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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) . - The debate so far has dealt with the future of the Western Australian goldmining industry and the close secrecy which the Government has preserved with regard to its intentions. But there are gold-mines in States other than those in Western Australia. There are gold-mines in Victoria and Queensland. I presume that the Government does not wish to single out the Western Australian mines.

Senator Fraser - Of course not.

Senator LECKIE - Then why not say so? I object to secrecy in a matter of this kind.

Senator Fraser - The honorable senator wants a forecast of Government, policy.

Senator LECKIE - If the Government has made up its mind, it should say so. It should not conduct its negotiations in a cloud of secrecy, and it should not have sent a junior member of its party to Western Australia in order to ascertain how the miners of Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie and other places would regard the proposal to curtail production. If the Government considers the restriction of gold production to be a matter of sound national policy, it should state that policy without equivocation and submit arguments in favour of it. So far, it has behaved in a hole-and-corner fashion by starting a whispering campaign. I do not know what object it had in doing so, and I do not know whether a similar campaign has been started in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. If the Government intends to restrict gold production, it should announce its decision at once, tell the people employed in the industry that they will bc compensated, and explain how they will be compensated and from what source the compensation will be drawn. If it can prove that the man-power which it requires is essential to the war effort and cannot he obtained from any other industry, nc honorable senator will say a word against its decision, and it can be assured of the support of the people employed on the gold-fields.

Senator Fraser - The Government would not curtail the gold-mining industry except for the better prosecution of the war.

Senator LECKIE - The Government is full of good intentions with respect to the prosecution of the war, but it is also full of good political intentions. Many other industries, apart from the gold-mining industry, are to be closed down or curtailed. I do not advance any arguments against such action if it be necessary for the defence of the nation. But if the Government has decided that it must draw man-power from the goldfields, it should be honest and say that it proposes to do so, giving good reasons in support of its decisions. If it had already decided to curtail production, why did it send the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, as its accredited representative, to Western Australia in order to test the reaction of interested people in. that State?

Senator Cameron - There was no secrecy, because the honorable member for Kalgoorlie told every body of the Government's intentions.

Senator LECKIE - The Government did not tell every body about its plans. T. have noticed many cases of underground engineering by the Government, and I have heard of many whispering campaigns. This is a good example of a whispering campaign. The people are being told that the Government is considering whether it will take away the livelihood of certain persons, whether it will ruin Western Australia, and whether it will ruin Bendigo and a few other gold-mining centres, but that it has not made up its mind. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie went into his electorate in order to find out how The scheme would be received in Western Australia. That is not an honest way of doing a job. Nobody in this Parliament will object to the Government's plans, if the Government can prove that curtailment of the industry is essential to the prosecution of the war. But the Opposition wishes to ensure that, in the event of gold production being curtailed, the livelihood of employees in the industry, and others who will be affected, will be made secure now and when the war is ended. It also wishes to ensure that the mines will be kept in proper condition so that the men will be able to return to their proper avocation after the war. The Government does not appear in a very good light as the result of its actions in this matter. I ask the Government to say straight out that every gold-miner in the Commonwealth will be placed on the same footing, and that, if all of the goldminers in Western Australia must be ruined, the gold-miners in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland will also be ruined, so that there will be no discrimination. As the scheme now appears, Western Australia will suffer whilst the other States will not.

Senator Keane - - That is not so.

Senator LECKIE - If it is not so, the Government, or the Government spokesman, whoever he may be, should say so. This " Government spokesman " seems to be an almost mythical personage, who only speaks to the people through statements published in the newspapers from time to time. He seems to be very well informed about the inner counsels of the Government, and I am not sure that the cloak of the " Government spokesman " is not. transferred occasionally from one Minister to another. In this case, the Government spokesman has been remarkably mute. He has had nothing to say about this proposal, which affects the livelihood of at least 100,000 Australians, although he is usually very garrulous. Apparently the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was sent to Western Australia in order to find out whether the Government spokesman would be in order in announcing as Government policy a proposal with which the people of Western Australia, and a number of others, disagree. I want the Government to do two things. First, I want it to make a declaration that gold-miners in all parts of Australia will be treated in the same way, that their livelihood will be preserved to them, not only now, but also after the war, and that the mines will be kept in proper condition. Secondly, I want it to ensure that no one State shall be singled out to make sacrifices on behalf of the whole of Australia.

Debate interruped

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