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Friday, 6 March 1942
Page: 282

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member must not criticize the motives of a judge.

Mr JAMES - This dispute at the Richmond Main is identical with the dispute at the Metropolitan mine at Helensburgh. Why is it that one dispute could be dealt with by the Local Reference Board, whilst the other must be considered by the Central Reference Board ? His Honour admitted, on page 25 of the transcript of the proceedings, on the 4th March last, that this dispute would apply to no colliery other than those controlled by J. and A. Brown, Abermain and Seaham Company, and that each case would be treated on its merits. I cannot understand why the Central Reference Board intervened. Why has the firm of J. and A. Brown been given these privileges? Of course, Mr. Johnson, the general superintendent, is the senior member of the Central Reference Board !

Mr Menzies - I thought the honorable member had a high opinion of Mr. Johnson?

Mr JAMES - Yes, he has a considerable knowledge of the coal-mining industry.

Mr Menzies - Is he a fair-minded man?

Mr JAMES - He is very fair when dealing with others than his own company but is always prejudiced in the interests of the company that be represents. The right honorable member for Kooyong is prejudiced in favour of the United Australia party; I am prejudiced in favour of the Labour party and of the coal-miners.

Mr Menzies - If the honorable member must have it, he wanted Mr. Johnson to be appointed as chairman of the board.

Mr JAMES - I did, as chairman of the Coal Commission, not the board. Now, I am sure that a dislocation will occur, and I do not wish to see it. I say with due respect to His Honour that a man without a practical knowledge of the coal-mining industry should not be chosen to arbitrate in a dispute.

Mr Holt - The honorable member wanted Mr. Johnson to be chairman of the central tribunal.

Mr JAMES - The honorable member should be fair. I preferred Mr. Johnson to Judge Drake-Brockman only if I could not have Mr. Connell. The honorable member should not say that I placed Mr. Johnson before Mr. Connell, because T did not do so. The right honorable member for Kooyong would not admit that.

Mr Menzies - Yes, I say that Mr.

Johnson was the nominee of the honorable member.

I Extension cf time granted.]

Mr JAMES - Of course, the right honorable member would: say anything for " Li'l' Harold ". However, it is most unfortunate that the adjudication was not left to a man who possessed a thorough knowledge of coal-mining. The miners are always prepared to accept the adjudication of a man who understands the problems of this most intricate industry. In this instance, however, the wool has been pulled over His Honour's eyes. He does not understand the position. His Honour has been fooled into giving this decision by the statement that production will be increased to 2,400 tons a day if operations are conducted at six places with the full mechanized unit, whereas, if he had gone into the history of the mine he would have learned that over 3,000 tons had been produced by the old method. The miners contend that in order to produce more coal for the war effort, they will permit fifteen places to operate under the old system of production with the " puncher " machines. It is not denied that the miners would cut more coal under their proposal; but the question is not one of coal production, or of the nation's requirements, so much as of the method by which the coal-owners can produce coal cheaply at the expense of the miners. Honorable members opposite would soon object if a proposal were made to reduce interest, or profits made by firms in which they are interested.

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr MARWICK (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Is it not a matter of man-power?

Mr JAMES - I have in my drawer in this building a list containing the names of 250 miners in the Newcastle district alone who are registered for employment and are now unemployed. Men are available for employment. 1 believe that, if the right approach were made to the miners, they would be prepared voluntarily to retire at 60 year.of age so that men who are now unemployed could be absorbed in the industry. They have already offered to do so.

I charge the Central Reference Board with having caused unnecessary trouble by trespassing upon matters that are of a purely local nature and could be dealt with by local boards. The function of the Central Reference Board should dp to deal only with major troubles which extend beyond the bounds of one district or State, or with the interpretation of its own awards. It should not deal with every pettifogging dispute which may arise from time to time. At present, every little trouble that arises in the coalmining industry is referred to the Central Reference Board for attention. That has caused congestion, which in turn has led to the men becoming irritable because their complaints are not dealt with. The Central Reference Board has developed into what may he termed a general appeals tribunal, or a' high court, deciding matters with which the manager could deal and which the legislature never intended should be brought before the centra] hoard. When I brought these matters before the then Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), I was treated as a mug". But the right honorable gentleman listened to others. I asked him to reintroduce the Industrial Peace Act, under which the Babble tribunal functioned. During the operation of that legislation there was no dispute or challenge. That was because Mr. Babble came from a mining district and understood mining. The mine-owners influenced the then Prime Minister not to reintroduce the Industrial Peace Act. The right honorable gentleman would not listen to me.

Mr Menzies - The honorable member's colleagues who are now in office agreed with me; and they must agree with me still because they have not reintroduced that legislation.

Mr JAMES - Certain machinery has been set up to deal with disputes, and any change now would cause a general upset because so many awards and decisions have already been made. Itwould be particularly hard to make a change during the war. It can be said, however, that the Hibble tribunal did not function in a general way, except when it made a general award. It functioned chiefly as a local tribunal in various places, but the Central Reference Board to-day provides its members with fulltime jobs. That was never intended. The sooner we get back to an arrangement under which that body will deal only with questions that are of an interdistrict nature, or in which the interpretation of its own awards is involved, the hi'tter it will be for the industry.

On page 9 of the transcript His Honour is reported to have said that he still holds that the proper body to deal with this dispute is the Central Reference Board, and that if its decision be wrong, the only place to correct it is in the High Court. When the Hibble tribunal existed there was no approach to the High Court, because the decision of that tribunal was final and binding, and there was no appeal from it. In the meantime, according to His. Honour, his decision stands and is unchallengeable. If that be so, why does he allow his decision of the loth July in respect of the Metropolitan mine at Helensburgh to be challenged ? His Honour is wrong in his statement on page 9. If his decision in regard to the Richmond Main colliery be unchallengeable, then Mr. Hickman, the chairman of the local tribunal at Wollongong, has contravened his judgment. His Honour did not refuse to preside because Mr. Hickman annulled his decision the day before yesterday in connexion with the Richmond Main colliery dispute, yet: because I had called thic conference he walked off the field and refused to play. The Richmond Main colliery developed two-thirds of its area under the old system of mining, but now, for the remaining one-third of that area, it proposes to revolutionize methods, thereby causing trouble. Those who propose these changes are not trying to promote harmony in the industry. On the contrary, they are causing disputes, and sending them on to the Central Reference Board for attention, thereby causing the congestion to which I have referred. Notwithstanding that this colliery produced 3,000 tons of coal a day under the old method, it is proposed to change the method. The nation is crying out for coal, and as coal can still be produced in large quantities under the old method, what necessity is there for a change?

Mr Rankin - We want coal, but we are getting strikes.

Mr JAMES - The honorable gentleman does not know what is happening. There is no section of workers in Australia which has taken stronger action in disciplining its members than the coalminers have done. Recently, a number of lads in my district were fined £5 each and dismissed from the industry altogether. As in the past, most of the trouble in the industry to-day is caused by lads. They think, as I thought when I was fourteen or fifteen years of age, that it is a wonderful thing to cause a stoppage at a mine. In my early mining days the older unionists did not think that a stoppage was so wonderful. The result was that some of the lads who had caused trouble were summoned, and I had to do seven days' hard labour, with bread and water. The sooner we get back to that form of discipline the better it will be for the smooth working of the industry. I know what I am talking about. Honorable members interject and say that the miners are on strike. The miners are not on strike ! Their homes are a long way from the mines, sometimes 20 miles, and the pit top is the only place at which they can meet to discuss such matters as benevolent fund levies. Before meetings have been in progress five minutes, the manager blows the " no-work " whistle and the men have to go home.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

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