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Thursday, 7 May 1942

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) - by leave- I welcome very much the statement by the Minister for War Organization of Industry particularly because of the effect of the many vague statements that have been made recently regarding the future welfare of the gold-mining industry. While in Canberra during the sessional period before last, I approached the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) on taxation matters, and discussed the effect of taxation on the gold-mining industry. During that interview, I was informed of some confidential facts concerning the future of that important industry - I say "important " because it is to-day the major industry in Western Australia, although if cannot be compared with the gold-mining industries of the other States. In Western Australia, goldmining has been responsible for the establishment and maintenance of many important towns which could not otherwise exist. Because of this I was deeply impressed with the information disclosed to me by the Treasurer.

I had three courses open to me as the member representing the constituency of Kalgoorlie. T. could have remained dumb, without divulging the information. I could have gone back to Kalgoorlie and conducted a campaign on the lines of " Hands off the man-power of the gold-mining industry ", and by taking that attitude I should have received widespread support. I had no doubt, however, that my duty lay in taking the unpopular attitude with the people concerned, and in advising them that there was every possibility of the gold-mining industry being called upon in the near future to release the major portion of its man-power for defence works. Having made up my mind to take that attitude, I went to see the Prime Minister before I left Canberra. I said to him, " I have been given some information of a most important nature affecting the gold-mining industry. How much of it can I use ? " The Prime Minister's reply to me was, " You will not be using the press or the radio, and when you are talking to responsible people tell them the truth ". I carried out that advice.

I met the executive of the miners' union on the night I arrived in Kalgoorlie, and representatives of the Chamber of Mines the next day, and of local governing bodies and various organizations that evening. The persons I saw were representative of Kalgoorlie and Boulder municipalities, and of all the people affected. I explained fully to them, as far as I was able, the position of this country. I said that the defence authorities were calling out for every man that could be made available. " To-morrow ", I stressed, "may be too late. Efforts have to be made, and they must be made immediately ". I had to appeal to miners who were receiving substantial wages to give up their mining work and to leave their wives and families in order to work in the labour corps for the basic wage. Both the men and the Chamber of Mines unanimously responded, and I have yet to believe that the chamber has repudiated the promise given to me that morning. I met the full executive of the Chamber of Mines at Kalgoorlie, and representatives of the men throughout the mining towns. Later decisions, I understand, have been made by the chamber, but not by its full executive. I am sure that the chamber will never repudiate the undertaking given to me.

I was careful throughout the campaign to see that no politics were introduced. T approached every section of the community. My telegrams convening meetings were sent to the chairman of the

Roads Board, the local governing bodies, and the union, appealing to them to cooperate so that there would be representative meetings to hear my story. I did the job throughout the Kalgoorlie electorate. On my return to Perth, I met the available members of the State Parliament who represent the goldmining districts, and they, too, agreed to co-operate. My task had been done, and in every centre I had visited the meetings carried resolutions, not only unanimously, but also enthusiastically, instructing the chairman of the meeting to telegraph to the Prime Minister that " This centre is behind you in any effort that has for its object the defence of this country". The whole of the industry displayed a co-operative spirit, and showed that it was prepared to help by coming to the country's call, despite any sacrifices that might have to be made. The miners realized that the call was to them, and they showed in every place I visited that they were ready to obey.

After the work had been done, Senator Allan MacDonald, who had not been out of Perth and had not worked in the industry, went to Kalgoorlie, but at no inconvenience to himself, for he got off the train on his way from Perth to Canberra. He said, " This will spell ruin to the gold-mining industry. Your towns will collapse, one after another. You must fight against this demand. You must protest against the Government taking any men out of the mines ". That was a very easy attitude for any one to adopt. I could have filled the role of the hero of the hour, but it was not my purpose to do that. My duty was to do something in the interests of this country, and I did it. I resent the attitude of Senator Allan MacDonald in going to Kalgoorlie. He was responsible for a deputation that went to Perth to endeavour to get the unions and the Trades and Labour Council for Kalgoorlie district to co-operate with him, but he failed. What is thought about the matter by the workers is shown by the following letter dated the 28th April, which I received on Tuesday from the Eastern Gold-fields District Council of the Australian Labour party: -

At a meeting of the above council held last night I was directed to convey to you the message that this council placed their fullest confidence in you, and were steadfastly behind you in the action you took with reference to the gold-mining industry, and we sincerely hope that the resoluteness which you displayed whilst placing your case before the workers will long be remembered.

The workers of Kalgoorlie know that they are no longer entitled to live as formerly in a state of false security. They are aware that the sword of Damocles hangs above their heads. They are ready to go out of the gold-mining industry and to give of their best in order to create whatever defence works are necessary. And defence works are urgently necessary in many districts of Western Australia. I appealed in vain to the former Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), and to the former Government for the completion of many works which are essential to the defence of the State. For instance, I appealed to him to order the construction of a strategic road from Meekatharra to Marble Bar, the completion of the half-constructed concrete bridge built by the Roads Board over the DeGrey River at Port Hedland in order to destroy a bottleneck, and a strategic road between Alice Springs and Halls Creek. On the north-west coast State shipping cannot go beyond Point Sampson. The people in the north-west will be starved, even without enemy action, unless facilities be provided to replace the sea route for the carriage of foodstuffs. According to newspaper reports the Treasurer, after I had done the job on the gold-fields, said that only sheer necessity would compel the Government to take men out of the gold-mining industry. The sheer necessity exists. It existed when I went to the gold-fields. So great was the necessity that I braved the floods in order to keep my appointments. I am proud of the co-operation which the people on the gold-fields offered; but I am distinctly upset at the trend which affairs have taken. Senator Allan MacDonald has raised a hornet's nest in order to derive political kudos. In the Parliament of "Western Australia certain members have adopted a parochial attitude for which they will not be thanked by the people of Kalgoorlie in time to come. The defence of this country is the greatest need, not parochialism. A man in Geraldton said to me, " I do not know why we are doing this work. We ought to leave it and clean up the Japs bo that we can return to it later." Much more can be done towards the defence of this country than is being done, and the Government should stand up to the job regardless of what interests it may for the moment injure in doing it. National security regulations which, in normal times, would be abhorrent to me, come into being every day. I remain silent because I realize that, however distasteful they may be, they are necessary for the effective defence of th» country.

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