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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr DEAN (Robertson) .- During the Address-in-Reply debate yesterday, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) mentioned, among other things, alternate employment for coal-miners and ways in which greater use can be made of coal. I take this opportunity to refer to this matter in case my silence be taken to indicate my concurrence with all that the honorable gentleman said.

I agree with the honorable member foi Hunter regarding the continuing problems that exist in our coal-fields in general and, in particular, on the Cessnock field which is the one that concerns him most, because I have had the opportunity over the years to take part in conferences on this matter. The reason I mention this point is that I hope to attract the honorable gentleman's cooperation in solving these problems rather than the criticism to which we listened yesterday. I think I should remind him of the things that have been done over the last few years by governments and through the agency of the Joint Coal Board. On our own level, we have assisted by establishing new mines and by putting into them the new mechanized methods of coal-mining, thus assisting in reducing the cost of coal and increasing output. We have arranged for alternate employment of miners, to which the honorable member referred yesterday. Further, we have done a lot by obtaining additional markets overseas for Australian coal and, within the last few days, we have announced the abolition of excise duty on export coal.

The Government of New South Wales, the honorable member's own State, has also played its part by establishing power stations which use coal as their fuel. The power station at Wangi Wangi, which is in my electorate, has been operating for several years. Another power station is in course of construction at Vales Point, which is in the electorate of the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths); and a few weeks ago the New South Wales Government announced that a third power station would be established at Lake Munmorah, which also is in my electorate, and that station will have its own supplying mine. I understand the concern of the people of Cessnock about that fact that the third power station will not be established in their area, but therein lies one of the problems of Cessnock. Cessnock is unsuitable as a site; the selection of Lake Munmorah per se had nothing to do with our representations on behalf of Cessnock. Tt was solely a matter of suitability of site, and Lake Munmorah which has been selected by the State Government is obviously the best site. I hope I shall be able to find an opportunity later to deal with these matters in greater detail.

There is one other matter to which the honorable member for Hunter referred yesterday. He criticized the Government, and mentioned me in particular, for not having taken any constructive action in relation to the use of the Rathmines air base, which was vacated recently by the

Royal Australian Air Force. The honorable member said, amongst other things, that I should make representations for the establishment of homes for aged persons or for a physical fitness camp on the site. By saying that he showed that he was not aware of the facts of the case and indeed was ignorant of the way in which these matters are dealt with. As you, Mr. Speaker, know, when a station of this kind or a property used by a Commonwealth department is declared to be surplus to the requirements of the occupying authority the Commonwealth inquires whether any other Commonwealth department desires to use it. That has happened in this case. It may be recalled that the Department of the Army said that it thought the Rathmines air base might be suitable for its use. In reply to a question asked by me a fortnight ago, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer) said that during the last recess the Army had considered using the site but had decided not to use it.

We have now reached the stage where, if no other Commonwealth department requires this property, it will be offered to the New South Wales Government. If in turn the New South Wales Government does not require it, the Commonwealth will inquire whether any local government authority needs it for a particular purpose. If no local government authority requires it, the subject property will be offered to the public at auction. I want the honorable member for Hunter to know that for a number of years I have discussed with representatives of local organizations their desires about the use of this station. I have been informed that they would like to have a hospital established there. If that is not possible, they would like a teachers' college. If that is not possible, they would like to see a university college erected there. The establishment of all three institutions is within the power and responsibility of the New South Wales Government. I understand that during a visit to the area within the last few weeks the New South Wales Minister for Health said that it was the intention of the State Government to establish a hospital not in that area but on the other side of the lake. So that leaves the establishment of a teachers' college or a university college to be considered by the New South Wales. Government.

I also wish to say to the honorable member for Hunter that, whilst I understand his remarks and have discussed with local organizations the establishment of a facility such as homes for aged persons, there is already afoot in the area a large venture to provide homes for aged persons and it may well be thought that any extra assistance that can be given should be given to the existing venture and that in any case the Rathmines site may be too isolated for the purpose.

I assure the honorable member - I ask him to convey the assurance to those of his constituents who are interested in the matter - that the Government has undertaken to confer with the New South Wales Government to see whether it can put this valuable site to use. If it cannot, it will follow the normal procedure and offer it to the local government authorities. If they in turn do not require the site, the matter will then be discussed with local organizations and others who are interested in it.

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