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Thursday, 5 March 1942


Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .-1 have not very much to say about this matter, but I give to the Government due credit for its good intentions. I believe, that it introduced this regulation with the laudable object of increasing coal production. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and all that the Government has done is to make strikes legal oh the coal-fields.


Senator Fraser - Nonsense ! The regulation has proved effective because every mine is working, and the federation has taken advantage of it by inflicting fines on certain employees who refused to work.


Senator LECKIE - That is one of the strangest things that I have ever heard. The federation may have fined some of its members yesterday, but it did not do so under regulation 27b. That regulation does not give the management committee any power to fine its members. I do not dispute the fact that the men were fined, but the fines were imposed under the federation's own rules, which have nothing to do with this regulation. The claim that all miners- are back at work now merely as the result of the promulgation of this regulation is the biggest slur on the coal-miners that has ever been uttered. I believe that the coal-miners arc as loyal as anybody else, and I believe that they have been thoroughly aroused to the seriousness of our position. They have gone back to work because they consider it to be their national duty to do so. I do not believe for one moment that they have returned to work, either temporarily or permanently, because certain regulations were enacted that gave management committees power to expel them if they did not work when they were told to do so.


Senator Aylett - Es the honorable senator disappointed because they went back? :


Senator LECKIE - No, but I am disappointed because the Government has made it legal for coal-miners to go on strike if they decide to do so.


Senator Fraser - That is a wrong interpretation of the regulation. .


Senator LECKIE - That is nonsense. One only has to read the regulation to see its meaning.


Senator Fraser - Senator Johnston dealt with that phase of the mattter in his speech.


Senator LECKIE - The honorable gentleman is prepared to throw bouquets to any body who votes as he wishes him to vote. I imagine that he is well satisfied with the speech made by Senator Johnston. In a case of this kind, when we . point out in the kindliest possible way that the Government has made a mistake and has opened up the possibility, and the probability, of greater stoppages than ever in the coal-mining industry, it ought to take notice of us. Senator Spicer suggested an alteration of the regulation which would have given effect to our wishes. Why not be an ordinary, sensible, everyday, giveandtake Ministry and agree to that suggestion?

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.a


Senator LECKIE - I prefer to think that the coal-miners are back at work for much more creditable reasons than those attributed to them by the Government, which says that they have returned to the pits because of fear of punishment. I should like to believe that they went back because they find their country in the throes of a great tragedy and because they realize that the product of their labour is necessary for the safety of Australia. I do not believe that tinregulation to which exception is taken has had the effect that the Government supposes. In my opinion, Ministers have totally misconceived its effect. It provides that, if a duly constituted committee of management of any organization of workers in the coal-mining industry directs that the men must go back to work, they must do so, hut if it is decided that a strike is legal they need not return to work. That provision is not at all simple, but is complicated by the fact that there are a number of industrial organizations in the coalmining industry. There is no committee of management for the whole of the employees. Each trade union will decide for itself whether its members shall or shall not return to work.

Are Ministers aware of the existence of Statutory Rule No. 77, under which a Minister, or any other person authorized by a Minister, may direct any person resident in Australia to perform such duties as are specified in the direction, and to perform such duties in relation to his trade, business calling or profession as are so specified? Is that regulation to be applied to all members of the community except the coal-miners? All other persons are required to act on the orders of a Minister or his deputy, whether given orally or in writing, but apparently the coal-miners need not go back to work unless they decide for themselves to do so. Are we to set up an aristocracy of labour in the special interests of coal-miners? I suggest that the Ministers who have been dealing with this matter have deliberately favoured the coal-miners at the expense of every other craft union and every other class in the community.


Senator Fraser - So long as we getresults, what does it matter?


Senator LECKIE - The miners were not working yesterday, or the day before.


Senator Fraser - But they are to-day.


Senator LECKIE - Will the Minister promise that they will continue to work to-morrow, and until the war is over?


Senator Fraser - I hope so.


Senator LECKIE - We should accept the suggestion of Senator Spicer that the commission would be as good a judge as the men themselves as to whether they were legally out of work. This regulation conflicts with all our preconceived ideas of British justice.


Senator Clothier - Does not the honorable senator believe in peace in industry?


Senator LECKIE - Yes. Those engaged in industry should be properly recompensed for all of their work, but it seems to me that this regulation will prevent peace in industry, because the

Government is setting up class against class, and is giving privileges to the coal-miners which are denied to every other section of the workers. I give to the Government all credit for the best of intentions in this matter, but, when it has been shown that by a simple amendment the regulation could be made satisfactory to the Opposition and to the community at large, the Government should be sufficiently generous to meet the Opposition's request. I appeal to honorable senators opposite, in a spirit of reasonableness, to admit that proper thought has not been given to the effect of this regulation.







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