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Tuesday, 21 June 1949

Mr CHIFLEY (Macquarie) (Prime Minister and Treasurer) - by leave - I do not propose to deal with this matter at very great length to-day. In consultation with the Premier of New South Wales I issued a public statement concerning this matter, which has, I understand, been reported very fully in the press; in fact, it has received much more publicity than I had expected. That statement expresses the views of the Australian Government and of the Government of New South Wales concerning the crisis which has arisen in the coal industry. To be brief, we have made it absolutely clear that a special authority was established to deal with disputes of this kind. That authority is the Coal Industry Tribunal, which was established, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out, by joint legislation introduced by the Australian

Government and the Government of New South "Wales. That tribunal was established, at the request of the miners' federation, to solve industrial problems that arise in the industry, particularly in New South Wales. As adjuncts to it, and to ensure that difficulties which arise in the industry are dealt with promptly, reference boards and industrial officials were appointed. The issues in this dispute are simple - at least, they are very easy to understand. As I have already pointed out, special provision ha3 been made by the Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales for the settlement of disputes in the industry, whether they arise from action on the part of mine-owners or miners, and the Coal Industry Tribunal is the only authority which the two Governments will recognize in the settlement of disputes such as the present one. As that aspect of the matter has been dealt with at some length in the joint statement made by Mr. McGirr and myself, I do not propose to amplify the points that were made in it. Indeed, I did not propose to make any statement on the matter to-day. I hope that, upon reflection, the miners will realize that they are not only doing a grave injustice to their own interests as individuals, as citizens and as members of the miners' federation, but that they are also seeking to impose on the people of this country an intolerable hardship, which is completely unjustifiable. I hope that, upon reflection, those who direct the executive affairs of the miners' federation will realize that they should not proceed with their threat, as the Leader of the Opposition termed it, to call a general strike on Monday. While I am speaking on this matter, I take the opportunity to say that if the arbitration machinery that was established especially for the coal-miners is to be treated as it has been treated by them, the Government will have to consider seriously whether it is worth while to retain that machinery. That machinery provides a most complete system of arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes in the industry, but if the coal-miners prefer to disregard the Coal Industry Tribunal and resort to the law of the jungle in the settlement of their disputes, I am sure that both the Government of New South Wales and my Government will have to consider seriously whether it is worth while retaining that machinery. If the machinery were removed, the miners would, of course, have to go back to the Arbitration Court, under whose jurisdiction they operated originally, when they complained that their troubles were not dealt with expeditiously. In conclusion, I repeat my hope that the miners will realize that the action which they are threatening to take is unjustifiable and will be calamitous both for themselves and for the community. They will do their own cause untold harm if they proceed with their threatened action. I am sure that the majority of miners possess some sense of responsibility to the community. They are the people who dig the coal, and, after all, they are the only ones who can provide coal for the community. Despite statements which have been made to the contrary, I believe that the miners have a sense of responsibility to the people of this country, and they must realize that the action which they propose to take is completely unjustifiable. Finally, I assure the House that I am maintaining close consultation with the Government of New South Wales, whose interest in the settlement of this dispute is as real as that of any citizen. If I can make any statement that will be of information as the situation develops I shall do so.

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