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Thursday, 1 August 1946


Mr BREEN (Calare) .- I do not regard this bill as a cure for all the evils which afflict the. coal-mining industry. Rather do I regard its introduction as comparable to the action of a peace officer who takes action in regard to property, the ownership of which is in dispute. If such property is necessary for the community, the executive authority may be obliged to take possession of it until better relations can be arranged between the disputants. In this period of rapidly changing economy, the existing relations between mine owners and workers cannot, perhaps, be allowed to continue. It so happens that nature has placed the most of Australia's black coal in New South Wales. This has been unfortunate for Australia, because industry in other States has had to depend on coal which must be transported long distances. However, so rich are the New South Wales coal-measures that it has paid better to transport New South Wales coal long distances than to work lower-grade coal in other States.

The fact that all the coal hewn in the past was not needed in Australia left both owners and miners free to carry on their strife at their own sweet will, without interfering greatly with industry, or with the convenience of the public. During the periods of amicable relations, great reserves of coal could be established. Then, when owners and miners had their periodical brawls, the country was able to carry on by drawing on the reserves. However, during the recent war, and since, industry has developed so rapidly that there is now a tremendous demand for coal. If Australia develops during the next twenty years, as we hope it will, it is possible that the present coal resources of the country may not be sufficient to meet our requirements. Even now, New South Wales uses about 75 per cent, of all the coal won in that State, and the remaining 25 per cent, is not enough to meet the needs of industry in other States, which must attempt to develop their own fuel resources. The authorities in South Australia and Victoria are aware of this need, and are developing low-grade measures in a very successful way. When industry in New South Wales requires all the coal, that can be produced in that State, it will become the duty of the government of New South Wales to ensure that the rate of - production is ' maintained. It may be that it will then be found that the private control of coal-mining is no longer practicable, and New South Wales may have to make coal-getting a State responsibility, as has been done in Victoria and South Australia. In . my opinion, that time is already approaching. Because of the richness of the coal-measures in the Newcastle district and around Bulli, other seams in the State have been neglected. Other countries less lavishly endowed have for many years past experimented with the use of low-grade coal, and have developed successful methods of dealing with it. In New South Wales, the eyes have been picked out of the seams, and what is left must now be won at great cost. Mining companies in the Newcastle field, and along the South Coast, have pegged out leases with only enough dry land in which to sink a shaft, the rest of the leases being under the sea. Many of these leases. are still held by companies operating on the Maitland field. Under-water measures have been exploited to some extent along the Newcastle coast. In places, the Newcastle harbour has been undermined, as has also the Sydney harbour. Those who control the leases are not ignorant of how submarine coal-measures can be exploited. Expert evidence is to the effect that much of the coal in leases already worked can never be recovered. These measures which were prospected but not developed in the early days might "well be looked at again. The Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Government in conjunction might very well send experts, engineers and technicians to other countries, which have developed the underground gasification method of winning power and gas from coal measures without having to bring the solid fuel to the surface, in order to examine and report upon that process of utilizing our coal resources. It might seem fantastic to suggest that 50 or 60 miles of coal seams extending under the sea might be developed by the underground gasification method; but it- is indisputable that if the population of New South Wales grows to 15,000,000 or 20,000,000, the present productive capacity of the mines in that State will be completely inadequate. Some experiments in underground gasification were carried out in the old Balmain mine. I do not know whether the adoption of such a method would be an economic proposition at present, but if we ever reach the stage where a great deal more fuel has to be obtained, either for industrial gas or for the generating of electric power, some measures will have to be taken to exploit the coal beds that lie off the coast of New South Wales. Estimates by geologists, including the late Professor David, have been made as to the quantity of coal in the Newcastle-Bulli basin. Prom what data is available, we know that, taking Sydney as the pivot, the coal measures extend roughly 60 miles inland to the

Lithgow area and about 60 miles north and south. We can assume that the seaward lip of the basin extends under the Pacific Ocean. It is more than likely that one-half of the coal in the basin lies in the sea-bed in a line between Newcastle and Bulli. Estimates made by New South Wales government experts, together with information provided from data left by the late Professor David, which may be taken as factual, indicate that to be so. I suggest that money might profitably be expended in checking those estimates. I know from my own personal experience of the western district of New South Wales that large areas of coal-bearing country have merely been " specked ". " Money might well be expended in trying out the commercial possibilities of those projects. When they were first prospected there was no possibility of them competing with the better established mines in the Lithgow district, and consequently their working was discontinued. As one passes these old fields one sees evidence of the activities of former years. I believe that in the immediate future' those measures will have to be exploited in order to increase our total production. I have seen coal measures in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania that do not offer prospects of economic working nearly as great as many of the measures that have been abandoned in New South Wales. If the Governments of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania decide to exploit these poorer measures, there is no reason why the Commonwealth Government, in conjunction with the Government of New South Wales, should not exploit the comparatively poor jurassic measures in the western field. I have also seen the results of experiments in underground gasification made by the late Mr. Pell on the Wolgan Valley field. It was thought when those experiments were made that the time, was not propitious to continue that method. Mr. Fell's experiments offered some prospects of success. In the future it might be practicable for gas to be piped over long distances instead of winning the coal, bringing it to the surface and hauling it over long distances by road or rail to the electric power generating stations. When the accountants of the new Joint Control

Board are looking into the financial aspects of the industry they might consider the ear-marking of a definite sum of money for experiments along those lines.

I propose now to touch briefly on the continual warfare that has been waged between the two great industrial bodies that operate in the coal industry, namely, the miners' federation, and the coal-owners, a war which has been waged unceasingly and with varying violence during the whole of my life-time. Sometimes because of economic circumstances the mine-owners were in a position to force down the hewing rate paid to the miners and thus earn greater profits out of the industry. That has been* the case since World War I. and during the war just ended. Owing to the fact that a coal-miner cannot switch to other kinds of employment overnight the miners were not in a position to improve their lot. Thus they have always laboured under a grievance. They have always felt that they were fighting the owners under unfair conditions. When the coal-owners decided the time was ripe to discipline the miners they closed down the mines. Their bread and butter was secure whether they lost or won a dispute; they would still enjoy their motor car and their luxuries. The bread and butter of the miner was at stake all the time. He was under the impression that, too often, the mineowners were prepared to "have a go" at him and attack his standard of living and the security of his family. That is one of the things that has engendered such bitterness in disputes in the industry. I agree with the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) that a psychological obstacle has to be overcome before we can improve relations between the owners and the miners. 1 worked for a long time both in Bulli and on the northern coal-fields, and ' I know from my own experience that great bitterness is displayed in the continual strife between the mine-worker and the owner. Something will have to be done to destroy that sense of frustration that a miner feels when he knows that for him and his family there is nothing else but the coal industry, and that in every fight he has with the coal-owner he not only jeopardizes his prospects of prosperity but also risks bis ability to continue to provide for himself and his family. And the position is not improved by the knowledge that whether he wins or loses the owner will continue to enjoy his luxuries. I endorse the suggestion made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction that other industries must be established in association with the coal-mining industry, to act as a safety valve by providing avenues of employment for the miners' children who will not be able to get a living in the coal industry when the mines are fully mechanized. It is apparent that the mechanization of the mines must lessen the demand for manual labour, and possibly that also makes the miner feel bitter about the present industrial system. The Government is doing something, effective along those lines by the establishment of industries in the coal-mining areas. At Lithgow it has established the textile and other industries; in the Mudgee district, where there is a good mechanized pit, and where no trouble was experienced during the war years, the Government has also established industries which will offer employment to the children of those now working in the mines. . These moves tend to create' a happier atmosphere in mining towns and a more hopeful outlook for the future.

Despite the protests of honorable members opposite that this bill is similar to other legislative enactments which did not produce coal, I believe that it will create a much more favorable atmosphere in the mining industry than has existed in the past. The. miners will be satisfied if the outlook of the future is not so black. They realize that mechanization of the coal-mines i,= in the best interests of all concerned. No miner wants to see his son become a pick-and-shovel " artist ". In the past coal-mining was merely .an underground labourer's joh; in order to become a miner one merely needed capacity to stand up to intense hardship, to swallow a fair amount of dust, and to work in cramped conditions. In short a miner required more brawn than brains. No man in Australia wants to see his children unnecessarily bound to slavery of that - kind. Consequently, the miners have done their utmost, to give their children an education in keeping with the advancing conditions of our times. I know miners at Maitland who made great sacrifices to send their children to the Teachers College or the Technical College in order that they may make something better out of life than their parents have been able to do. Many of the mine managers are the sons of plain miners.

Sitting suspended from 11.-1/5 p.m. to 12.15 a.m. (Friday).







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