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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr FADDEN (Darling DownsLeader of the Opposition) . - I have already made it clear in this House that, it was open to the Opposition to move for the disallowance of these particular regulations. That course was not adopted, for the simple reason that the Opposition is not opposed to the principle of the regulations. I formally moved for the adjournment of the House in order, not to discuss the underlying principle of the regulations, but to bring before the Government certain weaknesses that we considered existed and certain safeguards that we required in connexion with the administration of this particular statutory rule. We know that the statutory rule gives extraordinary powers to the Government. But we must also recognize that we are passing through extraordinary times, and are experiencing extraordinary conditions. I am positive that no democratic government, and no parliament constituted as this one is, would ask the people to accept a proposal for the delegation of such wide powers in time of peace. However, we are not at peace. The position is very grave, and the Government to-day must have at hand statutory power to implement decisions necessary to meet unforeseen circumstances as and when they arise. The Prime Minister touched the kernel of the matter, as the Opposition sees it, when he said that if this rule was not being properly applied, action could be taken to remedy the trouble. That is what we are concerned with. Since the Opposition agreed to the underlying principle involved, and asked that certain safeguards be applied, events have taken place which fully justify our attitude. I urged that the Government should meet the wishes of the Opposition in regard to the delegation of authority. In the opinion of the Opposition such delegation should, as a general thing, be made in writing, and where notice was given orally - as we admit might sometimes be necessary - the instruction should be confirmed in writing within a reasonable time. I understand that instructions have been issued covering these points, but I now submit that the mere issuing of instructions is not a sufficient safeguard. Some statutory provision should be made, and I respectfully ask the Prime Minister to consider the amendment of the regulations in that direction.

In order to prove that the concern of the Opposition was justified, and that discrimination in the application of the rule has been possible, it is only necessary to point to the events of the last few weeks. On the 12th March, after the War Cabinet had considered the matter of industrial stoppages, the Prime Minister declared : " Statutory Rule No. 77 is to be enforced in all cases ". A few days later, some men who stopped work at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were ordered by the Commonwealth Government to resume, and each man was served witha notice under Statutory Rule No. 77. Those men returned to work. About the same time, 400 striking miners at Glen Davis, and 29 wheelers at a New South Wales colliery, were ordered to resume work under Statutory Rule No. 77. But, five days after the Prime Minister was so emphatic that Statutory Rule No. 77 was to be enforced in all cases, the following statement appeared in the Melbourne Sun Pictorial : -

The Minister for Labour said yesterday he would not tolerate the bluffing of workers by threats that Statutory Rule No. 77 wouldbe used against them. The rule, he said, was introduced in the interests of the Commonwealth and not as a stick to be shaken in the faces of the workers.

On the 18th March, orders under Statutory Rule No. 77 were issued instructing striking miners at Richmond Main colliery in New South Wales to return to work. On the 2Sth March, similar action was taken in respect of two collieries in Northern New South Wales where strikes were in progress. In the Daily Mirror of the 30th March, it was reported that about 400 miners at Hebburn No. 2 colliery in New South Wales were defying the regulations.

Then, in the Sydney Morning Herald of the 31st March, it was reported that, after these miners had decided to disregard the regulations, the names of 370 employees at the mine were sent to the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor so that penalty provisions under the regulations could be enforced. In the Melbourne Argus of the same date, however, Mr. J James, M.P., is reported as having said -

I asked the Minister to defer action against the mcn until they have had another chance to consider the position. Mr. Beasley agreed to submit the request to Mr. Curtin, and later informed me that action would be deferred until to-day.

Mr. James,according to the Herald, added that these miners ran the risk of forcing the Government into the position where it would have to enforce the penalties or resign. If, as was stated in the press, the names of these miners who were defying the regulation had been sent to the Crown Solicitor, by what authority did Mr. James interfere? The strike at Hebburn No. 2 colliery spread to Hebburn No. 1, where about 400 miners stopped work in sympathy with the others, and it was reported on the 31st March that, in all, 1,300 miners were on strike in New South Wales. Surely, the Opposition is entitled to ask why effect was not given to the Prime Minister's declaration of the 12th March that Statutory Rule No. 77 would be enforced in all cases. In fact, the position on the coal-field3 became so serious that the Prime Minister issued yet another warning. He warned the miners' leaders that unless work were resumed military rule might be applied.

On the 1st April, a3 a result of the Prime Minister's warning, all miners on the northern New South Wales coal-fields resumed work, but on the 2nd April, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. five mines were idle. Next, the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) decided to offer some advice at a time when several mines were idle in various parts of New South Wales and coal production was falling daily.

In the Daily Telegraph of the 9th April the Minister for Labour and National Service is reported to have stated -

Government ownership of the coal mines is the only solution of the industry's troubles.

On the 8th April, nine mines were idle in New South Wales, causing a loss of production estimated at 10,000 tons. On the 10th April, the Prime Minister made a statement which was reported as follows : -

War Cabinet had yesterday considered reports on the further stoppages in New South Wales coal mines. As National Security (Mobilization of Services and Property) Regulations had been found inadequate to deal effectively with coal-mining stoppages, it was decided that separate regulations be drawn up for the coal-mining industry.

I turn for a moment, at this stage, to the activities of the Minister for Labour and National Service. It would appear that, apart from his utterances concerning Statutory Rule No. 77, and his ill-timed suggestion regarding the nationalization of coal-mines, the Minister was content to leave the solution of the coal industry's problems to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Supply, and Mr. James, M.P. He issued a prepared statement to the press on the 22nd April in which the following appeared : -

As far as I am concerned, rule 77 never will be used against the workers because 1 believe that is the wrong way to get production. If rule 77 were used against any individual of the Miners' Federation, or other workers, it would destroy the good work done by mc and my colleagues to restore peace.

The Prime Minister, desiring to ensure maximum production and the maintenance of industrial peace, set out to apply the regulations for the purpose for which they were promulgated, but one of his Ministers stated that, so far as he was concerned, Statutory Rule No. 11 would never be used against the miners. Does that mean that there is likely to be discrimination ' in the application of the rule? Are we to understand that there is a difference of opinion among members of the Government regarding the conditions under which the rule is to be applied. If the regulations are being harshly administered, the Government should be censured for it.

The House is also entitled to know the possibilities and risks of discrimination in the administration of .Statutory Rule No. 77. Honorable members are justified in seeking .an assurance that the regulations, which are indispensable, under present conditions, for maintaining production and for national security, will be administered without fear or favour. I urge the Prime Minister to recognize the necessity for amending the regulations in the manner that I suggested earlier in order to provide that delegations of authority shall be made in writing if possible, and that oral instructions shall be confirmed in writing within a reasonable time. Whilst agreeing with the principles of the statutory rule, the Opposition is fearful regarding its administration, because of the definite difference of opinion that exists among Ministers concerning it3 implementation.

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