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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) .- Every one deplores the shortage of coal supplies in Victoria and other States, but as the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has pointed out, there has been an improvement in the output from Newcastle. I believe that owing to the rush of foreign shipping to Newcastle to meet the coal starvation all over the world to-day, one or two of our steamers have returned from that port with empty holds; but that is not the normal position.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Even in pre-war times it was quite common for vessels to remain at Newcastle for two or three weeks to load coal.

Mr WATKINS - Yes, and that is not exceptional in any port of the world when a rush occurs. In normal conditions the mines and the loading facilities at Newcastle ought to be able to cope with the increased demand for coal in Australia, and keep up with the foreign trade as it existed before the war. The Commonwealth Government have 750,000 tons of coal in heaps at Newcastle.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - The Commonwealth Government have not 500,000 tons of coal there.

Mr WATKINS - Mr. Foxhas stated that there are 750,000 tons of coal stacked at Newcastle, but some of it may belong to the State Governments. However, it is all in heaps, and men are being paid to look after it and prevent it from catching fire.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Not more than a third of it belongs to the Commonwealth Government.

Mr WATKINS - Coal so stacked must deteriorate. ' The Government ought to borrow loading appliances which the New South Wales Railway Commissioners have available, and load the 100,000 tons of coal which are stacked on the dyke at Newcastle into vessels. In this way they could supply the immediate requirements of the other States, and prevent any ships leaving the port empty. The Treasurer must realize how useless it is to keep these stocks which the Government have purchased as a deterrent against future industrial trouble. They would, have no more chance' of getting men to work them if trouble did occur than they would of getting them to go into the mines. I know that two handlings would be required for the coal which is stacked on the Sulphide Corporation's property and elsewhere, in order to pick it up and transfer it to the ships' sides in waggons, but the coal stacked on the dyke could be loaded direct into vessels by means of grabs almost as rapidly as it could be discharged out of waggons into a ship's hold. If boats are blocked from getting to the cranes at Newcastle they could easily br filled, from these dumps. Therefore, it is useless to cry out about a shortage of coal in the southern States when these huge stacks of coal are lying untouched at Newcastle. The situation could be relieved in the way I have indicated.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - What about increasing the production, which was 350,000 tons less last year than in the year before ? Would not' that be a better way of meeting the difficulty ?

Mr WATKINS - The shortage of production has not been the fault of the miners, but has 'been, due to other troubles. The output of the mines to-day on any one day is greater, than it has ever been at any previous time in the history of Australian coal mining. It has not been the fault of the men that we have not reached the limit attained in pre-war days. Many of the mines were idle during the war, and they are only now being put into commission. These were the mines which undertook the export trade. A few shiploads of Newcastle coal may have gone in a new direction, but the bulk of our exports have been designed to regain the markets that we held before the war. As to the statement that coal has been exported to Honolulu, or to some of the western ports of America, I would remind the House that Newcastle has always held that trade. Should it not be allowed to regain it? During the war, because of the loss of this export trade, some of our mines did not work at all, while, .for the same reason, others were closed down for months. Surely those who suffered in this way during the war should be allowed an opportunity to regain the old trade. It is a curious fact that, while the Australian market seems to call for one class of coal, the whole of our foreign trade demands the Newcastle Borehole steam coal. That is a heavier coal, and will stand the fiercest draught better than any other, whilst it is also said to have more by-products. The one course which the Government should take is to lift the coal now on the dyke. If they did that, and at the same time secured increased shipping facilities, the position would be relieved, pending the re-establishment of the coal mining industry on its pre-war footing.

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