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Tuesday, 6 August 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - I ask the Minister to explain the meaning of this clause. Sub-clause 1 provides that when any question arises at. a coal mine as to whether the safety of appliances is endangered or is likely to be endangered by any methods of working then in operation or proposed to be put in operation, the hoard is to have power to refer the question to an inspector of coal mines in New South Wales, and to an officer of the board with a request that the matter be at once considered and reported upon. Sub-clause 2 provides that when any such question has been referred to an inspector or to an officer of the. board, an inspection is to be made at once and a report .prepared. Sub-clause 3 provides that if the board, after the receipt of a report, is of opinion that the safety of employees is, or is not likely to be, endangered it is to have power to direct the owner of the coal-mine and any other person to do, or refrain from doing, certain things ; but there are two important provisoes. The first is that no such order shall derogate from the provisions of the law of the State, prescribing requirements- to be observed for securing the safety of the persons -engaged in the mine. The second is contained in clause 17 which provides that the board shall, as and when required by the Prime Minister or the Premier of the State, furnish reports with respect to the policy it is pursuing and the Prime Minister may, in agreement with the Premier of the State, issue directions to the board' on matters of policy, and it is to be the duty of the board to observe and carry out any direction so given. This is surely an extraordinary .situation. The clause is intended to insure safety in coal-mines, but orders or directions that are. made in this connexion may not derogate from the law of the State, and, in any case, the Prime Minister is given ' power under another clause to issue directions irrespective of the nature of any reports that have been furnished. What then- is the real value of this clause? For a long time the Minister for Mines in New South Wales, Mr. Baddeley, has prevented the extraction of coal in pillars on the ground that it endangers the safety of the men, and this has considerably reduced the volume of coal extraction. In the opinion of Mr. Justice Davidsons the extraction of coal in pillars does not endanger the safety of the men. This is shown by the following observations of His Honour: -

Owing to departmental policy and industrial pressure, pillars have been left standing too long in many of the mines in New South Wales, and much of the coal will in all probability be lost. If this coal be not lost, it will bc extractable only at very heavy cost.

Crown leases require extraction of as large a percentage of coal as is consistent with safety, questions as to the quantities left unworked being determinable by the Minister, and mining engineers support with strong: evidence claims that under the policy enforced they have been compelled against their will by departmental directions and industrial pressure to adopt bad mining practices which have resulted in the total loss of large quantities of pillar and top coal.

Miners are opposed to' early- extraction of pillars by mechanical means for the reason that .as they formed them by hand work in the solid workings, they should have thebenefits of the easier task o'f taking them down when crushed in process of time.

For the same reason there is opposition to rapid extraction so that the lighter and more profitable task may last longer.

These views have led to restrictions upon the number of pairs of men employed in manual work extraction of a pillar.

As a result, the desired attainment of maximum speed of extraction is impossible; the speed more closely approximates to the minimum.

Pillars containing millions of tons of coal have also been left standing for many years in the mines in Western Australia and Queens- laud.

In the intersts of the Commonwealth a strong controlling authority should be appointed with powers, amongst others, to take some measures for the prevention of these practices in order to save irreparable losses of valuable fuel which must otherwise ensue.

In spite of these observations by Mr. Justice Davidson, the Minister for Mines in New South Wales is to continue to 1 have authority to enforce his prohibition against pillar extraction, which has militated against the maximum extraction of coal. It seems thai the Prime Minister is to have an over-riding authority. That appears to me to be altogether wrong. Certain authority is to be given to the Joint Coal Board, but it is expressly limited by the proviso in sub-clause 3 and by the provisions of clause 17. I ask the . Minister whether these provisions' are not inconsistent with *he recommendations of Mr. Justice Davidson. .If the honorable gentleman says that they are not inconsistent, will he explain the grounds on which he bases his opinion?

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