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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - With growing amazement and amusement honorable members on this side of

I he House have watched the political circus opposite. Reference was made this evening to " the boneless wonder ". The variety artists opposite, from the political tight-rope walkers-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! Personalities must cease.

Mr HARRISON - Whilst deferring to your ruling, sir, I point out that honorable members opposite have spoken in one way and propose to vote in another way. Therefore, I draw attention to the fact that these men are walking the political tight-rope. That is an expression which is commonly and frequently used by honorable members in this chamber. In ordinary tight-rope walking there is a hazard, a danger of falling off, but honorable members opposite have acknowledged this evening that, as the result of a caucus meeting held to-day, there is no longer any risk of their falling on the side of their personal opinions. If they lean that way they will always straighten up and eventually fall on the side labelled with the party tag. A fundamental principle of democracy is that, if legislation or proposed legislation be bad, parliamentary representatives will endeavour to alter it, but if it be good, and only badly administered, they will not try to alter the legislation, but w,ill draw attention to its maladministration. There is a con.flict of opinion over this matter. We have the so-called champions of democracy sitting on the Government benches and attacking these provisions which the Government has declared it will enforce. They have declared that if Statutory Rule No. 77 be enforced it will split the Labour party because it is dictatorial in essence, something which might more reasonably have been expected to emanate from a Fascist government. Nevertheless, not one of them is prepared to support his argument by voting against it; no one, that is, except the mover for the disallowance of Statutory Rule No. 77. I refer to the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), who, I know, is looking with dissatisfaction and disgust at his erstwhile colleague for having deserted him, although he has made out an almost unanswerable case in support of the principles of democracy for which all honorable members opposite say they stand. Honorable members on this side of the House, unlike many of those on the other side, say that there is something good in this legislation. They say that it is necessary, in order to ensure a maximum war effort, for the Government to clothe itself with powers of the kind conferred by Statutory Rule No. 77. They have a full sense of their responsibilities, and they know what a maximum war effort means'. However, they are concerned with the manner in which the regulations are likely to be administered. Therefore, whilst they are prepared to place their imprimatur on Statutory Rule No. 77, they draw attention to the biased statements of the Minister for Labour and National Service, and to the conflicting opinions expressed by the Prime Minister himself. It is natural that there should be some suspicion in the minds of honorable members on this side of the House as to whether the regulations will be administered fairly, if at all. I was astounded at the statements of the Prime

Minister and the Minister for Labour and National Service, as well as by the speech of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), inwhich he sought to prove that the Prime Minister had made a declaration one day and had reversed it the next. He stated that the Minister for Labour and National Service had issued a challenge to the Prime Minister, -who had evaded the challenge. These matters call for some explanation. In the Melbourne Argus of the 10th April last, the Prime Minister was reported as follows: -

Mr. Curtin,Prime Minister, who attended the Melbourne Trades Hall Council meeting unexpectedly last night, said he did not intend to apologize to any body for having used the National Security Regulations against the coalminers. He had not done so until he had been informed by the Coal-miners Union that the men had stopped work without the union's approval. " I am not going to allow the activities or the desires of my Government ", he declared, " to be stultified by a band of insurgent malcontents ". . . . While men were dying and making sacrifices for the security of Australia, Mr. Curtin went on, other people were trying to hold up essential war materials, such as coal. Men or women who so hold up production were just as much traitors to Australia as were soldiers who deserted in the face of the enemy.

Those are strong words, and I heartily commend the Prime Minister for having used them. They express completely my own sentiments, and those of other honorable members on this side of the House. However, although he said that he proposed to enforce Statutory Rule No. 77 against the miners, something prevented him from doing so. Just what that was is best known to the supporters of the Government. We have our own ideas as to why the powers were not used, and I propose to develop those ideas as I proceed. In the Melbourne Herald of the 15th April, the Prime Minister was reported as having said that not more than 20 per cent, of the stoppages in the coal industry were related to disputes between the owners and the employees. Some of the reasons for the other80 per cent, were -

A claim by a miner that his drill was not properly sharpened.

A reprimand to wheelers for coming out ca rly.

Water placed in the boots of a clipper.

A bathroom attendant not being on duty.

A wheeler's horse " too "fast.

The honorable member for Dalley read an extract with the intention of proving that the Prime Minister had been given wrong information, and that he had virtually disowned the statement which I have quoted. However, on the same day, he made a statement in which he compared conditions on the eastern coal-fields with those obtaining in Western Australia. After referring to the fact that through strikes there had been a loss of production amounting to 16,000 tons, and a loss of 10,800 tons caused by absentees, he went on to say -

In contrast was the example set by the mine workers at. Collie, in Western Australia. These men were now working every Saturday, thus completing twelve days a fortnight against the ten days worked at mines in New South Wales. In addition, the miners in Western Australia had decided to work on Good Friday. Easter Saturday and Easter. Monday in order to work up production in that State.

In New South Wales the secretary of the Miners Federation, Mr. Grant, had requested the Government to give the miners Easter Monday so that it could be taken as a rest period. The Government had agreed. In spite of this, many miners had then stopped away on the following Tuesday.

The Prime Minister is the political leader of the Labour movement, and ought to have some knowledge of what goes on within that movement. At a time like this he should not make loose statements, but even if he had been hoodwinked in regard to the causes of the various stoppages, he was certainly not hoodwinked when he made that statement comparing conditions on the eastern coal-fields with those prevailing in Western Australia, or when he referred to the action of the miners in New South Wales after their secretary, Mr. Grant, had made his statement. These facts show conclusively that the strikes were frivolous, and were designed to hold up production. In this they were effective, as the figures indicate. The Prime Minister said that men and women who held up production were just as much traitors to Australia as were soldiers who deserted in the face of the enemy.

Now a change comes o'er the scene. The Minister for Labour and National Service intrudes himself, having decided to challenge the Prime Minister on this point. Within union circles there was a violent reaction against Statutory Rule

No. 77. Is it not a fact that in Victoria the Australasian Council of Trade Unions carried a resolution condemning it? Is it not a fact that violent opposition has developed throughout the entire Labour movement in Australia, and that this opportunist, the Minister for Labour and National Service, capitalized this opposition by turning against the Prime Minister and the interests of his country at this time of crisis? It is a fact, and he was strong enough to force the Prime Minister to give way. We do not know what promises have been made in order to induce honorable members to vote against the wishes of the unions. Ordinarily, the opposition of the unions would have forced honorable members opposite to run for cover, to ditch any one and every one in an endeavour to keep their seats. We do not know what happened, but it is obvious that some undertaking was given. To-day, the Prime Minister, speaking from his place in the House, declared that Statutory Rule No. 77 would be enforced, while standing over him was the Minister for Labour and National Service, who said that he did' not withdraw one word of what he had previously said on the subject. He defied the Prime Minister, and heaped contempt upon him for his efforts to chastise him.

The Prime Minister declared that these regulations are required for the purpose of safeguarding national interests, but I contend that they should be applied without fear or favour against offenders, whether they be employers or employees. My. criticism is directed not against Statutory Rule No. 77 but against the maladministration of the Minister for Labour and National Service. Displaying the bias for which he is famed, he declared that he would not apply the regulations against the workers. He did ' not add that he would not apply them against other classes. Therefore, he made a reservation. If the administration of these regulations be vested in the Minister, this country will see an example of maladministration carried to excess, because he will impose the statutory rule upon one section of the community whilst pandering to the workers for their support. Attacking honorable members on this side of the chamber, the Minister accused them of " pointing the bone " at the coal-miners, but he forgot that the Prime Minister had also done that. On second thoughts, I wonder whether the Minister did forget the part played by the Prime Minister, and whether this was another gesture to lower the prestige of his leader in the eyes of the country. When challenged by a member of the Opposition, he asked with withering scorn whether the interjector had ever been down a coal-mine and walked 3 miles along the track to the cutting-face before beginning the day's work. His choice was unfortunate, for he directed his question to the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) who, as a soldier in the last war, often marched considerably more than 3 miles before going into action. During the campaign in Palestine, the Lowlands Scots Regiment marched 40 miles between sunset and sunrise, and then went into action. Those troops were not paid the high wage that is earned by coal-miners.

Statutory Rule No. 77 is designed to prevent the miners from prejudicing the defence of their country. They are supposed to be members of the vast industrial army; but the Government draws a distinction between the industrial army and the fighting forces. I cannot see my way clear to vote against the regulations because I believe that they are warranted. If the United Australia party-United Country party Government had remained in office, it would probably have been obliged to take similar powers, but its administration of them would have been much fairer than that of the Labour Government. Whilst I am not prepared to vote against Statutory Rule No. 77, I cannot vote for it because I believe that it will not be administered to the benefit of the country. I shall not prostitute the powers that my constituents have given to me, as the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Falstein) proposes to do. I shall take the course of action which, I think, is warranted in the circumstances. If honorable members opposite can justify the manner in which they propose to vote, all I can say is that their political conscience is such that it will never give them a moment's uneasiness.

Sitting suspended from11.35 to 11.55 p.m. [Quorum formed.]

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