Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr WHITE (Balaclava) .- This measure has the ambitious title of " a bill for an act to secure and maintain adequate supplies of coal ". Any proposal which will effect that purpose, or improve the conditions on the coal-fields, will have my earnest support. There is a good deal of merit in the argument advanced that the working conditions of the coal-miners should be improved. The provision of housing on a considerable scale is one of the urgent needs which should be tackled. I cannot understand why the mine-owners and the miners, together with the governments concerned, do not discuss their problems together, and discover the real difficulties that divide them. Let. there be that community fraternization about which the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) spoke. It would be a good idea to. have clubs on the coalfields that would enable _ the minemanagers and other leading officials tomix with the foreman and other employees, in order to improve the relations and outlook of the people connected with the industry. Undoubtedly, muchtrouble is due to a psychology born of traditions on the fields. It is of no use to dwell upon past events. One honorable member referred to a passage in a book written in 1842 about the conditions below the surface, and the slavery that prevailed.. He might have gone back to " 1066 and All That ", and told us something .even more out of date.

It is disappointing that the Government has put forward the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman to take charge of this bill. He spoke, in such a biased manner, in moving the second reading of the measure, that no doubt any honorable member who is impartial would agree that itwas an unfair speech, particularly in attributing all of the troubles of the industry to the mine-owners and the shareholders in the mining companies, and saying nothing about the troublemakers among the employees in the industry. It is well known that certain men employed on the coal-fields ought to be disciplined and .prosecuted. Statements of the kind made by the Prime Minister cause one to think that this bill is a piece of window-dressing for the forthcoming elections, and is designed to delude the people into believing that the measure will result in an increased production of coal. This is what theSydney' Morning Herald said on the day after the Minister's second-reading speech was delivered - .

Capitulation on Coal.

Rarely can the House of Representatives have listened to a more intellectually dishonest and politically craven speech than that with which Mr. Dedman recommended the Joint Commonwealth-State Coal Authority Bill last night. Whatever merits there may be in. the *' programme of basic re-organization " for the industry which the bill is supposed to embody, they are completely nullified by the Government's apparent decision to ignore the very heart of the problem, which is the restoration of order and discipline in the mines. No one, least of all the owners, challenges the fact that the industry is in sore need of " wide, systematic and thorough re-organization".

I entirely concur in that opinion. I thought that the Minister would have been as intellectually honest as the former Leader of the Australian Labour party, Mr. Curtin, who, in a speech in this House in 1943, declared that a great deal of the trouble in the industry was due to the bad men in it. I do n'ot recall his exact words, but he said spielers, dog trainers and others had remained in the industry in order to avoid war service, and that the coal-fields should be purged of them. But the Minister for Postwar reconstruction passed over facts of that kind. He did not mention that Communists were making trouble in the industry, and that bad men should be disciplined. He attributed all of the troubles in the industry' to the mine managements.

In Victoria, 35,000 tons of coal has to be provided weekly, in order to keep the industries of that State in production,but all that has reached that State from New South Wales in recent weeks is about from 20,000 to 28,000 tons a week. The deficiency has had to be dealt with by strict rationing of supplies. No electric radiators may be used by the people, and gas rationing has been applied from time to time. Housewives are severely penalized by these restrictions. The coal-miners often strike for frivolous and even- ridiculous reasons.


Mr James - Do the miners enjoy radiators?


Mr WHITE - Coal is delivered to their doors.


Mr James - They do not enjoy radiators.


Mr WHITE - They do not need them, if they can get coal. If coal could be delivered to the homes of the people in Victoria, they would be most grateful for it. The Minister in Charge of Electrical Undertakings in Victoria has announced that the use of radiators will not be permitted in that State till- some time in 1947. Strong protests have been made against these restrictions. Because of the coal shortage, there is also a shortage of firewood and considerable unemployment, has occurred. A Geelong newspaper dated the 19th July stated -

All kilns at the Fyansford works of Australian Cement Limited will cease "production, except in the unlikely event of Supplies of coal arriving by to-morrow.

The kilns have since been closed, and there is a dire shortage of cement. The great need in Australia to-day is the provision of housing for the people.


Mr Lazzarini - When did the honorable member find that- out?


Mr WHITE - The Minister for Works and. Housing apparently has not. discovered it yet. The greatest cement works in Victoria are closing, 'because of the lack of New South Wales, coal. The woollen mills at Geelong, which is the greatest centre of textile production in Australia, have tried, under' "great difficulty, to carry on* with firewood; nevertheless many employees have been dismissed from the mills. In South Australia every industry will have to close, because coal reserves have been depleted. The Communists planned to reduce the coal stocks to such a low level that every industry would be dependent for its continuance on the men who lead the trade unions.


Mr Conelan - A collier arrived at Port Adelaide to-day, and another will reach that port next week.


Mr WHITE - Yes, that is so. Because of bad weather on the coast colliers have been held up; but how precarious must the situation be in a great city like Adelaide when its industries have to stop because a collier is delayed ? The whole trouble arises out of the fact that reserves of coal have been depleted. Australia will suffer a serious set-back unless stern measures are taken. Mere palliatives will not serve. Already in Victoria many railway locomotives have been converted to burn oil. and I was interested to. hear a Government supporter suggest in this House the other day that similar conversions of locomotives should be made in other States. This is an indication of how serious is the position. Oil has to bc imported, whereas Australia ha3 coal in abundance. Nevertheless, for lack of will to win +,he coal, we have to import oil fuel. At one time, Australia had a large coal export, trade . to South America, hut that has been lost. Before long, the miners" may find that the coal-mining industry will cease to lay golden eggs for them.* The Government had an opportunity, when framing this legislation, to do something that would really stimulate production, but it has offered only palliatives. It has all along applied :i policy of appeasement. In a previous measure, the Government assumed power to take over coal-mines, and did, in fact, take over the Coalcliff colliery, which it has run for a little over a-year.- Although . this colliery paid- its way under private management, it has lost more than £50,000 under government management.

No supporter of the Government has mentioned that, communism is at the back of much of the trouble in the coalmining industry. . The truth of this may be established by reading the statements of these revolutionaries who owe no allegiance to country or empire, or even to democracy. They are supporters of a communistic totalitarian regime which differs little in its nature from Fascism or Nazi-ism. If Government supporters will not denounce communism they will be untrue to the traditions of the Australian Labour party. I have here the stated opinion of a mau who frequently comes to Canberra to consult with the Government, Mr. Wells.


Mr Archie Cameron - To give the Government orders.


Mr WHITE - Well, we do not know what goes on behind closed doors, but Mr.. Wells was quick to express his opinion of this proposed legislation, and he said that if it involved the disciplining of miners he would have nothing of it. He continued -

Malicious and stupid suggestions that the federation proposes to abandon the strike weapon and embrace arbitration have no foundation.

Mr, Sharkey, presidentof the Australian Communist party, once said -

Further good work will finally convert the miners' organization into a really . revolutionary union and a firm support for the struggle for socialism.


Mr Conelan - The same old red bogy! -


Mr WHITE - I quote now the opinion of a Labour party supporter whom honorable members admire, or should admire, Mr. Maloney, who represented Australia in Russia. This is what he said -

Australian Communists were the dupes of the most ruthless dictatorship the world had ever seen. Mr. J. J. Maloney, M.L.C., former Australian Minister to Moscow, told Rotarians at their luncheon to-day.

Russia and everything emanating from ' Russia, he said, must be watched closely by the Australian people. Russia was building up a ruthless militaristic caste. Except that there was no persecution of the Jews, Russia possessed all those distasteful features ' possessed by the organization which we had spent "years stamping out.

Russia is the greatest danger to the Australian way' of life we have ever faced..


Mr Bryson - What has that to do with the bill.


Mr WHITE - If the honorable member cannot see how it affects this bill, and the production of .coal, I can only say to him that none is so blind as he who will not see. I do not wish to be merely critical, and therefore I propose to offer some suggestions.


Mr Bryson - And about time, too.


Mr WHITE - The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Bryson) used to be a prominent union official in Victoria, and may be so still. Therefore, he ought to know something of what has been done to exploit brown coal reserves in Victoria. Sir John Monash, who was responsible for the development of those deposits, declared that Victoria should no longer be the industrial vassal of New South Wales. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to complete his scheme, but various Victorian governments have since explored the possibility of obtaining further supplies of coal in that State. At Yallourn, a model housing scheme for miners has been put into operation, and the example set there might well be followed in- New South Wales. Also, at Yallourn, the miners work two shifts a day .and there is talk of working three shifts; yet to talk of working two shifts a day in New South Wales is to voice rank heresy.


Mr Conelan - Where would we get the men ?


Mr WHITE - It would be easy enough to get the men if - they were- allowed to come into the industry. The fact is that Australians are losing their most precious heritage - the right to work. As things now are, no man will dare to work in a coal-mine if a few boys have walked off the job. In 1929, the Government of New South Wales opened a mine in an endeavour to obtain independent supplies of coal for the railways, and the men employed had to work under siege conditions, protected by the police. At that time, I went below in the mine, and actually hewed a little coal, something whichI doubt very much that the honorable member for Bourke has ever done. I learned that many men had come to Australia from Great Britain believing that this was a country flowing with milk and honey, as, indeed, it should be. Only one man in six needs to be skilled in the winning of coal. I found that men. who were absolutely unskilled in mining couldearn £10 a week with ease. But they had to be guarded, and live night and day in the mine until the unionists returned to work. We have had nothing but spasmodic strikes and uncertainties in the coal-mining industry over the years. The working of a second shift would go a long way towards producing the additional quantities of coal needed to enable reserve stocks to be built up against such an emergency as now confronts us. Let the Government throw open the mines to decent men who will be prepared to remain in continuous work. Most of the coal-miners are good Australians and would remain at work, but they are prevented from doing so bythe actions of a number of young irresponsibles whom the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, referred to as knowing no discipline in their own homes and consequently having no respect for the law. Most decent miners, who are prevented from working as the result of the actions of these malcontents, are unwilling to " scab " on their mates while a strike is in progress. It takes some moral courage for a man to stand up and say, " I shall do the right thing ; people are dependent upon coal for their very livelihood. I shall not obey the behests of malcontents and irresponsibles and those who are prepared to stage a strike merely in order to have a holiday." In order to ensure that supplies of coal so vital to Australia shall be maintained, the Government should compel the unions to throw open their ranks to volunteers who are prepared to work in the industry. If that were done it would be found that a large body of men, including many ex-servicemen, would be prepared to enter an industry and remain in continuous employment. Mr. Justice Davidson, who presided over the Commonwealth Board of Inquiry appointed to report upon the coal-mining industry, presented a very full and informative report upon the subject. None will challenge the authority of that learned judge, who has had many years of close association with the industry, to give an unbiased opinion upon it. These are some of his conclusions -

The coal industry in its major fields is a tottering industry. Manifestations of this unhappy condition are to be found in -

(a)   a widely spread feeling of antagonism on the part of many mine workers towards the management and the colliery proprietors.

That is a legacy of the past and could largely be dissipated by better housing and better conditions -

(b)   lackof cooperation in the great majority of the mines between management and employees;

(c)   constant industrial troubles in the form of incessant pit-top meetings, absenteeism; stoppages of production and strikes;

(d)   extraordinary apathy in the most stable sections of the workers towards these hindrances to their earning capacity;

(e)   almost completeabsence of discipline.

The last paragraph is the crux of the whole matter. If there be no discipline in industry, chaos must ultimately result. We have come almost to a position of chaos to-day as the result of this important industry being held in thraldom by young men either imbued with Communist ideas or who merely do not want to work. Honorable members opposite have invited us to make concrete suggestions as to the way in which this problem should be handled. Although they claim that strikers . cannot be punished, they are well aware of the legislative enactments under which fines may be collected by owners from the pay envelopes of the employees and, subject to the approval of the Coal Commissioner, be paid to the Government. When we inquire into the attempt to implement those enactments we find that there has never been any serious attempt on the part of the Government to make the punishment fit the crime. We have learned that a substantial amount of money collected in fines has been refunded to the miners. Provision is made in the Crimes Act for prosecutions to be launched against employees who take part in an illegal strike and for penalties of up to £100, or twelve months' imprisonment to be imposed. Has the Government ever attempted to implement that provision? Has it ever prosecuted those men whose names have become a by-word among the people of this nation as the instigators of unlawful strikes, men whose lust for power and notoriety has plunged the nation into chaos? If I were a member ofthe Government I would press strongly for the institution of legal proceedings against the first man who went on strike for no good reason . I do not question the right of workers to use the strike weapon. Most of the strikes that have left such havoc in their trail have, however, had their origins in trifling incidents. Some have occurred because of overcrowding in buses running to the pit top and others because the water provided in the bathing rooms has not been hot enough to suit the fastidious tastes of some of the employees. Many of them, too, have been caused merely because some young men did not want to work. Victorian requirements of coal could be fully and adequately met if two or three of the mines in New South Wales were kept in constant operation. The Government has done nothing to implement the provisions of the legislation already placed on the statute-book to discipline those who illegally absent themselves from work. We have had nothing from it but the usual pious promises and the old-time worn-out shibboleths. Mr. Justice Davidson found. that the symptoms of unrest in the industry were largely the result of -

A spirit of restlessness and disorder stimulated in the workers by political agitators, a small but increasing number of whom are Communists, and other malcontents within the industry.

Propaganda by disaffected groups based on -

(i)   A tradition of former ill-treatment of the workers by the owners in Great Britain and Australia.

(ii)   Exaggerated suggestions that the miners are subject to all kinds of diseases and dangers in their daily work to a much greater degree than persons in other occupations.

(iii)   Vigorously asserted claims that all alleged abuses will be eliminated by nationalization, as a first step towards socialization, which is said to connote communal ownership of the means of production.

One does not oppose government control of industry if it can be proved to be worthwhile. I challenge honorable members opposite, however, to indicate one industry which has prospered more under government control than in the hands of private enterprise. What happened when the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, called up a few men from the mines and drafted them into the armed forces ? They were kept apart from other recruits and trained, but ultimately most of them were allowed to go back into the mines without having seen active service. Mr. Justice Davidson also found that unrest in the industry had been caused by-

(i)   An irritating insistence upon the infallibility of the minors' point of view on any question relating to the industry.

(ii)   Intolerance of any form of restraint or criticism.

Although the problems of the mining industry come within the province of this Parliament it is a pity that we should have to waste so much of our time in its elucidation. This country came through the war unscathed except for its fighting men and is capable of tremendous development; great opportunities lie ahead for its development. Instead of having a population of only 7,500,000, Australia could attract the best migrants, not only from other Empire countries but also from the rest of the world, in such numbers, as to make it a first-class Pacific power.


Mr Morgan - The honorable member should set an example in that direction.


Mr WHITE - The speech delivered by the honorable member this morning was merely a reiteration of the views expressed by other honorable members opposite. I am quite prepared to do everything in my power to support the Government in its attempts to solve the problems thatconf ront the nation. Mr. Justice Davidson said-

There is an absence of cohesion amongst the rank and file who ignore their leaders and as amorphous mass stumble in any direction under sectional influences.

These consequences of propaganda are fostered by -

(a)   Weak leaders who have created a situation they are unable to control.

(b)   Suspicion in the minds of the moderate groups of workers, of whom there are many, with regard to the designs of the Communist leaders.

(c)   Accompanying fear of the power of the executive officials of the federation to crush any individual who expresses, or tries to exert, his own opinion which may be contrary to their own. He may be declared a "scab" or dismissed from the union with disastrous results. " Scab " is the battle-cry of some unions in Australia. Recently in Victoria the munition workers union was swallowed by the Communist-led ironworkers union. Because the munitionworkers wanted their democratic right of having their own union operating again as an autonomous body the munition workers union was described as a bogus organization by the ironworkers union officials. I saw a circularissued by the ironworkers union in which the munition workers union was so described and its members were labelled as "scabs'". The fight is still being waged and the supply of explosives to the coal-mines in New South Wales is being held up. If the coal-miners are democrats, let them assert their individual feelings and not just follow blindly the lead of notoriety-seeking Communists. The report continues -

(d)   Corresponding fear on the part of the executive officials of loss of their positions and power.

(e)   A constantly pervading atmosphere of elections and electioneering promises and suggestions. The executive officials are elected annually and the lodge officers quarterly at some mines and half-yearly at others.

That is not unknown in this chamber. The Government ought to ascertain the possibility of legislative provision that officials of the federation shall be elected triennially. Then there would be no pressure on officials to retain prominence by promoting strikes and other upsets of industry from time to time during the year. The report continues -

Added to all these causes of sickness in the industry are others which should be more easily capable of rectification, namely -

(a)   Anxiety of the mine workers as to future security of their employment.

That is natural. We want to ensure their continuance in employment. No one will deny that there is work for twice the 17,000-odd men employed on the coalfields of New South Wales, if they will only get down to the job and do it.

(b)   Annoyance because of the harsh effect of taxation.

I was derided yesterday when, in debating another bill, I said that high rates of taxation were a main cause of industrial unrest. It is human nature that men will not do their best when they find that by doing so they place themselves in a higher tax group and work for the Treasury after they have earned a certain amount. Years ago I suggested that the tax on overtime shouldbe less than on ordinary earnings in order to provide an incentive to workers to work harder and longer. I am still of that opinion and I think that the Government ought to take cognizance of it.

The report refers to the overweighting of the industry with committees, industrial boards and authorities, industrial courts, governmental regulations and awards, some of which are of doubtful validity, customs and practices, the terms and interpretations of which are obscure, a custom such as the " seniority rule ", the cost of the workers' compensation and mine workers' pensions schemes, and excessive freights charged by the railway department for the transport and loading of coal.

We must take cognizance of this splendid report. The Government did wrong in bringing down this legislation before the report had been considered by Parliament and printed. Mr. Justice Davidson says that the basic requirements of the industry are -

(1)   the preservation of discipline;

That is put first. I believe that if Ministers would get into their heads that the miners must be disciplined with the full rigour of the law there would be an improvement.

(2)   confidence in the sanctity of agreement and the efficacy of the law ;

(3)   collection and publication of facts and statistics ; and

(4)   essential innovations.

I consider that the Government has not put its best efforts into bringing down this legislation. I do not think that it will result in the production of more coal. I regard it as a piece of specious windowdressing designed to imbue the people with false hopes that their coal troubles are over and that strikes on the coalfields will no longer paralyse industry or cause cold hearths in their homes. I do not see how this bill can accomplish that desirable end. The Minister in charge of the bill made a vile speech when he laid all the blame for trouble in the coalmining industry on the management instead of laying some on the workers. As coal is indispensable to every branch of industry and even to the humblest homes, the Government should withdraw the bill, revise it and bring down something better than this useless piece of electioneering propaganda. If the bill is really intended to do good, I hope that it will do good, but I cannot but think, because of the way in which it was submitted, and because of many of its provisions, that the main causes of trouble on the coal-fields will persist.







Suggest corrections