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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) . - The members of the Select Committee which is investigating the subject of sea-carriage, have for a long time been aware of the facts mentioned by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin).

Mr Lazzarini - Why have you kept them to yourselves?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Our latest investigation was conducted in Sydney, and it is not more than an hour and a-half since we returned from that city. The Committee got to work directly it was appointed, and within a fortnight persuaded the Government to transfer eleven of its oversea vessels to the InterState trade, with the result that the congestion which then existed in respect of general cargo was quickly ended, and relief was given in respect of coal supplies. Those eleven vessels are still being employed in the Inter-State trade, carrying general cargo and coal, but, unfortunately, the coal situation . is still very serious. Last week the Committee went to Sydney to investigate the matter, and, in view of the conflicting statements which have been published, I propose to put the real position before the House. I wish, first, to correct the impression that was created here last week by interjection, and is getting abroad throughout the country, and exciting unrest and dissatisfaction: that the coal-owners get more money for the coal that they sell for export than for that which they sell for use in Australia. The Committee were informed by representatives of the colliery proprietors that they receive exactly the same price for exported coal as for coal used locally.

Mr Makin - But we should have preference.

Mr Gabb - The export trade increased the price of coal.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I shall deal with both matters. The coal-owners do not get a penny more for coal sent abroad than they get for coal used in Australia.

Mr Mahony - What about the agents who buy from them?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - They cannot be responsible for what is done with the coal by those who purchase it from them. I am speaking in this matter not only as a member of the Sea Carriage Committee, but also as a representative of a State whose interests are in jeopardy because of the shortage of coal and its narrow coal reserves. Coalmining is a big national industry in New South Wales.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - It should be nationalized.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - That would make no difference in the present circumstances. This industry must be protected as far as possible. Years ago, Newcastle lost a large part of her export trade because of industrial troubles, and she now has an opportunity of regaining it.

Mr Mahony - Her export trade was lost, not by industrial troubles, but by the restriction of shipping during the war.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I am speaking of a period long anterior to the war. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who represents part of the Newcastle coal district, will not contradict what I have said. We ought not to interfere with the export trade in coal if we can avoid doing so, and it is possible that the Inter-State demands may be met and the export trade allowed to continue.

Mr Makin - We ought not to feed the export trade . at the expense of our own industries.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I do not suggest that that should be done. But the export trade should not be interfered with in the least unless under very serious circumstances.

Mr West - What about the coal that is at grass?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I shall come to that. Last month's output of the coal mines was equal to the pre-war standard; and in order to facilitate the supplying of the Inter-State market, it is now being arranged that the whole of the Maitland coal shall be devoted to the Australian trade, the Newcastle coal being left available for export. When all that isdone, the next step will be to find more shipping. I understand that the Select Committee on Sea Carriage is likely to recommend to the Government that more ships should be taken from the over-sea fleet for such time as may be necessary to overtake the shortage of coal for Inter-State purposes.

Mr Makin - Is full advantage being taken of the present freightage?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Yes. The honorable member spoke of ships having been held up and delayed at Newcastle. That occurred on only two occasions, because the foreign ships which bad come for coal were occupying the berths. What I believe the Select Committee will recommend is that, when the berths are fully occupied, the Government should agree to the reserves of coal being drawn upon, so that, if there is not ample space for all the shipping at the port, vessels may load from the dumps for the InterState trade. The Government know best whether they can allow the dumps to be touched; but I urge upon them that, in the interests of Australian industries and public utilities, they should allow as much coal as is necessary for the InterState requirements to be drawn from the reserves.

Mr Poynton - The reserves are a very good insurance.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I know theyare, but they can be replaced. The Inter-State demand for coal is likely to continue for some time,because there are no reserves in South Australia or Victoria. The supplies of public utilities are reduced to a minimum, and some of them have not more than enough coal for one week. The present demand may continue for . some weeks, and it is necessary that more shipping shall be provided. Whilst we do not wish to injure the coal export trade of New South Wales, we insist that it shall be subsidiary to Australian industries. I believe, however, that both Inter-State and overseas requirements can be met if the Government will adopt the suggestion I have made.

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