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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) (Minister for the Army and Acting Minister for Defence) . - I have listened to the flamboyant diatribe delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison), but I listened in vain for one constructive suggestion as to how we can get more coal. He made it clear that he has a good deal of mistrust, bitterness and even hatred for members of the working class. [Quorum formed.] He made extravagant demands that drastic action be taken against the miners, his speech being designed to play on the feelings of the people in the hope that they would believe that, if the party of which the honorable member is Deputy Leader, were returned to power there would be no more coal strikes, and no longer any shortage of coal.

Any one who listened to his futile criticism of those who advocate the setting up of a board to improve safety conditions in the mines, might imagine that there never had been any great mining disasters in Australia. Does the honorable gentleman- forget the Mount Mulligan disaster in Queensland when 96 men, all 'those who were below ground at the time, lost their lives? Does he forget the Mount Kembla disaster, when eighteen men lost their Jives, or the Bellbird disaster, which resulted in the loss of 23 lives, or the Stanford disaster resulting in the loss of ten lives, or the Bulli disaster, in which 81. men were killed?

The honorable member cited figures applying to "those years for which the figures suited his argument. He overlooked the fact that in 1927, 24,000 miners were employed, and that the number had declined by 1936 to 15,000. In that year, 7,000 miners were working part-time only on the northern fields. Therefore, they were not so tired, and there were not so many accidents. The action of the honorable member in citing only the figures that suited his argument was unfair to those engaged in the industry. The figures compiled by the Mines Department do not record accidents for which compensation has not been paid. In 1936, as I have pointed out, many thousands of men were working part-time, and the law provides that they must be off work for four days in order to draw compensation. As a matter of fact, they could not afford to go on compensation. Therefore, many accidents which occurred are not recorded in the figures compiled by the Mines Department.

The percentage of miners actually cutting coal fell from 46 per cent, in 1931 to 28 per cent, in 1945. This is due to the restriction of pick room, resulting from bad fractures which cause roof falls and fires. This, in turn, has led to the sealing up of whole sections, of mines. Only the miners at the face produce coal, and the reduction of face area has resulted in lower production because fewer men are actually engaged on the coal face. The shareholders of the mining companies do not produce coal. They find the money which is invested in the industry, but the actual production of coal depends on the men who go downthe mines and work there.

I believe that this bill will remove many of - the disabilities under which the miners work to-day. . It is one of the most important measures considered by this Parliament for many years.' It represents an earnest attempt to bring about greater production in New South "Wales, in which 80 per cent, of the black coal won in Australia is mined. The bill was drawn after the fullest consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales, and between Commonwealth Ministers and representatives of the mine-owners and the miners' federation. The joint control board, which has been criticized so much, will have the widest possible power regarding health measures, amenities, production and mechanization. Backed by the Governments of New South Wales and the Commonwealth, it will be able to tackle outstanding problems in a way that the individual mining companies could not do. The Commonwealth Government, when framing the measure, realized the need for substantial expenditure by the Commonwealth in order to provide amenities which have been long overdue. It will be the task of the board to make the conditions of the miners more congenial, and to tackle the difficult problem of eliminating dust, which has proved/ po detrimental to health. In 1942, the mine-owners of South Wales learned of a method of water infusion on the coal face in order to keep down dust, and by 1945 the method had been applied to 90 per cent, of the mines, thus substantially reducing the count of dust particles. During the same period, the system was applied to only one coal mine in Australia, the Coalcliff colliery, and that was under Commonwealth control. It is estimated that it would cost only 3d. a ton to apply the method of water infusion; but it costs 13s. lOd. a ton for compensation. I believe that this bill will succeed in creating a different psychology in the coal-mining industry. Whilst that new psychology cannot be brought about in a few weeks or a few . months, this bill represents a step in the right direction. The coal-miners of this country will now be satisfied that their problems are being grappled with in a constructive manner by the Government. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in one of his characteristic speeches say that he would offer a panacea for all the industrial ills of industry. There is no doubt that the right honorable gentleman has had a vast experience in industrial upheavals. He occupied the position of Prime Minister in 1940 when there was one of the most disastrous strikes that ever occurred in this country; he failed dismally to prevent it or to shorten its duration. His supporters endeavoured to get some " kudos " out of the fact that he addressed 'meetings of coal; miners and exchanged witticisms and pleasantries with the strikers, but the important point is that he did not get them to go back to work.

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