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Tuesday, 6 August 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- This clause sets out the powers of the Joint Coal Board. I desire to refer particularly to the difference between this bill and the Coal Production (War-time) Act 1944 in making provision for the payment of compensation to persons whose mines may be taken over by the board. I do not speak on behalf of the colliery proprietors, but I consider that the lack of provision in this bill for the payment of adequate compensation and the attempt by an indirect method to evade the provision in the Constitution for compensation on " just terms " must cause concern to every individual in the community whose property may, in the' future, be acquired under conditions similar to those proposed in the bill. The Coal. Production (War-time) Act contained a specific provision in regard to the payment of compensation in precisely the same terms as clause 20 of the bill -

The owner of a controlled mine who suffers loss (including loss of profits) or damage, by reason of anything done in pursuance of an order under the last preceding section in respect of the mine, shall be entitled to such compensation as is determined by agreement between the Board and the owner of the coal mine, or, in the absence of agreement, as is determined by an action by the owner against the Board in any Court of competent jurisdiction.

As the result of the Government's decision to omit Part IV. of. the bill, clause 20 will disappear, and the interests of the coal-owners will not be protected in the future, as they were protected under the act. I do not raise this matter because of any interest that I have in the coal proprietors - perhaps we are a little unsympathetic with what are described as "vested interests." - but in matters of this kind, the rights of. the whole community are challenged. An injustice which is tolerated or perpetrated in respect' of one section of industry may later be extended to any individual. For ' this reason in particular, I object to the deletion of this safeguard.

Paragraph j of sub-clause 3 of clause 13 provides that the board shall have authority - to terminate, suspend, vary or modify any contract or agreement relating to or affecting the production, supply or distribution of coal, including sale transportation by land or sea, loading, discharge, delivery, storage and use;

In other words, the hoard will have power to assume control of and operate any coal-mine. In such circumstances, elementary justice demands that compensation1 shall be paid to any individual who suffers loss as the result of the exercise of that control. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) recognized the merit of the claim for protecting the rights of the individual when he stated that the matter of compensation was covered by clause . 57. ' If the honorable gentleman will examine that clause in the light of statements made by the Opposition, he will have to admit that it does not meet the circumstances which I have mentioned. The very fact that clause 20, which will bc deleted, provided specifically that the coal-owner should have the right to claim compensation, is evidence that further provision must be made to afford the necessary protection.

Mr Dedman - The Commonwealth Government always considered that clause 20 was unnecessary. It was only because of the representations of New South Wales that we included the clause in the bill. ' Then New South Wales came to the conclusion also that the clause was not necessary.

Mr ANTHONY - The Minister's reply is different from that which he gave last week.

Mr Dedman - It is not.

Mr ANTHONY - The Minister has not shown why clause 20 was included in the first place.

Mr Dedman - Clause 20 is contained in Part IV. of the bill. If the honorable member will read the statement which I m.ade to the House announcing the Government's intention to omit Part IV., he will see that I stated clearly that the Commonwealth never desired its inclusion in the bill.

Mr ANTHONY - Nevertheless, such a provision is contained in the act, which the bill will supersede.

Mr Dedman - That is true.

Mr ANTHONY - According to the Minister, the Commonwealth Government considered that clause 20 was unnecessary. The inference to be drawn from that statement is that the Government considers that other clauses of the bill will * adequately protect the rights of those who claim that they have been unfairly treated by the Joint Coal Board. The Minister mentioned, in particular, clause 57, which provides -

If any person claims that he 'has sustained any loss or damage by reason of an exercise by the Board of the power referred to in paragraph [j) of sub-section (3.) of section thirteen of this Act, lie may, within three months after the exercise of .the power, lodge with the Board a claim in writing setting out full particulars of the loss or damage and the question whether any and, ii any, what amount of compensation should in all the circumstances of the case be paid to that person shall be settled by agreement between him and the Board, or failing any such agreement, by, an action by the owner against the Board in any court of competent jurisdiction.

Therefore, the only redress which an aggrieved person may have will be under paragraph j of sub-clause 3 of clause 13. But that paragraph has no relation to the case which I cited, namely, the action of the board' in taking control of a mine in the manner in which the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner took control of and operated Coalcliff. It is estimated that the loss of output up to the 30th June in the operation ,of Coalcliff colliery was about 70,000 tons of coal. Will the Minister indicate clearly and specifically where it is provided, except in clause 20, that owners shall be compensated for losses sustained under such conditions. As far as I can see, the owners will have no means of redress whatsoever under this measure. Constitutional authorities on this side of the chamber, notably the honorable member - for Warringah (Mr. Spender), have pointed out that the Government is obliged under the terms of the Commonwealth Constitution, to provide just compensation in respect of properties which it acquires, but they have said that the Government could take control of a property without actually acquiring it, and, in such circumstances, compensation might not be payable. Any such action should be described, in my opinion, as a " swift deal ". It should be beneath the dignity of the Commonwealth Government to incur any suspicion that it would deal in such a way with any section of the community, whether mineowners, bankers, or any other class of people. Those whose property is acquired by the Commonwealth should be compensated within the terms of the Constitution, and this committee should not tolerate the possibility of any denial of compensation to citizens in respect of property over which the Government assumes control. I ask the Minister to state clearly that coal-mine owners will be compensated if the Government takes controlof their properties and operates them at a loss, as has actually happened at Coalcliff colliery. Certain other aspects of this clause are open to grave objection, but this is the most serious matter, and it justifies our demanding an adequate explanation.

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