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Thursday, 5 March 1942

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - Judging by the speeches of members of the Opposition, very few of them have a clear conception of conditions in the coalmining industry, and they are not prepared to accept the advice of those who have a first-hand knowledge of the industry. I am surprised that some members of the Opposition are apparently not in favour of a maximum production of coal in the interests of the war effort. The regulations under consideration were promulgated for the purpose of bringing about a maximum production, and were introduced by men who understand the coal-miners and the industry. That is shown by the fact that they have provided for the appointment of committees selected from men who have a first-hand knowledge of the industry. The miners on whom some honorable senators opposite have attempted to cast a stigma are as loyal as any member of this Senate. The implication that the miners have been taking advantage of their position as employees in a sheltered industry is unworthy of those responsible for it. Those who level that charge against the miners have not the courage to do it on the coalfields, but have used the cloak of parliamentary privilege. The members of the management committees on the coal-fields are loyal men who have much at stake. They desire to see production accelerated and are most anxious to have peace* in industry. They would not hesitate to inflict the severest penalties on miners who refuse to accept the decisions of the committee. The heaviest penalty that could be imposed on a miner would be that of expulsion from his industrial organization, for he would then be regarded as a " scab " throughout the Commonwealth. No unionist who thought anything of his country would willingly become an outcast among his fellow workers. Members of a management committee would not hesitate to punish unionists who would sabotage the industry. The regulation was framed in order to preserve peace in industry, and it has achieved a great deal of success. Its disallowance would mean that there would be no penalty in the case of a person who adopted subversive activities. As one who for three or four years worked in a coal-mine, and understands the miners and the conditions under which they work, I appreciate the tribute which some honorable senators opposite have paid to the coal-miners.

Senator Foll - What work did the honorable senator perform in the mine?

Senator AYLETT - I did the same work as thousands of coal-miners are doing to-day. On one occasion I was ordered by the management to lie on my stomach in cold water under hanging rock which was likely to fall at any moment, and scrape out the mullock which had accumulated there. I did not do so, and for that reason I twas sent out of the mine: but because my action had the support of the genuine coal-miners, who understood conditions in the industry, 1 was back, at work the next day. Not infrequently miners are called upon to hew coal all day long in confined spaces at contract rates. Those honorable senators who do not know of the conditions under which miners work - and that certainly applies to the Leader of the Opposition, who has not the slightest conception of conditions in the industry - would do well to organize a party to inspect a coal-mine and see for themselves the conditions under which men have to work. Having worked as a miner among miners, I say without fear of successful contradiction that they are just as honest, sincere and loyal as are any honorable senators in this chamber.

Senator Foll - Tn what coal-mine did the honorable senator work?

Senator AYLETT - T worked in the Stat* coal-mine in Victoria., among men of all nationalities, including many good Australians, and I was engaged in all sorts of work on seams extending from 2 feet to 15 feet. I did all classes of work in that mine, as the honorable senator may prove for himself by inquiring from the old tory mine manager, Mr. McLeish, who is at the mine to-day, and has caused no end- of trouble since he has been there.

A good deal has been said, about strikes in the coal-mining industry. As a miner, I have experienced a number of lockouts, but on no occasion was the lock-out provoked by the employees. Nevertheless, such disputes were invariably referred to by the newspapers as strikes on the part of the miners. The truth is that the men were deliberately locked out by the owners, in some instances because they wanted to do some special work, in others because the railways department wanted the trucks for carting wheat. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that every time we were out of work it was as the result, of having been locked out by the employers. I say unhesitatingly that when I was engaged in the industry, the greatest loyalty to the nation was shown, not by the employers, but by the employees.

Honorable senators opposite who have objected to regulation 27b have not shown that it contains any unjust provisions. Nor 'has any Opposition senator drawn attention to regulation 27c, which provides that the commissioner shall have power to inflict penalties upon employees. The whole of the forces of the Opposition have been directed against regulation 27b, but their real reason is that they want no control over any disruptive elements which might creep into the coalmining industry. In its present state, the regulation has a deterrent effect on disruptive tendencies, because any person who tried to cause trouble in a mine could be dealt with effectively by a committee of management. The men on that committee would act promptly if they found any one endeavouring to create trouble which might lead to a weakening of the war effort. When the vote on the motion is taken, the people of this country will be able to see clearly how many honorable senators are really in earnest about a maximum war effort. Should the regulation be disallowed, the miners will be denied the right to deal with any disruptive element in the industry which might retard the production of coal. I ask honorable senators not to vote for the disallowance of the regulation until it has proved ineffective; and I assure them that should it fail, the Government will take other steps to achieve its purpose. The regulation has not yet failed, and therefore there is no ground for its disallowance. If honorable senators favour the enemy they should vote for the disallowance of the regulation, but if they want to see the greatest possible war effort in this country, they should allow the regulation to remain operative, because it has been framed by people who understand not only the framing of regulations but also the class of men to whom it applies. Finally, I remind the Senate that the employees in the coalmining industry have proved their loyalty in no unmistakeable way.

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