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Tuesday, 21 June 1949

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Leader of the Opposition) . - by leave - I appreciate being granted leave by the House to make a statement on the coal crisis because it is not the usual practice to intervene at question time with a statement. I do not desire to make a statement of a contentious kind, but it is desirable that it should be put on record at the earliest possible moment after the meeting of the House to-day that there is a very grave state of emergency developing in Australia as the result of the stoppage in coal production that has already occurred and of the threat which is held out of a general strike in the coal industry. Those circumstances produce a state which can. be described quite moderately as a state of national emergency, which, if it develops, will involve many hundreds of thousands of people in Australia in tragic unemployment and in the gravest form of hardship. There seems to be very little doubt, having regard to the history of this matter, and having regard to such remarks as the Prime Minister himself has addressed to; us, that this represents an attack upon thecommunity by the Communists. This is a Communist-organized threat following upon a Communist-organized stoppage. It could be described, therefore,, quite' accurately as a threat of war against the community by a small militant minority in the community. On this side of the House and, I daresay, on both sides of it, because I do not imagine that there will be much difference of opinion about it, it is felt that the position is that the community ararat defend itself against any attack of this kind. It is, we believe, our duty in. this Parliament to defend the community to the limit of our powers, by all available means. There are, of course, means already in existence. We axe not defenceless. Also, if it becomes necessary to create new means, we must then create new means. If it turns out that the existing laws of this country are inadequate, then I take leave to remind the Government and the people that there has already been, in the coal industry, joint action by the Commonwealth and by the State of New South Wales, each acting to the limit of its own constitutional powers and authority. As a result of that joint action we have the Joint Coal Board. As a result of that joint action we have also the Coal Industry Tribunal. Indeed, it is in defiance of the jurisdiction of that tribunal that these present threats have been. made. I say, on behalf of the Opposition, that if it should turn out to be true - and the position should disclose itself very quickly - that further legislative powers ought to be taken by joint action of the sarnie kind, then, by all means in our power, we shall facilitate the introduction of any necessary legislation, and also facilitate its discussion. I do not mean by that that we waive in advance any right to discuss the details of any proposal put forward, but insofar as a parliamentary Opposition may do so we are prepared to facilitate the introduction of any necessary law and the discussion of that necessary law. I add that apart altogether from the invoking of old or new legal machinery in this fight, there is nf necessity, or there will be of necessity in a certain event, a very great effort of organization that must be made to defend the interests of the community, and should it be within the power of His Majesty's Opposition to co-operate in any way in the establishment of any such organization, it will do so. I add, too, that it transpired in the last report of the Joint Coal Board that our production of coal in Australia was 1,500,000 tons less, even at the figure at which it then stood, than our requirements. That suggests very strongly that, in addition to internal measures that should be undertaken, urgent consideration ought to be given to the- importation of coal into this country. I say with great respect to the Prime Minister that we must not approach this matter in too orthodox a way, because the employment of perhaps 1,000,000 people depends- upon how it is handled. The normal standard of living of more than 1,000,000 people will depend upon how we handle it. The Opposition sees this as a great national emergency, and 1 therefore- have not approached it with any contentious statement or any statement designed to be provocative, .but merely with the desire to express our sense of the emergency, to indicate what I have indicated to the Government, and to say that we are prepared to collaborate in any resolute action that might be taken to defend what is the paramount interest of this country, the interest of the ordinary men and women in it.

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