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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Coal Tribunal Flouted

Board ceases in New South Wales and Victoria.

Melbourne, Friday. - In reference to-night to the position of the coal tribunal presided over by Mr. Justice Edmunds, the Prime Minister said that the tribunal was appointed for the purpose of settling disputes in the coal trade, and assuring a supply of coal during the war. The board gave the men all they asked for on the expressed condition, accepted on behalf of the men, that there would be industrial peace, and no interruption of the output of coal during the war. That condition had been broken by the men who deserted their posts at the most critical time in their country's history. Mr. Justice Edmunds, whose orders had been treated with contempt, had announced that he had ceased operations, and tendered his resignation as chairman of the tribunal.

While he (Mr. Hughes) much regretted that the good work done by Mr. Justice Edmunds had been brought to nought by the action of the men, it was clear that it was impossible for the tribunal to carry on its work in the States when men defied its authority. Therefore, in New South Wales and Victoria, the tribunal might be regarded as having ceased to exist. In Queensland where coal mines were still at work, the board will continue.

Following upon Judge Edmunds' resignation, I appointed Mr. Hibble to the tribunal. He carried on the work for some years and endeavoured, with some success, to promote peace in the coal industry. My government endeavoured to enforce the law, but this Government does not endeavour to enforce the law. The Prime Minister said quite recently that he would not enforce the law against the miners, that complete immunity was granted to them to do what they pleased, to absent themselves from work without reasonable cause and to cease work on a just or unjust cause. The miners in the last year or two have struck for any reason or no reason at all. Mr. Justice Davidson points out that in the vast majority of cases strikes have had nothing to do with any industrial question. A pit pony has a. sore back. The miners knock off. A foreman looks sourly at a wheeler. They knock off. They do this knowing very well that the law will not be enforced, and that the Government's policy is to leave them alone because they are the only men who can cut coal. A more immoral doctrine was never promulgated. The miners are given the right to do as they please because they are strong. Eight counts for nothing: force alone prevails as it did in Hitler's Germany. Because Hitler was strong people who displeased him were put in concentration camps. Justice, the rule of law, was spat on. We fought for the maintenance of the rule of law, but the Government says, " Oh well, we are not going to enforce the law ". I do not know that I can usefully expound the position further. The bill contains nothing of substance. It will leave things as they are. It is true, of course, that it may do some good in improving conditions in the mines. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), amongst others, recently debated the question, " How can Australia's coal-mining problem be solved ?" What the president of the miners federation said was beautiful to listen to : peace was his theme : hearing him no one would suspect that his one object in life is to stir up and foment strife. He said the suggestion that the mechanization of mines was opposed by the miners was quite wrong. All they did was to oppose unplanned and illconsidered mechanization. As to mechanization itself, they were entirely in favour of it. Then he went on to talk about the conditions in the mines and about dust in particular. He gave the impression - I do not say he actually committed himself in so many words- that men were dying, like flies in the mines as the result of dust. He did say countless thousands of lives would be saved as the result of the removal of dust. All I have" to say is that dust is a great evil, but it does not kill as do silicosis or phthisis. It is not a killer. As a matter of fact, coal mines are notoriously free from silicosis and phthisis.Among metalliferous miners, however, these disesases are rife. To suggest that " dusting " is a disease of the first magnitude is best answered by citing the figures.

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