Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 25 September 1941

Senator ARNOLD (New South Wales) . - I disagree entirely with the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) that nothing further should be mentioned at this stage about the president of the Miners' Federation, Mr. Nelson, in this matter. J. could comment on many aspects of the statement now being debated. For instance, I violently disagree with the methods used by the Attorney- General (Mr. Hughes) in making payments out of this fund. However, I intend to confine my remarks to the aspect that a very grave injustice has been done to one of the most powerful industrial organizations in the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister (Mr. Eadden) in his statement said that the president of the Miners Federation, Mr. Nelson, and another official of the federation, about whose identity the Attorney-General is not certain, called upon the AttorneyGeneral in his office in Sydney. The statement then goes on to say, in effect, that the president of the federation received the sum of £300 to cover travelling expenses for which provision has already been made by the federation.' I quote the following from to-day's CanberraTimes: -

Mr. Hughesthen told of being visited by Mr. Nelson.

Mr. Hughessaid that Mr. Nelson told him that he and the secretary of his union were anxious to put into operation a policy of continuity of industry during the war. It was for that purpose the leaflets and speeches were written. Nelson told him that his organization contained Communists who were opposed to any attempt to follow out this policy and he, therefore, asked the Government to make money available. Mr. Hughes said he consulted with the then Acting 'Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) and the money was made available.

No proof has yet been provided that Mr. Nelson received any payment whatever from this fund. So far as we know the money alleged to have been paid to him was handled by several persons, and it has not yet been proved whether Mr. Nelson was the final recipient, or that be at any time actually received any of this money. Consequently, a grave injustice has been done to this man, who is the head of what, is probably the biggest industrial organization in this country. He is now under a cloud. To-day, he is suffering as the result of statements and innuendoes attributed in press reports to his colleagues and to members of this Parliament. Itis alleged 'by some people without an atom of proof that he has been bribed. I was glad to hear the Minister say that the Government will appoint a royal commission to investigate payments from this fund. However, in view of the damage done to Mr. Nelson's character, and that of other officials of this great industrial organization, we cannot afford to wait for a disclosure of the facts through such an investigation. In to-day's Sydney Daily Telegraph the following statement is attributed to Mr. Nelson : -

Referring to the allegation that he had received £300 from the secret fund Mr. Nelson said: "If any such money was paid, it was never received by me in any shape or form. It is wrong to say that I or" any other official of the Miners Federation, either together or alone, visited the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) about the matter.

What are the facts about the payment of this £300? According to the statement before us the Attorney-General possesses a receipt for that sum signed " J"-!.. Winkler ". No other receipt has been produced. The Minister for the Interior said a little while ago that Winkler was a member of the Labour party in New South Wales. He was an employee of a Labour paper, but he wac never employed by the Australian Labour party. Further, he was " sacked " from the Labour paper which employed him because his ethics did not meet with the approval of that paper. Yet the Government asks us to regard as authentic proof a receipt signed by this man to the effect that he paid the sum of £300 to the' president of the Miners Federation, one of the biggest industrial organizations in this country, and to believe that the latter accepted it as a bribe to influence this great organization to carry out the wishes of this Government. Such an allegation is absurd.

Senator Keane - He could not have led his organization to do the Government's work even if he wanted to.

Senator ARNOLD - That is so. If this money were really paid to Mr. Nelson why has no proof of that fact been provided? Surely Winkler would have received some form of receipt from Mr. Nelson to show that the latter had received the money. Was the Government prepared merely to accept Winkler's word that he paid this money to somebody else? The statement made by the Attorney-General lacks conviction. He has simply stated that, the money was paid over. After hearing the AttorneyGeneral defend himself in the House of

Representatives, I am not prepared to accept his word in preference to the word of the president of the Miners Federation. The Attorney-General also said that another official of the Miners Federation is involved, another official whose identity he does not know. At one stage he indicated that that other official was the general secretary of the federation, but when that official denied that he was the person, the Attorney-General said that he was not sure who the other official was. If the Attorney-General makes money available to any individual in this country from public funds, then it is only fair that this Parliament should be enabled to discover the final recipients of such payments

Senator Herbert Hays - The royal commission's inquiry will disclose the facts.

Senator ARNOLD - I hope so. However, I fear that such an inquiry will drag on for weeks or months, and, in the meantime, the characters of the officials of the Miners Federation will remain under a cloud. We should do everything in our power immediately in order to protect those men. On Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to meet the president and the secretary of the" Northern Miners Branch, which is the most powerful branch of the Miners Federation. The secretary, Mr. Simpson, is an Australian of a particularly fine type. He is a cleanliving gentleman, and bears an excellent character. To-day, however, through no fault of his own, his character is under a cloud. A short while ago he was married, and out of his savings built a nice little home for himself and his wife. Since these allegations have been published his political enemies have circulated rumours among some lodges that, perhaps, Mr. Simpson received some of this money. He and the president and vice-president of the Northern Miners Branch are so deeply concerned over this matter, that they have assured me that unless the Government takes determined action very quickly to publish the full facts they intend to recommend to their Branch Council to-morrow that the miners in all of the northern pits cease work. The Government asked the miners to co-operate in the maintenance of industrial peace, and despite the fact that that co-operation has been promised, these allegations have been made, and a cloud thrown over all miners' officials. That i3 not fair. These men occupy responsible positions. In the north, the three men to whom I have referred could, by signing a cheque, decamp with £80,000 of the miners' funds. Probably Mr. Nelson would have an even bigger fund under his control, yet the Government has suggested that he was prepared to be bribed for £300. On the face of it, the argument is absurd. Whilst these allegations remain unanswered, how can the Government expect trade union officials to co-operate with it. Any trade union official who is prepared to go to Melbourne, Adelaide, or any other place, and have his travelling expenses paid by the Government, is, if we accept the Prime Minister's reasoning, immediately suspect. To-day, Mr. Nelson is suspect. He has been one of the industrial militants and some of us are wondering if the allegations against him have been made in order to shatter his reputation in the trade union movement. Whether that is or is not the case, we do not know, but it seems to be a. distinct possibility. I am very pleased that the Minister has given an assurance that the whole of the facts are to be ventilated. I sincerely hope that that will be done quickly in order that these men may have their names cleared. I believe that in order to maintain a democratic government, it is necessary for the people to have confidence in their leaders. They must believe that the government and its officers are imbued with the principle of integrity. In times of stress such as the present, it is unfortunate that a fund has to be used for such purposes, although the Government has claimed that it is necesary. Surely there are ways in which that money could be properly accounted for, so that responsible people such a3 trade union leaders would not be so reflected upon as to make the appointment of a royal commission necessary. I sincerely hope that the Government will take an early opportunity to set up the royal commission, in order that these men may prove to their comrades in the trade union movement that the allegations made against them are untrue, as I believe they are.

Suggest corrections