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
Tuesday, 30 July 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - The House has listened to one of the most extraordinary statements it has ever heard from a Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) made a closely reasoned analysis of this bill and of the second-reading speech by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr! Dedman ) ; but, in reply, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) did not answer one point that had been' raised. He merely accused the Leader of the Opposition of being partisan and of being a. tory. In his opening remarks the Prime Minister said that the miners were the only people who could produce coal, and asked, since they were decent citizens, what caused them to behave as they did. He did not answer his own question; but Mr. Justice Davidson in his report answered it very plainly. On page 1 of the Summary of Recommendations, he stated - '

Especially in the northern and southern districts of New South Wales discipline is almost non-existent among miners . who are members of the miners' federation or are within its immediate sphere of influence. Discipline is observed by miners who are not members of the miners' federation or who are

i.   remote from its influence and generally also, by mine-workers' in mines that are mechanized.

The Prime Minister must have known that that was the answer to his question! The cause, of much of the trouble in the coal-mines of Australia does not lie with the miners themselves but with the Communistcontrolled body, the miners' federation. In an extraordinary reply to the Leader of the Opposition who asked why the recommendations of Mr. JusticeDavidson had not been adopted by 'the Government, the Prime Minister said that after careful examination the legal officers of the Government had advised that the inherent constitutional weaknesses in them would make them unworkable. Is. it suggested that such an eminent jurist as Mr. Justice Davidson is of inferior calibre to the legal advisers of the Government? Mr. Justice Davidson is a distinguished member of the Supreme Court" Bench of New South Wales, and has been trusted by governments throughout the Commonwealth, irrespective of their political colour, to inquire into and report upon the coal industry. He' was chairman of the Royal Commission on the Coal Industry in 1929 and 1930. In 1938-39 he sat as chairman of an inquiry into the safety - and health of workers in coal mines and presented a voluminous report to the government of New South Wales. That report, unlike the present one, was not kept in cold-storage, but was immediately printed, and circulated so that members of the Parliament and the people should, have an opportunity to read it. In 1945 he was appointed by the present Government as a board of inquiry _ to inquire into the coal industry. Having regard, to his high legal qualifications and long experience in matters pertaining to that industry, it seems extraordinary that his" recommendations should .have been completely repudiated by the Government. The reason is apparent; it did not like the tenor of his recommendations and is fearful of standing up to them. The Prime Minister referred to the heritage of hate which had been handed down through the ages' in the coal-mining industry. The members of the. Government and the Prime Minister himself, however, have done very little to dissipate that hate. On the contrary they have fanned the embers and brought about greater hostility between the mine-owners and the miners in order to gain .political advantages. The right honorable gentleman traversed the history of earlier governments in their dealings with the coalmining industry, pointing out the strong action of other governments when similar troubles to those now confronting the industry brought coal production to a low ebb. The whole tenor of the right honorable gentleman's remarks seemed to indicate that, in his opinion, governments which attempted to take strong action in an endeavour to bring about industrial peace in the coal-mining industry were defeated at the following general elections and, accordingly that on no account whatever must the Government of which he is the leader take any action which might prejudice its success ' at the forthcoming elections. A government which is prepared to sacrifice the interests of the nation . because of fear of its political fate is recreant to the trust imposed in it by the people, and I trust that the people will record their reaction when they go to the polls on the 28th September and deal with the Government as it deserves. Peace in the coal-mining industry is desired, I am sure, by 90 per cent, of the coal-miners themselves; they want continuity of employment instead of a series of disastrous strikes which have profited . them nothing and have brought them into disrepute throughout the length and breadth of the country. The right honorable gentleman also referred to what he described as the desperate, position of the coal-mining industry during the regime of the Menzies Government, when the coal stocks of the New South Wales Railways Department fell from 170,000 to 30,000 tons. In July, 1942, shortly after this Government came into office, the State Statistician estimated that the total stocks of coal in New South Wales' amounted to 1,062,000 tons, but by 1945 they had dropped to 69,000 tons, a loss of almost 1,000,000 tons. To-day coal stocks in that State would fall far short of that figure. Recently we had the spectacle of the Premier of South Australia coming to Canberra begging for coal to keep the factories, industries and lighting undertakings in production in his State. - Only recently an urgent wireless message was sent to a collier at sea asking the captain to put on more speed in order that the vessel might arrive in Adelaide a few hours earlier, and thus save the electricity and gas supplies of that city from com'plete failure. In a speech of pathos and bathos, the Prime Minister said that during the depression of the 'thirties the coal-miners were not the friends of anybody and that no one desired to look after them. But I recollect that the non-Labour government under the leadership of the late Mr. Lyons provided funds to assist unemployment relief in New South Wales and established an unemployment relief committee, upon which I had the honour to sit, for the purpose of allocating moneys in the- provision of relief works in areas where the greatest unemployment existed. One of those areas was that which is represented in this House by the Prime Minister himself, namely, the coal-mining district of Lithgow. The right honorable gentleman said that it was for the miners' federation itself to discipline its members, but at the same time he added that the federation had informed him that what 'appeared to be merely minor matters were regarded by the federation as affecting vital issues and until they were adjusted it was not prepared to discipline' its members. I have read what Mr. Justice Davidson said about the inability of the federation to discipline its members. During the term of office of the late Labour Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, we heard of the " Canberra code" which was to form the basis of. peace in the coal-mining industry and for breaches of which the federation was to discipline its members. However, that code was completely futile >and nothing eventuated from it. The Prime Minister has told us to-night -that the good conditions that exist on the Broken Hill metalliferous mine-fields had been brought about as the result of the efforts of the union leaders in disciplining their members. But the trouble with the miners' federation is that it is rotten with communism, and, as Mr. Justice Davidson said, the leadership of the federation is weak and divided, whilst political antagonism exists between miners who are Communists and those who oppose the doctrines and activities of Communists. Mr. L. Sharkey, who is secretary of the Communist party of Australia, in his book Trade Unions, says -

The Communists regard the State-controlled Arbitration system as a pernicious, antiworking class institution, whose objective is to keep the workers shackled to the capitalistic state.

He goes on to say that the Communists will do all they can to smash the arbitration system. Why does not the Prime Minister do what the members of the Labour party say that they are going to do in the unions? Why does he not force out the Communists, and put out of the industry the taxi-cab drivers, billiardmarkers and dog-trainers, instead of allowing that very small proportion of men in the industry to bring the country to the verge of the precipice of industrial and economical disaster?

Mr Anthony - They will have to get a new Prime Minister.

Mr ABBOTT - Honorable members opposite might do worse than that. It is useless to have a Prime Minister who sits over a fire puffing his pipe, refusing to do anything to bring the miners to a sense of reason, or persuade them to produce coal which is the lifeblood of the nation's industries. The Prime Minister said that he told the representatives of the miners' federation that mechanization must come and that the Government would not see it stopped by financial considerations. Why did he nottell those gentlemen the facts, that the only thing that prevents the introduction of mechanization is the stubbornness of the Minister for Mines in New South Wales, Mr. J. M. Baddeley, who refuses to grant the permission to mechanize, under a section recently added to the New South Wales Coal Mines Act? The Prime Minister then became rather timid, believing, apparently, that he had expressed himself too frankly about mechanization. He began a long rigmarole about the fears of the coalminers regarding the effect of mechanization upon their employment. He told us a pathetic story about people on the coal-fields losing their employment, and being forced out of the industry. The plain fact of the matter is that employment has not been reduced in the coal-mining industry in New South

Wales as the result of mechanization. The tonnage of coal mechanically filled rose- from 619,000 tons in 1938 to 2,168,000 tons in 1945 and the numbers of men employed in the mines rose from 15,815 to 17,427 in the same period. Thus, there is no reason to be afraid that mechanization will cause unemployment. Despite what the Prime Minister has said about mechanization not being opposed by mine workers and union officials, Mr. Justice Davidson in his report stated -

Whilst the miners' federation officially now supports the installation of machines, many mine workers and union officials, although expressing agreement, offer active and passive resistance to a successful operation of the units.

He then went on to give the reasons why they did so, and one of those reasons was that they feared loss of employment and that greater output would give to the employers more profits, whilst mine workers would receive less wages. Mechanization, they said, would increase the danger of accidents in high pillars. Mr. Justice Davidson continued -

These claims cannot be supported because - (a) Whilst mechanization causes' reclassification of duties there is no necessity for dismissals.

(b)   On this phase of the matter, undertakings have been given by proprietors of large collieries that there will be no dismissals of existing employees owing to increased mechanization.

(c)   Efforts will also be made to protect the rights of employees by a statutory authority. "

(d)   Although the amount capable of being earned by miners in a shift may be greater by manual work, regular wages of appropriate amount should ensure a larger annual income with more regular and less arduous work.

With regard to the danger of accidents under mechanization, Mr. Justice Davidson, not once, but many times in his report, stressed the fact that under mechanization the accident rate fell.

Mr Anthony - Mechanization would bring about better working conditions.

Mr ABBOTT - Yes. Mr. Justice Davidson also pointed out that following the use of mechanical -loaders in one large mine in New South Wales the accident rate fell by 30 per cent. Therefore, what the Prime Minister said with regard to the fears of the coal-miners concerning mechanization is unfounded. It is a pity he mentioned it, because he was then trying to soft-soap the miners after advocating the introduction of mechanization. He then said that he would not be a party to sotting up an autocracy above the executive by handing over certain powers to any body free from executive control. The Prime Minister is like Don Quixote, a perfect hero in. front of a windmill. He charges at it and sticks his lance through the sails; then withdraws his lance and charges once more. But the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) suggested that there should not be interference with a body which was set up by the Parliament. The policy for that body should be laid down by the Parliament, and the Parliament alone should be the' body to dismiss its members, and, if necessary, lay down a fresh' policy for the handling of problems in the industry. If any proposed body is simply to be under the direction of the Prime Minister, or a Premier of a State, it will mean that the executive will be given authority independent of the Parliament, that the Parliament will be stultified and the people will have no idea of what the Government is doing in the industry.

Mr Anthony - It is socialization by stealth.

Mr ABBOTT - It is .straight-out socialization. Why the Government should set up any authority at all when it intends to use it as a mask to give effect to the Government's ideas in the coal industry, or an'y other industry, I do- not know. But the Government's practice, as I remarked a week ago, is as old as the hills. It was expounded by Machiav'elli in his book The Prince. The Government merely proposes to set up a facade, in order to enable the Prime Minister and the Premier of New. South Wales to rule the industry as autocrats.

Sir EARLE Page - The. members of- the proposed body will be puppets.

Mr ABBOTT - The Government' merely proposes to create a facade of various tribunals which will operate just when the Prime Minister, or the Premier of New South Wales, pulls the strings. The Prime Minister then went on in a lofty way to say that it was unthinkable that a Prime Minister, or a Premier of a State, would perform any irresponsible act. I do not want to drag up the dead past; but I have a recollection of other days when the Prime Minister opposed Mr. J. T. Lang, who was then Premier of New South Wales, as a candidate for the State seat of Auburn. I should imagine that I would not be allowed to repeat in this chamber what the Prime Minister said about Mr. Lang on that occasion, because it would be ' unparliamentary. But we can have bad Prime Ministers and bad Premiers. In those days Mr. Lang was considered a. bad Premier. Some people may think Mr. McKell is a bad Premier and that he too may do the same sort of thing as Lang did. The protection of the people that they fought through the ages to get is the protection of having the powers proposed to be exercised in this matter exercised by the Parliament and not exercised in a hole-and-corner way by the Executive without the Parliament and the people knowing anything about what is being done.

I agree with the Leader of the. Opposition that the second-reading speech of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) was one of the most specious pieces of effrontery ever delivered in this House. The speech was designed to camouflage the weakness and inaction of the Government.

Mr Anthony - There is not much camouflage about it. It was a flagrant exhibition of-the Government's weakness. .

Mr ABBOTT - I agree.' The Minister said that between the years 1942 and 1945 permitted consumption of coal had exceeded production by 1,700,000 tons. One would think that this great ruler was going to let the Australian people have only a certain amount of coal, that consumption was increasing so rapidly that they would have to sit in their rooms in winter without fires to warm them. What he might have added to give an accurate picture was that coal production in New South Wales fell in that period by 2,000,000 tons, although coal won by open-cut methods increased by 500,000 tons and the number of men employed in the industry in New South Wales increased from 17,101 to 17,427. So it was a matter not of increased consumption but of decreased production, for, in 1945, 2,300,000 tons of coal was lost in New South Wales through strikes. It is interesting to note that in 1945 in Great Britain there were 700,000 employees in the coal-mines and that 1,000,000 tons of coal was lost through strikes. So, for every ton of coal lost, through strikes by individual employees in Great Britain 130 tons was lost per employee in New South Wales. Are there no hardships in the Coal-mines of Great Britain? Of course there are! Is there hot a legacy of hatred between coal-miners and coal-owners in Great Britain? Of course there is! The reason for the disparity is that the coa. miners of Great Britain have not allowed themselves to be led astray by a Communist minority as have the coal-miners of New South Wales. Mr. Justice Davidson reported -

At present the coal-mining industry is drifting directly towards disaster.

He said that if there were not discipline in the industry, that if it could not straighten itself up,' or be straightened up, and that if the men engaged in it were not allowed to work instead of being hauled out of the mines by irresponsible elements, before ten years elapsed Australia would be in a depression of the first magnitude. It is utterly wrong that 17,000 coal-miners, no, not even 17,000 coal-miners, only a small proportion of them, should be allowed to put a stranglehold on the people of Australia and prevent the- industrial development so necessary if Australia's destiny is to be achieved. Particularizing the way in which the coal-miners' leaders are affecting Australia's economy, I cite the fact that owing to the insufficiency of coal to keep the rolling-stock of New South Wales moving,, stock-owners in the drought-stricken western district of that State are not able to move their stock to pastures or to bring in fodder. As the result thousands of sheep are dying and thousands of cattle will die before the winter ends. Many men who have worked as hard in their line as the coal-miners work in theirs will be' ruined in consequence. Their :stock and their solvency would be saved if it were possible either to shift their stock or to. bring in fodder.

The Minister in charge of the bill claimed that the mines have not the capacity to produce sufficient coal to meet Australia's requirements. He set out that the demand for black coal " in 1946-47 would be 14,500,000 tons and that the likely demand in 1949-50 would be 16,500,000 tons. The present annual capacity of the mines in New South Wales, on the figure for 1945, i.s 12,537,000 tons. That figure includes the 2,300,000 tons that was lost owing to strikes. In 1942 Queensland produced 1,600,000, Victoria 313,000 and Western Australia 5S0,000 tons. That gives the total of 15,030,000 tons. Black coal obtained by the open-cut method in the first quarter of 1946 indicated that if the production be maintained throughout the year, a further 200,000 tons can be added to the capacity figure for New South Wales in 1.945. That gives us an annual capacity of 15,230,000 tons, on the present oneshift system, which is 730,000 tons more than that required, according to the Minister, for 1946-47 and only 1,270,000 tons less than the likely demand in 1949-50. A second shift in some mines would mean that all the requirements of black coal for ' the next five years could easily be met. The industry needs a shortterm policy as well as a long-term one. It is the most vital industry in Australia. The Minister said in his second-reading speech that there was the incapacity of an individualistic industry to re-organize itself, but from 1938, the last pre-war year, coal mined by mechanical processes' increased from 619,491' tons to 2,585,000 tons in 1942, an increase of ,1,966.000 tons, but that production fell by 400,000 tons, in 1945. That fall occurred when the Labour party was in office, and itshows the detrimental effect that Labour rule has had on coal production in Australia. The Minister went on to say that the loss of working clays was not solely due to strikes and that the breakdown of obsolete mining gear was often responsible. Loss of production through breakdowns of machinery does not amount to 1 per cent, of the total production lost per annum. He proceeded to point out that accidents in mines were another cause of economic loss; yet Mr. Justice Davidson stated that in coal-mining areas in other countries, mechanization had reduced the incidence of accidents. In one mechanized mine, the accident rate had dropped by 30 per cent. Attention was directed to the fact that between 60 per cent, and 70 per cent, of the coal was left in pillars after the first working. But the use of mechanical loaders as an aid to pillar extraction, except with the approval of the Minister for Mines, is prohibited by an act of the New South Wales Parliament. The Minister for Mines consistently refuses to give his approval.

The Prime Minister said that the Leader of the Opposition had not made any suggestion for remedying the situation. 1 remind the right honorable gentleman that Mr. Justice Davidson made many recommendations . in his report. For example, he pointed out that one of the causes of the great loss of coal production was the lack of discipline in the industry, and that strikes were not due to either the management or the owners. He -said that the flouting of awards or orders of industrial tribunals was an every-day occurrence, with strikes and stoppages as a concomitant. 'He stated that discipline would be quickly restored if governments would decisively affirm without' qualification, and support unreservedly, the rulings of the courts. How often have the rulings of the courts been trimmed down by the Government? How often will those rulings be varied or departed from if this Government or the Minister alone has power to instruct the Coal Industry Tribunal what it shall or shall not do? I agree with the comment of His Honour; if this Government had stood solidly behind the Arbitration Court,- instead of hamstringing and betraying it all the time, the industrial unrest experienced on the coal-fields of New South Wales during the last six years would have been greatly reduced.

The bill vests in a judicial body certain authority, but that proposal will not be effective so long as the Government will not help the tribunal to exercise the power entrusted to it.1 Nominally, the Czar of all the Russians had absolute power, but that fact did not save him from destruction. The establishment of the proposed authority under this bill will not save Australia from perishing in a whirl of economic disaster if the Government will not use its powers to enforce discipline in .the coal-mining industry, as it enforces the law against citizens who break it, or refuse to obey the awards of the Arbitration Court. Is not an employer who breaks .an award of an industrial tribunal dealt with most severely? But the leaders of the coalminers do as they please. The average coal-miner does not want to do the things that his leaders force him to do. Those leaders flout the laws of the country with impunity, and this weak-kneed Government will not do anything to stop them.

Mr. JusticeDavidson laid down four basic requirements for increased production. The first was the preservation of discipline in industry. The second was confidence in the sanctity of agreements and the efficiency of the law. The Government can do a great, deal to help in that respect. The third was that proper statistics should be published of coal production and consumption in Australia. The fourth was the development . of mechanization and proper housing. The bill does not provide any means to give effect to those four simple essentials. The long-range policy which I believe is necessary to ensure increased production should also follow the recommendations of His Honour. I refer to mechanization of industry, and the abolition of contract work. , Those recommendations cannot be given effect overnight. They must be introduced gradually, because, at present, Australian industries are not capable of making the necessary machinery, and it is not at present available in other countries. Regarding improved housing conditions, I was interested to note that Mr. Justice Davidson stated -

At Muswellbrook and Kandos in New South Wales living amenities are admirable, but- on the contrary they are seen at their worst in the State mine of Collinsville, Queensland.

It is peculiar that often, a government displays almost harshness in looking after its own employees, because administrative control is usually centred a great distance away, and the civil servants responsible are often not interested in the conditions' of the employees. Consequently, deplorable conditions will occur as at Collinsville, in Queensland..

I do not propose to discuss 'the clauses of the bill at length, because the Leader of the Opposition has already analysed them thoroughly, but I contend that unless this Government supports the authority of the Arbitration Court, shows some strength and places the interests of Australia before .its own selfish interests in the forthcoming elections, this country is bound, as His Honour forecast,- for a disastrous period and an economic depression. I should like the Minister to explain one clause of the bill which is puzzling me. The measure provides that the chairman of the Joint Coal Board will be ex officiochairman of the shale and coal-miners' pension tribunal. It is well known that the shale and coal-miners' pension fund is bankrupt. According to actuarial calculations, it is on the wrong side of the ledger by an amount of £10,000,000. I ask the Minister to inform me whether the clause provides that the Commonwealth shall guarantee that fund, and make itself liable eventually for the payment of £10,000,000? If so, I have no difficulty in understanding why the people are not being granted' the reductions of taxes which justice and equity demand for them. The Prime Minister said that honorable members on this side of the chamber had not submitted any constructive proposals for increasing the production of coal. We have studied the report of Mr. Justice Davidson, whom this Government entrusted to investigate conditions in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales. For years, His Honour conducted exhaustive researches into the industry, and we stand firmly and strongly for his recommendations. We cannot understand why the Government does not adopt them. .

Suggest corrections