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Wednesday, 29 June 1949


Mr HARRISON - It is true and the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) knows that it is true. That is what we get from the Labour Government. It is fearless in the use of words, but it fears to back its words with action. It has retreated again and again in the face of challenges from the Communist trade unions. The Communists, in engineering this strike, have effected, in days of peace, the complete immobilization of Australia, which is something that neither the Germans nor the Japanese could do in days of war. They are causing misery to hundreds of thousands of honest trade unionists. The Australian public has come to expect a coal crisis every year, especially in winter. Ever since 1946, a coal crisis has been an annual event. The coal crisis this winter is doubly harsh because of the devastating floods in the Hunter Valley and other parts of New South Wales. That, of course, to the Communists, is all the better, because the more hardship and misery that they can inflict upon the people the better their cause is served. The machinations of the Communists are known by members of the Australian Labour party. They are not a figment of the imagination of members of the Liberal party. The president of the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council, Mr. Anderson, stated that the miners had allowed themselves to be manoeuvred into a false position by the Communist leaders of their federation, who, he said were sacrificing hundreds of thousands of trade unionists.


Mr FULLER (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A good statement, too!


Mr HARRISON - Of course it is. I am glad that the Government Whip supports that statement. I am glad, too, that at long last he and his colleagues in the Labour party have decided to support their flow of words with positive action. The strike on the coal-fields was decided upon when the miners' own tribunal had examined their claims and was about to announce its decision. I invite the House and the country to take note of the technique of the Communists. In the timehonoured fashion of- the Communists, the officials of the miners' federation threatened a strike, knowing full well that if they threatened to call the miners out on strike in defiance of the tribunal, the tribunal would withhold any decision that it had come to. The Communists wanted a fight and the fight was called on. I believe that it is as well known to most members of the community as it is to honorable members on this side of the chamber that the Government has done everything it can to appease not only the miners but also all other Communist-controlled trade unionists. Under the Canberra code, which was brought into being in 1942, the miners' officials were supposed to have assumed the responsibility for disciplining members of the miners' federation. The Government accepted that code. In effect, its members said, " This is all right ; it gives us a let out ". The Canberra code was a complete failure in 1942. In 1943, it was given another airing and again it was a failure. In 1945, the code had no more success than it had had in previous years, although it was revamped. The new code provided a plan for the better disciplining of members of the federation. It also provided for a greater output of coal. Honorable members know how much more coal the miners were to have produced if they were given an extra week's holiday. Again the miners let down Australia. "We all remember the black Christmas just after the war had ended. In 1946 Mr. Justice Davidson was appointed as a royal commissioner to inquire into and report upon the coal industry. In order to support what I have said, I propose to quote a section of his report. He made some most pertinent statements, amongst which was the following : -

The moat paralysing of all defects that hinder the success of compulsory arbitration is extraneous to the system itself, and consists of the failure of governments to support judicial decisions.

That is exactly what I have been saying. The Government has been forced into this decision by its own inaction. It has failed to back up the decisions of its own judicial instrumentalities. The chairmen of various boards and commissions have resigned because the Government has not supported them in their decisions. In fact, we have had the spectacle of the Government taking action contrary to the decisions of boards that it has itself appointed. Mr. Justice Davidson went on to say -

The rule of law is the only safeguard of peace in industry as it is of social life in a democratic community. Without enforcement of the law, any system must fail in the absence of rigid self-discipline in the community or the savage rule of the dictator.

The former of these alternatives is lacking in the coal industry, and the other alternative is not desired. There can be no exception of the law being' obeyed if every adverse decision of a judge or other official is treated as a justification either for demands which are given consideration by the Government, for his dismissal or removal from further exercise of his functions in the industry, or for a strike which is uniformly settled by the concession of some of the items that were in dispute, or other benefits.

Truer words have not been spoken. If the Government believes in the principles stated by Mr. Justice Davidson it must act. I think that in their heart of hearts members of the Government do believe in those principles. That is why, at long last, this bill has been introduced. Its principal purpose is to freeze the funds of the trade unions registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. Amongst those unions are the ones represented in the Combined Mining Unions Council, with the exception of the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia, which is one of the big Communist-controlled unions. That union is excepted because it has been deregistered by the Arbitration Court. Neverrtheless, its members have joined in the strike. This measure cannot freeze its funds. Its funds cannot be used by the miners' federation to prolong the strike, but they can be used to prolong its own strike, which was called in sympathy with the miners' strike. The bill is not wide enough. In effect, the Government is saying to the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia, " Of course, your strike is only a little one, and it does not matter much. So we do not intend to prevent you from using your own funds. We accept the principle of freezing unions' funds when the strike is a big one, but when the strike is a little one that principle is not involved." I say to the Attorney-General that the principle should apply to all strikes regardless of whether they are big or little. If he intends to insist on arbitration and the rule of law being observed - and that seems to be the theme-song of the debate on the Government side - then he cannot have it both ways, having arbitration to deal with big industrial upheavals and allowing direct action to he taken in respect of less important industrial troubles. I ask the Attorney-General to examine that aspect, because if unions can use their own funds to pay their own members on strike then that is indirectly continuing the strike. The union to which I have referred is not a registered body, and therefore, this bill will not apply to it.

There is only one other observation that I desire to make bef ore I resume my seat. I firmly believe that the problem that we are facing to-day will not be settled for all time by this bill. The bill may be effective in the present instance. I hope that it will be, because one cannot consider with any degree of comfort the community continuing to be held up to ransom by people who exercise the law of the jungle. I believe, therefore, that, having taken this step, we must plan to take another step. We must place this country in a position in which it can never have any recurrence of the circumstances that exist to-day. To do that we must have reserves of coal. The only way to place any industry or business, small or large, or any service essential or otherwise, beyond the possibility of its having to face similar circumstances to those which they now face, is to see that we have coal reserves. As it stands, we are always vulnerable because of our lack of coal reserves. We have an opportunity now to take action to develop such reserves. We cannot force miners to go into the bowels of the earth to hew coal, but we know that there are open-out mines that can produce huge quantities of coal, and we know also that coal' is being freely mined in countries where the miners are prepared to hew it. It is the Government's job to see that we are no longer placed in a position of having no reserves of coal. We should have six months coal at least at grass in this country. The Government can ensure that that position is achieved by importing coal. Unless this measure is nothing more than a form of lip service the Government can take that additional step. As I have said we do not want the recurrence of a similar set of circumstances to those which now exist in this country. But such circumstances will always occur unless there are reserves of coal behind industry and the Government. I repeat that the only way in which we can create these reserves, if the miners in Australia will not hew sufficient coal, is to purchase coal from countries where miners are prepared to hew it. I say to the Government, " Be courageous. Do something more. Go on to bigger things. You will receive the support of the Opposition". I am waiting to see this bill implemented. I know of other legislation that was introduced by this Government, but that has never been implemented to the full. There is the Crimes Act, for instance, which the Government is not prepared to implement in connexion with the present crisis. I want to see the present measure implemented. If this is only a gesture, and the Government does not propose to give effect to it, then it is likely to prove one of the greatest .possible disservices to the Labour movement, and will do more than anything to encourage and develop the Communist element in this country to a degree that must ultimately destroy the Labour movement.

Mr. BEAZLEY(Fremantle) [5.341. The cloak-and-dagger melodrama which we have just heard from the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) did contain one statement of fact that I heartily endorse. That is, that the Government has been driven to bringing down this measure. I do not make any apology for saying that. Several honorable members have made that point, and it is perfectly true. There is no legislation that the Government has been more reluctant to introduce than this measure. I do not see that there is any sense in pretending that this measure is not coercive or that it does not propose a curtailment of civil liberty. I see no sense in lying to the miners on that issue. The only profitable discussion that can be had on the measure is to ask whether the coercion and the curtailment of civil liberty are justified. I say that they are. The honorable member for Wentworth, ma I have already mentioned, said that we have been driven to bring in this legislation. The Government has been driven into doing so because it represents the community in this matter and it is simply acting in defence of the community. That is the present position, and it is the explanation for this legislation. The bill, if it is rigorously administered, will be strong medicine. The honorable member for Wentworth has suggested that we should have more of that medicine. I hope that what is medicine for the community will not become its daily food. That is the point that this Government stands for without apology. This is emergency legislation the operation of which will be terminated when a proclamation has been signed by the Governor-General that the need for it has passed. We do not make any lofty generalizations out of it to the effect that it represents the destruction of the right to strike. We do not profess that it does. In this case we have a key industry that is presenting the community with no alternative but to act in self-defence. That is the justification for the legislation. Let us look at the method by which this strike has been declared. That method will differentiate it from the ordinary strikes that the honorable member for Wentworth suggests should be dealt with by similar legislation. In that connexion he made a rather absurd statement. This particular strike will cause the unemployment of between 400,000 and 500,000 people in the community.


Mr Hughes - Those figures refer to STew South Wales alone.







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