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Thursday, 1 July 1920

Mr CONSIDINE (Barrier) .- I have to reply to the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) and other honorable members who have seen fit to oppose my motion. Dealing first with its last opponent, let me say that the Minister for the Navy, after referring to the disadvantages of the Arbitration Court, and to the fact that it is almost impossible for workers seeking the redress of their grievances to obtain justice in that Court today, went on to say that he did not intend to deal with the merits of the dispute, because that was the job of the State Parliament of New South Wales. I say that it is not. Ib is our duty to deal with this matter. We are here as the representatives of the people of Australia. Whether we do it or not we are supposed to look after the interests of - the whole of the people.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No, we are not. We have only certain things to do as affecting the people of the Commonwealth.

Mr CONSIDINE - The honorable gentleman must know that disputes, so far as mining at Broken Hill is concerned, cannot be settled separately, because operations at Port Pirie, Broken Hill, Cockle Creek, and Risdon, in Tasmania, are dependent upon supplies from the Broken Hill mines. When Broken Hill stops work - as it has for the last fourteen months - Port Pirie is in idleness. The right honorable gentleman knows that, in the language of the Arbitration Court, there is an Inter-State dispute, because the men at Port Pirie have made common cause with the men at Broken Hill. The dispute is Federal in its scope and its results. Out of the mouth of the companies' own publicity agent, whose report the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) has quoted, it is made quite apparent that this is not merely a State dispute. The companies say, in this report, that there are from 70,000 to 100,000 people affected by it. If it is not the duty of the Commonwealth to step in and to direct an inquiry to be made into the causes and the results of the trouble, as well as to ascertain a way of settlement, why was a special tribunal set up quite recently in the case of the Seamen's and the Engineer's and Firemen'6 dispute? Why did the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in the case of the coal miners' dispute at Newcastle, appoint a special tribunal? Why did not the Commonwealth Government, in that and many other cases, say, " This is a matter for New South Wales itself and not for the Commonwealth to take action " 1 In the past the Commonwealth Government have said that it is their duty to take action in these cases.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I think it would have been better if they had.

Mr Jowett - That is the point.

Mr CONSIDINE -The honorable members who have just interjected are quite entitled to their personal opinions; but the House has to decide whether we are to stand by and allow this trouble to continue.

Labour men in New South Wales have not been idle. They have convened a conference with Judge Edmunds. The companies agreed to this conference, and asked the employees if they would abide by the decision arrived at by Judge Edmunds. The employees asked for time to consider the matter, and when, after due deliberation, they said they were prepared to accept his decision, and Judge Edmunds made the suggestion to which the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) has referred, the companies " bolted," so to speak, and refused to have anything further to do with the proposal.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I understand that Mr. Cann has the whole matter in hand, and is trying to arrange another conference.

Mr CONSIDINE - I do not know whether that is so. That step had not been taken when I was in Sydney three weeks ago, and no public statement has been made as to what Mr. Cann is doing in the matter. The right honorable gentleman may have some private information on the subject.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I heard to-day that Mr. Cann was trying to arrange another conference, but I have no first-hand information on the subject.

Mr CONSIDINE - The parliamentary representatives of Broken Hill - both State and Federal - are seeking the powers asked for in this motion. It is useless for any one like the honorable member for Wakefield to come here and prattle about the generosity of the mining companies of Broken Hill, because no case for their generosity can be made out. When I submitted this motion on the 29th April last, I gave honorable members some instances of the " generosity " of the companies. I pointed out that where victims of the mines had been adjudged entitled to compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, the companies had hired legal talent to fight the widows and children to the very door of the Court. So much for this prattling about their generosity. Where they can, by a legal quibble, avoid their liability they will do so. In my opening speech I quoted from a report from Broken Hill published in the Age of 22nd April last setting out that- '

Judge Bevan presided at the District Court on Wednesday, when Mary Ann Scollard proceeded against the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act, claiming f 500 as compensation in respect of the death of her husband, John Scollard, from lead poisoning. . . .

Because of a technicality that woman was absolutely robbed of her compensation. On the occasion in question I gave a list of cases, and yet some honorable members come here and prattle about the generosity of the companies. They say that the companies offered to pay the expenses of a technical inquiry. That offer, however, was made when the Nationalist party was in power in New South Wales. At that time they were going to pay the whole of the expenses; the employees were to have 50 per cent, of the nominees and the companies were to have 50 per cent., and there was to be no governmental interference. But when the question of this technical inquiry came to be faced, the generosity of the companies vanished to the extent of 50 per cent. They were then willing only to share the cost, instead of bearing the whole of it, so that their generosity slumped in that case to the extent of 50 per cent. The technical inquiry proposed by the companies is restricted solely to the matter of hookworm, phthisis, and questions of health. It does not and cannot inquire into the matters I have covered in my motion, such as the hours and other conditions of labour, the selling prices and conditions of the sale of metals and other output, and the profits arising from the industry and its method of distribution. When we were last before the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, Mr. Justice Higgins asked the representative of the companies whether they claimed that they could not stand the increase asked for by the men ? He replied, " Oh, no !" Mr. Justice Higgins, said, " If you did, I would ask you to produce your books." The companies evaded any inquiry into their profits by saying that they did not dispute the question of wages. That being so, there could be no investigation into their profits, their method of distribution, or the arrangements generally in connexion with the mining industry. When the representatives of the men met the representatives of the companies here, and asked whether, in the event of our agreeing to go back to work pending the report of the medical inquiry, the companies would agree to an examination of their profits and so forth, they replied that under no conditions would they doso.

We come now to the statements of the honorable member for Wakefield, who, I may say in passing, is rather ill-informed on the subject. He told the House, for instance, that the Broken Hill Council was a Labour council, and that it had repudiated the statement that the health of the children of Broken Hill would compare unfavorably with that of the children of other parts of the Commonwealth. The honorable member must have obtained his information from the Argus. That newspaper sent a special reporter to Broken Hill to inquire into the conditions prevailing there, and should be better informed than it appears to be. If the report of its special representative on the industrial conditions of Broken Hill was no more accurate than the subleader which it published a few days ago, in which it stated that the Broken Hill Council was a Labour council and had repudiated the insinuation that the health of the children there was inferior to that of the children of other centres, then we cannot say much for it. The Argus ought to know that the Nationalist party have been in control of the Broken Hill Council for some time.

Mr Bowden - But did the Broken Hill Council repudiate that insinuation?

Mr CONSIDINE - The Broken Hill Council did carry such a resolution, which was moved by a local building contractor, who said that " his " children were quite healthy. That gentleman has. never worked in the mines of Broken Hill. Like many other business people there, he has seen the mines, and may perhaps have been down some of them once or twice; but he has never worked in a mine at Broken Hill, and his system has not been saturated with lead. He says, " My children are all right," and claims, therefore, that the children of Broken Hill generally must be healthy, despite the fact that the Commonwealth Statistician has proved that the infantile mortality rates of Broken Hill and Port Pirie are the highest in the Commonwealth. The authorities on industrial diseases - Sir Thomas Oliver and others - say that this high rate of infantile mortality is attributable to the fact that the fathers or mothers have lead in their system, and that the children, consequently, have no chance before they are born. Are we to take the Commonwealth Statistician's figures and the evidence of the medical authorities on industrial diseases, or are we to accept those of building con tractors, who, in order to back up the political interests of the mining companies of Broken Hill, and, as good party men, carry a resolution repudiating the suggestion that the children of the Barrier are not as healthy as are children in other parts of the State, despite the statistics of the Commonwealth Statistician and the reports founded upon medical inquiry?

Is it to be said by us that, because this dispute has gone on. so long, it shall be allowed to continue? Are we to 'have, in response to this demand, as the speech by the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) suggests, the answer alleged to have been made some thousands of years ago, "Am I my brother's keeper ? '' It is the bounden duty of this House to order an inquiry. The interests of the people of the whole Commonwealth are bound up with the health of the men, women, and children of Broken Hill. The Commonwealth Government did not hesitate to intervene in the shipping disputes on the ground that they were holding' up the industries of the Commonwealth. If the Victorian railway men stopped work to-morrow, would the Commonwealth Government say that it was not a Federal matter, and that it could take no action? The whole of the powers of the Commonwealth were brought into play to seize the bank deposits of the marine engineers - the whole machinery of the Commonwealth was used against the seamen and the marine engineers.

Mr Bowden -. - But that was an InterState matter.

Mr CONSIDINE - It was brought home to the Commonwealth Government that it was an Inter-State matter because it prevented the distribution of commodities needed by the community as a whole. But, because this dispute is not brought home to the Government in the same way, they apparently are determined to say, " Wc wash our hands of the whole matter." Judging by the speech just made by the Minister for the Navy, the Government are going to say, "We have nothing to do with this matter, although it affects 30,000 people in Broken Hill, and, notwithstanding the fact that, according to the companies themselves, between 70,000 and 100,000 people are dependent upon the industry.

So far as the Broken Hill miners, their wives, and their children are concerned, if the Government say to them, "We wash our hands of all responsibility in this matter," they will know what to do. If this, the highest tribunal in the Commonwealth, says, " This dispute is no business of ours"; if it lays down the doctrine that it owes no duty to these people ; if it says, " Society owes no duty to these people," then these people will reply, "We owe no duty to society," and will act accordingly.

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