on that score. It is unworthy of a Minister to take up the time of the House in a debate of this kind as the Minister has done without dealing with the real causes of unrest in the industry. The Prime Minister continued -
It is the opinion of the Government that they should be weeded out of the industry. They have a record of chronic absenteeism, and their removal from the industry would leave no reasonable grounds for complaint on the grounds of victimization.
Only a few moments ago the Minister for Information declared that the owners caused all the trouble on the coal-fields. If that is the case, I shall support the Government in any action it deems necessary to deal effectively with the owners. However, the Prime Minister has given the lie direct to that allegation. He said -
It oan be confidently asserted that the great majority of those strikes arose in respect of matters which were not associated in any way with relations between employer and employee. A great number of strikes also arose in protest against decisions of the central reference board and the local reference board, and the position became so acute that the chairman of the Northern Coal Reference Board (Mr. Connell) felt compelled to issue a statement reading - “ A section of the miners have proved by their action that they want both the right to strike when it suits them, the right to invoke the reference board when it suits them, and the right to accept or reject its decision when it suits them. It should be plain to right-thinking individuals that miners’ executives cannot be allowed to invoke the reference board machinery while they encourage miners to reject its decisions.”
A further statement made by the Prime Minister when dealing with allegations against the owners was as follows : -
As to statements by representatives of the miners about what is termed “ provocative tactics of owners in forcing stoppages “, I say that, as not more than 20 per cent, of all stoppages relates to matters between owner and employee, it is suggested that there is little evidence that provocation plays any material part in loss of production.
The House will be interested in another observation by the Prime Minister.
– Why does not the honorable member make an observation of his own?
– I shall deal with the honorable member for Griffith in a moment. The Prime Minister said -
In any case the problem is how to get the men to produce more coal. I told the owners that they appeared, according to all the records, to have observed the decision of the umpire.
I hope that the Minister for Information has noted that statement.
– The owners have “ slipped “ since then.
– The Prime Minister himself made that statement. He said also -
As to statements by representatives of the miners about what is termed “ provocative “ tactics of owners in forcing stoppages, I say that, as not more than 20 per cent, of all stoppages relates to matters between owner and employee, it is suggested that there is little evidence that, provocation plays amy material part in loss of production. The greater number of stoppages was due to strikes against awards or interpretations of awards as given by the Central Reference Board, or the various local reference boards.
Although the words of the Prime Minister prove that the coal-miners are responsible for these stoppages, Ministers and honorable members opposite are not prepared to remind them of the fact. Their speeches serve only to encourage coal-miners to continue their present reprehensible conduct, which is detrimental to the interests of the country.
– In view of the fact that all the mines are now at work, does not the honorable member consider that the motion ought to be withdrawn?
– Until this debate began, from five to eight mines daily were idle. Output was declining seriously at a. time when it should have been rising in order to meet increased demands for war and civil purposes. Since this debate has directed a floodlight upon the situation, recalcitrant miners have gone back to work. Therefore, the debate might, with advantage, be continued indefinitely, as it appears to encourage the miners to remain at work, and to repent of their previous conduct.
The Prime Minister, in defending the Government, has been deserted by some of his Ministers and ‘supporters, and has been obliged to make, almost single handed, this attack upon the coal-miners. Never in my experience as a member of Parliament have I known of another instance of a Prime Minister having been deserted so completely by men who claim to be his supporters.
I now desire to refer to the contention that the solution of the problem of the declining output of coal is the nationalization of the coal mines. Years ago, the Minister for Information used to speak at length in favour of the nationalization of coal mines and other industries. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) shared this belief, and the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) “ jitterbugged “ around this chamber in his enthusiasm to blame any one but the coal-miners for the stoppages. But the Minister, after having clashed at a recent meeting of caucus with a senior colleague, was not “ game “ to advocate nationalization.
– Who told the honorable member that?
– Everyone knows that it is true.
– The honorable member has been misinformed.
– His trust in newspaper reports is pathetic.
– Labour caucus meetings are an open book. Although the Minister spoke at great length, he was not prepared to declare himself in favour of the nationalization of the coal-mining industry. Any honorable member opposite who now advocates the nationalization of the coal mines will thereby repudiate his own leader, because the Prime Minister has announced that he will not associate himself with any attempt to nationalize this industry. In fact, the Prime Minister has said -
I could wish that there was some one in this country who could tell me how to get more coal. I know that in one quarter the remedy is thought to be in the nationalization of the industry, but I do not believe that that would produce more coal.
Some time ago, the miners’ federation, submitted to the Government certain proposals for increasing the output of coal. One of those proposals was for the nationalization of the pits. The official answer of the Government to the miners’ federation was -
This is a matter of Government policy. One pertinent comment is that under the National Security Act the Government has full power to get from the owners what coal it requires and to put it to what uses it requires. To pay a large sum in compensation to the owners for their mines to achieve the same result would merely add to the already colossal war budget.
– Who made that statement?
– The Prime Minister made that statement to the miners’ federation and to this House. Last October the right honorable gentleman made the following observation on nationalization : -
Powers of direction, conferred by the National Security Act, enable the Government to direct what shall be done with all the coal avail lable. The Government has no intention of nationalizing the coal-mining industry. The matter of the direction of the coal-mining industy is constantly under consideration. I do not propose to give people millions of pounds to get something when there are other ways of getting it.
Despite that declaration, some Ministers and honorable members opposite have tried to encourage the coal-miners to believe that the nationalization of the mines is still a possibility. By adopting that policy, those honorable gentlemen encourage the miners to persist in stop-; pages and absenteeism. Their conduct can only lead to the ultimate collapse of the Government.
– What does the honorable member know about it?
– Order ! The honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) is interjecting too frequently. If he continues to interject, I shall name him.
– Honorable members opposite who, by repudiating the Prime Minister’s declaration, encourage coalminers to go on strike and to absent themselves from their employment, are acting contrary to the best interests of the country. The Prime Minister has declared that the Government has no intention of nationalizing the coal-mining industry. Referring to the coal-owners, the right honorable gentleman said -
The representatives of the management were told that the Government appreciated the efforts of the management to win coal-
Despite that statement by his leader, the Minister for Information wasted the time of the House to-day by encouraging the miners to believe that they had suffered grave injustices at the hands of the owners. The Prime Minister continued - often at a loss, and I was informed that in the last sixteen or eighteen years the return on capital ‘ invested in the industry had been only 2 per cent.
I hold no brief for the owners or for any other section of the community. I support the motion censuring the Government for its failure to produce more coal, and in doing so I exercise my privilege to reply to the utterances of honorable members opposite, who are misleading the coal-miners. If the owners were half as guilty as ‘the miners I should join in castigating them also, but I have quoted statements which the Prime Minister himself has used, and which exonerate the owners from blame for the present condition of affairs. Even now I appeal not only to the miners but also to the owners to get together in an effort to win back for the industry the goodwill and esteem of the community, which many honorable members opposite are trying to forfeit.
– The honorable member’s leader suggested that a general strike was a good thing. What does the honorable member think of that?
– My only desire is to obtain coal. The responsibility of seeing that coal is won lies upon the shoulders of the Government. For not ensuring that sufficient is produced, the Government deserves the censure of the House, and is already being censured by the country. The Government’s policy, or lack of it, for the last two or three years’ has produced the appalling situation that exists in the industry now. It seems that the miners and not the Prime Minister are governing the country. The production of coal has gone down and down, and down, at a time when it is imperative that it should rise to meet the extra demands of the country. Coal is basic to our war industries, which are being affected by the failure to produce it. The policy of. dillydallying, delay, shilly-shallying and cowardice has forced the Government to resort to coal rationing, which will destroy all our war effort, disorganize our transport, and create all manner of humbugging and nonsensical interference with everybody in the community. Already at Whyalla the blast furnace has been closed down, and thousands of men have been already put off work. In a few weeks, if not immediately, hundreds of thousands of men will be on part time, and the whole war effort, and all the domestic and industrial life of the community, will be turned upside down, owing to the incompetence of the Government. Substantial cuts have already been made in the coal supply to a number of industries. In general industry the cut is 12-J per cent., in the metal trades 20 per cent., and in the cement and glass industry 10 per cent. The Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) said that there is little or no prospect of any of the displaced men being sought by any other industry. The Government’s policy of bribery and appeasement of the miners over the years has not produced and cannot produce more coal. Its shillyshallying and spinelessness have made the Go vernment the laughing-stock of the coalminers and their unions, and coal rationing goes on slowing down our war production.
The progress which has been made by the Allies in the war, in. both the Pacific and European theatres, has ‘been so remarkable, especially in the past few weeks, that everybody can confidently look forward to a speedy termination of hostilities on the other side of the world. When that happens, the whole of the activities of the Allied Nations will be diverted to the war in the Pacific. We shall then need every ounce of coal that we can produce, and all the transport that we can possibly lay our hands on, to enable Australia to be used as a hopping-off place, or a springboard, for the attack upon the Japanese. We cannot possibly hope to make that change-over if Australia is completely held to ransom by the striking coal-miners of New South Wales, and if hundreds of thousands of our men are out of work, making it impossible for our transport system to function. The Prime Minister stated a few days ago that there was no need whatever for strikes in the mines, and that the miners had no grievance which did not admit of hearing by a tribunal established in accordance with the submissions of the miners’ organizations themselves. A crisis has been reached, with industry paralysed. Rigorous rationing of supplies to industry has had to be resorted to, all because the coal-miners are sabotaging the war effort.
I point out to these saboteurs and wreckers, who are destroying the war activities of Australia and breaking down our industrial life, that the trouble is confined to the coal mines of New South Wales. I pay a tribute to the coal-miners of other States, and particularly those in my own State, more especially in my own electorate. They have not been on strike for approximately twenty years, with one exception. They were called out on strike some years ago by the combined coal-miners of the whole of Australia. The overwhelming majority of the New South Wales miners voted for the strike, but those of Queensland voted against it. The numbers were against them, and they had to come out, but they went back while the miners of New South Wales remained on strike. The Queensland coal mines, with a few exceptions, are not nearly so good as those of New South Wales. The Queensland miners work under much worse conditions. Most of the seams are small, and the miners have almost to He down to hew coal, whereas some of the New South Wales seams are six and seven feet high, and even higher. The fact that the miners in other States of the Commonwealth, particularly Queensland, can and do work in conditions which are not comparable with those of New South Wales gives the lie direct to those Ministers who try to make out that responsibility for the stoppages does not lie with the coalminers. The Prime Minister said recently that the miners in Western Australia worked through the whole of Easter, and that the production of coal there has been constantly stepped up. The miners in all the States except New South Wales have been working full time and producing more and more coal, whereas it is notorious that production in New South Wales is falling. I do not say that the production of coal in Queensland is as high as we should like it to be, but production in that State is still rising, and there is no doubt that the coal problem of Australia to-day is wholly restricted to New South Wales. Every coal-miner in Australia outside of that State is shaming his colleagues in New South Wales by continuing to work under less favorable conditions and putting the war effort before pettifogging squabbles. While honorable members opposite are scared to stand up and blame the miners who are responsible, as the Prime Minister has said, for these stoppages, they are really letting him down and repudiating his leadership. Similarly those Ministers who suggest, in spite of what the Prime Minister said, that the failure to produce coal is due to the constant irritation of the miners by the owners, are condemning their own leader. I thoroughly endorse the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, that the failure of the Government to maintain adequate supplies of coal deserves the censure of the House because it impairs the national war effort. What I have said ought to convince every right-thinking member that it is his duty to support the motion. There is no doubt that supplies of coal in Australia to-day are hopelessly inadequate, and that this condition seriously hampers and impairs the war effort of the nation. The Government should not allow anything to interfere with the war effort. The movement of the main war theatre from Europe to the Pacific upon the defeat of Germany will necessitate a greatly expanded Australian war effort, and it is the duty of all of us to put our shoulders to the wheel. We all must give of our best. Every section of the community must play its part to the full. Unfortunately, certain honorable members opposite, by their speeches, or in some cases, their silence, virtually have endorsed the action of the miners. The position to-day is that production and transport have been dislocated seriously, and wide-spread unemployment has been caused through the lack of coal. Efficient transport and maximum production are vital if Australia is to be prepared as the springboard for the attack against Japan - the role visualized for our country by General MacArthur. If we continue to permit the disintegration of our war effort because of the shortage of coal, we shall be doing a great disservice not only to ourselves and to our allies, but also to thousands of the flower of Australian manhood who to-day are prisoners of war in Malaya, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and other enemy-held territories. These men are relying upon us to relieve their plight. I ask honorable members opposite to join with the Opposition in giving a clear indication to the miners that a continuance of their present conduct will not be tolerated. The Prime Minister has said on more than one occasion that what is required is a change of heart on the part of the coal-miners, but how can he expect such a change of heart when honorable members opposite, including the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), make speeches which suggest that this House endorses the action of the miners? Unnecessary hardship is being imposed upon the community by the dissension on the coal-fields. The people of Australia generally have been patient with the coal-miners. The war lias imposed all kinds of severe hardships upon the community at large, and the people have borne them cheerfully in the interests of the national effort. However, the additional hardships imposed by the shortage of coal are not caused by the war effort. The lack of fuel for fires, and gas and electricity for heating and cooking appliances, is imposing an unfair strain upon the community, particularly women and children. I ask honorable members opposite not to repudiate the declarations of their Prime Minister, and to refrain from utterances calculated to make the coal-miners in this country believe that the Prime Minister’s castigation of them is insincere.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The action of the Opposition in submitting this censure motion will be welcomed by the country as a whole and, I think, by the Government, because, for the first time since the invasion of Australia by the Japanese was threatened, all coal mines in New South Wales are in operation to-day, and have been in operation since this censure was moved. That is an achievement which, apart from anything else, justifies the motion. Also, the fact that all coal mines in New South Wales are now in operation gives the lie direct to those who would have us believe that in the past stoppages have been due largely to pin-pricking tactics adopted by the mine-owners. Obviously, if ever there was a time when it would have suited the mine-owners to cause stoppages in the coal mines, it is now when this motion is before Parliament; if ever there was a time when the mine-owners would have desired to paint the coal-miners as black as the material they produce, it is now.
– The miners are not allowing the owners to fool them any more.
– I shall deal with that aspect of the matter in a few minutes. I am completely unconvinced by the allegations of honorable .members opposite, particularly the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), in regard to the adoption of pin-pricking tactics by the mine-owners. The honorable member for
Hunter cited what he claimed to be several examples of such tactics, including the supply of faulty detonators, and lack of proper attention to horses. These conditions, I submit, are quite understandable, and can be explained very simply. They do not require a conspiracy on the part of the mine-owners. Largely, they are the fault of the miners themselves. That is so in respect of the horses at least. In regard to faulty detonators, I point out that to-day care in manufacture probably is not all that it used to be. I have no axe to grind for the mine-owners. I am concerned only with the fact that adequate supplies of coal must be made available for the war effort. I am prepared to condemn anybody whether he be a mineowner or a coal-miner, if intentionally or otherwise he causes an interruption of the flow of supplies of coal. I ask honorable members opposite what possible object the mine-owners could have in bringing about strikes at this juncture in the history of Australia?
– To destroy the Government !
Mr. RYAN. I shall deal with that allegation, too, at a later stage. It is all very well to make wild allegations, completely unsupported by facts. When action is taken by individuals or groups of individuals, there is always a motive. What possible motive could the mine-owners have for causing strikes now ? It is suggested by Government supporters that the motive force in industry to-day is profit, but if the mine-owners cause strikes and the material which brings profits is not produced, obviously the result will be not profits, but losses. Therefore, on that ground alone, there cannot possibly be any reason for the adoption by the mine-owners of pinpricking tactics. It has been suggested also that certain mine-owners have been working uneconomic seams, and thus making the work more difficult for the miners; but the Government has adequate power to deal with any aspect of the coal-mining industry, and if it believes that a certain seam should be developed, it has power to ensure that that shall be done. The Minister for Information claimed that the mine-owners were engineering strikes, in order to discredit the Government.
Again, I say that there is no reason for doing that, because the Government already has lost whatever credit it may have had, so far as the coal-mining industry is concerned. No doubt the Prime Minister possesses more information than any other member of the Parliament concerning the causes of the strikes and stoppages that have taken place, and he admitted that it had. been shown that 88.5 per cent, of the loss of coal production is attributable to the miners. Those who have listened to this debate cannot have failed to. be disappointed by the attitude adopted by honorable members opposite. “We can have no confidence at all that as the result of this debate effective action will be taken by the Government. The Prime Minister, and also other honorable gentlemen opposite, have referred to the stoppages of work and the reduction of coal 1 production in other countries, and an effort has also been made to throw the blame for the lower production in this country on previous governments. Personally, I am not at all concerned .about what occurred in 1915, 1935 or 1939. The circumstances of those days were entirely different from those of to-day. At present we are engaged in the most serious war that has ever occurred.
– It is convenient for the honorable member to adopt this attitude.
– It is not a matter of convenience. I am concerned about one thing, and that is the production of coal. I do not intend to go into the merits or demerits of past disputes, for they can have nothing to do with the circumstances of to-day. The Prime Minister suggested that the open-cut method should be adopted in an attempt to win more coal. I have no doubt that the open-cut method could be applied in certain localities, but the adoption of that method would simply enlarge the area in which disputes could occur. The shortage of coal which we are experiencing to-day is not due to a shortage in our available sources of supply or to a shortage of machinery or labour. “We have abundant sources of supply. Unfortunately, we cannot get the coal to the surface, where it is needed. I do not believe that the adoption of open-cut mining would improve the position in New South “Wales.
The prospects of an increased output by that means are not at all bright.
– Every mine has been working in the last few days. “What better can we do than that?
– I am concerned about what will happen in the next few days, or weeks, or months.
– The mines will still be working.
– If they are, I shall be quite happy to make grateful acknowledgment to the Prime Minister, and even to the Minister for Information. The Prime Minister’s speech in this debate did not indicate that any effective action would be taken by the Government, although there was a sting in the tail of his remarks. The right honorable gentleman said that “the ‘law will be applied ruthlessly “, but brave words have followed brave words during the last six or twelve months, and no action has resulted. Nothing has been done to improve the position. The Government has been blown like a reed in the wind, first by the threats of the miners and then by public opinion; but the coal-miners have proved to be the stronger. At any rate, the Government has failed lamentably. Its record has been one long process of vacillation. The Government has been flouted by the miners, the war effort has been impeded, and a coal famine has occurred. The attitude of the Prime Minister has been reflected in the speeches of other honorable gentlemen opposite, and particularly in that of the Minister for Information this afternoon. .Some strong words have been .used by Government supporters in relation to the miners, but in almost their next breath, they have advanced excuses for the miners. They have said that stoppages have occurred, and production has declined in other parts of the world. After all, they have said, those who know the coal-miners cannot understand why they act as they do. Personally I cannot understand them ! It is said that the miners work under bad conditions in an unpleasant industry.
– Is that not true ?
– Is it not equally true in relation to coal-miners in other parts of the world? Comparison of the situation in Australia with that in Great Britain and the United States of America do not get us anywhere. It has been said that strikes have occurred in the United Kingdom and America just as they have occurred in Australia, and that coal is not being won with any more success there than here. I agree that strikes have occurred in the coal-mining industries of countries overseas, but any honorable gentleman who takes the trouble to investigate the position carefully - apparently the Minister for Information is not one of them - must be convinced that the differences between the situation in this country and that in countries overseas are so great as to be not of degree, but of kind. In America the production of anthracite has risen steadily.
– What are the figures?
– The production from the anthracite mines of America increased by 1.6 per cent, last year compared with the previous year, in spite of the fact that large numbers of miners have been drafted into the armed forces. The miners of America work harder than do those of Australia, for they have a six-day week, and three continuous eight-hour shifts in the 24 hours. Our coal-miners work only five days a week, and one eight-hour shift a day.
It is true that in the United Kingdom the position is difficult and coal production is declining. The output has been falling since 1939. In the first quarter of 1944 the total production was 47,000,000 tons compared with 50,000,000 tons in the corresponding quarter of the previous year, but there are good reasons for the decline. Fewer miners are working. The number has fallen from 781,000 in 1938 to 703,000 in 1943. Of these only 650,000 are effective. The output has gone down by 2.95 tons per shift per man in 1938 to 2.72 tons per shift per man in the first quarter of 1944. It has been said. by some honorable gentlemen opposite that if our mines were put under government control the production would increase. The coal mines of Great Britain have been under control during the last eighteen .months, and in that period coal production has dropped by 9,000,000 tons, compared with the figures for the preceding eighteen months. However, the losses in Great Britain are very much less propor tionately than those in Australia. On a previous occasion I cited some figures which showed that, if the loss of coal in Great Britain for the first five weeks of this year had been as great proportionately as the loss in Australia, it would have totalled 37,000,000 tons, whereas it totalled only 214,000 tons. The argument that the Australian miner does not strike more often than does the miner in Great Britain cannot be sustained, because the statistics show that the days lost in strikes were 1.18 in Great Britain compared with 13.3 in Australia in 1942, and 1.26 in Great Britain compared with 19.2 in Australia in 1943. The difference would be striking even if other things were equal in the two countries; but they are not. In the first place, Great Britain has been carrying on under black-out conditions during the last five years. When the miners of that country leave their work underground, they come up into a blacked-out world. Everybody knows the depressing effects of a blackout. When Australian miners finish work at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they come to a surface that is bathed in sunshine, and enjoy their leisure at night in properly lighted streets and homes. Large areas of the British coal-fields - for example, those of Cardiff and Lancashire - have been bombed. The miners of those districts, after working all day, have their night’s rest disturbed by the necessity to seek shelter during the progress of an air raid. Fortunately, our miners, in common with the rest of our people, have been free from that experience, which imposes a severe psychological strain. For years, the British miner has been rationed in regard to meat, butter, and practically every other article of food to which he has been accustomed. The Australian miner went on strike when the butter ration was reduced from 8 oz. to 6 oz., when potato supplies did not arrive, and when he could not obtain as much meat as he thought he ought to have. The British miners as a body have undertaken air-raid precautions and Home Guard duties, whereas the Australian miners devote their spare time to dog meetings and other forms of sport. Yet the Prime Minister and other government members have the audacity to say that the Australian miner is doing as good a job as, and is not losing more coal than, the British miner.
The Minister fo.r Information referred to the accident rate in the coal-mining industry. I agree with him that that industry is a dangerous occupation. Nevertheless, the statistics disclose that it is no more dangerous than are other sections of our industrial activity.
– That is nonsense.
– The rate of accidents is as high in the heavy industries as in the coal-mines of Australia. The honorable gentleman cited figures in relation to Great Britain and the United States of America and said that the rate in Australia is much higher. The facts disprove that statement. In the United States of America, the fatality rate per thousand miners employed in 1939 was 3.9 in respect of anthracite coal-miners and 4.8 in respect of bituminous coalminers. In the same year, the fatality rate in the United Kingdom was 1.10 pei” thousand miners employed in the coal-mining industry as a whole; and in Australia it was 0.79. Those figures completely refute the statement of the Minister.
– With what insurance company do the coal-miners insure in those countries?
– I do not know; but the insurance rates quoted in respect of coalminers are no higher than are quoted in respect of other dangerous trades.
– Although I gave the fatality figures, my comparison related only to the accident rates, and not to the fatality rates.
– The honorable gentleman knows that the fatality and the accident rates follow more or less the same curve. The statement has been made in this House and elsewhere that many of the troubles in the coal-mining industry have their origin in hostility between the coal-owners and the coalminers. Doubtless, that was true. This hostility has existed for a long time, and probably will continue. But it cannot be said to have a material influence on the present trend of events in the industry. The Prime Minister has said that 80 per cent, of the stoppages are due to trivial causes. These relate to matters that are entirely outside the cognizance or the responsibility of the coal-owners. Outstanding examples are: Taxation ; rationing ; being asked to walk a few yards farther than had been the practice; roads being out of order; a wet seat in a bus; and so on. A well-known example is the refusal to work with a man because he is 60 years of age. Throughout the industrial activity of this country, including factories manufacturing munitions of war, and, above all, in primary production, there are many persons who have reached the age of 60, 70, and even 80 years. I have working on my property in a primary industry a man who is 80 years of age. Yet the coal-miner says that immediately a man reaches the age of 60 years he must retire from the industry. This is entirely contrary to the law of the land at the moment. The particular case to which I have referred occurred at Maitland Main colliery. Notification of the suspension of compulsory retirement was conveyed to the manager of that colliery in a telegram dated tie 25th February, 1943, in these terms -
Coal-mine workers’ tribunal has totally suspended compulsory retirement as from 5th day of February, 1943.
That decision has continued in force up to the present time at all collieries except Maitland Main. In consequence of that dispute the miners went on strike for sixteen working days, and there was a loss of coal amounting to 12,000 tons. Here are the words of the 60 years old miner -
I have put my life’s savings in the war loan. I am fit and well, and produce as much coal as, if not more, than any other miner at the pit. 1 am permitted under the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers (Pensions) Act to retain my position on the coal-fields, and I propose to work for another twelve months or so, in order to get some ready money before I retire. Mr. McBlane, the vice-president of the Northern Branch of the miners’ federation is over 60 years of age and, if he is continuing in his job, why should not I?
– Where did the honorable member get that information?
– The honorable member for Hunter is very curious. I have sources of information the same as he has, and they are just as reliable as, and sometimes better than, his. During the sixteen days when the men at Maitland Main colliery were on strike, the Government did nothing, until finally, at the request of the mine management, it took action to compel the men to return to work. In the meantime, the 60 years old miner was suspended, and the following notice was issued : -
The Coal Mine Workers Pension Tribunal, sitting in jurisdiction under the Coal and Oil Shale Mine Workers (Pensions) Act 1941-42, at Newcastle, on the 17th August, 1944, decided to give to the owners and managers of all coal mines situated on or about the Northern District Coal-fields of New South Wales, three months notice of its intention to cancel the certificate of exemption as required under section 5 of the act.
Because a group of employees in one coal mine in New South Wales refused to work with a man who was perfectly fit to carry on, the miners have now decided that they will not allow any miner to work after reaching the age of 60 years. The Government is not proceeding in the right way in dealing with the coal-miners. The employees who should be put off are not the old, reliable, experienced, and responsible men, but the unruly miners aged eighteen or nineteen years who are causing all the trouble.
This debate will prove of value, in that it will enable the community, as well as honorable members, to appreciate the whole of the facts of the coal situation. Many inaccurate statements have been made by honorable members opposite, and published in the press from time to time. As the result of the discussion in this chamber, many false notions will be removed. I am astonished at some of the questions which have been submitted to me by members of the public. I have been asked, “Is it true that the coal-miners in Australia are producing far more coal than those in any other part of the world?”, and “Is it true that the coal-miners are underpaid and badly treated?” The Government and its supporters givelip service to strong action in dealing with the problem, but at the same time they say, “Perhaps, after all, the miners have some justification for their actions”. The Government cannot have it both ways. It must either deal with the coal-miners firmly or surrender to them completely.
– What was done by the Government of which the honorable member was a supporter?
– It is of no use to rake up the past. In dealing with the grave situation now confronting the Commonwealth, the facts should be faced realistically. How is the requisite coal to be obtained? Having ascertained the facts, the Government should adopt a firm policy. The Opposition is not called upon to submit proposals for a solution of the problem, but I am prepared to do all that I can to assist in the matter. I am in favour of the policy formulated by the Government itself, as it stands on paper, but not as it is implemented. For three years the Government has adopted a policy of appeasement, but all of us know that it is of no avail. The Government of Great Britain discovered the futility of appeasement right up to the tragedy of Munich. The time for attempts to achieve success by appeasement has long passed. Another policy which has been whispered in this House by some honorable members - but not by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) - is that the coal mines should be nationalized. As I view the situation, however, such a plan would not provide a solution of the problem.
– Does the honorable member consider that a three months’ strike would be desirable?
– No. [Extension of time granted.] The Government should now give effect to the policy which it has expounded in this chamber, and let the law take its course. I believe that, in time, industrial peace will be restored on the coal-fields, and that adequate supplies of coal will be provided.
Honorable members opposite have studiously refrained from saying anything to prejudice their own positions in the eyes of the coal-miners. I would say a few words to the miners, if they would listen to me. The statement has been made in this House that 95 per cent. of them are law-abiding and patriotic citizens. I entirely agree, but I also say that 95 per cent. of them are incredibly stupid. What has happened on the coalfields will not be forgotten quickly by the people, because coal is essential, not only to the war effort, but in providing the ordinary amenities of the vast section of the people who are engaged in that great effort. What is happening now? In every State other than New South Wales feverish efforts are being made to exploit coal resources, so that the time will come - I hope quickly - when those States will be relieved from the thrall of the New South Wales coal-miners. In the meantime, Australia is losing its overseas coal markets. New Zealand requires urgently 200,000 tons of coal, but we are unable to supply it. South Africa is exporting coal to countries which normally obtain their coal from Australia. Thus, the New South Wales coal-miners are faced with the loss of both their internal and external markets. When, in future, the miners need the help and sympathy of the community, as they will, the community will remember what is happening now. The people will say, “ You made your bed ; now you can lie. on it”.
The remedy is in the hands of the Government, which has all the power it requires. It has signified its intention to take action, and if that action is taken the situation will improve. This motion of censure was submitted in order to stir the Government to action. Is it too much to hope that, at long last, the worm will turn?-
.- As the subject of this debate is almost exhausted, I shall endeavour to be brief. The coal situation seems to have confounded every one.. For some time past, a section of the press, emboldened by what it regards as the Government’s impotence and irresolution, has broken loose from all restraint, and has treated the Government with far less respect than would have been accorded a weak and corrupt administration that had been in office for many years. Many letters have been published in the newspapers. Countless leading articles have been written suggesting different and sometimes strange and remarkable methods for dealing with the coal problem. The best minds of the nation have been brought Jo bear on this problem, but they have not been able to solve it.
The Opposition, taking this opportunity to make political capital out of the situation which exists on the coal-fields, has charged the Government with impairing the country’s war effort. Members of the Opposition make this charge against the Curtin Government, notwithstanding the fact that it was this Government which aroused the nation from its lethargy when it was defenceless, organized our fighting forces as well as the civil population, and saved Australia from invasion by the Japanese. They impudently support this motion of censure, although not one speaker on the Opposition side has been able to tell the nation how the situation can be improved.
Let us shortly review the facts: The coal industry is a public service, and the country cannot do without it. In order to understand the matter we should examine the industry over a period of years. We should then realize the continuing and cumulative effect of certain persistent influences upon the miners, and the disillusionment and despair which have long prevailed on the coal-fields. In the past, the miners have been ignored by the people and by governments. Now, when we cannot do without them, everyone is trying urgently to create a situation exactly the reverse of that which obtained in peace-time. Then, the miners often appealed to the people and to the governments to bring force to bear on the mine-owners to work the pits, but their pleading fell on deaf ears. Only the miners and their women and children had to worry during those years. The miners have learned from experience that no food is so bitter as the bread of dependence.
The practice of compelling people to work is something new in this country. We are a free people. Recently, members of the Opposition stumped the country from end to end telling the people that the Government proposed to encroach on the liberty of the subject. Paradoxically enough, they are now saying that the Government should adopt stern measures to force the miners to work. Some members of the Opposition, and their supporters outside Parliament, would like to see the miners marched to the pit-head at bayonet point. Honorable members opposite accuse the Government of appeasing the miners. They say that the Government has been weak, that it has at times talked force, but used none. I am not impressed with the appeasement offered to the miners, and I am quite certain that the miners are not impressed either. To the miner, his own lodge and his own family are the beginning, the middle, and the end of all his interests. I believe that we can get maximum coal production if we are prepared to pay for it. If we offered sufficient incentive to the miners we would get the coal. How many people would want to go north to work for the Allied Works Council? I do not think that any one would. How many people would want to go north to work for the Americans? Thousands would, if they could get their man-power clearances. Why is this? Because the Americans are paying big wages, and are providing good conditions for the workers. Therefore, I repeat that we could get coal if we were prepared to pay for it. It is a matter of offer and acceptance. Nationalization of the coal mines is a matter for consideration by the Government of New South Wales, but we should not forget that increased production is our chief concern just now. We must decide very quickly what method to adopt in order to obtain increased production. It would be easy for the Commonwealth Government to take possession of the mines for the duration of the war, thus becoming liable to pay to the mine-owners such compensation as the courts decided. However, the proper control of the mines after the Commonwealth had taken them over would be another matter. The question is whether the Commonwealth could find the necessary engineers and managers to ensure the safe and efficient working of the mines. If the staff could be obtained I should favour ‘that course, but I do not think that the experts are available at present. It is not to be assumed, however, that government control of the mines would necessarily increase their output, because under government control the miners would not get any more money, although no doubt their conditions of employment would soon be improved. I favour the quick andcommon-sense method of giving more money to the miners, and therefore I urge the Government to introduce a scheme to provide for a bonus on production. The heavy taxes payable on their earnings are robbing the miners of the incentive to work. Unless some motive to work be provided, production will not increase. I am sure that we will not increase production unless we provide incentive - some inducement, incitement and stimulus for work. The Government cannot afford to temporize. It would be idle to deny that the Government has lost prestige because of the trouble on the coal-fields. The Government stands as a buffer between the people and the miners. Public opinion is incensed, but the Government is the friend of the miners and looks on them with a paternal eye, although I confess that I have not seen much evidence that it has done anything remarkable for them except to refrain from prosecuting them on occasions. If we wish to get more coal, we must be practical. The output of the mines in 1942 was good, because the possibility of invasion provided a great incentive to work. However, that incentive has long since disappeared, and the Government should now take prompt steps to provide a “ new deal “ for the miners. It has granted subsidies to many other producers, and it should provide a similar encouragement to those whose work is the production of. coal. Money expended in that way would be well spent, because it would get the desired results.
.- On Thursday of last week the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) moved -
That the Government’s failure to maintain adequate supplies of coal impairs the national war effort; seriously dislocates employment, production and transport; imposes unnecessary hardships upon the community; and deserves the censure of this House.
The Opposition has not taken this course in order to secure a party political advantage. If honorable members will reflect on what has occurred during recent months they will realize that the Opposition has been most forebearing. I recall the situation which confronted us in October of last year; there was a series of strikes in the coalmining industry and talk of the necessity to ration coal. At that time, the Opposition could have submitted a censure motion, but in the lobbies we heard that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) realized the seriousness of the situation and would make a statement to the House. We knew that the troubles in the coalmining industry constituted a difficult problem for the Government, and, accordingly, we awaited, with interest the Prime Minister’s statement. We hoped that the right honorable gentleman would make clear that the Government had diagnosed correctly the causes of the troubles and would take action to remove them. The Opposition agreed that if the statement revealed that the Government had made a correct diagnosis of the situation, and contained assurances that steps would be taken to deal with it, no further action on our part would1 be required. The Prime Minister did make a statement to the House on the subject, and after the Leader of the Opposition had said that, we on this side appreciated the difficulties confronting the Government, the matter ended. However, troubles continued to occur in the industry, and early this year legislation to vest in the Government enormous powers to deal with the coal-mining industry was introduced. We on this side debated that measure keenly, in a desire to eradicate defects, because we had a proper recognition of our responsibility to the nation. The bill passed both Houses. The weeks went by, but action that ought to have been taken was not taken. Indeed, until last week there was in the coal-mining industry an undeniable state of anarchy. Unless the irresponsible persons who cause stoppages in the coal mines be dealt with firmly, that anarchy will spread throughout other industries to the detriment of the nation’s war effort, of other industries, and of every person employed in industry. Will any honorable member deny that the stoppages on the coal-fields are seriously interfering with this country’s war effort, dislocating transport and causing a wastage of food? As a primary producer, I know something of the food wastage caused by the troubles on the coal-fields. Eat stock cannot be sent to Melbourne in sufficient quantities because of a shortage of trucks. The greater part of New South Wales and practically all Victoria are possibly experiencing the worst drought in the history of Aus- tralia, and the difficulty of obtaining fodder, which is a serious matter for stock-raisers, is increased because fodder, when obtained, cannot be taken to the starving stock on account of lack of transport resulting from a shortage of coal supplies. Recently Mr. Bankes Amery, the representative in Australia of the British Food Ministry pointed out that, although ships were coming to Australia to take away food to the people of Great Britain, and to the fighting services, not sufficient food is available in Australia to fill them. Realizing the seriousness of the position, the Opposition concluded that the facts should be stated in the National Parliament. A censure motion was due because the state of anarchy on the coal-fields arose when the Government failed, after the ills of the industry had been diagnosed in this House last October, to apply the remedy. The remedy,’ which has been suggested from both sides of the House - the honorable member for Hunter (Mir. James), not once but many times, has described it as an urgent need - can be summed up in one word - “discipline”. Lack of discipline is the basic cause of the trouble. Not many months ago, I went to the coalfields. I do not claim that I returned aware of everything that takes place there, fully seised of the problems of the industry or with full knowledge of the people ; but I talked with the miners themselves and with people in constant touch with them, shopkeepers and hotelkeepers, who seemed to have a wide knowledge of the miners, the members of the Reference Board, the political representatives of the miners and the union officials, and I should have been particularly dense if I had not gained some knowledge. In order to understand that problem one must examine the human aspect of it, and I propose to do that. We all have heard the miners described as strange people. They are strange people. Whether long hours of work underground have a psychological effect on them I do not know, but one could not call them ordinary. In the main they are loyal and honest and amenable to civil law. When they work they work well. I should not call them either thrifty or thriftless, but they have a poor knowledge of the best use to make of their money. The education system of this country must be moulded so as to give to people, particularly those in industrial areas, a better idea of what they should do with money when they earn it. They should be taught to invest it rather than throw it away across counters or on the dog-racing courses. But in the main the miners are good citizens. A grave influence on their lives is that they live as a community. Miners work with miners and holiday with miners. They have become impervious to the fresh winds that could blow in from outside. They have a background going back to the dark days of the industrial revolution in Great Britain. They think in retrospect and imagine that the grievances of those days persist. Their loyalty is divided between their organization and their country, and I am very much afraid that their loyalty for their country, which means loyalty to themselves and their families, is often forgotten in stupid, blind loyalty to the organization in the fetish of “ one out all out”. In order to show the House what the “one-out-all-out” rule means I cite the fact that one bright morning, after a two-day stoppage, 200 or 300 miners, reasonably intelligent men, were gathered at the pithead preparatory to resuming work when one man turned to another and said in terms, too unparliamentary for me to repeat here, that they had been idle for two days because of him and that he; not having done well at the “ dogs “, wanted to go back to work. He could wait until they wanted to go back. He forthwith emptied his billy of tea and went home, with the others following like a mob of sheep. Honorable members must have seen a drover and his dogs trying to drive sheep through a gate. The sheep mill hopelessly round until suddenly one sheep goes through, jumping over an imagined obstacle, with the rest following. That is not unlike what the miners do. Any malcontent may, on some pretext or other, decide not to work, and he will have the support of the lot. The herd instinct, which has developed over many years, is the most unfortunate trait possessed by the miners, and it is one of the main reasons why we have chaos on the coal-fields with the miners almost completely oblivious of the fact that there is a war to be won and that their output is essential to its winning.
That is the psychological aspect of the problem. There is need for discipline in the industry, self-imposed discipline, rather than discipline imposed by the Government. Apparently there was selfimposed discipline in the past. Miner disciiplined miner. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has frequently instanced what happened in his young days as a miner when the head of the lodge ruled the men with a strong hand. Films and books have shown how the old type of miner, proud of his industry and his responsibilities to his industry, kept a firm hand on those who worked with him. But those days have gone, and the lodge has little or no control over the lodge members. Discipline from within has given way to chaos and anarchy.
That brings me to the political aspect of the problem, and I propose to discuss, first, the internal politics and, secondly, the external politics. I have said that much of the discipline that used to exist in the industry has vanished. That fact is bound up with the internal politics of the miners’ federation. Do honorable members realize that every twelve months an election is held in the federation to choose a president, and that the lodge elections take place every six months? Imagine, an election being held every twelve months to elect members of this Parliament! In such circumstances, could we expect sense from this House? Would the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) like a referendum to be held every twelve months? I am sure that he would not. With the country in continual ferment, as it would be with the holding of elections every twelve months, we should have nothing but a flood of propaganda in the press and over the air, and we could expect very little discipline, work or prosperity in the community. The frequency of elections in the miners’ lodges means that the main concern of the person inoffice is to make members think that he is trying to do something for them. Therefore, he will do everything in his period of office to enhance his prospects of re-election; and the same applies to other candidates. Is it any. wonder that, under such conditions, trouble is alway9 seething in the lodges. What can be done about this? It is an important aspect of the present unrest on the coalfields, because it concerns directly the matter of discipline. I realize that it is a matter of no mean moment to ask a government to interfere in the internal management of a private organization. On the other hand, however, coal is the core of our war effort. It is essential to the transport of food urgently required for the war effort. Therefore, this Government would be justified in interfering to some degree in the internal politics of so important a union as the coal-miners’ federation with a view to establishing greater stability among the miners. I have no doubt that if the lodge and federation elections were held every three years instead of every twelve months, much of the present trouble would vanish, if only for the reason that a president elected for a period of three years would know that he could enforce decisions of his executive even though such decisions might not meet with immediate favour on the part of the miners. He would go ahead and enforce decisions so long as he knew that they would justify themselves within a reasonable period. I ask the Government to give urgent consideration to that aspect of the industry.
I ‘now come to the matter of politics external to the industry. Even in governmental circles some doubt exists to-day as to how far the miners’ federation is playing fair with the Government, because the plain fact is that the control of the miners’ federation has passed almost entirely into the hands of the Communist element which, unfortunately, is rampant in this country to-day. Following the outbreak of war, some extraordinary things happened in the industry. In those days the Communists were not in office in the federation, with the result that they were continually making strife, always with the ultimate aim of getting into office. Eventually, the Communist element won control of the federation. Mr. “Wells, its present president, is an avowed Communist. “When Russia came into the war, the men who had been a constant source of trouble in the industry became protagonists of work. They cried, “ “Work, boys, work ! “ That change of policy on their part was due not to the fact that Australia was in trouble - we must not forget that in 1940 the
British Empire alone opposed the Nazi aggressor- but because Russia, a nation of which they knew nothing except what they had read or what they had learned about it from communistic propaganda, had become involved in the struggle against Hitler. The ordinary rank-and-file miner, the old Australian Labour man, who, unfortunately, is fast vanishing in this country before the march of the followers of Marx, was not too pleased at the thought that the new boys at the top would get all the kudos for production. Trouble arose from that cause. Honorable members opposite realize that fact only too well. So, quite apart from the internal politics of the federation, we must also consider the matter of external politics. This involves the policy of nationalization of the mines. Undoubtedly, this also has caused trouble. To-day, when the war is being won, when dear old Russia seems to be pretty safe, I wonder whether the Government is quite sure of Mr. Wells; because Communists never thrive on order and peace in industry. They thrive only on anarchy, and their known objective is nationalization of the mines on some system of syndicalism. I have no doubt that at the back of the minds of many of the leaders of the miners to-day is the idea that, if they keep pushing hard enough and for long enough,, possibly their dreams will come true. I emphasize those two aspects of the general problem of unrest on the coal-fields. When you get a curious psychological set-up in the industry which calls for discipline from within, and that control is non-existent, the Government must supply it. This Government has been found wanting in that respect, and, therefore, the motion of censure is more than justified. The Government has failed completely to impose discipline in the industry. Because of that fact, the miner has developed something akin to contempt for the orders and directions of the Government. Until that contempt is dispelled from his mind strikes will continue in the industry. The Prime Minister, when replying to the Leader of the Opposition last week, used very strong words. He said, for example, “ They won’t work. They should foe prosecuted.” And, he added, “They will be prosecuted “. He also used the word “ ruthless “. I ask the Prime Minister to pardon me when I say that I do not feel so thrilled by those words as I should be. I, too, have heard them many times. The Prime Minister reminds me of a certain Knight of Appledore -
And if he didn’t fight too much,
It wasn’t that he did not care
For blips and buffetings and such
But felt that it was hardly fair
To risk, by frequent injuries,
A brain as delicate as his.
The Prime Minister has uttered threats and brave words during the last three years, and the House will be interested to be reminded of some of them. On the 27th January last, the Sydney Sun reported the right honorable gentleman as having said -
One thing at least is clear, that the Government, having applied the law, will enforce it, and, if it cannot enforce it, then it to be the kind of government that the people of this country could respect, and, being unable to respect, should no longer tolerate.
On the 6th January, 1942, the Prime Minister made the following announcement : -
So grave is Australia’s position that if the coal is not available for essential war purposes, I must take steps to get it. Neither bosses nor workers can bo allowed to increase the dangers to our country.
On the 1st April, 1942, the right honorable gentleman made this statement -
No section of this community can defy the authority of the Government in time of war. The Government that would do this would deserve the defeat which its weakness would inevitably mean for the country it has to serve and fully strive to save.
Onthe 3rd September, 1943, the Prime Minister declared -
I cannot and will not allow war necessities to be prejudiced by hold-ups in essential supplies.
Is it any wonder that when the Prime Minister uttered brave words and threatened firm action again last week, his words did not have the same effect on the community as they had on earlier occasions ? If the right honorable gentleman does not take the necessary steps to ensure a continuity of production on the coal-fields, his Government will be lost, because the pressure of industrial anarchy will cause its defeat.
Some honorable members opposite consider that the solution of the problem lies in the nationalization of coal mines. Although nationalization has never been tried completely in any country in the British Empire, some system approaching nationalization was in force in Great Britain in the period 1916-21. During those years the Government exercised even financial control over the coal mines. The result was disastrous. The output per man-shift fell from 19½ cwt. to less than 14½ cwt.; the wages cost per ton rose to five times the pre-war level, and became no less than 75 per cent. of the cost of production, and the price of coal to the consumer rose to three times the pre-war value. At the beginning of 1921 the loss averaged 7s. a ton and, in conducting the coal mines, the Government was losing the taxpayers’ money at the rate of more than £60,000,000 per annum. After that experience, the Government handed back the mines to private enterprise. Conducted on those lines, any industry will inevitably destroy itself, and hardships will be inflicted upon those who derive their living from it.
Until a few years ago, the industrial affairs of the coal-mining industry were primarily in the hands of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. To-day, strange as it may seem, that control is almost entirely in the hands of members of the miners’ federation. Neither the employees nor the employers like or respect a biased judge. The chairman of the Central Reference Board was once reported as having said that he was biased in a certain direction. The present form of industrial control will never bring peace to the coal-mining industry, because neither the employers nor the employees regard it as impartial. The central reference boards and the local reference boards are in the hands of men who in the main are biased in one direction.
– Not all of them were appointed by this Government.
– In the main, the present set-up is that devised by this Government.
– Mr. Willis is the only appointee of this Government.
– When replying to the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) the Attorney-General agreed that it was bad policy when the Commonwealth Arbitration Court ceased to exercise full and effective control over the coal-mining industry. In my opinion, the industrial set-up is one of the industry’s problems. The removal of industrial control from the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was a blunder of great magnitude. Another blunder was the decision that the security of tenure of members of the Central Reference Board should rest with the government of the day. Whilst industrial affairs in the coalmining industry require decentralization, the determination of big industrial problems should lie with a judge of the Arbitration Court. In addition, members of the reference boards should depend for their tenure of office, not upon a political party, but upon a judge. Once politics are imported into industrial affairs, sense flies out the window. If honorable members on both sides of the chamber agree that the set-up is wrong, why not change it? [Extension of time granted.] Any suspicion that the Parliament or any political party is involved in the industrial affairs of an industry should be removed.
Honorable members have been informed repeatedly that the production of coal has increased during the last few years. That increase of output is due largely to the introduction of mechanization. Although more workers are employed in the mines than ever before, production is falling. But mechanization has meant a great deal in the production of coal. In a speech last October, the Prime Minister declared that he would do his utmost to increase mechanization. What mechanization means is shown by figures, which I have given the House previously, of the daily production per man. At Richmond Main mine it was li tons a man, whereas at the Burwood mine, which was fully mechanized, it was 5^ tons a man. That will give honorable members an idea of how production can be increased by the use of mechanical methods. Has the Government done very much in that direction ? I am aware that coalmining machinery is not easy to obtain, and that for the most part it comes from the United States, but .it can be made in Australia, and I see no insuperable problem in the making of an electric cutter, loader or locomotive, seeing that we can make aircraft and guns of every description. For months past, obsolete types of planes, including Boomerangs and Wackett bombers, have been manufactured in Melbourne, employing some of the finest technical brains of the Commonwealth, and many fitters and turners who could well have been doing something better. Annexes in Sydney which were used, for the production of 25-lb. shell casings have been closed, but the casings have ‘been, taken all the way round to Adelaide and Perth to keep men employed there, with resultant waste of money and man-power. I believe that, as mechanization is one of the real problems of the coal industry, which is right at the core of. our whole war effort, some of the men employed in those directions could have been used to make electric cutters, loaders and locomotives. The owner of the Burwood mine told me that these could be made here. When I visited the mine, the men were employed in the building of an electric locomotive. When I asked him where the parts came from, he replied, “ If we cannot obtain them, we make them ourselves “. We have in this country the technical ability to produce the machines necessary to mechanize the coal mines, but practically nothing has been done in that direction. In that respect, too, the blame lies at the door of the Government.
The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) mentioned the lack of incentive to the miners. I agree that that also is one of the problems of the industry. However, it applies not only to coal-mining; it is also symptomatic. of many other industries in Australia. My own experience in the meat industry showed me that absenteeism was very high, because it did not pay the men to work on account of high taxation. Whilst we cannot congratulate the men upon that attitude, we can at least try to understand it. It was as a cure for those things that the financial policy of post-war credits was mentioned some years ago by the party which now sits on this side of the House. Had that policy been carried out, there would undeniably have been an incentive not only to the coal-miners of New South Wales hut also to workers in other vitally important industries.
The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) said that one reason for the recurring strikes in the coal-mining industry was that a certain amount of war weariness existed, and some of the men were concerned over the post-war prospects of those employed on the fields. These two problems, however, the Attorney-General will admit, are not confined to this industry. I would say to him and, if I could, to those in the coal-mining industry, that the only concern which they need have for the welfare of the industry, and their employment after the war, is lest there should be any falling off of the demand for what the mines produce. That is the real danger which they have to face. They are themselves creating a rod to beat their own backs by the irresponsible behaviour of the last two or three years. Most honorable members are familiar with the name of John Brown in connexion with the coal industry. With other honorable members, I had certain ideas about him, but when I went to the coal-fields I found that most of them were wrong. I was told there that he was a hard but a just man. The mere fact that he was called a just man seemed to indicate that he was hard only towards injustice. There were in his time strikes and frequent requests for increases of wages, and as the costs of production went up so did the price of coal. I was told by two miners that John Brown called them into his office and said : “ Look, boys, this is all right; I am not going to live for all time. You can shoot the cost of coal up, and I must raise my prices, but make no mistake about it, the time will come when any person who can do without coal will do so, because there will be something cheaper which he can use in its place “. That is as true to-day as it was in his day. There is no coalminer of any age on the fields to-day who does not know of industries in which his product has been ousted by something cheaper. The same process will be accelerated unless some sense of responsibility returns to the coal-fields. In the post-war years, unless we can make and maintain markets for coal, and preserve the users of coal in this country, ultimately the coal-miner and - his family will be the people to suffer. Therefore, in the interests of the industry itself and the people employed in it, firm government control is absolutely necessary.
I have dealt shortly with the three main points of discipline, mechanization, and industrial control. I am convinced that the responsibility for the failure to deal with these problems, and for the present deplorable state of the industry, lies at the door of the Government. To the Government, I say : “ Either deal with and settle these problems or get out and, as the boys in the ‘ bush ‘ put it, give somebody else a crack of the whip “.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
.- We have listened to the usual dismal point of view of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen), who is the Deputy Leader of the Australian ‘Country party in this chamber. We have become accustomed to expect destructive criticism from the honorable member, who, on this occasion, did not make a single contribution towards the solution of the coal-production problem which face3 this Government, and which, incidentally, has faced the governments of all Allied countries. In his conduct in this chamber, the honorable member for Indi has disclosed a remarkable political split personality. He is the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde “ of federal politics. As Dr. Jekyll he lends his services, superficially at least, and, I have no doubt, to the best of his ability, as a member of the Advisory War Council in which capacity he has access to important .information on public problems. He knows the difficulties confronting the Government. Of course his work as an advisory councillor is carried on behind closed doors, and we are unable properly to assess the value of it; but in public the honorable member assumes the role of Mr. Hyde, and in public discussion becomes a morale destroyer. Although he is well aware of the difficulties confronting the Government, he appeals to the miserable prejudices of human nature by enlarging upon the disabilities which the people of this country are suffering under war conditions, without making any attempt to explain the reason for them. For instance, he knows that it is impossible to remove 1,250,000 people - more than the normal working population of this country - from the production of the goods and services required by the general community, and at the same time expect the remaining workers to maintain the quality and quantity of those goods and services. The honorable member knows also that the disabilities suffered by the general public under a total war effort would have occurred no matter what government was in office, and, in fact, did exist when the Administration of which he was a member was in power. Although he will not admit it the honorable member knows also that, due to the greater war effort made by this Government and to the fact that it has built up in industry the capacity of this country to defend itself whilst at the same time maintaining the armed forces at strength sufficient to withstand an invasion of this country, the quantity of goods and the services available to the civilian population has diminished. Undeniably, that state of affairs would have existed had the Government, of which he was a member, not left this country vulnerable to the inroads of the enemy. The honorable member knows all these things, but in order to gain some miserable political advantage, he lays emphasis upon the disabilities which the people of this country are suffering as the result of the war, without explaining, as he could easily do, the real cause of those disabilities. I represent a country constituency, and I appreciate the difficulties under which the .people of my electorate are working owing to lack of passenger and goods transport facilities. I know, also, as does the honorable member for Indi, that coal is not the only problem so far as transport in country districts is concerned. Undoubtedly, it is a contributing factor, but it is not the controlling factor in transport difficulties. The honorable member is fully aware of the terrific drain made upon the resources of the railway systems of all States for reasons in which the coal shortage does not figure at all. He knows, also, of the great strain placed upon the rail transport system of this country owing to the lack of shipping due to overseas requirements and to shipping losses on our own coastline through enemy action. The honorable member could tell the people of this country, from either inside or outside this Parliament, of the tremendous burden placed upon our railway system by the movement of defence personnel and equipment; but it suits him, politically, to use this censure motion to keep the people of his own electorate and of other country electorates in which transport difficulties are acute, in ignorance of the major reasons for the shortage of transport facilities compared with pre-war days. He could tell the people of the effect of petrol rationing in country districts. Of course he would not advocate that petrol so conserved should be distributed amongst motor car owners rather than be used in the defence services of the country. That would not suit him politically.
He can make more political capital by enlarging upon the transport difficulties. It is well known that at least one State government .has made a substantial contribution of rolling stock to Allied forces in the Middle East. It is also well known, and the honorable member for Indi should be aware of it in his capacity as a member of the Advisory War Council, that apart from the huge increase of freight tonnage carried by our railways under war conditions, railway workshops in every State of the Commonwealth are making valuable contributions towards the supply of equipment for the war effort. Large quantities of war materials are being made not only in the annexes to these establishments, but also in the repair shops themselves. In addition, skilled personnel has been lent by the State governments to the Commonwealth Government and the South Australian Government to assist in coping with the heavy load placed upon the East-West railway and upon the line to the centre of the continent. The people of this country should know of the valuable war effort that is being made by these railway workshops, so that they will understand more readily that coal is not the only problem in war-time transport. If the railways system of Australia had an abundance of coal supplied to it to-morrow, there would still be the serious problem of the deterioration of rolling stock due to lack of adequate maintenance and increased usage. The fact is that on one occasion when all the coal mines were in operation there was not sufficient rolling stock available to take the coal away from the mines. I do not recite those facts in an endeavour to condone in any way the attitude that has been adopted by the miners towards a government which they support. Undoubtedly, strikes have been started for trivial reasons. Such actions are inexcusable in time of peace and, of course, much more so in war-time. How- ever, I contend that when problems of this magnitude are facing a government it is the duty of individuals who hold responsible positions, such as that held by the honorable member for Indi as Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party in this chamber and a member of the Advisory War Council, to make reasonable suggestions regarding their solution. But that honorable member has not offered any solution. Instead, we have heard a diatribe designed to create discontent amongst country people over transport facilities. No attempt has been made to point out to these people the fact that there are more substantial reasons for the lack of transport facilities than the shortage of coal. Personally, I believe that country people generally have a much better understanding of war-time transport problems than has been shown by the honorable member for Indi, and it is not likely that they will be mislead or prejudiced against the Government because of the honorable member’s dismal utterances. In fact, it is more likely that in view of the paucity of ideas held by the honorable member for Indi and his colleagues, they, and not the Government, will be censured because of the unfortunate circumstances which exist in this country to-day.
– The debate upon this motion on Friday last was distinguished by a remark by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), relating to the declaration by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) that “there are lions in the path “. Having heard the remainder of the debate on that day, one could hardly come to the conclusion that lions were concerned. Eather would one have concluded that there was a pole-cat or a sewage farm in the path.
This debate was inevitable in the circumstances. The requirements of the Commonwealth Government are greater to-day than they have been at any time during the war. It is no defence for this Government, or any other government, to say that in 1940 or at some other time, a government, the remnants of which are now on this side of the chamber, failed to produce all the coal required, or failed to settle strikes. One of the pleas upon which this Administration obtained its majority at the last elections was .that it was better able to do these things than any Administration composed of honorable members now sitting on this side of the chamber. Therefore, ‘ I say that any defence founded on premises such as these must fall down of its own weight. Likewise, it is undeniable that the conflict in which we are engaged cannot be satisfactorily conducted or satisfactorily organized unless there is a sufficiency of the one vital commodity which is the foundation of all secondary industries in every manufacturing country - coal. There has not yet been found any complete substitute for coal as a fuel. We have oil, water-power, and so on, but none of these can be regarded as a satisfactory substitute for coal, and until such time as a substitute is found coal will be the basis of any peacetime manufacturing industry and of any satisfactory war-time munitions programme, and in peace or war the foundation of at least the inland transport system.
To divert for a moment to the carefully prepared statement read not long ago by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller), I must say that the present position is not one that can commend itself to any representative of a country constituency. I have a high regard for the good work that has been done, in trying circumstances in recent years, by the railwaymen of Australia. They have had to cope with breaks of gauge, and other difficulties, as well as the shortage of coal. They have had to use inferior coal because the good coal in the mines of New South Wales was not being produced in sufficient quantities. In all these circumstances no one can cavil at the way they have done their work. But to defend them by launching an attack on the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country party is not to make any defence of this Government.
The seriousness of the present position has been indicated by three speeches that were delivered from the treasury bench last week. I shall refer first to the utterances of the Prime Minister. I have some appreciation of the difficulties which have confronted the right honorable gentleman in dealing with the coal-mining industry, but I have not been able to divest my memory of certain statements attributed to him by the press on a number of occasions since his Government assumed office on the 7th October, 1941, which is nearly three years ago. That observation reminds me that the right honorable gentleman should now be qualified to reconstruct his Government if he so desires. On several occasions he has referred, in very strong, striking and truthful terms, to the position of the coal-mining industry, and to the refusal of coal-miners of New South Wales to obey the law of this country. The coal-miners, as the right honorable gentleman has pointed out, have declined to pay any attention to his requirements as head of the Government, they have refused to listen to the pleadings of their own leaders, and have resisted all efforts to get them to conduct their operations in the best interests of the safety of the country. I shall not read from the Prime Minister’s speeches, for the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) quoted effective extracts from them this afternoon. Time and again, however, we have witnessed the gazetting of regulations concerning the coal-mining industry, and, early this year, the Parliament passed the Coal Production (War-time) Bill, which we were assured would bring some measure of peace to industry generally. But every action that the Government has taken has been followed fairly promptly by fairly emphatic refusals by the coal-miners to obey the law. Towards the conclusion of his speech last Thursday the Prime Minister said twice that the law would be ruthlessly applied from now on.
Yet that evening we heard the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) declare, in a long and explicit statement of the position from his point of view, that the law, as it stood, could not be applied effectively to the coal-miners of New South Wales. The Attorney-General, of course, is the legal authority of the Cabinet. Thus the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Government, says that the law will be ruthlessly applied, and’ the AttorneyGeneral, who is the Government’s chief legal adviser, goes to no end of trouble an hour or so afterwards to give the House reasons why the law cannot be applied.
The Prime Minister also stated in his speech on Thursday that he did not consider that the nationalization of the coalmining industry would solve the difficulties. On Friday afternoon the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) who, as the holder of that portfolio, is deeply interested in coal production stated, from the opposite side of the table, that, in his opinion, nationalization was the only remedy. It will be seen, therefore, that a serious conflict of opinion exists among senior members of the Cabinet.
– There are twenty honorable members opposite who hold twenty different opinions.
– The honorable member for Griffith must bear in mind that the members on this side of the chamber do not constitute the Government. The point I am making is that three influential members of this Government have spoken in entirely contradictory terms in respect of the coalmining industry. Their views cannot be reconciled by any process of reasoning of which honorable gentlemen of the Opposition are capable. We have, therefore, reached the stage at which a declaration of policy in respect of the coalmining industry should be made authoritatively on behalf of the Government, and we should also be informed that that policy has the unanimous support of Ministers. I have heard the Minister for Transport discuss the coal-mining industry on several occasions, and I cannot recall a single instance when his views could be regarded as being even reasonably in keeping with the policy of the Government as expounded by the Prime Minister. The position is that the Prime Minister, who may be described as the statesman of the Government - for whatever his qualifications are, they tower above those of most of his colleagues - has made one statement; the AttorneyGeneral, who may be described as the scholar and jurist, has made an entirely different statement in regard to the legal position ; and the Minister for Transport, who may be described as the general demagogue of the Government, has expressed views in conflict with those of his two colleagues. This is a serious situation which fully justified the Opposition in launching this censure motion. In discussing this subject we must pay regard to the important place that coal will take in the affairs of this country in the not distant future. I have referred once or twice in this House to the “new order” which so many people seem to think is on the horizon or just round the corner. It will be quite impossible for any order, new, old, or middleaged, to bc successful unless it is based on the observance of the law by those engaged in all the industries of the nation. The Prime Minister said on Thursday last that if the unions of Australia did not obey the law they would destroy themselves. It is not often that I quote from printed documents, but on this occasion I shall refer honorable members to some observations made in a booklet entitled The Trade Unions which was published by Mr. L. Sharkey in November, 1942, and reprinted in July, 1944. It contains some rather striking statements. The Prime? Minister has referred once or twice to what he has described as “sinister influences “ which he believes to be at work on the coal-fields of New South Wales. In this connexion I direct the attention of honorable members to the following observations which Mr. Sharkey makes on page 22 of his booklet in relation to industrial peace -
The reformist trade union officials wholeheartedly support arbitration. They do not want strikes and struggles to disturb their peaceful salaried existence. Lenin characterized the reformist trade union leaders in his article (written in 1913), “On the Labour Government in Australia” as follows: “The leaders of the Australian Labour party are trade union officiate, an element which every where represents a most moderate and ‘ capitalserving’ element, and, in Australia, it is altogether peaceful, and purely liberal “.
I would have no serious fault to find with trade union leadership which merited such a description. Mr. Sharkey went on -
The Communists regard the State-controlled arbitration system as a pernicious, antiworking class institution, whose objective is to keep the workers shackled to the capitalistic state, i.e., eternally wage-slaves.
He also wrote -
Reformism no longer has 100 per cent, domination of the Australian union movement. The Communists are now a growing and powerful force, challenging the whole position of reformism and transforming the trade unions into organizations of revolutionary struggle for socialism.
Later on, he said -
Strikes, properly led and conducted and properly timed, are a revolutionary weapon. Strikes develop the Labour movement, organize and’ unite workers, and win the intermediate social strata to the side of the revolution.
The following extract is also interesting :-
The struggle of the worker, particularly mass strike movements, “ arouses the masses “.
This emphasizes the importance of good trade union work and properly conducted strike movements.
The general run of strikes in Australia have been of an economic character, or confined to economic demands, by the reformists. Political strikes have been few in number (Port Kembla, against scrap iron for Japan, for the release of Ratliff and Thomas, against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in the U.S.A., and possibly a few more). Political strikes are a higher form of struggle than economic strikes. Such strikes challenge the Government, the State, the rule of the capitalistic class. One of our chief trade union tasks is the politicalization of strikes.
I apologize to honorable members for inflicting upon their ears so much of the pamphlet, but what I have read is important because it indicates the attitude of an organization of which the president of the miners’ federation, Mr. Wells, is an executive officer. He believes in the politicalization of strikes, the defiance and destruction of the Government, and the disruption of the State. That is what these interrupters of industry and revolutionaries are aiming at, and the Government will have to grasp this nettle. The earlier it is grasped the less criminal will be the result, and the less severe will be the sting. There can be no secure livelihood for the wage-earners of this country if 17,000 men in one industry are permitted to do as they like. We were told by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) that 90 per cent, of these 17,000 men are patriotic, honest, and devoted to everything that is in the best interests’ of their country. In fact, there appeared to be no favorable adjective which the Minister did not feel justified in applying to them. If the majority of these men are all that they are said to be there is all the more reason why the Government should take strong action, but if the majority of them favour the tactics described in the pamphlet from which I have just quoted, it would seem that there are prospects of a minority dictatorship being set up in the coalmining industry.
I do not wish to dwell upon the wrongs of the past, other honorable members having done that fairly effectively. In everything that the Prime Minister does to-day, his aim is to direct the people of this country towards the future, and not to dwell on the past. The biggest obstacle that confronts the Government is in relation to coal production. A government which controls two-thirds of the membership of this House, and has an absolute majority in the Senate, is not entitled to ask this side of the House to produce a solution; that is its responsibility. Unless it can produce that solution, it will not be able to carry on the armed conflict in which we are engaged, or lay the foundations of whatever industrial era is to prevail in this country after the war is over.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is one of the most consistent speakers on the coal-mining industry in this chamber, and has more right than the majority to discuss it. In the course of his speech, he referred to the supposed kidnapping of some person, and asked for a public inquiry of the matter. I noticed last week that he was missing from the place in which I abide while I am in this city. Somebody remarked : “ Old Rowley has gone to a new stable “. I am not well u,p in the racing world, and when somebody told me that there is a horse of that name I was somewhat confused for a while as to whether it was being trained for the “ Sydney saucer “ or the “ Brisbane sugar basin “. Our genial and jovial friend has disappeared from our midst. Instead of abiding with us of the lower orders at the Hotel Kurrajong, it would appear that he has gone to his rightful place among the lords of creation at the Hotel Canberra - the place to which his friend was alleged to have been escorted, either willingly or unwillingly, on the occasion which he desires shall be the subject of still another inquiry by the Government of this country. At some convenient time, no doubt on the motion for the adjournment of the House - he will not have it during this debate - the honorable gentleman may be inclined to take into his confidence one or two of us who are not so unfriendly towards him as we might appear to be on the surface, and tell us how he came to leave us.
No greater problem confronts the Government, and no more important question could be considered by this House, than the situation in the coalmining industry. There is no greater challenge to the statesmanship of the Government than that which relates to its capacity to secure an increase of coal production in Australia. The weighing up of parties and governments cannot be deferred for longer than three years in this country. This will be one of the biggest accounts which the Government will have to meet, and one of the biggest factors with which it will have to deal, when the day of balancing arrives. The coal position in Australia was one of the most important factors which contributed to the reverse of the first magnitude which the Government suffered on the 19 th August last. A government which cannot secure the one commodity upon which the military and economic structure of this country rests, is not likely to be entrusted with further powers or to be granted an extension of its term of office. The Prime Minister has displayed a measure of strength in the handling of the situation, in that he has refused to meet certain representatives and has withdrawn undertakings which he gave on conditions, those conditions not having been fulfilled. Only by tactful and forceful handling of that nature will he get anywhere with the people with whom he is dealing. As an outsider, and an observer of perhaps almost average intelligence, may I say that too often have they approached the room in which the Prime Minister was to meet them, believing that they had only to “beat the big drum “ or “ wield the big stick “ and they would achieve their purpose by weight of numbers. It is unthinkable, in a community like ours, that any one industry or any one union, no matter how big or important it may be, shall have the right to force a stoppage of industry whenever it chooses to hold the country to ransom, as the miners’ federation virtually has done in New South Wales.
– Do not the coal-owners contribute?
– I recall the occasion when the head of the Government said in Melbourne that he did not blame the coal-owners for the state of affairs which existed at that stage.
– That is only one occasion.
– I believe, and I think that every honorable member in this House who has studied the position must believe, that there is one definite policy in front of the miners’ federation to-day, a policy that has been before it for a long time ; it is, that there shall be no reserves of coal at grass in Australia. Without reserves, so much the more easily will these people be able to demand the terms which they consider ought to be conceded to them, according to the exposition of their chief protagonists, in the forefront of whom is the honorable member for Hunter. They object to the rate of income tax. Everybody else has to pay it. They cannot say that they are overworked, because I understand that they work on only five days a week. Their wages are good, and they are not precluded from engaging in other occupations. I have some information on that point, and doubtless the honorable member for Hunter has also. What they make by engaging in coalmining does not represent the total income which they receive. Therefore, let this go out to the country and to the coalminers: These men are not in the same position as the Welsh and other coalminers of 100 years ago, or a much later date than that.
– What other source of income have they?
– I “ scrub “ the dogs right out. Dog-racing in this country is one of its greatest curses. I am informed by men who are connected with the coal-mining industry that some of these gentlemen are fairly efficient fishermen. I do not blame them for indulging in that pastime, because fishing is a fairly profitable occupation if a man has a certain degree of knowledge and a little of Isaak Walton’s talent, as the price of fish is remunerative to-day. But there is an obligation on every trade union management to ensure that the union shall be properly conducted. Without wishing to offend my very conservative friends on the opposite side, may I, as a rather radical sort of fellow, suggest that if they want guidance on the proper conduct of trade unions they cannot do better than study the guild system in England in the Middle Ages, under which no man could join a union until he was a tradesman. To-day, the qualification is entirely different.
– When they tried to join unions they were sent out to Australia as convicts by members of the class to which the honorable member belongs.
– I am speaking of an earlier date. If my friend wants to appreciate what I am driving at, I refer him to Mr. Thorold Rogers’s Six Centuries of Work and Wages in England.
– How did the right honorable member for Darling Downs become a farmer?
Mr.Fadden. - By buying a farm.
– One might ask how the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) became a Labourite. That is one of the mysteries of this place. However, these are serious matters, and I do not wish to joke about them. The Government faces one of the greatest challenges to its existence, and it will endure until a satisfactory solution has been found. I cannot see that solution at the present time. I should be happy to see. it from whatever side of politics it came. Until it has been found, the position of this community will not be safe in relation to war, peace, transport, industry, living standards, or anything else.
.- Every one in this country is aware that the winning of coal is a national task of the first magnitude. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has told us often that on the success or failure of coal production rests the success or failure of the nation’s war effort, and its .ability to mount its maximum strength to hasten the defeat of our enemies. Every honorable member on this side of the House freely admits that some of the strikes on the coal-fields are “ indefensible from the stand-point of the miners, and that some miners apparently are more concerned to defeat the leadership of their federation, and, in doing so, materially assist to undermine the foundations of this Government, than they are to get coal. Those miners who blindly follow Mr. J. T. Lang, and read his filthy yellow paper, the Century, would be included in these misguided workers. However, it is not my purpose to criticize the already over-criticized miners, much as I regret the actions of some of them. It is my purpose to show that some of the coal-owners and managers also have no interest in getting coal, and to question the honesty of purpose of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in moving this censure motion. Speakers from the opposite side would have us believe that owners and managers are “ lily-white “ people, who are concerned only in serving the nation and are entirely blameless for any of the trouble. In order to satisfy myself as to the salient facts I have conducted some research on this question, and I am convinced that quite a few owners are not anxious to increase production, but are, on the contrary, placing selfish sectional interests before the needs of the nation. Let us consider the J. and A. Brown group of mines, which are not being efficiently worked to full capacity. Take, first, Abermain No. 2. This mine has been mechanized within the last few years, and during that period a large output of coal was not desired by the owners, as industry was not working to full capacity. Before mechanization the output was 1,500 tons daily. Since mechanization it has been 1,000 tons daily. The haulage capacity of the mine is 1,200 tons daily. It must be admitted that mechanization cannot proceed through lack of equipment. But the mine-managers could engage 30 contract miners, who could win the 200 tons daily which would raise the tonnage to the maximum haulage capacity of the mine.
One of the three tunnels in Abermain No. 1 mine is not being used, although it leads right into a section of pillars. The lines and skips and haulage gear are ready for use. This tunnel has no pit-top, but one is not needed, as this seam of coal is completely clean. All that is needed is a ramp from which coal can be loaded into wagons. This tunnel is on a railway line, and 50 miners could be employed there, with an output of 300 tons daily.
The John Darling mine is owned by Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Only half of the pit has been in production since the mechanization of the mine. Prior to mechanization the output was 3,000 tons daily; now it is 1,600 tons daily. The section of the mine not mechanized is not worked because the rate of profit from the coal won by contract labour is not so high as that obtained by mechanical means. Admittedly, the coal in the present idle seam is not firstgrade, but if some of the coal which is being won at Collie to-day is usable, any Newcastle coal can be used. This mine could be employing another 50 miners, and producing at least another 300 tons daily.
In 1935 a review by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited stated that the Elrington mine’s output was 1,100 tons a day. Fully equipped, the colliery could produce 3,000 tons a day. The review pointed out that No. 1 shaft should be the main hoisting shaft, and would give an extra haulage of 1,900 tons daily. That was nine years ago, yet to-day the Elrington mine’s daily production is still 1,100 tons; so, if the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited was telling the truth in 1935, no less than 1,900 tons of valuable Maitland coal is being lost to the war effort daily through the inaction of that company. According to a newspaper report, Mr. Allan Cooper, a former managing director of the J. and A. Brown group of mines, stated at the annual meeting of Shareholders a couple of years ago that, in eleven years, three of the companies’ mines had been closed and abandoned. Three others have been partially abandoned, whilst other less accessible sections have been sealed off.
There is also the matter of the provocation of the miners, such as occurred at the Pelaw Main mine two months ago, when the company threatened to cavil out 150 men. The reason given was lack of pit room. The miners’ federation opposed this move, contending that the men could be kept on. The cavil-out did not take place, because of the intervention of the Coal Commissioner, and under pressure the company now finds that there was no necessity for such action. This sort of treatment only serves to upset miners and create unrest; or, on the other’ hand, the mine-owners may have intended to close the section, because the cost of production was high owing to difficult working.
I direct attention also to such actions as the challenging of awards made by the local coal authority. I instance the case of the colliery proprietors on the Maitland and north-west New South Wales coal-fields applying for a writ from the High Court to prohibit awards made in June by Mr. Connell. This award provided for increased rates for high timbering by shift-workers.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has given numerous instances of the miners having been goaded into strike action by the owners. It is useless for members of the Opposition to pretend that the blame rests entirely upon the miners. It is strange that only the miners and the Government come in for criticism. Have not the mine-owners any responsibility with regard to coal production? Have they no responsibility to provide good working conditions, to keep down dust, and to make the mines safe to work in? Judging by the speeches of honorable members opposite, the only conclusion that I can draw is that the sole responsibility of the mine-owners is to maintain a high profit level. I find it hard to escape the conclusion that this censure motion is purely a political smokescreen under which the big business interests intended to commit some sort of crime against the Australian people. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) offers as a solution a three months’ strike! He knows as well as anybody else that industry could not be carried on for a week, much less twelve weeks, on those conditions. Does he hope to stampede the Government into some rash and foolish action? Why does the right honorable gentleman want a three months’ strike? Because he hopes to break the miners’ federation, wreck the Government, isolate the miners from other industrial workers, drive a wedge between the worker in industry and his comrade in the armed forces, alienate the sympathy of the primary producer from his natural ally, the industrial worker, and, from the national disunity so created, restore the rule of the trusts. He, and his masters of Collins House, observing that the war is in its final phase, are trying to provoke the workers and their Government into fighting each other. But they will not succeed. The lessons learnt in 1928-29 by the wharf labourers and timber-workers, and by the miners in the big lock-out, are not easily forgotten.
The vested interests are not concerned with coal production, the lives of soldiers, or the liberation of our relatives and friends who are now prisoners of war. This censure motion is an insolent and irresponsible provocation, and the act of a political Nero. What guarantee have the people of Australia that, if by some evil chance Labour was defeated, and the Leader of the Opposition became Prime Minister, he would not again pursue his pro-Fascist appeasement policy towards our sworn enemy, Japan? It is significant that the demand for a general strike on the coal-fields by honorable members opposite is backed up by Mr. Gregory Forster and the Sydney Morning Herald, the voice of Australian “ big business “.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), endeavouring to cover up the tracks of the real criminals in connexion with the coal trouble, have focused attention upon members of the Communist party. I have taken the trouble to make a little research on this matter, and the facts are that, of ten full-time officers of the miners’ federation in New South Wales, one is a Communist. Is it suggested that he dominates the other nine? In Queensland, Mr. T. Miller, the State president, is a Communist. In Victoria, Mr. I. Williams, the State president, is also a Communist, but the records of production of those States are beyond criticism. In Western Australia the officers are members of the Australian Labour party, and here again the continuity of work is second to none. It is useless to blame the Communist party for the hold-ups in the industry. The fact is that we have a horseandbuggy industry in an aeroplane age.
Mr. Gregory Forster and the honorable member for Wentworth have made quotations from Mr. L. Sharkey’s booklet, The Trade Unions. I have to thank the honorable member for Wentworth f ot . bringing that interesting little publication to my notice. I have the greatest objection to quoting other people’s works, but as both Mr. Gregory Forster and the honorable member for Wentworth have used extracts from this booklet, I must, in all fairness, make some quotations from it myself. Mr. Gregory Forster quoted a few lines from page 31; I intend to read the whole of the relevant matter. All that Mr. Gregory Forster quoted was -
A number of strikes which we have led or influenced have considerably strengthened the Communist party.
Then the article proceeded -
In North Queensland, the Communist party lias polled its biggest parliamentary votes. This is largely due to the great work of the Communists, J. C. Henry and others, who led the strikes of the cane-fields workers and aroused the masses against the oppression of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, the giant millionaire concern which has dominated Queensland’s economics and politics.
Similarly, the party’s influence started to become widespread among the miners as a result of the strenuous fight of the Communists against the coal-owners, and the treacherous policy of the reformists during the lock-out of the northern miners in 1929-30. This lock-out took place in accordance with the general drive of the capitalist class at that period to undermine Australian standards of living and to solve their economic problems at the expense of the masses.
In defiance of an arbitration award, the coal barons demanded a reduction in the miners’ rates, and locked them out when the nien refused to accept it. This experience demonstrates clearly enough that the bosses accept arbitration decisions only when it suits their book.
The miners on the northern New South Wales fields were locked out. The reformist leaders of the union, together with the Langdominated New South Wales Labour party, and the Labor Daily, opposed the extension of the struggle to the remaining coal-fields, and prevented a general strike in the mining industry; they pretended that it was necessary to limit the struggle in order that the miners remaining at work might provide the finance for the locked-out northern men. As industry, due to the economic crisis, was reduced to a low ebb, it was a comparatively simple matter for the capitalists to secure all the coal they needed from the pits that remained at work.
The veriest political tyro is aware that Mr. Sharkey was referring to a period long before this war commenced. I pay the honorable member for Barker the compliment of saying that he did not misquote him. So let me quote from page 51, where Mr. Sharkey was writing on the present-day policy -
The war of the democratic peoples against the Fascist enslavers faced the Australian trade union movement with quite new tasks. In order to defeat the Fascists, the utmost power of the democratic peoples had to be exerted.
Vast armies had to be equipped with modern weapons in huge quantities in order even to meet on equal terms the Fascist armoured hordes.
In addition to providing a large section of the armed forces, the working class, whose prospects of achieving socialism, or even maintaining existing standards of living, would bc wrecked by a Fascist victory, had to produce these enormous supplies of armaments. The Soviet workers, long in control of. the industries, were interested in questions of production and greater efficiency and output from the industries since the first day of the victory of the October revolution.
The Australian trade unions, however, were now faced with problems of stepping up production, while the capitalist economy continued in existence, posing a difficult and complicated problem for the working-class leadership.
The Communists took a leading part in convincing the workers of the need for a great industrial effort in order to preserve democratic liberties.
It is obvious that the present policy of the Communist party is not the policy of 1929-30, and it is of no use. to try to blame it for the present industrial trouble. The practice of taking sentences out of their context is to be deprecated, and the honorable member for Wentworth cannot cover his tracks in that way.
Finally, I intend to read to the House an extract from the miners’ newspaper, Common Cause, of the 26th August. It is headed, “ President’s letter. What’s doing at the pit top ? “ I invite honorable members to contrast the reasonable manner in which it is presented with the provocative speeches of honorable members opposite. This is the article -
As I write this, the Federal Cabinet is discussing the coal position in Canberra. The discussion will centre around the problem of rationing coal in a drastic way; it will involve closing of some industries or factories; cutting out some rail transport; it will probably have to direct Curtin to mapped out with General MacArthur for carrying the war to the Japanese mainland, and almost certainly the Cabinet will discuss measures to discipline us.
The Cabinet should have been discussing coal, but from a totally different angle - they should have been discussing a proposal by Curtin for
A Federal Pension Scheme embracing all of our members in coal, shale and metal; they should have been discussing the proposals I made to Labour Minister Holloway for a Health Review, which covered eradication of dust, better ventilation, and the treatment (without loss of pay) for hundreds of us suffering from industry diseases. They should have been discussing a Referendum victory, and the plans for reorganizing our industry; the new industries to be established in the coal-fields.
What, then, has changed the agenda? There is only one answer - the loss of coal. Too many of you believed the Government was speaking with its tongue in its cheek when it said that wo were on the deadline, although I had pointed out that we had gained the advice of the unions using the coal. Too many of you thought it all a “ racket “, but the break has come.
Certainly we can’t throw in the towel - the job still has to be done. Certainly we can’t afford to let the Government take advice from the owners, monopolists and reactionary people or newspapers, who are against us, if we can help it, but we ourselves must take some heed to the call and the outstretched hand of our brother unionists in other industries, of the call of the common people like ourselves throughout Australia and in the Army, who have become bitter at “ our utter disregard for them “, and we must realize that many thousands of unionists who wanted the Referendum to succeed as much as we did in order to prevent another depression, to win Federal direction of their industries, who did not want rationing of coal and trains and industry, are in the difficulties now confronting the Govern ment and the entire Labour movement.
Certainly the whole fault is not ours - certainly we have warned and made proposals we thought would prevent this situation arising, but there is not one of us anywhere in Australia, in any pit or in any office, who will deny that we share in the blame.
Take the last two weeks, which have been, in fact, the knock-out blow to an already groggy coal position. There have been 9, 10, 12, 13 pits idle in the Northern District nearly every day. Some of these stoppages arose from and health and the responsibility for the actual stoppage arose out of “don’t care”, “won’t help “ attitude by owners and managements, but many of them were stoppages that never should have occurred, some of them didn’t relate to the managements.
Take Maitland Main as an instance. This pit has been idle for thirteen working days, and the dispute is one that involves the question as to whether a man over 60 years of age should continue to work or retire. I think he should retire, whilst ever there are unemployed men in the industry, and there are unemployed men in the Northern District, but should that mean thirteen days lost work?
The District officers support this view, but it will take some time to arrange that. The owners and managers cannot decide this dispute - they are not involved, yet the pit remains idle.
There are other Northern District and other District stoppages over similar matters. The District Executives, the bodies according to our own rules and Government agreements who are to decide such questions, have ordered Maitland Main and other Lodges to return to work and allow them to arrange for the wishes of the Lodges to be carried out, but the matter.
That is our main problem to-day, Men! No Central Executive Officer, no Central Council, no District Executive Officer nor District Committee of Management can decide this most difficult problem of stoppages - it must be decided at the pit top.
We are below rock bottom. Coal production is now affecting the war effort, hurting the Labour movement, and our brother unions - hurting the common people.
To-day is not a time for despair or defeatism, but it is the day for and that decision can only be made at the pit top.
The decisions of the Union are good.
The aims of the Union will build a much better life for us miners and our children hut they must be carried into effect.
The fight must be carried to the pit top against those in our ranks who are still unconcerned about any one’s interests except their own personal, selfish interests, and only you can win that fight.
Yours in Unity,
Does that sound like an article written by a man who wants the mines to be idle? No. The Opposition should set its own house in order. Twelve months ago, in my maiden speech in this House, I appealed to members of the Opposition to abandon their provocative tactics, and to help to solve this vexing problem, but big business has spoken. The master’s call must be obeyed, and the nation’s needs have been sacrificed to sectional interests. However, as a fellow unionist, I again appeal to the miners to accept their responsibilities and not to yield to provocation. I appeal to them to assist their own Government to go forward and organize that fuller and better life which is the right of all the common people.
.- I wish to associate myself with this motion because of its national significance, and because I wish to define my attitude to a state of affairs which may result in a dislocation of the national economy at a time when the nation had a right to expect every man to do his duty. In the course of this debate, many red herrings have been drawn across the rail, and base and unworthy motives have been imputed to members of the Opposition.
– That’s a pity!
– After listening to the amazing speech of the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) I was not sure whether we were embarrassed by a superabundance of coal or whether it was a fact that tens of thousands of workers were threatened with dismissal because of a shortage of coal. Even though ‘ the Minister for Information may desire to wander about in dreamland, other honorable members cannot remain insensible to the danger of a partial or complete dislocation of our national economy, with its consequent effect upon the war effort. Despite all that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) or his advisers have been able to do, the fact is that our coal reserves have reached such a perilously low level that it has been found necessary to ration services stringently. This fact alone constitutes a condemnation of the tactics of those who are responsible for the production of coal. The present state of affairs has not been brought about by a shortage of man-power or by a shortage of coal; it is due entirely to the absence of a desire on the part of the miners to continue to produce coal.
We must face the facts as they are, and not concern ourselves with who is to blame, whether it is the miners or the owners. The motion before the House is perfectly clear. It proposes that the Government should be censured for its failure to ensure the maintenance of Australia’s coal supply. The motion does not mention the miners. It does not mention the owners, but it does imply that, whatever the cause of the shortage of coal, the final responsibility rests on the Government to discover and eliminate that cause. Several speakers on the Government side including, strange to say, some prominent members of the Cabinet, stated that the Opposition desired a three months’ strike on the coal-fields.
– The honorable member’s leader said that.
– He did not. I listened to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), who moved the motion, and to speeches made in support of it, and I can only characterize the charge brought against them as a deliberate distortion of the truth, a deliberate attempt to misconstrue the words used. In effect, the Leader of the Opposition said that Parliament had vested certain authority in the Government, and that authority should not be usurped by any other section in the community, great or small. He said that if there had to be a trial of strength between the Government and the miners, or between the Government and any other section which might like to challenge its authority to determine the wartime policy of the country, the trial should be made now. The issue should not be evaded even if it involved the country in a one, two, or three months’ strike. That reasoning is based on the premise that it is better to have a temporary dislocation now than a major dislocation later on. It is based upon the old principle that if something has to be done it is better to do it immediately rather than wait until it becomes, perhaps, much more difficult to do. I am in agreement with the
Leader of the Opposition in that regard. I am a believer in joining battle with an opponent before he can become so firmly entrenched that it becomes difficult to dislodge him. That is an elementary principle of defence or attack. I understand that all the mines are to-day working. We hope that we have reached the end of a state of affairs which cannot have given a great deal of satisfaction to the miners’ federation, but which caused acute distress to the Government and to the people generally. I believe, as has been stated, that 95 per cent. of the miners are both lawabiding and loyal. They should be afforded an opportunity to prove their loyalty and their willingness to obey the law. I appreciate fully the difficulties of the Government, but I believe that if there were fewer members in this House prepared to defend, even to the point of excusing, the conduct of the miners they would not be encouraged to behave in the future as they have behaved in the past. The question has been raised whether it is the owners or the miners who are to blame. I cannot say. Possibly there are faults on both sides, but it would be very difficult to convince anybody that the strike which took place because a butcher named Dargin exercised his right as an Australian citizen to manage his own business
– The honorable member may not discuss that matter.
– Nor could the owners be described as responsible for the strike which took place because a miner who had reached the retiring age continued to give service. If the owners are to blame, the Government should deal with them just as ruthlessly as with any one else who causes a dislocation of the industry. If agitators, who constitute a small, unrepresentative body of perhaps not more than 5 per cent., are responsible for the trouble, let them be removed. Root them out. That would be quite simple, and it would prove whether they were, in fact, responsible for the trouble on the coal-fields, or whether the cause lay deeper, so that the remedy could be used in the application of a long-range policy in the post-war years. We have had experience of the activities of agitators in the Army. I have known of whole companies to be seething with discontent to the point of rebellion because of the activities of one man. When he was discovered and dealt with, as such men should be dealt with, harmony was restored over-night. It is not improbable that similar results might follow the removal of agitators from the coal-fields, and if trouble should recur it would at least be worth the trial.
Let me say for the benefit of those who suggest that honorable members who possess no practical knowledge of coal-mining are not competent to speak on the subject, that we are not discussing coal production; we are discussing the non-production of coal, and the effect of non-production on the community. This is a matter which concerns us all vitally, and it is one which we are all equally competent to discuss. The public have suffered unnecessary inconvenience because of the stoppages on the coalfields at a time when they are already harassed by the demands made upon them by the war. Their experience in this connexion has not tended to make them feel kindly towards those who defend the miners for causing stoppages. It is strange that the technical difficulties and other disabilities associated with coal-mining, about which we have heard so much, should be peculiar to New South Wales. No one has been able to tell us why the coal-miners in other States have not gone on strike. No one can convince me that wages and working conditions in New South Wales differ materially from those in Victoria. To the credit of the miners at Wonthaggi it can be said that since the war began there has not been a stoppage of work on that field because of any industrial trouble. If that be possible in Victoria, it should be possible in New South Wales also.
– That is a good argument for nationalization.
– No. Wages and conditions in the industry in the two States do not differ materially. As a solution of the troubles in the coal-mining industry the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Williams) advocated the payment of a bonus on production. He said that an incentive to win more coal should be given to the miners, but the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who has personal knowledge of coal-mining, said much of the trouble has been caused by the miners having too much money, thereby placing them in a higher taxation field. He inferred that if they were to receive lower wages much of the trouble on the coal-fields would ‘be avoided. On an earlier occasion the honorable member for Hunter showed that coal-miners are paid more than is paid to battalion commanders in the field, notwithstanding that the responsibility borne by a coal-miner cannot be compared with that of a battalion commander. The troubles in this industry are not due to low wages, shortage of man-power, or lack of coal; they are due to a disinclination on the part of the miners to produce more coal. But whatever the cause, it is the responsibility of the Government to discover the cause and to remedy it. I shall support the motion.
– We are entitled to inquire whether this debate has done anything to increase the production of coal, because unless the output of the mines be increased as a result of what has taken place in this chamber, the action of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in moving a vote of censure has proved futile. Surely, the only reason for the motion was the hope that thereby the output of the coal mines of this country would be increased. The Opposition has not put forward one suggestion of a positive character which is likely to solve the problems associated with coalmining. Rather, its suggestions have been of a provocative character. The punitive proposals of honorable members opposite can only have a harmful effect on the industry, and jeopardize this country’s war effort and also its future development. Without wishing to be offensive to members of the Australian Country party I cannot help saying that they have not expressed any original ideas during this debate, but have merely echoed the words of the Leader of the Opposition who initiated it. The right honorable gentleman said that only by risking a major industrial upheaval - even a three months’ stoppage of work in the coal mines - could the present position be improved.
– That is a misrepresentation of what the Leader of the Opposition said.
– Honorable members opposite seem not to realize how great a blunder would be perpetrated if the remedy that they propose were applied to the problems of the coal-mining industry. This country has already had a taste of the effects of the policy of the Opposition, because during the regime of the Menzies Government the policy of that Administration led to a ten weeks’ stoppage of work on the coal-fields. I say with all the emphasis possible that should industry again be paralysed through lack of coal supplies the result may be to drive Australia out of the war. It is well that members of the Opposition should realize the effect of the policy that they advocate. I deprecate the frequent stoppages that have occurred on the coal-fields of this country, but Opposition members who claim that the result has been a shortage of supplies necessary for the fighting services have no ground for that statement.
– One of the Minister’.’ own colleagues said so.
– I am the Minister responsible for the supply of arms, munitions and other equipment for the fighting services, and I say positively that since the present Government came into office not one branch of the fighting services has suffered a shortage of any essential requirement. I go further and say that substantial reserves are available to meet emergencies. That state of affairs is in striking contrast to the position which existed before the present Government came into office. It was then a case of “ too little, too late “. The present Government has no apologies to offer for its record in relation to supplies to the fighting services. It has provided all that those services have required in order to defend Australia. The attitude of the Opposition to-day is in striking contrast to that of the Opposition when anti-Labour governments were in office. In 1940, the Menzies Government faced an industrial crisis on the coal-fields. At that time the Leader of the Opposition, who is now the Prime Minister, gave much assistance to the then Government in arriving at a solution. No man worked with greater diligence or devotion than he did in an effort to solve the troubles that then existed. The Prime Minister has exhibited patience and sound judgment in dealing with the problems of the coalmining industry, and has therefore the right to demand of others that they, too, shall give of their best to meet the country’s need. There are clear indications that the coal-miners intend to give to the Government the assistance that is needed to maintain this country’s war effort. The figures that have been cited by the Opposition, as well as the graphs presented by some honorable members opposite, must provide cold comfort for them politically, because they show that during the term of office of the present Government the output of the coal-mines each year has been greater than during the regime of any previous government. That cannot be disputed. Honorable members opposite seem to have forgotten that the war has increased considerably the demand for coal. Australia is less capable of winning the coal that is needed for the war effort of the United Nations than is Great Britain and other Allied countries. There has been remarkable scientific development in all industrial fields which should lead to increased production of coal. But the coal-mining industry of Australia is the one industry which has failed to advance with the times by installing mechanical aids to ensure more efficient and economical production. Some Australian coal mines are exactly :is they were 40 or 50 years ago. In Great Britain 80 per cent, and in the United States of America 90 per cent, of the coal mines are mechanized, but in Australia the percentage is too small to be worth mentioning. Our predecessors, composed of the parties represented opposite, neglected to prepare this country against the present crisis by insisting on and assisting in the mechanization of the coal mines, although it must have been apparent that the world was moving towards a war which would demand the production of the maximum quantity of coal for vital industries. The coalowners, too, must take their share of the blame. I have reason to believe that even now they are not enthusiastic about the application of modern methods to mining. The engineering industry in this country and, possibly, the munitions factories, which I have the privilege of administering, would be capable of manufacturing many of their needs. I think that we should encourage the manufacture of standard machines for installation in coal mines. These would be in different sizes to provide for the varying coal seams. It would also simplify the production of spare parts and replacements. The Government is anxious to do everything possible to ensure the supply of the nation’s needs of coal by the provision of mechanical aids. I am constrained to point out, however, that our factories have been fully occupied in the manufacture of armaments, and that the provision of machines which would ensure greater efficiency and greater production in the coal mines ought to have been undertaken in the years when the war loomed and machines were procurable. Another thing which I point out to honorable gentlemen opposite and to the coal-owners is that, since we have introduced improved amenities into munitions establishments, absenteeism has been greatly reduced. Action on similar lines by the coal-owners at the mines would be attended by similar results. The miners, undoubtedly, ought to co-operate with the Government which is so anxious to imDrove their conditions by heeding its appeals for continuity of production. I am positive, however, that if this Government cannot ensure the provision of Australia’s needs of coal, honorable gentlemen opposite would have no prospect of being able to do any better. The miners have greater confidence in, and show greater goodwill towards, the Australian Labour party than any other political party. The history of the administration of this country by the Opposition parties proves that. They have not contributed anything towards the solution of the coal problem by moving this censure motion, but have shown that if they were in charge there would be even greater disruption and interference with the war effort. While this party is in power our valiant fighting forces shall not go short of anything needed for the defence of this country, which we are capable of supplying, and I believe that that promise can be given on behalf of the coal-miners. In spite of the unfortunate stoppages on the coal-fields - stoppages which are not to be countenanced because they are injurious to the war effort - in the last three years this country has made a contribution to the total war effort of the United Nations which is unsurpassed by that of any other member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Continuance in office by honorable gentlemen opposite, which, fortunately, was averted by war within their own ranks, would have meant our defeat. I hope that they will realize how futile this motion has been, and that they will apply themselves henceforth more earnestly to the making of constructive suggestions for the betterment of this country and the men who are fighting for it.
.- I claim to know more about the industrial movement than those who have supported this censure motion. I do not agree with some of the actions of the Government in respect of the coal-mining industry. The fines inflicted on the miners are a mistake. The domestic arrangements of a union should be left to the union. In the miners’ federation, like many other industrial organizations, there is a minority of men whom one may describe as anarchists. They are not prepared to work themselves or to allow others to work. A mistake was made when those who were withdrawn were allowed to go back into the mines. The bulk of the miners are anxious to do the right thing. One would imagine that the only people in Australia who practise absenteeism are the miners and that they are the only wrongdoers, but some of the agitators on the other side - that is all they are - are equally responsible for what has taken place. Even honorable gentlemen opposite admit that 95 per cent, of the miners are anxious to do the right thing. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) is one of the best “ stooges “ for those opposed to the coal-miners. It cannot be denied that the work of the miner is arduous. Confronted with so many irritations within the industry itself the attack launched against the Government in this debate can only have the effect of stirring him to further resentment. Despite disputes and stoppages the industry is producing sufficient coal to enable the country to carry on. I wish that I could compel those people, including honorable members opposite, who are prone to criticize the miner, to do a week’s work in his stead. After one week at the end of a pick or shovel the honorable member for Wentworth would drop dead from exhaustion. This attack upon the Government has only one purpose, namely, to goad the miners to resentment and to irritate them still further. I am told that the president of the miners’ federation, Mr. Wells, is a Communist. I believe that the policy of the ‘Communist is wrong, and, therefore, I have no use for communism. Indeed, I have been opposed by a Communist candidate at the last five elections. However, one of the strongest groups of Communists in the Commonwealth is to be found at Collinsville, a mining town in my electorate, and in fairness to them I point out that, proportionately, that mine produces more coal than any other in the Commonwealth. Those men include some of the most vicious opponents of the Australian Labour party. Some Communists are highly educated. Several of them are lawyers. Had the Government been better advised, it would not have appointed Mr. Mighell to the post of Coal ^Commissioner in preference to men who are better known in the industry and understand the industry better than Mr. Mighell. I make that statement with all respect to Mr. Mighell, who is my personal friend. For this post, the Government should have chosen a man who is better equipped to get on with the miners. Included among the men whom I have in mind are one or two who are said to be Tories. However, that fact would not prejudice me against them in considering their qualifications for such a post. Their exceptional knowledge of the industry and ability to get along with the miners is all that should be considered. The Leader of the Opposition urged the Government to have a showdown with the miners even at the risk of causing a three-months’ strike. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) who said that any miner who went on strike should he disfranchised did not tell us in what way the miners could be disfranchised. However, those ideas are not new to us. They were advocated in the bad old days by representatives of the same interests which honorable members opposite now represent. When the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) was speaking, I interjected that numbers of men. were deported from the Mother Country to Australia because they attempted to form a trade union in the Old Land. Those men were not violent characters. Indeed, some of them were lay preachers, but, because they dared to form a trade union, they were deported to this country. In any case, ,the “ hide “ of members of the legal profession in objecting to workers remaining loyal to a trade union beggars description. We shall not settle any of the trouble on the coal-fields by adopting the remedies advocated by honorable members opposite. They urge the Government to put strikers in gaol, or to fine them. Those methods were tried in the past and failed. Many of the men who pioneered trade unionism in this country have spent terms in gaol because of their activities in that field, and because they dared to stand up for their own rights and the rights of their fellow workers. Threatening the miners will not produce results, but will serve only to aggravate the trouble on the coal-fields. However, I am satisfied that the Government will not follow a policy of that kind. I repeat that this censure motion is designed merely to stir up public opposition to the miners. Surely, the Leader of the Opposition realizes that the motion will serve no other purpose except that of disseminating propaganda against the miners, and, perhaps, that of securing for him and his followers further briefs from the interests they represent in this Parliament. Surely. honorable members opposite do not think for one moment that, in any circumstances, we on this side would give them the slightest opportunity to return to the treasury bench. The miners and the workers generally realize only too well what they would do” if they were in power to-day. It would mean a return to the lash and the bie stick and the gaoling of strikers. We would again see in force the policy of starvation for the toiler and profit for vested interests. When honorable members opposite have so much to say against the miners, they might give a thought to the owners of some of the mines. Do they realize that many owners do not live in this country, but, like many of those in the squatter class, live overseas and have not even visited Australia. The Government is striving to increase the production of coal, and it is succeeding. We know that much of the present trouble is attributable to ill-considered action on the part of young men in the industry, who are prone to be impatient with the older men who have been through the mill. As a corrective I should not put these young irresponsibles into khaki, but, for a period, I should give them a taste of the conditions under which the soldiers live, and it would not be very long before they realized that coal-mining was no.t such a bad job after all. I belong to a union which has consistently adhered to arbitration, and has deliberately turned its face against direct action. However, on one or two occasions recently it has been obliged to take direct action. If honorable members opposite understood the miner as he really is, they would not paint him as a blackguard. The miners are just as human as honorable members, and they have done more in this war, as they did in the last war, than some sections of the community in the defence of this country. In view of that fact, they cannot be labelled disloyal. I suppose that every coal-miner has some relative in the fighting services. Obviously, they do not go on strike in order to weaken the efforts of our fighting services. Most of the unrest in industry is due to the fact that the miners are not given a proper hearing of their just grievances. The workers as a whole must be given a “ fair go “; but it is patent that in the coal-mining industry, the miners are not given an opportunity to state their cases when they have just grievances. Invariably, they are referred to “go-getters” like Mr. Gregory Forster, whereas their troubles could be ironed out were they given the opportunity to place them before responsible men who know exactly the conditions obtaining in the industry. I recall the days when the workers in the sugar industry had much the same difficulty in obtaining a hearing of their grievances. At that time the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited exercised autocratic control in that industry; and that policy on the -part of the company was responsible for most of the disputes. To-day, some coal-owners are (perpetuating that policy, and this is the real explanation for most of the present unrest in the industry.
.- By moving this censure upon the Government the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) implies that the Government lias failed to control the coal-mining industry. Naturally, one expects the supporters of the motion to suggest some corrective. However, honorable members opposite should be the last to attempt to censure any government, because the Menzies Government, which they supported, was the most deserving of censure of any in the history of this Parliament. I propose to place before the House a few figures to .contrast the record of the Menzies Government with that of the present Government in this matter. For a period of two years during the Menzies regime, 2,178,000 man-days were lost to industry. That was equivalent to 21,152 man-days a week, or 84,608 man-days a month. How do those statistics compare with the loss of man-days during the Curtin Administration ? For a period of 30 months, ended the 30th June last, 2,311,400 man- . clays were lost. Although that total was slightly in excess of the man-days lost when the right honorable member for Kooyong was Prime Minister, the weekly total of man-days lost under the Curtin Administration was only 19,261, and the monthly. total, 77,046. Thus the Curtin Government has a better record - 7,562 man-days a month - than the Menzies Government. On the basis of those figures, -which I obtained from the Commonwealth Statistician, honorable members opposite are not in a position to support a motion of censure against this Government, because it has achieved infinitely better results than they could have achieved.
The honorable member for Warringah considered that coercive measures should be applied against the coal-miners. He suggested that they should be disfranchised, and that the funds of the miners’ federation should be frozen. I recall that the honorable member explained that he ceased to be a member of the United Australia party because he cherished a national ideal, and that upon such an issue he exercised his privilege to decide what attitude he should adopt. Because he adopted a national outlook, the very persons who are supporting the motion of censure against the Labour Government expelled him from their ranks.
While we are dealing with industrial disputes in the coal-mining industry, honorable members will be interested in the following extract from The Economics of Australian Coal: -
And if unionism in itself were provocative of industrial disputes, we might expect to find much less trouble in coal-mining areas when the union is either weak or non-existent. Yet examination of the records of “ strikes, suspensions and look-outs “ of the United States industry does not entirely bear out this conclusion; for although the important nonunionized coal State of Alabama and the much less important coal States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, and part jil West Virginia, in which unionism is weak or absent, appear to be almost completely free from recorded stoppages, both Kentucky and Maryland, where non-union mines predominate, show records of disturbances at least comparable to those of the strongly unionized States of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The presence or absence of unionism may condition the scope or conduct of disputes, but is not essentially their cause.
I have been told that although fatigue is one of the causes of absenteeism in the coal-mining industry, honorable members opposite omitted ito mention the fact. Throughout this debate, they have adopted a deplorable attitude, and have not attempted to suggest a solution of this problem. Miners have explained to me that a man working underground expends twice as much energy as he would if he were doing the same volume of work on the surface. The point which occurred to me was that absenteeism could be reduced if men worked underground under a roster system. Men would no longer absent themselves in order to recover from their fatigue, with the result that mines would work at greater pressure than they have in the past.
– The provision of transport underground would help to reduce fatigue.
– I agree. Transport underground would enable the miners to conserve their strength until they reached the coal face. Honorable members opposite have urged the Government to take vigorous action against the miners, but the best that the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) could do was to cause a strike in a mine where a stoppage had not occurred for twenty years.
– That, of course, is not true.
– According to newspapers in South Australia, the honorable member went so far as to say that, standing on his head on a stack of Hansards, he could hew as much coal as the average coal-miner would hew. That would be one of the best tricks in the honorable member’s repertoire. Stoppages in the coal-mining industry in Great Britain during the first six months of 1943 resulted in a loss of 462,000 working days, coal-mining heading the list of strikeswith 280. Despite ministerial appeals, all the eloquence that Mr. Churchill could, command, and higher pay and better conditions, the production of coal declined. During the first quarter of 1943, 712,000 miners produced 50,750,000 tons of coal, but in the corresponding period in 1942, 706,000 miners produced 51,000,000 tons of coal. That is to say, 6,000 fewer miners produced more coal. We must discover a solution of the problem of declining coal output in Australia, but attacks on the workers, such as honorable members opposite have made, will not contribute to it. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) spoke in the vernacular of “ the boys having a look at this “, and “ the boys having a look at that “, until I thought that he was trying to imitate Ronald Colman. When he resumed his seat, he seemed to me to have fallen short of his leader’s expectations, because the Leader of the Opposition appeared to be most disappointed. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) declared that unless the Government could make the miners produce more coal, it ought to resign. I consider that unless the honorable member can provide a practical solution of the problem, ho ought to keep quiet.
.- The position as I see it is that the Opposition has moved a motion of censure on the Government. The object of a censure motion should be to defeat the Government, and replace it by another, formed from those who for the time being occupy the Opposition benches. It is unnecessary at the moment to comment upon the fact that the motion when moved had no chance of achieving the purpose for which it was moved. The Opposition, when it moves such a motion, must be prepared not only to criticize the Government and suggest that it has fallen down on its job, but also to put forward the reasons why, and the methods by which, its own members could bring about a better result. That is whereI join issue with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who said that the Opposition was not at present the Government and for that reason did not need to make concrete proposals.
– The honorable member will agree with me two years hence.
– At this juncture our object should be to achieve the greatest possible measure of production from the coal mines with the means that we possess. Compared with that great issue, what may befall the honorable member for Barker or myself at the next elections is unimportant. In opening the debate, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) contributed quite a good speech from the stand-point of the language used, the standard adopted, and the manner of its presentation, but he said nothing to suggest that, if the Opposition were transferred to the treasury bench, it could do the things which he claimed that this Government has so far failed to do. He mentioned a number of things which he said that the Government had previously said that it proposed to do. He mentioned open-cut mining, increased mechanization of the mines, and the disciplining of the miners, in an endeavour to weed out from the mines those elements which we are told are causing the trouble. He argued that those reforms would achieve peace in the industry and bring about a far greater production of coal than at present. The case for the Opposition, therefore, rests upon those three points which the right honorable member made. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) dealt in detail with the arguments advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, and proved that the Government, so far as it was able, with the resources at its disposal and the machinery it was able to procure, had developed - and would continue to do so in the highest possible degree - the production of coal by the open-cut method. He said that the Government would provide a far higher degree of mechanization than now exists in the industry, and he showed that the problem of removing the malcontents from the coal mines was not so easy as it appeared. I think that it will not be so easy to identify them as we are commonly led to believe,- but the Prime Minister said that, so far as the Government and the Coal Commissioner could do so, they would remove the malcontents. That speech which completely answered the representations made from the other side, was followed by an able contribution by the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley). I suggest that at that stage the Opposition’s . arguments had definitely been answered, and the case presented by it had been disposed of, with the result that nothing was left upon which the censure motion could be based. The Opposition therefore was not justified in asking the House to carry it.
Prom that stage the debate has been on many subjects. Although never touching the sublime, the arguments advanced from time to time by the members of the Opposition have come perilously near to the ridiculous. I do not support those who to-day will not play their part in the coal-mining industry. I join with the honorable member for Barker in paying an earnest tribute to the railwaymen of this country, particularly in respect to the long hours of work, inadequate and obsolete rolling-stock, and their general conditions of employment. In spite of those drawbacks, they have stood up to their jobs magnificently. They have undoubtedly grumbled, as we have all done from time to time, but they have carried on their work as men who realized tha’t the defence of the country depended largely on their efforts. We cannot defend the actions of any small section of miners who absent themselves from their work, or deliberately prevent others from working. But we can and should examine the position and ascertain what the conditions are and where the troubles in the industry lie. The Government should then tell those in the industry that unfair conditions will not be allowed to continue, and it then should ensure, as far as it is capable of doing, that the miners in the industry shall carry out the work that they are expected to do.
In the course of this debate the Opposition has used the word “ appeasement “ from time to time. It is one of the most abused words in the English language, apparently meaning something different to almost every person who uses it. Evidently the Opposition thinks that the Government should not examine any of the problems raised, inquire into the suggestions put forward by the miners’ leaders, or find out whether the difficulties suggested are real and, if real, can be disposed of. If that is the Opposition’s idea of appeasement, my reply is that it is vitally necessary. The Government should inquire into every stoppage, and ensure that anything which irritates men in industry and interferes with production is removed, and their problems solved. That is not appeasement, but the correct and common-sense approach to the very difficult problems of a very complex industry. As some of my colleagues have said, the responsibility for the present position does not lie entirely with the miners, and the blame cannot be placed completely on their shoulders. The troubles that arise and the difficulties that exist are not always appreciated at the time when a stoppage occurs. In my experience in the trade union movement in Western Australia, I remember that an old and good friend of mine, who was secretary of the Collie miners’ union, persistently claimed that the mining companies were not carrying out the developmental work in the mines that they were expected to carry out, and for which the Government paid them a subsidy of 6d. a ton. Night after night, he urged upon the miners’” organization and upon the Government the necessity to take action to ensure that the money so provided by the taxpayers of Western Australia was used for the development of the mines, which was the purpose for which it was voted. We were inclined to think that he was something of a crank on that subject, but when this Parliament last sat I heard the Prime Minister in a speech on the coal position attribute the falling-off last year in the production of Collie coal to the fact that the developmental work that should have been done had not been carried out. That showed that the efforts which my friend had made for so ‘many years to ensure that the money provided by the public treasury was devoted to the development of the mines in order to bring about a greater coal production were fully justified. I advise honorable members and the public, when they read in the press or hear from some biased source that the miners are the only ones to blame, to treat such statements with reserve. It is >true that some blame should be allocated to the miners, but, .as the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) suggested, blame can be placed upon some mine-owners. The Opposition desired the subject to be ventilated, but the discussion has not contributed much to the solution of the problems that face us, or to the creation of harmony within the coal-mining industry. The effort of honorable members opposite to prove that the Government has fallen down on its job has failed, as has also their attempt to create the impression that the Opposition could have done better than the Government has done. I regard as ridiculous many of the suggestions made by the Opposition to increase the production of coal. Proper attention has not been given by honorable gentlemen opposite to the heritage of the coal-miners from days gone by. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) referred to the frequent elections of officials of the miners’ organizations. That is a legacy from the past when women and children as well as men were employed in coal-mining. The miners feel that it might not be in their best interests to allow their officials to remain in office too long, for they might lose touch with the rank and file of tie workers. The situation that has to be faced in the coal-mining industry is not apparent in other industries, for the same antagonisms are not in evidence. The harsh lessons of the past are not easily forgotten by the coalminers.
I believe that the coal-mining industry should be nationalized, but I do not consider that that is an immediate solution of the problem. Eather should it be regarded as a long-range objective. Coal id too precious to the whole community to be allowed to remain a source of private profit. Our valuable coal seams should not be exploited haphazardly. We must all realize that so long as coalmining companies .are required to make dividends for their shareholders the seams will not be worked economically. The rich deposits will be exploited and the remainder neglected. The day will come, undoubtedly, when coal will not be as plentiful as it is to-day, and, if the present practice of producing for private profit is allowed to continue, it may happen that in the years to come governments will have to undertake the exploitation of the poorer deposits that have been left behind in the scramble for profits. Therefore, I contend that the industry should be nationalized and the seams worked economically.
Another important consideration must be the welfare of the coal-miners. Many of these men are cut off from reasonable contact with their fellows, and, at certain seasons of the year, may not see daylight from one week-end to the next. In these circumstances, everything possible should be done to improve conditions in the industry, and to safeguard the interests of the workers. I consider that if the industry is nationalized, the men will be sure of a better deal than they are likely to get from private enterprise. The miners, however, should pay some regard to the welfare of workers in other industries. The railwaymen, and those who get their living in other avenues of employment, have to work long hours, suffer severe strains and stresses, and pay heavy taxes, just as do the coalminers. I say to the leaders of the miners’ federation that they should take definite and strong action in disciplining men who cause unnecessary stoppages. In my experience union leaders do not, in the long run, forfeit the respect of their fellows, when they take firm action and make strong statements, although such an attitude may he unpopular for the time being. The position of the miners’ leaders will be enhanced rather than jeopardized if they take a definite attitude in relation to disciplinary measures. The coal-miners have an important part to play in the life of this nation and they have responsibilities to their fellow industrialists. Most of all they have a duty to the members of our armed forces and our allies who are seeking to bring this horrible war to a successful conclusion at the earliest possible moment. I hope that they will appreciate their responsibility to the Government, to the nation at large, and to the war effort, and that they will assist in providing the coal that is so badly needed. If they do so, I am sure that the Government will not forget its responsibilities and obligations towards’ them.
– in reply - I shall not detain a tired House for very long, but I wish to make two or three remarks before the division is taken. This has been a curious debate in some ways. Speaker after speaker on the Government side of the House has said, sometimes at great length, sometimes with great heat, and sometimes with not a little vanity, that the attack of the Opposition is groundless, insupportable and lacking in substance. Yet this is the first censure motion for a very long while which had been considered of sufficient consequence to require a defence of the Government by seven Ministers. On this occasion seven Ministers have attempted to expound government policy. As one honorable member pointed out this afternoon, it speaks well for the powers of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) that he has been able to maintain even a measure of harmony in a Cabinet which contains such utterly discordant elements. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) is in the unfortunate position of being between heaven and earth. If we have regard to his efforts as liaison officer between the Ministry and coal-miners, we can say that eight different policies have been expounded, to. us in the course of the debate.
In the speech with which I initiated the debate I took as the basis of my remarks, very fairly I thought, the speech which the Prime Minister delivered last October. That was the theme around which I built my argument. The Prime Minister stated five steps which the Government proposed to take in the effort to obtain more coal. He indicated them in a statement that was firm, clear, vigorous, and very widely pub.licized in Australia. These were the five outstanding points in the policy then pronounced: Weed out the undesirables; prosecute in every case of unlawful absenteeism; proceed as quickly as may be with the mechanizing of the mines ; bring more men into the industry; and have a second shift on the South Maitland field. I am not interested to determine such fine questions as to whether “ appeasement “ is a word that is more appropriate to international than to domestic affairs ; they involve only words, and do not matter. The criticism that is here made of the Government is this: it has promised, but has not performed; it has threatened, but has not carried out its threats. Almost twelve months ago, there were five statements of policy. We have had seven Ministers at the table to answer between them the charges thathave been made. I suppose that we ought to assume that they have put us in possession of all the facts that are relevant to this matter. The net result of all the evidence that we have heard is, that it is now admitted that though some attempt has been made to carry out the mechanization promise, the other four items are utterly unperformed.
The first proposal was: Weed out the undesirables. What have we been hearing for the last two or three days of this debate? Nothing but explanations as to how difficult it is to pick up this or that undesirable, and push him out without encountering all sorts of difficulties with better men, who, unfortunately, allow bini and his colleagues to “ lead them by the nose “.
Prosecutions were to occur in every case of unlawful absenteeism. If there is one thing that has rung consistently, like a bell, through practically all the speeches from the Government side, it is this : that a policy of prosecuting people for absenteeism is quite unsound; that it does not get coal ; that it produces resistance, and creates resentment. That may or may not be true. If it be true, then I nin permitted to ask why we were told by the head of the Government twelve months ago, that prosecutions would occur in every case of unlawful absenteeism.
More men were to be put into the industry. I admit that there is a little mystery here; because the Prime Minister told us that there were more men in it though he admitted bitterly that more mcn, plus the mechanization that he had described, had resulted in less coal - an odd result. But the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) produced official figures up to the March quarter of this year, which indicated that, in fact, fewer men were engaged in coal production in New South “Wales in March of this year than had been so engaged a year previously. So I repeat - and I do not want to underline as well as repeat it - that if the Prime Minister is right about the number of men employed, then we have the undoubted result that more men are getting less coal; and if the honorable member for Fawkner is right, and fewer mcn are engaged in the industry, this is one of the promises made in October of last, year which has been entirely’ forgotten.
– The right honorable gentleman would not argue that I would get the figure from nowhere.
– Of course I would not. That is why I am most content to present this as a sort of dilemma. Either the right honorable gentleman is right, or he is wrong. I would be the last to impute to the right honorable gentleman any fabrication of figures. If I am to accept his figures, then the result is that which I have stated; and it is a result so shocking as to indicate that there is in the coal-mining industry a profound disease which must be rooted out.
– If the Prime Minister is right, then the Commonwealth Statistician is wrong.
– However, I do not resolve that problem. I am in the fortunate position of being able to have it either way ; and that is not a position for which a Leader of the Opposition can normally hope, except in a debate in which he has had seven Ministers defending the Government.
– What the figures should show is, whether they are engaged in producing coal or on other work.
– Unfortunately, the honorable member knows the intractability of facts. Or perhaps he does not; because he has heard one or two of his colleagues speak in this debate, and deal with facts.
There are two other things that I want to mention. A very spirited, though perhaps indecent, attempt has been made in the course of this debate, to impute to the Opposition a desire for a three months’ strike.
– The right honorable gentleman said “ on with the fight “.
– I will tell the honorable gentleman what I said. Quite obviously, the defects of human memory are great, and are increasing in certain quarters; because I had said;, in the course of my remarks, that this was a case not of standing down, but of standing up, and not simply having miners call your bluff and expose it as something hollow. My friend the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Sheehy) interjected and offered this gloomy sentiment: “Yes; and have a three months’ strike ? “ - a complete exposure of the fear that has enabled, compelled, or induced the Government to have its bluff called. I replied, and I now repeat without distortion : “ If the Government is not prepared to risk a three months’ strike, it will never have any peace in this industry “. Let there be no distortion about this. If any government, I do “not care where it comes from in this House, is not prepared to say to recalcitrant coal-miners - I am talking, not about the great body of coalminers, but about those wretched men who have been the subject of discussion in this debate - “ Here are your orders ; carry them out “ - as would be said to men of the ‘7th or the 9th Divisions - because it fears that, if it gives an order and insists on it there will be a strike, then it will discontinue issuing orders.
– What would the right honorable gentleman do with coal-owners who cause disputes?
– I would deal with them with exactly the same severity. I am not here as an apologist for coalowners. I assure the House that I have had infinitely too much experience of industrial troubles in this country to believe for one moment that all virtue resides on one side. I have seen incredible stupidity, and occasionally wickedness, on all sides in these matters. But here we have a problem which was diagnosed perfectly clearly by the Prime Minister a year ago, when he pointed out that the overwhelming cause of inadequate coal production was absenteeism on the part of the miners. It is admitted that the vast majority of these stoppages are without any industrial significance or justification. In these circumstances, if the attitude is to be one of apology, of issuing threats or statements and then retreating from them because of the fear of a strike, then in the long run you will make the worst of both worlds. The whole plea of this discussion, from the Opposition’s point of view, is a plea to the Government to stand up and assert the law.
The last thing I want to say is that there has been a considerable attempt in this chamber to excuse the coal position in Australia by tying it ut» with what are alleged to be similar circumstances in Great Britain and the United States of America. It is not good here, but still it is not good there, and that lets us out. The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), in the course of his speech, cited the figures of coal .production in Great Britain, and, as they are so interesting, I take leave to repeat them myself. In the year ended March, 1940, the approximate number of man-shifts lost in the coal industry in the Old Country owing to disputes was 730,000; for the year ended March, 1941, it was 260,000; for the year ended March, 1942, it was 390,000; and then, quite suddenly, for the year ended March, 1943, the number of man-shifts lost rose to S10,000 whilst in the year ended March, 19441, the number reached 1,790,000. Those figures go rocketing up from when? From a period shortly after March, 1942. The right honorable gentleman, when he had drawn attention to those figures, said this, if I may quote his ipsissima verba -
Is it not a reasonable inference to draw from these figures that another element has come into the problem?
It is, indeed, a reasonable inference. What was the other element? The only new element that had come into the problem in Great Britain in the middle of 194i2 was that, in June of that year, coal control was established. In June of that year, the ordinary conduct of coal mines in that country ceased to be in the hands of those who understood their business and were able to exercise the ordinary methods of discipline, and passed into the hands of regional coal -commissioners. They were worthy gentlemen, many of them, some of them being His Majesty’s counsel, full of learning in the law, but not particularly designed by Nature to manage coal mines. And so, increasingly, the manager lost command of his mine, and, increasingly, indiscipline would grow. Increasingly, the ordinary checks and balances that occur in employment disappeared, and the result is that the graph shows a terrific leap up in man-shifts lost.
– There is no control here. How does the right honorable gentleman account for the increase?
– No control here? I do not know how we on this side of the House would get on without the Minister for Transport. I hope that he will live for ever. Early this year the Government of which he is a member introduced a bill to regulate coal-mining, and set up a coal control. We went to great trouble in this House. . Contrary to the views of many of us, the coal controller was himself made subject to political control. And so we had the controller controlled, and the whole glorious system was established. Would anybody say that it has not had an effect upon the discipline in this industry? Does anybody suggest that, with the figures before us relating to Great Britain, we ought to be encouraged for one moment to believe that the right path to salvation in this industry is to adopt a comprehensive system of control in Australias Heaven forbid ! What we must gat back to is sincerely honest discipline in this industry, and we shall get far more of it when those who understand the mines manage them than we are likely to obtain under a system under which politicians and officials do their worst, or their best, according to the lights with which nature has provided them, and, in the meantime, the fuel production falls.
– .What about the three months’ stoppage in 1940?
– I remember it well. I recall that the honorable gentleman and others of his kind were at that time very pleased with the strikers, because they were striking against an award of the Arbitration Court. The attitude of my Government on the matter then at issue was, “We stand behind the ‘ court “. It need not be imagined for one moment that there was any mystery or secrecy about my views, because I seem to remember -going to the cga l-miners myself and addressing them. If there is a strike for three months, of course we get less coal, but, when that strike was over, the coal production of this country rose considerably, and we had laid for us the foundations of a larger coal production in 1941 and 1942. I do not desire to say any more on this matter, because the hour is late. I shall not repeat the terms of the censure motion, they are already before honorable members. I have a haunting suspicion that the vote will he against me, but I have the strongest moral certainty that the public of Australia will be on my side.
Question put -
That the Government’s failure to maintain adequate supplies of coal impairs the national war effort; seriously dislocates employment, production and transport; imposes unnecessary hardships upon the community; and deserves the censure of this House.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. $. Rosevear.)
Majority 23 . .
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motions (by Mr. Curtin) agreed to -
That the House will, at the next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider the Supply to be given to His Majesty.
That the House will, at its next sitting, resolve itself into a committee to consider the Ways and Means for raising the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) - by leave - agreed to -
That, unless otherwise ordered, this House shall meet for the despatch of business on each Tuesday at 3 p.m., on each Wednesday and Thursday at 2.30 p.m., and on each Friday at 10.30 a.m.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) - by leave - agreed to -
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government
Business shall, on each day of sitting, have precedence of all other business, except on that Thursday on which, under the provisions of Standing Order 241, the question is put “ That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair “. On such Thursday, General Business shall have precedence of Government Business until 9 p.m.
Government Business - Petrol Ration ing: Penalties on Garage Proprietors - Landlord and Tenant Regulations.
– I move-
That the House do now adjourn.
To-morrow, the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) will outline the proposals that are contained in the Budget, and it is expected that the discussion of the Budget will be resumed on Wednesday, which will be the first sitting day of next week. On Friday, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Bill will be proceeded with at the stage that it will have reached to-morrow. Should that measure be disposed of, the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) will make a statement regarding international affairs.
.- I wish to draw attention to the policy of the Liquid Fuel Control Board in depriving certain garage proprietors of their licences, and virtually closing down their businesses, because of alleged offences against NationalSecurity regulations. To-day, I received a telegram from a constituent who owns a garage in my electorate, stating that his licence had been withdrawn, and his livelihood therefore taken from him. I do not know the circumstances of this case, but I do know that many garage proprietors are in a similar position. I shall not now discuss the justice or otherwise of their convictions; I merely draw attention to the plight of men who find difficulty in complying strictly with the regulations, particularly those relating to forged ration tickets. Should they ask every motorist to produce his licence when obtaining petrol, as they are required to do under the regulations, unnecessary delays to business men would occur. The procedure adopted is unduly harsh, because it punishes a man twice for the same offence, and also deprives him of his livelihood. I realize that in war-time powers must sometimes be exercised arbitrarily, but even persons who have been guilty of offences are entitled to justice. Their punishment should fit the crime. At least, the individuals concerned should have an opportunity to place their case before a properly constituted tribunal. At present, these garage proprietors have no right of appeal, and no redress, notwithstanding that, although technically guilty of offences, they may be innocent of intention to do wrong. In some instances they may he the innocent victims of dishonest persons. The Liquid Fuel Control Board has done good work in conserving supplies of liquid fuel, but in these instances it seems to have acted harshly.
It has come to my notice that many persons in the community are being dispossessed of their homes as the result of court proceedings. The regulations provide very little protection to tenants other than servicemen and their dependants, because they leave to the magistrate to decide between landlord and tenant. Oases heard in the courts recently give rise to the belief that the decision is generally given in favour of the owner of the house. That may mean that a tenant who has paid his rent regularly is forced to leave his home, and not be able to obtain another. Some of these evictions cause great hardship. In some instances, homes are sold over the heads of the tenants. Included among the purchasers are new arrivals in this country. In order to protect tenants I ask that consideration be given to an amendment of the regulations, at least until the existing restrictions on homebuilding are lifted.
– The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen), and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) have brought to my notice the matter of the sealing of petrol pumps of certain petrol resellers by the Liquid Fuel Control Board, and each has questioned the methods adopted by the board. They have expressed the view that there should be some means whereby the persons concerned might have the opportunity to state a case.
– Or appeal!
– Yes, or appeal against the decision of the board. I have a list of about nine petrol resellers whose fuel pumps were sealed yesterday. The details I have received are sketchy, but they show that, in accordance with the practice pursued since the introduction of petrol rationing, action was taken only after warnings had been issued. The action resulted from the acceptance of forged petrol ration tickets. Petrol resellers are required to check the signature and the number on the ration ticket with the signature and the number on the petrol ration licence before supplying petrol, because it has been found that forgers have by all kinds of methods placed counterfeit ration tickets on the market, and thereby lessened the effectiveness of the scheme to conserve the limited supplies of petrol available for essential use. I do not deny that we have placed upon petrol resellers a heavy responsibility to help in the policing of the rationing system, and it would be unfair if I did not pay a tribute to the very large number of petrol resellers who have assisted the efficiency of rationing. I appreciate the worth of the suggestion made by honorable members that there should be some right of appeal against action taken by the Liquid Fuel Control Board, but I nave to say in justification of the board that the report I have indicates that the nine petrol resellers involved had been warned on several occasions about their acceptance of forged tickets. I do not suggest that the persons concerned deliberately accepted the forgeries. The point is; however, that they did not comply with the requirement that they check the details on the tickets with those on the licences. One of the petrol resellers is in my electorate. He was warned several times. Once before, his fuel pumps were sealed for 28 days on account of irregularities. The Garage
Proprietors Association has also placed before me representations similar to those made by honorable members. I will examine them to see what can be done. Perhaps the men concerned could be charged with an offence and thereby given the opportunity to appear before the court.
I realize the importance of the subject raised by the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) with respect to the eviction of tenants. The matter will be placed before the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who administers the regulations, but I think it would be wise for me to ask the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) to examine the regulations and in that way expedite the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1944 - .
No. 19 - Australian Journalists’ Association.
No. 20 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
No. 21 - Amalgamated Postal Workers’ Union of Australia.
Coal Production (War-time) Act - RegulationsStatutoryRules 1944, No. 128.
Customs Act - Proclamations prohibiting the exportation (except under certain conditions) of goods - Nos. 603-606.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, Nos. 110, 111, 114, 119, 120, 122, 123.
Defence Act and Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, No. 121.
Entertainments Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944,. No. 116.
Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, No. 124.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Commonwealth purposes -
Albany, Western Australia.
Belair, South Australia.
Cairns, Queensland (2).
Jandakot, Western Australia.
Lithgow, New South Wales.
Merredin, Western Australia.
Murray Bridge, South Australia (2).
Perth, Western Australia.
Postal purposes -
West Maitland, New South Wales.
Telephonic purposes - Sydney, New South Wales.
Motor Vehicle Engine Bounty Act - Return for year 1943-44.
National Security Act -
National Security (Agricultural Aids) Regulations - Order - Fertilizers and feedingmeals (Restriction of sales) (No. 2).
National Security (Army Inventions) Regulations - Order - Inventions and designs.
National Security (Capital Issues) Regulations - Orders - Exemptions ( 2 ) .
National Security (Emergency Control) Regulations - Orders -
Military powers during emergency.
Native reserves and mission stations (2).
Torres Strait Islands elections (2).
York area communications.
National Security (Female Minimum Rates) Regulations - Order - Vital industries.
National Security (General) Regulations -
Brushware (Consolidating) (No. 2) .
Evacuation of areas.
Heating and cooking appliances (Control of manufacture) (No. 3) .
Heating and cooking appliances (Retail sales) (No. 5).
Immobilization of vessels (No. 3).
Navigation and anchor lights (No. 4).
Navigation (Control of public traffic) (No. 3).
Prohibited places (7).
Taking possession of land, &c. (100).
Use of land (20).
Orders by State Premiers -
New South Wales (No. 48).
Queensland (dated 15th August, 1944).
Tasmania (No. 29).
Victoria (Nos. 57, 58).
National Security (Industrial Property)
Regulations - Orders - Inventions and designs (276).
National Security (Man Power) Regulations - Orders -
Payments to persons directed to accept employment.
Protected undertakings (.128).
National Security (Meat Industry Con trol ) Regulations - Order - Meat (Controlled areas) (No. 2).
National Security (Munitions) Regulations - Order - Equipment for repairing rubber tyres and tubes.
National Security (Prices) Regulations - Declarations -Nos. 141-144.
Orders- Nos. 1570-1607.
National Security (Prisoners of War) Regulations -
Order - Prisoners of war (Japanese protected personnel pay).
Rules - Camp (2).
National Security (Shipping Coordination) Regulations - Orders - Nos.60-68.
National Security (Supplementary) Regulations -
Balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank, Note Issue Department, and Commonwealth Savings Bank, as at 30th June, 1944; together with Auditor-General’s reports thereon.
Order - Form of balance-sheets of Commonwealth Bank and Commonwealth Savings Bank.’
Orders by State Premiers -
Queensland (dated 5th July, 1944).
South Australia (No. 2 of 1944).
Statement of Australian. Banking
Statistics for the five quarters ended 30th June, 1944.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, Nos. 104, 105. 106. 107,l08, 112, 113, 118, 125, 126, 127, 129.
Papua and New Guinea Bounties Act - Return for year 1943-44.
Pay-roll Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, No. 117.
Raw Cotton Bounty Act - Return for 1943.
Sales Tax Assessment Acts (Nos. 1-9) - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, No. 115.
Ship Bounty Art - Return for year 1943-44.
Sulphur Bounty Acts - Return foryear 1943-44.
Tractor Bounty Acts - Return for year 1943-44.
Wine Export Bounty Act - Return for year 1943-44.
Wire Netting Bounty Act - Return foryear 1 943-44.
Women’s Employment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1944, No. 109.
House adjourned at 11.15 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
s asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Attorney-General, which was used by the Government in a circular to householders during the recent referendum?
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Mr.Cal well. - Inquiries are being made in regard to thismatter and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member at the first available opportunity.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Will he make a preliminary inquiry with a view to the Government appointing an immediate royal commission, consisting of a High Court or Supreme Court judge, to inquire into the following matters:- (a.) The amount of the funds collected for the purpose of propaganda to defeat the recent referendum proposals endorsed by this Parliament;
The extent to which the Chamber of
Manufactures, and other similar bodies, assisted in the collection of funds;
an). - The Minister for the Interior has furnished the following answer: -
As a general rule, citizens or organizations are entitled to use their resources in advocating the views they may hold in respect to any matter of public concern. Citizens may spend their own money and any organization or company can expend its moneys subject to the provisions of their governing rules or articles of association. The question whether such expenditure is in any particular case authorized by such rules or articles is not a matter for Government action but must be decided as between the members and the organization itself, if necessary by litigation. These general rights of citizens and organizations are, of course, subject to the provision of the Commonwealth statute which requires that, within a fixed period after the declaration of the result of the poll, persons and organizations must furnish returns showing expenditure incurred in connexion with any Referendum campaign.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Will he obtain and furnish the House with the following information in respect of broadcasts over radio stations controlled by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in connexion with the referendum campaign: -
The names of persons who made broadcasts over National and/or State broadcasting stations during the months of July and August; and
the dates upon which such broadcasts were made, the stations on which they were made, and the duration of the broadcasts in each case?
l. - Inquiries are being made in regard to this matter and a reply will be furnished to the honorable member at the first available opportunity.
s asked the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
s asked the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
There has been a regular production of approximately 200 tons per week from Pelsart Island as from the last week of March, 1944, and this quantity is used in the manufacture of superphosphate at Geraldton.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s ‘questions are as follows : -
n. - On the 10th March, 1944, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Wilson) asked the following questions, upon notice : -
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Orders for air travel by federal members are, granted to -
Notes. - (i) The number shown In reply to 1 aboveincludes 36 officers of the Department of Home Security who are attached to the Camou flage Section. These officers are accredited to the Royal Australian Air Force and are mostly employedin forward areas where air travel is the only practical means of transport. The number also includes 138 officers of the Department of Civil Aviation who undertook 663 air journeys during the period under review in respect of whomno cost to the Commonwealth was involved, in accordance with the provision in the agreements with air-line contractors that officers of the Department of Civil Aviation shall be carried free of charge.
n asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Will he give a considered opinion as to when the National Security Act will cease to operate, whether it will be six months after the cessation of hostilities or six months after the signing of peace.
– The National Security Act will cease to operate on a date to be fixed by proclamation. That proclamation must be issued not later than six months after His Majesty “ ceases to be engaged in war”. The words quoted must be applied to facts which have not yet happened and it is impossible at this stage to give an opinion covering every contingency. If, however, there is an armistice and subsequently the state of war is brought to an end by a treaty of peace, the date on which His Majesty “ ceases to be engaged in war “ will no doubt be the date fixed by or under the treaty of peace - or the last of them, if more than one - and not the earlier date of the cessation of hostilities between His Majesty and the last of the belligerents.
e asked the Minister for
Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained and a reply will be furnished at an early date.
n asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he state the amounts of taxation, income and land, outstanding at the 30th June, 1944, in respect of (a) the Commonwealth, and (b) the States?
– The following are the amounts of Commonwealth andState taxation, income and land, outstanding at the 30th June, 1944 : -
The amount shown as Commonwealth income tax includes £816,888 war-time (company) tax, whilst the State totals include, in addition to income and land tax, various other taxes on income and miscellaneous taxes in the nature of land tax. It should be borne in mind that most of the tax shown as outstanding at the 30th June, 1944, would not be due and payable until some time later. The amount of Commonwealth income tax outstanding is the amount shown in the taxpayers’ accounts but the total is offset by any stamps, group certificates or other tokens representing amounts already paid by taxpayers by way of deduction, from their wages or salaries which have not yet been presented by them. The amount of this offset is not ascertainable.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice -
Does the Government’s decision to contribute 6s. per day towards the cost of maintaining all occupied hospital beds in Australia apply to beds occupied by inmates of mental hospitals?
– It is not intended that the rate of 6s. per day shall apply to mental hospitals. No policy in relation to mental hospitals has yet been decided.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 6 September 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440906_reps_17_179/>.