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Tuesday, 6 August 1946


Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I ask the Minister (Mr. Dedman) not to accept the amendment. Had the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) had the same experience as the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the country had of fixing the price of coal in World War I., he would agree that the Joint Coal Board should have the right to fix the . price without its decision being subject to appeal. Australia did a remarkable job during the war with its machinery for the control of prices. People who have travelled in other parts of the world, and have been able to form a judgment on personal experience, appreciate the effectiveness of our prices control administration. Things were very different in this country during World War I, 'when there was no proper control of prices. At that time the cost of all commodities became very high, and the workers in the coal-mining industry made a claim before the Hibble tribunal for an increase of wages. Fifty per cent, of the men received an increase, half of .them being awarded an extra ls. 6d. a day. and the other half an extra ls. a day, but the price of coal was not controlled, and the mine-owners were permitted to increase their prices by ls. 6d. a ton. At that time the average output per man in the industry, including mine managers, trappers, boys, agents and, in fact, everybody, was 3 tons a day. A simple calculation will reveal that the mine-owners made a marvellous "rake-off" on that occasion. Only 50 per cent, of the workers had received an increase of wages, but every buyer of coal, had to pay an extra ls. 6d. a ton for it. At that time the present Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir John Latham, was the Leader of the Opposition in this House, and he declared that the industry was being ruined. If the Parliament bad made an honest attempt at that time to meet the position, «we should probably not have had to face the difficulties in coal production which now face us.

The clause now before the committee is, in reality, the heart of the bill, and I do not believe that it should be amended in the way that honorable members opposite are suggesting. I said in my secondreading speech that I hoped that the provision which clothed the Joint Coal Board with power to provide amenities for the miners would not be regarded as contentious. I also said that I hoped that the miners themselves would realize the need for some penalties in respect of their own colleagues who refused to observe the law, and that it would be' recognized that this measure was -an honest attempt on the part of the- Government to ensure that reasonable concessions would be made to men who took their lives in their hands day after- day to go down into the bowels of the earth to win coal for the whole community. This subject should be discussed on common-sense and notsentimental grounds. The coal-miners must be regarded as an important cog in the industrial machine. Coal is basic to success in all industries. Honorable gentlemen opposite may criticize the bill as much as they like, knowing that they will " hit the headlines " in the newspapers by so doing, but they must admit, surely, that the miners should be treated sympathetically. These men, who have been subjected to such bitter criticism, provide the life-blood of industry. Without the product of their -work it would be impossible to maintain industrial activity, transport services or domestic amenities.

Provision is being made in the bill for a proper housing scheme for coal-miners. This is long overdue. Honorable members opposite who are critical in this connexion cannot know anything from personal experience of the difficulties and indignities of having to rear a family in a shanty with an iron roof and bag sides.







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