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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Mr SPEAKER - Order !

Mr JAMES - Why should he tell lies aboutit?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Hunter must withdraw that statement.

Mr James - Out of deference to an old cobber, I shall withdraw it.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member muststand up when be makes his withdrawal.

Mr James - I withdraw the statement.

Mr ANTHONY - I shall now quote the following paragraph which appeared in this morning's issue of the Canberra Times : -

Although all coal-fields in New South Wales were again at work to-day when production resumed at the three pits which were held up yesterday, a new and more serious crisis which is threatening the possibility of a hold-up in Vew South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, now faces the industry.

The secretary of the Federated Engine Driver and Firemen's Association (Mr. Hastie) claimed to-day that unless within the next 24 hours the miners withdrew certain classifications covered by the engine drivers' award, from a log of claims now before the Central Coal Reference Board, a stop-work meeting would be held at an early date on all coalfields to consider strike action.

This strike is threatened, not because of unsatisfactory working conditions, not for the purpose of resisting oppression by the employers, not to obtain anything which it is in the power of the Government to provide, but because one union claims that another is usurping its rights. If the strike occurs it will hold up the production of equipment that is vitally needed at this time. It is no credit to the Minister for Labour and National Service that there are fewer industrial disputes now than ever before in the history of the Commonwealth. There should be no industrial dispute in Australia at the present time. It is an eternal disgrace to the "Government and the parties if disputes cannot be settled by some method other than the holding up of production when every ton of coal, every Bren gun, and every rifle are so urgently needed. I am not condemning the unionists as a body. I believe that much credit is due to union officials and to the unions themselves for the way in which they have risen to the occasion. The unionists are working as never before ; but there are some sections among them - fortunately very small - who are deliberately defying the Government, who refuse to recognize their obligation to the country, and decline to admit, it would seem, the danger with which the country is confronted. If they act in such a way as to .assist the enemy they should be rigorously dealt with. It is all very well for the Minister for Labour and National Service to say that persuasion is more effective than coercion, and that disputes should be settled by talking to the men. If it is impossible to obtain results by talking, and if work can be maintained only .by conceding things that never should be conceded, then it is evident that the time has come when the powers conferred under Statutory Rule No. 77 should be exercised. [Extension of time granted.] The Minister for Labour and National Service has spoken of the workers. Who are the workers other than the great majority of the people of the Commonwealth? Every person in Australia should be working, and the vast majority of them are. " The term " workers " really includes 99 per cent, of the people, and not merely trade unionists, as the Minister for Labour and National Service has implied. If the Minister for Labour and National Service expects us to support this rule he should declare here and now that he is prepared to administer it impartially. His statements to date have left a grave doubt in the minds of many members of the community. He says that he will administer the regulations, but not against a certain section. If the regulations are to be enforced against one section only, the Opposition would be justified in seeking to deny this power to the Government. However, I appreciate the terrible danger with which we are confronted, and, therefore, despite my misgivings regarding the administration of the Minister for Labour and National Service, I am prepared to concede the power. The Minister spoke of coercing wealthy gentlemen in exclusive clubs, but how many such persons does he think there are? I suggest that he might, do better by coercing the loafers who draw the dole, and spend their time leaning against the verandah posts of pubs. As a matter of fact, there are very few wealthy clubmen who would be worth " tuppence " in the war effort, because most of them are over age and otherwise physically unfit. I can produce for the benefit of the Minister many scores of names of persons who are anxious to do something for the war effort and have made applications to the Department of Labour and National Service, but have had their applications rejected, or have been fobbed off. If the Minister is really looking for people to work in munitions factories, or perform other useful services, he should tell these people to whom I have referred where they can get jobs. I challenge the Minister, when he speaks of coercing wealthy members of clubs, to do something in the way of providing employment for those who have, in effect, been waiting on the doorstep of his department for months past.

The purpose of StatutoryRule No.77 is to ensure the more effective prosecution of the war. If it be used to that end, and be not abused, honorable members on this side will support it. In this respect, the Minister for Labour and National Service has a grave responsibility to the country. He must do something more than make repeated attacks on all who are not members of trade unions. We have become very tired of t hat. I also say that the Prime Minister should be paramount in his Government. The will of Cabinet over which he presides should prevail. The Prime Minis- ter must ensure that this shall be so, or he must surrender to the Minister for Labour and National Service. We have confidence that the Prime Minister is impartial in the discharge of his duties; but, unless he can assure us that the will of Cabinet will prevail over that of the Minister for Labour and National Service, there will be grave misgivings among honorable members regarding the granting of these wide powers under Statutory Rule No. 77.

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