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Thursday, 4 May 1961

Mr JONES (Newcastle) .- I wish to deal with matters relating to the export of coal and possible increased competition. By waiving completely the excise on exported coal the Government is creating a situation in which further competition will arise. The chairman of the Joint Coal Board has stated that at present overseas competition is particularly keen, but abolition of the excise on exported coal will mean that the Australian consumers of coal will have to pay for the long service leave of the men who are mining and producing the export coal. The point that greatly concerns me is that keener competition from overseas will be provoked. All honorable members know that to-day Japan is the greatest purchaser of coal in the Pacific area. She is trying to make deals with various coal-producing countries. She has told the New Zealand Government that if New Zealand can produce a certain quantity of coal, and is prepared to carry out certain work, Japan will be prepared to purchase coal from that country. Japan has also approached the United States of America, Canada, Communist China and the Soviet Union. She has also approached various Australian companies in an endeavour to encourage them to open up new fields and plants at Newcastle, Balmain and Port Kembla. So, the game will go on until eventually we shall have to sell coal to Japan at less than cost.

The Government should try to convene a conference of representatives of the various coal-selling nations, particularly those in the Pacific such as New Zealand, Canada, the United States of America,

Communist China and the Soviet Union, in an endeavour to reach an agreement by which we will sell coal at a figure not less than the cost of production.

Mr Anthony - The 35-hour week cost!

Mr JONES - Since the honorable member wants to raise the question of the 35-hour week, I may say that I believe that miners are entitled to, and should have, a 35-hour week. If honorable members were to read the speeches- -

Mr Freeth - Mr. Chairman, I rise to take a point of order. Is the honorable member for Newcastle relating his remarks to the clauses of the bill? I fail to see how he can be dealing with the matter before the committee.

The CHAIRMAN - Clause 7 refers to " other than coal exported ", so the honorable member for Newcastle is in order in referring to exports. However, he is out or order in replying to a disorderly interjection in relation to working hours. I again ask the honorable member for Newcastle to confine his remarks to the bill and not to develop the theme on which he is at present concentrating.

Mr JONES - I am dealing with the bill as I see it. I was pointing out that the Government's decision to waive completely the excise on export coal is fraught with danger. The Government will certainly make Australian coal competitive with the overseas product, but what will happen when the competition becomes so keen that other countries cannot compete with us? They will pay a subsidy. At present Canada is paying a subsidy of two dollars a ton. No doubt this will be increased to 2 dollars 25 cents or even to 2 dollars 50 cents so that Canadian coal will be able to compete with ours. Then we in turn will have to provide additional assistance.

Mr James - That will break down working conditions.

Mr JONES - That is true. We shall have to subsidize coal. As I have said, the Government should try to convene a conference of all coal-producing countries in the Pacific area and devise some means that will make unnecessary these tactics of paying subsidies and so, in effect, enabling coal to be sold below cost. Then it will be only a matter of imposing fair and reasonable charges to cover the cost of production.

There was an agreement that the coal miners would be paid long service leave and that the necessary funds would be found by the imposition of an excise. Now, to make our coal more competitive with the product of overseas countries, we are to abolish the excise on exported coal. We should sell our coal at a fair and reasonable price and allow ourselves a fair and reasonable margin so that improvements can be made in conditions in the industry from time to time.

When supporters of the Government were in opposition they criticized continually the Labour Government's efforts to improve conditions in the coal-mining industry. I remember reading a speech that the present Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made when he was in opposition. He stated that the Chifley Government was continually introducing legislation relating to the coal industry and, in fact, that it had introduced more legislation relating to the coal industry than to any other industry in the Commonwealth, lt is true that the Chifley Government increased the miner's sick leave to two weeks, granted them long service leave, paid them for all statutory holidays and gave them three weeks' annual leave, and that the present Treasurer continually criticized Labour for granting these improved conditions. But now the members of the present Government claim all the credit for increased productivity. The Joint Coal Board does not agree with the Government in this because in its report for the financial year 1959-60 it states in paragraph 44 -

The increase in productivity is, of course, not due solely to more or better capital equipment. It is the result also of improved industrial relations within the industry.

Mr McColm - I rise to order, Mr. Chairman. I suggest that the honorable member for Newcastle is defying your ruling. He is making a second-reading speech on the report of the Joint Coal

Board which has nothing to do with the clauses now before the committee.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member for Newcastle has again moved away from the clauses that are before the committee. A passing reference to the principal act is permissible, but he has remained on his passing reference for too long.

Mr JONES - There has been this increased productivity and the coal industry has been granted improved conditions over a long period. If this Government can sell the coal at a more competitive price as the result of the removal of this excise, why should we not improve conditions in the industry? Why should we not consider the imposition of some other duty and use the proceeds to finance long service leave, annual leave or sick leave? We could also provide additional amenities in the coal-mining industry. Some of the money could be used for the improvement of port and transport facilities, and to subsidize the establishment of new industries on the coalfields.

The honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) last Thursday made a plea for decentralization-

The CHAIRMAN - Order! The ho. orable member's time has expired.

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