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Wednesday, 6 May 1942


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - No amount of vociferation and rhetoric, such as has been indulged in by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) is a satisfactory reply to the indictment of the Government for its administration of the coal-mining industry. Whether the fault lies with the miners or with the mine-owners, the people of Australia are looking for action. Threats and conferences for the purpose of bringing the parties into line are no longer sufficient. Our allies in the north have lost Corregidor in the Philippines. Ls this a time when we should be prating about the nationalization of industry?


Senator Collings - Who brought this matter up?


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The vacillation and pusillanimity on the part of the Government is responsible for this debate. The present position is due to political fear in the hearts of Ministers, when there should be room for none, because they know full well that the Opposition would stand behind them were they firm in their action, whether in regard to the employees or the management. We have heard threats and suggestions that the management is at fault, but why has not the Government the courage to prosecute the mine-owners? If the management were at fault I should be 100 per cent, behind the Government in prosecuting the mine-owners.


Senator Collings - The Government with which the honorable senator was associated did not prosecute anybody in connexion with the trouble in the industry.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Bui the Government trembles to do anything. It is fearful of the result of any action it might take. That is the indictment which Senator McBride has levelled against it this afternoon. It is idle for us to engage in a metaphysical discussion such as the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Cameron) essayed this afternoon when he visualized a revolution of our social system. He simply avoided the issue and slid away from it as he has done so successfully when he has been engaged in combats in another capacity. It is idle to engage in special pleading in this matter. Tribunals galore exist to deal with disputes in the industry. We have had tribunals since the royal commission over which Mr. Justice Davison presided thoroughly investigated conditions in the industry; The Government is not without means of ascertaining whether strikes, or disturbances, in the industry are frivolous, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) suggested in respect of one recent dispute. It has means of finding out whether real grievances exist. It has at its disposal means of ascertaining whether the miners, or the mine-owners, are at fault. Should either be at fault, they should be dealt with. But the Government has not the courage to deal with the miners, because of political fears. Such fears are groundless. We want a 100 per cent, production in the industry. States which depend on coal from New South Wales have been bled white by the tribute demanded from them .by the coal industry in that State. It was for that reason that Victoria was driven to establish its great industry at Yallourn. Unfortunately, South Australia has not yet been able to discover coal deposits of the requisite value to enable it to establish a similar industry. The recurring strikes and disputes in the coal industry in New South Wales are due to the fact that the industry has never been stabilized. I could also mention certain aspects which have been testified to by more than one leading unionist in New South Wales. The Minister for Aircraft Production concluded by advocating the nationalization of the coal industry. With the enemy at our door, how ridiculous it would be to entertain any thought of changing our social system. What would happen if the coal industry were nationalized? I recall a story told by a distinguished Labour premier of South Australia, who afterwards graced this Senate. He said that on one occasion when he was Premier of South Australia, the " boys " came to him and said, " J ohn you must nationalize something. You know that it is part of the programme ". Being a copper-miner, he immediately nationalized copper-mines at Moonta, which in its day had been a great producer. Incidentally, owing largely to representations made by the late Mr. Charles Hawker, the mine was re-opened during the economic depression, and provided at least a living for the miners who at that time were in dire straits. However, after " John " nationalized that mine, he found that things were not going to his liking, and, being a practical miner, he visited' the mine himself. Subsequently, he reported to the Labour caucus : " I went tip to Moonta to see a copper mine working. I found a. lying-in home ". Much the same sort of thing would happen, should we nationalize the coal industry as advocated by the Minister for Aircraft Production. It is useless for the Minister in his specious way to try to get away from the issue involved in this matter by preaching nationalization. Senator McBride has simply stated that whoever is to blame in these disputes should be dealt with effectively. A few days ago, I read in the press that one dispute arose because a fast pony was used in a mine. The report stated that two ponies were available, and that, if necessary, an extra man would be made available to lead the fast pony. Surely in a time of war, when we are really up against things, somebody must put a stop to that sort of thing. It is the duty of the Government to do so, and I implore it to take the necessary action. There is nothing sinister about this motion. We on this side seek no political kudos in supporting it. Unless the Government wakes up to realities, it will soon learn that the men who are to-day risking their lives and their all for this country will not stand tamely by and see the favoured few do as they please. Regardless of the interests of either the coal-owners or the miners, the Government must enforce the law. That is all that Senator McBride asks. It is what the Government should have done long ago.


Senator Amour - The previous Government of which the honorable senator was a supporter fined labourers at Port Kembla because they refused to load pig iron, on ships bound for Japan.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I opposed the export of iron ore to Japan. lt was I who prevented the Japanese from obtaining an interest at Yampi Sound. However, what did we get in exchange for our pig iron?


Senator Collings - We are getting it back to-day in bombs.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And we are helping to safeguard the lives of the bravest of our sons who are fighting to save our skins, because, in return for our pig iron, we received material of great value for safeguarding- our aviators. Surely honorable senators opposite do not think that the previous Government was so idiotic that it failed to realize what was likely to happen. This Government can thank its lucky stars that we exported a certain quantity of scrap iron. But what is that scrap iron compared with the materials we are receiving to-day from our great ally, the United States of America? The coalminers are merely amused with this Government. They take the view that it is afraid of them, and that they are masters of the situation. Therefore, they can do as they please. The Government must ensure that the production of coal is maintained at the greatest possible rate. We cannot contrast the conditions of workers in this country with those imposed on the workers in Great Britain without feeling that our workers are infinitely better off. I again urge the Government to take its courage in its hands and to translate into action the words of its own leader on this subject. We must see' this business through, or, otherwise, the whole transport system of Australia will be disorganized. God forbid that I should say one word to make it more difficult to settle this trouble, but it is obvious that action must be taken. Tribunals are established to bring about a settlement, but they cannot do so. We Iia ve to take the more definite action that the Prime Minister promised under Statutory Rule No. 77. I commend Senator McBride for bringing the matter forward, because it is of more than passing moment. It is vital to Australia's interests that the production of coal should be not only continued, but also increased.







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