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Tuesday, 6 August 1946


Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- The sub-clause to which an amendment has been moved deals with the regulation of prices for the sale, purchase or resale of coal, the values at which coal is recorded in the accounts of any business - that is a very important and necessary function - and the profits in the coal industry. The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) seems to be playing " a lone hand " on his side of the chamber. Another honorable member submitted the amendment, but did not speak to it. The honorable member for Warringah has spoken' to it twice. Apparently, no-other honorable member on his side is supporting him. What is the cause of the concern that he has shown? There are three matters which, I believe, ought to concern every member of this Parliament : first, the success of this legislation,, and of the board that is to be created by it, in the production of coal; secondly, and not the least, the public interest in the price that will have to be paid for coal; and thirdly, the return which the shareholders should get on the capital they have invested in the industry. Not one word has fallen from the lips of the honorable member for Warringah in regard to the public interest in what it will have' to pay for coal. In pre-war days, when prices were not fixed, I did not hear him argue that there ought to be constituted a tribunal to hear appeals against the prices charged by the coal-owners. Why is he so concerned to-day? He has never said a word about the placing of any limitation on the price charged for coal. His whole concern is for the shareholders' in the industry. What happened before the war? The coalowners charged just what they liked. If any new amenity were given to' the men, or if the cutting price of coal rose, the coal-owners recovered the extra cost and move, because they had the undisputed right to fix the price of coal. They " socked " the public in those days to whatever degree they chose. It is true that during the "war there was a restraining influence through the Prices Commissioner. But the Prices Commission may not continue to function, in which event we should re- vert to the old system, and the coal-owners would again fix prices which the public would have to pay. I am wondering whether, in that day, the honorable member would suggest setting up an appeal board in the public interest to decide whether or not the public was being exploited. The next point is this: The powers of the board are set out in the bill. They are very wide, but the limits imposed upon them are prescribed in the bill. The honorable member supports an amendment to provide that the prices fixed by the board shall be " subject to appeal as prescribed ". In other words, there is to be an entirely visionary board of appeal, the powers of which are not prescribed, but it shall have power to review the decisions of a board whose powers are, in fact, definitely prescribed. Before the war, and before the setting up of a price fixing authority, the coal-owners fixed their own price for coal. Not only that, but when the owner of a coal-mine also happened to be the owner of a shipping line or a steel company, he charged about one-half of the recognized price of coal to his own subsidiary company, and made up for it by charging the public double that price. Alternatively, if such an owner charged a fair price for the coal supplied to a subsidiary firm, he must have charged an unfair price to the public. I believe it to be important that. the board set up under this bill should have full control of the industry, including the fixing of the price of coal. It should have power to fix the price to the public, and also power to investigate the price at which coal is recorded in the books of any business. This power is important in the case of owners of coal-mines who control subsidiary companies. Who, ] ask, could be better qualified to fix the price of coal than a body which was in control of the whole industry? It i? proposed to give the board power to discipline the coal-miners and the owners, and even to take control of a mine where necessary in the public interest. The functions of the board include the preservation of peace in the industry and the getting of coal, to ensure that the users shall not be exploited, and that the shareholders shall receive a fair return on their capital. In view of those various functions, who could be better qualified than the board itself to determine a fair price for coal? Who could be better able to decide exactly what was the cost of producing coal, and to ensure that owners who control subsidiary companies do not charge half the fair price of coal to those companies, and "sock" the rest of the community in order to get their money back? The coal board should be in a better position than even the Prices Commissioner to fix a proper 'price for coal, and the Prices Commissioner has been the subject of many eulogies this evening, although he must sometimes have made mistakes. Indeed, no one ever did anything of any importance without sometimes making mistakes, but it will be generally agreed that, bearing in mind the many problems with which he hadto deal, the Prices Commissioner has done a good, all-round job. However, I say that even if this visionary, board of appeal- should be the Prices Commissioner, he could not be better qualified to decide the proper selling price of coal than the board set up specially to deal with the whole industry. Moreover, I believe it to be important that there should be this over-all control of the price of coal because it would be . possible, . in the absence of any control of prices, for the coal owners to -destroy the effect of this legislation by the simple process of raising prices to whatever level they liked, so that the public would lose confidence in the plan as a remedy for the difficulties confronting the industry. They could make the scheme unworkable. Therefore, it is important that the board - which possesses vast powers enabling it to bring workers and employers together, to put out of the industry persons, whether employers or employees, who are disturbing influences, and to provide amenities in the interests of the workers - should have .power in the first place, also to fix the price of coal, and, secondly, to scutinize closely the opera. tions of mining companies which juggle their books to suit themselves, and in order to exploit the public. As I have aid, without this power the far-reaching purposes of this legislation could be negatived. No argument put forward by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) to-night was in the public interest. He never mentioned the public interest from first to last.


Mr SPENDER (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - At the very start of my speech I said that it was in the interests of the public that an appeal authority should be constituted.


Mr ROSEVEAR - That is about all he said which touched upon the interests of the public, and even then he was confusing the public interest with the interest of the shareholders in. the mining companies. He spoke of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) telling a " sob story ", but it was he himself who treated the committee to a tragic sob story, the purpose of' which was to support the proposal that the mineowners should have an " open go " in the fixing of prices. He mentioned the poor widows whose probates he had dealt with, and for whom he had found a few shares in. a mining company hidden away somewhere.. His suggestion was, that if we refused the owners the right to fix coal prices, all -these poor widows would have to go to Lidcombe for the rest of their clays. I have" heard the honorable member speak to his brief .before. To-night he appeared to be speaking to a brief which lacked the support even of the other members of his own party. There was certainly no enthusiasm among honorable members opposite for the amendment. Even the honorable member who ' moved it did not speak to it, but the honorable member for Warringah spoke twice. I shall he interested to note how much enthusiasm the honorable member's colleagues will evince for the amendment. The honorable member's speech was nothing more than a specious plea for the coal-owners. It is evidentthat he does not care for the welfare of the industry, and not one word did he say in favour of protecting the general public against exploitation by the coalowners.







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