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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr RIORDAN (Kennedy) . - I propose to reply to some of the statements that have been made by honorable members opposite. The object of the bill is more or less to provide a new deal for the miners of this country. Members of the Opposition have criticized its provisions, and have vigorously attacked the coal-miners, but have not made any constructive suggestions. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) mentioned a nebulous electrification scheme, to which he has referred on many occasions. The problem in relation to coal is urgent and pressing, and perhaps is the most vital economic and social problem that confronts .us at the moment. After listening to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and his supporters, one would imagine that theminers are the root cause of all the troubles in the coal industry. An examination of the position discloses that that is not true. The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson) has a " Commo " complex. According to him,, the " Commos " are " white-anting " every industry. I am not a " Commo ", nor do 1 sympathize with or hold any brief for the " Commos ", but I am made to feel sick when I hear decent men charged with being " Commos " simply because they are militant in their outlook and are forced by those by whom they are employed to take certain industrial action. The " Commos " have only just come into the picture. In reply to the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made an examination of the history of the coal-mining, industry, in which he dealt with the struggles, the bitterness, and the hostility that have been associated with it over the years and have been the means of dividing the owners and 'the miners. The charge is made that the " Commos " want to createanarchy in industry. After listening to, the Leader of the Opposition, one would think that the coal-owners are " lily-whites ", and that the miners alone- are blameable. It is admitted, by all that the conditions in this industry have been improved. But those improvements have been effected only after the most bitter industrial strife. In the days of prosperity, the mine-owner took practically all the " cream " out of the industry, leaving almost' nothing for those whom he employed, and the miners were forced to resort to industrial action to obtain redress. This hunger for profits has widened the gulf between the owner and the miner. Because of the industrial conditions that prevailed after World War I.., particularly on the coal-fields of New South Wales, bitterness and hostility flared up so violently that the miners were locked out for 16 months. The mine-owners endeavoured to reduce by 12^ per cent, wages that had been fixed by an industrial tribunal. They were able to keep the mines closed, because there were stacks of coal at grass. I propose to furnish reasons. for the industrial unrest on certain coal-fields in New South Wales, by making a comparison between their conditions and. of those on the- coal-fields of Queensland. At the outbreak of World War II., approximately 3,000 coal-miners were employed in Queensland. This number was reduced to 2,500. There were reductions also in the number of miners employed in New South Wales and Victoria. During the war, the only strike in the coal industry in Queensland was that which occurred in 1940. Recently another strike accompanied the strike of the meat workers in Brisbane. There must be some reason for the peace that has existed in the industry in Queensland whilst discord and industrial unrest have been almost endemic in New South Wales. According to press reports; there are " Commos " in Queensland as well as in other States. Only yesterday, the Brisbane press published the information that an election for the appointment of the general secretary of the coal-miners organization in that State had resulted in a " non-Com " securing a pproximately 1,200 votes, whilst another candidate described as a " pro-Corn " secured 722 votes, and two other candidates received only a few hundred votes. If the " Commos " have caused the trouble in New South Wales, it is only natural to assume that they would adopt the same attitude in Queensland. The right honorable member for North Sydney .- (Mr. Hughes) claimed that apathy had played an important part in the .capture of the miners' organization in New South Wales by certain individuals. Generally speaking, the New South Wales coal-miner is no more apathetic than is his Queensland counterpart. The root cause of the trouble goes a little deeper than that. The mine-owner in Queensland is always ready to meet representatives of the miners should an industrial dispute arise. To my way of thinking, that is one of the principal reasons for the existence of .peace and harmony on the Queensland coal-fields throughout the war period, with the exception of the breach of it in 1940, and that which occurred recently, when the miners ceased work because they contended that the vital industrial principle of the last on being the first to go was at stake. Apparently, the root cause of the industrial trouble in New South Wales is not so much the influence of the "Commo" as the failure of the mineowners in that State to co-operate with and meet in conference the representatives of the miners who wish to confer on any disputes that may arise.

The purpose of the bill we are now considering is to provide machinery for giving a new deal to the coal-miners in Nev/ South Wales. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde") has referred to the Blair Athol coal-field. It is in the electorate which I represent. I mention it now because at Blair Athol there is one of the largest deposits of coal in the world, the seam averaging 90 feet in thickness, with an overburden of about 60 feet. As the Minister for the Army said to-day, the deposit is estimated to contain 280,000,000 tons. The coal is of fine quality, non-smoking, and with a low ash content. At present the field is being worked by an open cut, and also by the ordinary method through two tunnels. On this field the management and the miners co-operate in every way, even on the field of sport. I myself have been on the golf links there, and seen a miner going out to play with the mine manager. In New South Wales, such a thing does not happen. The mine manager would not play sport with the ordinary employee.

This bill will ensure that certain amenities shall be provided for coalminers, and for the improvement of their living conditions and their general outlook, and will ensure a state of affairs similar to . that which prevails on some of the mine-fields in Queensland. A few years ago, experts from Broken Hill were invited to visit Blair Athol for an investigation, and they made a voluminous report. A copy of the report was handed to me, and I sent it to the Minister forPostwar Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) with a view to having the matter examined by his department. Seeing that Blair Athol is to be discussed at the next Premiers Conference, I hope that the representative of the Commonwealth at the conference will turn up this report, because it contains all the details he will need. The Government of Queensland has appointed a committee of inquiry, which has conducted an extensive survey of the Blair Athol field.

There undoubtedly exists a coal problem to-day, and it will be much more acute a few year's hence if industrial expansion continues at the present rate. We should do everything possible to develop the coalmining industry. If enough coal cannot be produced by the ordinary methods, the Government should consider the largescale development of new fields. The experts from Broken Hill recommended the construction of a railway line from Blair Athol to the coast through grazing country which, with the provision of better transport, could become dairying country. The construction of the line presents no engineering difficulties. The coal could be taken down to the coast, and from there shipped to southern ports. Water is plentiful, and not very far from Blair Athol a hydro-electric scheme could be developed which would supply Central Queensland towns with light and power.

I have explained how it is possible for a twelve-day fortnight to be worked in Queensland, and how a spirit of- cooperation exists which makes for a condition of industrial peace that is not found in New South Wales. If the management and the miners in New South Wales are not able to control the industry properly, the parliaments of the Commonwealth and of the State must step in and set up tribunals or authorities to adjudicate between them. Under the coal-mining award made by the Queensland Industrial Court, there was provision for the appointment of a conciliation committee, over which the Under-secretary of Labour presided, and upon which sat representatives of the . owners and the miners. This committee discussed disputes as they arose. If no agreement could be reached, the dispute was referred to the industrial tribunal ; but, because the parties could meet around the table immediately in a spirit of co-operation many incipient disputes did not develop: In the framing of this bill the Government has made a new and refreshing approach to a difficult problem, and its action compares favorably with the failure of previous governments to deal with it.

In conclusion, I quote the following letter which was sent to me by a friend in reference to the reply of the Prime Minister in the House to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) on this bill :-

I listened to Mr. Chifley, Prime Minister, on the wireless last evening, and it was the most practical, logical and accurate address I ever heard from the Commonwealth Parliament.

What struck me most, and my wife agrees with me, was the plain, simple, straightforward expression- of fact with the " hallmark " of true sincerity. '

He was humane, understanding, moderate, considerate of the troubles of others, and yet his advice was a definite instruction to both parties to be honest, genuine and earnest to seek the nearest to a fair deal in the solution of the coal production business. He Was thorough, too, and did not forget what we " inherited " along the years of the past, coupled with the temperament of interested parties aird the incentive to serve self first, with the insinuated acceptance of the fact that- both sides do not expect absolute perfection but are resigned to do the best with a minimum of imperfection in the whole business. It is an afterthought and an inspiration .for me to say this and without special motive other than that it is perfectly true.

If I judge on that address, and I am sure T can, then T have no difficulty in predicting that j. B. Chifley will go down as the greatest Prime Minister that ever occupied that position.

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