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Thursday, 27 June 1946

Mr FALSTEIN (WATSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was thu only plan which the Opposition could evolve to increase the output of coal.

Mr WARD - That was the plan which the" Opposition eventually got down to, because their methods of appealing to The miners for increased production failed. During this debate, certain members of the Opposition endeavoured to belittle the campaign that is now being waged for the nationalization of the coalmining industry. In 1942 T. recommended to the Curtin Government the complete nationalization of the industry, and 1.t is my firm opinion that before we csm solve the troubles in the coal industry, :he Government must bring it under complete national ownership and control. The Leader of the Opposition, who to-day is opposed to nationalization, has not always been of that opinion. Speaking at a conference of the mining unions and the mine-owners on the 13th December, 1939, he said-

If the coal-mining industry gets itself rationalized and a number of companies go out of existence and the whole of the industry is put on an economic basis it will become a better industry and there will be less men employed in it.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) expressed that view six years ago. Undoubtedly, a very logical case can be adduced for nationalization. It has always been my opinion that no nationalized industry or governmentcontrolled industry can hope to succeed unless it has a complete monopoly of the field of operation. The reason for that is obvious. While private individuals share the field of operation, there is an incentive for them to bribe and corrupt officials' who may be employed by the Government to operate its enterprise. What is the experience in other countries? Let us seek examples elsewhere, because some honorable members opposite are unable to see ' beyond their State boundaries. In New Zealand, the Labour Government has been nationalizing certain of the coal-pits. The production of coal in the . government-owned pits has not declined but has increased. In Great Britain, where the operators have a greater experience of the industry than either we in. Australia or our colleagues in New Zealand have had, the Government has decided to nationalize the coal-mining industry, and support for its policy is forthcoming, not from the ranks of the direct, adherents of the Labour party alone, but also from, people in all walks of life and from all schools of political thought. Coal is a national asset. lt is also a diminishing asset. The time may come when we shall regret the use of the inefficient methods now being employed in the production of coal. Mr. Justice Davidson, when chairman of a royal' commission on the coal industry in 1929, directed attention in his report to the fact that many of the thicker seams in New South Wales were being inefficiently mined, and that existing methods of production would result in a loss of between 66 per cent, and SO per cent., of the available supplies. | Extension of time granted.] In its last issue, the Sydney Sunday Sun published an article by a contributor who evidently had made some research into the coal-mining industry. He made it clear that, because the private coal-owners have failed to introduce hydraulic stowage in the industry we have lost, not for one year or two years, but for nil time, approximately 700,000,000 tons of coal since the industry was established. When we take into account our extended industrial effort to-day and our requirements of approximately 13,000,000 tons of coal a year, that loss represents many year's supplies for this country. The day may come when we shall regret this waste of a national asset.

Why have the private coal-owners refused to introduce this method of production into the pits? They claim that if they introduce hydraulic stowage, the cost of. producing coal would - increase by 6s. or 7s. a ton. Because ' they are solely interested in the production of coal for profit they operate only the more easily worked sections of the pit and leave behind this large volume of valuable coal which is thereby lost for all time. In the national interests, this industry must be brought under government ownership. What is happening on the northern coal-fields .to-day? Because the private coal-owner is concerned only with securing his profit, he has not taken the necessary precautionary methods to prevent the heating and flooding of the mines. To do so would involve expenditure and he has preferred to take -the risk. The result is that recently a disastrous fire occurred on the northern coal-fields which endangered the whole of the valuable Maitland seam. Therefore, I contend that in the nation's interests, irrespective of what may be argued regarding costs, this industry must come under national control and ownership. The sooner that happens, the better it will be for the industry, and the nation.

I pass now to the coal-miners themselves, their attitude to the- industry, and their employment. The miners have always considered that they were hot getting from various governments the treatment that they should receive. Stoppages in the pits are not a new feature of the industry. Stoppages have always occurred. But when the industry was capable of producing in excess of requirements, we heard no complaints about the stoppages. It is only now, when an acute shortage of coal exists for the purpose of parrying on our economy, that great attention is " directed to stoppages of work. When I was Minister for Labour and_ National Service, I had experience of the attitude of certain section's of the coal-owners towards the miners, and there were disputes and stoppages which would not have occurred if the Government. had owned the industry. For example, I read in the press from day to day statements accusing the miners of holding up the pits on frivolous pretexts. I read that in the Vale, of Clwydd pit, in the western district of New South Wales, the miners had gone on strike because they were demanding that a member of the staff, who had been employed at the colliery for many years, should .-join the miners' federation. I did not consider that during a period of national crisis that was sufficient reason to hold up work at the pit, but I did not accept the newspaper version of the trouble. I went' to the mine and called a meeting of the lodge. I then learned the exact cause . of the stoppage. The matter of the employee joining the miners' federation was an issue which had been introduced after the stoppage had occurred. This is the actual reason why the pit stopped. These' employees were contract miners, who were paid according to the quantity of coal they produced. Suddenly, .they became suspicious as to whether the weigh-bridge was opera- ting properly, and asked the management for a test. After a great deal of delay the management agreed,and it was discovered that- the weigh-bridge was at fault. It recorded every skip of coal as being half a hundredweight lighter than the true weight. The miners adopted a reasonable attitude. They did not blame the management or accuse it of having deliberately conspired to bring about faulty weighing. They informed the management that they were prepared to continue working on a daily wage rate; alternatively, they asked to be paid an agreed amount for every fully-loaded skip. In addition, the miners claimed that they should he credited in respect of the shift when the discrepancy was discovered, with half a hundred-weight of coal for each skip that they had filled. The management would not accept the proposal. A conference was called and the matter was quickly settled, because the management knew that it had no ease.

On "another occasion on the northern coal-fields, one elderly and sick miner who had grown old and ill in the industry' drew in the quarterly " cavil " one of the most difficult places in the pit where the timbering was heaviest. Under normal conditions, he could not work continuous shifts. He therefore knew that he .could not possibly carry on in the new position. He arranged with a young, physically fit man to change places with him. In other words, the physically fit young man would go to' the coal face while the sick, elderly miner would do the lighter job. The arrangement was so sensible that no one would 'assume that a management, which was concerned with increasing the production of coal, would object to it. But, to the amazement Of the miner's lodge, the management refused to agree. It insisted upon adherence to the positions that had been drawn in the " cavil ". I communicated with the mine manager by telephone, because the miners intended to stop work' the next day. I cannot relate in detail the whole of the conversation, because some of it would probably be unparliamentary. However, the pit did not stop,' and the elderly, sick miner did the lighter work. This is typical of the sympathetic approach by the government of the day to the problems of the industry which was responsible for the record output of coal in 1942. If the. industry had been completely owned by the Government, there would not have been the adoption of such pin-pricking tactics. Honorable members opposite continually contend that the poor coal-owner is making no profit. ' Some coal-owners complained to me that their mines had not paid dividends for years. I should think that if the industry is a liability to them, it' would be an excellent arrangement in their own interests and in the national interests for them to hand over the industry to the Government to operate. Let me refer to the findings of another royal commission. presided over by Mr. Justice Campbell. He declared that in 1914-18 the coal-owners made, on the capital employed, profits ranging up to 155 per cent. Therefore, the contention that this industry has been unable to afford to improve the conditions in the mines and the welfare facilities for the coal-miners themselves will not be accepted by any sensible person.

I 'now desire to deal with the use which' members of the Opposition make of the present industrial trouble. They constantly quote the remarks of Mr. Cramer, a member of the Sydney County Council. I ask: Is it not a fact that Mr. Cramer is a prominent member of the Liberal party, who stood for selection as a Liberal candidate ? Is it not also a fact that Mr. Cramer, in deciding to cut off from power and light certain sections of the City of Sydney, discriminated* as between industrial suburbs and those where the " silvertails" live? Is it not true that the electorate of East Sydney had an almost complete black-out but Bellevue Hill and Rose Bay, which are represented by the honorable member for Wentworth, were not deprived of electricity? Some people are prepared to go to any lengths to defeat this Government. I recollect that the honorable member for Wentworth, on a previous occasion when a Labour government was in office in New South Wales, was prepared to join with a subversive organization which planned to resort to arms to overthrow a constitutionally elected government. The honorable member hopes to inflame the minds of the people of Australia against this Government, but it is a vain hope." He will be fortunate if he can hold his own seat against Mrs. Jessie Street, the Labour candidate at the coming election.

Coal-miners are engaged in a very hazardous occupation. It riles me beyond words to hear the honorable gentlemen opposite trying to belittle the coal-miners. Not one of them has ever, during his lifetime, done work of a national character equal to that of the. miners in the coal pits. Yet- they talk about the coal-miners " sabotaging " the national effort. Hai any honorable gentleman opposite who talks in that way studied such subjects a? safety in the coal mines, or statistics relating to industrial accidents, or has he ever attempted to compare the seriousinjuries which the coal-miners suffer through dust with the industrial disabilities of workers in other industries? The health of many coal-miners is destroyed while they are relatively young. Not one member of the Opposition has ever engaged in such heroic work as that performed by the coal-miners. The people of Australia will not take long to assess the value of the work of the 'coalminers as against that performed by their critics opposite, who have among their numbers accountants, auctioneers, exforeman of a skirt factory and the like, not one of whom has ever performed work of such national value as that of the coal-miners.

The Government has made the right approach to this subject. Coal-miners coerced. , They can be reasoned with for they are reasonable men. Honorable gentlemen who have suggested that the coal-miners are sabotaging the national effort should. bear in mind that there was as high a percentage of their relatives in the fighting services as that of any other section of the community. It is ridiculous to assert that the coal-miners would engage in sabotage. All the miners ask for is justice and fair treatment, and they know that they can get it only from a Labour government.

Mr Harrison - I rise to order. I ask whether an honorable gentleman who is granted an extension of time can speak for more than an additional ten minutes, the time allotted for his original speech on a motion of this description. I finished my speech at, 4.55 p.m., and it is now 5.18 p.m. Has not the honorable Minister already exceeded the extended time granted to him?

Mr SPEAKER - The Standing Orders provide that extensions of time shall be for fifteen minutes, and that applies even though the original time might have been only ten minutes. The Minister is due to complete his speech at 5.21 p.m.

Mr WARD - I have not much more to say. I believe that when the facts are put before -the people of Australia, they will realize that the Chifley Government is making an honest attempt to deal with the problems of the coalmining industry in the proper way. They will also realize that the Opposition has failed in its appeasement policy inside this country, just as it failed in its appeasement in respect of our enemies overseas. They will realize, also, that Opposition members, when they were in power, had no plan for the solution of the problems of this industry except the improper use of public moneys in an a ttempt to bribe and corrupt trade union officials, for that is the effect of the report made by the late Mr. Justice Halse Rogers. The Australian public has a reputation throughout the world for faildealing, and I believe that it will be prepared to examine the case for the coalminers on its merits. It will not be misled by the honorable member for Wentworth, Mr. Cramer, of the Sydney County Council, or the Leader of the Opposition, who are endeavouring to use this situation for political purposes. They are not concerned "about the nation's welfare. If they can provoke a general strike, they will do so for political purposes. I appeal to honorable members to reject, the motion and to leave judgment in the case to the people of Australia. 1" have no doubt what that judgment will be.

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