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Tuesday, 6 August 1946


Mr HUGHES (North Sydney) - This clause has delayed the committee for some time, but the Minister in charge of the bill will understand that it is really the operative clause of the measure. He will appreciate, the fact that honorable members on this side of the House have, perforce, been compelled to direct their attention to it. The clause gives the board very great powers, but they are no greater than were,' in effect, given to the coal tribunal which operated during the war, and certainly no greater than were exercised by the board appointed by me in 1916. The clause gives the board power to do all things-r- I say that advisedly. It is true that in form it stops short of conferring on the board the right to nationalize the industry, although that is, perhaps an understatement. It certainly gives the board power to acquire a mine and all properties in relation thereto. It contemplates a condition of things in which- the board calls the tune and the owners pay the piper. Under this clause, it is upon the owners that the responsibility falls, although under clause 20, the owners may have a remedy. Paragraph a of sub-clause 1 provides that the board shall- . . . ensure that coal is produced in the State in such quantities and with such regularity as to meet - requirements throughout Australia and in trade with other countries;

But this bill brings us no nearer to getting coal than we are1 to-day. History repeats itself. All this has happened before - not in another incarnation, but after World War I. In 1916, 1 appointed Mr. Justice Edmunds as the head of a tribunal to do all things necessary to bring peace in the industry, and this is what he did : He gave without preliminary inquiry, an eight hours bank-to-bank; abolition of extra shifts; an increase of 15 per cent. on contract rates, and 20 . per cent, for off-hand labour; and the abolition of the sliding scale by which wages were regulated according to the selling price of coal. Those orders revolutionized conditions in the industry. The concessions were granted on the condition that there would be peace in the industry for three years but within' twelve months a great strike broke out. Nothing that had been done for the miners, no Concession had had been granted to them< - and they had received the most - revolutionary concession, going almost to the limit of -what they had asked for- brought peace to this troubled industry. A strike broke out, and the whole industry was thrown' into chaos. From then until now conditions have been unsettled. The granting of concessions have not resulted in an improvement of output. In 1935, the output per man-shift was 3.33 tons; in 1945, it was 2.9S tons. The average number of days lost per employee per year rose from 11.7 in 1935 to 36.2 in 1945.

One need not labour the point; the facts stand out. We have emphasized that nothing will serve the purpose for which this bill was intended, but discipline in the industry; and not merely discipline, but discipline based, on a recognition by the miners that they owe to the State, to the Commonwealth and to the people, a duty to produce this vital commodity, without which industry cannot function. They are the men to whom the people leave entrusted the working of the mines. Our transport systems, our lighting, our social and industrial life cannot continue without coal. Hundreds of thousands of unionists in this country are having their opportunities for employment filched from them. They are living now from hand to mouth. I ask the Minister in charge of the bill what is he going to do ? What is there in this bill' that was not in the coal regulations in operation during the war? What power does this bill confer that is not already possessed by the Government of New South Wales? What new power is there in the bill that was not exercised by Judge Edmunds in 1916? With every concession, instead of going forward, we have gone back.







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