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Thursday, 11 April 1957

Mr BEALE (Parramatta) (Minister for Supply and Minister for Defence Production) . - I have listened to the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) with interest and sympathy. He is a man who* has been immersed in the coal industry all his life. He knows a great deal about it. He has dealt warmly with a human problem - the problem of displacement of men in industry. Therefore he was entitled to be listened to with respect. But as he made the charge that the Government had failed to stabilize the coal industry, I want to make this reply. I do this knowing that it isperfectly true that, as a result of dislocation and re-adjustments in the industry, some men have lost their jobs and some have had to change their jobs. That is a human problem which anybody with understanding would treat with the sympathy it deserves.

But let us look at the state of the industry because that is the crux of all these matters. Have we failed to stabilize it? What have we done? I do not want to enter into recriminations or make charges or exacerbate anybody's feelings, but in order to understand the industry in Australia to-day we must look at what it was a few years ago. May I remind honorable members of the state of the industry in, say, 1949 or 1950? Everybody knows the story, lt was a story of desperate shortage of coal. It was the story of an industry being riven and torn by strikes and dissensions which caused shortages of coal. It was a story of black-outs which citizens in other Stateseven as far away as Adelaide, which depended on New South Wales coal, had tosuffer. It was a story of the intolerable inconveniences which those black-outs and shortages caused. It was a story of lost markets, one after the other. It was a story of other industries turning to oil and alternative means of power rather than rely upon coal fire power. That was the position in 1949. Again, without recrimination, it must be said that if ever a group of men bestowed self-inflicted wounds upon themselves it was the miners' federation and the coal-miners of those days. That was the picture in 1949 and 1950.

Now I want to quote one sentence out of the celebrated report by Mr. Justice Davidson, who was the coal commissioner appointed by the government some years ago and whose report, I know, is treated by all members in this House with the respect it deserves. It was a most distinguished report by a most distinguished judge. He said -

A stage has been reached in the industry which borders on disaster. The threatening crisis demands bold measures.

That was in 1946. By 1949, the position had got even worse.

Let us look at the picture to-day, compared with that brief vignette that I have given of the state of affairs seven or eight years ago. The picture to-day is one of steadily rising production to which the miners themselves have made their contribution. In 1949, black coal production was 9,388,600 tons. In 1950, the output was 1 1,196,000 tons. In 1951, production rose to 11,224,200 tons. With the exception of 4a setback of a few tons in 1953, production has gone up steadily and, in 1956, it was 14,029,900 tons. That is an indication of increasing health in the industry. It is an indication of a steady and remarkably good raising of production.

Capital investment in the industry is also important because it indicates the rising confidence of the people who are risking their money in the industry. In 1953-54, about £3,991,000 of new capital was invested in the industry. The amount rose in 1955. It dropped a little in 1956, but the estimate of the amount of capital that will be invested in the industry in 1957 is £5,000,000. That is another useful indication of increasing health in the industry. We have also been able to recapture some of the export trade that we lost in the tragic years of which I spoke earlier. This year, the export trade of the industry will amount to about £1,500,000. That is due to the efforts of this Government and also to the efforts of the Joint Coal Board in seeking markets abroad. That amount of £1,500,000 would have been larger if the port of Newcastle had been able to handle more coal.

Another indication of the increasingly healthy state of the industry is that the cost of production has been falling quite steadily over the years of which I have spoken. Of course, that is really the crux of, and the key to, this situation, because the factor that made States such as South Australia and Victoria turn away from New South Wales coal was the cost of production. However, that has been falling steadily in spite of competition. The reason for it is increased efficiency and better output. When I say " better output ", I mean better output by the men as well as the management. There has been more peace in the industry. There has been a better atmosphere. The men have had a better attitude towards the work in which they are engaged. Output per man shift has increased in the years from 1950 onwards. The output per man shift in 1950 was 3.21 tons. In 1951, it rose to 3.32 tons. In 1952, it was 3.35 tons. There was a slight drop in the faint recession period that we had in 1952-53. There was a drop to 3.34 tons in 1953, but by 1954 output was up to 3.45 tons. In 1955, the figure was 3.52 tons, and in 1956 it was 3.69 tons - again an indication of a new attitude and of a healthy industry.

All that means, in the terms of Mr. Justice Davidson's report, that the bold measures which were taken have been bringing their reward and that the crisis which threatened the industry, bringing it, as he said, to the borders of disaster, has been overtaken. That has meant the changes, fluctuations and dislocations which are likely to happen in any industry at any hour of the day in every place in the world. It is not possible to have complete stability at all times. The closing of some mines which have become uneconomic in some districts has resulted in changes of employment in some fields and a degree of unemployment in the industry. But there is not a great degree of unemployment in the industry. There has been a falling off in the total number of men employed in the industry, certainly. But in the whole of the Newcastle-Maitland district only 36 miners are drawing unemployment relief at this time. That is not to say that there are not men there who want to get back into the coal industry. But the statistics issued by the Department of Labour and National

Service do indicate that the degree of hardship has not been great, because men have been re-absorbed into other industries.

Mr Ward - The Minister does not know what he is talking about. That is the lawyer's approach.

Mr BEALE - Let the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) laugh this one off if he can. I agree entirely with the statement of the Premier of New South Wales, as reported in this morning's newspaper, that he thinks that this crisis, as he calls it, is temporary. I believe that we now have a healthy industry and that the dislocation that has taken place and the hardships that have been suffered are temporary.

Mr Whitlam - Does the Minister think that it is not a crisis, but merely a problem?

Mr Ward - Here is another " no crisis " Minister.

Mr BEALE - It is like Alice in Wonderland: " Words mean what I want them to mean," says the honorable gentleman from East Sydney. I agree with the New South Wales Premier that what he describes as a crisis is something temporary. The Commonwealth, through the Department of National Development, the Department of Labour and National Service, and the Joint Coal Board, which is a joint Commonwealth and State enterprise, has all the time, with loving care, done its best to cushion the shocks that are suffered by individuals, and not only to maintain and improve the healthiness and prosperity of this industry, but also to avoid the human problems involved.

Mr Ward - What has this Government done?

Mr BEALE - As I have said, we have been vigorously pursuing the search for new markets, and we have obtained new markets. The South Australian railways trade is beginning to come back to us, I read; the power station trade from other States is beginning to come back also; and the Electricity Commission of New South Wales is constructing vast generating plants that will increase the consumption of coal. Now that our prices are lower and more economic, and now that missions are going abroad, as they have done at the direction of this Government, we are optimistic about the future of the industry, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker. But, of course, the coal industry is not only a Commonwealth responsibility. In fact, in terms of constitutional power, the real responsibility lies with the New South Wales Government, which has the coal-fields under its jurisdiction and has nearly all the constitutional power. The Commonwealth can do only what it hasbeen doing under the joint Commonwealth and State legislation within the terms of which the Joint Coal Board operates.

Rail freights also are involved in the problem, and the responsibility for increased freight charges must be laid at the door of the New South Wales Government. Wharf facilities also are involved in the problem, and responsibility for the inadequacy of those facilities must be laid at the door of the New South Wales Government. The establishment of other industries on the coal-fields has been talked about, and some additional industries are being established. That also is primarily a matter for the State Government. The Commonwealth, for its part, will do what it can to make the industry healthy and more productive, to increase its output, to make its product cheaper, and to enable it to recapture more and more of the world's markets. We believe that this Government, has a good record. We understand the problems involved. If I may repeat my own words, all the Commonwealth departments and agencies concerned have approached the personal problems of the miners with loving care, and the Commonwealth proposes to do all that it can to sustain the industry and take care of the men engaged in it.

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