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Thursday, 23 March 1961


Mr McEWEN - The honorable member asks me whether it would be possible to double our exports of coal. I do not know the arithmetic of it, but the Government has no doubt at all that it would be possible to increase very materially - probably to double or even more than double - our exports of coal. We believe that there is a market for it. We believe that Australian coal is of a quality for which markets can be found, and that the price is competitive. All the advice, both commercial and technical, which we have received indicates that the greatest inhibiting factors to the development of a much bigger coal trade are inadequacy of port facilities for the berthing of ships of high tonnage and the inadequacy of facilities for economic loading. This is evident in the ports of Newcastle and Port Kembla, and I understand also in the port of Sydney itself. I believe that there is a very high prospect of export - I think through the port of Gladstone - from the Kianga field in Queensland where there is suitable coal.

Port facilities, and the loading facilities in the ports, have since federation been a matter, as schooling has been, entirely within the responsibility of the State governments, and this responsibility is delegated to special port authorities. The Commonwealth has not believed that it had a responsibility or a place as a principal. However, for reasons good or bad - I do not know which - port facilities have not been kept abreast of the needs of Australia to earn export income or indeed of the needs of the coal industry, employers and employees. The Commonwealth has now come in and has intimated in the first place, I think, to the State of New South Wales, that it is willing in principle to contemplate some special financial arrangements which would enable the expeditious and adequate improvement of port facilities in the coalloading ports. My colleague, the Minister for National Development, has been in consultation with the State authorities. I do not know whether I can say at the moment that negotiations are taking place, but his intervention is designed to lead to negotiations with the New South Wales Government. We have expressed our willingness to contemplate special financial arrangements, and I hope that there will be no delay in this matter. I hope that there will be an approach in good faith from both sides, having regard to the needs of the nation in general and to the particular interests at stake.







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