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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) . - This bill, as honorable members have pointed out, is one of very great importance. It is out of the rut of ordinary measures submitted to the Commonwealth Parliament. It is, indeed, a sign of the times. This measure was introduced by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) in a characteristic speech. Notwithstanding his aversion - displayed on many occasions, but particularly in that magnum opus of his, the bill for the "rehabilitation of ex-servicemen - to what he called " old history ", he fell back upon history and treated us to a moving narrative of the conditions, unlovely, uninviting, dangerous and unhealthy, under which coal-miners work. That narrative, dismal as it was, still fell short of the truth. The conditions under which coal-miners worked for generations were worse than anything the Minister described. The miner was a serf tied to the mine. He was paid a wretched pittance, housed in a squalid hovel, and fed like a dog or a beggar on bones thrown to him by the owner of the mine. He had no voice in making the laws under which he lived. He was denied the right to co-operate with his fellow workers to obtain redress. Those were the conditions which, for generations, obtained in the coal-mining industry, but those conditions are gone, and to-day the miner is no longer a hunted serf, a wretched outcast, an inferior gnawing a bone thrown to him as though he were a dog or a beggar. He sits now an unchallenged, if not an honoured, guest at the banquet table, and is, as we all have reason to know, a power in the land. The Minister would have us believe that this bill has been introduced in order to remedy the conditions which he says still exist in the industry. He has invited the House to believe that the Government has decided that it will no longer tolerate such conditions, and that it proposes to introduce such remedial measure as will make conditions in the coal-mining industry comparable with those in other industries. Of course, that is not the position at all. This measure has not been introduced because of any belated recognition by the Government of conditions in the coal-mining industry. It has beenintroduced because, and only because, of the acute shortage of coal, which has brought the whole industrial and social fabric of the country to a condition bordering on paralysis. We have been told in the press only this morning that the industrial activities of the important city of Adelaide have been brought to a standstill. A meeting representative of all sections of the community decided to close down industry for a week. Nature itself seems to be sympathetic with the coal-miners and has unloosed a gale which has prevented the arrival of colliers with supplies of coal. Only the other day, in Sydney, -we were told to prepare for a complete black-out, a complete suspension of all light and power services. . Coal is vital to- modern society because on it depends the whole industrial and economic life of this country. According to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), the miners are . the only people who can cut coal. That is true, but it is also true that they will not cut coal. That is the trouble. It is because of the effect that their refusal to cut coal would have upon the community, and upon the votes which will be cast at the forthcoming general elections, thatthis bill has been introduced. This measure is, as I have said, a sign of the times. The people of this country are long-suffering, but they are also intelligent; they can put two and two together. It does not require a high development of their mathematical faculties to apportion the blame for the present trouble. The people are suffering from restrictions in respect of lighting, heating and power; there is trouble in every household - and there is an election not far off. Therefore, honorable members opposite have to try to explain away their responsibility for the present situation, and the Government, realizing the imminence of the elections, has introduced a measure behind which it can shelter when appealing -to the electors. Government candidates will endeavour to . persuade the people that this legislation will put things right. But of course it will do nothing of the kind. The trouble does not arise from the things to which the Minister/ formerly had such an aversion, but to . which he now turns with the faith of a devotee making abeisance before his favorite shrine; it arises because the miners refuse to cut coal in adequate quantities. We are told that this bill will change everything, but it will not touch the basic cause of the acute shortage of coal; that is the only thing that, at the moment, concerns this Parliament, the Government, and. the people of the country. As I want to make it perfectly clear what the trouble is, and how far this bill can deal with it, T propose to cite some figures. T ask honorable members to bear in mind the statement of the Prime Minister, that miners are the only men who can cut coal, and this for all practical , purposes means the members of the miners' federation. People who think .that anybody else can cut coal are most foolish. Even Mr. J Justice Davidson refers to some men outside the miners' federation who cut coal and never strike. I should like to know who they are, and how many of them there are. I do not know of any such people although there may be a handful - perhaps a few hundred - of them. The coal industry of Australia is in the hands of the coal-miners who are members of the miners' federation. There is no doubt whatever about that and therefore I agree with the Prime Minister that we must look to that body if we would solve the problem. Strikes are an offence against the law. This bill, if passed, will become another law. What is wanted is not another law, but the enforcement of the existing law. That means that the miners must be disciplined. But the Prime Minister told the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), that he will not do that. He will appeal to the miners, but he will not take steps which his predecessor, Mr. Curtin, thought necessary. Honorable members may be interested to hear that, on the 14t/h October, 1943, the late Mr. John Curtin said -

As the result of inquiries which I have had made, it is the opinion of the Government that the removal of minority malcontents and irresponsibles in the industry will go a long way towards maintaining increased coal production. . . . The malcontents .and irresponsibles are indicated by bad attendance records. It is the opinion of the Government that they should be weeded out of the industry. They have a record of chronic absenteeism, and their removal from the industry would leave no reasonable grounds for complaint on the grounds of victimization.

That was a practical suggestion. It is one, the adoption of which, I am sure every member on the Government benches would welcome in his heart, whatever he may say publicly. Such men are a curse to this country. But- this bill leaves them entrenched in the industry. Whatever is good in this measure has been taken from the report of Mr. Justice Davidson. In it the judge pointed out the things that ought to be done in connexion with the coal-mining industry. Some of those things the Government proposes to do, and provision for them is- made in this bill. But the outstanding recommendation - the very basis of Mr. Justice Davidson's superstructure - is that law and order shall be restored in the industry. At the present time, industrial anarchy reigns unchecked. In the main the leaders of the miners are Communists, but even they are unable to ensure that measure of discipline which, in their own interests, they desire to maintain. But the Government will not attempt to discipline the miners. Instead, it has introduced this measure, the ostensible object of which is the restoration of peace in the coalmining industry. There can be no doubt that peace in the industry is essential, but it must be peace based on justice, not purchased by the tame submission to threats to strike if the demands of the miners are not conceded. I listened with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan), because it was my fortune to be associated with his father in the greatest coal strike in this country. I know something about coal-mining, and I know that what is wanted is peace in the industry. We have a huge leeway to make up. We have heaped up a mountain of debts. The world is crying out for our goods. Without coal we cannot produce them. The war in which Australia was engaged until about a year ago was waged to establish the rule of law throughout the world, and to dethrone brute force. After six years of fearful conflict, brute force has been cast down and humbled ; it now lies prostrate in the dust and, temporarily' at least, peace again reigns. There are two methods by which workers in industry can obtain redress of their grievances. They may ' strike, or they may submit disputes with their employers to tribunals set up under the law of the land. For over 40 years arbitration has been an integral part of the in'dustrial and social system of Australia. I have had some experience of industrial conditions when strikes were the only means of redress, and since the introduction of arbitration. I say that arbitration has given the worker very much ; and that by it he has lost nothing. The success of arbitration, however, depends upon the recognition of the rule of law and upon the enforcement of the law. The law is not a mere formal commandment ; it- represents the will of the people; in order to become effective it must be translated into action. The Prime Minister has invited us to make constructive suggestions. I make one now. I remind the right honorable gentleman that Mr. Justice Davidson suggested that before any strike took place the matters forming the subject of a dispute should be referred to the members of the organization concerned and a secret ballot taken under governmental control and that only then, by a majority decision, should there be a strike that could be accepted by the law as permissible. I would not even go so far as to say that that is desirable. If we make a law and "declare strikes an offence against that law we must be prepared to enforce it. At this juncture it might be pertinent to quote from an article I wrote many years ago-

Unionism now occupies quite a different position to that in days gone by. In the past the unionist was an Ishmael, a pariah. Every man's hand was against him; his organization was tabooed, his efforts at redress ruthlessly crushed. He was both despised and detested. Society regarded him as a noxious and hateful thing. What paltry concessions he secured were obtained at the cost of frightful, privation, at the point of the industrial bayonet. His relations with his employer were in essentials those of a rebellious slave and a cruel, heartless master. The men regarded the employer as an enemy to be despoiled, a tyrant to be dethroned. Such a code was then excusable; under the circumstances, indeed no other was possible. But thes'e circumstances no longer exist. Unionism has come to its own. It no longer wages guerilla war - sheltering beneath rocks, fleeing for its life into the wilds, ragged, ill-fed, despised, outcast. Its disciplined and wellappointed armies take the field with all the pomp and circumstance of regular war. lt meets the capitalist upon equal terms. It no longer snatches up a bone like a dog or a beggar, but sits at the banquet an unchallenged, if not an honoured guest. It makes terms - sometimes dictates them. It makes agreements, too, covering the whole conditions of. an industry: but it does, not always recognize ite responsibilities in respect to those agreements. The habits of its early life have bitten deep, and now as an equal it still sometimes acts as though' it were a slave. It was quite natural that terms wrung from starving men should not be regarded as binding upon them; but a contract between equals stands upon another footing. Unions are slow to recognize the responsibilities of that great power which their determination and singleness of purpose have won for them. With (tower comes responsibility; with privileges, corresponding duties. That which was excusable and even proper in a slave, is inexcusable in a free man. This involves a more complete control of its members by a union than is now general, lt is not only absurd, but dangerous, that the welfare of thousands should be imperilled by the reckless acts of a mere handful. Discipline must be more rigid. Individual members must not be permitted to violate the terms of any agreement arrived at by a union with the employers. That the enforcement of the necessary discipline will be distasteful to the union, and that it may be bitterly resented by the individual, may. be admitted; but it must nevertheless be insisted upon. And not only must there be a recognition of the responsibilities that come with power in this direction, but in others. No one union should bc allowed to plunge a whole country into industrial chaos. If action is to be taken, it should be only after all affected or likely to be- affected have been consulted. Large bodies of men should not move without reason - nor will they do so unless caught in a whirlpool of sentiment. The sympathetic strike is, or ought to be, an' anachronism. If a union has a good cause for action, the council of unions will, after careful consideration, endorse it; if it has not, it will condemn it. But these ill-advised rushes into industrial battle without consultation, and these shouts " to come along and help " after the battle has begun, ought no longer to be tolerated.

Those were my views on the principles by which industrial labour should be guided when I was de facto leader of the Australian Labour party and head of a great industrial organization in this country. They constitute a code and promulgate a gospel which I have preached through the intervening years. They point the way to bring about peace in industry. The law must be enforced, the miners must be disciplined. But what happens- now to-day on the coal-fields? First, 'we have at the head of the. miners' federation a man whose ultimate purpose is revolution, who seeks the complete overthrow of the democratic system of government for which we have fought. All these movements,, these manoeuvres, are preparatory to the great purpose to which he has consecrated his life. At his side are others whose politics are shaded from a deep red to a pale anaemic pink. Most important of all, however, there is an apathy among the rank and file of miners themselves which, if persisted in, is perhaps their worst enemy5 and which' will destroy the Labour movement. At lodge and aggregate meetings a mere handful of workers attend. I have known in my own organization of 5,000 members that on occasions resolutions carried by 150 members at the most, are binding on all members. Everybody knows that among the miners to-day at least 75 per cent, oppose the tactics of their present leaders; but it is the 25 per cent, who rule, and not the majority. Mr. Justice Davidson advocated the taking of a ballot and the making of voting compulsory as a prerequisite to declaring a strike. It is true that there will continue to be trouble in the industry - if there were no trouble there would be no merit in entering the fray. As a matter of fact trouble itself makes life so interesting. I remind the House of what this bill provides. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, who could talk a bird, off a bough, brings in this bill, and to listen to him one would think that butter would not melt in his mouth. He introduced it as a splendid gesture on the part of the Government in the interest of peace in the coal-mining industry. He tells us that all the evils that confront the coal-mining industry to-day had their origins in the bad conditions that had existed in the industry for generations. They have, however, gradually been improving. Whether they are better or worse to-day is to be seen from some figures which I shall cite to show why . this Government has at last been spurred to take some action. Before I cite these figures, let me point out that this bill purports to. be a nonpartisan measure, falling like gentle rn 11 from heaven upon the just and the unjust, the miners and mine-owners alike. Before the bill was introduced, there was some suggestion in the lobbies of the parliament, and in thf- columns of the press, that the Government intended to introduce a measure designed to discipline the miners. People went about saying, "Can such things be?" Others said, " We shall wait and see ". And now we do see. In this morning's press there is a report that the disciplinary clauses of this measure are -to be retained; but although I have devoted considerable lime to an examination of the bill, I have been unable to discover any disciplinary clauses. There is, it i° true, a reference to superintendents and managers, and what will happen to them should they stray from the narrow path. There is also an oblique reference to " any other person " . Can we expect the miners to endure such a vile defamation? Honorable members opposite approach the miners with bowed heads, bated breath, and whispering humility. They remove their shoes as they enter the temple. They are afraid to say "boo" to the miner - to even mention him by name. Had the bill been intended to discipline the miners, there wouldhave been something in it worth having; but it does not. Surely it is not suggested that strikes are attributable to superintendents or managers, or to " any other person ". After all, a clerk in an office would come within the definition of " any other person ". Are the miners to sit dumbly and endure association with mere clerks in offices? These are terrible days indeed, but it has not come to that. The miners will stand firm by the principles for which they have fought over the ages - " One out, all out ". On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that during the war the miners had worked faithfully and zealously; but did they? The right honorable gentleman pointed out that, during the 1940 strike, when the present Leader of the Opposition was Prime Minister, there was a loss of coal amounting to 900,000 tons as the result of a general strike; but we must not lose sight of the fact that in the six years of the war, the total loss amounted to approximately 2,091,000 man-days, or, expressed in terms of coal, approximately 8,973,000 tons. Subtracting the loss in 1940 and 1941 from that total, there still remains a figure of something like 6,000,000 tons lost as the result of strikes during the term of office of theLabour Government. Under the law the Government itself made, strikes are prohibited and penalties should be imposed upon those participating in them. But the law is only a scrap of paper. In 1945, 629,975 man-days were lost due to strikes, but no attempt was made to enforce the law. As the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, the tentative efforts of the Government in this direction were negligible, and the total amount collected in fines imposed upon miners for absenteeism was approximately £500. There has been no attempt to put the militants out of the unions.

Why should these trouble-makers not be expelled ? Any honorable member who has first-hand acquaintance with union methods knows that on occasions unions do expel members. As Mr. Justice Davidson has pointed out, the only way to ensure industrial peace is to remove the militant forces from the trade unions. Again we come back to the point that this bill is the direct result of the refusal by miners to cut coal. That is an offence under the law. A strike is an offence ; but yesterday eight coal-mines were idle in New South Wales, and at one stage last week, twenty were idle. There have been rare occasions on which we have been informed by the press that on a certain day there were no strikes on the coal-fields. Everybody said, " That is wonderful ". But of course it did not go on. That certainly would have been wonderful. I have quoted from an article that I wrote many years ago - more than 35 years ago in fact - and I now propose to quote from another statement I made in much later years to show that I believe in the disciplining of members of unions. There must be law and order. In this country the law is what the people make it, and a law made by all must be obeyed by all. If a law is bad, the Parliament may alter it, but whilst it remains a law, it must be obeyed. In 1917, I appointed Mr. Justice Edmunds as head of a tribunal to deal with conditions in the coal industry. Thistribunal did some good work for the industry; among other reforms and benefits it established the " eight hour bank to bank " principle, which was acknowledged by the miners to be a great advance. Unlike Mr. Justice Davidson, he was appointed to act in a judicial capacity; to make awards, to restore order, to deal out even-handed justice, and no one will say that he failed to do all things passible. But he found it impossible to continue his work on the tribunal. His resignation is described in an article published in the Brisbane Daily Mail of the 25th August, 1917, a portion of which reads -







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