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Friday, 2 August 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - The Opposition will oppose this clause with all the power that it possesses. I invite honorable gentlemen to consider the all-embracing language that has been employed by the draftsman in order to clothe the board with complete power. It would appear as though the dictionary had been carefully examined in order to include in the clause every word that could possibly vest additional power in the. board, and, on top of all that, a blanket provision is also inserted. The clause provides, in short, that the board's powers and functions shall include the taking of such action as it considers necessary or desirable to ensure that coal shall be produced in the State for the requirements of Australia and for trade with other countries, that the coal resources of the State shall be. conserved, developed, and used to the best advantage of the public, that coal shall be distributed and used as specified, and that the welfare of the workers engaged in the industry shall he promoted. In particular the board is to have power to make provision for and in respect of the working and getting of coal, including the introduction and operation of sound mining principles and practices, methods of storage and haulage, the regulation of output, the conservation of coal, the development of any coal-mine, the introduction, modification, replacement and operation of plant and equipment, the classification and grading of coal, its economic distribution and its efficient and economical use, the development of uses and markets for it, the recovery of its by-products, the regulation of prices for sale, the health and safety of persons engaged in the industry, the establishment of sound industrial welfare practices, collaboration with other persons and authorities, the regulation, recruitment, training, efficiency and competency of persons engaged in the industry, the publication of. reports, and anything incidental to any of the foregoing matters. The clause occupies nearly three pages of the bill.. In short, it provides for the complete nationalization of the industry. No provision is made, however, for the Government, which will be in control of the industry, to pay the wages of the men, or the cost of developing the mines or installing mechanical equipment, nor is provision made to ensure that the mine-owners shall be assured of reasonable profits on their investment.

Mr Dedman - That is what the honorable gentleman is interested in.

Mr HARRISON - I suggest to the Minister that a person who has invested his life-savings in a coal-mine is entitled to some consideration. The Minister is fond of referring to the "great coal octopus", but he should bear in mind that these enterprises belong, in the main, to a large number of small shareholders. Recently, the honorable gentleman referred, in scathing terms, to persons whom he described as "little capitalists" who, he said, should not be allowed to own their own home. He is now saying, on behalf of the Government, that small investors who put their savings into enterprises of this kind shall have the privilege of ensuring that wages are paid to the workers, but shall not , be entitled, by statute, to reasonable returns on their investments.. He is saying, in effect, " You may use your money to develop the coal-mines, to install machinery, and to meet all necessary charges in connexion with the industry, but you shall not be allowed any compensation if the Government should' take over the mine in which you have invested your money, and you shall not be entitled to a reasonableprofit from the operation of the industry ". There is no provision whereby an investor will be enabled to obtain a reasonable profit. But every effort will be made by the Government to ensure such astate of inefficiency and so great a loss of production, that the mines will not be worth the money subscribed by the shareholders. The Government will then be in the happy position of being able to take over the industry without the payment of any compensation to the owners or shareholders, compared with what would have to be paid at the present time, with the mines working efficiently.. I give to the Minister an opportunity to avoid doing this grave injustice to small shareholders who have invested their life's savings in coalmining ventures, and to the owners generally, by moving -

That, in sub-clause (1.), after paragraph (d), the following paragraph be added: - "(e) to ensure to owners engaged in the coal industry a fair profit on capital invested, and, for this purpose, where necessary, to pay bounties on coal produced, to make grants and to pay subsidies ".

Such an approach can reasonably be expected from a government that proposes to take control of this industry. This clause is the kernel of the bill. It gives to the Minister the power to take control of the coal industry, and of every other industry that may arise out of the derivatives or by-products of coal. As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) stated last night, there are. 150 by-products and derivatives, including clothing, explosives, dyes, chemical's, plastics and fertilizers. An industry entirely new to Australia may be established here, and command considerable public support. These provisions represent the complete socialization of industries, and we shall oppose them with all our might. We realize, of course, that we have as much chance of securing in this chamber sufficient support to have our wishes translated into law, as we have of witnessing a miracle; but that will not deter us. If, by the use of steam-roller tactics, the Government intends to have these provisions enacted, and eventually to take over the coal-mines, it should not first ruin the industry, but should at least give to those whose money is invested in it and who have done a good job for this country in a time of crisis the opportunity to obtain a fair return. The Minister should have the clause redrafted so that it will not. inspire fear. Failing that, he should do the decent and honest thing by those who have ventured their all in this great industry.

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