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Tuesday, 21 March 1961

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I was very pleased to hear the rebellious attack of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) on his Government for its failure to measure up to the requirements of the Australian community in relation to housing, unemployment and many other important matters. I was greatly disappointed in the Administrator's Speech, which was prepared for him by the Government and which outlined the Government's intended legislation during this third session of the twenty-third Parliament.

When I made my maiden speech in the House not so long ago I pointed out the tragic position that then existed on the northern coal-fields which are in the very heart of my electorate. Things have become infinitely worse since then. The closing down of coal mines one after the other has caused economic chaos to the victims of these sweeping and unanticipated changes. After a lifetime in the industry, many mine-workers were suddenly given a week's notice of termination of their employment and were thrown out of work. I expected to hear something rn the Administrator's Speech about what the Government intended to do to relieve the position. How foolish was I to expect such a thing from this Government which is sponsored by big business, elected by big business and functions in the interests of big business! How could one expect any sympathetic treatment from this Government? I should not have allowed the thought to enter my mind. Admittedly, a considerable number of these mine-workers have been found alternative employment at the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited steelworks in Newcastle. I appreciate this, but it involves the mineworkers in a round trip of 70 or 80 miles a day and costs them about £2 a week in fares. To expect them to meet that cost out of a wage of £17 a week and to maintain a wife and family with the present cost of living is just ridiculous. These unfortunate men, most of whom are in the 45-55 years age group, have to rise from their beds at 4 a.m. and do not return home until 6 p.m.

The younger men have been taken out of the industry earlier because of the principle of last to come, first to go. Quite a number of these men are working on the construction of the new power station at Vales Point. We can thank only the New South Wales Labour Government for commencing that project. Vales Point is situated about 40 miles from Cessnock, so a daily round trip of about 80 miles is involved. In the past few weeks we have heard a lot about our balance of payments, about our overseas reserves dropping, and about unnecessary imports, but the people in my electorate want only jobs. They want the right to work, to earn a living in their native land, to maintain their wives and children, to give them a reasonable standard of living and a reasonable public school education. They want only what any decent Australian wants. But no! This Government believes in having a pool of unemployed to meet the requests of the monopolists, who brought it to office to discipline the workers. This Government would prefer to aid the oil monopolies in this country rather than the miners. Why has this Government not sponsored an oil by-products plant in the heart of the coal-fields? Would not this assist our overseas reserves by restricting the import of foreign oil? The Government has not done this because the wealthy monopolists whom this Government is bound to protect would not like it to be done.

On previous occasions I have pointed out to this House the shocking manner in which wealthy coal monopolies have been permitted to use the rip-rt-out-quick method of coal extraction. This is the most profitable method for them to use but it means that millions of tons of high-quality gas coal on the northern coal-fields have been lost for all time. I understand that the South African Government has a modern oil-from-coal byproduct plant operating successfully in that country. If it can be done there it can be done here. The Dutch Government has a similar plant operating and if it can be operated successfully and at a profit in Holland, we can do likewise here. I understand that in East Germany there is a similar modern coal by-products plant. Let me cite a few figures from the annual report of the Dutch state-owned coal mines for 1951. In that year those mines showed a gross profit of £6,000,000 after provision of £4,000,000 for company taxation and setting aside of £600,000 for depreciation, and they will pay a dividend of £1,000,000 to the Netherlands Government. The report states that in the future work on layers of poor-quality coal will be intensified in order to prolong the life of the mines.

Such an undertaking would succeed in Australia; but this Government does not want to offend the coal monopolies of this country. However, Labour will be in government at. the end of this year. I cannot understand why this Government will not promote a coal by-products plant on the northern coalfields in the electorate of Hunter and thus relieve the sufferings of many of my constituents. The fear of unemployment is a source of constant mental torture, not only to the workmen themselves, but also to their wives and children. How can parents plan careers for their children if they are not sure of continuity of employment? Children reared in homes where the parents fear economic insecurity become victims of emotional upsets which adversely affects them for many years. The father's absence from the home for a long period detrimentally affects the upbringing of the child. Any person with a meagre knowledge of the causes of child delinquency realizes that it starts in the home as a result of insufficient parental control. But this Government could not care less. By its lack of planning and its total disinclination to aid the New South Wales Government in relieving unemployment on the northern coalfields by the establishment of an oil-from-coal plant this Government has done nothing to improve the position.

Let me cite what a highly respected clergyman, the Reverend W. Childs, of Cessnock, has said on this matter. I refer to a report in yesterday's Newcastle " Sun ". Under the heading " Mine Dismissals Family Threat ' ", the report states -

A Cessnock Church of England minister (Reverend W. Childs) to-day described mass dismissals at northern coalmines as a threat to family life in coalfield communities.

Mr Childs,minister at St John's church in Cessnock, claimed that the " breadwinners " of many families on the coalfields had been forced to spend too much time away from home because of the dismissals. "These men are unable to devote the same time to the paternal care of their families as they have been doing ", Mr Childs said. " Some have had to sacrifice their homes to find other jobs ".

Mr Childssaid that coalfields clergymen believed that this effect on family life was the worst aspect of the mine dismissals. " The word ' insecurity ' describes the present position on the coalfields ", he said. " Men who have had a lifetime in the coal-mining industry now find that they have to start off from scratch in another industry. For months, hundreds of men here have been waiting for the axe to come every Friday ".

Mr Childssaid that a delegation of coalfields' clergymen would meet trade union officials in Newcastle to-morrow to discuss the effects of mine dismissals and other aspects of trade union affairs.

He said he believed that this was the first meeting of this kind ever arranged in the north.

*' We want to discuss everything dealing with the worker-trade union relations ", he said.

Mr Childssaid there were possibly three solutions to the present problem on the coalfields.

These were action by the Commonwealth Government to eliminate unfair competition from oil, the establishment of a major industry on the coalfields to supplement the coal industry and the provision of a much improved transport system to cater for coalfields men travelling to their nlaces of employment in Newcastle and other areas.

Mr Bowden - Who is Mr. Childs?

Mr JAMES - He is a Church of England clergyman at Cessnock. He is interested in the welfare of the future citizens of this country, but this Government is not and never has been. I ask the Government to do something immediately to relieve this chaotic situation which has not been caused by the recent credit squeeze. It first became apparent in 1952, and has continued to worsen. Since 1952, approximately 9,000 men have been retrenched from tie coal industry in the northern part of my electorate. Approximately fifteen mines have been closed down, until to-day there are only three still operating. Pelaw Main, with 150 employees, recently closed down, and in the next few days, Bellbird, with 80 men will close, leaving millions of tons of high-quality coal untouched. This coal is equal to the best quality gas coal in the world.

As imported residual oil is permitted to be used in gas-making in large quantities in Sydney and Melbourne, why cannot this Government institute the production of gas in large quantities on the coal-fields and pipe it to Sydney, Canberra, or various centres in New South Wales and thus provide cheaper gas to consumers, instead of carting residual gas and coal to Sydney by sea and rail? I urge this Government to undertake such a project as soon as possible. A vicious campaign is taking place in this country, initiated and waged by the wealthy oil monopolies, against the coal industry, and it is having very detrimental results. The work farce at Kurri, Cessnock and Lithgow has been reduced to an all-time low, due to unfair competition of the oil monopolies on traditional coal markets.

The coal industry has progressively declined since oil refining was commenced on a large scale in Australia. The object of the oil refining companies overseas is to produce the maximum amount of petrol and light oils, but in Australia the average oil refinery is producing approximately 40 per cent, of heavy oil, and these companies refuse to spend more capital on cracking plants by which this figure could be reduced to 10 per cent, of heavy oils. I am reliably informed that the Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited is to build a refinery in South Australia without any cracking plant whatever. As the result of these conditions and the excessive price charged the Australian public for petrol, the coal industry is suffering from this unfair competition. The oil companies are under-cutting in industries where coal-fired boilers are used. The minimum price listed for fuel oil is £9 10s. a ton, plus handling charges, but there is no top or maximum price fixed. In a certain hotel in Sydney, where the boiler cannot be fired by coal or coke, the proprietor is charged £21 8s. 6d. a ton for fuel oil. If that is not exploitation I do not know what is; but this Government stands for it. This Government will not offend powerful monopolies because, as I and other members on this side of the House suspect, they contribute generously to the election campaign funds of the Government parties. Let us look at the interstate coal market.

Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited, Adelaide, has been quoted a price of about £6 15s. a ton for crude oil by British Petroleum Australia Limited and the Shell Company of Australia Limited. Unless something is done at government level to protect the coal industry. Imperial Chemical Industries will be forced to change over to oil when the existing coal contract expires early next year. At the present time this company is using 50,000 tons of New South Wales coal per annum, and its expansion programme includes new boilers which would consume a minimum of 90,000 tons per annum. These boilers have been ordered and designed to use coal. However, after this low quote for fuel oil was received it was decided to delay the installation until a decision is made as to whether the boilers are to be fired with oil or coal.

In Victoria, the Geelong Gas Company proposes to convert to oil, commencing 1st July, 1961, which will mean a drop in coal consumption of 20,000 tons per annum. I think the company's present consumption is 40,000 tons of coal a year. This will have dropped in eighteen months to nil.

Australian Cement Limited, Geelong, has received a quote from the Shell Company of Australia Limited of £6 12s. a ton delivered into the works, as a firm price for five years. The company has not yet made a decision on this offer, as it feels that perhaps Government action may be taken against the dumping policy of the oil companies. This company is being supplied at the present time with about 200,000 tons of New South Wales coal per annum, and a new expansion programme, expected to reach the operational stage in 1963, would, if designed for the use of coal, result in the consumption of a further 100,000 tons per annum.

Australian Consolidated Industries Limited had decided to design its new sheet glass plant in Victoria to operate on coal. This decision was based on a ten years contract, with a rise-and-fall clause. At the time the decision was made, the competing oil price was the lowest list price, namely £9 10s. a ton. Last month, however, the company received an offer of fuel oil at £6 12s. a ton, which has caused it to consider planning for the use of oil rather than coal.

All sections of the coal industry have directed attention to the dumping policy of the oil companies and have requested government action to be taken in both Federal and State spheres. It is painfully obvious that the oil monopolies are dumping their oil fuel only because they are overcharging for petrol. When they have destroyed the coal industry the people using fuel oil will then find that the oil companies will force them to pay through the nose for fuel, because there will be no competitor.

Mr Killen - Do you believe that?

Mr JAMES - Every man on this side of the House, and, I believe, every man on the Government side, is aware of the position. The difference between us is that we are prepared to raise our voices and denounce this kind of practice, but Government members are afraid that if they do so they will be relegated to the back benches.

The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes) spoke of his consternation at the housing shortage in his electorate. While we are on the subject of housing, let me say that there is a shocking thing happening in the electorate of Robertson, which adjoins my electorate.

Mr Killen - It is a very well represented electorate.

Mr JAMES - I will have something to say about you in a minute. You 'be careful!

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!The honorable member should direct his remarks to the Chair, not to the honorable member for Moreton.

Mr JAMES - The position is that the air base at Rathmines is being closed down. The installation and the unit will be taken over by the Department of the Interior. There is enough accommodation available to house at least 1,000 persons. An acute housing problem exists in the electorate of Robertson, as in the electorate of Hunter, but, although I respect the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean), I must say that I have never heard him raise his voice in this House to suggest that the Rathmines air base should be converted for the use of people in dire need of housing in the electorates of Hunter, Newcastle, Shortland and Robertson. I know what will happen to the Rathmines air base. It will be closed down, and the white ants will be allowed to eat the buildings. The installation will then be sold as junk, to the likes of L. J. Hooker Limited, which is another one of our powerful monopolies. The Air Force has had lawn mowers at the air base to keep the grounds as attractive as any in Canberra itself, but on Wednesday week they will all be sold. Thousands of beds are to be sold. I have said before that if this air base were converted for use as a home for the aged, the infirm, the weak or the weary, it would represent a living monument to a Government with sufficient vision to take such action. But this Government has no intention of doing what I suggest, because it 'has as much sympathy for the weak, the poor or the weary as this book in front of me has for snipe shooting.

I urge the Government, if it is not too late to do so, to do something along the lines I have suggested with regard to the coal industry and also with regard to the Rathmines air base. In this way it would be something constructive, instead of merely aiding the importers that have been bringing in luxury goods and reducing our overseas reserves to a frightening figure. It would be doing something for the pioneers of this nation who have suffered from depression and deprivation time and again.

Mr Curtin - What is the honorable member for Robertson doing about it?

Mr JAMES - He has done nothing, to my knowledge.

Mr Dean - Break it down!

Mr JAMES - You have done nothing to have the Rathmines base converted for use as a home for the aged, or as a physical fitness camp for our youths, the citizens of to-morrow. Not one member on the Government side of the House has contemplated the use of this air base as homes for the people who have done so much in pioneering our country.

One need only go up to the Williamtown air base to see the waste that the Government allows. There are bulldozers, graders, scarifiers and all kinds of earth-moving equipment that could be used to improve our roads and reduce the increasing road toll. This machinery is worth many thousands of pounds, but the Government has not arranged for its use since the completion of the extension of the airstrip at Williamtown. It is merely lying there, rusting away, while men are unemployed who could be taught rn a few weeks to operate the equipment and use it for improving our roads and saving the lives of worthy Australians who are being slaughtered on the roads day after day.

I have brought to the notice of the Government many matters that are of vital importance to my electorate and to the nation. There is one other matter to which I wish to refer. I have had numerous complaints from poultry-farmers and poultryprocessors in the Singleton and Dungog areas and in parts of the Paterson electorate, who are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the lifting of import restrictions.

Mr Calwell - Canned chickens!

Mr JAMES - Yes, £3,000,000 worth of canned chicken has been brought into this country since the lifting of import restrictions, and 300,000 lb. of canned chicken was sold in Sydney in the few weeks before Christmas. Years ago the Development Bank encouraged men to go into the poultry-growing and poultryprocessing industries. Later the Government lifted import restrictions, and this has resulted in great hardship. Poultry-farmers now rear chickens quickly, so that they are ready for killing at the age of twelve weeks. The poultry farms are chockablock with stock which cannot be killed. These chickens have got to be maintained, and they. are simply eating their heads off while feed bills are soaring. Freezing works are filled to capacity. This has all come about because of the Government's action in lifting import restrictions. When the people are given the opportunity to exercise their democratic rights towards the end of this year, they will show their strong disapproval of this Government, not only in Paterson, but also in every other Liberalheld electorate in Australia.

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