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Wednesday, 9 March 1932

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I regret that it is necessary to detain honorable members at this late hour, but the problem of unemployment is of such urgent importance that it is essential that we shall discuss it. The Prime Minister indicated to-day during question time that he would answer no further questions on the subject. That being so, honorable members are forced to take the opportunity which the adjournment motion provides to bring the matter more definitely under the notice of the Government. Everybody knows that during the recent election campaign the United Australia party placarded New South "Wales with a statement that if they were returned to power, unemployment would be relieved immediately, and prosperity restored in the country; but so far as I can see not one extra job has. been provided for the unemployed since this Government assumed office. As a matter of fact, all the attention of the Government has been devoted to an effort to crush the Lang Government of New South "Wales. The electorate of Hunter has passed through a more serious time in consequence of unemployment than possibly any other electorate in the Commonwealth, for the mining industry was the first to feel the effects of the depression. There are men in my constituency who have not worked for five years. Where 14,000 men were engaged in coalmining in my electorate before the depression, only 8,000 are now so engaged; and where the 14,000 were working eight days a fortnight, the 8,000 are now work ing only four days a fortnight. If the Government would do something to stimulate secondary industries, a demand would be created for coal and other primary products, and a degree of prosperity would result which would benefit, not only northern New South Wales, but the whole Commonwealth. The Government of South Africa has provided a bounty of 9s. per ton on export coal. Surely this Government could do something to encourage the coal-owners to try to recapture the export coal trade which has been lost. Our export coal trade has fallen away since 1925-26 by 2,720,631 tons. Where, in previous years, the port of Newcastle was exporting coal to 35 different countries, it is now supplying the wants of only 24 countries overseas. The mine in which I used to work had an average output of 3,000 tons a day. That has fallen to 1,000 tons daily, and many other mines are similarly situated. The opportunity presents itself to the Government to assist the industry by granting a bounty on export coal. The Scullin Government imposed a primage duty upon coal, to discourage steamers which traded in Australian waters from taking in sufficient coal overseas - particularly from Germany and South Africa - to do the round trip. Unfortunately, that has not had the desired effect. I suggest that a prohibitive duty should be placed upon coal that is burned in Australian waters by such vessels.

Mr Thorby - That would increase freights.

Mr JAMES - The honorable member must blame the Government which he supports for increasing freights, as it disposed of the line of steamers that brought about a reduction in freight rates which benefited the primary producers whom he represents. The bunker coal trade of Newcastle alone has declined in recent years to the extent of 49,000 tons per annum. If the Government adopted my suggestion, immediate relief would be given to a number of unemployed, with resultant benefit throughout Australia. I speak not for propaganda purposes, but in all sincerity, in a desire to better the conditions of these unfortunate people. I cannot make out why the miners of Wonthaggi do not insist that the right honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) should cause his Government to take action to improve the coal trade. Unless the Government gives prompt effect to the promises that were made by its supporters on the hustings the existing discontent in Australia will attain greater proportions than honorable members opposite imagine.

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