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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Senator McBRIDE (South Australia) - I assure the Senate that I have a very real sense of responsibility in supporting the motion for the disallowance of this regulation. I realize, as does every other honorable senator, the critical position that faces this country. Consequently I give an. assurance that this motion has not been moved in any flippant mood, but because we believe that the regulation complained of constitutes a real injustice and does not preserve equity between various classes of the community. 1 was interested to hear the reply by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and to note the points which the Minister raised in rebuttal of the case placed before the Senate by my leader. At no time did the Minister touch upon the crux of the objection to this regulation.' He tried to justify it by saying that it had been successful, but I suggest that he pays no tribute to the patriotism of the coal-miners if he considers that it was the influence of this regulation which enabled him to state, as he did, that all the coal-mines in Australia were working to-day. Surely the Leader of the Senate will admit that the coal-miners too, have a sense of responsibility. Indeed, I have no hesitation in faying that at least 98 per cent, and probably 99 per cent, of them have a very full sense of responsibility, and had they been permitted to express it by carrying out their wishes, there would have been fewer strikes. The real point about this regulation is this: I agree that under the stress and urgency of war-time conditions when Ministers are striving to the utmost to carry out their administrative work it is quite possible that, without any deliberate intention to injure any particularsection of the community, for a regulation, to bo issued which does create an anomalous situation. Therefore, I do not think we need consider this regulation in any heated spirit. We merely wish to point out to the Government that it is completely wrong for one tribunal to adjudicate for one section of an industry, and an entirely different body to adjudicate for another section. Quite frankly, I admit that I am not nearly so conversant with all the . ramifications of the coal-mining industry as are many hon orable senators, but during my brief term as Minister for Supply and Development, the first coal commission to be constituted since the war began was set up. In doing that, we did what we thought was the proper thing; we consulted both owners and miners, and 3 should like to pay a tribute to the helpful attitude which was displayed by the miners' representatives on any occasion on which I met them. I say also that with my lack of general knowledge of coalmining, conditions which I found to exist in that industry appalled me. Consequently, I was not surprised at the frequency of disturbances and disputes. However, the Menzies Government also recognized that fact, and, in consultation with various interests, it set up local reference boards and a central reference board which, in addition to the Arbitration Court, would be on the spot to settle disputes as they arose. I have no quarrel with this Government if it feels that some additional tribunal is necessary. . I assure the Leader of the Senate that with regulation 27a, providing for control over the coal-owners, I have no dispute at all, and if the Government considers that some authority should be set up to consider whether or not disputes in the coal-mining industry are of sufficient substance to cause a strike, I still have no quarrel, but I agree with Senator A. j. McLachlan that to use a committee which is composed of partisans representing one section only is completely' improper. I am sure that the people of this country will agree that with the tribunals already . in existence for the immediate consideration of disputes, at this critical time in our history there is no dispute of sufficient magnitude to cause a strike in the coal-mining industry. If the Leader of the Government is in a conciliatory frame of mind with regard to this' regulation, and the Government feels that, this power should be given 'to some authority-

Senator Collings - Regulation 27b is our authority.

Senator McBRIDE - Honorable senators opposite have asked what alternative we propose, and I am merely suggesting that the Leader of the, Senate may'be in a conciliatory frame of mind. I remind him that lie did not touch upon the equity of these two tribunals during the whole of his remarks.

Senator Collings - There is nothing about two tribunals in regulation 27b.

Senator McBRIDE - No, but a tribunal specified in regulation 27a deals with the coal-owners.

Senator Collings - The honorable senator has not moved for the disallowance of regulation 27a.

Senator McBRIDE - No, because we do not object to it. We contend that a tribunal consisting of one representative of the coal-miners, one representative of the owners, and an independent chairman should be a competent body, and if it is reasonable for that body to control the coal-owners surely it is only equitable that the same authority control the coal-miners.

SenatorFraser. - It does.

Senator McBRIDE - It does not. By implication, the committee of management of a union is given power to sanction . a strike.

Senator Collings - No.

Senator McBRIDE - The Leader of the Senate, who apparently has had voluble legal advice on this matter, should realize that that power is given by implication. The regulation provides, in effect, that the miners are not running counter to the National Security Act if they go on strike, unless this tribunal has ordered them back to work. So, by implication, if the tribunal does not order the miners back to work they are not contravening the regulations if they go on strike. I appeal to the Government to realize that, whether by intention or otherwise, the effect of this regulation is inequitable. If that discrimination 'were not intended, then honorable senators opposite should support the motion for the disallowance of the regulation, and should substitute one which carries out their intentions. So farI have heard nobody on the Government side of the chamber say that that was the intention.

Senator Courtice - The intention is to provide for disciplining the miners.

Senator McBRIDE - There is power under the union rules to discipline the miners, and I have yet to learn that this additional power has been used since this regulation was promulgated.

Finally, the Leader of the Senate told us that coal production was at its highest level in the history of the industry.I am very pleased to hear that, because we have heard reports which indicated the contrary. I know from my own personal knowledge that supplies of coal in South Australia have not been the best in the history of the industry, and, in fact, have been considerably smaller than they shouldhave been in this time of emergency. There is no need for us to become heated on this subject. The Opposition has made its position clear. I appeal to the Government, since it did not intend to conferupon the committees of management the powers that are conferred upon them by this regulation, to agree to the motion for the disallowance of regulation 27b, and to promulgate a regulation which does carry out its intention.

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