House of Representatives
9 January 1918

7th Parliament · 2nd Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Mr. SPEAKER informed the House that he had received areturn to the writ issued for the election of a member to serve in the House of Representatives for the electoral division of Grampians, inthe place of the Honorable Charles Carty Salmon, deceased, indorsed with the certificate of the election of Edmund Jowett, Esquire.

Mr. JOWETT made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.

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Assent to the following Bills reported : -

Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill.

Supply Bill (No. 3)(1917-18).

Income Tax Bill.

Ministers of State Bill.

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Mr. SPEAKER informed the House that he had received from Mrs. Carty Salmon the following letter: - “Warrane,” Walsh-street,

South Yarra, 1st November, 1917.

Dear Mr. Johnson, -

Will you on behalf of myself and sons, convey to the members of the House of Representatives our sincere thanks for the resolution of sympathy and appreciation passed by them on the occasion of the death of my husband.

With kind regards,

Believe me, yours truly,

Nancy Carty Salmon.

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The following papers were presented : -

Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 286, 295.

Customs Act -

Proclamations prohibiting the Exportation (except under certain conditions) of - Goods to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands.


Pig-iron, Machinery, and Manufactures of Metals.

Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 256, 257, 258, 273, 307.

Defence Act-

Regulations Amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 235-239, 241, 248, 249, 250, 261, 262, 268, 269, 270, 276, 279, 287, 288, 292, 297, 312,313.

Royal Military College Report, 1916-17.

Dominions Royal Commission (Imperial) - Natural Resources, Trade, and Legislation of certain portions of His Majesty’s Dominions - Papers laid before the Commission 1914-1917 - (Paper presented to the British Parliament).

Entertainments Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 227.

Estate Duty Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 267.

Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1917. No. 280.

Lands Acquisition Act - Land- acquired under, at-

Booroomba, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.

Congwarra, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.

Cottesloe, Western Australia - Far Defence purposes.

Cuppacumbalong - Partly in Federal Territory and partly in New South Wales - For Federal Capital purposes.

Gigerline, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.

Gigerline, Federal Territory, and Burra, partly in Federal Territory and partly in New South Wales - For Federal Capital purposes.

Leeton, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.

Port Augusta, South Australia - For Railway purposes.

Townsville, Queensland - For Defence purposes.

Tuggeranong, Federal Territory - For Federal Capital purposes.

Lighthouses Act - Regulations AmendedStatutory Rules 1917, No. 331.

Naturalization Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 296.

Norfolk Island- Ordinance of 1917- No. 1- Importation of Plants.

Northern Territory-Ordinances of 1917-

No. 9. - Stamp Duties.

No. 10. - Darwin Pound.

Papua- Ordinances of 1917 -

No. 4.- Supplementary Appropriation 1916-17 (No. 2).

No. 6.- Supply 1917-18 (No. 1).

No. 6. - Supplementary Appropriation 1916-17 (No. 3).

No. 8. - Real Property.

No. 10. - Appropriation 1917-18.

Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations Amended- Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 199, 215, 246, 247, 284, 305, 309, 321, 329, 330.

Public Service Act -

Appointments, Promotions of-

Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, as on 30th June, 1917 - List of.

Temporary Employees - Return for year 1916-17.

Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 244, 266.

River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report of the Proceedings from 31st January to 30th June, 1917, and Progress Reports regarding Investigations and Works carried out by the States of New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, for the purposes of the River Murray Agreement, during the period 31st January to 30th June, 1917.

Shale Oil Bounty Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 277.

War Precautions Act - Regulations Amended, &c- Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 242, 245, 251, 255, 259, 260, 272, 274, 275, 278, 285, 298, 310, 311.

War, The- German East Africa - Reports on the Treatment by the Germans of British Prisoners and Natives - (Paper presented to the British Parliament).

War-time Profits Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 300.

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Resignation of Ministry : Coal Contract : Maltreatment of Sailor

Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General · Bendigo

– It is within the knowledge of honorable members that the Government has resigned, and in order to allow time for the situation to be resolved I move -

That the House do now adjourn.


.- I am loath to occupy the time of honorable members on an occasion like the present, but the matter to which I shall refer is of such importance that, as a public man, I would not be justified in allowing the opportunity to pass without drawing attention to it: I speak of an arrangement recently come to between the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales under which, for five years, the Victorian Government will take all its coal from the mines of Messrs. J. and A. Brown. Referring to this arrangement the statement has been published in the Newcastle Morning Herald of yesterday that -

Mr. Downward and Mr. Grahame also discussed the question of the agreement between the States in connexion with the mines. The Prime Minister has to be a party to the agreement because he controls the shipping, but the Victorian Minister has had Mr. Hughes’ promise that, if the two States could agree, he would lend his sanction to the arrangement, and appoint two representatives to the Coal Board which is in course of formation.

I refer to this matter now so that whoever may be in power may know my views concerning the arrangement. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has given the promise spoken of in the paragraph that I have read; but should effect be given to the agreement, it will be disastrous. As a consequence of the war, our coal trade has fallen off considerably, and at the present time the output of coal is much in excess of the demand. Our foreign trade has entirely ceased because of the impossibility of getting transport for the coal, and the difficulty of getting shipping for the transport of coal from State to State has reduced the Inter-State trade considerably. Under these circumstances, the Commonwealth Government have found it necessary, in the interests of the Empire and of the Commonwealth, to commandeer vessels, and to regulate shipping generally. The Victorian Government may claim that, under the agreement to which I have referred, it will get some advantage. It is to take 1,000,000 tons per annum from the Pelaw Main and Richmond Main mines - properties which belong to Messrs. J. and A. Brown, the coal kings of Australia. But, should effect be given to the arrangement, all the other colliery proprietors will be deprived of this trade. All the coal mining companies possess ships of their own, or have business connexions with shipping companies. The Caledonian Company, for instance, is connected with the Howard Smith Shipping Company, the A. A. Company with the Huddart Parker Shipping Company.

Mr McWilliams:

– Is not the contract between the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria?


– But is not the Commonwealth Government paramount during this state of war ? Should we sanction an agreement which Would be disastrous to the Commonwealth simply because two State Governments have made it? The ships belonging to or connected with the coal mining proprietaries which are not party to the agreement will be commandeered, and will be used to transport to Victoria the coal which is to be got from Messrs. J. and A. Brown’s mines, the other mines remaining idle, and the capital which has been invested in their plant and equipment earning no interest. There is a great deal of suspicion in New South Wales regarding this transaction, and rightly so. Since the war commenced, the coal trade has been distributed among the mines. The Government of Victoria has been getting its coal from various mines in New South Wales. Now it is to take coal from the mines of one proprietary only, and it is going to pay for that coal the biggest price ever yet paid in New South Wales under a similar contract; it is going to pay 15s. a ton f.o.b. for a period of five years, which is an abnormal price. Will the Commonwealth Government andParliament indorse this agreement, and require the ships connected with other coal mining enterprises to transport to Victoria the coal purchased from Messrs. J. and A. Brown? Honorable members will recollect that during the last industrial trouble I claimed that it was the duty of the Commonwealth at a time of war to exercise its powers and to take control of the coal-mining industry. Since then no less an authority than Mr. Hall, a member of the New South Wales Government, has said that the State Administration feared at the time that the Commonwealth might do something in that direction. He asserted thatthey were more afraid of such action on the part of the ‘Commonwealth than of anything the miners might do. Mr. Hall shouldbe the last tomake such a statement in view of the fact that the New South Wales Govemment, as soon as that industrial trouble was over, deliberately entered intoan agreement with all the collieries, including the Richmond Main and Pelaw Main, for the resumption of work, and have been sending men from Victoria to work in those two collieries, notwithstanding that they had agreed that as vacancies occurred the local labour should be absorbed. A considerable number of local men have had no work since the trouble took place. They have had to depend for their subsistence upon the £1 per week allowed themby their fellow workers. Such is the situation of menwho are not agitators,but good, honest workers - men who when am employment attend regularly to it and spend all their sparetime with their families. These men, unfortunately, have been deprived of the right to work; yet the State -Government, of which Mr. Hall is a member, has said, according to this correspondence, that there isa dearth of miners over there, and that it is necessary to send over men from Victoria. Victorian miners have been sent over while local colliers are out of employment. The State Government are now talking of building cottages to house the miners.

Mr Boyd:

– As a matter of fact, the Richmond Main mine was being worked very little before that time.


– That is so.

Mr Boyd:

– The men would notwork it.


– It was in a developmental stage.

Mr Boyd:

– There are two sides to this question.


– I take it that every honorable member is anxious to do the fair thing and what is best in the interests of the prosecution of this war. If threefourths of the men hitherto engagedin the coal-miming industry in the Hunter River district are to be deprived of their means of livelihood, and the trade confined to one or two mines at the expense of the proprietors of all the other collieries and of the workmen whom they employ, bad feeling will be engenderedthat will not help the prosecution of this war. At a time of stress likethe present it is our duty to distribute work as fairlyas possible. No one canjustify thegiving of a monopoly in the coal trade to one or two men. An order for 1,000,000 tons of coal is a considerable one, and if that quantity of coal is to be got within twelve months it will be necessary to work the mines not one, but two or three shifts. What will be the result of such an alteration in the working conditions of the district? I warn this House that if an attempt be made to introduce two or three shifts perday in an industry in which it has hitherto been possible to carry on at a profit with only one shift perday, we shall have industrial trouble; and that no one desires. Our earnest wish’ is that everything shall proceed in a manner which will promote the best interests of the nation, but if some mines are to work two or three shifts a day while others are kept idle, we shall have trouble. Indeed, we shall invite trouble if we allow such a condition of affairs to come about.But I donotwish to go into, details at this stage. I rose to warn the Prime Minister that this is a dangerous arrangement. The Commonwealth Government is paramount, and has no right to permiteven a State Administration at the present juncture toenter into a contract calculated to prove disastrous to the welfare of Australia as a whole. If the statement which I have mentioned is correct - if it is true that the Prime Minister has promised, on behalf of theCommonwealth, to consent to this agreement - I hope thathe will reconsider the position, andmake a further and sweeping inquiry into thewholebusiness.

Mr Hughes:

– Does the honorable member say I have consented to it ?


– According to the statement I have read, the right honorable gentleman has done so.

Mr Hughes:

– It is quite untrue.I have never heard of the matter. The position is the very opposite.


– If the Prime Minister has made a promise to do anything in this direction - to do anything that will be injurious to the future prospects of Australia - I hope he will reconsider it.

Mr Riley:

– Which Prime Minister?


– The exPrimeMinister, if honorable members will have me speak by the card.

Mr Boyd:

-What right has the Commonwealth Government to interfere in an agreement between two States?


-What right has the Commonwealth , to interfere in any matter of this kind, unless on the ground that the welfare of the nation is involved? Will the honorable member deny that at a time like the present, when we are in the midst of the greatest war the world has ever known, this Parliament is charged with the responsibility of attending to the welfare of Australia as well as to that of the Allies ? If we do anything likely to be detrimental to large bodies of workers and employers, we shall be courting disaster. The Government will not assist recruiting by treatingworkmen in that way. The Prime Minister will do well to give the closest consider ation to this question.


.- I know nothing of the terms and conditions of this contract which has. been referred to, except that I am informed that the supply is to be at the rate of 1,000,000 tons per annum, and the price 15s. per ton f.o.b. If the Victorian Government is prepared to pay such a war price for the next five years, that is no concern of ours; but I hold, with the honorable member for Hunter, that the Commonwealth. Government, in the exercise of its powers under the War Precautions Act, ought not to aid and abet a State Government in doing something which vitally prejudices the interests of certain coal mines and the men employed in them. My honorable friend has pointed out that nearly all the steam-ship companies are also colliery owners, and that if their vessels are commandeered for the purposes of this particular contract, they will have to neglect their own business to assist, other mine-owners to make profits. That, I think, is unfair. I do not know that the ex-Prime Minister has sanctioned this agreement.

Mr Hughes:

– I know absolutely nothing at all about the matter, except what the honorable member for Hunter has just told us.


– I cannot speak as to the facts, as I have not even seen the paragraph alluded to by the honorable member. I can verify what he has said as to a number of miners having been out of work ever since the last industrial trouble . It is on record that the miners have been applying to the Courts for the abolition of the two and three shift per day system, and that it has been decided that only one shift per day shall be worked. If two or three shifts per day are to be worked in these particular mines, then there is going to be trouble,the like of which we do not wish to see. I join with my colleague in asking that any Government which may be supreme in this House in the near future willclosely watch what is going on in these mines, and will at least see that all those concerned in the industry have fair treatment meted out to them. In regard to the statement published in the press that bad coal has come from some ofthe other mines into the Victorian trade, I wish to say that, although coal varies in quality according to the districts in which it is mined, whoever states that there is any difference between the quality of the coal mined within the Maitland area is talking without book. All the mines there are working on the same seam, and all are

Belling the some quality of coal. I only wish to add this note of warning as to what is going on at the present time.


.-It seems strange that two representatives of New South Wales should exhibit so much concern over a contract which is about to be entered into by the Victorian Government. Their real concern is that this Richmond Main mine, which was held up for so many months, and was not worked at all–

Mr Watkins:

– By whom was it held up?


– By the miners.

Mr Watkins:

– It is a newlydeveloped mine.


– It has been lying newly developed for years, waiting for men to work it. The fact that during the recent strike the Victorian Government were able to equip this mine and to produce coal from it does not suit the viewsof the New South Wales miners, who are now prepared to take any steps to prevent the Victorian Government working it. The real trouble, therefore, is not whether industrial unrest may be precipitated, but whether the seam in the Richmond Main colliery is to be worked by Victorians. I do not see why the Commonwealth should interfere with the contract that has been entered into by the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria.

Mr Blakeley:

– Even if they commandeer the mines?


-What a peculiar brand of Socialists are my honorable friends opposite. TheVictorian Government, in the representations which they have made to the New South Wales Government, ought to know their’ business a great deal better than do the members of this House. If they are prepared to enter into a contract for the purchase of coal at 15s. per ton–

Mr.Riley. - That is a pretty high price, you know.


– Things are very high just now, and that remark applies to more than coal. If the New South Wales Government are prepared to accept the conditions offered by the Victorian Government, what right has this Parliament to interfere? Surely we are not going to utilize the. War Precautions Act to control a State Government?

Mr Finlayson:

– What has been done in Queensland?


– We know what . an eminent man once said of Ireland. He affirmed that if it were sunk beneath the sea for twenty-four hours, we should get rid of a lot of trouble. The same thing might well be said about Queensland.

Mr Page:

– Does the honorable member really mean that?


– I do not, and the honorable member knows I do not. My honorable friends who represent the coal areas of New South Wales know that their action is based upon the grievance existing against the original owner - I might even say the present owner - of the Richmond Main mine and the miners who refused to work that mine prior to the recent industrial trouble. Because that mine is being worked- to-day by the Victorian Government, they imagine that their particular interests are being injured. I trust that the Prime Minister, if the right honorable gentleman sitting at the table is, to be the perpetual Prime Minister of the Commonwealth–

Mr.Finlayson. - Is that a prophecy?


– It is both the expression of a hope and a prophecy. If this problem comes before him; I hope that he will not unnecessarily shoulder the responsibilities which at the present time rest upon the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria.


.- I wish to bring before the Government the case of a citizen of an Ally of Great Britain - I refer to Brazil - who has been the victim of an asasult on the high seas and whose assailant has not been punished. This poor man has lost an ear, and is afraid to return to his ship lest he may lose his life. Owing to the publicity which has been given to the case by the Ageand Argus newspapers, I have been requested by certain men to ask if the Minister for Trade and Customs will endeavour to prevent the victim of this brutal assault being forced back upon his ship, possibly to face his death.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.29 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 January 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.