17th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. J. S. Rosevear ) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Coal- mining INDUSTRY.
Debate resumed from the 31st August (vide page 464), on motion by Mr. Menzies -
That the Government’s failure to maintain adequate supplies of coal impairs the national war effort; seriously dislocates employment, production and transport; imposes unnecessary hardships upon the community; and deserves the censure of this House.
.- For many years, the outstanding principle which lias actuated the employees in the coal-mining industry has been that of “one out, all out”. That principle of solidarity has doubtless stood the miners in good stead in days gone by, but it has now served its purpose and should not be applied to present-day conditions. If a dispute arises when the men arrive at their work in the morning, or an individual miner lias a grievance, either great or small, the practice is for all the men to leave the job immediately and settle the issue later. That misguided sense of loyalty is being used by malcontents and other subversive elements, possibly for sinister purposes, and has been largely instrumental in causing to arise the situation that now confronts us. I deplore the dangerous trend throughout the community towards defiance of the law. Quite recently, certain metropolitan newspapers defied an edict of the censor, their reason being that they wished to ventilate publicly grievances from which, according to their view, they were suffering. That is all that the miners have done in days gone by, when they have applied the principle of direct action in order to draw public attention to their grievances. The master butchers in Newcastle recently decided to take the law into their own hands when they considered that the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner had fixed prices which were onerous on them ; and a similar decision was made by greengrocers in the metropolitan area of Sydney. Not long ago, the learned judges of the Industrial Commission of New South Wales suddenly discovered that they could not continue to function until the Government had filled the vacancy on the bench caused by the retirement of the chairman, and the Government was forced to make the appointment. Now, even the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), a former Prime Minister, says that we may have to face up to a strike lasting for a period of three months in order to settle this problem. That is the technique which the coal-owners . employed in days gone by. They realized that sectional stoppages placed them at a disadvantage in fighting the issue, because the miners belonging to other lodges contributed fighting funds to the men who were on strike. Therefore, it would be to the advantage of the coal-owners if a general stoppage throughout the community were caused. The aim of the right honorable gentleman is obvious. Therefore, some attention should be paid to the matter of propaganda, with a view to acquainting the miners of the real facts that lie behind the present agitation against them throughout the community. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has admitted that the Government has tried everything, from appeasement to the mailed fist. It ought now to consider the use of positive propaganda, in an endeavour to make the miners “ see the light “. The need for this is clearly shown by a decision to which representatives of 250,000 members of the metal trades unions yesterday subscribed when they made the following declaration: -
We declare to the miners that, to the extent production suffers from unauthorized strikes, they are playing into the hands of the enemies of the Labour movement. These enemies utilize the coal crisis to cause divisions in the Labour movement, antagonize the middle class, and undermine the Curtin Government.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) hit the nail on the head when he addressed a meeting of miners on the northern coal-fields. This meeting was reported by Bob Nelson, who claims to have spent three months on the coal-fields in a study of the situation, and has a greater knowledge of the industry than is possessed by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), who spent only half an hour in one coal mine. Addressing the men, the honorable member for Hunter said this -
The country is depending on you men to get coal. By going on strike you’re not hurting the boss, but yourselves, and the men who are fighting the war. Don’tbe a lot of mugs. Wake up to yourselves. Don’t smash your own union.
We should endeavour, by positive propaganda, to inspire the miners to greater efforts, and also induce them to display during a period of national peril the spirit which actuates them when disaster overtakes one of their comrades. The Minister for Information (Mr.Calwell) might issue propaganda through the press, the radio, and the moving-picture industry. The cost of such propaganda would be a mere bagatelle compared with the loss with which we are now threatened. A spirit of teamwork should be infused into not only the rank and file, but also the leaders of the miners. If the situation be as Bob Kelson reported, an unfortunate state of affairs exists on the coal-fields, even in the ranks of the miners themselves. He said -
The four big bosses in the miners union, far from fighting this parochialism, have contracted it themselves in chronic form. It takes the form of inhibited jealousies between the northern “big shots” and the federal leaders. The federation’s big men in the north -Bill Crook and Billy McBlane - scarcely trouble to cloak their hostility to the union’s federal top men, Bob Wells and George Grant, whose head-quarters are in Sydney. Although Wells and Grant, as the national coal union leaders, do most of the negotiating with the coal-owners and the Prime Minister, they cannot legislate for the northern district’s 1 1 , 000 miners unless Mr. Crook and Mr. McBlane say so. And Mr. Crook and Mr. McBlane are not always completely cooperative, especially when federal moves might well result in Wells and Grant getting too big a share of credit. Miners have become accustomed to either pair of “big shots” pulling an opposite way. But sometimes, since each of the four has a slightly different political philosophy, they pull four different ways at once. The miners, who badly need an example of teamwork for the common good, are getting a. pretty poor demonstration from their leaders.
The present situation does notreflect credit on any one. Surely we can impress upon not only the rank and file, but also the leaders of the miners, that the case is one not of who is right, but of what is right. In addition to a propaganda campaign to infuse the right team spirit into the miners, the Government should consider the advisability of assuming control of the coal-mining industry. This has been advocated by the miners themselves, as well as by leading authorities in the industry, like Mr. A. C. Willis, Chairman of the CentralReference Board. To my mind, it is the only means by which a solution may be found. The result of the referendum has considerably hampered the Government in that regard ; because, apparently, under the interpretation placed by the High Court on the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, the Commonwealth could not take control of and operate the mines in peace-time. An inflated price would have to be paid for them, and they would have to be resold to the owners at bargain rates at the end of the war. Still, nationalization could be achieved ultimately in co-operation with the States; and, in my opinion, it is obligatory in this basic industry as well as in other basic industries. There are State coal mines in certain of the States. The powers of the States would enable them to nationalize the mines, not only during the war, but also in the post-war period. The Commonwealth could assist in this direction by financing those States which desired to take such action. The industry would he placed on a sound footing, because the necessary equipment would be provided for the proper working of the mines. Wasteful methods would be eliminated. Those who are acquainted with the industry know that there is considerable waste at present, because the policy of the owners is to work only the best parts of the mines, and this results in millions of tons of coal being lost to the nation for all time. Any surplus profits would go back into the industry in the form of improved conditions for the workers, and the provision of up-to-date equipment. The Coal Commissioner would have the power to give effect to the provisions of the Coal Control Act relating to the setting up of production committees, which have proved helpful in the United States of America and Great Britain by creating greater efficiency, increasing production and arousing a spirit of co-operation and harmony. Only by such means can we bridge the gap which the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) said he observed between the management and the mineworkers. The workers could be given a greater share of the profits obtained from their labours and a voice in the management, and they would no longer believe that the miner is merely a chattel to be exploited by the colliery proprietors. The industry would be protected, particularly in relation to post-war trade. The “ goose which lays the golden egg “ would not be killed, as occurred during the last war, by the loss of overseas trade. The commissioner could ensure that coal supplies at grass would not be utilized for the purpose of victimizing the miners, by depriving them of their employment, as happened previously. The miners suspect that if huge reserves of coal are held they will be making a rod for their own backs. A sense of security would be created if the Coal Commissioner ensured th at the reserves were used to the best possible advantage in the post-war period. He could also take steps to see that Australia would be ready in that period to go ahead with the extraction of oil from coal. [Further extension of time granted. That would afford the miners some assurance that the Government is sincere in its promise to the workers in industry, and to the members of the fighting services, that they will enjoy freedom from want and unemployment, and have economic security after the war.
Mr. ABBOTT (New England) [10.47 J. - This debate, which is probably one of the most important that has occurred in this Parliament shows the great paradox existing in the coal-mining industry, for although Australia possesses some of the richest coal seams in the world, extending almost from Nowra on the south coast of New South Wales to Rockhampton in Queensland, some of the thickest seams in -the world, and coal of the highest calorific value, the shortage of available supplies in this country and in the Pacific area has (never been greater than at present. Coal is required for the prosecution of the war effort in this area, and for the conveyance of our products overseas to enable the United Nations to carry on the war in other theatres against the Axis powers and to ensure to the world freedom from the tyranny which almost overwhelmed it five years ago. Another paradox is that, despite the vast quantity of valuable coal which is available, the production of that commodity in this country is steadily decreasing. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) put his finger right on the spot during the debate last night. It is of no use quarrelling and quibbling as to whether the miners’ federation will or will not do this or that, or whether the mine-owners are responsible for industrial trouble. The plain fact is that the policy of this Government, which has been in office since 1942, has had the effect of steadily decreasing coal production in the Commonwealth.
– That is not true.
– I shall cite figures in support of my statement. If the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) will study the graphs produced last night by the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) Lc will see that they confirm the figures which I shall shortly present to honorable members. The policy of the Government - if one might call it a policy - has been entirely unsuccessful. If Mr. Churchill and the British Government, had been prepared to adhere to the policy laid down in the North African campaign by their unsuccessful generals in those operations, then the present favorable war position of the United Nations would not have been reached.
– What has that to do with coal?
– The honorable member is unable, perhaps, to appreciate my remarks, because he has shirked; his responsibility. The coal position and the war effort are intimately related. A shortage of coal, to use the words of the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), causes paralysis of the war effort, but certain elements in this dis-united Labour Ministry are prepared to impede the efforts of their own Prime Minister.
In 1942, the quantity of coal produced in New South Wales was 12,223;000 tons. In 1943, the production had fallen to 11,473,000 tons, a drop of 750,000 tons. There will probably be a further decrease for 1944 of 1,000,000 tons. At Lithgow, on the 18th J.une, 1944, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) said that coal production was short of consumption by 22,000 tons a week. That would mean a shortage of 1,144,000 tons a year, if the fall remained constant throughout the year. I wag amused to hear the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) say that there is not a coal shortage in Australia, and that this is only the talk of the mine-owners to enable them to obtain better conditions for themselves at the expense of the miners. The Government has been constantly engaged in a struggle since 1942 to induce the miners to produce the maximum quantity of coal. Its policy has been one of threats, appeals, and appeasement. Throughout the whole period the coal production of the country was diminishing.
The Prime Minister, in his speech in the House yesterday, as the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) pointed out, referred to the coal position in Great Britain. The right honorable gentleman told us how he had met the British Minister for Mines, who had said to him: “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 “. That was a very unfair comparison for the Prime Minister to make, because there is a vast difference between what has happened in Great Britain with regard to coal production and what has taken place in Australia, particularly on the New South “Wales coal-fields. The right honorable gentleman might just as well have compared the sickness of a man suffering from influenza with that of a person in the last stages of tuberculosis. When we consider the figures relating to the coal output of Great Britain, and compare the number of men employed in the coalmining industry there with the number engaged on the New South Wales fields, the comparison is not complimentary to that State. The employees in the industry in Great Britain are said to number between 704,000 and 710,000. I heard the figure of 800,000 cited in this chamber last night. If there are 800,000 men so employed, the comparison is all the worse for ourselves. In the British industry the loss of coal for the year ended December, 1943, was 1,000,000 tons. The employees in the industry in New South Wales number 17,500, and the loss for the twelve months is said to be 750,000 tons. The number of employees in New South Wales is approximately one-fortieth of the number in Great Britain, and the miners in New South Wales lost approximately threefourths of the quantity of coal lost by 40 times as many men in Great Britain.
– To-day 80 per cent, of the mines in Great Britain are mechanized whilst only five mines in New South Wales are fully mechanized.
– I doubt if that statement is correct. The Minister will find that the Australian seams are infinitely easier to work than the narrower seams in. Great Britain, which are operated at great depth, and with a great deal of water trouble. Let the Minister meet Welsh coal-miners) and he will not be so quick with interjections designed to mislead the House. An examination of the comparative figures regarding coal production in Great Britain and Australia shows that the British employees lost approximately one and one-third tons a man, during the last twelve months, whilst in New South Wales the loss for each man engaged was 43 ‘tons. Yet the Prime Minister has the audacity to tell us that the problem in Great Britain is as acute as it is in Australia, and that practically the same loss of production has been experienced there as in the Commonwealth.
Let us consider what is happening in other countries, particularly the Union of South Africa. In 1939, the output of the coal mines of that country was approximately 18,000,000 tons per annum. In 1943, it had risen to 22,000,000 tons per annum, of which 50 per . cent, was exported. The Union of South Africa has become the greatest coal exporting country. If that record can be achieved in South Africa, why cannot Australia, with its excellent coal seams, obtain similar results? The Minister for Supply and Shipping and the Prime Minister said that our difficulties were increased because we had to export quantities of coal to the South-West Pacific military area. I now ask whether requests from the United Nations .for coal had to be refused because of lack of supplies?
– We have been asked for coal for the purpose mentioned by the honorable member, and we have also been asked for coal by the New Zealand Government, and we have not been able to supply it.
Mr.Ward. - The coal was not available because there was a hold-up at the Muswellbrook mine.
– I am a mere novice in this business of causing strikes. I am accused of causing one strike, but honorable members opposite have been responsible for hundreds. There will be more trouble, too, when the soothing promises of the Government are found to be ineffective. I maintain that the present unsatisfactory position in the coalmining industry is mainly due to “the inability of the Government and the miners’ federation to maintain discipline. The Prime Minister, himself, confessed yesterday that nearly 90 per cent, of the stoppages were not due to trouble with the owners. In the miners’ journal, Common Came, Mr. Wells admitted that 40 per cent, of the stoppages had no relation to the management. He, no doubt, was trying to make out as good a case as he could for the miners, but his admission constitutes a damning indictment of the federation for its lack of discipline over its members.
I was interested to hear the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) last night trying to establish a claim that most of the stoppages were due to the pinpricking tactics of the management. The Prime Minister spoke of pit-top meetings at which it was decided that no work would be done for the day, but I find, upon looking through records with which I have been supplied, that in many cases there was no pit-top meeting at all prior to the men refusing to work. Here is some of the story -
Hebburn No. 2. - Struck 19th. The men went down the mine but stayed at the shaft bottom and came out and went home about 7.45, without saying anything. It was learned later it was a domestic dispute over wheelers being fined by the federation.
On the 20th a meeting was held in the bathhouse and wheelers informed the lines would have to be paid. Men proceeded to pit top, but wheelers held a further meeting and went home, having decided not to work until the lodge agreed to pay their fines.
On the 21st all the men did not turn up. Those who did, other than wheelers, went down the mine after the miners had decided to take the horses, but only three miners did so.
Work was resumed on the 22nd, but the men struck again on the 23rd. The clippers asked for payment for the 21st, on which day they were sent home owing to wheelers throwing the mine idle. They were informed a conference had been arranged to discuss this matter at the termination of the shift, but they went home.
Stockrington No. 2. - Struck 14th. Places were not undercut for the miners to-day due to the refusal of the machinemen to work on afternoon shift on Friday, the 11th. On the l5th men held a pit-top meeting and refused to go to work because on previous day machinemen would not cut places in which bottom coal had not beentaken up, the miners having decided not to lift this bottom coal. On the 1 7th work was resumed, but the miners commenced to leave the colliery shortly after starting time, due to a continuation of the dispute re bottom coal. On the 18th only 25 to 30 employees went to the colliery and they left when it was seen the lodge officers and other employees were not there.
Seaborn No. 2. - Struck 15th. The employees went to the colliery, but would not go to work as a protest against an increase in the bus fare to the mine.
Richmond Main. - Struck 15th. The employees went to the mine but did not go to work, and left without any approach to the management. On the16th the employees went to the train at Pelaw Main but the majority refused to board same to go to the colliery, although the lodge officers informed them there was no reason for this and endeavoured to get the men on the train. Only a few men,who were chiefly day-wage, went to the colliery.
While the miners, some of them irresponsible boys, are behaving in this fashion, men of the 8th Division of the Australian Imperial Forces have been working under the whips of the Japanese in the coal mines of Malaya. The action of the miners is in some measure prolonging the war in the Pacific by preventing our full striking power from being brought against the Japanese. While the miners in Australia are practising their blessed gospel of solidarity, our men are being crucified in Japanese prisons. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that there was a solution to the problem. If so, lot it be applied, and thus hasten the release of our men in Malaya.
In his speech last night, the honorable member for Hunter claimed that one cause of the stoppages was a disease called greasy heel which was sometimes contracted by pit ponies. He said that the men would not work with such horses because a most unpleasant smell was given off from the affected part. This statement by the honorable member merely serves to confirm my contention that there is a lack of discipline on the mine-fields. No competent and conscientious horse master would allow such a disease to develop in his horses. At its first appearance he would clip the heel and apply appropriate remedies. I quote the following on this disease from a standard work, Breeding and Management of Live Stock : -
It is brought ou by neglect of the feet and lower part of the legs.
To prevent grease the legs should be kept as dry as possible and all mud and dirt should he brushed from the lower hairy parts.
I have said a good deal on the subject of industrial anarchy on the coal-fields. In case honorable members should think I am exaggerating, I turn for .confirmation to “the ranks of Tuscany”. Let us hear what some of the experts, the doctors, professors, and lawyers who have been to the coal-fields, have to say on the subject. On the 4th March of this year, the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) speaking at Cessnock, referred to the stoppages, and was reported as follows: -
There had not been a single industrial principle involved in all the miserable disputes, which, in the last twelve months, had lost this country more than 2.000,000 tons of coal.
By the expression “ miserable disputes “, the Attorney-General no doubt means unnecessary or frivolous disputes caused by irresponsible persons. Mr. Wells, the president of the miners’ federation, is a member of the Communist party, and in the official organ of the party, the Tribune, of the 15 th June of this year, the following appears under the heading “ Mine Lodges Elect Communists “ : -
Abermain No. 2 Miners Lodge elected as president Mr. W. Laverick, well-known Communist.
The secretary of the local Communist party branch, Mr. W. King,, was elected treasurer of Abermain No. 2.
At Aberdare Colliery, A.C.P. District Committee member Tom Duncan was elected unopposed as lodge president, while party branch secretary Jack Tapp waa elected check inspector by a big majority.
At Aberdare Extended, Mr. W. Player, another well-known Communist, was again elected unopposed as lodge secretary.
Mr. Bert Wilkinson was elected secretary of Cessnock No. 2, and Mr. Tom Gilmour president of Elrington. Both are well-known Communists.
At the lodge elections for Maitland Main, all three officers - president, Mr. Dunnicliff; secretary, Mr. Donnelley; treasurer, Mr. Leake - were elected unopposed. All three are Communist party members.
Mr. Donnelley was formerly secretary of the State Labour party’s Hunter Assembly, and is now on the A.C.P. District Committee.
I quote the following from the Maitland Mercury of the 2Sth August, 1944:-
Mr. Edgar Ross, of Sydney, will be the guest speaker at a lecture and social evening organized by the Maitland branches of the Australian Communist party to be held in the Parish Hall, Hunter-street, on Saturday next at S p.m. Mr. Ross, who is a fine speaker is editor of Common Cause, the official publication of the Miners’ Federation. He is a delegate on the Sydney Trades and Labour Council and is a member of the Central Committee of the Australian Communist party. The subject chosen by Mr. Ross for his lecture is “The Coal Crisis; Its Cause and Cure”. In view of the present coal situation, the lecture by Mr. Ross provides an opportunity for the citizens of Maitland to hear the facts which the speaker will be able to give and to ask questions. Supper will be served and a collection taken.
T know how galling it must be to the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) to have to turn to such men for advice and direction when we remember how staunchly and ably he led the Non-Communist party in this House for some years. The question arises whether the miners’ organizations are giving to the Government the assistance to which it is entitled. Mr. McBlane, vicepresident of the Northern Miners Federation, said on the 5th March, 1944, at Newcastle that, if strike action was warranted at any time “ we will advocate it and put it into effect . . . our struggles have been based on the right of the federation to stop work and we intend to preserve that basis”. This body has set itself up as something superior to the Government. It is a power within the State, another government, in effect - an authority which is unrepresentative of the people, but claims supremacy over the people’s elected representatives. What Mr. McBlane has said is a threat to the Government of the country. Officials of the miners’ federation may give lip loyalty to the Government, but their actions tell another story. Yesterday, the output was satisfactory; there has never been a better day’s production on the coal-mines of New South Wales. I am delighted at the day’s record. If the effect of the assembling of the Parliament, and the submission of a motion of censure,’ has been to increase the production of coal at every pit in New SouthWales, it might be advisable for the Parliament to sit night and day for the duration of the war, and for a censure motion to be made every week. The fact is that whenever the Government stiffens its upper lip, or indicates that it means business, the production of coal increases; but almost as soon as Parliament goes into recess the miners start to play “ ducks and drakes’” because they know that the Government will not be plucky enough to do anything. Let me cite another example of the “ helpfulness “ of the miners! On the 22nd May, 1944, the Coal Commissioner was informed by the board of management of the Northern District of the miners’ federation that it would not entertain the proposal of the Commonwealth Government to introduce an afternoon shift in the mines in order to increase production. I ask honorable members to mark the words “would not entertain the proposal of the Commonwealth Government “. That statement was made by Mr. Crook, the president of the Northern District of the federation. This lack of discipline is encouraged by the federation and its officers, and by the Government’s weak and vacillating policy. Speaking at Cessnock on the 4th March, 1944, the Attorney-General, who must have been in a particularly sulphurous mood, is reported to have warned the miners that a continuance of coal strikes threatened not only their own security but also that of the nation. He went on to say -
The Government had to say that it must fearlessly control the industry so that enough coal would be won. Those who obstructed coal production would have to go.
That speech by the Attorney-General brings to mymind the remarks of the Prime Minister about bookmakers, billiard markers, race-course touts and other such persons in the coal-mining industry. Although the right honorable gentleman said that they would have to go out of the industry, they are still there, according to what he said yesterday.. It is fatal for a government to threaten the coal-miners and not to carry out its threats. The Government should not threaten any section of the community unless it intends to enforce its threats. Nothing weakens an authority more than failure to carry out its threats or promises. The Government’s support of lawbreakers is not helping to produce more coal, or to engender respect for the law. We recently had an example of government weakness in its specially favorable attitude towards a proposed co-operative butchery at Portland compared with the treatment meted out to Mr. Dargin, who was already in the butchery business there.
– It was an example of splendid co-operation.
– What a blessed word is “co-operation”! Unfortunately, there is no evidence of any such co-operation by the Government with the returned soldiers from thiswar who want to set up in business. I have in mind the case of a returned soldier in theRiverina who wanted to start business in a small shop.
– Order ! The honorable member is not in order in discussing the treatment of returned soldiers on the motion before the House.
– I submit to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was about to cite an interesting case, and I think that you will be disappointed at not hearing it. After all the Government’s thunder and lightning on the one hand, and the spicy breezes of appeasement from the balmy atmosphere of Canberra on the other hand, we find that the only solution of this problem which comes from the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) is that the people should submit to the rationing of coal. We are already suffering from a prior system of rationing, and now this new one. is superimposed upon it. [Extension of time granted.] The introduction of a limited system of rationing will not solve the problem, because before long additional rationing will have to be resorted to. The position will go from bad to worse until industries will cease to function. That position is recognized by many supporters of the Government throughout the Commonwealth, who fear that thousands of workers will be thrown out of employment unless more coal be produced. They realize how the action of the miners is hindering the war effort, causing the loss of soldiers’ lives by prolonging the war, and delaying the rescue of Australian prisoners of war in Malaya and Japan. I shall read to the House what I believe to be a human document which expresses the views of many thousands of people in the Commonwealth -
The man who deprives me of my livelihood is my enemy No.1. I will put my heel on his chest. It is my rightto work and to live, and there are hundreds and thousands of men like me. … I think that every council and organization should do something to awaken the coal-miner to a sense of his responsibility to the community. I have been a unionist for over 30 years, and it is amazing to find that, because a girl in the butcher’s shop gets the sack, thousands of people are thrown out of work. It puts Hollywood in the shade . . I say their actions are disloyal. For years the coal-minor had the sympathy of the general public, but hehas lost it now . . . As long as they getbig wages and have racecourses to attend, they seem to be satisfied. It is a disgrace . . . The action of the miners is a scourge. They could not play the game lower down if they tried. I belong to a union that has a clean record.
Those are the views of the Mayor of Armidale, who is a. member of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen, of which the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) is the federal president. The writer has had the courage to express his views to the Government and, as he said, his views are held by thousands of other men and women in this country. Opposition members have been charged by claquers on the Government benches with making no helpful suggestions when they speak but of indulging only in destructive criticism. I therefore offer a few suggestions to the Government, in the hope that it will adopt them and show clearly to the people of this country that it is, in fact, as well as in name, the Government of Australia. The first two suggestions which I make may not be of major importance, but if given effect they will be of value. It has been suggested by greater authorities oh the coal industry than myself that the law should provide that officials of the miners’ federation should be elected for three years, instead of for only one year as at present. I repeat that suggestion now. It was put forward by Mr. Justice Davidson, as a Royal Commissioner, in the report which he submitted to the Government of New South Wales. I also suggest that a school be established to teach coal-mining on the lines of the school which now operates at Utah, in the United States of America, where 900 men are in training. The Attorney-General told us that the miners’ federation was a difficult body with which to negotiate. He added that its name suggested that it did not have proper control over the bodies constituting the federation. In view of the strong vote cast by the mining community at the recent referendum, one would have thought that they would put their own house in order before attempting to order that of the Commonwealth. The right honorable gentleman went on to say that the federation could not speak for its members on many matters affecting them, because the several lodges had local autonomy. It would appear from the anarchy of the past months that many individuals in the federation also exercised autonomy. In view of the difficulty expressed by the Attorney-General, I suggest that the Government, if it cannot get satisfaction from the federation, should deal, not with that body, but with its constituent parts in the northern, southern and western districts. Failing satisfaction in these parts, then a direct approach should be made to the lodges and, failing success there, the men should be approached and arrangements made with them. I believe that from such action better results would be obtained than from permitting a con tinuance of the “ miserable disputes “ in which the Attorney-General referred. Should all such appeals fail, the Government should then call for volunteers to work in the mines, giving to them a guarantee of protection and of continuity of employment. Such workers should be assisted to form their own union. I believe that action along those lines would keep the mines working and prevent the name of Australia from stinking throughout the United Nations. The country heeds coal in order that the war may be brought to a successful conclusion as early as possible, and that men who are prisoners of war may return to their homes.
– This is a question which all honorable gentlemen ought to be able to approach dispassionately and without political bias. Any one who has made a study of the coal-mining industry or visited coal-mining areas must know full well that this is a most difficult problem. It has not only agitated the minds of governments in Australia for a number of years, but it has also been oneof the major problems of the British Government and the United ‘States of America Government since the outbreak of this war. Larter, I shall show the difficulties in both those countries and the shortages of coal that face them. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and other honorable gentlemen opposite have failed to make constructive suggestions for solving this problem of under-production of coal. They have made wild assertions about taking strong action. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) said that there should be no appeasement whatever and that strong action should be taken. When he was Minister for Labour and National Service, in order to appease the miners in the western district, he appointed Mr. Campbell Roy, a former official of the miners’ federation, as chairman of the Reference Board, and, in order to appease the miners in the southern district, he appointed Mr. Hickman, also an official of the miners’ federation, as chairman of the Reference Board there. It is all right to appease the miners when the honorable member does it, but, when this Government selects a former miners’ official to be chairman of the Central Reference Board, it is all wrong, and the honorable member denounces the appointment as appeasement which will undermine morale and discipline in the industry. The honorable member who now talks so much “ balderdash “, failed miserably to deal with the situation when it was his job. The Leader of the Opposition, and other honorable gentlemen opposite, have said that we must be prepared to face a three months’ strike.
– They are inciting the miners at every turn.
– Yes. With this country in the most difficult period of the war, with a further offensive being mounted, with urgent need to speed up the transport of equipment to forward operational areas, by ships which are dependent upon coal, the only constructive suggestion, if one can call it such, is that we should be prepared to face a three months’ coal strike. That is a defeatist proposal; it would mean absolute paralysis of industry. What other suggestions have they made? Honorable members have said that we should be able to put soldiers down the mines to produce coal.
– They want to shed blood.
– Yes. We know quite well that, while untrained men can go on to the wharfs and load bags of flour on to ships, coal-mining is a skilled occupation, and from that aspect alone, apart from every other consideration, the suggestion that soldiers be put in the mines is impracticable. The New South Wales Coal Mines Regulation Act provides that an inexperienced person cannot be employed at the coal face. A man is regarded as being inexperienced until he has been employed for two years in or about the working face of a mine. About one-third of the men employed in the coal-mining industry are miners working on the face. Men working on the face range from 8 to 10 in small mines to 960 at Richmond Main. All this talk about putting troops down the mines to work them is absolute humbug and, I submit, insincere, because that is not the solution of the problem at all. I do not want any one to think that I or any other Minister would try to justify stoppages in the coal mines of New South Wales. We would not. We say that stoppages on industrial grounds cannot be justified at a time like this, when there is the necessary machinery to deal with industrial disputes. No one can justify stoppages on the coal-fields of Australia to-day in view of the necessity to maintain the war effort. I am glad that we are passing through probably the best week of coal production since the outbreak of war. I am told by the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Norman Mighell, that on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday only one mine was not working because of industrial disturbance. All mines were working yesterday and all mines are working to-day. If the miners kept working like that the Coal Commissioner would be able not only to supply all Australia’s needs, but also to provide coal for export. T hope that the record of this week will be maintained and that the threatened paralysis of industry will be averted. I hope that the three months’ strike, which honorable members opposite say we should welcome and be prepared to tackle, will not occur, because it would tie up the offensives that are to take place in the near future to the north of Australia. Tt would seriously imperil the safety of the fighting services; it would be letting them down, and no government could stand for it. So I and all my colleagues stand wholeheartedly behind the assurance given by the Prime Minister that the Government will ensure that the provisions of the Coal Production (Wartime) Act shall be carried out in their entirety, and that the Coal Commissioner, a most able man who has done splendid work for Australia in his present capacity and in every other position which he has occupied, shall have the necessary backing to enable him to carry out the provisions of that act. In addition to his forceful declaration on that point, the Prime Minister rightly said that the act provided the machinery for increasing coal production. I believe that it does. The act should be given a fair- opportunity to prove itself. To that end the Coal Commissioner must have the full backing of the Government. He shall have it.
The Prime Minister also referred to what was being done to develop open-cut mining in Australia. When I was Acting Prime Minister, I attended a conference with the miners’ leaders in company with the then Acting Minister for Supply and Shipping (Dr. Evatt), and I accepted an invitation to visit the coal-fields of New South Wales. In the western district I addressed a meeting of the miners in company with the federal and district officials of the federation. I also visited the southern district and the northern district and addressed the miners. At each place I was able to discuss the problems of the industry with superintendents, managers, union officials, local citizens, and the miners themselves, and I claim that I gained first-hand knowledge of the difficulties in those districts.
– Did the right honorable gentleman get any coal?
– Yes. There was increased coal production in the western district. For at least a week after my visit there was no stoppage. Unfortunately there were stoppages later. Open-cut mining is, I think, one of the surest means of stepping up coal production. As the result of action taken by the Coal Commissioner, production has been increased at the Commonwealth open-cut mine, which I inspected, from 400 tons to 1,000 tons a day. It is expected that in two months production will reach 3,000 tons a day at that mine. The Coal Commissioner has had the full backing of the Government, and all instrumentalities of government to obtain additional machinery to work more open-cut mines. At Blair Athol, in Central Queensland, the management of the open-cut mine has recently expended £12,000 on additional plant needed to get rid of the overburden. By removal of further overburden production at that mine can be substantially increased. The Deputy Director of the Allied Works Council in Queensland, Mr. Kemp, has been consulted by the Coal Commissioner and is co-operating fully. The Chief Engineer of the Allied Works Council, Mr. Fleetwood, has been sent to Sydney to confer with the Coal Commissioner with a view to making available to him all the machinery which can be spared by the Allied Works Council for installation at open-cut mines. I believe that in that way it will not be long before production of coal from open-cut mines will be increased to 40,000 tons a week. Unfortunately, although the Blair Athol open-cut is eminently suitable for mining operations, its usefulness has limitations because of the single track railway between Blair Athol and the nearest port with coal-loading appliances, Gladstone, 300 miles away. Production at Blair Athol can be substantially increased, but the transport of the coal will be limited by the handling facilities at the port. At Western Main about 100 tons a day is being obtained from the new open-cut mine, and this output will be increased. At Wallerawang the open cut will be in production in a few weeks and the production will be 200 tons a day. There is also to be open-cut mining at Muswellbrook and quite a number of other places. Coal is being produced at Leigh Creek in South Australia, and action is under way to step up production in Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. The Coal Commissioner is most active and has the backing of the Government in his efforts to increase production of coal by the open-cut method as speedily as possible. Under the open-cut method the miners are working in sunshine and do not have to go into the bowels of the earth andsuffer all the health hazards that subterranean operations entail.
Hearing honorable gentlemen opposite talk, one would think that only in Australia was coal trouble being experienced. The fact is that in Great Britain and the United States of America similar troubles are being experienced. In Current History for March, 1944, appears an article headed, “ The Coal Dispute Enters its Second Year “, by Colston E. Warne, Professor of Economics, Amherst College, and president of the Consumers Union of the United States of America. Referring to the coal troubles which had occurred in that country, he writes, on page 208 of that journal -
The chronology of the year’s battle over coal is reminiscent of the see-saw campaign in Libya, though in the case of coal a decisive outcome is lacking.
He then recounts the strikes which took place in 1943 -
June 20-June 22: Sporadic strikes break out.
October 16: “Wild Cat” strikes break out with the advent of private operation.
Honorable members opposite object to any comparisons in this matter between the experience of this country and that of Great Britain. All of us realize the marvellous job which the people of Great Britain are doing in this war, particularly their achievement in maintaining production in spite of nightly bombing raids, and daily impact with the realities of war. However, in that country, stoppages have occurred in the coal-mining industry, owing solely to disputes. According to figures issued by the British Ministry ofFuel and Power,the output of saleable coal in 1943 was 195,000,000 tons compared with 206,000,000 tons in 1941; and this decline took place despite the fact that 13,000 more miners were employed in the industry in 1943 than in 1941. Despite that increase of the number of employees, the percentage of absenteeism increased by 30 per cent, between 1940 and 1943. The number of man-shifts lost in the industry owing to disputes was 730,000 in 1940, and 1,790,000 in 1943. Those facts refute the contention of honorable members oppositethat the coal-mining industry in Great Britain is free from disputes. Turning to the United States of America, I quote the following from a report published recently in the Australian press under a New York date line : -
Both Britain and the United States are mining less coal than they need and the lack of mining machinery is one of the principal reasons - man-power shortage being second, and strikes third. Britain’s annual production of approximately 200,000,000 tons is insufficient for domestic needs, both civilian and war. United States needs for 1944 are approximately 690,000.000 tons, and it is feared that only 604,000,000 will be mined, although production is now approximately 4.5 per cent, above the 1943 level.
After the invasion, it is estimated that the two countries will have to supply 17,000,000 tons for liberated countries of Europe within a year. England’s share of this has been fixed at 5.000.000 tons, but it is not expected that she will be able to supply more than 3,000,000.
In the United States coal for civilian use last winter was in extremely short supply, and this coming winter the shortage, in the words of the Administrator of Solid fuels, Mr. Ickes, is expected to reach “ catastrophic proportions “.
There have been many machinery breakdowns in United States mines, and the need forreplacements is great. Added to this Britain has been compelled to depend on the United States for much mining machinery.
Recently, the Combined Resources and Production Board in Washington allotted some machinery to Britain, and sent a technical mission on the possibilities of open-cut or strip mining, which is hardly as well known in the United Kingdom as in the United States, where it is used for quicker and less expensive results.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) compared the production of the individual coal-miner in the United Kingdom with that of the individual Australian coal-miner. I point out to him that New South Wales has the only coal mines in this country which are wholly mechanized, but I am informed by the Coal Commissioner that only five mines in that State are completely mechanized, that is, all the coal is cut and loaded by mechanical means. But the position in Great Britain is altogether different. I was informed by Mr. Frank Collindridge, M.P., the vice-president of the Miners Federation of Great Britain, when he recently visited this country as a member of the British Parliamentary Delegation, that more than SO per cent, of the coal mines in England are mechanized. It is stated in Coal in 1943, a booklet issued by the Labour Research Department in Great Britain, that even in 1938 59 per cent, of the coal output in that country was mechanically cut and 54 per cent, of the output mechanically conveyed ; ,and that in the same year the proportion of the output mechanically cut varied from 26 per cent, in South Wales to 92 per cent, in South Derby and North Staffordshire, and S2 per cent, in Nottinghamshire. Thus, it is clear that in England, even before the war, the coal mines were being gradually mechanized. Since the outbreak of the war, the highest priority has been given to all coal-mining machinery imported into England from the United States of America. That is one reason why we in Australia have not been able to obtain adequate mining machinery from America. We have been obliged to impress machinery available in this country, such as big shovels that were being used in metalliferous mines, and machinery and equipment from the Allied Works Council. Even machinery which is still required by the Allied Works Council is being impressed by the Coal Commissioner with a view to extending the open cut method. The Leader of the Opposition said, that if this Government took strong action all would be well in the industry. However, the Government which he himself led. in 1940 took no action to settle the strike which occurred in the industry in that year. Although he was then urged to take strong action, he did nothing, but allowed the situation to drift. Suggestions were made to him .that the military should be called in to work the mines. To-day, he practically makes the same suggestion to this Government, but in similar circumstances the Government which he led refused to do anything. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), Attorney-General in the then Government, when the coal strike which occurred in 1940 was looming, said -
I arn not apportioning blame to either side in this coal crisis. I would be surprised to learn that either side is free from blame.
Were a member of the present Government to make a statement of that kind to-day, honorable gentlemen opposite would contend that he was following the path of appeasement; but when they themselves had an opportunity to deal with a situation in the industry much more critical than that existing to-day, because of a general stoppage, they did nothing. Of course, many honorable members opposite would be only too glad to see a general hold-up of industry in this country in order that such a crisis might enable them to regain control of the treasury benches in this Parliament. Speaking as AttorneyGeneral in 1940 with regard to the strike of that year, the right honorable member for North Sydney also said that the attitude of the colliery proprietors had been decidedly unhelpful. He went on to say - 1 have been in touch with the leaders of the men and I am sure they are anxious to avoid a stoppage. The situation is very difficult, and it can hardly be said that a solution is being made easy by the attitude of the employers.
The right honorable gentleman made that statement when he was a member of the Government led by the present leader of the Opposition, who now declares that strong action on the part of this Government will end trouble in the industry. At that time, the right honorable member for Kooyong was content to sit on the fence and, like Micawber, hope for something to turn up in order to got his Government out of its dilemma. The Government which he led did not take strong action at any time either in respect of trouble on the coal-fields or in any of the crises which faced this country during his regime as Prime Minister. That is why he and his colleagues have to-day been relegated to political obscurity. During the crisis which faced the industry in 1940 honorable members on this side who were then in opposition did everything in their power to help the government of the day find a solution of the industry’s difficulties. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, of the 17th
April, 1940, the then. Premier of New South Wales, the State Minister for Mines, and the State Attorney-General motored to Canberra owing to the seriousness of the position, and that journal inferred from that visit that a new and more vigorous effort was to be made in the . coal strike. But what happened subsequently? For weeks, the Commonwealth Government refused “to call a conference of the parties, but remained content merely to say that the matter must be decided by .the court. Commenting on that strike, the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr. Mair, was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 27th April, 1940, as saying -
In the seven weeks during which the mine employees have remained idle they have lost £500,000 in wages. In other industries thousands of men who depend upon the supply of coal for their livelihood have been thrown into idleness. Industry generally has suffered and the State and Commonwealth have not been able to play their part with the rest of the Empire which wo must support if the institutions and the rights and privileges we inherited are to be retained.
That statement shows how serious the position was. In office in this Parliament at that time, was a government led by the present Leader of the Opposition. I have said sufficient to show that in that crisis his Government was impotent. Yet today, Le moves censure upon this Government, alleging that it permits a state of affairs similar to that which he took no steps to deal with in 1940, although at that time, under the National Security Act, his Government possessed all the power necessary to enable it to rectify the position. At that time the right honora’ble gentleman made speeches of a kind which to-day he glibly describes as appeasement speeches. In 1940, he said-
I am confident that the majority of the miners will respond to reason and Australia’s needs.
To-day, however, he claims that because our leader has appealed to the miners to respond to reason, this Government is following a course of appeasement.
Honorable gentlemen opposite also condemn the Government because of the withdrawal of certain prosecutions against the miners. That aspect was ably dealt with last night by my colleague the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt). However,
I remind honorable members opposite, that a government which they supported withdrew the prosecution launched against John Brown for locking out the miners in 1929. Dealing with that matter in this House on the 15th August, 1929, the then Attorney-General, Sir John Latham, said -
I say frankly and finally that if I were again placed in the same circumstances and the same serious position, I should not, merely for the sake of maintaining a principle with which I generally agree, that once a prosecution is instituted it should continue, place myself in the position of preventing the possibility of a settlement of the dispute and of thousands of men returning to work.
The anti-Labour Government justified the withdrawal of a prosecution against the owners in certain circumstances, but when a prosecution is withdrawn against a miner, they complain that the Government is adopting a policy of appeasement. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce, in a speech delivered in this chamber on the 15th August, 1929, said that when the Commonwealth Government was endeavouring to arrange a conference between the coal-owners and miners, the owners refused to attend while the prosecution against John Brown was pending. Agreeing that the Government would be politically condemned for its action in withdrawing the prosecution, Mr. Bruce declared that he preferred to risk the political results that would accrue in order to arrange a conference between the two parties. Therefore, he withdrew the prosecution against the owners. Honorable members opposite should take these matters into consideration when they roundly condemn the Government and the Attorney-General for having withdrawn the prosecutions against coal-miners, in certain circumstances.
I do not attempt to justify the stoppages, which the Government regards as deplorable. Yesterday, the Metal Trades Employees Federation, representing 250,000 workers in this country unamimously carried the following resolution : -
We declare to the miners tha.t, to the extent production suffers from unauthorized strikes, they are playing into the hands of the enemies of the Labour movement.
These enemies utilize the coal crisis to cause divisions in the Labour movement, antagonize the middle class, and undermine the Curtin Government.
Industrial organizations which, signed the plea were the Amalgamated Engineers Union, the Australasian Society of Engineers, the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, the Sheet Metal Workers and Tinsmiths Union, the Boilermakers Union, ,the Blacksmiths Society, the Moulders (Metal) Union, -the Federated Enginedrivers and Firemen’s Association, and the Stovemakers Union. The secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, Mr. A. Monk, declared that the miners had to realize that their failure to win the necessary coal would throw a severe financial burden on thousands of workers and their families. He added that there was already evidence that the other workers were discontented with the. poor war production of the miners.
I have visited the coal-fields, addressed many meetings, and discussed with the miners their various problems. I agree that 95 per cent, of the coal-miners are loyal, patriotic persons who desire to assist the war effort. But they should not allow a recalcitrant minority to dictate their course or to pull the majority off the job. I believe that the time will come when the majority will take action.
In his speech last night the honorable member for Hunter recalled how sharply he had been disciplined during his youth. His father took his place at the colliery, and he was placed’ on bread and water for seven days. On being released, he had to apply to the chairman of the lodge for the restoration of his job. If we are to get peace in this industry again, the federation and -the district lodges will have to assume greater control over the rank and file in the coal-mining industry.
But we cannot be oblivious of the fact that the miners’ grievances are not without cause, and that the men have not in the past had a fair deal. [Extension of time granted.) The Commonwealth Government should and will co-operate with the State governments in a vigorous policy of modernizing all coal pits. The object of this policy will be to reduce unpleasant working conditions, provide increased light and better underground transport, eliminate dust, and reduce dampness in mines. When visiting the southern coalfields of New South Wales, I was amazed to learn that a royal commission had found that more than 50 per cent, of the men working there were .suffering from fibrosis of the lungs. Even in the western distract, I met miners, about 50 years of age, who were .suffering from fibrosis of the lungs, although that area is not considered to be subject to dust. To a limited degree on the northern coal-fields, dust trouble is encountered. Another matter which impressed me when I visited the coal-fields was the poor type of house in which miners have to live. Those conditions reveal that although the men may be earning high wages to-day, they have not received, over a number of years, the basic wage. I was amazed also to find that many thousands of the men were living in mere hovels. The accommodation did not compare with the average standard of housing in our cities and towns. A policy should be formulated to provide for the miners amenities such as canteens. After I had conferred with the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway), Mr. Baxter, who is an expert in the establishment of canteens, was sent- to the coal-fields to examine this problem. In conjunction with the co-operative stores, which are owned and controlled by workers in industry, he has established a system foiproviding crib and hot tea to men who are going down the mines. MoTe opportunities should be created for community life in the coal-fields centres, and facilities for healthy recreation during spare time should be provided. The decentralization of secondary industries also is desirable in order to ensure diversity of employment for the miners and their families. It is bad for generations of these people to be forced to work in the mines. These matters can be tackled by the Commonwealth and .State Governments, and this Government is willing and prepared to deal with them. But we ask the coal-miners, during this most critical year of the war, not to let Australia down. In my conversations with coal-miners, I learned that some of their sons are members of the Royal Australian Air Force, and are now flying over Germany by day and by night. Other miners have sons in the Australian Imperial Force. These men would be the last persons to let down members of the fighting forces. The Commonwealth Government can grapple with these matters, but we expect the coal-miners to play their part. Sympathetic as I am to them, having a first-hand knowledge of their problems and difficulties, I cannot countenance unjustified absenteeism. I stand four-square with the Prime Minister in his determination to see that this country gets coal and that Australia does not let the fighting forces down. We must put every ounce of effort into this struggle in order to bring the war to a speedy conclusion and liberate the thousands of gallant Australians who are languishing in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. But we cannot set them free if industry is paralysed in this country. I say, with a full realization of the responsibilities of the Government and of its commitments to the fighting forces, that this Government can get more coal, and will get more coal, and that it has a better record of coal production than has any of its predecessors.
– We have just listened to an extraordinary speech by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde), who claimed to have some knowledge of the coal position. Some of his speech might well have been delivered from this side of the House, because he told us how absolutely impotent the Government was to obtain coal. He referred also to the foolish strikes in which the miners indulge. Then, by some curious mental process, he linked that argument with the shortage of coal in Great Britain and other countries. I wondered why he read so many extracts, because every argument that he advanced made it so abundantly clear that Australia must produce more coal if we are to do the job that we are called upon to perform. The Minister has curious mental processes when he attempts to justify a shortage of coal in one country by explaining that production has declined in another country. Whilst the Minister appears to have justified himself in his own eyes, I do not pretend to understand his logic.
Of course, the facts are not as he stated them to he. He read a lengthy list of figures from magazines that he had picked up indiscriminately and in the compilation of which journalistic licence had been employed ; but he omitted to give the official figures. Fortunately, I have them. In the United Kingdom, the number of coal-miners is infinitely greater than is the number in Australia, and the production of coal per man is considerably greater. Consequently, any comparison between the two countries must be on the basis of the loss of man-days. The average number of days lost per employee is as follows: -
The extracts which the Minister took indiscriminately from some magazine have no bearing upon this subject. Of course, I know the devious means which must be employed in stating a case on behalf of the Government, and I sympathize with the Minister in his arduous task.
The Minister for the Army drew attention also to the conditions on the coalfields. He mentioned that Mr. Frank Collindridge, the visiting British member of Parliament, and he had addressed many meetings of miners. But the article which ‘appeared in the Newcastle Morning Herald a couple of days before they reached Newcastle made perfectly clear how much the miners would stand from them. Their demands, as published in that newspaper, were almost word for word with the description that the Minister gave of their working conditions, and with his advocacy of improved housing, decentralization and the like. That ultimatum was delivered to the Minister two days before he visited Newcastle, and he fell for it. I am pleased to note that the Minister has seen the light, under pressure.
Recently, Australia lost 30,000 tons of coal as the result of an extraordinary, tragic and miserable strike at Portland, New South Wales. The coal-miners ceased work because the local butcher had discharged a girl employee. When I read the facts, I was feeling most depressed because I had just received word that the son of a man who had been a member of my particular battery, and who made the supreme sacrifice in the last war, had also been killed. My friend had never seen his son. Then I read a statement by Mr. Lowden who, honorable members will recall, sent a letter to the Prime Minister on the 11th October. He said -
We have attended memorial services to our glorious dead,_who gave their lives to save us from this curse of fascism. We have held pit-top stop-work meetings to stand in silence as a mark of respect and esteem for those of our membership who have paid the supreme sacrifice. Yet, when we are requested by the head’ of the Labour Government to do our best to produce more coal for the purpose of ending this greatest and most brutal fight ever known, we answer by having just too many silly and unwarranted stoppages.
Mr. Lowden is president of the Southern District of the miners’ federation. Those words of his are strong words, and an admission from a man in a responsible position in the miners’ organization that the miners were doing something that was traitorous to this country; knowing the conditions, they had yet held stopwork meetings and attended memorial services, paying lip service to the glorious dead, and then had gone out on strike and attended dog race meetings, hotels, starting-price betting establishments, doing everything but the very thing that they were called upon to do for the protection of this country.
So, feeling rather depressed, I wandered into the library and there, looking for a volume that I thought might interest me, I was struck by a title. It was The Golden Verses of Pythagoras. Pythagoras was a philosopher, a man who had written common sense, and for whose teachings I had the utmost regard. But I had by me at that time some observations by another philosopher. These were on political philosophy, and because I had noticed that other striking title which had attracted me, I put together these pearls of political wisdom and called the work Labour’s Symposium, or the Curtin Cantata. There is, of course, some virtue in having a title, and I propose for the edification of the House to read in proper sequence those observations which fell from the lips of our Prime Minister. I propose at the same time to give the House an assessment of how they were received. Pythagoras naturally does not know how posterity has received his observations, but the Prime Minister knows how the miners have received his, because in each case we find their reaction by the number of mines idle, the progression being something like the bidding in a Dutch auction. After one kind of statement only four mines were idle, but after another there were fourteen. It is interesting to notice the varying effect. I shall deal first with one observation made on a very appropriate date, the 1st April, 1942. “Whenever one made a statement on the 1st April, he ran the risk of not being believed, and of course this statement by the Prime Minister was not believed by the miners. It was -
No section of this community can defy the authority of the Government in time of war. The Government that would do this would deserve the defeat which its weakness would inevitably mean for the country it has to serve and fully strive to save.
That would have been a most potent statement, but, as it was delivered on the 1st April, the miners, assessed it as a great joke. They said, “Why, the Prime Minister is one of the boys; he is just trying to have a little joke with us; this is the 1st April and he is trying to make April fools of us”. Then on the 14th October, in Parliament, the Prime Minister said -
I am directing that experienced officers make a thorough investigation at each colliery with a view to identifying this element individually and recommending its exclusion from the industry.
Honorable members will remember that that was the very illuminating statement referred to by my leader, in which the Prime Minister had said that the starting-price bookmakers, the dog trainers, the taxi-cab drivers and others were the element causing the trouble on the coal-fields, and that they were identifiable. The “ boys “ took a pretty poor view of that one, with the result that on the day following the making of the statement four mines were idle. Then, on the 26th October, the Prime Minister said -
The plain fact is that unless’ more coal is produced, it will be impossible to maintain the tempo of the war. The consequences of such a state of affairs would toe disastrous.
Throughout these statements, whenever the war is mentioned, the reaction of the miners is characteristic. They say: “Oh, the war ! Our conditions will go if there is an invasion. There is something in this, boys, so we will go back to work”, and following that statement there was only one mine idle. Then, on the 27th January, 1944, the Prime Minister said -
One thing at least is clear, that the Government, having applied the law, will enforce it, and, if it cannot enforce it, then it ceases to be the kind of Government that the people of this country could respect, and, being unable to respect, should no longer tolerate.
The “ boys “ had a good look at that one. They said : “ Here is the Prime Minister of this country saying that if he cannot receive the respect of the country, it will not tolerate him. Well, boys, we will show him that we have no respect for him”, and so fourteen mines were idle. Then, on the 17th February, we had what might be referred to as a couplet. The Prime Minister said - t could wish that there was some one in this country who could tell me how to get more coal. . . . It is now my firm belief that the capacity of the country to wage war this year can be measured in tons of coal-
I can still see the Prime Minister at this moment, with a hopeless sort of gesture, adding -
If any one can show me a better way of getting more coal, I shall not hesitate to follow it.
That was an appeal, and the miners said : “ Well, we will show him how to get more coal; we will leave no doubt whatever in his mind “, and although there were fourteen mines idle just before, there were only two mines idle following that statement. They showed him how to get over the difficulty. They said: “Yes, you will get coal by us working, and, therefore, only two mines will be idle.”
Now let us have a look at the next statement. On the 23rd February, the Prime Minister introduced the Coal Production (War-time) Bill. Speaking on it, he said -
Whatever may be the real reason for past occurrences, one thing is obvious, and that is that in a democracy no group of workers, just as no group of employers, can be permitted to arrogate to themselves the right to dictate to the Parliament, and so to the Government, as to the means of conducting the defence of the Commonwealth, and of carrying on to their maximum capacity all those services and industries that are incidental to that purpose. Were it otherwise, there would be an abdication of the functions of government.
He had said that on one other occasion, on which the miners’ reaction was that fourteen mines were idle. The “ boys “ cheered and said : “ Hurrah, fourteen mines idle; let us celebrate this; the Prime Minister is going to abdicate.” Then the Prime Minister went on -
It is incumbent upon me to say that, regardless of who has been at fault, the nation itself will now take what action is necessary to cut this Gordian knot, and will itself become responsible for the production of the coal which it needs.
That was quite another point. It brought in the nation itself, and the miners had not come up against that one. They had heard the Prime Minister making various statements from time to time, but when he threatened that the nation might take a hand to ensure greater coal production, that was another angle, and so from fourteen mines idle the number dropped down to three. They said, “ We will trythis one on and see how it works ; if it comes off, up we go again” and afterwards the number of idle mines went up from three to thirteen. On the Sth March in Parliament the Prime Minister said -
I have confessed in this House - perhaps a sorry confession for a Prime Minister to make - that I have done my best to get coal, but I know that only the coal-miners, men accustomed to the mining of coal, can give to the country the coal it needs. … I know I have done my best. There are lions in the path - what they are I have hinted at.
That struck a responsive chord in my memory, and I wondered where I had heard it before. Remembering the church-going days of my childhood, I looked up the Proverbs and found, when I read the thirteenth verse of the twentysixth chapter, that the Prime Minister had obviously culled his extract from it. On reflection, however, I doubted whether that was his source, because he did not know the full significance of the verse, which is -
The slothful man saith, “ There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets”.
The opening words are of course no reflection upon the Prime Minister; but he was really the man who spoke about lions in the path, and what he said had relation to coal andhis failure to obtain coal, according to bis own sorry confession. The lions that he had hinted at were the starting-price bookmakers, the taxi drivers and the dog trainers - rather a mangy lot of lions, but when the slothful man wishes to see lions in his path, well, he sees lions. He continued on that day -
If the miners want some other man to be the head of the Government, that would not prevent me from standing aside to permit move coal to be produced;but if the rank and file of the miners want to run this country, there must be a contest between them and the rank and file of the Australian, people.
I do not know whether the Prime Minister meant by that remark that he was going to regiment the rank and file of the Australian people to march upon the miners and see that they did their work, but those are the very terms that he used, and they rather scared the miners, because on that day or the day following only five mines were idle. On the 10th March he said -
It is not the policy of the Government to nationalize the coal mines. Where warranted by the circumstances, in order to increase coal production, the Coal Commissioner will take stops to establish control of coal mines.
He was coming closer to the bone there, because the desire of the miners is to have the coal mines nationalized. That is fundamental to their desire to place the. community in a state of bondage. I shall produce irrefutable proof of that statement. When the Prime Minister said that, it struck a chord, and only one mine was idle. The miners said, “ If he is going to nationalize the mines, boys, let us go back to work”. Then this week, when another censure motion was tabled, the miners said, “ Well, boys, a censure motion is on, let us go back to work, as we do not know what may come out of this “. What comes next in Labour’s symposium? Here I pause, because that last observation was the final one of any value made by the Prime Ministerbefore he went to America and Great Britain. Then a new Roland appeared upon the scene, resplendent in spurs and epaulettes - a man of majestic proportions, the Minister for the Army, no less. He cut a rather ridiculous figure when, on the8th April, 1944, he said -
I am more satisfied than ever, after my discussions with the general president, Mr. H. Wells, and the general secretary, Mr. G. W. S. Grant, of the Australian Coal and Shale Employees’ Federation, that they are most anxious to help the Government, and I am confident that, by a frank exchange of views between, the miners’ officials and Dr. Evatt and myself, a better understanding will be brought about, with a resultant increase in coal production. “Frank” felt that he could not carry this baby on his own, so he had to bring the doctor in, too.
– Order ! That is not the proper way to refer to honorable Ministers of this House.
– The AttorneyGeneral, with ail the pomp and circumstance surrounding his office, came to his colleague’s assistance. What was the result? The boys then assessed the relative merits of the Minister for the Army and of the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General, of course, had been a good friend to them in the past, because he had withdrawn prosecutions, remitted fines, and interfered with the course of justice on their behalf, but apparently when the assessment was made, the weight of the Minister for the Army was sufficient to offset their pride in the AttorneyGeneral, because on that day seven mines were. idle. The Attorney-General then felt it incumbent upon him to take a stand. He could not let the Minister for the Army get away with it altogether, and he made rather an extraordinary statement. It will be recalled that the right honorable gentleman has always had an interest in the Coalcliff Colliery, and that a number of miners from that colliery who were drafted into the Army were released subsequently to resume their former occupation. This is what the Attorney-General said on the 3rd May -
So far Coalcliff is the only mine taken over by the Government under the Goal Production (War-time) Act. Production there has reached a very high level and there has been practically no absenteeism. This is a remarkable performance, and if the experiment succeeds it may indicate the way to further improvement in the coal industry.
The boys said, “ Hear, hear “, and next day two mines were idle. But the facts are not as had been stated by the AttorneyGeneral because, although the Coalcliff
Colliery has been taken over by the ‘Government, its record is now worse than ever. In the pre-war days, the average production of coal was 900 tons .a shift. During the early war years that figure fell to SOO tons; but since this Govern.men has taken control of the mine, :there has been a further reduction to 700 tons. An increased price is being paid for Coalcliff coal so that the figures will mot look too bad the Government’s books. A similar slate of affairs exists at the Lithgow Colliery. The only part of the Attorney.General’s statement with which I agree is, “ This is a remarkable performance”. Undoubtedly, the performance is remarkable. I have reminded the House of the fact that certain miners employed at .the Coalcliff Colliery were drafted into ‘the Army and subsequently released. It will be recalled also that proceedings were taken in the courts against Coalcliff miners. Last night, upon being charged by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) with having .given curious instructions to counsel representing the Commonwealth in a certain court case, the Attorney-General claimed that he had not .given any instructions. Apparently in that instance counsel took upon himself the right to .determine the mind of the Government, and that is a matter concerning which the Attorney-General has failed to .give an adequate explanation. The prosecutions against the Coalcliff miners for having participated in a strike were launched early this year hut, during the week which ended on the 14th April, the charges -were dropped. It was suggested that that action was taken as a reward for the improved industrial record at Coalcliff. Counsel for the Commonwealth in these cases - again I draw attention to the similarity between what occurred in this instance ;and the happenings in the case cited by the Leader of the Opposition - said in court -
In the event of the present effort being maintained and coal production kept up I will make certain recommendations regarding future action.
In other words, he said to the miners, “ Look here, boys, I know my AttorneyGeneral. I am working to instructions. If you keep production up, it will be all right with us: We shall let you get away with breaking a law “, What right has any counsel to make :a statement like that in court unless She is acting in accordance with instructions from the Government,? That is an intolerable state of affairs. It is the worst possible form of appeasement, and can serve only to encourage the belief by the miners that they can .secure anything they .ask for so long as they are prepared to put sufficient pressure upon this collection of spineless Ministers.
The Minister for the Army came into the picture again on the 15th June when he said -
A return shows that 390 miners in the Army were granted leave without pay to work in mines in New South Wales up to 17th ‘May, 1944, and 52 miners were released on leave without pay to work in mines in other States. In addition, 188 cases in New South Wales and 44 cases in other States are being considered.
The boys assessed that statement, too, and seeing that the Government intended to release more miners from the Army to re-engage in the coal-mining industry, they realized that they had better do something about it. So, whereas seven mines had been idle on .that date, they immediately cut the figure down to five, no doubt in the hope that the Government would be induced by the improved position to abandon its proposed strong action. On the 20th June, the Minister for the Army said -
An examination of the trends of production and stocks over the last fifteen months shows that reserve stocks of all Australian coal have declined in that time by over 1,000,000 tons. Within the last twelve months reserve stocks in New South Wales coal have fallen by over 50 ]>ev cent., and if the present drain on stocks continues, there will be an early breakdown in supplies and drastic rationing will bc forced on the people. If coal-miners cut out unauthorized stoppages and controlled irresponsible minorities who precipitated stoppages, Australia would have all the coal necessary to maintain transport and war industries at full pressure.’
The boys assessed that statement carefully, too. They said to themselves : “ He as still threatening us. Some of us may get it in the neck. Perhaps it would be better to throw another mine out”. So the number of idle mines jumped up to six. Then we pass to the 11th July. On that date the Prime Minister returned to Australia, and apparently came to the conclusion that his senior Ministers had not been doing the job expected of them. So he decided to take the matter up again himself. The right honorable gentleman said -
Australia must get more coal and consume less. It is not a question of the Government ordering a further reduction in consumption, because, if the coal was not there, it could not be burned.
That is a very weighty observation. The Prime Minister was fresh from England. He had seen what was happening in Great Britain. True, he did not go to Normandy personally, but I am sure that he had a shrewd suspicion of what was happening there. When he returned to this country and made the weighty observation to which I have referred, the coal-miners examined it closely, and on the following day only five mines were idle. Then the right honorable gentleman brought up the question of miners’ pensions. The miners had been seeking a Commonwealth contribution , to their pensions scheme, but the Prime Minister decided against that proposal because he had another idea in mind. On the 11th July, the right honorable gentleman announced that the Commonwealth would not make a contribution to the miners’ pensions scheme, and the miners were very wrath about it. All other concessions for which they had asked had been granted, and they saw no reason why this further concession should be withheld from them. Therefore, they threw another two mines out of operation. What theboys apparently did not know was that the Commonwealth had under consideration a bribe to the miners, a Commonwealth pensions scheme covering the coalmining industry. Subsequently, in a letter to the miners’ federation the Prime Minister said that he would not introduce a pensions scheme for the miners, nor would they receive the other concessions for which they asked. The right honorable gentleman said, in effect, “Although we have promised the boys this stick of lolly, we shall not give it to them. Instead, we shall put them in the corner. What the public wants to see is a sound slapping administered to the miners where it will hurt most “. Thereupon the miners decided again to take direct action, with the result that ten mines were idle. In effect, the miners were carrying on a kind of Dutch auction, and assessing the strength of various statements madeby the Prime Minister and members of the Government. If the statement caused them concern, they would go back to work, but if it were nothing to worry about, they would continue striking. After another statementby the Prime Minister on the 22nd August threatening to cut out certain concessions, ten mines were again idle. On the 23rd August, the Prime Minister said -
I am informed that a number of mines were idle to-day. In the case of mines where the stoppage was not due to a mechanical breakdown or other unavoidable reason, I have directed that the law shall take its course.
On the following day, six mines were idle. Yesterday, another statement was made by the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman said, “I say to the industry that the law will be enforced ruthlessly, and in cases where upon examination industrial disputes are found to be the fault of the management, the mines will he taken over by the Government”. The right honorable gentleman has said before that the law would be enforced ruthlessly, but his threats have never been carried out. Always, there has been capitulation. The Prime Minister and his Ministers have appealed and appeased, but have failed to take the steps essential to increase the production of coal. They have merely skirted around the trouble. Such inaction cannot be excused at a time when the war effort of this country is gradually increasing. Already many other industries are becoming affected by the coal shortage and men are being thrown out of employment. The Deputy Director of Man Power in New South Wales, Mr. Bellemore, says that he cannot find work for the men who are being displaced from industry through lack of coal. The Government has not the intestinal fortitude necessary to carry out its job, and why? Because it is prepared to surrender abjectly to every demand made upon it by the miners’ federation. The Government is a unionridden administration, entirely lacking in courage. [Extension of time granted.]
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to2.15 p.m.
– The Government is completely bankrupt of ideas, for the Prime Minister has asked abjectly, from his place opposite: ““Will anybody tell me how we can get coal ? “ The miners’ federation has said, through its officers : “ Yes, we will tell you. Nationalize the mines and you will get coal.” I shall refer now to the degree of control that is being exercised by these union officials over this Government. On the 6bh and 7 th July, a trade union convention was held at the Melbourne Trades Hall at which Mr. Monks, the general secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, made some remarks that are of extreme importance in that they strike at the very roots of our democracy. He said -
There is a growing inclination on the part of some of the senior Ministers, particularly in the War Cabinet, to disregard the viewpoint of the industrial movement and to take refuge in the axiom that the Government of the Commonwealth is answerable primarily to the electors of the Commonwealth rather than to the industrial movement.
Do honorable members opposite stand for that point of view? Do they regard themselves as being responsible to the industrial movement or to the people who elected them to this Parliament? The statement by Mr. Monks proves conclusively, in my opinion, that the Government is in fact a poor thing without a body or soul to call its own. By taking directions from the trade unionists the members of this Government prove that statement to be true. We should not delude ourselves. The nationalization or socialization of the coal-mining industry is undoubtedly the objective of the miners’ federation. The Prime Minister has spoken about irresponsibles, and referred to lions in the path, taxi-drivers, starting-price bookmakers, and so forth; but if the right honorable gentleman will examine the position closely he will find that some of the responsible officers of the miners’ federation are very close to those who are sabotaging the war effort. Recently the Acting Prime Minister and the vice-president of the- British Miners’ Federation, Mr. Collindridge M.P., visited the northern coal-fields of New South Wales with the object, so we were told, of pointing out to the miners their responsibili ties. What happened? The northern executive of the miners’ federation, consisting of Messrs. W. Crook, president, W. McBlane, vice-president, and J. B. Simpson, district secretary, issued a declaration which was, in fact, an ultimatum. In the course of their statement they said -
We acknowledge that in our ranks there are men who are not playing the game; men who have used the industry for their own convenience. These men have no place in the federation, and when the Government is pre-
Eared to give the mine-workers what they ave consistently fought for the federation will not hesitate to rid itself of these undesirables.
This will not be done, however, until the miners are given what they want. What do they want? Here is another extract from the ultimatum -
The most important step to be taken will be the nationalization of the industry. If the Government is not prepared to do this then it cannot hope to seek any measure of real peace and stability in the industry.
Apparently we are not to have stability in this industry, in peace-time or in wartime, until it is nationalized. That is the most subversive statement that could be made by a body of responsible men. The miners have made it clear that there will not be peace in the industry until they get what they want, irrespective of whether the country is at war or not. The ultimatum also stated -
We can. never return to the old way of things. There must be a new social order for every section of the community which makes a contribution to our national welfare. This does not mean regimentation. It simply ensures proper and continuous organization.
We have heard a good deal about this new social order from men like Thornton, Sharkey and Wells, who are members of the Central Communist Executive, and also from other individuals whose names were in the list of Communists read out by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). The ultimatum of the northern executive of the miners’ federation also stated -
Threats and cajolings will not get coal. Not only the Government but the community must face the real facts. We have been told this too often.
Those statements are sponsored, not by irresponsible individuals, but by responsible officers of the miners’ federation. They say, in effect, that it is no good for the Government to threaten or cajole them. They realize that the Governmentis merely bluffing. Appeasement of that kind will not appeal to them. They want the nationalization of the mines, and they mean to get it. They say that when the mines axe nationalized coal will be available and there will be peace in the inindustry, but without nationalization there will be no peace in industry, whether we are at war or at peace. If such statements had been made by any other group of men the individuals responsible would have been interned. The statements are subversive in the highest degree, yet the Government has taken no action. The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron), when faced with this situation, said that the Government could carry on with the manufacture of aeroplanes by using its reserve parts. Apparently, mutilated and battered aeroplanes will be overhauled but no new aeroplanes will be built. “We know that foundry coke is not available, and that extreme difficulty is being experienced in the making, of castings and in other engineering activities, but the Government is doing nothing about the matter, although it is vital to our war effort. It appears to be content to accept as unchangeable, the state of affairs that has existed for a long time past.
In this connexion it is interesting to observe that the policy that is being applied by the coaL-miners is similar to the policy that is- expounded in a booklet entitled The Trade Unions, published by Mr. L. Sharkey in November, 1942. I invite the attention of the AttorneyGeneral, in particular, to the extracts that I shall now quote. Mr. Sharkey stated -
Usually in ordinary situations our tactics are a one-day general stoppage or a series of such- one-day stoppages, as Engels and Lenin oppose the “ economic “ general, strike of the anarchists.
It is significant that this policy of one-day strikes is being applied throughout the coal-mining industry. The miners’ president, Mr. “Wells, comes to’ the Prime Minister with fine words and empty promises, and the Prime Minister gives Mr. Wells back some fine words in return, amd the general public is lulled into a false sense of security; but no definite plan has been devised to maintain coalproduction. Mr. Wells is-, of course, a
Communist, and- is employing communist tactics in this- industry. On page 35. of his booklet, Mr. Sharkey wrote -
Political strikes are a higher form of struggle than economic strikes. Such strikeschallenge the Government, the State, the rule of the capitalist class. One of our chief trade union tasks is the politicalization of strikes.
I put it to honorable gentlemen opposite that political strikes of that character are aimed at the very root of democratic government, yet the policy is being sponsored by responsible officers of the miners’ federation. There may be some dog trainers, taxi drivers and mangy lions in the path, as the Prime Minister has said, but, without any question, responsible officers of the miners’ federation must accept their share of responsibility for what is happening.
If it is necessary to get coal the Government should get it. The choice of the Government is between the maintenance of the present democratic standards of this country - government by the elected representatives of the. people: - or the Communist policy of the nationalization or socialization of industry generally. We are facing only the beginning of this battle for nationalization, but we must face the fact, without blinking, that Mr. Wells has said that peace will be achieved in the coal-mining industry only when the policy of nationalization is made effective. Let me remind honorable members pf the statement made by Mr. McBlane, the vice-president of the miners’ federation, in commenting on the Prime Minister’s declaration that allstrikes are now illegal. Mr. McBlane said - ‘
If a- strike is warranted at any time we will advocate it and put it into effect.
That is a direct challenge to the Government. But what does the Government do? Absolutely nothing ! It has retreated from point to point in a most abject fashion. The Prime Minister cut a pitiable figure when he asked, “ Will any one tell me how I can get coal ? “ The miners say, “Nationalize the industry and you will get coal “. The Government has done nothing whatever to deal effectively with the vital problems of the coalmining industry. It has not attempted to- tear the black veil of mystery away.
It has concentrated its endeavours on striving to divert attention from the tactics which the Communists in the coalminers’ federation are adopting in order to achieve their own ends. “What has the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) to say about this aspect of the subject, for at one stage he was the leader of a non-Communist Labour party in this House ? What has the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) to say about the matter, for he has said, “I stand foursquare against the Communists “ ? He is now embracing the Communist policy of nationalization. Why has he retreated? Why has he adopted a spineless attitude towards the Communists? Is he, and are other honorable members opposite generally, bowing the knee to Mr. Monks, the secretary of the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, who has declared that the first duty of the members of the Government is to the trade unionists and not to the people who elected them? Why is the Government maintaining its shilly-shallying attitude and still seeking to apply its evasive policy of appeasement ? The people at large are “ fed-up “ with that sort of thing. In the light of the fact that the Government has abdicated its position - for the Prime Minister has said that it comes to this : the Government must have control or bow to the dictates of the miners’ federation - I ask the House to vote for the motion. This Government is no longer fit to rule.
– The Opposition generally can have got very little satisfaction out of the debate on this censure motion, but perhaps its Leader (Mr. Menzies) may be an exception for, while he knew at the outset that it would be impossible to secure a majority vote for the motion, he must have been gratified by the very poor showing that his Deputy Leader (Mr. Harrison), who is ambitious and desires his throne, has made in dealing with the case. In the course of this debate, so far, we have heard three lawyers, an. accountant and an amateur Shakespearian actor speak from the Opposition benches. They have attempted to tell the people how coal can be won and how incapable this Government has proved in seeking to obtain an increased coal production. In the course of the speeches that have been made certain figures have been used in an abortive attempt to show that the position in Great Britain is better than the position in Australia, and it has been suggested that figures advanced on behalf of the Government have misrepresented the situation. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition foolishly failed to study the true import of certain figures that he quoted. He referred to the number of man-days lost in coal production in Austi alia in certain years and gave the following figures :- 1941, 23.2 days; 1942, 13.3 days; 1943, 19.2 days. Honorable members will at once notice that in 1941, when a United Australia party government was in office, the figures are much more unsatisfactory than in 1942 and 1943, when a Labour government was in control. I am amused when I hear these gentlemen talk about the record production year, 1942. They must imagine that Labour members have very short memories. I recall that in 1942, when I was Minister for Labour and National Service, these gentlemen were crying out for the blood of the miners, and saying that the Minister for Labour and National Service was fomenting instead of settling strikes. They wanted direct action to be taken. That was in the year which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) now describes as the great production year. When regulation 77 was promulgated by this Government, for the purpose, it was said, of disciplining a section of the miners, I predicted that the tactics then employed by the Opposition would result in more stoppages in the industry and less coal production. They were not concerned about that, but were anxious only to gain a party political advantage out of any situation which arose. They have not advanced any practical proposition for greater coal production, but say : “ Let us have a strike for three months; let us stop everything in this country”. Surely it is well to remember what “the position of this country was when the present Administration assumed control in October, 1941. The Sydney Daily Telegraph, which is viciously anti-Labour, had to admit that the new Government was starting two and a half years behind scratch in preparing the defences of this country, because of mis-government by an antiLabour Administration. Now, the best contribution which honorable members opposite can make to help forward a war that is drawing to a successful conclusion is to shut up everything for three months. I am certain that the people of this country will be amazed with such an exhibition by the Opposition and with its lack of knowledge of the needs of the nation.
This pretender to the throne, the honorable member for Wentworth, who temporarily occupies the position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition, went a very long way back in history in order to get some argument to support the move which his parly has now made. He quoted from an utterance by the old Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras. The honorable gentleman knows about as much about that philosopher and mathematician as he does about coal. I am certain that, if that ancient gentleman could have heard the speech of the honorable member for Wentworth, he would have been extremely wrathful at the mis-quotation of his words by this modern “ Angorus “, who endeavours to play on the sentimentalities of the people. The honorable gentleman mentioned a member of his old battery who had lost his life in the last war, and added that a son of that man had lost his life in this war. That anybody should lose his life in this conflict is to be regretted. But what connexion his reference has to the present discussion, I am at a loss to know. Does the honorable gentleman suggest that he will help in any way to end the war and thus avoid loss of life by closing the mines for three months ?
The right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) said: “What we want is a full-blooded effort”. What does he mean by “ a full-blooded effort”? I remember “Red Reg” Weaver, who now leads the party of the right honorable gentleman in New South Wales, wanting a full-blooded effort at Rothbury. They were shooting the miners down in those days. The miners knew that all the efforts of the antiLabour parties were directed against them.
The honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) said : “ Let us enforce the law “. That honorable gentleman admitted, during the course of his speech this morning, that he had been responsible for a stoppage at one coal mine. I should like to know why a prosecution was not launched against him. At the invitation of a miners’ lodge, he went into a pit which had been working continuously for a very lengthy period, and was no sooner there than he fomented a strike, and the men refused to work.
– That is a lie!
– Order ! Such language is not parliamentary.
– I do not mind what the honorable gentleman says. If ever a strike was justified it was at the Muswellbrook colliery at that time; the miners had every right to refuse to work alongside an individual of the type of the honorable member for New England.
The honorable member for Wentworth has accused the Government of issuing summonses and then withdrawing them which he described as “ polluting the law”. What view did he hold when he was a member of the New Guard, and the Stevens Government of New South Wales handed back records which had been obtained by the police in a raid on the New Guard head-quarters, so that they could be destroyed and prosecutions could not be launched against the members of that organization? The clique with which this gentleman was associated was prepared to use force in order to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. Those are the gentlemen who now say that the law must not be polluted.
Let us examine the statistics. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said that this industry has a capacity of 13,500,000 tons annually, after allowing for all reasonable losses in production. He added that the production figures for the first half of 1944 indicate that the total for the year will be 343,000 tons less than the production in 1943 and 770,000 tons less than for the same period in 1942. Yet in 1942 honorable members opposite were not prepared to leave the situation as it then existed.
The present Government obtained a record coal production; but what did our opponents say? The Sydney Daily Telegraph of the 8th April, 1942, published the following: - “ The Federal Government should ‘immediately apply the National Security Regulations to the striking coal-miners,” the Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition (Mr. Hughes) said last night.
Referring to a strike in the western district of New South Wales, the same right honorable gentleman said this -
This strike justifies those people who believe that appeasing recalcitrant elements on the coal-fields only encourages them. . . . The Government must govern. The Miners Federation, not the Government, is governing this country.
The right honorable member for Darling Downs, who was Leader of the Federal Opposition at the time, demanded that the Government should take immediate drastic action to end coal strikes and impose the legal penalties for absenteeism. That is what was said in 1942, when we were getting a record coal production. Now, members of the Opposition say, “Let us get back to 1942; let us have a record coal production “. Yet, when they were getting it they were not satisfied, because they wanted to discredit the Government, and were anxious to foment strikes.
I believe it was the honorable member for Wentworth who said that Mr. Wells had admitted that 40 per cent, of the strikes were due to causes that were brought about by the miners themselves.
– Then it was the honorable member for New England. If that be so, the remaining 60 per cent, which I regard as a very conservative estimate, must be due to other causes. Yet not one word has been said by honorable members opposite as to what should be done in regard to that remaining 60 per cent., which have been caused by the actions of the coal-owners. Why have not the members of the Opposition directed some attention to the tactics of the coal-owners which have been responsible for stoppages? Listening to them reading from matter prepared by Mr. Gregory Forster, one would imagine that all the stoppages were due to causes that were brought about by the miners. While I was Minister for Labour and National Service, 1 never accepted what the press stated, or what the mine-owners “ dished up “ to the department, as causes of disputes, but made a personal examination. I shall give one illustration, in order to show how coal-owners can be responsible for a stoppage. There was a stoppage at the Vale of Clwydd, in the western district of New South Wales, and the pit was closed for approximately eight or nine days. According to the newspapers, the reason for the dispute was that a man working at the pit would not join the federation, and that he had been a non-federation man for many years. I proceeded to Lithgow to make a personal examination. I called the miners’ lodge together and discovered that this matter had been introduced subsequently, the real reason for the stoppage being that the contract miners working at the pit, who were paid according to the quantity of coal they produced, suddenly became suspicious of the accuracy of the weighbridge weight, and asked for a test to be made. After a great deal of protesting, their request was granted. The test revealed that every skip of coal weighed was half a hundredweight light. That was the cause of the stoppage. The members of the miners’ federation’ adopted a very reasonable attitude. They recognized that the weighbridge could have become inaccurate without deliberate design’ on the part of the mineowners, and were prepared to work on a daily rate while it was being repaired, or at a specified amount for each skip filled to water level - the top of the skip. But the coal-mine owners would not accept either proposal, because the miners’ federation asked for back payment for half a hundredweight of coal in each skip for one shift only. The miners adopted a reasonable attitude, but the owners would not agree to their request. I called a conference, as the result of which the strike was settled in a few hours.
Some honorable members have endeavoured to ridicule, to some degree, the efforts of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) to settle disputes on the coal-fields. Whilst he may have adopted direct methods of handling strikes he was responsible for the settlement of more disputes in the industry, when I was Minister for Labour and National Service, than any other man associated with it. He called the parties into compulsory conferences, and, although some may have laughed at his efforts, it is the results that count. The honorable member did a greater service to this country than any other man associated with the industry during the period when I was Minister for Labour and National Service.
To indicate the attitude adopted by certain mine-owners, I recall that, when I visited the northern coal-fields early in 1942 and it was decided that I should address the miners, the press and the anti-Labour representatives said, “ What is the use of sending Ward to the coalfields? He will only foment strikes.” But, after my return from the fields, there was no strike for four days. Then it was said “ Ward did not settle the strikes. The miners were afraid the Government was going to take action against them “. I found that the miners had been cavilling for certain positions, and, in the draw, one of the old miners, who was in ill health and could not even under the best of conditions work more than two or three shifts a week, had drawn the most difficult position in the pit where the heaviest timbering was required. He knew that it would be impossible for him to carry on, and a younger man, employed as a brattice hand, agreed to exchange places with him. That was a sensible arrangement, because it would have resulted in increased coal production; but the mine-owners would not agree to the change. They said that every man had to serve in the place for which he had been drawn. I rang up the manager of the pit concerned, and we settled the grievance over the telephone. Had I not taken that action, another stoppage would have occurred. Some of the men employed in the mines on the South Coast of New South Wales have to walk in 3£ miles to the coal face, and a similar distance out when they cease work. They have to walk over broken ground, and sometimes their bodies are almost bent double because of the low ceilings and they are obliged to carry heavy tools. At times they have sacrified 10s. from their pay, and handed it over to wheelers, in return for being hauled up the inclines by hanging on to the harness of the pit ponies on their return journey. Yet the Opposition states that the way to get more coal is to drive the miners into the pits. In my opinion, the only way to increase producton is to win the confidence of the miners, and let them know that the people in charge of the affairs of this country are mindful of the great difficulties under which they work.
The honorable member for Wentworth complained that, after the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Forde) had gone to the coal-fields, an ultimatum was issued to him. Then the honorable member enumerated the demands that were made upon the acting leader. He said that the miners desired good housing, and demanded improved ventilation and action to allay dust in the mines. He referred to those requests as an ultimatum, but I think that they were reasonable requests, and that the Government should endeavour to comply with them. The Opposition declared that they should be rejected, because it was necessary to use a strong arm in dealing with the miners. I do not endorse that view. For many years the mine-owners have been able to reap a rich harvest by sweating their employees, and making them work under intolerable conditions. Naturally, when the miners had an .opportunity to present proposals to improve their working conditions they took it, and I can see nothing wrong in that. I think that a very small section of the miners has been misguided in holding up coal production at a critical war period ; but consideration should be given to the fact that the coal-miners generally have worked for the greater part of their lives underground, under abnormal conditions, believing that the hand of everybody was against them. One can understand how a spirit of solidarity has been created amongst them, and it is a good thing for the trade union movement of this” country that that spirit prevails.
The honorable member for Wentworth ridiculed .the idea that people should ask for a “ new order “, and he referred to several men who, he said, had been elected to high official positions in the miners’ federation, and were members of the Communist party. At least they were elected as the result of a popular vote, and those who believe in democracy ought to accept the position. Evidently the federation believes that those men are fully qualified to represent it. That is a matter for the miners themselves to determine. Displaying his lack of knowledge of the industry, the honorable member for New England asked, “ Why does not the Government extend the period of service of the officials of the miners’ federation? Instead of their being, elected every twelve months, why not make it three years?” The honorable member should know that, if any attempt were made to interfere with the domestic arrangement of a trade union with regard to the election of its officers, it would precipitate a general strike in a very short time. It would appear that that is what honorable members opposite desire to do, and they are certainly going the right way to do it.
It is said that the Government has no idea as to how to secure increased coal production-. I do not share the view that there are not certain things which the Government could do to improve production. Figures have been cited regarding the colliery that has been brought under government control. I do not know where these figures were secured, because they were not made available tome,, but. I would most certainly not accept them on the mere assertion of the honorable member for Wentworth. He also said that, because stoppages had occurred at a New South Wales State Government coal mine, that was a good argument against ohe nationalization of the coal-mining industry. The unthinking may hold that view, but everybody must realize that no section of the community will fight more bitterly to protect its own interests and privileges, than the wealthy class. Those interested in preventing the successful operation of government control of industry are capable of putting saboteurs into industrial undertakings, in order to cause stoppages so that they could then say, “ There is the failure of a Government undertaking “. The fact is that the irresponsibles in the coal pits are a small minority and have shown that they are not amenable to control by their own union workmates, and ought to be weeded out; but we should recognize that there is probably in every industry a small minority which is prepared to act as stooges- for the bosses, if the bosses will pay them well enough for that service. Even under a system of government control a section of employers are unscrupulous enough to put in saboteurs, in order to cause stoppages- of work.
The Leader of the Australian Country party said that, if the mines were nationalized it would be necessary to nationalize other utilities. Then he tried to demonstrate that the nationalization of .the mines would not provide a remedy for the present industrial troubles. I think that the only way in which government control or ownership of the mines could be tried out would be for the Government to take complete control and secure a. monopoly on the fields. Let me make a comparison. The railways, which constitute the most important section of our existing transport system, are a government utility, and it is admitted they have done a wonderful job during the war. If honorable members are really seeking for examples to show that government undertakings can succeed, that they are equal to, and even surpass^ the achievements . of private enterprise; let them consider the records of the Government railroads and of the Postal Department in comparison with the privately-owned coal mines. It is interesting in this connexion to note the trend of thought in other parts of .the world. I quote the following- from the Army publication Salt of the 28th August last: -
Shape of things to come in post-war Europe is foreshadowed by recent reports from London and Algiers (French North Africa).
Plans affecting the financial and social system not only of the French Colonial Empire have been drawn up by the French Provisional Government after debate in the French Consultative Assembly in Algiers . . . Coal, iron and steel, transport and- electrical power companies, are to be taken over by the Provisional Government in liberated France until a Constituent Assembly (parliament) can be elected. It will decide on methods of nationalization - and amount of compensation to be paid to owners.
It is now increasingly realized that the only way to obtain continuous production is to remove from key industries those whose only interest in them is the making of .profits. Although the Government has not yet felt itself to ‘he in a position to take over the coal mines in Australia, it seems to me that the owners themselves will eventually create a situation in which the Government will have no choice but to nationalize the industry.
Why do the critics always refer to the coal-miners as being solely responsible for the troubles in the coal-mining industry? It has been said that the miners will not produce to maximum capacity because, if they do, they will have to pay more taxes. That is one side of the matter, but there is another side. I have heard it said that certain of the coalowners, those who control the mines from which the best coal is produced, are not anxious that too much of it should be mined during war-time and sold while income tax rates are high. ‘Coal is a wasting asset, and they want to preserve their asset by creating industrial stoppages if necessary, so that the coal may be produced and sold later under conditions more profitable to the owners. Certain of the owners have even resisted the Government’s attempt to introduce the open-cut method of mining. They do not favour this system, which would result in tearing away their asset in the few war years. They would rather keep it until after the war, when they will be able to sell the coal without having to hand back so much of the profit to the Government. It is true that the men sometimes go on strike for what may be regarded as trivial reasons, but it has been shown that the remedy does not lie in prosecuting them. In 1942, when there was record production, prosecutions were launched against the miners. Now, honorable members opposite look back wistfully to the high production year of 1942. It has also been proved that putting the men into the Army will not help to get coal. That was tried and it failed. The men who were called up were very soon returned to the industry at the request of the coalowners themselves. The only way to win as much coal as we need is to find out what is the cause of the trouble and to remedy it. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) is alarmed at the rationing of transport services, and the possible rationing of supplies of electricity and gas to housewives. These things are to be regretted. The Government does not relish them, and will put an end to them as soon as possible; but do honorable members opposite realize what would happen if the Government followed their advice when they say that it should call the miners’ bluff? The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) said “Let us have a strike for three months “. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) said, “I am all for a strike “.
– I said nothing of the kind.
– Men who talk like that are concerned only with gaining political advantage from the situation. According to figures supplied to the Government, there is almost continuous production in 90 per cent, of the pits. In some pits on the northern field of New South Wales there has not been a stoppage for industrial reasons since the war started. It must be clear, therefore, that management plays a part in these things, that good management can ensure industrial peace. Mr. Gregory Forster accuses the Government of knowing nothing about the coalmining industry. He has not been in the industry very long himself, and probably knows little more about it than does the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). I was about to say that he knew even less than did the honorable member, but that would be impossible. The honorable member for Warringah said, “Let us put an end to the bringing of political pressure to bear on the Government by the miners’ federation “. I remember, when the Government brought down regulations to limit profits, the honorable member for Warringah was one of those who brought pressure to bear on the Government to prevent them from being put into force.
– That statement is also untrue.
– The honorable member for Warringah asks why the Government does not discipline the miners. This is interesting in view of his own record. He came into Parliament as an independent; he did not want to be subject to any control. After he had won his seat as an independent he decided that the only way to become a member of the Government was to join a party, and so he joined the United Australia party. Then, quite recently, because he knew that the United Australia party had become unpopular, and because he wanted to save his political skin, he left that party and became an independent again, but he still wants to discipline other people. Now, because he was alarmed at the referendum figures in his own electorate, he will probably want to join the United Australia party once more - the “United Anti-Patriotic party “. He says, “ Let us give the ‘Coal Commissioner full power”. He has always claimed to be a democrat. He says that Parliament should govern, that power should be exercised by the elected representatives of the people; yet he now wants us to place the control of this vital industry in the hands of one person who is not subject to popular control in any form whatsoever. If we examine the proposals of the Opposition, we must conclude that its members are intent on making political capital out of the present trouble. The honorable gentleman said, further, “Let us mechanize the mines “. The Government is doing its best to secure plant for that purpose. He then said, “ Let us lighten taxation “. As he was speaking, an honorable member sitting opposite interjected, “ That ought not to apply to only one section of the community”. To that interjection the honorable member for Warringah replied, “ Yes ; taxation should be lightened for everybody “. Yet the honorable member supported in this Parliament a proposal to impose taxes on incomes as low as £2 a week. I suggest to him that he should introduce a proposal to lift the statutory exemption of income upon which income tax i3 levied. The honorable member is inconsistent, because on other occasions he has contended that the finance necessary to carry on the war can be secured only by imposing taxes on the lower grades of income. I agree with the honorable member that taxes should be lightened. I am all for a reduction of taxes. I believe that it is an excellent idea; but I am afraid that if a proposal to lessen taxes were introduced the honorable member would, as he has done on other occasions, first make a speech and then run away to Sydney so that he could not record a vote. He went on to say, “Let us replace the malcontents with other forms of labour, and also let us freeze union funds “. The honorable member amazes me. I understood that he regarded it as an unforgivable thing for any government to lay its hands on moneys that do not belong to it. His cry has always been, “ We must preserve the liberties of the people and the property of the individual “. The funds to which the honorable member referred are funds which have been contributed by members of the miners’ federation. The honorable member, who says that he believes in democracy and the rights of the people, now says, “ Let us freeze union funds “. He went further, for he said, “If they go on strike, let us take their votes from them “. That is the only way in which the United Australia party can ever get back to the treasury bench. Only by the disfranchisement of a large section of the people can it regain office; it will never get back to office as the result of a popular vote. He went on to say, “ If these things fail, let us have free labour “. The honorable member should know what past experience of free labour has been. He should know that after the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott), a non-Federation man, spent a portion of a day in a coal mine which had a particularly good record there was a stoppage of work. I tell the Opposition that coal will not be won in that way. We have these three suggestions from the honorable member for Warringah : Freeze union funds ; deprive miners of their votes; introduce free labour. Are not these the very weapons that Hitler used in Germany? Are they not the tactics which he employed against the trade union movement of that country? The honorable gentleman claims to be an anti-Fascist ; he urges that nothing should be done which might impair the country’s war effort; yet when the Japanese were preparing to attack Australia he said that we had no quarrel with Japan. [Extension of time granted.] Honorable members opposite have charged the Government with having followed a policy of appeasement, but it has never followed a policy of appeasing the enemy, as did the Government of which the honorable member for Warringah was a member. What was the position in 1940, when the Menzies Government was in office? Honorable members’ will recall that there was a three months’ strike in the coal-mining industry. They may remember, too, that in 1941 absenteeism among coal-miners was greater than in 1942-43. That was shown by the figures- mentioned by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison). Why did Labour come into office in 1941? That change of government was not the result of a general election ; it was the natural outcome of the falling to pieces of the composite government. At that time the Labour party was the only party’ in this Parliament capable of forming an effective government. Even to-day, the parties in opposition cannot agree. How many conferences’ have been held with the object of disciplining this and that section of the Opposition? Yet honorable members opposite talk of disciplining members of the miners’ federation. There- are many people with an outlook similar to that of the honorable member for Wentworth, who thinks that he is a Heaven-born leader and should be the Prime Minister of this country. What success did the present Leader of the Opposition have when he was Prime Minister and endeavoured’ to secure a greater- production of coal? All this screaming that the coal-miners have done this and that in order to secure the nationalization of the coal mines is so much “hooey”. The coal-owners, for their own purposes, are fostering a number of disputes on the coal-fields. Unfortunately, many of those disputes arise out of trivial matters because some workers have been caught in the trap set for them. Ait least it can be said that, during the last few days, the pits have been working continuously. The reason may be that the miners are at last beginning to appreciate that, although they have their difficulties and industrial conditions are not what they ought to be, their greatest danger is that they may do this country and them- selves a great disservice by allowing the parties now in opposition to regain the treasury bench. It would seem that all members of the miners’ federation are now prepared to co-operate with the Government. In return, the Government should examine the industry in order to find out what difficulties’ exist and the causes of the trouble. I suggest that the Government should institute a form of inquiry to find out exactly what is wrong. I am convinced that, following such an inquiry, the Government would not hesitate to do many of the things that have been asked for by the miners in the past. The honorable member for New England introduced a lot of extraneous matter into the debate. He referred to the men of the 8th Division who are imprisoned in. Malaya, and said that stoppages on the coal-fields delayed their release. One thing that can be said for the Government is that since it assumed office no Australian troops have gone into action ill-equipped. How different was the state of- affairs when the parties now in opposition were governing this’ country. The introduction of this subject by the honorable member was merely an attempt to play upon the feelings of the people. It is indeed fortunate for Australia that the Labour party took office in 1941, because, had an anti-Labour government remained in office, Australia might have been another occupied territory in the hands of the Japanese invaders. In that event, not only the men of the 8th Division, but also the people of Australia generally would have been captives of the Japanese. The people will be the best judges of what respective governments have done to defend Australia. The Leader of the Opposition, in an attack on my colleague the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), said that, in a case before the High Court, counsel appearing for the Commonwealth had’ not received instructions. The right honorable gentleman made a rather amusing reference to that matter, but I remind him that that was not the only occasion on which counsel has gone into a court without having been given directions by those who briefed’ him. Not long ago, I was involved in proceedings before a futile Royal Commission. On that occasion, a legal gentleman appeared to represent the Menzies-Fadden Government; speaking from memory, I believe he was Mr. “ Villainous “ Smith. When a certain point was raised and Mr. Smith was asked whether he had any opinion to express on the right of the commission to make certain inquiries, Mr. Menzies, who was in the court, spoke to him, after which Mr. Smith stated, “I have received no instructions and I have no comment to make “. It must be evident to honorable members that opposition members have been engaged in a muck-raking campaign. The pages of Hansard and other records have been searched in an attempt to secure evidence to show that more coal would have been produced had an antiLabour government been entrusted with the welfare of this country. I am convinced that the people of Australia do not want a change of government, but desire that the present Government shall remain in office. More coal is being produced than an anti-Labour government would get. The coal-rationing restrictions imposed on. the people by the present Government are hard enough, but what would they be if the Government of 1940 had remained in office ? Honorable gentlemen opposite so enjoyed the three months’ strike that occurred in that year that they now say, “ Let us have another strike Honorable gentlemen opposite who now accuse the miners of treachery, themselves have admitted that 95 per cent, of the miners do their best to assist the Government to improve the war effort. I think the percentage is even higher. At any rate, the war effort will not be improved by a change of government. I appeal to the miners to operate all pits so that the required production shall be obtained. If they do that for the Government and the country, the Government should ascertain the cause of the discontent. If necessary, it should send a Minister to the coal-fields to learn from the men what is troubling them, and, having discovered that, it should do its best to remove their difficulties. I have nothing more to say other than that this House will support the Government by an overwhelming majority. If the people of Australia had the opportunity I am certain that they would no less overwhelmingly record the opinion that this is the only party capable of governing and of ensuring the necessary war effort.
– I do not propose to devote much of my time to replying to the tirade of the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward). Honorable members have become too accustomed to tirades from the honorable gentleman, all identical, regardless of the subject under discussion, to waste time in replying. The honorable member lost no time in pointing out that the year of maximum coal production was 1942, when he was Minister for Labour and National Service. He was too modest to put it into exact language, but the obvious inference was that he meant, “You want coal. Well, if I were Minister for Labour and National Service, you would immediately have the maximum production of coal “. I am bound, therefore, to state that the appointment of the honorable member as Minister for Labour and National Service was not the only great event of 1942. This country was for the first time at war against Japan. The Japanese forces were encroaching on the perimeter of Australian territory. So, despite the honorable gentleman’s modest claim that coal was produced because he was Minister for Labour and National Service I, and most other Australians, believe that the miners in that year were not interested in who was Minister, and that their only interest was in the fact that this country was threatened with invasion. That is why we had the maximum production of coal. Such industrial disputes as did arise were in a vast majority of cases settled by appeals to the arbitration machinery established by the previous Government. The Minister’s speech did not disclose one new fact. It was entirely directed to the perpetuation of class consciousness. His words show that he is quite oblivious of the danger which still threatens this country and our Allies. All that matters to him is to propound again his doctrine of class consciousness which is calculated to induce in the minds of coal-miners and all workers the belief that they are the downtrodden section of the community and are justified - indeed, in his opinion, they would be neglecting their duty if they did not do so - in continuing the industrial disturbances that have brought this country to its present pass in respect of coal production and coal stocks. With all its brightness, sneers and offensive remarks, the Minister’s speech was a poor contribution to a discussion of the needs of the nation in the midst of a vital struggle.
Placing aside his useless contribution to the solution of this difficult problem, we should endeavour to face the facts of the situation. They have been stated clearly, not only by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) in this and other debates, but also by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) himself. It has been shown beyond dispute by men who carry their responsibilities properly that our safety is threatened by the diminution of coal production. Australia’s war potential is seriously reduced, and the prolongation of this war by one day owing to diminution of our contribution to the total effort of the United Nations would justify this debate. We have plenty of coal in this country. The official figures of coal reserves in New South Wales show that known reserves total 5,500,000,000 tons ; that probable reserves of high-grade coal total more than 8,500,000,000 tons, and that possible reserves amount to more than double both the known and the probable reserves. Our full contribution to the Allied war effort requires coal. There is no shortage of coal. The other necessary factors are men to hew it and ships and trains to transport it. I know that there are transport difficulties, but they have not yet proved to be insurmountable. Thus, we have the physical factors - we have coal in vast quantities of the right quality; we have men in sufficient numbers to hew it; and we have adequate means of transport to take it to where it is needed. In addition, we have a government whose duty it is to co-ordinate our man-power and physical resources in such a way as will enable the country to prosecute the war to the fullest degree. The duty devolving upon the -Government is to view in their proper perspective the needs of the country, and to exercise its authority to co-ordinate our man-power and physical resources to achieve the greatest possible war effort. However, time and time again has it been shown, not only by the statistics, but also by the Prime Minister himself, that we have fallen very short of our task. On occasions there has been a diminution of our war effort, and on other occasions we have trembled on the brink of a serious reduction of that effort by reason of the shortage of coal. No government can tolerate that state of affairs; and neither will the people of this country tolerate it indefinitely. The Government has endeavoured to meet the situation. Over a period of years, it has taken steps with some of which we have agreed, but with many of which we have disagreed. However, the Government has been elected by the people, and it is right and proper that it should exercise its own judgment in deciding what it should do. I do not question its right to do that; but the acid test is the result achieved when measured against the needs of the country. This Government has done extraordinary things in endeavouring, as it puts it, to maintain an adequate coal production. It has done unprecedented things. I never thought that I should live to see the day when any government in this country would, by law, permit, in certain circumstances, an illegal strike to be legal, by delegating to some authority not elected by the people, and not responsible to the people, the right to say whether a breach of the law was illegal or not. Yet that was one of the earliest decisions of this Government. In its efforts to grapple, as it puts it, with the problem of coal production, it surrendered to the miners’ federation the right to say that a strike was legal or illegal. In fact, it said that a strike approved by the miners’ federation was not illegal. I never expected to see the day when any government in Australia would surrender its authority in that way .to a body completely bereft of responsibility to the people of this country. But this Government has taken a succession of steps in that direction. It proceeded, occasionally, to prosecute individuals in the courts, and to have imposed upon such individuals the penalty prescribed in respect of the offence committed; but it was then content to defeat completely the purpose of the law by permitting an outside body, the miners’ federation, to pay the fine imposed in such cases. It then went a step further. In the course of negotiations with the miners’ federation it agreed that absenteeism and strikes which, hitherto, were regarded as offences against the law, should not be recognized as offences against the law, but merely as offences against some dictum of the miners’ federation, and that such offences should be dealt with by the imposition of a fine at the discretion of the federation. In addition, such fines were to be not only collected but also pocketed by the federation. This Government, in the course of its curious and extraordinary method of grappling with the problem of coal production, has made deeper inroads into the principles of law-making, as understood in British countries, than any other government in the history of any Australian Parliament; and it is extraordinary that this tremendous encroachment upon the principles of law-making, involving the imposition and collection of penalties imposed on individuals, should have occurred at a time when the chief legal executive of the Government is a gentleman so distinguished as the present Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) who, himself, has occupied a judicial office. I had never dreamt that, in any circumstances, any government would have so completely abandoned what all of us previously accepted as the basic principles of British law-making. But that is the state of affairs existing in this country to-day. We have heard this kind of thing criticized as appeasement. All of us, in our respective spheres, like to think that we are strong, but sometimes circumstances do not permit us to act as strongly as we should like. I am not prepared to go the whole distance with all of my friends on this side of the chamber in condemning, hip and thigh, what has been described as appeasement on the part of the Government. These are extraordinary days, and they require, and possibly justify, extraordinary measures. It is popular to condemn the late Mr. Chamberlain for his policy of appeasement. Frankly, I have not supported that criticism. Had his policy of concession or so-called appeasement succeeded, the late Mr. Chamberlain would have gone down in history as a great man who saved a generation from a war. But the failure of his policy laid him open to condemnation. This Government has continually followed a policy of appeasement towards the miners and the miners’ federation. I have condemned the Government for certain ‘individual acts, but in this matter the condemnation of the Government voiced by either me, or my colleagues, would not stand if, in view of the extraordinary needs of our nation at war, the Government’s policy of appeasement towards the miners, of giving and taking and giving again, of surrendering certain of its powers to an outside body, resulted in obtaining for Australia all the coal we needed. If that had been the result the end would probably, in the circumstances of war, have justified the means. However, to-day we look back upon nearly three years of failure; and war will not wait. The circumstances of the war will not permit us to wait indefinitely for a policy to succeed. There must come a moment when it is time for us to cry “ Enough “, to realize that a policy has failed and that we must follow some other course. As the fate of the referendum has shown, the Commonwealth Government is not always able to read the mind of the Australian people. The majority of Aus,tralians consider that the time has arrived when the Government must say “ Enough “ to this policy of appeasement. No longer will the people be satisfied with explanations; they need coal. I realize that very real difficulties exist. As a former Minister for Air, I have had the unhappy experience of explaining to the House why more aeroplanes were not available for the defence of this country. The explanations did not satisfy some honorable members. During the depression, certain Ministers had to explain why full-time employment could not be provided for everybody, and why it had become necessary to reduce pensions. Those explanations also did net satisfy everybody. I warn the Government that the time has come when explanations of the shortage of coal will no longer satisfy the Australian people. They need coal. Australia has plenty of coal; there are sufficient coal-miners to hew enough coal to satisfy civil and war requirements; adequate transport is available; and the Government has authority to get coal. It now behoves the Government to co-ordinate all those factors, and deliver the goods. Insofar as it lies within the power of the Opposition to help the Government to exercise its authority, the Opposition will assist the Government.
– All the mines are working this week.
– That is all”my eye “.
– Why does not the Minister for Information tell us what Batavia radio said last week?
– The Japanese have never praised a member of this Government, but they have praised some of the honorable member’s friends.
– But is it the Batavia radio? I thought it was written in the Department of Information.
– According to an official statement made in this House, out of a total loss of 2,500,000 tons of coal over a specified period, 2,075,000 tons were lost as the result of absenteeism and strikes. That loss occurred, not through an act of God or of the enemy, and not through the failure of machines, but through the failure of persons. But persons are subject to the direction of this Government. The Prime Minister has informed the House that, out of a total of 17,000 coal-miners in New South Wales, those who are responsible for strikes and absenteeism, such as parttime taxi drivers and the like, are identifiable; but nothing has been done to remove them from the industry. I am not blackguarding the Government for a policy of appeasement, and I say frankly that, had it succeeded, success in itself would have been its justification ; but the Government cannot continue to try, for another three years, this system which has not worked satisfactorily. Already the Government has tried it for nearly three years, and that it has failed is undeniable because production has declined seriously. The Government has injected more men into the industry, but more men have produced less coal, and strikes and absenteeism have increased. To the constructive suggestion that the mines should be mechanized, the Government has made only a futile approach. I do not desire to delve into history, but it should not be forgotten that the small degree of mechanization in Australian coal mines is very largely the responsibility of the organized miners themselves.
– No, the mine-owners.
– The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Hollo-way), the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), and many other supporters of the Labour party have condemned with great eloquence any proposal to mechanize coal mines, because the introduction of machinery would reduce the number of men required to work in the bowels of the earth. Those speeches can be read in Hansard. This condemnation of mechanization is not the only mistake which has been made, but I am not here to dwell upon mistakes of the past; I desire to deal wholeheartedly and effectively with the present situation. The Prime Minister explained, in words that required no elaboration, the tremendous importance of coal to our war effort. That in itself should be sufficient to induce the miners to work, but more than that is involved. The civil life of this community also has to be carried on. It is difficult to determine where non-essential civil services cease and partly essential civilian services commence, but I remind the House that the war is conducted not solely by manufacturing arms, but also by raising fat cattle or growing “ foodstuffs. Because of the shortage of coal, State railway systems have been compelled to curtail the transport of live-stock to market or the transportof store-stock to country districts. The Victorian Railways Commissioners have been publishing an announcement in the newspapers for a considerable period with the following illuminating caption: “Starved for Coal”. The advertisement proceeds to explain that, as the result of the coal shortage, the number of trucks available for the transport of stock has been reduced.Country people in Victoria are unable to obtain many essential commodities because the railways, in order to conserve coal, will not provide transport for them.
I realize that a government is apt to get out of touch with things that affect the lives of the general community, but people have the habit, and occasionally the opportunity, of kicking back. Nearly a year has passed since I stood for six hours in the corridor of a country train, outside the ladies’ convenience. The passengers were jammed together so tightly that no one could Bit on his suitcase. Every inch of space in the corridor and, of course, in the compartments was occupied. That congestion was caused by a reduction of railway services, due to the shortage of coal supplies. People in the country districts of Victoria no longer expect to get a seat on a train. They are unable to reserve seats, and women and children who arrive at the station even an hour before a train is scheduled to depart are unable to get seats. Now, they know that they must be at the station a couple of hours before a train leaves, in order to have any hope of getting a seat. I warn the Government that the Australian people will not submit indefinitely to these intolerable conditions, which are due entirely to its failure to remove from the industry identifiable persons responsible for strikes. The people will have an opportunity to kick back and they will make the most of it.
Let us brush aside the extraneous matters which the Minister for Transport introduced into this debate. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley) was more astute. His words were designed to act as a soothing syrup. Nothing is more disarming than when a Minister says, “It is true that I have failed and that I made a mistake. In future I shall endeavour to do better.” Those admissions and assurances were the outstanding features of his speech, aid the Opposition at first was inclined to cheer him, until we realized that he had made no contribution to the solution of the problem. The speech of the Attorney- General, who, in the absence of his colleague, hasbeen battling with this problem for some time, was very substantially an explanation of his own actions. That was interesting, and on occasions may be necessary, but it did not obtain for us another pound weight of coal. I tell my friends in the Government that the country will not be satisfied with a failure to get coal and that they will find a serious reaction against their own political selves if a real effort is not made; I engage in no recriminations over a policy of appeasement. Had it succeeded, its own success would have been its complete justification, and no speech from this side of the House would have amounted to a row of beans if the Government’s policy of appeasement had won the necessary quantity of coal. But three years of effort and of failure surely reveals that it is time to call a halt, and that some other course must be set. I conclude by reminding the Government that in this country there is plenty of coal, and that men are willing to fight and lose their lives if needbe to protect it. I have no doubt that there are in the services men willing to win coal to give this country what represents its life blood in war-time; We have our transport services, and there is a government clothed with absolute authority. It is time that the Government got to work, co-ordinated these things, and delivered the coal.
Debate (on motion by Mr.Calwell) adjourned.
Mr.CURTIN (Fremantle- Prime Minister and Minister for Defence) [3.44]. - by leave - I move -
That leave of absence for the remainder of the session be given to the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) on the ground of his absence from Australia as a prisoner of war.
I am quite certain that it is the wish of every honorable member that the forces engaged against Japan will soon be so completely successful that we shall have the honorable member back with us again.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr Curtin) agreed to-
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to
Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Rationed Goods- Supply and Distribution - Report of Commissioner appointed under the National Security (Inquiries) Regulations.
Wool-Report of the Central Wool Commitfee for season 1943-44.
House adjournedat 3.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 September 1944, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1944/19440901_reps_17_179/>.