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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Mr JAMES (Hunter) (1:40 AM) .The honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson), who spoke about mining, was taken by me with one of his colleagues in the Opposition to inspect two of the most modern mines in the northern coal-fields. They saw mining at its best. The mechanization of those two mines was even a revelation to me. It has occurred since I left mining fourteen years ago to become a member of Parliament. No doubt, the honorable member was impressed by what he saw, but I remind him that he saw only the mechanized section and did not go to the limits of either mine. He was quite entitled to say that the conditions and surroundings of the men at those two mines were good. But nobody can claim to be able to talk about mining after having spent only one day on a mine-field. It would take at least a fortnight of experience to qualify any one to discuss the industry. However, I am pleased that the honorable gentlemen accepted my invitation to go there. I only wish that some of my party colleagues would do the same. They would then gain some knowledge of the difficulties of the coal-mining industry - difficulties which beset, not only the miners, but also the owners. If all honorable members were acquainted with, instead of being ignorant of, the conditions in the coalmining industry we could, perhaps, do something to rehabilitate it, and, thereby ensure its playing an even greater part than it does in the war effort. I have become sick and- tired of telling honorable gentlemen about the conditions in the coal-mining industry and about how the miners have risen above their difficulties to assist the nation towards victory. The enemy is seeking to cut our shipping lanes in order to prevent us from obtaining oil and petroleum from abroad. For fourteen years I have spoken on this question. The party to which I belong, and the other party away back in 1934, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons, promised, if returned to power, to put the industry upon such a basis that it would bc more useful than it is to-day. Nothing, however, has been done. I have quoted figures showing what other countries have done, and do not want to repeat them to-night, but they show definitely that in those countries the production of oil from coal and shale is not considered from the point of view of whether or not it is an economic proposition. It is undertaken as part of the defence system of the country. Unfortunately, the British Empire to-day has no oil supplies of its own. On many occasions I have put before the House figures showing that the Imperial Government could supply its Navy and Air Force with necessary fuel from this source. I warned various governments as far back as 1932 that if war came, and we could boast of an air force and mechanized units, which must have oil to propel the machines, the cutting off of our oil supplies would be a tragedy. All that has been done has been to develop to some degree the production of power alcohol, simply to appease the rural section of the community. It has been proved that the production of oil from coal is a more economic proposition than the production of oil from shale, due mainly to' the fact that the initial cost of producing coal is much less than that of shale. From the mining point of view, shale has a very low seam, only 2 ft. to 2ft. 6 in. high in the deposits at Newnes, necessitating overhead costs of brushing, which is the technical term used for blowing down tho hard strata from above in order that men and horses may bo able to go in to work. Goal has a seam from 20 ft. to 30 ft. high and bias an oil content at least 70 per cent, of that of shale, but the mining cost of shale is 200 per cent, higher than that of coal. I become sick 'and tired of talking on this subject, but the fact remains that we are now in the midst of a war which I predicted as far back as 1929. In all that time nothing bias been done to improve our oil supply from this source, despite the fact that all political parties have promised the electors to do something. The then light honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) when Prime Minister told me that it was not an economic proposition. My reply was, " Is the building of a battleship an economic proposition?" Is the building of a bomber, or of any of the other hellish instruments of death an economic proposition? We have machines, but if sea traffic is interrupted we shall not have the necessary fuel to propel them.

I see that £60,000 has already been spent on the Goal Board. It Ls hard for any one who understands mining to make up his mind whether that expenditure has been justified or not. I cannot see what useful purpose has been served so far. All I can find is reports submitted to this and the previous Government regarding strikes that took place, without any explanation of the cause. I say without hesitation and without egotism that from the moment the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) at his last conference took the miners' representatives and myself into his confidence so far as the real danger to this country was concerned, I busied myself in visiting the various districts in New South Wales to tell the miners the facts. I went to my own northern district first, and there had a heart-to-heart talk with them. I went next to the western district, and then to the southern district.

From the day on which the miners were told the truth about the danger facing them, I am proud to say that they have responded to a wonderful degree, and the stoppages in the coal industry to-day are the lowest on record.

I wish to make a few comments on air raid precautions work, which comes under the control of the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini). A sum of £3,000,000 is provided for this purpose on the Estimates for the current year, and £756,505 was expended last year. Its administration, however, has been handed over to the States, and the Minister is only a rubber stamp in their hands.

Mr Lazzarini - That is nonsense.

Mr JAMES - The Minister has nothing whatever to do with the control of lighting. Conditions in the city of Newcastle, the most important in the Commonwealth so far as war production is concerned, are tragic. When 60 or 70 miles away from Newcastle in an aeroplane, one can see a glare of light. Fifteen miles away from the city, out on the highlands, one cannot help wondering how such a thing could be allowed to happen. If ever a city invited night attack, Newcastle does. I have protested to the Minister and to the City Council, but the control has been handed to the States, which, in their turn, have handed it to the local governing authorities, each one of which has its own system of lighting. The lighting is far too bright at another important place further south, where munitions are made in large quantities and sent north to the Australian and allied forces.

Mr Blackburn - What lights is the honorable member referring to now?

Mr JAMES - I am referring to certain railway assembling yards in Victoria and Newcastle.

Mr Rosevear - What about the shunters who work in them?

Mr JAMES - No doubt a certain amount of risk would be run by them if they had no lighting system at all, but at least the lights could be dimmed much more than they are. Travelling through the northern district I see in one place lighting quite different from that in another. There is no uniformity whatever. If we hand these matters over to the States, we can expect nothing else, because each local authority pleases itself. The Minister should assert himself. I know he has the courage to do so, but it was the Government that made the mistake in handing air raid precautions work over for the States to administer. Although the Department of Labour and National Service may have its ministerial head in Canberra, the State services control it. Likewise, the State services control the Minister for Home Security. He is only a figure head, a rubber stamp like "Ned" Ward. I always give credit where credit is due. but I am impelled to criticize the delay in increasing our munitions output, particularly from new factories under Government control. There has been a speeding up in annexes attached to private establishments, because that will be of benefit to the private owners after the war. When a previous government proposed to establish- these annexes, I, with the support of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan), proposed that the Commonwealth should acquire the sites instead of building the annexes on private property. I was told that when the war ended the Commonwealth could take over the annexes. But buildings of reinforced concrete would be of very little value to the Commonwealth when they were pulled down for removal. They would be an encumbrance rather than an asset, as they would have been had they been built on Commonwealth property. Unfortunately, my proposal was defeated. I must pay a tribute to the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) in connexion with the establishment of munitions factories. After he had visited the coal-fields when he was Prime Minister a.nd had seen the distress there, he promised me that he would do something for those areas, and he honoured his promise- by having the Rutherford munitions factory erected. The trouble is that that establishment is not yet in production. It ought to be because, despite what has been said about manpower shortage?, there are plenty of men outside the military age groups, and thousands of women who could work in it. I have suggested, without success, that some of these people be taken to Sydney to be trained as munitions workers. The present Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) has visited the factory, and we hope that as a result, production will begin in December at the latest. These delays are tragic. I do not blame the present Government for them, because it has tried to stimulate production as much as possible. I am sick and tired of Ministers " passing the buck " from one to the other whenever complaints are lodged. I wrote to the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) complaining that labourers, who were employed in the coal-mining industry but who were forced out of it in the years between 1929 and 1939, are not now permitted to return to the mines. He informed me that the matter was the responsibility of the Minister for the Army. I wrote to the Minister for the Army, who referred me to the Minister, for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward). Finally, I wrote to the Prime Minister, who told me that my complaint should be directed to the manpower authorities. Thus the matter has gone around the departments, and I am still chasing my tail. But I know that the decision to prevent these men from returning to the mines was made by the War Cabinet- Since the accession to power of a Labour Government in New South Wales, a law has been passed providing for the compulsory retirement of miners at the age of 60 years. Many miners do not want to retire at that age. because they are still physically fit and wish to earn as much as possible while their sons are fighting in the armed forces. This law is having a bad effect upon production in the coal-mining industry, and there is likely to be an acute shortage of skilled miners in the near future. Many soldiers who have served overseas with the Army and have returned to Australia want to go back to the mines, but the Department of the Army, which is the toughest of all the Commonwealth departments will not release them.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member's time has expired.

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