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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - I rise to correct some of the statements made by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). He opened with a characteristic attack on the owners of the coal mines and declared that he would not pay a penny in compensation for taking over the mines.

Mr James - I would not.

Mr HARRISON - He said that his reason was that the mine-owners had lost a great national asset by allowing certain mines to be flooded through not having left sufficient pillar support. He is a practical miner and he must know that most of the coal in New South Wales is crown coal. A royalty has to be paid on every ton of crown coal that is mined. About £345,000 had been paid in royalties up to the 30th June, 1945. Thus, ownership of coal is not vested exclusively in individuals or companies. Mr. Justice Davidson has drawn attention tothe fact that the mine-owners are precluded from operating as they consider fit by legislation which gives to a body of recalcitrant miners the right to interfere with the working of the mines. The honorable member for Hunter, in accusing the owners of adopting a shortsighted policy in the working of their mines, lost sight of the fact that Mr. Justice Davidson, who was appointed by this Government to report' on the industry, said in effect that no blame was attributable to the owners for inefficient working or unsatisfactory conditions in mines. The State government, by means of legislation which it has enacted, is "standing over" the owners and preventing them from operating the mines as they wish. The owners are. not to blame because our national assets in the coal-mining industry have been depreciated. The honorable member for Hunter will not deny that the State Government' owns a majority of the coal mines in New South Wales. Then, if the Government permits coal production to decrease, the Government must take the responsibility instead of " passing the buck " to those who are working the mines under the royalty system. I have shown how easily anybody who applies logic to the arguments of the honorable member for Hunter can expose their "fallacy. He is blinded by class bias whenever he talks about the mine-owners. I have " debunked " his argument on this occasion, as I did during the second-read-, ing debate when he made fantastic claims regarding fatalities and accidents in coalmines.

I direct my attention now to the evasive statements made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mi*. Dedman). He had no effective answer to the charges made by the Opposition regarding clause 13, and so he indulged in one of the oldest of debating tricks. Such a trick might be effective in a debating class of the Eureka Youth Movement, but not in this chamber. The honorable gentleman drew a political rabbit out of his hat and tried to concentrate our attention on that, in the hope that we would overlook his failure to answer our charges. He quoted clause 57. He knew that it had nothing whatever to do with the subject of compensation which had been discussed by the honorable mem-, bev for Warringah (Mr.' Spender) and myself. Having quoted the clause he said, in effect, " The honorable members have not read the bill and, therefore, I shall not seek to answer them further ". Part IV. of the bill, which the Government proposes to exclude, provides for compensation to be paid to mine-owners in respect of the acquisition of mines. Paragraphs / and g of sub-clause 3, clause 17, give power to the Joint Coal Board to assume control of the' management and operation of any coal-mine and to acquire and operate any coal-mine. The Minister knows this, and he knows, too, that, following the exclusion of Part TV. of the bill, there will be no legislative provision for the payment of compensation to owners whose mines are acquired. Obviously the honorable gentleman referred to clause 57 in the hope that our attention would be diverted and that we would overlook the main point at issue. Unfortunately for him, we have read the bH thoroughly and we know exactly what it contains. We also know exactly what thoughts lie- at the back of the Minister's mind. I accept the fact that the Government originally intended to provide for the payment of compensation to mine-owners in respect of mines acquired under the powers conferred by the bill. That fact was demonstrated' by the inclusion of Part IV. However, that part will be deleted from the bill. Now I merely seek to give effect to the Government's original intention by means of the amendment which I have submitted. If the Government intends to deal justly with the owners, it must agree to my amendment. Only by doing so can it prove .to the people that it still believes in the democratic traditions of this nation. One of the traditions embodied in the Constitution provides that every man whose property is acquired has the right to receive just compensation. If the Government rejects my amendment, it will sweep aside the Constitution and override one of the fundamental principles of democratic justice. If the Minister will accept the amendment we shall believe his assertion that the Government intends to dispense evenhanded justice to the owners in the event of the powers provided in clause 13 being exercised to dispossess them.

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