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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- This week, the press contained two interesting items that may have escaped the notice of honorable members. On Tuesday, the cables reported that the British Government had taken over Parkhill Colliery, in Yorkshire, where a strike had been in progress, and had appointed a controller. Yesterday, the British Government took over the Newlands Colliery, at Normanton. Following this action, the Government assumed control of the entire coal-mining industry. During the last war, the British Government took similar action in order to ensure the maintenance of peace in the industry. Honorable members who wish to see stability -in the coal-mining industry of Australia would welcome an opportunity to examine a full report on the circumstances that prompted the British Government so to act, and the conditions upon which it took over the mines. As press censorship forbids the cabling of full reports of industrial disputes in the United Kingdom, we are not able to obtain this information from the usual source. The Commonwealth Government should secure from the British Government a full report on the matter and make it available to honorable members, because the information might give us a valuable lead in solving our own industrial problems on the coal-fields

Having worked in the coal-mining industry for many years, I know that the introduction of a co-operative system of mining has always resulted in an increase of production, because the men know that their labour will not accumulate huge profits for the bosses. When the coal-mines were nationalized in Great Britain during the last war, production and efficiency increased. The miners realized that they were working for the nation, and not to enable the owners to make huge profits out of the war, and the sufferings of the people. In Australia, the owners are making tremendous profits out of the coal-mining industry. In spite of the restrictions that have been imposed upon excess profit-taking, the owners have their methods of evading them. A royal commission, the cost of which was shared by the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales, inquired into the coalmining industry in 1930-31 and reported that the owners were making a profit of only 2s. a ton. At that time coal fetched from 23s. to 25s. a ton. During the depression, the price dropped to 9s. and 10s. a ton, but the owners carried on their operations. As they were obviously not working for charity, it is difficult to understand how they managed to keep the mines in production. A satisfactory explanation of the riddle has never been given.

The miners have asked the Commonwealth Government to nationalize the industry, and their representations have been supported by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) and myself as a practical solution of disputes. I urged the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) to appoint a joint parliamentary committee for the purpose of inquiring into the ramifications of this intricate industry, and the right honorable gentleman informed me three weeks ago that Cabinet would consider the proposal. Only the bosses oppose the idea, but, to date, the committee has not been appointed. If some honorable members were asked to walk 3 or 4 miles to the working face in a coal-mine, they would be convinced of the necessity for providing an underground system of transport. Under present conditions, it takes some miners one and a quarter hours to walk to the working face over grades as steep as 1 in 3. If underground transport were provided for these men, they would be able to spend an additional two and a half hours at the face, and each man would increase his output by from 2 to 3 tons.

Mr Holt - In how many collieries do those conditions prevail?

Mr JAMES - In the vast majority of them. Only a few have provided underground transport facilities.

Mr Holt - Are the miners obliged to walk long distances in ' many of the mines ?

Mr JAMES - Yes. Having had personal experience of the wearisome walks, I am able to assure the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) that my statements are not exaggerated. Not more than a dozen mines in Australia have provided a system of underground transport, and, in the electorate of Hunter alone, there are 65 mines. Some of the collieries which have introduced underground transport facilities are not in New

South Wales, but in Western Australia. In January, when I revisited the 'Collie coalmines in Western Australia, where I worked years ago, I was asked by the miners to make representations for the provision of transport. On their behalf, I approached the chairman of the Coal Commission, and, in contrast to the attitude of the owners in New South Wales, transport had been provided at all mines in Western Australia by the 9 th April. The excuse of the owners in New South Wales, which has been accepted by the Government as readily as it accepts all the excuses tendered by them, is that neither rails nor the raw materials necessary to make them are available. All the rails necessary are already in the mines. The time for excuses has gone; now is the time for action, and it is incumbent on this Government to take that action. First, the miners stand for the nationalization of the coal-mining industry. " We will work for the country, but not to enhance the dividends of the bosses ", sums up their attitude. Secondly, the miners want the Commonwealth Government to set up an impartial committee to inquire into the causes of trouble in the coal-mining industry. There could be no committee more impartial than one representative of both sides of this Parliament. Such a committee would tend to produce greater harmony in the industry, with consequent greater output of coal and, hence, a greater war effort generally.

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