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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr POYNTON (GREY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Home and Territories) - If the remainder of his statement is as correct as the first part, he is a " long way out ".

Mr MAKIN - I shall submit statements made by others' in evidence given before the Sea Carriage Committee which confirms the statement that large quantities of coal are at present lying at grass.

Mr Corser - That evidence does not confirm Mr. Baddeley, at any rate.

Mr MAKIN -Mr. Baddeleygoes on to say -

The Shipping Board at Newcastle was regulating shipping, including colliers; but the workers, who had practical experience, were not represented on it. As far as the miners were concerned, the output of coal for the past few months had exceeded the record for any corresponding period for as long as he could remember. The coal going overseas was responsible for the shortage. The Federal Government should provide more ships for the conveyance of coal from Newcastle to Victoria and other States. In addition to the large stocks the Federal Government had on hand, the Government of New South Wales, as well as a number of collieries, had large quantities. Some of the coal, in fact, had been there since 1916.

Even if the statement as to decreased production is correct, hut which I do not admit, we are told there is still at grass a large amount of coal, and we should have an explanation why the States today are practically starving for this commodity. Before the Sea Carriage Committee, evidence was given by Mr. Alexander Robert Douglas, colliery manager, who stated that there is sufficient coal at Newcastle to relieve the Inter-State shortage if extra shipping is provided, and he admitted that there has been a great increase in the export of coal. Another gentleman, Mr. M. C. McDonald, of the Northern Colliery Association, gave evidence, in which he said -

For five years there had been a surplus of coal and a shortage of tonnage to carry it, but during the past few months the position had been reversed. Some of the northern collieries had had to charter ships to convey coal to their customers. Ships were now waiting at Newcastle to load to both foreign and InterState ports.

I ask honorable members to contrast these two statements by Mr. Douglas and Mr. McDonald. If there is this coal at Newcastle, why are ships waiting, and why are South Australia and the other States not receiving supplies? Mr. McDonald went on to speak about a shortage of 54,000 tons in Inter-State exports, and 129,000 tons in foreign exports, and to say there had been a decrease in production of over 300,000 tons in 1919 as compared with 1918; but, at the same time, we have the statement about the surplus lying at grass, and an assurance by Mr. Baddeley that it is correct. Later on, Mr. McDonald stated that it is not a shortage of shipping that is causing the shortage of coal in the Inter-State trade. As to exportation, I find . the following statement given in evidence before the Sea Carriage Committee -

The extent to which oversea exports are expanding at the expense of Australian needs is indicated by the fact that of the total quantity despatched from Newcastle during July of this year of 434,959 tons, the amount allocated to Australian and New Zealand requirements was 266,877 tons. For the first week of August the total output was 01,989 tons, and of that amount only 51,160 tons has been allocated for the Commonwealth and New Zealand.

Australia does not stand alone, for other countries have felt the effects of a coal shortage. In America, for instance, it was found necessary in June of this year to put a temporary embargo on the export of coal as a national necessity; yet an American boat is in Australia seeking coal for Honolulu in order to fulfil orders on behalf of America. In other words, America is not prepared to allow the export of American coal to Honolulu in order to meet her contracts, but this American vessel is under orders to proceed to Newcastle to take coal to Honolulu on behalf of America. If America is not prepared to supply her own orders, I do not see that we in Australia are under any obligation to assist her in the matter, and thus place our own people at a disadvantage. The American authorities do not hesitate to conserve the interests of the American people, and keep the wheels of their industries turning, and we ought to be alive to the position, and see that we make ample provision for the requirements of this country. South Australia is in this unfortunate position, that it has no coal-fields at present known or explored apart from isolated deposits of brown coal, and is dependent chiefly on the Newcastle mines for its supplies of coal. There appears a circumstance which requires explanation in the evidence given before the Select Committee which is inquiring into matters affecting sea carriage, because one colliery manager has stated that there are ample supplies of coal, and another that ships are waiting in Newcastle to be loaded.

Mr Corser - The two statements do not conflict.

Mr Richard Foster - They merely require an explanation.

Mr MAKIN -I should like the Minister to give us an explanation of them.

I am presenting the matter as fairly as I can, and with no desire to make any one a scapegoat. My wish is to relieve the situation, for the sake of our industries, and to keep our people in employment. To enjoy the prosperity that should he ours, we should so manage affairs that a shortage of raw materials and of fuel cannot occur; and by well-ordered and regulated systems we should provide that all that is needed is obtainable. South Australia, being in an isolated position

Mr Mathews - It is not more isolated than Victoria.

Mr MAKIN - It is further distant from the coal-fields.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Nevertheless, it did better than Victoria last month.

Mr MAKIN - I understand that Victoria has local supplies with which to supplement the coal imported from New South' Wales. It has been said that the Government control has, to some extent, hampered distribution. That is the statement of a Victorian coal merchant.

Mr Corser - He knows nothing about it.

Mr MAKIN - I do not subscribe to his views, but I give his opinion for the information of honorable members. He says -

If the Government control of the coal supply were abolished, and the owners and importers were given a free hand in fixing the price of fuel according to the supply and demand throughout Australia, the acute shortage of coal which is now being keenly felt in Victoria and other States depending on supplies from Newcastle would be eliminated within a few weeks.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Are you in favour of that?

Mr MAKIN - No ; I am merely showing that the excuses given for the present shortage of coal are unsatisfactory. The Government should help us out of this difficulty. If it has coal at grass at Newcastle, we should be told of it. If shipping is waiting for cargoes of coal, I want to know why this reserve coal is not used, seeing that coal is essential to keep our industries going, and to employ our people, and there is now so great a shortage of it, especially in the State of South Australia.

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