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Wednesday, 26 October 1949

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehy) - Order! The honorable gentleman must keep to the bill.

Mr HOLT - The Parliament has been asked to make special provision for coalminers, and particularly the coal-miners of New South Wales, because the provisions of this legislation will not apply to some of the other States. I presume that it will be said that part of the justification for this proposed charge upon the taxpayers and the community generally is that working conditions in the coal-mining industry are more arduous and exacting than are those in other industries. That must be the reason why the Government has singled this industry out for special treatment. I desire to show that coal-mining in this country is easy in comparison with coal-mining in other parts of the world, and that the effort that the coal-miners of Australia put into their work cannot be advanced as u justification for the special treatment that they have received. On comparable seams, the production of coal per man shift in Australia is less than one-half of the production per man shift in the United States of America.

Mr Dedman - Is there a coal strike in the United States of America at the present time?

Mr HOLT - The Americans have their troubles. I point out to the Minister that there are over 40,000,000 tons of coal at grass in the United States pf America now. If the American mineowners and coal-miners desire to fight it out the American people will not suffer in the same way as the Australian people suffered recently because the Australian Government had not taken steps to provide a reserve of coal in this country.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - I ask the honorable gentleman to confine his remarks to the bill.

Mr HOLT - I think that you will agree, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, that I was provoked by the Minister. Does the coal-mining industry deserve this special treatment because of the manner in which it has looked after the welfare of the community ? The employees of the coal-mining industry constitute less than 1 per cent, of the total number of employees in the Commonwealth, but since the end of the war that small section of the community has been responsible for 50 per cent, of the working days that have been lost in Australia. The irresponsibility, recklessness and militancy of the coal-miners has imposed a burden upon the rest of the community. Now we aTe being asked to impose a further burden upon the community in order that coalminers may be given additional special benefits. They certainly have not earned that special consideration, and I doubt very much whether it would have been given to them if they had not pointed a pistol at the Government and threatened industrial trouble.

I do not desire to say much more about this matter. I believe that enough has been said to indicate that the coal-mining industry certainly does not deserve specially favorable treatment at the hands of the community because of its production record. The production of coal this year will be approximately 4,000,000 tons less than was expected at the beginning of the year. Apparently the lesson of the recent general coal strike has not been sufficient. Many persons assumed that there would be continuity of coal pro"duction for a considerable period' after the end of that disastrous strike, but the sniping tactics that have been adopted by some members of the mining unions have resulted in a loss of more than 130,000 tons of coal in the short period that has elapsed since then. As far as I am aware, nothing has been done by the Government to call a halt to this recklessness and stupidity. As far as can be seen, the losses will continue and, in consequence, the community as a whole will suffer. What I have, said will doubtless be interpreted, and rightly so, as a criticism of coalminers generally. The criticism has been provoked by the record of the coal-miners during the last two years. I do not mean that as an attack upon the individual coal-miner. I had some personal contact with the miner and his representatives during my term of office as Minister for Labour and National Service, and I am satisfied that the coal-miner of New South Wales as a man and as a type compares favorably with his counterpart in any other industry. He has character, initiative and resourcefulness. Having studied this industry for some years, I am convinced that the problem is not one of the poor type of man or of lack of initiative on the part of the coalminer, but arises from the problem of human relationships which has developed in the industry. Those relationships have been worsened by bad union leadership during the last few years, and by even worse government leadership during that period. The industry has been allowed to go on in the belief that only by militant action can the miners obtain the benefits to which they believe they are entitled.

Until the recent general coal strike, they were never shown that discipline would be exercised by the Government if it believed that they were acting improperly. They have never been made to realize that their own actions have damaged the welfare of their fellow unionists in other sections of industry. They have not been given a sufficiently strong lead by either their own leaders or the governments that have been in office in the Commonwealth sphere and in the State of New South Wales for the last eight years. The result is that because they have gained advantages and additional amenities from militant action, they believe that that is the only practical course for them to follow. Until governments are in office that can make them appreciate that the industrial tribunals must be respected and their decisions obeyed, we shall have a continuance of the chaotic conditions in the industry that have retarded Australia's prosperity so grievously during the postwar period.

I do not know what results this new provision will produce; but the Government must make the industry .realize that a heavy charge is being borne by the community in order to make this benefit possible. At a time when our production is lagging so seriously we cannot afford to have the body of men away from work that the granting of long service leave will make inevitable, unless the cost be met by greatly increasing the production of coal mines, by mechanizing the mines on the most extensive scale practicable. Mechanization must be welcomed and operated effectively by the miners. It is a standing disgrace to this country that with conditions so far as accessibility of coal is concerned comparable with those in the United States of America we can achieve a production equal to only half of the American production. In other countries, the community and the coal-mining industry, being aware of the importance of coal for community needs, have accepted the fact that more than one shift should- be worked, that the miner must increase his production even if it be necessary to work overtime at overtime rates. But here, in practice, the industry is idle for fourteen weeks of the year, whilst on the days that the miner actually works. at the coal face he averages only six hours a day. We have coal of good quality available in abundance, and it is accessible. We must get it if we are to make anything of this country. To the extent that the Government expects to obtain additional production as the result of this measure we wish it well in its objective, but we can judge its wisdom only on the results of the next few years, and we shall watch those results very carefully indeed.

The situation cannot be allowed . to re9t where it is. Australia will not progress but will slip back further as a nation unless we increase the production of coal. That is the No. 1 priority in our needs for expanding production generally. We look to all sections engaged in this matter to play their part - to the Government which can give the leadership required; to the coalminer' who, if he realizes his responsibility to the community, can give the increased man-effort that is required; and to the employer who, by the efficient installation and operation of machinery and by a common-sense attitude towards his employees, can do much to keep production running smoothly and increase the rate of output. All those sections come into the story. If the community is to pay, as it will be required to pay under this measure, it will demand of all those sections of the industry that they give the people their money's worth in return by making a very much better effort than they have made during the post-war period.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and committed pro fonma ; progress reported. 1

Message recommending appropriation reported.

In committee(Consideration of GovernorGeneral's message) :

Motion (by Mr. Dedman) agreed to -

That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to make provision for the grant of financial assistance to the States in respect of the cost of long service leave granted under industrial awards to employees in the coalmining industry.

Resolution reported and - by leave - adopted.

In committee:Consideration resumed. The bill.

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