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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - I propose to introduce a fresh point into the discussion in order to show that the position is not exactly what Senator Spicer would have us believe. Theoretically, the commission is based upon the principle of equity - there are representatives of the mine-owners and of employees in the coal-mining industry, with a chairman who is supposed to be impartial. When a decision is arrived at .by that tribunal, it would appear from what has been said by some honorable senators that that is all that can be done. But the Opposition has not told us that the management of the mine has the sole right to say in what way effect shall be given to the decision of the tribunal That is where the tribunal is unbalanced and one-sided, and obviously in favour of the mine-owners, to the detriment of the employees in the industry. It is because of the ways in which awards of the court and decisions of tribunals similar to the coal-mining tribunal have been administered that so many industrial disputes have arisen in this country. We shall never have equity unless the miners working in the industry have rights similar to those enjoyed by the owners, who are now able to say in what way effect shall be given to the decisions of the tribunal. The mine-owner never consults the miners as to who shall be " hired and fired " or as to whether this or that shall he done. There are managements which are provocative and whose one desire is to defeat the decisions of the tribunal. On paper, it would seem that such managements are always right and the employees always wrong. In the belief that the management of the coal-mines is always right lies the cause of 95 per cent, of the disputes in the coal-mining industry. .1 admit that some managements are tolerant and will listen to representations by employees, but there are other managements which are uncompromising and will not listen to the workers. On the contrary, they seize every opportunity to force their views on the employees, and to pursue a provocative policy, and then to make it appear that the miners have disregarded a decision of the tribunal. Ye legal gentlemen opposite eloquently, plausibly and speciously plead that everything in the industry is based upon the principle of justice and equity. I say to Senator Spicer that if the coal-miners be given the same rights as the management now has in determining how effect shall be given to the decisions of the tribunal, there will be fewer disputes in the coalmining industry.

Senator Leckie - Is that right not conferred by regulation 27a?

Senator CAMERON - No. That regulation deals with the owners of coalmines, and, as Senator Spicer correctly pointed out, they decidehow the deter- mination of the tribunal shall be given effect. 1 begin where the honorable senator left off; I claim that the employees have- as much right to say how effect shall be given to that decision as the management now has.Under existing conditions, that right reposes solely in the management, and the employees have no say in the matter whatever. In t he circumstances, it is unreasonable to claim that the existing method of controlling the industry is fair. The coalowner does not confer with the coal- miners as to the location in which operations shall be conducted, or whether machines shall or shall not be employed in taking down pillars, and so on.

Senator Spicer - The owners have to carry out the direction of the commission.

Senator CAMERON - The commission does not go into those details. The removal of pillars has long been a contentious matter in the coal-mining industry. As the work proceeds and coal is hewed out of the ground, pillars are left to support the ceiling. Then as the men work back to the point of commencement, the pillars are removed. In the past the decision as to whether the work of removing the pillars shall be done by m a chines or by hand has been decided by the management; and should its deci- sion be challenged by the miners in the only way possible to them, the men are blamed for going on strike, and the management has its way. On paper the management has the right to say whether a miner shall be deprived of his means of livelihood, but the miner has no right to come to a similar decision in respect of the owner of the mines. Obviously, the present system of management in the coal-mining industry is unbalanced and one-sided, but that fact is not recognized by the Arbitration Court. Special pleaders among the Opposition argue entirely on the wording of the regulation, without taking into consideration the conditions under which the men work. They reason that the coal-miners are always wrong and the owners of the mines always right; but although honorable senators may continue to reasonin that way and try to discredit and embarrass the Government, they will not convince the majority of the people of this country, who are watching closely with an intelligent understanding to see bow industry is being manipulated behind the scenes to the detriment of the workers. They will not easily be deceived by references to the war-time situation made with a view to capitalizing the existing state of affairs for party political purposes. All that regulation 27B provides is that, so far as 'is humanly possible, the committee of management shall maintain continuity of operations. The implication behind the action of the Opposition to-day is that it does not want continuity of operations, except on its own terms. Both Senator A. J. McLachlan and Senator Spicer spoke of even-handed justice, but. they cannot point to one industry in which it exists. The absence of that even-handed justice in industry is the cause of dissatisfaction leading to disputes. Even Senator McBride has admitted' that the present Government is doing all that is humanly possible to maintain and increase production in this the most serious period in the history of this country. It lias allowed its policy to be ruthlessly interfered with in order that there may be no interference with production. On many occasions I have told workers in New South Wales and Victoria that according to the Labour party's policy they are not receiving what they are entitled to get, but that I would rather take a risk with Australian employers than with the enemy. I am prepared to go to the utmost limit in giving away things that I hold clear in order that production may be increased. That the Government has taken the same view I defy the Opposition to deny. Yet some honorable senators indulge in specious pleading, saying that the committee of management will be dependent on the votes of the men whom it seeks to control, and on that ground they ask for the disallowance of this regulation. At the same time they say to the people of Australia that they stand for an all-in war effort and are willing to co-operate 100 per cent with the Government so that industry may be organized and the maximum effort obtained. I say to such honorable senators that they may win in this chamber when' the vote is taken, but they will not win outside. Their power does not begin and end in this place, . because there are men outside the Parliament who will not allow them to do what they want to do. However, if honorable senators opposite are willing to take the risk, the responsibility is theirs, not the Government's.

I agree with Senator McBride that 99 per cent, of the miners represented by the members of the committees of management have a proper sense of their responsibility. Yet by implication the honorable senator said that as they are dependent on the votes of others they could not properly discharge their duties. The honorable senator cannot have it both ways. I and my colleagues have had many years of experience of industrial disputes; and, in many instances, we said as members of a management committee that we did not agree that the workers* claims were justified. But in the past we had no power similar to this to deal with disputes. The objective of regulation 27B is to give to the union management committees power to maintain continuity of operations under an obviously one-sided management. That is proof of the degree to which the management committees are prepared to go in order to assist the war effort. The Leader of the Opposition declared that the Government had consulted outside unions upon this regulation. "What is wrong with that? When he and his colleagues were in office their government conferred 'with outside organizations over an over again. By implication he says today that it is wrong for this Government to do the same thing.

Senator McLeay - It is wrong to allow the unions to control the Government.

Senator CAMERON - The honorable senator said that because we consulted outside unions we were pandering to the unions. The, logic of his statement is that what was right for his government, to do is wrong for this Government to do.

Senator McLeay - What did the Prime Minister say to the coal-miners in January?

Senator CAMERON - The Prime Minister made several statements; but, if I understand his attitude correctly, it was that rather than have, as we could easily have had, a general stoppage in the industry, he would almost plead on hit knees to the miners, as I would also, that while we are at war, and while the enemy is on our doorstep, they should put up with difficulties and fight them out afterwards. That is the implication of the statements made by the Prime Minister ; and that is what we are asking the Opposition to do to-day. We could make political capital out of many issues that arise from day to day just as the Leader of the Opposition has done to-day in respect of this matter. He is trying to take an unfair advantage of the Government for political purposes. If we were not at war, and the position was not so desperate as it is, I should use much stronger language, but I do not propose to do so. I simply say that should the Senate carry the motion to disallow this regulation, and, as the result, strikes should increase, let honorable senators opposite remember that the responsibility rests on them and not on the Government. We have done all that is humanly possible to maintain production in the coal-mining, aircraft and the munitions industries. In a workshop in North Melbourne which I visited a couple of weeks ago I met men and women who were working twelve hours a day for seven days a week, with no let-up at all. They have been doing so for months, and are employed manufacturing mountings on which will be placed the engines of Beaufort bombers, and also rangefinders. They are working almost to exhaustion rather than challenge the unfairness of having to do so. because they realize that what they are making is indispensable; they are making sacrifices in the workshops. We ask the Opposition to do nothing to impede the war effort, as it evidently intends to do, but to allow theGovernment to continue the job which it has been doing and hones to do even more successfully in the future.

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