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Wednesday, 29 June 1949


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The right honorable member for Cowper is completely out of order and must desist from interjecting.


Mr CALWELL - The right honorable gentleman did nothing in 1928 except to make foolish and ineffective gestures.

The Government of which he was one of the leaders did nothing to implement a provision for the secret ballot on strike issues in 1928. Such a provision will not work now, any more than it would have worked then, unless the cooperation of the whole of the Labour movement is forthcoming. The Government has another item of legislation on the notice-paper regarding secret ballots to be held in certain circumstances. It is introducing that legislation, with the full support and endorsement of the trade union movement, as another method by which it is hoped to stop the actions of certain Communists who are corrupting the trade union ballot system and thereby achieving results that do not reflect the opinions of the rank-and-file members of the unions. But that is another matter. To say that it is possible to solve all the present problems of the coal industry by merely including a provision in an act of Parliament to the effect that there shall be secret ballots, and then hoping for the best, is in line with the fatuity that was shown by honorable members opposite generally, when they constituted the Government of Australia.

I have told the House what the Coal Industry Tribunal has done for the workers in the coal industry. I have dealt with that matter briefly, and, perhaps, rather sketchily, because time is short and I do not desire to take up all the time available to me, as other members desire to speak on this bill. The Joint Coal Board, which this Government established, has also done a good deal for the coal-miners by promoting efficiency in the industry by providing amenities in mines and by other measures likely to benefit the mine-workers. The coal-mining industry is the most unfortunate industry with which Australians have any association. It is full of legacies of hatred and bitterness that have been brought here, unfortunately, from English, Welsh and Scottish mines. The whole history of the mining industry is one of frustration and negation and of hatred and bitterness between the coal-owners and the coal-miners. Let honorable members reflect on the fact that even in our time it is not unusual for a miner to have to walk two miles from the bottom of the mine shaft, where he gets out of the cage, to the coal face at which he works. According to some articles that appeared about two years ago in the Melbourne Herald, written by a reporter named Tipping, it is nothing unusual in some coal mines in New South Wales, for miners to have to walk 5 miles, there and back, underground, from the shaft to the coal face.


Mr Falstein - Not only walk, but crawl.


Mr CALWELL - In many instances, as the honorable member for Watson has reminded me, they both walk and crawl to their work. Such conditions do not induce a very good feeling of friendship among miners towards the rest of the community.


Mr Falstein Mr. Falstein interjecting,


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Watson must cease interjecting.


Mr CALWELL - Such conditions do not increase social contentment. That was the situation in the coal-mining industry with which this Government had to deal under the 1947 legislation to which I have referred. That legislation was passed at about the same time as the articles to which I have referred were published. I do not wish to try to enumerate all that the Coal Industry Tribunal has done for the miners, but its accomplishments have been very real and substantial, and they have been appreciated. In any event, the mining of coal underground is very out of date. The world has to get used to more modern methods of extracting coal. There are many people in the world to-day who once would have been destined to follow their fathers' footsteps into the mines, but who are not going down into the mines to hew coal for society. Their mothers have other ideas about their usefulness to society. The wives of Scottish, Welsh and English coal-miners do not allow their children to go underground in the same numbers as formerly and a similar feeling exists in Australia. Thousands of miners have left the Australian coalmining industry. The wives of miners, who are the mothers of youngsters who, in other times, would inevitably have gone into the mines, are determined that their children shall have a better chance in society than miners have. Two years ago I was in America, where the mines are the best mechanized in the world-


Mr Beale - The miners' federation would never allow Australian mines to be mechanized.


Mr CALWELL - Coal-miners in America are the best-paid workers in that country to-day, and their production is the greatest per man in the world. The average age of the American miner is 42, which shows that, as workers, the American coal-miners are a dying race. Society must mechanize the coal-mines and adopt the open-cut system. Science must come to the aid of the industry. There are, I think, 169 mines in New South Wales, many of them only little rat-holes, and they are not places where the average man who works in them could be made so contented with his lot in life that he would co-operate with governments, either Federal or State. Coal-miners, as the result of the conditions under which they work, become easy and ready listeners to all sorts of people with nostrums and quack remedies for the ills of society. The employers in the industry generally have not helped their workers. Many of the employers, if they had the opportunity to do so, would destroy the miners' federation. This Government has been trying to achieve a balance. It wants to see that the miners' just claims are considered, but it also tells the miners, when they follow false leaders, that they will get nowhere by that way and must return to arbitration. The Government is not prepared in any circumstances to follow a policy of compromise or appeasement. It will continue to co-operate with the Government of New South Wales or any other government that desires to maintain the rule of law and the authority of Parliament in our modern democratic society. Those of the coal-miners' leaders who are Communists have made one of their usual gross and foolish mistakes. They have over-stepped themselves this time, just as they did in December last year, when they misjudged the public temper and threatened to strike over the Kemira tunnel dispute. They have badly misjudged the public temper now in the same way, and the sooner they end this strike and get the miners back to work the better it will be for themselves and for society.

For the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) to say that thu measure is directed at the rank and file of the trade unions is just absolute nonsense. The honorable member know* that that is not true. If he had said that without having read the bill I could understand his ignorance of the subject, but he has been provided with a copy of the measure. The legislation is directed principally at organizations that desire to use their funds to encourage what we believe to be a communist conspiracy. It is directed at the officers and leaders of such organizations, and not at the rank and file members.


Senator McBRIDE (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The officers will still get their pay.


Mr CALWELL - The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McBride) is always wrong when he makes an interjection and is very seldom right when he makes a speech. If he would read the bill he would see that clause 4 deals with the prohibition of certain payments by participating organizations, whilst clause 5 deals with the prohibition of certain receipts for and on behalf of certain participating organizations, and clause 6 deals with the prohibition of certain payments by non-participating organizations.. Organizations and their officers can be prosecuted and fined under this legislation. Any suggestion by honorable members opposite that the legislation is directed against the rank and file of the unions is designed principally to try to stir the miners up to continue the strike. We desire the strike to be settled. We want the rank-and-file miners to assert their authority in their own organization and to get. rid of their false leaders who, if allowed to proceed in their present course of action, will destroy the organization. Under thi* legislation we shall have the power to inspect union books, enter premises and require persons to supply information and give possession of documents. The last clause of the bill provides that the legislation shall cease to have effect immediately the Governor-General has signed a proclamation stating that the strike has been terminated. Two honorable members opposite yesterday referred to Mr. John L. Lewis and what he had done for the American miners. They did not tell all the story. Lewis was prosecuted and fined a tremendous amount of money and compelled to pay the fine after several appeals had been made to the superior courts of the United States. Has organization also had to pay a huge fine. Lewis is a very wealthy man, as the Prime Minister has said. He is not a Communist; he is a capitalist. He receives from his union a salary that, I understand, is greater than that paid to the general manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited in Australia. He has been calling strikes year after year. He called one the other day. He said to the American miners, " Have seven days holiday so that coal at grass will be used up and we shall be in a better position to bargain with the employers ". He has done that again and again. Two years ago, when the situation in America was very difficult, he told the owners that he expected them to come to a conference with him to draw up the yearly contracts with the United Mine "Workers Union, of which he is the leading official. He told them that all they had to bring with them was their fountain pens. He had already made up his mind about everything beforehand and all he expected the owners to do was to sign on the dotted line. If honorable members opposite want a coal hold-up in the depths of winter when the renewal of annual coal contracts would be due if we adopted the American system, they are advocating a course of action that could be even more disastrous than a prolonged stoppage would be in this particular instance. The coal-owners of Australia taught the coal-miners not to leave too much coal at grass because in 1928, 1934, and 1940, when there was plenty of coal as grass, the owners decided that those were the right times to strike at the mine-workers. In 1934, when the owners had a great quantity of coal at grass, they said to the miners, "We intend to reduce your wages, and unless you are prepared to work for the reduced wages, your jobs will not be available".

The mine-workers were out for months at that time and were eventually browbeaten and had to go back to work at reduced wages. Honorable members opposite seem to think that the mineworkers are the enemies of Australia. The attitude of the owners has done more to cause bitterness in the coal-fields than has any other single factor. The coal-miners are wrong in engaging in the strike that is now in progress. They have embarked on a stupid strike. The Communists among their leaders are engaged in a wicked conspiracy against the best interests of the people of Australia, and are bringing great misery upon the Australian working class. The solution of the whole problem is, in part, governmental action as far as a govern^ ment can act, and, for the remainder, the sturdy common sense and natural patriotism of the Australian people coming into play to get rid of the wreckers who pass as friends of the working class and are in actual fact, their worst enemies. This Government is the only Government under which action has been taken against Communists. I remind honorable members of the proceedings against Sharkey in New South Wales, against Burns in Queensland, and Healy in Western Australia. The workers of Australia refused to follow the lead of Communist trade union leaders who wanted a general strike called as a protest against those prosecutions. On this present occasion the Communist party leaders have cleverly exploited the natural and reasonable desire of the workers for better conditions in the coal-mining industry, and they have manoeuvred a false issue into the forefront. They claim that the issue involved is the right to strike. Nothing could be further from the truth. The issue is whether the workers shall have their claims decided by an industrial tribunal or not. It does not matter to this Government what the tribunal decides. If it decides to give the miners a 35-hour week and/or a wage increase of 30s. a week and/or long service leave, the Government will honour and abide by its decision. It will abide by the decision of the tribunal whatever it may be, and it asks that the mine workers shall do the same.


Mr Beale - I thought the Minister was going to be brief.


Mr CALWELL - I am sure that no one wants to listen to the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale). The people would like him to give his tired tonsils a rest. They have heard him too often, but they have never heard from him anything worth while. I hope that I have contributed something to the debates in this House in a spirit of helpfulness and conciliation that will be helpful, but during the short period of two years, during which the honorable member for Parramatta has been in the Parliament, his contributions have been conspicuous, neither for literary merit, nor philosophic worth. I have put the position for the Government, as have other honorable members on this side of the House. This is a fight for the retention of conciliation and arbitration. It is not a fight against the miners, or against any move for the improvement of their conditions. A vast majority of the people of Australia, and particularly of unionists, will back the LabourGovernment, which desires that justice shall be done, which will not be browbeaten by a handful of Communists, or by Fascists, or by any pressure group that thinks it can black-mail the community, and so impose its will on the Australian people.







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