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Tuesday, 28 June 1949

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- It is obvious from the debate that has taken place on this motion that every wellintentioned member of the House is seeking a quick solution of this problem. In those circumstances, I am amazed that the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has been so provocative. The honorable gentleman, having said that we must forget the sad history of the mining industry because the events of the past are of no interest to-day, went back into the past and made the extraordinary allegation that 53 per cent. of the workers from the coal-fields who enlisted in the Army during the last war had deserted.

Mr Rankin - I was referring to one battalion.

Mr HAYLEN - Even so, it is an extraordinary statement.

Mr Rankin - It is a true one.

Mr HAYLEN - Two Victoria Cros winners came from the coal-fields. One of them was the former Labour member for Kogarah, the late William Currey. He was born in Maitland and worked in the coal-mines. It is difficult to see what bearing military service has upon a struggle that is both political and industrial.

If the reason for the initiation of this debate by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) was to ask what the Government's role is in this crisis, the right honorable gentleman has been answered by speakers from this side of the House, who have directed attention to the fact that in 1940, under circumstances that were somewhat similar to the present circumstances, the right honorable gentleman himself took action parallel to that which has been taken by this Government. The Prime Minister (Mr.

Chifley), with a complete understanding of the position and with all the facts available to him, has made a statement to which attention should be paid by the nation. This dispute must be settled by arbitration. Although some members of the Opposition have attempted to gain political advantage from this crisis, the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has said that in 1940 the Menzies Government insisted that the coal strike of that year should be settled by arbitration, but he let the cat out of the bag by saying that at that time there was plenty of coal at grass, so the Government did not care what happened. Statements of that kind strengthen the miners' view of the danger of having large stocks of coa] at grass if the stocks are to be used as a strike-breaking instrument instead of as an instrument of service to the community.

I am not going to say that in this dispute the miners are right. In my opinion they are foolishly, utterly and tragically wrong. This is not an industrial dispute. I agree that the issue is a political one. Much has been said about the background to this dispute, but the miners and Australians generally cannot live in the past. They must come forward to this century. Instead of living under the bardic influence of How Green is My Valley, they should think of how difficult are the circumstances of their fellow-workers who have supported them loyally through the years of struggle. I have heard it said in this chamber that there was tragedy and misery in the coal-fields, and it may be that there was, but there is want, anxiety and a feeling of stress now among the people of Sydney, which is the largest Australian community that is affected by the present strike.

Mr Gullett - What is the Government going to do about it?

Mr HAYLEN - That will be revealed in the future. It is necessary to have a sense of history when considering strikes. It is easy to become emotional and to put forward certain suggestions. I suppose that the suggestion that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) would make is that the New Guard should be called into action.

My suggestion is that we should hang on for as long as we can, consistent with decency, fair play and Australianism, without appeasement, in order to see whether a solution of the problem can bc arrived at. We have been trained in that technique, and the honorable member for Henty has not. I think that the attitude that has been adopted by the Prime Minister is a grand one. At the moment it receives only modified support from the people, because they are demanding action, but when a considerable industrial upheaval occurs, it cannot be settled immediately. There are no miracles but a slow and tortuous working upon the basis of arbitration. Upon that rock the Prime Minister stands firm. The Australian Government and the Government of New South Wales have cooperated to provide special machinery to enable the coal-miners to have their grievances heard and, if necessary, redressed. The Joint Coal Board has greatly improved conditions in the coalmining industry. Human behaviour can be altered by improving the conditions of the workers.

Mr Abbott - Why are the miners on strike ?

Mr HAYLEN - I am endeavouring to make the point that, gradually, we must alter human behaviour. The conditions of the coal-miners have improved immeasurably within the last few years since the appointment of the Joint Coal Board. The men have been provided with many amenities, including lung clinics, playing areas and swimming pools, in an endeavour to improve their outlook. However, the psychology of the miner has not yet been changed to such a degree that he is prepared to abandon the strike method completely in favour of approaching the Coal Industry Tribunal. Another important factor is the attitude of the partisan Communist leaders, because they have changed what might have been, in the past, industrial trouble into purely political trouble. As the result of that policy, the general public is being held to ransom.

Mr Abbott - What does the honorable member propose to do about it?

Mr HAYLEN - I have only this to say. Thank God it is a Labour Government that is facing the problem. If the Liberal party and the Australian Country party were in office, they would probably consider that the best way of resolving the strike would be to use a " slush " fund. History has shown that various groups do not change their propaganda mediums with the passing of the years. On one memorable occasion, honorable members opposite decided that the best way in which to conduct a coal struggle was, first, to urge the coalminers to submit their claims to the Arbitration Court, and, secondly, to establish a " slush " fund with which to bribe the men to return to work. While carrying out that policy, they uttered pious platitudes for the ears of the general public. If propaganda does not change its course, I should like to know the source of the funds available to the Communists. Some people in Sydney are saying to-day that the Communists appear to have plenty of money.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.

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