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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - Having listened to the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), one would think that South Australia was the only State suffering from a shortage of coal. As a matter of fact, South Australia is getting a greater proportion of its normal requirements than is Victoria.


Mr Richard Foster - Victoria has had two ship loads this week, and South Australia has had 6,000 tons.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Victoria received S5,000 tons last month, and South Australia 60,000 tons.

Mr MATHEWS - In proportion, Victoria should have reserved 160,000 tons.

Mr Richard Foster - But Victoria has its own brown coal.

Mr MATHEWS - The honorable member knows that every business makes provision for a supply of coal from somewhere. If its supply is ordered from Newcastle, and it does not come to hand, that business must go short; other coal will not suit. I have received to-day a letter from the Australian Glass Manufacturing Company stating that it has only two days' supply of coal. Is there any firm in a more acute position? If the fires go out, a month will be required to bring the whole establishment full operation again. The public do not understand the .situation; the press will not explain it to them, and Parliament evidently is unable to do so. We are assured that the output of coal from Newcastle and Maitland is greater than ever it was before.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not so. Last month, the output just equalled the pre-war output.

Mr MATHEWS - I am assured that July was a record month, and we know that there is more coal at gras3 than ever before. If there is a shortage in coal, what objection can there be to releasing some of the stocks lying at grass? Is it the intention of the Government to hold those reserves as an insurance against strikes? What will be the usa of doing that when shortage of coal in other portions of Australia will mean the closing down of many establishments? A strike could not have any worse effect. There is a belief in the community that the shortage of coal for Australian requirements is due to the large export trade. If that is not the case, and the real cause is the shortage of shipping, the Government should make that clear to the people. Until the position is explained to the public the impression that they are being made to suffer for the sake of the export trade will continue. Unless something is done to alleviate the present position, thousands of men will be thrown out of employment, and industrial conditions will become acute. What can we do ? In the absence of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) I refrain from saying something I might otherwise say in regard to the shipping. But I think it is quite possible that the Government might show a little more discretion in getting more shipping for Inter-State purposes. If, when they have obtained the extra shipping, they cannot get the coal from the mine, the Government will be free of blame. It will then be clear that the shortage is due to the fact that we are exporting coal which ought to be made available for local industries. There is a feeling abroad that foreign ships are taking away coal that ought to be diverted to the Inter-State trade. I know" that the ships which are taking the coal abroad do not belong to Australia, and that it would be an act of piracy to endeavour to compel them to carry for the local trade. Still, the matter should be explained, because the public are anxious to know why action is not being taken.

Mr Makin - Why should we give foreign ships coal to take to Honolulu ?

Mr MATHEWS - If our own ships have been refused coal whilst supplies have been made available for foreign ships to carry overseas we have a right to growl.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Hear, hear - if ! But if we have not ships to lift the coal for Inter-State purposes, and a foreign ship comes in for supplies, why should we refuse the foreign order ?

Mr Mahony - While the foreign ship" are occupying the berths Inter-State colliers are prevented from loading.

Mr MATHEWS -The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) admitted that that has occurred twice.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - For how long ?

Mr MATHEWS - I do not know, but such a thing ought not to be allowed to occur again. Will the Treasurer tell the House definitely that there is plenty of coal and berthage, but that the shortage of Inter-State supplies is due to the lack of ships to carry the coal ? If that is the position we ought to try to get more ships, but until the position is made plain to the public one cannot wonder at "receiving letters, such as have reached me, urging that the export trade should be' discontinued until local requirements are met. Whilst the local trade may have had to suffer in the past for the sake of the export trade, I do not think the Government would be so foolish as to allow that to take place to-day ; they would not show much acumen if they did. However, the fact confronts us that a shortage of coal exists, and it is lamentable to think that works employing 600 or 700 hands may have to close down, and remain out of operation for a month. So far as Victoria is concerned, particularly in my own constituency, the shortage of coal is such that thousands of men will be out of work unless arrangements are made by the Government to supply coal in greater quantities.

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