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Tuesday, 30 July 1946

Mr CHIFLEY (Macquarie) (Prime Minister and Treasurer) . - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), in his opening remarks, made some reference to what he said was a partisan statement by the Minister in charge of the bill (Mr. Dedman). As I listened to his speech . to-night, I heard in his words the echoes of all the bitter condemnations of the hard-baked Tories who have been associated with the 'coal industry right down , through the ages. He did, however, in a passing reference, make the gracious statement that, generally speaking, the mine workers of the community are a decent type of citizen. But the whole of his remarks to-night were such as one would have heard or expected to hear over the years from people like Mr. Gregory Forster, or from some other extreme Tory representatives of the mine-owner3. Talking of partisanship, I do not suppose that any speech ever delivered in this House has more reeked of partisanship than that which he has made. In the course of my remarks, I do not propose to adopt' that attitude. I shall not suggest that all the troubles associated with the coal industry are entirely the fault of the owners or of the miners. I listened to the right honorable gentleman very carefully to-night, in order to discern whether, at any stage, he would make a suggestion as to how those troubles could be cured. He voiced very strong condemnation of the miners. The one thing that has to be remembered, when dealing with this problem, is that the miners are the only people in this country who can produce coal; not the owners, who sit in offices; not the executives; not the people who hold shares in coal mines; not the members of this Parliament who debate the' subject. I accept the right honorable gentleman's condemnation for the purpose of examination. He has described the miners as decent citizens, and they have been described in similar terms by the learned judge who was the board of inquiry. Mr. J. J. Johnson, who for many years has been associated on behalf of the owners with the control of the coal industry, said in a broadcast the other night that he had come to exactly the same conclusion. Then, for what reasons are these decent men in the community likely to be responsible, if it be admitted that they are, for the sins about which the right honorable gentleman has spoken?

I want to deal very briefly with Mr. Justice Davidson's report. It is perfectly true, as the right honorable gentleman has said, that Mr. Justice Davidson made a very extensive examination of the coal industry. He presented a very lengthy report dealing with numerous phases of the subject that we are debating to-night, in which he submitted certain recommendations in regard to Commonwealth control of the industry. Those recommendations were examined very closely by the legal advisers of the Government. After considering all the methods that might be adopted to bring the coal industry under a form of control that would produce better results than so far it has been possible to achieve, the Government decided, on the legal advice available to it, that constitutionally the proposals of Mr. Justice Davidson revealed so many weaknesses that, without complete cooperation, particularly on the part of the owners, they would quite easily be come unworkable, because they were founded largely on the principle that that co-operation could be obtained. The right honorable gentleman has not, to-night, offered one simple method or suggestion for improving the position in the coal industry. I thought that probably he would have approved the suggestion in other places that violent repressive measures should be adopted towards that section- of the coal:miners which has been responsible for low production.- I say at once that when there is condemnation of one section of the coal-miners, or, indeed, of one section of the coal-owners, it must not be concluded that, so far as I am concerned, it embraces all of either class. That is particularly true of Queensland, of Wonthaggi in Victoria - where,' unfortunately, the production is small - of Western Australia, of Tasmania, of -the Muswellbrook area of New South Wales, and, indeed, . of the whole of the western coal-mining area of New South Wales, where there has been splendid production right through the war years and in the subsequent period. Therefore, nobody can say that those sections of the coal industry have failed to do their duty. Nor do I suggest for one moment that all the owners, superintendents, managers or executives of mines are completely inhuman in their attitude towards the miners. To say that would not be to state the truth; because I know owners in the coal industry as well as executives and managers, whom I think even the most militant miners' official would regard as fair men, as well as decent employers, superintendents and managers. This industry has had through the ages a heritage of hate between employers and' employees. It is not a matter of to-day, the last decade, or fifty "years, but of hundreds of years. The genesis of the trouble is that, when the feud commenced, unjust practices were adopted by the owners of the mines towards those who had to cut the coal. It is a long way to go back, but I believe that this trouble has it genesis in the customs and traditions that have sprung up during that long period. We have in the coal-mining industry the same dislikes, fears and traditional hatreds, and the same tendency for one side to blame the other as that which has obtained in the. industry for hundreds of years.

One expects a leader of a political party with the responsibility carried by the Leader of the Opposition, particularly in view of his experience as a responsible Minister and as a Prime Minister, to make at least some contribution .to a debate such as this that would enable the people to get from his words at least some guidance as to a cure for the trouble in the industry. Looking back over the history of the coalmining industry of Australia, let us consider the records of some of the governments which have attempted by violent repressive measures to crush the miners when they have gone on strike. In 1910, the Wade Government in New South Wales took violent action against -the miners, and Peter Bowling was put into leg-irons. One would have thought that if violently repressive measures had gained the approval of the public, the Government which was responsible for that action, would have been returned at the following elections; but the truth is that it was swept out of office within the next twelve months, and the McGowan Government was returned to power. Passing on to 1930, we recall that . at that time the late Mr. Weaver. was Minister for Mines in New South Wales, and he was responsible for what is known as the Rothbury episode. He insisted on bringing free labour into the coal-mines. He established a compound, and adopted most drastic measures against the employees in the industry. The Government with which he was associated, and of which Mr. Bavin was then Premier, backed those repressive measures with all its might, but nine months later it also was swept- from office.

Mr Menzies - It was not. angling for votes ; it was' needing coal.

Mr CHIFLEY - The Leader of the Opposition has touched on the vital point. The public needs coal, and therefore it is prepared to give its help to any fair measures that would tend to cure the trouble in the industry, if not to-morrow, in the years to come, in the interests of this country. The right honorable gentleman has made a completely truthful remark: the public doe¬ę need coal. It does not favour the adoption of violent measures against the miners, but it looks for a system which would enable more coal to be produced.

I come now to 1940, when the Leader' of the Opposition was Prime Minister, backed by a powerful majority in both branches of the legislature, and with the National Security Act behind him to enforce the will of the' Government. At that time a lengthy strike occurred on the coal-fields of New South Wales. It ran on for some months. It was said by some newspapers - I do not know whether they

Were inspired by ardent supporters of the right honorable gentleman - that he gained a victory, and that the miners were starved into submission. .1 shall tell honorable members what kind of victory it was. During that strike, coal production declined by 900,000 tons. The reserves of coal throughout Australia were seriously depleted. The reserves of the New South Wales Railways Department decreased from 170,000 tons to 33,000 tons. The reserves of the . Sydney County Council, which is responsible for the supplying of electric power and light over the greater part of the metropolitan area, went down from 108,000 tons to 16,000 tons. The coal held in reserve by the gas companies fell from-8S,000 tons to 9,000 tons. I do not wish to weary honorable members with further figures of that kind, 'but all of. the coal reserves throughout Australia largely disappeared when the right honorable gentleman was in office, backed by the National Security Act and a large majority in both Houses of the Parliament.

I say quite frankly that I believe the Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to do his best, having, regard to all the factors operating with regard to the industry. 1 apply that remark also to the honorable . member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), who was then Minister for Labour and National Service. I do not think the miners' officials would deny that he did his best. He was reasonable and tolerant in his 'endeavours to set the mining industry on the road to increased .production, in order to meet the needs of the nation. He made appointments as Minister which I believe have been more than justified, although it is true that some of the men appointed by him to certain positions had been associated with the coal-mining industry: I cannot accept the conclusion reached by the Leader of the Opposition that, because a person has ' been associated with the industry, he cannot be a fair and tolerant judge in a dispute between mine-owners and their employees.. If those premises were" accepted, the workers of this country might question the wisdom of the appointment of some of the "judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. One notable example is that of Judge DrakeBrockman, for whom I have great personal respect, and before whom I have appeared on a number of occasions, as my colleague the Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) knows quite well, from his association with the court. Judge Drake.Brockman was appointed to the Bench by a Conservative government. . Fresh from the political arena, he was called upon to determine semi-political issues. That is what happened in the case of a number of members of the judiciary. The present Chief Justice of the High Court went straight to the Bench from this Parliament. Immediately on relinquishing violent political conflict, he proceeded to make determinations on matters which have a great bearing on the political issues of to-day. I do not accept the contention that judges will act unfairly and not impartially if they have been associated . with a- political party, or an industry whose activities they may bc called upon to investigate. If I thought that, 1 would . condemn many a appointments made by previous governments.

I' have pointed, out that during the time when the government led by the present Leader of the Opposition had complete power, and when some of his supporters claimed that it had scored a victory over the coal-miners, the victory resolved itself into a 'reduction of coal production. By his- failure to settle the strike in New South "Wales, coal production fell by 900,0.00 tons, and all coal reserves in Australia were depleted at a time when we were entering upon a long and bitter war. That was the period when the- present tragic- downward slide in the industry commenced; If that was a victory, then let me say that, with a few more such victories, this country would have been in the possession of the

Japanese. The best that can be said of it is that it was a- pyrrhic victory. As for- the owners, many of them are decent citizens just as are the miners, but the fact that when trouble arises, whether from the action of some autocratic owner or- manager, or from any other reason, they do band together, and then there is a revival of the feuds and bitterness that have existed in the mining industry for years. It is also true that, on the side of the miners, whether they be rightor wrong in a dispute,' providing some of their number believe that they have suffered an injustice, the miners as a body will band together, and we have once more the , same bitterness and hostility. The real problem is how "to create in the coal industry an entirely different psychology,, a changed outlook among those associated with the industry. Let it be remembered that the coal-miners are the only persons who can produce coal. This was proved conclusively in 1.917, when 400 . free workers were brought from Victoria, and employed in the mines controlled by J. and A. Brown. The experiment proved to be an. absolute failure. It was even found necessary to pay compensation to that firm for the damage 'done by the free labour. Six months later, every one of those men who had been brought from Victoria and promised full employment was tossed out, and the striking miners put back, because it had been proved that the new-comers could not do the job. How are we to develop this new psychology in the industry, so' that the public, who are now the victims of the feuds, the hostility and the bitterness, may no longer be. crushed between the opposing forces?

Mr Archie Cameron - And the people are becoming fed up with it, too.

Mr CHIFLEY - They have been fed up with it for a good while. When the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was a member ' of a previous government the same sort of thing was going on. I have had some indirect association with coal-miners. When I look back over the 1920's and 1930's, I remember that the miners were, sometimes very glad to get even two days' Goal cutting in the week. They approached the Railways Commissioner and other authorities, and asked them to spread their contracts so that .the miners might get at least two days' work a week. At that time, nobody in this country cared what happened to the miners whether they lived or died, whether they were in work or on the dole, or whether they lived in little coal-mining villages with no amenities. There, were stocks of coal accumulated everywhere, and no one was concerned over the plight of the miners. The experiences of those times engendered great bitterness among the miners, and we are reaping now the harvest that was sown then; There was a time when the coal-miners got up in the morning and waited to hear if the whistle blew before they knew if they were to go to work or spend another idle day. The miners then were subject to the whims and. sudden decisions of those who owned the mines, and who. produced coal solely for profit, being completely unmindful of what happened to the miners. 'I have al] along said to the coal-miners that the best form of discipline would be that imposed by the miners' federation itself, not only on individuals responsible for trivial stoppages, but also on lodge members. The reply of federation officials was that many of the stoppages which appeared to be trivial were really, the result of pent-up dissatisfaction with the conditions under which the men had to work and live; that they were, in fact, merely symptoms of a great sickness in the industry ' itself. I know that many mine executives and owners are completely fair and impartial in their treatment of. their employees. They try to be just, although they must, of course, carry out ' the directions of their . employers. However, the violently militant miners and the violently hostile Tory section of the mine-owners have between them created a problem which appears to be insoluble.

The Leader of the Opposition . mentioned what has happened in the United Kingdom, and I point out that there have been great troubles in the mining industry there also. Let me read the following extract from the Adelaide News: -

LoNDoN. Monday. - Official returns issued by the Ministry of Labour disclose that more time and production were lost through strikes last year than in any of the past twelve years says the Daily Express.

Until the end of November more than 3,048,000 days were lost in 1944 involving more than 500,000 workers in 2,000 strikes.

Disputes caused a loss of 2,440,000 working days in the coal-mining industry compared with 824,000 days in the corresponding period of 1943.

Unrest in the mining industry is not peculiar to Australia ; it exists all over the world. The British Government, in an endeavour to remove those who are not rendering the best service, are drafting 30,000 men from the mines, some to other jobs, and those under 30 into the army. I speak now with a complete realization that the task of regenerating the mining industry is a colossal one. I confess that I do not expect this bill to cure the troubles of the coal-mining industry in a day, or to bring about immediately a changed outlook on the part of the people who are responsible for cutting coal. I regard it as a first step in the regeneration of the coal-mining industry - a process which will not be completed to-morrow, or even next year, but may continue "for decades, during which our expanding economy will continue to make more and more demands for coal for industrial and domestic purposes. That is the real object of the bill. The Government is making an honest and sincere attempt to reorganize the industry completely, and it hopes that early in the process of re-organization there will become evident a changed outlook on the part of many now ' associated with coalmining. We may not get immediate results, but the Government believes that, in the long run, its proposals for reorganizing the coal-mining industry will benefit not only' the miners who cut the coal but also the general public who now suffer from want of coal.

I turn now to the remarks of the Leader of the . Opposition' regarding mechanization. I have said publicly, and I have told the miners and their leaders, and others, that, in my opinion, the mechanization of coal mines is inevitable. Mechanization cannot be held up for want of funds, for the Government is determined that financial considerations shall not prevent the carrying out of a complete re-organization of coal-mining in this country. Honorable members opposite may say that mechanization has been opposed by the coal-miners. That is true.

The miners have opposed mechanization in the past, but I do not think 'that their opposition to it is so strong as it was. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), whose spiritual home is among the miners, and who knows more about the cutting of coal than does any other member of this Parliament, has examined this problem in other parts of the world. As the result of his investigations, he now recommends mechanization. The honorable member has been convinced' that only by mechanization can better conditions be provided for men working in coal-mines.

Mr McEwen - The honorable member for Hunter opposed mechanization for years. , *

Mr CHIFLEY - It is better to turn from wrong views than to continue to hold them. We should give to the honorable member for Hunter credit for having the courage to change his opinion, rather than stick in the same old rut all his life, merely because a false pride would not permit him to make a change. Miners have opposed mechanization, but their opposition to it is not so strong to-day as it was in the 'past. Would honorable members expect miners to favour mechanization .when, even without it; they could obtain work for only two or three days a week ? Was it likely that they would support mechanization if its effect would be to throw more of them out of work? No reasonable man would expect coal-miners to- favour mechanization at a time when thousands of miners could not get even part-time employment. I do not profess to speak for the miners' leaders, or even for the general body of coal-miners, but I believe that they still entertain fears that mechanization may reduce the number of workers in the mines by from 25 to 30 per cent. In my electorate there are some small coal-mines, which support a community of, say, 500 or 600 people. The only activity in such towns is coalmining. Many of the people who live there have been associated with coalminers for 20 or 30 years. They have built their homes there, and have reared their families in the district. All their associations are there. If the mines were mechanized and, say, 200 men were forced to engage in new industries and make their homes somewhere else, necessitating the disposal of their present homes at .& sacrifice, their objection to mechanization would be understandable. I believe that they are wrong in their outlook; but that is their firm belief. And so, when mechanization is advocated they ask, not unreasonably, that other industries shall be established in coal-mining districts, so that any coal-miners who may be thrown out of employment can find other jobs without having to leave their homes and their friends.- They ask that arrangements be made to ensure that they will be continued in employment. They believe that the cost of mechanization should be borne by the whole community and not by only one section of it. They are justified in asking whether provision is being made along those lines. I realize that revolutionary changes cannot be made without some disturbance of existing conditions, but those most directly affected are entitled to ask for some protection. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the drafting of legislation of this kind is most difficult, as it involves an agreement between two governments. Mr. McKell, the Premier of New . South Wales, has, been most helpful and cooperative in bringing this legislation to its present state. ' It is only right that I should say also that the Minister for Mines in that State, Mr. Baddeley, has been most helpful. As honorable members know Mr. Baddeley and I have had differences of opinion about coal from time to time, but I would be failing in my duty if I did not give him .credit for his co-operation in regard to this bill. Both Mr. McKell and Mr. Baddeley have done their best to ensure that this legislation shall be satisfactory. As honorable members know, complementary legislation will have to be passed by the New South Wales legislature before the proposed reorganization of the coal-mining industry can be effected.

The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the authority proposed to be set up under this bill. I have discussed this matter with the Premier of New South Wales, and I can say that it is the wish of his Government, as well as of the Commonwealth Government, that the proposed board shall consist of three of the best men obtainable, and that they shall be entirely independent of any association of miners or mine-owners. It is desired that they shall, if possible, completely reorganize the coal-mining industry, introduce .. mechanization, provide more amenities, for those associated with the industry, and generally carry out whatever measures are necessary for its more efficient working. It is all very well for people who sit in comfortable armchairs to denounce the sins of the coal-miners who. over the decades have worked in the dust-laden air of the south, coast mines of New South "Wales. Large numbers of them have become incapacitated through " dusted " lungs and have been thrown on to the industrial scrap heap. Hundreds have died directly as the result of conditions in the industry in which they have been engaged. I do not wish to indulge in any heroics about this matter. I do not suggest that the coal-miners, generally speaking, have not fared reasonably well as far as remuneration is concerned. Certainly they do not get too much, and possibly they may not get enough. I have not formed any judgment on that matter; but I know the conditions that have existed in the past few, decades in the mines. even in my own district. As I have said, the authority that is to be set up. by this measure to control the coal-mining industry, will be composed of men of the highest ability, and ' of diversified experience. The , Leader of the .Opposition spoke about the Coal Industrial Tribunal. . Apparently he found one virtue in it, namely, that the person to be appointed to constitute the tribunal shall be a lawyer. I assume that that provision will also receive the applause of other legal members of the House.

Mr Menzies - That depends upon the lawyer appointed.

Mr CHIFLEY - Does . the right honorable member suggest that there are sinners also amongst lawyers?

Mr Menzies - My word there are.

Mr CHIFLEY - If members of the legal profession, with all their training, are deficient in some qualities of citizenship, how can we expect the miners to be perfect ?' There is nothing unusual in what is proposed in this bill. Even the Commonwealth Public Service has' an independent arbitrator, and that was not the work of this Government. I do not wish for a moment to attribute all the troubles of the coalmining industry either to mine-owners or to the miners. There is. a peculiar psychology in that industry and people like myself with limited experience find difficulty in explaining the reason for all the ill-feeling, bitterness and frustration ; that is exhibited. Apparently those thoughts are experienced .not only by the miners, because I gather from what the Leader of the Opposition has said, that the owners, too, feel rather frustrated. This bill is a honest attempt to place the whole future of this industry in the hands of a competent body of men representing neither the miners nor the' mine-owners. The board will have the widest possible power in regard to the provision of amenities, Health measures, production and mechanization. It will not be stinted for finance in carrying out the measures that it believes to be necessary for an adequate re-organization of the industry. I do not suggest that this proposal will not cost the Commonwealth a considerable sum of money ; but surely the assured production of adequate coal to meet our expanding industrial needs is worth many millions of pounds to us. If that objective be achieved, I shall not regret having listened to what the Leader of the Opposition said about this bill to-night.

The Leader of the Opposition complained because the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales were to exercise political control over the board._ I say quite frankly that the party to which I belong will not set up any authority which may" become in itself a complete autocracy. This matter was . fully discussed when the Commonwealth Bank Bill was before this House last year. On that occasion, the right honorable gentleman said that if his party were returned to power at some future date he would restore the Commonwealth Bank Board. Under this bill, control will be exercised only in regard to matters of high policy. There will be no political interference with details of -administra1 tion. Does the right honorable gentleman imagine for a moment that a Prime Minister of this country, or a Premier of New South Wales- taking them generally since the early clays, they have not been of an irresponsible- type - would be guilty of irresponsible actions which would undermine the power of an ' authority set up to cure what appears to be an almost incurable state of affairs in the coal-mining industry? Years ago, as the honorable member for Darling. (Mr. Clark) knows, Broken Hill was a centre of serious industrial unrest; however, because of the outlook adopted by the management of the mines, and the discipline imposed upon mine-workers by their own organizations, that city to-day is one of the finest examples of the har- mony that can be achieved in industrial relations by co-operation and. by legislation designed to improve working conditions. What we are aiming at to-day is the- re-organization of this industry in a way that will benefit this country long after many of us have passed from the political stage.

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