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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Sir ROBERT BEST (Kooyong) . - It is quite obvious that the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) is not impressed with the gravity of tie situation that confronts the industrial forces of this country. Our manufacturers have met and have stated definitely that unless they are supplied with coal it will be quite impossible for them to continue their industries. As the result of the shutting down of these industries, thousands of employees will be thrown out of work, and they and their families will be left to starve. Can such a state of affairs be viewed with equanimity, knowing as we do that enormous quantities of our coal are being exported to meet the coal shortage abroad, and really to enable foreign manufacturers to continue their operations? In other words, our own manufacturers are to be permitted to starve - their industries are to close down - in order that Australia may supply coal to manufacturers abroad, and so en* able foreigners to continue their work. My honorable friend (Mr. Fleming) must know that the case cited this afternoon by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) is but typical of many. The honorable member for

Melbourne Ports said that unless the glass bottle industry, inwhich hundreds of men are employed, was able to obtain a supply of coal within the next two days it would have to. shut down, and that if the furnaces were allowed to go out a further delay of a month would be involved in re-starting the industry; meantime the men engaged in it would remain out of work. Is that a state of affairs that we could look upon with equanimity?

Mr Watkins -Why not induce the Government to lift the coal on the dyke ?

Sir ROBERT BEST - Undoubtedly. It is a matter of increasing and regulating the output and utilizing, according to business methods, the coal available. I do not know whether the Government are fully seized with the gravity of the situation. The Victorian Railways Department announces that unless it can obtain further reserves of coal the railways must close down. Our various gas companies are also complaining of the rapidly decreasing reserves. Is it to be seriously contended that these public utilities shall be permitted to close down, with disastrous results to the general public, merely in order that the requirements of the foreigner may receive consideration? Is the Australian workman to be starved to enable the foreign workman to live? If there is any question as to whether Australian or foreign requirement's are to be supplied, then undoubtedly the preference must be given to Australia.

The evidence which has been given in regard to the coal shortage is most embarrassing. The conflict of testimony is surprising. One class of witness complains that there is a shortage of shipping, while another asserts that there is ample shipping available. Oneclass of witness declares that there has been a greater, and another that there hasbeen a. lower, output of coal than before the war. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) now tells us that Victoria received 85,000 tons of coal for the month of July - a greater tonnage than we secured in previous months. He therefore contends that the situation is easy, and that Victoria has no right to complain.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I did not say that it had' no right to complain.

Sir ROBERT BEST - Does my right honorable friend realize that owing to the shortage during previous months we had been brought to a state of desperation, and that the supply of85,000 tons during July, which was by no means equal to our requirements, has permitted our industries only to carry on, so to speak, from hand to mouth? The position is the same in South Australia, "Western Australia, and Tasmania. Yet the honorable member for Robertson complains that we, who see these disasters imminent, are taking steps to protect the industries of Australia before the foreigner is supplied.

Mr Fleming - At whose expense?

Sir ROBERT BEST - I hope not at the expense of the miners or the mineowners. There are ample supplies, I believe, available for both the local and export trade; and this is a matter for the most rigid regulation and urgent attention. I am glad to hear that a Comptroller is to be appointed ; and he must be definitely and firmly instructed that Australian requirements cannot be neglected. We are told that there is no available berthage for Inter-State shipping, because foreign shipping occupies the room ; but I submit that in this regard also Australia is entitled to preference. I would not suggest for a moment that we should ruthlessly interfere with the export trade.

Mr Fenton - But Australia first!

Sir ROBERT BEST - Undoubtedly, Australia first. I do not desire, nor is there any necessity for, injustice to be dome to the mining industry or the owners ; the interests of the employer and employed can be completely respected; but the position is so grave, with our industries and public utilities threatened, that we cannot regard it with equanimity. The immediate attention of the Government is called for to avert threatened disaster.

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