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Friday, 9 July 1920

Mr BURCHELL (Fremantle) . - I have listened with considerable interest to the .speech .just delivered by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. -Charlton), who is more familiar with the conditions of the industry than is any other honorable- member.

Mr Blakeley - Ls this a " stone-wall speech ? '

Mr BURCHELL -No ; I hope that it will be a constructive speech.

Mr Considine - The honorable member's motive is .'apparent.

Mr BURCHELL - Honorable members opposite listened in comparative silence to the honorable member for Hunter., and I hope that they will ex-tend the same courtesy to me. I propose to deal with one or two of the matters mentioned by the honorable member for Hunter, who has rightly said that the question of coal is of the utmost import.ance to every State in the Commonwealth. It affects practically every home, and indirectly every phase of industry, so that it is of paramount importance to the Australian public. The honorable member dealt calmly and dispassionately with this question. He showed a complete grip of details, and the information he gave in regard to the wages, costs, and expenses of the miners has contributed very materially to the knowledge of the House, so that I think we owe him our thanks. While he was speaking, the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) interjected that the inability to obtain coal was the chief trouble. I understood the honorable member to reply that that was not .so, but I do not wish to misrepresent him.

Mr CHARLTON - What I said was that the difficulty was due to the removal of vessels from the coastal trade, and that, in the meantime, the British Government, in order to find employment for the workers, had purchased a lot of coal and placed it at grass.

Mr BURCHELL - Quite recently I have heard evidence given before a Select Committee, appointed by this House, in regard to ,the shipping situation on the Australian coast. Honorable members may be interested to learn that evidence was given, before that tribunal that at the present moment shipping was being held up at Newcastle and kept waiting for coal. I confess (that I heard that statement with some- astonishment.; but, since it was made calmly and -cool'ly by a man who is in a position to secure ^absolutely authentic information, we must attach weight to it. In the circumstances, there must be a good deal in what the Leader of the Opposition interjected in regard to the difficulty of obtaining- coal. The coal shortage cannot be attributed .to the absence of shipping facilities, because, our own Inter-State colliers have quite recently been held -up for cargoes of coal at Newcastle.

Mr CHARLTON - One of the causes contributing to that difficulty is that when the Prince of Wales visited Sydney we had two days' holiday at Newcastle. That interfered with the coal trade.

Mr BURCHELL - I am glad to have that explanation. I was surprised at the statement to which I have referred, and I thought that possibly some reasonable explanation of it could be given by the miners. I do not wish to throw stones at them, but I repeat that Inter-State colliers quite recently have been held up at- Newcastle.

Mr Watkins - I can give the full reason for that.

Mr BURCHELL - I shall leave it to the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) to explain,, since he muso be familiar with matters relating to his own constituency.

I wish to emphasize what the honorable member for Illawarra (Mr. Lamond) urged, despite the various interruptions to which he was subjected, as to the need for the appointment of a tribunal to .deal with the particular difficulties that confront the coal trade at the present time. On both sides of the House there is a recognition of the fact that the tribunal created under the War Precautions Act was necessary, and that since that Act and the regulations made under it will shortly disappear some other tribunal for the industry should be created, so that employers and employees may. meet before it, and have their- grievances dealt with. In the first speech that I made in this House after my return from the. United Kingdom last year, I outlined my strong belief in and support of proposals to bring together employers and employees, so that my attitude in supporting the honorable member for Illawarra this morning is entirely consistent with that which I have taken up since my return. I believe in the principles embodied in the report of the Whitley Commission, which must commend themselves to both employers and employees in this country. Knowing how employees in the . United Kingdom have been able, not in isolated cases, but in many instances, to improve their position, while employers in their turn have been able to look into the difficulties that confront their employees under the system recommended by that Commisison, I feel satisfied that its adoption here would bring about a better and more complete understanding .between the two' parties. If, as the result of this debate, we obtain from the Ministry this morning a statement as to how they intend to deal with this question, the action taken by the honorable member for Illawarra will have been amply justified. I repeat that all the States- are interested in this matter, and I make noapology for referring to the Western Australian point of view. In that State we are dependent on- Newcastle for the bulk of our bunker coal.

Mr Riley - Is there no local coal?

Mr BURCHELL - Yes. Collie coal has been tried, and in some instances-

Mr West - Has been found wanting.

Mr BURCHELL - In some instances it has; been found- wanting,, while in others it has proved very satisfactory. Collie* in: its present stage-, of development, is. no worse than the-- other coal-fields ware in their early stages. Bunker coal from

Collie is-- used on- short runs, but Western Australia, -is dependent upon Newcastle for its main supply of bunker coal. It is as the representative of the chief seaport of Western Australia, and as one possessing a knowledge of how shipping is sometimes delayed, that I speak in support of the action proposed by the mover of this- motion. The mover of the motion, will deserve congratulation if, as a result.of his action, this morning, the House and the people have an opportunity of receiving from the Government a statement as to their future policy in this regard. I shall be interested to hear from the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) the reasons why Inter-State colliers have been held up at Newcastle during the past ten or fourteen days.

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