Mines Rescue Bill
MINES RESCUE BILL
Debate resumed from 27 October 1993.
Mr MARKHAM (Keira) [7.34]: It gives me pleasure to lead for the Opposition on this important legislation. There is probably nothing more important to the coal industry of New South Wales than an efficient and effective rescue service. Coalminers from all over the State and from all over the country depend on rescue services being first class and having access to modern technology and equipment. The objects of the bill are to provide for a rescue service capable of responding to, and dealing with, emergencies arising at underground coalmines in New South Wales and to enable that rescue service to be used in connection with emergencies at other mines.
The bill, which replaces the Mines Rescue Act 1925, reconstitutes the Mines Rescue Board; provides for the management of the board's affairs; provides for the staff of the board; provides for the financing of the board's activities; establishes the New South Wales Mines Rescue Brigade; and deals with miscellaneous related matters.
Probably the most important change in the legislation is to enable rescue services to be used in connection with emergencies at other mines. That is something with which we are all concerned. It is important to have effective mines rescue corps all over the State. The Minister is aware of similar procedures in Queensland. There is nothing worse than being underground and able to smell smoke but not knowing where the smoke is coming from. At times when major disasters occur underground it is good to know there is an efficient rescue service at your beck and call on the surface.
I would like to refer to the history of this legislation. I will not confine my remarks to this bill and to this State but I will produce facts and figures that explain why the bill is so important to New South Wales and why the rescue services in New South Wales are respected worldwide. Since the Stanford Merthyr Colliery disaster in 1905 the miners federation had pressed for the establishment of central mines rescue stations. In 1926 Jack Baddeley, member of Parliament for Cessnock and Minister for Mines in the first Lang Labor Government piloted the Mines Rescue Stations Act. This followed a sustained campaign by mineworkers and their communities for greater safety and rescue measures in the coalfields. That has not abated.
Between 1920 and 1926 more than 130 miners had been killed in accidents. The campaign reached its climax in 1923 when 21 miners were killed in an explosion at the Northern Districts Bellbird Colliery. Miners' anger could not be contained and they swept all opposition aside. Up to the point of legislation going to Parliament the owners threw up every obstacle they could. They and their political allies renounced Baddeley's bill as an assault on rights of property - read that as the right to dice with men's lives for profit. With the introduction of mine rescue stations mines can ensure that, when disaster strikes the industry, a well-trained and dedicated group of people are ready to respond. And respond they do. Equally important, rescue stations train mineworkers at every pit in the difficult and often dangerous task of mine rescue. Malcolm Loy, a southern district check inspector, who has now retired, put it succinctly when he said:
Mineworkers must be able to go to work secure in the knowledge that if anything goes wrong in our hazardous industry they can rely on the best equipped and trained service available to assist them.
Our industry provides this assurance through the Mines Rescue Stations and we cannot overestimate the importance of their work in the rescue and training of people.
However, the role of the rescue stations has recently been broadened with employees from shire councils, the Water Board and the Electricity Commission now being trained. This is part of a fee-for-service plan to offset mine rescue station costs. Even though I and the Labor Party do not oppose that plan, rescue teams are really there for mineworkers who work underground. No aspect of training in other areas will take precedence. The incidence of outbursts, which are devastating, are ever increasing, particularly in the southern coalfields in this State. Instantaneous outbursts of coal and gas are a major hazard in underground coalmining in many parts of the world. Workers in the vicinity of an outburst may be asphyxiated by dust and gases, buried beneath outburst material, or crushed by displaced mining equipment. Explosions of gases may occur after an outburst, ignited by sparks from damaged equipment. In Australia collieries both in the Sydney basin and in the Bowen basin in Queensland experience such outbursts.
We can see the extent of deaths caused by outbursts and explosions when we look at the history of the last 107 years. On 23 March 1887 an explosion which occurred at Bulli Colliery resulted in 81 fatalities. On 2 and 3 December 1896 a gas explosion occurred at Stockton in Newcastle. On 2 December two mineworkers were asphyxiated and on 3 December nine mineworkers were asphyxiated. On 21 March 1898 an explosion occurred at Dudley in Newcastle and approximately 15 lives were lost. On 31 July 1902 a gas explosion at Mount Kembla, the worst disaster the coal industry in this country has ever experienced, killed 95 men and boys. A disaster which occurred at Stanford Merthyr in 1905 killed six people. That incident brought about a move to establish a mine rescue operation in this State.
On 1 September 1923 there were 21 fatalities at Bellbird after a fire and an explosion. A few weeks ago I referred to Metropolitan Colliery, which is in the southern coalfields of the Illawarra, which used seven union officials as a battering ram to make mineworkers submit to owners' demands. Common sense prevailed and a good outcome has been achieved. In 1925 a CO2 outburst killed two men. In 1926 a gas explosion at Redhead Colliery resulted in five fatalities. In 1954, again at Metropolitan, a CO2 outburst killed two men. On 9 November 1965 four men were killed at Bulli Colliery. They were trapped by a shuttle car and a fire razed a heading. One of the five men working in that panel decided to trust his luck. He burst through the flame and survived. The other four men were killed.
On 24 July 1979 a gas and coal dust explosion at Appin Colliery killed 14 men. In 1985 an outburst at Tahmoor Colliery killed one man. On 24 July 1991 an outburst at South Bulli resulted in three fatalities. Recently, on 25 January this year, a miner driver, Malcolm Butt, was killed at West Cliff Colliery. He was working at 486 right panel, 98 metres inbye 7 cut in B heading. Large volumes of 95 per cent CO2 were released. Two hundred to 300 tonnes of material were dislodged, in other words, coal and roofing material in the form of stone.
This fatal outburst at West Cliff Colliery was the 249th outburst recorded. Those are the sorts of conditions and the sorts of things mineworkers have to come to terms with today. At the time of the outburst the panel of five men were working under outburst conditions. Malcolm Butt, who died of asphyxiation at approximately 8 p.m., also sustained a small fracture to the skull during the incident. There were problems with air breathing masks and other systems during this incident. Mr Butt was removed from the mine 12 hours later - at approximately 8 a.m. All current prediction methods employed at West Cliff, which is probably the most advanced in this area, failed to identify an outburst structure. This is an ever present problem.
Mineworkers who continued to work at that mine with the full knowledge that an outburst could occur were still caught in an unprecedented outburst which dislodged hundreds of tonnes of material. Tahmoor Colliery, another colliery in the southern coalfields owned by Kembla Coal and Coke Pty Limited, a subsidiary of CRA, recorded 89 outbursts up to April 1992 out of a total of 393 incidents in the entire southern district, yet only one fatality occurred. That is one too many. A 32-year-old driver, Mick Penny, was asphyxiated in an outburst in June 1985. The death of Mick Penny drove home the need for the colliery to intensify its development of safer mining techniques. Mick Penny had all the standard protection. When he was recovered there was not a scratch on him; he had been asphyxiated by gas. That outburst, which displaced 350 tonnes of material, released 3,000 cubic metres of gas.
After that experience Tahmoor worked on improving the Joy 12 continuous miner for outbursts. A completely enclosed cabin was built which was protected by one-inch thick bulletproof glass. Inside, the operator, who wears an air mask, communicates through radio control with the shuttle car driver and the crew at a fresh air base. The cabin is ventilated with two sources of normal air supplies, but in addition the driver has two other sources of emergency air supplies if the normal system fails. Another air hose connection is fitted to the jib of the miner. Air pressure in the cabin is maintained to stop any gas seepage into the miner's cabin. The system is still used but a new and exciting development in the form of a remote control miner - the Alpine Bolter Miner 20 - has been introduced. The miner has no cabin. When mining under outburst conditions the cabin is controlled by an operator who sits a minimum of 60 metres back from the face in a special outburst fresh air base that can be located in a different roadway from where the miner is cutting.
Two cameras are focused on the remote control miner, one on the face where it is cutting and the other into the loading point of the shuttle car. The operator sees what is happening on a display screen and works accordingly. About 27 years ago, on 21 October 1966, five miners lost their lives under a 200-ton fall in the Wyee mine. A sudden fall had hit the barrier southeast section, catching five of the crew of a Lee Norse continuous miner under the stone. They were Alan McCabe, aged 51, Dick Spowart, 52, Percy Harris, 58, Karl Sari, 37, and Stephen Woods, 44. The driver, Geoffrey Mitchell, narrowly escaped, running to safety after he heard Alan McCabe call, "Run Geoff, run for your life". These are vivid descriptions of what goes on in the coalmining industry of this country, yet we still have some of the best safe working conditions anywhere in the world.
On 29 May 1991 three mineworkers died when the roof collapsed in the New South Wales western district's Western Main Colliery. It was the worst mine accident in the western district in more than 20 years and the first fatality at that mine in 17 years. From the end of June 1990 to the end of June 1991 fatalities occurred. It is quite frightening when one reads this list. However, I know that mineworkers and others associated with the industry do everything in their power to try to save lives. People trained in mines rescue are engaged in these processes of trying to save life and, worst of all, of retrieving bodies. Fatalities occurred at Ivanhoe, in the western district, on 1 August 1990 when there was a roof fall in a pillar extraction area; at Wallarah, in the northern district, on 9 August 1990 in a roof fall in a pillar extraction area; at Cooranbong, in the northern district, in a roof fall on 11 November 1990; at Saxonvale, in the northern district, in a roof fall on 20 December 1990; and at Wallarah, in the northern district, on 28 January 1991, in a roof fall in a pillar extraction area. At Western Main, in the western district, on 29 May 1991, three miners were killed in a roof fall in a pillar extraction area. There was a fatality at Newstan, in the northern district, on 26 June 1991.
Working in underground coalmines is, at the best of times, a hazardous occupation, but working at a non-union mine is disastrous - thank heavens that is not the case in this country - a fact emphatically underlined by a recent court case in the United States. Costain Coal Company pleaded guilty to 29 criminal charges stemming from the deaths of 10 mineworkers killed by an explosion at its non-union William Station mine in Kentucky in 1989. Among the revelations that came out in the United States District Court was that mine managers kept a secret set of books that showed the mine was plagued, almost constantly, by dangerous levels of methane gas for at least six months before the explosion on 13 September. As I said previously, thank heavens that does not happen in this State.
These records were concealed from Federal mine inspectors, who had the power to shut down the mine before the blast killed the 10 men. It was pure murder in a ruthless pursuit of profit. The then US Attorney, Tim Reardon, agreed. He said that the investigation exposed a corrupt system of chronic deceit and unlawful concealment that put the lives and safety of miners at risk. Reardon described the William Station mine as a "slowly dying operation almost suffocated by enormous problems with methane gas, run by men who cared more for producing 1,500 tons of coal a day than the safety of the 370 men and women who were sent 600 feet underground".
On 9 May 1993 a huge explosion ripped through the Westray mine in Nova Scotia, Canada, killing 26 mineworkers. The pit was a non-union operation and the miners' union officials slammed appalling safety standards there. I have spoken on many occasions in this House about these matters and I will not take a backward step in supporting the mining unions in this State and country in their efforts for the safety and welfare of the men they represent. The efforts of members of Parliament to support the action of mineworkers and their union officials in this State can never be challenged. There is no one at the non-union mines to make sure that the companies abide by the laws. The coal operators in these mines cut costs by sacrificing safety standards.
The methane blast at Westray, near Halifax, left 16 miners dead and another 10 missing. The initial explosion was so violent it threw a steel door 350 metres up the mine shaft. On 14 May, five days later, rescue workers abandoned attempts to reach the 10 missing men when conditions underground deteriorated. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, 16 May 1992, headlined "Rescue team labelled heroes in mine disaster", stated:
We fought for the establishment and maintenance of our Rescue Stations and we will continue to ensure that they are provided with the necessary funding and facilities to maintain the vital range of operations they perform.
Plymouth, Nova Scotia, Friday: If there are any heroes after the Westray mine explosion six days ago that trapped and apparently killed 26 men, they are the 100 draegermen.
The Draegerman, named after the German-made Draeger breathing machines, is part of more than 22 kilograms of equipment that rescue workers must carry - likewise in this country. People must be continually trained in the use of breathing apparatus. The article continues:
Mr Colin K. Brenner, Chief operating officer of the company that owns the mine, Curragh Resources Inc of Toronto, says there was "no reasonable possibility" that the missing 10 miners were still alive, and suggested that conditions in the mine were too dangerous to continue operations.
The frequency of underground explosions has been dramatically reduced over the years. However, one must not lose sight of the fact that between 1960 and 1970 about 3,200 men throughout the world lost their lives as a direct result of coalmine explosions. In 1962, 299 men were killed in Luisenthal Mine in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1963, 457 men were killed in the Mikawa Mine, Japan. In 1965, there were three major explosions; 331 men were killed in the Yamano Mine, Japan; 306 men were killed in the Bori Mine, India; and 144 men were killed in Orasi Shaft, Yugoslavia. In 1968 there were 78 men killed in the Farmingthon Mine in the United States of America. In 1970 there were 51 men killed in the Breza Mine, Yugoslavia. Over the Christmas break I travelled to India and met with a senior representative of Coal India to talk about the coal industry in India, where Australia has interests in a number of coalmines. I was invited to visit a mine in the region, and two days prior to my visit 55 men had been killed in a mine explosion.
The fatalities go on and on. Over 68,000 South African mineworkers have died in accidents since 1900 and more than one million have been permanently disabled. Today mining remains an extremely hazardous occupation. Mineworkers continue to face rockbursts, explosions, fires, dust, methane gas, noise, vibration, heat, stress and unsafe work processes. In South Africa in 1990 alone, 677 workers died in mine accidents and 9,852 people were injured. In 1989, 735 workers died in mining accidents and over 10,000 were injured. A mineworker who spends 20 years working underground risks one chance in 30 of being killed and a 50 per cent chance of being disabled.
It was in the early 1900s that the idea of the use of artificial breathing apparatus by trained men in emergencies at coalmines was first formulated. The first move in Australia to establish an organisation in which men could be trained for this purpose did not occur until 1909, when the Queensland Department of Mines initiated a move to establish a mines rescue brigade in that State. The legislation that resulted in the establishment of a viable rescue organisation in New South Wales was not the consequence of the natural growth of an idea of organised mines rescue work but came from the social repercussions of mining disasters that occurred during this period. In 1887, 81 miners were killed at Bulli Colliery; in 1902 in the Mount Kembla disaster 95 died; and a further six were killed at Stanford Merthyr Colliery at South Maitland. In 1923 in the disastrous fire and explosion at Bellbird Colliery at South Maitland 21 men died. On each of those occasions no organised rescue facilities were available.
Continuing public reaction to the Bellbird disaster, together with the confidence gained in the use of breathing apparatus through the subsequent operations, prompted the Government at that time to introduce legislation to enable the establishment of mines rescue stations in each of the State's four coalmining districts. Consequently the New South Wales Mines Rescue Act 1925 was passed, establishing rescue stations at Bellambi on the southern coalfields, Boolaroo on the Newcastle coalfields, Abermain on the South Maitland coalfields and Lithgow on the western coalfields, which were completed in 1926. Since then the South Maitland rescue station has been moved to Singleton and renamed the Hunter Valley mines rescue station.
A memorial in the Booval Building to the Queensland Mines Rescue Brigade stands as a solemn reminder of the dedication and courage of those who give up their time to ensure a safer mining industry. The memorial is for the nine brigade members who were killed in the Box Flat explosion on the West Moreton field on 31 July 1972. Altogether 17 mineworkers lost their lives in that tragedy, the worst in Queensland coalmining history. Moves to establish a rescue brigade in November 1909, with the first station officially opened in early 1915, made the Queensland Mines Rescue Brigade the oldest in Australia. In New South Wales, when it was proposed to close the western mines rescue station a
few years ago, the United Mineworkers Federation warned that such a move would spark industrial action, and the station remained open. The United Mineworkers Federation Western District Secretary, Les Moore, has warned that this is still the union's position and that any diminution in the role of the mines rescue station, which is a vital part of the industry, will not be tolerated.
The western mines rescue station was called upon to conduct the rescue and recovery operation at Western Main Colliery in May 1991 when five mineworkers were buried in a massive roof fall that killed three of them. The rescue station again played a vital role in the recovery operation at the Ulan underground mine when the mine was sealed in August of that year after heating in the goaf sparked a fire. The mine has now been recovered. Skill, teamwork and commitment are the core of mine rescue operations. Hell is the potential for a mine to erupt and trap miners at any time. Then the guardian angels are the mine rescue teams. To enable them to exhibit and hone their extraordinary skills national mine rescue competitions have been held annually since 1963. One of the competitors vividly recalls:
A full scale independent inquiry has been promised by Progressive Conservative Premier of Nova Scotia, Mr Donald Cameron. Mr Cameron played a key role in getting the mine to open here.
This is a report in the United Mineworkers Federation journal "Common Cause":
In a simulated mine explosion I glimpse hell through the thick, black smoke devouring the air, spewing its deadly breath over the small group of men fighting against it. The smoke belches dangerously around the men as they quickly try to assemble the many pieces of water hose needed to fight this life-threatening hazard. Small but united against the billowing backdrop, they beat at the flames, driving the fire back - and finally nailing it into quick submission. The men are the Mines Rescue team from Angus Colliery, Lithgow. They are competing in the underground section of the National Mines Rescue Competition held at Cook Colliery, Blackwater, Queensland.
That is what happens. The regional competitions are based on the men going in and doing the job. The hell is the potential for a mine to erupt and trap miners at any time. The guardian angels are the mines rescue teams, and that cannot be reinforced often enough. The annual national mines rescue competition has been held since 1963. The winner in that year was the Newcastle mines rescue station represented by the team from Newstan Colliery. The practices for gas detection and the instruments used for that purpose have changed vastly from what they were many years ago. The first successful safety lamp was invented by Sir Humphry Davy in 1815. The GR6 Garforth Protector safety lamps now used in Australia are basically of the same construction.
The Garforth lamp has a gas testing attachment, a bulb, through which gas can be taken out of the pockets within the rough roof of coalmines and injected into the lamp - a relighter and a single round wick. This is more convenient for reading gas samples, because the sample may be brought to the lamp in the bulb and it will detect gas layering against the roof. That was the next step after the Davy lamp, an innovation and something that I have no doubt prevented many explosions in the coal industry during the years it was used. As a gas detector the lamp is rapidly becoming obsolete in most mining countries in the world and is being replaced by electronic detectors with a high order of accuracy, reliability and electrical safety.
The lamps are rapidly being replaced by new technology. One such instrument is the Draeger Multiwarn, which is a portable gas measuring instrument for the simultaneous and continuous monitoring of methane, carbon monoxide and oxygen in the ambient air. The Draeger compressed oxygen closed-circuit breathing apparatus model BG174 was introduced in 1962 and is now used by most of the world's rescue organisations. The Draeger model BG174-A is essentially the same, except for certain modifications, and was designed for the American market and developed by Draegerwerk in West Germany specifically for use in mines. The BG174 is a fully automatic lightweight breathing apparatus that renders the wearer entirely independent of the surrounding air. It offers a supply of compressed oxygen with regeneration of the exhaled air. Controlled by breathing valves, the breathing air flows through the apparatus in a closed circuit and has a maximum duration of usage during heavy work of approximately three to four hours. The reference to heavy work is when men are underground in very hostile conditions, there is no oxygen, it is very hot, and there is no ventilation.
A number of the horrific mine disasters in the various districts over the last century have occurred in the month of July. If the United Mineworkers Federation were ever to nominate a safety month in which to focus attention on the hazardous nature of the coal industry, it would have to be July, as disasters have occurred at Mount Kembla, Box Flat, Appin and Nowra in that month. On 31 July 1902 Australia was rocked by the news of the Mount Kembla explosion in the New South Wales southern district, when 96 men lost their lives. On the same date 70 years later 17 mineworkers were killed in the Box Flat explosion on the West Moreton field at Ipswich in Queensland. Then seven years later, on 24 July 1979, within a week of the date of the two disasters previously mentioned, the southern district was again shaken, this time by news of the Appin mine explosion in which 14 mineworkers were killed.
On 16 July 1986 the central Queensland township of Moura was struck by an explosion at the No. 4 underground mine that killed 12 mineworkers. Again on 24 July, exactly 12 years to the day after 14 mineworkers were killed in an explosion at the Appin Colliery, disaster struck in the New South Wales southern district when three South Bulli mineworkers were killed in an outburst at that mine. On that morning I arose early, because the shadow cabinet was meeting at Maitland, and I heard on the 5.30 news that there had been an explosion at a mine in the southern coalfields in which three men had been killed. Understandably the media had not found out where the incident had occurred but simply made the announcement.
I was quite upset about that announcement because my eldest son happened to work at Appin colliery as an electrician on dogwatch. Because I know the history of Appin colliery the first thought that sprung to mind was that Appin had gone up again. It had not, but I went straight to the South Bulli pit to offer whatever help and support I could give to the management, unions and workers. The tragic loss of Bob Coltman, 43, Craig Broughton, 28, and Leigh Pearce, 24, occurred less than two months after three western district mineworkers were killed in a massive roof fall at the Western Main Colliery.
It is no exaggeration to say that the history of safety standards in the coal industry is written in the blood of mineworkers; the hundreds who have lost their lives in the pits, the tens of thousands who have been injured and maimed, and the tragedy and suffering that has been inflicted on countless families and our communities. We can look to the United States where management exercises enormous control over safety standards. Some 500 coal companies controlling 846 mines are facing 4,710 charges of tampering with coal dust samples. They will probably be forced to pay token fines but the real losers are the thousands of miners in these pits who will pay the price through increased dust disease. Self-regulation does not work. It may be more palatable to the multinationals and the conservative deregulation gurus, but it is deadly for mineworkers. During the Appin inquiry Judge Goran had this to say about check inspectors:
The Lithgow team matched their expertise against eight other teams which had qualified for the national title by being the best in their region.
With pits now generally working seven days a week, the workload placed on check inspectors is horrendous and Judge Goran's words are truer today than they were in the early 1980s. I should like also to make mention of a booklet which was released in the middle of last year entitled "The Bulli Mining Disaster 1887: Lessons from the Past" by Don Dingsdag. This book traces the history of the coal industry in New South Wales. At the launch of the book at Bulli miners' cottage, a memorial wall was unveiled listing the names of all mineworkers who had been killed in the district. That launch took place on 24 July 1993. There were 583 names of mineworkers who had lost their lives producing coal for the wealth of this State, and this was just in the southern coalfields of New South Wales. Michael Berrell from the Faculty of Education, University of Southern Queensland, in July 1993, in the introduction of Don Dingsdag's book, said:
I feel, however, that there should be some check upon the deputy's safety inspections. The ideal officer to perform this task is the Federation's check inspector, who is ordinarily fair and efficient, and brings to light conditions which may remain hidden. However, there are not enough of these gentlemen. I believe that their number should be increased.
As a lesson from the past, the terrible calamity at Bulli begs the question "how could the Mt. Kembla disaster happen just a few short years after Bulli?". This book provides a lesson from the past as Australia approaches the close of another century. Whether this lesson is heeded will depend on the responses of all people who are prepared to become active participants in shaping the future.
Once one has read Don Dingsdag's account of the Bulli disaster, the role that education can play in the process of making mining a safer working environment and making people more aware of the importance of safety issues in industry is evident.
Tony Wilks, General Secretary of the United Mineworkers Federation, gave his views in the foreword to this important book on coalmining in this country:
This book can play an important role and an educative process aimed at enhancing working conditions in the mining industry. Teachers, miners, company directors, trade unionists, Members of Parliament and members of the wider society all have a role to play in this educative process.
We coalminers earn our living in one of the most dangerous industries in the world. Our history is characterised by tragedy. The number of dead and crippled mineworkers is a reflection of the hostile environment in which we work.
History has shown us that unless we are prepared to learn from the lessons of the past we are condemned to repeat our mistakes. Experience has taught us that there is nothing more important in our industry than safety. For us, it is a constant matter of life and death. There is no single issue more important to our union than the responsibility of ensuring that when mineworkers begin their shifts, they are provided with the safest possible working environment so that at the end of the day they can return safely to their families and friends.
Disasters such as the one which occurred at Bulli have mobilised enormous community support for mineworkers' campaigns for improved safety regulations. Our history shows that employers and management cannot ensure safety in the mining industry. Workers must also contribute to this process. However, it will indeed be a tragic day when safety is sacrificed for profit.
The Bulli disaster is a classic lesson in history. Aggravated by severe economic circumstances in 1887 and returning to work after a protracted strike, the mineworkers had been forced to sign agreements which precluded them from questioning any management decisions let alone taking strike action. Miners who had raised safety issues under those circumstances were victimised. The neglect of safety issues led to the explosion at Bulli on March 23, 1887, which claimed the lives of 81 men and boys. Fifteen years later, another explosion at the nearby Mt. Kembla mine took the lives of another 96 miners.
There are many other disasters in our history that could have been avoided if safety regulations had been strictly enforced. Our union has fought for, and won the right to elect its own full-time safety officers and check inspectors, whose responsibility includes the inspection of mines without notice and ensuring that all safety standards are observed. There have been improvements in safety regulations in our industry but we know these standards will not be maintained and improved upon without the constant vigilance of our union.
With our industry today dominated by giant multinational corporations, there is the increasing pressure for even greater degrees of deregulation within the mining industry, including the area of safety.
Once again, in a climate of economic recession and conservative politics, the time is ripe for an erosion of the role of trade unions at the workplace. For our part, the United Mine Workers remain absolutely resolute in overcoming this threat.
The tragic lessons of the past have shown us that there is no room for compromise where issues of safety are concerned.
I could not agree more with what Tony Wilks said in that foreword. The present bill was first introduced on 27 October 1993. When the Minister made his second reading speech he said, in part:
Don Dingsdag's book vividly illustrates the validity of our position.
It is true that agreement was reached but that was the only agreement. When the Minister gave his second reading speech on 27 October 1993 the first thing I did was to seek the views of the United Mineworkers Federation on the bill. The federation said that discussions had been going on for quite some time. United Mine Workers, a division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and the Australian Collieries Staff Association wrote to me expressing concern that, though they knew about the proposed legislation, they had not seen it. Both Geoff Brown, national industrial officer of United Mine Workers, and Wendy Clews, New South Wales branch secretary of the Australian Collieries Staff Association, wrote letters to me in similar terms:
Following negotiations with industry and the unions involved in the coal mining industry, agreement was reached to repeal the 1925 Act.
No one disputes that the Act had to be amended to take that into consideration:
Approximately 18 months ago, the Service, to supplement its financial funding, sought, and was successful in gaining training and response work outside the coal mining industry. This resulted in the Mines Rescue Service having to operate outside the requirements of the current act.
The parties agreed to allow this financially successful operation to continue, to allow this to happen would require a review of the 1925 Act, hence the current Bill before the parliament . . .
It was explained to the Board Members by the Minister on 27th May 1993 that the procedure for introducing a new bill to the parliament was for the Bill to be tabled and a period of time allowed for full consultation with the industry. He further indicated that if any of the major stakeholders had any serious objections the Bill would not proceed.
We understand that the Bill was tabled on Wednesday 27th October 1993 and that the Minister has made his second reading speech to the House, in his speech he indicated that the Unions supported the bill, this is incorrect, the Unions supported the need to object to the way in which the Act is drafted.
The Unions received a copy of the Bill from the opposition at 11.00 p.m. on Wednesday 27th October 1993.
Because of the current status of the Bill we seek the support of the Australian Labor Party in opposing the bill in its current form and request that you move an amendment to allow the deferral of the Bill for at least three (3) months to enable sufficient time for proper consultation.
How long has it been since the bill was introduced into the Parliament? That happened nearly six months ago. At the time I raised the issue, the Minister responded to my concerns, and also wrote to United Mine Workers and the Australian Collieries Staff Association when they raised their concerns. He wrote to Tony Wilks, General Secretary, United Mine Workers division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, 72-74 Buckingham Street, Surry Hills, as follows:
Implementation of the act in its current form could seriously jeopardise the effective operation of the New South Wales Mines Rescue Service and therefore place every mineworker in this State in a precarious position.
I refer to your recent discussions with officers of the Department of Mineral Resources concerning the Mines Rescue Bill 1993.
As I understand the position there are four matters which are of principal concern to your union.
I know that the Minister has had discussions and has agreed to amend this legislation tonight in Committee. It is a pity that has to be done. It is a pity his department was not more resolute in ensuring the bill was in accordance with the wishes of the Miners Federation, the other mining unions and the New South Wales Coal Association. In his letter the Minister addressed four issues raised:
In respect of the first of those matters I am prepared to move an amendment to the Bill in committee so that the Board will have seven rather than nine directors.
As the bill is drafted the Board must recommend a person for appointment. This means also the Board can make a recommendation to the Minister for dismissal by the Governor of the chief executive.
The Minister explained his position on that issue and the unions accepted it. The letter later stated:
The third matter is that Clause 21 be amended to require that the Board's seal only be affixed in the presence of a director and the chief executive following a resolution of the board to that effect.
The Minister addressed that matter also. Tonight he will be moving amendments in Committee to reduce the number of directors from nine to seven and also to change the composition of those clauses. I am glad the Minister did that and was willing to consult with the mining unions to ensure that this most important legislation is passed. I do not know the reason for the hold up last year, when this House sat to all hours of the night to hear debate on various issues. However, the bill, which had been tabled, was not proceeded with. At that time I was more than happy to make a second reading speech so that the proposed legislation could be enacted to protect those who work in the Mines Rescue Service.
I was concerned enough to visit the Mines Rescue Service station in the southern districts to find out exactly how they viewed their legal position. Members of that service were most concerned about their legal position if something went wrong and whether they could be prosecuted. Last year I was concerned about it. We could have done something about it then. Nothing was done, but we cannot change that now. I am glad that the bill has been brought on early tonight, though the House has already sat a number of weeks this session. It is important that the Labor Party gives the Minister its full support to the bill and to the amendments to be moved by the Minister in Committee.
Given current production levels being achieved in the industry throughout New South Wales it is even more important that safe working standards are maintained. Mineworkers underground will be safe in
the knowledge that fully trained personnel are available above ground to give assistance whenever required. Do not let anyone say that when working underground they are not afraid or that it is something they put up with every day. Mineworkers are probably right when they say that because those conditions are part of their job. However, every time there is a bump or a thud or a pop those guys are on the run. They are not totally at ease in their work environment because they know death lurks around every corner.
No matter how vigilant, safety orientated or concerned members of this Parliament may be about mineworkers' safety, fatalities and injuries are part and parcel of the industry and will continue to occur. Members of Parliament must facilitate legislation to ensure that the mining industry can operate as safely as humanly possible. Even so, accidents and fatalities will continue to happen while ever people are working coal seams. Where pockets of carbon dioxide and methane of sufficient amount and pressure occur, outbursts will continue to occur. The following statement sums up the fears of those working in the mining industry:
The fourth matter raised refers to the drafting of clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill and the request that the words "but is not obliged to" be deleted from each clause.
Fire, explosions and asphyxiation are the dark side of mining. They are an ever present man-made risk. This risk is minimised by the ability of miners to rescue themselves and their workmates when disaster does strike.
That is a very big statement. It is not my statement but I totally support it. As I said earlier, I was disappointed that the Minister took so long in introducing all these amendments, which could have been dealt with many months ago; this legislation could have passed through this Parliament many months ago. I do not know whether he was ill advised by his department or whether his department considered it knew best. Perhaps it was not prepared to talk to Tony Wilks or the Australian Collieries Staff Association and the industry to see whether the legislation that had been hammered out was to their liking and whether they thought that the legislation would be workable. The association did not consider that the legislation was workable in its present form and therefore asked the Minister to amend it, and I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward these amendments to this necessary and worthy piece of legislation.
Mr BLACKMORE (Maitland) [8.31]: I support the Minister in this debate. I listened with interest to the honourable member for Keira and reflected on what he had to say. My father was a coalminer for 46 years, having started work in the mine at the young age of 14 years, and I can remember listening to stories about how the mine deputy would take the canary underground. I can relate to some of the sentiments of the honourable member, particularly in relation to news of an underground accident such as a fire - and water in particular - in some of the Hunter Valley collieries. I can appreciate the sentiments behind the introduction of this bill, and it is pleasing to know that there is no opposition to it.
The Opposition supports the bill because it realises that the Minister has been totally dedicated to it. I know that he has been emphatic about safety requirements in mines, and a Minister like that should be supported. It is the responsibility of members of this House to support the safety of underground mineworkers, and it is the responsibility of the Minister to lead by example. This bill will reconstitute the Mines Rescue Board. I understand that the Minister will move an amendment in Committee to change the make-up of the board. The bill is the result of a very long consultative process between the coal industry and the relevant unions.
Notwithstanding agreements reached after the bill was introduced the United Mine Workers demanded that the composition of the board be altered. Consequently it will now comprise seven directors: one nominated by the Minister, two nominated by the United Mine Workers, one nominated by the Australian Collieries Staff Association, and three nominated by the New South Wales Coal Association, one of whom is to be a mine manager representing the interests of mineowners. The Mine Managers Association is concerned that it is not represented on the board in its own right, and whilst I can see some merit in its request for representation, I also appreciate the need to keep the size of the board to a workable number. I ask the Minister to request the Coal Association to nominate a practising underground coalmine manager to be a member of the board. This would accord with the principal functions of the rescue service.
The 1925 Act is outdated legislation, and several attempts have been made over the past decade to introduce new legislation before this Parliament. Such attempts have failed owing to distrust between, and the intransigence of, the various interests. One thing that never ceases to concern me in this industry is the obvious mistrust between coalmine owners and the unions. It is almost as strong as the mistrust between the British and the Irish in Northern Ireland. Such mistrust is not healthy to the New South Wales coal industry. It is a pity that it is fuelled by some members opposite. In this day and age, management and employees must work together for their mutual benefit and for the good of this State.
This bill will abolish the old district committees, which overviewed the management of each of the four district mine rescue stations. Each committee comprised a district check inspector and three to five persons elected by the owners of the mine within the district. I pay tribute to the work those committees have done over the years. However, I agree that the proposals contained in the bill to make the board fully accountable to the Government are the proper way to go. I hope that the reconstituted board will accept the functions that this bill provides for it, and will not go outside them. One reason why this bill has been introduced is that the existing board has been editing the contract, which it is not authorised to do under the existing legislation.
It is commendable in some respects that the board has shown initiative in seeking work in the private sector, both interstate and overseas. On the other hand, I question whether the board should be offering training courses and technical services on a fee-for-service basis. Coalmine proprietors are always among the first to tell the Government to keep out of other than core government activities. Yet in the case of the Mines Rescue Board, they are saying that the board should expand its role by undertaking more consulting contracts. Why? Because they see the revenue raised from such consultancies as a means of reducing the levy that they are required to pay. The bill sets out the principal functions of the board, which are essentially that the Mines Rescue Board will provide rescue services for underground coalmines.
In addition, the board is authorised, if it so wishes, to provide rescue services for metalliferous miners. It is also empowered to provide certain non-rescue services for mines in other industries. The board has built up considerable expertise over the years, and such expertise should be available to be called upon by the metalliferous mining sector. I note that all coalmines are to be levied to pay for the board's principal functions. Over the years, some of the open cut mine proprietors have submitted that they should not be levied. I understand, following representations from the New South Wales Coal Association, that the Minister is not chained to this practice. Rescue stations are currently located at Newcastle, Singleton, Lithgow and Wollongong. Clause 16 of the bill requires the board to review existing activities and provide the Minister with a report on any of its activities that are not in its commercial interests.
Additionally, the Minister must be informed of the amount of the estimated annual financial loss resulting from those activities, and of any actions that can be taken with a view to carrying out those activities in accordance with sound commercial practice. The Minister might also request the board to advise him whether the rescue stations are located in the most appropriate areas. The bill will empower the board itself for the first time to employ staff. Such a provision is not included in the existing Act, and as a result, staff working for the board have had to be employed by the Newcastle committee. This has been an irregular situation. Part 5 of the bill will establish the New South Wales Mines Rescue Brigade, which comprises volunteers who respond to and deal with emergencies arising in underground mines. The volunteers are highly trained and dedicated personnel. I recognise, as do all members of this House, the efforts of these volunteers to ensure the safety of their fellow workers.
It is an honour to serve in the brigade, and there has never been a shortage of volunteers. In many families it has been a proud tradition, with many generations having served. Releasing employees for training and service is something the managers have always co-operated with. I welcome the provisions of the bill. I am sure that, with good will all round, the Mines Rescue Board will further enhance its reputation under the new Act. As I said earlier, I certainly appreciate the Minister's efforts since taking over this important portfolio, and the emphasis that he has placed on safety. It is an honour to serve on the Minister's backbench committee, where we can appreciate the importance of safety being relayed to the people working in this dangerous industry.
Mr CAUSLEY (Clarence - Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and Minister for Mines) [8.40], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Keira and the honourable member for Maitland for their contributions to the debate. As I said in my second reading speech, this legislation will bring the Mines Rescue Act into some form of legality. As the honourable member for Keira said, some people who worked in the operations were anxious about the legality of what they were doing under the Act. I listened with interest to the history of coalmines, given by the honourable member for Keira. There have been some terrible accidents in the past. That is the reason for the existence of the mines rescue organisation. That organisation does a good job, often under trying conditions when an accident occurs in the mines.
I do not accept the premise that mining has to be a dangerous occupation in this day and age. I have tried to establish whether it is possible to have gas extraction in the mines. The honourable member for Keira knows that with modern technology there are opportunities to extract gas. It is a problem that causes concern in the mining industry. Outbursts can cause problems, particularly in underground mines in the Illawarra. Recently I agreed that a member of the Department of Mineral Resources should go overseas to study some of the methods that are being used to alleviate such outbursts, because it is a serious situation in the mining industry.
I do not accept the position put by the honourable member for Keira last year about this legislation. The legislation was introduced in good faith and was debated. Mr Wilks was not present at the meeting when it was agreed to, and he subsequently reneged on that agreement. If one looks closely at the amendments that have been agreed to, one notes a reduction in the number of members of the committee from nine to seven. The two people who have been dropped are the Chief Inspector of Mines and a mine manager. That is why the honourable member for Maitland has called upon me to say that of the three representatives from the Coal Association one should be a qualified underground mine manager. That is entirely reasonable. From the union quotes given by the honourable member for Keira one might believe that the emphasis for safety rests with the union. I do not believe it does. There has to be a partnership between management and the workers if conditions of safety are to apply.
There has been improvement in safety in Australia, and in New South Wales in particular, in the last few years since I targeted safety as an issue in the industry, but we still have not reached the standards that some other countries have reached. We
have to work harder at it. It comes back to a matter of vigilance. Accidents usually happen because of a simple, careless mistake, apart from the natural problems that occur. I recently spoke to a number of mine managers who agreed to target zero as their action position in their mines. They will work vigilantly to see that that occurs. They realise accidents cost money. Horrific accidents as far as the individual is concerned cause much pain and suffering, but as far as the mine is concerned it is a matter of money.
The management of the mines realise the need to ensure that there are few accidents within the mines. If accidents occur the mine rescue groups work in very trying conditions at times to rescue those who are trapped below. I would not like to be in the harrowing position of being trapped in an underground mine. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. I believe this bill could have passed through the House six months ago. We sat around one night but, as I think the honourable member for Keira will remember, the HomeFund debate had everyone engrossed. There were many committees around the Parliament that night trying to resolve matters, and there was not time to debate this bill. The honourable member for Keira said he wanted to make a contribution that would appear in Hansard. He has had that opportunity and I thank him for his support for the bill.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
New equipment and an understanding of when secondary explosions can occur in coal mines has improved the survival rate not only of workers but of their mates who go in to save them.
Amendments, by leave, by Mr Causley agreed to:
Pages 5 and 6, clause 10, lines 26-33 on page 5 and lines 1-13 on page 6. Omit all words on those lines, insert instead:
10.(1) There are to be 7 directors of the Board.
(2) The directors of the Board are to be appointed by the Governor on the recommendation of the Minister.
(a) 3 are to be persons (of whom one is to be a mine manager) nominated by the New South Wales Coal Association to represent the interests of mine owners; and
(i) one is to be nominated by the Australian Collieries' Staff Association; and
(b) 3 are to be persons nominated to represent the interests of mine employees, of whom:
(ii) 2 are to be nominated by the United Mine Workers' Division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union; and
(c) one is to be a person nominated by the Minister.
(4) The director referred to in subsection (3)(c) is to be the chairperson of the directors of the Board.
Page 22, Schedule 1, lines 4-6. Omit all words on those lines, insert instead:
1. In this Schedule, "chairperson" means the chairperson of the directors of the Board.
Page 22, Schedule 1, line 10. Omit "an appointed director", insert instead "a director".
Page 22, Schedule 1, line 16. Omit "of the Board".
Page 22, Schedule 1, line 22. Omit "an appointed director", insert instead "a director".
Page 22, Schedule 1, line 27. Omit "An appointed director", insert instead "A director".
Pages 22, 23 and 25, Schedule l, line 31 of page 22, line 25 of page 23 and lines 4 and 8 of page 25. Omit "an appointed director" wherever occurring, insert instead "a director".
Page 25, Schedule 1, line 22. Omit "5", insert instead "4".
Page 25, Schedule 1, line 24. Omit "of the Board".
Bill reported from Committee with amendments and passed through remaining stages.