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Tuesday, 28 June 1949

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) has told the coal-miners that the proper way in which to settle the present industrial dispute is for them to approach the Coal Industry Tribunal. The right honorable gentleman should know that a part of the policy of the Communist executive of the miners' federation is the complete abandonment of arbitration and the substitution of the policy of force in industrial disputes. The speech which the Prime Minister has made this afternoon will be of little comfort to the tens of thousands of citizens who are looking to the Government for a lead in the present crisis. Approximately 250,000 persons are already out of work in New South Wales, and by the end of this week, probably more than 700,000 persons will be faced with unemployment as the result of the coal strike. The Leader of the Opposition has said that the people of Australia can properly look to only one authority to show them the way out and that that authority is the government of the day. The Prime Minister this afternoon traversed the history of the previous coal strikes and dwelt on the ineffectuality of dealing with them by insisting on the observance of law and order. He harked back the old days. Any one who has listened to him, both inside and outside this House, must be filled with a sense of the utmost depression. The only constructive proposal that has been placed before the Parliament is that of the Leader of the Opposition that an act should be passed to compel the taking of secret ballots for the election of trade union officials and on the calling of strikes. I propose to relate the history of this coal strike. The terms of the motion on which the miners' were called upon to vote at mass meetings were such that the most moderate of miners could not have voted other than in favour of it.

Mr Menzies - When was that?

Mr ANTHONY - On the 6th June. The motion read as follows: -

That the coal-owners, having deliberately repudiated their previous acceptance of long service leave; the Joint Coal Board having scrapped its scheme for an even worse one, with a completely unreal approach to the question of continuous working; the chairman of the Coal Industry Tribunal having already rejected the principle of leave based on aggregate service; and with no satisfaction in connexion with hours and wages claims:

We determine that aggregate meetings be held on Thursday, June 16, in all districts to deal with a recommendation for a general stoppage on Monday, June 27, failing satisfaction of bur claims.

In making this decision we re-affirm the right to hold stop-work meetings whenever deemed necessary by the Central Council, and the right to take industrial action to enforce just demands and warn that an attempt to take away these rights will be resisted to the absolute limit by this federation, and any upheaval resulting from an attempt to do so will rest upon the shoulders of those responsible for such attempt.

That proposition was accepted almost unanimously. Who amongst the miners could have voted other than for the motion? They were asked to say whether they were for or against declaring that they were not going to be trampled upon or to have their rights taken from them. Naturally they voted in support of the motion. But what did the resolution do? It conferred on the executive of the union power to call the strike that began on Monday. In order to show the efficacy of the secret ballot in industrial matters as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, I cite the history of a fairly recent industrial dispute in Sydney. There wa3 a week-end tramway strike and several mass meetings were held. On the 24th September, 1948, a mass meeting of tramway men decided by 129 votes to 309 to reject the advice of their executive and to strike. The Communist element was to the forefront. Four days later, the Conciliation Commissioner, Mr. Blackburn, ordered the men to return to work. At a mass meeting at the Leichhardt stadium, the tramway men decided by 224 votes to 169, again against the advice of their executive, to maintain their attitude. A secret ballot was taken on the 8th October and, by 2,078 votes to 1,299, a majority of 779, the men decided to man Sunday trams. That is one of the most recent examples of how men vote at mass meetings and at secret ballots. In considering strikes, one must understand the justice of the claims of the strikers. The claims of the coal-miners are being considered by the Coal Industry Tribunal. The policy of the Chifley Government, in the last two or three years, has been to allow coal stocks to go down. It has tolerated industrial troubles on the coal-fields. The result of its tolerance is that last year 2,000,000 tons of coal that was needed by industry and by householders in Australia remained underground. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) visited the coal-fields in April. He said at that time -

I am very dissatisfied with coal production. Last Thursday, of sixteen pits idle, 1564 Coal. [REPRESENTATIVES.] Coal. fourteen were not working because of troubles with wheelers and assistants - not disputes with bosses, but disputes and troubles associated with boys in the pits. These things cannot continue. The miners cannot starve the cow and have it at the same time.

Most of the disputes in the coal mines in the last few years have not been between employee and employer but have been caused by trifles. The Australian Government has on several occasions brought before this House legislation to "streamline" industrial disputes. The Joint Coal Board is the result of one of its experiments. In its report for 1949, the board stated that the powers conferred upon it are similar to and in some important respects-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member's time has expired.

Motion (by Sir Earle Page) negatived -

Tnat the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) be granted an extension of

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