Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 29 June 1949


Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - It is perfectly plain to the House, and, I have no doubt, to the country, that the Government is very worried. Several Ministers have risen to speak on this bill, but we have yet to hear a private member express the views of the rank and file.


Mr Beazley - The honorable member for Perth (Mt. Burke) has spoken.


Mr HARRISON - The honorable member for Perth is the Deputy Chairman of Committees, and, therefore, may not be regarded as one of the rank and file. The debate seems to have been left entirely to Ministers. The Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson) delivered speeches that were similar in all respects except that the endings were different. Each made a ranting speech about the conditions of the coal-miners and workers generally, but instead of emphasizing the need for positive action against the strikers, they said, more in sorrow than in anger, that the Government proposed to take the action that is contemplated under the bill in order to shorten the strike. But every word that they uttered was designed to encourage the strikers. The course of this debate has taken some strange turns, and I shall deal with several of them. The Government attaches great importance to drawing red herrings across the trail. The Minister for Post-war Destruction - I am sorry, I mean Post-war Reconstruction - has delivered an address on arbitration and has endeavoured to convince his listeners that members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party ure the opponents of arbitration. Of course, the truth is that a government of the same political views as those of honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber introduced arbitration, and thereby enabled a basic wage to be fixed, reduced the hours of labour, and gave to workers the right, through their organizations, to sue employers who had not obeyed awards. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction made a futile attempt to draw that red herring across the trail. He should have dealt with the matter of greater importance that is now under consideration.

The Minister for the Interior spoke of the sacred right to strike. He followed the lead that had been given by the Minister for Information, who tried to have a bit both ways. He was like the lady of whom it was said, " First she would, and then she wouldn't". The Minister for the Interior delivered a diatribe about the right of the worker to strike. He said that he believed in the right to strike. Earlier, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) had pointed out that workers could not expect to have it both ways. They could not have arbitration, and the right to strike at the same time. The Leader of the Opposition quoted the observations of the late Mr. Justice Higgins in the Stemp case, which were particularly appropriate to the present circumstances. The late Mr. Justice Higgins, I may add, has been acclaimed the champion of trade unionism. If the workers invoke the processes of the law, they must be prepared to abide by the decisions of the tribunal. A democracy cannot survive if one section of the community insists upon its right to disobey the law.

The Minister for Information said that employees were leaving the coalmining industry, and the Minister for the Interior echoed that statement. What are the facts? Last

March 18,046 men were employed in the coal industry, the highest number sine* 1930. Those figures do not indicate that the employees are leaving the coal-mining industry. However, there is another significant fact. Although the number of employees in the industry has increased by 20 per cent, since 1939, the output of coal is now approximately 700,000 tons less than the output in 1939. Thornfigures indicate to the general public the line of action that is being taken by the coal-miners. The Minister for the Interior, who used a veritable spate of words, said that the Government was appealing to the coal-miners to resume production, and to be good boys in future. Ever since this Government has been in office, it has been appealing to and retreating before the onslaught of the coalminers. It has never translated its words into positive action until to-day. Of course, it has now been absolutely driven to take some kind of positive action. The Minister for Information feigned complete ignorance of the Communists' intention to call a strike in the coal-mining industry. I put it to the House and to the country that the honorable gentleman was indulging in a play on words. A boy attending a primary school would have known perfectly well that the Communists were awaiting an opportunity to organize the usual strike that has occurred annually since 1946 in the depth of winter. The Government knew that as surely as the sun rises every day this stoppage would occur. From time to time, honorable members are informed that the security service has inside knowledge of the Communist party. Does the Minister for Information claim that the security service is worth its salt if it has not been able to advise the Government about the proposals of the Communists to organize the present strike? Actually, the Communists were keeping to pattern, and the Government knows what that pattern is.

I shall make one more comment before I address my remarks to the bill. The Minister for the Interior endeavoured to convince his audience that members of the Opposition and members of the Communist party have entered into a deeplaid plot to smash the Chifley Government. He read a list of the names of persons who, he said, were appointed to various Commonwealth boards by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party when they occupied the treasury bench some years ago. I remind the Minister that we did not appoint Healy or Roach to any board, that we did not appoint " J ock " Garden, who founded the Communist party in Australia, as a liaison officer, and that we did not appoint Communists to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research as this Government has done. If honorable members opposite require a fair indication of bow the Communists control this Government, they will be interested in a report that was published in the Melbourne Age on Tuesday, to the effect that the northern miners' board of management had decided to write to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) and the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) telling them to keep out of the coal dispute. The northern miners' board of management is controlled by Communists, and, like other great Communist unions, it controls the actions of honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Hunter and the honorable member for Newcastle will not speak on this bill, because they will obey the orders that have been given to them by the miners' federation to keep out of this brawl.


Mr Pollard - That is not true.


Mr HARRISON - It is perfectly true.


Mr Beazley - I rise to order. The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has stated that the honorable member for Hunter will not speak on this bill because of orders that have been given to him by the northern miners' board of reference. The honorable member for Hunter is absent on account of illness. I ask you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, whether that misrepresentation of the position is in order.


Mr HARRISON - I regret that-

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Burke).- Order!


Mr Francis - The honorable member for Wentworth is entitled to speak to the point of order.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member for Wentworth has no right to speak to a point of order because the Chair rules that no point of order is involved. The matter of misrepresentation may be answered later.


Mr HARRISON - If the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) had been patient for one moment longer, I should have proceeded to state that I knew that the honorable member for Hunter was not able to be present. However, the honorable member for Newcastle is here, and I should be most interested to hear him make a speech on. this bill.

I have been forced to refer to those matters, because of the misrepresentation in which various Ministers have engaged. Although the Government hasbeen forced to introduce this bill, Ministers are trying in every possible way to excuse themselves. They are apologizing to the miners, and have said to them, in effect, " We know that you have been forced into this position, and that you work under the worst conditions in the world ". Of course, that view is open to serious challenge. The Minister for Information has implied that the coalminers earn only the basic wage. He is perfectly well aware that they earn up to £4 12s. a shift, and that they work four shifts a week. Not one adult male in ten receives only the basic wage. However, Government spokesmen have made many reckless statements in an endeavour to excuse the Government for having introduced this bill.

Now that I have debunked statements thai have been made by various Ministers in this debate, I shall proceed to deal with the bill itself. I support the bill in its entirety. I believe in it. It will place on the statute-book an act that should have been passed long ago when the Government was similarly challenged by the Communist-controlled unions to govern the country or abdicate in their favour. In bringing down this bill, the Government is doing no more than its duty. I warn it that it must not expect the plaudits of the multitude, because, in the eyes of the multitude, it is doing no mors than it is its duty to do, and that is So govern the country instead ofallowing itselftobe a cypher and insteadofallowingthe government of the country to pass into the hands of the Communists in charge of certain trade unions. The bill is a tardy recognition of the Government's responsibility. The Government, and only the Government, is responsible for the position in which it finds itself to-day, because, if it had allowed the leader of the Opposition to present and to have passed the bill to provide for the conduct of secret ballots by the trade unions, of which he gave notice a considerable time ago, this coal strike would not have occurred. To realize the truth of that statement one has only to examine the votes that were cast on the northern coal-fields on the question of whether the general strike should be held. I take it that the miners who did not vote were not in favour of the strike. A secret ballot would have revealed that they were not and there would not have been the need for this drastic legislation. The country is in its present sorry state only because the Government has been apathetic and has pandered to the miners' federation and other Communist-led trade unions. In 1943, the then Prime Minister, the late John Curtin, said -

Prosecutions will be applied in every case of a mine worker absenting himself from work without lawful excuse and, similarly, prosecutions will be launched against any persons connected with the mine management responsible for a breach of existing regulations.

In 1944, in this House, he said -

There is on our statute-book a law which deals with the matter, and I say to the House hut more directly to the industry, that the law will be enforced ruthlessly ... I repeat that the law which we passed in respect of the coal-mining industry will be ruthlessly enforced against all those to whom it can be applied validly, whether they be workers or members of the employing organizations.

Those were great words that struck a response in the hearts of the people who were suffering untold miseries ; but, after the Government had prosecuted the Communist leaders of the miners' federation and they had been fined, the Government remitted the fines. Again, when the Government put the striking miners on the south coast into the Army, with the intention of sending them to north Australia, and its action was challenged by the union, it gave way and allowed the men to return to their homes.

Ifr. Harrison.


Mr Pollard - That is not true.







Suggest corrections