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Wednesday, 25 February 1942

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Cunningham (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator is not in order in describing the Minister for Labour and National Service as an extremist.

Senator McLEAY - If I have transgressed against the Standing Orders, I withdraw the remark. Section 15 of the man-power regulation reads -

15.   - (1.) The Director-General may direct any person registered as unemployed at any National Service Office to accept such employment in Australia as the Director-General thinks fit, and, in that employment, to perform such work or services as the DirectorGeneral specifies, being services which that person is, in the opinion of the DirectorGeneral, capable of performing.

If men are wanted in various areas for the production of munitions they must be obtained. In the present crisis we must not let anything baulk us. Even if some of these men be required to live in tents they will still be much better off than our soldiers who are fighting overseas. I repeat that the Government lacks the courage to deal with this problem. Whilst it does not hesitate to call up married men 35 years of age with children to serve in the Militia Forces, it is not prepared to transfer single men from the dog-racing industry, or some other equally unessential industry, to the manufacture of munitions simply because some unions are opposed to such action. I urge the Government to realize the seriousness of the present situation. The people of Australia are staggered at its attitude, for instance, in respect of the recurrent stoppages in the coal-mining industry.I know that the position is difficult; but is the Government or the unions going to run this country? I want to be fair to the Prime Minister and his colleagues in respect of the attempts they have made to deal with this problem; but the difficulty mainly arises because of lack of courage on the part of the Government. This is clear from the following extracts which I have taken from press reports during the last month : -

January 5th. - Mr. Curtin called for report from Mighell on mining stoppages involving thousands of miners.

January 8th. - Mr. Curtin in an unequivocal ultimatum dispatched to the Miners Federation threatened that the Government would take drastic action if the mines were not re-opened at once. Miners given until noon to-morrow.

January 8th. - Mr. Curtin said that the Government would be traitorous to Australia if it tolerated the stoppages.

January 9th. - "Work or fight!" Because there was no general resumption of work at the New South Wales coalfields this morning, the Federal Government at noon to-day promulgated a new National Security Order making it an offence against the National Security Act for any person, normally employed at a coalmine, to refuse to work when the mine is open and when he has been directed, or otherwise advised, to work by the committee of management of his union. Persons who contravene the regulation are liable for a fine of £100 or imprisonment for six months or both if proceeded against summarily, or for an unlimited fine and unlimited imprisonment if prosecuted on indictment.

The regulations also enable the right of exemption from military service now accorded to employees in the coalmining industry, to be withdrawn from a person who refuses to work, thus rendering him liable to be called up for military service.

I challenge any Minister in this chamber to state that that has been carried into effect. Has any miner been fined, or has exemption from service in the Militia been withdrawn from any miner who has been on strike?

January 9th. - Mr. Curtin said that the Government was determined that every body able to do so must work or fight to win the war, and those who refused without reasonable excuse to work in essential industry would be called up to fight.

To-day's penalty regulations are aimed at coal owners and coalminers as individuals who refuse to work, but they pointedly avoid the inclusion of the union within the scope nl the new penalty clauses.

January 16th. - No action is likely to be taken by the Commonwealth to intervene in the coal strikes in New South Wales until after the week-end. Mr. Lazzarini left for Wollongong, where to-morrow he will address Bulli miners.

January 10th. - Three New South Wales, mines idle to-day - more than 1.500 nien.

January 21st. - Seven New South Wales mines idle yesterday. Arising out of minor local disputes.

January 21st. - The persistence of local disputes in the coal industry will be discussed at Canberra on Saturday at a conference to be arranged by Evatt, Beasley, Ward, Mighell, and representatives of the Miners Federation. lt was stated in well informed circles to-day that the Government would not permit the disputes to go on, and would if necessary further amend the coal control regulations to establish adequate discipline.

The regulations issued a fortnight ago are proving deficient in that the strike is punishable only when held in defiance of union instructions.

In spite of these facts we are told that we have a 100 per cent, war effort and total mobilization, and that the Government intends to administer vital war measures without fear or favour. The press reports continue -

February 12th. - Loss of 22,000 tons in coal output! Effect of disputes this week.

A large deputation from the Miners Federation will submit to the Prime Minister and other Ministers in Canberra to-morrow a new code of demands which they consider should be conceded if coal production is to be increased.

February 13th. - Mr. Beasley announced tonight that a meeting of the Council of the Miners Federation in Sydney earlier to-day had decided to direct all members of the union at all pits, except the Richmond pit. to resume work forthwith.

Following their secret interview with Mr. Curtin this week, leaders of the Miners Federation decided to-day to convene aggregate meetings on the coalfields on Sunday to discuss a recommendation that all strikes should be abandoned and that the future policy of the Federation should be continuous production.

February 12th. - The Federal Council of the Miners Federation to-night issued a request to all coalminers throughout New South Wales, except the Richmond Main colliery, to resume work immediately. To-day's request by the union council followed a conference in Canberra of council representatives with the Prime Minister and Evatt and Beasley.

February 24th. - Eight pits stop work! Two thousand nine hundred miners out; Cabinet action. Eight coal mines are idle to-day, involving more than 2,000 men. The Federal Government is considering what steps to take.

Thus from the 5 th January till yesterday, the 24th February, we have a recital of stoppages in the coal-mining industry. Such a position is deplorable. The Government's negligence in this respect is most unfair to our soldiers who are giving their lives for this country. I again urge the Government to tackle this problem courageously. I assure it that every member of the Opposition will stand behind it in any action which it takes to steer this country through the present crisis. Two days after our shores were bombed, and Australian lives lost on our own soil, a strike is tolerated in an essential industry. Such a position cannot be allowed to continue.

The regulations recently issued dealing with economic organization are also causing grave concern. I was pleased to hear the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) announce, in effect, that the Government has now realized the error of its ways, and intends to call upon Opposition members to assist it in amending these regulations. I presume that that is the request which the Government will make to us, although the Minister stated that we are to be asked to assist in setting up the machinery to implement these regulations. I now tell the Minister that we propose to co-operate with the Government by pointing out how some of these drastic proposals will cause economic chaos, and instead of helping the war effort will do a great disservice to a large number of people in the community. I do not propose to deal with these regulations in detail at this stage. I merely take this opportunity to say that if some of these proposals are not modified, I, personally, shall do all I can to have them disallowed. We are prepared to discuss them with the Government.

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