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Thursday, 29 July 1920

Mr CHARLTON - Is the Prime Minister aware that at the present time efforts are being made to overtake the demand for coal by the opening up of several collieries that were idle during the war, and that there is now about three quarters of a million tons of coal lying at grass at Newcastle, which can be shipped at any time?

Mr HUGHES - I was not aware that collieries are now opening up which were closed, but I am not surprised to hear it. It is a matter for congratulation that we are able, not only to hold our own in the matter of our pre-war coal trade, but also to look forward with some degree of hope to expanding it. I am aware that coal which is the property of this Government is lying at grass. If that is the coal to which the honorable member refers, all I have to say is that it is there for the purpose of enabling this Government to have, if occasion demands, sufficient coal for its ships of war, for its mercantile marine, and for the industries of this country. We must have some reserve to fall back on if the miners carry out their threat to cease producing coal altogether. It would be mere midsummer-night's madness to allow that coal to go, in the face of existing circumstances. We are told in' the press this morning that there is a serious probability of trouble. Honorable members know that lately I have been meeting the coal miners and owners very frequently in an endeavour to secure a settlement; but this morning's papers state that there is a probability of the miners ceasing work. I do not propose to allow our reserve of coal to be exported or distributed. It is there as a reserve; and if the miners, throwing aside all counsels of prudence and common sense, elect to resort to the. arbitrament of force, we shall have to use that coal.

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