Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 July 1946


Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister foi; Post-war Reconstruction and Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) . - by have - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

In explaining this bill, I would emphasize that whilst the critical coal position cannot be attributed toany single cause, it is fundamentally the result of the industry's inability to keep pace with changing needs. This failure has affected every home and almost every industry in Australia in the . war period. During the past , six years of abnormally rapid industrialization in Australia, the consumption of coal has leapt ahead of production in a chronically sick industry. Between the years 1942 and1945, for instance, permitted consumption exceeded production by 1,700,000 tons, and coal stocks have progressively decreased as a result. After one experience of this kind, the Government is. determined that never again must, the industry be permitted to lapse into the position in which we found -it, and from which, while the war continued, there was no chance. of recovery. To-day, in the midst of the transition "from war to civil production, we are confronted with a dangerously low level of coal stocks on the one. hand and an evermounting demand on the other. The latest estimates and figures available to me are -

 

These figures may be compared with the 'average annual output of all Australian mines during 1939-44 of less than 13,500,000 tons. The demand on New South Wales black coal for 1946-47 was 11,666,000 tons, and the likely demand on such coal for 1949-50 is 13,500,000 tons. These figures, again, may be compared with the average annual output of all New South Wales coal mines during 1939-44 of only 11,500,000 tons. The estimates for 1949-50 represent an increase of 25 per cent, over the 1941 demands.

During the war years, we had to improvise and . patch as best we could in the circumstances. We deeply appreciate the efforts of the Coal Commission, and of the New South Wales Labour Government in collaboration with us.

To-day, however, we face apeace period in which the Government is determined that we shall proceed vigorously on a programme of basic re-organization. That is why we mark the first year of peace by bringing' down this legislation to. lay the framework for a new deal for the New South Wales industry, which- produces over80 per cent. of our black coal. It is a problem industry, and, in- order to understand it, we much' appreciate the essential features of its- history.- At bottom, there was the incapacity of an- individualistic industry to re-organize itself. There was an: unwillingness on the part of. owners to make available or to seek the finance for private re-orgariization, modernization and re-equipment. When, occasionally, a particular ; management showed a willingness to introduce- new methods, it sometimes met- a fearful and negative response from its workers. That response was not uniformly . experienced, but where it did occur it -was at least "understandable. Throughout' the interwar period, the workers experienced real insecurity in an apparently declining industry, and a lack of continuity of employment. Statistics of employment in the New South Wales coal industry show that this feeling of insecurity was based on a foundation of solid facts. The number of men . employed declined from 22,470 in 1929 to 12,788 in 1935, and since that time has never increased much beyond 16,000. Nor does the actual number employed each year , tell the whole story.- It conceals the human tragedy of discontinuous employment; 250 days a year would represent -50 weeks' work on the basis of a five-day week. The averagenumber of days worked by miners in 1929 was 223;. and in 1930 "it fell to 119 for those" who remained in the industry. Only in a desperate war year like 1943 did the average again reach the 1929 figure of 223. I remind honorable members that the loss of working days was by . no means due solely to strikes. The break-down of obsolete mining equipment has often been the cause of a temporary closing of mines. Moreover, once stocks of coal above-ground were adequate to meet demands for some time ahead, miners worked under the constant fear of being laid off, because mines on the Australian fields have been frequently closed down to save expenses in such circumstances.

The frequency of accidents in the mines is another cause of economic loss and of bitterness among miners. The average of New South Wales casualties during the sixteen years which ended in- 1944 was more than sixteen killed and 70 injured each year. The number of accidents generally bears a definite relation to the amount of coal hewn each year, where mining equipment is not the best and most up -to -date. Official reports clearly demonstrate that a large proportion of accidents could have been prevented by the adoption by mine managements of adequate safety measures. Accidents are not the only physical danger to the lives, health and employment of coal-miners. Because of the nature of their work, in the absence of the most modern and safety measures a very high proportion of coal-miners contract respiratory and -other diseases. In most instances, the only way of avoiding permanent disability and death is for the affected men to leave the mines for good. But, when other jobs and opportunities around the mining districts are not plentiful, this has often been impossible, and men suffering from disease in mild degrees have been forced by their circumstances to continue working in the very conditions that had caused their disease. When the Commonwealth Government took over the Coalcliff colliery, it experimented with and introduced a method of water injection which has proved highly successful against dust. Mr. Justice Davidson described it in his recent report as the most effective method of controlling dust in pillar workings yet practised. A great deal of expenditure is required to ensure the introduction of similar safeguards for the New South Wales miners.

In these few introductory remarks to thu bill, I have not overdrawn the position in the coal industry. Mining is at best a strenuous, thankless means of earning a livelihood. It is at worst an avenue of fitful employment, constant fear of disease, and ever-present possibility of death or disablement by accident. Men work in the industry under physical and nervous pressure, which is rarely absent; and when they find themselves working under that pressure in an industry suffering from technical obso- lescence and decay, and from insufficiency of capital, it is understandable, if not always wholly excusable, that the industry should be the seat of chronic indus-. trial discontent, inflamed as often as not by irresponsible newspapers and by parliamentary spokesmen for the owners, who are prepared to make political capital out of the position. There is an exasperation and frustration among the miners which only a " new deal " for the industry has a hope of expunging. This Government, and the Government of New South Wales, must make a fresh start at resolving the clearly recognizable problems of discontent and underproduction in the industry. Only a wide, systematic and thorough re-organization of the industry will meet the real needs. The bill before the House is at once the earnest of fruitful co-operation between the two governments and the framework through which they will work together.

By geological accident, the main black coal resources of Australia are in the State of New South Wales. But coal is a national problem, and demands a national solution. . Co-operation between the Commonwealth and State Governments is therefore necessary, and the present bill has been drafted only after careful discussion with the New South Wales Premier and other Ministers, and on the definite understanding that a substantially identical bill will be introduced into the New South Wales Parliament. In this way, powers within the legislative competence of each Parliament will be conferred. The function of this bill is to establish a. Joint Coal Board, with all the powers that are necessary to ensure a regular production of coal to meet the needs of the Australian economy. It will consist of three mem- ' bers, appointed for seven years by arrangement between the State of New South Wales and the Commonwealth. These members will not represent sectional interests in the industry, but will be selected because of their special qualifications and capacities to carry out the wide functions and the heavy responsibilities of the board. The main duties o.f the board will be, first, to ensure that coal shall be produced in the State in such quantities and with such regularity as will meet requirements throughout Australia and in trade with other countries ; secondly, to ensure that the coal resources of the State shall be conserved, developed, worked and used . to the best advantage in the public interest; thirdly, to ensure that coal produced in the State shall be distributed and ' used in such manner, quantities, classes and grades and at such prices as are calculated best to serve the public interest and secure the economical use of coal in the maintenance of essential services and industrial activities; and fourthly, to promote the welfare of workers engaged in the coal industry in the State.

Owing to doubts as to and limitations on the extent of Commonwealth powers under the Constitution, reliance will be placed on State authority for many of the major functions of the board. It is desirable, however, that the Parliament, the industry itself, and the people should be able to get from each bill . a comprehensive picture of what the board has to do, and what powers it will have. For this purpose, this bill has been drafted in rather an unusual form. Clause 12 and the following clauses set out all the powers, functions and" duties of the board, whether the Commonwealth or the State confers them. These clauses are purely declatory in form. The bill must not be read as an attempt by the Commonwealth Parliament to vest in the board all the powers set out. The only powers that the Commonwealth does vest are those that are within its own constitutional authority. For the rest, the board will draw its powers from the State. The same principle is followed in relation to the industrial authorities provided for in Part VI, of the bill.

So that it will be able to carry but these duties promptly and effectively, the Joint Coal Authority will have wide powers and a substantial degree of autonomy. It will be able to take the initiative in dealing with day-to-day problems free from political control. But because of the far-reaching nature of its decisions, it is important that the board should conform to directions on particular matters of policy. The principle of Parliamentary and . ministerial responsibility for policy has been preserved by the ultimate right of the Prime Minister, in agreement with the Premier of New South "Wales, to give policy directions to the hoard. The Prime Minister may also direct the board to furnish reports to himself and to the State Premier; whilst parliamentary appropriation of funds also will ensure ministerial responsibility. There are two further restrictions on the powers of the board. First, it will be noticed that there is to be no form of industrial conscription. Secondly, where the safety of mine workers is involved, there must be a joint inspection by- an officer of the board and an inspector of the New South Wales Mines Department before the board can take action, and any action must not derogate from the New South Wales safety' code. Within the limits of these restrictions, the board will" have power to deal with every phase of the coal industry. It will have powers over such matters as the opening or closing of coal mines ; methods of working; mechanization; use and distribution of coal ; prices and profits ; the health and safety of workers, and their welfare both in and about the mines and in their communities; employment and training; statistics, and research. Just how drastic and far-reaching the board's measures will be, will depend solely on what is necessary to get the coal we want and make mining a worthwhile occupation. We hope and believe that, with the co-operation of the industry, much can be achieved by a vigorous programme of technical and financial assistance, backed up by orders and directions to mine owners. Naturally, any extra costs incurred in carrying out the board's directions will be taken into account in determining price levels. On the other hand, in some instances, cooperation may not be forthcoming from the owners and managers, and the board may need to assume control of or acquire and operate a mine. Finally, the board may suspend or exclude from the industry any superintendent, manager or other person who acts in a way prejudicial to the efficient operation of the industry. Special provision is made to ensure that this power will not be misused. -

Turning now to distribution, I should like to indicate briefly what the Government has in mind. The Joint Coal Board will be responsible for seeing that coal shall be distributed efficiently and that adequate arrangements shall be made for safeguarding essential stocks. In the event of shortage, it will be ' responsible for rationing coal. The board may be able to carry out these obligations most effectively by acquiring all the coal produced in New South Wales. But improvement of the actual working and distribution of coal will be of no avail if the miners at the coal-face and in their homes are left, as they have been in the past, to burrow in the darkness of a harsh and insecure livelihood. They must feel that they, too, are participating in the social life and progress of the nation which depends so greatly on their efforts in winning coal. This is partly a matter of working conditions and amenities in -and about the mines, where the board must see that the coal industry shall live up to its responsibilities. This will be done by- vigorous enforcement of health and safety provisions, including measures to remove the spectre of dust and silicosis. Lighting and ventilation must be improved, and adequate pit-head amenities provided. The board will insist that these things shall be done, and it will be' ready to provide financial assistance to enable them to be done. Moreover, we intend to guarantee a continuing expenditure on amenities, by establishing a coal industry welfare fund. This will be administered by the board,, and con- tributions to' it will be made by the Commonwealth and State Governments as well as the board itself. In. addition, much must, be done away from the mines to make coal-mining areas of the State the centre of vigorous and happy families and communities. This is some-, thing that can be. achieved only with the co-operation of the mining communities which must take the initiative and seize the opportunities which will be open to them. But the Joint Coal Board will be ready to collaborate with the people themselves and with other authorities in providing health' and other services for miners and their dependants, in establishing educational, recreational, housing and other facilities', and in promoting diversification of industry and town and regional planning in coal-mining areas.

It is also essential that the dread fear of unemployment shall be banished from the coal-fields. I have already cited estimates which show that the demand for coal- is such that the' drift of workers from the industry must be arrested and recruitment vigorously encouraged. It will be the responsibility of the board to take a long-range view of the level of employment in the industry in relation to the production and the demand for coal. The board will be required to develop mechanization and technical efficiency in the mines, and, at the same time, to provide regular workers in the industry with an assurance of stable employment, and a secure and satisfactory livelihood in keeping with the policy of full employment to which the Labour Governments of the Commonwealth and New South Wales are committed.

In order to achieve its objectives the board will need to undertake and arrange intensive programmes of research -iri connexion with coal resources, techniques of production and use, health problems and other matters. In this field the board will work in close collaboration with the Council for - Scientific and Industrial Research, the Commonwealth Bureau of Geology, Geophysics and Mineral Resources, the public health authorities and other research and scientific agencies.

With, regard to workers compensation, the board will have power to conduct an insurance scheme with which coal-owners would be required to effect their workers' compensation insurance. At present, employers" conduct their insurance with their own company which is being heavily subsidized by the Government, and a part of this subsidy goes, of course, in maintaining the profits of the company.

Let me now draw your attention to the industrial provisions of the bill. We have provided for the establishment of a coal industry tribunal with - the necessary powers to settle industrial disputes, and to promote industrial peace in the industry. This tribunal will have the qualifications of an Arbitration Court judge, and will be appointed for seven years. It. will deal with matters affecting- the miners' federation, including interstate disputes, and with any matters referred by the board. So that . disputes can be dealt with quickly, we have given special consideration to the appointment of local authorities. Accordingly; the tribunal will appoint local 'coal authorities ' with powers to determine disputes of purely local significance;, and; to which it - will refer such disputes. It may also appoint at any coal-mine a mine conciliation committee, comprising an equal number of employer and employee representatives, to prevent the development of disputes. Finally, the board itself may appoint reporting officers to keep it informed of the facts on any matter which is, or is likely to be, the cause of an industrial dispute". As you will see, this new structure for dealing with industrial matters affecting the New South "Wales coal industry replaces the central industrial authority and the local industrial authorities established under war-time legislation. It preserves, however, sufficient of the existing machinery for continuity to be maintained.

The foregoing covers the major provisions of the bill, but honorable members will be interested in a number of important matters not incorporated but on which agreement has been reached with the New South Wales Government. In connexion with finance, large sums are involved by way of capital and current expenditure which this Government is fully prepared to make available for such a vita] public .purpose. The Commonwealth and the. State have agreed to divide financial responsibilities on this basis: The State will contribute half the costs of administration and an amount not exceeding £70,000 per annum to the joint, coal board's welfare fund - this amount to be contributed on a pound for pound basis with the Commonwealth. In turn, the Commonwealth will contribute the remaining half of the costs _ of administration, a share of the board's welfare fund not less than that contributed by the State ; all other current expenses including any subsidies and any other expenses arising from the board's production and trading activities, and all advances and grants for capital purposes such as the capital cost of amenities, other than those covered by the welfare fund, mechanization, acquisition and new development.

The New South Wales Government has agreed to provide by legislation that the chairman of the board should be ex officio chairman' of the Coal- and Shale Miners Pensions Tribunal.' ' This arrangement will not interfere with ' the New' South

Wales Government's present contribution of £80,000 a year to the miners' pension funds.

Agreement has also been reached, that the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments will take no action to amend or repeal the legislation of which this bill is a part without the prior concurrence of the' other. Further, the New South Wales Government has agreed not to amend the Coal Mines Regulation Act, or other associated legislation without the agreement of the Commonwealth.

In this bill we are not actuated by party political considerations, but have made a genuine attempt to provide a frame-work which will, for the first time, enable the human and economic problems of the industry to be tackled. It will be backed up by a bold and comprehensive programme of re-organization and development. In this spirit I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.







Suggest corrections