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Friday, 19 February 1932

Mr LATHAM (Kooyong) (AttorneyGeneral) . - In replying to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), I shall say nothing about his personally offensive remarks; I do not consider that they will do me any harm in the estimation of those who know me. But I am compelled to refute his statement that I had been guilty of inaccuracy in remarks adressed by me to the House. Let me, therefore, refer honorable members to pages 212 and 228 of the report of the Royal Commis sion on the Coal Industry, 1929. I said last evening that I was speaking of the 1928-1929 period. The following particulars, which appear on page 212 of the report, bear out my statement that miners had. worked only three or four days a week -

The following table provides a general summary of the average earnings of employees (other than salaried staff) during the vear ended 30th June, 1028:-


On page 288 the commission's report states -

The outstanding anomalies in the contract rates paid to miners at the present time are: -

1.   The excessively high rates paid on all seams and particularly on the thick seams of the Greta field. The amount of excess in these rates over and above the rates necessary to provide reasonable earnings add substantially to the cost of production of coal.

2.   The handicap placed upon the use of machines, especially on the Greta seam, through the extravagantly high tonnage rates for machine-men cutting coal. The evidence showed that even though severe limitations were put upon the amount of work done by machines, machine-men frequently earned more than £3 per day, while the general average, whore correctly recorded, was £2 6s. The sworn evidence of one manager was, that, on existing rates, a machine-man operating an electrically driven arc wall machine in his colliery could earn from £6 to £6 10s. per day working for the full time of the shift.

That is what, I spoke of last night. I said that statements to this effect were contained in the report, and I have shown that to be true. Further on in its report the commission again mentions the remarkable disparity between the earnings of the miners and of other workers. On the Greta field, for 1928, the average daily earnings of the miners were 41s. lOd. ; at Newcastle they were 30s. 5d. ; on the southern fields 28s. Id.; and on the western fields 32s. Id. These rates are from 35 per cent, to 90 per cent, higher than the daily average rate of shift men. I am concerned' only to show that I was speaking accurately last night. I suggest that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) should read this report for himself, and he would learn something of the matter.

Mr James - I ask the honorable member to read the comments of the judge regarding the number of men earning less than the basic wage.

Mr LATHAM - The high rates to which I have referred constitute one of the reasons why thousands of miners are earning nothing at all on the coal-fields; but the honorable member cannot understand that. It is obvious that the reconsideration of these conditions is required in the interests of all the men on the fields, except those who happen to be in work at these high rates.

Mr Beasley - Does not the AttorneyGeneral favour piece rates?

Mr LATHAM - I do, but the rates should be reasonable. At the present time, the high rates paid are making coal too expensive, with the result that the demand is diminishing, and men are being thrown out of work. Honorable members opposite should devote themselves to the study of this subject in order to bring about a revision of the rates, which are indefensible having regard to the interest of the men themselves, and of the industry in general. In this way they might do a real service to the men on the coal-fields.

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