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Tuesday, 30 July 1946

Mr SPEAKER -Order ! The honor- able member for Hunter must not interject.

Mr MENZIES - HisHonour Mr. Justice Davidson wrote that. I shall read his exact words in. one more paragraph in order to. put the matter beyond question -

The charge that the . use of mechanical loaders of all types in pillar working increases the risk of accident, is completely refuted by evidence with regard to one large mine in - New South Wales and in relation even to high pillar places the use of such machines is the common practice in Great Britain and America iii comparable conditions without detriment to safety of working.

Then I notice that Mr. Justice Davidson touched upon a matter which has .been emphasized by honorable members on this side of the House in particular, when he stated that the burden of taxation was the most active of all causes of absenteeism. If the Government desires to attack the problem from that standpoint, the remedy is quite clear to its hands. The learned judge then turned to the problem of absenteeism generally. I apologize for making lengthy quotations from, the report, but, after all,, they are a mere fraction of the total and they illustrate the great mass of the report. He said -

Absenteeism could be checked by the enforcement of discipline, by increased mechanization, by improvement in the surroundings and general amenities, of the pits, and by efforts On the part of the management to make closer contact with the mine workers.

Let me emphasize the words "by efforts on the part of the management to make closer contact with the mine workers".. The present bill, so far from providing for efforts on the part of the management to make closer contact with the mine workers, cuts across the whole problem of closer contact by weakening or destroying the power of the management. Mr. Justice Davidson proceeded to discuss in language which I need not exactly reproduce, the contract system. The burden of his report on that point was that the customs and practices which are, to 'a certain extent, included in the terms of the awards of the Arbitration Court are mostly customs and practices associated with the contract system, and having regard to the number of disputes produced by arguments about whether .this is a custom or that is a practice, he came to the conclusion that if we desire to eliminate all those sources of irritation the best thing to do would be to abolish the customs and practices. The only way in which to abolish' them is to abolish the system of employment to which they are attached. In addition, His Honour recommended that the contract system of coal extraction should go.

I come now to a matter to which I made passing reference earlier, namely, whether government ownership or government control is the solution of the problem.' The conclusions pf Mr. Justice Davidson on that matter are very interesting, because he made an exhaustive examination of what had happened in various State-controlled mines. He said, for example, in relation to the State mine at Lithgow -

It cannot be claimed that the State mine at Lithgow since its foundation in 1910 has been a notable success.

He, made some criticism of its lay-out, and proceeded - '

When, after being in operation for eleven years, control was transferred to a board; the sum of £271,941 - forming portion of the total debt of £581,941 - had to be written off as a loss. Thence onward a profit was claimed to have been made in only seven years and losses in six years.

Even then the profit claimed in seven years- was subject to this very serious comment -

The accounts are kept upon a defective principle by omitting provision for a depreciation reserve.

Still referring to the State coal-mine at Lithgow, His Honour said -

If the purpose of opening the mine was to avoid exploitation of the Government Railway Department in' prices by private owners of collieries, that purpose is not being achieved. The department is paying 2s. 6d. to 2s. 9d. per ton more for coal from the State mine than the price at which coal of equal quality could be obtained from private producers in the vicinity.

His Honour also found -

The accident rate is higher than in privately owned mines in the northern district which are of equal or larger size and carry greater mining risks. The insurance rate for workers' compensation is within the group incurring highest charges for such insurance, although the risk is covered by the State Insurance Office.

His Honour reported that the progress in mechanization had been less in the State-owned mine at Lithgow than in the privately owned mines. He found, too, that the colliery did not have substantially fewer of the usual industrial troubles such as strikes, absenteeism and pit-top meetings, in comparison with privately owned mines in the same district. So much for the State coal-mine at Lithgow! But there was a more recent example in which the Commonwealth itself became concerned, and that was the Coalcliff colliery, control of which was assumed under the Coal Production (War-time) Act 1944. His Honour examined the history of that colliery. He summed it up in a few telling sentences. This is what he has said -

This whole sorry history leads to several conclusions, namely -

1.   In taking control of the mine the commissioner adopted the only reasonable course to procure continued production.

2.   His efforts in some degree failed notwithstanding every effort that could reasonably have been made by any manager.

3.   The assumption of control was of great value to the industry if for no other reason than that it led to' the introduction of the most effective means of controlling dust in pillar workings yet practised.

I -have read those, because they are the plus entries in this account. [Extension of time granted.] His Honour then said -

4.   Neither the executive of the district branch of the federation nor the lodge procured any co-operation with the Controller towards increasing the output.

This .was in time of war, mark you, a control set up under an act passed by a

Labour " administration. His Honour continued -

5.   The executive of this branch and the lodge have no control of their members.

G.   Industrial interruptions and dislocations of production are equally apt to arise whether the Government or private enterprise is in control .of a mine.

7.   When industrial disputes occur the disturbing elements amongst the men have no more regard for the Government when it is in charge than for the private owner.

It is not possible in a limited time - and I did not hope to trespass beyond my allotted time to-night - to quote more extensively from the Davidson report; but anybody who reads it, and then looks at the present bill, will see that the bill almost completely ignores the report and that, read in conjunction with the extraordinary second-reading speech of the Minister, it represents merely a further instalment of the disastrous policy of appeasement which has encouraged the miners, incited strikers to further strikes, and brought Australian manufacturing industry all over the continent almost to the verge of disaster.

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