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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I welcome the opportunity to speak on this group of Estimates. Generally, 1 try to appease my constituents by asking a question, but I have b:en denied the right to do that for three days, despite the fact that some honorable members who asked questions yesterday were again called to-day. I could have said all I want to say in a question, but now I am compelled to make a long speech.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It will seem longer.

Mr JAMES - I get more publicity out of short, snappy questions than I do out of a speech. However, I want to speak on national development. I have spoken in this chamber for many years on this subject, and have suggested that we should do as other countries have done. I have been here for 29 years and have always advocated the establishment of plant for the extraction of oil from coal. Now, I am supported by a number of experts who have come to this country and have inspected coal mines in the northern districts of New South Wales. I mention, in passing, that practically all those mines are in my electorate. The experts are Professor D. W. Phillips, Professor R. Kiar, Dr. R. H. Buchanan and Dr. G. H. Roper. Their plan is to develop the coalfields on lines similar to those that have been followed in the Ruhr Valley.

I had the privilege of visiting the Ruhr Valley in December, 1955. I stayed there over the Christmas period and until January, 1956. I made a thorough search of the area. I did not go overseas to enjoy myself; I went to try to educate myself ami thereby bring new knowledge to this country. I did that, and I submitted a report on this question. I visited plants for the extraction of oil from coal in Britain, France, Holland and Germany. Some of the best coals for the extraction of oil products are at Greenwich, but I am indeed pleased to say that Australian coal, and the Greta series of coal, which is found in the electorate that I represent, contains the highest oil content of any coal in the world. Yet Germany and other countries which have coal with a smaller oil content are extracting sufficient oil to keep them going. In fact, Germany relied on petrol from coal to help it in the last part of World War II. Therefore, it is a tragedy that nothing has been done in Australia to produce oil from coal. Chemicals, as well as oil, can be extracted from coal.

The mining experts whom I have mentioned are the authors of a process to extract by-products from coal. Last week they submitted a plan to the New South Wales Government and to the Joint Coal

Board. I have mentioned their names and I do not want to repeat them, but I point 0 -It that one of them, Dr. Kiar, is a German. In a report that I submitted to the then Labour government, I said that a German expert should be invited to this country. The New South Wales Government has now brought a German expert, among others, to this country. They plan to develop the northern coal-fields of New South Wales on lines similar to those adopted in the Ruhr Valley in Germany. As I have said, I have been there and have made a report upon it. I visited the various plants and watched the processes for the extraction of oil from coal. The chemical side was beyond my ability to understand; nevertheless, 1 made inquiries and tried to understand it. I recommended the Fischer-Tropsch process. That is the latest process for the extraction of oil from coal. Other countries, apart from Germany, have adopted it.

The experts claim that the plant they recommend would employ 8,000 men. That is significant, because nearly 8,000 men have been cavilled out and mines been shut down. I know that fictitious figures have been given on this matter. I need only say that they are incorrect. Any one could go to the coal-fields where I go, and see for himself. In order to establish a plant for the extraction of oil from coal, and so employ those 8.000 men, the New South Wales Government and private companies each would have to subscribe £10,000. Not only oil but other constituent bodies could be extracted from coal. The State Government and 50 private companies would invest in this scheme. But what is the Commonwealth doing?

Mr Cope - Nothing.

Mr JAMES - The Commonwealth is doing nothing, and never has done anything. I have been asked before why the preceding Labour Government did not do something. The people should realize that during the nine years Labour was in office, this country was at war or was recovering from war. We had to concentrate everything on winning that war. The previous antiLabour Government left us helpless and defenceless when it resigned in 1941. Some of its supporters ratted upon it. Coles and Wilson ratted on it and voted John Curtin into power. That is perfectly true and cannot be denied.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - What about the coal strike in 1949?

Mr JAMES - Who settled that?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Labour settled it, but Labour stirred it up, too.

Mr JAMES - We settled it. The Minister for Labour and National Service has not the guts to do that. He would go out on - well, his pink ear. I was nearly going to use a vulgar expression, but every one knows what I mean.

The companies that have been approached have recognized the value of the proposition, and have considered it favorably. But what I want to know is: What is this Government doing? It has been said that this Government is doing nothing. I want to plead with it to do something for national development. The initial cost of this plant is estimated to be approximately £5,000,000. Where will the money come from if this Government is not prepared to help? The by-products that could be extracted from coal include plastic, nylon, synthetic rubber, chemicals and petrol. Synthetic textiles that could be produced are orion and nylon. Initially, orion would be most suited to production because it will mix with wool. Production, based on the use of 10 per cent, of the wool clip in a large plant, would be 50,000 tons a year. That indicates what could be produced from coal. The turnover would be about £25,000,000 a year.

Instead of importing slush oil for diesel engines to compete with coal as fuel, with consequent unemployment of miners and the closing down of mines, we could produce oil from coal. Each year, chemicals worth £50,000,000 are imported. We could produce chemicals to that value from coal. For years I have advocated such a scheme. The previous Labour government had to conduct the war effort and, after the war, it had to put ex-service men and women back into useful employment, and it could not undertake these projects.

Something should be done to curtail the importation of diesel oil to compete with coal. By importing fuel oil, we are giving preference of employment to workers in other countries. Two firms - American and Japanese - are prepared to establish new steel mills in Australia, one of them at Port Stephens. We are exporting steel at lower prices than those paid elsewhere. There is a demand for steel in Australia, and we need another steel mill. What is the Government going to do about that? The chairman of the Joint Coal Board, Mr. Cochran, has been very concerned about the coal miners who have been put out of work. Recently, 250 were dismissed at Belmont, and 250 at Raspberry Gully, or what is called the Waratah collieries. We are bringing thousands of immigrants into Australia, and I welcome them, but I do not like to see them displacing Australians from employment. New avenues of development should be opened up as I have suggested, but I am afraid that nothing will be done while this Government is in office.

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