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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) (Minister for the Interior) i - Senator McBride has submitted a motion for the adjournment of the Senate in order to discuss a matter of urgent public importance. This subject was very fully debated in the House of Representatives at the end of last week, not under the cover of a motion for the adjournment of the House, but as a specific matter of national importance, and a decision was reached there. Members of that chamber who strangely enough represent the same State as Senator McBride, produced all the alleged facts which he tas given- to us this afternoon.

Senator McBride - They did not say that they produced " all the alleged facts ".

Senator COLLINGS - Honorable senators on this side of the chamber do not propose to accept them as accurate; we do not regard Senator McBride as an authority on coal-mining. Apparently, being disappointed a.t the result of the vote in the House of Representatives, he has decided to continue the fight here. The honorable senator is within his rights. He will not say that the miners are disloyal-

Senator McBride - I said that they were not disloyal.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator did not say that. He said that he would not say that they were disloyal. I shall not say that he is disloyal, but I ask the Senate to consider the position for a few minutes. Australia is to-day more desperately concerned with the prosecution of the war than it was yesterday. The situation has deteriorated to such a degree that the Government, charged with the responsibility of harnessing the nation for its greatest war effort-

Senator Allan MacDonald - That is the trouble. There is too much harness and not enough horse.

Senator COLLINGS - I am sorry that my honorable friend cannot be influenced by a statement of cold fact. The position is as I have stated it, and the task before us is of such importance that this Parliament should not waste one hour, much less one afternoon, one day, or one week, with these non-essentials.

Senator McBride - Coal non-essential? That is nonsense.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator has never mined an ounce of coal in his life and he never will, hut he has grown financially fat on the sweat of those men who do, and he knows it.

Senator McBride - Rubbish !

Senator COLLINGS - It is a matter of cold fact. When my friend says that the miners are difficult, I tell him that his statement is quite true; but they are difficult because of the damnable conditions under which they have had to work throughout the centuries. It was within the recollection of my forbears that, prior to the passage by Lord Shaftesbury of the Reform Bill, women, stripped naked to the waist, and with chains round their waists, were employed in the coal mines in England. So poor and degraded were they that action had to be taken, not because the miners were difficult, but because coal-mining was difficult.

Senator McBride - The honorable senator should bring his remarks up to date.

Senator COLLINGS - I intend to do that. We are told now that the coalminer works only six hours a day. I do not wish to be unkind to Senator McBride, but he could not stand up to one hour of the work in a coal mine on any day, let alone work for six hours a day. Some time ago, during a long parliamentary recess, I had the opportunity to do some trout fishing on the Murrumbidgee River. I camped for a week, and one of the men I met - he was not in my camp - was one of the biggest coal mine-owners in this country. He had a trout-fishing outfit which cost £200! Of course, the miners are difficult. They have to sweat in the mines. They have advantages such as pensions, but they also have the disadvantages of death through falls of earth, and through contracting miners' phthisis, in carrying out one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the world. The honorable senator would be " difficult " under those conditions, and I am amazed at the case presented by him.

We have heard before the sordid story told by the honorable senator. We must not do anything to improve the conditions of the miners, otherwise the dividends of the mine-owners will cease. The honorable senator was not original this afternoon. So bad a case did he present that he transgressed Standing Order 406 by reading practically every word of his speech, and he made a miserable job of the imperfect brief that had been handed to him. But for the fact that any disturbance would have put him out of his stride, I should have asked you, Mr. President, to rule that he was out of order in reading his speech. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and some of his colleagues are working day and night in trying to overcome the difficulty that alone gives any semblance of reason for the speech made to-day by the honorable senator. The difficulty is to find a means of obtaining the necessary production of coal. I know that the protagonists of the honorable senator believe, and have always believed, that the remedy for all industrial upheavals is to "fire low and lay them out"; but that would not get coal.

Senator McBride - The Government is putting up a smoke screen of regulations.

Senator COLLINGS - When the object is to obtain the desired result, why does the honorable senator attempt to remove a portion of the regulations? There is no man in the Labour party, least of all the Prime Minister and his colleagues, who has the slightest sympathy with those who do anything tending to reduce the production of the essentials of war. Despite all that has happened, and all that has been said, the coal production of Australia for the last twelve months is the largest that this country has ever had.

Senator McBride - That applies to many industries.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator has dealt specifically with the coal industry, and the statements made by him regarding loss of coal production have only a relative value.

Senator McBride - The statements repeated in this chamber were made by the Prime Minister.

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator can have his quarrel with the Prime Minister, but at the moment he must quarrel with me. One would think that this Government was not doing anything. The extreme need to-day for essential war production is due to the fact that the Government of which the honorable senator was a member left Australia naked to the world, when the Labour party assumed office. I was greatly amused by the sudden discovery by Senator McBride that the coal-owners are banded together because of the fact that they are whole.souled philanthropists. They could have invested their money, in Commonwealth loans and made a profit of £2,000,000, or £1,750,000, more profit than he alleges they made in the coal industry. But investors in Commonwealth loans cannot water stock, build up secret reserves, or benefit from the issue of bonus shares. Consequently, these people do not invest in Commonwealth loans, but in coal; and that is the story of the industry. The interests which control the industry are interlocked with shipping and other big commercial interests. Indeed, the honorable senator comes into court with a tainted brief, because he and his connexions, political and social, are associated with the interests which interlock our big industries, and make their profits by wringing sweat out of unfortunate people who have nothing to sell but their labour and must work in order to live, whether it be down a mine or in any other sphere. The Senate should not have been asked to waste time on this matter. The Australian Broadcasting Bill is awaiting our further attention, and much remains to be done in connexion with that activity.

Senator McBride - Has broadcasting anything to do with the war effort?

Senator COLLINGS - It is linked up with our war effort. What could we do if we did not possess an efficient broadcasting service giving people the facts from day to day and maintaining their morale ?

Senator McBride - We have one.

Senator COLLINGS - It may seem a little ungracious of me, after I have used my allotted time, to suggest that honorable senators should shorten this debate as much as possible. However, the Government is anxious to proceed with consideration of the Australian Broadcasting Bill; and if there be nothing more important for us to deal with than the matter raised by the honorable senator Ministers would like to get on with urgent work directly associated with the war effort. In view of our present urgent position, I suggest to honorable senators on this side that they teach Senator McBride a salutary lesson by refraining from wasting time on this subject. Should honorable senators opposite disagree with that view, we shall be enabled to make up our mind whether or not they really want to get on with the war effort.

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