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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr MORGAN (Reid) .- This bill is to provide means for securing and maintaining ' adequate supplies of coal throughout Australia and for regulating and improving the industry in the State of New South Wales. The proposal is to implement an agreement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales, under which each government is to take measure's for securing and maintaining adequate supplies of coal to meet the need for that commodity throughout Australia, and in trade with other countries, for providing for the regulation and improvement of the coal industry in New South Wales, and for other matters relating to the production, supply and distribution of coal. Provision is being made for the institution of better working conditions in the industry by the employment of modern equipment and up-to-date methods of operation. Social amenities are to be provided for the workers, and the housing conditions are to be improved.' The agreement relates to the coal mines in New South Wales, which represent 80 per cent, of the coal mines in Australia. A deadlock has been reached in the conduct of this indu's- try. The coal owners have not been able to break it, and the miners federation has appealed to the Government to take the initiative. The community as a whole is tired of being jammed between the warring factions. The Daily Mirror recently published an interview with a well-known identity in the industry who is associated with the propietors - Mr. Bernard Kirton, chairman of Excelsior

Collieries Limited, on the south coast of New South Wales. It reads -

Improved working and better living conditions, and the elimination of incorrigible " in mines would help solve unrest in the coal industry. '

This is the viewof the chairman of Excelsior Collieries Ltd., South Coast, Mr. B. Kirton. " I do not see that any good will ever come nut of employers and employees continuing to fight like Kilkenny cats," said Mr. Kirton. About 10 per cent, of the miners are most difficult individuals, unreasonable and incorrigible. If they cannot find somebody to fight they, will fight their own shadows, and the only way out, in my opinion, is that there must be some get-together of employers and the other 90 per cent, of miners who, taken as a body, are good types of men. It does not matter who brings it about - the Government, the coal owners, or the miners federation.

I regard the bill as an evolutionary step in the institution of a better system for the control of the coal industry. This might be achieved in one of three ways - by government control of private ownership; by government ownership by means of nationalization of the coal mines; or by a co-operative scheme. This lastmentioned method, should be given a trial, because it has proved a success in other parts of the world, notably in New Zealand. It has been admitted that the great body of the coal-minersand the mine-owners are decent people. If we analyse the causes of all the troubles in the industry, we may find that for even the extremists something may be said. The owners who hold extreme views are well able to lookafter themselves, because they have wealth, and the assistance of a powerful press which will always take up the cudgels on their behalf. Mining superintendentJ. Johnson, of J. and A. Brown collieries, one of the largest of the coal-mining concerns, has said that the continueal writing-up by the press of strikes on the coal-fields has created in the industry a state of mass hysteria, and is designed to bring about the very conditions of which complaint is made. It gives rise to a form of auto-suggestion in the minds of those who are engaged in the industry. An analysis of the conditions in the industry and its history, in New South Wales and Great Britain may give an inkling the real causes of the state of mind of the so-called irresponsibles. In this regard, a poem that has been brought to my notice reads -

They have toasted with a thousand toasts, all sorts and styles of men,

From the gallant soldier at the front, to the man who wields the pen;

But they've missed one honest fellow, and I'm raising now a kick

That they didn t make a mention, of the " man behind the pick ".

Consideration of the history of the industry reveals that the situation with which we are' now confronted is the culmination of the struggle for emancipation from a form of slavery that has been more soul-destroying than even the slavery imposed on the galley slaves of olden days. The men who worked in the holds of ships were chained, and so were those who went down into the bowels of the earth day in and day out to provide the fuel required by the community. Those who engaged in the coal industry in Great Britain in earlier days were helpless in the hands of the forebears of the modern coal barons. They were ignorant of what rights they possessed, and being economically weak were exploited by the controllers of the industry at that time, just as the coal-miners to-day are being exploited in many ways. Even' young children and women were sent down into the mines. Not until some years later was a royal commission appointed to investigate the employment of women and children in the mines. A work entitled Lays and Talesof the Mines. by Arthur Wilson, embodies in an appen- . dix evidence that was placed before a royal commission appointed in Great Britain in 1842. I quote passages from it-

Betty Wardle: "I have worked in a pit since I was six years old. I have had four children : two of them were born while I worked in the pits. I worked in the pits whilst I was in the family way.I had a child born in the pits, and I brought it up the pitshaft in my shirt."

The Sub-Commissioner: "The child is harnessed by abelt, or chain to the waggon : the two children behind assist in pushing it forward."

Occurrences suchas those have been responsible for the bitterness that exists in the industry to-day. The coal-miners regard as traditional, resistance of all reforms by those who own and control the coal mines, not only in Great Britain but also in this country.

Reforms such as improvement of the ventilation and the lighting of mines have not been obtained without a great deal of agitation on the part of the miners, but new menaces have appeared. One is the disease known as mystaginus, which causes total or partial blindness. Another serious danger is the presence of inflammable gases. Years of agitation and much loss of life were experienced before safety measures were installed. In 1880, over 80 miners were blasted to eternity at the Old Bulli colliery, and ultimately a royal commission was appointed to investigate the clangers associated with the presence of inflammable gas in certain mines, particularly on the south coast. A royal commission was not appointed until 1902. When evidence was given before it in the court house at Wollongong, the manager of one of the mines declared in the witness box, in the course of cross-examination, that the property with which he was associated, the Mount Kembla mine, was one of the safest in New South Wales. The words had hardly been uttered when a loud explosion occurred, and that mine went up in smoke, nearly 200 miners losing their lives. Mr. Wilson further stated in his book -

The Mount Kembla (New South Wales) disaster took place at 2 p.m. on Thursday, the 31st July, 1002, when there were 230 men and boys at work. The force of the explosion was heard for miles around Kembla, and, as one old miner remarked', " It was like the report of a 100-ton dynamite charge." Scores of men and boys were killed outright, and evidences of its terrific nature were seen in the fact that many human limbs were discovered at distances of over one hundred yards away from the body, while one boy was blown into atoms.

The pent-up

There is now a modern rescue station on the south coast mining field, and safety lamps are provided in the mines, but what a price was paid for those reforms !

They were resisted, as was every other reform, by the great majority of those in control of the mines, and just as bitterly as some of the present political representatives of the employers will resist the bill now before us. [Quorum formed.]

The coal-miners have not been so well represented in the Parliament as have some other sections of the community. Certainly, from time to time, they have had a few parliamentary champions. In this chamber, for instance, we have the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who in season and out of season has fought to uphold the rights of the coal-miners and to improve their conditions of employment. The cost of making necessary improvements of the' industrial conditions of the coal-miners would be a mere. bagatelle, compared with the cost incurred by the Government in subsidizing rural industries. During the war period, they were subsidized to the amount of nearly £140,000,000. Those engaged on the land have always had ample representation in the Parliament. Whilst they work hard, they have a much healthier life than coal-miners, who have to go down into the bowels of the earth. Coal is the key to all industry, because on its production depends whether the wheels of industry shall keep moving or stop. Before we condemn the. miners, we should consider" the problems of the industry from their point of view, and discover the cause of their difficulties. To talk of disciplining the miners is just as ineffectual, and just as obsolete, as caning school children or youthful delinquents. Preventive measures should be applied. . [Quorum formed.']

A new menace has appeared on the coal-miners' horizon. It has been referred to as " dusted " lungs, the proper name being pneumoconiosis. As mining operations .extend into the mountain side on the south coast, the coal becomes softer, and dust is deposited on the miners' lungs. In the course of time their lungs become hard, and are described as lungs of coke. They are condemned to a slow death, which is said to be worse than death at the hands of the strangler's rone, because the process lasts for years. This is one of the things which has unsettled the minds of thos.! engaged in the industry on the south coast. This bill is designed to provide better working conditions, and to assist towards overcoming the dust problem.

The miners are entitled to a new deal. When the country was in dire straits, the miners joined the armed forces in their hundreds, although they were in a reserved occupation. Notwithstanding that, those who remained behind produced a record quantity of coal during the year when this country was in danger of invasion. By and large, they are just as good and just as bad as the citizens of the country generally. Even the problem of the irreconcilables can be overcome by the mechanization of the mines. With the provision of better conditions, the older men in the industry will probably need to work fewer hours and will have more opportunity to enjoy the sunshine and breathe pure air. The younger men will be able to turn to the occupations for which they are better fitted. Hitherto, they have remained in the industry because they followed the traditions of their families, but all the time they have been frustrated. Everybody has some creative ability, and everybody should have an opportunity to express it. To-day, the coal-mining industry in Australia is in a state of chaos, and some remedy must be found. The miners are embittered by past treatment, and are suspicious of the future. Many are leaving the industry, with the result that the number engaged in it is constantly diminishing. If this goes on the industry itself will cease to function. Therefore, the bill is designed to save the industry, and to improve the conditions of those engaged in it.







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