17th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– by leave - I inform honorable members that the extended term of the appointment, of the High Commissioner for Australia in the United Kingdom, the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce, C.H., M.C., will expire on the 6th October, 1944. The Commonwealth Government has asked Mr. Bruce to continue in office for another year, and he has agreed to do so.
Mr. Bruce will also continue to act as the Australian Accredited Representative on the Imperial War Cabinet, and as His Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary for the Commonwealth of Australia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Motion (by Mr. Curtin) - by leave- agreed to -
That so much of the Standing Ordersbe suspended as would prevent the Notice of Motion No. 1 - Censure of the Government - taking precedence of all other business until disposed of.
. - I move -
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.
– I formally second the motion, and reserve my right to speak.
– The object of the motion is to give to members of this House a full opportunity to discuss the present very grave state of affairs in the coal-mining industry, and consequently in other industries. It is quite clear that the coal position is unsatisfactory. It is equally clear that it is dangerous. Production has fallen. It has not risen during this year; on the contrary, it has declined in the most alarming fashion. New SouthWales produces approximately six-sevenths of the total black coal produced in Australia. The maintenance of the output of coal in New South Wales is, therefore, vital to this. country. It is unnecessary for anybody to regard that as a partisan statement; it has been made repeatedly on both sides of this House. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) himself has repeatedly used the strongest possible terms in establishing that the maintenance of coal production at the highest level is vital to the conduct of the war industries of Australia. Early in this year, the right honorable gentleman said this -
It is estimated that the mines in New South Wales have a productive capacity of at least 13.500,000 tons, after allowing for all reasonable losses of production from all causes.
– The highest production while the Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister was 9,000,000 tons.
– The honorable gentleman need not bother about me; he had better consider his own position.
– Only 9,000,000 tons was the record in the right honorable gentleman’s time.
– Is the honorable gentleman suggesting that we should go back to it?
– No ; but the right honorable gentleman is criticizing production under this Government.
– If the honorable gentleman is not making that suggestion, he had better direct his attention to the fact that his Prime Minister has said that 13,500,000 tons is the productive capacity of the coal mines of NewSouth Wales after allowing for all reasonable losses of production from all causes; and therefore, if this production falls below 13,500,000 tons, it falls because of unreasonable losses of production, from whatever cause.
– How does the right honorable gentleman account for 1940?
– New South Wales, in the first half of 1944, produced 343,000 tons of coal less than was produced in the first half of 1943, and 771,000 tons of coal less than was produced in the first half of 1942. Thus, the figures in relation to production in this vital field are steadily declining as the demand for coal steadily rises. New South Wales has the best coal seams in Australia ; it has the best conditions for getting coal; and, viewing the result to the individual miner, it has the highest effective wages in the coal-mining industry of Australia. The year’s output in New South Wales for this year, having regard to the fall of production which has occurred, is estimated at 10,500,000 tons, which is 2,000,000 tons less than was produced in 1942, and 3,000,000 tons less than the quantity which the Prime Minister himself described as its reasonable productive capacity. It is elementary that, in this matter, production should rise in (accordance with the nation’s war needs. It should not be necessary to say that the production for 1942 was greater than the production for 1940; it ought to have been. It should not he necessary to explain a fall of production in 1943 or in 1944. It should be taken as a matter of course that production in this industry should at least be maintained ‘at the highest level, and should, if possible, be increased; because, I repeat, coal is basic to the whole of the vast increase in our manufacturing production for war.
What ave the reasons for the decline? That, after all, is the question to which attention should be directed. Again I say to the House that there can be no doubt as to the reason. The Prime Minister, on the 14th October, 1943 - nearly a year ago - speaking in this House, discussed the losses of production from the beginning of 1943 to the 18th September. He said that the total loss at that time had amounted to 2,500,000 tons, and that absenteeism had been responsible for the loss of 1,033,000 tons; strikes, 1,041,000 tons; other industrial causes, 125,000 tons; lack of waggons and skips, 7,000 tons; mechanical breakdowns, 140,000 tons; and miscellaneous causes, 153,000 tons. In other words, of a total loss of 2,500,000 tons up to that period, loss amounting to 2,075,000 tons was due to absenteeism and to strikes. If the same proportion is carried through, as it very reasonably may, from year to year, it, at once appears that the real cause of this failure to produce is to be found in the conduct of those who absent themselves from work, or, to put the same thing in another way, go on strike in this industry. If those losses were due to major industrial grievances, the matter could be understood, even though, because there is a war on, it could not be excused; but these causes do not arise from major industrial differences. The Prime Minister, and the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), have both repeatedly stated that the vast bulk of the stoppages are absolutely trivial, and involve no industrial principle whatever. Therefore it is clear - and the matter should be stated quite clearly - that the coal-miners have the initial responsibility for this grave decline in coal production, and for all its consequent results. No honorable member has any doubt that 95 per cent, of the 20,000 odd men engaged in coal-mining in Australia are decent, loyal, and patriotic citizens. I do not doubt that for one moment, but at least they cannot be acquitted on one charge, and that is that they have lacked the moral courage to suppress or ignore the small minority which has brought the industry to this pass - a small minority composed of stupid people, aggressively militant people, and actually traitorous people. Again I quote the words of the right honorable the Prime Minister, because on the 14th October last, in the course of a statement in this House, he said some very strong things about this minority. To these remarks I myself was proposing to deliver a statement in reply, but in the result, I made no answer, except one of approval, because the Prime Minister’s statement was, as a statement, a satisfying one. In the course of it, he said - -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.
There we have a very strong statement from the head of the Government, identifying these men who are the malcontents in this industry, placing the responsibility at their door, and indicating that they could be identified by their bad attendance records. There we have, quite briefly, and without dispute, the cause of the losses in the coal-mining industry.
Now I ask: “How has the Government, in face of the known facts, treated the miners ? “ The answer is that for years now the policy has been one of appeasement, ‘and always, in the long run, of surrender. In the very statement to which I have referred the Prime Minister set out a firm policy. It was a policy which had general support in this House. It is a policy which has the backing of an overwhelming majority, even if it were a party matter, in both Houses of this Parliament. I have no doubt that it is a policy which commands widespread support in the community. What were the proposals on that occasion? It is well that we should recall them, in order to see what has become of them. First, the Prime Minister was going to weed out the irresponsibles. But how many have gone? Is it no longer true that there is this irresponsible and identifiable minority in the coal-mining industry? One recalls that a certain number of these men were drafted out of coal-mining at one stage into the defence forces, and later drafted in again. The action which was taken on that occasion, at any rate, was followed quite speedily by surrender. This House is entitled to know, and the country is also entitled to know, whether these irresponsibles - as I say, identifiable irresponsibles - are still being left in this industry because of some poor miserable excuse that, if they left it, there would be fewer people to produce coal, and therefore they must be retained ‘to do their work - not the work of coal-mining, but the dirty work of preventing it.
The second proposal was that there would be prosecutions in every ca3e of unlawful absenteeism. There we have something which has been honoured in the breach rather than in the observance. How many prosecutions have taken place? Does the list of prosecutions, and of collected penalties, march with the growing reduction of coal production in Australia ? How many prosecutions have occurred since October of last year, when this statement was made? How many of them have been withdrawn or postponed ?
– Or the fines remitted?
– Or, in the result, the penalties remitted? The third plank in this platform was that mechanization of the mines was to be proceeded with as rapidly as the procurement of equipment would permit. But the procurement of equipment for the mechanization of the mines will proceed only so fast as real and urgent priorities are given to it by the Government of the day. How much further has mechanization proceeded? It is difficult to believe that it has proceeded even an inch, since the statement of October last, because, on the 1st July of this year, the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, felt called upon to announce to the public that, although more men were employed in the industry, there was less production. It is very difficult to believe that with more men engaged there would be less production if mechanization had proceeded at all during tha. last eleven months.
The fourth proposal was that more men. to the number of 600, would be made available to the industry. Subsequently, we were given some figures which indicated that a few hundred men had been brought in. What is the net total now? If it is smaller than in October of last year, that fact does not square with the Government’s statement of policy; if it is larger, then the community is entitled te know why, with a larger number of men, there is substantially less production.
– Well, that is a fact.
– It is a deplorable fact, and one which constitutes a vital challenge to the Government, a challenge which it can no longer ignore. The fifth proposal was that a second shift should be worked on the South Maitland field. Has that been done 1
– No, the northern branch of -the miners’ federation refused to permit it.
– I know; that is why I asked. When the Government having announced in October, 1943, that a second shift was to be worked on the Maitland field, has to confess in September, 1944, that this has not been done because the miners’ federation objected, the simple truth is that the policy of the Government is being determined by the miners’ federation, and not by the Government.
Those were proposals of merit, and if they had been forcefully and resolutely applied they might have changed the whole aspect of coal production in Australia. However, we have only to consider them in the light of subsequent events in order to see how things have been allowed to drift. The Government has been constantly thinking of some fresh promise to make, some fresh means of appeasement. This has been alternated with the making of threats, the issue of ultimatums, of new regulations and of orders, and these have been followed by surrender, while all the time coal production has gone down and down. It is, perhaps, easy to talk in general terms of this policy as one of appeasement, but a very curious example has just occurred to indicate the point of view of the Government, and, apparently, the point of view of the Attorney-General in particular. Honorable members will recall that, earlier this year, Parliament debated at considerable length the Coal Production (War-time) Bill under which a commission was established, and the Commissioner given very great powers. The bill also provided for the appointment of special tribunals to deal with certain industrial matters. When the bill was in committee, I put this question to the Attorney-General -
Does the Government still regard the wagepegging regulations as applying to the coal industry t
That was an important question because, under the National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations, wages had been pegged, and we were told, to the accompaniment of a great flourish of trumpets, that this was an element in the pegging of .prices. Indeed, it is clear that the two must go together. From time to time, applications have been made to the Treasurer - I remember one quite recently - to relax the regulations, and they have been refused with great publicity. When I asked the Attorney-General whether the setting up of the special tribunals in the coal industry would have the effect of removing the miners from the limitations of the wage-pegging regulations, the Attorney-General answered as fellows : -
Broadly, there is no general departure from that general principle. However, questions may arise in a particular mine regarding conditions such as wetness or dust which entitle the miners to extra remuneration, and there is power to award such extra remuneration in an industrial dispute. I ask the committee not to accept the amendment.
On the 15th August of this year, a proceeding took place in the High Court, Rex v. Connell, in the course of which the miners federation contended that, having regard to the Coal Production (War-time) Act, the wage-pegging regulations did not apply to miners; that the existence of special tribunals under the act excluded the operation of the wage-pegging regulations. This, it will be recalled, was the very matter upon which the committee of this House had received an assurance from the AttorneyGeneral. Counsel for the Commonwealth appeared at the hearing. In other words, the Attorney-General, as chief law officer for the Crown, was represented in the High Court by counsel, Mr. Sugerman, a well-known King’s Counsel, of Sydney. He intervened on behalf of the Commonwealth, and he supported the view that the wage-pegging regulations were excluded by the act. I am not discussing the position of Mr. Sugerman. It is inconceivable that he would have argued contrary to his. instructions.
– He received no instructions whatever from me.
– That is remarkable. The Commonwealth briefs counsel to intervene in proceedings before the High Court, but gives him no instructions as to what he is to say. In other words, it is left to counsel to determine the attitude of the Commonwealth to the matter.
– It is a question of what the law is. _ Mr. MENZIES.- It is not the practice, as I know from my own experience, which is considerable, for counsel for the Commonwealth to go into the High Court, obtain leave to intervene, and say nothing more. In every instance that has come within my experience counsel for the Commonwealth has been told on which side the Commonwealth desires his arguments to fall.
– He is there to argue the law.
– He is to argue the law, of course, and in this instance, as I say, the Attorney-General sent him to the High Court to argue that the law was something contrary to what the AttorneyGeneral himself had told Parliament.
– What I said to the House was correct. That has always been my view, and the High Court held that, also.
– Yes, contrary to the argument of the Attorney-General’s counsel.
– He was not my counsel.
– The House is becoming very familiar with the capacity of the Attorney-General to find alibis such as, “ I did not do it - it was the Prime Minister. I did not do it– the Cabinet did “. But this time he has no alibi. If any one sent Mr. Sugerman into the High Court it was the Attorney-General, and are we to believe that he gave Mr. Sugerman no instructions? Are we to believe that he just said, “ All right, my boy, you go along and intervene for the Commonwealth”?
– I gave him no instructions.
– I see. I wonder how he got there? I have referred to that curious little incident because its explanation is quite clear ; it was one more act of appeasement. Parliament was appeased, so to speak, by being told that the wagepegging regulations would still apply. The miners’ federation was appeased by having Commonwealth counsel briefed - at a suitable fee, I trust - in order to. support the argument that the wage-pegging regulation did not apply. These were various steps in the process of appeasement, which we have had for years. We have had strong words; we have had threats; we have even had ultimatums. We have heard the Prime Minister say - rather pathetically I thought - “I make no bones about this. I will stand aside if the coal-miners are prepared to work better for some one else “. We have had enough of “ stand-down “ ; why not have some “ stand-up “ for a change ?
– And have a three months’ strike?
– If the Government is not prepared to risk a three months’ strike it will never have any peace in this industry. All these fine words and promises have been treated by the miners as so much bluff. Can we wonder at it when each time that the miners have called the Government’s bluff the Government has capitulated. Each time that the Government’s bluff has been called by another outbreak of strikes, or stoppages, what has happened? In his place in this ‘chamber as well as in the columns of the press from time to time, the Prime Minister has said, “ What can I do ? Prosecutions will not get coal “. Yet in October of last year he said that there would be a prosecution in every case of absenteeism. He has told us also that the release of miners from the Army, or the introduction of free labour will not get coal .because it takes many years to make a coal-miner. The miners concerned in these stoppages have been unperturbed by all the threats that have been made ; they simply say, “ Why worry about them? This is not the last order, statement, or regulation, on the subject “. Even a blue paper containing a summons has no effect on them, because they know that, in the long run the Government will come down to their terms. For two years this handful of men has succeeded in defeating the Government of the Commonwealth. That is the simple truth. How can we expect to have the one thing that this industry most needs, namely, discipline, if the rebel, the breaker of discipline, is always being told that he is essential, that the country cannot do without him, and that he will not be prosecuted; or should he be prosecuted that there will be an adjournment, or something else, but that in no circumstances will he be forced to pay? More recently, a very special bait appears to have been dangled in front of these men. There has been, apparently, some discussion as to whether they should not be rewarded for what is without doubt the worst industrial record in Australia in this war by being given a special scheme of pensions at a higher rate than is paid to other workers. Only a few days ago that bait was withdrawn. I hesitate to say that it has been withdrawn permanently, but momentarily, at least, it has been put on one side. The truth is that, in attempting to handle any awkward situation, it is fatal to attempt to bluff beyond what one is prepared to perform. If nothing can be done - and that is what we are constantly being told - nothing ought to be said. Nothing can be more pathetic, at a time like this, than to have this combination of strong words and miserable impotence in performance. No one can examine the facts, or the causes of these troubles, without coming to the conclusion that what is needed in this industry is discipline. That position was stated clearly by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) on the last occasion that industrial troubles in the coalmining industry were discussed in this chamber. The miners must be taught that discipline is not inconsistent with mie democracy. Indeed, discipline ought to be at its best in a democracy because it is imposed by the people themselves. The position has become so serious that the question to be answered is a stark one, namely; Who governs this country? If the -Government presumes to govern, then, at whatever cost in immediate industrial dislocation, it must force its will upon these men.
– That is a poor outlook.
– It is the only outlook that will .bring results. Whatever the cost in immediate industrial trouble, we had better face it soon, because the sooner it is faced the sooner it will be ended. Let us put into operation the policy which was announced, rather hesitatingly, about a year ago. and remove the malcontents from the industry. If these men are known, they should be taken out of the industry permanently and placed where they will be able to do useful work for their country. Let us treat the mechanization of the mines as a matter of the first priority and of real urgency. Let us have a second shift in the coal mines, regardless of the opinion of the miners’ federation. Let us bring fresh men into the industry, even if their grandfathers did not work under shocking conditions in the coal mines of Durham or the Rhondda Valley. The coal-mining industry is too much cursed by people who live retrospectively in the miseries of the past, and dwell constantly on what happened to their fathers and grandfathers. Coal mining in Australia is not conducted in that way. It is an industry in which able-bodied men can become competent in a reasonable period of time. As for those who absent themselves from work, I say that they should be prosecuted for their breaches of the law, and that the second time they are convicted the penalty should be their removal from the industry. These men are endeavouring to have it both ways. They are the best-paid workers in this country. They want the advantage of that state of affairs, and also the privilege of knocking off work whenever they like, regardless of the demand for coal. It is no answer to say that all these proposal! will cause trouble, and for a month, or two months, or longer, will result in less coal being produced. If we are afraid of that, the coal-miners will continue to bluff us, because that is the technique of this militant minority. They will say, “ Aha ! they will never take stem measures with us because, if they dp, there will be more stoppages and less coal mined, and they cannot face that”. All right! Let us have less coal for a time, because I realize, and I hope the Prime Minister realizes, _ that this policy of placating the coal-miners, if continued, will mean less coal for ever. Have this thing out now or let it go on weakening and weakening the war effort of this country and the post-war industrial capacity of this country. The Government must stand up and fight. It has the weapons in its hands. It has not used them, not because they are not good weapons, but because it has been timid about using them because of its fear of the immediate ‘result; and, because it fears the immediate result, it has been afraid to adopt strong measures which would, in the long run, with the backing of profoundly-held public views in Aus- tralia, bring about discipline, production and success. In the next week or two, scores of thousands of honest workers may be out of work or on reduced work and pay because a few hundred of the best-paid people in the country are completely indifferent to the fate of Australia. In other walks, individuals have been prosecuted without stint. There are plenty of instances of individuals who have been prosecuted on charges relating to offences which they were persuaded to commit. Yet the coal-miners, men who need no persuasion to commit their offences, are not prosecuted at all. The Crown Law Department sends teams - I was going to say armies - of king’s counsel and. other counsel into the police courts, the higher courts, and the High Court itself, in pursuit of private citizens. “We had the instance only the other clay of a butcher in Portland who stood up for his undoubted rights, as declared by the authority established by the Government itself. He has been promptly penalized by losing half of his business. The rule is apparently this: there is one law for the individual - it is a rigorous law; it is a prompt law - but there is quite another one for those who combine to act in concert to break the laws of the land. The community will support with enthusiasm really prompt, resolute, strong measures, whatever the immediate consequences may be, but its exasperation will have no limit whatever if explanations continue to follow threats and usher in, in their turn, surrenders. Those men of whom I speak, who make up this minority in the coal-mining industry, are enemies of this country, and it is time that sickly sentiment came to an end and they got their just deserts as enemies. They believe - and it is not to be wondered at - that the law of the land is impotent to touch them. Does the Government propose to do anything to disillusion them on that point? Let us forget all this propaganda about coal-miners being different, about their being such a curious body of men that no ordinary rule can apply to them. These men who have defied the . Government of this country over the last two or three years are not different. They must be taught that exactly the same law applies to them and exactly the same duties apply to them, as apply to the patriotic and good, people in this country who are doing their best to see this country through its greatest crisis. I do not propose to elaborate this matter. This is not a matter which requires a mass of details. The issue has only to be looked at to stand out quite clearly. It is an issue which challenges the existence and prestige of the Government far more than any words spoken in Parliament could, and far more than any motion that may be made.
– With many of the observations that the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has made I am not in agreement, but with quite a number of others, I, of course, am in complete agreement, because the most valuable parts of his speech were those based on quotations from my own speeches.
– Hear, hear! I agree.
– I cannot and do not disown anything I have said, and I hare, with the maximum of industry, sought to give effect to the programme outlined, having regard to all the difficulties that have to be overcome, even by governments, in carrying through programmes. As a member of this Parliament my knowledge of the coal-mining industry goes back to 1929 when I, then a’ new member here, participated in the first notable debate which marked the deliberations of the Parliament elected towards the end of 1928. I am told to-day by the Leader of the Opposition that appeasement is bound to fail. In 1929, I found the leader of his party, the Government of the day, demonstrate in this Parliament, not only by weight of numbers, which I think will be repeated to-morrow, but also by weight of argument, illuminated by the undoubted legal acumen of the then Attorney-General, that it was in the best interests of the country that a prosecution which the Crown had instituted in respect of the coal-mining industry should be withdrawn. That was the commencement of my parliamentary experience of this industry. But I do not desire to dwell in the past, because we are now at war, and the problems of peace have no parallel with those of war. However, in 1940, we were at war, and in order that I might obtain some guidance as to the right way to deal with the problems of the coal-mining industry, I looked up the speeches made in that year by the then Prime Minister just as I had looked up the speeches made in peace-time in 1929 by the Prime Minister of that day. Neither of those gentlemen was associated with the party which forms the present Government. The Prime Minister in 1940, faced with .a coal strike that lasted three months, summed
Up the position of his government by saying-
We are anxious to get rid of this dispute so that urgent affairs can proceed, but we have definitely decided that the action that shall be taken in this dispute shall be by the court and not by the Government.
– Quite right.
– Notwithstanding the cessation of coal production and its weakening effect upon the general organization of industry to meet war emergencies, and the fact that normal rail or tram services could not be continued because of lack of coal, the Prime Minister at that time said, in effect, “ This is not a matter upon which the Government proposes to take action. We shall leave it to the court “. Frankly, I refuse to reform my conduct along the lines set for me in either 1929, or 1940, by my distinguished predecessors. I have accepted this matter as a responsibility of the Government. I recognized that it was necessary that action should be taken by the Government, because I discovered that the normal peace-time production of coal in New South Wales was quite inadequate for our requirements for war. It is desirable that the country should have at least a balanced judgment of the actual facts with respect to coal. The Leader of the Opposition says that the quantity of coal now being produced is not adequate. That is perfectly correct. Production has not met current requirements. Consequently, reserve stocks have disappeared, and rationing has had to be imposed with respect to the general use of coal. That is a general statement of the position; and it is correct. Many minds have been applied to the problem of increasing the production of coal not only in Australia, but also in other countries. We know that war inevitably entails an increased consumption of coal, and that all governments have been perplexed by the problem of getting sufficient to meet the greatly increased requirements. Neither my Government nor any other, stands alone in this matter. I recall going to dinner one evening with the Minister for Mines in the United Kingdom. As I entered the room he came forward and cordially shook me by the hand, saying, “ I am delighted to meet you if for no other reason than that it appears that you and I are the only two people in the world who do not know how to produce coal “. Apparently, everybody else did. We require increased production of coal, because the normal production in Australia is far less than that required for war purposes. In 1934 the production of coal in New South Wales totalled 7,800,000 tons and in 193S, four years later, a year before the war, 9,500,000 tons was produced in that State. In 1940 when the war was well on its way, production in that State totalled 9,550,000 tons.
– That was the year of the strike.
– That production was about the same as in 1938. Probably it would have been greater but for the strike, and, to-day, we would have a greater production of coal but for strikes.
– But in 1940 we stood up to the miners.
– The Government of which the honorable member was a member stood up to the strike in that year in a most manly way! It said that it did not propose to take any action. In 1941 the coal produced in New South Wales, totalled 11,600,000 tons; in 1942 it was 12,200,000 tons; in 1943 11,400,000 tons ; and from the 1st January to the 4th August of this year the production was 6,500,000 tons. Of the total production of 11,400,000 tons in 1943, 6,800,000 tons was produced in the period from the 1st January to the 4th August. Thus this year’s production is down by approximately 300,000 tons compared with that for the corresponding period of last year ; and it is down by 800,000 tons compared with the production of 1942, which was a record year.
– How much of the loss of production is due to absenteeism?”
– One-half of the absenteeism in the industry is unavoidable. Nobody connected with the industry believes that there is any possibility of avoiding some loss of tonnage due to absenteeism in the coal industry any more than we can avoid loss through absenteeism in any other industry. A certain proportion of absenteeism is inevitable.
– -But was not the right honorable gentleman taking that into account when he fixed the minimum essential production at 13,500,000 tons?
– Yes. Apparently, the honorable gentleman, if he did not have my speeches to go on, would not have very much contribution to make to this debate. The Leader of the Opposition is quite entitled to ask what action the Government has taken to obtain increased production. I propose to tell him the steps that we have taken in that direction. We have increased the total rate of production, but for losses attributable to strikes.
– If you only had the “ guts “ to stand up to them !
– The honorable gentleman should not use that word to me. He is a very gallant gentleman, but I assure him that anatomically I am not less robust than he. I am a little “ fed up “ with remarks of that sort.
– I am fed up with the right honorable gentleman as Prime Minister, and so are the people of this country.
– Honorable members opposite are very clever, but for 25 years governments which they supported had strike after strike and dispute after dispute, in the industry, and the same causes of trouble - lack of sanitation, bad conditions, bad ventilation, the irritation tactics of the employers, a bad minority, and absenteeism - but those governments did not a single thing to remedy any difficulty in the industry. In fact, there is not a thing operating in the industry to-day which did not operate when governments supported by honorable members opposite were in office. What has the present Government done to increase production of coal? In April of this year the Coal Commissioner took control of Commonwealth No. 1 Colliery in the Western district, then the only open-cut mine in New South Wales. Whereas it was then producing 400 tons a day, it is now producing 1,000 tons a day. That increase was achieved by the installation of new plant and machinery; and it is anticipated that with the installation of further plant the rate of production at that mine will rise to 3,000 tons a day within the next two months. The Government had to impress machinery for this purpose, and some of it was brought from as far away as north Queensland. . It had to be adapted for this work, repaired and reconditioned. An electric shovel, which was brought to Australia for use in a metalliferous mine, was requisitioned a fortnight ago and diverted to coal mining. It will be in operation in a week. The Coal Commission has expended about £35,000 in securing plant for this work. At Western Main, about 100 tons of coal a day is being obtained from a new opencut mine, and this output will be increased. An open-cut at Wallerawang, which will be in production in a few weeks, will yield about 200 tons a day. Coal is being discovered, after boring, in another area in the west, and will permit of open-cut methods being used. This is an entirely new coal area. Apart from offering immediate benefits, this area holds great promise for the future.. The project is an ambitious one, and involves the construction of temporary accommodation for employees, the provision of about 3 miles of electric power line for the site, and the making or roads and loading points on the railway. A mine will be in production in two or three months.
In the Northern District work has begun at an entirely new open-cut mine in the Greta seam on the Aberdare Extended property. It is expected that from this mine 500 tons of Maitland coal will be produced daily within a month. At Bloomfield a new open-cut, which is about to be developed, will supply about 1,000 tons of bunker coal a week. A geological survey has been completed at Muswellbrook of an area suitable for open-cutting. The Coal Commissioner has let a contract for the boring of the area to establish whether coal is available in quantity and at a depth to justify an open-cut mine. The first of the bores has been -completed and prospects appear favorable. If the remaining bore establishes the continuity of the seam, an open-cut mine will be developed quickly at that site. As far as can be seen at present, it will produce about 500 tons a day. With the cheaper cost of winning coal, all the open-cut mines will be conducted economically.
The Commonwealth Government has advanced £100,000 towards the cost of providing a water supply for the Leigh Creek coal area in South Australia. About 15,000 tons of coal had been produced from this source to the end of July, 1944. Production is continuing at the rate of 2,500 tons a week. The fuel engineer of the Coal Commissioner’s staff has visited Adelaide several times in order to assist consumers in the burnning of Leigh Creek coal. Its use is being extended generally to those plants capable of burning it admixed with Newcastle coal. The Commonwealth Government has assisted in obtaining new plant and is making arrangements for two experts to go overseas to inquire into the latest methods of burning this coal, and improving its burning qualities.
Officers of the Coal Commissioner have given close attention to production in Western Australia. A new mine, known as Wyvern, which will be fully mechanized, will produce SOO tons a day. A new open-cut colliery on the Stockton property has been developed, and is now producing 3,600 tons a week. At two other mines the Coal Commissioner has introduced mechanized forms of mining which have increased the output. Miners are well satisfied with the type of plant installed and with the conditions. Cardiff colliery, which was about to be abandoned, has been rehabilitated, with the result that 400 tons of coal a day is now being produced. Total production in Western Australia is higher for this year than for last year, and will continue to increase.
All mines in Tasmania have been inspected, and advice has been offered on means of increasing production. The Commonwealth is joining with the State Government in de-watering Seymour colliery with a view to determining their suitability foi- re-opening, particularly to assist Victoria’s coal requirements. With Commonwealth financial assistance coal-cutting machines have been installed at Jubilee Mine, and, as the result, there will be an appreciable increase of the output. The Langloh colliery is also being developed under the direction of the Coal Commissioner. The present output is in excess of that of 1943, and when mechanization is completed it will be further increased.
The most practical means of increasing production in Queensland is by the further development of the open-cut mine at Blair Athol. The limiting factor in this case is the capacity of the Queensland railways to move coal from Blair Athol to points of consumption. The production manager of the Coal Commission will shortly visit this mine, and all action found to be necessary to increase production rapidly to the full capacity of the railways will be taken.
Whilst mines in Victoria have continued working well, output is lower than previously, mainly because of inherent difficulties in the mines themselves. The Sunbeam colliery was rehabilitated by the Commonwealth Government in conjunction with the State, and is now producing about ‘700 tons a fortnight. We have proceeded with mechanization as rapidly as the means of getting machinery and plant will permit us.
– Will the miner’s federation allow the Government to use that machinery? Australia has plenty of coal, but the difficulty is that the miners will not produce sufficient quantities to meet war and civil requirements.
– I did put to the Australian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation quite clearly a specific proposal. I said that this country needed an output of 1,200,000 tons of coal a month for the prosecution of the war and the maintenance of civil life, and I considered that if the miners undertook to provide that quantity it was not unreasonable for me to make a certain arrangement with them.
– Was that arrangement to nationalize the mines?
– No. I said nothing about nationalization.
– But the representatives of the miners did.
– And they will not be satisfied until they get it.
– I have received a letter, dated the 29th August, 1944, signed by G. W. S. Grant, general secretary of the miners’ federation. It reads -
At our recent central council meeting, held from 7th to 12th August, the general president and myself outlined the discussion we had with you re the target. After lengthy discussion, the following resolution was carried: - “That the report of the executive on the conference with Curtin be endorsed, and we pledge ourselves in every way to see that the target is fulfilled at the end of the year. Further, that the question of installation of power borers and other matters be taken up seriously with the Government.”
– So now the matter is to be “taken up seriously”. Why does not the Prime Minister do something seriously, instead of discussing something seriously?
– This is another Canberra code.
– If ever there was a mass .of inertia on this side of the chamber it was when the honorable member for Parramatta sat here.
– I did not lack the courage that the Prime Minister lacks. The right honorable gentleman should go to the coal-fields for the purpose of seeing for himself what is hap,pening there.
– I advise the honorable member not to take “ shots “ at me, because I do not lack the capacity to hit back.
– It is a pity that the Prime Minister does not hit back at the miners.
– I have hit back at them. The accusation which is laid against this Government is not that it has not done its best to develop the productive capacity of the coal-mining industry, but that it has failed to bring in nonfederation labour. That is the gravamen of the Opposition’s attack. That is the situation which honorable members opposite desire to precipitate. They are no more concerned about getting coal than I am.
– Nonsense !
-The Deputy Leader of the Opposition appears to imagine that I have made no effort to get the requisite quantity of coal.
– No, the Prime Minister has made an effort.
– I repeat that honorable members opposite are no more concerned about getting coal than I am. Quite clearly, the statements which have been recited by the Leader of the Opposition are proof at any rate of my own desires in this matter and of the eagerness with which I have sought to get an agreement and to achieve results from it in order to obtain the requisite quantity of coal. Now, it is said that men were drafted from the coal mines into the Army because they were disorderly - that is true - and were later brought back into the industry. But why were they brought back? Because the mine- owners represented to me that they could not carry on without those men ! That is the reason; I was told that this additional force was requisite to carry on the industry. It is perfectly true that we have had to increase the personnel in the industry. There were 17,000 employed in 1942; there are 17,800 employed this year. As I said when the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, more men are employed this year than in 1942, and less coal is being produced. The men, who were pulled out for these offences were put back because it was said that if they were put back there would be an increased force t’o produce coal, and that it was far better, having regard to the urgent requirements of the industry, to use labour that was already experienced than to have to wait to train labour that would become experienced. Whether or not that was appeasement, it is perfectly true that that view was put to me by the owners and by the union. I have had conference after conference with both sides. I have called them together repeatedly, and the right honorable gentleman ought to know that the arguments that have been adduced in this House as the kind of thing that I ought to do to get coal are not arguments which the mine-owners, when they corporately met me, represented as having any value.
– That does not matter.
– I know that it does not matter, but none the less, in time of war or at any other time, when governments seek to organize a business such as the production of coal, or iron and steel, or cotton, I think it is rather desirable that the bureaucracy, to use a term that I have heard lately, should have the advantage of knowing what the men who are accustomed to conduct the industry think as to the best way to proceed.
– Does the right honorable gentleman say that no solution of this trouble is possible?
– I do not say so, but strange things happen. As the honorable member knows, a referendum campaign was being fought quite recently. That campaign is over, and, strangely enough, this week there has been accomplished in New South Wales a production which, if maintained for the normal number of weeks in the year, would mean an output for the year in excess of the record figure of 1942. In that event we should have no coal problem.
– Does the right honorable gentleman see any reason why that production should not be maintained?
– I do not. To-day there are no mines idle. On Monday there was one idle in the north, due to the funeral of a work mate, and there was another idle, partly due to a mechanical breakdown.
– Would it not be due to a firmer stand on the part of the Government during the last week or two?
– There has been what the honorable member calls a firmer stand. I made it clear that the bargain I had made with the miners was not being kept by them. I wrote a letter in which I said : “ I have now to say that, as the amount of coal produced is far less than contemplated, and the reduction is due to strikes in defiance of the needs and interests of the nation, and in violation of the purposes and spirit of the recent conference, I will advise my col leagues in the Government that my undertaking has been vitiated by the conduct of members of the federation. Therefore, no Commonwealth scheme of pensions will be introduced “.
– Put and take!
– The honorable member, perhaps, is not so familiar with the history of this Parliament during the last 40 odd years as I am myself. I am not unaware of the fact that in the last war the kind of government for which’ he apparently would have a profound admiration, because of its capacity to stand up and fight, could do nothing about coal production except pursue a policy which was then described as appeasement, because it gave to the coal-miners a completely separate system of industrial adjudication, under which they got advantages in conditions, and in hours and pay, which they had never been able to obtain from the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. It is well known that that was done in the last war by the Government of the day in order to get coal.
– The acid test is whether it gets coal.
– Well, it did.
– And that is the acid test of the present Government’s action.
– Then the honorable member must not complain about the pensions scheme if that gets coal, or about other things that we have done if they get coal. The amount of coal that has been produced in the last three years exceeds the amount produced in any previous three years in Australian history. I do not make any claim that that is an exoneration of the Government, because the consumption which the war has made necessary has exceeded the amount of coal that has been produced. As I say, 1,000,000 tons of stock at the beginning of this year has now dwindled to 500,000 tons, and therefore it has become imperative either toincrease the sacrifices of the people by going without light, fuel and power, and unquestionably minimizing the concentration of the country upon war, or to win more coal. I have put this to the owners. I have put it to the men, and both sides jointly accepted unanimously the target that was set for the nation. In addition they then set up a sub-committee whose business was to allocate to each colliery the proportion of the total which could be accepted as its target. It is true that since then disputes have taken place, many of which I make no pretence to justify. The Coal Commission informs me that only 12½ per cent, of the disputes which have led to coal stoppages have had an industrial basis, and that the balance were in respect of matters which were outside any industrial grievance. Well, I am shocked that that should be the case. I confess that the problem of dealing with it requires government action. I want to face the facts, and let the country know that governments have no right yet in British communities to take the body of a man, dump him down a coal mine, and say, “ You must work there “. The Government can direct the man to work there, and, when he fails to work there, prosecute him in the civil court for failing to obey the law.
– What is the Government’s man-power department for?
– The man-power department has no other remedy. It can only direct a person to work. Is it held by the Opposition that the Crown has rights to detain citizens without judicial process ?
– Ask the Minister for the Army that question ; he knows !
– He is dealing with security. The charge against these men is that they will not work, an entirely different state of affairs. I admit that these men do not work, 1 acknowledge that they ought to be prosecuted, and I say that they will be prosecuted. I have made that very plain.
– The Prime Minister said that before.
– Yes, I did, and, like my predecessors, I have been encouraged to believe that when certain prosecutions were withdrawn, a better state of mind would be created and the embitterment caused by them would disappear. I acknowledge that. I have tried to promote the utmost goodwill in the industry in order to avoid friction. There have been other occasions when I have felt that the statements of the miners were not bona fide, and I have insisted that the prosecutions should go on. After all, when the fining or imprisonment of citizens is at issue, the law has to be enforced, not by ministers, but by courts. For instance, it was found that in the Civil Constructional Corps for which men were called up, if they did not work, then, very properly, the only action that could be taken was to institute legal proceedings against them. Only a magistrate or a judge can decide whether or not a person shall be detained. That power cannot be exercised by a minister, or by any instrumentality of government other than the judiciary.
A few weeks ago we heard a great deal from honorable members opposite about industrial conscription; but we do not hear so much about that topic to-day. All I can say is that if there does exist, outside the membership of the Australian Coal and Shale Employees Federation, a supply of labour which could operate the coal mines, the mine-owners do not know of it, because in their representations to me they have not made any such suggestion. It may be argued that in making that statement I have said something which might enable the coal miners to take concerted action, and say that they are independent of the Government.
– Hear, hear!
– Apparently the Leader of the Opposition believes that what I have said is not proper; but I wish to make it quite clear that if I could find outside the miners’ federation the qualified labour necessary to produce the coal required by this country, then, regardless of all other considerations, I would use that labour, together with federation labour or I would cease to be head of the Government.
– Would the right honorable gentleman throw the mines open to volunteer labour from the Army or elsewhere ?
– Had the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) endeavoured as I have endeavoured, to secure the release of men from the Army for purposes for which honorable members opposite generally have requested me to secure releases, and if he were aware of all the difficulties associated with such action, he would not ask such a question. In fact, we have released men from the Army to supplement labour forces in the coal mines. I have already said that there are 800 more men engaged in the industry to-day than two years ago. Some of these men have come from the Army.
– Make it 1,600 and more coal might he produced.
– There is no more such labour available in the Army.
Finally, I admit that the Government has exerted every endeavour to obtain the maximum goodwill of men engaged in the coal-mining industry. I acknowledge that from time to time representatives of the unions have made representations to the Government that certain things be done to improve the conditions of the workers in the coal-mining industry in order that increased production might result. I have succumbed to those representations. I acknowledge quite frankly that the union, from time to time, has requested me to do certain things or not to do certain things, and that I have acted in accordance with my judgment, in order that the output of coal might be increased. I acknowledge that I have tried what has been called appeasement; that I have even gone so far as to offer to introduce certain legislation into this Parliament. It is true, also, that I have tried the “ mailed fist “ by prosecuting large numbers of men because they have failed to carry oat the direction that they should do their work. There is on our statute-book a law which deals with this matter, and I say to the House, but more directly I say to the industry, that that law will be enforced ruthlessly.
– This time?
– I make no qualification about this time or any other time. I trust that the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) will believe me when I say that I have no desire to say something merely to please the Opposition. I repeat, that the law which we have passed in respect of the coalmining industry will be enforced ruthlessly against all those to whom it can be applied validly, whether they be workers or members of the employing organizations. The idea of assuming control of a mine in which a dispute of a non-industrial character has occurred will not be entertained. Where disputes of an industrial character do arise, and are germinated either by provocation or in difference on the part of the management, then, should an examination of the position satisfy us that control by the Government would increase production, the mine or mines concerned will be controlled; but no mine will be taken over or controlled merely for the sake of taking it over or controlling it. The only justification for the exercise of control, surely, must be that control would result in greater production. I venture to say, however, that the men who go on strike under the present management of a mine would go on strike under any other kind of management. Therefore, strikes must be stamped out. I say to the union that it will be destroyed if it cannot exercise discipline over its members, and I accept also as logical, the fact that the Government will be destroyed unless it also can enforce discipline.
– Honorable members on this side of the chamber view with the greatest concern the present position in the coal-mining industry in its relation, to the war effort of this country. One can view only with pity the admission by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) that, in effect, the Government is powerless to stamp out the lawlessness in the coal-mining industry. The right honorable gentleman said that the industry would be disciplined, and that the law would be enforced with the greatest rigour. No doubt the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), who is immediately concerned with this particular matter, will, spaak in this debate, and when he doe3, I should like him to answer certain questions. The president of the miners’ federation, Mr. Wells, has said that fines totalling £1,800 have been imposed upon coal-miners in the last two years - that is at the rate of £900 a year. I ask the Minister to say how many miners have paid their fines, and how much of that £1,800 has been paid by the miners themselves and how much by the miners’ lodge. I also ask the Minister to inform the House of the number of working hours lost in the coal-mining industry through absenteeism during the two years to which those fines had relation. In short, what was the loss of coal caused by the’ offences represented in those fines?
Disputes in the coal-mining industry have been discussed in this House so frequently that it, is not necessary to reiterate that numerous conferences have been held, regulations issued, and threats, warnings and appeals made by this Government since it took office in October, 1941. I remind honorable members, however, that regulations were issued in January. February, and April of 1942, during which year many conferences were also held. Last year, the regulations were again amended, and conferences were held in September, October, and November to devise ways and means by which coal production could be increased, as it was realized that a substantial increase of production was indispensable to an all-in war effort. The Leader of the Opposition has pointed out that six-sevenths of the coal production of Australia comes from the coal mines of New South Wales and that in that State the stoppages have been most frequent. Apparently, no regard whatever has been paid by the coal-miners of New South Wales to the effect, of dislocations in the industry upon the nation’s war effort. Members of the Australian Country party, like members of the United Australia party, have realized the difficulties that the Government has had to face in striving to secure a greater production of coal, and, consequently, have extended to the Government every possible consideration. We have been most patient. But it must be realized now that the whole subject has become the concern not of the coalmining industry alone, but also of every other industry, and of the nation as a whole because it involves the fulfilment of Australia’s war obligations to its Allies. The Prime Minister on this occasion, and other persons on other occasions, have made comparisons of the coal production of Australia in the pre-war years and the war years, but that, to say the least of it, is a very unwise procedure. It will not help the situation to remind the coal-miners and others engaged in the industry that Australia’s production of coal is greater to-day than it was in 1939, 1940, or in some other years. Such comparisons create an unreal psychological atmosphere and even tend to increase lawlessness in the industry. The circum stances to-day are entirely different from those of pre-war years. Production has been stepped up in every industry in Australia since the entry of Japan into the war in December, 1941, and the question to-day is not whether we are doing as well as we did in pre-war years, but whether, in fact, we are achieving the maximum coal production of which the country is capable in order that we maymerit the emergency conditions of these days and fulfil our obligations to our Allies. No unbiased person who surveys the present position in the coalmining industry can possibly be satisfied with the present declining production, however favorable he may desire to be towards the view of the coal-miners. The searchlight of inquiry must be thrown upon this industry. The Prime Minister has said, time and time again, that the coal-mining industry has given him more concern than has any other industry in the Commonwealth, and that our inadequate coal production has militated against an all-in war effort in this country. To-day, we have the spectacle of a form of paralysis spreading throughout industry in Australia by reason of the dangerous shortage of coal supplies. The coal-miners must be told that a greater effort must be made, and stronger disciplinary measures must be taken in the industry, in order that other industries in Australia, and other trade unionists, shall not suffer through an avoidable lack of coal. Every industry in the country is facing dislocation because of the necessity to ration coal. The unpatriotic atmosphere in which the coal-mining industry is being ‘Operated must be changed. Unless the present position be remedied, needless unemployment, the degree of which cannot be calculated, will overtake Australian industries at a time when every possible effort should be directed towards stimulating production of every description in order to consolidate the successes which, happily, are being won on the European battlefields, and in other theatres of the war. Unless such an effort can be made, there may be unhappy repercussions not only in the Pacific but also elsewhere.
In the course of his remarks to-day, the Prime Minister attempted to find an excuse for the present situation in the attitude adopted towards the coal-mining industry by previous governments as far back as 1929. He also stated that in 1941 the Menzies Government had indicated that in its view the stepping-up of coal production was not a matter for government action, and that the prevention of strikes and stoppages in this industry was a matter for the courts. Let me also refer to such recent history. During the period of office of the Menzies Government, leave was obtained to bring down a bill to effect amendments to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act in order to permit certain, disciplinary measures to be applied to the then striking coal-miners. The present Prime Minister, who was then Leader of the Opposition, urged the Government to postpone consideration of the bill, and, in support of his , plea. he brought to the notice of honorable members the following resolution reached at a conference of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions on the 5th June, 1941 : -
This congress recalls and reaffirms the declaration of the New South” Wales and Victorian branches of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions and other sections of the Trade union movement in 1930, and the Trade Union Congress of 1940, supporting the war against Hitler and Fascism. We record our uncompromising determination to continue the struggle against the aggressor Powers endeavouring to destroy personal liberty, industrial and political freedom, the right of collective bargaining and association, and therefore pledge the Trade Union movement to work for the swift and complete victory for the cause of democracy against aggression and oppression. We affirm that to prevent the possibility of individual profiteering by the war there should be brought about the immediate nationalization of the arms industries and the utilization of the national credit. We demand a substantial immediate improvement in the standard of life and freedom of speech and assembly.
If that resolution meant anything it surely meant that the trade union movement of Australia intended to co-operate wholeheartedly with the Menzies Government in its war effort. A Labour government was not in office at that time, but the Leader of the Labour party in *his Parliament made a strong appeal to the ‘Government to postpone consideration of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbi- tration Bill and the then Prime Minister acceded to the appeal. For this reason, I submit that it is entirely unfair for the present Prime Minister to allege that the Menzies Government paid no regard whatsoever to the position of the industry at that time, and was prepared to leave the matter to the courts. To interpret the action of the Menzies Government in that way is to give an entirely false impression of the position. The intention at that time was to set up a special tribunal and to institute specific measures for the rigorous enforcement of the law, yet the proposal was deferred at the personal request of the then Leader of the Opposition. The members of this Parliament are the trustees of the people of Australia. This matter does not merely concern the coalmining industry and those who are directly associated with it; it affects the safety and security of every man, woman and child in Australia, as well as our international relationships and our responsibility to our Allies in the prosecution of the war. It is obvious that the whole basis of our industrial activity in connexion with the War is the production of the quantity of coal that is needed. The time has passed for further perseverence with the methods that have so far failed to induce the coalminers to produce the quantity of coal required. The matter is one of whether the malcontents in the miners’ federation, or the elected representatives of the people in this Parliament, are to govern this country. Too much reliance has been placed on “ kid-glove “ handling of the miners. The Prime Minister has allowed himself to be fooled by the continuous promises of the miners’ federation. I wholeheartedly support the statements of the Leader of the Opposition. The position to-day is equivalent to that which would be caused by a general strike, because of what will be the effect upon numerous industries if a remedy be not found and applied. There must be a “ show down “ ; the sooner the better.
– What does the right honorable gentleman mean?
– The miners must be told that the government of this country is in the hands of the elected representatives of the people. Promises, appeasement, appeals and conferences have become dangerously tedious, and should no longer be tolerated. Last October, the Prime Minister placed before this House a formula which had the wholehearted support and co-operation of. the Leader of the Opposition and myself. It provided that the coal mines should be mechanized; that men should be taken from other industries and employed in the mines; and that a second shift should be worked on the South Maitland field. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. laines) was appointed liaison officer between the unions and the Prime Minister. A coal plan was introduced, and the Prime Minister made the important declaration that the Government intended that malcontents and irresponsibles should be weeded out of the industry. To what degree has that formula been implemented? The Prime Minister read this afternoon a long statement in justification of what the Government had done in connexion with mechanization, the most noteworthy feature of which was that it referred only to the mines of Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, whereas six-sevenths of the total coal production of Australia comes from the coal-mining areas of New South Wales, which are the scenes of industrial lawlessness. We have been told that 800 men have been added to the coal-mining industry, and the startling fact has been admitted that, despite the increase of man-power, coal production has declined. If we are to assume that that rate of decline would be maintained with further additions, it is fortunate that the number was not 8,000 instead of 800. When it was said that a second shift was to be worked on the South Maitland field, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) interjected that the miners’ federation would not agree to such a proposal. I repeat: Who has been entrusted with the Government of this country - the miners’ federation or the gentlemen who occupy the front treasury bench? The malcontents and irresponsibles were to have been weeded out of the industry. In justification of inaction in that regard, we have been told that the mine-owners objected to the removal of those men, and requested their release from the Army when they had been called into it. If what the Prime Minister said is correct, one is entitled to ask: Are the mine-owners responsible for the government of this country? That the Government should respect their wishes, and thus act against the best interests of Australia, is an astounding proposition. The Prime Minister has stated in no uncertain terms that the irresponsibles and malcontents are the real cause of the dislocation and lawlessness in the industry. Are those men to be allowed to remain in it simply because, as the Prime Minister claims, it is the wish of the mine-owners? We have indisputable evidence that production is declining in consequence of the continued employment of these irresponsibles in the mines. Not only are they themselves refusing to work, but in addition they are encouraging absenteeism and strikes on the part of others. If weeding them out would be in the best interests of Australia, they should be removed, even though temporary dislocation or reduction of production might ensue. Instead, they have been “ weeded in “, and have been led to believe that they are indispensable. That is one of the serious results of the Government’s encouragement of them. The Leader of the Opposition stated the position aptly when he criticized the tradition that coal mining is to be regarded as the prerogative of a certain class of men whose fathers and grandfathers had engaged in it. The sooner the miners are made to believe that others can do their work, the sooner will they realize their responsibility to either get on with the job or get out and make room for others who will do so. The miner is told that his production to-day is greater than it was in other years. That consoles him. He says, “ The Government is satisfied, because we are now producing more than we produced under Menzies, Fadden, or any one else “. That is a very bad state of mind to encourage. He is also told that he is an indispensable unit in the industry, and that nobody else can take his job; that not only can he not be weeded out, but also that, having been called up for military service, he has to be recalled to the industry. The sole result so far achieved by these measures which the Government has adopted, is a lower production than was the case twelve months ago. It is time the Government discarded the policy of appeasement, and grappled with the position in the full-blooded manner the people expect of it. The present ostrich-like attitude must not continue. Too much is dependent upon the production of coal, and the position is too grave for action to be further delayed, even though temporary dislocation may be caused to industry generally. The Prime Minister should not persevere further with the miners’ federation. If anomalies have arisen, and injustice has been done to the miners, judicial and other machinery has been provided for the adjustment of their grievances. The sooner the Government grapples with the problem of coal production, and furnishes an answer to the question which is being asked by the people - whether the control of the affairs of this country is in the hands of the Commonwealth Government or the miners’ federation - the sooner will a maximum war effort be achieved.
– Putting aside political considerations, and disregarding the side of the House on which honorable members sit, we all must bc disturbed about the serious position in the coal-mining industry. I do not conceal the fact that I have been worried about the matter for a long time. As has been said, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), the problem is not a new one; it seems to be constantly with us. The man-power problem in industry generally has presented great difficulty in securing the increased production which the circumstances of war have rendered necessary, and it must be agreed that, had it not been for the development and co-operation of the industries of Australia, our plight during the last two years would have been most serious. To some degree, I welcome the ventilation of the coal problem in the House to-day, for it may give rise to more serious thought in many quarters regarding the matter than has hitherto been given to it. I hope that the trade unionists of Australia outside the mine fields will pay heed to the situation which has arisen. I am pleased to know that the trade union with which I am associated took steps last week to draw the attention of organized labour to the seriousness of the present position with regard to coal supplies.
Coal production has been hampered by industrial trouble in the United States of America and in the United Kingdom, as well as in Australia. Strangely enough, throughout the world, this industry has experienced a great deal of industrial unrest. It may be because of the unnatural conditions under which coal-miners are called upon to work. Their labour underground deprives them of much of the sunlight and fresh air which other workers, in the main, enjoy. Whatever may be the causes of the unrest and industrial disputes in this industry - and I do not feel competent to state them fully - the fact remains that loss of production is not uncommon in other parts of the world. If the House will bear with me, I shall furnish a few figures indicative of the situation in Great Britain. Despite the intense anxiety and suffering experienced by the people of Great Britain ever since the commencement of hostilities - even at the moment London and other parts of Southern England are being attacked by flying bombs - it is somewhat amazing that the same attitude as that adopted by miners in Australia to the problem of coal production is found in a country where an adequate supply of coal is vitally important, not only for the maintenance of British industries, but also in the supply of that commodity for countries until recently occupied by the enemy. As the war progresses, and countries such as France, Belgium, and Holland are freed of the enemy, the need for an ample coal supply must be even greater than at present.
For the year ended the 30th October, 194;3, according to figures issued by the British Ministry of Fuel and Power, the output of saleable coal was only 195,356,000 toms, compared with 206,344,000 tons in 1941, when approximately 13,000 fewer men were employed in the mines. The production fell, in round figures, by 11,000,000 tons. Compared with 1941, more men are employed in the mining industry in Great Britain, but they are working fewer shifts a week, and are producing less coal a shift. From 1941 to the end of 1943 absenteeism has increased by almost 30 per cent. In 1939 the average number of shifts worked weekly by each wage-earner in the British industry was 5.15. From January to June, 1942, this average had been increased to 5.36 shifts. Between July and December, 1942, the average number of shifts a week dropped to 5.3. It fell in the first quarter of 1943, and again in the second quarter, and it reached its lowest point in the last quarter of that year when it was 4.97. The number of shifts worked in Great Britain has been falling since the middle of 1942. Giving figures regarding absenteeism in the British coalmining industry, the Minister for Fuel and Power stated in the House of Commons that, in 1943, the voluntary absenteeism at the coal face was 6.4 per cent., and this represented a loss to the nation of 13,000,000 tons of coal a year. For the first twelve weeks of 1944, the production was 3,764,000 tons less than for the corresponding period of 1943.
– That is a small loss by comparison with the loss in Australia.
– I am merely drawing the attention of honorable members to the strange fact that, despite the gravity of the war conditions, the kind of mentality exhibited by workers in the coal-mining industry in Australia is found in the very heart of the Empire. We all know how great must be the anxiety of the people in Great Britain with regard to the struggle in which we are engaged. Yet the number of man shifts lost in the coal-mining industry there owing to industrial disputes was 730,000 in 1940, 260,000 in 1941, 390,000 in 1942, and 810,000 in 1943. This year the number has already reached 1,790,000. We realize, therefore, that loss of coal production, which has become a major problem in Australia, is experienced in other parts of the world. In the United States of America, control has been taken of the mines by governmental authorities. They ran up the country’s flag, and took other means of dealing with the situation ; but good ground existed for the disputes which arose in the industry in that country, because prices had got largely out of control. Prices had risen and the purchasing power of the men’s wages had correspondingly declined, so that they were unable to meet their commitments. This gave rise to many disputes, and the demands of the men were generally met. To those who are disposed to condemn the Commonwealth Government on the ground that it has applied a policy of appeasement, to those who say that it ought to have taken stronger action and exercised its disciplinary powers in order to force the men to work, I put this consideration: It would have been a sorry thing for Australia if, at any time during the last two years, there had been a general hold-up in the coalmining industry. The most effective answer to the critics of the Government is, that up to the moment, we have been able to obtain enough coal to meet our needs, and our needs have been greater than normal by many million tons because of the demands of the war. We have passed through that crisis. With the aid of those who have pulled their weight in this effort, we staved off invasion and prevented the bombing of our capital cities. We were able to listen with pride and satisfaction to the statement of the Prime Minister yesterday, in which he traced the course of events in Europe and in our own theatre of war. Let us be thankful that the danger was averted, and when we reflect upon how much better is our position to-day than it was in 1941-42, let us put that on the credit side, at any rate. Perhaps the Government’s policy of appeasement wa3 justified. We all are here to-day, we are safe, and in possession of our freedom, which is an important thing. It is said that all good things come to an end, and it may be that all bad practices have their limits, too. Perhaps the bad practices which have created the present situation in the coal-mining industry have had their day. Industrial workers outside the coal-mining industry now realize how dependent they are upon the maintenance of coal supplies. They may now have a better appreciation of the problems with which the Government has been confronted, so that in the future the Government may obtain more support from them than has been forthcoming up to the present. The Leader of the Opposition referred to the prestige of government, and he suggested that what had been occurring on the coal-fields has undermined that prestige, that it has even raised the question: Who is actually governing the country? I suggest that the loss of government prestige ex-tends a good deal beyond the coal-mining industry. Perhaps the war is responsible, but the fact remains that there is evident a growing disrespect for the Crown, as represented by the Government. Members of Parliament are themselves a good deal to blame for this, and I do not exclude myself. We tend constantly to depreciate our own institutions which, with all their faults, are the institutions in defence of which the war is being fought, and for which hundreds of thousands of good men have given their lives. I suggest that we all should take the hint.
The leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) said that the Government had not applied its policy of mechanization to the New South Wales coal-fields. I point out that the Government has made a determined effort to introduce the open-cut method of mining in the Western District at Commonwealth. The production from this mine is now 1,000 tons a day, and it is hoped to increase production to 3,000 tons a day. To the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) belongs the credit of having consistently advocated the open-cut method of mining, and perhaps I and other members of the Government may be open to criticism for not having previously acted upon his advice. He has always said that we should not continue to be dependent upon the willingness of men to work in the bowels of the earth. I now believe that the sooner the miners are prepared to accept a method which will release many of them from the necessity to go underground, the better it will be for the industry, and for the country generally.
It may be argued that the Government should have taken action two years ago to introduce such a reform, but I point out that it was practically impossible to obtain machinery with which to introduce the open-cut method of mining, or even for the mechanization of existing mines. AH our activities were concentrated upon war production, and although I admit that the winning of coal is as important as any other form of war production, the fact remains that, for the time being, we had no energies to spare from the production of aircraft, munitions of war, &c, so that our men would be able to go into battle at least as well equipped as the enemy.
While I was abroad I had discussions on the subject of obtaining supplies of machinery. We sent in frequent requisitions, but the authorities at Washington told me that, as the enemy was pushed out of the countries which he had overrun, he would destroy industrial installations, including mining machinery, and the provision of plant to make good that ^destruction would fall heavily on the shoulders of Great Britain and its Allies. No hope was held out to me that Australia would be able to get this plant, notwithstanding that requisitions for it had been submitted more than two years ago. There is no avoiding that situation. I am sure that honorable members will appreciate how dimcult it was to press Australia’s claim in such circumstances, particularly when coal-miners in Australia were not working full time. I confess that I found the situation most awkward.
The Government will develop the opencut system of winning coal to the fullest degree possible, even if that means obtaining for the purpose equipment which otherwise would be used by the Allied Works Council. The situation is being studied carefully with a view to making certain t plant available for open-cut mining. At Blair Athol, in Queensland, the coal seam is about 36 feet thick, with an overburden about 30 feet deep. The problem there is not so much the winning of the coal, as that the coal has to be transported about 300 miles over a single track narrow-gauge railway line. It is almost impossible to duplicate that railway line, but the Government believes that it should remove the overburden in order to obtain as much coal as possible from the deposits there. The Leader of the Australian Country party seems to have overlooked the point that by developingcoal supplies in other States two purposes are accomplished. First, it makes those other States less dependent on New South Wales for their coal - a point which honorable members from States other than New South Wales will appreciate - and, secondly, it tends to reduce the price of coal because of lower transport charges. The transport of coal is an important factor, particularly in war-time. I am happy to say that the shipping position is regarded as satisfactory. Nevertheless, the Government regards the policy of, developing coal mines in other States as a sound one, even if it involves the payment of a Commonwealth subsidy. The Government has no desire to do anything to injure existing fields in Tasmania or to deprive men in that State of employment. Therefore our efforts to open up new seams in that State will be followed by steps being taken to find markets in Victoria for Tasmanian coal.
– Why not subsidize coalmining?
– In the development of the Blair Athol deposit an expenditure of about £60,000 is contemplated. The production of coal is so important that the chief consideration is not the cost of obtaining it but rather that it shall be obtained.
– How soon is it expected that coal will be obtained by the open-cut method at Blair Athol ?
– Work on the open cut is in hand, but more mechanical plant is required. Some time ago the Government obtained a big mechanical shovel from Mount Morgan. Another one is on the way to Australia, and when it arrives, that equipment will probably be sent to Blair Athol. If necessary, other arrangements will be made. The Government is keen to develop open-cut mining there.
– Has the Government made any representations to the Government of Queensland with a view to obtaining coal from Collinsville?
– The Premier of Queensland was in Canberra recently and he stated that his Government was willing to do anything in its power to obtain coal at Collinsville or elsewhere in that State. I found him most willing to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government in this manner. As the Prime Minister has said, 12½ per cent of the disputes on the coal-fields have their origin in industrial matters. I should not worry greatly if those were the only disputes to which the Government had to give attention, because I do not expect that we shall ever have complete harmony in the coal industry. I do not believe that that is possible, but if we could eliminate half of the disputes arising from other causes, we should go a long way towards solving the problem of coal supplies. We hear from time to time of all sorts of reasons for work in the coal mines being held up. If it be true that there is a section of miners who are deliberately taking advantage of the loyalty of good men, as the Leader of the Opposition said was the case, I agree with him that they ought to be removed from the industry. I believe too that the miners’ federation would be the first to remove them. Recently, on one of the western coalfields a dispute originated with some clipper boys. I fear that any appeal made to them to regard the country’s need for coal as the paramount consideration makes no impression on them. I pay a tribute to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) for what- he has done to preserve peace in the coalmining industry. The honorable gentleman has done much of which the public knows nothing to keep the mines working. At times that involves meeting the men at the pit-top early in the morning. I fear that the honorable member has worked harder and longer in the interests of the men than their ingratitude indicates. He has discussed with me, and with the wiser men associated with the industry, various matters which have led to disputes in the past. I cannot explain why mere boys have recently been able to influence the older men as they have done. The Government has undertaken a number of investigations with a view to solving these problems, and, as has been stated during this debate, the Prime Minister has made a number of statements regarding the trouble on the coalfields. The Government has been accused of following a policy of appeasement, but, notwithstanding the criticism that has been levelled against it, the fact remains that, so far, the country has been supplied with its essential requirements of coal. We have kept our war industries going. We have maintained the supplies necessary to keep our ships moving on our coast. We have supplied the needs not only of our own fighting forces, but also those of our allies in this country. That has been a great accomplishment. I pay tribute to the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, who has worked round the clock in order to do that. He has shown wonderful loyalty to me personally as Minister for Supply and Shipping, and to the Government and the country. We have now struck this bad patch. It is true that coal at grass has almost run out. Supplies of coal in Victoria and South Australia have been no more than sufficient to meet the needs from day to day. I have marvelled at the Coal Commissioner’s capacity to keep those States supplied and their industries going. My department has had to keep ships standing by in the port of Newcastle in order to ensure that shipping should be there when coal came. What Mr. Mighell has had to do would probably be enough to kill half-a-dozen other men; but he was able to keep the coal supplies moving in sufficient quantities during a period when, as we all know, this country had its back to the wall. As all good things come to an end, so too must evil practices. I believe that we have reached that stage now. The Leader of the Opposition said that if disciplining the miners meant a three months’ struggle, let us have it. Well, we have tried to avoid that kind of thing. We have experienced what happens on the coal-fields when attempts are made to lay the heavy hand of authority on the coal-miners. We have vividly in our minds the struggle at Rothbury between the miners and authority. We have steered a course contrary to all these things and I have no doubt that our policy has been correct. I still have hopes that the combined thought of organized labour will be brought to bear on this subject. I do not want that to be interpreted as meaning that the Government is walking out on its responsibilities. It cannot do that. It must meet the country’s needs or cease to govern. The paramountcy of the parliamentary system must be maintained. It is as important to me and my family as it is to other honorable members and their families that the democratic form of government shall continue. It is with no political purpose that I throw into the ring the fact that those who voted “ No “ at the referendum voted that way to ensure their liberty and their right to work when and where they felt disposed. Government must go on.
I have not discussed the question of who should bear the responsibility for the coal position. In some instances the mine-owners could have adjusted the difficulties that had arisen. It is also true, as the Prime Minister said, that we have inherited at a critical period in our existence an unfortunate legacy. While I was abroad I read some interesting articles about power and its use. The writer discussed the methods of those who ruled in the United States of America prior to the advent of the present Administration. He described how big business and finance exercised power with total disregard of the masses of the people. Then he went on to say that, having used that power without proper balance, they suffered the consequences in the policy of the present United States Administration. He contended that, while power transfers from one side to the other, the principle of balanced use of that power is equally important to both sides. He pointed out how the people react violently against misuse of power in any direction. I therefore say to the miners that, if taking advantage of our policy of appeasement they do things which, because of the war, make difficulties for the Administration, they may be creating on the debit side something for which they will be really sorry when the existing circumstances change. As the Prime Minister said, we have inherited a legacy from those who got on to the mine-fields early and took the best seams and drew the highest dividends in the quickest time. They picked the eyes out of the industry, showing total disregard for the conditions of the workers, and then sold their shares. There is no doubt tb at the life which the miners had to live then was such as no man should be required to live. The mine-owners in those days used their power without balance. Many of those who were in the industry then are not in it now. Conditions, too, have changed, but unfortunately the Government has inherited a legacy from the past. Regarding control, the objective of the Commissioner is to secure production. If we take over a mine or mines, we must, be sure of the maintenance of at least existing output. Involved in this matter is the problem of supervision because, as Minister charged, with the administration of the coal-mining regulations, I do not want to have on my bands the blood of hundreds of miners entombed or gassed because of faulty administration or incompetent management or superintendence. The question of control of the mines is not easy of solution. It requires careful organization and, perhaps more important, competent direction. I am informed that Richmond Main colliery is the most difficult in the world to manage. My administration will be judged, not so much on spectacular achievements as on the effective things I have done to ensure the meeting of the needs of the community and the safety of all those men who will be involved. The Prime Minister has had a most difficult task. No man could have suffered more within from the problems of coal production. I have sat with him at conferences held to discuss coal production. His speeches at those conferences were far more forceful than anything ever uttered in this Parliament. [.Extension of time granted.] It is fitting that I should, pay my tribute to him for his efforts to maintain coal production. I must also pay tribute to the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) who acted for me during my illness and my absence overseas. He also did all kinds of things tei keep coal moving from the mines to the community. If what we have done to ensure the production of the coal necessary to keep industry in operation deserves condemnation, I know that we shall be big enough to take it. But I urge honorable members to keep in their minds the fact, that we have a most difficult problem, the solution of which would be equally as difficult for the Opposition, if it were in office, as it is for us. I ask them to have a kind thought for us in all these difficulties. We will do our best, and no one can do more.
.- I support the motion of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) who propounded eloquently and thoroughly the case against the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) made a reply, which, summed up, means that he is worried over this problem. He has promised that in future offenders in the industry will be prosecuted. However, the maximum punishment for inciting a strike is only £2, and we know that the fine, if paid at all, is usually paid by the union. I compliment the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), whom we are glad to see in good health again, upon the moderation of his utterances to-day. There is much merit in all his arguments. The installation of more machinery, and the extension of the open cut method, will probably increase production. Indeed, at the end of the last war a similar set of circumstances led Victoria to resolve, in the words of the late Sir John Monash, that it would no longer be >an industrial vassal of New South Wales. Consequently that State embarked upon the immense brown coal scheme at Yallourn. That’ undertaking is completed, and the State is largely electrified. Were it not so, I shudder to think what would be the position in Victoria if it had to rely upon New South Wales coal to-day. The people generally are gravely concerned over the unsatisfactory position existing in the coal-mining industry. They have felt the impact of the troubles in industry through restrictions upon production and transport, and they now perceive the drift towards industrial anarchy because the powerful union in this industry seems to be able to go its own w.ay unchecked. The futility and pusillanimity of the Government in dealing with this problem completely warrant this motion of censure. I hope that as the result of the motion, we shall have from the Government less speech and more action in the future. The Government is cognizant of all the facts. It is useless for it to wring its hands, and to endeavour to dismiss the problem by saying that in future any miner who breaks the law will be prosecuted. We have heard too much of that kind of talk already. On my first appearance in this House upon my return to Australia after an absence abroad of two years, I heard a speech by the Prime Minister upon the industry, and I was most impressed by what he was going to do to remedy its troubles. He then said that the disputes in the industry were attributable to irresponsibles consisting of billiard saloon markers, racing-dog trainers and the like, and that these men were the cause of ;all the trouble. He led us to believe that he intended to purge the industry of that class of people. It almost brought tears to our eyes to see how moved he was upon the subject. Three months later, when I asked him what action had been taken in that direction, I was informed that 76 men had been pushed out of the union. But from other sources I learned that those 76 men could not be classified as irresponsibles. I was told that they had retired owing to illness, or old-age or had enlisted. Therefore, the position in the industry to-day is no different from that existing at the time when the Prime Minister made all those promises. All this wringins: of hands on the part of Ministers, and more and more promises, mean nothing to me now. Recently, following one of the numerous coal conferences held - another conference is to be held on Friday - the Prime Minister stated -
Coal stocks were in a grievous condition because of a veritable state of anarchy in the industry. Industry and essential services are threatened. This country would .be unable to carry out the Australian part of the plan which I put to the British Prime Minister and as the result of which substantial British forces will be here very shortly.
Mr. Churchill would be entitled to say to me, “ You come here to ask us to do things, to send ships of fighting character, to base them in certain places, and you have not coal to maintain the industrial effort on which this fighting effort in the final analysis rests.
If the present situation in the coal-mining industry is allowed to continue we cannot deservedly expect help. In spite of the magnificent work of the members of our fighting services, how can Australia claim that it is playing its part if our industry lets down those services? Our industrial effort does not match the efforts being made by our service personnel. The Prime Minister (Mr. ‘Curtin), the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) and .the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) have recently been abroad. They know that in overseas countries the name of the Australian fighting man ranks high. The people of Great Britain, Canada, and the United States, for instance, hold in the highest esteem Australian members of air crews who are flying in European skies, and in all theatres from Iceland to Burma, as well as to the north of Australia. Units of our Navy have served on the seven seas, and the members of the Australian Imperial Force have achieved an incomparable record in the Middle East and New Guinea. However, members of the Government, who have been overseas know that from time to time the people in Great Britain read the most amazing news about Australia itself. They read that strikes have taken place in this country in essential industries on the flimsiest pretexts. In such circumstances, the British public are bewildered, and ask themselves whether the people engaged in such industries are Australians like those fighting men whom they hold in such high esteem. Undoubtedly, they have the greatest appreciation of Australian servicemen and their dependents, but they feel that somewhere at home something is wrong when a union can flout the government of the day. We are witnessing the greatest crisis in the world’s history. Democracy itself is in the dock. It is being challenged by totalitarian forces. To-day, fortunately, we can breathe more freely, but coming back to Australia from countries which have suffered the ravages of war, one feels that he is entering a dream world, because of the unrealism so prevalent in this country. Indeed, one could wish that a flying bomb would land in Canberra, or on the coal-fields. If that happened the coal-miners would change their outlook. Of course, no one would wish to witness casualties; but I suggest the resulting explosion and repercussions might produce a change of heart among the coal-miners, and among our people generally, and the unity about which we hear so much to-day be actually seen in practice. Such an experience would undoubtedly lead to greater production of coal. The Labour party in Great Britain has never baulked any essentia] proposal put forward by the British Government. Ever since the outbreak of war it has co-operated with the Government. For instance, it agreed to the complete conscription of the country’s man-power. In, every way it has cooperated with Britain’s great leader, a Conservative, who has as wide a vision as any other statesman living. Indeed, he has been the sword and buckler of our Empire. Yet, in Australia, coal-miners who live on the fat of the land strike against rationing, whereas, in fact, they hardly know what rationing means. In Great Britain the people are allowed a ration of meat to the value of ls. 2d. a week, 2 oz. of butter, 2 oz. of cheese, 4 oz. bacon, and one egg a month, whilst oranges are made available only to children under six years of age. Transport restrictions in Great Britain are immeasurably greater than in this country, and in Great Britain- a blackout is a blackout. All kinds of restrictions are placed upon the people. At the same time, the coal-miner in Australia has felt the impact of war only to the very minor degree mentioned by the Minister for Supply and Shipping. As Mr. Collindridge, a Labour member of the House of Commons, who was a coalminer, said on his recent visit to this country, the sufferings of the coal-miner in Great Britain would put the Australian coal-miner to shame. The Minister for Supply and Shipping said that talk of the war crisis would not have any appreciable effect upon the younger men in the coal mines. I agree with that statement, because I believe that like the Nazi youth, the Australian coalminers have been indoctrinated with fallacious reasoning with the result that they are living on the grievances of the past. They have been told that rapacious and avaricious coal-owners ground their fathers and grandfathers down, and that the mines were so dangerous that they should not -work in them. In that respect, they are like the people of Eire, who are still nursing grievances of a century ago against the British, even ‘though the British leave them alone. So, for paltry reasons, the coal-miners refuse to hew coal. I cite a few of the reasons why men went on strike recently. First, there was only standing room in the buses. Do we not see elderly women, and women with children, standing in crowded buses or trams, or having the greatest difficulty in getting standing room on public conveyances, because the shortage of coal has caused a reduction of transport? These lazy, irresponsible, selfish coalminers have placed that hardship upon the community. A second reason “for going on strike was that the seats in the bus were wet. The men ought to be pleased that seats were provided for them when they were going to work. In another instance, a boy could not find his boots, and would not accept another pair, so all the men went home and “daddy did not go down the mine “ that day. On a fourth occasion, the bus pulled up a few hundred yards short of the mine because the road was bad. That did not suit the miners, who went home. These paltry reasons for going on strike are almostunbelievable. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) will not deny that they are fantastic. If Lewis Carroll were alive to-day these happenings would provide him with material for a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. That these things could happen anywhere is almost inconceivable, yet they are happening not many miles from Canberra. Does the Government propose to wring its hands abjectly, and to plead with the miners to produce coal? Perhaps the Government would welcome a little assistance. The Opposition will gladly give that assistance.
– Would the honorable member give to the miners the same assistance as be gave to them in 1929?
– -Yes. I shall tell the honorable member what I did in 1929. At that time, the speeches of the honorable member for Hunter about the sufferings and misery of the miners almost brought tears to our eyes. In ray opinion, there have been less misery and hardship among coal-miners in Australia during the last 50 years than any unit of the services would experience in a day’s fighting. And the troops do not talk about it. When, in 1929, the honorable member for Hunter recited the sufferings of the coal-miners, I went to Rothbury minis to study the conditions for myself. The mine was practically surrounded by police for the purpose of protecting men, who wanted to work there, from attacks by members of the coal-miners’ organization. That condition of affairs prevailed at Rothbury, although Australia is supposed to be a free country. I do not claim to be a coal-miner, or to have a knowledge of the tremendous risks to which the miners are exposed, but my life has not been without hazards and excitement in other directions. When I went down the mine I found that the work which the men were performing there was no harder than it is in any other labouring industry. Some of the workers were Englishmen who had coane to this country, and who had not been able to obtain other employment. To keep body and soul together, they had taken jobs in that mine. An army of miners, armed with bludgeons, was travelling from mine to mine for the purpose of beating up the men who had accepted employment. They were intercepted by the police, and a battle royal ensued. The point which I desire to emphasize is that the Rothbury employees were able to earn from £8 to £10 a week. Not all of them were skilled, but they were getting coal. The skilled miners are not getting coal to-day. We want to see the coal mines in full operation and the men pulling their weight, as the rest of the community is doing, to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. Their refusal to work is shameful. As the representatives of the people, we should hang our heads if we cannot devise means to produce sufficient quantities of coal for war and civil requirements. We shall be recreant to our trust if we allow this trade union to defy the Commonwealth Government. Of course, no worker would dare to defy the miners’ federation. No man would dare to go down one of the pits if his fellow workers had gone on strike. The silence of the honorable member for Hunter implies that my statement is correct.
– I am listening to the honorable member with a. great deal of sympathy
– We have listened to the honorable member’s speeches for a long period. Now, we want, not sympathy, but action.
– The honorable member is repeating what he read in the press. His statements have whiskers on them.
– If this condition of affairs has prevailed for so long, it is regrettable that the honorable member for Hunter has not been able to induce the miners to return to work. Speeches delivered in this Parliament will not produce more coal. Speeches should not be made unless they are constructive and suggest remedies for the present deplorable situation.
– The honorable member for Hunter has done more than the honorable member for Balaclava has done to induce the miners to return to work.
– There still remain a large number who do not work. I pay a tribute to the efforts of the honorable member for Hunter to achieve peace on the coal-fields. He has not hesitated to criticize the miners when they have gone on strike. My remarks were not addressed particularly to my friend the honorable member for Hunter.
– Like a former member of this chamber, Mr. Gander, I shall probably lose many votes if it becomes known that the honorable member for Balaclava calls me his friend.
– The honorable member for Hunter is usually re-elected unopposed. I do not know why.
– It is his personality.
– It must be either his personality or his inaction.
– A moment ago the honorable member called me his friend.
– If this situation had arisen in the United States of America, which, like Australia, has not been invaded, the strikers would be drafted into the Army and troops would undertake production in the industry. But such a firm measure has always been shirked in this country. Miners in Great Britain, although they are underfed and their working conditions . are not so favorable as are those in Australia, have a better sense of the fitness of things than have coal-miners in Australia. I have no sympathy for the unscrupulous employer, but in Australia tyranny has changed its habitat. It no longer lives in the camp of the capitalist, but exists within the unions themselves. In a speech last night the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) declared that some years ago there was great merit in being a supporter of the Labour party, when one had to fight for better conditions. He added that a good deal of that merit had since disappeared. The right honorable gentleman uttered a great truth. The expressions of sympathy for the working man, who is having his face trodden by the capitalist, are so much nonsense. The employer is no longer able to trample on bis employees, even if he wanted to. All kinds of regulations, acts of Parliament and decisions of industrial tribunals, with exunion men as adjudicators, hedge in the employer and he must obey them. In the main, the Australian employer is no different from the employer elsewhere. He knows that if he -does not treat his employees in a reasonable manner, he will not get satisfactory results from their labour. But Australian coalminers have been pampered and cajoled and promised all manner of special concessions. The Prime Minister promised them that if they achieved his production target, he would submit to this Parliament a scheme for miners’ pensions. Now he has told them, “You are bad boys, so you will not be given pensions “. They are able to earn from £8 to £15 a week, of 40 hours, and payment commences from the time they begin to walk down the mine and ceases only when they leave it. No workmen in Australia have better conditions or are so pampered as are these spoiled darlings of the coal-mining industry, upon whom this Government looks with such a tolerant eye.
– Does not the honorable member realize that if they are on contract rates they are not paid during the time they are walking.
– Are all of them on contract rates?
– About 60 per cent, of them.
– About one miner in every six is a skilled worker. I obtained that information from an authority who knows as much about coal mines as does the honorable member for Hunter.
– Who is he?
– I shall not mention his name, but he was a prominent member of the Australian Labour party. All this talk about not being able to get other men to work in the mines should be put to the test. Let the man-power authorities investigate the situation. I said to the Prime Minister, by interjection, “ What is the Man Power Department doing?” He immediately and eloquently sidetracked the question, or he certainly did not answer it to my satisfaction. I am sure that he could provide the remedy by making certain that the irresponsibles that he has mentioned - those “ spielers and touts “ as he has more or less called them - were pulled out of the union, so that honest men could work. I am not criticizing the decent Australians who have done their jobs in the industry, but the youths who do not do theirs, and, as the Prime Minister says, do not understand what all the trouble overseas is about. They could then be handed over to the Man Power Department, and put into the fighting forces to learn something of discipline. It might be- a little late, but a trifle of hearty drill by a hearty sergeant-malor would do them a lot of good. What would be the use of any unit in the forces if the commanding officer constantly said to the bad boys, “ You must not do that kind of thing, that is” very naughty of you “. The morale of the unit would completely deteriorate, and it could be written off as an efficient force. Yet that has been the policy of appeasement which the Prime Minister has pursued towards these truculent, lazy and irresponsible men within the miners’ union. Those few have infected the better men, and are forbidding them to work. The position would be very different to-day if the Government decided to take them out of the industry and put them into the fighting forces, so that they could be trained and used where necessary. This would enable those men who have already been fighting for four or five years at ordinary army rates of pay to enter this highly paid industry. If they were not yet miners, they would soon be able to learn something about the work, and I guarantee that the ranks of the coal-miners would be soon filled. Every member of the House has had letters from men in primary and other industries, asking for their sons to be released from the forces, and from men who, although almost over age, rushed in and volunteered and fought; now they feel that they ought to get back to their businesses, but every honorable member knows the reply -he invariably gets when he makes application to the Army Department .for their release. Many young men who have had no opportunity of being apprenticed to a trade would rush the chance of getting into the coalmining industry. Let the Government give that policy a trial. In Russia, from which country at least one or two members of this chamber take their inspiration, the action -which would be taken in the event of a strike would surprise the Australian Communist, who is many years behind his Russian comrade. We saw a number of those gentlemen during the recent referendum campaign. They came out in force to support the “ Yes “ side. It suited them to get the whole control of freedom in this country centralized in Canberra, because it would be easier to knock it over when the time came. Every member opposite knows the difficulties which the “ Commos “ cause in the unions, and that the principal unions in Australia are dominated by Communists. The president of the coalminers union is a Communist; so are the -president of the Building Trades Labourers Union, the president of the Iron Workers Federation, and the president of the Munition Workers Union.
– Each of those is only one man.
– The honorable member knows how the Communists work. If a Communist is the dominant man in the union, he counts. Honorable members opposite, who believe in constitutional socialism, or other honest labour principles, have been pushed aside by these revolutionaries, who are living on an alien doctrine which already is out of date in the land of its birth. These men have control of industrialism in Australia, and a weak and apathetic Government is controlled and dictated to by them. Why not be up and doing, and expel them from the unions for a starts Let the unions be what they were intended to be - organizations for the betterment of the industrial conditions of their members.
– Would the right honorable member spurn Russia’s aid in this war?
– The attitude of the Australian Communist is entirely different from that of the Russian Communist. The Russian fights, but the other stays at home and ruins industry and our war effort. I used to think that it was best to leave the Communists alone, as people of rather disordered imaginations and somewhat amusing habits, but they are dangerous. Not one of them is British in sentiment or inspiration; they are opposed to all the traditions which members of this Parliament hold almost sacred. They are of no use to Britain or the British Empire, and, therefore, they are of no use to Australia. The Government is simply floundering pathetically when it talks of fining coal-miners in future. If that is all it can do, it evidently cannot deal with the canker in our midst.
– What would the honorable member do with the men?
– I mentioned what would be done in the United States of America, I said something about the United Kingdom, and a little about what would be done in Russia. Let me remind the honorable member how industrial trouble of this kind was dealt with in Australia in the past. The waterside workers strike in 1927-28 was a very unpleasant affair. Those men earned high wages, but they decided to strike because they would not accept an Arbitration Court award. They would not allow others to enjoy the high wages which were being offered on the waterfront, and they used violence to any one who approached the Melbourne wharfs with the idea of working there.
– That matter has no relation to the coal situation.
– The methods which were used in previous industrial troubles, such as the waterside workers’ strike and the seamen’s strike, could be used .effectively when coal-miners will not work. The decent working unionist who feels that he is doing something towards the war effort in his civil work would be left alone. He would be freed from the machinations of these disturbers, these irresponsible boys who need to learn what discipline is, and be taught something about their own country. I would license the coal-miners. Any man who wanted to work in a coal mine would have to take out a licence, just as the waterside workers had to do. Those undesirables referred to by the Prime Minister would be among those who could not and would not take out licences, because they would no longer be able to start strikes. Any man who was refused a licence would be given the right to appeal, not to the Man Power directorate or the Attorney-General, but to a court. In that way the wrong-doers would be effectively weeded out and a working nucleus of decent men would be secured, who would be glad to be rid of these disturbers. If others were needed, the man-power authorities could be told to fill the gaps. This Government and its supporters have exceptional opportunities. They have powers greater than those which were asked for in the referendum. Under the National Security Act they can do anything. They can say to the Director-General of Man Power, “ Get us 3,000 miners “, or they can ask for men who are ready to push trucks along, or to do any other of those multifarious jobs which we are told are difficult and skilled.
– Where would the miners be obtained?
– The man-power officer, who is in touch with the Army, could be told to ask any skilled men in the forces whether they wanted to transfer. He could accept any volunteers, and there would be plenty of others offering who would be ready to learn the work. As happened after the last war, the Repatriation Department could from this material turn out every kind of skilled operative. Has the honorable member never heard of vocational training? Under the vocational training scheme, introduced for ex-servicemen after the last war, thousands of returned soldiers were given industrial training. After they had enjoyed three months’ leave, those who wished to undertake vocational training were allowed to choose the industry they preferred, and in making that choice they were guided by representatives of various industrial unions and by officers of the Repatriation Department. When a trainee commenced work he was paid the full award wage prescribed for the industry. At first, only a portion of his wage was paid by his employer, the remainder being subsidized by the Government; then, as his efficiency increased, the proportion of his wage paid by his employer increased until the Government’s contribution ceased altogether. Surely such a scheme could be adopted in the coalmining industry now. I remind honorable members that in Great Britain today when boys attain the age of eighteen years they are given the choice of entering the armed forces or working in the coal mines. The situation on our coal-fields to-day should be faced resolutely. It is useless for the Government to promise repeatedly that something will be done. A fine of £2 for starting a strike is quite insufficient. That sum is mere “ pin money” to a coal-miner earning a minimum of £8 a week. From recollection, I think that the maximum penalty for the fourth offence is only £10. These men. are putting themselves above the law, and so long as they are permitted to flout the law as they have done in the past, coal production will not increase. The following statement, made by the Premier of South Australia (Mr. Playford), epitomizes the views held by many people in the community : -
Endless concessions have been made to the miners. One of their former union secretaries and Labour Ministers has been given powers superseding those of the Arbitration Court in fixing their wages and conditions. Cabinet Ministers wait on them cap in hand. More men have been released to the industry. The miners’ federation, apparently the strongest political force in Australia, has secured the remission of fines imposed in lawfully constituted courts and imposed its own penalties and it has obtained the release of strikers called up for military duties.
The public is not told what is happening. The people who do know seem blind to the consequences of the present policy.
We on this side of the chamber are not blind to the consequences. I believe that this matter has gone so far that the spirit which is being shown by the coal-miners may spread to other workers in Australia, who at present are endeavouring to do the right thing. I realize that honorable members opposite are worried about this matter, and that the views which have been expressed by Opposition speakers are shared by others. I have no doubt that some Government supporters would voice similar sentiments were it not for the fact that caucus fetters prevent them from doing so.
I realize that this censure motion will be defeated easily by the numbers of Government supporters, but I hope that it will be a lesson to the ‘Government and an indication that what is required is action and not words. Let us be done with fine speeches, and the multitude of fiats and conferences such as have been held in the past; let us have some real action such as the expulsion of recalcitrant miners from their union, or the release of volunteer workers from the Army. If the Government cannot remedy the position, it should get out and make way for a government that will.
.- From supporters of a motion of censure such as this, one naturally expects some constructive suggestions, but the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) indulged only in condemnation of the Government. Of course, members of the Opposition have not the responsibility of government upon their shoulders, and are at liberty to- be as destructive as they please, but I remind them that the administration of this country’s affairs is a responsible job, and which calls for a great deal more than the offering of mere carping criticism. I ha.ve been for many years in this Parliament, and I recall that, during my term on the Opposition benches, certain things were done by anti-Labour governments. The Leader of the Opposition said that we should forget the bad old days, but, unfortunately, those days cannot -be forgotten entirely. When the coalminers were locked out for fifteen months by the mine-owners in 1929, I was a new member of this House, and the circumstances of that lock-out are difficult to forget. The miners were merely notified that after fourteen days their wages would be reduced by 12-J per cent., despite the fact that such action was in contravention of Arbitration Court awards made under the Industrial Peace Act enacted by this Parliament. From recollection, I think that the awards concerned were made by the late Mr. Charles Hibble. After considerable agitation by myself and my colleagues on the Opposition benches the government of the day - the Bruce-Page Government - decided, just prior to the Easter recess, that the late Mr. John Brown would be prosecuted for having taken illegal action in locking-out the coal-miners. However, when Parliament went into recess, the prosecution was withdrawn. Therefore, if the Curtin Administration has withdrawn prosecutions, it has merely followed the precedent set down by the Bruce-Page Government.
In the course of my remarks I hope to make some constructive suggestions. T contend that, although honorable members opposite are not charged with the responsibility of government, their duty clearly is to be constructive in their criticism. So far, the Opposition speakers have merely said that the Government has done this or has done that, and they have quoted inaccurate statements from the press. We on this side of the chamber know quite well that the policy of the mine-owners is to flood the press with their own publicity, and apparently that publicity has succeeded in convincing the honorable member for Balaclava that the many bad things that are 6aid about the coal-miners are true. I should like to make it quite clear that I am not endeavouring for a moment to defend many of the industrial stoppages which have taken place. I have no doubt that some of them at least could have been avoided. But the people whom honorable members opposite defend must also bear their share of responsibility for the stoppages that occur. I intend to submit to honorable members a list of stoppages, which aggregate a loss of 2-63 days, and thereasons which caused work to cease. It will show clearly that, in relation to those 263 days at all events, the mineowners were wholly and solely to blame.
I come now to the subject of propaganda, and, in this connexion, I submit for the consideration of honorable members a letter signed by Henry Gregory Forster, the friend of some honorable gentlemen opposite and, possibly, of the honorable member for Balaclava, which will indicate the methods adopted by some coal-owners to hold the workers up to ridicule.
– I have never met the gentleman.
– Whether Mr. Forster is a friend of the honorable member for Balaclava or not, he is, doubtless, the friend of the honorable member for the coal-mining constituency of Bondi ! Unfortunately, it always seems to be my fate to precede that honorable gentleman in debates of this kind. I should be very glad to follow him on some occasions for I would then “ trounce his pants “. The letter signed by Mr. Forster refers to an organization which covers fourteen mines, and it reveals an attempt to increase the membership of the association. It is as follows: -
We write to you in reference to the industrial position prevailing in the coal-mining industry.
A number of companies, a list of which we enclose herewith, have formed an organization known as Northern Collieries Committee as the members felt that a committee of this description was badly needed to place more forcibly the owners’ view before the Central Reference Board and the many other local boards. We have, for some months past now, represented all our members in all industrial spheres, and the results have been quite successful.
On many occasions before the Central Reference Board we have felt that the position of other coal mine proprietors in other States, have not been placed as strongly as it could have been for their respective spheres, and on account of their local conditions. We believe that with closer co-operation with ourselves, and with local history of the case to go on, a much stronger case could bo presented on your behalf.
My committeemen have directed me to write to you suggesting that you become a member of this organization. The fee as you will see, is infinitesimal, but they believe that if we persuade you to join us in our application a much stronger fight could be put up against the ever-grasping and avaricious unions.
We have not been asleep to the value of newspaper propaganda in our interests; so much so that on many occasions union leaders have endeavoured to have us suppressed, and we can quote the fact that over the past six months more newspaper comment on behalf of the coal mine owner has been made than had occurred in the press for ten years previously. We suggest it must be apparent to you that newspaper propaganda carries a good deal of weight in influencing the outlook of the present Government and with this view in mind we never let an opportunity pass to place our side of the question fairly before the public. In doing so we believe we have made the public generally realize that the conditions under which the miners are working to-day are far above those of any other employee.
We have been successful in winning a number of cases before the local reference boards, which had they not been vigorously fought, would have resulted in even greater hardships having to be suffered by the coal mine owners.
I would point out to you that this committee is not dependent upon the subscriptions which you make to pay for its existence as it is supported by other coal interests.
We would be happy - and feel we can render you a great service - if you will permit us to represent you in the industrial sphere. Enclosed herewith is a copy of the rules, and we would be glad to have your reply at the earliest possible moment.
In conclusion, we would mention that before any action was taken on your behalf your full authority and counsel would be sought.
I direct attention to the paragraph which invites membership of the organization. Reference is made in it to the “ infinitesimal “ fee involved in membership and to the value of the organization in dealing with “ ever-grasping and avaricious unions “. That is not a bad expression. The letter also points out, as honorable members will see, that the organization was able, during the preceding six months, to obtain more press publicity in favour of the coal-owners than was obtained in the preceding ten years. I direct special attention, also, to the paragraph which states that the organization does not depend solely on the subscriptions of its members, but receives support .from other coal-mining interests. It would be interesting to know which interests are contributing. I do not know whether the honorable member for Balaclava went to the “ scab “ mine at Rothbury, in 1930, after one of the workers, Norman Brown, a mere lad of seventeen years of age, had been shot, and, if he did so, whether he sympathized with the relatives of the boy. Probably he went there with the Rajah of Rothbury, Mr. Weaver, who, I point out, . remained under cover when the shots were fired. At any rate, propaganda of the type favoured by Mr. Forster’s organization is not likely to do anything to help in the production of coal. I do not know whether the honorable member or his party has any interests in Rothbury, but it would certainly be illuminating^ to us to be told who supports this organization, apart from its own members.
I also feel some responsibility to reply to certain remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, who referred to the reduced output of coal. I remind the right honorable gentleman that, in 1940, when he was Prime Minister, our total production of coal was only 9,500,000 tons. Since this Government has been in office, the production figures have been higher than ever before in the history of the industry, despite the fact that, in 1942, -7,000 persons fewer were employed in coal-mining than in 1925, when the previous record was reached. I concede that mechanization has been applied to a considerable degree since that time. My point, however, is that the application of the “ big stick “ to the coal-miners, which was favoured by the Menzies Government, did not get us anywhere. A general strike occurred at that time; whereas at present the strikes, bad as they are, are only in isolated places. I say quite definitely and clearly to the coal-miners that I condemn the policy of striking before an approach has been made to the appropriate tribunals with the object of securing the redress of grievances. Sufficient tribunals are available in these days to ventilate all disputes. I shall show, however, that the tactics adopted by the coal-owners in relation to the stoppages aggregating 263 days, set out in the list that I shall quote, have contributed greatly to the loss of coal. I say to the miners that, in spite of the irritation tactics adopted by some coalowners, they should approach the tribunals that have been established for the purpose of rectifying grievances. I am aware that the coal-owners are attempting unfairly to alter conditions in this industry which have operated for many years. In some instances, the coal-miners are not aware that any change has been made until they receive their pay envelopes. In such circumstances, it is natural that the miners should be irritated. Nevertheless, I consider that they should ex-pose the mine-owners’ tactics before the tribunals that are available to them.
Honorable gentlemen opposite have said that an attempt should be made to discover the causes of the stoppages in this industry. The Leader of the Opposition, in making this point, said that disciplinary measures should be applied. I agree with him. The union has lost a large measure of the control which it once exercised over its members. When I was a lad, my father took my place at Burwood colliery on one occasion. My brother and I were placed on bread and water for seven days, and when we were released we had to apply to the chairman of the lodge for the restoration of our jobs. I admit that discipline was enforced in those days. The miners as a whole are willing to obey a majority decision, but should the number of those who present themselves for work be a few short of what the owner considers is needed, he says, “ There is not enough to work the mine to-day; blow the whistle, and send the mcn home “. Happenings of that nature are never published in the press. “When an honest attempt is made to observe discipline, that is the reward which the men receive. Honorable members opposite claim that they are interested in winning the war. I have invited them on numerous occasions to visit the coal-fields in order that they may gain at first hand a knowledge of the conditions, but so far only two of them have accepted the invitation. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) should understand that all mines have different characteristics. The Rothbury mine which he inspected is on an inclined seam, and that is vastly different from a flat seam.
The honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) attended in 1934 a conference that was held at Geneva, and upon his return to Australia produced a voluminous report on the extraction of oil from coal. He “ jumped on to the band wagon “ and beat the drum in order to convey the impression that something w’as to be done to raise the coal-mining industry from tile deplorable condition into which it had fallen. The late Mr. Lyons, then Prime Minister, visited Cessnock, and great expectations were aroused; but they were never fulfilled. For too long has the coal-mining industry been treated as a political football, with the result that the miners now distrust everybody. The honorable member for Parramatta made a number of addresses in 1934. With a view to affording him an opportunity to have effect given to the recommendations which he had made in his report, the adjournment of the House was moved, but the honorable gentleman was absent when the division was taken. That is a characteristic of the game of party politics, the principal consideration being the winning of votes. Honorable members who are now in opposition expect to score at the expense of the Government by reason of the unfortunate position which exists in the coal-mining industry to-day. I have before me a report, the correctness of which cannot be denied, because it has been checked and authoritatively endorsed. It states that, for a period of nine days from the 13 th January, the Abermain No. 1 colliery was idle because insufficient water was available to lay the dust. The management could have had the matter adjusted, and thus obviated a serious loss of coal production. Everybody knows the injurious effects of dust. Many of the men employed in the coal-mining industry had to cease work and receive compensation when they had reached the age of 40 years because their health had been undermined by dust. They will never work again, and their lives will be shortened. In such circumstances, is it wrong for the miners to ask that the owners shall supply sufficientwater to lay the dust, in order that they may. live longer? On the 10th March, there was heating in a section and danger was apprehended. For nine days from the 20th April, the mine was idle owing to leaks from a sealed-off area having been detected. It was proposed that the local check inspector should be provided with a safety lamp, in order that he might make tests throughout the day, but the necessary permission was refused ky the management. A safety lamp is an oil burner surrounded by thick, unbreakable glass and gauze, and is used to make tests with a view to determining whether or not dangerous gas is present. Gas has been responsible for many explosions in mines all oyer the world, and Australia has not been free from casualties from this cause. At Mulligan, in Queensland, the whole of the men in a mine were blown into eternity by an explosion, and there have been numerous explosions in New South Wales where many miners have been killed and entombed. The attitude of the miner is: “If I am to be killed, I should prefer to be killed by an explosion, because my widow and family will then be provided for by means of an Australia-wide subscription “.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Deaths through explosions in coal mines have occurred down the ages. The management should provide the local check inspector with a safety lamp in order to make tests periodically throughout the day for gas leakages. This request was refused at Abermain No. 2 mine, so there was no co-operation by the management in that matter. In the Burwood mine, which is one of the properties of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, several days’ work was lost in December and January because of the refusal of the management to abolish the afternoon shift. Despite the fact that the management had reached an agreement with the union that, in the course of six months’ developmental work, that shift would be abolished, the undertaking was never given effect. In March a further period of five days was lost owing to the management attempting to alter a custom of the district, which extended back to a period long before I worked in the mines, with respect to the width of winning headings. That is narrow work, and in order to avoid payment for such work the management widened the headings. A period of four days was lost from the 15th August through faulty detonators. These are used for the blasting of coal, and, if they prove faulty, mis-shots result. Then the hole has to be rebored or another hole put in parallel with it. Frequently a detonator does not explode, or explodes prematurely, and many miners have been totally blinded as the result of accidents arising from this cause. The men asked for that matter to be rectified, but their request was ignored.
On the 3rd January a stoppageoccurred at Lambton B or Durham mine, and five days’ work was lost. On the 9th March a dispute arose owing to a staff man doing federation work. That action was deliberately provocative, as the union has always opposed action of that nature. The matter was adjusted at a compulsory conference by the local authority. It is unfortunate that the miners did not try to expose the mineowners ‘before the tribunal. Frequently, at the end of a fortnight, when they called for their pay, they found that a certain deduction had been made, and the management would say to the men, “ If you want this rectified, go to the local tribunal “. The miners contend that the management should be compelled to go to the local tribunal before altering their conditions of employment.
The mine manager always has the whip hand, because he pays the men.
At the Elrington mine many days were lost because the winding rope used in hauling the men up and down the shaft was defective. I believe this is the deepest mine now working. The men descend to a depth of about 1,000 feet, and the lives of twenty men depend on the sound condition of the hauling rope. When one strand of rope was found to be broken, attention was drawn to the defect. The management agreed with the government inspector that the rope was safe, but on the following day 17 more broken strands were found. I pay tribute to the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, with regard to this matter. Immediately it came to his notice he called in a rope expert. Certain recommendations were submitted for the purpose of making the rope safe, and the men resumed work. Why could not that have been done without reference to the Coal Commissioner ?
In the case of the stoppage of the Greta Extended mine, the management had not paid the men a fortnight’s wages and they lost four days while waiting to get their pay. Despite the fact that that mine is now closed down, and the owners have walked out, they still owe the miners for holiday pay. Two days were lost owing to the non-delivery of coal to the miners at the Hebburn No. 1 mine. That matter was adjusted by the local reference board. Several days were lost through extremely dusty conditions in pillars. This trouble could have been remedied by the -management and the mine need not have been idle. Why did not the company take water to the face to eliminate the dust, which is injurious to the lungs of the workers? As I remarked earlier in my speech, in referring to a dispute at another mine, many men go to early graves through inhaling the dust in the mines.
A period of eight days from the 6th January was lost at Hebburn No. 2 mineowing to the unfit condition of the horses. The air which percolates through the mine passes round the wholeface of the workings, and, if any of thehorses are affected with greasy heel, a most obnoxious odour arises. The pit. air is unhealthy enough without being vitiated by objectionable smells from horses afflicted with sores. The horses which work underground are not seen by inspectors of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “No mine-owner has yet been prosecuted for working horses in an unfit condition, but some of the animals employed underground have sores on their shoulders as big as a man’s hand. The wheelers are on contract work the same as the minors. The company which owns the Hebburn No. 2 colliery is always talking about the war effort. Prior to the depression, it conveyed the miners from Hebburn No. 2 to Hebburn No. 1 by means of a train ; but, when the depression occurred, the train ceased running, and the miners were left to reach their work as best they could. Now a large fleet of omnibuses and motor cars conveys the men to work. This results in the use of a very large quantity of petrol and rubber, whereas the men could have been transported more economically and more comfortably by train. [Extension of time granted.]
At the John Darling mine, another colliery of Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, faulty cables have frequently caused trouble. At mines that are mechanized and operated by electrical power, cables sometimes flash, and this is extremely dangerous where gas and dust are prevalent. It has been proved beyond doubt that many mine explosions have been caused through faulty electrical installations. The men made an application with regard to that matter for safety reasons, and twenty days were lost before the management attempted to rectify the position. The Liddell mine lost approximately 50 days’ work owing to the management refusing to get rid of the services of a renowned anti-unionist. “We know what that means to a body of men who have always taken a pride in their organization, but the management refused to dismiss this man. The Millfield Greta mine lost five days’ work owing to the refusal of the management to pay for certain considerations. When the matters were ventilated before the local reference board, they were adjusted.
The Pelaw Main mine was idle on the 25th May owing to the management deliberately altering a customary payment to wheelers which has- operated for about 25 years. After I interviewed the superintendent and others and induced them to go to a conference, the dispute was immediately settled. The superintendent refused at first, because he wanted to leave the matter to the management. That is one of the great troubles with the merger collieries. They have appointed superintendents over the managers, and some managers have told me that their status to-day is not greater than that of an office boy. At one time they could rectify -many of the grievances of the men on the job without a stoppage of work, but now they have no authority to settle even pettifogging grievances, which in my mining days even a deputy could have rectified. As the superintendents are now being placed over the heads of the managers, they think that they have to justify their existence.
The Pacific colliery has lost a total of nineteen days owing to the presence of unsafe conditions. The men were unable to work owing to the advice given by their safety officer. On the 12th July the mine was working, but not because of any merit on the part of the manager, who attempted to provoke a stoppage. There was a pressure where many thousands of tons of debris, including coal, had fallen and killed a man. and many hours elapsed before his body was recovered. The velocity of the fall blew out the stoppings, which were sealing off the old working areas, which were choked up with black-damp and gases. This gas came into the mine and there was extreme danger of it being ignited and the men blown to eternity. Finally, the Government inspector told the men to rebuild all stoppings. They refused to do that, and a loss of work resulted. The other instances of stoppages of work to which I desire to direct the attention of the House are as follow: -
Stanford Merthyr. - This mine was idle on the 20th January, due to the management insisting on other men doing a boring job when there was a borer cavilled out and available. This was a deliberate violation of a federation rule.
South Seaham. - This mine lost four days from the 8th February owing to the management refusing to make a payment that was proved to have been made for years in the case of wheelers performing’ the duty of trapper.
Stockrington No. 1 and Stockrington No. 2. - From the 10th to the 25th August, the mines were idle owing to the company deliberately flouting an award of the coal authority regarding contract work. At a conference which adjusted this matter on the 26th August, the company claimed that miners should throw back certain stone without payment, thus again endeavouring to get around the award, which definitely makes provision for this payment. This company has endeavoured to evade this award from its inception, and although the conference appeared to have all matters adjusted this pin-pricking policy was resumed.
Pelton. - The mine was idle on the 28th February in consequence of a matter mentioned at the lodge officials’’ meeting with the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), when the position was outlined by Mr. Jas. Connell, who stated that only reasonable co-operation by the management would have obviated the stoppage. The mine was idle from the 6th July for four days owing to unsafe conditions. Inspections were made and certain timbering methods were- agreed to by all parties. When the job commenced,” the management broke the agreement with the miners’ check inspector and the government inspector, and insisted on their own idea. After four days’ idleness the mine worked on the previous agreement. That was a case of deliberate provocation by the management. From the 28th July to the 22nd August - ten days - the mine was idle owing to the condition of the horses. The report of the inspector of the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals substantiated the union’s opinion that no co-operation was shown by the management, as this report stated that insufficient spare horses were available.
The following mines have lost days owing to unsatisfactory conditions in the bathrooms: - Hebburn No. 1, Northern Extended, Northern Highway, Pelton, Rhondda, and Stanford Merthyr.
Owing to the fact that 1ihe mine-owners have failed to adopt safety measures, 263 days of coal production have been lost. The Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) advocated the introduction of a licensing system for coal-miners similar to that which applies to waterside workers. They would be prepared to let the man-power authorities take men off the street, and send them into mines. They do not seem to realize that coalminers must be trained men, and this applies particularly to clippers and wheelers. Coal-mining is dangerous work, and it is provided in the Coal Mines Regulation Act of New South Wales that men must have had two years’ experience before being allowed to get coal at the face. The Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Balaclava would introduce industrial conscription in the coal-mining industry. This admission on their part is amusing when we remember how they denounced the Government’s referendum proposals on the ground that, if agreed to, they would empower the Government to introduce industrial conscription. Now, they are themselves advocating industrial conscription. This should be a warning to coalminers, and industrial workers generally, of what may be in store for them if the pin-pricking tactics of the coal-owners should create such chaos in the industry that this Government is driven out of office.
I come now to Mr. Gregory Forster, the prompter of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), who always waits until I have spoken, and then uses all the filthy material that Mr. Gregory Forster has compiled for him. Until he got his present job, Forster had never worked in the mines; he had been a broadcaster. When he applied for the job, he was asked what mines he had worked in, and he said that he had worked on the south coast. He was asked what kind of lamps they used there, and he said that he did not know, because he had always worked on day shift. That was all he knew about coal-mining. I am about to make certain charges against this man, and if honorable members opposite feel disposed to challenge them I invite them to move for the appointment of a select committee of Parliament to inquire into the matter. This man tried to “ body-snatch “ members of the old Northern Districts Coal Proprietors Association and induce them to join his new organization. He is also the man who was concerned in an incident which occurred in this House. There was a mysterious telephone message to a member of the Senate making an appointment with him. His vote would give the Government a majority in the Senate when legislation relating to the coalmining industry was before that chamber, and when he kept the appointment he was whisked away in a motor car. He was taken for a ride in the same way as the victims of Chicago gangsters are taken’ for a ride, the idea being that the Government should not have ia majority to pass its coal legislation. Who was the instigator of this plot? No less a person than Mr. Gregory Forster, with the assistance of an honorable senator who is still here. They used a car belonging to the coalowners association.
– Who owned the car?
– It was owned by the secretary of the Southern and Western Coal Proprietors Association, Mr. McNally. Those are underground tactics. In fact, the tactics of the underworld are angelic by comparison. Had these people lived in Ned Kelly’s time, Ned’s mother would not have allowed her son to play with them. Members of the Opposition were obviously implicated in the plot because the mysterious message to the senator came from one of the Opposition rooms.
– Who sent the message?
– I am not going to say. I do not want to say anything that I cannot substantiate. I cannot name the person for certain, although I have my suspicions.
It is true that a great deal of coal has been lost. I am never one-sided, and I admit that the people I represent are responsible for the considerable loss that has resulted for the simple reason that they do not use the facilities available to them to expose the tactics of the owners instead of holding up the mines. However, they have always believed that there was no chance of their grievances being listened to unless they stopped production. That was true once, but it has not been true since this Government set up tribunals to hear their complaints. Honorable members have asked why production has declined since 1942. It may be that I can claim some credit for the high production in that year, and I admit that I sometimes used
Ned Kelly’s tactics, too. I was working with the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) at the time, and I used to call compulsory conferences of the miners and the owners. I got away with it for a while, until the Attorney-General told me that only a judge of the Arbitration Court could call a compulsory conference. However, while it lasted, I presided over several of these conferences, which settled the disputes very amicably. [Further extension of time granted.] The Commonwealth has assumed a large measure of control over the coal-mining industry, but certain powers are still exercised by the State Government. Actually, three ‘Commonwealth Ministers, the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), and the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), have a finger in the business, and there is a State Minister responsible for safety provisions in all States. This division of control makes for friction. I suggest as one remedy that the industry be placed under the exclusive control of one Commonwealth Minister. Another improvement would be to introduce power boring machines, of which I know something, because my last job in the mines was using a power boring machine. I was boring for many years, and I know that wherever boring machines have been installed production has gone up. With the old hand machines it takes an hour to bore a hole, whereas a machine will bore 30 holes in that time.
The present high rates of income tax are directly responsible for a good deal of absenteeism in the coal-mining industry. Under the contract system, a man who works continuously earns enough in the fortnight to bring him into an income group for which the tax rate is very high, with the result that, for the last day or two of the fortnight, he is working practically for nobbing. In the circumstances, it is only natural for him to stay away on those days. I am informed that in the United States of America men are paid a tax-free bonus if they keep up maximum production over a period, and I suggest that something like that might well be done here.
Every effort to ensure that production is maintained has been made by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Supply and Shipping, the Attorney-General, and the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell. When I make a mistake I am always prepared to apologize for it in the place where the mistake was made. I was at first critical of the appointment of Mr. Mighell, but I now freely admit that he has done everything possible to maintain production, not only under this Government, but also under the previous one. The act provides that the Coal Commissioner may, in certain circumstances, take over a mine, and run it in the interests of the country. There is a precedent for this, because during the last war the whole of the plant and equipment of the J. & A. Brown mines was taken over because of the trouble that had occurred in 1917. That was done, not under any special act, but by regulation. The J. &“A. Brown group of mines consists of ten mines in the richest and best coalproducing centre in the world. We are told that more coal from the Maitland fields is required, yet thousands of tons of coal are being lost because of disputes which, instead of being settled by the manager or the deputy manager, now have to be referred to a superintendent, with the result that, in some instances, as long as a week elapses before the matter is dealt with. The usual practice is for the superintendent to refer the dispute to a tribunal. The men have wished to retain something which they have enjoyed for many years. I do not look for credit for what I have done, but on many occasions I have had the thankless job of rising at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to address the men at the pit-top at 6.30 o’clock, frequently with the result that a threatened stoppage has been averted. Honorable members opposite should realize that a greater production of coal will not follow unfair criticism of the miners, or such threats against them as the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) indulged in to-day. The honorable gentleman-, as well as his leader, would subject the miners to army discipline, but I tell them that that would not result in one additional ounce of coal being obtained. Indeed, such action would cause a strike not only among the miners but also on the part of the workers of Australia generally. The prospect of such an upheaval is not distasteful to honorable members opposite; it is what they would like to occur. They wish to see turmoil in industry, and are not concerned that it may endanger the country’s war effort. Honorable members opposite are concerned only with getting back to the treasury bench, and in order to achieve their objective they are prepared to adopt any tactics. This afternoon the Leader of the Opposition said that if disciplining the miners resulted in a three months’ stoppage of the mines, that was a possibility that would have to be faced. Fancy any public man suggesting action which may lead to a stoppage of work in the coal mines of this country at this critical period of our history ! The right honorable gentleman would delight to see a three months’ stoppage of work on the coal mines, and so would many of his followers. When we recall how Opposition members misled the electors during the recent referendum campaign by accusing the Government of wishing to introduce industrial conscription, and now themselves are advocating the same compulsory methods, even before the final figures for the referendum have been ascertained, we see how great is their inconsistency. The defeat of the referendum proposals means that governmentcontrolled mines will not be able to compete with private enterprise in the sale of coal after the war ends. Although the taking over of all the coal mines at inflated prices would present difficulties to the Government, mines whose owners deliberately adopt irritating and pin-pricking tactics should be taken over by the Government at any cost. That is the only way to obtain peace in those mines and I am confident that that action will have to be taken sooner or later. At a meeting of the board of management of the Northern District Branch of the Australian Coal and Shale Employees Federation, held on the 23rd August last, the following motion was carried : -
This meeting, fully appreciating the national crisis brought about through the lack of coal to maintain industry in this vital period, urges the federal Government to take governmental control of all mines in this district, and particularly and primarily the collieries owned by J. & A. Brown-Abermain-Seaham Coal Company.
The meeting also agreed -
That the recommendations of the Central and District Executives be adopted that, in the event of the Government taking over any or all of the mines in this district, it means that the Government will also control and discipline, if necessary, the membership of this organization employed -in such mines. We fully recognize, in adopting this recommendation, that it may lead to prosecution of our members, and also it may mean members taken out of the industry, as well as the officials of the management who may be the means of disrupting the industry.
Although I know that some of the trouble on the coal-fields is attributable to the stupid action of men having been misled by a few boys who will not obey majority decisions, I realize that much of the unrest is clue to political reasons. During the recent referendum campaign advocates of a “ No “ vote said that a government which could not control the miners was not worthy to be entrusted with more power. Probably the contributions of the coal owners to the defeat of the referendum were deliberately irritating tactics to cause coal losses. The mine-owners desire a change of government, as do honorable members opposite who supported the coal-owners during the lock-out of 1929-30. The miners wil.1 never forget those fifteen months in which they were locked out by the mine-owners, who had the support of such honorable members as the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and Balaclava (Mr. White). Those honorable members remained silent when I, a raw recruit to this chamber, pleaded for justice for these men. The only member of the parties now in opposition who at that time was prepared to take up the case of the miners was the blind barrister, the then honorable member for Fawkner, Mr. Maxwell. As the result of his stand, the government of the day decided to prosecute Mr. John Brown. A summons was issued, but during the parliamentary recess it was withdrawn. Yet during the recent referendum campaign the present Government was charged with having withdrawn summonses against the miners. The greatest crime ever committed in Australia was that lock-out of the miners in defiance of an award of the Arbitration
Court, made under the authority of a law passed by this Parliament. Honorable members opposite charge the present Government with inactivity in regard to getting more coal, but I say to them that the Curtin Government has done more to get coal than did any of its predecessors. Various Ministers of the present Government have visited the coal-fields in an honest endeavour to increase coal production, and I also have done my best in the interests of the country, notwithstanding that it has meant a good many knocks. I invite honorable members opposite to visit the coal-fields with a view to increasing coal supplies. In doing so, I remind them that the miners are human beings, not barbarians. I remind them also that in the last war no section of the community had a better record for enlistments than had the coal-miners. During the present war coal-miners have been refused permission to enlist; that has caused dissatisfaction among many miners whose fathers fought in the last war. If honorable members opposite want contentment in this industry, I say to them that it can be secured only by the Government taking over some of the mines and also adopting the suggestions that I have made including the lifting of the reservation ‘ which now exists in regard to the enlistment of miners in the fighting services.
– The honorable member has exhausted his further extension of time.
.- At the outset, I draw attention to a speech delivered by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) earlier in the year on the subject of coal supplies. In order to show how serious the position then was, the right honorable gentleman said that the measure of our war effort this year would be the volume of coal produced. The production of coal is a matter of fundamental importance not only to the civilian population but also to the country’s war effort. It is because the Opposition realizes the seriousness of the present situation ‘that it has taken the most significant action that any party in this House can take by way of criticism of the Government, namely, the moving of a motion of censure. The present action is in contrast to the attitude of the Opposition hitherto. Until now it has supported the Government in an endeavour to find some way to obtain more coal. In October, 1943, when the Prime Minister announced the policy of the Government in regard to coal supplies the Opposition withheld criticism in order that the Government’s programme should not be jeopardized. More recently, the Parliament had before it the Coal Production (“War-time) Bill, and if honorable members will road the report of the debate on that measure they will see that honorable members on this side offered a number of constructive suggestions to the Government. To-day, the Opposition is compelled to adopt a different attitude. No self-respecting political party could see what is happening in this country without voicing its criticism, and giving expression to the indignation of the people generally. What is the situation facing us? There is a threat of wholesale dislocation of industry, of widespread unemployment, of a lack of fuel and light for public and private consumers, of a considerable reduction of vital transport required for freight and personal travel, and for the normal recreations of the people. Moreover, housewives are harassed by the effects of inadequate supplies. That is the position confronting us after nearly three years of experimentation by the Government in the handling of the coal situation. Not only is the Opposition “ fed-up “ with the situation confronting us; other unionists also are in the same position. I believe that even the Labour caucus is “ fed-up “ with what is happening, and I am certain that that is the attitude of most members of the Cabinet including the Prime Minister. Cer tainly, the people of this country are “ fed-up “, and want to know who are the men who can cause widespread inconvenience, defy the Government, and hold the country to ransom. I point out that other equally powerful organizations, such as the Amalgamated Engineering Union, have set an example in the matter of continuity of employment. Conditions in some other industries are as abnormal as in the coalmining industry. We are told a good deal of the peculiar psychology of the coal-miners, but they are not alone in that respect; some honorable members in this chamber are similarly endowed. We hear also of ancient enmities in the coal-mining industry. We in this chamber have a similar heritage, but we had evidence last night that those differences can be set aside when the occasion warrants it. I point out to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and to the Prime Minister that, if there is any real foundation for this story of the psychology of the coal-miners and the abnormal life they live and the ancient enmities which create such bitterness, how is it that in the other coal-producing States, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, there is none of the difficulty we have in New South Wales. iSo we have to seek for other explanations than the hackneyed excuses trotted out on such occasions as this. To give the House a clearer picture of the record of performance of the coal-mining industry in New South Wales, I shall place before it facts additional to those already presented. I have two sets of figures prepared for me by the Commonwealth Statistician, which, with the consent of the House, I shall incorporate in Hansard -
To show that a handful of men has been able to hold up the community, I point out that, at the end of the March quarter this year - these are the latest figures available - there were employed in the coal-mining industry in New South “Wales 17,635 persons, whereas, on the same date, the number of persons employed in the whole Commonwealth was 2,118,100. The coal-miners in New South Wales represent less than 1 per cent, of our total industrial population. Since the beginning of the war, 2,233,248 working days have been lost on the coalfields of New ‘South Wales alone compared with 4,376,336 lost working days over the whole range of industry in the Commonwealth. Less than 1 per cent, of the working population of the Commonwealth has been responsible for more than 50 per cent, of the total of working days lost since .the outbreak of the war. The honorable member for Hunter mentioned a number of what he described as “ pin-pricking incidents “. The honorable member can give the House a false picture of the coal-mining industry, but he cannot answer the damning indictment of those figures.
– The honorable member has not said who is responsible.
– I do know that there are coal-miners and coal-owners in the other
States where there are none of the troubles which exist on the coal-fields of New South Wales. The honorable member will not bluff the House by blaming the coal-owners for all the trouble. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Attorney-General has attempted to do that. They admit frankly that, whatever role the coal-owner may play, it is not a substantial answer to the loss of working time on the coal-fields of New South Wales. There are other interesting points in these figures. In 1942, 177,242 working days were lost in New South Wales. In the March quarter of this year alone, 165,815 working days were lost. We had almost as many working days lost in that one quarter as in the whole of 19412. I have heard it said that the coal-miners are loyal, decent workmen, and I have no reason to doubt that. The individual men I have met impressed me as fine- industrial types. Whether they expect their actions to have the results which they have had I leave to some one better able than I am to state. The net effect of what has happened on the coal-fields is that, since the outbreak of war, on an average, each man on the coal-fields of New South Wales has presented to Hitler and Hirohito 125 working days. I shall not attempt any stronger language to describe the trouble on the coal-fields than the Prime Minister himself has used. He described the actions of the men responsible as treachery to this country and its people. He has described the situation on the coal-fields as a condition of anarchy. His description is one that this House may be fully prepared to adopt after hearing the facts.
Let us turn from the performance of the miners to that of the Government. We were twitted by the Prime Minister on the use made by the Leader of the Opposition of the Prime Minister’s speeches. The Opposition has no criticism to mate of the right honorable gentleman’s speeches. They are all good speeches. All the right honorable gentleman’s speeches on coal have been good. If good speeches could have got the Prime Minister coal, we should have been smothered in it to-day.
– It is a pity that you were not.
– I can understand the honorable member’s desire to have the critics on this side put away because of his fear that, in the not-far-distant future, he and his colleagues will be smothered in adverse votes. We do not criticize the speeches of the Prime Minister; indeed, we are happy to adopt his language. The honorable member for Hunter criticized speakers from this side who preceded him for not having put forward a constructive policy. Our constructive policy is endorsement of the very satisfactory policy, as it seemed to us at the time, laid down by the honorable gentleman’s own Prime Minister in October, 1943. We presumed that that policy was discussed by Ministers in Cabinet, and that the Prime Minister would not. have announced it to the House without having had full discussion on it with his own expert advisers from the coal-fields. Therefore, when he came before the House, as he did then, impressing us with the urgent need for greater quantities of coal and setting out a specific list of items of policy to which he was to give effect, we were not called upon to set out a constructive policy. We were called upon to give the right honorable gentleman full opportunity to apply that policy. All we ask to-day is .that the policy which the Prime
Minister . then thought would get more coal be put into effect. The right honorable gentleman has had ten months in which to put it into effect. What was he going to do ? He was going to weed out the undesirables in the industry. We have heard a good deal about that to-day. The records of attendance are available and the miners’ leaders know who the undesirables are; so there should not be any great difficulty in weeding them out. Mechanization has not proceeded as rapidly as the Goverment hoped. The double shift on the Maitland coal-field was not found practicable because of the negative response of the miners. Amongst other measures, there was to have been a move to bring men back into the industry. To-day the Prime Minister, either consciously or unconsciously, seriously misled the House in regard to this most important matter. He said that, as a part of its policy, the Government had brought SOO men back into the industry. He said that in 1942, with fewer men in the industry, we got more coal, and that, to-day, with SOO more men in it, we were getting less. Figures from the Commonwealth Statistician reveal that at the end of the September quarter of 1942, there were 17,8S1 men in the industry. At the end of September, 1943, there were 17,631. That was just before the announcement by the Prime Minister of the Government’s policy to bring more men back into the industry. At the end of the March quarter, six months later, after the Government bad, presumably, put its policy into effect, the number of men in the industry was 17,635 - an increase of four in six months ! That shows that not much success was attached to that item of policy. What is a little more serious, because the Prime Minister was specific on the figures, is that, in the March quarter of this year, there were 17,635 men employed in the industry compared with 17,881 in the September quarter of 1942, a drop of 246 men, whereas the Prime Minister said that there had been an increase of 800. The Prime Minister may have unconsciously misled the House, for these official figures show that, far from there being an increase of 800 sinGe 1942, there were 246 fewer at the end of March last.
– The March quarter was the quarter in which some men were called up.
– I do not know about that. The figures given by the Prime Minister suggest that there cannot have been much to that. It is, perhaps, easy for honorable members on this side to voice criticisms; but the Government in its handling of this matter has made at least three fundamental errors. First, it has been relying on a very slender reed. It has relied on the miners’ federation as the spokesman of the coal-mining industry. It assumed that once it had been given some sort of undertaking by the federation that undertaking would be honoured by the miners themselves. Based on general experience with other sections of industry, any government might normally and reasonably make that assumption. It has been our general experience that unions are run very effectively, and that they are able to speak decisively for the men they represent. In the past, when a government conferred with representatives of important unions it could normally rely upon those unions to see that the undertakings they gave * were carried out. However, it is quite clear from experience in the coal-mining industry that the miners’ federation cannot control its members, and, therefore, the Government would be wise to abandon reliance on that contact with the industry if it hopes to achieve results. It may be that the Prime Minister’s refusal recently to meet the leaders of the federation is an indication that the Government now realizes the error it made in that respect. However, an error it was; and it aggravated the situation so far as the Government was concerned. The second error made by the Government is very important, although the Government has never acknowledged it as such, and, probably, would not acknowledge it as such to-day. But this error has had far-reaching consequences throughout the industry. It has caused a great deal of unrest, and has resulted in many of the mine stoppages. I refer to the breaking of the link which existed between the industry and the Arbitration Court. The moment the Government took away the control of the court over the principles to be applied to the industry and the general disciplinary control of the court over the industry, it created conditions under which the anarchy we are now experiencing was enabled to originate and flourish. The third error to which I refer is one with which this House is only too familiar. The Government has done more than embark upon a policy of appeasement towards the miners. It talked in strong terms, but acted meekly, it talked in a tough manner, but acted softly. The Prime Minister has roared like a lion when addressing honorable members in this House, but on going outside to the coal-miners has bleated like a lamb. Such a policy has proved fatal. As the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out so effectively, the coal-miners realize that a policy of bluff was being attempted by the Government, and every time the Government’s bluff was called it was shown to be the weak, empty thing it actually was. Consequently, the miners have gone step by step to a stage which must astonish even the miners themselves. That is the history of industrial trouble in any country. When men who cause trouble with governments succeed with their first step, they go on step by step until they are pulled up with a round turn.
What is the Government’s answer to the charges which the Opposition now makes against it? Before the last elections the Government may have attempted to tell the country that its political position was too weak to enable it to adopt a strong stand towards the coal-miners; that it held office in an evenly divided Parliament with a hostile Senate, although it knew, as most people knew, that we on this side were, as were our colleagues in the Senate, entirely behind it in any action considered to be necessary in order to solve the problems of the industry. But whatever justification the Government may have had for that excuse it has none to-day in the light of its present political strength. It commands a majority in both chambers. Furthermore, in New South Wales in which State this trouble is centred, a Labour government, with a pronounced working majority, is in office. Thus, from a political standpoint, with public and press opinion marshalled right behind it, and unionists in other industries entirely “ fed up “ with the tactics of the coal-miners, any excuse based on political grounds which, the Government may have had for its inaction in the past has entirely disappeared. To-day, it has both political and public authority to act in this matter. But what is its answer to the Opposition’s charges ? First, the Prime Minister made a paltry attempt to-day to point to the weakness allegedly displayed by other governments. He used possibly the worst illustration he could have selected, namely, the strike of 1940, to substantiate his charge of weakness against a government supported by honorable members on this side. Properly understood, the strike of 1940 was one of the rare occasions when the Commonwealth Government stood resolutely against the demands of the coal-miners, and refused to yield to any pressure brought upon it. By a process of distortion and misrepresentation, which is becoming a little too familiar for our liking, the Prime Minister suggested that we had stood by and declared that we would do nothing but leave the matter to the court. In the circumstances, that was obviously the soundest course any government could follow, because that was the real issue involved in that strike. On that occasion the full bench of the Arbitration Court had given a decision with regard to working hours in the industry, and the miners, refusing to accept that decision, went on strike. The Prime Minister now asks why as a government we did not do something about the matter; We did what any self-respecting government in the circumstances would have done. That government stood behind its own tribunal in order to back up the decisions of the court. The govern- 4 ment of the day decided upon that course and ignored all pressure put upon it by the miners, or their political representatives. If this Government showed anything like the same resoluteness, we should to-day have very much less difficulty, and very much more coal, than is the case. The Prime Minister then made an even more unfair attempt to justify this Government’s failure by suggesting that what was happening here had happened in Great Britain, that just as this Government was helpless in this matter, the Government of Great Britain was helpless. That is not only an unfair but also a cruel and dishonest criticism of a country which has pulled its weight magnificently on the side of the United Nations throughout the war. Great Britain certainly admits that it has had difficulties in the coal-mining industry, but the British coal-miner has an infinitely better performance individually than the Australian coal-miner. Honorable members are not so stupid that they do not recall that very recently the honorable member for Hunter conducted on a visit to our coal-fields Mr. Collindridge, M.P., who is also a vice-president of the miners federation of Great Britain, in order that he might tell the Australian coal-miners how well the miners in Great Britain were carrying on, chide the Australian coal-miners on their performance, and ask them to put forward an effort comparable with that being achieved by their colleagues in Great Britain. The Prime Minister then alleged that when we were in office we failed to act strongly in our dealings with the coal-miners. That charge was unfair, because he did not, at the same time, present to honorable members the whole of the circumstances which he knew as a member of the Advisory War Council at that time. I shall not divulge any details of discussions which took place in the Advisory War Council at that time, but the Prime Minister knows perfectly well the programme which was presented to that body as being the policy of the government- of the day. He knows perfectly well that it was owing to his insistence that certain parts of that programme were held in abeyance. If he criticizes us for our failure to act firmly on that occasion, I challenge him to present the whole of the facts to the House. Full recommendations were made at that time to the Advisory War Council, namely, towards the end of 1940. I have no objection to the Prime Minister tabling that programme. Indeed, I should be very glad to justify it to-day.
– Could the honorable member give us a few. of the details?
– I should like the Prime Minister to make them available to the House. I shall not take up the time of the House in a debate in which most honorable members desire to participate. In conclusion, I say that the full weight of the censure now being launched by the Opposition is not merely that which the Opposition can itself direct against the Government on this subject. The Prime Minister has to meet our charge not only in this House, but also at the bar of public opinion. He said to-day that a union which cannot discipline its members is destroyed. I have expressed my view that the union which is supposed to represent the coal miners has shown itself unable to discipline its members. The Prime Minister also said that the Government which cannot exercise discipline is also destroyed. The issue in this matter has been presented fairly, and I suggest that it is being so presented to this Government for the last time. On this occasion, the Prime Minister may avoid a political defeat in this House by calling upon his docile followers to support him on this matter; but he cannot call upon those members with the same success to face the same charges which the public is making against the Government; and should be fail in this matter again, he will have something more than a numerically weaker opposition to challenge him. He will have to face the full weight and vengeance of the judgment of the people at the first opportunity given to them to declare that judgment.
– A few points have been made, particularly by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), in respect of which it may be helpful at this juncture to place certain facts before honorable members. The honorable member for Fawkner cited certain figures in relation- to coal production, including the number of men employed in the industry; and I propose, like him, to ask leave of the House to incorporate in Hansard the figures I have available. They show in graph form the story of the production of the coal mines in New South Wales over a lengthy period.
– What is the source of the figures?
– They are taken from the annual reports of the New South Wales Department of Mines, and are also taken from the New South Wales Industrial Gazette. I have no doubt as to their accuracy. I am not putting them forward as establishing the case for the Government, but because they bear out statements made earlier by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), and my colleague the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley). These figures show that the peak production year was 1942, which, as the Minister for Supply and Shipping pointed out, was also the year of greatest peril for Australia. Incidentally, it was the first full year of office of this Government. Admittedly, one must look at all circumstances; but, taken together, last year and the two preceding years are the three years of maximum production in the history of the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. That fact must be carefully weighed, because that has not been the position in Great Britain. The figures show that, compared with pre-war production, war-time production in Great Britain has diminished. However, I shall deal with that aspect of the matter later. Perhaps, too much can be made of .figures ; but this graph shows that production was at its lowest point in 1931, that it rose fairly steadily until 1937, and dropped in 1938. In 1939 production exceeded 11,000,000 tons but declined sharply in 1940 to 9,500,000 tons. In the following year, production rose to nearly 12,000,000 tons.
– Was the right honorable member for Darling Downs responsible for most of that output?
– I suppose that some credit must be given to that right honorable gentleman, at any rate for his three or four weeks of office. Output reached its peak in 1942, then declined in 1943, and unless the situation changes rapidly during the remainder of this year, there will be a further decline. The other graph deals with a matter which ought to be taken into consideration. .In 1938, the Arbitration Court made an award which gradually reduced working days from 275 to 250 per annum. I ask leave to incorporate the two graphs in Hansard. [Leave granted.”]
The honorable member for Fawkner attributed this crisis in the coal-mining industry to three fundamental causes.
– I said that the Government had committed three fundamental errors.
– I suppose that there are other factors which are not errors, but which are beyond the control of any government.
– There are errors apart from those which I mentioned.
– The honorable member declared that the first fundamental error of the Government was to rely upon the miners’ federation. It is true that the Government has relied upon the federation. In dealing with the industry, the Government has from time to time conferred with representatives of the federation and of the owners. But with whom was the Government to deal if it did not deal with the representatives of the miners’ federation? From time to time, great difficulties have arisen in the industry and it is perfectly true that on such occasions, the Government has conferred with officials of the federation, received from them certain undertakings, and acted upon their promises and assurances. But when we are dealing with any industry, how can we proceed unless it is on the basis of an authority responsible for the collective bargaining group ? “We cannot go behind the miners’ federation to its members. They will not deal with us. The negotiations must be conducted through the federation. The honorable member for Fawkner touched only the fringe of the problem of the miners’ federation itself. It is not a union representing all the members, and it is not able to speak for all of them. The organization is federal in character. The central council, which includes districts all over Australia, - is the highest body of the union, but its powers are restricted. A great deal of autonomy is possessed by the districts. New South Wales has a northern district, western district, and southern district, and each of them claims considerable powers of self-government. But even then, a district is not always able .to speak for the lodges within it.
– Is no one able to speak for any one else?
– They are able to speak just as the Commonwealth in relation to Australia is able to speak only on certain matters, whilst the States speak for portions of Australia in respect of their jurisdiction.
– Stewart. - Has the Government no control over them?
– A great body of opinion in the federation is in favour of reorganizing it for the purpose of giving to the central authority substantially greater powers than it now possesses. I said that a district is unable to speak for all the members of the federation within it. In New South Wales there are 115 lodges, each of which possesses a considerable degree of autonomy. Under the present conditions we cannot expect to get from those representing the whole of the federation assurances which are necessarily binding upon the whole membership of the federation. Sometimes a district will not agree to a decision. For example, some of the members of the central body flavoured a proposed Coal Production Bill, although the measure involved the possibility of the Coal Commissioner removing individuals from that industry. Yet various districts adopted different attitudes toward the proposed scheme within their particular provinces. There are 115 coal mines in New South Wales, and each mine has a lodge. The problem must bc examined in the light of another fact mentioned by a member of the Opposition, namely, that probably 90 per cent, of the lodges give practically continuous production. Stoppages occur in a limited number of lodges, and in a limited number of mines. The honorable member for Fawkner declared that the Government erred in dealing with the federation, but I contend that we were right and had no real alternative.
– What is the use of dealing with the federation if it cannot speak on behalf of its members?
– I have already explained that the federation has powers. I ask the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), as a supplementary question, with what other body in the coal-mining industry should the Government deal?
– The Government could enforce the law direct.
– With the matter of the enforcement of the law, I shall deallater, and explain to the House some of the difficulties attendant upon that. For the present, I desire to deal with the contention of the honorable member for Fawkner that the Government erred in dealing with the federation. I claim that the Government could deal only with the federation, and I believe that this crisis shouldlead - I hope that it will lead - to the federation putting its own house in order so as to obtain greater powers of disciplining its members. Honorable members should not think that the federation, and some of the districts, have not attempted to enforce discipline. Later, I shall give some facts about that aspect. I agree with the statement of the honorable member for Fawkner that some of the difficulty occurs as the result of the special organization of the federation. But when the honorable member was Minister for Labour and National Service, he dealt with the federation.
– I said that that was the normal method of approaching a section of industry.
– We have either to recognize trade unionism and collective bargaining or attempt to smash it. Our policy is to recognize the trade unionism.
– When I was Minister for Labour and National Service, stronger and more effective control was exercised over the union.
– That may have been due to the particular individuals in office at that time. I do not express an opinion upon that matter. So far as I can tell, the members of the central body of the federation have always done their best to give effect to their assurances.
– Is it because they have not the power to enforce their assurances that control is ineffective?
– Very largely so. They express certain views about a part of the Coal Production (War-time) Bill, but the districts do not regard themselves as bound by those views. The central body has no power to order the districts to act or to abstain from acting in a certain manner.
– Do the districts regard themselves as being bound by the Coal Production (War-time) Act?
– That is a different question. I mentioned the Coal Production (War-time) Bill only to illustrate the conflict which arises from time to time.
– The Attorney-General is not citing a real case.
– I am dealing with the three alleged errors which, according to the honorable member for Fawkner, the Government has committed. The first of those errors was that the Government dealt with the federation. I contend that the Government had no alternative. 1 mentioned that the internal organization of the federation prevents the central body from acting for its members in respect of all matters.
– The Attorney-General may have to find an alternative.
– We may have to find an alternative, but I hope that this situation will help to create a move among the members of the federation to strengthen the powers of the central authority. But, as the honorable gentleman knows, objection is always taken to any attempt to increase the powers of any central authority, even in greater instruments of government than the miners’ federation. Members object to centralization. They want toretain their local autonomy.
I come now to the second error alleged by the honorable member for Fawkner. I admit that there has been a break between the coal industry arbitration system and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. I regard that as a misfortune. But the honorable member should add, in fairness, that the break commenced when, he was Minister for Labour and National Service.
Mr. Holt. - Judge Drake-Brockman dealt with matters affecting the coalmining industry then. The link with the court was preserved.
– When the honorable member was Minister for Labour and National Service, he established a separate system of. tribunals, although he preserved one link with the court. Acting upon the representations of the miners’ federation, the honorable member created local tribunals. Judge DrakeBrockman was the chairman of the
Central Reference Board, but did not sit alone. On his tribunal were representatives of the employers and the coalminers. That was a bona-fide attempt to make the settlement of industrial disputes -in this industry in war-time easier and .more satisfactory than in the past. But that was the first step taken in transferring the arbitral regulation of this industry, which in pre-war days had been committed to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to tribunals which were not part and parcel of the Commonwealth arbitration system.
– Every industry has its reference boards.
– The honorable member knows’ that the reference board constituted as a mere instrument of the Arbitration Court is different from these local reference boards, constituted under the National Security Act, because these have jurisdiction of an original character quite different from the ordinary reference boards which are brought into operation under a Commonwealth award. A reference board under an ordinary Commonwealth award in peace-time merely carries out the award under the general supervision of the judge who hasmade that award. This was quite different. The honorable member appointed a gentleman to be chairman of the local reference board in the northern district of New South Wales, and he sat with two representatives of the owners and two representatives of the miners. Similar boards were appointed in the western and southern districts. I am sure that the honorable gentleman, when he commenced this system, believed that it would improve the situation.
– I preserved the general control of the court.
– That is not so. It gave, to the central reference board jurisdiction of a limited character only. No general right of control was given to the central reference board.
– A right of. appeal.
– No, not a general right of appeal in the ordinary sense. It was more a general right of supervision. It is true that Judge Drake-Brockman was the chairman of the Central Reference
Board, and I think that the judge, in that capacity, did excellent work.
I come now to the third error that the honorable . member for Fawkner imputed to the Government, namely, appeasement. If one can call acceding to the representations of the body representing the unions appeasement, because you do not say “ No “, but “ Yes “, or you say “ Yes “, subject to certain assurances, then appeasement commenced when those tribunals were set up.
– That was the only concession of a procedural kind made to the industry. That problem was dealt with by the tribunal, and was not a procedure in which the Government intervened.
– That is not procedure at all. These tribunals determine the merits of disputes. In coal mine A a miner claims that a certain place should be treated by the court as a wet place, entitling him to special remuneration. Procedure only means the way of settling it. When one determines who is to settle it, one goes a long way towards the settlement- of the dispute.
– That is a reflection on the chairman of the board.
– It. is not a reflection. The Government of which the honorable member was a member departed from the principle that the Arbitration Court alone should have jurisdiction over the industry. I do not say that that was wrong. I do not profess to form a judgment upon it. I say that the Government mentioned took the step which separated the court in its ordinary jurisdiction from the special tribunals which the Government established under the National Security Act. Before the honorable member can say that what we are doing is wrong, he must ask himself whether, in dealing with this most difficult, this most turbulent industry, as Judge DrakeBrockman termed it, referring to the history of the industry over twenty years, what he did was right or wrong. I am not judging that, but the honorable member must remember, now that the situation is unsatisfactory, that he should not impute to this Government errors, which he describes as appeasement, when the Government of which he was a member did exactly the same.
– The circumstances are very different.
– Of course they are, and I am prepared to tell the House the difference.
Reference having been made to it, I wish to deal next, if I may, with the question which the Prime Minister mentioned in October of last year, with regard to the enforcement of regulations. I shall sum up t]ie facts for the benefit of the House. I agree with the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) in his review of the situation. It has been a matter of anxiety all the time to Ministers who have had anything to do with it, including the honorable member for Fawkner. The Prime Minister has had a great deal of anxiety in connexion with this industry, and while he was away the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) took the keenest and most active interest in it. He visited all the coal-fields, and endeavoured to get the open-cut system developed. The Minister for Supply and Shipping has had this problem before bini ever since we became a Government, and I am certain that the difficulties associated with it contributed to his recent illness. While he was away I acted for him. The Government had the assistance of the Coal Commissioner, to whom reference has been made. It is not a subject upon which one oan dogmatize. Honorable members opposite know that the industry is, as Judge Drake-Brockman described it, very special in character, the inheritance of 20, 30, and 50 years of feuds between owners and employees, in which every gain which the employees made had to be fought for. Take the graph which is to be embodied in Hansard, and note the depression years. What was the first step in the depression? A lockout in the coal industry lasting for twelve months. Thousands of the men then locked out are still in the industry. That dispute never went to a court at all. “The Commonwealth Government at the time tried to bring it within the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. That was fought by the coal owners, and the court held that it was not an interstate dispute, and, therefore, the Commonwealth Court had no jurisdiction. The
New South Wales Government would not do anything to bring it within the jurisdiction of the State court. The result was sheer anarchy. There was no law covering it except the old law of the jungle. The men were locked out, and had to yield. Many of the men now in the industry are the sons of those men. I mention that simply to illustrate the legacy of bitterness and hatred that still exists. While I was acting for my colleague, and during visits to the coalfields, I saw something of the conditions in which the men work. I tried to get the point of view of the employers as well as that of the men. There is a gap still fixed, and nine-tenths of the trouble in the industry is due to it. Another dangerous factor is that ever since the outbreak of the war the industry has been protected and the men in it who wanted to enlist were not allowed to do so. This tended to separate the coal-miners from those in other industries, until a situation has been reached in which unionists in other occupations realize that their livelihood is threatened by the coal-miners, and by the condition of affairs in the coal-mining industry.
After the Prime Minister spoke last October in the words which have been quoted and which I shall not repeat, prosecutions were instituted, by the Government, in many cases where investigations took place. I wish to quote to the House, a statement for which I shall take responsibility, although it was prepared by some of those responsible for the enforcement of the law. It shows that from October to the end of the year there were a considerable number of prosecutions, and between £500 and £600 was collected, in fines by the Government, either from garnisheeing wages or through payment by the union on behalf of those fined.
– What was the heaviest individual fine?
– It was not large. I know that the fines were small, but that is a matter for the magistrate.
– What about the bill which the right honorable gentleman sponsored ?
– The’ honorable member thought that the fines provided in the bill were too small, but that measure applies only to controlled mines, and therefore has no reference to other stoppages.
– What was the heaviest penalty provided?
– £2 or £3. There are great difficulties in mass prosecutions. If 100 men are absent from work, and if each absentee on a given day is prosecuted, there are three stages in the process. The first is the issue of the summons, the next is the hearing of the plaint, and the third is the enforcement of the penalty. Mass prosecutions must include men who were against the stoppage, and, perhaps, even actively opposed it. According to the investigation officers, one result is to make the men who favoured continuous production and tried to prevent the stoppage objects of derision by those who favoured it. There is also always the risk of men in other mines making common cause when it is found that a particular stoppage involves some fundamental principle. The conclusion to which I came was that a mere mass prosecution of everybody absent from a mine, when there has been a pittop meeting and a decision to stop work, leads to grave injustices, even to the accentuation of the very evils that one wishes to prevent. The second obstacle, which also shows the problems of this industry, is that when a selected number of individuals are prosecuted it is not possible, to be sure that they and they alone are responsible for the stoppage. Obviously, that would bc the method that should be adopted. Yet that is almost impossible. The investigation officers state in this report that the ordinary sources of information, as to who is responsible are difficult to tap.
Of whom do they consist? First, the management. In the nature of things they are not represented at pit-top meetings. They only know the matter from hearsay. The second source is the investigation officers themselves. They can only reach the mine after the stoppage has occurred, and their difficulties in getting information can be easily imagined. Who is going to inform upon the men in an industry or union of which the chief, and in some respects the most admirable, characteristic is their solidarity and their loyalty to each other? It is, therefore, reported as follows : -
The miners exhibit such solidarity that it is impossible to expect information to be given to investigation officers involving the possibility of prosecutions against their fellow workers.
Because of these difficulties that method of prosecution did not appear to meet with success, and the proposal of the miners’ federation to the Government - which brings us back to the first point, the organization of this union - was that the union itself should assume the obligation of enforcing discipline by fining its members. Obviously, if that can be made a success, it is the best solution. The federation offered to do it, and the Government accepted the offer. My colleague, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), has obtained certain figures from the union.
– Does not the union make any official return to the Government of the fines it imposes? When the right honorable member was Acting Minister for Supply and Shipping, did he not receive any return?
– I do not know whether we were furnished with returns, but no doubt they could be obtained. The figures supplied to me by the honorable member for Hunter show that since March, a period of six months, the federation has imposed and collected fines amounting to £2,296.
– Where does the money go?
– The honorable member raises another difficulty. These are fines imposed by a district upon a lodge, which in turn has to collect them from the individuals responsible. I admit quite frankly that there is another difficulty. Let the House indicate a solution. I say that mass prosecutions hit the just as well as the unjust - those who try to prevent stoppages as well as those who cause them. Secondly, the prosecution of selected’ individuals is a practical impossibility for the reasons I have given, including the difficulty of being sure who is responsible. We are therefore to a large extent thrown back upon the union’s discipline of its own members. An instance occurred recently of a stoppage at, I think, the Richmond
Main mine. The member was not merely fined, but suspended from membership. The Coal Commissioner indicated that he proposed, on his own responsibility, to remove the member from the industry. The union asked him to hold his hand until it dealt with the member under its own rules. It did so, he was suspended, and he served his full term of suspension, but the Coal Commissioner thought that he should be removed from the industry. I am simply indicating some of the great practical difficulties involved in the administration of the law in this extraordinarily difficult industry.
– Why not pay the fines into the revenue? Under the present method they only get them back.
– If that is done we shall be up against this difficulty: Are we to prosecute every one who is away, without exception? If we do, we shall get a uniform fine of a small amount. It will appear, no doubt, in the evidence given to the court that unidentifiable persons are responsible, and so there is likely to be a small fine imposed upon everybody. It is wrong to assume that every stoppage is due to the lodge or to the men alone, and that provocation is not given by the owners in many cases. However, I do not propose at this stage to go into the competing merits of these cases. There is no doubt that many stoppages have been due to action taken by the employees. In fact, I believe that a greater part of the disputes have arisen in that way, and I have stated that clearly to the men engaged in this industry. On the other hand some mine-owners nave been guilty of provocative conduct, and-in other circumstances one could give illustrations. That aspect of the matter also must be taken into account.
– Then, when the Prime Minister said that the law would take its course, he did not mean that these individuals were to be made to obey the law?
– I trust that the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart) will pardon me if I do not answer that question elaborately. It is not fair to ask it at this juncture. I am in entire agreement with what the Prime Minister said, and I believe that he hit upon one of the greatest difficulties confronting this industry to-day, namely, fear of the future. The post-war situation is worrying the coal-miners and the mineowners alike. I have pointed out clearly to the men engaged in the industry, that by their conduct, they are prejudicing their own future. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) referred to. overseas markets. In that connexion it is important to note .that even during these most difficult years we have managed to export considerable quantities of coal from this country for war purposes. [Extension of time granted.]
– Will the AttorneyGeneral tell me what happened to the £2,296 of fines imposed by the miners’ federation upon its members?
– It is quite obvious that if the federation fines its members, and the fines are collected by the lodges and passed on to the district organizations, there is no benefit to general revenue. In one form or another, the miners’ federation itself receives the money. However, such disciplinary action will be felt by the individuals who have to pay.
Care should be taken in the use of the word “ appeasement “. Whilst recognition of the governing body of the union, and acceptance of promises, may perhaps be condemned as appeasement, I consider that the word should be applied rather to the attitude or policy adopted towards foreign governments. I do not think that it is a correct word to apply in this case.
– What word would the Attorney-General suggest as a substitute ?
– I do not wish to suggest an alternative at present, because no doubt the honorable member might use it instead of the word “ appeasement “. Apart from the matters which we have already discussed, what are the true causes of the condition of this industry? It is interesting to examine what has occurred in the coal-mining industry in Great Britain. For the year ended the 30th October, 1943- that ‘is the last full year for which we have figures - according to a statement issued by the British Ministry of Fuel and Power, the output of saleable coal in Great Britain was only 195,356,800 tons compared with 206,344,300 tons in 1941, when approximately 13,000 fewer men were employed in the coal mines. The British problem is this: compared with 1941 there are more men employed in the coal-mining industry, but fewer shifts are being worked each week, and each shift is producing less coal. Between 1941 and 1943 absenteeism increased by almost 30 per cent. In 1939, the average number of shifts a week worked in the British coalmining industry was 5.15 a wage-earner. From January to June, 1942, this figure increased to 5.36. That was the peak year. Control of the industry was introduced in J une, 1942. Between July and December, 1942, the average number of shifts worked weekly dropped to 5.30. The fall continued in the first and second quarters of 1943, the figure reaching its lowest level in the last quarter of that year when it was 4.97. It will be seen that . the number of shifts worked weekly in Great Britain has been falling ever since the middle of 1942. Giving figures of absenteeism in the British coal-mining industry, the Minister representing the Ministry of Fuel and Power stated in the House of Commons that in the 1943 period, voluntary absenteeism at the coal face was 6.4 per cent, which represented a loss to the nation of 13,000,000 tons of coal a year. For the first twelve weeks of 1944 production was 3,764,800 tons less than for the same period of 1943. The number of man shifts lost in the coal-mining industry owing to disputes was 730,000 in 1940, 260,000 in 1941, 390,000 in 1942, 810,000 in 1943, and up to the present in 1944, 1,790,000. Is it not a reasonable inference to draw from these figures that another element has come into the problem ?
– The right honorable gentleman has not told the whole story of the report to which he has referred. “Was it not stated also that most of the absenteeism was due to over-age miners?
– I do not think so. That could not account for the enormous increase in the loss of shifts. Of course, inferences must be drawn guardedly from any set of figures, especially figures emanating from countries overseas. However, my guarded, or provisional inference is this : We are now almost at the end of the fifth year of the war. From the beginning of the war until now appeals have been made to the coalminers to do everything possible to help the war effort of this country. For the first time in their industrial experience the coal-miners have had impressed upon them that their labour power is precious to the country and that the product which they supply is of inestimable value. As months and years go by, and one crisis of the war succeeds another, is it not reasonable to suppose that weariness and fatigue must affect the coal-miners as it has affected workers in every other industry in this country ?
– But we are told that the trouble is caused by the young men.
– Not all young men by any means. When a man in the coal-mining industry passes 35 years of age he is no longer a young man. It is true that in many cases youths are responsible for stoppages, but I am now speaking of the readiness with which some of the older men are content to accept the decision of a pit top meeting not to work on a particular day. I do not wish to suggest that this is the sole cause of stoppages ; but it is a factor which must be considered. It is a factor which is in evidence in the coal-mining industry in Great Britain, and to a lesser degree in the United States of America, because the burden of war has not fallen so heavily upon the coal-miners in that country as it has upon their colleagues in Great Britain and Australia. That is why I say that the Prime Minister hit upon a vital aspect of this problem when he referred to the possibility of introducing a pensions scheme for miners - something to give them hope and better prospects in the post-war world. To-day the miners are saying to themselves, “ What we do in time of war is important, but what about the years of the depression when our work was regarded as of no importance at all? “ One reads frequently press articles stating that when the war is over the present output of coal will not be required ; that the demand will fall immediately by 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 tons a year. Such statements cause the coal-miner great anxiety about the future. The problem is one for which a positive solution is demanded. Mere criticism of the Government is not enough. As my colleague the Minister for Supply and
Shipping has said, it has been a daybyday struggle to keep this industry in production. It has been kept going by the Commonwealth Government through very many crises of the war. This country has passed through periods of grave emergency, and the tragedy is that at a time when victory appears to be in sight, and we should be rejoicing at our successes in all theatres of war, this obstacle to our war effort rises once again. The blame cannot be laid at the door of one group alone.
– The anxieties of which the right honorable gentleman has spoken are not confined to the coalmining industry. They are shared by workers in all industries.
– That is so, but I venture to say that in many respects absenteeism in the coal-mining industry does not compare unfavorably with absenteeism in other industries ; but whereas in other industries the trouble may show itself in the form of individual absenteeism, in the coal-mining industry, it is shown by a pit stoppage for the day. The cause in both cases may be the same - disinclination to produce because of many factors common to all industries including prolonged fatigue.
– I should like the right honorable gentleman to produce figures in support of his statement about absenteeism in other industries.
– That conclusion is based upon the weekly reports from all industries which are made available to us. The sadness of the situation to-day is that this Government after intense concentration upon the task of maintaining the war effort of this country, and after having achieved outstanding success in that task, should be confronted at this time with a censure motion - not a mere formal motion for the adjournment of the House - condemning it because of this one disfigurement. After all, a great deal remains to be done in the war effort, and I am sure that honorable members opposite in all fairness will agree that this is a matter which should be examined fairly and impartially. I do not claim that mistakes have not been made, but I do say that our record in regard to coal production is as good as or better than that of any administration which preceded us. I claim also credit for an earnest endeavour to secure maximum production. In this industry there has been no conscious appeasement in the evil sense of the word. The illustration given by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech was intended, I suppose, to provoke my interjection. The right honorable gentleman said that, in the committee stages of the Coal Production (War-time) Bill I stated my views - and I believe that they were sound - in relation to the bearing of the bill on the economic regulations. He then referred to argument of counsel for the Commonwealth beforthe High Court which, he saia, was contrary to the view that I expressed when the Coal Production (War-time) Bill was before the House. If that is the only evidence of appeasement the Leader of the Opposition can produce, it is not worth a straw. I have not given instructions of any kind contrary to the views that I have expressed in this House, which views were upheld by the judgment of the Court to which I have referred. The miners’ federation lost the case and my opinion was confirmed. [Further extension of time granted.]
I shall refer to one other matter, rationing and coupons, of which I was reminded by the remarks of the honorable member for Balaclava. The honorable gentleman must be well aware that rationing is essential in this country in a time of war, yet, in recent weeks and months, the press of Australia has been flooded with advertisements which amount j in effect, to a strong attack on the whole rationing system.
– We do not support that.
– I have not said that honorable gentlemen opposite supported it, but it is a fact that this attack is being made. I hold in my hand a big newspaper advertisement which carries the expression “ Queue happy “ and refers to “ coupon-worried housewives “. Many such advertisements have been published and their publication can do nothing but spread discontent among the people generally. This campaign is being waged continuously.
– We suffer very little from rationing compared with the people of Great Britain.
– I agree. But such advertisements suggest that the people should not tolerate rationing.
I regret having spoken on this difficult matter at length. But I considered it necessary to state certain aspects of the problem which appear to me to be of great importance. No case whatever has been made out for censuring the Government for its actions in connexion with the coal-mining industry, and I am confident that the House will decisively reject the motion.
.- This motion involves two important points; first, whether additional coal can be obtained by proper government administration, and, secondly, whether the law is being enforced in Australia in respect of the coal-mining industry or whether that industry is controlling the country. There is no point at all, it seems to me, in referring to what has taken place in Great Britain in relation to production, absenteeism, or other aspects of the British coal-mining industry or to what has been done by previous governments in Australia in relation to the industry since 1929. We are concerned with what is taking place in 1944. A vital question is whether the rule of law in Australia is being defied by the coal-miners. I ask whether more coal can be won than is being won, and, also, and more importantly, whether the Government of this country is being surrendered to 17,000 coal-miners in New South Wales. Those are the real matters for consideration. I do not suggest that the problems of the coal-mining industry are of easy solution; in fact, I am prepared to admit that they involve very great difficulties. But the time has been reached in Australia when the Government should grasp these problems firmly or surrender its office.
For some time past, in fact since the commencement of the war, the coalminers have followed their own bent. They have been engaged, in a series of lawless acts and have defied the rule of law which is the foundation upon which society must rest. They have defied the
Parliament, the Prime Minister, and their own elected leaders. The questions therefore arise: What shall be done? What has been done? Has the Government done anything at all to arrest this drift to lawlessness?
The problems of the coal-mining industry have their roots deep in the past. It is true that the coalminers, living together in separate communities, have brought to this country the bitterness of the disputes over coal-mining which had their beginning in the old world. It is true, also, that a long-range settlement of these difficulties cannot be proposed in simple terms. No Government should be censured merely because it has not solved the problems of the industry, but, in a time of war, 17,000 men should not be permitted to disregard the interests of the whole nation. They should not be allowed to go their own way irrespective of the result of their actions on the country as a whole. The question that concerns me most of all, and therefore I come back to it again, is whether the rule of law is being enforced, and, if it is not being enforced, who is responsible for the failure.
No one can deny that this Government has jumped from expedient to expedient in attempting to deal with this industry. One statement has been made one day and a different statement has been made the next day. Again and again we have been promised strong action and again and again pious hopes have been expressed that the situation will improve. As one formula has failed, another has been proposed ; but all of them have proved to be utterly futile. The latest effort on the part of the Government to deal with the situation was the introduction of the Coal Production (War-time) Bill in March of this year. When that measure came before the House I ventured the opinion that it was nothing more than a facesaving device, and that it contained no substantial power that was- not already provided in regulations that had been promulgated some time before. The Government already had ample power to control the coal-mining industry, but it had failed to obtain the coal that the country so desperately needs. It is still failing to do so. The miners had defied the law. The Government had prosecuted certain individuals and then withdrawn the prosecutions or remitted fines on certain men found guilty of offences. Always, enforcement of the penalty has been postponed. When the Government found itself in difficulty, it brought down in this House the Coal Production (Wartime) Bill, which was no more than a recapitulation of existing regulations.
During the debate on that measure I drew attention to a provision which has been one of the causes of the failure of the Government to increase production. It will be remembered that, following sections which conferred upon the Coal Commissioner the most absolute power to obtain production of more coal, section 20 made the whole of those powers subject to any direction by the Minister on matters of policy. I said, at that time that that would prove to be a fatal limitation. The bill, as presented, had no such limitation, but the ministerial caucus met and directed that it should be amended in that form. Subsequent events have proved that the basis of the alteration was the intention that the Coal Commissioner should be controlled from time to time in relation to any matter with respect to which pressure could be applied to the Government by the coal-miners. I am not reflecting on the Minister. Every Minister must finally give directions in accordance with Cabinet decisions, and in the present Administration the Cabinet reflects the composite view of the caucus, which is subject to pressure by this powerful union. So the hands of the Coal Commissioner, in matters of policy, have been tied. It is impossible to say where policy begins and ends. Therefore, it has been open to the Government to place limitations upon the control exercised by the Coal Commissioner, and we know that from time to time it has done so.
The first step that is needed in order to get more coal is to give to the Coal Commissioner . complete power to deal with the industry, unhampered, by any limitation in relation to matters with respect to which he can now be directed by the Minister, and, having given him that power, stand by him so long as he discharges his duties competently. ‘Certain honorable members on this side of the House supported the amendment which made the powers of the Commissioner subject to the direction of the Minister, on the ground that what was proposed was a delegation to the Coal Commissioner of the functions of responsible government. I could not then agree with that argument, and I have not since been convinced of its soundness. The Coal Commissioner was being called upon to exercise quasi-judicial functions between the employees and the employers. I should have thought that, in time of war, primarily one person should be charged with that responsibility. I believe that, if the Coal Commissioner had the authority to exercise the plenary power proposed to be conferred on him under this act, more coal would be produced. So long as the miners know that they can exert political pressure on .the Government by virtue of section 20, there will not be discipline in the industry. The limitation imposed by the words “shall be subject to any directions of the Minister as to matters of policy “ should be removed from that section.
It is sometimes argued that nationalization would provide the solution of the problems of the coal-mining industry. At the present moment, the Government has the most complete powers to deal with all matters ; these could not be more complete were the fee-simple of the mines vested in the ‘Commonwealth. The terms and conditions of employment, the rates of pay, and the customs in the industry - all are determined exactly as they would be if the Commonwealth owned the mines. No man can be compelled to act or work contrary to an established custom, or to perform work which previously he had not performed. The Government, by virtue of the Coal Production (War-time) Act, occupies exactly the same position in respect of every phase of the duties and remuneration of the employees and the operations of miners as it would occupy if the mines were nationalized. Thus there can be no merit in that argument. But I am inclined to the belief that if the mines were removed from the control of the present owners and were vested in the Commonwealth, full advantage would be taken of that fact by the employees and the production would be less than it is under the existing system. The mines could not be nationalized unless the States in which the coal is produced agreed to that course being taken. Assuming that they were nationalized, more coal would be obtained only by the imposition on the coal-miners of the most rigid system of regimentation. “We are considering what would not be confined to a time of war, but would also spill into the ensuing period of peace; therefore, the most rigid regimentation would have to be continued right into that period. Then, too, it must be realized that nationalization has the habit of growing. Once the mines had been nationalized, other utilities also would have to be nationalized; and not one of them could be conducted efficiently by the Government without the most rigid regimentation of the workmen employed in them. “We should then have socialization, which to maintain it must be accompanied and supported by regimentation. This would be a denial of democracy and our democratic way of life. Upon both grounds, expressed simply and shortly, nationalization is not the solution of the problem.
It would not be fitting for honorable members who sit on this side of the chamber merely to criticize the Government on the ground that it had failed to do this or that. Therefore, I shall state the steps which I consider ought to he taken by the Government to deal with the problem. As I have remarked in .respect of section 20 of the Coal Production (“War-time) Act all the provisions which enable political control to be exercised over the Coal Commissioner, should be removed from the act. That could be done quite simply by vesting in the Coal Commissioner plenary unrestricted power to exercise the functions delegated to him by the act. Secondly, the mechanization of coal production and the development of the open-cut method must be increased as rapidly as possible if production is to be increased, particularly in the period that is immediately ahead. I believe that the Government has given some consideration to that matter. Thirdly, income tax must be lightened in order to induce .further production. This involves the profit motive, which is so strongly condemned by honorable members opposite. It is obvious to those who know anything about the industry that one of the prime causes of absenteeism is that men reach the stage at which their earnings are not sufficient to induce them to work further. That is characteristic of a large number of industries. I have made inquiries of personnel officers in big factories, and have been told that the men reach the stage at which earning more is not worth the trouble; consequently, they will not earn more. Therefore, they must be induced by the profit motive to do so. This would mean a revision of the scales of taxation so as to give a higher return to the men who are working in the industry.
– And in every other industry.
– Certainly. I am not prepared to give special treatment to this section of the community as a class, especially having regard to the way in which they have defied the law of the country during a period of war; but I believe that what is desired would be achieved in part if all workers and other taxpayers engaged in production were given a better profit incentive. That could be accomplished by a reduction of the income tax rates, and could be compensated for, if the Government would undertake the task, by eliminating extravagance in respect of practically every item of governmental expenditure over which this Parliament has, indeed, lost complete control for a considerable time. The loss of revenue that would be suffered by reducing the income tax rates, so as to give a proper incentive to the coal-miners and other workers, could be more than compensated for by a proper surveillance of the expenditure.
My next point is that those who disobey the law must be punished in accordance with the law. They must be treated in exactly the same way as every other citizen who disobeys the law. As a lawyer, I believe, fundamentally, in the rule of law, and it should be applied to every person in the community. I see no reason why we should extend special treatment to the 17,000 men in the coalmining industry, who have held this country to ransom and have engaged in a special technique for a long period.
They realize that their greatest bargain^ ing power would be the reduction of the coal stocks of this country to the lowest possible ebb. They know that if there were a stoppage of work on the coalfields for a correspondingly short period, the supplies would be quickly exhausted., with disastrous effects on the national economy. Knowing that, the coalminers have, throughout the years and particularly during the last five years, kept the reserves of stock at perilously low levels and defied governments. Therefore, irrespective of ‘ the consequences, the law must be applied against them. The stage is eventually reached when the nettle must be grasped, firmly, regardless of the consequences, I believe that that time has long since arrived. If we surrender further to these people, and if they believe that Ministers will always be ready to defend them and magnify their unquestioned difficulties, believing that their action will be white-washed by the Government, and that they can defy the law with impunity, there will be no hope of full production on the coal-fields. If these men disobey the law they must be prosecuted, even if it results in mass prosecutions. If this should result in a general stoppage of work on the coalfields, J agree with the Leader of the Opposition that that should not prevent the enforcement of the la,w. Hundreds of thousands of decent workmen through, out this country who have laboured for Iona; hours in support of the war effort would not support the coal-miners. I believe that they would stand condemned before the bar of trade union opinion as well as public opinion, I disagree with the AttorneyGeneral that this matter is properly left to the miners’ federation, which enforces the fines, collects them, and puts them into its own pocket. It is most extraordinary that power should be delegated to the miners’ federation to discipline its members, and, in the process of doing that, pay the fines collected into its own funds- The miners’ federation is permitted to profit out of breaches of the law, and money collected from the recalcitrant coal-miners is .paid over to the federation, which uses funds in their interests. If the law means anything, it should be enforced on behalf of the
Commonwealth, and the penalties should be imposed and collected on behalf of the Commonwealth.
My final point is that the malcontents, who have been proved to have repeatedly disobeyed the law and to have stirred up agitation in the mines, must be directed to other ‘forms of labour.
– Even though the mineowners objected?
– It is not for the mine-owners, any more than the coalminers, to say how the affairs of thi? country shall be conducted, proper though it is that they should be consulted. The. only effective way to deal with proved recalcitrants is to man: power them put of the mines, and I believe that that could be done. If action on. those lines resulted in mass strikes, then the ‘Government should, after appropriate warning, freeze union funds and deprive the coal-miners pf their ability to any benefit a.s the result pf their own defiance of the law. Should this fail, then unless within a pertain time’ specified by the Government, the coal-miners returned to work, and submitted to the rule pf law, consideration should be given to provide that those responsible for the decision to defy the Government should suffer the forfeiture pf their suffrage at the next Commonwealth elections- That, I agree, would be a drastic penalty, but extreme measures are needed to meet extreme emergencies, I cannot conceive pf any justification for retention of his suffrage by a nian who, after repeated offences by him, and after Government warnings, defies the law and is responsible for stirring /up strife when the country is at war. Unless penalties are imposed sufficient to prevent a recurrence “of these events they .are not worth-while. The federation collected over £2,000 in fines, but the conditions became worse than previouslyThe penalty imposed must fit the infringement of the law in respect pf which it is imposed, Disobeyance by these malcontents of the Government’s edict in accordance with the law is a most flag-rant defiance of the law, and that can only be arrested by the course that I have suggested. If all these things fail, nonfederation labour must be introduced in order to obtain the necessary production of coal. If the coal-miners go out in a mass strike the Government cannot sit still ; it must seek to get coal by nonfederation labour. I advance these views only with great reluctance, but throughout the war we have seen this small body of men defy the law, and they are allowed to get .away with it. Only the most drastic method of dealing with them will prove effective.
.- Honorable members are greatly concerned at the situation which has arisen owing to the reduced production of coal, and fully realize the possible repercussions upon the economic life of Australia. Consideration must also be given to the further commitments which will be placed on this country in the near future, because of circumstances well known to most of us. It is necessary to consider the effect of the coal position on the fighting services and the war effort generally, as well as on Australian prisoners of war in Malaya and Japan. It would be a pity if the country’s war effort were to be hampered by’ a continued decline of coal production, and the victory, which is now in sight, thereby delayed. However, I do not think that it behoves the Opposition to lecture the Government on its handling of the coal situation. I am sure that the Government would welcome constructive criticism from any source, even the Opposition, but no member of the Opposition has yet made a single constructive contribution to the debate. The speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) was completely devoid of any constructive element. He plumbed the depths of desperation when he said that the Government should face a three months’ hold-up on the coal-fields if that were necessary in order to solve the problem. Such a suggestion represents the very essence of defeatism. Does he suggest that we should ask the enemy to hold up the war for three months while the country is plunged into industrial strife, perhaps civil war and bloodshed ? The suggestion reveals what was in the minds of members of the Opposition when this censure motion was moved. So far as they are concerned, anything goes if it is likely to bring about the downfall of the Government. The Leader of the Opposition is the last one who should talk of appeasement. He has proved himself to be a master of the art. I do not want to dwell upon his efforts to appease a nation with which we are now at death grips, and I content myself with reminding honorable members that it was he who, as Prime Minister, visited the coal-fields and pleaded with the miners to preserve industrial peace. We know what the record of the mine-owners wa3 during the last war. I remember an agent of the owners saying gloatingly that the group of mines which he represented at the outbreak of the war had contracts to supply the Railways Department, the Sydney City Council and certain instrumentalities with coal at 25s. a ton, but when the war broke out they took advantage of a clause in the contract to annul the agreement, after which they raised the price to £2 a ton. They exploited the situation created by the last war, just as they are prepared to exploit the present situation. When the last war ended, and the mine-owners were faced with overseas competition, they made a frantic effort to keep up their profits by breaking down wages and working conditions. We remember how, during the depression, they locked the coal-miners out for fifteen months. The coal-miners remember these things, too, and that is why they are suspicious. They do not want to be caught again. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) “let the cat out of the bag” when he quoted the circular letter from Mr. Gregory Forster. Propaganda of that sort has been a contributing factor to the disturbances on the coal-fields. We never read anything in the newspapers in favour of the coal-miners. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) has lent himself to that kind of propaganda. Some little while ago, he caused a disturbance at a mine at Muswellbrook in which there had been industrial peace for eighteen years. He went down the mine for half an hour and afterwards he tried to convince people that mining was not an arduous occupation. Even the manager of the mine expressed his resentment against the honorable member for making such a statement. Members of the Opposition have nothing to suggest but that the Government should use strong-arm methods against the miners. Such an attitude is typical also of the representatives of the mineowners, who, from time to time, publish their suggested solution of the problems associated with the industry. I quote the following anonymous article, which was published in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of Wednesday of this week: -
HOW TO PERSUADE MORE COAL FROM THE MINERS.
Only Government toughness can get more coal now.
If the Government still doesn’t know how to be tough, here’s a plan -
By a Contributor.
If, for instance, under Government edict:
All main coal-fields were immediately placed under martial law and cordoned off; soldiers called in to control these areas with rigid discipline.
No one, apart from Army personnel, permitted to enter or leave these military zones.
A rigid curfew imposed.
All entertainments, sports meetings and hotels closed.
All supplies of beer, tobacco and petrol to these military areas prohibited.
Only essential foods provided for the miners.
Miners’ families temporarily withdrawn and housed in barracks elsewhere.
The Miners Federation declared illegal.
All union funds confiscated and strike pay prohibited.
Miners’ right to vote abolished.
Miners who refused to work after military law had been declared on the coal-fields could be either put into jail to do hard labour, or drafted into the C.C.C. or a special disciplinary corps to work in a remote part of the country where there are no amenities.
That is the kind of solution which has been suggested by representatives of the coal-owners. One can understand why the author of that article chose to remain anonymous because of the Fascist nature of the proposal. Obviously, the internecine warfare now taking place in the coal industry will react on the miners and on the community generally. After the last war much of the coal trade of this country was lost because of the conditions which then prevailed, and a similar state of affairs is likely to happen after the present war, as other countries are looking for an expansion of trade when hostilities cease. Only yesterday the following report appeared in the Sydney Sun: -
SOUTH AFRICA’S BIG COAL MARKETS.
Johannesburg, Wednesday. - The Prime Minister of South Africa (Field-Marshal Smuts) in a speech at a supplies conference, said that South Africa in the second stage of the war - after the surrender of Germany - would supply coal and cement and carry out ship repairs for the Allies. South Africa, last year, he said, exported 400,000 tons of coal a month and the new programme would make South Africa about the greatest coal exporter in the world.
Reports of that nature should be a warning to the coal-miners not to jeopardize their future interests by causing disputes or indulging in internecine warfare. Interstate trade, as well as international trade, may be lost through disputes. That the danger exists is clear from the action of other States in making greater use of brown coal and developing their deposits by open-cut methods. In considering how to deal with the problems confronting us a constructive approach to the subject is necessary. Strong-arm methods will not get us anywhere. Under legislation passed earlier this year the Government has power to deal with disputes in the coal-mining industry and of matters relating to production. As the coal-owners and the miners’ federation have failed to deal effectively with the situation, the only alternative is for the Government to take control. That was made clear recently by Mr. Willis, the CentralCoal Authority, who has been actively associated with coal-mining all his working life. Recently, Mr. Willis is reported to have said - “ All persons, whether employers or employees, who are consciously or unconsciously doing the work of fifth columnists should be removed from the coal industry “, said Central Coal Authority A. C. Willis yesterday.
He added he was convinced that trouble was caused by a small section of persons in, or connected with, the industry.
Mr. Willis emphasized that until steps had been taken to produce sufficient coal to relieve the grave shortage, he did not intend to proceed with the miners’ federation application for a new award.
It is to be hoped that the Government will take all necessary steps to control the industry. Unless the situation is improved immediately, widespread suffering and hardship will be imposed upon the community as a whole, and on the working class in particular.
While the imperative need is production of coal, 1 am fully satisfied that the whole industry will have to be thoroughly overhauled and reconstructed before a permanent basis of peace is achieved.
For the moment, however, I would earnestly appeal to elements within the miners federation who are continually refusing to obey their organization to consider seriously whether it is in their own interests to continue their present conduct. I think it is safe to say that their future well-being will depend upon their conduct to-day.
That is a clear statement by one who, probably, knows more of the coal-mining industry than does any other person in Australia. Disciplinary measures will be of little use unless the co-operation of the miners is obtained. Mass prosecutions will not get us very far, because, under that system, innocent men may be proceeded against with the result that men who have legitimate reasons for absenting themselves from the mines will become embittered. For an innocent man to be branded a law-breaker will not help the situation. Those tactics were adopted in the past in the South Coast District of New SouthWales, but their futility was soon demonstrated. Many miners chose to go to gaol rather than pay the fines. Hundreds of miners lined up preparatory to marching to the gaol, and the result was that the owners appealed for their release. That practice was abandoned at the request of the coal-owners. It is well known to those who have knowledge of the coal-mining industry that 90 per cent of the miners are loyal, decent, law-abiding citizens. That was admitted to-day by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies). That being so, there is something wrong when the community cannot get the best out of such a body of men.
– : What does the honorable member suggest?
– Much of the criticism of the coal-miners is wrongly based, and tends to irritate them. The kind of propaganda that is being indulged in, such as certain advertisements by manufacturers, is having an unsettling effect on the community generally. Such propaganda compares unfavorably with the attitude adopted by other countries, particularly the United States of America, where more attention is paid to the importance of morale on production. In those countries, various incentives are offered in order to get the best results, whereas in Australia the tendency is in the opposite direction. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to how Russia would deal with absenteeism. One would think from his remarks that the only thing that Russia does is indulge in strong-arm methods. There is a good deal of misconception about Russian methods. Appropriately enough, I noticed an article on this point in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 22nd August, which shows that the Communists have appropriate methods to get the best out of the worst elements in the community. The article reads as follows : -
(From Harrison Forman.)
People who refuse to work in the Communist regions of north-western China are forced to wear a big white badge inscribed “Er Lu TZe” (“Loafer”).
When the Communists took over one region in 1930 there were 70,000 loafers.
By propaganda methods, this number has been” reduced to 3,967.
These die-hard loafers resisted all pressure to make them reform.
Apart from wearing the white badges, they were peered at, hooted, and humiliated by the people who tried to shame them into reform.
At a recent convention for Labour Heroes, the Government invited five selected loafers to attend the ceremony.
The loafers were received with identical courtesies with the Labour Heroes and were loudly applauded as they were ushered to the platform and seated with the honoured guests.
Wine, cakes, and sweetmeats were served to them, and they were invited to participate in all the discussions.
At the end of the convention, the five loafers announced their determination to reform.
Later they addressed a convention of63 loafers of the Yennan district. The 63loafers then declared they would mend their ways.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), who appears anxious to say what he would do about the coalmining industry ought to go to Newcastle and extend to the coal-miners a friendly hand to indicate that their efforts are appreciated. The criticism of the coalminers would lead one to think that they are the only section of the community in which there has not been a 100 per cent, war effort. I defy the honorable member for New England, who has been around the industries, to point to any industrywhich has worked to 100 per cent, capacity.
– Production in that industry has fallen considerably in the last year or so.
– Because it has not the necessaryman-power and cannot get any.
– Order ! The dairying industry is not under discussion.
– There is always some excuse. Absenteeism applies to the professions as well as to industry. On any day of the week one could go to bowling greens and golf courses and find there many (professional men who are too ready to criticize the coal-miners. At the same time, I do think that the matter could he handled much better. There shouldbe use of propaganda to build up the morale of the men engaged in the coal-mining industry in order to get the best possible results from them. I am glad that the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) is in the House because, although the activities of the Department of Information are restricted, because it has not the funds which ought to be at its disposal, there is much that it could do to build up the coal-miners’ morale and to ensure that the part that they have played shall be brought to the notice of the community generally. An effort ought to be made to create in the minds of the coal-miners a full appreciation of the important part they are playing in the war effort, and also the real seriousness of our position.
Mr.Calwell. - I am glad to be able to tell the honorable member that the Department of Information is doing that now.
– I am glad to have that information. Yesterday I received the following interesting letter setting out the coal-miners’ point of view : -
Mr. C. A. Morgan, 23/S/44. Canberra.
I have been a reader of parliamentary debates for a. few years now, and have been impressed with the honesty and sincerity of your speeches, and have decided to write this letter, which will give you a new angle on the coal position, especially in this State of Queensland.
To begin with, in Blair Athol we have an open cut, which has been in operation for about eight years. The coal in this field is from sixty to ninety feet in thickness, and it is estimated that there is between two hundred and fifty and three hundred millions of tons of coalin the field, and black coal at that.
At the face of the open cut the height of the coal is from sixty to sixty-three feet, the overburden, from forty-five to eighty feet.
The position of the open cut at present (considering the nation’s desperate need for coal) is a national scandal. We are just scratching along producing just over two hundred tons of coal per day, and any day now we may beunable to produce any at all.
This open cut could and should he producing thousands of tons per day, if we had the proper machinery. Now I am hoping you may be able to help us find out why the Federal Government has not taken any steps to improve the position. Does the Coal Commissioner know?
I was glad to learn from the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) that theCoal Commissioner does intend to visit that field soon -
Well, he should, since Mr. Jack, Assistant Coal Commissioner, has visited the field. He came just over a year ago.
The machinery in use here is no good, always breaking down, and should be scrapped.
That is under the control of private enterprise -
The men are working from seventy-two to eighty hours per week-
That would be well up to the hours worked by dairy-farmers- on the overburden, against forty hours on the coal, yet coal reserves are almost nil. We have worked during the Christmas holidays year after year, we have worked overtime for long periods, yet the position gets steadily worse. Give the Open Cut the proper machinery and we will give the country thousands of tons of coal per day, if the country wants it. We have had no local strikes for over twelve years.
That is a record-
And we get fed up with the way some of our papers and members of Parliament are tearing into the miners, instead of finding out the truth of things, and giving us a chance.
The honorable member for New England willperhaps take a trip up there-
We have tried everything we can to get somethingdone, we have had visits from members of Parliament and the Queensland Minister for Mines, yet nothing has been done. This Open Cut produces about sixty thousand tons of coal per year; it could be, and should be, anything up to three or four hundred thousand tons per year.
Why blame the miner, and not the owner? Why blame the miner when even the Government does nothing to help us?
That clearly shows that it is the responsibility of the Government to take control of the mines and carry on where the coal-owners cannot handle the situation. This is a matter which definitely warrants governmental intervention and assistance. Honorable members opposite who represent rural constituencies should not complain about a little support being given to the coal-mining industry. Why, the amount of subsidies given to primary industries in the present war amounts to millions of pounds. Figures given by the Treasurer, and published on page 2515 of Hansard of the 30th March, 1944, show that from the 1st July, 1939, direct financial assistance to primary industries amounted to £32,208,989. Considerable additional assistance amounting to millions of pounds has also been given indirectly to those engaged in rural industries. At the same time, the coal-mining industry, which present circumstances prove to be the key industry in our economy, has not been given substantial assistance. Assistance to the coal-mining industry amounts to £129,162, made up of £53,042 by way of subsidies, £36,501 representing a refund to mining companies of an increase of the basic wage, and administrative costs amounting to £39,619. At the same time, funds which have accumulated under the control of the Coal Commissioner exceed that amount. Thus the Government has actually shown a profit so far as its handling of the industry is concerned. We should give all possible assistance to the industry, to enable idle, or undeveloped, mines to be worked at their full capacity, and to mechanize mines where mechanization will enable production to be increased. I do not deny that small minorities of irresponsibles exist among both the coal-miners and the owners. Such people who are “ quislings “ and “ fifth columnists “ are prepared to sell their country to not only our external foe, but also our internal enemies. They must be weeded out of the industry ; and I am glad to hear that the Government proposes to take drastic action in that respect. Indeed, that is all that the federation asks the Government to do. At a meeting of delegates from the northern coalfields yesterday a resolution was passed asking the Government to take control of not only production, but also discipline in the industry. That conference, which was attended by 60 delegates, recommended that the Government should take control immediately of the J. & A. Brown group of ten collieries. The conference also asked the Government to investigate fully the causes of stoppages in the industry. I hope that the Government will comply with that request. Should it do so, some very interesting revelations, indeed, will be made. J also hope that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to the federation’s request that the Government take control of the mines. In this respect, following the example set by President Roosevelt, it should set the Australian flag at the masthead at every pit where it would be a reminder to the miners that they are working for the nation and are not merely being exploited by the mine-owners, who, they believe with every justification, will be prepared to sell them out as they sold out the coalminers after the last war. At the same time, however, an admirable spirit of comradeship exists among those engaged in the industry generally. Whenever accidents occur at mines that spirit is displayed not only by the coal-miners themselves, but also by members of the managerial staffs. For instance, some years ago, when representatives of the owners and the coal-miners were ‘before the Arbitration Court, haggling over a dispute which arose at Mount Kembla colliery as to whether the provision of safety lamps in the mine were necessary, an explosion occurred in the mine and, immediately, all concerned rushed to the mine to render whatever assistance they could in order to rescue the entombed miners. [Extension of time granted.] I ask leave to continue my remarks at a. later stage. Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
The following papers were presented : -
Censorship - Postal, Telegraphic and Telephonic - Report of Commissioner appointed under the National Security (Inquiries) Regulations.
Hannan, A. J., Crown Solicitor of the State of South Australia - Allegations of official interception of letters and listening-in to telephone conversations - Report of Commissioner appointed under the National Security (Inquiries) Regulations.
House adjourned at 11.6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 August 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440831_reps_17_179/>.