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Tuesday, 28 June 1949

Mr CHAMBERS (Adelaide) (Minister for the Army) . - Let me make it clear at the outset that I deprecate the tact that the coal-miners are on strike, but I doubt whether anything that can be said in this House between now and the time they go back to work will do anything to improve the situation. So far, I have not heard from the Opposition side of the House anything which would really help to solve the problem that confronts us.

Mr Holt - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) offered several suggestions.

Mr CHAMBERS - -Yes, but I do not think they were practical. It has been said that legislation should be passed requiring industrial organizations to hold a secret ballot before calling a strike. Well, suppose that a secret ballot had been held in connexion with this dispute, and the miners had decided to go on strike. Would we then have had to condone the strike because we had insisted on the taking of a secret ballot? Reference has also been made to the action of the miners in aggravating the sufferings of the people affected by the recent floods, but who are the people affected? They are the miners themselves, and their wives and children. It is in keeping with their strange psychology that, in the midst of the difficulties and hardship arising out of the floods in the Maitland district, .they should decide to go on strike.

It is estimated that, as a result of the strike, about 800,000 persons will he unemployed throughout Australia. Of that number, at least 500,000 would have the right to dictate to their unions whether they should go on strike or continue to work. Does any one suggest that it would be possible to prosecute 500,000 persons? Supposing the members of the ironworkers' federation, the Seamen's Union, the Waterside Workers Federation and the Clerks Union, went on strike, as well as the members of the miners' federation. Those are among the largest unions in Australia, with a membership of nearly 500,000 persons. Is it suggested that it would he possible to prosecute 500,000 persons and put them in gaol?

Mr Francis - The Minister's remarks are childish.

Mr CHAMBERS - I have listened to some childish talk this afternoon, and have heard nothing from the Opposition but some vague talk about secret ballots and the working of brown coal deposits. If we are to-day getting less coal from the brown coal deposits than we should the fault is not that of Labour governments. The mines have been working in Victoria for 30 years, and that State should now be independent of New South Wales. In South Australia, the Leigh Creek mine has been working for some years, hut even to-day there are facilities for using only 5,000 tons of brown coal a week in South Australia.

Mr McBride - The mine could produce 10,000 tons a week.

Mr CHAMBERS - It is estimated that the mine could produce 22,000 tons a week, but according to a statement made by the Premier of South Australia (Mr. Playford) last week, there are facilities for using only 5,000 tons. The locomotives that draw the coal from Leigh Creek to Peterborough have not been adapted to burn brown coal, and they will have to cease running next week because of the lack of black coal.

Mr Archie Cameron - Those engines are owned by the Commonwealth.

Mr CHAMBERS - It does not matter who owns them. The fact is that they have not been adapted to burn brown coal. At any rate, State, not Commonwealth locomotives draw the coal from Peterborough to Adelaide. The various State governments must accept some responsibility for the present position. All the talk we shall listen to in this House between now and the time the strike ends will be for political purposes. The Government-

Mr McBride - Is on the way out.

Mr CHAMBERS - We heard that in 1943, and again in 1946. This Government has done a great deal for the coalminers, and for the members of other industrial organizations. A strike of coalminers is nothing new. I can understand that members of the Opposition do not like us to compare the present situation with the miners' strike of 1940. The position was the same then as it is now, and the then Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) could do nothing about it. I have already referred to the strange psychology of a coal-miner, and it seems to be the same all over the world. When Britain was being blitzed during the war,, and when the nation was fighting for its life, the coal-miners went on strike. In the United States of America, when the war was at its height, there was a strike of coal-miners. This Government realizes its responsibility to the people, and will do everything that is humanly possible.

Mr McBride - Which means nothing.

Mr CHAMBERS - I should like to know what the contribution of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) has been to the welfare of

Australia. During the years he has been in public life, he has drawn remuneration from every organization he has been associated with, but I do not know of any great contribution he has ever made to the welfare of the country. There are many on this side of the House who have shown in a practical- way on two occasions that they had the interests of the people at heart. Thousands of men, including coal-miners and their sons, played their part in the 1914-18 war, aud also in the 1939-45 war.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Watkins).- Order! The Minister's time has expired.

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