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Wednesday, 6 May 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - Senator McBride said that the coalminers were difficult to manage. That is admitted. All workers are difficult to manage when they are working under extremely provocative conditions, and, obviously, if the task of management is to be made easier, the workers' conditions must be made better. Commonwealth public servants are not so difficult to manage as coal-miners. Why? Because the conditions under which they work are very much better, more congenial, and more secure than the conditions under which the miners work. Several honorable senators have very properly asked what the Government should do. In my judgment, the Government should now be prepared to take much more drastic action against the mineowners than it has taken hitherto. The Government, in good faith, left it to the mine-owners to do the right thing by the miners in order that coal should be produced in the increasing quantities which are so badly needed. It is obvious that everything depended upon the mine-owners, and, if they had done the right thing, the position of which complaint has been made to-day would never have arisen. What are the conditions under which the mine-owners operate? Senator McBride and Senator James McLachlan have said, in effect, that the organization of the mines is unbalanced.

Senator McBride - I did not say anything of the kind ; I did not even suggest that.

Senator CAMERON - The honorable senator did say so in effect. For example, he admitted that on occasions there were more trucks than were needed at some mines and not sufficient at others. That is evidence of unbalanced organization, and where there is unbalanced organization there is also unbalanced production and all of the difficulties of which honorable senators complain. Senator James McLachlan said that he could not understand why coal should be brought a distance of 150 miles when it could be obtained locally. The existence of that apparent anomaly is further evidence of unbalanced management. Whilst that may be reasonably safe in times of peace, it is desperately dangerous in times of war, and, whether we like it or not, we must deal more drastically with the owners of the mines unless of their own volition they take steps to remedy the position. But those controlling the mines are not prepared to take such action, because they are competing with one another for monopoly control, and when there is fierce competition for such control, not only in the mining industry, but also in other industries, the conditions of the workers are made more and more intolerable. It is well known that mine-owners themselves have deliberately provoked strikes in order to make difficulties for their competitors and put them out of business. I asked .Senator Leckie and Senator Mcleay to suggest what action should be taken in order to remedy the position in the industry, but I did not obtain an answer. These honorable gentlemen put themselves in the position of critics, but they offer no constructive suggestions. I venture to say that, if the Government should be forced to take more drastic action against the mine-owners in order to organize balanced production, eliminate wastage of man-power and money, establish the industry on a more efficient and economical basis, and make the working of mines almost as safe as the working of underground railways, the first persons who will object and challenge the Government on the ground that it is interfering with private enterprise will be honorable senators opposite. When a desperate war-time situation arises we must be prepared to bring about national control of industry, where necessary, in order to obtain better results. Where there is divided and competitive control, more managerial staffs than are needed, the expenditure of more money than is necessary, and an irregular supply of trucks, there will always be industrial disputes.- That is happening in the engineering industry to-day. In some workshops there are more machines than are needed, and in other workshops there are not enough. I have outlined the course that must be taken, and I shall urge the Government, particularly in view of the discussion which has taken place here to-day, to take action immediately against provocative, incompetent and wasteful management of coal mines. Senator McBride referred to the position in Russia by way of comparison. What is the position in Russia ?

Senator Fraser - It seems strange that Senator McBride should do that.

Senator CAMERON - It does not seem strange to me, because I believe that Senator McBride could not possibly fail to notice the marked contrast between conditions in Australia and conditions in Russia. In Russian coal-mines there are no directors who draw high fees and there is no divided and competing managements. No shareholders draw profits from the mines. The workers in Russia get the full benefit of the product of the mines, and that makes all the difference. In time of war the nation's resources of coal and all other commodities are pooled. The people all fight in the defence of their country, and against the Fascists of Germany. There is no declaration of dividends anc no appropriation of enormous profits. In short, the Russians are working foi themselves and for the defence of their country, and not for the profits of shareholders and directors. Would honorable senators opposite agree that the members of the Miners Federation be allowed to work under similar conditions?

Senator McBride - Would the miners accept similar wages and conditions to those obtaining in Russia? Of course not.

Senator CAMERON - The average coal-miner in Australia is ready to make the same sacrifice for his country as is the average coal-miner in Russia, but he is not prepared to allow shareholders and others to batten upon him when, at the same time, he is expected to fight in defence of his country. Do you, Mr. President, think that honorable senators opposite would agree to put all the shareholders and directors of the coal-mines out of commission, and say to them, " From this day onwards your managerial staffs shall be directly responsible to the Government, your incomes shall cease, and all of you shall be put to work in production in the coal-mines, the munitions factories or elsewhere ? " Under those conditions, we should have a national effort true to name. We should have a set of conditions that would appeal to the best in men and women. But are we appealing to the best in them when they work under conditions which are camouflaged ? It is said that they are unpatriotic simply because they object to building up the bank balances of the employers. Give them conditions under which there will be equality of sacrifice, not in name but in reality, and where the privileged and pampered section will contribute its share in production, and we shall hear no more of difficulties in the coal-mining or any other industry. The exigencies of this war, the most desperate in which we have ever been engaged, will enforce such conditions upon us whether we like them or not. Do the mine-owners and shareholders intend to wait until they are forced into a position in which they will have to " do their bit ", as well as the men employed in the mines, or do they intend to be patriotic and take a proper view of the whole position, saying 'of their own volition to the employees, "We shall make sacrifices equal to yours ".

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