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Thursday, 1 August 1946

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) (12:15 PM) . - We have been taught to expect a bill from the Government whenever a jam occurs in coal production in this country. The last bill was introduced in February, 1944, during the regime of the Curtin Government, in an attempt to stop the steady deterioration of the situation in the coal-mining- industry. Coal production had diminished to an alarming degree. That bill gave . the Commonwealth Government no power that it' did not already, possess under national security regulations. Indeed, slabs of those regulations, which had been promulgated earlier in an attempt to cope with the drift in the industry, were incorporated holus-bolus in that bill. The idea behind it was that the people might be deluded into believing that an honest and genuine attempt was being made by the Government to settle the problems of the industry. That bill was debated at great length on both sides of the House, and eventually became law. It provided for the imposition of certain penalties on miners guilty of absenteeism or striking. For a little while it had the effect of stimulating production, but the position soon deteriorated again. The next step was the appointment of Mr. Justice Davidson, of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, as a board of inquiry to conduct an exhaustive inquiry into the industry. He delved deeply into all phases of it, and at last. presented to this Parliament the voluminous report that is now in the possession of honorable members. Far from arresting the deterioration of the industry the inquiry might easily have" had the opposite effect, for since the report was presented by

Mr. JusticeDavidson, the position has become even worse. Mr. Justice Davidson reported-

The coal industry in its major fields is a tottering industry.

Whatever truth there was in that statement whenit was written is greater, if possible, to-day, and it is equally true that the whole Australian economy is bordering on disaster. Train services have been curtailed. Industries, even essential industries, have been closed down or are working on a restricted basis. That applies to textile mills, paper mills, glassworks and all sorts of industries on which Australian men and their dependants lean for the necessaries of life. In the closing months of last year Sydney housewives were compelled to cook their families' meals over an open fire in the backyard, because gas and electricity were severely rationed owing to the unavailability of sufficient coal to keep even the kitchen ranges hot, let alone the wheels of industry turning. The same scene is being enacted in Adelaide to-day. Undeniably industry, both secondary and primary, is bordering on collapse. It is not surprising therefore that the Government has once more fallen back on the device of bringing down a bill designed, so it claims, to cure the ills of the coal-mining industry. This time, however, it went into a huddle with the Government of New South Wales, and this bill and one like it that is to be introduced in the Parliament of New South Wales, when it meets, are the outcome. It is the old technique of making out to the people that a genuine attempt is being made to bring an end to the ills they suffer from the turmoil that prevails in the coal-mining industry in New South Wales.

As the honorable member for Warririgah (Mr. Spender) said, this bill incorporates many of the provisions in the Coal Production (War-time) Act of 1944, which itself had incorporated much of the provisions of National Security (Coal Control) Regulations. In spite of the wide powers conferred on the Government by both the regulations and the act, it failed to meet the position. This bill will clothe the Government with greater powers than it had but did not exercise under the regulations or the act of 1944, but this time, as then, the question is not what powers the Government will have, but whether it will be strong enough to use them. I should have thought that the Government would have brought down legislation to give effect to the recommendations of His Honour, but it has not done so. Mr. Justice Davidson certainly advocated the setting up of a board, but not the board to be set up under this legislation. He envisaged a board that would assist the mine-owners and managers to make certain improvements in the mines, a board that would, in fact, make financial assistance available with which to effect those improvements and to mechanize the pits, a board that would collect statistics needed by. the industry, a board that would appoint competent mining engineers and other officers to advise -

(a)   as to whether proper means are being provided to reduce the incidence of accidents and disease;

(b)   as to the proper manner of carrying into effect mining methods directed towards the conservation and recovery of coal;

(c)   as to whether attempts are being made to dispense with employees upon the introduction of mechanization;

(d)   as to whether re-callification of employees due to mechanization is being applied;

(e)   to inquire into the working conditions in the mines and the housing and living amenities of mine-workers;

(f)   if deemed advisablein an emergency to arrange for the distribution of coal intra and interstate and for export;

(g)   to advise and, if necessary, assist in the application of pneumatic or mechanical stowage in the mines with thick seams in New South Wales and the mines in Western Australia and Queensland;

(h)   to discuss with owners and advise upon the various matters heretofore described as necessary requirements in the industry, and to decide upon means for their accomplishment.;

(i)   to seek an extension of the period of office ofunion officials to two or three years;

(j)   to maintain an incentive to colliery proprietors to increase efficiency in production by enabling them to procure not only a fixed percentage of profit, but also allowing them to retain a proportion ofany additional profit;

(k)   tooffer an incentive to mine-workers by requiring a proportion of the owners' profit above a fixed percentage to be paid into district funds to be distributed either as a bonus to all employees or to be applied in improving working amenities in the respective districts;

(i)   generally to promote the matter heretofore mentioned as needing attention.

It must be acknowledged by the Government that those recommendations have been ignored. This bill is the outcome of the discussion on coal, between the Commonwealth Government aud the Government of New South Wales. It could well have emanated from Moscow. It reminds me of a ukase from some Russian department controlling a heavy industry that that industry must yield to controls. The bill'' hands over to the board, subject to the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, full control over the coal-mining industry. I agree that the powers that are to be exercised by the board are in many ways similar to the powers exercised under the 1944 Act by the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner, but for whereas the latter's appointment was limited to the duration of the National Security Act, the proposed board, as the result of agreement between the two governments, will be permanent, unless there is a change of government, either here or in the State. The board, subject only to direction by the Prime Minister and the Premier, will have complete control over the coalmining industry in New South Wales. It will have power to take over and work mines, to sack managers and technicians, to enter into contracts, or to break existing . contracts. ' Such provisions suggest that the owners and managers of the coal-mines are responsible for the debacle in the coal industry. We have only to glance at the Davidson report to find that that is by no means true, because if ever a report exonerated the owners and management from blame this one does. I quote His Honour's words-

Practically none of the strikes during the war have been due to impropriety of any kind on the part of the owners or management.

Referring to the managers, he said -

As a class the managers are a conscientious hard-working and efficient body of mcn.

Of the superintendents he said -

The superintendents obviously have won by sheer merit the positions they occupy. lt is apparent to any unbiased investigator that in the knowledge and experience they possess of all phases of colliery management including mining engineering, mining practice, the design, development and administration of pits and groups of pits, the superintendents arc the most capable and efficient men in the coal industry.

They are exonerated, if words mean anything, from blame for the dislocation of the industry. So we come to the real reasons for the debacle. There are many. Justice Davidson has cited a lot. I shall confine myself to what I believe are the three main reasons why the country is in such a shocking condition as the result of the situation in the coal-mining industry. I do not include high income tax amongst them, although I do not exempt it from being a contributory cause of the present, hold-up of' coal production, particularly in New South Wales. The real reasons why Australian industry is dislocated because of coal are three. The first is that men, will not work in the coal-mines, or, if they do work, they work only intermittently. The second is the absence of mechanical means of coal extraction, which is essential for successful coal-mining, not only in this country, but everywhere else. The third is the weakness of the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales in failing to control dis.orderly elements in the industry and in interfering in the management of the industry. Before dealing with those three causes, I wish to say a word or two about coal production. Mr. Justice Davidson reported -

A conservative estimate of the capacity of the operating underground coal mines in New South Wales is 12. 750,000 tons per annum working on one shift daily.

This output could be doubled by the introduction of a second productive shift.

So if the miners work, allowing a reasonable margin for absenteeism and strikes, they can produce 12,750,000 tons a vear with one shift. If more than one shift were worked, production could be considerably enhanced. The estimated demand for black coal from New South Wales next year is 11,660,000 tons. There is no question about the coal being available for mining, and there are sufficient skilled technicians and managers r.o ensure that - the coal can be won. All we need is the willingness .of the miners to work. 1 1 is because they will not work, that we cannot get sufficient coal to carry on even the most essential industries at full production. We must get down to the main reasons why the miners will not work. The first is very simple: that they are controlled by Communists." No one who knows even the slightest bit about the machinations of the Communists will agree that they for one moment want to see the miners working in peace and contentment. Communism does not feed on peace and contentment in industry. It can feed only on anarchy in industry. It is plain that the Communist objective is revolution. Revolution can be brewed only by the -creation of anarchy in the key industries. That is why we see anarchy rife, not only in the coal-mining industry, but ' also in the other industries on which Australia's economy depends. The miners federation and the ironworkers union are equally riddled with Communists who have contrived the industrial turmoil that gravely threatens the economic fabric of the Commonwealth. It is wise that I should make a few "quotations of words that have fallen from the lips of some of the avowed Communists.

According to the Tribune of the 11tl September, 1945, Mr. H. Wells, president of the miners' federation, said -

Malicious and stupid suggestions that the federation proposes to abandon the strike weapon and embrace arbitration have no foundation.

The Trade Unions, published in November, 1942, reported Mr. L. Sharkey, president of the Australian Communist party, as having said -

Further good work will finally convert the miners' organization into a really revolutionary union and a firm support for the struggle for socialism.

Mr. W.Orr, one time secretary of the miners' federation, gave birth to the following revolutionary slogan

Every factory, every ship, every mine - a fortress of revolution!

The principal reason for the continual industrial turmoil on the coal-fields is the machinations of- the Communists who are in control. Until this miserable gangwho worship before a foreign joss are dealt with in Australia, we shall not have peace in industry. They will threaten the whole fabric of Australian secondary industry, and undeniably, if they are not checked, they will definitely threaten the whole structure of the working class movement. The royal commissioner, in his report, made it clear that the miners' federation is the principal cause of the trouble. He stated that discipline was observed by mine workers who were not members of the federation, or who were remote from its influence. In other words, the closer we get to the Communistcontrolled federation, the greater is the industrial unrest. The more remote we are from its control, the greater is the peace in industry. The problem of " no coal through no work " is due to a simple cause. People controlling the federation do not want the miners to work, or coal to be produced. They recognize that dislocation of the coalmining industry will be a step along the road towards their objective.

The nationalization of industry is one of the objects not only of the Communist party but also of the Australian Labour party,. Therefore, the Australian Labour party has difficulty in opposing the efforts of the Communists to realize that aim. During, the last few years, we have witnessed examples of nationalization in portions of the coal industry. I shall briefly examine them. Nationalization must be judged by the service that it renders to the community. If it renders a better service than that which we now experience, its advocates have every justification for extolling its advantages. But if nationalization reduces the efficiency of the service to the community, its application must reduce the standard of living! Mr. Justice Davidson said, in reference to the -tate mine at Lithgow -

It cannot be claimed that- the State mme at Lithgow since its foundation in 1916 has been a notable success.

He proceeded -

When, after being in operation for eleven years, control was transferred to a board, the sum of ?271.941 - forming portion of the total debt of ?581,941 - had to be written off as a loss.

The cost of the coal produced at the Lithgow State mine exceeded hy. from :2s. 6d. to 2s. 9d. a ton the cost of coal mined by private enterprise in the same district. His Honour also found -

The accident rate is higher than in privately owned mines in the northern district which are of equal or larger size and carry greater mining risks. The insurance rate for workers' -compensation is within the group incurring highest charges for such insurance, although the risk is covered by the State Insurance Office.

The same sorry story may be told of the Commonwealth-controlled mine at Coalcliff on the south coast of 'New South Wales. Under the Coal Production (War-time) Act of 1944, the Coal Commissioner, Mr. Mighell, was empowered to take over any coal mine. He assumed control of Coalcliff, but its operations make sorry reading. The -financial loss on its operations in 1944-45 amounted to £37,000, absenteeism was higher, and the number of disputes was greater than before. The Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) gave to the House some interesting figures about the operations of this mine under Commonwealth control'. For example, the production cost in 1944-45 was £1 4s. lOd. a ton and the selling price was £1 ls. 3d. a ton. For the year ended the 31st March last, the loss. was. £27,000, the production cost was £1 7s. 3d. a ton and the selling price was £1 2s. lid. a ton. In 1944-45 absenteeism at Coalcliff was 22 per cent., whilst in other mines on the south coast it , was 14 per cent. In 1945-46 absenteeism at Coalcliff had risen to 34 per cent., but in other mines in that district it was 17 per cent. The number of disputes and the loss of production increased. For gome weeks the Coal Commissioner was obliged to close the mine until he could get the men into a more amenable state of mind to work. Had that action been taken by private enterprise, the owners would have been liable for -a penalty because of a " lock-out ". As the mine was controlled by the Commonwealth, no penalty could be imposed. The figures which I cited are not new, but I consider that they should be again placed on record. "Briefly, the nationalization of industry in Australia means, a reduction of out put, greater industrial unrest and a lowering of the standards of the community.

Recently, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan) and I investigated some of the problems of the coal-mining industry. We reported our conclusions to this House, and ever since we have urged that one of the solutions of the coal-mining difficulty was additional mechanization. Of course, that applies not only to Australia but also to Great Britain. For a long time, the miners' federation opposed the introduction of mechanization, but now it passively endorses the principle. Many miners believe that mechanization will cause unemployment on the coal-fields. That idea is foolish. Supplies of coal must be maintained so that the demand may be met without delay. In that way, the miners will be kept in employment. Mechanization has two advantages. First, the machines remove the drudgery from coal-mining, and, secondly, they enable an increase of production four-fold or, five-fold. Mining under mechanized conditions is not an unpleasant job. If the full facts of the advantages of mechanized mining were disclosed to the people, greater numbers of recruits could be secured for the industry.

The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) complained that miners were leaving the industry. To some extent, that statement is true; but I po'int out, in reply,' that the best men are leaving the industry for the simple reason that they have no guarantee of continuity of employment. Young, efficient men, with a variety of employment offering, will not waste their time in the industry where they may work two or three days a week and be idle for the remainder of the time. The coalmining industry is subject to tremendous internal influences. Many of the youngest and most efficient miners, because of this turmoil and internal political pressure within the miners' federation, are entering other industries where they will be guaranteed continuous employment and a steady income.

Extraordinary things, however, have happened under mechanization. Mr. Justice Davidson pointed out that, despite the fact that, in late years, mechanization has increased, production per man shift lias tended to fall. In some mechanized mines, the workers have introduced a darg. For a. considerable part of the working day, men and machines are idle. I. cannot see any reason why the Burwood colliery, where conditions are excellent, where there is' no hard work to speak of, and where a spray of water is played on every part where the coal is Touched by a mechanical cutter or loader, should not work a second shift. If it did, and men would work, tlie supply of coal would be considerably increased. Mr. Justice Davidson bears out all that I have said, and what the late Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, stated a few years ago about mechanization. His Honour declared that complete mechanization would eliminate much of the trouble in the industry. He considered that the Commonwealth Government should assist coal-owners to finance, upon suitable terms, the installation of machinery. One of the reasons for that recommendation was that the Government should assist particularly the poorer mines to introduce mechanization.

Undoubtedly, contract mining is one of the great causes of trouble in the industry. That statement is endorsed by every authority who has investigated coal-mining problems. Mechanization will abolish the contract system, and introduce easier and better working conditions. If men are prepared to work the machines, the output will be increased. Mechanization not only assists to produce more coal but also has a vital bearing on safety precautions. Mr. Justice Davidson stated that the charge that the use of mechanical loaders of all types in pillar working increased the risk of accident was refuted by the experience in one of the large mines in New South Wales. In my opinion, hundreds of thousands of copies of Mr. Justice Davidson's report should be distributed throughout Australia. I am sure that the document would be widely read. Mr. Justice Davidson bears out the contention that 'pillar extraction with machinery will enable the recovery of coal which otherwise will be lost. In His Honour's opinion, the mechanical extraction of the pillars is a safe method.

I wish now to comment on a section of the report in which the statement is made that the management should have the right to place the men in mechanized mines. When the Burwood colliery was mechanized and the horse-skips were displaced by skips, drawn by electric locomotives, the management .naturally chose the most competent of the younger men, who had some mechanical knowledge, to drive the new electric locomotives each of which cost about as much as a Bolls Boyce motor car. The policy adopted in the Burwood colliery proved to be effective, for satisfactory work was done; but when other collieries were being mechanized the miners' federation claimed the right to name, on a seniority rule, the men who should drive the locomotives. These men were naturally the older men in the colliery, and many of them had little or no mechanical knowledge. That system proved entirely unsatisfactory and it was doomed to failure from the beginning. It would be ridiculous, for in- . stance, to choose pilots for aircraft on a seniority basis, irrespective of 'their aptitude. I am- glad that Mr. Justice Davidson has recommended that colliery managers be authorized to choose the men to put in charge of, and to work, mechanized equipment.

My next point has relation to Government weakness and interference in connexion with this industry. I invite con,sideration of the. nature, of the tribunals that were established under the Coal Production (War-time) Act 1944. Undeniably a peculiar procedure was adopted. A central reference board and local reference boards were appointed. The chairman of the Central Reference Board was Mr. Willis, a former secretary of. the miners' federation, and all the men appointed to the local reference boards were members or former members of the federation. Moreover the Minister for Mines in New South Wales, Mr:. Baddeley, who had considerable responsibility, was at one time president of the federation. How could such a set up give satisfaction? If all the appointees to these boards had been mine managers or superintendents it is most unlikely that the workers in the mines would have been satisfied. It should have been foreseen that with boards so constituted the miners would be looking constantly for reasons for approaching the various tribunals, in the hope of obtaining concessions from individuals who were formerly associated with them. Undoubtedly the constitution of these boards had a considerable influence on the industry and contributed in no small degree to the dislocation that occurred. In this connexion Mr. Justice Davidson reported as follows :-

It is equally as unjust to appoint to the position of central or local industrial boards or authorities or as their chairman former officials or lodge officers of the Miners' Federation or' other mining unions or mine-workers as it would be to appoint former superintendents or managers of .the mines.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) referred to the fact that in many instances fines imposed upon miners for disciplinary reasons had been remitted. This also encouraged a disregard of more or less elementary disciplinary measures.

Dealing with penalties His Honour made the- following observations : -

As discipline must be maintained, the only existing method of gaining that end is by the imposition of penalties by regulations or by statute or by an independent arbitration court consisting of legally trained members with power and Government support to enforce its rulings.

It cannot be denied that ministerial interference has done the coal-mining industry a great deal of harm, quite apart from the unfortunate practice that has been adopted of remitting fines imposed upon individuals for unsatisfactory conduct!

In regard to mechanization, Mr. Justice Davidson said, referring to the Minister for Mines in New .South "Wales -

The policy enforced by the Minister under statutory powers resting in him, of exercising sole discretion as to the use of mechanical loaders in pillar extraction is causing infinite harm to the industry.

Unquestionably, this is a technical matter, yet the authority of the management and of the mine superintendents is being overruled. Mr. Justice Davidson also said on this point -

Under the guise of arguments based on questions of safety, managers, against their will, have been forced into bad mining practices under fear of industrial dislocation, and progress of mechanization has been retarded until the mines in New South Wales in this respect are the most backward in the world.

He went on to make some significant observations in regard to check inspectors. I quote the following passage from his report on this subject: -

Some of these officials, although lacking equal qualifications in every respect, compared with superintendents and managers, and at times without any qualifications whatever, assume the attitude of dictating to them upon the mining methods that should be adopted and, failing compliance, cause stoppages of work by advising the workers not to enter the pit.

It must be quite obvious that in the circumstances that I have outlined coal production must be unsatisfactory. The miners' organization is under the control of Communists, whose objective is not peace but anarchy. Mechanization has been retarded because of the attitude adopted by the Government. So far as I have been able to learn, no money has. been provided to assist in the provision of mechanized equipment for the mines. It must be recognized that coal is the basis of a successful peace-time industry, just as it was the basis of a successful war effort. To-day the' Government is spending large sums of money on the manufacture of Lincoln bombers in Victoria, though for what reason I do not know. It is also expending about £13,000,000 on arms, armaments and munitions, and £17,000,000 on aircraft equipment and stores, though we do not know where, or how, the money is being expended. Surely men could be better employed operating mechanized equipment for coal mines in order to stimulate coal production which is so necessary for secondary industries, and for the transport of all classes of primary products. The Government has interfered in an entirely unjustifiable manner on the technical side of this industry and that has caused considerable trouble.

In my opinion the difficulties that the industry faces are simple, not complex. We must get men to work, and' must provide them with satisfactory, modern equipment, but we must also introduce proper disciplinary measures. It should not be difficult to do this, and it must be done before we can hope to fulfil the great destiny that awaits us as a people.

Another subject that calls for immediate attention is an improvement of the relations between the workers and the' management. Unfortunately, in the course of the years, contacts between -the employers and employees have gradually deteriorated. This is true not only of the coal-mining industry, but also of other industries. No doubt the coming of the joint-stock company on the one hand, and the intensive organization of trade unions on the other, has tended to drive a wedge 'between workers and their employers. It .is a strange paradox that, although business executives are able to converse with business executives thousands of miles distant across the ocean, they rarely meet their own employees at a. conference table. Personal relations in industry generally must be improved. Managers and operators need to come together. .This is an urgent need. Coal must be regarded as a number one priority for production generally. Industrial conditions must be improved. We should never forget that, in spite of all technical improvements, production in the last resort is dependent upon the men and .women who work the machines that science has provided. Until there is a better, spirit between the men and their employers, problems will continue to arise. I do not say that all the difficulties occur on one side. I consider that mine-owners and managers should make a. new approach to employees. If the first approach does not result, in an improvement of relations other approaches should be made. Every effort should be made also to improve amenities in the industry, if it is to be placed on a better basis.

In the first part of his report, Mr. Justice Davidson dealt with industrial instability and fluctuations in employment. We must do our utmost to see that we avoid the position that we found ourselves in at the end of the first war. Rising costs in the coal industry increased the demand for alternative fuels ; ' consequently production fell, and unemployment was rife. My time will not permit me to develop this point,- but I 'emphasize that stability in the industry generally depends largely upon costs of coal production and continuity of supply. The miners in particular, are adopting the most foolish policy imaginable, because, all over the country, a search is being made for substitute fuels.

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