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Thursday, 11 April 1957

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- As the representative in this Parliament of a coalmining district I live in the midst of a community whose members have been extremely loyal to this country. On the occasions on

The present position on the coal-fields is shocking, particularly in view of the record of the miners in responding to appeals to increase production. For almost nine years I was a coal liaison officer, and in that capacity I appealed to the miners to increase production. They responded to my appeals, but, at the time, some of them were hostile to any suggestion of increased production. There are always some people in an industry who take a view contrary to that of the majority. I shall not mention the names or the brand of politics of these men. The point is that they said that the miners had produced so much coal during and after World War I. that the accumulation of stocks of coal at grass enabled the mineowners to lock the miners out of the mines for fifteen months in 1929 and 1930 and force a reduction of 12i per cent, in wages despite the fact that the miners were working under an arbitration award. It was that experience which, during World War II., made some of the miners reluctant to respond to appeals to increase the production of coal.

During the terms of the Curtin and Chifley Labour Governments the miners were told that there would be no more sufferings on the coal-fields, that industries would be established on the fields. Mr. Curtin started an industry there when he established the Rutherford munitions factory which, after the end of the war, was converted into a cotton mill, and still exists. As a result of electoral redistribution that factory is no longer in my electorate.

We want to see the establishment of industries on the coal-fields proper. The miners:, and those who represent them, particularly in the Cessnock area, are urging the establishment of a plant to extract oil from coal, such as I have been advocating for many years in this Parliament. On occasions when I have mentioned in this House the imperative need to establish such an industry in Australia, not only from the point of view of the welfare of the coal-mining industry but also from the point of view of our defence, industrial and transport requirements in the event of an interruption to overseas oil supplies in war, I have been asked why the Labour government did not establish such an industry when it was in office. My answer has been, and is, that the Labour government was in office for four years during the last war when every penny that it could raise had to be devoted to winning the war, and for four years after the war when all available funds had to be used for the transition to a peace-time economy, which included the rehabilitation of thousands of men and women discharged from the forces and their absorption into industry. The Government had no money at that time to invest in an oil-from-coal plant.

A committee known as the Committee for the Advancement and Promotion of the Coal Industry has been established under the efficient chairmanship of the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Alderman Jones, which proposes to attack the problem of the coal industry through the work of special commissions comprising parliamentary and local government representatives, representatives of trade unions and churches, and businessmen. The committee has found that the coal crisis is due to a falling off in the demand for coal because of inadequate national development and the lack of an oil-from-coal industry in Australia. It says that, as a result of intense competition, more coal is now being produced by fewer miners. In the last five or six years the increase in the production of coal, with fewer men in the industry than before, has amounted to 40 per cent.

Already this year's production far exceeds that of last year for the same period, the average weekly increase being in the vicinity of 40,000 tons. Wasteful methods of coal extraction and a lack of planning arc threatening the existence of the major mines, such as the rich Bellbird colliery. That is a colliery where honorable members will remember a disastrous explosion occurred about 1922 or 1923. Only when an explosion takes place and half the mineworkers are killed is there some little sympathy for these " bad " coal-miners, as they are termed. Yes, these men sometimes sacrifice their lives in the interests of the community, but they do not enjoy the amenities that city dwellers enjoy. Although the miners produce the fuel that makes the gas and the electricity, many mining areas have no gas or electricity themselves. It was estimated some years ago that because of wasteful, profit-dominated methods, up to 70 per cent, of available coal in the main Greta seam was likely to be lost. Already this year many mines have been closed and between 700 and 800 men have been dismissed. This figure is in addition to the 2,000 men dismissed during the past two years.

The mining communities depend on the coal industry. The failure to develop secondary industries in big towns like Cessnock and Kurri Kurri is threatening them with destruction. Are they to become ghost towns like John Brown's Minmi? It is a tragedy to go through such towns to-day and see what is happening. This situation will be discussed by the Coalfields Convention, which will have before it specific proposals from the mining unions, councils, business people, and other sections of the community. These proposals include the development of an enterprise for the extraction from coal of its valuable chemicals and oils, the setting up of secondary industries, building of electric power stations, instituting of proper measures to safeguard the coal reserves, and adjustments in working conditions which it is essential that the coal-mining community should enjoy.

That is what this convention proposes to do to rehabilitate the coal industry. When I refer to the plight of these coal-miners and the extraction of oil from coal, I refer particularly to this present Government's action in importing slush oil to compete with coal for power-raising purposes. That is a tragedy. A few years ago I went overseas at the request of the Labour government to interview various people. I attended a convention in London on the future of coalmining as it affected the world in general. I went through England, France and Germany, and I inspected plants which were extracting oil from coal. I was amazed to see that Germany had a far better process than Britain or France in this regard. Theirs was termed the Fischer-Tropsch process, whereas the other processes were the high temperature carbonization process and the low temperature carbonization process. These two latter processes are outdated by the German process. Germany did not have sufficient oil to carry on World War II. and coal resources saved Germany at that time.

Mine workers in this country have been extremely loyal and they are now very concerned about the fact that this Government is doing nothing to save coal towns. Why are those towns to go out of existence? Why should the coal industry suffer from lack of markets? What is this Government doing about it? Why do we have oil furnaces instead of coal furnaces in this building? We are setting a great example for others!

In the mining industry sons follow thenfathers into the mines. It is the only industry available for them. They have to become coal-miners. They have to take the risks that their fathers took before them. Some of their relatives may have been killed in mines. 1 am the youngest of twelve children and my eldest brother was killed in a mine. My father was crippled in a mine. That is the sad experience coalminers have and that is why they become bitter when the community refuses to do anything for them by setting up secondary industries. How would honorable members of this House like to go into a coal mine where their father or brother had been killed? That has been my experience. Honorable members may say that old Rowley is pretty tough, and perhaps I am, hut I think that secondary industries should he established in these coal-mining areas.

What happens to the daughters of these families? They have to go to Sydney to seek work. There is no work available for them on the coal-fields. There are no other industries there.

The Curtin Government did try to set up industries on the coal-fields, but what has this Government done? It has done nothing to assist those industries and most of them have gone out of existence now, but not because of any strikes. When the Rutherford munitions factory was proposed it was said that there would be nothing but strikes. And who said that? The present munitions head said it - I forget his name. It was some time before that factory was set up. However, eventually it was established at Rutherford, and not one day has been lost through a strike, either when it was a munitions factory or in its present capacity as a cotton mill. Therefore I say that the miners are not the striking people they are made out to be. There is generally some good reason for a strike.

There should be a national plan for new industries on the coal-fields. Miners have always been known to be very good and loyal workers - men who will never strike except when they have a cause. The munitions factory and the other undertakings that have been set up in those areas have never given the miners cause to strike. They have never tried to reduce their conditions in any way. Therefore I claim that this Government is deserving of the strictest censure when it will not attempt to set up other industries on the coal-fields to absorb the mine workers and their families. It would be something for them to look to. They know full well that the country depends upon them and they always respond to the country, but at the same time they will respond adversely if the boss is. trying to take advantage of them.

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