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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) . - It is rather a peculiar circumstance that immediately following the best monthly output we have had for some years the shortage of coal should suddenly become accentuated in the House. One would have thought that after such a month as July people would be glad to say, " Well done ! We are grateful for the improvement already effected in the output; go ahead and do better." But, strange to say, after the best monthly output for years, the position appears to be more acute than ever before. In regard to South Australia, that State does not appear to be in very great difficulties. Out of 200,000 tons made available for the Inter-State trade last month, South Australia has received 60,000 tons. Of course, on the principle that the more one gets the harder one growls, South Australian members are entitled to move the adjournment of the House on the coal question, but that really is not the State which should insist on dragging the coal question before the House, at any rate, at present, in view of the fact that it of all States fared best last month. The 'distribution of coal in July was - Victoria, 85,000 tons; South Australia, 60,000 tons; Western Australia, 14,000 tons; Queensland, 10,000 tons; and Tasmania, 9,000 tons; total, 200,000 tons.

Mr Makin - South Australia only received 60 per cent, of its normal requirements.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am under the impression that 60,000 tons is as much as South Australia can use in any one month. The trouble is that when stocks are reduced to a minimum it is very difficult to distribute evenly all through the industrial life of the country the little coal that is available. Some industries do not get the quantity required to keep them going, whilst other industries may be getting as ' much as they require; but, because there is not enough for all, trouble arises. The difficulty can only be overcome by building up stocks of coal. Every industry must have certain reserves so that when these temporary dislocations occur they can tide themselves over until the processes of distribution are again equalized. The problem is to get a greater quantity of coal circulated throughout Australia, and in this connexion I may mention that last month's distribution was one of the best we have had. In July, 1913, the quantity circulated was 254,000 tons; in July,- 1914, it was 200,000 tons; and last month it was also 200,000 tons, as much as was distributed in July, 1914. Therefore, the position is rapidly becoming better, and will still improve, I believe, if we can prevent these dislocations of the industry which take place from time to time in consequence of one thing and another. However, all this trouble dates back to the influenza outbreak, which laid up shipping for three months, and to the two shipping strikes, which occupied three months each, and prevented accumulations of coal being made. As a matter of fact we shall never get ahead in our requirements until we have a little peace in the land, and every effort is directed towards improving the position as it arises from day to day.

The Government propose to appoint a Coal Administrator in the Newcastle district. He will probably be located in Sydney, but he will have full control of the transportations of coal from the pit's mouth, and will issue permits for berthing at the wharfs. In this way we hope to be able to turn into the Inter.State channels nearly all the coal which is won in the Maitland district, leaving some of the other kinds of coal to be used for the foreign trade. All of the States have a distinct preference for Maitland coal.

Mr Fleming - So has the export trade.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - But if we are obliged to make a choice it is only fair that we should keep the best for ourselves.

Mr Fleming - And lose the export trade?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I do not think that will happen. Some of the other coal we produce is as good as any overseas coal. In fact, as any of our coal is of better quality than the best in Japan and elsewhere, our overseas customers cannot complain if we are still able to supply them with a fuel which is equal to their best. There is no reason why we should divert that trade which, in some cases, our own States really do not want, to the detriment of the export trade; but we believe that by the arrangement we are making we shall be able to limit the export trade to dimensions that will permit of the building up of InterState stocks. Now that we have got down to bedrock we hope that, while not destroying our export trade, we may at the same time build up our stocks of coal here. That is the fundamental trouble, but it comes back to the general question of the lack of shipping, and the lack of production. In the Newcastle district last year the production was 350,000 tons less than it was in the year before.

Mr Gabb - Another trouble is the fact of the European market opening. '

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The European market is opening, and in healthy conditions our coal trade ought to be able to supply the foreign markets in abundance, as well as our own.

Mr Richard Foster - Will you give us the boats? That is the whole difficulty.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I am told that the shipping position is easing a little, and I believe that if we can only continue for a month or two as we are now doing the trouble will rapidly cure itself. It is bound to break out sporadically, because the systematization of the trade is not as perfect as it ought to be; but the Government believe that the new Administrator will be able to obviate vessels hanging about and not being able to coal. Soon there ought to be enough coal for local requirements, and even some to spare. I agree that if we are obliged to dig into the stocks at grass for the purpose of keeping our industries going and our ships filled we ought to do it; but I do not know that we should do away with that storage altogether.

Mr Richard Foster - We could easily replace what we take away from the stacks.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - That could be done. However, I can assure honorable members that the position will ease very rapidly. We have been living from hand to mouth until we could get more shipping and greater production, and if the miners and owners will only act sensibly at the conference now proceeding, and agree to pull together to overcome the present difficulties, we ought very soon to be over them.

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