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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - The Coal Industry Bill merits the most ' serious debate because it deals with the greatest problem that the country has to solve, and it is indeed strange that after an honorable member on the Opposition side has spoken no Labour supporter has risen to continue the debate. Consequently, the call has been given to this side again. After some general preliminary observations, I propose to determine to what degree, if at all, this legislation varies from the Coal Production (War-time) Act, which was placed on the statute-book at the instance of the Labour party in March, 1944. It may be said as a general proposition that as that act failed completely to produce the coal that we were promised it would produce, there is little hope that a bill that, as I shall show, is in all essentials identical with it will accomplish anything more. We have heard- from honorable members opposite, from the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) down, the same speeches as were made on the 1944 legislation, and it is pertinent to observe that when that legislation was before honorable members, the problem was adumbrated, and the country was assured' by the Labour party that once the bill became law most of our problems would be solved and thenceforth there would be increased production of coal and less dislocation of industry. But what are the facts? Since March, 1944, when that bill was passed, the coal-mining industry has gone from bad to worse, and all the hopes that were placed by the Government in that legislation have failed to materialize. Coal production has fallen. The output per man-shift has fallen. Man days lost through strikes have increased extraordinarily, and the average number of days lost per employee per annum has also increased. In 1944, the year in which the act came into operation, the number of man days lost in strikes was 431,643, and, in 1945, it was 629,975. Production fell from 2,500,000 mechanically filled tons in 1943 to 2.160,000 tons in 1945. The total output of coal fell from 11,528,000 tons in 1943 to 11,102,000 tons in 1944, and 10,237,000 tons in 1945.

I propose to divide my remarks into two parts. First, I propose to analyse the bill in order to establish that in essential features it has been lifted almost word for word from the Coal Production (War-time) Act and that certain sections of the act have been left out of this bill. As the result of these omissions whatever efficacy the act may have possessed is to be lost. With few exceptions, the clauses, of this bill are no different from the. sections of the 1944 act. Yet the Government would have the people believe that this legislation will establish a new era for the coal industry. If honorable members refer to the Coal Production (War Time) Act. 1944. sections 6, 7, 9 and 11 to 13,. they will find that clauses, 5,. to 9 of this bill are in essential features no different except that the sections relate to the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner, whereas this bill provides for the establishment of a Joint Coal Board. That act failed utterly to produce the coal that the Government now says will be produced by the board. Clause 13 vests the board with extensive powers over the coal industry in respect of production and distribution of coal and conditions in the industry. Sections 17 to 20 of the act, 1944, confer, although in different verbiage, substantially the same powers as does clause 13. On all matters -of policy the board shall be subject to the directions of the Prime Minister, or the Prime Minister and the Premier in different circum-stances. That provision is made in clause 17, which is no different in principle from section 20 of the act. Clause 37 provides for the establishment of a Coal Industry Tribunal. Honorable members will find that exactly the same provision, except that the name given to the authority was different, was made in section 29 of the act. That tribunal is vested with certain powers, which are specified in clauses 40 to 42. Under sections 30 and 31 of the act exactly the same powers are conferred upon the central industrial authority, consisting of one man, as are to be conferred on the Coal Industry Tribunal, also consisting of one man. Clause 45, which' empowers the Coal Industry Tribunal to establish local coal authorities, is similar to section 33 of the act, except for two modifications: The tribunal, not the Minister will appoint and determine conditions of appointment, and the members may be appointed for three years, although there is no obligation to appoint them for any more than the shortest period.

Certain powers are vested in these tribunals under clauses 46 and 47, which are the same in all essentials as sections 34 and 35 of the act. Clause 49, which is identical in every essential with section 37, provides for the review of the decisions of the coal tribunals when those decisions are likely to lead to industrial unrest in localities other than that in respect of which the decisions are given. I pass now to another central feature, namely, the establishment of what are called mine conciliation committees, with certain functions of conciliation. The relevant provisions are clauses 50 and 51. Although the 1944 act did not constitute mine conciliation committees as such, they existed under the name of production committees, which were established under sections 38 and 39. If honorable members will read the relevant clauses and. sections, they will see that the mine conciliation committees have exactly the same functions as those which sections 38 and 39 confer upon the production committees.

I have now reviewed all of the essential features of the bill, namely, the establishment and powers of the board, the Coal Industry Tribunal, the local coal authorities and the mine conciliation committees. Beyond that, there are no other features of the bill which were not contained in the Coal production (Wartime) Act of 1944. All the other clauses are machinery, and nothing else. Now, if that be a correct analysis of the bill-

Mr Dedman - Of course, it is not. .Mr. SPENDER. - I shall be very glad if the Minister, instead of saying, that the analysis is not correct, will deal with the matters to which I have -referred. I have examined the bill and the act very carefully, and have not depended upon a general statement. I shall not be satisfied - nor will the public be satisfied1 - merely by the say-so of the Minister, because he will have ample opportunity,, when replying to this debate, to endeavour to prove that my contentions are wrong. Therefore, I say that, if that be a correct analysis, and I believe that it is, this bill- does not make in realities a different approach to the coal problem from that made by the act of 1944. Yet, the people of this conntry are told ' and told untruthfully, that this is a new approach to the problem, having regard to the recommendations of Mr. Justice Davidson. Later, I shall draw attention to the royal commissioner's report, which I have taken the trouble to read. 1 allege as a fact that the Government has not made any attempt to implement that report in any vital respect.

Very significant inferences may be drawn against the bona fides of the bill. Honorable members will notice that Part IV. of the measure deals with the control of coal mines, and special conditions of employment and discipline in the mines controlled by the coal authority. According to the Minister's explanation on Tuesday evening, all those provisions will be removed from the bill. The honorable gentleman's explanation, upon examination, will be found to be entirely worthless. He stated that Part IV. will be omitted because the Government discovered certain constitutional difficulties in the way of implementing this legislation. A little analysis will show how ridiculous is that suggestion. The vital provision of Part. IV is clause 19, which provides - (1.) Where, in the opinion of theboard, it is desirable, with a view to maintaining or increasing the production of coal from any coal mine in the State, the coal mine should be operated under the control of the board, the board is to have power, by written order, to authorize any person (in this act referred to as an "authorized controller") to exercise such functions of control and to do such things, on behalf of the board, but subject to any directions of the board, with respect to that coal mine, as the authorized controller thinks necessary for the purpose of maintaining or increasing the production of coal at that coal mine, and the authorized controller may exercise those functions and do those things accordingly.

According to the Minister, the Government has found that clause 19 is unconstitutional. Other clauses in the bill show how empty is that contention. For example, clause 13 states -

The powers and functions of the board are to include the taking of such action as, in the opinion of the board, is necessary or desirable

There can be no more general words than those -

(a)   to ensure that coal is produced in the State in such quantities and with such regularity as will meet requirements throughout Australia and in trade with other countries;

(b)   to ensure that the coal resources of the State are conserved,developed, worked and used to the best advantage in the public interest;

(c)   to ensure that coal produced in that State is distributed and used in such manner, quantities, classes and grades and at such prices as are calculated best to serve the public interest and secure the economical use of coal and the maintenance of essential services and industrial activities.

In general terms, that power would be quite sufficient to enable the board to take control of any mine. However, the power does not end there, because without limiting the particularity of that statement, paragraph g of sub-clause 2 of clause 13 provide that the board shall have power to make provision for -

(f)   the efficient and economical use of coal the development of uses or markets for coal, and the recovery of the by-products of coal ;

(g)   the regulation of prices for the sale, purchase or re-sale of coal, the values at which coal is recorded in the accounts of any business, and of profits in the coal industry;

(i)   the establishment of sound industrial welfare practices including the provision of amenities for employees in the coal industry.

By sub-clause 3 (f) the board may assume control of the management and operation of any mine, and by sub-clause 3 (g) may acquire and operate any mine. In addition, certain limited powers of discipline are contained in sub-clause 3 (k). No greater powers could be conferred upon a board. Therefore, even a superficial examination of the powers contained in clause 13 makes it obvious to honorable members that the explanation given by the Minister for the omission of Part IV. cannot be sustained. However, the matter does not rest there. Sub-clause 2 of clause 12 provides -

Subject to the Constitution, those powers and functions are by this sub-section, and not otherwise, vested in the board to the extent to which they are not in excess of the legislative power of the Commonwealth.

No matter what the powers in the general terms of the bill may be, they must be read as not to extend beyond the constitutional authority of the Commonwealth. How, then, can the Minister say that doubt exists about the constitutionality of any clause contained in Part IV.? In any event, how can the Minister say that that was the reason why Part IV. will be excluded, when clause 13 contains the particular provision and the general provision giving to theboard complete power to take over a coal-mine? I can offer an explanation for the exclusion of Part IV.

Mr Dedman - What is the honorable member's explanation?

Mr SPENDER - It is not the explanation which the Minister gave. Part IV. deals with two very important matters when a mine is taken over and controlled by theboard. The first arises under clause 25, which is to be excluded from the bill. It is well that I should read it -

It shallbe a condition of employment by the Board of any person in or about a , controlled mine that, if, in the opinion of the board or the authorized controller of the mine, that person -

(a)   wilfully disobeys or disregards any lawful direction or order made or given by any person having authority to make or give the order or direction; or

(b)   fails, without leave or other reasonable excuse, to attend for work or to perform his duties on any day and at the times on and at which he is required so to attend and to perform his duties, then, subject to any order of the board, there shall he deducted from any pay due or to become due to that person an amount in accordance with the prescribed scale.

Why is clause 25 to be excluded? We do not have to go very far to ascertain the reason. Objection has been taken to that power of discipline. The power was contained in the act of 1944; and the miners' federation has agitated strongly to have it removed. The royal commissioner dealt with it in his report. Although His Honour pointed out the need for the power to discipline, the Government proposes to delete the clause from the bill. The only other power to discipline will then be contained in paragraphk of sub-clause 2 of clause 13, which reads -

(k)   the regulation of employment in and recruitment to the coal industry, including the control of the manning of mines and. the promotion of stability of employment.

Power to suspend or exclude from employment in the coal industry any superintendent, manager or any other person has been vested in the Commonwealth Government, in regulations both antecedent as well as subsequent to the Coal Production (War-time) Act of 1944. Although the Government has possessed that power for years, it has never exer cised it, and is never likely to exercise it. Therefore, the House is entitled to an explanation of why clause 25 will be excluded.

Part IV. contains provision that when a mine is taken over by the board, the owner of the controlled mine, and through him the share-holders, shall be entitled to such compensation as is determined by agreement between theboard and the owner, or in the case of failure to reach agreement, compensation shall be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction. That provision is to be removed although no provision appears in clause 13 for the payment of compensation. There is in that clause most complete and over-riding power to take control of, to exclude the owners from, and to manage a business, but no provision is made for compensation to those who suffer loss by such action. There is a very good reason for the action that the Government has taken. I have heard it stated that some of the Government's advisers have in mind avoiding the need to pay compensation, because there will be no constitutional obligation to pay compensation if there is no actual acquisition.

Mr Dedman - The honorable gentleman has a suspicious mind.

Mr SPENDER - If there is no doubt about the requirement to pay compensation, why should not definite provision be made to ensure that any one who suffers a loss which can be proved as the result of the taking over by the board of a mine shall be entitled to just compensation, such as is provided in clause 20, which is now to be omitted? What the Government proposes to do, however, is not to acquire the mines. If it acquired the mines it would he under an obligation to pay compensation in accordance with the terms of the Constitution. I have given the real reason why Part IV. is to be omitted, and it has nothing whatever to do with any alleged constitutional limitation.

I put it to the House that this bill contains all the virtues, if any, and certainly all the vices of the Coal Production (War-time) Act, butif Part IV. be omitted from the measure it will contain no provision whatever for the payment of compensation to the shareholders of companies controlled by the board and no power of discipline such as is contained in the Coal Production (War-time) Act. This is very strange when we look at the matter in the light of the Government's declared purpose to discipline" those- who cause disturbance in the industry, whether they be employers or employees. There is, however, a new provision in the bill to which attention should be drawn. It appears in clause. IS and reads -

Nothing in this act sholl he deemed to authorize any form of industrial conscription.

Difficulties always arise when political phrases are introduced into legislative enactments. I suggest that in view of the provisions of this clause all real power to discipline, which is said to be contained elsewhere in the measure, will be completely destroyed, because if no form of industrial conscription is to be applied, it may. well follow that men cannot be compelled to go to work under any conditions, cannot be prevented from leaving work under any conditions, and cannot be compelled to go back to work under any conditions. If there is no form of punishment, it will be impossible to take any of the three measures that I have mentioned, because any such act might be construed as a form of industrial conscription. 'I fail to see how any sanctions can be applied unless it he possible to compel men' to observe a direction to return to work under an award of a court, or to deal with men who absent themselves from work.

My analysis of the bil] leads me to the conclusion that there is nothing whatever new in it, and that nothing to aid the the production of coal could be done by the enactment of its provisions which cannot be done under the Coal Production (War-time) Act; but the measure is seriously deficient in that it contains no provision for -compensation to be paid as the result of the taking over of coalmines by the board as a means of resolving the problems of the industry. I ask the Minister to state specifically, and by comparison word for word with the Coal Production (War-time) Act, where there is anything new in this- measure.

Mr Williams - The bill brings the States and the Commonwealth together.

Mr SPENDER - I shall show how bright that remark is. Under the Coal

Production (War-time) Act, no question of bringing State and Commonwealth together arose, for the Commonwealth was empowered to exercise exclusive control over the industry. However, coal has not been produced by that means. The reason for this is that the vice of the act of 1944 and the vice of this bill is that it makes all the powers to be conferred on the board subject to the policy of the Executive. The board is to be subject to political direction. If honorable members will refer back to our discussion of the Coal Production (War-time) Bill in 1944 they will see that the expression " subject to the directions of the Minister " was introduced by means of an amendment. Mr. Justice Davidson has reported at considerable length on the subject of political influence, and has stated that political influence is at the very root .of the failure of all schemes which, so far, have been devised to deal with the coal industry.

I wish to make my approach to this problem very clear. I believe in the establishment of a board for coal control. I believe that to be essential, for the industry is in such a condition to-day that control cannot be left to one side or the other. We have some important records to guide us on this point - four of them in fact. They are the reports' of the New. South Wales royal commission, 1929, the Reid Technical Commission, the Foot Commission, which made its report in England in 1945, and the report of Mr. Justice Davidson. All these authorities agree that it is essential to establish a control board with wide powers over the industry, that the board should consist of men of wide experience trained in management and control, and that in no circumstances should it be subject to political control. In this connexion I direct attention to the following observations made by Mr; Justice Davidson in his report -

In both the above reports-

He was dealing with the Reid and Foot reports - it was recommended that there should be some form of control over the coal industry. Mr. Foot was of the opinion that this control should he arranged internally, the Reid Committee that it should be' by a governmental authority. The latter opinion was 'shared by the royal commission of 1929 in New South

Wales. But all concurred in the view that whatever the nature of the authority it should be independent of ministerial interference. The Tennessee Valley Authority in America. also, which probably is the most outstanding modern example of controlled private enterprise or collaboration between public and private enterprise, is so insistent upon freedom from political interference that its chairman hae written : " It is accurate to say that the Tennessee Valley Authority has demonstrated to the satisfaction of those most directly affected that the task of getting resources developed should be kept nonpolitical. It is now 'good politics ' for political leaders themselves in the Tennessee Valley to urge that politics be kept out of.the Tennessee Valley Authority ". ,

Elsewhere in the report Mr. Justice Davidson also focused attention on the subject of political control, and of its failure. I also direct attention to a statement by Mr. Shinwell,, the Minister for Fuel and Power in the United Kingdom, in which he makes it quite clear that in the control proposed to be imposed in Great Britain there shall be no ministerial direction of the industry.

Sitting suspended from 6 to S p.m.

Mr SPENDER - In the short time that is left to me, all that I can do is recapitulate some of the points that I have made. Those who have listened to me must agree that I have established that this bill, from which so much is expected, does not vary in any essential feature from the Coal Production (Wartime) Bill passed by this Government in March, 1944; and, if nothing arose from that act to improve the production of coal, then nothing can be expected from this bill when, it becomes ah act. It. is proper that I should state what, in my opinion, ought to be done when dealing with the coal industry. I can do that only, in short- compass. There should be established a central coal board of three members, not a board of one member as the bill provides, with wide powers over the industry. The state of the coal industry is such that a board of that character is essential in the interests of the people. It should be appointed for a term of at least seven years. I draw attention to the fact that the bill does not state the term for which the proposed board . may heappointed. It may be appointed for a limited term,, and thus will be entirely subject to the whim of the Government. The board should consist of men who, by reason of their experience and training, are qualified for management and control. I want to make it clear that I am opposed to the idea, that all boards should be representative of the employer and employee. After all, our desire is not to set up a debating society, but an authority of action.- The men best qualified to achieve the pro'duction of coal should be sought. If the Government looks around, it can find such men. The board should be completely removed from all political influence. That is one of the most important suggestions that I make. This was recommended in the Foot report in Great Britain in 1945, the report of the New South Wales Royal Commission on Coal in 192S, the report of the Reid Technical Committee on Coal, the report by Mr. . Justice Davidson, and, last, hut by no means least, by Mr. Shinwell, the Labour Minister for Fuel in Great Britain. The legislation should have incorporated in it the principle that, subject to the owners effectively carrying out the general lines of policy laid down by the Joint Coal Board, the management should be left in .the hands - of the owners. That was recommended by both the Foot . report of 1945 and the Davidson report that is. now before the House. I believe, also - and this is very important from the standpoint of the equity of the shareholders - that provision should be made for the payment of compensation for all damage done, and for all loss sustained by the shareholders, in consequence of the operations of'the board, with a proper right of appeal to a judicial tribunal. I point out that the bill does not contain any provision for the compensation of dispossessed mine-owners and the shareholders of coal-mining companies. A coal industrial tribunal should be established to deal with the industrial troubles in the industry. It should consist of a judge of the Arbitration Court, specially appointed to deal with the industry. I am wholly opposed to appointment for a period not exceeding seven years ", as the bill provides, because such an appointee would be at all times mindful of what his political masters were thinking and doing, lt is essential, too, that in all industrial matters both the owners and the men should have removed from their minds the idea that they may canvass any decision which happens to be unfavorable to them, by exerting political pressure on any government that may be in power. Local industrial tribunals should be established, composed of men appointed for fixed terms, so that' they may exercise their' functions with a feeling of independence. The men appointed should be removed from the hatreds and the bad psychology of the industry. Indeed, I would exclude all ex-miners, ex-managers and mining superintendents. That suggestion is consistent with the recommendation of Mr. Justice Davidson. All tribunals should be independent, and be given the fullest support in their actions by the Government, in accordance with the recommendation in the Davidson report. His Honour pointed out that it would be impossible to ask tribunals to discharge their duties if every one of their decisions could be canvassed publicly, and if the men, in particular, believed that they could approach their parliamentary representatives to canvass any decision. That would deprive the tribunal of any real power. Appropriate legislation should be introduced, in accordance with the paragraph under that heading in the Davidson report. In that sub-paragraph, His Honour recommended legislation for the purpose of preserving peace in the industry. He insisted that discipline can be established only by agreement or by the rule of law, and said that? since in the unfortunate condition in which the industry now is agreement is impossible; therefore, it must be imposed by rule of law. That conclusion is irresistible. His Honour recommended legislation to prohibit the application of the seniority rule; to enable the Arbitration Court to direct that a secret ballot shall be taken under the supervision of a court official, and to impose a penalty on workers neglecting to vote upon the calling, continuance or discontinuance of a strike; to enable the Court to declare whether action by a union or an employer, or by an official of either, had been the proximate cause of a strike, and to impose a penalty upon such union or employer as the case might be. He made other recommendations, which time does not permit me to state now, in regard to many other matters, provision for which is sadly lacking in this legislation. It is incredible, after a commission appointed as this one was, had sat for many months, had made the most painstaking review of the whole industry, and had recommended specific legislation, that not one of Its recommendations should be given effect. If an approach to this problem is being made with a real desire to obtain more coal, it would be wise to pay regard to the recommendations of this learned judge. Whether we agree or disagree with his recommendations, I regret very much that such unfortunate strictures should have been passed' upon him as were voiced by one Government supporter earlier to-day. After all, a man can only perform the task allotted to him. Mr. Justice Davidson was appointed by this Government to inquire into the problems of the industry. He has made certain recommendations, t say without hesitation, being one of the few men in the House who have had recourse to his full report, that the Government has not made any attempt to 'give effect to any of his recommendations. I should like to know from the Minister (Mr. Dedman), when he replies, which specific recommendations he claims are being given effect, which are not already in operation; and why, in particular, legislation designed to preserve discipline in the industry has not been introduced. The problem is, indeed, a difficult one.. I have no desire to introduce controversial matters. But I do contend that, in the approach to the problem, success lies .in giving effect as closely as possible to the recommendations that have been made in the Davidson report.

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