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Thursday, 4 May 1961


Mr L R JOHNSON (Hughes) .- I am sure that the House has been inspired by the speeches of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), the honorable member for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison) and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). The warm-hearted enthusiasm with which those three members have spoken is obviously in sharp contrast with the attitude of those who sit opposite, who find it difficult to raise a sufficient degree of enthusiasm to ensure a continuity of speakers in this important debate relating to the coal-mining industry. It is most regrettable that, due to the attitude of this Government, the Australian people have not been encouraged to exploit fully our great national deposits of coal. Our great national heritage is being denied to them in a most irresponsible way.

Honorable members on this side of the House long for the introduction of a real national development programme of the type that we hear about in so many countries of the world. We should like to know whether the Australian Government has any such plan in prospect. What a wonderful thing that would be for the miners of this country. The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) is concerned primarily with the administration of war service homes, the atomic reactor at Lucas Heights, in my electorate, and the administration of the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement. Can any one recall any comprehensive national programme in relation to coal and the great mineral deposits lying in the Australian soil having been outlined by the Government? Such a programme would contribute much to the uplifting of our living standards. Its implementation would pro vide better living conditions for ourselves and for other peoples who live in close proximity to us. The neglect of issues such as this has characterized the administration of this Government.

The mining community and many other communities, recognizing the potentialities of this great nation, will have come to realize that our Government has been found wanting. The failure of those who sit opposite to demonstrate any genuine interest in this subject is a classic example of their general conduct.

The bill before us proposes to reduce the excise duty on home-consumed coal from 5d. to 4d. Of course, this has been made possible by the solvency of the fund. The proposal is related to the reduction of the number of people employed in the coalmining industry.

I think it is important to remember that this excise duty was imposed by the Chifley Government in November, 1949. From the fund established by this means, it has been possible to provide for long-service leave for coal-miners, which is a very worthy provision. The Chifley Government might almost be said to have pioneered the field of long-service leave in Australia. The honorable member for Blaxland and the honorable member for Hunter, who are taking such an intelligent interest in the debate at the moment, referred to this matter earlier. They tried to get the Government to acknowledge that long-service leave could be introduced for another contentious and difficult industry. I refer to the stevedoring industry, which we will be discussing next week.

We know the mumbo jumbo that has been uttered by those who sit opposite. I refer to proposals embracing all sorts of tricks and hocus pocus in order to fool the Australian workers. The mining community has been given the benefit of long-service leave as a result of the imposition of excise duty on coal, and it has vindicated our faith in it. The coal-mining industry has a great record. This Government could' emulate what the Chifley Government did for that industry by doing something similar for the waterside workers. The excise duty scheme has worked with' great success; no one could deny that it is a great credit to the Labour' Government which devised it.

In thinking of the coal industry at the present time, most of us automatically and immediately think of unemployment. A most unsatisfactory employment condition is prevailing in the industry. We have heard from honorable members opposite, especially members of the Ministry, some casual references to the mining industry. Like calculating machines, they churn out statistics, but never go beyond them. The realization that human beings are involved, that there are mining communities devoted to the exploitation of the resources in the ground never seems to come to those who sit opposite. We hear about the figures but we never hear any exposition of the great home tragedy involved in this situation.

The mining industry has been dissipated, unemployment has become the order of the day, and all hope and aspiration for the young people in mining towns has gone. A clergyman came to our mining committee which was chaired by the honorable member for Macquarie. Representatives of local government bodies in mining towns also came to us. They told us that the whole situation is demoralizing. The towns of Cessnock, Kurri Kurri and Maitland - and many other places - are experiencing a degrading atmosphere, which has been superimposed on them because of insecurity. What happens to a breadwinner when a mine closes down? He goes away to work, perhaps in my electorate, or at the mining fields at Coledale, Clifton, Helensburgh or Scarborough. The youngsters are left to themselves. There has been no continuing endeavour to provide suitable employment for the womenfolk and the youngsters in mining towns. It is quite heartbreaking.

Honorable members opposite could go around coal-mining areas, as so many of my colleagues went with me, and see ghost towns, such as Cessnock and Kurri Kurri - houses without inhabitants; churches and hotels closed down. Roads and footpaths are going to waste. There has been a walkout; a ghost town is left. This is happening on a large-scale, one town after another. This is the order of the day as a result of the lack of interest and concern demonstrated by those who sit opposite.

Apparently there has been no realization that we have in this country these great coal deposits which need exploiting and developing in a worth-while way. What a heartbreaking experience it is for anybody who goes to the northern coal-fields of New South Wales. I suggest to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Stokes), who is attempting to interject, that he should go to that area and have a look at the coalfields. If he does so, he will find that the mine-owners have exploited the coal where it has been profitable to do so. After they have ceased to reap the kind of dividends which can now be provided by activity in the hire-purchase field, or in some other field of financial manipulation, they have abandoned the mines and have left them on fire, or have sealed them off on fire, or have left them flooded. These deposits, which represent a part of the wealth of this country, have been denied to the Australian people and to the people of the world, now and for evermore. How can that kind of thing be justified?

I emphasize the statement of the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), that the Government has a very great responsibility in respect of these matters. That responsibility has been vested in it by virtue of the Coal Industry Act of 1946 - another Chifley act, by the way - which provides for co-operation between the Commonwealth Government and the State Government in the administration of the coal-mining industry. As I look through that act I see provisions which should indicate to the Government the degree of responsibility that it has in the matter. The act clearly indicts the members of the Government as guilty men, so far as this situation is concerned. Amongst other things, the act provides, that-

The Prime Minister may, in agreement with the Premier of the State, issue directions to the Board-

That is, the Joint Coal Board - on matters of policy and it is to be the duty of the Board to observe and carry out any direction so given.

Those clear-cut words indicate that the Government has a responsibility in the matter. If the Prime Minister issues to the Joint Coal Board a direction in relation to coal industry matters, the board automatically has power to do whatever the Government has decided it should do in the interests of the coal industry of Australia. The act goes on to state -

The powers and functions of the Board are to include the talcing of such action as, in the opinion of the Board, is necessary or desirable -

(b)   to ensure that the coal resources of the State are conserved, developed, worked and used to the best advantage in the public interest;

The promotion of the welfare of workers engaged in the coal industry in New South Wales also is provided for by the Coal Industry Act of 1946, which this Parliament administers. If there is anything wrong with the coal industry - and nobody can deny that what has happened to it is a crying shame - the guilty men sit opposite us to-night. They have a responsibility to take advantage of the opportunity which was presented to them by the Labour Government of 1946. I suggest that, in the interests of the Australian economy, because of the need to increase exports of coal, and in the interests of the people who have devoted their lives to the coal-mining industry, the Government should get on with the job and demonstrate a sense of responsibility.

It may not be generally appreciated by honorable members, especially those on the opposite side of the chamber, that Australia is not a wealthy country so far as coal deposits are concerned. In some parts of the world it is contended that it is wasteful even to burn coal because coal has such enormous potentialities, lt is said that we in Australia have 100 years' supply of coal and that in addition, unknown reserves could provide another 50 to 100 years' supply. What is a period of 100 years in the lifetime of a nation? I suggest that, while the Government is the custodian of Australia's affairs, its responsibility does not end with the people who live in this country. Australia could become one of the great coalowning countries of the world, and in that sense the responsibility of the Government is a wide one.

An atmosphere of stagnation has been permitted to pervade this very important industry. We have witnessed the dispersal of families and many other undesirable features. I think that the problems of the coal-mining industry fall within four main categories. First, there is the problem arising from the increased output of coal, from the fact that there is excessive production or over-production. In other words, more coal is being produced than we really need at the present time. We have to overcome that problem. In the short time at my disposal I intend to say something on this matter. Secondly, there is the factor of diminishing outlets for coal. That matter was referred to by the honorable member for Macquarie in his very inspiring speech. He stated that the decline in outlets for coal is due principally to the competition of other fuels.

The third factor that I wish to mention is the failure to develop other uses for coal. In this respect, the Government has fallen down on the job very badly. I refer particularly to the failure to recognize the prospects that exist for the establishment of great coal by-products industries, which are the order of the day in so many countries of the world. Fourthly, there is the important consideration, in my view at least, of the need to stimulate coal exports. I do not know whether I shall have sufficient time to summarize my views on each of those four matters.

First, let me refer to the question of excessive production. We have witnessed the advent of mechanization in the coal industry. It is true that there were many people in the mining communities who did not welcome the possibilities inherent in the innovation of mechanization. They felt that mechanization would result in wholesale unemployment on the coal-fields - and how right they were. Their fears have been justified because thousands of miners have lost their employment in recent years. That loss of employment has occurred at the rate of about 1,000 a year.

We have seen the introduction of the mechanical continuous miner. I was looking through a copy of the magazine " Harbour ", which comes to us from the Colliery Owners Association, only recently, and I saw an advertisement for a continuous miner which indicated the effectiveness of mechanization. The fact that we are able to produce coal at a fast rate contributes to the over-production problem that we have at the present time. The advertisement in " Harbour " stated that the machine had an output of 800 tons per shift. It was described as a machine with a deep-ripping 24-in. sump and a wide, heavy-duty conveyor which ran the full length of the machine. It was stated that two motors drove the conveyor and the 7-ft. cutting head which was able to mine to a height of 10 feet above the floor level. Imagine that great thing biting its way into the coal seam! I have seen machines such as that in operation many times, and so have all the twenty members of the Parliamentary Labour Party mining committee. We have visited almost every mine in New South Wales and mines in other parts of Australia in an endeavour to find the answer to the problems of the industry. When we have come back here with our conclusions, the Government has been so miserable that it has not even facilitated the printing of the committee's report. The Government has indulged in political skullduggery to that extent. The use of mechanical devices is one of the reasons why coal production has reached such great heights.

It is interesting to consider the figures relating to the production of black coal in Australia. For the year ended December, 1960, production reached the figure of 22,500,000 tons, an increase of 2,200,000 tons, or 11.1 per cent., over the production figure for the preceding year. That was a good performance by the miners and also justification of the mechanized processes which they have come to handle. The miners have been doing their job, as the figures indicate. Let us have a look at the figures for the year 1938. At that time, there were 19,679 employees in the industry, and they produced 11,600,000 tons of coal. In 1960, there were 18,556 employees, and they produced 22,500,000 tons of coal. Therefore the 1960 output was almost double that of 1938, although in 1960 there were 1,123 fewer employees in the industry than there were in 1938. That is not a bad record. I think it is the kind of record which deserves a reward. The Government has continued Labour's proposal in regard to long service leave arrangements, but I suggest that it has far greater obligations to the industry than it has so far acknowledged.

The 1959-60 report of the Joint Coal Board shows that coal production in New South Wales increased from approximately 11,000,000 tons in 1939 to 17,000,000 tons in 1960. It is obvious from the report of the Joint Coal Board that there has been additional and even excessive production. Reserves held by consumers and by the collieries themselves, by government departments and merchants, have reached an alltime record. The quantity of coal held in reserve has reached 3,000,000 tons.

As to productivity, there is a pretty good indication that the miners have not done a bad job and do not deserve the maligning and vilification that they get from honorable members opposite. In saying that I happened to glance at the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Anderson). His name came automatically to my mind in this connexion. The report shows productivity in terms of tons per man-shift. In New South Wales the average in 1953-54 was 3.4 tons per man-shift worked. In 1959-60 it had increased to 5.2 tons per man-shift. This is a fair accomplishment.


Mr E James Harrison - The figure is 5.26.


Mr L R JOHNSON - The honorable member for Blaxland is quite right; the correct figure is 5.26 tons if you want to be dead accurate. Since 1951 the rate of increase in output per man-shift worked has been .47 tons per annum. In other words, to put it in language that honorable members opposite may understand, output per man-shift increased by 12 per cent, during 1960.

It is obvious from these figures that honorable members opposite have no reason to vilify the miners for the job they are doing. I suggest that this Government stands indicted as the guilty party responsible for the problems of the coal industry, since the miners have done everything that could be expected of them.

The Joint Coal Board had something to say in its report about industrial disputes. Honorable members opposite always think of industrial disputes when they think of the mining industry. They never think of the positive achievements of the miners, but they always refer to the occasions when miners went on strike because of some provocative action taken against them. The report said -

New South Wales coalmines continue, in the year under review, to have an excellent record in regard to industrial disputes. This has been a major factor contributing to the industry's record of achievement and reflects creditably on management and the unions and employees concerned.


Mr Anderson - For what year is that report?


Mr L R JOHNSON - This is the last report available. Do not get the idea that we want to indulge in any kind of humbug. We are here to put an honest and sincere case for an industry about which we feel very deeply. The report shows that the proportion of man-shifts lost through industrial disputes steadily declined from a peak of 14.28 per cent, in 1949-50 to 2.16 per cent, in 1958-59 and 2.03 per cent, in 1959-60. This shows that the miners have adopted a very responsible attitude.

Let me now say a few words about the question of diminishing outlets for coal produced. The Joint Coal Board considered this problem in connexion with the recent Tariff Board inquiry into the petroleum refining industry. It has been established that petroleum is making great inroads into the markets for Australian coal. On page 5 of the Tariff Board's report on the petroleum refining industry there is a summary of the submissions made by the coal industry. There we find the following statements: -

1.   The coal industry is now highly efficient but in order to permit further improvements the industry requires fair marketing conditions in competition with petroleum fuels.

2.   Australian coal resources are a valuable national asset. The industry is well equipped to meet any demands made on it and would be of -vital importance in national emergencies.

3.   The petroleum refining industry has made considerable inroads into markets formerly enjoyed by the coal industry. These inroads stem principally from the petroleum industry's pattern of production and are causing serious social and economic problems in coal producing areas.

At that inquiry the coal industry made another point. We ask the Government to consider this matter seriously and to do something about it. The following comment appears in the report: -

4.   The pattern of production of the petroleum industry does not conform with the pattern of Australian requirements. Yield of residual oil (36.9 per cent.) compares most unfavourably with that of U.S.A. (14.3 per cent.).

In other words, too much crude oil is being made available to compete with coal, and not enough of it is being refined for other ;purposes.

On page 14 of the Tariff Board's report there are some more very interesting figures. They show that in a period of three years oil has so successfully invaded the coal industry's former markets that the use of New South Wales black coal has declined by 1,600,000 tons. There are some other impressive figures given in the report. The share of the fuel market enjoyed by oil has increased by 25 per cent, in three years. This has been achieved at the expense of coal, the indigenous fuel, which is lying in the Australian ground waiting to be exploited.

I think I have demonstrated clearly to honorable members opposite that there is much to be done. The Joint Coal Board has given serious consideration to the displacement of coal by oil on the fuel market. It has made a survey of the fields in which oil is being used instead of coal. It is being used extensively for raising steam in power houses, for the provision of heat and electricity in factories, in the manufacture of cement and in the firing of metallurgical and other types of furnaces used in the chemical and other industries. Ships' bunkers are now being filled with oil instead of coal, and it is also being used to fire steam locomotives. Diesel electric engines, which are competing strongly with coal-fired steam locomotives, use fuel oil. The oil companies are doing their best to take markets away from coal, and they are being aided and abetted by this Government. The Shell Company of Australia Limited, for instance, is conducting its competition in a most unreasonable manner. A Geelong cement company, for instance, is buying oil fuel at £6 12s. a ton, although the list price is £9 10s. a ton. Discounts as high as 30 per cent, are being offered, in order to force coal out of the market.

It is obvious that a great deal needs to be done. Coal mines have been steadily closing down. On the northern coalfields collieries such as Hebburn No. 2, Abermain, Aberdare, Pelaw Main, Kalingo, Bellbird and Aberdare Central have closed down, and only two now remain in operation. It is obvious that this trend will continue. In other .parts of the world various countries are taking remedial action. In West Germany an excise has been imposed on heavy oil fuel in order to encourage the use of coal. In Belgium there is a 12 per cent, equalization tax on heavy oil, for the same reason. France has placed an embargo on heavy oil discounts and has fixed the price of this commodity. In the United Kingdom even the nuclear energy programme has been slowed down in order to encourage wider use of conventional fuels. In the United States of America a quota system has been introduced in respect of crude oil imports. Japan has taken similar action. There is a great deal that Australia will have to do in connexion with this matter, but we seem to be unable to impress on the Government the urgency of the situation, and make it realize that Australia cannot afford to ignore the great wealth that lies under the ground.

We must think of this problem in connexion with our efforts to improve our balance of payments position. We should be exploiting our own raw materials instead of bringing in unnecessary oil imports which cause unemployment, not only in the mining industry but also in other industries, lt should be remembered that increased imports of oil have been responsible to a large degree for our own adverse trade balance and therefore for the introduction of the Government's credit squeeze policy, which has resulted amongst other things in decreased home building and consequent widespread unemployment.

We say to honorable members opposite, " Wake up to yourselves, because it is much later than you think ". The Government must consider every aspect of this problem. What of coal by-products? Industries based on these by-products have been established in many countries, but Australia is dragging the chain. Government supporters just do not seem to be interested. They are so disinterested, in fact, that they will not even rise and join in this debate. In the United Kingdom there is an extensive coal by-products industry, and industries of this kind have been established in Holland, West Germany, Soviet Russia, New Zealand and Hungary. In Czechoslovakia there is a big enterprise of this kind at present being established. I can tell honorable members opposite that no fewer than 4.000 different by-products of coal can be developed. These products can be sold on the world's markets. However, the Government has been concerned only with developing the petro-chemical industries, thereby increasing our imports bill. A most unsatisfactory state of affairs now exists.

When people come from overseas, like the president of Reichhold Chemicals Incorporated of New York, they cannot understand why we are doing nothing to develop our coal resources and our coal by-products industry. They ask us why we do not get on with the job. They point out that we have been importing goods that we could have produced from coal by-products. In one year, Australia imports £4,000,000 worth of artificial fertilizers such as ammonia nitrate, calcium nitrate, sodium nitrate and superphosphates. We import plastics which could be made from coal, and last year they were valued at £5,000,000. In the same year we imported £17,000,000 worth of synthetic rubber which could be obtained from our coal. Experts say that tires made of synthetic rubber have 30 per cent, more wearing capacity than tires made of natural rubber. Shoes with heels of synthetic rubber are so superior that a person can walk 2,000 miles on them compared with 300 miles on heels made of natural rubber.

Miscellaneous chemicals valued at £7,000,000 are being imported each year. They include naphthalene, calcium carbide and various organic solvents and the Government is doing nothing about it. The Opposition is not unreasonable when it charges the Government with having no programme for national development. The Government has denied the coal industry its just rights and brought about hardship.







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