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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr BRYSON (Burke) .- Coal production is one of the greatest problems facing this country to-day. In presenting this bill to the House the Government has made a sincere effort to clear up the mess into which the industry has drifted. I regard 'the measure as one of the most important that has ever been brought before the Parliament. I had hoped that honorable members opposite would have treated it as such and would have co-operated with the Government in this attempt to solve the very serious problem with which the coal-mining industry is now confronted. But although I listened intently to the speeches of honorable members opposite, I found them almost entirely barren of suggestions for the improvement of the industry.

Mr Archie Cameron - The Government is unwilling to accept any suggestions which come from this side of the House.

Mr BRYSON - I can assure .the honorable gentleman that if and when he makes a sensible suggestion we shall be glad to accept it. I am afraid, however, that we shall have to wait a long time. The speeches of honorable members opposite have mainly consisted of villification The miners have not only had to suffer violent attacks by anti-Labour politicians ; they have also been constantly attacked in some sections of the press throughout the, length and breadth of the country. Far from solving their problem,* villification will merely result in making them more discontented than ever. There is a good deal of justification for the discontent that prevails in the industry. For too long coal miners have been compelled to work in conditions that should not be imposed upon any human being. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) made suggestions, not for obtaining increased coal production in New South Wales, but for the adoption of alternative means of obtaining power and light for the community. The only suggestion that he could make to overcome the present impossible situation in the coal-mining industry was for the introduction ' of ' some form of honour roll to show the production of mine against mine and miner against miner, with the names of extra-good workers recorded. That is a barren suggestion. The Leader of the Opposition, in a speech lasting an hour, made two suggestions only to solve the problem.

Mr Archie Cameron - Just now the honorable member said that no one on this side had made any suggestion.

Mr BRYSON - I said that no one had made any suggestion of value. The right honorable gentleman's- suggestion was for the introduction of a second shift in the coal-mines of New South Wales. He did not, say whether it should be worked by. the miners already in the mines or whether he would obtain additional men for the industry. History shows that the coal-mining industry is so unpopular that it is almost impossible to get sufficient miners to work the existing pits on a one-shift basis. The number of miners is decreasing because conditions are so bad in many of the mines that the miners are looking for better jobs above the surface, and, with the Labour party in power, they are able, of course, to obtain jobs away from the mines. The second' suggestion of the right honorable gentleman was that the wicked and outmoded system of " one out, all out " should be prohibited. I am not going to say anything in favour of the system, but I remind ' him that not so. long' ago, when he resigned from the Advisory War Council, 'he demanded that the system of " one out, all out " should apply, and, because the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) refused to obey, they were expelled from the United Australia party. It was only because that party changed its name to that of the Liberal party of Australia and a demand was made for the infusion of " new blood " into the organization that they were . permitted reinstatement.

The right honorable member for North Sydney had a good deal to say about this matter. He is one who ought to know a lot about the coal-mining industry arid what is necessary for its rehabilitation, because he was either Prime Minister or a Minister for many years during, which he took action in regard to coalmining troubles on a large number of occasions. He did succeed in causing general strikes in the industry, but he did not succeed in making any material improvement of the conditions of work or the production of coal. He tried many schemes. He tried discipline, as he demands that we should enforce it to-day. He wielded the big stick over the miners, but without much success. He then went so far in his efforts on behalf of the coalmine owners to keep the miners in subjection that he was partly responsible for the institution of what became known after a royal commission as " the slush fund ", a secret fund out of which members of the then Government bribed officials of the miners federation to keep the miners in subjection. Any man with the reputation that the right honorable gentleman has would be advised to keep out of the debate when we are endeavouring to create harmony in the industry and to ensure the production of the coal that is so essential to our -wellbeing. We should eschew discord and start with a clean sheet. This Government, in association with the Government of New South Wales, is making that effort now, and that is why we are debating this bill. I mention these things because I believe that this House and the public should realize what has been going on in the industry for years and the repressive measures that have been taken against the employees in it on. almost every occasion. I do not say that the employees have alwaysbeen blameless or that their organization is perfect. It is not perfect. Many of their leaders have been very poor leaders. At the same time the Opposition has on all occasions taken the side of the employer against the employee. The Opposition and the owners have been backed up by the daily press throughout Australia. We cannot take up a newspaper on any day without finding on the principal page a reference to the coal-mining industry to the effect that " so many tons were lost yesterday because of stoppages. There were stoppages at 3, 6, 9 or 12 mines ". If a stoppage is due to the actions of the employees it is blazoned with headlines like, " The employees stopped because some one wanted to go home": but, if the trouble is due to bad' management, it is glossed over. The employees always receive the blame of any loss of coal. That has gone 'on over the years. At no time has the press given the employees any credit for the quantity of coal that they have produced. It is well known that in 1942 coal production was an all-time record, but during, the whole year we read day after day about losses in the coal-mines and villification of the miners, but not one word of praise for their effort in obtaining ,an all-time record coal production. If we are going to make the coal-miners satisfied with their conditions, that campaign of villification and abuse must cease, and they must be given credit for their efforts on behalf of their own industry and industry generally throughout the Commonwealth. Until we can stop that we cannot expect the miners to work regularly, and we cannot possibly expect them to be satisfied. I know also that the demand for coal in Australia is greater than it has been at any previous time. Although Victoria is experiencing a shortage of coal, that State will receive from New South Wales this year 350,000' tons more coal than it received in any year before the outbreak of World War II. Even with that additional quantity, industry in Victoria is not getting sufficient coal to enable it to carry on. I do not blame entirely the coal-miners of New . South Wales for that position. I attribute the difficulties in Victoria chiefly to the short-sightedness of successive governments of that State since 191S. The brown coal deposits at Yallourn are sufficient to supply the requirements of the State for the next 200 years, but they have been developed to only a limited degree. Certainly, that coal is not so valuable as is the black coal of New South Wales. For approximately twenty years, we used the brown coal to provide a portion ' of our requirements of electricity, and as briquettes, but so shortsighted were successive State governments in. the past that during the war, the Melbourne suburban electric train service had to be curtailed by 25 per cent, because of the shortage of New South Wales blackcoal. One Government of Victoria was so short-sighted that it designed the power-house at" Newport to consume, not the brown coal of Yallourn, but the black coal of New South Wales. That is the cause of one of the principal difficulties in Victoria to-day. The present State government is taking appropriate steps ro improve the position. Within the next few years Victoria will not be so' dependent, on the black coal of New South Wales as it is at present. With a continuation of the present State government, Victoria., in less than ten years, will be largely independent of New South Wales coal. 1

During this debate, honorable members opposite have complained 'that industry in South Australia has been brought to a. standstill because of a shortage of black coal. I remind the House that successive governments in .South Australia must accept their share of the responsibility; and their share is considerable. South Australia has deposits of coal at Leigh Creek. The quality of the coal is not so good as that of New South Wales black coal, I admit, but it is only in the last couple of years that the State government has realized the importance of the deposits to South Australia, and begun to develop them. At present, production from Leigh. Creek by the. opencut method Ls 7,000 tons a week, or less than one half of the requirements of the State. If successive State governments of South Australia had. not been «o short-sighted-, Leigh Creek coal to-day would make the State almost entirely independant of New South Wales coal. If the governments of Victoria and South Australia had shown wisdom in the period of 1918-38 when there was no shortage of labour, they could now be providing coal to meet the bulk of their own needs, and we would not have had the present troubles.

We must recognize that the coal industry is dying slowly. As coal is mined, no more grows to' take its place. Sooner or later, we shall be obliged to find substitute fuels. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) suggested some of them, and I have indicated action that should be taken in South Australia and Victoria. It can be done, and should be done, because it will help to solve the. coal problems of those States.

The speech of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) was in opposi tion to organized unionism in Australia. The honorable gentleman does not like the workers to organize into unions. He hates the very name of organized trade unionism. Most of his contribution to the debate was devoted to a description ,of the work of " scabs " in a certain mine in New South Wales during a strike in 1929. From his remarks, the honorable .member appeared to be very proud of the fact that he went down the mine among the " scabs " and hewed coal. That' describes his outlook towards" the whole of the working class of Australia. He is violently opposed to unionism in any form, and he will Sup- port any .type of person who will attempt to break down unionism in Australia. I mention that matter because the honorable gentleman has, on many occasions, attacked the coal-miners and members of" other unions. To-day, he came out into the open with a straight-out advocacy of support for " scabs " as against organized unionists. That is a disgraceful state of affairs, I know, in an enlightened country like Australia, but 1he honorable member cannot grow out of the prejudices that he has held against the workers for so many years.

During this debate, the report of Mr. Justice Davidson on the coal-mining industry has been referred to extensively. I. noticed that when honorable members opposite read extracts from the document, their object was to show that the coalminers were a bad lot. As I stated earlier, I do not contend that the employees are perfect. I know that they are not. They have been responsible for some of the troubles which have occurred. However, I know that the coal-owners also .have been guilty in many other directions. The conditions under which the miners are employed in many pits are not fit for any human beings. The miners have been used as beasts of burden. The. owners have wrested from the toil of the workers as much profit as possible, and when they could not extract any more profit, they have thrown the workers on the scrapheap. In a number of instances, the owners treated the pit ponies better than the men. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) stated in his speech that comparatively little industrial unrest has occurred among the coal-miners in Queensland, Western Australia, Victoria, and the western districts df New South Wales. He pointed out also that there have been constantly recurring troubles in the mines on the south coast and in the northern district of New South Wales. When we examine the position, we find that most of the troubles in the coal-mining industry occur in those two areas. Therefore, we should endeavour to discover the reason. We cannot always blame the coal-miners. The miner in the northern district of New South Wales is the same type of individual and worker as the miner in the western district, or in Victoria, Western Australia or Queensland. When employed in the western district or in Victoria or Queensland, he works . regularly. But when he is employed in the northern district or on the south coast, his work is irregular. In those two areas stoppages have occurred at frequent intervals. One of the real reasons for much of the industrial trouble in the mines on the south coast of New South Wales has been brought home to us clearly in the last few weeks. It is the absolute refusal of the owners to provide reasonable safety precautions. The miners . have been demanding for many years that action be taken to alleviate dust troubles. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) was at some pains, in his speech, to explain that coal dust was not so injurious to the lungs as is the dust in metalliferous mines, but he conveniently forgot to mention that much of the dust that causes serious lung trouble in the south coast mines is not coal dust. On a number of occasions recently, south coast miners have taken days off in order to attend the funeral of colleagues who have lost their life through miners' disease which they contracted owing to the failure of the miner-owners* fo provide reasonable precautions against dust. The unfortunate miners get the dust in their lungs, and their health gradually deteriorates until, after a long and painful illness, they die. This is due largely to the neglect of the mine-owners to provide adequate safety measures. A great deal of the trouble in the northern collieries has occurred in the mines of

J.   A. Brown & Sons and Seaham, Collieries. We have, heard a great deal of the history of the J. A. Brown organization over the years. Mr. J. A. Brown, as records will show, consistently refused for a very long while to adopt arbitration methods for the settlement of disputes. He ' preferred to force the miners into submission by starvation. On one occasion, at least, the mines of his organization were closed for eighteen months.

The troubles in this industry can be remedied only, if, in addition to dealing with the dust nuisance, managerial practice also is thoroughly overhauled. This bill provides that under certain conditions a public authority may take control of a mine. If (his course be followed and the management of such collieries be re-organized, many of the problems of the industry will be solved. The application of the principles outlined in the bill would be justified if they resulted in a departure from the present system of "dog eat dog ".

Mr. JusticeDavidson's report has been mentioned frequently during this debate by honorable gentlemen opposite, who,however, have seen fit to quote only pas. sages which reflect adversely on the "miners. For that reason I propose to quote certain other passages which indicate clearly that there is another side to the story. My first extract is -

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