Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 May 1961

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- While production in the coal industry has increased over the past three years, there has been a constant fear in the minds of the members of the mining unions and the coal owners alike that residual oil may well one day take over from the coal-mining industry. As recently as last month, Sir

Edward Warren, chairman of the Australian Coal Association, made this statement -

The coal and oil industries jointly will ask the Federal Government to convene a conference to discuss the loss of coal markets to cheap residual oil . . . The dumping of residual oil could result in the closing of more collieries on the South Maitland field.

The Joint Coal Board, in a statement issued last month, said the oil industry was cutting its prices with increasing severity to oust coal from established markets.

Then Sir Edward summed up in these words -

The marketing of residual oil at " give-away " prices is weakening the economy of the coal industry. The coal industry claims:

Price cutting by the oil companies is reducing the home market for coal.

A shrinkage of the home market has caused several mines in the Cessnock area to close since last December.

More unemployment in the coal industry is inevitable if more local industries switch from coal to oil fuel.

When one realizes the serious plight of the coal industry it is difficult to understand the claim that all the credit for the expansion of the industry rests with the Government. Only two honorable members on the Government side have spoken on the bill and one of them, the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Dean) praised the Government for the expansion of the industry. That claim can hardly be substantiated. When all is said and done, New South Wales is the greatest coal-producing State in Australia, and New South Wales has been governed by Labour for 21 years. It has developed the coal industry to the greatest extent.

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) took only a few minutes to read his second-reading speech on this bill and that cursory approach indicates the attitude of the Government to this industry. The measure before the House is simple in character, although two important acts are being amended. The main points made by the Minister were that th? Government was now giving effect to its earlier intention of encouraging the development of the coal export market and, secondly, that the Government proposed to make a practical contribution to the reduction in costs of production in the coalmining industry. The Minister then told the House that the Government hoped to assist the export of more coal by abolishing the excise duty on coal which was being produced for export, and that a reduction of Id. a ton on coal produced for home consumption - that is, from 5d. to 4d. a ton - would considerably help to reduce production costs in the industry.

Then the Minister referred to the fact that the bill removed from the Coal Excise Act the machinery which had previously prohibited the removal of coal from mines for export without the payment of the levy.

That was the sum total of the Minister's second-reading speech. Not a word of explanation was given to the House by the Minster to indicate why a reduction in the current rate of excise was necessary. The Minister did not say a word about the money that was still in the Long Service Leave Trust Fund, or whether the Government was sure that the new rate of excise was sufficient to meet the future calls on the fund under all circumstances.

Frankly, I am suspicious of the real motive behind the Government's move. Honorable members well know that the excise on coal was introduced for a specific purpose. The honorable members for Blaxland (Mr. E. James Harrison), Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson), Hunter (Mr. James) and Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) have already told the House about that purpose.

The history of the coal industry in Australia, and particularly in New South Wales, has shown that, until they were rescued by the work of the Joint Coal Board, the workers in the industry suffered extreme hardship. The conditions of the workers in the mines were very bad. They endured many difficulties through lack of markets and irregular employment accompanied by lock-outs and depression. I believe it is encumbent on some of us in this Parliament to ensure, if it is at all possible, that there shall be no return to those days. My experience of these things accounts for my suspicion of this measure.

I pay a tribute to the work of the Joint Coal Board and its energetic band of officers, all of whom have done marvellous work for the coal industry, often in the face of great difficulties. Only those of us who come from coal-field areas can really appreciate the work that the Joint Coal Board has done since its creation by a Labour

Government some fourteen years ago. I hope it is never fettered in its work or that it is never put out of existence by any Government.

If the Joint Coal Board is allowed to continue its work, free from Government interference, it will do much more in the field of industrial- research than we can now anticipate. I suggest that up to- the present this Government has not co-operated with the experts of the New South Wales Government in coal utilization research to the degree that it should have, despite what the honorable member for Robertson has said. As a result, the Joint Coal Board has been greatly handicapped in the performance of much of its work.

More coal is being produced now than was produced previously. About 16,340,000 tons were produced from all sources in 1959-60; or 578,000 tons more than the amount produced in the previous year. This increased production came from four fewer mines than were operating in the previous year and from 65 fewer employees. This shows the greater effort that is being made by the men in the industry. In the last few years, there have been fewer industrial disputes than there were in earlier years. But the Government, on the pretext of encouraging the export of coal, has decided to reduce the excise duty on coal for the second time in two years. In 1959, the charge was reduced by 3d. a ton, from 8d. to 5d., and now in 1961 it is again being reduced by a further Id., making the new rate 4d. a ton. As two reductions in the excise rate have taken place within a matter of two years, the rates must have been wrongly calculated in the first place. At present there is a surplus in the long service leave fund of more than £2,000,000 and it appears to me that the Government will make a present to the mineowners of about £100,000 next year, or a total of about £500,000 since 1959, if we take into account the previous reductions in excise payments.

What consideration has the Government shown for the men who produce the coal? What of the thousands of men who have been retrenched from the industry over the past few years? Allegedly in the interests of the economic working of the coal-mining industry, dozens of mines have been closed. It was said that they were uneconomic to work, but at the same time new mines have been opened and in these new mines, automation and mechanization have greatly cheapened the production of coal. No one with any sort of judgment would oppose the changes that have taken place in production methods. However; as the Government has given back to the mine owners the magnificent present it has given them through reduced excise rates, both the Government and the mine owners owe a great deal to the mine workers who produce wealth. Every one knows that the owners in modernizing their mines have spent many millions of pounds, but the greater part of this expenditure has come from the huge profits they have made out of the industry.

Mr Anderson - That is not true.

Mr GRIFFITHS - It is completely true. The profits of the mine-owners are now being greatly enlarged as a result of the mechanization of the mines and of the greatly increased production of coal each year. The Government, instead of reducing the excise on coal to encourage greater exports, should set up an export committee with power to investigate possible overseas markets and the profits of the colliery owners. I am certain that an investigation of such profits would reveal some interesting facts. Of course, any such committee would need to be representative of the New South Wales Government, because it is the Government of the major coal-producing State and a partner in the Joint Coal Board.

To my mind there are numerous possibilities for the use of coal industrially. The blending of coal for overseas uses, the synthetic uses of coal and the numerous other uses to which coal could be put are excellent reasons why the excise charge should not at this stage be reduced. This reduction is only a means of making a present to the colliery-owners. ' Let us return to an examination of what employees obtain from their record production, and let us look at the sacrifices that retrenched employees have made in the re-organization of the industry. Many of them have lost their homes or have had to sell at depressed prices in order to go elsewhere to find alternative employment. When we consider those facts we are able to understand why the Government should properly investigate every aspect of the excise duty before it again reduces it

I wonder whether the Government has ever considered the future of coal production, especially if a third world war were to occur and this country were cut off from overseas oil supplies. In that event, the men with less than eight years service who have now been retrenched from the coalmining industry could be taken back into the industry. Hundreds of miners with less than eight years service received no payment whatever for long service leave on their retrenchment. Yet every one of them, if again working in the industry in the future, could qualify for long service leave provided a minimum of eight years service in the industry was completed.

Coal production is increasing rapidly despite the competition from oil, and some authorities estimate that by 1970 annual production will top the 21,000,000 tons mark. Such an output of coal must mean greatly increased industrialization of the industry. On that score, if war again occurred there would be no knowing to what extent the Australian coal industry would be called upon to play its part in the war effort. On the northern New South Wales coal-fields to-day only about half of the 10,000 mine workers who a few years ago worked in the industry still remain in it. Therefore, it is assumed that hundreds of these men may one day again enter the industry. Should they do so and qualify for long service leave, will there be funds to meet the cost of the leave? It is my view that the Government should have paid every mine worker who was cavilled out a proportion of the long service leave payments, because it was not the fault of the worker that he was retrenched from the industry.

As I see it, the Government by continuing the present rate of excise duty and by applying it for the benefit of the coal mining industry, could earn for itself much credit and praise from the Australian community. This could be done in many ways. For instance, because of retrenchments, the miners' superannuation fund is .finding it increasingly difficult to meet its commitments. I understand that at present mine workers should be receiving an increase in pensions, but because the fund is so low, its stability can be undermined if care is not exercised in its administration. I am told that the contribution paid to the fund by the miners is 9s. a week and that the colliery proprietors pay about 38s. But because of the severity df the retrenchments over the past few years, contributions may have to be increased if pension rates are to be increased. The Government might well consider the position. I know that it has no legal obligation to do so, but in view of the great job that has been done by mine workers generally in continually increasing output over the last few years, some consideration could well be .given to helping the fund to regain its financial strength. Because of retrenchments, hundreds of mine workers have lost the whole of the contributions they have paid into the superannuation fund. That should not be allowed to occur.

If honorable members look at the report of the Joint Coal Board for 1959-60 they will readily see the great job that the board has performed. In my opinion it would be a tragedy of the greatest magnitude if the board went out of existence. Instead of the fund derived from excise being reduced, some of the surplus money could have been applied to the work of the board. According to the report, that work includes dealing with employment changes in the New South Wales coal industry, solving unemployment problems and handling incentive schemes, the welfare fund and the medical service. For many years now the Joint Coal Board has operated a medical scheme under which, before he enters the industry, each man is thoroughly medically examined, and thereafter has regular examinations to make sure that he is not suffering from sclerosis, tuberculosis or nystagmus. The report also refers to miners' co-operative building societies and savings and loan societies as well as the work that the board has done for the welfare of the miners generally. The report is full of the achievements of the board, and I commend a study of it to honorable members so that they may have a fuller appreciation of the difficulties that confront this great industry.

I turn now to what I believe could be another means of reducing the costs of the coal-mining industry, if this Government would co-operate with the New South Wales Government in the matter of capital costs. In my electorate of Shortland there are vast deposits of coal. I believe that coal from the many seams that exist in the area could be blended so that it might be used in almost every industry. At the present time the main producing collieries are Burwood, Lambton B. and John Darling which all belong to the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. They are all very large producers. Further out there is another big producer in the Wallarah colliery which belongs to J. and A. Brown Limited.

A new power house is in the course of erection at Vales Point, and in the next few years a still larger power house is to be built. Those two power houses between them will consume 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 tons of coal a year. Both collieries will be highly mechanized. The coal will be brought to the top of the colliery, crushed and then taken to the boilers on an endless belt. A tremendous saving of freight and manpower will be made, and consumers of electricity will obtain cheaper power. Surely, in the light of those facts, the men employed in the coal industry should be entitled to enjoy, by having better superannuation and long service leave benefits, some of the wealth that they help to produce.

For a number of years until quite recently when I, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) or the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) ever spoke of the need for financial assistance to bc given by this Government to facilitate coal handling at Newcastle, or for improved port facilities to expedite the turn-round of ships, we were almost always met with a curt but firm refusal and told that the provision of port and coal loading facilities was the responsibility of the State government. I am very pleased to know that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) and, apparently, the Government, have at last had a change of heart about port development. I hope that the Government will now do something of a concrete and genuine nature to assist this most urgent work.

Let me refer again to the huge deposits of coal on the coastal fringe of the Shortland electorate which I believe could be mined and exported or used for Australian industry at a cost much cheaper than the cost of coal from anywhere else in Australia. On the coast between Newcastle and Budgewoi there are two or three natural coal loading anchorages which I believe could be developed in conjunction with proposed new mines from which coa) could be loaded by conveyor belts direct into ships, without recourse to other means of transport. 1 understand that a man has been trying for years to obtain financial assistance to develop a coal-loading anchorage near the township of Mawson, south of Swansea, but without success. If this Government would take action to assist financially in the building of anchorages along the New South Wales coast for coalloading purposes, a brighter era would dawn for the coal-mining industry and every one in that industry would be able to participate in the benefits that would flow from such action.

The development of mines and power houses in the Swansea-Budgewoi area of the Shortland electorate will bring in its wake an undreamt-of prosperity for many hundreds of families who will be able to build homes and business premises on the foreshores of possibly the most beautiful lakes in the world. Around Lake Munmorah, Lake Macquarie and the Tuggerah Lakes is some of the best home-building land in Australia. I suggest that if the Government delays any longer in providing funds, as I have suggested, for the development of ports and anchorages to assist the further development of the coal industry of this country, it will show itself as being unworthy to govern, and it should be dismissed from office by the people at the earliest opportunity.

Suggest corrections