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Wednesday, 29 June 1949

Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister for Defence and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction) . - I have been rather intrigued to hear how much the Opposition agrees with the Government'.? policy of supporting conciliation and arbitration in connexion with the present dispute, because on certain occasions in the past honorable members opposite have not been strongly in favour of conciliation and arbitration. The case could be well stated by saying that from the very inception of federation in Australia every step that has been taken in connexion with the progress that has been made in conciliation and arbitration for the settlement of industrial disputes has been fought for by the trade union movement and would not have been taken except for the strong fight that that movement put up for the principles of conciliation and arbitration. Indeed, one very often hears of members of the public who belong to the same political organizations as those represented on the Opposition side of the House, continually criticizing the whole system of conciliation and arbitration.

Mr Anthony - Do not be funny.

Mr DEDMAN - I think that the first thing that we have to do in our consideration of this measure is to examine the history of the events that have led up to the emergency situation in which this country now finds itself. The position was very clearly stated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) in a public statement not long ago. He said that the issues in this dispute were clear; that the miners' federation had filed claims with the Coal Industry Tribunal, which was established under the Coal Industry Act 1946, and that while these claims were under consideration by the tribunal the federation decided to go on strike. The Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that in the circumstances the decision by the Combined Mining Unions Council to stage a general strike beginning from last Monday was a wholly unjustifiable repudiation of conciliation and arbitration at a time when the processes of conciliation and arbitration were in course of effective functioning. The Government has taken a stand for conciliation and arbitration in this matter.

Mr Abbott - All of the Government?

Mr DEDMAN - Yes, all of the Government.

Mr Abbott - What about Senator Morrow ?

Mr DEDMAN - The Government takes its stand on the principles of conciliation and arbitration that were established under the Coal Industry Act, which brought into being an appropriate tribunal to deal with matters such as those that are at present in dispute. The Government takes the stand that the miners' federation must take its proposals, demands and requests back to that appropriate tribunal. Ry deciding to go on strike the miners' federation and the other unions associated with it are undoubtedly subjecting the public generally to very great inconvenience and hardship in the meantime. In those cir cumstances there was an obligation upon the Government to examine the situation to see what it could do, as a government, to bring this dispute to a speedy end so that the hardships and inconveniences now being suffered by the community would be limited to the shortest possible period of time. On Monday, for that reason, the Prime Minister had a conference with the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt), the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley), and me. I am extremely interested in this matter because I was privileged to introduce the Coal Industry Bill 1946 into this House. The Government hoped under that legislation to bring about some measure of unanimity in the coal industry and to abolish some of the anomalies and hardships that the miners had undoubtedly suffered from in the past.- The four Ministers who attended the conference examined the various kinds of action that the Government could take. But at that stage we entered the realm of disputation regarding the Constitution itself. When any central government in a federated system has to examine an emergency situation such as we are now experiencing, it must con:sider not only what it would like to do in the circumstances, but also what it has the constitutional power to do. If the Australian Government is to take any action at all, that action must be related to a particular head of power in the Constitution itself.

Mr Archie Cameron - Just as in the case of the banking legislation?

Mr DEDMAN - Yes. " Banking " is a head of power in the Constitution, and we took certain action under it. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has introduced a very important point, by his interjection. The point is that whilst the Australian Government may decide that, under a certain head of power in the Constitution, it is entitled to take certain action, at some later date the High Court of Australia can rule that that particular action was invalid. In other words, nobody can be really certain of just what the Commonwealth's powers are.

Mr Beale - Is the Minister suggesting that this bill is ultra vires ?

Mr DEDMAN - I am not suggesting anything of the sort. If the honorable gentleman will allow me to proceed for a minute or two, I shall explain the position regarding this particular measure. The four Ministers who attended the conference that I have mentioned, in consultation with the Solicitor-General, examined the extent of the action that the Government might take under the Constitution. It has been suggested outside this House that the Government should take action of a very drastic kind. L shall not go into that aspect in detail but shall merely say that the four Ministers and the Solicitor-General, and, nt a later stage, the Cabinet itself, examined the whole field of action that the Commonwealth Government could take in the present emergency, and the Cabinet came to the conclusion that at the moment the present measure appeared to be the only action that the Government could take to achieve a speedy settlement of the dispute.

Mr Holt - What nonsense!

Mr DEDMAN - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) has said that the Government had been driven to this particular course of action. That is quite untrue. The Government was not driven into taking this action.

Mr Beale - No, it was shamed into taking it.

Mr DEDMAN - The Government did a perfectly natural thing. That is to say, a certain emergency arose and the Government proceeded to consider the circumstances surrounding that emergency, the result of its examination being the decision to take certain definite action. The Government was not driven into taking that action. It decided " off its own bat " that, in the circumstances, this action was essential and was the only action it could take, at the present juncture at any rate, to bring about a speedy settlement of the dispute. The Leader of the Opposition said that there was some antagonism between the attempt of the Government to drive the miners' federation, and the unions associated with it, back to conciliation and arbitration, and the claim sometimes made by members of the Labour party that unions always had the right to strike.

One could embark on a long philosophical discussion of the rights of individuals, but we cannot escape the conclusion that if all members of an organization are resolved not to work for the remuneration offering, or under the conditions existing, in an industry, there is no force of law that can compel them to do so. In the present instance, the situation is somewhat different. Conditions in the coal-mining industry have, over the years, imposed great hardships on the miners. Not always have members of the Opposition or the mine-owners done justice to the miners. I was interested to note that honorable members opposite are now so strongly in favour of conciliation and arbitration. Had they always been so, they would have taken in the past a stronger stand regarding certain action by the employers. I remember that, in 1928 there was a lockout in the coalmining industry. At that time, there was in power an anti-Labour government led by Mr. S. M. Bruce. I do not remember hearing supporters of his Government-

Mr Abbott - Was the Minister in Australia at that time?

Mr DEDMAN - Yes, I had been in Australia for a considerable time when that lockout took place. I well remember that there was no move by the government of the day, led by Mr. S. M. Bruce, and supported by some honorable members who are still in the Parliament on the Opposition side, to compel the mineowners to open their mines on the terms laid down by the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The Opposition is now displaying a newly-founded appreciation of the need to support the principles of conciliation and arbitration. I remember particularly well what happened in 1928, because it resulted in a great deal of hardship to the miners themselves, and to the community as a whole. Members of the present Opposition parties were not game to take any action at that time against the mine-owners in support of the principle of arbitration, but to-day, when the situation is reversed, and when the miners' federation is following a course of action which is completely unjustifiable, they say that we must stick to conciliation and arbitration. I say the same, and so does the Government. That is why this legislation has been introduced. After considering all possible action which it might take to bring about a speedy settlement of the dispute, the Government decided to introduce this bill, which provides that the funds of the miners' federation, and of the unions associated with the federation in declaring the strike, shall be frozen.

Mr Archie Cameron - The people are just about frozen, too.

Mr DEDMAN - It is true that the people are suffering great hardship because of the severe climatic conditions prevailing at the present time, and because of the scarcity of- coal. The Government believes that the freezing of union funds will have two effects. First, it will deprive members of the striking unions of aid which they might have obtained from outside, and also of aid which the miners might have obtained from funds held by their own organization. This will force them the sooner to come to the conclusion that they must go hack to work in order to avoid the sarnie hardships and inconveniences as those to which the genena! public are being subjected. The Government believes that this is the only kind of legislation which can have any effect on the situation. It is hoped that when the miners' federation, and those who are ill-advised enough to support it, see that the Government is resolved to take every step in its power to bring the dispute to a speedy end, they will decide that the best thing they can do, in their own interests and in the interests of the general public, is to get back to work as soon as possible.

I am glad that the Opposition is supporting the measure and the action of the Government in declaring a state of emergency. This will demonstrate to the public, to the miners, and to those who are disposed to assist them in their unreasonable course of action, that the only way in which the dispute can be settled is for the miners to go back to the appropriate tribunal set up by the Government for the settlement of disputes in the mining industry.

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