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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr JOHNSON - Enlistments from the Australian Workers Union totalled 45,000, and every one of those men was kept financial with his union during his absence. The speech of the honorable member for Bendigo was characteristic of the speeches from the Opposition benches. After doing their utmost to discredit the Labour Government by throwing mud, honorable members opposite made an appeal for unity. The only subject on which Opposition speakers have been unanimous is that the basic wage-earner is not taxed -sufficiently. They have referred to the colossal increase of wages paid in 194.1-42 compared with other years. I remind them that, prior to the speeding up of Australia's war effort, 33 per cent, of the population of Australia was unemployed as the result of maladministration by previous non-Labour governments which have held office in Australia for 25 years. When discussing the previous Government's budget proposals last year, I said that the worker on the basic wage was already taxed to the utmost of his ability to pay.

If he has been given some relief it is because an exhaustive examination has shown the need for it.

When matters affecting the defence of Australia have been raised I have generally remained silent because I have been reluctant to mention publicly the true state of Australia's defence. To-night I am impelled by the arguments of the Opposition to say that until a Labour government came into office there was no defence of Western Australia. Before leaving 'Canberra in July last for Western Australia, I asked the permission of my party to be absent from the next sittings so that I could visit the north-western portion of that State, which had already been attacked by the enemy. When I told the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Fadden) of my intention he said that hi3 party would grant me a pair during my absence. However, when I reached Western Australia and discussed my proposed trip to the northwest with Major-General Plant, who was in charge of the defences of that State, I was astonished to hear him say that it was no use for me to go there, as instructions had been received to abandon all the north-west of the continent.


Mr JOHNSON - In July last. From my discussion with Major-General Plant I learned that the whole of the northwest was to be abandoned. When I inquired what area was included in the territory to be abandoned the General said that the most northern defence line would be More River, which is 65 miles north of Perth as the crow flies. When I asked whether that meant the whole of the north-west of the State, which includes Geraldton, with its valuable harbour, and Mullewa, with its important railway station, as well as all the rich midlands, he replied, " That is the position. With the forces and equipment at my command there is no alternative." It was then that I advised the Government of the position in Western Australia.

Mr Baker - The position in North Queensland was just as bad.

Mr JOHNSON - The Curtin Government has proved itself capable of organizing the defence forces of this country. Every port in Western Australia is now defended. That is the position in the other States also. In the light of the facts, Oppositionmembers should not condemn the Government for party political purposes, especially when the country is fighting with its back to the wall.

Although the budget may appear to be harsh in some respects, it is only what can be expected in existing circumstances. I am confident that it will be accepted by the people of Australia generally. As so many financial experts have dealt with its financial aspects, I shall take this opportunity to refer to some matters of paramount importance to Western Australia. The less populous States, particularly Western Australia, were justified in being dissatisfied with their shabby treatment by previous governments in connexion with the establishment of war industries. Therefore I am pleased that much of that leeway has been made up since the present administration took charge. My experience is that that is also the view of the majority of the people of Western Australia. However, much still remains to be done to remedy the disabilities from which Western Australia is suffering. Last year, the then Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) appointed the Western Australian War Industries Committee to survey the economic position of that State " as affected by and in relation to Australian war problems and the war effort ". The present Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) was a member of that body, which made many important recommendations. I direct attention to paragraphs 147-9 of its report -

Western Australia possesses several proved deposits of high grade ore, the two most important being Yampi and Koolyanobbing. Deposits of lime and lime sands are available in the south-west. Absence of a coking coal is the main reason for failure to treat the iron ore commercially in Western Australia. Since, however, both the Yampi and the Koolyanobbing iron ore are particularly rich, and extensive hardwood forests suitable for the large scale production of charcoal and by-product wood distillation exist in close proximity to ports in the south-west, it has been advanced strongly by several expert engineering witnesses that there are good prospects for iron ore smelting in Western Australia as a thoroughly sound economic undertaking. Expert engineering witnesses maintained that the use in the blast furnace process of charcoal from Western Australian hardwoods would yield very pure iron suitable for the produc tion of tin pl ate and special alloy steels. Alternatively, either charcoal from hardwood, or Collie coal (after grinding and the removal of impurities by flotation), would be suitable for ore smelting by the new Duffield process which involves the smelting, in a specially constructed cupola, or briquettes of iron ore mixed with finely ground charcoal or coal bonded with hydrated lime. The production of charcoal iron in blast furnaces is uneconomic only when the charcoal is weak, costly to produce, and available in such small quantities as to make large scale production difficult. In general, the production in Sweden, Russia and other countries of fine charcoal iron, which commands a considerable premium in the world's markets, is not in substantial quantity because of the relative sparseness of softwood forests and of the incapacity of softwood charcoal to bear a sufficient burden to permit very large blast furnaces. No country has been able to try smelting iron with hardwood charcoal for lack of the appropriate timber supplies. There is no lack of supply in Western Australia, and crushing tests show that the hardwood charcoal produced in the State is strong enough to be satisfactory in the largest blast furnace.

Charcoal iron is at a premium because it is free from sulphur and phosphorus, and is consequently an excellent material for further manufacture. The economics of its production hinge on the cost of the fuel. Production of charcoal for blast furnaces must be on a large scale. It is futile to attempt to make it with small burnings in forest kilns. Its production must be undertaken as an engineering process. Mr. F. Mills, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Western Australian Railways, expressed his conviction that if the reduction of hardwoods to charcoal in Western Australia were done, as a large scale engineering undertaking, the charcoal could be made available for " what seems to be an absurdly low price ".

Ores at Yampi are very rich and easily mined, but the need for sea transport makes some ship-building programme an essential accompaniment of their exploitation during the war. Good ore is also available in large quantities at Koolyanobbing near Southern Cross, and requires only rail transport. It was urged by witnesses that the availability of the Koolyanobbing deposits justifies the immediate first steps in the development of the iron industry in Western Australia.

Sir George Bell - Was that report laid upon the table of the House ?


Sir George Bell - I should like to know why the report of the committee that inquired into Tasmanian war industries has not been laid upon the table.

Mr JOHNSON - Giving evidence before the Western Australian War Industries Committee, the Honorable R. A. G. Hawke, who is Minister for Industrial Development in the Government of "Western Australia, Mr. R. "W. Sawyer, the representative of the Chamber of Manufactures, and Mr. Ellis, the Commissioner of Railways, emphasized two important matters: First, that competition in the local market by eastern States manufacturers was largely responsible for the failures of "Western Australian secondary industries generally to progress; and, secondly, the difficulty of obtaining supplies of raw materials required by local industries. According to my information, the position has not improved. Whilst Western Australian factories are not working at full capacity, completed articles are arriving from the eastern States. This position should be remedied immediately. If transport can be provided for the finished article, it should be available for the raw material. Paragraph 159 of the report contains the following sentence : -

We are. however, satisfied that there is every warrant for the sum nf £30,000 being made available by the Commonwealth for the thorough testing of recommended processes of local raw materials.

I urge the Government to give effect to that recommendation. I also direct attention to the necessity for developing the Irwin coal seam. The State government, has attempted to exploit it, without assistance from the Commonwealth Government. The coal deposits are situated between Mingene and Mullewa, and are adjacent to the port of Geraldton. At the present time, these centres draw their coal from Collie, which is approximately 500 miles distant. Some quarters suggest that Irwin coal is inferior to the Collie coal, because of its high ash content and low fixed carbon; but such meagre attention has been devoted to the development of this highly promising field, that many people are suspicious that influences are at work to prevent a thorough investigation of its potentialities. In view of the shortage of coal supplies in Western Australia, the Commonwealth Government should co-operate with the State Government for the purpose of testing the Irwin coal seam.

Whilst I fully appreciate the difficulties confronting the Government in overcoming the problem of transport, I doubt whether the best use is being made of existing facilities. For example, the port of Esperance, which is the natural outlet for the Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie gold-fields, now lies idle and deserted. All goods consigned to the gold-fields are either sent by rail from Fremantle, a distance of 400 miles, or are hauled from the eastern States by the East- West railway. At present the port of Fremantle is congested, and unloading operations are unavoidably delayed. Unloading costs are doubled because of the lack of facilities to cope with the quantity of shipping in the harbour. Esperance is provided with suitable facilities, including rail transport, and goods consigned to the gold-fields should be despatched through this centre in order to relieve the congestion at Fremantle, and on the EastWest railway. I realize that the extensive use of Esperance would involve the re-direction of convoys arriving in Australia, but the geographical position of the port would minimize the problem.

The strain that is now imposed upon the East-West railway could be relieved substantially by the extension of the 4-ft. 8£-in. gauge from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. This work has been advocated for years. I have personally made repeated representations to various governments to undertake it. If the line were built, New South Wales rollingstock could travel to Kalgoorlie and the cost of the work, compared with the expenditure on the war, would not be very great

I urge the Government to explore every possibility to relieve the appalling shortage of superphosphate supplies. To-day, in reply to a question that I addressed to the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) I received the following encouraging answer: -

It is the Government's desire to see that imported sulphur used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid is displaced as quickly as possible by using available resources of sulphide minerals in Western Australia and the Western Australian Mines Department, in association with the Controller of Minerals Production, is doing all it can to accelerate this. substitution. In particular, two possible sources of supply are being investigated, namely, the Iron King Mine at Norseman, and the Great Victorian Mine at Burbidge.

The manager of the Great Victorian mine deserves to be complimented for his efforts to develop this supply. Investigations that have already been completed by the chief metallurgist of the mining laboratory at Kalgoorlie disclosed that the Burbidge proposition fulfils all the requirements for the manufacturers of fertilizers, "whilst the development of this ore body would provide supplies of sulphur for the State, and might develop one of the biggest low-grade gold shows in "Western Australia. "For many years, this State has depended entirely upon imported sulphur for the manufacture pf sulphuric acid. However, the State contains several massive deposits of sulphide ore which may prove to be suitable for roasting for the production of sulphuric acid. It is gratifying to leant from the Minister that efforts are already being made to develop the deposits at Burbidge, and the Iron King mine at Norseman.

I note with satisfaction that the gold- mining industry has been given some consideration in the budget. Following the introduction of the uniform income tax legislation, mining profits and dividends from income will be exempt. This concession will be appreciated by the industry. The abolition of the State tax will relieve the industry of the obligation to pay £400,000 annually. The goldmining industry has earned this consideration because for years it has borne a heavy burden of taxation and has made substantial contributions to the war effort. To-day, every gold-mine operating in Western Australia is working on a nonprofit basis, because of lack of manpower. Many mines have already closed down. In addition, all other businesses in the mining districts have been affected. The Government agreed to appoint a committee representative of the Chamber of Mines, the State government and the unions concerned to deal with this problem in conjunction with the man-power authorities. Its main object was to regulate the withdrawal of men from the gold-mining industry in an endeavour to conserve the interest of each mine. On a recent visit to Kalgoorlie I called upon the secretaries of the Chamber of Mines and the Australian Workers Union who assured me that both the Army and the man-power authorities were co-operating with them in regulating the call-up of men from the industry. However, I am not completely satisfied with the way in which the man-power problem is being handled. The mining, pastoral and agricultural districts in Western Australia have been drained practically to the last man. I have yet to be convinced that this policy is being applied so severely in the big cities. I admit that a visitor to a city can very easily misjudge the position in this respect. As our war factories are working on a basis of three shifts a day, possibly many of the young men one sees in the cities are engaged in these factories. I suggest that men employed in war industries should be supplied with a special badge to indicate that they are £0 employed. [Quorum formed.] The man-power problem is most important. I urge the Government to appoint a parliamentary committee immediately to examine the national register with a view to regulating the military call-ups with more equity to the various primary industries. A very unfavorable reaction would be caused among the people should the idea get abroad that men of military age are being employed in non-essential industries, whilst vital industries are short of man-power.

Whilst beer production has been reduced by 33 per cent, no provision has been made to compensate tenant publicans for the loss thereby caused to them. Their earning capacity has been reduced by one-third practically overnight. Most of the hotels in Western Australia, as is the case, I understand, in most of the States, are owned by the breweries, which leases them to tenant publicans. The latter pay a weekly rent, but on taking over hotels they are obliged to pay substantial deposits. As the profits of these publicans have been reduced by 33 per cent., it is only reasonable to ask that they be protected in respect of their expenditure such as rent. It is all very well to say that they can obtain redress under the existing regulations. The fact remains that any individual who bumps up against the brewery monopoly will not remain in the trade for very long. I urge the Treasurer to give consideration to this aspect of beer rationing.

All honorable members will be pleased to know that arrangements are being made for the establishment of a mortgage bank. I ask the Government to ensure that this bank shall provide long-term loans at low rates of interest to primary producers, and give sympathetic treatment to the just claims of clients. I do not suggest that the bank be run on the lines of a benevolent institution. However, the primary producer often finds himself in financial straits owing to causes over which he has no control. For instance, the pastoral industry in Western Australia has had a six years drought, which reduced the number of sheep in the State by over 50 per cent., and left nothing but " scorched earth " in many areas. That drought ruined many pastoralists, who were not in a strong position financially, and were unable to obtain help from any institution to tide them over the crisis. If a disaster of similar magnitude, such as a flood or fire, occurred overnight, the industry would receive sympathetic consideration from this Parliament. When primary producers suffer severely as the result of conditions over which they have no control, the mortgage bank should extend sympathetic consideration to all reasonable applications.

I have no doubt that the Minister for Commerce (Mr. Scully) will give favorable consideration to my request that a wool appraisement centre be established at Geraldton. Geraldton is the port for a district which produces 90,000 bales of wool annually. T ask the Minister to give my request immediate consideration, because shearing has already started in the district.

I have already made representations to the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to guarantee compensation to members of the Volunteer Defence Corps in country districts in Western Australia in respect of accidents occurring on their way to and from their training areas, and while they are engaged in training operations. These bodies function in many farming communities. They are thoroughly organized. In order to keep expenses to a minimum, and to conserve petrol and reduce wear and tear on vehicles, the men have been drafted into parties of from 20 to 25. Each farmer takes his turn to pick up the whole company on his truck and drive the men to the training area. These farmers have told me that unless the Government guaran- tees compensation in case of accident while they are engaged in training, or on their way to or from the training area, they will disband. A public meeting of members of the Volunteer Defence Corps held in my electorate a few weeks ago unanimously resolved to request the Government for the protection I have mentioned. These men travel considerable distances to and from the training areas, and most of the journeys are made in vehicles nearly twenty years old. Each man can ill-afford the time he now devotes to military training.

I make no apology for having spoken at this late hour, because the Opposition delayed the proceedings by twice moving the adjournment of the House for the purpose of futile propaganda discussions. Honorable members in these grave times should do nothing which will not assist the Government to carry out its task. I hope that before a year has elapsed the circumstances will be much more favorable to the people than they now are.

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