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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and Minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) . - Although I have been a member of this Parliament since 1940, this is the first time that I have discussed the coal situation. That does not mean that I have not taken a deep interest in the problem ever since my membership of this Parliament began, and indeed for long before that time. In fact my interest in it goes back to my boyhood, for I grew up in a coal-mining district and have relations engaged in the coal-mining industry. Consequently I believe that I know a good deal more about the problems of the industry than do many honorable members opposite.

Honorable members interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The Minister mustbe given the same opportunity to put his views as was given to the Leader of the Opposition. If any honorable member indulges in any" funny business " he will be dealt with.

Mr DEDMAN - My interest in the coal industry has quickened in recent years, particularly since I became a member of the Parliament and a member of this Government. My first recollections of the subject as a member of the Parliament go back to the occasion of my first journey to Canberra by train after my election in 1940. Honorable members will recollect that the Corio by-election ushered in the downfall of the Menzies Government, because, as the result of it. the right honorable gentleman was compelled to admit Country party representatives to his government. On my first journey to Canberra as a member of the Parliament I had to sit up all night, because no sleeping berths were being provided on trains at that time. Why was that? It was because of a coal strike. What government was in power at that time? It was the government led by the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), which included Country party representatives. It will be realized, therefore, that disputes in this industry are not new either in Australia or in other parts of the world. The plain fact is that the problems of the coalmining industry in this country and in other countries are a legacy of many years of neglect by private owners of. coal mines, and by governments which failed to deal adequately with problems that shouldhave been faced. Indeed, the acute coal shortage in Australia today is, in part, the result of the very coal strike of 1940 to which I have ref erred, because if there had been no strike at that time reserves of coal would have been available in Australia to enable us to meet such an emergency as faces us to-day.

I have examined carefully the terms of the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition, and. I find them to be almost, amusing. The right honorable gentleman has used the phrase " failure to ensure adequate supplies of GPa " for certain purposes. I ask the right honorable gentleman what steps he would take to ensure the provision of adequate supplies ?

Mr Menzies - The Government has been given information on that point in the- Davidson report.

Mr DEDMAN - What steps did .the right honorable gentleman take in 1940, when coal production ceased for a long period ? On a more recent occasion when the issue was raised, the right honorable gentleman said that we should have a showdown in this industry and a complete stoppage for however long" it might be necessary.

Mr Menzies - That is a misrepresentation of what I said. 1" said that the Government should not be afraid to have a complete showdown.

Mr DEDMAN - The tight honorable gentlemen, by inference, advocated that we should have such a showdown in this industry as might result in a complete stoppage for an indefinite period. Even to-day he talked about ruthless action of the type he then envisaged.

Mr Menzies - That was the. late Mr. Cur-tin's language.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I ask honorable, members not to interject.

The honorable member for Balaclara inter rjecting

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I shall name the honorable member if he continues to interject.

Mr White - He has interjected very little!

Mr DEDMAN - - I can envisage the Leader of the Opposition saying, if he were the Leader of the Government, " Well, if these miners are not going to produce coal, the law must be enforced, and we must put them in gaol if neces sary". Suppose that course were taken, and that all the coal-miners of Australia were jailed. Would that get us more" coal? If the soldiers were sent to the coal-fields and miners were put against a wall to be shot, would that get us any more coal? Nothing that the right honorable gentleman has advocated - and I am sure that he had some of tha things that I have mentioned in his mind -would have resulted in our getting another ton Pf coal. It is true that he mentioned the Davidson report, I am not a constitutional lawyer, but as the right honorable gentleman claims to be one 3 ask him whether the Commonwealth Government has the constitutional power to implement the Davidson report? I saythat it has not. It is quite futile for the Leader of the Opposition to advocate a course of action which he knows it is not within the constitutional power of the Commonwealth Government to take. Itis true that the Davidson report recommends the mechanization of coal mines. Has the Coin.mQnwea.lth Government any power to enter privately-owned coal mines, and to order that they shall be mechanized ? It hag no such power.

Our situation to-day in regard to coal supplies is critical indeed, I deplore the fact that disputes of one kind and another take place IP this industry, and prevent the winning of a,s much coal as could otherwise be obtained; but I remind the House that if no stoppages at all occurred in the industry we should not be producing sufficient coal to meet our requirements. The plain fact is that the demand for coal, not only in Australia but. also in other parts of the world, has increased enormously in recent years. . It has increased, of course, pari passu with our population, which has grown by 500,000 in the last .'even years.

Mr Archie Cameron - The increase has1 been 7 per cent.

Mc. DEDMAN- That is so. That increase has also expanded the demand for coal for the production of electricity and gas for industrial and domestic uses.

Mr A koh jb Cameron - There has also been an increase of man-power.

Mr DEDMAN - But the increase of man-power in the coal-mining industry has not been proportionate to the increase of population and of the demand for coal The reason is that the young people of this country do riot want to work in the mines. I, for one, do not blame them. This industry has been neglected for at least the last 50 years. Past governments, composed generally by the poli tical parties which now constitute the Opposition in this House, were responsible for that neglect. There has been a complete failure to develop efficiently the coal resources of this country.I have mentioned that the population of Australia has increased by 500,000 in the last seven years. There has also been a very great increase of the general productivity of the community during the war years, and that, taken in conjunction with the increased industrial activity, constitutes one of the reasons for the present shortage of supplies of coal. Had the Government allowed unemployment to develop, as did the parties which now sit in Opposition years ago, there would not now be the existing demand for coal for industrial purposes. Had the Government allowed industries to lag behind production demands, as those parties did in the depression years, there would not now be the existing demand for coal; because a very close relationship exists between the tempo of industrial activity and the demand for coal. I shall read some extracts from a confidential report that has been compiled for the Minister for Supply and. Shipping (Senator Ashley) in reference to this matter.

Mr Menzies -I ask that the document be tabled.

Mr SPEAKER - The Standing Orders provide that if a Minister states that a document is confidential, it. need not be tabled. On a number of occasions, the Chair has ruled that a motion for the tablingof a document declared by a Minister to be confidential is not in order. Whether or not the Minister quotes from such a document, is a matter which ho himself has to decide.

Mr Anthony - On a point of order, I a sk whether, if a Minister claims that a document is confidential, and then quotes from it in the Parliament for publication in the press, it can be termed confidential in any sense of the word?

Mr SPEAKER -I have already given my ruling.

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