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Thursday, 1 August 1946

The CHAIRMAN - There is no point of order.

Mr ANTHONY - In reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr! Fraser) I wish to say that I have not consulted Mr. Gregory Forster in' any way on this subject. I am making these statements in order to show that, although the Government claims to be favorable to the" installation and use of mechanical "equipment in collieries, it has done nothing whatever to deal effectively with the situation that has- arisen at the Mount Kiera colliery over the use of mechanical equipment. The Coal Commission has authority to order a mine to close or to resume operations. When this dispute occurred on the 8th April in the circumstances that I have described, the mine ceased production. On the 10th May, Mr. Jack and Mr. Hay reported on conditions there. Three days later the Coal Commissioner ordered the re-opening of the mine, but prohibited the use of mechanical equipment for pillar extraction. The result has been that since the resumption of operations at Mount Kiera, production has fallen by 10.8 per cent. All the efforts of the colliery proprietors to cause a conference to be summoned to deal with the dispute have failed. In support of .this statement, I bring to the attention of honorable members' the following letter written by Mr. S. W. Winning, the chief executive officer of the Commissioner: - 1 refer to your letters, dated respectively the 24th May. ' the 4th June and the 13th June, 1040, with regard to the directions given tn your company by the Commissioner on the 13th May in connexion with the use of coalcutting machines in pillars at the Mount Keira Colliery.

The Commissioner has directed me to inform you that, as the convening of the conference mentioned in my letter of the 13th May is a .matter for the' State government, he has written to the Premier of New South Wales requesting that he see that the necessary arrangements are made for the holding of that conference at an early date.

Not only tas the management of this colliery been victimized by the closing of the colliery for a month in consequence of action by the central council of the miners federation, "but the Government, which is understood to favour mechanization, has refused to tafe any action in the matter and the mechanized equipment has remained idle. Although honorable gentlemen - opposite, and the Labour party in general, claim to be deeply concerned about the safety of coal-miners, the workers of Mount Kiera have had to work under conditions which are not so safe as those enjoyed by them when the mechanical equipment was being used. From the 1st January, 1943, to the 23rd March, 1946, the extraction of coal by the use of the pick alone was 219,000 tons, and in the extraction of it 117 accidents occurred, 34 of the men affected receiving compensation for a month or longer. With the use of the mechanical equipment which the mine management is now prevented from employing, the extraction was 2.19,513 tons, and 21 accidents occurred, only two of the victims receiving compensation for a month or longer. Those figures prove beyond refutation that with the use of mechanical equipment a greater quantity of coal was produced and the workings were safer. The Government claims that those should be the objectives of all mine-owners. The Minister for Transport stressed the need for mining equipment to be brought up to date. I stress the consequences when employers have adopted that practice. Much has been said to-night as to what ought to be done in this industry. It is easy to give advice, but much harder to follow it. Probably, apart from the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) ', not more than than one or two honorable members have a practical knowledge of the coal industry. Therefore", we are compelled to debate this matter and form our opinions on 'information, supplied to us by men who have been appointed by the Government to advise in regard to the industry. It is claimed that this legislation will help to cure the ills of the coal industry. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has shown that it is merely a rehash of the hill which created the authority of the

Coal Commissioner. As a matter of fact, this .legislation will not be so effective because the authority of the proposed board will be much less than that of the Coal Commissioner on account of the withdrawal of Part 4 of the bill, which proposed to confer certain powers in respect of the control of mines.

Mr Dedman - I advise the honorable member not to repeat what the honorable member for Warringah has said, because I can knock him over with one hit.

Mr ANTHONY - I have never been engaged in a debate in which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction did not believe that he could knock everybody over; but he has always found himself lying stone cold on the floor at the conelusion of the bout. Mr. Justice Davidson was appointed by the present Government to report on the coal industry. I believe that he made an inquiry into, its many ramifications some years ago.

Mr Holloway - That is why he was selected.

Mr ANTHONY - I regard the selection as an excellent one, and congratulate the Government upon having chosen so able a gentleman to undertake the task. In the last twelve or fourteen months, Mr. Justice Davidson visited various parts of Australia, and made a thorough investigation of the conditions in different collieries. He heard evidence from numerous witnesses. Yet I cannot find in the bill any proposal to give, effect to any of his recommendations. Different Ministers have said, "What does the Opposition propose in respect of the coal industry ? " I can only reply that the Opposition must be guided very substantially by the report of the royal commissioner, and must apply some little common sense to the consideration of the problem that is presented by this very important industry. I am not one ofthose who believe that it is possible to throw into gaol and heavily penalize miners and others. But I do assert that the law ought to be enforced. It is for that reason' that I have dealt at such length with the Mount Kiera colliery. In that case, the Government did not use the powers that it possesses to uphold the law, because the law clearly was in favour of the mine-owners and against those who would interfere with its production. Mr. Justice Davidson dealt with absenteeism, and the lack of discipline in the mines. He said, for example, that during the war absenteeism had caused -serious losses. We all know that. He went on to say that it was not practicable to decide precisely whether the absence of many individuals had been avoidable or unavoidable, but that the surrounding circumstances established clearly that a substantial proportion of absenteeism was voluntary and avoidable. He then dealt with a matter which is within the province of the Government and will hot be within the province of the board that is to be appointed. This is what he said-

The burden of taxation is the most active of till causes of absenteeism. Both the amount of the fortnightly deductions and the uncertainty of their extent undoubtedly reduced the incentive of contract minors to continue their work to the full number of shifts.

Later, he said -

The suggestion that the amount of the fortnightly deduction should be based on the annual income for the previous year might well receive consideration.

The Government has asked repeatedly what are the causes of stoppages. Mr. Justice Davidson has given his opinion. He may not be absolutely right; nevertheless, his opinion must be treated with respect, because his examination of the causes extended over a lengthy period. This is what he said -

The only remedy for the disturbing industrial turbulence that has developed lies in meeting the causes by the following means: -

By insistence upon providing the workers with approved living and social conditions, in order to mitigate their undoubted spirit of hostility. This policy is not appeasement: it is mere justice.

I emphasize that, in order to show that I am not one of those' who want to " put the boot" into the miners. I sincerely believe that the majority of the miners are decent citizens; that is proved conclusively by their record during the war. Their participation in strikes is due to loyalty to their fellows. Rather than have placed on them the stigma of not standing by their mates, they go home, whether or not they agree with the decision to stop work. Mr. Justice Davidson went on. to say -

By enforcing tlie law and maintaining the sanctity of agreements and judgments, and awards of properly constituted independent judicial tribunals.

During his speech, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made a number of observations which call for comment. His speech was very effective from the standpoint of the Government. He traced the' long and sorry history of the coal industry, and said that he would not inflict heavy penalties on the miners. He related the industrial struggles in which they had been engaged over a long period. I point out that most of the miners to whom he referred are the children of miners who came to- Australia from the Old Country. I have heard that stated by the honorable member for Hunter and other honorable members -who represent coalmining constituencies. If the miners of New South Wales are justified in engaging in a series of stoppages which hold-up coal production to such a degree that the industrial life of the nation is threatened, there ought ' to be similar justification for stoppages of coal-mining operations in the United Kingdom; yet we know that they do not number onetenth of the stoppages that occur in New South Wales. There must be a reason for that. I blame, not the miners, but the system under which the industry is controlled to-day. I have gone to the trouble of ascertaining how the miners' organizations are constituted in the United Kingdom and the United States of America- The United. Mineworkers Federation of the United States of America is controlled autocratically by John L. Lewis. Whatever he says, is accepted by the 500,000 workers in the industry. The history of the disputes in the industry in that country shows very clearly indeed that the organization exercises complete authority. Recently, there was a dispute in the United States in which 500,000 miners, under John L. Lewis, went on strike, after first serving notice upon the owners,, as required by law. They did not_ create a frivolous stoppage. They said. " We want better conditions and certain amenities, and the control of expenditure on those amenities." They also claimed an increase of rates, and eventually won their point, but in all this they acted as members of a united organization. When Mr. Frank Collingridge was out here recently, 1 discussed the coal-mining industry with him for some hours. He is a member of the House of Commons, and the vicepresident of a large section of the mine workers in the United .Kingdom. He said that there was very effective discipline among miners in Great Britain, that there were no stoppages resulting from pit-head meetings, and that, if miners went out on strike without the authority of the central council, they received no strike pay. There were also, be said, other disciplinary measures. The miners' federation in Australia ha3 come in for a good deal of criticism. If the Prime Minister really believes, as he said the other night, that the only way to ensure discipline in the industry is through the authority exercised by the miners' federation over its members, then steps should be taken to increase that authority. Under the present system, the miners in any colliery anywhere in New South Wales can declare a strike, and neither the Government nor the miners' ' federation has the power to send them back to work. If half a. dozen wheelers decide to stage a little strike on their own, they can take all the workers in the mine out with them. The fe'deration can do nothing because each lodge is very largely autonomous. The very name of the organization, "miner's federation", signifies that it is an assembly of more or les& independent authorities, rather than one strong union.

I believe that we should get more coal, because only in that way can. the golden age, about which the Prime Minister spoke recently, become a reality. At present opportunities exist for developing and extending industry such as never existed before, but those opportunities can be availed of only if coal is available. Unless we can get more coal than has been won during the last three or four years, all our dreams of attracting immigrants, of developing our export', and of inducing big overseas companies to establish' branches here, will come to naught. I favour supporting any organization which can effectively discipline -the miners. The majority of them want to work. I cannot believe that a miner's wife can be content if no pay comes into the house for two or three weeks. The miners have families to rear and educate, and most of them must be anxious to continue working. I do not believe that the miners in New South Wales differ essentially from the miners at Wonthaggi, in Victoria, where there have been very few strikes, or that they are different from those in Queensland where, according to the .Prime Minister himself, there have been few industrial disturbances. Neither do I believe tha't they are psychologically different from the miners in Western Australia, who have a very good record for production. It would appear, therefore, that there must he something associated with the. organization of the New South Wales miners, rather than with their background, which is responsible for industrial stoppage. I regret that the Government displayed so little imagination in the drafting of the bill. As a matter of fact, it goes very little further than the act passed in 1934. However, I hope that, in practice, a measure of real power will be given to the board which is to be set up, and that there will be less political interference than in the past. I believe that the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, could have done a better job if he had not. been subjected to so much political interference.

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