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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr ANTHONY - That is more than the right honorable gentleman himself has done.

Mr FORDE - In 1944, when I was acting Prime Minister, in company with the Prime Minister and officials of the miners' federation, I visited the western coal-fields of New South Wales and addressed public meetings of coal-miners at Lithgow. I took the opportunity of meeting miners individually and discussed their problems with them. I found many of them at middle age broken in health and burned out. I went down to the south coast and addressed meetings of coal-miners at Bulli and other centres. Again I met individual miners and discussed their problems with them freely and - frankly. I went to the northern coal-fields, to Cessnock and Kurri, with my friend the honorable member for Newcastle ("Mr. Watkins) and sat with h:m and officials of the miners federation on the platform at public meetings at which grievances were freely , aired. There again I took the opportunity to have frank discussions with individual miners. As the result of these experiences I gained a better understanding of the miners' problems. I do not condone many of the stoppages that occur in the industry to-day - they cannot be justified - but the fault does not lie wholly on one side. After reading in the newspapers of the alleged huge incomes earned by coal-miners, I expected to find coal-miners to be very much better housed. I invariably found them housed in dwellings of the poorest type which were located in drab, uninteresting surroundings, lacking most of the ordinary amenities that one expects to find in any civilized community. There were all the outward signs of impermanency as if the mines were likely to close down at any time; there were the obvious signs that the miners and their families were a forgotten community. The miners themselves lived in the memory of the depression days. At one' of the places I visited I spoke to the headmaster of the school who told me of some of the psychological effects of the depression on his pupils. He said, " If the mine is going to work to-morrow the whistle will be blown once; if no work is scheduled the whistle will be blown twice. If the blasts of the whistle indicates that there will he no work nextday the children sink down in their seats in despair and cannot be expected to do their best ". That is the effect that insecurity of employment has even upon the children of the coal-miners. [Quorum formed.'] Members of the Opposition having failed to put forward any helpful suggestions as to how the production of coal may be increased leave the 'chamber, and rely upon one of their number, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) to di: ect attention to the state of the House. They would be better employed if they remained in the chamber and took a greater interest in this very important subject. Any one who has made a study of industry realizes that, as the result of the establishment of many additional industries over the last few years, particularly during the critical war years, the consumption of coal has rapidly increased. Even if the coalminers remained continuously at work throughout every working week in each year, unless means were found by which the output of each mine could be increased, there would still lie a shortage . of coal in Australia. This industry drifted into the doldrums after the Leader of the Opposition, as Prime Minister of this country, achieved his pyrrhic victory in 1940, when the coal-miners remained on strike for over four months and 900,000 tons of coal was lost. The reserves that had been built up in earlier years were then depleted, and ever since industrial users of coal have been living from hand to mouth. At that time many of the major industries in New South Wales were completely denuded of their coal reserves. The stocks of the New South Wales Railways Department were reduced to onefifth of the quantity held before the strike; the reserve stocks of the Sydney Tramways Department were reduced to one-seventh, of their former size; and the stocks of the gas companies were reduced to one-tenth of their former level. During that time the Leader of the Opposition, who was then Prime Minister, had a majority in both Houses of this Parliament and' possessed all the power, he says this Government should exercise to-day to speed up production, to prevent industrial stoppages, and to deal drastically with those who went, on strike. When he is invited to say what should be done to prevent stoppages to-day he cannot make a helpful suggestion. Some honorable members opposite say, " Turn a machinegun on the strikers. Put them all in gaol ". How could we put from ten thousand to twenty thousand men in gaol? And if that were done, would that bring about increased production? Honorable members opposite have indulged in nothing but cheap talk about what they would do if they were in power. When they held the reins of office they failed dismally to grapple with a much worse industrial situation than that which exists to-day.

Although New South Wales produces 80 per cent, of the black coal produced in Australia, it is also true that Queensland is very rich in coal resources that have remained almost undeveloped. Even if it costs a few millions of pounds to develop them, the expenditure, of that amount of money would he well worth while. If it cost £10,000,000 to ensure that sufficient coal could be produced to meet the needs of Australian industry, that expenditure would be amply 'justified. The Queensland Labour Government fully realize* the importance of the development of theuntapped coal resources and is anxiousthat the Commonwealth Government should establish a joint control board in Queensland, and make available its quota of the necessary money to develop in a big national way some of the coal resources of that State. This matter has been the subject of correspondence and consultation between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Queensland and will be further discussed at tha Premiers Conference to be held towards the end of this month. During the years 1938-42 Queensland produced over 1,000,000 tons of coal per annum. In that period the total production amounted to 6,807,414 tons. The record production was in 1942, when 1,637,148 tons was won. In both that year and in 1941, -when the production amounted to 1,454,000 tons, the previous peak output of 1,369,000 tons recorded in 1929 was exceeded. Following the adoption of scientific methods in the Queensland coalmines and an examination of the coal resources of Queensland by experts appointed by the Commonwealth and State Governments, coal production in that State could be trebled. Representations have been made by the Commonwealth Department of Commerce and Agriculture, through one of its representatives in South America, that Australia should endeavour ' to build up an export trade of 100,000 tons of coal annually to South American countries. By the development and extension of existing coal-mines in Queensland, I believe that the leeway in the production of the southern States could be met. If the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited finds it profitable to, transport iron ore from Yampi Sound, in Western Australia, to the steel works at Newcastle, surely coal that could be mined under the open-cut system in Queensland could be shipped from central Queensland ports to Melbourne and Adelaide.

In central Queensland, there is one of the finest coal-fields in the world, the Blair-Athol field. Whilst that field is being worked to-day in a small way - one of the mines is worked on the open-cut system and the other is a tunnel mine - there is an opportunity for the rapid development of a greatly increased output. It is estimated that the actual and probable resources of coal at that field amount to approximately 208,000,000 tons. So far only about 3,000,000 tons of coal has been taken from Blair Athol ' field. I have seen a report describing the coal as semibituminous, non-coking and with a calorific value of 12,000 British thermal units per lb. and a low ash content It is one of the finest steaming coals to be found anywhere in the world. Two companies are now operating, one underground and the other in the open cut. The company operating the open cut has expended £S0,000 since 1937 on its development. Unfortunately, the railway line from Emerald to Central Queensland was laid before the coal was discovered and it is not graded to permit of large tonnages being hauled in one train. The limit is 225 tons. Before the field can be developed' in a big way the line will have to be relaid or strengthened, additional rolling-stock will have to be provided, and new sidings will have to be put in. The line could be substantially strengthened at a cost of £S00,000. Experts say that by the expenditure of £2,000,000 on a new railway 1,000,000 tons of Blair Athol coal could be taken annually to the sea-board.

Mr Conelan - We spent about . that much a day on the war.

Mr FORDE - Yes, and if money could be found for war. it can be found for big developmental work of this kind. There are other coal resources in central Queensland that I want to see developed. I want active co-operation between the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government in the development of the fields. In addition to Blair Athol there are the rich Callide coal-field and the Byfield coalfield. Callide is about 70 miles from Gladstone by road and about, 120 miles from Rockhampton by rail.

Mr Anthony - Whose electorate is it in?

Mr FORDE - What does that matter? As an Australian I say that those rich resources, which happen to be in Capricornia electorate, must be developed. ' T have inspected the fields- many times and learned something about- them. T am of the opinion that before any attempt is made to develop the Blair Athol, field in a hig way, involving the expenditure of a large sum of money, there should be a thorough investigation of the project by Commonwealth and State experts. At the same time, there ought to be. a close survey of the coal resources at Callide Valley and Byfield. Byfield is only 35 miles from Rockhampton, only a few miles from the coast, and I am assured that, the Callide Valley resources can .be developed by the open cut . system, and there would not be a great haulage from Callide or Byfield. Callide is served by a good road to Gladstone one of the finest ports in the world. The suggestion has been made, however, to the State Government that the Australian Bureau of Mineral Resources jointly with the Geological Branch of- the Mines Department of Queensland should make a comprehensive' survey of both the Byfield and Callide deposits, before, any final decision can be arrived at on the future development of central Queensland coal resources.

The State Electricity Commission is going in for a comprehensive development of power systems and zones are being established, one at Maryborough, one at Rockhampton, and another farther north, and cheaper electricity is to be provided not only to the cities and towns but also to the farming community. That provision is long overdue. There will be greatly increased w consumption of coal with the development of those power systems.

I consider that it is of tremendous importance that some of the Commonwealth Government's expenditure on the development of coal resources should be in Queensland, particularly central Queensland. Whilst it is primarily a function of the State governments to look after mining development in their own States, the Commonwealth Government, with major financial resources at its disposal and an overall Australian picture before it, must take an active and constructive part in the matter. I am therefore most anxious to see Queensland brought into the scheme- for increased production of coal.

Mr Conelan - Hear, hear!

Mr FORDE - The honorable member for. Griffith who approvingly interjects knows full well that it is of vital im portance to Queensland that our coal resources should be developed. We believe that tremendous possibilities exist for the development of secondary industries in Queensland, because people who hesitate about establishing industries in South Australia and probably in Victoria, because of their low production of coal, can with confidence start such enterprises in the northern State, for it has not only the quantity and varieties of coal necessary but also one of the best records of all Australian States for continuity of coal production. In view of the great inportance of coal to the industrial life of the community, the Commonwealth Government no longer can leave it to State governments to handle this problem alone. The very fact that from 1942 to 1945 consumption exceeded production by 1,700,000 tons, that coal stocks have been decreasing each year, and that the estimated demand for black coal for 1946-47 is 34,500,000 tons and for 1949-50 is 16,500,000 tons as against the average annual output of all Australian mines for the six-year period ended 1944 of 13,500,000 tons show the urgent necessity for the Federal and State Government, coal-owners and coal-miners to make a Herculean effort to arrest the drift in the coal industry and step up production. Mr. Norman Mighell was a highly efficient Commonwealth Coal Commissioner and did very good ' work in the war years in the face of tremendous difficulties. That position is now occupied by Mr. Williams. We must now realize, however, that something more is required. If the Commonwealth Government had to spend up to £10,000,000 to step up production it would be justified in doing so. And that expenditure will be incurred if necessary. I do not attempt to justify many of the frivolous stoppages in the coal-mines. The Labour party stands for the settlement of disputes by conciliation and arbitration. It is useless to indulge in bitter condemnation of one section or the other. We have listened to honorable gentlemen opposite, one. after the other, condemn the coal-miners as though there was no fault on the other side. They are trying to play on the feelings' of people in the cities and towns of Australia who are suffering some inconvenience because of the under-production of coal. But let us set recriminations aside and tackle the problem of getting increased production. It is not an easy job and it cannot be done in a few minutes. For generations there has been tremendous antagonism between the coal-owners and the coal-miners. We must try to eradicate it. We have to establish in the coalmining districts diversity of employment. I do not think that men should be economically forced to go down a mine to work on' a job that is repugnant to them, in order to support themselves and their families.

Mr Archie CAMERON - Any one would think that they were forced to work in the pits.

Mr FORDE - The honorable member would have the people believe that he could produce more coal, but he would not know which end of the pick to use. He is one of those who sit on the luxuriously Soft seats in this chamber and indulge in all kinds of flamboyant diatribes against the miners. He is like the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) who, after notifying the press reporters and photographers, went to the Muswellbrook mine and started a strike that lost 1,000 tons of production a day.

Mr Conelan - It was the first strike at that mine for more than twenty years.

Mr FORDE - Yes. He was going to teach the miners their trade. His trip was more than a dismal failure, because he brought about a needless strike. I believe that a better spirit can be inculcated in the minds of both the miners and the mine-owners. There will have to be substantial expenditure on the provision of the amenities needed in the industry. That was very obvious to me when, as acting Prime Minister in 194.4, I visited the coal-fields of New South Wales. I met the minors individually and collectively, and discussed their problems with them. I. met many miners between. 35 and 45 years of age whose constitutions were undermined /by dust, which effects the lungs much in the same way as does tuberculosis. At the Mount Morgan mine, in my electorate, many of the metalliferous miners are doomed to an early death because they have contracted miners' phthisis because of the dust with which they come into contact in that copper-gold mine. Although the mine is now worked as an open cut, they are unable to solve the dust problem. I was there last Saturday. Men of middle age told me that their doctors had told them that they were "dusted". They were short of breath. Their life is limited. They have wives and children dependent upon them. What applies to them applies equally to the miners working in the unhealthy mines on the south coast of New South Wale3. Whereas in 1929 the number of miners and coal-miners was 22,470 employed . in New South Wales, to-day t-hat.number has dwindled to about 16,000, a drop of more than 6,000. These figures indicate that many men have come to the conclusion that mining is too unhealthy an occupation and have got out of it. I have "known men whose lungs were choked with dust go out to- farms in central Queensland in the hope that life in the bright sunshine would enable them to regain their breath; but, unfortunately, they had deferred their departure from mining too long and went to an early grave. Most of them were forced by economic circumstances to continue working in the mines too long, and when they left the industry they had not long to live.* The unhealthy conditions under w huh they laboured undermined their health, at an age when they ought- really to have been in the prime of life. We should realize that these extraordinary stoppages are not peculiar to Australia. When I was in England at the beginning of 1945, I was informed that 2,000 strikes had occurred in the coalmining industry in 1944, although the war was then .in progress, and 3,648,000 working days had been lost, an increase of 824,000 working days compared with 1,943. A little more than a year ago an American said to me, " The stoppages such as those which take place in the Australian coal-mines' could not occur in my own country. We would not tolerate them ". A week later, I read that 500,000 coal-miners were on strike in the United States of America. Undoubtedly this industrial unrest is not confined to Australia. There seems to be a world-wide upheaval in this great industry. During the war, the Australian coal-miners worked mere consistently. Australia was threatened with invasion in 1942, and the miners responded to the call made by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, and produced a record quantity of coal. The coal-miners of Great Britain and the United States of America also worked more consistently during the war. After the cessation of hostilities, thousands of Australian miners were suffering from tiredness because few new recruits had been taken into the mines. Indeed, since the end Of the war, 1,500 men have left the coal-mining industry to engage in other employment. This industry must be rejuvenated, and the conditions in it must be made more attractive. Applying the- whip to the miners, failing to understand their problems and their outlook, and isolating them so that they feel that they are outlaws are not the way to solve the problem.

The present proposals of the Government represent a forward step.- As the result of consultations between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales, -we shall be able to grapple with the situation in a constructive manner and more effectively than in the past. In short, this bill is a genuine attempt boldly to tackle the complex and diverse problems of the coal-mining industry. The disorganization of industry generally, which is caused by the shortage of coal, and the resultant unemployment of workers in other industries, should sound a clarion call to the owners and miners alike to forget the rancour and bitterness, that have been engendered during the years, sometimes by unfortunate publicity and bitter attacks in this Parliament. Some Honorable members have made those attacks, actuated by the desire to convince the public that, if given the opportunity, they could increase the production of coal.

Mr James - Those honorable members are most vocal when an election is in the offing.

Mr FORDE - Yes. This measure is the basis of a " new order " in the coalmining industry. The provision of additional amenities, an improvement of the conditions in the mines, and the establishment of new industries that will diversify employment in the coalmining districts will, I believe, increase production and keep the wheels of industry moving.

Mr. ANTHONY(Richmond) T10.35]. - Any one who has listened to the speech of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) must be appalled at his failure to realize the true nature of this problem. At the beginning of his speech, he asked the Opposition to suggest a method for increasing the production of coal. Honorable members on this side of the chamber have already expressed their views on that subject, and if the right honorable gentleman requires any additional information, he will find it in the report of the royal commissioner, Mr. Justice Davidson, whom this Government appointed to inquire into conditions in the coal-mining industry. The right honorable gentleman's lack of appreciation of the national nature of this subject must have astounded the House. He devoted the major part of his speech to making an appeal to the electors of Capricornia for the purpose of opening the Blair-Athol mine, which is located in his constituency.

Mr FORDE - No; the Blair-Athol mine is located in the electorate of Kennedy.

Mr ANTHONY - The Minister for the Army has been a member of this Parliament for 25 years, and it is significant that, on the eve of the elections, he suddenly realizes that there is a marvellous deposit of coal at Blair-Athol in central Queensland ! Nothing could be move audacious at this juncture, and nothing could be less satisfying to the people who must walk to work because rail and tram services have been curtailed, and who wonder how long their jobs will last and whether the housewife will be able to cook the next meal with gas or electricity.

I do not propose to speak against the coal-miners or for the mine-owners. I hope to bo able, to discuss this subject with as little prejudice as one can bring to a discussion which has been in the political field for so long. There may be much to explain the psychological condition of the miner. When he is on the jobheis a hard-working man. His occupation is not pleasant. However, I do not consider that he should be encouraged to believe that he is a martyr in the cause of industry. He should realize, and the Government should realize, that he is doing a job of his own selection, for which he receives remuneration greater than that of the average worker.

Mr Fuller - The coal-miner is entitled to it.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not criticizing the miner when I make a statement of fact. Every worker does a job for the community. Besides the coal-miners, many other workers are engaged in unpleasant occupations. Not long ago, I visited an abattoir, where I saw men working up to their ankles in blood and offal. I did not envy them that filthy job. The coal-miner has not the only unpleasant work in industry.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) devoted the major portion of his speech to showing that the mine-owners are profiteers. I have not the privilege of the acquaintance of any of those owners. [Quorum formed.] The statement of the Minister was contrary to the reports of Mr. Justice Drake-Brockman of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and the royal commissioner,. Mr. Justice Davidson. Indeed, Mr. Justice Davidson said that the sudden withdrawal of subsidies necessarily paid to colliery proprietors during the war would be disastrous. More than one important colliery, His Honour stated, would be forced into liquidation, causing serious unemployment, and large and immediate increases of price would be essential. The Minister, who endeavoured to mislead the House regarding the profits made by the coal-owners, must be aware that the Government is paying to about 80 per cent. of the collieries substantial subsidies in order to enable them to continue operations, and keep the price of coal at the present level. The Government has asked the Opposition to suggest a solution of the coal problem. Of course, any one wouldhave difficulty in proposing a simple solution, because this problem is extremely complex. However, one important thing which any government should do is to enforce the law.

At this juncture, I do not suggest that severe penalties should be inflicted upon the workers, but I do point out that a duty devolves upon the Government to uphold the law. I propose to show conclusively by reference to a recent case that when the choice lies between enforcing the law and appeasement, the Government will bend the knee. A dispute occurred at the Mount Kiera colliery on the 8th April over the extraction of coal from pillars by mechanical equipment. Honorable gentlemen opposite have said that the Government favours the installation of mechanical equipment in coal-mines. The Minister for the Army declared a few moments ago that one of the important functions of the Joint Coal Board to be established under this bill will be to improve the mechanical equipment of the industry, and the Minister for Transport earlier this evening accused the mine-owners of retaining oldfashioned methods of coal extraction which were dangerous and laborious. Yet the happenings at the Mount Kiera colliery show clearly that the Government is not prepared to stand by its declaration in favour of the mechanization of the industry. I intend to read the statements of several important officials on the happenings at the Mount Kiera colliery. After the mine closed down on the8th April the chairman of the Central Coal Authority, Mr. Willis, ordered a compulsory conference, which was presided over by Mr. Hickman.[Quorum formed.] At that conference the superintendent of the Mount Kiera colliery, Mr. Hindmarsh, said -

The circumstances as I know them are that the lodge officials saw the under-manager on the 4 th and told him that they had been instructed by the annual convention of the Miners' Federation that coal-cutters were not to work in pillars. The under-manager told him an inspection could he made immediately if so desired, so long as the pit was working. There was no question of safety, the instructions came from Sydney. I understand the lodge members were not consulted, there was no vote taken, they were instructed togo home. The machines have been cutting pillars at Kiera, to my own personal knowledge, for the last five or six years. There has been no question raised on thismatter during that time, and, regarding the accident rate in that particular area, it compares more than favorably with the rest of the pit.

I point out that this dispute occurred through action by the central council of the miners' federation and not by the men employed in the mine. The central council, which is apparently opposed to the use of mechanical, equipment, issued instructions that work was to cease at the colliery, although not one man employed there had made any complaint about his conditions. In consequence of that instruction, this mine, which had been producing approximately 1,000 tons of coal a day, was closed, and it remained closed for about a month. During that time the miners and the management at the colliery made representations to the Premier of New South Wales, and to the Minister for Mines, as the result of which a conference was held, when statements were made by the Chief Inspector of Mines in New South Wales, Mr. Hay, and the production manager of the Coal Commission, Mr. Jack. These gentlemen visited the mine and made a thorough inspection in order that all doubt concerning theequipment and conditions there should be removed. After his inspection Mr. Hay made the following report: -

1.   There has been no departure from tlie usual practice at this mine of operating coalcutting machines in pillars in the case of the No. 0 South-West District.

2.   The operation of coal-cutting machines in pillars in that district is safe under existing conditions.

I remind honorable members that I am dealing with events that occurred a few months ago, and not with happenings ten, fifteen or even fifty years ago, as some' honorable gentlemen opposite have done. Mr. Hay also reported i -

(i)   The Premier, I regret to say, has been wrongly informed, either deliberately or due to ignorance of the facts on the part of the parties making the complaints:

(ii)   Machines have successfully and safely been used in pillars for the past five years at this colliery:

(iii)   Machine operations can safely be continued under similar conditions at this colliery ;

(iv)   Existing provisions of the Coal Mines Regulation Act adequately cover all exigencies likely to arise from day to day, or hour to hour, in the course of operations;

(v)   There is no departure from existing or p'ast practices in the manner in which the pillar in question is being extracted;

(vi)   Withdrawal of the machine would be a retrograde step resulting in: (a) reduction of output: and (ft) less safe conditions;

(vii)   The issues surrounding the refusal to operate the machines, in the absence of any other good reason, can only be of an industrial nature.

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