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Thursday, 6 October 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I desire to direct the attention of the Minister of Defence (Senator Glasgow) to a matter of vital importance to a number of miners recently working in the Protheroe lead mine, Northampton, Western Australia. I have received the following letter from Mr. L. J. Triat, the organizer of the Australian Workers' Union at Meekatharra : -

The mine was loaned a sum of money by the Commonwealth Bank and the bank closed on the assets of the company with the result that the employees did not receive the wages due to them as the company had not cash enough to meet wages due, or at least we are given to understand such was the case. We findthat the property, being freehold, we cannot come under the Mining Act which entitles wages to come first and as no attempt is made to pay these wages which are due since May, our only hope is to have the matter placed in the hands of our Federal members. The total amount of wages due to the men employed, is £943 2s. 9d. wages, and £97 10s. salaries,' making a total of £1S40 12s. 9d. We are in hopes that, if the facts are placed before the Federal members, they will see how unjust it is to take from the men the bread and butter that this money represents. I will be pleased to forward the time sheets, giving details of pay, should you desire same.

On receipt of this letter I immediately got in touch with the Federal Treasurer, and after a considerable volume of correspondence had passed between me and the Cornwealth Bank, I received certain replies, one of which was from Senator Pearce and read as follows -

I desire to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 27th September, enclosing communication received by you from Mr. Triat, Organizer of the Australian Workers Union, Meekatharra, Western Australia, in regard to matters connected with the Protheroe Lead "Mine, Northampton. Enquiries are being made of the Commonwealth Bank, and a further communication will be addressed to you.

The matter was referred to the Treasury and the Treasurer replied, stating, inter alia -

The security held by the bank will not be sufficient to pay its debt; the bank has instituted criminal proceedings against the manager of the Fremantle Trading Company Limited, and that case is sub judice - it is therefore not desirable to make further com ment upon it. For your information I am enclosing copy of the correspondence which YO. forwarded to me in connexion with this case.

The manager of the Fremantle Trading Company Limited was convicted of the offence with which he was charged. Subsequently I again communicated with the Treasurer, repeating the contention that the men should be paid the wages which were legitimately due to them. 1 then held, and I still hold, the view that the Commonwealth Bank should make payment; because, when the judge delivered his judgment in the charge against the manager of the Fremantle Trading Company Limited, he said that the Commonwealth Bank would not lose the £20,000 that it had loaned to the company. Despite that intimation, Dr. Page replied on the 15th of December, 1926, as follows: -

With reference to your further representations concerning the position of the miners at the Protheroe Lead Mine, Northampton, I have now been advised by the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that the statement that the bank had sintered no financial loss in its business with the Fremantle Trading Company Limited, is erroneous. The bank will suffer a loss to the extent of soma thousands of pounds. The Deputy Governor adds that in the circumstances the bank will have no funds out of which the wages of miners could be paid.

Senator Reid - Is the honorable sentor aware that we on this side cannot hear a word of what he is saving ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I can assure the honorable senator that the fault is not mine. I am speaking more loudly than is customary with me on a public platform. If it is so difficult to hear in this chamber we should adjourn until the. acoustic properties have been improved. I have in my hand a long list of the names of the men to whom salaries and wages are owing, and the amounts that are due to them. According to the strict letter of the law, the attitude which has been adopted by the Commonwealth Bank and the Treasurer may be unassailable; but it is not right that these men should be deprived of their wages, particularly as the bank is in a position to pay them as an act of grace. Under the laws of the State of Western Australia, the men would have redress, but under Commonwealth law they have none. With all due deference, I submit the matter to the Minister who represents the Treasurer in this chamber with the request that it be re-opened with a view to justice being done to the men concerned.

Senator Sir WILLIAMGLASGOW (Queensland) - Minister for Defence) [3.34].- I shall bring before the Treasurer the matter raised by the honorable senator, together with his remarks thereon.

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