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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 271

Senator DURACK(5.19) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I wish to take this opportunity of saying a few words about matters dealt with in the report of the Joint Coal Board. This report is concerned with the operations of one of Australia's most important industries, namely, the coal industry. The performance of that industry in recent years has been remarkable and, of course, last year it achieved the distinction of making Australia the largest exporter of coal in the world. Coal exports rank as the highest single export earner for Australia. Those twin factors emphasise the major importance to Australia of this industry. We should be very pleased indeed with the performance of the industry and the great investment in and development of it in recent years.

However, as is well known, the industry is going through a difficult period at present. There has been a decline in world market prices and there is strong competition from other export suppliers of coal particularly, of course, in our principal market, Japan. These factors are creating very serious problems for the industry. These problems are certainly not assisted by the well known level of industrial disruption which has been occurring in it such as the two rail strikes in the Hunter Valley in recent months. Australia's reputation as a very reliable, credible supplier of coal is one of the very important factors in the development and success of the industry. This is a matter of great concern to the industry. It is somewhat disappointing that the report before us does not in fact examine to any extent the impact of these industrial disputes.

The New South Wales Coal Association has written to the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) to seek an urgent reference to the Hancock Committee of Review into Australian Industrial Relations Law and Systems of the problem of industrial disputation and the effect it has on the coal chain. Thirty-four unions are represented in the Hunter Valley from the mining of the coal to its final export through the port of Newcastle. I hope that the Government will take note of those concerns and show a little more consideration of these problems than the Minister showed in answer to questions yesterday when he was more intent on scoring political points against the Premier of Queensland than he was on giving full recognition to and an indication of Government concern and Government action in relation to the industrial disputes that have been created in that industry, particularly in New South Wales.

I also hope that the Minister will better serve the industry for which he is responsible than he did with the sort of answer that he gave yesterday to another question which, as he said, gave him the opportunity to demonstrate some more of his new-found learning in his portfolio. I think the answer indicated that he was more intent on demonstrating than learning, as he put it, than demonstrating that he had the interests and concerns of the industry at heart. In the course of that reply he made a very serious mistake about which he had to make a personal explanation. If he took a more serious interest in the concerns of the industry rather than trying to score political points and to demonstrate his technical knowledge of some aspects of the industry, I think he would better serve the industry. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.