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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) (1:38 AM) . - I intensely dislike speaking at this late hour, and I would not do so but for the distressing news that 20,000 men were thrown out of employment at 8 o'clock this morning in South Australia because some people in New South Wales refused to mine coal. The time is ripe for plain speaking. Certainly there is no law on the statute-book to compel a man to mine coal if he does not wish to do so; but if a miner does not want to work at his calling he should get out of the industry and allow some one else to take his place. The Government has been in office for nearly five years, but listening to honorable members opposite one would imagine that it had assumed office only at five o'clock this morning, and therefore had not had time to do anything to bring to an end the unfortunate stoppages in the coal-mining industry which have so dislocated the economy of the nation. Honorable' members opposite have spoken of the depletion of coal reserves. I ask the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to state what were the reserves of coal when he assumed office. If an examination of the figures relating to coal stocks were made, we should find that ' coal reserves diminished month by month during the tenure of office of the Curtin and Chifley Governments. It is obvious that the policy of the miners' federation is to ensure that no reserves of coal shall ever again be established in this country; it believes that while that state of affairs exists it can hold the country to ransom whenever it desires to do so. That is a position which the country will not tolerate. The miners' federation desires to take to itself power to determine whether or not industry shall function.

However, the day is not far distant when it will learn that, despite its efforts to disrupt industry, another government will shortly assume office which will quickly relegate it to its proper place in the affairs of the nation. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction must appreciate what a serious position his own State has reached by the fact that the Victorian Railways Department is converting more than 50 locomotives to oilburning, because it cannot obtain sufficient sioners are doing likewise. In- an endeaSouth Australian Railways Commissioners are doing likewise. In an endeavour to minimize the effects of the disastrous coal strikes in New South Wales on the economy of South Australia the State Government is developing Leigh Creek field and, according to press reports, is even proposing to develop a coal-mine in my own electorate. So, iri the not distant future, I may find myself entering into competition with my coal-mining friends opposite as an authority on the coal-mining industry. If the coal-miners do not want to mine coal, let them be honest and say so. It is a tragedy that in this country, which has such ample resources of good coal, our railway authorities should be forced to convert locomotives to oil-burners and have to import the fuel to operate them. . Is it believed that this bill will achieve the purpose for which it was intended? The best speech on the bill so far was made by the honorable member for .Warringah (Mr. Spender) whom I compliment, because he showed that the measure is nothing more than a political stunt. It is a repetition of what is already on the statute-book. I have looked up the debates on the Coal Production (War-time) Bill in February, 1944, and I do not think one new word has been ' said in this debate from the Government benches. Certainly nothing has been said so drastic as was said then by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, about what he intended to do if certain people did not get to work and produce more coal. I do not expect, and I am sure that you do not either, Mr. Speaker, one more ton of coal to be produced as the result of this legislation, but the Government hopes that it will have electioneering value. I assure the Minister in charge of the bill and, through him. his colleagues,' that the people of South Australia are pretty sick of the treatment that they have received from Newcastle. On. the 30th May, I think' it was, J attended a reunion of the members of my old battalion. Among them were members of the South Australian railways staff who came to me and to the gentleman who is now Commonwealth Coal Commissioner complaining about the position that they are faced with. The main' complaint of locomotive firemen is the " crook " coal that they have been getting from New South Wales. They are asking for extra pay because of the extra work entailed in handling the rubbish with what they are asked to fire the boilers. I am' not an authority on coalmining


Mr Calwell - Or anything else.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - That may be so, but I have the Minister for Immigration to keep me company. It is high time the Government did something about this coal business instead of talking about it. We heard from the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward), to-night a speech that might have been interesting but for the fact that he has made it so many times. If he ever takes ill when he wants to make it again I shall be willing to go to his place in the House and make it for him, and I will not slip on a word, although perhaps I shall not be able to reproduce his inflections. I know it by heart. Dozens of times before we have heard him trying to slate the Opposition in identical terms. He talked about Statutory Rule No. 77 of 1942. I remind my many socialist friends opposite - not all of them are socialists; they would faint if they came face to face with a real socialist - that the former member for Bourke, the late Mr. Blackburn, moved to disallow Statutory Rule No. 77 of 1942, and that I seconded the motion, which, on a division was supported by seven honorable members, six, of whom sat on this side of the House.


Mr Conelan - Where are they now?


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am here anyway ; but it is a pity that the honorable gentleman, is here, too. A lot has been said about the famous " slush " fund. There is a lot of slush in the reservoir from which the Minister for Transport drew the words for his oftrepeated epic speech to-night. If the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was able to get coal production in 3941 by the use of £300, 1 would not kick up much row about it. If- the Minister in charge of the bill could ensure coal production, as I know the Government wants to do, with £3;000, he would be a very lucky Minister, and I do not think that either he or the Government would be fastidious in their methods if they could keep the coal-mines operating.

My next point is: Has the Government any policy on coal ? My view is that it has riot and thai this bill is intended as a smoke screen behind which to hide its inefficiency, in fact its political nakedness of achievement. If Government supporters faced the electors without it they would be absolutely naked. The' Minister can go to any State and he will not be able to get away from the fact that until some one in New South Wales is prepared to hew coal and smelt iron, and remove the accumulation on the wharfs, we shall not .have a housing programme in any State. There can be no such thing as economic rehabilitation in the Commonwealth until the industrial workers of New South Wales are prepared to live up to their name and work. I am confident that the people have decided that the time ha? come when they should have a little more than . bills and promises from the Commonwealth Government. A lot has been said about the conditions of the coal-miners. In my life I have been down only one mine. I went to the depth of 2,600 feet. I do not doubt that some of my friends opposite wish that I had never come up again. But I did. Hence I am here to confront them with their shortcomings as administrators. The mine I went down was at Broken Hill. It was a couple of years ago. While I was in the city I was shown the best workers' homes I have ever seen. They were built for employees by the Zinc Corporation. I was told by officials of that company that at first they had the devil's own job to get any one- to live in them because of their employees' suspicions that if the company was prepared to provide them with such elaborate accommodation there must be something " crook " going on. I can understand the difficulties that exist on the coal-fields. I have been there once or twice. Some of the worst houses I have ever seen or could ever imagineare there. Unless I am sadly misinformed the miners' hours of work are lower than in most industries in Australia and their wages are higher. But the conditions under which they live are not a credit to them. I have seen better conditions out in the bush, where water is scarce, than I have seen in the good rainfall country on the coast of New South Wales. Little attentionis paid to gardens and other improvements. There has been much talk about mechanization of the mines. If mechanization of the mines is lacking there is no lack of mechanization on the dog courses, and perhaps that has been installed with a good deal of Government assistance. But they have got away with it. Honorable gentlemen opposite talk about developing a new spirit in industry. I think the outlook on the coal-fields is hopeless.


Dr Gaha - Let us have a vote.


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Physician heal thyself ! If the honorable member cannot stand the racket let him go to bed. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) went back to1842 in his speech. One or two of us on this side who are really historically-minded can go back a lot farther than that.


Mr Calwell - Hysterically minded !


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I could never reach the hysterical heights of my friend the Minister for Immigration. I am not noted for it. If he continues to provoke me, I can go on for a long time yet.







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