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Friday, 2 August 1946


Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- It cannot be said that the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), to whom we have just listened, approached this subject in a bitter manner, as have some other honorable members opposite. His attitude is the right one. He would advance the interests of this country if lie were to induce the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) to adopt a similar attitude. I know that from the time when I was a lad in a mine .the right honorable gentleman has taken a . keen interest in coal-mining. I admit that he has done a lot for the coal-miners of this country. But some of his statements were not accurate. I agree that the miners were opposed to mechanization in his day. To-day, however, they are not opposed to it. What they are opposed to is mechanization in pillar extraction. I disagree with many of my colleagues in their opposition to it. No matter what system were adopted, pillar extraction would be highly dangerous. The miners contend that, because of the noise of the machinery, they cannot hear the roof working above them, and that should it cave in they would have no warning, and the result would be loss of life. During my recent travels overseas 1 saw mechanized mines in operation; it was a great lesson to me. However, I was favorable to mechanization before then, despite the /fact that many oppose it. I would far sooner see a mechanical unit lost in pillar extraction than see a human life lost. I believe in mechaniza tion, subject to proper controls, particularly stowage precautions. I do not believe that the coal-owners should have the right to employ machines for the removal of pillars indiscriminately, and should he able to order the miners to operate the machines at rates of pay 25 to 50 per cent, lower than they received on contract- work. I would oppose the mine-owners having the right to do that because although they would have an increased output at less cost, they would not reduce the selling price of coal to the public. Nevertheless, something must be done. It is not sufficient to oppose this measure merely for political reasons. This legislation will go a long way towards improving conditions in the coalindustry. Recently, I participated in a debate which was broadcast over the national stations by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Mr. Wells, the president- of the miners' federation, and I presented one side of the case, and two representatives of the coalowners presented their case. I had nothing to do with the selection of speakers. As many miners may be listening to this debate to-day, I say to them that they should realize that they should co-operate with the management, and try to settle disputes in their initial stages before a stoppage takes place. If other industries are set up in mining districts, so that the children of miners can obtain employment adjacent to their homes, and if a shortage of coal then throws their children out of work, the miners will have brought home to them the effect of an industrial dispute. The miners do not believe what they read in the newspapers. They have no faith in the press, or in governments. The simple explanation is that the bitter experiences through which they have passed have robbed them of their faith. In 3929 and 1930, the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) joined with me in criticizing the BrucePage Government when it allowed the coal-owners to use some millions of tons of coal, that had been at grass during World War I., to lock out the miners for sixteen months in 1929-30.. The government of the day did absolutely nothing to bring about asettlement. At the request of the right honorable member for North Sydney and the then honorable member for Fawkner, Mr. Maxwell, and three or four others on the government side of the House, the then government decided to take action against the late Mr. John Brown. But when the Parliament went into recess the proposed prosecutions were dropped. Although there was an award of the tribunal, presided over by Mr.'Charles Hibble, who was appointed by the right honorable member for North Sydney when he was Prime Minister, the coal-' owners, by using the coal which was at grass, were able to starve the miners into submission. The men had to accept a 12-J per cent, reduction of their wages, in a breach of an award o'f the court. Such actions on the part of the coalowners are among the root causes of the miners' loss of faith. To-day, they have no faith in anybody; they believe that every other person in the community is trying to " take them down ". It is that lack of faith in others that makes them provide for themselves. They live their own community life; they build their own hospitals. The coal-owners have not contributed one penny to the hospitals on the coal-fields. Those institutions have been built out of the earnings of the miners, so that medical attention may be available for themselves and their families. The miners contribute to funds out of which their burial expenses are met; they provide their own social services. They do these things because of their lack of faith in others. We must-, try to restore the lost faith of the miners in other sections of the community. We must show them that they constitute an important part of the community; that on them the country's progress largely depends. We must discourage the constant condemnation of the miners by newspapers. Unfortunately, that condemnation is expressed in general terms; miners as a whole are criticized and condemned. Those who speak scathingly nf miners as a class probably do not know - or, if they do know, they conveniently overlook the fact - that some miners have never lost a day's work in twenty years. Of course, the miners resent these constant attacks on them. They have a right to do so. What the right honorable member for North Sydney said is perfectly true : these men want to work; they do not want to be condemned day after day. I do not want to be personal in this debate.' I want to help this industry. I want, if I can, to help the miners to realize that they constitute an important unit in this country's- progress. 11 an appeal is made to them on the right lines I believe that they will respond. But concurrently with that appeal to them there must be an appeal to the coal-owners also. There must no longer be what is termed an " upper social stratum " in mining districts. We must get away from a social system under which the coal-owners live to themselves, having their own bowling greens and golf clubs from which workers in the mines are excluded. . The amenities for which this, bill makes provision will probably bring the coal-miners and the coal-owners closer together. I hope to see the, day when they will work together- instead of opposing one another. When I was in Great Britain recently I saw a number of clubs which are frequented by those engaged in- mining. There are no suet clubs on the coal-fields of New South Wales. At Collie, in Western Australia, I have seen how the existence of a club can help to maintain peace in industry. In a club a mine manager may approach the chairman of the miners' lodge and, over a drink of amber fluid, settle a pending dispute. What has been done along those lines on the coal-fields of New South Wales? The bill also makes provision for the amicable settlement of disputes. It also provides for the training of youths in coalmining, so that they will have some knowledge of the industry before they go to work in the mines. At Sheffield, England, in company with Mr. Jack, an officer of the Coal Commission, I saw training centres where youths who intended to engage in coal-mining were trained on the surface. No such training has ever been attempted in Australia. In this bill the Government says that money will be expended to make coalmining more attractive. I want the honorable member for Wentworth to retract what he has said. His remarks were broadcast, and, doubtless, were listened to by many persons in the community. He took advantage of the opportunity to present incomplete facts to the people.

When he referred to casualties in coalmines he took mainly the depression years between 1936-40.


Mr Harrison - They were not depression years.


Mr JAMES - The honorable member is quick to interject when I am speaking, but. when I tried to get information from him in the course of his speech he would not give me an answer. The honorable member obtained information for his speech from his friends, the coal-owners, and. in delivering it he was unable to keep his eyes off the script.

Mr.Francis. - Who prepared the honorable member's speech? Was it Gregory Forster?


Mr JAMES - It would be as correct to say that his satanic majesty delivered the Sermon on the Mount, as to say that my speech was prepared by Mr. Gregory Forster. The casualties among metalliferous miners have been cited against the coal-miners. During the depression a bounty was paid on the production of gold. Naturally, more men were employed in metalliferous mining while, on the other hand, coal-mining declined. Up till that time the population of Kalgoorlie and Boulder had been rapidly declining. It had, in fact, declined from , 50,000 to 10,000, but with the help of the gold bounty it immediately began to increase again. The number of persons engaged in the coalmining industry has been: continuously declining. In my own electorate, 13,000 coal-miners used to be employed up to 1929, but by 1936 that number had declined to 7,000. At one time, the total number of coal-miners employed in the Commonwealth was 24,000, but it is now only 15,000. There are not so many men working in the mines now, and therefore there are not so many to take the risk of injury.


Mr Harrison - The figures I quoted were per thousand workers.


Mr JAMES - I hope the honorable member will yet feel ashamed for having spoken of " maudlin sympathy ".


Mr Harrison - I was merely quoting Mr. Justice Davidson.


Mr JAMES - During my own lifetime, I have seen the disasters at Mount

Kembla, Mount Mulligan, Bulli, StanfordMerthyr, Dudley, and Greta. Has the honorable member no sympathy for the widows and orphans left by the men whose lives were lost? I say that coalmining is the most dangerous occupation in the world. The honorable member spoke of State interference, but whenI asked him in what way the State had interfered, he brushed the question aside. I am sure that the State authorities would not interfere with the mechanical extraction of pillar coal if proper control were exercised. I suggest that the board might well set up a committee to conduct experiments into the extraction of coal from pillars, side by side with pneumatic stowage.


The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member's time has expired.

Progress reported.







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