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Wednesday, 6 May 1942


Senator ASHLEY (New South WalesPostmasterGeneral and Minister for Information) . - I agree with Senator A. J. McLachlan that there should be less talk and more action. More than an hour has been wasted in talk this afternoon, and, apart from the proposal by Senator McBride, no formula has been advanced that could in any way be used to solve the many difficulties that have always confronted the coal-mining industry. I listened with attention to Senator A. J. McLachlan. I would direct the attention of the Senate to the fact that a previous government of which he was a supporter and once a member, had a leader who, when thousands of miners were .on strike on the northern coal-fields, pleaded with them to go back and work in the mines. Because the present Minister for Labour and National Service has been successful in inducing many of the miners to go back into production, members of the Opposition are annoyed. It would please them if they could read in the newspapers to-day that half a dozen mines were idle because the men were out on strike. As a member of the Government, I would welcome a formula or suggestion of practical value. We are prepared to accept any advice that is practical, but we do not accept as practical the solution offered on many occasions by members of the Opposition. Miners, it is urged, should be placed in labour corp3 and given uniforms.


Senator McBride - Elias the Government any solution?


Senator ASHLEY - The mines are all working. Senator McBride knows as well as I do that if it were thought by the Government that Statutory Rule No. 77 should be implemented, it would be implemented. It will be implemented, however, when the Government decides, and not when the Opposition decides. We are in charge of the treasury bench to-day. The Opposition has drawn a red herring across the trail, and has failed in its attack. The action taken to-day is merely in support of a previous attack upon the Government, when its patriotism was challenged because it went to the United States of America for help. An attempt is now being made to create trouble in the industrial world. The argument has been featured throughout the press and was prominent in the House of Representatives last week. The mover of the motion has suggested that there should be some regimentation of the coal-mining industry, that the small mines should be put out of operation, and more monopolies created.


Senator McBride - I did not refer to the small mines.


Senator ASHLEY - The honorable senator said "some mines", and if his proffered solution could be made practicable, it would mean putting the small mines out of existence. That cannot be done for a reason that I shall explain. He does not know the conditions in the coalmining industry, although he may know all about the pastoral industry. . In the first place, let us be reasonable.


Senator McBride - And let us speak the truth.


Senator ASHLEY - I shall not speak anything but the truth, and I shall not permit the honorable senator or any one else to accuse me of doing otherwise. He has suggested that the miners should bc moved from one field to another. Where would he move them from and to? No indication has been given of that. He merely made the bald statement that he would regulate the industry. I suggest that he should obtain further information from the Colliery Proprietors' Association, from which he no doubt obtained the information he used this afternoon.


Senator McBride - I did not.


Senator ASHLEY - Through that avenue he could ascertain that his proposition could not be operated. There are three mining fields in New South Wales - the north, the west and the south. Would Senator McBride move miners from the north to the south, or the west to the south?


Senator McBride - The Minister is perfectly ridiculous. I did not suggest either alternative.


Senator ASHLEY - The honorable senator suggested regimenting the industry, but he did not say how it should be done. He made a sensible suggestion in regard to skips. He said that skips that were not being used in a particular mine should be brought into a mine where they could be used, irrespective of who owned them. To suggest, however, that miners could be taken from the north to the south, or vice versa, is entirely impracticable. Reference has been made to the increased cost of coal and the increased wages of miners. May I direct attention to what happened during the war of 1914 to 1918, when the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was Prime Minister. He gave an advance to the miners of 6d. a ton, and at the same time gave 2s. a ton to the proprietors of the mines to keep peace in the industry. The present Government is not buying peace in industry to-day in that way. It has been alleged that the miners were unreasonable in ceasing work. I was at one of the meetings in the west where a coal-mine was out of production because a weighbridge, as admitted by the proprietors, was weighing up to half a cwt. short. In some pits the men have to walk 2 or 3 miles to and from the coal-face, and sometimes the height from the floor to the roof is only 4 feet, so that the men have to crouch in order to get through. I suggest to the honorable senator who was so concerned about the bank-to-bank principle of eight hours which has been fought for over a period of years, and is recognized by the courts, that he should not take exception-


Senator McBride - I did not take exception to it.


Senator ASHLEY - The honorable senator introduced the matter in support of his argument this afternoon, and stated that the men worked for only sis hours daily. I am merely pointing out the reason for that. I should like to see the honorable senator do six hours' work after walking for 3 miles, and then walk another 3 miles at the end of his shift. I am sure that he would not be wasting his time as he has done in the chamber to-day, but would be having a good sleep.

Reference has been made to the transfer of coal from the northern coal-fields to the south coast, but the mover of the motion did not state why that transfer was being made. It may be that the coal is required for a special purpose, such as the making of coke.


Senator McBride - It is being transferred because, owing to stoppages, production on the southern coal-fields has been insufficient.


Senator ASHLEY - I accept the honorable senator's word, but I doubt very much whether that is the position and I shall have inquiries made. I have known coal to be transported from the western coal-fields to the south coast for the manufacture of coke because the coal in the western districts is more suitable for that purpose.

Senator JamesMcLachlan said thatI had been prevented from attending a miners' meeting at Lithgow. That is a misstatement of the position. I was in Lithgow attending a miners' meeting, and at the same time a meeting of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which was attended by the Minister for Labour and National Service, was being held. It is a rule of that union that only members can attend its meetings, except by a resolution of the meeting. Mr. Ward went to the meeting an hour before I did, and was admitted by such a special resolution. When I went to the door I was informed that I would have to wait until my presence was notified and a resolution had been passed, but as it was then 1.30 p.m. I decided to go to lunch instead.


Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then the press statement was incorrect?


Senator ASHLEY - No. The honorable senator said that it was a miners' meeting. Apparently he did not understand the press statement. The report did not state that it was a miners' meeting.

There has been much talk on this subject to-day, but talk will not solve the miners' troubles. We have wasted hours this afternoon, but not one tangible suggestion has been made as to how peace can be secured in the coal-mining industry. Every one knows that this industry has many difficulties with which to contend. Not long ago some miners in England were on strike for three months, and all that was involved was an expenditure of £50 a week.


Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I should like some more information in regard to that statement. What is the name of the mine?


Senator ASHLEY - I shall provide the honorable senator with the facts.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown). - Order! The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

Senator ARTHUR(New South Wales) | 6.8]. - In my opinion this matter should never have come before the Senate. We ure asked to support a motion for the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, but although I have listened attentively to the debate, I have failed to perceive what the matter of public importance actually is. Senator McBride made, or rather read - we do not know whether the document was prepared by the Mine Owners Consultative Council or by the legal fraternity which usually acts on its behalf - a statement to the effect that the public of Australia was disgusted with the Government because of the way in which it had handled the coal-mining industry. I should like to know how the honorable senator knows just what the public of Australia thinks. Tt was also stated by the honorable senator that production amounting to 500,000 tons had been lost through stoppages during the last six months. I understand that he obtained that information from a statement made by the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, but I definitely disbelieve it. Anybody conversant with the conditions in the industry will realize that the statement was definitely misleading.


Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Mr. Mighell said 750,000 tons.







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