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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 2661

Senator PARER —The Minister for Resources and Energy will be aware that a sub-committee on coal of the Caucus resources and trade committee has recommended the examination of the feasibility of the establishment of a national coal authority. I ask the Minister: Is the Government studying the feasibility of a national coal authority? What would be the proposed purpose, structure, duties and responsibilities of such a coal authority?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government is considering, as it has been for some time since it is a matter of long-standing Party policy, the feasibility and desirability of establishing a national coal authority. It is far too early to say what the outcome of those deliberations will be. I point out only that there are a multitude of different models one could choose between if one wanted to go down that track. There is a very big difference between a national coal marketing authority performing some function along the lines of the Australian Wheat Board at one end of the spectrum and, at the other end of the spectrum, by way of contrast, a body established, perhaps, along the lines of the Steel Industry Authority existing essentially to monitor the direction of the industry and to give advice to the relevant government as to policy changes and so on that might appropriately be implemented. There are a number of models in between, perhaps involving some variation in the kinds of powers and functions that are exercised by the Commonwealth-New South Wales Joint Coal Board that might also reasonably be taken into account in such an evaluation.

It is an issue which the Government is looking at. We are conscious that there are strong differences of view within the industry about the utility or desirability of a body of any such kind, with the coal owners by and large being solidly against it, with the coal mining unions being very much in favour of it and with something of a mixed reaction so far as the relevant State governments are concerned. It is an issue which the Commonwealth will continue to look at seriously. I am not in a position to advance the public debate any further than that.