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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - We have listened to the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) deliver a characteristic speech in true Yarra bank and Sydney Domain style. He treated the House to his usual diatribe of class and sectional hatred and bitterness, and concluded a most inglorious speech by attacking two former Prime Ministers - men whom His Majesty the King has been pleased to honour with the title of Privy Councillor.


Mr Conelan - Before His Honour, Mr. Justice Halse Rogers held the inquiry.


Mr HARRISON - Despite the imputations which the Minister has made, I inform the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Conelan) that His Majesty was pleased to confer upon the right honorable member for Darling Downs after the inquiry. The public knows perfectly well that these two gentlemen are men of high standing and prestige, who have served the country well. We have only to compare their public record and standing with that of their traducer to see in proper perspective the shallowness of the Minister's charge.

The Minister began a characteristic speech by stating, in effect, that all the difficulties which confronted the coal industry were the result of maladministration by the owners. He accused them of being inefficient, of being unconcerned with the welfare of their employees, and of neglecting to mechanize the. mines in order more effectively to win coal for national purposes. Indeed, the whole of his attack was directed in a sectional and bitter way against the owners who have served this country well, improved conditions in the mines and won coal for Australia most efficiently. Yet those men have been subjected to a succession of acts of industrial anarchy by abody of men supported by this

Government, whose efforts to increase the production of coal have been futile. The Minister accused the owners of being inefficient: I remind him of the sorry record of the Commonwealthcontrolled mine atCoalcliff. On the 20th June, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) stated that because of absenteeism at that mine the production loss in 1945 was 34 per cent. He stated that the accumulated loss on the mine since the Commonwealth Government assumed control in March, 1944, until the end of March, 1946, was £56,000. In addition, the cost of production which in March, 1945, was 24s.10d. a ton had increased byMarch, 1946, to 27s. 3d. a ton. For further evidence, one has only to examine the record of the State coal mine at Lithgow, where the cost of production and marketing is higher than that of the mines conducted by private enterprise in the western district. Those examples reveal that the inefficiency which he attributes to private enterprise - I deny that it exists - is greater under government control. The same sorry story can be told wherever the nationalization of industry has been attempted. However, I do not propose to follow the Minister into the gutter with his bitter sectional and personal attacks. I shall leave him there, because he has reached the stage where he is completely satisfied with himself and his surroundings.

I have been endeavouring to discover whether I can say anything new about the coal situation. As long as I have been . a member of this Parliament, I have been hearing debates on the coalmining industry. When the present Government took office, the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, spoke in devastating phrases his thoughts of the coalminers and their actions at a time when Australia was facing the greatest crisis in its history. The late Prime Minister spoke brilliant words and phrases, but they did not produce more coal. To-day, the people of Australia are. suffering serious inconvenience as the result of the curtailment of railway services and the lack of ordinary amenities. Industry is being brought to a standstill because of the failure to win coal. Industry cannot be carried on with words. The time for words has long since passed, and we must find a new approach to "the problem of winning coal. So far as I can see, the only solution is to return to the fundamental enforcement of the rule of law in industry. So long as this Government is not prepared to enforce the rule of law in industry, stoppages, strikes, absenteeism, and industrial anarchy will continue, and the production of coal will be reduced. Let us examine the attempts made by the Go'vernment to win more coal. First, the Government attempted to appease the coal-miners' in every possible way. It met their representatives in conference in Canberra, and alternately cajoled and threatened them. It appointed a coal commissioner to control the industry. When appeasement failed, the Government caused summonses to be issued against the miners, but the summonses were subsequently withdrawn. When some miners were fined, the Government remitted the penalties. The Government appointed Mr. Justice Davidson a 'royal commissioner to inquire into the coalmining industry, and then ignored his recommendations. Finally, the Government introduced this bill - almost a repetition of the Coal Production (War-time) Act of 1944, which failed to increase production. The sum total of its efforts is reflected in our low coal reserves, the dislocation of industry, the limitation of transport, and prohibition of the use of electricity for domestic purposes. Yet, after all the years of experience of appeasement which this Government has had, it has brought down a bill which is chiefly notable for the germs of nationalization which are to be found in it. Ironically enough, on the day that the Minister made his second-reading speech on the bill, 31 mines were idle in N~ew South Wales, and on three working days in that week there was a loss of 52,000 tons of coal. The . same week was notable for a record loss of production, namely, 82,570 tons. The Prime Minister, in replying to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition on the bill, referred to the heritage of hate behind happenings on the coal-fields, and this evening the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) recalled to our -minds -the names of Peter Bowling, Wade, Weaver and Rothbury. What the Prime Minister meant to convey to us could be put in these words : " The leaders of governments which have taken a strong stand in order that coal might be won for the nation suffered political massacre, but because those men, for high national purposes, decided to win coal and for that were politically massacred, I will not do so, come hell or high water, notwithstanding my oath to administer the laws of the country impartially". He said, in effect, " I will appease the men, I will capitulate and retreat before any advance of the recalcitrant miners; but I will not face political massacre. Leaders of other governments- have suffered political massacre because of their efforts to win coal. I do not question their motives, but I say that I will not risk political massacre in order to win coal. It may be the duty of every Prime Minister of this country to do his utmost to obtain coal for industrial and domestic purposes,- but I will not face political massacre for this reason ".

The Prime Minister had something to say about the sickness and dusting from which coal-miners suffered. It is rather strange that, although the right honorable gentleman and other honorable members opposite have referred frequently to the sickness, accident and fatality rates among coal-miners, they have not produced any statistics in support of their arguments. Usually when an argument of that nature is advanced statistics are produced to support it, but that has not been done in this instance. All we have heard is a tirade against the owners. The honorable member for Hunter has magnified the dangers that confront coal-miners in comparison with metalliferous miners. I shall cite some figures which will indicate clearly that the sickness, accident and fatality rates in the coal-mining industry, compared with those in metalliferous mining, in the period 1936-40 do not bear out the arguments of honorable gentlemen opposite. My table ends at 1940, because, owing to war conditions, production in greatly restricted after that year. It metalliferous mines and quarries was reads as follows: -

Mr. JusticeDavidson said something on this subject which I am sure will be enlightening to some honorable gentlemen. He referred to - 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. and went on -

The time has arrived when a note of realism should be. struck in order to dissipate the cloud of maudlin sentimentality that is everlastingly spread over the industry with verybad effect.

This report, let me remind honorable members, was prepared after .more than twelve months of close investigation of the conditions' of coa.1-Miners. Mr. Justice Davidson cited figures relating to injuries covering the period from late on Thursday or early on Friday of each week until the beginning of the following week which show that the claims for incapacity were very much higher during those days of each week. His comment on this point was -

An unmarried second class shiftman would recover in compensation for this period, £1 10s. as against a wages loss .of £1 4s. Sd. If he were married, with one child, he would draw £2 5s. as against a wages loss of £1 4s. 8d.

J.-am sure the significance of those figures will not be lost on the House! His Honour went on to examine the effect of workers compensation on the cost of New South "Wales coal production, and said that the amending State Act, No. 13 of 1942, by providing for unlimited liability in certain cases, in which liability was formerly limited to £1,000, threw such a burden on the coal mining industry that the Government agreed to assume liability during the war for all payments in excess of £100,000. This acceptance of the total obligation of the mine owners is said to have cost the Government more than £500,000.

The fact of the matter is that the Government has been paying extraordinarily large sums in subsidies to the coal-mining industry in consequence of the men making such heavy claims in respect of sickness 1 and incapacity. Mr. Justice Davidson was of the opinion that the claim that the sickness, accident and fatality rates were higher among coalminers than among any other miners was fallacious. He also drew attention to the circumstances which prevail in regard to the retirement of coal-miners, and pointed out that in many instances coal-miners claimed, only shortly before their retirement, that they were suffering from permanent incapacity. They did this in order to obtain payments substantially in excess of normal pension rates. On this point Mr. Justice Davidson observed -

Apparently it is only over-night that the development of the disease has had the alleged effect.

Altogether His Honour used bitter and critical words in respect of certain aspects of the industry, and he debunked what he described as the "maudlin sentimentality " of many claims made concerning the dangers of coal-mining.

I bring to the notice of honorable members the position that has arisen in connexion with the coal-miners pension funds in various States. When these funds were established the expectation of life of the coal-miners was the subject of guesses, and the guesses proved to be wide of the mark. This, is shown by .the fact that capital deficits in funds in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are listed as follows: -

 

The fact of the matter is that many miners who were expected to die did not die, and the funds were not sufficiently stable to meet the claims made upon them. I challenge honorable gentlemen opposite to disprove the figures that, I have been giving in respect of the sickness, accident and fatality rates and of the funds to' which I referred.

During the last few weeks three coalminers who claimed that they were 100 per cent, incapacitated- have been awarded £5 a week for life. Yet honorable gentlemen opposite would still have ' us believe that coal-mining is the Cinderella industry in which conditions are so utterly objectionable that men feel compelled to strike against them. We have been told also that the coal-miners are a down-trodden community and that the industry is altogether repugnant. Compare that pension of £5 a week with the payment of £2 10s. a week to the 100 per cent, disabled ex-servicemen who has fought to preserve the conditions under which the miners are working. Again I say with Mr. Justice Davidson, let us discard this maudlin sentimentality in regard to the conditions under which the miners are working. They may have been bad 100 years ago; but there is no' similarity in the conditions then and now.

The Prime Minister made much ado about the 1940 strike, and said that it had depleted the reserves of coal by causing a loss in production of 900,000 tons. I do not know what were the coal reserves at that time, but I have some knowledge of what they were in July, 1942, in which year there was a major achievement in production. I cite the month pf July in order to forestall a claim ' by honorable . members opposite that the reserves were due to that major achievement. The total reserves then were 1,062,000. By 1945, they had dwindled to 69,000 tons, and to-day those industries that are dependent upon coal are existing from week' to week. In Adelaide, industries other than those regarded as essential have been ordered by the State Government to close down, because there is not sufficient coal to keep all of them operating. Yet the Prime Minister had the temerity to say that the loss of 900,000 tons because of a strike in 1940 had been instrumental in crippling industries ! The figures that I have given cannot be contradicted. The right honorable gentleman has repeatedly stated - and it seems to be a catch-cry in this House whenever coal is mentioned - that more coal is being produced to-day than was produced under the Menzies government or any other. I shall separate the figures in relation to pit production and opencut production in order to avoid confusion : because it will be remembered that there was practically no open-cut protion in 1940, and that was the year in which occurred the great strike to which the Prime Minister has referred. The production in that year was 9,550,098 tons. In 1945, it was 10,176,254 tons, but 523,072 of that total was won by the open-cut method, and only 9,653,182 tons from pit production. Honorable members will note that there was practically no difference between the production under the Menzies Government in a year in which there was a devastating strike, and the . production under the present Government, which claims to be able to control the miners and to represent them as well as other workers. Let us consider the production this year from Underground and open-cut mining. Inthe first five months, the total was 3,825,000 tons, of which underground production was responsible for only 3,592,000 tons. .Those figures have been given by the Coal Commissioner. If that rate of production be maintained, the total for the twelve months will be 559,200 tons from open-cut mining and 8,620,800 tons from underground mining. That will be the lowest production for very many years, and it should " debunk '' for all time the Government's claim that the lowest ebb was reached in 1940. From pit production, not so much coal has been won under the present Government as was won under the Menzies Government. Let us have no more of these fictitious claims.

The Prime Minister has said that the miners are opposed to mechanization because of the effect that its introduction would have on their jobs. These figures are interesting in that regard: In the ten years beginning with 1935, the quantity of coal mechanically filled increased from 13,000 tons to 2,585,000 tons, and the number of employees increased by more than 4,000, from 13,300 to 17,700. That increase of production proves conclusively that the claim that the miners will not have mechanization because of the fear that they will lose their jobs, is completely unfounded. Wherever mechanization has been introduced, employment has been increased. When the matter is shorn of all political and industrial chicanery, the miners frankly admit that all the objections that have been raised to the working conditions in the industry are a mere quibble, and that what they really want is the nationalization of the industry, to which end they will bend all their efforts. This bill contains the germ of nationalization, and represents a complete capitulation by the Government to the demands of the miners. Last May, the miners said of the Baddeley bill introduced in New South Wales-

This bill will do until we can get complete nationalization.

That measure provided for the granting of extraordinary concessions. There can be no doubt that the miners will secure nationalization eventually. They will sacrifice any worker and any industry in order to have their way. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) has said that the miners are wise not to hew surplus coal - that if they do, they will be out of a job. Such an observation, falling from the lips of a member of this Parliament, can be regarded only as an incitement to miners to continue their industrial anarchy. The miners do not seem to care whether their actions may cause other industrial workers to be thrown out of employment. In 1945, there were 1,158 industrial disputes in New South Wales, and the coal and shale miners were responsible for 942 of them. The number of workers involved in those disputes was 324,491, of whom 222,344 were engaged in the coal-mining industry. The number of man-working dayslost was 1,878,753, and mining disputes accounted for 629,975 of them. Therefore, it goes without saying that the miners are not interested in other industries. They are out to serve their own purposes, and do not care whom they sacrifice in the process. They are willing, at the drop of a hat, to go out on strike. If they cannot find a trumped-up excuse in the mines, they will go out on sympathy strikes. There were 196 sympathy strikes in New South Wales in 1945, involving 47,062 workers and 289,001 working days. Honorable members opposite have asked honorable members on this side of the House what they would do to obtain coal. The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) said that he had listen d to the criticism that had been levelled at the Government, but had not heard one suggestion, apart from those made by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) as to how coal might be won. I shall answer that for the benefit of the people. Coal will be won whenthere is on the treasury bench a Government that has the courage to enforce the rule of law and compel the observance of discipline in industry, not by words, which have failed to achieve the desired result, but by action. Mr. Justice Davidson said in his report -

Discipline in the mines is as essential to safety as it is to production. It is futile to attempt the efficient conduct of an industry if one or a few employees are allowed, without penalty, unjustifiably to disrupt the whole course of the proceedings.

That seems to me a sound observation. If. the people will elect a government that can enforce discipline, industry will again come under proper control. The law applies to every individual, no matter to what stratum of society he may belong. If he offend against the law, be he Bill Sykes, or a citizen who dwells in the salubrious atmosphere of Point Piper, he becomes subject to the same penalties. The New South Wales act provides all the machinery for the enforcement of discipline, and for the rule of law inindustry. The act from which I quote is a consolidated act which received the royal assent on the 19th April, 1940. Part X. contains provision against strikes and lock-outs.

Paragraph b of section 99, which deals with illegal strikes, runs as follows : -

Any strike by the employees in an industry. the conditions of which are for the time being wholly or partially regulated by an award or by an industrial agreement: Provided that any union of employees may render an award which has been in operation for a period nf at least twelve months no longer binding on its members by the vote of a majority of its members at a secret ballot taken in accordance with the provisions for ballots contained in this Act and the regulations thereunder in which not less than two-thirds nf the members of such union take part.

There is another section which provides for the holding of secret ballots. Section 102 provides penalties against those who take part in illegal strikes, who obstruct the taking of ballots, or participate in illegal picketing, as well as against those who declare any commodity black. Those honorable members opposite who ask what we should do in order to promote the winning of coal, need only turn to the 'New South "Wales act to see what ought to be done. If the Labour Government of New South Wales is not courageous enough to enforce the law, then let the Commonwealth Government put the New South Wales act into the middle of dur own arbitration act, and we shall not lack machinery for the disciplining of . the miners, the enforcement of the law, and the encouragement of production. .Unless a government is prepared to enforce the law it is not fit to govern.







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