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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD (Western Australia) - by leave - I thank honorable senators for giving me this opportunity to refer briefly to the difficulties arising in respect of manpower in the gold-mining industry in Western Australia. Recently when ] moved the adjournment of the Senate on this important matter I outlined many facts which I do not propose to repeat at this juncture. However, exception has been taken in certain quarters to some remarks which I made on that occasion. I make no apology for any action I have taken, or for any remarks which I have made, with regard to this matter. All honorable senators will agree that the Senate, as the States' House, is the proper place for any honorable senator to raise any matter in respect of which he is of opinion that injustice, or harm, is likely to be done to the interests of the State of which he is a representative. That was my principal justification for moving the adjournment of the Senate on this matter some time ago, and of the attitude which I have adopted throughout on this matter. I believe that every action I have taken has been amply justified ; and I do not think that any honorable senator will take exception to the manner in which I raised this matter in this chamber. Last week I heard the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) make a statement on this subject in the House of Representatives. I should not waste the time of the Senate replying to that honorable gentleman's remarks were it not for the fact that they have been given a certain measure of publicity in Western Australia. I wish to deal with the report of the honorable gentleman's speech as published in the Kalgoorlie Miner of the 8th May. The first statement reads -

Later, Mr. Johnson (Labour, Western Australia) complained that endeavours had been made by Senator MacDonald to upset the agreements made between the Chamber of Mines and the miners union, Kalgoorlie, regarding co-operation with the Government in the restriction of man-power. Mr. Johnson said that after he had received confidential information from the Prime Minister, he had called conferences of the chamber and the miners union. The chamber had agreed to acquiesce in the release of as many men as possible from the mines for labour corps work. The union had also promised full support.

I shall not deal at length with that statement but I wish to read a copy of a letter which the general secretary of the Chamber of Mines, Kalgoorlie, sent to the Kalgoorlie Miner, and I submit that what he wrote is an ample refutation of Mr. Johnson's statements. The letter reads -

In a report from Canberra, published in your issue of 8th May, Mr. H. V. Johnson, M.H.R. for Kalgoorlie, is reported as saying - " That endeavours had been made by Senator MacDonald to upset the agreements made between the Chamber of Mines and the miners union, Kalgoorlie, regarding co-operation with the Government in the restriction of man-power ".

The facts are that as regards the Chamber of Mines no agreement existed and far from Senator MacDonald interfering in this matter he was invited by the Chamber of Mines to break his journey in Kalgoorlie in order that that body might have an opportunity of finding out from him what information he had regarding the latest developments in Canberra in respect to the gold-mining industry.

The next statement to which I wish to reply reads -

Later Senator MacDonald had told mining men in Kalgoorlie that the attitude of the Government would ruin the industry and that the Government should be fought on the withdrawal of men from the mines.

What I actually told the mining people in Kalgoorlie and elsewhere was that until the Government had properly organized man-power in all industries its attitude in singling out mining for sacrifice was unfair and would mean the suspension of an industry that was responsible for keeping the population of the gold-fields together as a settled community. The next item in the report reads -

Mr. Johnsonsaid that Senator MacDonald had invited the District Council of the Australian Labor party, Kalgoorlie, to co-operate in his suggestion of opposition, but the council had refused.

I would not know the members of the district council of the Australian Labour party of Kalgoorlie if I met them in this chamber, and I have never given them an invitation in writing or verbally. Therefore, I am unable to say where Mr. Johnson obtained his information, and J give his statement a flat denial. The final statement is -

He believed that Senator MacDonald had taken his action for political motives.

The reason why I took action is that. I happen to be one of six senators representing Western Australia, and it was my plain duty to act. The last thing I should wish to do would be to introduce party politics into a matter of such importance to my State. I agree with the State Premier of Western Australia that the industry represents one-fourth of the internal economy of that State. I acted as a constitutional representative of Western Australia. Even in the few years that I have been in this Parliament, I have noticed on more than one occasion that members of the House of Representatives have expressed resentment when honorable senators have gone into some electorates and undertaken certain work. Why they should so resent the work done by honorable senators, I do not know, but I have known of instances of the kind in Western Australia and other States. The resentment seems to be due sometimes to the success achieved by a member of this chamber as against the non-success of the efforts of a member of the House of Representatives. That is the only reason I can advance for the resentment displayed towards my work on the Kalgoorlie gold-fields.

I have every right to go there and to do what I think is in the interests of my State, and of the gold-mining industry in particular. I shall continue to do so. I refuse to take a reprimand from any one in that regard. Honorable senators know that had the Menzies or the Fadd en Government acted as the present Government has done I should have taken the same stand, and should have used exactly the same language as I am now criticized for using. That is so because I, with many others, feel that a great injustice is being done to Western Australia.No other industry in Western Australia can take the place of the gold-mining industry. If the mines be closed, and even if key men be left to guard the machinery and keep it in order, many of the mines will not be re-opened after the war. In that event a heavy blow will be dealt at Western Australia. We have all heard of the complaints directed at the eastern portion of Australia since the inception of federation by the people in the west. I am opposed to any proposal for the secession of Western Australia from the Commonwealth, but, if the present policy is to continue, the Government responsible will not be able to escape the charge that, by ignoring the claims of the State in matters of importance to its industries, both primary and secondary, it is doing something to re-open the old sores and to revive the old hostility. Western Australia is overlooked too often.

Another matter to which I wish to refer relates to a complaint one often hears on behalf of the workers. I have received a communication stating that although Mr. Johnson claimed that he had spoken to representatives of the workers, no meeting of the mining section- of the Australian Workers Union was called at Kalgoorlie to hear the proposals of the Government. I am also informed that such a meeting was not called for the very good reason that many members of it are opposed to the Government's proposal. Only some members of the executive of the section met, and they were not unanimous in supporting the Government. Such a procedure is wrong. When major changes affecting a union are being proposed, the members of the union should be consulted in open meeting instead of alleged leaders being allowed to speak on behalf of the whole industry.

Senator Collings - Those men are leaders. They are appointed by the workers.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - The Leader of the Senate may term them leaders, but I have doubts about their capacity to lead anything. They are alleged to be leaders, but they are not competent to give an opinion on what the union thinks or does not think of this important matter. I have received many communications from people in Kalgoorlie, and they are opposed to the proposal. Had the proposal been made at an open meeting of the Australian Workers Union in Kalgoorlie, it would have been rejected emphatically.

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