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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr SPEAKER -Order ! The honorable member is in order in referring to the delay in the printing of the report of the royal commission, but he is not in order in discussing the dairying industry.


Mr FRANCIS - I submit that the delay in publishing Mr. Justice Davidson's report is in keeping with a wellestablished practice- -Mr. SPEAKER-Order!


Mr FRANCIS - Well, if you will not allow me to proceed-


Mr SPEAKER - It is not a matter of allowing the honorable member to proceed. I have already said that reference may be made to the delay in producing the Davidson' report, but not to the dairying industry.


Mr FRANCIS - 1 was merely pointing out that, in this matter, as in others, the Government was following a regretta bie practice. . When the House is expected to discuss matters of importance, reports, prepared at heavy cost, by competent persons, are not available. After continual stoppages and strikes in the coal-mines in New South Wales during the war, the Government saw fit to bring down the Coal Production (War-time) Bill, in 1944, and it duly became law. The act then embodied the regulations which had been promulgated from time to time in an endeavour to promote coal production. ' The regulations failed, the act failed, and this present legislation will fail, unless the Government is pre-, pared to back it up instead of applying a policy of appeasement. Other legislative efforts of the Government failed to produce more coal. In fact, every such effort was followed by a further decline of production.

The Government obtained the services of Mr. Justice Davidson, who, as chairman of a board of inquiry, spent fourteen months in examining the coal problem in all parts of Australia. Now, we find that practically all his worthwhile recommendations have been ignored by , the Government in the drafting of this bill. It is proposed in the bill to set up a board somewhat similar te that appointed under the 1944 act. The new board is to consist of three persons, but it is not to be an independent body. It must take instructions from the political head of the Commonwealth, and the political head of New South Wales. Political interference in the control of the coal-mining industry in New South Wales, and in matters affecting the production of coal, together with the faulty advice and had leadership of the Communist-controlled miners' federation, have been responsible for the deplorable condition in which Australia finds itself to-day in regard to coal. The continuation of such political interference will certainly not result in the production of more coal.

The bill pushes arbitration aside. The Government has repeatedly proclaimed that it is in favour of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes, but in this measure the Government has ignored our arbitration system. It proposes to appoint a board that must respond to political domination. No industry can survive in such circumstances. Once the Arbitration Court has been bypassed, we cannot hope for industrial peace. The bill provides for the appointmentof a special tribunal, as well as local committees, to co-operate with, and assist, the board. The same basic principle was embodied in the 1944 act, which the present bill is to supersede. The report of Mr. Justice Davidson sets out clearly the causes of stoppages in the coal mines, and suggests how the difficulty may be overcome. I propose to read his summary of the causes of industrial unrest, and his suggestions for removing them.


Mr Dedman - Every honorable member has a copy of the report. There is no need to waste time by quoting from it.


Mr FRANCIS - I propose to read these extracts, nevertheless. The causes of the stoppages are stated as follows: -

The causes of stoppages, accordingly, may he said to consist of -

(a)   A psychological factor induced by intensive propaganda which is distracting the mine workers.

(b)   Lack of discipline. (c)The effect of the contract system.

(d)   The machinations of disgruntled minorities.

(e)   The benefits that have been gained from strikes.

(f)   Possibly in some degree the dissatisfaction created by heavy taxation which has been discussed elsewhere.

Every strike has won some benefit for the coal-miners, which ought to have been obtained by arbitration. The proposed remedies are stated thus -

The only remedy for the disturbing industrial turbulence that has developed lies in meeting the causes by the following means: -

(a)   By insistence on providing the workers with improved living and social conditions in order to mitigate their undoubted spirit of hostility. This policy is not appeasement; it is mere justice.

(b)   By enforcing the law and maintaining the sanctity of agreements and the judgments and awards of properly constituted independent judicial tribunals.

(c)   By insisting upon the right to impose discipline, if necessary, by the dismissal from the industry of recalcitrant employees, but with a right of appeal to an independent judicial tribunal under the presidency of a judge of the Arbitration Court.

(d)   By granting the right to employees who claim to be aggrieved by the alleged wrongful acts of managers to attack them before a similar tribunal.

(e)   By introducing mechanization, with accompanying abolition of the contract system of payment formining work.

(f)   By procuring the co-operation of the miners' federation in the implementing of the whole of these proposals in conjunction with the amended terms of the Canberra Code indicated earlier in this report.

As I have said, none of these recommendations are included in the bill. The bill ought to be redrafted, and if the Government will include in it those recommendations of the commissioner relating to discipline, the industry will be revitalized and the miners will enjoy greater security. The Minister has ignored, in a cowardly fashion, the recommendations of the commissioner regarding the disciplining of the workers. The Minister's speech included no reference to this subject, but he blamed the mine owners for the troubles of the industry during the last six and a half years. I quote a passage from the speech of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction who introduced the bill -

Men work in the industry tinder physical and nervous pressure which is rarely absent. And when they find themselves working under that pressure in an industry suffering from technical absolescence anddecay and from insufficiency of capital; it is understandable, if not always equally excusable, that the industry should be the seat of chronic industrial discontent, fanned as often as not by irresponsible newspapers and by parliamentary spokesmen for the ownership who are prepared to make political capital out of the position.

That is a cowardly innuendo) and the Minister has ignored entirely the findings of Mr. Justice Davidson. I ask the Minister to say, upon reflection, how he can hope to restore good-will in the industry by proceeding as he is doing. The late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, when discussing the part played by the coal-owners during the wai', in helping to produce coal and keeping the wheels of industry turning, so that Australia might make its maximum war effort, said -

I told the owners that they appeared, according to all the records, to have observed the decisions of the umpire.

Mr. JusticeDavidson also said

Practically none of the strikes during the war has been due to impropriety of any kind on the part of owners or management.

Thus, the innuendoes of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction ' are cowardly and unjustified'. If the owners had been guilty of the conduct with which theminers of 'Now South Wales may rightfully be charged, my denunciation of them would be even more vehement than is my denunciation of the behaviour of the miners. Let me now quote the following from a speech by Mr. Curtin, recorded in volume 176 of Hansard, at page 558 : -

As a 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.

In the main, the irresponsibles comprise youths of military age and men engaged in other occupations as well as mining - taxidrivers, starting price bookmakers, billiardroom proprietors, dog trainers, and the like. These men have engaged as miners in order to obtain protection. Generally, they readily agree to strike, sometimes themselves openly addressing the men, or making the- first move from the" mine, thus bringing on a general exodus because of the miners' traditional policy of " one out, . all out ". The malcontents and irresponsibles are iindicated by bad attendance records. It is the- opinion of the Government that they should be weeded out of the industry.

We look in vain in. this legislation for any proposal designed' to weed' out irresponsibles from the industry - those who are admittedly to blame- for much industrial trouble. Obviously, the Government is scared.. It has been bluffed by- the miners federation; and lacks' the courage to. stand up to it. It prefers a policy of appeasement. While we have a government so lacking in courage, there is no hope of industrial peace in the industry, and little prospect of industrial development in Australia. Here is a further quotation from a speech by Mr. Curtin, recorded in Ilansard, volume 179, at page 413-

The charge against these men is that they will not work, an entirely different state of affairs. I admit that these men do not work, I acknowledge that they ought to be prosecuted, and I say that they will be prosecuted. I have made that very plain.

Mr. Curtindeclared that the men were not playing the game, and that offenders against the law would be prosecuted. Some prosecutions were launched, and fines were imposed, but under pressure from the Communist-controlled miners' ' federation, the fines were remitted, and the whole effectiveness, of the 1944 act was destroyed. The effectiveness df this legislation also will be destroyed unless the Government is prepared to do its job. Dealing with the proposals for -the provision of amenities for the coal-miners, the Minister said - '

The State will contribute half the costs of administration and an amount not exceeding ?70.000 per annum to the Joint Coal Board's Welfare Fund - this amount to be contributed on a .pound for pound basis with the Commonwealth. In turn, the Commonwealth will contribute the remaining half of the costs of administration, a share of the board's Welfare Fund not less than that contributed by the State: all other current expenses, including any subsidies and any other expenses arising from the board's production' and trading activities, and all advances and grants for capital purposes such as the capital cost of amenities (other than those covered by the Welfare Fundi, mechanization, acquisition and new development.

I strongly support every step that' is made to provide better conditions for the men engaged, in. the coal-mining industry, brit T deplore the fact- that amenities are to be restricted to the New South Wales coal-fields. From inquiries that I have made it appears that the provision of the - amenities proposed in the bill will cost ?500.000. In the not distant future, a further ?1,000;000 may have to be provided for that purpose. I protest most vigorously against the restriction . of expenditure' on amenities to the industry in New South. Wales, where" the coal-miners-, were described by. the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, as " saboteurs, of tlie national war effort " because they would not work, and as being " contemptuous of the requirements of the country and the orders and" directions of the Government ". Are not the coal-miners in other parts of Australia, who, for many years, particularly throughout the war period, have remained at work, almost without interruption, entitled to participate in these benefits? The working conditions in the coal-mining industry in Queensland, and in other parts of the Commonwealth, are ' worse than they are in New South Wales. The Government, however, has no interest in the welfare of the miners outside of New South Wales, because they have not embarrassed it by calamitous strikes. This proposal in the bill will constitute an incentive to men to strike in order to rectify those grievances. Provision of amenities and the establishment of welfare work must be made on an equal or more generous scale to the coal-miners in my own State of Queensland as well as to those in Victoria and Western Australia. Referring to coal-miners in States other than New South Wales, the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, is reported in Hansard No. 177, at page 441, to have said -

Tn respect- qf other coal -producing States the Government is grateful for and appreciative of the- contribution made by all engaged in the industry in those States. In Tasmania and in Queensland production for 1943 exceeded that of any previous year. In the former State there have been no losses whatever from industrial disputes, whilst in Queensland such losses are almost negligible. In Western Australia production last year was lower than in. 1942, but the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner advises me that such decrease was due to perfectly understandable reasons. I am reminded that these men are the only miners in Australia who work a twelve-day fortnight, that their average age, due to enlistments, is higher than elsewhere in the Commonwealth, and that . in some measure the reduced production results from steps taken hy the commission to direct men temporarily to unproductive work for the purpose of improving ventilation, haulage roads, and other facilities, which will eventually lead to increased production. In Victoria, also, production was lower than in 1042, not because of industrial stoppages, but almost solely because of inherent difficulties in the mines themselves.

That is a just tribute to the coal-miners in Queensland, Tasmania and Western

Australia. In view of that opinion of a former Labour leader, it is difficult to understand why this Government is not prepared to show its appreciation of the splendid record of the coal-miners in those States by including them in any scheme for the provision of amenities and welfare work. Despite the adverse conditions under which the coalminers in ' Queensland have had to work, there have been no serious disputes in the industry there for the last 25 years. Recently, during the meat strike in that State, Mr. Wells, the president of the miners' federation, was successful in inducing the Queensland miners to strike in sympathy with the meat workers, he promising to make available thousands of pounds, according to press reports, for strike funds. This period of strike was very limited. That the Queensland miners were able to resist the influence of the Communist recalcitrants in the miners' federation is a tribute to their sanity and sense of responsibility. Every worker is entitled to the best wages and conditions that industry can afford to pay. I realize that there are special problems associated wi.th the coal-mining industry, and. that, because of the dangerous nature of their calling, the miners are entitled to- every consideration. But what justification can there possibly be for the discrimination to which I have referred. If benefits are to be provided in the way of amenities for employees they should be applicable in all States. This discrimination is a clear indication of the inability of this Government to handle an industrial problem on a national basis, and will foment trouble in the industry in States other than New South Wales. Under ' this bill those whom a "former Prime Minister described as " saboteurs of the nation's war effort -" and as being "contemptuous of the requirements of the country" are to get all the consideration, and those in Queensland and the other States who did steadily produce coal, are to be ignored and receive no amenities or welfare funds at all. The miners of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania will not be brushed aside in this arbitrary fashion.

Only by taking the necessary steps to-' enforce discipline in the industry will the production of coal be increased. The-

Government should have the courage to enforce the disciplinary provisions of the legislation already on the statutebook against those who illegally absent themselves from work. The policy of appeasement has always failed. The unhappy state of affairs that exists in the New South "Wales coal-mines is the direct result of the Government's unwillingness to use the disciplinary powers conferred upon it. It is obvious that the miners' federation has used its influence to' intimidate the Government into granting anything it desires. If the coal-owners and the employees would co-operate in an effort to settle their differences good results would follow. Those results, however, will not be achieved by this legislation unless the Government is prepared to enforce its disciplinary provisions without fear or favour. Mr. Justice Davidson reported that practically all of the strikes that have occurred in the industry in the last three years were not due to impropriety on the part of the coal-owners. It is obvious that unless we clip the wings of the Communist dictators of the miners' federation there will be little likelihood of production being increased.

Dealing with the coal mines in Queensland, Mr. Justice Davidson said -

Working conditions in several of the mines visited by the Board were most unsatisfactory because of -

(a)   Defective ventilation;

(5)   Excessive temperatures;

(c)   Hand wheeling;

(d)   Inflammable gas and dust.

The use of naked lights in the coal mines in Queensland should be prohibited, subject to the allowance of reasonable time to make the change.

There should be much 'more rigid super-' vision and regulation of gassy conditions in the mines.

The practice of stopping the fans at the end of the last daily shift and during week-ends should be prohibited.

If greater precautions are not taken with regard to inflammable gas and coal-dust in the mines, there will be likelihood at any time of serious disaster.

Has any attempt been made by the Government to act upon those suggestions? Dealing with dust he said -

The dust hazard in relation to the health of the workers is being sadly neglected. It is certain that many mine-workers underground will become incapacitated by the inhalation of dust unless proper methods of control of the dust are adopted, whilst the amount of compensation payable will become a serious burden as in New South Wales.

Again in paragraph 28 -

Living conditions and amenities have been, sadly neglected at Collinsville 'aud from reports also at Blair Athol.

I believe that the Blair Athol mine is in the territory of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). I want to know why the Minister for the Army, who doubtless has read the report, is willing to provide amenities for the striking miners on the coal-fields of New South Wales and to deny them to the miners in Queensland, who do work.


Mr Lazzarini - T - This legislation can be repeated in respect of Queensland coal mines if the Queensland Government wants it.


Mr FRANCIS - All I say is that nothing has been done to carry out the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Davidson concerning the coal-mining industry in Queensland. The report continues -

Education in mining principles is badly needed in Queensland and the suggestion is offered that travelling tutors, should afford great assistance in this respect.

Absenteeism on the fields is high and is largely, due to the burden of taxation.

The report makes critical reference to the contract system and to the low salaries paid to mine inspectors, and generally condemns the standard of coal mines in Queensland, . but the Government is utterly indifferent to the serious reflections cast on those mines by His Honour.


Mr Martens - What did the honorable member do about it?


Mr FRANCIS - Only the Government can initiate and pass .legislation through this Parliament. I ask in the interests of the coal-miner that it carry out the recommendations of Mr. Justice Davidson in respect of the Queensland coal-mining industry. The development of Australia depends on more and more production, but. to-day production is at its lowest ebb. Let honorable members go to any warehouse they choose, and they will find it almost empty. Commodities are nearly impossible to buy because they are not being manufactured, owing to the hold-up of industry by the lack of power. Sydney spent its saddest Christmas in history last year when it was blacked out because of lack of coal. Remember, it was the first Christmas after the end of the war, and it should have been the occasion of greater festivity than ever; but, instead of being a city of carnival, Sydney was a city of gloom. While this legislation is being debated, 25 mines are idle in New South Wales. In South Australia all industry has been shut down through lack of coal. All over Australia industry is working part-time or closed down for the same reason. Melbourne people are gazing towards the heads of Port Phillip Bay hoping to see a collier enter with ' coal, so that they shall be assured of gas or electricity with .which to cook their breakfasts. In this severe winter, people are suffering as they have never suffered before. They are, lacking gas or electricity .for cooking, and adequate transport to go to work and are suffering many other disabilities, because the miners of New South Wales will not produce coal. Sickness is rife because people cannot keep their homes warm. The nation is hamstrung because the Government will not enforce the law that the Parliament passed for the purpose of ensuring adequate coal production. The Government has done a serious disservice to the coal-miners by its neglect. In Victoria, coal-burning locomotives are being converted to use oil fuel.


Mr SPEAKER - Order ! _ The honorable member's time has expired.







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