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Friday, 6 March 1942
Page: 281

Mr JAMES (Hunter) . - I am grateful to the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) for having brought forward the matter of the recommendation which, he says, I have made to the Government. It is true that I have made a recommendation to the Minister along the lines indicated by the right honorable gentleman, and my great hope is that, for the sake of peace in the industry, and in order to ensure maximum production, the Minister will accept my recommendation, and that the Government will act upon it. I regret that some representatives at the conference broke faith with me, and published my recommendation in the Sydney Morning Herald, which the right honorable member for Kooyong has cited. I have on many occasions in this House complained of the appointment as arbitrators in the coal industry of men entirely unacquainted with conditions in the industry. With all due respect to His Honour, Judge Drake-Brockman, I repeat that complaint.

Mr Collins - The miners themselves asked for him.

Mr JAMES - They did not. I have tried for many years to induce various governments to listen to the plea of the miners, and appointas arbitrators men who understood something of the industry, instead of selecting some one merely because he had a university education, or had sat on the bench as a judge. The present trouble is one of long standing. A certain colliery proposed to introduce a mechanical loader in the afternoon shift on special work.

Mr Collins - Is the mechanical loader used on the morning shift?

Mr JAMES - It works now on the morning shift, but the men object to its introduction on the afternoon shift in breach of an agreement they have for this special work to be done with another coal-cutting machine. After a fight, they were successful in having the afternoon shift abolished as long ago as the last war for general coal production, although it was allowed to he worked in special places. This mine developed an output of 3,100 tons under the old system, which involved the use of what is called the " puncher " machine. Since the introduction of the new machine, which not only cuts the coal, but loads it as well, the output has never been more than 1,800 tons. However, coal can be won more economically with the new machine. Fewer men are required, and even those employed, instead of receiving £2 10s. a day, as many of them did previously, receive only £1 10s. 9d. a day, plus 7½ per cent. for the afternoon shift. The men resent this, particularly at a time when commodity prices are rising. A further point of objection is that the new system introduces an increased element of danger. When two shifts are worked, and one man follows another to the face, he is in danger from overhanging coal that may have been left by the first man; whereas, if it be the same man who comes back the next day to that face, he knows what has been left, and is on his guard against it. Generally, the man going out will tell the incoming one of the danger, but sometimes he may forget, and then the life of the incoming man is in jeopardy. His Honour stated that, in giving his judgment - and I am quoting from the official transcript of the proceedings of the conference on the 26th January last - he was guided principally by precedents of the miners federation having allowed the use of this machine, and he cited as examples what had been done in the Burwood and Helensburgh collieries. As a matter of fact, the Burwood colliery was the first in which I ever worked, and the seam now being worked had never been opened up until recently, when this new machine was put in. It was a virgin seam, and the men did not know what the conditions would be like, or what the effect would be of using the machine. Therefore, they agreed to its being installed. In regard to the Helensburgh mine. His Honour, in an award issued on the 15th July, 1941, provided, that four places should be operated in the afternoon as well as in the day shift. From then right up until last Saturday, one of these places had travelled only 30 yards, and in other places the men had been able to work only four and a half shifts during the whole time. At the request of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr.Ward), I held a conference with the men and owners at Wollongong last Saturday, and found that Mr. Hickman, the chairman of the local tribunal, had amended the award of His Honour Judge Drake-Brockman, by reducing the four places to two. Even so. it was found impossible to work the mine. I am pleased to say that the owners, as a result of the conference, have now agreed that there shall be no afternoon shift at that place, and the machines have been pulled out. No objection has been forthcoming from Judge Drake- Brockman. Rather than see a stoppage of work take place in all the mines operated by this company, I recommended to the Minister that he forbid the introduction of machines into mines for the afternoon shift unless satisfactory conditions are allowed for its operation. That will overcome the difficulty. It will not set aside, as the right honorable member for Kooyong stated, the award of Judge Drake-Brockman. I have clarified the position. Now His Honour has refused to give a decision upon the matter of hours, and has adjourned the sitting of the Reference Board until next Monday in order to see whether the award will be observed. This brings me to the question of His Honour's jurisdic tion in the matter. I have made it clear that Mr. Hickman, the chairman of the Local Reference Board, upset His Honour's decision in respect of the Helensburgh colliery. Mr. Connell, who knows the coal-mining industry from A to Z, dealt with the dispute in the first instance, but was informed that he possessed no jurisdiction to do so. His Honour claimed to have that jurisdiction, but announced that his decision would apply only to the single colliery and that other cases would be dealt with on their merits. It is difficult to understand how the Richmond Main dispute reached the Central Reference Board, because coal regulations were issued, giving powers to local reference boards to deal with the matters before His Honour gave his decision. I can assume only one thing, namely, that the spirit of John Brown marches on over all agreements and precedents; what John Brown did in his lifetime is being continued now by the general superintendent, Mr. J. Johnson, who is also senior member of the Central Reference Board and a member of the Local Reference Board in Newcastle. He knew full well that Mr. Connell understood the position better than did His Honour ; but he considered that it would be most unfortunate for his company if Mr. Connell adjudicated in the case. Therefore, he decided to take the ease before His Honour, and in his suave manner, he " put it all over " the judge and obtained this decision.

Apparently the firm of John Brown has always enjoyed protection. John Brown was always championed by a judge of the High Court, Sir Adrian Knox, who was a beneficiary under his will. Now it seems that the present champion of the firm is His Honour Judge DrakeBrockman. Those are hard words, but they are true.

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