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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- Not one honorable senator opposite will deny that the conduct of the coal industry is of particular importance at present, or that it is our key industry, upon which the great majority of other industries are dependent for their life blood. Therefore, they must realize that any hold-up in the coal industry is of vital concern to our industrial life as a whole. Neither will it be disputed that the coal industry is in a better position than other industries to hold up the economic activity of the community, and. therefore, in a better position than any other industry to bargain. This debate is not directly concerned with the coalminers. I presume that the Government is governing the country. Parliament has given to it absolute power over the personal property and behaviour of every individual in the community. The Government is managing the affairs of thi* country on behalf of the nation as a whole. However, I have never seen a more pitiable exhibition of weakness than that which it has given to the country in dealing with the coal industry. I do not attack the miners at all. I simply say that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that coal is won. But what is the Government doing about the matter? Nothing! I can quite imagine the daily prayer of the coal-miner to be : " Give us this day our daily strike ; or two, or even three, strikes " ; and the daily prayer of the Government to be : " Give us this day our daily regulation ". However, when a regulation is passed, the Minister charged with its administration declares that, so long as he lives, it will not be used against the workers.

Senator Large - When did he say that?

Senator LECKIE - The Minister did say that. His statement has been reported in practically every newspaper, and it has not been denied. I attack, not the coal-miners, but the Government, because of its weakness in controlling the coal industry. How can we expect the Government to manage a body of men like the coal-miners, when every one of its supporters in this chamber, who ha? so far spoken in this debate, has justified the actions of the miners in going on strike and holding up industry? Every honorable senator opposite who has spoken this afternoon has stated that the action of the miners, in holding up our industries in a time of war, has been justified.

Senator Aylett - That is not true. Mo honorable senator on this side has made that statement.

Senator LECKIE - The honorable senator has a way of reasoning of his own. If the facts do not suit him, so much the worse for the facts. Does the Government intend to do anything about this problem?

Senator Cameron - 'What does the honorable senator suggest ?

Senator LECKIE - The Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) is one of the directors who are now charged with managing the business of Australia. One of the Government's vital duties is to ensure a full supply of coal to industry. That supply is not forthcoming. Yet the Minister calmly asks me what I would suggest! I suggest that the Government should have the guts " to implement its own regulations for the control of the coal industry. Up to date, I assumed that it was taking appropriate action in order to ensure a full supply of coal to industry. However, 1 find that it is impotent in this matter. One of its members is so helpless that he now asks me what I think the Government should do. Put us back on the Government side of the chamber and we will tell you how to get coal. We will certainly have the courage to implement our regulations, and we would not issue regulations that we were afraid to implement.

Senator Arthur - How would the honorable senator do that?

Senator LECKIE - That is for the Government to say. Why does the Government issue a regulation if it cannot, or will not, implement it? Why does it say, " We are the strong people. Look at that regulation which gives power to us to take control of every man, woman and child in the community, and to tell them what work they have to do, and what they have to stop doing ! " The Government issues a regulation to take full power to itself, but on the question of coal it goes back in the breeching and will not pull the cart any further. It then says, " W e did not mean this ". These aristocrats of labour in the coal industry can hold up the rest of the community merely because they are the aristocrats of labour, and because they are the big political power in this country. The Government says to them, " We will not touch you ; we will stroke you down and calm you. You can have your daily strikes, and we will justify them in Parliament. Although we proclaim from the housetops the danger the community is in, the urgent necessity for coal, the shortage of man-power, and the importance of coal as the life-blood of the community, we will not do one single thing that will in any way offend you ".

Senator McBridewas quite justified in attempting to show how impudent, how futile, the Government had been in this matter. The Leader of the Senate, with his usual enthusiastic incoherence, attempted to justify the coal-miners by attacking, as if we were responsible, honorable senators on this side of the chamber, but he did not attempt to justify the Government's inaction. He " said', " We will fix this up ". but that has 'been said daily for many months. There is always going to be, but there never is, something better. The Prime Minister is always going to implement Statutory Rule No. 77, but the Minister for Labour and National Service says it will never be used against the workers. Senator McBride's statement to-day has been entirely justified, but the Government has not said how itis going to overcome the difficulty. It has not stated how a full supply of coal can be obtained in the most dangerous period of our history. It has not even acknowledged that coal is a national necessity, but its supporters have, one after another, attempted to justify the miners for withholding coal from industries that are essential to the safety of the nation. When Senator McBride said that this sort of thing could not be tolerated, the Leader of the Senate became annoyed, although the Government knows that it is tolerating the present situation, and is not achieving results. I hope that before the debate is over a Government spokesman will tell the chamber and the people outside what the Government intends to do to obtain a full supply of coal. No one is worried very much about the cost of the coal, but it is well known that coal is a necessity. If a small section of people is permitted to defy the Government, the Government is not fit to occupy the treasury bench.

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