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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr WILLIAMS (Robertson) . - The House has just heard a most amazing speech by the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes). The right honorable gentleman has been a member of the Parliament since federation. He has had a remarkable career as an industrial leader in this country, and he has also been an advocate in the interests of the employers. To-day he criticized the Government. He said that it has not produced coal; and he criticized the coal-miners. The right honorable gentleman was Attorney-General in the Menzies Government, and at that time was charged with the responsibility of increasing coal production by maintaining peace in the industry. But, although he is to-day so full of .knowledge about the industry, and knows so much about how coal can' be produced, and is prepared to give to the Government and the public at large advice upon the problem, he failed to discharge that responsibility. Being a cunning politician, he got the idea that he could bring about peace on the coal-fields through the use of money. When he was AttorneyGeneral in the Menzies Governmenthe conspired with the miners' leaders, to whom he handed over government funds. A royal commission which inquired into the matter severely criticized his Government upon the manner in which those funds were disbursed. The right honorable gentleman himself appeared as a rather recalcitrant witness before that commission, which found it somewhat difficult to obtain from him satisfactory information regarding that fund, which came to be known as a "slush" fund. Thus the right honorable gentleman, who now criticizes the Government, and tells it what it should do in order to increase the production of coal, could do no more than conspire with the miners' leaders and, without the knowledge of Parliament, hand over to them government funds. He has taken this opportunity to indulge mi party political propaganda." Since I have been a member of the Par1liament I have been more concerned about the problem of the coal industry than about any other problem. The seriousness of that problem is generally recognized. Indeed, it seems to be the only political issue of any importance to-day. On many occasions, this House has discussed the problem of increasing coal production and the prevention of strikes and hold-ups in the industry. The most intellectual men in the Commonwealth have studied, the problem. Honorable members opposite have failed to offer one single constructive idea with regard to its solution. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) did not offer any constructive advice to the Government. In his typical legal fashion he tried to tear the measure to ribbons; but he did not tell the Government or the people how the production of coal could be increased in the slightest degree.

On Tuesday evening, the Prime Minister criticized the speech of the Leader of the Opposition because it did not contain any constructive proposals for increasing the production of coal. This morning, the right honorable member for North Sydney declared that thf unrest on the coal-fields could be settled if the men were compelled, before they stopped work, to express their views at a secret ballot. What authority has the Commonwealth Government to enforce the holding of a secret ballot ? The truth is that we have no more authority to do that than we have to stop strikes. If we are unable to prevent industrial stoppages, how can we compel the holding of a secret ballot? And even if a secret ballot were held, we could not force the miners to work when they refused to do so.

The industrial unrest on the coal-fields has been exploited for political purposes. It is true that the people of Australia look to the Commonwealth Government to prevent industrial turmoil so that the production of coal may be increased. We have that responsibility. We must endeavour in every conceivable way to increase the output, because it is useless to deny that the people in the cities and the country districts alike, are being greatly inconvenienced, particularly by the curtailment of railway services. In its efforts to increase the production of coal, the Government has introduced this bill. Ordinarily, the production of coal comes within the jurisdiction of the States. On the outbreak of war in 1939, the Commonwealth assumed control of the production of coal because of its vital importance to our defence. Now, in the af termath of the war, we must encourage industrial expansion by every possible means. The development of industry should not be retarded in any way. Consequently, the Commonwealth must ensure that coal supplies shall be distributed equitably to all States.

From time to time, the constitutional authority of the Commonwealth and the States regarding the control of coalproduction has been strenuously argued. This bill brings the Commonwealth of Australia and the State of New South Wales into harmony in the matter of coal production. By agreement, the Parliament ofNew South Wales will pass complementary legislation, and a joint authority will be established with a view to increasing the output of coal. How will that be done? Under this legislation a Joint Coal Board of three commissioners will be appointed, and will be given wide authority. It will have the following powers : -

(a)   To ensure that coal is produced in the State in such quantities and with such regularity as will meet requirements throughout Australia and in trade with other countries;

(b)   To ensure that the coal resources of the State are conserved, developed, worked and used to the best advantage in the public interest;

(c)   To ensure that coal produced in the State is distributed and used in such manner, quantities, classes and grades and at such prices as are calculated best to serve the public interest and secure the economical use of coal and the maintenance of essential services and industrial activities;

Sitting suspended from12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Mr WILLIAMS - The board will have power to provide amenities for miners, to establish housing schemes, to assume complete control of any mine, to acquire coal and to operate plant. The right honorable member for North Sydney said that there was nothing in the bill to give the board power to discipline the miners. I refer him to para, k, subclause 3, clause 13, which states that the board shall have authority - to suspend or exclude from employment in the coal industry, subject to appeal as prescribed, any superintendent, manager or other person employed in the industry who acts in a manner prejudicial to the effective working of the industry.

This provides specifically that the board will have power to suspend a miner, to warn him off the coal-fields, in fact to victimize him. It may debar him from obtaining employment in any coal-mine in New South Wales, or perhaps even in the Commonwealth. I know that the board will exercise this power with great discretion. It will have the duty of rehabilitating the coal-mining industry in New South Wales, from which 85 per cent. of Australia's black coal production is derived. It will have complete responsibility in all matters relating to the production of coal. Honorable members opposite criticize the Government for its failure to increase coal production, but since I have been a member of this HouseI have not heard any honorable member opposite, in any one of the numerous debates on the industry, suggest one practical method of increasing production.

If the parties now in opposition were in power, they would be much less successful than this Government has been. When they held . office, they resorted to low methods of conspiracy and bribery in an attempt to persuade the union leaders to make the men work. During their regime there were strikes which lasted for months, causing a complete cessation of production. The Labour party does not want to have any such disturbances in the country, and it has been successful in keeping production at a fairly high level in spite of changing conditions. There has been a great expansion of industry, and opportunities for employment have greatly increased. Before the war miners could not secure jobs in other industries, but now there is plenty of work for all, thanks to the policy of this Government, and men are able to leave the mines. If honorable members opposite would visit the coal-fields, they would hear of numbers of men formerly employed in the mines who now work elsewhere. This is a free country, and the miners can leave the industry if they want to do so. Coalmining is such a distasteful, unhealthy and dangerous occupation that no sensible man would condemn a miner for leaving it and taking a job elsewhere.

The Joint Coal Board, having the responsibility to increase production, will have to ensure that more men are employed in the mines, that extra mines are opened, and that there is continuity of employment for the miners. Also it will have to abolish strikes and lock-outs. It is easy enough to decide where new mines should be opened. But the abolition of strikes is a very difficult matter. It is useless to talk about the past and revive old hatreds and bitterness between the mine-owners and the miners. That will not satisfy the public. We must bring our transport services back into full operation, and we must provide power and light to satisfy the needs not only of existing industries but also of new and expanding industries. In order to do this, we must obtain a higher rate of coal production, and this involves getting the miners to work. It is futile for honorable members opposite to complain that this Government cannot make the men work. They themselves could not do so. New methods must be applied to the industry. This bill provides for new methods, which will be put into operation by the Joint Coal Board. The most important consideration of all is to have the miners in full-time employment, and, to this end, special inducements must be offered to the men.

The coal-mining industry is unique because, as the right honorable member for North Sydney has said, the production of coal governs the economy of the nation. For this reason it should be accorded unique treatment. For a long time, I have held the view that bonus payments for increased production, profitsharing, or a reduction of taxes would bring about the improvement in the industry that we desire. We must make coal-mining so attractive that men will not want to leave the industry. Those of us who know the coal-fields are aware of the filthy conditions that exist there, ofthe poor housing accommodation and the ugly anddiscouraging atmosphere that pervades the mining districts. The miners would be more easily satisfied if the Government, or some other authority, instituted a modern housing scheme and perhaps gave special rent concessions to miners. Honorable members opposite describe the efforts of the Labour party to improve the conditions of coal-miners as " appeasement ". That is merely idle talk. We want to make the miners work constantly. The cost to the nation of achievingthis objective is not of primary importance, because adequate supplies of coal are essential to our economic prosperity. Without proper supplies there would be industrial chaos throughout the Commonwealth, and probably hundreds of thousands of people would be thrown out of employment. The Joint Coal Board will give full consideration to the factors which I have mentioned. It will consider ways of inducing the miners to remain in the industry and of attracting other men to engage in it. What man in his senses to-day would want to relinquish constant employment in order to work in the mines?

Mr Archie Cameron - And what man in his senses would want to remain in the industry?

Mr WILLIAMS - The Joint Coal Board will have to reconstruct and rehabilitate the industry so that miners will want to remain in it' and other men will vie with each other to obtain jobs in it. A big job lies ahead of the board. But, if upon it be placed men of ability, foresight and courage, they will arrive at an understanding of the psychology that exists on ' the coal-fields, bring the management and men together, and do the right thing. My friends who sit opposite talk constantly of action by the miners to prevent production. But what of the mine-owners? They have a very unsavoury history in this country, and have not done a great deal to ensure peace in the industry. The Kandos colliery, in a western district of New South Wales in my electorate, is an illustration of what can be done by decent, sensible management to maintain production and ensure peace in. industry. It is owned and operated by the Kandos Cement Company, and employs 60 persons, including the staff. It is well worth a visit to get an appreciation of the good relations that can exist between a management and its workers. The mine is a small one, with an output of about 400- tons a day, but it is a model of what a mine should be. The conditions underground are about as comfortable as they could be made in a coal mine. The pit is fully mechanized, wilh power boring and Jeffrey cutters and loaders. The ventilation is good. The bathroom is the best in the country, being fitted up with excellent lockers and good, showers, and being well kept in every respect. There is provision for heating and automatic weighing, and the mine has an up-to-date screening plant which is probably as good as could be found in. any other mine. The excellent relations that exist between the management and the men are reflected in the individual output, which averages ten tons a man for every man employed, including .the managerial staff. I have personal knowledge of the fact that at every Christmas period 'the management presents a hamper of provisions to each of its employees, not only in the Kandos colliery, but also in the Kandos cement works. In that gesture a very fine spiritis shown by the management. What counts is, not the value of the hamper, but the spirit in which the gift ls. made. I know that it has made a deep impression on the men who work for the company. I have not heard of any other mine management, certainly not in the northern and southern coal districts, having offered the hand of friendship to the men whom it employs, as is done at Kandos. On the contrary, the general practice is to pinprick the men and keep them in a state of constant grievance, until bickering develops into . a strike, which may last for a. day or for several weeks. If the owners so desire, they have the power to ensure a pleasant association with their men. They will not do that, because they are too interested in profits and dividends. It is a crying shame that they should be permitted to make maximum profits without having any regard for the convenience . of the people. It is about time a board such as that proposed was constituted. I have no doubt that it will quickly take control of any mine, which in its opinion, ought to be taken over, if necessary removing it from the possession of the owners and paying compensation to. them. I believe that any outside management would soon inspire friendly relations with the men. That is what, is required, and surely its accomplishment should not prove very difficult. Sensible management is all that is needed. We see to-day in the galleries of this House representatives of the mineowners - Mr. Gregory Forster, Mr. Davey, Mr: McNally and others. They have come ' here to instruct members of the Opposition on the points that they should make in the argument between management and men. The priming which those honorable members receive will fit them to broadcast the desired propaganda. Surely, the public must have reached the end of its patience. The Government is doing all that it can to improve the position. ' It has kept the coal-mines working, and has ensured .some production. For a long period while honorable members opposite were in power,, there was no coal production. They have never had any plans for doing anything, even for ensuring the defence of this country. It could hardly be expected that, Australia having emerged victorious from the war because of the excellence of its war organization, the Opposition should now be entrusted with the task of bringing it through the difficulties of the post-war period. I trust that this legislation will ensure peace iri the coal industry. I believe that it will. Cost is of very little account. A large sum ought to be expended on the coalfields in the provision of social amenitiesand decent housing for the coal-miners. All the coal-fields ought to be re-organized and rehabilitated. "We must take extreme measures, not deal with the matter half-heartedly, whatever the cost may be. Australia will have to depend upon coal for many years. Money was raised for war purposes, and it behoves us to expend sufficient upon once again placing the coal industry on its legs. Coalmining must be made a healthy occupation, and those who follow it must be fully protected. There should be better working conditions, freedom from dust, and protection of health in every way. Up-to-date methods for the watering of mines to counter dust should be introduced compulsorily, and fair compensation must be paid, to miners who become " dusted ". Better lighting must be installed, and up-to-date methods must .. be used for the extraction of coal. The. primary consideration should be the protection of the health of the miners, and the payment of just compensation to them when injured. To the owners it may seem that I am suggesting a new order for the miners. 1 am. Only in that way will we get the coal which the nation so urgently requires. "We have the matter in our hands, and need only the will to deal with it adequately. The proposed board will have full power. I wish the new coal authority good luck. I am confident that it will succeed.

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