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Wednesday, 18 August 1920

Mr GABB (Angas) . - The Treasurer seems to question whether there is such a shortage of coal in South Australia as has been stated.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Indeed, I do not; I say that South Australia is now being treated better than any other State.

Mr GABB - The honorable gentleman also questioned whether South Australia can use 60,000 tons a month; but I inform the honorable gentleman that so serious is the position regarded by the Premier of that State that he approached Mr. John Gunn, the Leader of the Opposition, and asked him to use any weight he might have in order to improve it. When we find the Premier doing this we may be assured that the position is serious, for otherwise the tendency in politics is not for one side to approach the other.. That action of the Premier is one reason why this question has been raised here this afternoon. If South Australia received 60,000 tons last month, and is in such needy circumstances now, it. is only a proof that i-he had not previously received what was her due. At the present time there is a big market for Australian, coal opening in Europe, and our fear is that this may increase the shortage amongst ourselves. In the Industrial Australian and Mining Standard I read -

A report from our London office states: " The decision of the British Government to limit the export of coal to 1,750,000 tons per month has led to a surprising development in the European trade. As a result of the quests for supplies, it has actually been found possible for Australia to undercut Great Britain in the European market."

There is evidently a big opening for Australian coal in Europe, and an equally big temptation offered to the colliery owners of Australia. From what I know of the colliery owners, and commercial men generally, they will not consider the interests of their fellow-countrymen and their own States, but first will consider their own pockets; and we are perfectly justified in making the request we do this afternoon. Even if it is correct that about 10,000 tons are to be landed in South Australia in a. few days, it is information that we are glad to receive; but there are possibilities and probabilities of further trouble ahead unless the Government are prepared to step in and see that not only South Australia - for I am not speaking in a parochial spirit, of which we have far too much here - but Australia as a whole receives what coal we require. The Prime ^Minister (Mr. Hughes) the other day said in a letter to the Premier of South Australia, that it would " be a pity to interfere with the overseas trade in the circumstances." Granted; but it would be a greater pity to interfere with the efforts to build up industries in the Commonwealth. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), when speaking on the Tariff some time ago, told us that there was capita] waiting to come to Australia for investment, and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) quite lately made a similar statement, while other speakers opposite have expressed the opinion that industrial unrest in Australia discourages the investment of capital. But if the impression gets abroad that the manufacturers of Australia are in danger of being deprived of necessary coal, that also will have a deterrent effect upon the investment of capital; and great as may be the advantages of being able to send the raw coal from Australia, greater advantages will result from the establishment of industries here, and the export of the finished manufactures.

The honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming) expressed the hope that if there are stocks of coal here the Government will use them. I understand that there is fully 100,000 tons of coal at Newcastle, which could be used very quickly; but there is also 600,000 tons at grass at different places.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - But not belonging to us. I have the figures here if the honorable member would like to hear them.

Mr GABB - I also have figures. This afternoon I heard a Minister, whose name I shall not mention, interject that it is an "insurance" to keep the coal where it is ; and the Prime Minister, a fortnight or three weeks ago, said, in regard to the same coal, that it was necessary to keep it in case of strikes and so forth. It seems to me that the coal is being, kept to be used as a lever to force the hands of the coal-miners of Australia. If that be so, and the coal is being kept at the expense of the manufacturers and the workers of this country, I regard it as a very unwise step. The Government are asking tho people of Australia to " produce, produce, produce," but I do not see how the people can respond if coal is not made available. It sometimes seems to me that there must be a fair number of Free Traders in the present Government. If coal is to be permitted to go to alien peonies, while our own manufacturers are in dread of a famine, I can conceive none but believers in Free' Trade who would advocate or support such a procedure.

Debate interrupted under standing order 119.


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